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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Much Ado About Baseball: A Rajani LaRocca Cover Reveal and Interview PLUS a Recipe!

*puts on old lady cap*

All right, young ‘uns. Let’s talk a little bit about what children’s novels were like when I was a kid. WHEN I WAS A KID we didn’t have yer fancy recipes all stuck in the back of your fiction titles when you were done reading them. We didn’t have Jonas’s apple crisp recipe from The Giver or Meg’s hot chocolate from A Wrinkle in Time. No sir! Our books were plain and simple and . . . and . . . and actually it would have been awesome if there had been a recipe or two in those endpapers. Particularly if the recipes were original. Stuff you’d never seen anywhere else. Hm.

I’m sure a great many of you remember MIDSUMMER’S MAYHEM by Rajani LaRocca. A delightful combination of baking, magic, and Shakespeare, it was one of the lovelier middle grade novels I’d seen in a while. Now Ms. LaRocca’s is back with MUCH ADO ABOUT BASEBALL. The plot? All will be revealed.

I am pleased as punch to speak with Rajani LaRocca here on the blog today.


Betsy Bird: Rajani! Such a delight to speak with you. Particularly since I was such a fan of MIDSUMMER’S MAYHEM. I mean, Shakespeare + snacks is a winning combination. Now you’re coming out with MUCH ADO ABOUT BASEBALL and it sounds almost more like baseball + snacks. Is there any Shakespeare to it or is it all in the name?

Rajani LaRocca: Hi, Betsy! It’s wonderful to talk to you, too, and thanks so much for your kind words about MIDSUMMER’S MAYHEM!

MUCH ADO ABOUT BASEBALL is baseball + snacks + math + Shakespeare! It’s the story of Trish and Ben, 12-year-old math competition rivals who end up on the same summer baseball team. They can’t stand each other, but they need to learn to work together for the good of their poorly performing team. Then they each find math books with puzzles that claim to lead to the “ultimate answer,” and as they get the solutions right, their team starts winning. Is their team’s sudden change in fortune due to math magic? Or is it because of the super-tasty (and possibly magical?) snacks supplied by a new local snack shop, the Salt Shaker?

There’s a Shakespeare-loving wannabe actor, Abhi, who is friends with both Trish and Ben, and he thinks their refusal to be friends despite having so much in common is similar to the characters in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. And, like in MIDSUMMER’S MAYHEM, the magical characters in this book are taken from the pages of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

BB: Between MAYHEM and BASEBALL you published the picture book SEVEN GOLDEN RINGS, which is that most rare of rarities : A math fable. BASEBALL also seems to have more than a smidgen of math to it. I won’t lie. I serve on the Mathical Committee every year, so the more math in books the merrier. What’s your own connection to it? How does it keep cropping up in your books?

RL: I’ve loved math—its elegance, its concreteness, and its objectivity—from when I was a kid. I love how math is found everywhere, but particularly in the natural world. And I particularly love math puzzles, which invite us to discover tricks to solve them. I’ve always been a fan of stories with kids using their smarts to solve puzzles or riddles, so it’s not a surprise that now I’m writing them myself.

BB: How did this particular book come about? It sounds like it could be a companion to MAYHEM, but it’s no sequel. What’s its origin story?

RL: MUCH ADO ABOUT BASEBALL is a companion novel to MIDSUMMER’S MAYHEM. It’s set in the same town of Comity, MA, during the same summer (and starts just before the events of MIDSUMMER’S MAYHEM finish), but with different characters—both kid and fairy!

The idea for this story came to me when I dreamed up the fairy feud in MIDSUMMER’S MAYHEM: the fairy queen loves sweets and seeks to foster baking, art, and music, while her husband the fairy king prefers savory food and likes to focus on math, science, and sports. So I wanted to tell the story of two kids who love math and baseball, and how they get caught up in the fairy fight, too. MIDSUMMER’S MAYHEM tells the story of “Team Sweet,” and MUCH ADO ABOUT BASEBALL tells the story of “Team Salty.”

MIDSUMMER was inspired by my daughter, who loves to bake; MUCH ADO was inspired by my son, who loves math and baseball.

BB: Often I find that my fellow children’s librarians eschew reading sports books. Perhaps a touch of magic will inspire them to pick this up. When you first began this book did you expect to have more magic, less magic, or about as much as you ended up with?

RL: I always knew that magic would be a big part of this story! But it’s not really clear to the characters (and to the reader, I hope) where and what the magic is. And this book is also about friendship, and family, and failure. It’s about what it means to be on a team, whether it’s a sports team or an academic one. It’s about how we often make incorrect assumptions about others, and how forgiveness can be hard, especially when it’s time to forgive ourselves.

BB: I’ve been very good. I haven’t asked until now, but I just have to. What snacks are in this book? What recipes?

RL: There are savory snacks in this book! Fries, pizza, pretzels, and “Sports Crisps,” which are fancy potato chips. I’m hoping to include a Sports Crisps recipe in addition to a couple of extra math puzzles.

BB: Finally, will we be seeing more middle grade books in this vein?

RL: My next middle grade, RED, WHITE, AND WHOLE (coming February 2021), is a novel in verse set in 1983. It’s about Reha, the 13-year-old daughter of Indian immigrants, who feels torn between the worlds of her parents and immigrant community and her school and 1980s pop culture. Then her mother falls ill, and she’s torn in a different way. It’s a story involving heritage and fitting in, science and poetry, Hindu mythology and 80s pop music, holding on and letting go.

I’m working on other middle grade projects, both contemporary/realistic and those with fantasy/speculative elements, so I hope you’ll see those in the coming years!


That’s a great interview, no question, but you know what would make it even better?

How about that recipe Ms. LaRocca alluded to earlier?

Baked Sports Crisps

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 2 medium-sized potatoes (russet or Yukon gold)
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 3/4 tsp salt 
  • Pepper to taste
  • Spices: I like a combination of paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, and cayenne pepper, but you can use anything you like

Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Scrub and completely dry the potatoes. Using a sharp knife or mandoline, thinly slice the potatoes (1/16″ is best, but can be up to 1/8″). Pat the potato slices dry with a clean kitchen towel.
  3. Toss the potato slices with olive oil, salt, and pepper. I also added 1/2 tsp garlic powder, 1 tsp paprika, 1/4 tsp onion powder, and 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper.
  4. Place on the prepared pan in a single layer, not too close together.
  5. Bake for 15-18 minutes, flipping halfway through, until crispy. Watch carefully to make sure they don’t burn.
  6. Allow to cool briefly, then enjoy!

You’ve been so patient. So, at last, what you’ve all been waiting for . . . .

Many thanks to Rajani for answering all my questions and to Paul Crichton and the folks at Little Bee for finagling all of this in the first place.

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About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.