Paul Volponi's Blog

June 19, 2015

Matthew Winner (he really is) is a great librarian who likes to share conversations. I was recently his guest on his 161st episode of his podcast Let's Get Busy (about books and other things). Here's the link to my episode if you'd like to hear it, as well as all of the other great conversations Matthew has had with authors and illustrators.…/06/p...

Great job, Matthew. Thanks --Paul
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Published on June 19, 2015 07:43 • 57 views • Tags: podcast-paul-volponi

April 9, 2015



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Paul Volponi added 2 new photos.

March 10 at 9:22pm ·

Okay, here's how my new novel Game Seven (about baseball, naturally) was born. Thanks to everyone for all the texts and e-mails expressing congrats on it's publication today--Paul

Some photographs are electrifying. Viewing one that particularly touches you can be like getting hit with a bolt of creative lightning, stirring feelings deep inside a writer’s heart and imagination. That’s how my latest young adult novel, Game Seven, was inspired. I saw a photo of a green 1959 Buick floating into Key West, Florida. It had been transformed into a car/boat by Cuban refugees who were willing to risk their lives on a 90-mile journey to freedom on the open sea. The vision of the young men sitting on the car’s roof completely captivated me. I wanted to write the story of how they’d arrived at that moment, or at least my vision of how it happened.
I had long been moved by the flight of Cuban baseball players defecting to the US to play in our Major Leagues. A handful of them, such as Yasiel Puig (LA Dodgers), Yoenis Cespedes (Detroit Tigers), and Jose Abreu (Chicago White Sox), sign lucrative contracts and become big-leaguers. But all of them, all-stars or not, leave behind loved ones in less desirable circumstances. And those loved ones often pay the price for that defection, being mistreated by an angered and embarrassed Cuban government. Game Seven is about someone who was left behind—a son now grown-up and escaping to the US to find his famous baseball-playing father.
Julio Ramirez Jr. was 10 years old when his father, Cuba’s great pitcher, defected while playing for the Cuban National team during an exhibition in the States. Now, 16, Julio Jr. is considered Cuba’s best young shortstop. However, he’s been told by baseball officials there that he’ll never receive a chance to play at the highest level, on Cuba’s National traveling team (The Nacionales), because of his father’s actions.
Was Julio’s Papi being a hero when he defected for freedom and baseball? Or was Papi being selfish, leaving Julio, his mother and younger sister in poverty, as he signed a multi-million dollar deal to pitch for the Miami Marlins?
"Back then, every kid I knew was jealous of me. That’s because baseball is practically a religion in my country. And Papi walked through the streets of our hometown, Matanzas, like a god, with me trailing behind him…Fans called him El Fuego—for his blazing fastball which no batter could touch. The only way Papi could have been more respected was if he’d been a general in the military or a high-ranking government official. But most of that respect would have come out of fear."
Set against the backdrop of the World Series, as the Marlins take on the Yankees, Julio must consider the same decision as Papi when a chance arises for him, along with his uncle and cousin, to defect in the transformed Buick.
I interviewed many native Cubans and researched the details of ocean defections to make Game Seven as realistic as possible. And I’m pleased to have this novel published at a time when the question of our relationship with Cuba is once again swirling in the winds of debate. --Paul Volponi
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Published on April 09, 2015 08:11 • 142 views • Tags: baseball, cuba, game-seven, new-ya-novel, refugees

January 18, 2015

Yes, it’s absolutely true (as seen in my novel Rikers High), while teaching on Rikers Island I once handed a student there a Get Out of Jail Free card from a Monopoly game. We all smiled and laughed about it, until that student took the card to the captain on duty and presented it to him. In response, that captain literally kicked the student’s behind all the way back to his living quarters.
Over the last few months, with so many high schools and middle schools teaching Rikers High, I’ve received a lot of inquiries from teachers and students who’ve seen the articles in several New York newspapers questioning whether teenagers awaiting trial there are physically abused by correction officers.
Well, I was there almost every day from 1992 to 1998 teaching teens to read and write, go for high school credits, or study for the GED. I wrote the book Rikers High to give readers a look at what really happens to teens behind bars inside the world’s largest and most violent jail. Because I want you to believe this, and it’s an absolute fact—if you were to take your students on a tour of the jail, or if a political figure or advocacy group went through the place, they’d never see what really happens there day-to-day—they wouldn’t let you see it. They’d clean it up and sanitize it for you. The only way you can really see what happens to teens on Rikers is to work there, at which point you become a part of the scenery, and officers act in front of you as they normally would.
Now, am I contending that all COs are physically out-of-control with teens? No, I am not. I’ve probably seen an equal number of positive circumstances (CO’s getting a kid an old coat for the winter, or giving a heart-felt speech about what education means, or speaking to students about not spending their lives being incarcerated). But violence was a prominent means to control the kids there. Imagine having a CO open the door to your classroom and shove in a student who has just been slapped around. As a teacher, you’re expected to just ignore that and continue teaching (but that rarely happens). Remember, you can have a school inside of a jail. But you can’t make the jail part of the equation just disappear.
Here’s a real-life incident: a student who was angry about his report card grade from a teacher who didn’t even know his name (yes, there are report cards in jail and the students are mostly excited to receive them), balled up his fist to the teacher while standing about 15 feet away. As soon as the student did that, a CO punched him in the head for threatening a staff member. Unfortunately, the student hit his head on the door frame and cut himself. So now he had to go to the clinic for stitches. There was going to be paperwork and the officer couldn’t pretend that it never happened. What was the CO’s immediate problem? There was a mark on the student but no mark on that officer to justify the punch. So what happened? Well, the CO disappeared into a little room by himself, and then came back out with a swollen eye. He wrote a bogus report about how the student attacked him, and recruited a number of the students to sign it in return for extra phone time that night (the entire incident is detailed in the novel).
If you want to experience what life on Rikers Island is really like for teens, read Rikers High. I am very proud of it and the recognition it has received from the American Library Association (Quick Pick Top Ten, inspiring non-readers to read). The book is available in most public libraries around the US—Paul Volponi.

Check out author K.M Weiland talking about the novel on YouTube. She has an interesting take on it-
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Published on January 18, 2015 10:04 • 92 views • Tags: education-in-jail, rikers, teens-in-jail

December 4, 2014

Lots of high school librarians around the country have been asking me how students can begin to look at getting their work published. One way is a book called Writer’s Market, which gives the e-mail addresses of both agents and publishers, detailing the kind of work they represent and publish. The book also teaches how to write a short one-page query letter, introducing the writer and giving a short synopsis of the work. My main focus is YA novels, but I believe books such as Writer's Market (and there are many others on the shelves at bookstores) have editions for poets and songwriters as well. I’ve worked with lots of creative writing classes where the librarian brings in such a book, and several of the more ambitious student writers have fun sending out queries and waiting for a response. It could be an interesting learning experience for a class. And of course, aspiring adult writers can follow this model as well. Using a book like this is how I got the first of my 12 novels published.

In the classroom recently—I met an amazing group of young writers at Keene High School (home of the Blackbirds) in NH, thanks to the LMS there, Kelly Budd. They’re writing Sci-fi, realistic inner-city, teen love stories, and pieces bubbling with lots of societal issues. Just to name a few students among the many—Hannah, Megan, Emma, Lucas, James, Cooper, and Abbey really shined.
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Published on December 04, 2014 06:20 • 94 views • Tags: getting-published-school-visit

December 1, 2014

Hey Guys, be sure to join me on Facebook for lots of fun quizzes, questions, and comments relating to YA Lit, sports and other things, especially updates on the students, teachers, and librarians I visit around the country, both Via Skype and in-person--Paul Volponi
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Published on December 01, 2014 14:30 • 38 views

June 7, 2011

I'm very proud of my new novel, Crossing Lines, which I believe makes a great anti-bullying statement. You can read the opening chapters at And below is the review by Booklist--

"Told from the vantage point of the complicit bystander, Volponi’s latest novel is a moving story of bullying and courage. Adonis relishes his spot on the varsity football team and plays along with his teammates’ aggressive posturing. Alan, who is working through identity questions, comes to school in lipstick and dresses and soon finds himself in the team’s crosshairs. Escalating bullying culminates in a premeditated, violent public attack. Adonis’ intervention is too little, too late, and he tries to work his way through guilt and remorse to extend friendship and a genuine apology to Alan. Volponi’s characterizations verge on the stereotypical: Adonis’ father is a firefighter who reinforces his son’s macho contempt, and Alan’s father, an army recruiter, calls his son a disgrace. Yet by reinforcing many teens’ preconceptions about how the adults in their lives, and society in general, perceive and respond to questions of sexual identity, the author makes Adonis’ growth and breakthrough both plausible and powerful. This quickreading, tightly constructed novel will provoke substantive questions, making it a great choice for group discussion."
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Published on June 07, 2011 11:39 • 605 views • Tags: anti-bullying, cross-dressing, football, ya-novel

September 11, 2009

Yesterday, I came to an agreement with Viking to write the conclusion of Black and White. Right now it will be called Marcus and Eddie. I'm very excited about it and it will be published in 2012. --PV
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Published on September 11, 2009 13:08 • 889 views • Tags: -marcus, black, eddie, white