Hi, James Ponti! Thank you for stopping by to celebrate the second book in the Framed! Mystery series. What is Florian Bates up to in Vanished?
James Ponti: Hi, Mr. Schu! Thanks so much for having me. In Framed! Florian solved an art heist at the National Gallery and uncovered a spy ring being run out of a Chinese restaurant. So, when Vanished! begins, he’s finding normal seventh grade life a bit boring by comparison. That all changes when the FBI asks him and his best friend Margaret to go undercover at an elite D.C. prep school that has a student body made up of the children of some of Washington’s biggest players including the president’s daughter. Before you know it, they’re on an adventure that takes them everywhere from the White House to a speedboat racing down the Potomac and even a helicopter flying across Chesapeake Bay as they try to unravel a mystery that involves a secret society that’s more than 150 years old and the baffling disappearance of a music prodigy during a performance at the Kennedy Center.
How will you celebrate Vanished’s book birthday on August 22, 2017?
James Ponti: To borrow a sentiment from Hamilton, it will be non-stop. It kicks off with a school assembly first thing in the morning and will include visits to six different schools, including one that has never had an author visit, and culminates with an event at an independent bookstore. The goal is to celebrate books and reading with a diverse group of young people from across my community and encourage them to find their voices and share their stories. (It helps that our little area has produced Zora Neale Hurston, Kate DiCamillo, and John Green, so there’s a lot of local inspiration.) And, since it’s a birthday, I’ve got my fingers crossed that there will be cake somewhere along the way.
What is the best thing about writing for middle-grade readers?
James Ponti: I come out of television writing, which is a completely different culture, so I’ve been amazed by the wonderful friendships that I’ve developed with other writers, educators, and librarians. It’s an encouraging and optimistic environment epitomized by the sentiment Laurie Halse Anderson once shared when she pulled me aside and said, “James, we’re not competitors, we’re co-conspirators.” But as great as that is, the BEST part is meeting the kids. It’s funny because we always talk about readers getting lost in a book, but what these kids do is get found. They find themselves in the characters and when they share that with you, their excitement and enthusiasm is indescribable.
Please finish these sentence starters:
School libraries are monuments to the great American experiment. They serve everyone regardless of gender, religion, ethnicity, or economic status. They promote the free exchange of ideas and provide intellectual, physical, and emotional safe haven. I’m a middle aged, middle class, white man living in Florida, yet I’ve had an eleven-year-old Dallas girl wearing a hijab flash a grin and ask me to pose in a picture with her because she loved Molly Bigelow, the protagonist in Dead City. This is amazing and it only happens because of school libraries.
A good mystery plays fair, keeps it fun, and has you guessing all the way until the last page only to give you a solution that in retrospect seems obvious and inevitable. A great mystery does all that AND uses the plot to reveal character so that in addition to your detectives figuring out whodunit, they also learn more about themselves and each other.
Mr. Schu, you should have asked me what’s the deal with TOAST? It stands for the Theory of All Small Things and it’s the method that Florian developed to solve mysteries. The idea is that people mislead in obvious ways, yet often overlook minor details. Florian believes that it you ignore the big things and add up the little ones it will lead you to the truth. This was important for me because of the fair portion of the previous answer. Florian doesn’t solve mysteries because he knows obscure trivia that happens to come in handy. He solves them because he pays close attention to what’s going on, which is something any kid can do. I love meeting kids who tell me how they now use TOAST in their own lives. It really does work. The other thing you could’ve asked is how I keep my hair so soft, but that’s a secret between my barber and me.
Look for Vanished! on August 22, 2017.