Also published on this date: Shelf Awareness for Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Wednesday, March 25, 2015: Kids' Maximum Shelf: The Tapper Twins Go to War (with Each Other)


Little, Brown: The Tapper Twins Go to War (With Each Other) by Geoff Rodkey

Little, Brown Books For Young Readers: The Tapper Twins Go To War (With Each Other) by Geoff Rodkey

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers: The Tapper Twins Go To War (With Each Other) by Geoff Rodkey

Little, Brown: The Tapper Twins Go To War (With Each Other) by Geoff Rodkey

The Tapper Twins Go to War (with Each Other)

by Geoff Rodkey

Geoff Rodkey (The Chronicles of Egg) delivers an engaging mash-up of history, gaming, social media and family dynamics in this launch to a planned four-book series starring 12-year-old twins Claudia and Reese Tapper.

Claudia, the more academically minded of the twins, explains in the prologue that "Wars are terrible things. I know this because I've read about a lot of them on Wikipedia." The book serves as Claudia's oral history about "the war" with Reese: "[L]ike all wars, when it was over, somebody had to write a book about it (me), so that historians of the future would know exactly what happened and whose fault it was (Reese's)."

Rodkey sets up the narrative like a screenplay, and events unfold through the voices of the twins themselves. The innovative format also layers in photos, screenshots (where appropriate) and text messages between the twins' two working parents. These juxtapositions allow for a great deal of humor, as readers fill in the gaps between the various--sometimes contradictory--points of view. The author incorporates all of these elements from the start, artfully teaching readers how to read the story.

Claudia offers nuggets about real war history, such as displaying a photo of the attack on Pearl Harbor, as akin to the start of the "war" between Reese and her: "Just like World War II, it involved a sneak attack on a peaceful people who never saw it coming (me)." Reese, who means no malice but is just a bit focused on other things, such as his MetaWorld game (think Minecraft), dismisses Claudia's characterization. "I mean, yeah, it got out of hand for a while there," says he, "but it's not like anybody died. Except on my MetaWorld account. That was a horrible, bloody massacre."

As Reese mounts his defense, his statements also appear in the screenplay, verbatim. However, as the keeper of the oral history, Claudia gets to offer commentary. For instance, while she asserts that the "war" began with a "sneak attack" in their school cafeteria at 8:27 a.m. on September 8th, Reese contends that it started earlier that morning, when Claudia ate his toaster pastry. The "sneak attack" refers to someone passing gas in the school cafeteria, and Reese accusing Claudia ("Just admit it, Princess Farts-a-Lot!" he cries, and the nickname sticks).

Threaded throughout these spars between siblings, Rodkey allows glimpses into their daily lives: a photo of their New York City apartment building on the Upper West Side, a headshot of their aspiring actress "after school sitter/substitute parent" Ashley, a photo of the M79 bus that takes them to their Upper East Side school and neighborhood haunts such as Zabar's.

Claudia gets Reese back with "Operation Fishy Revenge" (sticking a fish in Reese's backpack). None of the other Tappers can track down the source of the smell. This results in one of the funniest text exchanges between the twins' parents.

"Dad: I think a mouse died in coat closet. Really stinks in there.
 Mom: Did you get rid of it???!!!
Dad: No time. Had to go to work. Left message for Ashley to search closet."

Reese then involves his friend Xander in a payback plan for Claudia, and invites him to spend the night. Xander captures Claudia on video, singing about her crush and playing guitar, and posts it to the Internet (it goes viral as "The Vest Song"). Through the exchanges among classmates, the twins' parents and school administrators, Rodkey explores the fallout from cyberbullying. The author manages to handle the topic with both seriousness of purpose and a tongue-in-cheek critique of the ramifications of a "zero-tolerance" policy, which at first serves Claudia's purpose, but then backfires down the road.

Claudia figures out how to fix her brother and Xander: by messing with their MetaWorld fiefdoms. Eighth-grader Akash Gupta, co-creator of Planet Amigo, where Reese and Xander go to fight their virtual deathmatches, serves with Claudia on Student Government and agrees to tutor her. In an amusing twist, Rodkey demonstrates how even she finds the game "terribly addictive." Claudia names her avatar InvisibleDeath and begs Akash to bend the rules for her (so she can retaliate). Akash, as "God of Planet Amigo," delivers some of the wisest lines in the book.

Rodkey creates siblings with contrasting personalities whose dynamics will be immediately recognizable to readers. His choice to let the twins tell their story in their own words results in a multi-layered, complex exploration of families, school and social mores. The antics fall away to reveal a more serious side to pranks gone awry. Beneath it all, the author reveals the underlying affection between Claudia and Reese ("Even though my brother can be incredibly annoying," says Claudia, "he is basically a good person"; Reese says, "Just because I hate you, doesn't mean you're not awesome") and a credible, likable family. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Little, Brown, $13.99, hardcover, 224p., ages 8-12, 9780316297790

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers


Geoff Rodkey: The Rashomon Effect

Geoff Rodkey does not live on Manhattan's Upper West Side, where the Tapper twins reside. He, his wife and their three children (ages 14, 12 and 9) live downtown, in Greenwich Village. Rodkey grew up in Illinois, and credits his Midwestern childhood with his ability to "still have a bit of the outsider sense" of the city. "My kids, who have grown up here, have no idea how weird [New York] is, compared to the rest of the world," he adds. "The fundamental thing is the pedestrian lifestyle, walking everywhere." That's what gives Claudia and Reese, the 12-year-old Tapper twins, such relative independence. Here he discusses the seeds of his planned four-book series.

How did this idea evolve? Did the story begin with the idea of twins?

They started out as twins, mostly because I knew I wanted to appeal equally to boys and girls. I wanted them to be equals. When one sibling is older than the other, you get into power dynamics. I wanted them to be very much peer to peer, and also all their friends are the same age.

Despite their conflicts, there's an underlying affection between the twins.

With humor, it's a dangerous line you walk. A lot of humor is based on negativity and conflict. You want to make sure there's an underlying heart or affection. I think almost any pair of twins in the real world are going to have affection for each other even though outwardly they appear to be at each other's throats.

Would you say that your work in television and film helped you shape this book?

There are probably two things that were helpful. One that's applicable to any book: as a screenwriter you're trained to think entirely in terms of story structure. When you have that experience, it's easier to write a story that has an underlying plot structure and doesn't wander down blind alleys.

What's great about the oral history conceit is it allows you to tell a story that's almost entirely dialogue. That's the other fun thing about it--the Rashomon effect, the idea of people remembering different things differently, which is a great source of jokes.

How did you develop the text exchanges between the parents?

That was something I had in mind from the get-go. I wanted it to be culturally specific. These are kids who are growing up in Manhattan. In that Upper West Side-Upper East Side environment, the parents are working incredibly long hours. I wanted the parents to be around but realistically so. It's funnier if they're two steps behind, learning second-hand by what they're hearing from their kids and the after-school sitter.

Did you come up with the layout--photos, screenshots, text messages?

I'd come up with the idea of doing this as an oral history, almost a documentary style, along the lines of Where'd You Go, Bernadette? It's the funniest book I've read in 10-20 years, told through e-mails and journals and shifting perspectives. I thought, that's a great way to do a kids' book. I have a longstanding love of trashy oral histories of '70s and '80s rock bands. They have to be oral because none of them are literate.

I knew it needed a huge visual component. For a long time, I couldn’t figure out how to do that. I was joking with my wife that I never thought that what would hold me back as a writer is I can't draw. At 4 a.m. one day, I realized: this is a 12-year-old girl taking pictures with her phone.

You must have had to coordinate those elements closely with the design team.

Liz Casal, the art director for the book, and Andrea Spooner, the editor, got exactly what was in my head, almost immediately. All three of us were on the same page. The only thing we had to put a lot of thought into was what would Claudia's handwriting look like. It was a way of adding more jokes without slowing down the narrative.

What about the real-world references?

For New York City landmarks, like Zabar's, I wanted to use the real thing. I wanted it to be culturally specific. MetaWorld is loosely inspired by Minecraft. I wanted to make it an invented video game, MetaWorld, because the climactic battle takes place there, and I wanted to be able to create my own rules in the video game. I didn't want to peg a cultural reference that might be obsolete to kids a few years from now. They will always be playing video games and there will always be social networks.

It's such a great moment, when InvisibleDeath reveals herself to be this blonde manga-style character.

I thought: What's the least likely character to be holding a weapon?

Claudia doesn't really hate her brother, she often feels sorry after pulling a prank on him. And Reese isn't mean, he's just a bit clueless. This comes out with Claudia's "remorse" when he loses his backpack, and she likens it to leaving her favorite purse on the M79 bus.

There's not a mean bone in Reese's body. Reese is much less self-conscious. He's not thinking deeply about a whole lot, but he's a sweet kid. Some kids are intellectually interested in things, and some kids aren't. It's not about native intelligence. It's just about what they're interested in. In five years, he could be a Shakespeare aficionado.

It's a cautionary tale about social media, too, isn't it? Fish can be tossed, Reese can get a new backpack, but the "Vest Song" will live on.

If kids take away a lesson from that, that's fantastic. That's something I'm going to end up exploring in the fourth book. It's also something I see my kids struggling with a lot. We monitor their presence on social media, and there are points when we say, you really can't share that.

It wasn't an issue for any of us growing up. Even five years ago, it wasn't an issue. That's one of the things that makes being a kid in 2015 both interesting and scary. These are issues that are going to be important in their lives that no one's had to deal with before. With kids you have to deal with the fact that they're kids and even more prone to misjudgment. --Jennifer M. Brown


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