Book Review: PLAYING A PART by Daria Wilke


шутовской колпак written by Daria Wilke

шутовской колпак written by Daria Wilke.

It is rare that I write a book review on my blog, World Reads. To make the cut, I have to either really LOVE a book and want to spread the word about the book or the author must no longer be with us to give me an author interview. In the case of Playing a Part, I was first introduced to it in its Russian version (шутовской колпак ) by Arthur A. Levine who asked me to read and report on it as he was considering its acquisition, translation, and publication in the United States.

And this is how my report to him started: WOW and double WOW!

I very much enjoyed reading Playing a Part not just because of its timeliness given the homophobic-oriented laws Putin is enacting in Russia and the jail-term risk the author, Daria Wilke, might experience on her next visit home, but because Playing a Part is well written and well told. So while the “hype” and “market press” might draw attention to the book and increase sales, it’s the writing and the story that will stay with readers long after they’ve read Grisha’s story. And my guess is that it might just change how some people think along the way or at least make a dent on those sitting on the fence who view gays as “different” or not “normal”.

Daria Wilke, author of PLAYING A PART

Daria Wilke, author of PLAYING A PART

I could tell from the very first page that Playing a Part would be a winner and it did not disappoint on many levels. For one, there’s a complete story arc both in terms of plot and internal character growth that would be satisfying to an American audience. Second, the writing is literary and gorgeous from beginning to end. Third, the author, Daria Wilke inserts Russian humor that will easily cross our borders and make American readers laugh out loud. Fourth, the setting is magical and like no other I’ve seen in children’s literature in that the Moscow puppet theater is described in such intricate detail, it makes you feel like you’re part of the setting. Fifth, Grisha, our main character is not only likeable, he feels as real as any boy dealing with issues of friendship, loss, and the struggles of self-realization. And sixth, unlike many other Russian children’s books I’ve read, Playing a Part is a story that will not feel foreign or Russian to American readers. It offers sensibilities that anyone with a human heart will relate to, understand, and feel.

This is exactly the kind of book I would have wanted to read as a kid. It’s written from someone who knows Russia and can reveal her intimate knowledge and view of Russia through the details, yet write it such that it shares our sensibilities too and not make us feel lost in the details or overwhelmed by them. In other words, you don’t have to be Russian or know Russia to appreciate the story. Nor do you have to be gay. Wilke grounds us in the character and place so well, you could almost come from Mars and still follow along. All one needs to bring into the reading is an open or curious heart to become fully engaged by Grisha’s journey of self-realization.

So many books written by Americans that are set in far-away lands—whether historical or not—lack the kind of authentic details that make a story come alive where the characters feel so real they could walk off the page and where the details are so perfectly accurate you might think the writer had written it in “real” time, standing in the very spot she’s just described or scene she’s just created. So many times, I’ve experienced books set in places where I’ve lived where the kind of details I’m talking about were not only absent or spare, but sometimes completely wrong. And it’s no wonder, with a little digging, you can quickly unveil that the author has never been to the place she’s describing or writing about and simply did her research on the internet. Don’t get me wrong, a good writer can still tell a good story set abroad, but it’s the writer who’s lived, breathed, and absorbed the culture of that place into their veins that produces the kind of details that separate a good story from a great one. And Playing a Part is a great story from that aspect.


LARA’S GIFT by Annemarie O’Brien

I appreciate accurate details and know how hard they are to incorporate into a story from my own experience writing Lara’s Gift, set in Imperial Russia. I also understand that not every book written and published outside of the United States is suitable for our market due to different cultural sensibilities. That is not the case with Playing a Part. Wilke goes into such lovely details about the puppet theater, puppet making, Russian weather, and Moscow life in general, readers will not only learn how to make a puppet, but will walk away with vivid images of the setting and a compelling character’s struggle to be himself. Because of these wonderful details Wilke draws from her own Russian culture, she creates similes that will be fresh to an American reader.

I give Marian Schwartz a thumb’s up for her translation of Playing a Part! And thank you Arthur Levine and Emily Clement for bringing Playing a Part to an American audience. Bringing foreign books across borders is just as important as publishing diverse books.

Playing a Part will be released on March 31, 2015 and can be purchased anywhere you can buy books.

Daria Wilke, a graduate of the Faculty of Psychology and Pedagogy of Moscow State Pedagogical University, is a referent at the Institute of Slavic studies at the University of Vienna and a teacher of the Russian language. She started writing prose at thirty-one and her first essay Die Seiltänzergeneration was published in the German anthology Mächte. For her prose, including her children’s literature, Wilke has been shortlisted for many prestigious literary awards, such as the Manuscript of the Year Award 2011, Krapivin International Literary Prize 2011 and Voloshin International Literary Award 2011. The same year Wilke won the Russkaya Premiya Literary Award for her novel-meditation Interseason.







Stacy Nyikos WAGGERS BOOK COVERToday I welcome Stacy Nyikos, fellow VCFA alum, to Dog Reads to talk about her new picture book, WAGGERS (Dec 2014: Sky Pony Press) illustrated by Tamara Anegon and appropriate for kids aged 3-8.

Who is your key dog character(s) and what kind of dog is he/she? 

Waggers is a Razortail Whippet. The famed Razortail Whippet isn’t actually a breed recognized by the Westminster Kennel Club, but that might be because I made it up. Waggers needed his very own category. His tail is that unique. I have a feeling there are a lot of un-identified Razortail Whippets out there just waiting for Westminster Kennel Club to recognize them, too.

Aside from his destructo-tail, Waggers is really a sweet little man, who loves to do anything Moni and Michael want and will stop at nothing to protect their house from the most evil of all villains, the Sciuridae, also known as the squirrel.

I think you’re onto something, Stacy and the WKC should consider the Razortail Whippet as a new breed! 

In 70 words or less, provide a succinct plot description of your story.

Moni and Michael are so excited to adopt Waggers. Waggers is too. His tail goes crazy. He can’t stop it. Moni and Michael don’t mind. Waggers is so sweet, and it’s just a tail. How much harm can it do?

Stacy Nyikos DESI PUPPY PHOTOWhat inspired you to write this story?

Waggers was inspired by our most recent family member, Desi, a German Shepherd/Rhodesian Ridgeback mix we adopted from the pound. She has got a tail on her that literally clears tables and pounds cracks in walls. It’s amazing it took me more than a week to realize she was the perfect protagonist for a story.

What was the biggest challenge you had writing your story? How did you overcome it?

The biggest obstacle to this story was to take reality and fictionalize it such that it works as story, not fictionalized reality. That must sound weird, but it’s sort of like the difference between a person trying to act vs. someone acting, or, say, pretending to be excited about a present vs. being skin-tinglingly excited.

Stacy Nyikos DESI PHOTOWhat other YA/MG books have you written? Do any of them feature a key dog character? If so, which ones? What are these stories about?

This is my seventh book. Five of the seven are aquatic picture books. The sixth is a middle grade fiction with dragons. This is my first dog book, and it has been so much fun. I want to write about dogs all the time now. Maybe it’s because of Desi, or maybe it’s because writing this story has been so much fun. Either way, I think Waggers is the beginning of a new trend.

What kind of story can we expect next from you? Is it about a dog? If so, what is it about?

My next story is a picture book called Tour de Trike, and it’s about a tricycle race. There are no dogs, not yet anyway. The YA I’m working on is set in a drowning world. There are no dogs in it either. However, I have the outline for a new MG called Dogspell. Tada!! It’s about a dog and a girl who swap places. Literally.

Stacy Nyikos STACY and DESI PHOTOWhat else would you like us to know about you or your story?

Hmmm…how about that that adopting a dog—which is what Waggers is all about—is one of the most exciting, most fun, most rewarding experiences, but it can be hard too. After all, a dog is a new family member. You have to get to know them and vice versa. There might be days when walking the dog is a drag (or you’re dragged). Don’t give up! It will get better. Or, you’ll fall in love with your dog and not care as much. Maybe a little of both. Desi’s tail has gotten better. She still clears a coffee table every once in a while, but I’ve seen her actually slow her tail when walking by one. And I’ve learned to put things up a little higher. But most of all, she’s become a part of our family. I can’t imagine a day without her.

Good advice, Stacy. Taking care of a new puppy or dog requires a lot of time and work.

Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you? And why?

Gosh, that’s a tough one. I’ve been reading since I was three. Go Dog Go was my most favorite book then. It was the book that taught me to read, the one I memorized, the one I took with me when I ran away from home at the age of 3 to go to school. I followed our neighbor to the high school around the corner, found my way to the principal’s office. He said I’d have to be able to read to go to his school. I proudly whipped out Go Dog Go and read it cover to cover. I got a tour of the school after that, and I was in preschool the next week. Go Dog Go!

Thats’ a great story and why am I not surprised that you’d want to start at high school?

Stacy Nyikos AUTHOR PHOTOWhat advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Everybody’s road to publication is different. Don’t be afraid to try anything, no matter how crazy, in your writing. And don’t give up. It can get hard, really hard some days. But the people who make it are the ones who stick with it. That advice has stuck with me through some pretty bleak moments, and gotten me through them.

I agree a 100%. It’s the writers who stick with it and struggle through the tougher times that finally see a contract.

Where can readers go to find out more information about you and/or your books?

My website is a great place to start. If they don’t find enough there, or on FBTwitter, or my blog, drop me an email. I’d love to hear from you!

You can also learn more about Stacy and her books on Goodreads and Oklahoma Children’s Authors and Illustrators.

Thank you Stacy for joining us at Dog Reads! We wish you all of the success possible and hope to see more dog books from you. 


510x765-Goodbye-275x413Today I welcome Sheri S. Levy to Dog Reads, a blog that features interviews with authors who’ve written a canine story for kids or young adults.
My YA novel is Seven Days to Goodbye. It was published by Barking Rain Press in Vancouver, WA, August 26th. The story characters are thirteen and fourteen, and targets ages 9-14. The illustrator, Stephanie Flint, created an amazing cover and my editor, Cindy Koepp, helped polish the story.
AOB: Who is your key dog character(s) and what kind of dog is he/she? Feel free to list as many different breeds or mixes as necessary. Tell us a little more about him/her.
Sydney, a six month old, red-merle Australian Shepherd with warm amber eyes, is Trina’s first service dog. After one year of training with Trina, Sydney, must be returned to his kennel to be matched with his forever companion. While on his first beach trip, he loves playing Frisbee, swimming, and chasing Darby, a black and white, Springer Spaniel. Sydney not only becomes a water dog, but makes a magical connection with a young boy with autism and educates the boy’s parents about service dogs.
AOB: In 70 words or less, provide a succinct plot description of your story.
Thirteen-year-old, Trina, vacations on Edisto Beach, S.C., with her best friend, Sarah, and her dog, Darby. Trina becomes conflicted over Sarah’s new personality, and giving-up her first service dog, Sydney, in seven days. During the week, Sydney makes a magical connection with Logan, a young boy with autism, and brings the girls and Logan’s older brothers together. This story combines humor, growing pains, and plenty of puppy-love-of both varieties.
photo(7)AOB: What inspired you to write this story?
After retiring, I longed to write and keep my dogs’ memories alive. I brainstormed on unique plots, familiar settings, and experiences in special education, and added autism and service dogs.
AOB: What was the biggest challenge you had writing your story? How did you overcome it?
My story had been revised many times and received positive critiques, but no one felt it was the right story for them. With everything so subjective, I had to find the confidence to keep sending queries and not give up. With the support of my critique group, and because I loved writing, I continued to pursue my dream. I have motivational phrases around my office reminding me, If you give up it will never happen!
AOB: What other YA/MG books have you written? Do any of them feature a key dog character? If so, which ones?
What are these stories about?
While researching service dogs, I met a young boy with a diabetic alert dog. I interviewed him and sent his story to Clubhouse Magazine. It was printed in July, 2010, and can be read on my website. The story won n the General Interest category and was nominated for a Maxwell Award in the Dog Writers Association’s contest. Those positive events inspired me to continue writing.
While working on Seven Days to Goodbye, I put it aside for a while and wrote about a very difficult and troubled, dog I rescued. Since I had taught special education, I used the same techniques to train him. My first draft of A Stranger in our House has been written as a comparison on how I worked with a special needs children and a special needs dog. Maybe one day I’ll polish it! It was great therapy writing it…
AOB: What kind of story can we expect next from you? Is it about a dog? If so, what is it about?
My next story is called Starting Over. If I say too much, it will give away the ending of Seven Days to Goodbye. This is a sequel, has horseback riding, and there is a dog!
AOB: What else would you like us to know about you or your story?
While researching service dogs, I found an organization, PAALS, close by and became involved with their training. It is 100% charitable. I am pleased to be a part of helping them raise money for service dogs by donating 10% of my net from each book sold. It takes thousands of dollars to raise one dog and the need grows every day. PAALS trains dogs for mobility, autism and PTSD. Veterans and other service related jobs receive their dog for free.
I also enjoy tutoring students in reading and writing, and getting their honest input on my stories before they are completed. Doing author visits, gives me a new method to motivate students of the importance of reading and writing, and of pursuing a dream and to never give up!
024AOB: Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you? And why?
As a child, I was an avid reader. We went to the library often and I brought home loads of books, and read under the covers with a flashlight. I can’t say which book influenced me more, for every book engaged my imagination.
AOB: What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
If you love to write, make time for it every day, but take time to enjoy life, and friends. For me, walking my dogs gives me time to think, observe nature, and get revitalized. By staying involved, and trying new things, I gain new experiences for my stories.
Readers can find out more information about Sheri on her webpage.
Thank you Sheri S. Levy for joining us at Dog Reads!

Book Review: TAKING FLIGHT by Michaela DePrince with Elaine DePrince

Taking FlightI don’t generally write book reviews unless I have a strong urge to share a good book. TAKING FLIGHT is one of those rare books that you will want every kid (and adult!) in the world to read, especially those kids who need a seed of hope. TAKING FLIGHT is Michaela DePrince’s true story written in her own words—with help from her adopted mom—about her harrowing journey from war orphan to world class ballerina. And what a story!

I couldn’t put it down and nor will you. Without giving away too much, let me prepare you. You will wince, cry, rejoice, and clap for Michaela as she takes you from life in Africa through her escape from war-torn Sierra Leone to meeting her amazing adoptive parents and building a new home in the United States where her dream of studying ballet comes true.

Magali CoverWhat is most magical about Michaela’s story is the fact that she didn’t pursue ballet on a whim. From an early age, while still an orphan in Africa, she happened to come across a copy of Dance Magazine featuring prima ballerina, Magali Messac on the cover. Michaela didn’t exactly understand what Magali Messac was doing in a tutu en pointe, but Michaela knew in her heart that this beautiful image called to her.

So she tore the cover off of Dance Magazine, gently folded it up for safe-keeping, and kept it hidden in her underwear for fear some authoritative figure would take it away from her. And even as she and her fellow orphans travelled a great distance to escape the “debil” killing frenzy in Sierra Leone, Michaela carried and guarded the Dance Magazine cover every step of the way and proudly presented her most prized possession to her adoptive mom within minutes of meeting along with a desperate plea to learn how to dance.

michaelaIt’s clear Michaela was born to become a dancer. Look at these jaw-dropping-leaps of her soaring through the air. She makes it look effortless and the joy on her face is contagious.

Michaela is not only a gifted ballerina; she also paints vivid pictures of her life through gorgeous descriptions and spot-on similes. Some of my favorite lines in TAKING FLIGHT include:

I … learned that pain, like the green of the jungle leaves, comes in many shades.” pg. 13

Here was my dream, tantalizing me like a chocolate ice cream cone, and I had to watch it melt.” pg. 235


It wasn’t an easy journey for a girl of color among a troupe of white dancers to break through to the top. Talent and persistence certainly paid off for her. But like Michaela says herself I think it is the hope she carried with her through all of the life challenges she faced that allowed her to persevere.

Michaela DePrince, dancer

It was hope that enabled me to survive in Africa in the face of abuse, starvation, pain, and terrible danger. It was hope that made me dare to dream, and it was hope that helped that dream take flight.” pg. 243



And she’s right. Without hope what can we become? What will fuel our dreams? And who are we without hope?



Micaela DePrince is proof that we should never abandon our hopes and dreams. Her story should be widely shared because I believe she will make a difference in every person she touches—starting with my daughters who like their mom can’t put her book down!


To learn more about Michaela DePrince, please go to her webpage and/or follow her on Facebook. Be sure to view the TAKING FLIGHT book trailer here and listen to Michaela’s story here.


120827105416-michaela-deprince-american-family-horizontal-galleryA standing ovation goes to Elaine and Charles DePrince for opening their heart and home to so many children in need of a family and for nurturing Michaela’s hopes and dreams. What a gift you have given to the world!

Q & A with Katherine Longshore: GILT

Gilt_CATToday I welcome Katherine Longshore to World Reads, a blog that features interviews with authors who’ve written a story set outside of the United States for children or young adults.

What is the title of your book? The pub date and publisher? Genre? Targeted age group?

*GILT, May 2012, Viking/Penguin, historical fiction, ages 12+

Where is it set?

*Tudor England

In 70 words or less, provide a succinct plot description of your story.

* When Kitty Tylney’s best friend, Catherine Howard, worms her way into King Henry VIII’s heart and brings Kitty to court, she’s thrust into a world filled with fabulous gowns, sparkling jewels, and elegant parties. As Kitty witnesses Cat’s meteoric rise and fall as queen, she must figure out how to keep being a good friend when the price of telling the truth could literally be her head.

Links to reviews or blurbs

How are you connected to the setting of your story?

*I lived in England for five years—it’s where I fell in love with history!

What inspired you to write this story?

*It started off as an interest in Catherine Howard—a teenage girl marrying a fifty-year-old man.  But Kitty was inspired by a modern-day event in which a group of students witnessed a shocking violation of law and humanity and yet didn’t report it.  I wanted to write the story of a girl who could say nothing, and learn how wrong that was.

What was the biggest challenge you had writing your story? How did you overcome it?

*Perfectionism.  Because this was my first published novel, I had trouble letting it go.  A friend told me, “You can’t go into every bookstore in America with a Sharpie, and they kind of frown on that, anyway.”  Ultimately, I had to accept that, though I still sometimes change words and phrasing when I do readings.

What kind of story can we expect next from you? Is it set outside of the United States? If so, where? And what is it about?

*My historical loves are almost entirely English—though they cover a broad expanse of time.

Longshore_Katy_1589_CL_57_WCan you remember the first book that made an impact on you? And why?

*The Cat in the Hat.  At five years old, I decided that I was never going to learn to read, because it had made my sister boring—she never played with me.  But I got The Cat in the Hat out of the library, and sat down with it and got sucked in.  So much so, that I decided to read it again, even after my best friend arrived for a playdate.  So I guess reading made me boring, too!

For more information check out Katherine’s web page and her blog. You can also follow Katherine on Facebook or Twitter

 Thank you Katherine for joining World Reads!

All materials © 2015 Annemarie O'Brien. Web site by Websy Daisy. Illustration © 2013 by Tim Jessell