Author Archives: Dorian Cirrone

Oops!

The interview with James Ponti was sent out prematurely. Please return to the blog on September 29 for his interview and a giveaway.

And watch this space on the 19th and 20th for interviews Tracey Baptiste and Michele Weber Hurwitz!

Sorry for any confusion.

 

 

Celebrating Cousins!

It’s National Cousins Day! And to celebrate, I executed a not-so-scientific search of middle-grade books that highlight relationships between cousins. What I found was that many such books also feature quite a bit of diversity when it comes to race, gender, and culture. But whether it’s a cousin from a far-away place, a cousin with a different lifestyle, or cousins that just happen to get along, that special family bond plays an important part in the characters’ lives. So take a tip from these great stories of extended families, and connect with a cousin today. Who knows what might happen.

The House You Pass on the Way by Jacqueline Woodson

Thirteen-year-old Staggerlee used to be called Evangeline, but she took on a fiercer name. She’s always been different—set apart by the tragic deaths of her grandparents in an anti-civil rights bombing, by her parents’ interracial marriage, and by her family’s retreat from the world. This summer she has a new reason to feel set apart—her confused longing for her friend Hazel. When cousin Trout comes to stay, she gives Staggerlee a first glimpse of her possible future selves and the world beyond childhood.

 

My Cousin’s Keeper by Simon French

In this Australian import, eleven-year-old Kieran wants to be part of the “in” group at school. He wants to be on the soccer team. He wants to fit in. But then his weird cousin Bon turns up, both at school and at home. Bon knows nothing about fitting in, with his long blond braid, babyish hand-knit hat, and funny, precise voice. Bon doesn’t play sports, and he likes to draw imaginary maps with stories about “Bon the Crusader” and “Kieran the Brave.” He’s an easy target for teasing, and Kieran has little patience for him. Even more irritating, Bon’s only friend is the other new kid, a cool girl named Julia who wears cowboy boots and has a confidence that fascinates Kieran. What could she and Bon possibly have in common? With unflinching honesty, My Cousin’s Keeper takes on childhood jealousy, family secrets, and unexpected kindness.

 

The Callahan Cousins (#4 Together Again) by Elizabeth Doyle Carey

Look out Gull Island! Neeve, Phoebe, Kate, and Hillary—the twelve-year-old Callahan cousins—are back at their grandmother Gee’s rambling seaside estate for Christmas break! When the girls camp out at a whale museum, they stumble upon a mystery they can’t ignore. Phoebe takes the lead as the girls join forces to solve an island mystery. This is the final book in the series.

 

 

Cupcake Cousins (Book One) by Kate Hannigan

In the first of a series, Willow and Delia, nine-year-old cousins, can’t wait to spend a week vacationing together with their families. Their aunt is getting married, and Willow and Delia are hoping their tasty baked goods will be enough to get them out of being flower girls in the wedding. But with a mischievous little brother, a bacon-loving dog, and a misbehaving blender in the mix, their treats don’t exactly turn out as planned. When a real emergency threatens to ruin the wedding, will their baking skills be enough to save the day?

 

The Only Road by Alexandra Diaz

Twelve-year-old Jaime is sitting on his bed drawing when he hears a scream. Instantly, he knows: Miguel, his cousin and best friend, is dead. Everyone in Jaime’s small town in Guatemala knows someone who has been killed by the Alphas, a powerful gang that’s known for violence and drug trafficking. Anyone who refuses to work for them is hurt or killed—like Miguel. With Miguel gone, Jaime fears that he is next. There’s only one choice: accompanied by his cousin Ángela, Jaime must flee his home to live with his older brother in New Mexico. Inspired by true events, The Only Road is a story of a boy who feels that leaving his home and risking everything is his only chance for a better life. It is a story of fear and bravery, love and loss, strangers becoming family, and one boy’s treacherous and life-changing journey.

 

Saving Kabul Corner by N.H. Senzai

A rough and tumble tomboy, twelve-year-old Ariana couldn’t be more different from her cousin Laila, who just arrived from Afghanistan with her family. Laila is a proper, ladylike Afghan girl, one who can cook, sew, sing, and who is well versed in Pukhtun culture and manners. Arianna hates her. Laila not only invades Ariana’s bedroom in their cramped Fremont townhouse, but she also becomes close with Mariam Nurzai, Ariana’s best friend. Then a rival Afghan grocery store opens near Ariana’s family store, reigniting a decades-old feud tracing back to Afghanistan. The cousins, Mariam, and their newfound frenemy, Waleed Ghilzai, must ban together to help the families find a lasting peace before it destroys both businesses and everything their parents have worked for.

 

The London Eye Mystery by Siohban Dowd

Ted and Kat watched their cousin Salim board the London Eye, but after half an hour it landed and everyone trooped off—except Salim. Where could he have gone? How on earth could he have disappeared into thin air? Ted and his older sister, Kat, become sleuthing partners, since the police are having no luck. Despite their prickly relationship, they overcome their differences to follow a trail of clues across London in a desperate bid to find their cousin. And ultimately it comes down to Ted, whose brain works in its own very unique way, to find the key to the mystery.

 

Letters From Rifka by Karen Hesse

Rifka knows nothing about America when she flees from Russia with her family in 1919. But she dreams that in the new country she will at last be safe from the Russian soldiers and their harsh treatment of the Jews. Throughout her journey, Rifka carries with her a cherished volume of poetry by Alexander Pushkin. In it, she records her observations and experiences in the form of letters to Tovah, the beloved cousin she has left behind. Strong-hearted and determined, Rifka must endure a great deal: humiliating examinations by doctors and soldiers, deadly typhus, separation from all she has ever known and loved, murderous storms at sea, detainment on Ellis Island–and if this is not enough, the loss of her glorious golden hair. Based on a true story from the author’s family, Letters from Rifka presents a real-life heroine with an uncommon courage and unsinkable spirit.

 

Flying the Dragon by Natalie Dias Lorenzi

Flying the Dragon tells the story of two cousins in alternating chapters. American-born Skye is a good student and a star soccer player who never really gives any thought to the fact that her father is Japanese. Her cousin, Hiroshi, lives in Japan, and never really gives a thought to his uncle’s family living in the U.S. Their lives are thrown together when Hiroshi’s family, with his grandfather (who is also his best friend), have to move to the U.S. suddenly. Skye resents that she is now “not Japanese enough,” and yet the friends she’s known forever abruptly realize she is “other.” Hiroshi has a hard time adjusting to life in a new culture, and resents Skye’s intrusions on his time with Grandfather. Through all of this is woven Hiroshi’s expertise, and Skye’s growing interest in, kite making and competitive kite flying, culminating in a contest at the annual Washington Cherry Blossom Festival.

What’s your favorite book about cousins? I’d love to hear about it in the comments section.

 

 

Speaking of Shakespeare

Well, technically no one was speaking of Shakespeare, but maybe we should have been speaking like him. The reason: yesterday was officially Talk Like Shakespeare Day.

If you weren’t aware of this auspicious holiday and missed the occasion to impress your friends with quotes from Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet, here is an opportunity to celebrate in a way that might be more fun. Get your Shakespeare on and take a look at these middle-grade books inspired by the Bard.

To read or not to read? What? Of course you should read these fabulous books!

Romeo and Juliet Together (and Alive!) at Last by Avi

Star-crossed love. Betrayal. Death. Comedy? Peter Saltz (Saltz to his friends) and Anabell Stackpoole like each other, but they’re too shy to do anything about it. Thank goodness for Saltz’s best friend, Ed Sitrow, who masterminds an eighth grade production of Romeo and Juliet-starring none other than Saltz and Stackpoole as Romeo and Juliet. But getting the two reluctant lovebirds together is a bigger task than anyone anticipated, even with Shakespeare’s help. What ensues is the most hilarious, disastrous, and unprecedented rendition of Romeo and Juliet in history!

The Shakespeare Stealer by Gary Blackwood

Widge is an orphan with a rare talent for shorthand. His fearsome master has just one demand: steal Shakespeare’s play Hamlet--or else. Widge has no choice but to follow orders, so he works his way into the heart of the Globe Theatre, where Shakespeare’s players perform. As full of twists and turns as a London alleyway, this entertaining novel is rich in period details, colorful characters, villainy, and drama.

William’s Midsummer Dreams by Zilpha Keatly Snyder

From three-time Newbery Honor author Zilpha Keatley Snyder, “an adventure story with a lot to say about identity, ambition, and character” (Kirkus Reviews). After a year living with Aunt Fiona, William is off to audition for the role of Puck in a summer production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. But getting the part is just the beginning. Now William has to deal with a jealous rival out to sabotage him, a not-so-secret admirer, and the way the Baggetts still haunt him in nightmares. William’s summer is filled with acting and costumes and applause, but he still worries sometimes that he and his younger siblings will never be able to shake off the past. But when the Baggetts show up again, William realizes that he is braver than he thought, and that all will turn out okay.

All the World’s a Stage: A Novel in Five Acts by Gretchen Woelfle, illus. Thomas Cox

Suddenly a hand gripped the back of his neck. “Cutpurse!” Kit is caught! Twelve-year-old orphan Kit Buckles, seeking his fortune in Elizabethan London, has bungled his first job as a pickpocket at the Theatre Playhouse where the Lord Chamberlain’s Men are performing. To avoid jail, Kit agrees to work for the playhouse and soon grows fond of the life there: the dramas on–and offstage. Things get truly exciting when Kit joins the plot to steal the playhouse from the landlord who has evicted the company.

Secrets of Shakespeare’s Grave by Deron R. Hicks, illus. Mark Edward Geyer

Twelve-year-old Colophon Letterford has a serious mystery on her hands. Will she discover the link between her family’s literary legacy and Shakespeare’s tomb before it’s too late? Antique paintings, secret passages, locked mausoleums, a four-hundred-year-old treasure, and a cast of quirky (and some ignoble) characters all add up to a fun original adventure. Readers will revel in a whirlwind journey through literary time and space in real-world locales from Mont St. Michel to Stratford-Upon-Avon to Central Park.

Tower of the Five Orders by Deron R. Hicks, illus. Mark Edward Geyer

Colophon Letterford’s life changed overnight when she uncovered Shakespeare’s lost manuscripts. Now the authenticity of those manuscripts is in question and the family publishing business is in danger. In this exciting mystery, thirteen-year-old Colophon travels from Oxford’s lofty Tower of the Five Orders to the dank depths of London’s sewers in her pursuit of truth and honor. But the stakes are high. Budding cryptologists, Shakespeare fans, and mystery lovers alike will revel in the twists and turns of this fascinating middle grade sequel to Secrets of Shakespeare’s Grave.

The Total Tragedy of a Girl Named Hamlet by Erin Dionne

All Hamlet Kennedy wants is to be a normal eighth grader. But with parents like hers –Shakespearean scholars who actually dress in Elizabethan regalia in public –it’s not that easy. As if they weren’t strange enough, her genius seven-year-old sister will be attending her middle school, and is named the new math tutor. Then, when the Shakespeare Project is announced, Hamlet reveals herself to be an amazing actress. Even though she wants to be average, Hamlet can no longer hide from the fact that she — like her family — is anything but ordinary.

The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt

Holling Hoodhood is really in for it. He’s just started seventh grade with Mrs. Baker, a teacher he knows is out to get him. Why else would she make him read Shakespeare . . . outside of class? The year is 1967, and everyone has bigger things than homework to worry about. There’s Vietnam for one thing, and then there’s the family business. As far as Holling’s father is concerned, nothing is more important than the family business. In fact, all of the Hoodhoods must be on their best behavior at all times. The success of Hoodhood and Associates depends on it. But how can Holling stay out of trouble when he has Mrs. Baker to contend with?

King of Shadows by Susan Cooper

Only in the world of the theater can Nat Field find an escape from the tragedies that have shadowed his young life. So he is thrilled when he is chosen to join an American drama troupe traveling to London to perform A Midsummer Night’s Dream in a new replica of the famous Globe theater. Shortly after arriving in England, Nat goes to bed ill and awakens transported back in time four hundred years — to another London, and another production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Amid the bustle and excitement of an Elizabethan theatrical production, Nat finds the warm, nurturing father figure missing from his life — in none other than William Shakespeare himself. Does Nat have to remain trapped in the past forever, or give up the friendship he’s so longed for in his own time?

Star-Crossed by Barbara Dee

Mattie, a star student and passionate reader, is delighted when her English teacher announces the eighth grade will be staging Romeo and Juliet. And she is even more excited when, after a series of events, she finds herself playing Romeo, opposite Gemma Braithwaite’s Juliet. Gemma, the new girl at school, is brilliant, pretty, outgoing–and, if all that wasn’t enough: British.
As the cast prepares for opening night, Mattie finds herself growing increasingly attracted to Gemma and confused, since, just days before, she had found herself crushing on a boy named Elijah. Is it possible to have a crush on both boys AND girls? If that wasn’t enough to deal with, things backstage at the production are starting to rival any Shakespearean drama. In this sweet and funny look at the complicated nature of middle school romance, Mattie learns how to be the lead player in her own life.