Sunday, May 10, 2015

BOOK REVIEW & AUTHOR INTERVIEW: My Life in Dioramas by Tara Altebrando


Twelve-year-old Kate Marino thinks she is a real mastermind. At least when it comes to hatching a plan to dissuade potential buyers from purchasing Big Red, the old farmhouse that has been the only home Kate has ever known, and which her parents must sell in order to downsize.

Kate has not even moved yet, and already her life is changing in unwelcome ways. Every moment and memory seems fleeting. Making dioramas of the people she loves in the places that she holds dear gives Kate a sense of calm. But there’s no way Kate is going to move now, when her dance troupe is finally going to compete at Dance Nation, and her best friend is starting to replace her with her enemy, Megan. It may take several bags of stink, the help of her friends, and a few fake dogs in order for her to be able to keep her life the way that she knows and loves it.


Tara Altebrando’s middle grade fiction has been compared to the works of Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary. She is the author of such novels as The Battle of Darcy Lane, The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life, and Dreamland Social Club. She is also the co-author of Roomies with Sara Zarr. Tara lives in Astoria, New York.


I found the idea of a girl documenting her childhood home in dioramas strangely compelling.  It sounds like a great idea, a bit like a 3-D scrapbook.  For Kate, leaving the home she has known her whole life is horrifying, especially when it means  giving up her friends and a chance to be in a dance competition. Kate decides to try to delay the sale by making the house as unappealing as possible to prospective buyers. While I didn't approve of Kate's actions, I have to admire her creativity.  I appreciated the fact that when her father found out, there were appropriate consequences applied.  Like most people, Kate must face the change coming her way despite how unpleasant it is.  To make things worse it seems her mother might be depressed which makes everything worse.  I thought the book came together in a believable and interesting way.  Kate's shifting friendships with Stella and Naveen also come into play and since Kate is twelve this feels realistic.  An enjoyable contemporary story about something many children and tweens have to face, because of that I think many readers can relate to Kate and her struggles.

INTERVIEW with Tara Altebrando

*What's the 'story behind the story'? Why dioramas?

When I was trying to think up an idea for my second middle-grade novel, I had this vivid memory of a diorama I'd made when I was ten years old. An Olympic scene! I'd made a sled out of aluminum foil and snow out of cotton balls. So I thought it would be fun to write a book that somehow incorporated a school diorama project.  In My Life in Dioramas, the character of Kate basically catches diorama fever and just keeps making them, one after the other...

*I fell in love with 'Big Red' immediately. Tell us more about the place.

It's a real place! Two years ago my husband and I decided that if we were going to continue living and raising children in New York City, we needed some balance. We ended up buying a very old, very cheap, pretty run down red farm house in the Hudson Valley. My dad immediately started calling it "Big Red" and it stuck. I fell in love with the place, and especially the property, which has a stream and weeping willows and a huge vegetable garden, the first time I saw it; I didn't even own it but couldn't imagine ever wanting to sell it, if that makes any sense. The story about a girl whose parents are selling her childhood home grew from there.

*What do you enjoy most about writing for middle grade readers? Least?

I like that there's not the expectation of a big love story! And you can write characters who don't have phones yet! On the downside, it's harder to directly reach readers, because they're younger and not on social media the same way. 

*Do you have a special place you like to write? If so, where is it and why?

Well, I mostly write in my home office, which is really just a desk in the corner of our den. I see all the neighbors out with their dogs a few times a day and at least three times a day someone drives down our one-way street the wrong way. Big excitement! But this summer I'll be spending a lot of time at the real Big Red, so I have a little desk set up there in the loft over the kitchen. 

*If you could visit any place in the world where would you go and what would you do?

What a fun question! I pretty much stopped thinking about stuff like this when I had kids because I just knew I wanted them to be older before we went anywhere far flung. But now we're ALMOST travel ready. I've always wanted to go to Iceland and go in a hot spring. But yeah. Not with my four year old. Soon, though! Soon!

Middle Grade Authors Take on The Diorama Challenge, Make Miniature Representations of Their Latest Books

Middle grade author Tara Altebrando asked some of her favorite authors to make dioramas inspired by their books. The effort is in celebration of the publication of her new novel, My Life in Dioramas.

Some ran for the hills... (We're looking at you, Maryrose Wood!)

Others dared to rise to the challenge. (The Lineup: Anne Ursu! Lisa Pliscou! Megan Frazer Blakemore! Corey Ann Haydu! Jeffrey Salane! Sarah Albee! Leslie Margolis! And Rita Williams-Garcia!)

This month, Tara will reveal the results on her website and social media, along with fun interviews with the authors about the highs and lows of diorama making.

Follow #MyLifeinDioramas and #DioramaChallenge over the next three weeks to keep up with all the diorama drama. And don’t forget to share!

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