But there are many more authors -- a whole host of them -- who don't get to be in the big-time spotlight, but whose books are well-written, well-reviewed by critics, and -- most important -- popular with young readers. One of these authors is Mary Amato. If you're a children's librarian or teacher, you're likely familiar with at least one of Mary's more than 15 novels, which include books in the Good Crooks and Riot Brothers series, stand-alone books like Invisible Lines and Please Write In This Book, and a trio of novels for teens.
Since Mary's first book, The Word Eater, was published in 2000, her novels have won a number of awards, including Children's Choice awards in Ohio, Minnesota, Utah and Arizona. Her books also have been translated into foreign languages, optioned for TV and produced onstage. Along the way, Mary has also been a dancer and choreographer, a songwriter, a serious player and teacher of the ukulele, a writing coach, and the co-founder of the Firefly Shadow Theater. In addition, Mary created her own website, which is filled with resources for teachers and parents and also connects to the separate website for her teen books.
In the midst of all this activity, Mary also keeps writing books for kids and teens. This year, Mary will publish two new books: News From Me, Lucy McGee, the first in a new series for ages 7-10, and Open Mic At Westminster Cemetery, a darkly comic book for teens. Recently, Mary and I -- who have known each other for years, as our sons attended the same high school -- met for lunch where I got the chance to hear about these new books, as well as her other writing and musical projects.
In writing News From Me, Lucy McGee, Mary says she wanted to "explore the idea of a little girl who is emotionally vulnerable, especially to being swayed by her peers and letting the popular group steer her.... She makes a pretty big mistake because of that." Fortunately, "Lucy has a strong moral compass because she has a great family," Mary adds.
As News From Me, Lucy McGee opens, Lucy is a fourth-grader and she is thrilled when the most popular girl in her class invites her to help fix up her clubhouse. But that means she has to skip the after-school meeting of the Songwriting Club established by another friend, and Lucy discovers how complicated friendships can be.
While friendship stories are perennially popular with kids, the Lucy McGee series features a extra added attraction. As part of the each book in the series, several songs written by Lucy and her friends in the Songwriting Club are embedded in the text.
|Kids in the Carpe Diem Arts program where Mary volunteers.|
The series also will offer a special webpage with extras for fans, including sheet music, mp3s of kids singing the songs, as well as karaoke versions. Mary's had a lot of fun writing the songs for the books, and is recording them with kids who work with Carpe Diem Arts, a Maryland nonprofit that coordinates arts outreach programs.
|Mary test-drives some of her songs with the Carpe Diem kids.|
So far, Mary has completed the first two books in the Lucy McGee series, and is working on Book 3. The first book will be published in October, and the others will follow every six months. Mary says she and her editors at Holiday House "are all hoping that the series will be very well-loved." If so, that could allow Mary to write more books in the series, a task she would welcome.
Meanwhile, Mary's teen novel, Open Mic at Westminster Cemetery, will be published on September 1 by Carolroda Lab, an imprint of Lerner Publishing Group. In the book -- which Mary calls "my edgiest yet" -- the main character, 16-year-old slam-poet Lacy Brink, wakes up dead in Westminster Cemetery, the historic cemetery where writer Edgar Allan Poe is buried. Lacy is understandably confused by her situation and wants to leave the cemetery to find out the details of her death, but learns that every soul there must complete a job. Lacy is given the task of providing entertainment, and proposes an Open Mic night, which offers the other cemetery residents a chance to express some long-buried, difficult truths.
"There are a lot of funny parts," Mary says. "But the book is ultimately about telling the truth, and how hard that is to do." Mary admits to be being a "little nervous" about the book, which is written in a hybrid style combining the novel format and stage script.
Overall, Mary is grateful to spend her time writing for teens and younger readers, and has plenty of ideas for future projects. "I just have to write," she says. "To wake up every day and write is a dream come true."
ENDNOTES: A big thanks to Mary Amato for inviting me to write about her newest books. And thanks to Holiday House and Carolrhoda Labs for the book cover images.