Posts Tagged James Ponti

March New Releases

The month of March not only brings us spring, but also brings us a plethora of new books about spies, stars, wizards, and giants. For a taste of what the month has to offer, read on!

 


City Spies 

By James Ponti

Sara Martinez is a hacker. She recently broke into the New York City foster care system to expose her foster parents as cheats and lawbreakers. However, instead of being hailed as a hero, Sara finds herself facing years in a juvenile detention facility and banned from using computers for the same stretch of time. Enter Mother, a British spy who not only gets Sara released from jail but also offers her a chance to make a home for herself within a secret MI5 agency.

Operating out of a base in Scotland, the City Spies are five kids from various parts of the world. When they’re not attending the local boarding school, they’re honing their unique skills, such as sleight of hand, breaking and entering, observation, and explosives. All of these allow them to go places in the world of espionage where adults can’t.

Before she knows what she’s doing, Sarah is heading to Paris for an international youth summit, hacking into a rival school’s computer to prevent them from winning a million euros, dangling thirty feet off the side of a building, and trying to stop a villain…all while navigating the complex dynamics of her new team. No one said saving the world was easy…

 

 

What Stars are Made Of

By Sarah Allen

Twelve-year-old Libby Monroe is great at science, being optimistic, and talking to her famous, accomplished friends (okay, maybe that last one is only in her head). She’s not great at playing piano, sitting still, or figuring out how to say the right thing at the right time in real life. Libby was born with Turner Syndrome, and that makes some things hard. But she has lots of people who love her, and that makes her pretty lucky.

When her big sister Nonny tells her she’s pregnant, Libby is thrilled―but worried. Nonny and her husband are in a financial black hole, and Libby knows that babies aren’t always born healthy. So she strikes a deal with the universe: She’ll enter a contest with a project about Cecelia Payne, the first person to discover what stars are made of. If she wins the grand prize and gives all that money to Nonny’s family, then the baby will be perfect. Does she have what it takes to care for the sister that has always cared for her? And what will it take for the universe to notice?

 

  

The Wizenard Series: Season One

By Wesley King (author), Kobe Bryant (creator)

Reggie has never felt destined for greatness. He dreams about basketball brilliance all day and night, but the hard truth is that he’s a benchwarmer for the West Bottom Badgers the worst team in the league. Even their mysterious new coach, Rolabi Wizenard, can’t seem to help them end their losing streak.

Reggie is willing to train tirelessly to improve his game, but the gym itself seems to be working against him in magical ways. Before Reggie can become the player he dreams of being, he must survive the extraordinary trials of practice.

This is the illuminating follow-up to the #1 New York Times best seller The Wizenard Series: Training Camp―a story of strain and sacrifice, supernatural breakthroughs, and supreme dedication to the game.

 

 

If We Were Giants

By Dave Matthews and Clete Barrett Smith, illus. Antonio Javier Caparo

Kirra, a curious, agile, and outgoing girl, lives in an idyllic community hidden inside a dormant volcano. She and her father are the only two people allowed to venture beyond its walls. Kirra is in training to become a Storyteller like him, and together they travel from village to village spreading fearsome tales designed to keep outsiders away from their secret nest.

One day, after hearing rumors of strangers called the “Takers,” Kirra leaves the volcano by herself, hoping to discover her own story. But she unknowingly leads the Takers back to her doorstep, and they rob her of everything she has ever held dear.

A devastated Kirra is found by a boy named Luwan and adopted into his family, which lives among others high in the trees of a dense forest. Now quiet and withdrawn, Kirra hides her dark past from everyone and never wants to leave the safety of her tree dwelling. Luwan, on the other hand, loves to explore. One day it leads to trouble: He is captured while spying on a group of strangers. The Takers have returned. To save the Tree Folk, Kirra must face her inner demons and summon all her storytelling to weave the most important tale of her life.

 

 


Dragonslayer 
(Wings of Fire: Legends)

By Tui T. Sutherland

Ivy doesn’t trust the Dragonslayer. He may be her father and the beloved ruler of Valor, but she knows he’s hiding more than the treasure from the sand dragon he killed two decades ago.

Leaf doesn’t trust dragons. They’re the reason his favorite sister, Wren, is dead, and now he’ll do whatever it takes to slay even one.

Wren doesn’t trust anyone. She swore off humans after her village tried to sacrifice her to the dragons. She only has one friend, a small, wonderful mountain dragon named Sky, and they don’t need anyone else.

In a world of dragons, the humans who scramble around underfoot are easy to overlook. But Ivy, Leaf, and Wren will each cross paths with dragons in ways that could shape the destiny of both species. Is a new future possible for all of them . . . one in which humans can look to the skies with hope instead of fear?

 

 

Tyrannosaurus Wrecks

By Stuart Gibbs

Teddy was all set for a campout at his friend Sage’s family ranch—but then Sage gets terrible news: The skull of a rare dinosaur that was being excavated on his property has mysteriously vanished overnight in the middle of a rainstorm, even though it weighed 500 pounds. Not a single footprint has been left behind. Since the dinosaur was top secret, the police don’t believe anyone outside the dig could have stolen it.

A T-rex skull can sell for millions of dollars, and everyone is a suspect—including J.J. McCracken, the owner of FunJungle.

Meanwhile, Teddy’s old foes, the Barksdale twins, have gotten into trouble with an illegally purchased anaconda, and Teddy’s girlfriend Summer wants to find out who’s behind the local trade in black market reptiles. The two cases will drag Teddy into more danger and chaos than ever before, in this mystery that’s stranger than fiction.

 

 

Emily Windsnap and the Tides of Time

By Liz Kessler

When Emily makes a wish on a magic stone, she gets a glimpse of what the future holds — and it’s a disaster! She tries to make things right, but each trip through time takes Emily to a future where things turn out badly for either the humans of Brightport or the merpeople of Shiprock.

Plastic pollutes the ocean, garbage overflows the landfills, and the two towns are no longer getting along. Emily realizes she can’t save her hometown and the ocean alone, but with help from her best friends, Shona and Mandy, she’ll have to find a way to get humans and merpeople to work together.

Will Emily be able to create a better future for everyone, including herself? This new adventure gives readers a glimpse at what Emily and her friends could be like as grown-ups, with a fresh story that explores how uniting communities can make a future that’s bright for everyone.

 

 

Wayside School Beneath the Cloud of Doom

By Louis Sachar, illus. Tim Heitz

Welcome back to Wayside School!

Your favorite students and teachers are all here. That includes Sharie, who loves her striped-and-spotted umbrella more than anything; Kathy, who has a bad case of oppositosis; Jason, who has to read the longest book in the world; and the rest of Mrs. Jewls’s class on the thirtieth floor, who are busily collecting toenail clippings.

Everyone is scrambling to prepare for the all-important Ultimate Test, but meanwhile, there is a mysterious Cloud of Doom looming above them …

 

 

Black Brother, Black Brother

By Jewell Parker Rhodes

Sometimes, 12-year-old Donte wishes he were invisible. As one of the few black boys at Middlefield Prep, most of the students don’t look like him. They don’t like him either. Dubbing him “Black Brother,” Donte’s teachers and classmates make it clear they wish he were more like his lighter-skinned brother, Trey.

When he’s bullied and framed by the captain of the fencing team, “King” Alan, he’s suspended from school and arrested for something he didn’t do.

Terrified, searching for a place where he belongs, Donte joins a local youth center and meets former Olympic fencer Arden Jones. With Arden’s help, he begins training as a competitive fencer, setting his sights on taking down the fencing team captain, no matter what. As Donte hones his fencing skills and grows closer to achieving his goal, he learns the fight for justice is far from over. Now Donte must confront his bullies, racism, and the corrupt systems of power that led to his arrest.

Powerful and emotionally gripping, Black Brother, Black Brother is a careful examination of the school-to-prison pipeline and follows one boy’s fight against racism and his empowering path to finding his voice.

 

 

The Great Upending

by Beth Kephart

Twelve-year-old Sara and her brother Hawk are told that they are not to bother the man—The Mister—who just moved into the silo apartment on their farm. It doesn’t matter that they know nothing about him and they think they ought to know something. It doesn’t matter that he’s always riding that unicycle around. Mama told them no way, no how are they to bother The Mister unless they want to be in a mess of trouble.

Trouble is the last thing Sara and her brother need. Sara’s got a condition, you see. Marfan syndrome. And that Marfan syndrome is causing her heart to have problems, the kind of problems that require surgery. But the family already has problems: The drought has dried up their crops and their funds, which means they can’t afford any more problems, let alone a surgery to fix those problems. Sara can feel the weight of her family’s worry, and the weight of her time running out, but what can a pair of kids do? Well, it all starts with…bothering The Mister.

 

 

Celebrating Art Museums in Books

Did you know that today is National Go to an Art Museum Day—and more than 30,000 museums around the world are participating by holding special activities and offering discounts? No? Well then, it’s probably too late to call in sick or play hooky. But you can still celebrate vicariously by going to your library, bookstore, or favorite online site to pick up a great book about art museums. Here are a few suggestions:

 

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg

Okay, you had to know I’d include this classic novel if you’re a fan of this blog. In E.L. Konigsberg’s 1968 Newbery winner, Claudia Kincaid decides to run away with her little brother to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. After spending their days wandering around the museum and their nights hiding in odd exhibits, the two become involved in solving a museum mystery concerning an angel statue, thought to be carved by Michelangelo himself. After some sleuthing, they track down Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, the woman who sold the statue to the museum. Will she help them solve the mystery? You’ll have to read the book to find out.

 

Framed by James Ponti

Florian is twelve years old and has just moved to Washington. He’s learning his way around using TOAST, which stands for the Theory of All Small Things. It’s a technique he invented to solve life’s little mysteries such as: where to sit on the first day of school or which Chinese restaurant has the best egg rolls. But when he attempts to teach the method to his new friend Margaret, they uncover a mystery at the National Gallery of Art that involves the theft of three paintings. Will Florian’s skills help the FBI solve the crime and help him escape from the clutches of a dangerous crime syndicate?

 

The Art of the Swap by Kristine Asselin and Jen Malone

Hannah Jordan lives in a museum…well, sort of. She is the daughter of the caretaker for mansion-turned-museum The Elms in Newport, Rhode Island. Hannah is captivated by stories of The Elms’s original occupants, especially Maggie Dunlap, the tween heiress who was the subject of a painting that went missing during a legendary art heist in 1905. When a mysterious mirror allows Hannah and Maggie to switch places in time, suddenly Hannah is racing to stop the heist from happening, while Maggie gets an introduction to iPhones, soccer, and freedoms like exploring without supervision. Not to mention the best invention of all: sweatpants (so long, corsets!). As the hours tick away toward the art heist, something’s not adding up. Can the girls work together against time—and across it—to set things right? Or will their temporary swap become a permanent trade?

 

Moxie and the Art of Rule Breaking by Erin Dionne

Moxie Fleece knows the rules and follows them—that is, until the day she opens her front door to a mysterious stranger. Suddenly Moxie is involved in Boston’s biggest unsolved mystery: The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum art heist. Moxie has two weeks to find the art, otherwise she and the people she loves will be in big-time danger. Her tools? Her best friend, Ollie, a geocaching addict who loves to find stuff; her Alzheimer’s suffering grandfather, Grumps, who knows lots more than he lets on; and a geometry proof that she sets up to sort out the clues. It’s a race against the clock through downtown Boston as Moxie and Ollie break every rule she’s ever lived by to find the art and save her family.

 

The Metropolitans by Carol Goodman

The day Japan bombs Pearl Harbor, four thirteen-year-olds converge at the Metropolitan Museum of Art where an eccentric curator is seeking four brave souls to track down the hidden pages of the Kelmsbury Manuscript, an ancient book of Arthurian legends that lies scattered within the museum’s collection, and that holds the key to preventing a second attack on American soil. When Madge, Joe, Kiku, and Walt agree to help, they have no idea that the Kelmsbury is already working its magic on them. They begin to develop extraordinary powers and experience the feelings of King Arthur, Queen Guinevere, Morgan le Fay, and Lancelot: courage, friendship, love…and betrayal. Are they playing out a legend that’s already been lived, over and over, across the ages? Or can the Metropolitans forge their own story?

 

The Sixty-Eight Rooms by Marianne Malone

Almost everybody who has grown up in Chicago knows about the Thorne Rooms. Housed deep inside the Chicago Art Institute, they are a collection of sixty-eight exquisitely crafted miniature rooms. Each room is set in a different historic period, and every detail is perfect. Some might even say, the rooms are magic. But what if on a field trip, you discovered a key that allowed you to shrink so that you could sneak inside and explore the secrets of the rooms? What if you discovered that others had done so before you? And that someone had left something important behind? Eleven-year-olds Jack and Ruthie are about to find out!

 

Behind the Museum Door: Poems to Celebrate the Wonders of Museums by Lee Bennett Hopkins, illus. by Stacey Dressen-McQueen

Fourteen poems on the many dazzling collections featured in museums. The art, artifacts, and anthropological treasures found in museum collections are coupled with stunning poetry by acclaimed writers Lee Bennett Hopkins, Jane Yolen, Myra Cohn Livingston, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, and many more. The lively verse captures the wonder and amazement of the exhibition experience, from mummies to medieval relics, and from fine art to fossils.

 

 

An Interview with James Ponti (+ Giveaway)

I’m so excited to welcome author James Ponti to the blog. I had the good fortune to sit next to him at a luncheon once, and by the time I finished the meal, he had not only encouraged me with my next project, but also graciously contributed some ideas about possible themes. So if you ever find yourself in the same room with him, grab that nearby seat! In the meantime, read all about his background, his books, and his writing process below.

James began his career as a writer for television and film before turning his talents toward writing books for kids. He is the author of many young adult and middle-grade novels, including the Dead City trilogy and his new FRAMED! series, which began with Framed!, an Edgar nominee for Best Juvenile Novel, a Parents’ Choice Award Winner, and a Florida Book Award winner. The book is also on the Sunshine State Young Readers Award list in two categories: Grades 3-5 and 6-8. He recently published Vanished!, the second book in the series.

First, congratulations on the success of the series. Framed! and Vanished! are complete page-turners, which are funny and suspenseful at the same time. How did you come up with the characters of Florian Bates and his friend Margaret?

Thank you and thank you so much for having me on From the Mixed-Up Files!

When we think of mysteries, the first elements that come to mind are plots, crimes, clues, suspects, etc… That’s all good, but when we think about the mysteries we love, we almost always think about the characters, so I knew from the beginning that the most important element of the books would be Florian and Margaret.

I wanted two kids working together and I wanted the basis of the books to be their friendship. It was important that they be realistic with relatable middle school problems and while I knew they were going to be exceptionally clever, I wanted that cleverness to be fair to the reader. I hate it in a mystery when a detective just happens to know some arcane piece of trivia that solves the case or when coincidence and happenstance are the linchpins to the solution.

I wanted Florian and Margaret to solve the cases based only what was on the written page so that the reader could play along. To do that, I came up with TOAST, the Theory of All Small Things. It’s the method of observation and deduction that they use and it’s a skill that any kid could develop.

TOAST led me to Florian. I asked myself what type of kid would come up with this and it dawned on me that it could be a survival technique developed by someone who moves all the time and is constantly trying to read changing social landscapes. Florian’s parents work in museums and he’s grown up in Boston, London, Paris, and Rome. Each time, he has to solve the mystery of being in a new place, avoiding the bullies, and looking for safe harbor in a social setting. Now he’s moved to Washington and must do it all again, but luckily this time the first one he meets is his neighbor Margaret.

 I wanted them to have a yin and yang quality in that he’s more European while she’s very American. He’s socially awkward and she’s confident and athletic. But the most important part of the dynamic is that she’s the first kid who’s ever realized that he’s amazing. She sees greatness in him that he doesn’t and she brings it out.

Speaking of TOAST (Theory of All Small Things). Tell us about how you developed that concept–and the great acronym.

I developed TOAST during endless airport layovers. To pass time, I got in the habit of trying to see what I could figure out about the other people waiting at the gate with me. It’s really amazing how much we broadcast about ourselves without saying a word. I would come up with backstories based on everything from clothes, to luggage, to hairstyles. I actually got kind of good at it, and when I decided I wanted to a middle grade mystery series I knew where I wanted to begin.

I thought the technique needed a name that readers could hold onto so I decided to come up with an acronym. I wish I had a great story like I was eating breakfast and looked at a piece of toast, but the truth is, I came up with it in about thirty seconds as a lucky fluke. I said to myself, “TOAST, the Theory of All Small Things.” I liked it because it felt like an acronym that a kid would devise.

A funny side note has been translating it into other languages because the acronym only works in English. I asked that they be food related like the one that’s used in the French translation which is GRATIN, which stands for the le Guide de Recherche et Analyse de Tout Indice Negligeable. (I always knew I was a cheesy writer.)

I get the idea from reading about you and talking to you in person that you never have a shortage of stories to write about. Where do you get your ideas?

My mother was a great storyteller and from an early age I learned that the key to finding ideas was in small details. (No wonder I came up with the Theory of All Small Things.) I’ve always been attracted to the little unnoticed development that turns into something more important or the small action that is a microcosm of something much larger. As a result, I’m always looking for them.

I’ve also learned that it’s important to be empathetic and look at situations from other perspectives and to not take yourself too seriously. I have stumbled and bumbled my way through fifty-one years of life and more often than not I’ve been the punch line. If I couldn’t laugh at myself, I don’t know that I’d have many stories to tell.

Can you tell us a little bit about the process of how you get from the kernel of an idea to a complete story? Do you think about theme at all in the beginning or is it something that develops as you write?

I don’t consciously think about theme, but I think a theme of outsiders trying to find their place in the world is at the heart of everything I write. (I also think it’s at the heart of virtually all MG fiction because that’s what our readers are trying to figure out.)

If I think of a potential story, I usually start asking questions to try to tease it out. Hopefully these questions lead to ever more interesting questions and when I feel like I have something workable, I’ll run it by my wife Denise to see if she thinks there’s something to it. If it makes it past the Denise test, I’ll try to write three to five chapters. If at that point I still think it’s interesting the real fun begins.

How did you get into writing for kids, and how has writing for television influenced you as a novelist?

I knew I wanted to be a writer, but I didn’t think I would ever write novels because I was always a slow reader as a kid. My first love was movies, so when it was time for college I majored in screenwriting at the University of Southern California.

I ended up writing kids television for Nickelodeon, Disney Channel, and PBS.  I loved it and I loved writing for that age so when I finally decided to try my hand at novel writing it seemed only natural to stay with that same audience.

My television career has dramatically impacted my writing style in many ways, most notably pace, structure, and dialogue. My first two series have been told in first person and I think that’s an extension of scripting dialogue.

You were born in Italy and so was Florian. How did that influence his character?

I wanted Florian to have an outsider’s viewpoint because I think that really helps give a detective a fresh perspective. At first I imagined that he was British and when I told my brother Terry he said that detectives are always British, and said I should make him Italian like me. The second he said that, I knew that’s what it should be. So I gave him my background only I flipped it. I had an American mother and Italian father and was born in Italy but grew up in the United States, so I gave Florian the opposites – an Italian mother and American father, but he was born in the states and grew up in Europe, most recently Italy.

The mystery in Framed! involves the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. and in Vanished! it’s the Kennedy Center. Could you give us a tease about the location or premise of Book Three without it being a spoiler?

I love famous locations as settings and from the beginning knew that I wanted to tap into the cultural institutions of Washington, D.C. as backdrops for these mysteries. I like them for a number of reasons including the fact that they give you colorful settings populated by a broad range of characters. I also love that readers can look up the places and if they’re in Washington they can visit them. I think that makes the story feel that much more real.

I wanted the third book to be a bit of a love letter to all the librarians who’ve been so supportive of my books so I decided to make the mystery library based. All of the suspects are librarians who are named after actual librarians I know. This led me to picking the primary setting as the Library of Congress and additional settings at the Folger Shakespeare Library and DC Public Library. I went and visited them all for research just as I had for the National Gallery and the Kennedy Center.

One last question that I know the answer to but would be remiss in not asking, given the name of this blog: What was your favorite book when you were growing up and how did it influence you?

I was an incredibly reluctant reader as a kid, but one book managed to slip through the cracks and that was From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. I loved it and it imprinted on me in a significant way. I have always loved museums and the thought of exploring one on my own at night was the greatest fantasy I could think of. I think that the influence can be found in the fact that Florian’s parents work in museums and that realistic big city settings are part of both book series I’ve written.

When I decided to take a crack at writing kids books, the first one I picked up to read was The View from Saturday, also by E.L. Konigsburg. And when I wrote Dead City, I wanted to send her a copy with a note saying that I couldn’t have written it if it weren’t for her. To my amazement, throughout my life we’d been living in the same Florida beach community where I grew up.

Thanks so much, James, for taking the time to give us such great answers.

Readers can learn more about James at his website, Facebook, and Twitter.

Teachers and librarians interested in curriculum guides, as well as an interactive mystery game, which students can play in their school library, click here:

Read all about the books below and enter a raffle to win an autographed paperback of Framed! by leaving a note in the comments section before midnight on Oct. 1. I’ll pick a winner at random and let you all know who the lucky reader is on Tues., Oct. 3.

So you’re only halfway through your homework and the Director of the FBI keeps texting you for help …What do you do? Save your grade? Or save the country? If you’re Florian Bates, you figure out a way to do both.

Florian is twelve years old and has just moved to Washington. He’s learning his way around using TOAST, which stands for the Theory of All Small Things. It’s a technique he invented to solve life’s little mysteries such as: where to sit on the on the first day of school, or which Chinese restaurant has the best eggrolls. But when he teaches it to his new friend Margaret, they uncover a mystery that isn’t little. In fact, it’s HUGE, and it involves the National Gallery, the FBI, and a notorious crime syndicate known as EEL.

Can Florian decipher the clues and finish his homework in time to help the FBI solve the case?

 

Middle school is hard. Solving cases for the FBI is even harder. Doing both at the same time—well that’s just crazy. But that doesn’t stop Florian Bates!

After helping the FBI solve an art theft at the National Gallery and uncovering a DC spy ring, Florian’s finding life at Alice Deal Middle School a little boring. But that’s all about to change! His FBI handler, Marcus, has a job for him! Is it a bank robbery? Counterfeit ring? International espionage? Actually it’s middle school pranks…

Sounds pretty ordinary except that the pranks are happening at a prestigious private school attended by the President’s daughter who may—or may not—be involved. So Florian and Margaret are going undercover to see if they can use their TOAST skills to figure out what’s going on before the media gets hold of the story. However, once the crime-solving pair arrive at the school, they discover that there’s a lot more than a few pranks going on and the conspiracy of silence reaches all the way to the top. Then a student vanishes in the middle of a concert at the Kennedy Center and things take a sinister turn!

Can Florian and Margaret save the day? Or are they about to get toasted?