Interview with Maria Padian, author of Jersey Tomatoes are the Best

Please welcome Maria Padian to the blog!  I recently finished reading her novel, Jersey Tomatoes are the Best. A fantastic realistic fiction story for many of today’s over-scheduled and high-achieving teens, I highly recommend it.  It’s much deeper than it appears to be at the surface and would pair well with Laurie Halse Anderson’s work!

Summary from the publisher:

This is a hilarious and heartbreaking story of two teen girls and the summer when everything changes for them. Both Henry and Eva are New Jersey natives and excellent athletes: Henry’s a master on the tennis court and Eva is a graceful ballerina. When opportunity knocks for both of them the summer before their junior year in high school they throw open the door: Henry sees freedom from her overbearing father and a chance to build her talents on the court. Eva sees the chance to be the best as well as even more pressure to be graceful, lighter, more perfect on the dancefloor.

Soon, Eva’s obsession with physical perfection leads her down the path to anorexia, and her health issues overwhelm everything else. But through it all these two best friends know that Jersey Tomatoes are the Best, and nothing will come between them no matter the distance.


Thanks so much for agreeing to be interviewed at thereadingzone, Maria! I read and loved Jersey Tomatoes are the Best. When you first got the idea for Jersey Tomatoes are the Best, what came first? Did Henry and Eva come to you as characters, or was the concept/plot the first thing?

I wanted to write a story about kids under pressure because everywhere I look I see young people bent beneath the weight of expectations, parental pressure, homework, you name it! I was playing around with that idea when the character of Henry developed.

I’m a great believer in the “plot follows character” method of writing. If you know a character, you’ll know what he/she will do, and their story unfolds before you. I also need to hear a character’s voice in my head before I can start writing his/her story, and Henry had a very distinct way of speaking right at the outset!

The big surprise in this book was Eva: she started off as a minor character and Henry’s sidekick. But then, she took on a life of her own, and when Henry was set to leave for  tennis camp in Florida, I commented to my teenage daughter, “I’m about to abandon Eva in New Jersey and my editor won’t like that.” My daughter sighed, threw an armload of her books on my bed and said, “You clearly need a two-narrator novel. Take a look at these.” The entire novel changed at that point.

2. Why did you choose New Jersey as your setting?

I’m a Jersey Girl! I grew up in northern Jersey, in a small town called Allendale. It was a wonderful place to be a kid and I have terrific memories of riding my bike across town to play tennis at the public courts with friends. It was just pure fun to place Henry and Eva in the Garden State.

3. What type of writer are you? Do you plan ahead/plot or do you simply fly by the seat of your pants?

I’m the sort who knows the beginning and the end, but no clue as to what will happen in the middle! My challenge is figuring out how to get to the end.

My favorite metaphor for writing is that it’s driving, in the fog, with the headlights on. I know my destination and I can only see about 10 feet in front of me. I know if I keep moving forward, I’ll eventually reach my destination. Of course, sometimes, as I’m driving, I’ll see someone standing on the side of the road with his thumb out. Some people might call him a hitchhiker; I call him a plot twist. I can choose to keep driving, or I can let him in. Generally, I try to trust, and let the hitchhiker in, because then the trip gets really interesting.

4. Do you write everyday? Do you have a specific writing schedule?

I write every day, usually in the morning, after I walk the dog. I become pretty grumpy if I don’t write each day, and the dog becomes grumpy if she doesn’t walk, so this works for both of us.

5. And the most important question- what is your favorite go-to snack when you are writing?

Chocolate, of course. In pretty much any form.

6. I have to admit, I moved Jersey Tomatoes are the Best up on my pile for a few reasons. First, I live in NJ and I am a Jersey girl through and through. Second, your author bio says you have an Australian Shepherd, and so do I! I’d love to hear a little about your Aussie! My Dublin is almost 2 years old and keeps me active, laughing, and learning.

You’re from Jersey? What exit??  (I am from Exit 114!)

Dublin: what a terrific dog name! Our Aussie is Frisbee, and she is without a doubt the most intelligent, most athletic member of the family. To steal a phrase from one of my favorite fictional characters, Eloise, Frisbee is “my mostly companion.” At any give time of day I can look up from where I work and she is watching me, waiting to play. She always has a ball within tossing distance, and even if you think she’s sleeping, she’s actually waiting … watching … ready to spring to action in a nanosecond.

My daughter says a dog is like a banjo: you can’t play a sad song on a banjo, and you can’t be sad if you’re playing with a dog. Frisbee lightens up our whole family; we love her.

 

 

Thanks so much for stopping by, Maria!  It’s been great getting to know you, and thank you for your wonderful new book!  I highly recommend it.

 

Follow Maria to the next stop on her blog tour:

April 1st—Cleverly Inked http://CleverlyInked.com

 

Integrated Summer Reading

I realize I haven’t posted much about school and my new job this year, but I promise to remedy that as the school year winds down.  Just as soon as I dig out from under this pile of essays and short stories that need to be graded….

I am very excited about everything this year.  What I really love is that our freshman curriculum is integrated across four subjects- English, History, Biology, and Software Applications.  We have a common planning period each week and work hard to integrate as much as possible.  We do a ton of joint projects, work out schedules together, and share resources.  In addition, I co-teach with my history partner and our curriculum revolve around each other.  It’s fascinating to read The Canterbury Tales while my students are studying the Middle Ages.  It really brings a whole new dimension to class discussions and activities.

Recently, our team sat down to hammer out summer reading.  (nota bene: I am not a fan of prescribed summer reading, but I do believe that students should read during the summer.  I believe in choice. Plus, my students are highly motivated and expect to read!)   I wanted to capitalize on our inter-disciplinary team and I’m so thrilled with what we came up with.  First, we decided to have One Book, One Class. All of the incoming freshman will be reading Brian Christian’s The Most Human Human: What Talking with Computers Teaches Us About What It Means to Be Alive for two reasons.  First, Brian is an alum and we expect the kids to love that.  Second, the book (review coming soon!) is a perfect composite of our cross-curricular team.  It covers science, language, communication, computers, history, and so much more.  All of the freshman will have this touchstone text and the teachers will be reading it, too.

In addition, each student is asked to select one fiction and one non-fiction title from the list we provide.  On the list, we also noted our own favorites, in case students were seeking guidance.  I am thrilled with this list- it provides a wide array of choices in a variety of genres and across many levels (keep in mind my students are all accelerated, so while it is a 9th grade list, it may read more like a 10th-11th grade list).  Come September, the students will be meeting with others who read their book(s) and producing a project related to it.  All of the books are connected to our school theme and inter-disciplinary team.  I am looking forward to seeing how the assignment is received.  I ran the list by a few current freshman and they loved it, and they’re the best judges!

 

*I should note that these aren’t paired in any particular order.  Students are free to choose any F and any NF- they don’t have to choose them both from the same line.  One of the activities I am considering for the first few days/as an icebreaker, is having the kids come up with ways to pair the books, after reading them!

Fiction J Nonfiction J
A Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy  

by Douglas Adams

 

Collapse or Guns, Germs and Steel 

by Jared Diamond

 

*
Ender’s Game  

by Orson Scott Card

 

* As The Future Catches You: How Genomics & Other Forces Are Changing Your Life, Work, Health & Wealth 

by Juan Enriquez

 

mtr
Revolution  

by Jennifer Donnelly

How to Read Literature Like a Professor 

by Thomas C. Foster

 

*
House of the Scorpion  

by Nancy Farmer

Outliers  

by Malcolm Gladwell

 

An Abundance of Katherines  

by John Green*

 

Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith  

by Deborah Heigelman

 

Nectar in a Sieve  

by Kamala Markandaya

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope  

by William Kamkwamba

 

Life of Pi  

by Yann Martel

 

The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements 

by Sam Kean

 

The Road  

by Cormac McCarthy

Measuring America  

by Andro Linklater

 

*
Nation  

by Terry Pratchett

A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future  

by Daniel Pink

 

Unwind  

by Neal Shusterman

* Omnivore’s Dilemma  

by Michael Pollan

 

The Monstrumologist  

by Rick Yancey

 

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks* 

By Rebecca Skloot

 

 

Strings Attached by Judy Blundell

National Book Award winner Judy Blundell is one of my favorite authors.  What I Saw and How I Lied is one of my all-time favorite books and I love recommending it to my teens.  When I received an ARC of Blundell’s newest venture, Strings Attached, I was ecstatic. Within 24 hours I sat down with it and read it cover to cover. I immediately handed it to one of my students, who also read it cover to cover in less than a day.

Set in 1950, Strings Attached takes on a lot. It’s historical fiction, a mystery, a romance, and so much more. A summary can’t do the book justice. Yes, it’s about Kit Corrigan setting out on her own and trying to break into show business in New York City. It’s also about the gangsters who control so much of NYC and life up and down the East coast. It’s about class differences. It’s about depression and parental neglect. It’s about love, and what is true love. It’s about Broadway and music. About intrigue and deception, talent and determination.

What an evocative and atmospheric book! This is exactly what I love about Judy Blundell- her writing absolutely immerses you in the time and place of the book. I could smell the salt air in Providence, and smell the smoke in the NYC night clubs. I could hear the street noises outside Kit’s window and smell the coffee she brewed in her kitchen.  While reading, you are Kit, and you see what she sees and you hear what she sees.  The setting manages to overwhelm your senses at times, in an amazing way.

The chapters alternate, jumping from earlier in Kit’s life to her present situation. This nonlinear storytelling could throw some readers off at first, but within a few pages you are invested in Kit’s life and her story, and there is no going back. A slow-building story, it pulls you in, winding and twisting before ripping your heart out at the end. Upon finishing the book, my student rushed into my room and exclaimed, “I just screamed OUT LOUD in the lunch room! When I got to that part! AGH!”. She then stormed out of my room, still aghast. I felt the same way when I finished the book. Just when you think you have everything figured out, Blundell turns the story on its head and you are turning pages faster than you can read. Unbelievable. The suspense builds and builds, keeping you on the edge of your seat for the entirety of the book.

This is a book that teens and adults alike will love. I am recommending it to everyone I know. Go out and pick up a copy right now. Do not miss this book. It’s on my Printz and National Book Award list for this year.

Need some more convincing?  Check out this writing:

“We pack away lies in that house like you pack away Christmas. We put them in boxes and tape them over.”

“Faith seems to grab people and not let go, but hope is a double-crosser. It can beat it on you anytime; it’s your job to dig in your heels and hang on. Must be nice to have hope in your pocket, like loose change you could jingle through your fingers.”

The Gift That Keeps on Giving #sas2011


Welcome to Friday’s edition of Share a Story, Shape a Future!  Today’s topic is The Gift That Keeps on Giving.

 

Literacy is a gift.  It can’t be wrapped, it doesn’t fit in a box, and it doesn’t look fancy.  But it’s the gift that fits every person, regardless of race, creed, sex, background.  Literacy is the gift that keeps on giving.  Here at Share a Story, Shape a Future, we want to make sure that every child is given this important gift.

As a teacher, I share the gift of literacy with my students every day, and it’s my favorite aspect of teaching.  As a high school teacher, I have a huge bookshelf in my room, and a rotating display of books on the edges of my whiteboards.  I also have a shelf in the front of my room devoted to new books and ARCs that I bring in.  Whenever I have time, I booktalk- whether to individuals, small groups, or the class as a whole. And this year I am trying something new- digital booktalks.  I have been posting book trailers on our class Edmodo page, and students reply to the entry if they are interested in the book.  It’s been a great way to booktalk even when I am unable to do so in class.  Plus, my kids are very tech-oriented so the trailers really meet them where they are.

There is no better feeling than seeing a child connect with a book for the first time.  Except maybe seeing them reconnect as a tween/teen.  Both moments are very special.  Recently, one of my seniors stopped me as she walked out of class on a Friday afternoon.  “Thank you for reminding me that I love to read”, she whispered as she handed back a stack of books she had borrowed over the course of the semester.  Needless to say, I spent the rest of the day beaming.

That was her gift to me. I think was the one who got the better end of the deal.  There is nothing like sharing reading and writing with kids.  Nothing like it in the world.

How can you give the gift that keeps giving?  It doesn’t take any life-changing ideas.  It just takes time.

Maybe you don’t enjoy reading fiction, but you start every morning with the newspaper.  Take a few minutes each morning and sit down together.  Point out articles your child will enjoy.  Fill out the crossword puzzle together.

Or maybe you love to end each night by journaling.  Children of any age can journal, too!

Love to read magazines? Get your child a magazine subscription.

The possibilities are endless.  But literacy truly is the gift that keeps on giving.  Below, a few authors share their own gifts.

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Writer’s With Stories to Tell

“One of the most exciting moments of my life as a parent was when my son Josh (my firstborn) learned to read, because I knew that a whole world was opening up for him. We’ve shared so many wonderful books over the years, but here I talk about one of the first books he read to me.”

 

 

 

The Gift of Reading: Guest Post from Pamela Voelkel

A special guest post from Pamela Voelkel

For me as a child in England, reading was a solitary pleasure. It took me where I wanted to be, which was away from my family. We didn’t have many books in the house, just a guide to window-dressing, an anthology of animal stories, a children’s atlas and a book of 365 stories sent over by my aunt in California (which gave me my lifelong obsession with galoshes, both the word and the overshoe concept).

My grandparents had a big old glass-fronted bookcase, filled with beautifully bound classics like Dickens, Jane Eyre, Vanity Fair, Moby Dick, Treasure Island, Little Women and the Angela Brazil schoolgirl stories. I ploughed manfully through them all, loving the feel of the books and the way the illustrations were called “plates”, and the gold type on their spines, even when I didn’t love the stories. After my grandparents died, the bookcase was sold and I cried for it. As surely as Professor Diggory’s wardrobe led to Narnia, that bookcase had been my door to another world. So I never associated reading with togetherness or cosiness; for me, it was about escape.

Then I grew up, got married, and had a baby who didn’t sleep for the first five years. Reading with him was the only thing that kept me sane, and soon we’d amassed a huge library of picture books, many of them about diggers and bulldozers. Two more children followed, girls this time, and the books acquired a pinker, more glittery tinge. But everyone agreed on the family favorites: The Owl Babies, The Runaway Beard, Dinosaur Bob, The Cats of Mrs Calamari, Arnie the Doughnut, and Mr Popper’s Penguins.

Bedtime reading was my favorite part of the day and I dreaded the time when the kids would grow out of it.
But guess what? At seventeen and fourteen, our oldest kids are still not too old for a book at bedtime. Sure, they often have too much homework or better things to do. But when we can, we prop up the pillows and read together as lovely lazy luxury.

Of course, my husband and son dive into Bernard Cornwell or Philip Reeve instead of books about diggers. Our older daughter has long abandoned fairytale princesses in favor of the harsh realities of Suzanne Collins and Laurie Halse Anderson. (Sometimes, if the realities are too uncomfortably harsh, we read them separately and talk about them at bedtime.) But the pleasures of reading aloud are the same as they always were.

And that’s been the revelation for me.

That no matter how frenzied the day nor how snarky the dinner conversation, books bring us together again. Today, instead of loving books for letting me escape as I did as a child, I love them for grounding me in the precious here and now. Books begin new conversations with my kids, they give us shared ground, and they open the way for sleepy confidences that would never be aired in the bright light of morning.

Pamela Voelkel is one half of the writing duo behind The Jaguar Stones, Book One: Middleworld and The Jaguar Stones, Book Two: The End of the World Club

Writer’s Notebooks: Literacy Outside of School #sas2011

Many children love to doodle, write stories, and decorate empty notebooks found laying around the house.  How can we capture this energy and help kids develop their literacy skills outside the classroom?  We know how important it is to read, and we’ve talked a lot about reading this week. But what about writing?

There is nothing better than a writer’s notebook!  Every child should have a notebook, that they can decorate, doodle in, write down their stories, and cherish.  This should not be something that is graded, checked by mom or dad, or made to be a burden in any way.  A writer’s notebook is a special place, and individual place.

A writer’s notebook isn’t a diary.  It isn’t a journal.  It’s something different.  Something special.  A writer’s notebook is a place to jot down ideas and sketches, to write stories and paste in ephemera.

And the best part?  Lots of published authors cherish their writer’s notebooks and use them daily!  Some of those authors have been kind enough to share a photo of their notebook(s) and a little bit about how they use them.  I hope they inspire you to start keeping a writer’s notebook, and to hand a writer’s notebook to a child in your life!

Courtney Sheinmel:

Like most authors I know, I write my books on a computer.  The problem is, some of my best ideas come at completely inconvenient times – like when I’m on the subway and nowhere near my computer, or when I’m in bed with all the lights turned out.  Late at night, so warm and snug under my down comforter, the last thing I want to do is turn on my computer.  I used to think, Well, this idea is so good there’s no way I’ll forget it.  I’ll just write it down later. And then, invariably, I’d forget my brilliant idea.  In the morning, all I’d remember is the fact that I’d had a brilliant idea, and it would leave me devastated that the book would have to exist without it.  So I started keeping a notebook by my bed, and carrying it  around with me when I left the house, small enough so it fit in my purse – the book under the BlackBerry in the picture is one that’s all filled up now.  My handwriting is especially messy in it, since so often the notes were jotted down in the middle of the night.  Now I’ve graduated from an old school notebook to something way more technological, i.e., the “notes” application on my BlackBerry (that’s why the BlackBerry is atop the notebook in the picture).  I’m completely addicted to the device, so it’s never too far away.  Not sure you can see it in the picture, but I have all sorts of categories, and I’ll type in whatever idea just popped into my head.  They’re certainly not all brilliant, but at least there never has to be another idea lost.

Megan McCafferty:

I did research for about a year before I began writing Bumped. I jotted down passages from relevant books in my black and white speckled composition notebook and ripped out dozens of articles and put them in this “IDEAS” folder. On the clipping titled, “16 & Pregnant: No Fairy-Tale Ending” I wrote,”What if society DID encourage sex? Why?” These are the questions that inspired the novel. The whole story can be traced back to that torn piece of newspaper.

Mitali Perkins:


I start the mornings with a good cup of coffee and a time of reading and reflection through journaling. My preference is a standard composition book and a good, fine-tip pen. I write only on one side of the paper, avoiding backs of pages, always in messy, free-flowing cursive. What do I write? Poetry, ideas for stories, prayers full of angst and anxiety, gratitude and celebration. My journal is supposed to be as private and safe as a fire escape, and one of the reasons I like to use that metaphor in my online life. Recently, however, my dog Zipper (with my son as scribe), violated that privacy to leave an interesting request (see photo).

Barbara Dee:

I have a blue 4X6 spiral notebook that I bring along most places, because you never know when you’ll have your next idea for a book! Here’s what I scrawled one day on a bumpy train ride into New York City: the inspiration for my new tween novel, TRAUMA QUEEN. On the upper left, you can see the names of the characters (the main character is Marigold, but apparently I was also considering Zinnia.) Below it is the plan for the first chapter, which is pretty faithful to what actually got written. On the right page, I’d started to work out Marigold’s/Zinnia’s mother, a performance artist in the Karen Finley mold who “teaches improv workshops-colleges.” After that it gets weird– I’ve written “thumb/bendy straw/ self-esteem.” Huh? I’m completely baffled by these scribbles. Maybe they reflect some idea about where I meant to go in Chapter Two, and the train arrived at Grand Central Station before I could flesh out my thoughts. That’s one of the hazards of writing on trains, I guess: you can lose things even when you write them in your notebook.

Jonathan Auxier:

The first is just my closed Journal. I’ve been using one type for the last ten years (Canson 7×10 field sketch) and same pen (pilot v7

clipped into the spine).  I’ve got about 25 of them now on a shelf.

The second picture is putting down an idea for a book character. I happened to tap
e some old paintings I found online in the corner (which I often do). This character — like many I draw — didn’t make the cut.
The third pic is an example of what I like to do when I read . I take down quotes, new vocab and images that struck me. These notes are all from Roald Dahl’s TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED.

 

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As you can see above, writer’s notebooks are differentiated and individual  Each person treats theirs differently, so there is no right or wrong way to use your writer’s notebook.  It is a great habit for kids to get into, and a great one for adults, too.  If you are interested in learning more about writer’s notebooks and getting some additional ideas, you must check out Ralph Fletcher’s A Writer’s Notebook: Unlocking the Writer Within You!
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Do you have a writer’s notebook?  I would love to see some photos in the comments!

Please Watch The Daily Show Tonight!!!



Tonight, my friend Brian will be Jon Stewart’s guest on The Daily Show!  He will be talking about his new book The Most Human Human: What Talking with Computers Teaches Us About What It Means to Be Alive.  (My review coming soon :) )

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