Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Write Thing To Do

When it's the first day of a new year, many take time to reflect back on the past 365 days while looking ahead.  Situations are assessed wondering what else might have been said or done.  Two words, if only, sometimes creep into our thinking.  We wonder if only we would have known then what we know now.

Let us suppose for just a minute we might have known then what we know now.  Would this new knowledge have changed anything?  Would it have altered moments or events for the greater good?  Kate Messner's middle grade title, All The Answers (Bloomsbury Children's Books), set to be released on January 27, 2015 replaces "if only with "what if" challenging readers to seriously think about the power of knowing.  

The pencil didn't look magic.
       It looked the opposite of magic.

All twelve-year-old Ava Anderson needed was a pencil to use for Mr. Farkley's math class.  She found it stashed in the family junk drawer in the kitchen.  Neither she, her older brother Marcus, her younger sister Emma, her general store owner Dad, her financial planner Mom nor her father's mother who lives with them have any idea about the power contained in this particular blue pencil.   

It is during her test when a particular formula has vanished from her brain due to jitters, the pencil speaks to her.  All Ava does is doodle a question on her paper.  No one else can hear it.  In fact Ava does not even know the voice is coming from the pencil.  Even after writing down several other questions and hearing replies, she is not making the connection.

Upstairs in her bedroom after school, Ava finally figures out the voice is not some spirit following her around for the day but is actually coming from the pencil.  When she shares this information with her best friend Sophie, Sophie sees huge potential.  Ava sees problems.  It seems the voice has limitations in the responses it provides.  It can only supply facts, not answers depending on the free will of people.

Let's pause here for a minute.  Ava is a first class worry wart.  Sophie is a free spirit.  If an opportunity arises Sophie is immediately ready to jump in with both feet.  Ava, on the other hand, starts listing all the possible problems and wishing for more time to prepare.  Two people, one who doesn't stop to think and the other one who thinks too much, are the best of friends.

For a while Ava and Sophie have fun writing out questions and listening for the results, but carelessness, interpretation and fear threaten their friendship and the balance of life in Ava's family.  Other threads of story are sewn into the fabric of the pencil and it's magic.  Their value is intrinsic to a beautiful whole.   

Ava's Dad is constantly trying to think of a way to maintain his business in light of a larger box store coming to town.  He is looking for that one thing his store will have exclusively.  Ava's Mom and her father, now living in an assisted living facility, Cedar Bay, seem to be at odds with one another ever since Ava's grandmother passed away five years ago.  Her grandfather, Hank, rarely speaks to anyone.  

Ava will need to summon all her courage, to set aside her worries and fears, to realize her full potential.  Knowledge from the pencil will prompt life-altering decisions. Ultimately resolutions rest on the power of love not magic.

Readers of work by Kate Messner are familiar with her masterful skill in character development focusing on the relationships between them.  She places these people in realistic situations which ask them to discover who they are and to be their best possible selves.  Her characters are fully human, wonderfully flawed but compassion is easily felt for them.  Ava's voice in her thoughts and words, as well as those of the other characters, is clearly understood in dialogue which is as full of life as they are.

Giving magic to this pencil in a realistic setting heightens each situation.  As day to day family and school life swirl about Ava, her reliance on it increases but so does her hesitancy to use it.  It is a dilemma propelling the plot forward captivating readers from chapter to chapter.  

Messner has a gift for chapter titles and chapter endings.  A single word or sentence may leave readers wondering or provide an easy connection to what comes next.  Every moment is measured; every moment is tied to another.  Here are some sample passages from the book.

The pencil was bright blue with yellow lettering that spelled out "EverQuest: Innovative Research Solutions."  Ava didn't know what that meant, and she didn't care.  All she cared about was having a pencil for math because if you showed up for Mr. Farkley's class unprepared, he gave you a look that could wilt a giant three-hundred-year old oak tree right down to the ground.
And Ava was nothing like an oak tree.  She was only twelve.  She had skinny arms and spindly legs and wilted easily.

Sophie frowned for a second, then laughed out loud and reached for the pencil. "I'm going to ask it what color underwear Mr. Farkley was wearing today!"
"Sophie, no! That is the grossest question ever!"
But Sophie was already scribbling. She finished, and then she doubled over laughing.
Ava really didn't want to know, but Sophie was laughing so hard she had to ask.  "Okay, what? What did it say?"
Sophie held up her finger and tried to catch her breath.

She played the song from start to finish, without looking away from the music.  She played for Johnny Hodges and for Grandpa and for Mom.  But mostly, she played for herself.  She let the notes carry her, let her fingers ride the keys, let herself be lifted up by her own breath blowing through the horn.

All The Answers written by Kate Messner is an outstanding middle grade title.  This is the age when girls and guys are seeking solutions, defining the people they will be.  This book provides true life situations.  It asks readers to think how they would act or speak if in similar circumstances.  It asks all readers to wonder about what it is we really need to know.

To discover more about Kate Messner and her other books please follow the link embedded in her name to access her website.  Here is a link to a Pinterest board she created for this title. Some of these pins will really get you thinking about the book if you've not read it yet.  Here is the link to a Nerdy Book Club post written by Kate Messner.  She speaks about characters and her books.  Follow this link to read an excerpt from All The Answers. Update: Here is a link to a short blog post where Gilbert Ford talks about illustrating the cover for this book

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