#FridayReads: T. Jefferson Parker’s FULL MEASURE

Director of Sales & Marketing Mike Spradlin tell us why he loves T. Jefferson Parker’s latest thriller! 

I have been a fervent fan of novelist T. Jefferson Parker since I read his first book Laguna Heat, back in the late ’80s. I believe he is the best thriller writer in America today. His stories are complex but relatable. His heroes and heroines are almost always tragically flawed in some way (which makes them all the more interesting). And his writing is so deeply moving, one feels almost as if you are reading an epic poem instead of a novel.

Laguna Heat

In his latest book Full Measure, Parker takes his talent a giant leap forward. While there is crime, death, and shattered life in Full Measure, the focus of the story is on the victims and their families. As always, he delivers a taut, crisp morality play that makes you think, and fills you with hope and despair (sometimes in the same sentence!). But in the end, he gives you a greater understanding of the human condition.

Full Measure

Full Measure is primarily a story about family. Patrick and Ted Norris are two brothers whose lives have taken different paths. Growing up on an avocado farm in Fallbrook, California, Patrick and Ted share idyllic childhoods in many ways. Yet like all of Parker’s characters, they soon learn the idyll is a myth. Ted, born with mild birth defects in his legs and feet, is never able to measure up to his demanding farmer father. Patrick is consumed by wanderlust and joins the Marines when he graduates from high school. The story begins with Patrick returning from his deployment to Afghanistan.

Once home, he discovers an ugly truth. There are always wars, just different kinds. The kind where you know who and where your enemies are, even if they are there in the darkness, and the other kind, where people you once knew, whom you thought you could trust, are only reflections of the people you left behind. Where sometimes the enemy is sitting right next to you. And it is impossible to not be scarred by them both.

Patrick returns home to find the family farm on the brink of collapse after a fire, set by an arsonist, has burned through Fallbrook. Inevitably, he is drawn into a web of lies, deceit and intrigue all the while dealing with his own post traumatic stress over the men he served with, whom he could not save. His life’s dream is nearly within his grasp when he uncovers a horrible secret about his family that forces him to give it up to save them.

When Ted begins behaving strangely, including hanging out with questionable characters, Patrick, like all good brothers, must step in and save Ted from himself. All the while the arson investigation draws nearer and nearer. Until Patrick discovers a horrible truth that could destroy his family and everything he holds most dear.

I loved reading Full Measure. I hated finishing it for precisely the same reason. Because it was a great book. And now I have to wait until Parker writes another.

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#FridayReads: J. K. Rowling picks

Albert Whitman’s Associate Editor Kristin Zelazko  joins us for this week’s #FridayReads! Take it away, Kristin! 

I resisted at first. No, that’s not true. I resisted for a very long time. But then I landed a job in children’s publishing and wanted to do some research. My sister’s eyes lit up when I asked to borrow her copy. She had been reiterating the merits of the series to me for years. Despite her praise, despite my love for all things British, I thought muggle was a stupid word.

But somewhere between the cupboard under the stairs and the hut-on-the-rock, my heart melted. I had become a Harry Potter fan. Now, every year around this time, I long to visit the Three Broomsticks for a butter beer, ideally with a cozy sprinkle of snow falling outside and a book to keep me company. Since the Harry Potter series wrapped up years ago and Hogsmeade does not really exist, I turned to The Silkworm, the follow-up to The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith—aka J. K. Rowling—for company this holiday season.

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The Silkworm is not like a warm mug of butter beer. It will not spread holiday cheer. There’s some grisly gore in there. Rowling wants you know this is not a story for children.

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I’m not much of a mystery reader because grisly gore makes me lightheaded. But then I wasn’t much of a fantasy reader when I picked up Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. So I wouldn’t trust anyone but Rowling to navigate the genre of contemporary crime fiction with. Or rather, I only read it because I love J. K. Rowling. The Silkworm centers on the disappearance of an eccentric writer prone to wearing theatrical capes and PI Cormoran Strike’s search to find him.

The eccentric writer’s latest manuscript has been leaked, complete with some very unflattering portrayals of London’s literary community—and a highly sensational ending. Even more sensational is Cormoran’s discovery of the novelist’s body…in an imitation of the manuscript’s highly sensational ending. Oh my.

This is a murder-mystery to be sure, and a page-turning one at that, but it’s really just a vehicle for what Rowling does best. She deftly fleshes out a cast of characters who are all utterly flawed. (Her realistic portrayal of young wizards—ha!—is what I love best about the Harry Potter series.) The characters of The Silkworm are so believably human almost everyone is a plausible suspect.

Without giving too much away, the clues are there all along. Once I finished the book, I found myself rereading much of it for the things I missed the first time.

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In short, I liked it very much. Enough so that I’ve forgiven J. K. Rowling for the end of The Casual Vacancy. And for the word muggle.

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#FridayReads: The Most of Nora Ephron with AW Intern Alex Messina

Today’s #FridayReads comes to us from our fantastic intern Alex Messina.  She’s a grad student at DePaul University, majoring in Writing and Publishing (a perfect fit for our intern program!).  Take it away Alex: 

When I was about 12 years old, I wrote every movie I owned on individual index cards and placed them alphabetically in a black card holder I had stolen from my Dad’s office because that’s how Sally Albright kept her movie collection organized. Despite the fact that I was twenty years younger than she was, I identified with her in a way that I hadn’t with other characters before. And thus began my infatuation and recognition of myself in any character Nora Ephron has ever written.

Months ago, when I discovered a very large collection of her work was going to be published, it was a no brainer to add it to my birthday list and I was thrilled when someone gifted The Most of Nora Ephron to me. I’ve been reading it ever since. It is a glorious 576 page celebration of the life and work of a beaming and talented light. It includes the When Harry Met Sally screenplay, a play, a novel, published articles and blog posts (ranging in topic from social to political to cultural to food), and a collection of essays which are always my personal favorite. Despite already owning several individual copies of the works published in this collection, I am so happy to own this collective version as well. It sits on my nightstand, where it will probably stay forever, as I pick it up from time to time to read a piece about Dorothy Parker or a rising soufflé.

It’s very difficult for me to put into words what it is I love about Nora Ephron’s writing without sounding hopelessly fan girl-y (although, who are we kidding? I’m a total fan girl) and naïve. In the simplest terms, she is accessible and witty, strikingly observant, and the woman who created Harry Burns which is achievement enough. If you’re ever craving a story that will surprise you in its relatability and humor, or if you’ve ever enjoyed watching Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks cluelessly in love in either Seattle or NYC, I’d recommend just about anything she’s ever written. She was a talent that was taken from us too soon and the world will lack from the loss of her words.The Most Of Nora Ephron

“Reading is escape, and the opposite of escape; it’s a way to make contact with reality after a day of making things up, and it’s a way of making contact with someone else’s imagination after a day that’s all too real. Reading is grist. Reading is bliss.” –Nora Ephron

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‘Tis the season to shop

The Princess Who Had No Kingdom was in love with the court jester and wanted to find him and everyone on her gift list something special because it was almost The Night Before Christmas.

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On Saturday, the princess started out across her village, where she ran into a little old lady being led by a small dog.

Bonjour,” said the old woman. “My name is Madame Martine, and this is my dog, Max.”

The princess knelt to pet Max, who licked her face enthusiastically.

“Where are you headed, dear?” Madame Martine asked.

“To find a gift for my beloved. But I don’t know where to shop,” she said.

“Ah. You should do what Max and I do. Every Saturday we try something new. Today it is Small Business Saturday and all the small shops in town are welcoming shoppers with excellent gift ideas, especially the independently owned bookshops. Max and I plan to visit every one.”

“My beloved does love to read…”

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The princess strolled from bookshop to bookshop and found gifts for her whole family. For her nephew who loved to play pretend, she chose Milo Is Not a Dog Today. For her younger sister, who loved stories of star-crossed lovers, her niece who loved music, The Hero in You by songwriter Ellis Paul. The book included a CD of his wonderful music.

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She found The Opposite of Love for her younger sister, who loved stories of star-crossed lovers, and a copy of Sugar White Snow and Evergreens for her five-year-old cousin. By shopping locally, the Princess Who Had No Kingdom found something for everyone—except for the court jester.

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But as she passed the little bookshop at the end of the street, she spied the perfect gift in the window: The Boxcar Children Guide to Adventure. “My beloved loves adventure! And boxcars!” She hurried inside and purchased the last copy.

Her shopping was done and there was great joy throughout her kingdom.

Your local independently owned businesses are a kingdom full of treasures for your gift-giving needs. Be like the Princess! Shop local!

Posted in Book News

T. Jefferson Parker’s love for reading, suspense fostered by The Boxcar Children

Award-winning New York Times bestselling author T. Jefferson Parker joins our guest author blogger series, as The Boxcar Children series fostered his love of reading, mystery and suspense as a child. With the new animated film, “The Boxcar Children,” arriving on retailer stores’ shelves, the buzz about the book series, by Gertrude Chandler Warner, has heightened among book lovers. Parker loved The Boxcar Children books as a child.

Boxcar DVD cover

Mrs. Baxter introduced us to them in third grade. I loved the mystery in all the tales, and the fantasy of these kids living together in a boxcar, made credible. There was something foreboding to me in the image of children living in a boxcar.

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It seemed…tantalizingly weird. And that foreboding pulled me through the series. The fact that they took place in the past made them even more alluring. All the books had fair but happy endings, which any 10-year old appreciates. And I loved Watch the dog. I was always a sucker for dogs in books.  I still am!

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T. Jefferson Parker is the author of more than twenty novels. His newest novel, Full Measure, goes on sale October 7th. Visit his website, and follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

Posted in Book News

Cookbooks with Kiki! It’s another edition of #FridayReads with AW Staffers!

Today’s #FridayReads post comes from Kiki Schotanus, upstanding member of the Albert Whitman purchasing department!  Take it away Kiki:

Forced against my will to write a bit about books, I have chosen to write about the kinds of books I read the most – cookbooks! I love cookbooks. I love everything from the $10 church cookbooks and treasured classics like Joy of Cooking to cutting edge cookbooks like Chef Homaro Cantu’s The Miracle Berry Diet Cookbook. I have recently created a ‘Cookbook Nook’ in the back of our house where I pared down to 50 of my favorite cookbooks (shared with a bit of our Costco overflow). I go back there for peace & quiet. A feeling of comfort overcomes me when I’m amongst some of my favorite possessions in the world, cookbooks.

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The Nook! (It shares the space with a little Costco overflow…)

Cookbook reading is not limited to The Cookbook Nook, though. I also read cookbooks in bed at night just to read a few more recipes before sleep.

Tonight at our house we will be celebrating our annual ‘Friendsgiving.’ We’ll be enjoying good friends and good food & wine. Of course the evening wouldn’t be complete without Catch Phrase! As for the food, all dishes are composed of seafood so as to not compete with any turkey that will be served the following Thursday. This year we’ll start the evening with Old Fashioneds and an appetizer of Clams in Broth. The first course will be Potato Fennel Soup with Smoked Salmon. The entrée will be Scallops with Apple Pan Sauce served with homemade egg pasta fettuccine and a side of Swiss Chard and Sorrel Gratin. We’re ending the evening with Chocolate Cream Pie and Nespressos.

Here are a few of my favorite cookbooks and favorite recipes:

jpeg-2Ina Garten’s first cookbook The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook, check out the Parmesan Chicken – a family favorite.

The Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook from 1985, see Salmon Mousse.

The Pie and Pastry Bible from Rose Levy Beranbaum has the all time best peach pie recipe.

 

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Amy’s Bread has my go to French bread recipe.

Pioneer Woman Cooks is as an entertaining read as it is a great resource for recipes.

Homesick Texan is where a get my TexMex on!

The cookbook I plan to make more use of in the coming months is Ottelenghi’s Plenty, long live eggplant!

When I’m not reading cookbooks, I’m tasked with completing my book club selection. Most recently we chose to read Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. Early in the book we learn that Theo, the protagonist, loses his mother when he is 13 years old. It is a riveting novel bringing the reader from Park Avenue to the underworld of illegal black market art selling. Tartt takes her time to develop the characters, an aspect I appreciated. Others found that she could have written this book in half the amount of pages.

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I was looking forward to a lively discussion of this book and its many intriguing themes, but was surprised to find out that I was the only one to completely read all 771 pages. Sadly, good discussions were not to be had. Threatened with disbandment, the book clubbers have agreed to read all book selections going forward.

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Author Gary Urey’s Boxcar Children Adventure

Author Gary Urey, a graduate of the America Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City, discusses his childhood love for The Boxcar Children. The animated film of “The Boxcar Children,” based on the first book in the series, is now available at local retailers. Urey says The Boxcar Children series captured his imagination as a kid.

Boxcar DVD cover

My Boxcar Children journey began with a summer visit to the Mercer Area Library in Mercer, Pennsylvania. The year was 1976. Our country was two hundred years old; I was nine, and one day, I checked out the book, Bicycle Mystery.

Bicycle Mystery

Life hasn’t been the same since.

Unlike the Alden kids’ Bicycle Mystery, my mother never would have allowed me to take a week-long bicycle trip into the countryside all alone. However, living vicariously through the pages of their story was not enough. I needed to LIVE what the Alden kids had experienced in their adventure. I remember cruising the streets of my little town on a brand new Huffy bicycle, fantasizing about being an Alden, and searching for an abandoned house to escape the rain. I packed slices of white bread, hoping to lure a stray dog in need of rescue. Every adult walking down the street was a potential dog-napper.

 Next came the Mystery Behind the Wall. The book convinced me that fabulous treasures were hidden somewhere in the walls of my bedroom. Then there was the Tree House Mystery: A Graphic Novel, my all-time favorite Boxcar Children tale. The story seemed to parallel my own life at the time—my friends and I were trying to build a treehouse (unsuccessfully), and a new family with a kid my age had just moved in a few houses from my own. Unfortunately, we never found a missing spyglass or a mysterious hidden room.

Tree House Mystery

Stories of the Alden siblings kicked the door open for my love of reading, and that same legacy has now passed to my daughter, Sophie. She is the proud owner of a dozen Boxcar Children books and loves them all. In fact, she begged my wife (a children’s theatre director) to write a stage adaptation of the Boxcar Children and cast her as Violet. When Albert Whitman announced their nation-wide contest to pick a child to voice a part in the movie, she eagerly signed up and was disappointed when she didn’t win. Generation after generation, the Boxcar Children books still have the power to capture a kid’s imagination!

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Gary Urey is the  author of Super Schnoz and the Gates of Smell, which Kirkus called in its starred review “…a winner, especially for reluctant readers.” Urey’s latest book in the Super Schnoz saga, Super Schnoz and the Invasion of the Snore Snatchers, is available now.

Urey puts his professional theatre training to good use every time he sits down to write funny stories for kids. Besides being an actor, Gary spent several years in New York City as a theatre reviewer and script reader. He now lives and writes in Portland, Maine with his wife and two daughters.

Posted in Book News

An Interview with Madame Martine

Sketches and interview by author Sarah Brannen

Madame Martine is a long-time resident of Paris. She and her dog, Max, live in the seventh arrondissement, on Rue du Gros Caillou, near the Eiffel Tower. They try something new every Saturday. We spoke on a recent chilly fall day in a café on Avenue de la Bourdonnais.
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Sarah Brannen: It’s nice to see you again, madame. What new things have you and Max done lately?

Madame Martine: Well, we went to a tennis match last week! We saw Roger Federer play. He is very handsome. And also a good tennis player. In August we went to an opera performed out of doors.

SB: What opera was it?

MM: It was called Aida. We were very disappointed that there were no elephants. We wanted to see elephants. We saw elephants last spring in the circus—it was very exciting!

SB: Have you been back to the Eiffel Tower lately?

MM: Oh no. Dogs are not allowed, you know.

SB: Ah, that’s a good point. Now, madame, please tell me, what was the real reason you had never climbed the Eiffel Tower?

MM: Ouf. Alors. I suppose I must admit it. I am afraid of heights. My grandfather helped to build the tower. He hung on a harness from the highest level. He told me stories when I was a little girl, and I was terrified at the very thought!

SB: Well, you’ve climbed it now! By the way, what was the actual day you followed Max to the top?

MM: November 17. Do you want to know a secret?

SB: Of course! Do tell.

MM: It was my birthday! (Madame Martine got a fit of the giggles at this point and buried her face in Max’s fur.)

SB: What a perfect way to celebrate. Do you have any plans for your birthday this year?

MM: Well, since Max and I do something new every Saturday, we were thinking of picking one of our favorite new things and doing it again. I haven’t decided yet. Perhaps we’ll ride on the carousel again. Would you like that, Max? (Max barks.) Ah, you see, he likes the idea!

SB: Do you mind if I ask Max a few questions?

MM: Suit yourself. He doesn’t talk, you know.

SB: Max, sit! Good dog. What do you like best about living with Madame Martine?

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SB: What’s your favorite place in Paris?
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SB: Have you promised never to run away again?
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MM: He is a very good dog. He does run away from time to time. He keeps me young! (She laughs.)

SB: May I ask you a rather personal question? Is there a…Monsieur Martine?

MM: Ah, non. Monsieur Martine died many years ago.

SB: My sympathies.

MM: C’est la vie.

SB: As you know, this interview will appear on a blog about children’s books. What was your favorite book when you were a child?

MM: Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans. Also Burt Dow, Deep-Water Man, by your American author Robert McCloskey.

SB: Really?

MM: Mais oui. It is a wonderful book. You should read it.

SB: What’s next for you today? Shopping?

MM: Yes, we go to Rue Cler every day at about this time. I want to buy some cheese. And chicken and some mushrooms. (Max wags his tail.)

SB: Well, I won’t keep you. Thank you for chatting! Let’s do this again soon. Au revoir!

MM: That sounds delightful. À bientôt!

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*Arf

Posted in Authors and Illustrators, Book News | Tagged , , , , , ,

It’s #FridayReads with Editorial Director Kelly Barrales-Saylor!

Thanks for popping in for another installment of #FridayReads with Albert Whitman staffers.  Chime in on our Twitter (@AlbertWhitman) and tell us what you’re reading this Friday.  We’d love to know!

Today’s guest post is from our Editorial Director Kelly Barrales-Saylor:

Reading and editing children’s books as a career is definitely the coolest job I could have ever dreamed of. And having a toddler at home, I read more picture books than I ever thought possible. This is precisely why when I’m not reading The Little Blue Truck I gravitate toward adult nonfiction. My guilty pleasures are celebrity memoirs and big, glossy cookbooks.

With Thanksgiving right around the corner, I thought I’d write about one of the memoir-ish books I’m reading right now that is full of nuggets of wisdom: What I Know for Sure by Oprah Winfrey. Say what you will about Oprah and her empire, but growing up in Chicagoland, her show was a staple in my house. And in Chicago her show ran at 9am and 11pm so even before DVRs existed, I never missed an episode—probably saw at least a few minutes of every one from the first season until its finale.

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Side story: Oprah and her various shows are a large part of my personal history. Just one example is when my dad was in the Oprah studio audience back in the late 1980s and a very young Jonathon Brandmeier was a guest as part of Oprah’s conversation with “outrageous disc jockeys.” Johnny B (as he was known) pointed to my very tall and burly biker dad sitting in the audience and said, “I’m sorry, sir, but the mass murderer show was last week.” The show was live! They showed my dad on TV! My dad laughed (he was a fan of Johnny’s) and waved him off. After the show, according to my dad, Johnny approached my dad to apologize and then asked my dad to act like his bodyguard so he didn’t get mugged on his way to the car. My dad obliged and had some nice conversations with Johnny on the way. I still have that episode of the Oprah Winfrey Show on tape. After my dad passed away, having this little video with my dad waving and saying “Hi, Johnny!” has been quite comforting.

(OMG. Remember 80's Oprah?)

(OMG. Remember 80’s Oprah?)

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Ok, back to this #FridayReads post (sorry, I’m quite wordy when telling stories).

What I Know for Sure is a collection of essays that originally appeared in Oprah’s magazine. They’re organized by themes such as joy, gratitude, resilience, possibility, awe, etc. Remember that book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum? Well, this is sort of the Oprah version. The essays are small enough to digest a few at a time or all at once.

I admit that on the weekends you can probably find me wearing my Oprah Winfrey Show T-shirt while drinking out of my Oprah Winfrey Show mug (both of which my husband scored in a swag bag from producers of the show—like I said, I’ve got a few Oprah stories). But I swear this little collection of essays is worth reading for non-Oprah fans too.

It’s the perfect little book to help me reflect and find peace and (especially right now) remember the true meaning of Thanksgiving…before or after I run in and out of five different grocery stores in search of the one ingredient I forgot to buy that everyone is sold out of while my son insists I sing “Itsy Bitsy Spider” over and over. And if you happen to have a meltdown while arm wrestling someone for the last can of pumpkin, just remember what Oprah knows for sure: “no matter where you are, you are a single choice away from a new beginning.”

Posted in #FridayReads, Guest Bloggers | Tagged , , , , , ,

Under the Influence of Books: Obert Skye

As our guest author series continues, we’re delighted to have author Obert Skye join us in our discussion of The Boxcar Children. The featured animated film, which is now on Netflix, is also available at your local retailer.

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I admit it, I love the Boxcar children—not that there’s anything wrong with that. In fact in looking back, I can see so many ways in which they influenced my own writing.

I remember when I read the first volume. It had been loaned to me by a kid named Tony who lived down the street. He always wore T-shirts with movie decals on them, and he read a lot of books. He would study books at recess while the rest of us tried to look like we knew what we were doing by kicking kick balls and chasing girls that were clearly faster than us.

I was at Tony’s house one afternoon and saw a huge pile of books by his Star Wars lamp. I had never seen that many books outside of a library. Tony was super proud of them, and when I asked him which book was his favorite, he carefully pulled out a book from beneath his bed and handed it to me. It was The Boxcar Children. I didn’t know much about the book at the time, but I did like trains and well, boxcars are a part of the train family. I asked Tony about it and he said,

“It’s about four kids, Henry, Jessie, Violet and Benny.”

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I thought it was weird that he knew the character names and that he could list them off as if they were members of his family. I also thought it was weird that he volunteered to let me borrow it, after I had broken one of his Adventure People action figures the week before.

I read it in one weekend and loved every word. I could see why Tony had listed the characters like family. They felt real, and I felt compelled to root for them and worry for them. I loved when the grandfather turned out to be kind. And when the boxcar was moved into the backyard I openly cheered. All was right with the world the day I finished that book.

I suppose that’s what a good book does. It takes you away and then leaves you in a spot you’re now happy to occupy. The Boxcar Children was a good book.

I remember a few years back having a discussion with another author about the Boxcar books. I was surprised by how many influences those stories had on my life and writing. There are almost too many to point out. I will mention one. I don’t know if it was my subconscious or just the way things played out, but I find it interesting that I now have two sons of my own, and one’s named Henry and the other one we call Benny. It’s like the characters literally became family.

Long live the Boxcar Children.

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Obert Skye is the author of the Leven Thumps series and The Creature From My Closet series.

The Creature From My Closet

Get in touch with Obert Skye through Facebook, @Obertskye on Twitter, or his website.

Posted in Children's Books, The Boxcar Children, The Boxcar Children | Tagged , , , ,