Synopses & Reviews
Custodial Wisdom: Mattie Breen writes it all down in her top-secret silver notebook. Do not let a mop sit overnight in water. Fix things before they get too big for fixing. Unplug cords as soon as you are done using them.
School is about to start and Mattie has just one week to convince Uncle Potluck to take her on as his Custodial Apprentice. After all, although Potluck is full of expertise (and funny stories), what busy school custodian can't use a little extra help? Better yet, her apprentice job can keep Mattie tucked out of sight in the basement office and out of her new classroom. Away from a class full of fifth-graders who will stare at the silent new girl. Shy
, some will say. Stuck up,
others will whisper. No way will Mattie open her mouth. And no way will she share the contents of her notebook.
Yet Mattie's plan comes crashing down one day when her Custodial Wisdom goes all wrong. Quincy Sweet, visiting next door, threatens the plan, too. And Mama doesn't help. But little by little, everything going wrong might begin to show Mattie what's rightabout sharing a part of herself. About doing one small, brave thing. About making a friend she can trust with her secretsa friend who is hound dog true.
"Through a compelling third-person narrative, first novelist Tarshis completely inhabits the character of an eccentric seventh-grader who will quickly win over readers. Emma-Jean Lazarus misses her father, who died two years ago and from whom she inherited an analytical mind. She does not always understand her 'often irrational' peers and finds their lives 'messy.' She 'thus made it her habit to keep herself separate, to observe from afar.' One day, however, she discovers kind, sensitive Colleen in the girls' bathroom and decides to come to her aid. (The narrative occasionally shifts to Colleen's perspective, offering insight into how the heroine comes across to her classmates.) Emma-Jean takes her cue from the philosophy of Jules Henri Poincar (a French mathematician whom her late father revered), who believed that 'even the most complex problems could be solved through a process of creative thinking.' Her well-intentioned efforts with Colleen and with others don't always hit their mark, but this slightly socially awkward, big-hearted outsider learns from her experiences. Other fully realized characters who show compassion and understanding to Emma-Jean include her mother, a wise and kind custodian, her teacher and especially Vikram, a doctoral student and the Lazaruses' boarder, who takes on a special significance to both mother and daughter. Readers will cheer on Emma-Jean as she begins to see more clearly and enter more fully the world around her, messiness and all. Ages 8-up." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Readers will be fascinated by Emma-Jeans emotionless observations and her adult-level vocabulary (e.g., palliative)."
-School Library Journal, starred review
* "This outstanding, emotionally resonant effort will appeal to middle-grade readers."—Kirkus, starred review
* "Urban (A Crooked Kind of Perfect) traces a highly self-conscious child's cautious emergence from her shell in this tender novel about new beginnings and "small brave" acts... Urban's understated, borderline naïf narrative gives voice to Mattie's many uncertainties ("Always Mattie has been shy. Always school had made her feel skittish and small") while expressing the quiet yet significant moments in her day-to-day life. Mattie's growing trust of others and her attempts to be "bold and friendly" lead to gratifying rewards for Mattie and poignant moments for readers."—Publishers Weekly, starred review
"Internal drama, compelling characters, and Matties strong voice propel the story of learning to do "a small brave thing."—Booklist
* "There are many books that offer adventure and twists and unusual story lines. Most of them do not offer young readers such fine writing and real characters. That is hook enough."—School Library Journal, starred review
"Another rewarding chapter book from the Lemonade War series."
"A terrific tie-in to Valentine's Day, but a good anytime school story for boys and girls alike."
and#8212;Read Kiddo Read
Emma-Jean Lazarus is a lovable oddball who thinks she can use logic to solve the messy everyday problems of her seventh-grade peers. Its easyshe just follows the example of her late father, a brilliant mathematician. Of course, the more Emma-Jean gets involved, the messier her own life gets. Suddenly shes no longer the person standing on the outside of all social interactions. But perhaps thats a good thing?
If you took The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time and Ida B . . . and Her Plans to Maximize Fun, Avoid Disaster, and (Possibly) Save the World and put them in a middle-grade blender, you would have the book Emma- Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree. Quirky, honest, and written by first-time author Lauren Tarshis, this is a tender story about what happens when a girl who has long stood in the social shadows gets a taste of what its like to connect with kids her own age.
A quirky and utterly logical seventh-grade girl named Emma-Jean Lazarus discovers some interesting results when she gets involved in the messy everyday problems of her peers.
Having always lived as the outsider of the social circle at school, Emma-Jean decides to use the logic her brilliant mathematician father taught her to fix the problem, but when her logical approach doesn't work, Emma-Jean realizes that she will need to use a new approach to implement the changes she so eagerly wants.
A story about small acts of courage from the author of A Crooked Kind of Perfect. Do not let a mop sit overnight in water. Fix things before they get too big for fixing. Custodial wisdom: Mattie Breen writes it all down. She has just one week to convince Uncle Potluck to take her on as his custodial apprentice at Mitchell P. Anderson Elementary School. One week until school starts and she has to be the new girl again. But if she can be Uncle Potlucks apprentice, shell have important work to do during lunch and recess. Work that will keep her safely away from the other fifth graders. But when her custodial wisdom goes all wrong, Matties plan comes crashing down. And only then does she begin to see how one small, brave act can lead to a friend who is hound dog true.
From a debut author comes a heart-warming novel about a unique girl and her seventhgrade experiences.
Emma-Jean Lazarus is the smartest and strangest girl at William Gladstone Middle School. Her classmates don?t understand her, but that?s okay because Emma-Jean doesn?t quite get them either. But one afternoon, all that changes when she sees Colleen Pomerantz crying in the girl?s room. It is through Colleen that Emma-Jean gets a glimpse into what it is really like to be a seventh grader. And what she finds will send her tumbling out of a tree and questioning why she ever got involved in the first place.
Poignant and funny, theand#160;fourth book in theand#160;best-selling Lemonade War series explores the distinctive power of poetry and loveand#8212;fourth grade style.
Jessie and Evan Treski have waged a lemonade war, sought justice in a class trial, and even unmasked a bell thief. Now they are at opposite ends over the right to keep secrets. Evan believes some things (such as his poetry) are private. Jessie believes scandal makes good news. When anonymously sent candy hearts appear in Class 4-0, self-appointed ace reporter Jessie determines to get the scoop on class crushes. and#12288;
Acclaimed author Linda Urban captures the sweet humor and tenderness of finding one's voice and making a friend, even when that seems impossible.
About the Author
Linda Urban's debut novel, A Crooked Kind of Perfect, was a BookSense pick, a New York Public Library Best Book for Reading and Sharing, and was nominated for twenty state awards. A former independent bookseller at Vroman's in Pasadena, California, she now writes full time in Montpelier, Vermont, where she lives with her family. Visit her website at www.lindaurbanbooks.com
What was the biggest challenge in writing your first novel?
The entire process of writing this novel was a challenge, and I tried to approach each little part as a separate learning exercise, a kind of writing workshop where I was the student and the (not very qualified) teacher. That way I didnt feel too frustrated if I worked on something for weeks and weeks only to realize that what Id written was terrible. I just said to myself, well, I probably learned something important there and hopefully Ill do better on the next pass.
But thinking back on the many drafts I wrote, the biggest challenge was the character of Emma-Jeans father, Eugene Lazarus. In the first drafts (and there were many, many, many drafts!), Eugene was very much alive He and Emma-Jeans mother were divorced (and Emma-Jeans mother was heartbroken). He loved Emma-Jean, but didnt understand her. He was a source of distress for both Emma-Jean and her mother. As hard as I tried, I could never feel Eugene the way I felt all of the other characters. He always seemed out of place, like a guy whod wandered into the wrong party and didnt fit in.
But then one day in the shower, I had this thought: Eugene Lazarus is dead. I dried myself off, threw on my robe, and ran to my computer. And truly, within minutes, I understood him: that he had been a brilliant mathematician, that he had studied Poincare, that he and Emma-Jean had been kindred spirits, that he had been the love of Lisa Lazaruss life. I rewrote the book with the new Eugene, and within a few days I had the draft that was submitted to publishers. Though much of the book stayed the same, the spirit of Eugene Lazarus infused the story with more emotion. The connection to her father provided Emma-Jean with an emotional life and depth that she lacked in earlier drafts, and a stronger link to her mother. The new Eugene, ironically, is much more alive to me than the old one.
In middle school, were you more like Emma-Jean or Colleen?
I was like Colleen in many ways. Like Colleen, I cared about everything and was always convinced that some humiliation was lurking just around the next row of lockers. My clay mug exploded in the kiln and I couldnt finish the mile in gym (though I didnt cry). Unlike Colleen, I never fell under the powers of a Laura Gilroy type. But I did have a small group of close friends and I am still in touch with all of them.
There were people like Emma-Jean in my school, people who were very content to be on the fringes of the messy middle school social scene. Like Colleen, I admired these kids. They seemed very free to me.
Was there any real-life inspiration for Emma-Jean or her "solutions" to her classmates' problems?
There was no real-life inspiration for Emma-Jean. I have known people who have some of her qualities, people of enormous intellect and character who dont move easily within the world of other people. But I didnt base Emma-Jean on anyone I know.
Emma-Jean inherited her father's love of Jules Henri Poincare. What made you choose Poincare to be such an important part of Emma-Jean's concept of herself?
Poincare had popped up in my reading over the years, and I always found him appealing. He was a rationalist with a huge heart, a bit like Albert Einstein. He was a brilliant mathematician but he understood that people and life are not logical. Though he entered the book late in the game, his theories helped me bring Emma-Jeans character into sharper focus.
What book has had the biggest impact on you and your writing?
I had learning problems when I was in elementary school, and didnt really start to read well until high school. I never read any of the middle grade classics that were popular when I was young Harriet the Spy, Charlottes Web, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Ten years ago, I took over as editor of Storyworks magazine, which is aimed at kids 9-12. In preparation for that job, I gave myself a crash course in middle grade novels. I read dozens and dozens of them, and fell in love. It was during this process that I became inspired to try to write my own stories for kids, and determined to teach myself how. There were certain books that I read over and over again as I tried to understand how stories were built, how characters evolved. My favorites were When Zachary Beaver Came to Town, by Kimberly Willis Holt, Walk Two Moons, by Sharon Creech, The Secret Life of Amanda K. Wood, by Ann Cameron. Im incredibly lucky because as editor of Storyworks, Ive worked with some of the greatest middle grade writers around Roland Smith, Lisa Yee, Ann Martin, Johanna Hurwitz, Eleanora Tate, Avi, and so many others. Ive learned from each of them. Ive also gone back and read all those great books I wish I had been able to read when I was younger. My favorites are Charlottes Web and The Witch of Blackbird Pond.
When you're not writing, what kind of things do you enjoy doing?
My husband and I have four children: Leo is 17, Jeremy is 14, Dylan is 9, and Valerie is 3. So when Im not working on Storyworks or writing, Im spending time with my family, including my mother-in-law, who lives with us, my parents and my grandmother, who live nearby, and my brother and his family. I also love being with my friends. I met my two best friends in sixth grade, and still talk to one of them almost every day.
In quite moments, I love to read. Lately Ive been reading mostly about exploration and the American frontier. I enjoy biking and hiking and being outside. I do many crafts (not too well).
Could you give us a look into your next book?
Im working on two separate projects right now, both middle-grade novels. One is a bit like Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree, in that it is set in a middle school and involves two characters who connect and bring out the best in each other. The other is historical. Soon Ill need to decide which one to focus on.
Do you have any advice for young writers?
The most important advice I can offer is that writing is a craft that you can learn by practicing. If you keep writing, you will improve. Many writers are afraid of writing something bad, so they dont try or give up when their efforts dont lead to a masterpiece right away. If you work at it, you will improve. I had the opportunity to interview J.K Rowling, along with a few of my colleagues at Scholastic, just after the first Harry Potter was published in the U.S. She said that she wrote two or three novels before she wrote Harry Potter. They were terrible, she said. But she emphasized that if she hadnt written those, she would never have written Harry Potter. So start writing now. Get those not-so-great stories out of the way so that you can get to the stories you will be proud of.