Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Interview with Author Greg Howard, author of The Whispers

The Whispers is my pick for best Middle Grade Book of 2019!
I'm never wrong. See my five star Review Here. As a reviewer for both School Library Journal and
VOYA and a Cybils fiction judge, I have an uncanny record for
picking the winners. My interview with Author Greg Howard follows:

Interview Questions for Greg Howard

Some questions are about your book, middle grade books, writing and life.  
Readers, parents, bloggers and librarians will want to know about you, the author.

What is the MOST important lesson you learned from an elder
(grandparent, parent or other)?
There is a scene in The Whispers where Riley’s parents have him and his brother
decorate two empty laundry detergent bottles up as people, writing the name
Can’t on one and If on the other. Then their father digs two small graves in the
backyard where they have a funeral and bury can’t and if. This came directly
from my childhood. My father directed my brother and I to do exactly
the same thing and after we buried those words in the backyard,
we weren’t allowed to use them anymore. It was a powerful lesson that might
have slipped by me as nothing more than a game or a fun exercise at
the time, but that lesson stuck with me for a lifetime. I don’t say I can’t do
something, or I could if this or that. No excuses - just do it, whatever it might be.

In the author note, you write about losing your mother at a young
age and how grief manifested itself to keep you safe. Besides
the alternate story, did you have any other coping mechanisms?
Television was definitely one of my main coping mechanisms and a great escape
from reality. I would get lost in all those stories for hours and I felt like the
characters were part of my life, like my friends. I particularly remember
being obsessed with Samantha Stephens. Yes, that Samantha
Stephens—the good witch married to the mortal and whose mother appeared
out of thin air at the most inconvenient times wearing fabulous flowing lingerie.
Bewitched was one of my favorite TV shows because it opened up a world
in which anything was possible with the crinkle-twitch of your mouth,
snapping your fingers or flailing your hands in the air.

When you were writing this book, did you have any idea how
impactful it would be on young readers’ lives? (dealing with grief,
coming out, knowing their true gender?)
Honestly as I was writing the book, I wasn’t really thinking about that. I simply
had a very personal story that I had to tell. But when the first draft was done,
going through the editing process, I started to feel the weight of that possible
impact. But if I can reach just one queer kid living out in the country
somewhere who feels alone and isolated and show them that
they’re not alone and that they matter, I will feel like I did my job.

Middle grade books are beginning to address topics that were
usually only tackled in YA. Besides being queer (and I hope
I’m using the right word here. If I’m wrong, please correct me.
What other term or terms, can be used?), what topics would
YOU like to see in middle grade books?
It is absolutely fine to use the word queer as it’s a very inclusive word.
I love that we are seeing more difficult topics tackled in middle grade
because kids that age are dealing with these issues every day. I would
love to see more middle grade books tackle the problem of racism
and xenophobia. Kids are taught this thinking from a very young age,
so it’s never too early in childhood development to address, in my

Writers go through many stages: drafting, editing, rewrites,
more editing. How long from start to finish book, did it take for
The Whispers? How many edits did you do as a writer?
It took me about five months to write the first draft of The Whispers.
The book had not been sold yet, so I went through it a couple of times
before I sent it to my agent who always has wonderful editorial
insights. I believe we went through two more rounds of developmental
edits before she sent it out on submission. So that’s four rounds of
edits right there. Then when the book sold to Putnam/Penguin
I went through another round of developmental edits with my editor,
and then four rounds of line edits. And yes, each time, you have to
start from the beginning and go through the entire manuscript. And then
when I knew it was my very last chance to catch anything, I went through
it one more time before turning in the final draft. That’s ten times
through the manuscript after the first draft was complete. And yes,
we still missed a couple of things, but I’m not about to spill the
beans. We will correct those on the first reprint.

What was your favorite book as a young child? As a teenager?
My favorite books as child were those in the Encyclopedia Brown
series. My favorite book as a teenager was The Shining. Go figure.

What is the best book (any genre) you’ve read in the last year
and why?
I recently read Beloved by Toni Morrison for the first time.
The language is so beautiful and effortless even though the story
is completely raw and devastating.

What living celebrity, sports figure, actor or person do you
admire most?
Barack Obama—to me he is the embodiment of grace, wisdom,
and perseverance.

If you had millions of dollars, what charity would you help?
If you had millions of hours, what charity would you volunteer
your time for?
I would gladly give a million dollars to the ASPCA to help protect
animals against abuse and cruelty. And if I had millions of hours
to donate, I would spend it in animal shelters.

What would you tell 8-year-old Greg if you could?
You are not alone. And you matter.

Complete the following statements: (you can be funny or serious):

I’m happiest when: my dogs look at me.

My current state of mind is: Contentment

My favorite saying, proverb, quote or wisdom is:
“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget
what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
― Maya Angelou

The funniest thing about growing up in the South:
The road signs.

Thank you to Greg Howard. It’s a pleasure to see
The Whispers doing so well and kids embracing Riley’s story.

Monday, January 14, 2019

STEM Pick: Picture Book: The Very Impatient Caterpillar

The Very Impatient Caterpillar
by Ross Burach
Illustrations by the author
Scholastic Press
32 pages
ISBN: 9781338289411

Quirky and quaint, this very impatient caterpillar will have young readers in giggles. The cover art says it all: Is it time yet?

A caterpillar see others climbing a tree and wants to know here everyone is going. They tell him they're going to build their chrysalis and metamorphosize. He doesn't know what that means, but he doesn't want to have severe FOMO so he follows them.

The others build their chrysalis like good, patient caterpillars except for our impatient friend. He wants to know how long this will take, and when he finds out it's TWO WEEKS, he's batty! He tries to wait, but emerges early thinking he's a butterfly. When he tries to fly, SPLAT! He gives in and tries a second time doing everything to pass the time: he wants a comic book, he tries to order a pizza, he'd like to play a game,  and wonders what he'll do if he has to go to the bathroom (sure to cause laughter!) The other caterpillars shush him. A squirrel has a great time watching the action.

When he finally changes, he wants to know where everyone's going. They tell him "we're migrating." He goes along asking, you guessed it that famous question children ask on long trips (on short ones as well) Are we there yet?

Hilarious art by the author is captivating and the use of cartoon balloons enhance the cartoon-like story. STEM for caterpillar to butterfly and migration, this is a great read-aloud for early science classes.

Highly, highly recommended pre-school to grade 3.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Picture Book Pick: Thomas Jefferson and the Mammoth Hunt

Thomas Jefferson and the Mammoth Hunt:
The True Story of the Quest for America's Biggest Bones
by Carrie Clickard
Illustrations by Nancy Carpenter
A Paula Wiseman Book
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
40 pages
ISGN: 9781481442695

Thomas Jefferson and the Mammoth Hunt is a delightful romp in history that highlights American history and one fascinating facet of forefather Thomas Jefferson. Just one year after winning independence from British rule, Thomas Jefferson touts America as the greatest place to live. It's a beautiful country with land and riches for settlers. In King Louis' court in France,  Count Baffon begs to disagree. He says America is a swampy, dirty place. Jefferson makes it his job to prove Baffon wrong.

Jefferson begs his scouts to find the largest animal in America to show how much bigger and better America is. Soon, Jefferson receives pelts from every type of animal imaginable and giant bones arrive. When they assemble the skeleton, it's a giant sloth. Count Baffon is unimpressed. Then the most amazing discovery, the bones of a giant mammoth!

Fascinating author's note and a list of who's who are included for future history buffs. Whimsical illustrations by Nancy Carpenter breathe life into history. The illustrations are so deftly handled that people jump off the pages! Rhyming content is fun and will keep younger readers interested. This picture book has wide appeal for any readers who love history, archeology, dinosaurs, adventure and touches of whimsy. Much more than a picture book, this is a must read and a must have for all collections.

Highly recommended for early readers. Pre-school age may not sit still for the entire read, but a young one who loves dinosaurs and bones will find this fascinating. Grade K-up (depending on child's attention span).

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Middle Grade Pick: The Whispers

The Whispers
by Greg Howard
G.P. Putnam's Sons
Penguin Random House LLC
229 pages
ISBN: 9780525517498

Heartfelt, beautiful, mesmerizing and a tale that will captivate readers!

The Whispers is this year's must read for young readers, teachers, parents, everyone! It is that middle grade book  readers will remember long after finishing it.

Riley is ten when his mother disappears. He misses her and sees her influence everywhere he looks. He tries to find her in the whispered voices he hears at twilight. He prays that the voices can tell him where she's gone or better yet, bring her back home. The whispers is a story Riley's mama used to tell him every night.

Riley's family doesn't mention Mama. Photos of her have been put away as if she never existed to anyone but Riley. His grandparents refer to his "condition." Riley has two conditions: his foggy memory on the day his mother went missing and his secret "condition"--the fact that he likes boys.  His family considers Riley quiet, weak and a "Mama's boy." He is introspective, creative and soft-spoken.

Riley has to meet with "Fat Bald Detective" many times. The man keeps asking him the same questions. What does he remember about the day Mama disappeared? Riley remembers she was lying on the couch and he touched her hand. Then, he went out to play and Mama went missing. Riley doesn't see why the cops aren't searching for whoever took Mama. Why do they keep questioning him? He didn't have anything to do with her disappearance, but he does have secrets.

Everyone deals with grief differently. Riley's father becomes a shell of himself hardly speaking to anyone and he won't make eye contact with Riley.  Riley remembers Mama and how they learned a word a day from a calendar. Mama would make him use the word in a sentence and Riley continues the practice. He turns to "the whispers" to find his Mama.

The Whispers has a favorite trope of all time: the unreliable narrator--ten, now eleven-year old, Riley. He has developed an alternative narrative where "...your head and your heart tell you a different story in order to protect you" (from the Author's Note). His memory loss is a break with reality and his coping method.

The Whispers is my early pick for Best Middle Grade Book of the Year and are you listening, Bluebonnets? I believe this book will be a Texas Bluebonnet pick and other states will step up to the plate. This is a must have for all collections and a must read. The Whispers would be a great book to read as a class and the discussions would help so many kids.

Highly, highly recommended and DO NOT MISS THIS ONE.
Grades 5 and up.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.