Maureen

Between the Covers with Shawn Stout

posted by: January 19, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for A Tiny Piece of SkyShawn Stout takes a break from her popular Penelope Crumb series to introduce young readers to Frankie Baum in her engaging new middle grade novel A Tiny Piece of Sky. It is 1939 in Hagerstown, Maryland, and Frankie Baum, the youngest of three sisters, is wondering if her German-born father really is a spy. Newbery Honor and National Book Award-winner, Kathi Appelt raves about this captivating coming-of-age story, “At turns hilarious, at turns heartbreaking, Shawn Stout’s story shows us the damage that a whisper campaign can do to a family and a community, and at the same time shows us, each of us, a way to find our hearts.”

 

Between the Covers: What was the inspiration behind A Tiny Piece of Sky?

 

Shawn Stout: A Tiny Piece of Sky was inspired by the lives of my grandparents, Albert and Mildred Beck, and their three daughters, in the 1930s. My grandfather, the son of German parents, was a restaurant owner and businessman in Hagerstown, Maryland, and amidst the post-WWI anti-German hysteria, he was falsely accused of being a Nazi spy. Following those accusations, there was an organized boycott of his restaurant, which sent him and my grandmother into a financial crisis and contributed to my grandfather’s early death.

 

I grew up listening to my mother’s stories about her family’s restaurant, about the rumors of espionage and about the boycott. Many decades later, after my grandmother died, we were cleaning out her apartment and found letters dated 1939 from local civic organizations, which voiced their support for my grandfather and his restaurant, and denounced the accusations that he was a German spy. I held onto those letters and knew that one day I would write about their story.

 

BTC: Frankie is Number Three, the youngest of three sisters and yet she is spunky and fun. Is her character autobiographical in any way? The sisterly relationships are so real. Did you draw on real life experience from your own family?

 

SS: Like Frankie, I’m a Number Three, so I do know what it feels like to be the last to do everything. (It doesn’t feel so great, let me tell you.) I certainly heard a lot of “No, you’re not old enough,” when I was a kid, so I can relate to Frankie’s frustrations. But that’s where our similarities end, I think. Frankie is much more adventurous than I was at her age, and she has a lot more gumption. Gumption. I love that word.

 

The relationship between the Baum sisters was really fun to write. I don’t think I consciously drew on any experiences from my own life, but it’s hard to say where things come from when I’m writing. Having an older brother and sister, though, has definitely helped shape who I am and made me sensitive to the dynamics between siblings.

 

BTC: You did an amazing job of capturing the feeling of life in a small city during the war. What kind of research did you do to create this authentic setting? What is your writing process like?

 

SS: Before I wrote a single word, I read a lot of books about pre-WWII era in the United States, and about anti-German sentiment and the super-patriotism of the time. I listened to radio broadcasts from the 1930s like “The Shadow” and dug up newsreels and local newspaper articles. I also interviewed family members and those few still living who worked at my grandparents’ restaurant in the 1930s. To get a feel for the place, I was able to find photographs dated 1938 of the restaurant and staff, as well as advertising postcards, matchbooks and an original menu.

 

My writing process is different for each book. For this one, I started out with the research and tried to immerse myself in the period. Then, once I felt as though I had enough of a handle on the time and place, I started writing. I knew I wanted to tell the story mostly through the youngest Baum’s eyes — Frankie’s — so I started with her character until I could find her voice. When I found it, the story started to take off.

 

BTC: One of the most impressive feats in this book is your ability to address injustice through Frankie’s eyes without preaching. So many children’s books seem to feel a need to teach a lesson and become didactic. How do you let the reader come to his/her own conclusion and avoid lecturing?

 

SS: That’s a great question. I try to stay inside my characters’ head as much as I can and let them react to what happens in the story as it unfolds. Honestly, as I’m writing, I’m rarely thinking about the reader — my focus is on the story and the characters — so the idea of teaching lessons or morals doesn’t ever occur to me. I learn so much about the world through my characters as I’m writing, so there’s no place for me, as the author, to preach to anyone.   

 

BTC: What were some of your favorite books as a child and what do you tell children who ask for advice on how to be a writer?

 

SS: My favorite book as a child was The Secret Garden, but I read everything I could get my hands on. I was also in love with Beverly Cleary’s Ramona series. I still am, actually.

 

BTC: Will you share with our readers some of your favorite things about living in Maryland?

 

SS: I grew up in Maryland and continue to love living here for many reasons — watching the seasons change, being close to both the mountains and the ocean and the Chesapeake Bay, and enjoying its eclectic cities. Maryland has so much to offer. I’ve lived here all my life and still haven’t explored everything.

 

 

BTC: What can your fans look forward to next?

 

SS: I’m working on a new middle grade novel, but it’s too early in the process to talk about it in very much detail. I will say that it has to do with a lonely girl, an unkindness of ravens and a bit of old magic.


 
 

ALA Youth Media Awards Announced

posted by: January 11, 2016 - 11:30am

Cover art for Finding WinnieCover art for Last Stop on Market StreetCover art for Gone Crazy in AlabamaThe most prestigious awards for teen and children's literature were announced by the American Library Association in Boston earlier this morning. Awards were given in a wide range of categories that covered all formats and age levels. A complete list of awards, winners and honorees can be found here.

 

The Caldecott Medal is awarded annually to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children. This year’s winner is Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World's Most Famous Bear written by Lindsay Mattick and illustrated by Sophie Blackall. Blackall's warm gouache-and-ink illustrations complement this story of the real bear who inspired the creation of the beloved Winnie-the-Pooh. Caldecott Honor winners include Trombone Shorty written by Troy Andrews and illustrated by Bryan Collier, Waiting written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes, Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement illustrated by Ekua Holmes and written by Carole Boston Weatherford and Last Stop on Market Street written by Matt de la Pena and illustrated by Christine Robinson.

 

The oldest of the medals awarded, the John Newbery Medal, is awarded to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. This year’s medal recipient is Matt de la Pena for Last Stop on Market Street, a picture book illustrated by Christine Robinson sharing the simple story of a young boy riding the bus with his grandmother and learning to find the beauty in everyday things.  Three books were selected as Honor winners: The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson and Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan.

 

The Michael L. Printz Award annually honors the best book written for teens, based entirely on its literary merit. This year’s winner is Bone Gap by Laura Ruby. Ruby blends mystery, romance and magical realism and draws the reader into this place and the story of Finn, an eighteen-year-old outsider who is the only witness to an abduction. Printz Honor awards went to Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez and Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick.

 

The Coretta Scott King Awards are given to outstanding African American authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults that demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values.  Bryan Collier received the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award for his vibrant mixed media collages which bring to life the story of author Troy Andrews who shares his childhood dream of becoming a musician. Rita Williams-Garcia, one of the authors selected for this year’s inaugural BCReads, was awarded the Coretta Scott King Author Award for Gone Crazy in Alabama, the final installment in the heartwarming Gaither family series that began with One Crazy Summer. Congratulations also to local author, Ronald L. Smith, author of Hoodoo, for winning the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Author Award. Be sure to read more about our hometown winner in our interview with Smith earlier this year. 


 
 

The Rogue Not Taken

posted by: January 5, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for The Rogue Not TakenBestselling author Sarah MacLean brings TMZ to pre-Victorian times in The Rogue Not Taken, the first in her new Scandal & Scoundrel series. Lady Sophie Talbot preferred life as a commoner, but when her father’s success secured him an earldom she was thrust into the highest echelons of London society. Sophie shies from the spotlight until her philandering brother-in-law causes her to create a very public scene and earn the scorn of the aristocracy. Think along the lines of the Beyonce/Jay Z/Solange elevator incident and you’ve got the picture.

 

Vowing to leave London, she stows away in the carriage of Kingscote, the Marquess of Eversley. King is a charmer with an ill-deserved (but welcome) reputation as a rake. When Sophie is discovered, King is sure that she is trying to trick him into marriage despite her avowal that he is the last man she would ever marry. Sophie asks King to take her to her childhood home claiming a lost love is waiting for her. While he is disbelieving, he agrees to give her a ride.   

 

This will turn out to be the journey of a lifetime for these two who are at odds from the beginning and continue to snipe along the way. Yet when trouble strikes, they have each other’s backs and slowly the bickering turns to flirtatious banter and the sparks begin to fly. This compelling story is enhanced by MacLean’s fast-paced storytelling, clever dialogue and sharp wit. Sophie and King are clearly drawn, engaging characters whose emotional connection is palpable. This intense romantic journey is peppered with comedy and action while also serving as a cutting commentary on pre-Victorian upper class society.


 
 

The Marriage Pact

posted by: December 22, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for The Marriage PactIt’s Marci Thompson’s Big 3-0, and her life on this milestone birthday isn’t at all what she envisioned in M.J. Pullen’s debut The Marriage Pact. Instead of a successful career, a handsome husband, a couple of kids and a dream home, Marci is working a temp accounting job, having an affair with Doug, her married boss, and living in what used to be a motel room. But then Jake, one of her closest friends from back home in Atlanta, sends her a picture of a cocktail napkin contract the two of them drunkenly signed 10 years ago — they would get married if both were still single at 30.

 

The reappearance of this pact shakes Marci’s belief in her feelings for Doug, who is promising to leave his wife and start a real life with Marci. She puts Jake on the back burner, but is crushed when Doug unceremoniously dumps her because his wife is pregnant. While trying to stay strong at work, the depth of her pain is severe, and she finally realizes she needs to make big changes in her life to alter the bleakness of her future. She moves back to Atlanta where she has the support of family and friends, including Jake.  

 

Jake is ready to pick up where they left off, but Marci's heart is still recovering. The two take baby steps toward a real relationship and even get engaged, but have they really grown up? This is a fast-paced, funny read with likeable and charming characters who readers will look forward to meeting again as Pullen adds to this appealing series. Fans of Emily Giffin, Lauren Graham and Jennifer Weiner will delight in a new author to add to their list of favorites.

 


 
 

HAPPY 100TH Birthday, Frank Sinatra!

posted by: December 8, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for Sinatra the ChairmanDecember 12 marks the 100th anniversary of Frank Sinatra’s birth, and three new books celebrate his legacy. Ol’ Blue Eyes remains an iconic figure in American culture with his mystique enduring long after his death in 1998.

 

Sinatra the Chairman by James Kaplan is a detailed examination of the life and career of this legendary performer. By delving into his complex relationships and prolific career, Kaplan exposes the multi-faceted layers that made this man —singer, actor, mogul, friend and lover. This is the follow-up to 2010’s Frank: The Voice and picks up in 1954, after Sinatra won an Academy Award and was firmly re-entrenched as a top selling recording artist.Cover art for Why Sinatra Matters

 

Award-winning author Pete Hamill’s Why Sinatra Matters was first published in 1999 and is being re-issued in time for the anniversary of Sinatra’s birth, along with a new introduction from the author. This book serves as both a unique homage and an insightful portrait of a complex man. Hamill’s beautifully written portrait brings to life a man whose entertaining touched so many generations. 

 

Cover art for Frank & Ava: in Love and WarFrank & Ava: In Love and War by John Brady fully explores this volatile relationship which shaped both their lives. Ava had two short-lived marriages behind her and a succession of high profile suitors when she and Frank met. The spark was instantaneous and the two began a tempestuous affair, despite Frank’s marriage which ended soon after in divorce. Frank and Ava’s subsequent marriage was a series of fights, separations and reconciliations which ultimately ended in divorce. Despite the not-so-happy ending, Brady’s exploration of this glamorous couple is compelling. Gossip columnist Liz Smith said of this duo, "If I had to go back in Hollywood history and name two people who were most desperately and passionately in love with each other, I would say Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner were it." 

 

Want more? Check out this list of music, movies and more books featuring the Chairman of the Board.
 


 
 

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