Category Archives: For Librarians

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?

Our Mighty Girls (and a mighty giveaway, too)

Last month fellow MUFer Sarah Aronson and I were happy to learn that a panel we proposed for this year’s National Council of Teachers of English (aka NCTE) was accepted. The topic is “Our Mighty Girls”, and we’ll be talking about how young middle grade series featuring strong female heroes can help build empathy and demonstrate peaceful problem-solving to all readers. Unless the conference’s organizers decide to give us a half a day or so, I’m afraid we’ll be hard pressed to say all we want!

Our two fellow panelists are:

Kate Hannigan, author of

Cousins Willow and Delia lead a diverse cast of characters who solve their challenges with smarts, humor, compassion and yes, sweets!

And Crystal Allen, author of

Mya, a true free spirit, longs to be a cowgirl. She meets issues of bullying, name-calling and miscommunication with enough spirit for ten kids and a heart big enough to both learn and forgive.

Sarah’s delightful new series  

debuts this month, and features a main character who knows what it’s like to work hard, be patient and never give up if you want to reach your goal.

The third book of my CODY series

is just out (more about that at the end of this post!)

Writing our proposal got us thinking about how many wonderful series there are for young middle graders, and how they pave the way for longer, more complex books without skimping on character development or rich themes.  Readers become long-term friends with these characters, and grow along with them. Two of my current-and-all-time-favorites are hilarious, heart-tugging “Clementine” by Sara Pennypacker and Marla Frazee, and droll, outside the box “Ivy and Bean” by Annie Barrows and Sophie Blackall.

And, to give away my age once and for all, here are three I loved when I was eight or nine:

Best friends forever and ever!

Who didn’t want to be Pippi? Or at least her friend?

Need I say more? That name has become synonymous with childhood.

Which are your favorites, old or new?

*********

I started writing my CODY books as a sort of antidote to my heavier-duty middle grade novels. I wanted to write funny. Simple. I wanted to stay in the light, away from the dark. But as I got to know Cody, a girl who feels empathy for everyone and everything (including skunks and Madagascar hissing cockroaches), I  realized it was going to be more complicated than I thought. Children feel things through and through. They feel joy in their toes, sorrow in their bellies, confusion prickling their skin. This might be truest of all for the younger middle grade reader.

So even when I’m writing about things that seems simple on the surface–a lost cat, a mean teacher, a first sleep-over, a big brother who’s sad–I try to honor how large they loom in Cody’s budding life. Funny and happy as she mostly is, Cody puzzles her way through all sorts of dilemmas. In the newest book, she learns what it means to wrestle with a conscience. Whew. It’s mighty hard.  But then, Cody is a mighty girl.

To celebrate  all the Mighty Girls, I’m giving away  a copy of the new CODY as well as the first two books, “Cody and the Fountain of Happiness” and “Cody and the Mysteries of the Universe”. Leave a comment below to enter. (U.S. readers only, please).

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.