Quote of the Month

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

Monday, April 25, 2016

The Best Advice

Regardless of the decade some things will always remain true about maneuvering the often tricky paths of grades six, seven and eight.  It's a major fork in the road of life; from one moment to the next we alternate from hardly being able to wait to become an adult and then yearning for the distinctive blessings of childhood.  Change is in the air, sometimes like a slow soft breeze but other times like a roaring tornado.

On those rare days when everything seems aligned, we rejoice thankful for our families, our friends and ourselves. Cici Reno #Middle School Matchmaker (Sterling Children's Books, April 19, 2016) written by Kristina Springer is a refreshing look at middle school.  Just like real life, things are never quite as they appear to be at first glance.

Cici Reno @yogagirl4evr 32m
CHILD'S POSE -Knee, drop your butt to your heels,
reach forward.  Head down and focus on breathing.
Makes life's problems easier to handle.   

Ugh.  My nail polish is smudged.

Cici Reno and several friends are enjoying a final late summer day at the community pool.  In the course of their conversation we get our first peek at Cici's skills in personal relationships.  She has a knack for helping others to be their best possible selves.

By the second chapter we are introduced to her best friend Aggie who has recently returned home from a summer spent with her Dad and stepmom.  While Cici is surprised by Aggie's physical growth spurt, "boobs", she is confident enough to protect Aggie when necessary and offer her support.  In the evening when Aggie and Cici join their other girlfriends at the hooray-for-another-school-year bonfire, we become fully aware of Aggie's crush on Cici's brother's buddy and hockey teammate, Drew.  We know the stage has been set for what promises to be an interesting series of events as Aggie goes completely tongue-tied when she has a chance to speak with Drew.

Coming home after school to see Drew sitting in her kitchen with her brother, Luke, startles Cici.  She is definitely attracted to his sincere and charming attributes plus he is easy on the eyes.   In her bedroom later checking out his Twitter page, an idea pops into her mind.  Why doesn't Aggie talk to Drew via Twitter without giving him her name?

Aggie thinks this is a fantastic plan but she is simply can't summon the courage to give it a try.  Against her better judgment, Cici agrees to pose as Aggie using a fake name.  So now a triangle of sorts begins with Drew none the wiser.  Aggie is learning about Drew through Cici.  Drew is learning about Aggie and Cici (she can't help but refer to her own interests sometimes). And Cici finds herself forming a first love for Drew.

As the online chats between Drew and Sera Froste (Cici) get longer, more interesting and more fun the tension starts to grow.  When you throw Cici's pesky older brother Luke, Aggie's new interest in volleyball and a request from Drew into the mix, not even Cici's love of practicing yoga at her mother's studio can calm the emotional swirl taking place.  Friendships are tested.  Honesty wins.

After two readings, and nearly a third, of this title, I can sincerely say Kristina Springer sees right into the hearts of middle school age gals and guys and pours it out on the pages of Cici Reno #MiddleSchoolMatchmaker.  Her understanding of how they think and feel is apparent in the conversations between the characters and through Cici's voice.  Life in and out of school is depicted realistically with complete clarity; cafeteria chatter, hallway encounters, hockey and volleyball games, meetings at the mall, yoga classes and school dances.

The adults, Cici's mom and dad, Aggie's parents, the two women, Peg and Claire, in the yoga classes and teachers at the school are solid, positive and important fixtures in the teens (nearly teens) lives.  Their advice, their singular personalities and pure normalness provide the perfect amount of stability and humor.  Everyone needs people like this in their lives especially at this age.

Several techniques Springer employs make this title even more appealing.  Each chapter begins with a tweet from Cici Reno describing a particular yoga pose and its purpose.  We come to realize the significance of this in Cici's life; how it keeps her grounded. When Sera Froste @SeraFrosted and Drew @drewlingness are chatting on Twitter their conversations are supplied as if we are reading them on a screen.  We are right there with them.  And my reader's heart loves that familiar authors' names and book titles are mentioned.  Drew and Cici as Aggie do bond over a shared interest in a particular series.  Here are some sample passages.

I like myself well enough.  But that thing about looks being deceiving is totally true in my case.  My outside just hasn't caught up to my inside yet.  On the inside, I'm heading toward high school, and on the outside, I'm just starting fifth grade.

Dad comes in and pours himself a cup of coffee.  "Did you brush our teeth?" he asks.
I roll my eyes at him.  "Seriously?" Being a dentist, he's slightly obsessed with my teeth.  But I'm in seventh grade now; I think I have tooth-brushing under control.
Dad mimics my eye roll and in an ultra-dramatic voice he says, "Like ohmigod, my Dad is such a loser.  He, like, totally cares about my dental hygiene.  As if, gag me with a spoon, ohmigod." He takes a sip of his coffee and looks at me expectantly, smiling.
"I'm sorry, what language was that?" I ask him with a chuckle.
Dad laughs.  "Mock me now but when you're the last of your friends in the nursing home to still have your own teeth, you'll thank me.  Of course, I'll be dead."

I'm happy.  And it's all because of Drew.  We chatted for over an hour last night and he's just so sweet and smart.  I have no clue how he can be friends with my brother.  Most of Luke's friends are smelly, belching, obnoxious troll-like beings that need to take their shoes and socks off to count to twenty.  Well, except for Luke's friend, Matt---he's missing a toe.  ...

Cici Reno #MiddleSchoolMatchmaker written by Kristina Springer is a spirited and funny look at life among middle school friends, siblings and first loves.  The strength of the characters, especially the connections among the group of girls, is completely uplifting.  I predict this book will never be on the shelves.  Hooray for Cici Reno and for her creator, Kristina Springer.

To learn more about Kristina Springer and her other work please follow the link attached to her name to access her website and blog.  She is also on Twitter at @TinaSpringer and @yogagirl4evr  You can find her on Instagram too.

I am so happy Kristina Springer agreed to answer some of my questions in celebration of the release of this book and as part of the blog tour.

From reading your bio on your website I understand you were a writer for a weekly Internet Love Column for a year.  Did any of the experiences from writing this column influence the characters in Cici Reno #MiddleSchoolMatchmaker?  Or did you draw your main inspiration from the theme in the play Cyrano de Bergerac?  Or is it a combination of both?

You’re bringing me back! The Internet Love column was one of my first writing gigs and the Internet romance stories were CRAZY. Back then I was interviewing mostly adults and it was pre-match.com days so people were meeting on aol, in chatrooms, etc. Totally different times than our current social media so no, it didn’t influence me with Cici. My inspiration for Cici came from the Cyrano play as well as my own foray into middle school matchmaking in 7th grade. Of course back then we didn’t have the Internet so it was more so three-way calling type stuff. All the Internet influences come from my currently spending too much time on social media.

Your main character’s mother has a business, Peony Lane Yoga Studio, in a strip mall close to their home.  Cici finds solace for her body and mind there.  In fact each chapter begins with a tweet that Cici sends out on Twitter about a specific pose.  How long has the practice of yoga been a part of your life?  How has it influenced you or your writing?

I completely adore yoga! And strangely, I didn’t get into it until about three years ago. I’ve always enjoyed group exercise classes and was a real spin class fiend for years. But then my knee got banged up and my doctor said to stop all the hopping around Zumba-class type stuff. I had avoided yoga up until then because I thought it would be too slow moving but I was wrong! I tried a class one day and fell hard for it. It really does make me feel tons better physically and calms down my racing mind. I always leave class feeling amazing. And my two daughters (9 & 11) love it now too and take classes with me. Which is awesome!! It’s stressful being a kid and yoga helps them deal with life’s problems and release negative energy. Not to mention they love being better than me at it since they can get into a lot of the tough positions that I can’t. I got the idea for the yoga angle with the book when I was in class a couple of years ago and I had this really cool, laid back teacher. And I thought to myself, boy I bet her kids are really chill too. And it hit me that I should have a main character who's mom owns a yoga studio so she could be a yoga enthusiast too and hang out there a lot.

My copy of Cici Reno looks like a porcupine from all the sticky notes marking great passages, many of them filled with humorous insights by Cici.  I like that she takes an upbeat view of life while still being portrayed with a typical array of middle school, human of any age, emotions.  Was this intentional to have her be more grounded than most of the other girls her age?  Is this what gives her the ability to understand people and offer advice?  Also do you have a favorite comedian or comedy show?  (You have a wonderful sense of humor displayed in your writing.)

Thank you! J And yes, I was really trying to make Cici a well-grounded kid that friends often went to for advice. Someone I’d have LOVED to be friends with in middle school. And her confidence within herself juxtaposed nicely with her small physical stature. Somewhere in the book Cici even thinks something like, on the inside she feels like she’s headed for high school while on the outside she looks like she’s in the 5th grade. All the yoga has helped her be more zen about things also and being around so many different types of people who frequent her mom’s studio has given her insight too.
My all-time favorite comedian ever since I was a little kid is Lucille Ball. I’ve always been a huge I Love Lucy fan. And my very favorite comedy show for the last couple of years has been Impractical Jokers. I’m obsessed with them. The pranks they do are so much like how me and my friends were growing up.

Cici’s older brother Luke is wonderfully typical for an older brother.  Do you have an older brother?  Is he based upon someone else you have known?

Yes, I do have an older brother. I have three brothers in all (I’m the second oldest). And yep, Luke is based loosely on my older brother. My brother has been coming to my book signings for years, claiming that he was the muse for my writing. So I thought hey, I’ll make a character a bit like him so he can truly say he inspired me.  And, during my tween years I may have had a crush or five on various boys from my brother’s soccer teams. ;-)

One of the most important things in this book, for me, is that the girls in Cici’s group and her best friend Aggie, while not always seeing eye to eye with one another offer constant support.  This is refreshing and important in middle school novels.   Was there a specific reason you chose to not have an adversary for any of the characters in this book? 

With this particular book, I wanted to show what good strong friendships could be. Again, the kind of group I’d love to have hung with in middle school. And with having four kids (7, 9, 11, and 13), I find we talk about friendships and the way to be a good friend so much in my household and I liked having something reflect some of the values I try to teach my kids. My girls will come home from school and tell me some really doozies of the dramas going down at school and I try to help them understand where it’s coming from, why people do or say what they do, to believe in themselves and know who they are, and to always try to be kind.

Your website has definite appeal for your readers.  Did you design it yourself?

No, Denise Biondo from Biondo Studio did! http://www.biondostudio.com/ Isn’t she amazing? All I told her was that I was a coffee-obsessed kind of girl and would love a café look and this is what she designed.

Is there anything else you would like your readers to know Kristina?  Can we expect to see more of Cici and the characters in this book in the future? 

Yes, e-mail me and let me know if you do the poses in the front of each chapter! When I wrote the tweets I was picking poses that helped aid something in the particular chapter—like helping to heal a broken heart for example. I’ve been reading the book out loud to my kids each night and all four of them immediately jump up and do whichever pose I read. It’s so cute, I love it! And yes, I’m hard at work on a second Cici Reno book as we speak! It will be part of the Yoga Girl series.

Thanks so much for letting me chat with you! I hope your readers enjoy Cici Reno #MiddleSchoolMatchmaker!

It's been a pleasure chatting with your Kristina.  I am looking forward to the second book in the series.

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