Category Archives: Nonfiction

Words and Music

Since today is National Buy an Instrument Day, we’re tooting the horns of middle-grade books featuring musical kids, as well as some great biographies.

There is so much comedy and drama built into a band or orchestra story. I well remember the gut-twisting terror of pop band tests and the frustration of never being able to attain first-chair trumpet. But for all of the trials, come contest or concert time, pep band or parade, nothing was quite as thrilling as playing my part in creating a spectrum of sound.

Front and center is Second Fiddleby our own award-winning Roseanne Parry! 

The author of Heart of a Shepherd offers another sensitive portrayal of military families, this time stationed abroad, in the city of Berlin at that historic time just after the Wall came down.

When 13-year-old Jody and her friends save a badly beaten Russian soldier from drowning, they put into motion a chain of events that will take them from Berlin to Paris and straight into danger. Jody must quickly learn to trust herself, because in the time directly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the border between friend and enemy is not as clear as it once was.

A fast-paced, coming-of-age story filled with adventure, music, friendship, and intrigue.

Band Geeks Seriesby Amy Cobb The band room. For band geeks at Benton Bluff Junior High, it’s the place to be. Their director, Mr. Byrd, may dress like he’s in the tropics, but he’s strict on the podium, getting his students to play like the musicians they are. These band geeks handle friendships, crushes, dances, fund-raisers, jealousy, divided loyalties, missing instruments, parents, grandparents, school dances, solo competitions, chair placement auditions, band camp, and more throughout the school year. Music is just the beginning!

The Music of Life: Bartolomeo Cristofori & the Invention of the Piano, by Elizabeth Rusch and Majorie Priceman Award-winning biographer Elizabeth Rusch and two-time Caldecott Honor-recipient Marjorie Priceman team up to tell the inspiring story of the invention of the world’s most popular instrument: the piano.

Bartolomeo Cristofori coaxes just the right sounds from the musical instruments he makes. Some of his keyboards can play piano, light and soft; others make forte notes ring out, strong and loud, but Cristofori longs to create an instrument that can be played both soft and loud.
His talent has caught the attention of Prince Ferdinando de Medici, who wants his court to become the musical center of Italy. The prince brings Cristofori to the noisy city of Florence, where the goldsmiths’ tiny hammers whisper tink, tink and the blacksmiths’ big sledgehammers shout BANG, BANG Could hammers be the key to the new instrument?

At last Cristofori gets his creation just right. It is called the pianoforte, for what it can do. All around the world, people young and old can play the most intricate music of their lives, thanks to Bartolomeo Cristofori’s marvelous creation: the piano.

Bud, Not Buddy, by Christopher Paul Curtis Bud Caldwell has been an orphan since he was six. After 4 years of foster homes and orphanages, Bud has had enough. He hops a train from Flint, Michigan to Grand Rapids. Armed with just an old flyer, his suitcase, and Bud Caldwell’s Rules and Things for Having a Funner Life and Making a Better Liar Out of Yourself,  he plans to find his father, the great jazz musician Herman Calloway and his band, the Dusky Devastators of the Depression. But once in Grand Rapids,  Bud begins to untangle the lies and secrets of his family history, all while falling headlong into the magical world of jazz. Like the music itself, Bud learns the truth is often complicated, both painful and joyful.

I am Drums, by Mike Grosso  Sam knows she wants to be a drummer. But she doesn’t know how to afford a drum kit, or why budget cuts end her school’s music program, or why her parents argue so much, or even how to explain her dream to other people. But drums sound all the time in Sam’s head, and she’d do just about anything to play them out loud–even lie to her family if she has to. Will the cost of chasing her dream be too high? An exciting new voice in contemporary middle grade, Mike Grosso creates a determined heroine readers will identify with and cheer for.

The Mysteries of Beethoven’s Hair, Russell Martin and Lydia Nibley At the time of Ludwig van Beethoven’s death, it was a common practice to take a lock of hair from the deceased as a remembrance, a sacred remnant of the person who meant so much when alive. One such lock of Beethoven’s hair survived through the years and eventually became the joint property of two men who, in 1995, opened the sealed frame that encased the hair and began the process of unlocking the mysteries of Beethoven’s life, death, and possibly his genius.

Follow the trail of Beethoven’s hair as it was passed on from the boy who cut it to his son and down through the years, as it was safeguarded from Nazi Germany and eventually sold at auction in 1994. Through careful forensic testing, the hairs in the lock revealed the causes of Beethoven’s deafness and his many illnesses. This fascinating story is not only a study of the secrets that forensics can reveal, but a moving history of many people’s devotion to Beethoven’s music. Husband and wife team Russell Martin and Lydia Nibley follow the success of Martin’s adult book, BEETHOVEN’S HAIR, with this retelling for younger readers.

The Reinvention of Moxie Roosevelt, by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel Moxie Roosevelt Kipper has endured thirteen years of being an ordinary girl with an unordinary name. Now that she’s entered boarding school, the time is ripe to reinvent herself. She’ll become unusual, outlandish, unexpected, sassy? someone worthy of a name like Moxie. But who exactly? From Mysterious Earth Goddess to Hale and Hearty Sports Enthusiast; from Detached, Unique, Coolly Knowing Individual to Assertive Revolutionary Activist, Moxie tries them all, while keeping her true talent for piano-playing a secret. But at boarding school, Moxie isn’t the only one who isn’t what she claims to be.

The Way to Stay in Destinyby Augusta Scattergood Theo Thomas has two passions: baseball and piano. Ripped from his life on his grandparents’ farm, and plunked down in Destiny, Florida with his cantankerous Vietnam vet uncle, Theo’s not sure how he’s going to survive past the sixth grade. But then there’s Miss Sister and her piano, and Anabel and her Hank Aaron project, and suddenly Destiny might not be so bad after all. As long as his uncle doesn’t find out what he’s up to.

 

A Crooked Kind of Perfectby Linda Urban Zoe Elias has a mother who is never home and a father who refuses to leave home. Ever. The odds are stacked against her. But that doesn’t stop her from dreaming of playing the piano at Carnegie Hall. Fortunately for Zoe, her father is listening. Unfortunately, he’s easily distracted and that’s how Zoe ends up the proud new owner of the Perfectone D-60 organ. Now not only is she stuck playing the organ, but suddenly there’s the Perfect-O-Rama Annual Organ Competition. And the strange boy Wheeler Diggs following her home from school everyday. Life for Zoe Elias is about as far from perfect as it can gets. She thinks.

Drums, Girls, & Dangerous Pie, by Jordan Sonnenblick Steven has a totally normal life (well, almost). He plays drums in the All-City Jazz Band (whose members call him the Peasant), has a crush on the hottest girl in school (who doesn’t even know he’s alive), and is constantly annoyed by his younger brother, Jeffrey (who is cuter than cute – which is also pretty annoying). But when Jeffrey gets sick, Steven’s world is turned upside down, and he is forced to deal with his brother’s illness, his parents’ attempts to keep the family in one piece, his homework, the band, girls, and Dangerous Pie (yes, you’ll have to read the book to find out what that is).

The Mozart Season, by Virginia Euwer Wolff When Allegra was a little girl, she thought she would pick up her violin and it would sing for her―that the music was hidden inside her instrument. Now that Allegra is twelve, she believes the music is in her fingers, and the summer after seventh grade she has to teach them well. She’s the youngest contestant in the Ernest Bloch Young Musicians’ Competition. She knows she will learn the notes to the concerto, but what she doesn’t realize is she’ll also learn―how to close the gap between herself and Mozart to find the real music inside her heart.

Vanished, by Sheela Chari  Eleven-year-old Neela dreams of being a famous musician, performing for admiring crowds on her traditional Indian stringed instrument. Her particular instrument was a gift from her grandmother-intricately carved with a mysterious-looking dragon.

When this special family heirloom vanishes from a local church, strange clues surface: a tea kettle ornamented with a familiar pointy-faced dragon, a threatening note, a connection to a famous dead musician, and even a legendary curse. The clues point all the way to India, where it seems that Neela’s instrument has a long history of vanishing and reappearing. Even if Neela does track it down, will she be able to stop it from disappearing again?

The Drum of Destiny, by Chris Stevenson The year is 1775 and twelve-year-old Gabriel Cooper is an orphaned patriot stuck living in a house of loyalists. But when the boy discovers a discarded drum in the East River, he sees it as a call to leave his home in New York and join in the fight for freedom in Boston. With rich, historic details, Gabriel’s adventure will captivate readers as they join the boy on the difficult journey to his destiny

 

I Heart Band Series, by Michelle Schusterman and Genevieve Kote Holly Mead’s first day of seventh grade isn’t going as planned. Her brother ruins her carefully chosen outfit, she’s almost late, and her new band director has some surprisingly strict rules. Worst of all, it seems like her best friend, Julia, has replaced her with Natasha, the pretty, smart, new French horn player! Holly is determined to get first chair, but Natasha is turning out to be some pretty stiff competition—and not just in band. Band might be a competition, but friendship isn’t—and Holly needs to figure it out before she loses Julia for good.

Looking for more composer biographies? Check out this list by the American Musicological Society. What books can you recommend for middle-grade music lovers?

Wet and Windy: Books about Boats and the Water

“The owl and the pussycat went to sea in a beautiful pea green boat…” Ogden Nash

My husband and I have been rather fixated on boats lately; we’ve spent the past several weeks shopping for what is very likely our last step up, to a 30-foot sailboat. It’s not big as sailboats go, but it’s big to us.

Since we met more than 30 years ago, we’ve spent much of our time on or near the water, first in a homebuilt kayak he brought into the relationship, then a series of other small boats. About 14 years ago, he asked if he was being hasty by investing in a “real” sailboat. Hasty? You’ve got to be kidding. Just get the darned thing! He did. We’ve been enjoying real sailboats since.

There is something about the water. I grew up in arid central Oregon wandering the banks of rivers that became trickles in some places in summer. We lived six hours from the coast. When I was a middle grader, my family moved East, and I had my first view of an ocean.

It’s been a love affair ever since, between me and the water. When I met my husband, that love affair extended to boats.

It’s about more than transportation, as Ratty and Mole demonstrate in The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame. “Messing about in boats” is a lifestyle that for us includes wandering the docks of any coastal town we visit, from Greece to Monterey to Halifax. It also includes binoculars for spotting sea birds (and whales!), water shoes for tide-pooling, and every wildlife and plant guide we can carry.

Pacific Intertidal Life: A Guide to the Organisms of Rocky Reefs and Tidepools of the Pacific Coast, by Ron Russo and Pam Olhausen fits in a pocket. We also carry laminated sea bird and saltwater fish guides, the better to explore the many layers of the ecosystem around us.

And we read books about boats, about people who use the water as livelihood, about people who weather storms and find courage in facing the unknown.

My Dad introduced me to the allure of the sea-going story when I was 9 or 10 by sharing some of his childhood favorites, like Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson, and Captains Courageous, by Rudyard Kipling.

Over the years, I’ve found others as well, like Avi’s The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, a swashbuckling story of murder and the integrity of a young girl.

The Wanderer, by Sharon Creech, told through the travel logs of two young sailors, stuck with me a long time.

Boston Jane: An Adventure, the first in Jennifer Holm’s “Boston Jane” series, has the main character, refined young Jane Peck, traveling aboard ship from Philadelphia to a new life in the Northwest.

Our own Rosanne Parry’s Turn of the Tide delivers the excitement and magical allure of sailing as well as the dangers of ignoring the power of our environment. I was really taken with another water-related story line in this contemporary novel, and that was learning more about the Columbia River bar pilots who navigate this unique waterway in the United States. These professionals are trained specifically to navigate the Columbia’s treacherous bars and tricky currents.

Touch Blue, by Cynthia Lord, is an obvious choice, set as it is on an island. This gentle and heartwarming book is filled with the essence of what I love most about the water, and the special attachment one can form for living a life near it.

For older middle grade readers (or grownups), Clare Vanderpool’s Printz-Award winning Navigating Early is a beautiful read for just the right kid, and those who love archaic language and history might also enjoy Joshua Slocum’s Sailing Alone Around the World, a favorite among sailors everywhere.

My Mixed Up Files friends shared many other titles with me, and goodness, how my own TBR list has grown! Here are some they mentioned:

Windcatcher, by Avi

Beyond the Bright Sea, by Lauren Wolk

Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, by Gary D. Schmidt

Flutter, by Erin Moulton

Heart of a Samurai and The Bamboo Sword, by Margi Preus

I’ve got one on hold and the rest in my library wish list now.

Do you have a favorite book about sailing, boats, or the sea? I’d love to add even more to my list.

 

A Chat With Author Trudi Trueit & A Giveaway of My Top Secret Dares & Don’ts!

Please give a warm Mixed-Up welcome to Author Trudi Trueit and her latest release My Top Secret Dares & Don’ts. I’m so excited to have the opportunity to interview Trudi. Plus, this is my first post for MUF, so if I sound overly-excited don’t worry. It will eventually wear off.

Twelve-year-old Kestrel must battle evil twin sisters and overcome her own worst fear to prevent the foreclosure of her grandmother’s beloved lodge in this fresh, funny M!X novel.

Description: Kestrel and her family are headed out to Vancouver, BC, to help out her grandmother at her beautiful ski lodge. It’s been in the family for generations, but the business is in trouble—and there are lots of people looking to take over the property.
Kestrel is determined to help her family retain their precious business—one that her grandfather built literally from the ground up. But two evil twins—who happen to be the daughters of a property developer determined to drive the lodge out of business—prove to be her nemeses in every way possible. Can Kestrel help save the lodge and beat the twins at their own game?

Sounds amazingly sweet, doesn’t it? Well it was. Want to know how I know that? Trudi was gracious enough to share a copy with me. Feel free to read my thoughts HERE.

Hi Trudi! It’s wonderful to have you here. I’m intrigue by writers who are successful in writing both fiction and non-fiction. Mind sharing  your reasons and inspirations for writing fictional tales, and how do those differ from your nonfiction work? 

I’ve always loved to read! As a kid, I couldn’t wait for the Scholastic Book Club order to come in so I could lug home my stack of new books. I started writing stories and plays when I was in early elementary school, inspired by writers I admired, such as Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, E.B. White, and E.L. Konigsburg. Although I adored the book Mixed Up Files, my all-time favorite book is Kongisburg’s Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth. I identified closely with the main character and it taught me the most powerful thing a story can have is relatable characters.

Fiction and nonfiction have more in common than you might think. With both genres, you must be clear and succinct, write lively prose, and tell a good story. Fiction is the ultimate in creativity; there are a million different choices you can make about where the plot will go at any given point. You are in complete control. With nonfiction, you are telling stories that aren’t your own, yet you still have decisions to make about the angle, the narrative, and what to include (and leave out). I especially enjoy the research aspect of nonfiction; interviewing experts and unearthing new gems of information. Can you tell I was a TV journalist before I wrote for children? Also, nonfiction can have as much lasting power as fiction! A book I wrote on the water cycle more than a decade ago is still being used in school curriculums today.

Great point about writing techniques being the same. And those SBC order forms … Yes! I always had a hard time dwindling my choices down to one or two. 

I’m a character name fanatic and the name Kestrel is definitely unique. What about this character told you her name should be Kestrel?

I am a character name freak, too. I try to select a name that reflects personality and struggles. Several years ago, I met a Native American woman named Kestrel. She was a volunteer at a wildlife rehab facility, helping injured eagles and hawks (a kestrel is a type of falcon). I tucked the name away with the idea that one day I would give it to a character, who needed to spread her wings. When I started thinking about my main character in Dares & Don’ts, who was small in stature and hiding behind her fears, I knew she needed a name to aspire to. She had to discover she had it within her to fly! Kestrel seemed like the perfect fit. BTW, Kestrel’s grandmother is named Lark – another bird!

Kestrel’s desire to help her family is admirable. How important is it to you, the author, to include a middle grader’s family and interactions with them in your books? Have you found it makes a difference to your readers?

It’s everything! Your family plays an integral role in your values and how you identify with the world. Unless you’re doing a story about an orphan, you can’t have a well-rounded story about a 12-year-old without giving him/her a sense of family (even then, an orphan’s friends become his/her family). Plus, it’s our intimate relationships that reveal who we truly are. If you read about a girl, who is kind to her friends but viciously insults her little sister, it speaks volumes about the person she is. There’s no better way to show readers the heart of a character than to peer behind the doors at home. And I do think it matters to readers. After my last book, The Sister Solution (the story of two sisters who are as different as night and day) I got many letters from readers saying, “This is exactly how my sister and I relate to each other!”

“…our intimate relationships that reveal who we truly are.” I love this. Great note for writers. If you could take Kestrel and drop her into a different book which book would it be and why?

I’d love to drop Kestrel into Stealing Popular, another title of mine. It’s the story of a girl, Coco, who decides to play Robin Hood in her middle school. She ‘steals’ from the popular kids to give to the misfits and outcasts, who never seem to get any breaks. Coco finds a way to get her best friend on the cheer staff and the least popular girl in school voted as Fall queen. With Coco’s courage and Kestrel’s tenacity, they’d make a great team!

What makes this book different from some of the other stories you’ve written?

This book, more than any other, tapped into my life during a very dark time – my mother’s death. After she passed, it took me a while to find my desire to write again, but I knew she wouldn’t want me to wallow. She was my first reader ever and my champion until the very end. The random thoughts I wrote down after her death sowed the seeds for Dares and Don’ts. Often, the first time kids face death is through the loss of a grandparent. In the book, Kestrel didn’t know her grandfather well (my grandfather died before I was born) and she doesn’t know how to comfort her grandmother through the grieving process. Kestrel is afraid she’ll say or do the wrong thing. She’s scared she may make things worse. Still, she doesn’t back away from Grandma Lark, which would be the easiest thing to do. She hangs in there and, in doing so, discovers it’s not her words or actions that matter – it’s her mere presence, her love, that is helping her grandmother heal.

I can only imagine. I’m sure it was tough to get back to writing, but we’re all glad you did. <3 

How do you navigate the social arena and connect with your readers when most of them are at an age where they aren’t connected via social media?

That is true, many young readers aren’t on social media but most do spend some time on the internet. The best way I can connect with them is by making it easy to find me. I have a kid-friendly web site, www.truditrueit.com where readers and their parents can log on to find out about my titles, read my bio, and drop me a note. I also put out an e-newsletter twice a year so they (or their parents) can subscribe to that to keep up on news or join my reader street team (a street team is a group of kids willing to read and review a new release). Another great way to reach readers is through the incredible people, who put my books into their hands: librarians! So I share news and run giveaways through social media channels like Facebook (facebook.com/truditrueit) and Twitter (@truditrueit)

This is fabulous! Again, writers take note.

Let’s leave your readers and writing admirers with your most valuable piece of writing advice in a tweet + hashtag.

Your first idea is rarely your best. Think of another. And another. #writersdigdeep @truditrueit

LUV! Guess what I’m hopping off to tweet? Lastly, what can your fans expect from you next?

I just finished (as in two days ago!) the first book in an action/adventure middle grade fiction series for National Geographic, which should be out this time next year. It’s an exciting project and I can’t wait to share more about it soon!

Oh wow! That sounds amazing. Looking forward to reading it. Thank you for joining us and for sharing your wisdom, work, and excitement. All the best to you always.

Trudi Trueit knew she’d found her life’s passion after writing (and directing) her first play in the fourth grade. Since then, she’s been a newspaper journalist, television news reporter and anchor, and freelance writer, but her favorite career is what she does now—writing for kids and tweens. She’s published more than100 fiction and nonfiction titles for young readers, including My Top Secret Dares and Don’ts, The Sister Solution, Stealing Popular (Aladdin MIX) and the Secrets of a Lab Rat series (Aladdin). She loves all things chocolate and lives with her husband and two cats north of Seattle, WA. Visit her

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Simon & Schuster Author Page | Trudi’s Fiction on Amazon

And guess what, Mixed-Up Files readers? Trudi is offering up a copy of My Top Secret Dares & Don’ts to one lucky winner! (US only.)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Here are two more sweet reads by Trudi!

 

 

 

Click on the images for more! 

S.A. Larsen, known to family & friends as Sheri, is the author of the award-winning  middle grade novel Motley Education, numerous community interest stories, young adult shorties, and her soon-to-be released young adult novel Marked Beauty.