Love those ALA Youth Media Awards!

Very exciting morning watching the announcements of the ALA’s Youth Media Awards.  Laurina was present at the announcements (only fitting for a former Newbery committee-person) and I tuned in to the ALA’s webcast.  Congratulations to all of the winners!

Just so you know we’ve been paying attention, below is our review of Balloons Over Broadway, the Caldecott winner, that ran in the November issue of the Philadelphia Parents Express. Also below is Laurina’s September interview with Jack Gantos, winner of the Newbery Award for Dead End in Norvelt.


Balloons Over Broadway: the True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade, written and illustrated by Melissa Sweet, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $16.99, hardcover, ages 4-8.

Many of us can remember the anticipation of seeing the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade on TV, or maybe even the thrill of being on the New York City streets watching the parade live. This delightful picture book biography for young and old tells the story of the man who created the huge balloons that are such an integral part of the holiday festivities.

As a young boy, Tony Sarg showed talent as an artist and an engineer with a big imagination. In his career as a puppeteer and marionette-maker he came to Macy’s attention; first designing windows for the store and then floats for the store’ s very first parade. From large scale part-puppet, part-balloon animals propped up by wooden sticks, he had the idea of creating floating puppets controlled from the bottom rather than top like marionettes worked. The tremendous excitement felt in 1928 as adults and children watched these magnificent, playful, gigantic balloons dance above skyscrapers is expertly captured by Sweet’s watercolors. The art also makes use of scrapbooking and collage techniques adding details and a sense of history to Tony’s story. A true homage from one artist to another.

Jack Gantos: Following the Best Idea
Interview with Jack Gantos for Parents’ Express by Laurina Cashin

September 19, 2011

Before Bad Kitty, there was Rotten Ralph, written by Jack Gantos with pictures by Nicole Rubel. Next Gantos wrote critically acclaimed autobiographical stories about a boy named Jack Henry, followed by the Joey Pigza series. His first Joey Pigza book was a National Book Award finalist and the next, Joey Pigza Loses Control was a Newbery Honor book.  His memoir for teens, A Hole in My Life was chosen as both a Sibert Honor book and a Printz Honor book.   Other titles for teens and adults have gathered critical praise. There you have it. Jack Gantos’ books can take a reader from “cradle to grave” as it says on his website.

Just released Dead End in Norvelt, whose main character is the 12 year old, yes, Jack Gantos, is the story of one particular summer growing up in Norvelt, a homestead community, in western Pennsylvannia.

Gantos’ tour included a stop at Children’s Book World in Haverford. He graciously took time for an interview.

Laurina: Jack, thanks for agreeing to do this interview. I heard you were on vacation last week. Was that to rest up before your book tour or did you go away with your family?
Jack: It may have been both but primarily it was to spend time with my family. I have a hectic speaking schedule this fall so I’ll be coming and going a lot before I settle down and focus on my next novel.

Laurina: The official release of your latest book, Dead End in Norvelt, was September 12 and you’re now on a national book tour. What do you like best about being on tour?
Jack: It is always an exciting time when a new novel is launched. Visiting book stores and schools offers me a snapshot of how readers are accepting the book—and thus far I’m pleased to report that the comments and reviews have been very supportive.

Laurina: Earlier works, the Jack Henry stories for middle grade readers and A Hole in My Life for older readers, are autobiographical as is your new book.  What made you choose to call the main character Jack Gantos in Dead End in Norvelt?
Jack: NORVELT is my hometown and it just seemed comfortable for me to use my name in this book. I should have done the same with the JACK HENRY books but was concerned that I’d step on (family) toes. But that was never an issue as it turned out, and so I used my full name this time. I did the same with HOLE IN MY LIFE because it is a memoir.

Laurina: Why did you decide to write about this period in your life – the 12 year old Jack Gantos?Jack: The history of Norvelt—a ‘ Homestead’ town founded in 1934 to provide housing and jobs and schooling for out of work farmers and coal miners and factory workers during the depression, is a great history. EleaNOR RooseVELT was the engine behind helping people in need and thus the town is named in honor of her great generosity and empathy for those in need. And then, the activities within the book—the writing of obituaries, the reading history and pondering right from wrong, the conflict between my mother wanting to stay in such a ‘help-hand’ community and my father wanting to leave to pursue the American Dream of making money—all of these contrasting events were circling me, and making me who I was as a half grown boy—and these issues, and a lot of high-jinks, continue to attract my attention.

Laurina: There are many layers in Dead End in Norvelt. Is creating those layers a conscious part of your craft?
Jack: Absolutely. I do about a hundred drafts per book and when writing realism (not fantasy or science fiction) I find that the deeper I can go with revealing my characters and their motivations, the more elaborate the plots, the more precise and poetic the language, the more humor and snappy dialog, the refreshing and unexpected vocabulary—all of these elements of writing and more go into my books so that in the end ‘realism’ becomes deeply engrossing. In the end, young readers find this sort of depth a kind of ‘unseen’ realism, and it sharpens their perceptions of the complex world in which they live—and makes paying attention far more satisfying.  

Laurina: There’s so much wonderful description in the book, making scenes and characters vivid and alive. How much does your journal writing influence your creative writing? Jack: I’ve kept journals from when I was a boy—and in keeping them you develop an eye for looking between the cracks of ‘normal’ life and finding the hidden world behind the obvious.

Laurina: Dead End in Norvelt has just released but it’s already getting some Newbery buzz from reviewers and bloggers who read advance copies. You’re no stranger to awards. How do you feel about the early buzz?
Jack: I like the buzz. Any author would. But to anticipate awards is a dangerous activity. It is far better to just keep my head down, work on the next novel and quietly hope for the best.

Laurina: In a previous interview I read that there might be another Joey Pigza book, one about his younger brother. Any news on that?
Jack: Yes, once I finish the book I’m now writing I’ll take up the fifth and final JOEY PIGZA book. I plan to leave him in a very good place—but not without conflict along the way.

Laurina: You’ve written for several different age levels – the Rotten Ralph picture books and easy readers; the Joey Pigza and Jack Henry series for middle grades; and novels for teens and adults. Do you have a preference?
Jack: I like the variety. After the long dedicated haul of a novel then it is great to work on a picture book. The contrast is refreshing. But in the end—my preference is still ‘a good idea’ and so I’ll follow what I think is the best idea I have at the time I’m writing.

Laurina: Pat Mora, one of the authors I work with, has coined the word bookjoy – a love of books and the pleasure of reading. Do you have a bookjoy moment or memory to share?
Jack:  The first time I read HARRIET THE SPY and realized that overhearing other people’s conversations (despite my mother’s protests) was full of very rich rewards.

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