Mayhem, pandemonium, madness are all words that at times described our remote learning process this spring. Our last week, I wanted to end with something fun, something that might supersede the memory of the dreaded daily color grid.
So, for our last small group Google Meet, each student had to prepare a book basket. In the book basket, each student included five items they could use to tell us about the book. Then, they had to build a fort. So, we met inside our forts and shared our summer reading recommendations. It was such a fun way to wrap up our small meetings. Here are some photos of book baskets. I wish I had more to share but by the last full week only a few warriors had the energy to continue to upload assignments to Google Classroom.
I chose to feature Midsummer’s Mayhem by Rajani LaRocca.
Since Mimi, the main character, enters a baking contest, I started off with the homemade cookie. Mimi has to use flowers in her cookies and chooses honeysuckle which she finds in a magical forest. I didn’t have honeysuckle, but I cut some irises from my yard. Even though Mimi doesn’t add chocolate to her cookies, I explained that chocolate plays an important role in the book which is why I added it to my cookies.
Next, I brought out my bowl of root vegetables and told them how Mimi has to make a cream puff filling from root vegetables and tries sweet potato cream and garlic cream before finding the winner carrot cream filling. Then, I showed them a soccer ball (which didn’t fit in my basket) because Mimi has three siblings and they play soccer together. I was hoping this item would hook my athletes. Finally I made a text-to-text connection with Summer of a Thousand Pies, a realistic fiction middle grade novel by Margaret Dilloway which also features baked goods enhanced by plants.
Today, I’m going to share this interview with Rajani in the hopes that they’ll be even more encouraged to read Midsummer’s Mayhem over the summer.
Tell us about the story seed for Midsummer’s Mayhem.
When I was a kid, my dad would sometimes go on business trips. And since I had an overactive imagination, I wondered to myself: What if the person who returned from this trip isn’t actually my dad, but someone who looks exactly like him? How would I know? So I devised a set of “quiz questions” that only my real dad would know the answers to. Luckily, it was always my real dad who came home. J
When it came time to write a book, I thought: What if there’s a girl whose dad returns from a business trip acting really strange, and there is actually something wrong with him, and she’s the only one who notices? Then I thought, why would she be the only one who notices? And, what’s wrong with him, and why? I brainstormed answers to those questions, and then fashioned them into a story.
Tell us about your revision process.
In terms of micro-editing, I always go back and make sure that every word counts, that my verbs are as vivid as they can possibly be, and that I’ve used sensory detail and imagery as much as possible.
At one point the opening for Midsummer’s Mayhem looked like this:
Holding my clarinet, I stood at the edge of the woods, listening. It was birdsong, I thought. But there was something unusual about it. I peered down the familiar path, but I couldn’t see anything. I held my breath and stepped into the trees.
I turned back and saw my sister Jules. She was dribbling a soccer ball, of course.
“Want to go meet the new neighbors?”
But this story involved a lot of food, and food is all about sensation. So I went back and added sensory detail, as well as some metaphor/similes to further enrich the language. And eventually the opening became this:
The song from the woods first called to me on a bright June morning while I sat on the back porch swing rereading my favorite cookbook. I could only hear a few notes, a small taste of a half-remembered melody that meandered through the air, but I was instantly hungry to hear the whole thing and discover where it came from. I crossed the yard and stopped at the edge of the woods. As the music drifted toward me like an irresistible aroma, I held my breath and stepped into the trees.
“Hey, Mimi!” My big sister Jules’s voice yanked me back to reality.
I spun around. She was dribbling a soccer ball, of course.
She leapt over the ball and ran to me. “I need your help.”
On a macro-editing level, I always try to keep in mind what my main character wants—which is what drives the action arc of the book, and what the main character actually needs—which is what drives the emotional arc of the book. Then I analyze each scene: if a scene isn’t contributing to either of these arcs, it needs to be cut.
How did you choose the baking challenges in the book?
Oh, that’s a great question! I’ll try to answer without spoilers. The magical people in this book like nature…and so I thought that baking challenges involving things found in nature might be fun. I also love riddles and puzzles, so having a riddle-solving component made sense.
Obviously you’re a fan of Shakespeare’s work since there are similarities between A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Midsummer’s Mayhem. What other plays has Shakespeare written that have inspired your writing?
My other favorite Shakespeare plays include Much Ado About Nothing and The Tempest. One of my forthcoming books has elements of Much Ado, and I’ve got an idea for another story based on The Tempest.
Tell us about other future projects.
My debut picture book, Seven Golden Rings: A Tale of Music and Math, will publish on October 27. It’s set in ancient India and involves Bhagat, a boy who wants to save his family from poverty by winning a place in the rajah’s court as a singer. Bhagat carries his family’s entire fortune—a single coin and a chain of seven golden rings—to pay for his room at an inn. But when the innkeeper demands one ring per night, and every link snipped costs one coin, how can Bhagat both break the chain and avoid overpaying? This book involves a math puzzle, and an author’s note explains the basics of binary numbers.
I have a novel in verse coming in February 2021. Red, White, and Whole is set in 1983 and is about Reha, the 13-year-old daughter of Indian immigrants, who feels torn between the worlds of her parents and her friends, her immigrant community and 1980s pop culture. But then her mother falls ill, and she is torn in a different way. Red, White, and Whole is a story about being caught between here and there, before and after, and finding a way to be whole.
I also have a companion novel to Midsummer’s Mayhem called Much Ado About Batting (see? I told you I loved Shakespeare’s play Much Ado About Nothing!) coming in June 2021. It’s set in the same town of Comity, MA but involves different characters: Trish and Ben, 12-year-old math competition rivals who end up on the same summer baseball team. Then can’t stand each other, but have to find a way to get along for the sake of their team, which can’t win a single game. When Trish and Ben start eating food from a new local snack shop and solving math puzzles from books that suddenly appear, their team starts to win. But then they get to a puzzle they can’t solve, and tragedy strikes. Will they find a way to work together, or will they strike out when it counts the most?
I also have more forthcoming books you can find out about at www.RajaniLaRocca.com.
Time to grab a copy of Midsummer’s Mayhem and start your summer reading!