What Hooked Me in Cassie Beasley’s Circus Mirandus

Megan: Circus Mirandus. I have to say, when our group took this book on, between the title and the cover, we were all like kids with saucer-shaped eyes. I mean, it’s a circus. Kids LOVE circuses. Grown-up kids like them just as much. But you know what hooked me? What makes me want to say, “Read this!” to everyone between 10 and 82 (or maybe older, I don’t know why the cutoff has to be 82)? It’s because of friendship. I truly believe that any book–any book that really digs into your heart and doesn’t let go–comes down to the relationships in it. For young adult, this is often a romantic relationship. But I think that’s what I love about middle grade. I love the focus on platonic friendship. This book gives us Jenny and Micah, and as one ascribes to magic and one doesn’t, you can see how they change and help each other. And maybe, best of all, help solve problems that seem out of reach–together. John: I was drawn in by the tenacity of the main character. I think he had such an impact on me because I tend to write characters like this–characters that don’t want to change; from the start, they cling desperately to the purpose or cause they believe in. In Circus Mirandus, Micah loves his grandfather and believes his stories when no one else will. He defies an aunt that makes Lemony Snicket look like a saint and fights to convince Jenny, his new friend, of the reality of magic, but no matter the obstacle, he refuses to give in. While I love a character like Scrooge–the greatest character ever to undergo a dynamic change, I’m also drawn to characters who refuse to let the tempestuous world swirling around change them. Jess: I got to visit a magic circus. It was wonder and adventure that hooked me. I listened to part of this book on the road and couldn’t help looking down every street and into every tree grove. Could that overgrown lot be an invisible circus? If you believe in magic, then maybe. In Circus Mirandus, the fantastical was Micah’s escape, his connection to family/friendship, and his instrument of letting go. That’s the power of fantasy. Imagining leads to exploration and possibilities. Much can be discovered when one is open to magic in the... read more

What Hooked Me: Bone Gap by Laura Ruby

Megan: So, Lauren Ruby has written this incredibly complex, lovely, funny book that takes place far from more popular settings. (OMG, if one more YA novel is set in the Northeast, I’m going to blow a gasket…there are other locales, people! Not that I mind these novels–in fact, I have some favorites set in NYC and New England–but…). Anyway, I think what I loved about this book, even more than the beautifully constructed writing, was the weaving together of the farm town location, with the sprinkling in of the international. What do I mean by that? Well, I’ve been to Poland. Actually, I am Polish. And I think it was so incredibly clever to make the beautiful girl a foreigner in this story. The culture barrier was perfectly imperfect, and I wish more authors would be comfortable with a more global approach, because I think teens (and yes, us grownups) can really benefit from trying to look at our world through the eyes of those who grow up in a different cultural experience. So I loved the Polish aspect, as much as I loved the corn being a character. It just struck the right balance between what we think we know, and what we don’t. John: Bone Gap is labeled as magical realism, and one thing that really wowed me was the magically real dialogue. The banner is quick and witty and often makes wonderful use of brevity. In WWAT crew discussions, we decided that some of the instances actually could have used more dialogue tags (he said/she said) or descriptive tags (an action that lets the reader know who is speaking. But for me, I really got caught up in the speed at which the back and forth takes place. Ruby does a wonderful job of making sure that each of the characters has a unique personality expressed through the way he or she speaks. Characters sounding too similar is an issue that’s often commented on in Amazon or Goodreads reviews, so it’s wonderful to see an actual text-study in how to do it right. Bravo Ms. Ruby! Jess: I was hooked by Bone Gap’s imagery. The magic of this story is in Laura Ruby’s words. Using her magic wand (keyboard), potions (personification), and elixirs (metaphors), she magnified her setting and charmed the mundane. Reader beware, you will be enchanted and unable to observe bees, corn, or love the same way. The pages were filled more so with... read more

What Hooked Me–A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness Story inspired by Siobhan Dowd who passed before the completion of the book)

  Megan: Loss is such a difficult subject. It’s hard to handle it in a book in a way that doesn’t make it feel too light, but also doesn’t destroy the experience for the reader or the sense of hope we need from stories. That’s why The Monster Calls drew me right in. For those who’ve lost family, it deals with loss in a very specific, expert way. By using an metaphor larger than life. That’s why I love metaphors in stories, especially in this instance. I love books that know how to use them, how to grow them into something so monstrous and wonderful, that we can’t barely deal with the emotions that come from being exposed to them. I think sometimes, it’s really hard to use metaphor in a way that’s compelling for a young reader. But in dealing with the loss of someone you love, this book showed us that monsters have all sorts of names. John: When the Monster comes calling, young Connor O’Malley expects a nightmare, instead he gets stories. The Monster plans to tell Connor three of them, and not unlike Scrooge’s ghosts, they will be delivered on three separate visits. Hearing that his intentions do not frighten or even impress Connor, the Monster then tells him: “Stories are the wildest things of all…Stories chase and bite and hunt.” Of course, all writers know this truth as we are often told: Let your characters lead you. That, however, is much easier said than done. What hooked me was Ness’ ability to let his story appear to the world as wild and unpredictable while secretly keeping it on a well-concealed leash. While we all love a good twist, stories or parables that contain a life-message certainly aren’t that. They are common and even cliche in many tales as they serve the somewhat predictable purpose of leading a protagonist to a much needed catharsis. Had Ness followed this predictable path, the reader would have reached an equally unsatisfying conclusion. However, it is a twist in each tale that gives ultimate meaning to the struggling young boy. Megan pointed out the beauty of the use of metaphor, but the symbolism in the Monster tree’s tales stands equally strong. The best stories are wild–as wild and unpredictable as the life of a young boy facing the frightening unknown of life with a dying mother. But it’s in the stories’ twists that we find truth, the same uncaged... read more

What Hooked Me? —The One And Only Ivan (Author Katherine Applegate)

  This month WWAT looks at Katherin Applegate’s wonderful The One and Only Ivan. Jess: I was hooked by the John Newbery Medal on the front cover. My childhood favorite, The Bridge to Terabithia was awarded The Newbery Medal in 1978. Because of my favorite book and many others, it is hard for me to walk past a Newbery Medal or Newbery Honor without flipping through. Some of my recent favorite Newbery Award winners are Wolf Hollow, Roller Girl, Echo, Doll Bones, Three Times Lucky, The Wednesday Wars, The Graveyard Book, and this year’s winner, The Girl Who Drank the Moon.   The Newbery is given by the Association For Library Service to Children (ALSC). The recipient is considered the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children from the previous year.  In 2013, when The One and Only Ivan won, the committee chair, Steven Engelfried said, “Katherine Applegate gives readers a unique and unforgettable gorilla’s-eye-view of the world that challenges the way we look at animals and at ourselves.” John: What hooked me was the poetry of language. Now, of course, The One and Only Ivan is not a novel in verse. But the beauty in the prose truly does border on poetry. What Katherine Applegate really impressed me with is the way she not only wrote such an artistic perspective, but did so through the mind/eyes of a gorilla and made it feel authentic–if such a thing is possible. At the very least, she gave Ivan such a tremendous voice–one that embodied isolation, wisdom, and insight while conveying the naïveté of one who has very little experience outside the four walls of Ivan’s domain/cage. Examples such as:  “Humans waste words. They toss them like banana peels and leave them to rot. Everyone knows the peels are the best part.” Both beautiful and insightful. Or “Her eyes hold the pale moon in them, the way a still pond holds stars.” So, so, so visually concrete. “Now I draw every day. … If I get tired and need a break, I eat my crayons.” Touching and yet wonderfully funny and so very gorilla. Poetry–pure poetry. Other books that master the beauty of the written word in prose are middle-grade PAX by Sara Pennypacker and young adults The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater and Small Damages by Beth Kephart. Megan: What can I say? I was hooked by the animal angle! Back in the day, I lived with my family on eight acres... read more

 What Hooked Me?—Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Jess: An Unusual Situation An unusual situation is key to introducing an intriguing character while also beginning with action. The  unusual situation is not the main event that changes the main character’s world. It is often ordinary, yet surprising. It sparks curiosity and I think Ransom Riggs utilized an unusual situation well. Jacob builds a 1/10,000-scale replica of the Empire State Building from boxes of adult diapers; the wrong brand. It’s a perfect way to show through action, who the main character is. Jacob is a spoiled brat who is trying to get fired, yet he cares deeply for his grandfather. No one else in the family seems to get grandpa, but him and he goes to great lengths because of this love. He’s a flawed character that shows moral strength through love and loyalty. I was hooked as a reader and a kindred spirit of my own grandmother. John: A Promise of Wonder Many of those who have read and commented on the book on Amazon, Goodreads, or other sites have stated that what immediately drew them to the book were the pictures. This idea makes sense since the book was first pitched as a picture book and only turned into a novel after the encouragement of the editor. And while I’ll admit the cover pulled me in, it was just as much the title, and this serves as an example of how a book sometimes can benefit from being judged by its cover. The first third of the book only hints at the magic that is to come–no school, no peculiar children–just a mention of a monster, some family intrigue, and, of course, some really cool photos. Now, because we know that those photos have to do with a school, and we know the school has a magical mystique to it, we continue to read in earnest in order to uncover the mystery. Riggs talent lies in his ability to hold us off, so to speak, and keep us interested until we can get to the payoff that the cover promised. Megan: Unique abilities, and metaphorical tie-ins Well, okay, that’s two things. But I think what really attracted me to this story was the idea of our perception of unique abilities, and how they would be accepted in society. Miss Peregrine shelters a group of very talented and jaw-dropping individuals. At first you might say that this would be boring for these children, living a sheltered life.... read more

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