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Monday, March 23, 2015

(MMGM) My Life in Dioramas by Tara Altebrando {review and interview}

Welcome to Day 23 of the 4th Annual March MG Madness! Today we are celebrating Tara Altebrando's My Life in Dioramas...

My Life in Dioramas
by Tara Altebrando
Running Press Kids
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.

T.L. Bonaddio’s warm interior illustrations complement Altebrando’s evocative prose and practically make the farmhouse a character that you’ll find yourself wanting the best for. With sincerity and humor, author Tara Altebrando thoughtfully explores the pain—and promise—of letting go.

Praise for My Life in Dioramas

"Humor will reel readers in, but heart will keep them riveted."
—Gordon Korman, New York Times bestselling author of the Swindle series

"Charming, touching, and laugh-out-loud funny."
—Sarah Mlynowski, New York Times bestselling author of the Whatever After series

“Altebrando aptly captures the essence of being twelve years old: fraught friendships, confusing feelings, and glimmers of so much more on the horizon. Kate’s voice is honest and authentic… A thoughtful middle grade novel that will have broad appeal.”
—School Library Journal

Twelve year old Kate loves her home, “Big Red”. She loves its quirks, big back yard, even its stinkbug problem. So when her parents put Big Red up for sale because of money problems, Kate’s convinced her life is ruined. And when her dance class finally gets a chance to compete at Dance Nation, Kate just knows she can’t move. So what’s a smart, resourceful girl to do? Sabotage, of course! With the help of some bags of stink, some noisy neighbors, and her friends, Kate sets out to make her house un-sellable. But changing friendships, a sad mom, and lies upon lies starts to become too much for Kate and she doesn’t know is she can ever learn to let go.

My LIfe in Dioramas is a thoughtful, charming book that is both poignant and uplifting. Tara Altebrando combines sincere storytelling, humor, heart, and realistic characters to create a story that is meaningful, amusing, and powerful. My LIfe in Dioramas deals with some very real very, heavy topics (depression, financial problems, first crushes, changing friendships, etc) and does so in honest, yet age appropriate ways. Altebrando explores these topics through the innocent, yet observant and intelligent eyes of young Kate, creating a perspective and voice that is relatable, pitch-perfect for its audience, and unabashedly honest. Altebrando also does a wonderful job creating such palpable, deeply felt emotions; this is a story that will really sink into its readers. With every heartache and triumph Kate experiences, and with every diorama she makes, readers will feel more and more attached to her and her story.

My LIfe in Dioramas is inhabited by some compelling, engaging characters, from spunky, endearing Kate, sweet and charming Naveen, determined Stella, and Kate’s realistically flawed parents. And of course there’s Big Red! Through captivating details and Kate’s immense love for the old house, Big Red is brought to life so beautifully.

my final thoughts: Full of heart, humor, and honesty, My Life in Dioramas is a moving and entertaining book about friendship, growing up, and learning to let go. Older middle-grade readers and adults are sure to find this a worthwhile read.

4/5 yummy cupcakes

What three words best describe My Life in Dioramas?

Funny. Heartbreaking. Hopeful.

Can you give us your best one sentence pitch to convince readers, especially reluctant readers, to give your book a try?
This book has it all! Stink bugs! Cow turds! Dance competitions! Roller skating! Karaoke! Bottle rockets! And, of course, dioramas!

Grab a copy of My Life in Dioramas and answer the following:
favorite chapter? I’m a big fan of chapter 20! It’s when every sneaky thing Kate has been doing comes to light and we have to wait and see how her parents react---and how she’s going to react to getting caught red-handed.

favorite page? Page 111 can seriously still make me cry.

favorite illustration? I have to say, I love the first illustration, which I specifically requested. The one of the stink bug on a roll of toilet paper. I think that really signals to the reader that this is a very serious, literary read. ☺

art by T.L. Bonaddio
favorite place/setting? Well, the book is about this big old farmhouse called Big Red and the scenes describing the house and its grounds are among my favorites.

flip to a random page and give us a 1-2 sentences teaser:
I opened the composting bin and didn’t smell much, so I reached for the container and unsnapped the red lid. I sniffed the air then regretted it. Imagine a zombie chicken that threw up a milk shake.
What inspired My Life in Dioramas? How did the story come to be?
The story was inspired by a house my husband and I bought in New York’s Hudson Valley. I fell in love with the house immediately and imagined a girl growing up there and never wanting to live anywhere else. Then BAM!--her parents decide they have to sell it.

Can you tell us a bit about your heroine, Kate? What makes her special and sets her apart from other middle-grades heroines?
Kate isn’t afraid to get in trouble…and boy does she. She also walks a tightrope between tomboy and girlie girl, which I think makes her friendships very unique. She has a very close bond with her father, which I think is less typical than strong bonds with moms in MG fiction, right?

What do you hope young readers learn from or walk away with after reading My Life in Dioramas?
That change is hard but necessary. That places have emotional power. That leaving things and places—even people—behind is part of life and we can all get through it.

As a middle-grade author, why do think MG is so important and popular? What do you love about MG?
Great middle-grade stories are what make for lifelong readers. It’s the age at which you can really capture a young person’s imagination and blow it open in some permanent-feeling way.
I love that MG isn’t as high pressure as YA (which I also write)—that there is a lot of room for books like My Life in Dioramas, which is a sort of quiet book but one that I hope will speak to anyone who has ever had to move or change schools or say goodbye to something or someone they love.

What are some of your favorite middle-grade reads?
The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron
Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu
Matilda by Roald Dahl

Fill in the blanks:
I’m really awesome at throwing parties of all shapes and sizes.
I’m really embarrassed to admit that my house is a mess. Every step I take crunches a Cheerio–and yet I am still not vacuuming!
The last great book I read was The Walls Around Us, the newest YA novel from Nova Ren Suma.

If you were to bake a cupcake inspired by My Life in Dioramas, what would it look and taste like and what would you call it?
I would make an oversized Red Velvet cupcake and call it Big Red.

Tara Altebrando is the author of several novels, including The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life and Dreamland Social Club (a Kirkus Reviews Best Book for Teens of 2011). She is also the co-author of Roomies with Sara Zarr. Tara is a Harvard grad living in Astoria, New York, with her husband and two daughters, and you can visit her online at and via Twitter @TaraAltebrando. The Battle of Darcy Lane is Tara Altebrando's middle-grade debut.


Brenda said...

I really enjoyed this book and Battle of Darcy Lane, Altebrando has a way with her characters that rings so MG. Love your review.

Manju Howard said...

Tara, I look forward to reading My Life in Dioramas. I like characters that readers can relate to.