Extravaganza at the Plaza, by Lauren L. Wohl/Illustrated by Mark Tuchman, (Aug. 2018, Persnickety Press), $14.95, ISBN: 9781943978311
Third graders Hannah, and her best friend, Nico, walk by an abandoned theater in their neighborhood and decide it’s time to take action. Their town needs a good theater, after all: there are graduations and school concerts to be held, and everyone’s tired of traveling to nearby towns to see movies. There is a lot of work to be done, but Hannah is determined to make things happen! This companion to 2017’s Blueberry Bonanza is an upbeat story of how a community comes together with a goal in mind: to rehabilitate a public space!
Extravaganza is a good choice for middle graders. Hannah and Nico, along with their local mayor, have a lot to teach kids about taking action. The first place Hannah goes when she starts on her mission: the library! Her local librarian helps her look up the building’s owner and construction details, plus local history regarding the building. Hannah uses this information to learn what can be done, who to speak to, and how to get more help on board for her idea. Hannah is also a sympathetic character; she wants to make this her own pet project and struggles with so many people being part of it – kids will appreciate the feeling of wanting to work on a passion project, and the potential frustration of having someone else take the credit for their work. There’s discussions of fundraising, donor fatigue (when Hannah suggests sending postcards or calling people about donating, her mother steps in to gently nix that), and the necessities of renovating a building – find the owner; get it inspected; hire the right professionals – and, most importantly, the planning process for each task! Black and white illustrations throughout add a human face to the story, and the big ending will have kids wondering what they could do to make positive change in their own neighborhoods.
Lauren L. Wohl writes good stories about kids making the difference in their neighborhoods. Her Raccoon River Kids have started their own businesses (Blueberry Bonanza); motivated an entire town to come together to renovate a public space (Extravaganza at the Plaza), and, later this year, they’ll be starting a pet showcase to find homes for homeless pets (Zooapalooza). The Raccoon River books are a great precursor to books like The Donut Fix by Jessie Janowitz.
And now, a note from author Lauren L. Wohl!
MY FAVORITE LIBRARY MOMENTS
I grew up in Brooklyn, and believe me when I tell you, it was not the cool place it is today. It was just home to many working families, made up of neighborhoods which were small and close and often built on shared values and experiences.
There was a branch of the Brooklyn Public Library eight blocks from home. For as long as I can remember, my dad and I walked to the library every Saturday morning. At each visit, he would borrow one of the color fairy tale collections by Andrew Lang. I don’t recall how many there were, but I can still picture The Blue Fairy Book,The Purple Fairy Book, and The Rainbow Fairy Book. During the week that followed, he or my mom would read one whole story every night. We had favorites in each color, and we knew that evenif tonight’s story wasn’t one of those, tomorrow’s or the next day’s would be.
My dad also borrowed a book for himself for subway–reading back and forth to his job in Manhattan. I, too, would pick a book to read on my own.
The next week, we would return our books to the librarian who was always interested in what I liked and what I didn’t. We engaged in conversations about the books. (I thought she had read EVERYTHING in the library.). She took my opinions seriously. That interest and that respect mattered the world to me.
By the time I was in fourth grade, the librarian started to put aside three books she picked out just for me. She knew what my preferences were from the many book discussions we had had. She picked winners just about every time. I felt so specially treated.
When I went through a period of reading books that she didn’t thinkworthy, she would make sure the second selection of that Saturday met her standard. Slowly I developed skills to find books that challenged me and pleased me; humor that made me giggle; dramas that wrapped me inside them; nonfiction that answered my questions; and family and friend stories that warmed my heart.
When the city decided it was time to develop the area where our library stood, they moved the branch closer to our house. It was easier, sure, but I missed the long walks with my dad. I was in junior high by then, old enough to walk to this new location on my own. But I missed that old library; I still do. It’s impact was long-lasting, and many years later I know those Saturday mornings were a part of my decision to go to graduate school in library science.
When I finally completed my degree, my husband, young son and I took a vacation to Washington DC to celebrate. I wanted to explore the Library of Congress.
My husband called ahead, so that when I showed up, the library was ready for me with a special “brand-new librarian” tour. I saw rooms the public didn’t usually see. I touched history; it surrounded me. Every step was thrilling, every detail memorable. Right then was when I knew I had made the right decision.