4th Grade Mystery Author Visit
One of my favorite middle grade book blogs, defined as books for ages 9-12 years old, is From the Mixed Up Files of Middle Grade Authors. I loved the book too and the blog is a wonderful group blog of nearly 3 dozen middle grade authors who are passionate about writing and getting kids reading. I’ve won a few things from their giveaways including a Skype author visit by Southeast Asian American author Sheela Chari.
It turns out that this was her first Skype author visit and for my elementary school, another first. PickyKidPix‘s teacher was understandably nervous about the technology and our librarian came to the rescue. They did a test run a few days ago and the Skype connection failed a few times. Our librarian switched from an iPad to a iBook but we did lose the connection a few times for just a minute or two. It didn’t affect the quality of the presentation and kids didn’t seem to mind or misbehave.
PickyKidPix‘s teacher read the class the first two chapters including the prologue. She had planned on reading the entire book but the Common Core Curriculum just doesn’t allow for going “off-road.” She had prepped the kids well though.
They talked about PREDICTING the ending as well as discovering word clues that Sheela has planted throughout the chapter book revolving around a missing instrument called a veena. Sheela supplied this picture to the class so that they could see it. It’s quite large.
It makes music that is a cross between a harp, a guitar, and a violin.
And in Vanished, the veena is special … with a dragon’s head. And it’s cursed. And it’s missing! Yes, vanished!!! This chapter book is set in Boston (9 miles west of me!) and that’s all I can tell you. You will have to read it!
I thought the set up for the Skype visit was very successful. Our librarian projected Sheela onto a large screen and had the kids come up to the laptop camera to ask questions. We could hear her clearly and the kids were riveted by her story of how she became a writer and wrote this story, her debut chapter book and first children’s book, as a birthday present to her niece.
The teacher, librarian and I all concluded that this was a successful format; this new fangled Skype author visit, and we are planning on doing more. It’s also a nice way to introduce children to more authors of color which we don’t have as much access to when the visits are in person.
But the proof was in the pudding. At pick up time, PickyKidPix asked me, “When is Sheela coming back?”
Sheela Chari does great Skype author visits. Contact her if you want her to come to your school!
Eleven-year-old Neela dreams of being a famous musician, performing for admiring crowds on her traditional Indian stringed instrument. Her particular instrument was a gift from her grandmother—intricately carved with a mysterious-looking dragon. When this special family heirloom vanishes from a local church, strange clues surface: a tea kettle ornamented with a familiar pointy-faced dragon, a threatening note, a connection to a famous dead musician, and even a legendary curse. The clues point all the way to India, where it seems that Neela’s instrument has a long history of vanishing and reappearing. Even if Neela does track it down, will she be able to stop it from disappearing again?
I read the book myself in one sitting because I simply could not put it down though it was past midnight when I finished and I had to move downstairs to the living room so as not to disturb my sleeping husband. There were a few things that really stood out for me.
1) This book is perfectly paced. The clues and action merge seamlessly from chapter to chapter without flagging or lagging. For a mystery book to keep the suspense building steadily until the reveal, this is a master at work. And I read all of Nancy Drew PLUS Hardy Boys as a kids, so I have that as my street cred!
2) I also thought Sheela’s portrayal of Indian American 2nd generation kids was spot on and very sensitive as to ring exactly true. My kids are Korean/Chinese/Japanese, a combination rare in Boston. Neela’s reaction to being a child of color is complex. On the one hand, she is proud of her heritage. She picked the veena over European instruments because she’s not trying to hide her nationality. On the other hand, she cringes when classmates make fun of the bindi mark. It made me realize how even an instrument can be a statement of who you are. When my son asked to learn to play guitar, it made me want to buy a guitar online to let him learn.
3) The idea of how to fit in with American classmates yet honor her heritage is dilemma that all 2nd generation Asian immigrants face. Sheela’s gives gentle insight into what it means to be Indian American — introducing us, the reader, to Indian culture though food, music and travel. She actually makes the reader more sensitive and knowledgeable about India without the reader actually realizing it.
I highly recommend this book. It’s a must read if you live in Arlington or Cambridge! And a must read if you live near Boston! And a must read if you are Indian American. Or like a good mystery. Or a well written book. Well… it’s a great read for anyone, but particularly a reader ages 9 and up. It won a slew of awards but deserves to win more!