Category Archives: middle-grade fiction

MAD About MADHATTAN Tour Stop #3: Central Park Carousel

Continuing the MAD About MADHATTAN tour of the coolest spots in New York City that are featured in my middle-grade novel, MADHATTAN MYSTERY, let’s go to Central Park and ride some horses! Like Lexi McGill, you might be thinking, “But don’t we need special boots and an insurance policy?” Nooo. Not those kind of horses.

The Central Park Carousel is one of the largest in America with 57 hand-carved painted horses. It was originally created for Coney Island in 1908 by the Brooklyn carousel makers Stein and Goldstein. Over 250,000 people ride the carousel each year and at $2.50 a pop who could resist? Did you know that there were several carousels in Central Park that came before this one? The very first was in 1870 and was turned by a crank (and probably a very cranky crank operator). The second, in 1873, was turned by a horse (which is really sad—especially since it’s said to have been a blind horse hidden under the platform. Good grief.) In 1924 a humane mechanical version came along but it burned down, as did the next one in 1950. (I’m thinking the horse did it.) The Central Park Carousel is pretty spectacular but it’s not the only carousel in Manhattan.


Right next to the New York Public Library on the southernmost side of Bryant Park sits Le Carrousel, a scrumptious little French carousel. Consisting of fourteen colorful animals, it was specially created to complement the park’s French classical style. At two bucks a ride, grab your child and a chocolate croissant and hop aboard this confection of a carousel. You’ll instantly be transported to Paris as you revolve to the sound of French cabaret music. Très magnifique!

Then there’s the new Pier 62 Carousel in Riverside Park, next to Chelsea Piers, the humongous sports complex located along the Hudson. This modern industrial-ish looking carousel opened in May 2010 and features 33 animals indigenous to the Hudson River Valley. There’s a turtle, a turkey, a seahorse, a raccoon, a unicorn… (Wait, I’ve never seen a unicorn galloping along the Hudson. While I was a awake, anyway.) No matter. This carousel is definitely worth checking out. Where else can you ride a fish wearing a saddle?



Anyway, circling back to the oldest carousel of the three and the most famous, the Central Park Carousel, here’s an excerpt from MADHATTAN MYSTERY…

“This goes a lot faster than your average carousel,” Kim Ling had to go and say when they met up with her at the ticket booth. “A lot faster. And no brass ring. That’s ’cause they don’t want kids reaching for it and busting chins.”

“What?” Kevin turned that greenish shade again. “I don’t know about this, Lex.”

“C’mon, Kev, it’ll be fun.”

“Geez, man up!” Kim Ling said to him, handing three ticket to the ticket-taker. “It’s not like it’s a mechanical bull—it’s a baby ride.”

That remark got Kevin unstuck somehow and he followed the girls onto the carousel platform with the enthusiasm of someone boarding the Titanic II.

“That’s what they said about the Haunted Mansion ride at Kingsley Park,” Lexi whispered to Kim Ling. She helped Kevin onto the smiliest horse with the shiniest gold mane and just as she was about to mount the one next to it, a boy in a plastic fireman hat beat her to it. “Shoot. Are you going to be okay by yourself, Kev, or should I—?”

“Just go already,” he said, wrapping his arms around the shiny pole.

“I’ll be on this one right in front of you. Hold on tight.”

A rinky-dink rendition of “Do You Know the Way to San Jose” began playing loudly and Lexi quickly hopped onto the horse Kim Ling was saving for her. As soon as the carousel came to life, Kim Ling leaned over to her and shouted, “So, what’s the scoop?”

“Shhh! Kevin fell off a ride. He was around five. Split his head open.”

“No way.”

“Way. They had to shut it down and everything.”

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That’s it for now. Thanks for joining me on this Carousel-ebration through Manhattan!

 

Madhattan Mystery is Booklist’s “Review of the Day”!


It’s Mystery Month on Booklist Online, so I was hoping…with fingers crossed (which makes it very difficult to type)…but hoping, nonetheless, that my middle-grade novel MADHATTAN MYSTERY might be lucky enough to be featured as their “Review of the Day.” Well, this morning I received an email from my editor at Walker/Bloomsbury announcing that–zippity-doo-dah–my book has actually been selected! I’m basking in the glory, but I have to be quick about it–24 hours goes by so quickly. Don’t forget to check out their incredible site! http://www.booklistonline.com/home

THANK YOU, Booklist, for my very first starred review! 

Madhattan Mystery.
Bonk, John J. (author).


May 2012. 304p. Walker, hardcover, $16.99 (9780802723499). Grades 5-8.
REVIEW. First published May 1, 2012 (Booklist).

The title rightfully includes mad because this is a madcap mystery—and a delight in every way. Lexi and her brother, Kevin, are staying in Manhattan while their father and his new wife are on their honeymoon. The kids’ theatrical Aunt Roz has signed them up for City Camp, which they’ll attend with Roz’s neighbor, Kim Ling Levine. That’s the plan, anyway. Coming into Grand Central Station, Lexi thinks she overhears information about a jewel heist in the Whispering Gallery. When she learns that a cache of Cleopatra’s jewels, scheduled for a Met exhibit, has been stolen, she puts two and two together. But has she come up with five? Some mysteries concentrate on plot, while others focus on characters, with the actual mystery an afterthought. What Bonk does so well here is give each its due. The who, why, and how of the missing jewels lead the kids through deliciously dark tunnels, busy train stations, and Central Park at night, and come complete with a nice turnaround. However, equally as developed is the cast. Would-be journalist Kim Ling is bright, caustic, and knows how to toss in a Yiddish word when appropriate; Kevin is the quintessential 10-year-old; and Lexi’s dynamic first-person narrative shows her evolution—to readers and herself. That it also beautifully fits in the story of Lexi’s late mother gives this caper even more heft.

— Ilene Cooper

“MAD about MADhattan” tour stops at Grand Central Station

 In anticipation of the May 2012 release of my middle-grade novel, MADHATTAN MYSTERY, I’m taking you all on a virtual tour of the many spectacular Big Apple sites that pop up in the book. So, grab your camera and a light snack, hop on the tour bus and LET’S GO!

HAPPY SPRING! Blossoms are popping up everywhere you turn in New York City and tourists are arriving in droves once again. One of the major New York portals that’s always buzzing with excitement is the famous Grand Central Station on 42nd Street and Park Avenue in Midtown Manhattan. Actually, its proper name is Grand Central Terminal since it’s a final destination as opposed to just a stop along the way, but most folks call it Grand Central Station regardless. Not simply a transit hub, this 48-acre site is reportedly the world’s sixth most visited tourist attraction boasting approximately 21,600,000 visitors annually. There’s just so much to take in! First off, there’s the jaw-dropping ceiling of twinkling stars and zodiac symbols. In 1998, after a 12-year restoration of the train terminal, it was returned to its original glory. At Christmastime, just look up and you might catch a laser light show dancing across the ceiling timed to your favorite holiday music.

But don’t stop there. Venture on through and you’ll find a variety of shops, bookstores, banks, special exhibits, the Grand Central Market, the New York Transit Museum, and an entire dining concourse ready to please any hankering you’ve got.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dare to venture even further and you may discover secret places—like the unmarked “Whispering Gallery” just outside the Oyster Bar & Restaurant. Because of a series of arches in the hallway, the acoustics are great, and a gentle whisper in one corner can be heard in the opposite corner as clear as a bell. That’s what sets the heroine of my novel, Lexi McGill, off on the craziest adventure of her life. It all starts with a whisper she was never supposed to hear.

Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 1 of MADHATTAN MYSTERY.

Lexi swept her sweaty curls up the back of her neck and leaned into her corner to give the Whispering Gallery a try. “Hellooo,” she sang like a bashful ghost. “How are yooou?”

Kevin squealed. “I heard that!” he cried out over his shoulder, then turned back to the wall. “Testing, testing. Do you read me?”

“Totally!” She heard him as clearly as if he were standing right in front of her. “How amazing is this?”

“Okay, listen,” Kevin said, dropping his voice an octave, “I have top-secret information for agent Alexandra McGill. But first you must prove that you’re really you—her. Over.”

“Huh? Oh. I am prrrepared to answer any and all qvestions,” Lexi replied in her best Russian accent, holding in her laugh. “please to prrroceed.”

“Only the real Alexandra McGill would know her home address. Over.”

“Wait, that’s not true, but—okay, it’s tree-tventy-tree Barrett Pond Rrrroad. Cold Spring, New York, von-o-five-von-six.”

“Roger that. Only the real Alexandra McGill would know—her favorite color. Over.”

“Pink. Pale, not hot.”

“Only the real—

“Just get on with it already, bonehead!”

“I’m thinking.” Kevin cleared his throat. “Your mission, Miss McGill, should-a you choose-a to accept,” he said in an even goofier accent than Lexi’s, “is to carry out the original plan—you know, as planned, but—oh, never mind, there’s Aunt Roz! Abort. Abort.”

For more info on Grand Central go to www.grandcentralterminal.com. And be sure to come back to check out Mad About Madhattan Tour Stop #3: The Central Park Carousel.

Enter to win MADHATTAN MYSTERY ARC giveaway!

I’m giving away two autographed Advance Reading Copies (ARCs–or bound proofs) of my new middle-grade novel, MADHATTAN MYSTERY on GoodReads! The book has been through another editing session since this ARC was printed, so there’ll be a few more changes in the final, final hardcover version coming out on May 22nd. Nothing major, though—just nitpickery. Just in case you don’t know, an ARC is a very cool thing to have ’cause they’re not for sale to the general public. You just have to know someone who knows someone who knows someone…

 Or better yet, ENTER HERE to win a free copy!!! 

http://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/22312-madhattan-mystery

Giveaway ends April 20th. So, what’re you waiting for?

Back to my roots…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Look what I got in the mail today! It’s from my alma mater, Richard Edwards Elementary School in Chicago. (SHOUT OUT!) When I discovered they had transformed into a performing arts school, how could I not send them copies of my first two middle-grade novels, Dustin Grubbs: One-Man Show and Dustin Grubbs: Take Two! which are about an 11-year old who longs to be an actor? (I think I sent them three copies of each book, so technically speaking, that’d be a total of six books, but anyway…) Memories of my days at Edwards started flooding back.

I remember they never used to put on plays. The most you could hope for was a solo in the yearly Christmas concert and that was about it. As a plucky 5th grader, having once again been tragically overlooked for a coveted solo, I decided to approach the powers that be to ask for permission to put on a play called “The King in the Kitchen” in the big auditorium. I would star as the King–of course–and also direct! This way they wouldn’t have to lift a finger. The principal gave me the green light with the caveat that a teacher had to be present at all times during rehearsals. Cut to us performing that play about a zillion times–for every assembly, PTA meeting, awards ceremony–fire drill, whatever.

The next year, due to our rousing theatrical success, the principal decided to put an actual drama teacher in charge, Mrs. Tabitz. (Okay, she doubled as a 2nd grade teacher, but as far as I was concerned, she was Steven Spielberg in a dress.) I was thrilled when she chose a musical for us to perform. No, not just a musical–an operetta! Okay, it was a really watered-down version of The Mikado by Gilbert & Sullivan, but it was still pretty ambitious for an elementary school! Mrs. Tabitz wanted me to play the comic lead, Ko-Ko, but I insisted on playing the romantic lead instead, Nanki-Poo. (Didn’t I know it was a serious tenor role? Didn’t I know I was a goofy baritone? Apparently not. No wonder those high notes wouldn’t come out–and I kept getting laughs.)

MANY YEARS later after moving to New York City in pursuit of my theatrical dream, I wound up doing several productions of The Mikado Off-Broadway for the Light Opera of Manhattan. And guess which role I played? KO-KO!


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It just goes to show–never underestimate the prophetic powers of your grade school drama teacher!

The “MAD about MADhattan” tour kicks off at Radio City!

In anticipation of the May 2012 release of my middle-grade novel, MADHATTAN MYSTERY, I’m taking you all on a virtual tour of the many spectacular Big Apple sites that pop up in the book. So, grab your camera and a light snack, hop on the tour bus and LET’S GO!


HAPPY HOLIDAYS! It’s that “most wonderful time of the year”, so what better place to begin our tour of Manhattan than Radio City Music Hall? Located a block from the gigantic Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, their trademark “Christmas Spectacular” features the high-kicking Rockettes and it’s a show—no, not just a show—an other-worldly experience unlike any other! Plenty of dazzling dance numbers, singing, costumes, and sets—plus, an onstage ice-skating rink, ballet dancing teddy bears, and a living nativity scene with live camels, donkeys, and sheep. And as if that weren’t enough, now they’re incorporating 3D effects, too. Yep, there’s actually a pair of 3D glasses attached to the programs. See?

   

You certainly can’t fault them for not keeping up with the times. Did you know that there are even small rechargeable microphones attached to the bottom of each of the Rockettes’ tap shoes?! SO COOL! (As a former tap dancer myself, I find this really fascinating.) I saw the show for about the fourth time last year with some friends visiting from Chicago and it knocked my socks off. (No wonder my ankles were freezing when we took that horse and buggy ride through Central Park.)

 Here are some more pix…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And here’s a snippet from Chapter 20 of MADHATTAN MYSTERY featuring Radio City. 

   

Entering the lobby was like stepping into a giant Donald Trump living room, provided Donald Trump liked lots of plush red and gold—and crowds. And the jaw-dropping grandiosity continued inside the theater itself. Lexi had never seen so many seats. They extended clear into the heavens, tier after tier, like a humongous wedding cake.

“Can you believe they were actually going to tear this down?” Aunt Roz said as the usher led them toward the stage, which was a glowing orange sunburst that was practically as big as the sun. “I haven’t been inside since the renovation. Melrose, have you ever been?”

“I saw the Christmas Spectacular once, back when I was, like, a fetus. Alls I remember is one of the camels in the livin’ nativity scene takin’ a dump onstage.”

That angel-of-silence thing was happening again—the fifth time that night, if you were counting, and Lexi was. Something was definitely strange with Melrose—well, stranger than usual. She had started off the evening glowing and now she was glowering, and Lexi couldn’t figure out why.

Check out Radio City’s website for more info on this beautiful and historic theatre. http://www.radiocity.com And be sure to stop back here for Tour Stop #2: Grand Central Terminal!