Thursday, March 31, 2016

Middle Grade Mania!

Recently Boswellian Tim had the pleasure of accompanying authors to a school event in Waukesha. Booksellers do this all the time, but it was a uniquely different experience to him, and this post explains why.

The three authors comprising Middle Grade Mania offered 4th and 5th graders a fascinating variety of literary genres and a heartfelt look at their personal lives. As a fifth grade teacher who has brought several authors to my school, I enjoyed their personal engagement with our children, all accomplished without the use of any technology. The kids were focused on and entertained by the writers’ stories of their home lives and of the inspirations for their writing. As a new bookseller with Boswell, I watched from the other side of an author event, with admiration for the way these skilled writers opened themselves to the students’ excitement!

G. (Greg) Neri opened the event by discussing his contact with alligators near his Florida “jungle” home. The children’s attention never wandered from that moment on, staying tuned to his explanation of Tru and Nelle, his southern style, character driven novel based on the real 1930’s Mississippi childhood friendship between Truman Capote and Nelle Harper Lee. These two diametrically opposed children, Capote the fastidious intellectual in a white sailor suit and Lee the barefoot tomboy in torn bibs, find their love of Sherlock Holmes and their small town boredom to be the right combination for launching mystery solving in their own town.

Elana K. Arnold explained the personal basis for her novel Far From Fair by recounting the experience of her family selling their home and deciding to live on the road in an RV. Odette, the narrator of the book, comes to terms with the result: selling her possessions, losing her home, missing her friends, and facing the grave illness of her grandmother far from her own known world. The novel’s emotions are true, the descriptions of nature are beautiful, and Odette’s discovery that every door which closes has new life on the other side is convincing and warm.

Beth Fantaskey then captured us all by describing her extended research for Isabel Feeney, Star Reporter, a fast paced murder mystery set in 1920s gangland Chicago, where Capone is king and very few women reporters cover the crime beat. Young Izzy, who sells Tribunes on the street corner, wants to be one; and when an adult woman customer (and friend) is accused of a crime which Isabel almost literally stumbles over in an alley, she enlists her crime reporter hero and a skeptical police detective to help her clear the case. Fantaskey’s historical note describes the lives of early Chicago women crime reporters and completes the sense that we were really there!

Teachers and children left touched by an event which seemed to have something for every type of book lover!

If you're an enthusiastic educator in metro Milwaukee, contact Todd Wellman about how you can bring an author (or authors) to your school through Boswell.