Monday, August 28, 2006


Okay, I am going to go out on a limb and hope you will forgive this shameless moment of self-promotion, but I have to share my joy that SING A SONG OF TUNA FISH (9 and up) has been released in paperback in time for the start of the new school year. This book actually has nothing to do with tuna fish; it is a memoir about my growing up in Chicago during the 1970's, focusing on my fifth grade year. In it, I describe things like egging a car with my mother (understandably, she is not too happy about that), stealing a matzoh from under the chair of a hundred-year-old rabbi, attending a school where I could choose disco dancing over math, getting butt-switching lessons from a fifth grade diva, losing my brother under about ten feet of snow after a blizzard, and throwing my grandmother the surprise party to end all surprise parties. It is graced with spot illustrations by the talented LeYuen Pham, who, as always, did her homework to recreate the mood that will have Gen-X'ers reveling in the familiar.

So many children I worked with liked to write stories about haunted houses, car chases, zombies and aliens... I am especially excited because I wrote this book with the hope that it could show children that their own real lives are worth writing about. Each chapter can serve as a springboard into journaling activities for kids. I have an on-line chapter-by-chapter teacher's guide, which also includes a list of other memoirs by children's authors and illustrators. SING A SONG OF TUNA FISH is also available on audiobook, which I had the pleasure of narrating myself for Listening Library. Though this is one of my favorite books I have written, and certainly the most personal, it was a bit of a sleeper...I am glad that it can wake up to a new life in paperback, a format that will reach more kids and the people who love them.

Meanwhile, I am chewing my cuticle to rags, as responses and reviews loom for VIVE LA PARIS, the soon-to-be released companion to SAHARA SPECIAL ( reviews are welcome, people, it's good practice!). VIVE LA PARIS is a "companion novel," not a "sequel," because I was careful to try to write a book that would stand on it's own (though the slow-burning Miss Pointy is still teaching, and our favorite "bad boy" Darrell makes a return...I love that kid). This is the story of Sahara's classmate, Paris, who is taking piano lessons with an elderly woman with a secret...a secret that might help Paris deal with the bullies in her life, and in the life of her gentle brother.

As a teacher, reading books like NUMBER THE STARS by Lois Lowry and KING MATT THE FIRST by Janusz Korczak to inner-city African-American kids, I dreamed of someday writing something that would connect children of different cultures, and a different era, to the experiences of WWII in a way that would really speak to THEM, and NOW. That seed was watered by comments made by Sharon Flake in reference to her book BANG!, about how important it is to tell the story of people on the news, even after the television goes off. I wanted children not only to learn history, not only to hear about what's happened in the world, but to use it so it doesn't have to be repeated, which is what Paris tries to do (even though its harder than she imagined). I also wanted to use writing as a tool to help fortify children as they confront the onslaught of news of war and terror. I hope VIVE LA PARIS connects young readers to history in a way that is recognizable and relevant to their own lives, and gives them some hope and power to do better.

Well. We'll see. Anyhoo, stay tuned this week, as I may have a few more advance copies available for librarians and book clubs! Also, I'll have back-to-school themed books to review, and to get things rolling, let's start with THE WHEELS ON THE SCHOOL BUS by Mary-Alice Moor, illustrated by Laura Huliska Beith (HarperCollins). The librarian on the bus says read, read, read! the custodian on the bus says, mop, mop, mop! The coach, the teachers, the lunch lady, and yes, some children chime in, introducing storytime listeners to the whole cast of their merry school day. A rollicking find, and a fresh take on an old favorite. (4 and up)

Also of interest:
THE WHEELS ON THE BUS by Paul O. Zelinsky (Dutton). If you don't have it already, you need this rock-and-roll pop-up version of the original song. Pre-dating the moveable masterpieces of Robert Sabuda, this book is the wheel deal. (4 and up)

Links are provided for informational use. Don't forget to support your local bookseller.


Andromeda Jazmon said...

I absolutely love Sing a Song of Tuna Fish. I read it out loud to my fifth graders. I had to keep stopping so I could burst out laughing. I think I may have had to wipe away a few tears right in front of them. The kids stared at me in amazement. They listened with their mouths hanging open.

Anonymous said...

I cannot wait to have my fifth grade teachers read Sing a Song of Tuna Fish aloud to their classes. Laugh out loud funny. And it really makes me think of my own fifth grade experiences.


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