Before spending her days with imaginary people, Melissa interviewed real ones, as a journalist in Europe. In London, she landed a job as an advice columnist for Just Seventeen magazine, where she answered hundreds of letters from readers each week. (Her column was called “Life Sucks,” but it was Melissa’s job to insist it didn’t.) Upon returning to her native New York, Melissa contributed to several books and magazines, selected jokes for Reader’s Digest, and got certified as a life coach. She lives on the Upper East Side of Manhattan with her husband, Henry, daughter, Chloe, and the occasional dust bunny.
Eleven-year-old Kat Greene has a lot on her pre-rinsed plate, thanks to her divorced mom’s obsession with cleaning. When Mom isn’t scrubbing every inch of their Greenwich Village apartment, she’s boiling the silverware or checking Kat’s sheets for bedbugs. It’s enough to drive any middle schooler crazy! Add friendship troubles to the mix, a crummy role in the school play, and Mom’s decision to try out for “Clean Sweep,” a competitive-cleaning TV game show, and what have you got? More trouble than Kat can handle… without, at least, a little help from her friends.
My 10 Favorite Books / Melissa Roske
As a book-obsessed author, choosing just ten nearly killed me. But I managed to pull it off. Just barely…
- Harriet the Spy, by Louise Fitzhugh (1964)
It’s no secret that my love for this book is deep and all consuming. It resonates so deeply, in fact, that it’s become part of my identity. The reason, I suspect, is that Harriet is the person I wish I could be. She’s bold, brash, and fearless, and her notebook entries are as outrageous as they are insightful. Whether describing her friend Sport’s lack of early-morning hygiene (“He has funny little dry things around his eyes”), or her sixth-grade nemesis Marion Hawthorne’s obnoxiously awful behavior (“If Marion Hawthorne doesn’t watch out, she’s going to grow up into a lady Hitler,”), Harriet keeps it real. I also love Fitzhugh’s message to never give up. As Ole Golly tells Harriet: “Life is a struggle, and a good spy gets in there and fights.”
- Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume (1970)
I read this book shortly after it came out, in the mid-1970s, and I swear Blume had installed a hidden camera inside my brain, because she knew exactly what I was thinking and feeling. It was downright spooky. “I must, I must, I must increase my bust” aside (I found out the hard way it doesn’t work), Blume’s groundbreaking novel addresses such middle-school themes as menstruation, bras, crushes, friendship woes, and religion in a frank, authentic way. Plus, who doesn’t love a main character who likes tuna fish and the smell of rain?
- Suzuki Beane, by Sandra Scoppettone; illustrated by Louise Fitzhugh (1961).
My godfather, Carl Monk—owner of the iconic Greenwich Village pottery store, The Mad Monk, and father of Noel Monk, former manager of the Sex Pistols—gave me this book when I was eleven. At first I couldn’t understand why he’d want me to read about a “baby beatnik” named Suzuki who lived with her artist/writer parents, Hugh and Marcia, in a “pad” on Bleecker Street. But the more times I read it, the more I fell in love with this book’s quirky, distinctly New York charm. Oh, and get this: Suzuki now sells for $175 on eBay. I wonder how much my copy is worth?
- Mom, the Wolfman and Me, by Norma Klein (1974)
Another childhood favorite, this one focuses on Brett, an 11-year-old girl whose single, free-spirited photographer mother falls for a bearded wolfhound lover. There’s not much of a plot to speak of (at least, none I can remember), but Klein’s portrayal of a preteen’s thoughts and feelings—especially the conflict she feels over her mom’s relationship with Theo, the dog-loving boyfriend—is spot on.
- Uncle Wiggily and His Friends, by Howard R. Garis (1955)
An elderly rabbit with rheumatism is an unlikely storybook hero, but Uncle Wiggily Longears doesn’t let his advanced age or achy joints get in the way of a good time. He tools around town in a sporty blue automobile, swills peppermint juice like it’s going out of style, and dances with the aid of his red-and-blue-striped “barber pole” crutch. The volume I own, a faded-green hardback with crumbly, yellowed pages, was passed down by my mother and loved beyond measure. It now holds pride of place on my living-room bookshelf.
- Betsy and the Boys, by Carolyn Haywood (1945)
All the Betsy books are wonderful, but this one was my favorite. I can’t remember the details of the plot, but I think there was a football involved. And boys. Lots of boys.
- The Cat Ate My Gymsuit, by Paula Danziger (1974)
Ninth grader Marcy Lewis is probably one of the most relatable heroines of MG fiction. She struggles with her weight, worries about zits, and clashes with her overbearing, verbally abusive father. She also feels invisible—until she meets Ms. Finney, the unconventional new English teacher at her school, who opens Marcy’s eyes and makes her feel loved and valued. A wonderful book!
- Poems for Children, by Eugene Field (1973)
My father presented me with this book when I was a flower girl at my cousin Michael’s wedding. The book is bound in red leatherette, and it smells old—because it is old. But I still have it, and love it. Oh, and it contains one of my favorite poems, “Wynken, Blynken and Nod.”
- Is That You, Miss Blue? by M.E. Kerr (1975)
Narrated by Flanders Brown, a 15-year-old sophomore who is sent to a girls’ boarding school in Virginia after her mother runs off with a young research assistant, Kerr’s hilarious YA features a quirky cast of characters, including Carolyn Cardmaker, a cynical preacher’s kid; Sweet Dibley, a nouveau riche hillbilly (she hangs her underwear out to dry over the lampshade); and Miss Blue, an introverted and much ridiculed biology teacher who has religious visions (she refers to Jesus as her “pal”). Dated, for sure—but 100 percent fabulous.
- Lotta, by Astrid Lindgren (1972)
Although Pippi Longstocking gets most of the Lindgren love, Lotta, which was reissued in 2001 as Lotta on Troublemaker Street, is my favorite. Not only is it the first book I borrowed from the City and Country School library (which makes this book extra special), I remember all the details—from the scratchy sweater Lotta wore to the hot chocolate she drank while hiding out in her tree house. I bought this book for my daughter when she was five, and I’m pretty sure she still has it.