Thursday, February 5, 2015

Middle Grade Review: My Life in Dioramas by Tara Altebrando

Genre: Middle Grade Fiction 
Hardcover:  224 pages
  • Publishing April 28th 2015
  • by Running Press Kids
  • In exchange for an honest review,
  • the book was provided from the publisher for free. 

  • My Thoughts...  

  • Kate's parents have been fighting a lot recently, so when they sit her down to talk, she thinks the worst has finally happened.   Her parents are getting divorced.  Instead, she hears the word "downsizing."  Which to Kate just means that they can't afford to keep their farmhouse, "Big Red."  Big Red is the only home that Kate has ever known and she really loves her old house.  She knows all of its nooks and crannies.  She knows what to do to "wake the wind chimes" hanging on the porch and that you have to walk slowly down the stairs or risk having another horrible accident.  Big Red has her cozy loft, an old barn with cat's and her claw foot tub.  Plus if they move, how will she ever be able to compete with her dance troupe at the Dance Nation competition?  Kate believe's she can change her parents mind about selling Big Red, or at least delay things until after the dance competition.  So, she forges her mom's signature on the dance registration, and sets a plan in action with her friends to try and sabotage the Realtor's attempts to show the home and keep people from wanting to buy it.   But, when the Realtor gets wind of her plans and her best friend spills the beans to the dance trope about her move, what can Kate do now? 

  •  I think I am like most people, sometimes I like to read to escape, for excitement or adventure.  Yet, reading for the Middle Grade Fiction category of the Cybils this year has opened my eyes up to so many lovely books.  "Quiet books,"  like The Battle of Darcy Lane, also by Altebrando.   A book that Booklist described as for "Readers searching for something similar to the books of Beverly Cleary or Judy Blume..."   

  • Altebrando has a way with these quiet books for me.   Her characters read and talk how I envision kids think "I loved my grandparents.  I really did.  But it was just sort of boring to be around them.  They had a lot of stories they told over and over again." I also enjoy reading her books, because I think she has a knack of describing middle school friendships and the struggles that can sometimes occur.  The sense of one friend pulling away from you and the resulting hurt and anger.   In My Life in Diorama's, she illustrates how friendships can change when faced with having to move, while also delving into financial issues and parental depression.  I think her story is a good reminder that despite what parents may think sometimes,  children are observant to what is going on around them.  That finances, depression, or even "downsizing" are real issues to kids and they shouldn't feel like they are supposed to pretend that nothing is happening. 
  • Altebrando also makes sure to interject humor into her stories, in this case in the pranks that Kate and her friends pull.  Their ideas aren't over the top either, and I think middle graders will enjoy reading them.  There is also a sense of childhood, in the games that she chooses to include in her stories, In The Battle of Darcy Lane it was "Russian,"  a ball bouncing game in which different moves are done between each bounce of a ball.  In My Life in Diorama's, Kate plays "MASH," a game in which the girls figure out if they are going to live in a mansion, apartment, shack or house, what kind of car they would drive and how many kids they'd have.   I loved how Kate turned to making Diorama's as a means to capture special memories in her beloved home,  similar to taking photographs to remember special events.   And that dance was very important to her but not because she wanted to win, but because "It was about doing.  About stepping out of the shoebox." Overall, a wonderful story that shows the struggles in friendships, is heartwarming and one in which middle graders may be able to identify with.  

About Tara Altebrando:

Tara is the author of several novels, including The Battle of Darcy Lane, 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. 

 Photo of Tara by Peter Lutjen, from 


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  1. I love MG books and this sounds great. I loved Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary- so I definitely need to read this one! Sounds awesome and I like that the author does such a great job with the friendships. Wonderful review!

    1. You should check out her #dioramachallenge too, authors are making diorama's depicting scenes from books. Very cute. The book trailer is very good. Hope you get a chance to read it.