Thursday, November 12, 2020


Jennifer Gennari is the author of Muffled (2020), a Junior Library Guild selection, and My Mixed-Up Berry Blue Summer (2012), a Bank Street Best Children’s Books of the Year selection and an American Library Association Rainbow List title. A graduate of Vermont College of Fine Arts, she lives on the water in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Gennari applied the Page 69 Test to Muffled and reported the following:
Our curious reader enters the children’s section of a bookstore or library and whimsically turns to page 69:
Dinner is soup and we’re so busy slurping and dipping bread it takes me awhile before I notice that Mom is not talking tonight, even when Dad brings up my costume idea. I’m quiet, too, thinking about school tomorrow and how I’m going to quit flute.

“I’ll let you two tackle the kitchen tonight.” Dad excuses himself to go fold the laundry.

Mom begins putting away leftovers. Earmuffs on, I start washing the dishes. They help me concentrate on my thoughts, which are running like water from the faucet.

“It’s great you are in flute class with Deb,” Mom says, suddenly talkative. “Why didn’t you mention that you two are practicing together?”

I wipe away soup on the inside of the pot. “Only once. And Deb is friends with Kiki now.”

“Deb can have more than one friend,” she says.

“Just because we live in the same building doesn’t make us instant friends.” Mom is forgetting that Deb and I have only been sort-of friends since third grade.
These are the words on page 69 of Muffled, a middle-grade novel about fifth grader Amelia, noise-hater and reluctant trombonist. If the cover drew in our curious reader, this moment after dinner is a peek into the story’s heart. We get a sampling of Amelia’s trouble—which instrument to play, who her friends are—and we feel the tension rising at home as her parents differ on how to address her noise sensitivity. Best of all, if the reader turns to the next page, she will see Amelia’s first outburst.

What’s telling about this scene is the portrayal of the parents. Dad was easy to write—he is like Amelia, and they have a quiet connection. It was harder to create Amelia’s mom as both loving and obtuse. She doesn’t quite get why Amelia can’t just put aside the earmuffs and make friends. This kitchen scene is one of those moments where the reader sees how Mom cares and yet misunderstands Amelia. Amelia is also keeping her feelings in and not telling her mother what’s going on.

Hope can always be found in my books for young people, and this mother-daughter clash will resolve in a sweet reconciliation. And so, perhaps, our curious reader takes Muffled home to find out if Amelia drops the flute, finds a friend, and reconnects with Mom.
Visit Jennifer Gennari's website.

--Marshal Zeringue