When I was a kid, I had a bike and a backpack. I’d ride up to the library at least once a week all summer long and check out a bag full of books. The next week, I’d take them all back and restock. If I found an author I liked, I would check out every single book I could find by that author the next week.
There were some authors I always returned to. One of them was Avi.
I don’t know which came first: meeting Avi, or reading his books. But when I was third grade, I was selected from my class for the “Young Authors” program, and I got to meet Avi himself, who told us his story, why he loved to write, and so forth. I knew from that moment that I’d be an author too. Although I have not really written children’s fiction as I thought I wanted to as a child, I certainly have kept reading, and as my 6+ years of blogging about reading may indicate, I like writing quite a bit too!
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Avi is such a fascinating author to me because not only does he write realistic children’s fiction (like Nothing But The Truth), he also writes ghost stories (like Something Upstairs), mysteries (Who Stole the Wizard of Oz?), historical fiction (The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle and Crispin: The Cross of Lead), historical-ghost-mystery (The Man Who Was Poe) and fantasy (Poppy). There are a million other subgenres he’s written too: I must admit, I have not kept up with all his new books since college and motherhood have come along! (I love that, now that my son is getting older, I have more “excuses” to revisit middle grade fiction!).
Who Was That Masked Man Anyway? (originally published 1992, reissued by Scholastic Paperbacks 2014) is one of the most unusual novels I’ve read: it is written entirely in dialogue. No, it’s not a play: there are no name indications in the text, nor are there settings and stage directions. Indeed, every single line that appears in the book is a line of dialogue.
This is rather hard to do, but even more remarkably, Masked Man is also historical fiction. Frankie is failing out of sixth grade, but it is the middle of World War II, and stress is everywhere. He escapes from his parent’s difficult financial situation, his brother’s war injury, and the other stresses of daily life by escaping to the worlds of his favorite radio dramas. He wishes he too can be a hero as The Lone Ranger and the Iceman are. He wants to swoop in and save the day, and of course, he wants to do it anonymously because that is how heros do it.
With his friend Mario (whom he diligently employs as his unwilling sidekick), Frankie snoops, plans, and seeks out ways to be a hero in his boring home. He listens to the masters on his radio shows for ideas. What he ultimately finds out is that being a hero is not quite what he expected.
I loved the message in this book too, but the truly remarkable fact for me remains the format in which the story is told. Avi is truly talented to blend Frankie’s story in with the actual excerpts from the radio shows of the 1940s. As a homeschooling mother getting ready to teach a reading/writing class to a group of elementary aged kids, I am getting a ton of great ideas as to how I can use an excerpt from this in my teaching! The educational possibilities are endless when there is such strong writing to work with!
Note: I received a digital review copy of this reissued novel. I read it first as a child, and I was delighted to see that it is being reissued this year. It was a lot of fun to revisit.