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The Mayor of Central Park: A Told Tale of Many Tailsby Avi and Brian Floca
Synopses & Reviews
The hero of "The Mayor of Central Park is Oscar, manager of the Central Park Green Sox baseball team. On his wall he has a picture of one of his heroes - Honus Wagner. Are you a big baseball fan and do you have the same baseball heroes as Oscar?
When I grew up in New York City baseball was the sport kids followed. You rooted for the Yankees, the Dodgers or the Giants. Though I lived in Brooklyn, one of my early acts of rebellion was to become a Giant fan. That was in 1951, when the Giants beat the Dodgers in a famous play-off game. Good timing. My baseball heroes were Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays. Honus Wagner was long, long before my time.
All the characters in "The Mayor of Central Park" are animals, and you've also written about animals in 'The Tales of Dimwood Forest'. How do you decide which animals your characters are going to be? (Do you think of the animals first and then let their characters develop, or are there characteristics that you associate with different animals?)
The animals in "The Mayor of Central Park" are, in the main, animals you could find in the city at the time of the story. When you use animals in this way you can avail yourself of their particular characteristics (Oscar running away up a tree) or human qualities, (Oscar singing a Broadway show tune). This mix makes the characters a lot of fun to write about.
The characters in "The Mayor of Central Park" have some wonderful names! Big Daddy Duds, Uriah Pilwick, Mr. Van Blunker how do you think up such names? Are you ever influenced by names of characters in other books, for example, or names of people you know?
The name of a character in a work of fiction is very important tothe story though finding just the right one can be quite a task. Names have great emotional weight, and can help define a character. I work a lot on that. Names derive, in part, from the "kind" of story I am writing (a funny one, historical fiction, young adult etc.) Gender, the mix of names, also play a part. Books of names, ("What To Name Your Baby" - "Irish Names" - "The Dictionary of First Names") the phone book, plus names I know and/or noticed, all play a part in my search.
" The Mayor of Central Park" has been described as "The Wind in the Willows" as it might have been written by Damon Runyon. Is the cynical but humorous narrator at all like you - or what you might have been like had you lived in New York City in 1900?
I don't think of myself as cynical, though I do enjoy funny sarcasm. I think of the voice of the teller in "The Mayor of Central Park" as a New Yorker, and someone who enjoys playing with words and language. That is something I certainly like to do.
You have done seven books with Brian Floca as an illustrator. Do you work in any special way with him?
I do work with Brian differently than with other illustrators. Aside from greatly admiring his work and what he adds to my text, he always has useful things to say about the book itself - making suggestions that help make the book better. He's very smart and insightful. I also look at his work as it progresses, and offer my suggestions. The result is that we truly work together and that helps to create a far better book.
Central Park Celebrates its 150th birthday this year. What is it about Central Park that makes it a perfect setting for a book? And, do you have a favorite spot therefor lazing away an afternoon?
As a former New Yorker, and someone who still visits, I've always enjoyed Central Park. When a high school student I played soccer games there. I took my eldest son to the zoo (and merry-go-round) there, and helped him sail boats on the lake. I went to many a production of Shakespeare in the Park there. The history of the park, why and how it was built, makes for fascinating reading. It is simply a wonderful place, part of what makes New York City so extraordinary.
"Told in rollicking, streetwise language, the episode rolls fluidly along, and aside from one wounded rabbit the violence never escalates beyond threats." Kirkus Reviews
The Newbery Medalist creates a new animal world in New York's Central Park during the year 1900, where squirrels manage baseball teams, rats invade the park, and a possum works behind the scenes to save the day. Illustrations.
Brian Floca, is an historical novel about baseball.
To look at Oscar Westerwit, you might think, Hey, just another New York City squirrel. Only thing is, you'd be wrong. . . .
For Oscar, life is good in New York City in the year 1900. He's the Mayor of Central Park — the greatest place on earth for the squirrels, chipmunks, mice, and other animals who live there. He's the manager of his baseball team, the Central Park Green Sox, and shortstop, too. What could be bad?
Plenty, that's what! Big Daddy Duds, jewel thief, all-round thug, and leader of rats, is about to invade the park with five hundred of his closest friends. And when he does, the other animals who live there will be turned out of their homes. Everyone looks to the Mayor to save them, but he may not even be able to save himself from the invaders. The Mayor of Central Parkis a rich and fragrant evocation of old New York, with a community of animals who are as lively as characters in a Damon Runyon story, brought to life in a blend of humor and heartbreak that is vintage Avi.
About the Author
Ask Avi how you know when you're a real writer and his answer is simple: "I think you become a writer when you stop writing for yourself or your teachers and start thinking about readers." Avi made up his mind to do that when he was just a senior in high school.
Avi was born in 1937 in New York City and was raised in Brooklyn. Kids often ask him about his name. "My twin sister gave it to me when we were both about a year old. And it stuck." To this day, Avi is the only name the author uses.
As a kid, Avi says, he was "shy, not into sports, but someone who loved to read and play games of imagination." He did not consider himself a good student, though. "In elementary school I did well in science, but I was a poor writer. When I got to high school I failed all my courses. Then my folks put me in a small school that emphasized reading and writing." What made him want to become a writer? "Since writing was important to my family, friends and school, it was important to me. I wanted to prove that I could write. But it took years before I had a book published."
Avi didn't start off as an author of children's books but as a playwright. It was only when he had children of his own that he started to write for young people.
When asked if writing is hard for him, Avi gives an unequivocal YES. "But," he goes on, "it's hard for everyone to write well. I have to rewrite over and over again, so on average it takes me a year to write a book." Where does he get his ideas? "Everybody has ideas. The vital question is: What do you do with them? My wife, a college teacher, uses her ideas to understand literature. My rock musician sons shape their ideas in to music. I take my ideas and turn them into stories."
Avi's advice for people who want to write: "I believe reading is the key to writing. the more you read, the better your writing can be." He adds, "Listen, and watch the world around you. Don't be satisfied with answers others give you. Don't assume that because everyone believes a thing, that it is right or wrong. Reason things out for yourself. Work to get answers on your own. Understand why you believe things. Finally, write what you honestly feel, then learn from the criticism that will always come your way."
Avi's many award-winning books for young readers include the Newbery Medal-winning Crispin: Cross of Lead, the Newbery Honor Books Nothing But the Truth and The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, as well as the Tales from Dimwood Forest, including Poppy, winner of the Boston Globe/Horn Book Award, Poppy and Rye, Ragweed, and Ereth's Birthday. His many other books include tales of mystery, fantasy, and historical fiction for young readers of all ages.
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