Danny Constantino's First Date
Danny Constantino's First Date

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Annotation: Between going out with his celebrity crush and his mom's campaign to be the next town mayor, Danny's got a lot to learn ... more
Catalog Number: #238811
Format: Perma-Bound Edition from Publisher's Hardcover
All Formats: Search
Special Formats: Hot Title Hot Title
Publisher: Dial
Copyright Date: 2020
Edition Date: 2020
Pages: 224
Availability: Available
New Title: Yes
ISBN: Publisher: 1-9848166-1-6 Perma-Bound: 0-7804-8622-6
ISBN 13: Publisher: 978-1-9848166-1-0 Perma-Bound: 978-0-7804-8622-5
Dewey: Fic
Language: English
Kirkus Reviews
A seventh grader invites a celebrity to the school dance.Danny Constantino was best friends with Natalie Flores Griffin throughout primary school. When Natalie went on to become a famous child star in Hollywood, the pair emailed back and forth for a bit, but the emails eventually stopped. Three years later, Danny’s dealing with the loss of his childhood dog and a mom who’s running for mayor. Luckily for Danny, the big dance is coming up and Natalie has accepted his emailed invitation to be his date…and everyone is losing it. Danny’s mom wants to use her in the mayoral campaign. Danny’s principal wants to get Natalie to take part in the pep rally. Danny’s friends want her to go trick-or-treating with them. Danny juggles everyone’s desires as best he can while reconnecting with an old friend who hoped for nothing more than a few days out of the spotlight. Danny and Natalie’s blossoming romance is well drawn, and Acampora steers clear of treacle territory with deft deployment of subplots. The book’s structure is a bit uneven, and some of the supporting players are thinly developed, but Danny’s relationships with his grandmother, his mother, and Natalie reinforce one another, painting a strong portrait of a young boy coming in to his own with the help of three strong female characters. Danny and Natalie seem to present white, but Danny has several friends of color.Every first date should be this charming. (Fiction. 11-13)
School Library Journal
Gr 5 Up High expectations turn Danny Constantino's very first date into a blur of stress and excitement. A teen celebrity, a socialite mother, and living in a small town further heighten Danny's anxiety. In tiny Cuper Cove, seventh grader Danny is a wallflower. His mother, on the other hand, is a self-made, overzealous realtor who is also running for mayor. Danny's life turns upside down when his best friend's sister sends a text invitation to Natalie to attend Cuper Cove's Halloween Dance. Better known as Natalie Flores Griffin, the Hollywood "It Girl," Natalie was Danny's close friend before moving and becoming a major star. Midway through the afternoon, students, the principal and Danny's mother discover that Natalie has accepted the date. This is a fast-paced, humorous escapade that tackles the social awkwardness of middle school dating. Authentic yet witty dialogue advances the plot while providing crucial character development. Tween movie fans will recognize the multitude of rom-com and popular movie references, helping to alleviate the potentially cheesy romance focus. Readers will relate to Danny, whose life seems to move without him at times, mirroring an adolescent perspective. VERDICT A lighthearted, realistic fiction book that uses humor to quench the social anxiety of middle school life. Mary-Brook J. Townsend, The McGillis Sch., Salt Lake City
Starred Review ALA Booklist
*Starred Review* Ordinary middle-schooler Danny is stunned when rising child-star Natalie Flores Griffin, a close friend until two years ago, when she flew off to a Hollywood career, unexpectedly texts that she would like to be his date for the middle-school Halloween dance. Maybe he could keep her small-town visit a private, low-key affair? Fat chance, as Acampora surrounds his increasingly frazzled seventh-grader with electrified schoolmates and pushy grown-ups who have agendas of their own ong the latter is his type-A single mom, a relentless wheeler-dealer in the midst of a fierce, yet unopposed, campaign for mayor. Natalie turns out to be a lonely, down-to-earth sort who enjoys what she's doing but hasn't let the fame go to her head and, knowing kind, (usually) calm Danny better than he knows himself, has never stopped valuing him despite their recent distance. The scenario sets up a bright, brisk rom-com (complete with a young cineast who supplies reader cues by explaining to Danny how rom-coms are supposed to go) that the author delivers with a string of hilarious, if sometimes agonizing, twists on the meet-cute and other conventions. He also dishes up a cast made up of smart, likable supporting characters behind a pair of deeper-than-average leads who, despite being at different places in their lives, display a strong friendship.
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School Library Journal (6/1/20)
Reading Level: 4.0
Interest Level: 5-9

Chapter 1

tripping over ghosts

I do not believe in ghosts, but that doesn't stop me from tripping over the spirit of my dead dog and falling flat on my face to start the day.

Jacko, a big mutt who was basically a cross between a Labrador retriever and an orange bulldozer, always claimed the same spot at the bottom of our stairs. Like Jacko, I am a creature of habit. Unfortunately, my dog has been gone since summer. It's October now, and I'm racing around to get ready for school. I sprint down the steps and jump over the place where Jacko--short for Jack-o'-lantern--used to sleep. Mid-leap, I remember that Jacko's not here anymore.

It is fair to say that I do not stick the landing.

Instead, I trip, tuck, roll, and smash into our front door, which is located a few feet away from the bottom of the stairs.

Mom steps out of the upstairs bathroom and leans over the railing. She's got a curling iron in one hand and a hairbrush in the other. She's wearing a dark blue skirt and super high heels, which means she's getting ready to show a very expensive house this morning. According to my mother--the number one real estate agent in all of Cuper Cove, Massachusetts, if you believe her business cards--the higher the price, the higher the heels.

"Danny," she calls down to me, "did you knock over my campaign stuff?"

Our stairs are covered with pamphlets, posters, and lawn signs because Mom wants to be Cuper Cove's next mayor, and the election is just a few weeks away.

"I tripped over Jacko," I explain.

"Danny," Mom says. "Jacko is dead."

As if I didn't know. Of course, the fact that I'm sprawled on the floor does make it look like I might need a reminder.

"Sometimes it feels like he's still here."

"Earth to Danny," says Mom while she runs the brush through her hair. "Yesterday is gone. Focus on today."

I turn my head toward the collection of photos sitting inside a display cabinet near the front door. Every frame holds a picture of my father, a man I don't remember because he died when I was still in diapers.

Mom sees what I'm looking at. "Your father is a different story," she says, and returns to the bathroom.

She's right. Jacko was around lots longer than my dad. Also, Jacko died at home. My father, Marine 1st Lieutenant Matthew Owens, died on duty. He's a big hero in our town, and Mom likes to tell everybody that I'll be going to the United States Naval Academy one day too. It's a prediction that always gets a round of applause on her campaign trail, but I'm not so sure about the marines in my future.

While I definitely appreciate my father's service, and I'm very glad he was around long enough to help bring me into this world, I don't know that I want to follow in his footsteps. First of all, my only battle-ready role models are make-believe superheroes and comic book characters. That's probably not enough to get me ready for real-life military service. I'm not even sure if it's enough to get me through middle school. Second, my Dad's footsteps would be lots more interesting if he wasn't dead. 

Before I can get to my feet, our front door swings open. My grandmother, who lives just a few blocks away, steps inside. Gram is gray-haired, blue-eyed, short, and petite. Unlike Mom, who is a blond, high-heeled, dressed-for-success kind of person, my grandmother wears jeans, comfy shoes, and a loose sweater every day. She's the school secretary at Cuper Cove Middle School, where I've been a seventh grader for about eight weeks. Gram's been there since the beginning of time. These days she's like the unofficial school mascot. Our official mascot is a unicorn named Cooper.

Gram takes a look at me on the floor. "Did you trip over Jacko, again?"

I sit up. "I keep forgetting he's gone."

"I still put a plate out for your grandfather sometimes, and he's been gone for thirty years." She offers a hand and helps me to my feet. "I'm parked at the curb. Are you riding with me today?"

Mom reappears at the top of the stairs. "Danny's taking the bus to school," she announces.

I don't mind the school bus, but given a choice I'd rather ride in Gram's car. It's an old green Camaro with awesome black racing stripes, front and rear spoilers, shiny chrome wheels, and dual exhaust pipes that roar like a squadron of fighter jets when Gram punches the gas. Seriously, who wouldn't choose the Camaro? Unfortunately, I do not seem to have a choice today.

Mom trots down the stairs and squeezes past Gram and me. "I want you to give something to Shad," she tells me.

"Who's Shad?" I ask.

"Your bus driver," says Gram.

"Mr. Beamon?"

"The one and only," Mom calls back.

Mr. Beamon is a tall, skinny white guy with a short beard and a long black ponytail. He wears a red flannel jacket, and he decorates the school bus dashboard with toy spaceships and pine tree fresheners so the bus always smells like Christmas. He also keeps a stack of fat books beside his seat, and he gives out tiny toy gumball machine monsters if he thinks you need one. On the day Mom announced her campaign for mayor, Mr. Beamon offered me a small plastic bunny rabbit wielding a carrot like an orange broadsword.

"What's this for?" I asked him.

"Some people carry a rabbit's foot for luck." Mr. Beamon nodded toward Mom's face on a missy for mayor sign already planted on a lawn across the street from school. "Living with the mayor will require the whole rabbit."

"She's not the mayor yet," I said.

"Do you think she knows that?" Mr. Beamon asked.

I accepted the battle bunny.

Now Gram and I follow Mom into the kitchen, where she reaches into a cabinet and pulls out a fat white mug. On one side of the cup, small, neat letters say your favorite realtor, missy constantino! On the other side, bold, black script promises that EVERYTHING I TOUCH TURNS TO SOLD! She hands me the cup.

"For me?" I say.

"For Shad. I hear he's putting his house up for sale." Mom tucks one of her business cards into the mug. "And give him my best."

"What kind of name is Shad?"

"Ask him yourself," says Mom.

"Shad is a kind of fish," Gram tells me.

Mom glances at her wristwatch. It's one of those high-tech things that checks your pulse, takes your phone calls, orders your groceries, and sings you to sleep. Believe it or not, it tells time too. "I'm running behind," Mom says, then mutters a quick prayer. "Saint Expeditus, speed my way."

"Saint Expeditus?" I ask.

"Patron saint against being late." Mom's got a saint and a prayer for everything.

"Once upon a time," Gram says, "your mother didn't even want to get married in a church. Now she turns the saints into her own personal assistants."

"Danny knows that his father and I never married." Mom grabs a stack of papers off the kitchen table and shoves them into a fat black briefcase. "I'd change that if I could, but I can't."

I rub my knee. "What's the saint for falling down the stairs?"

"Saint Stanislaus Kostka is patron saint of broken bones." Mom zips her briefcase shut and then plants a quick kiss on my forehead. "But let's not give Saint Stan any work today."

A moment later, the door slams shut behind her.

Gram turns to me. "Your mother and I don't see eye to eye on everything, but I agree with her when it comes to Stan. Please try to avoid activities that lead to broken bones, okay?"

"How's that going to work in the marines?" I ask.

"You're not joining the marines, Danny."

An argument about whether or not a seventh grader should join the marines might seem silly except that it's caused temper tantrums, name calling, and ruined dinners between my mother and grandmother for over a decade now. Meanwhile, I can barely walk downtown anymore without somebody complimenting me on my patriotism or thanking me for my future service.

Did I mention that I'm in seventh grade?

"Did you really trip over Jacko?" Gram asks me.

I cross the kitchen, open the refrigerator, and grab the brown-bag lunch I put together last night. "It sure felt that way."

Gram leans forward and puts a hand under my chin. At school she handles bites, bruises, cuts, scrapes, loose teeth, and other assorted minor medical emergencies. Now she stares into my eyes while she tips my head up, down, back and forth. "Are you feeling okay?"

"I think so."

"And Jacko?"

"I still miss him."

Gram glances down at my feet. "But isn't it nice to have shoes without holes chewed in them?"

"That bothered Mom more than it bothered me," I tell her. "And best friends are worth having cold feet."

Gram releases my face, which I guess means no concussion, cracked skull, or brain contusions. "Love is not a church raffle," she says. "You don't always have to be present to win."

"What are you talking about?" I ask.

"Just because Jacko's gone doesn't mean he's not here anymore."

"That doesn't make any sense."

Gram laughs. "I tell your grandfather the same thing every day."


Chapter 2

bring on the dancing tigers

On days that I take the bus, I meet up with my best friend, Ajay Kalli, who lives less than four minutes away if I jog through three backyards, hop over one wooden fence, and avoid Marcel, an unchained black-and-white Russell terrier who doesn't bite but won't let me pass unless I toss him a tennis ball at least a couple dozen times.

Ten minutes later, because Marcel spotted me, I'm seated at Ajay's dining room table, where he's filling up on dosas and fruit chutney.

"Good morning, Danny." Mrs. Kalli, wearing a loose, flowery housedress, steps out of the kitchen and puts a plate in front of me.

I already ate a piece of cold pizza at home, but I don't push the food away because first of all, I love dosas and chutney. Second of all, trying to say no to Ajay's mom is pointless. "Thanks, Mrs. Kalli."

"You're a good boy," she tells me. "You know what a good breakfast is supposed to look like."

I don't mention the pizza.

Mrs. Kalli points at Ajay's big sister, Asha, who is scooping up neon-colored cereal from a bowl filled with lime-green milk. "This one eats candy for breakfast."

"It is not candy." Asha, a junior at Cuper Cove High School, points at the cereal box. "It's made with all-natural whole-grain ingredients fortified with vitamins and minerals to start your day right."

Neither Ajay nor I have any real medical knowledge, but even we know where lime-green milk and marshmallow cereal should live on the food pyramid.

"It's still candy," I tell Asha.

Ajay nods. "Definitely candy."

Asha grins, pushes long black hair out of the way, and drinks the last of the green milk straight out of the bowl. "Maybe that's why it's magically delicious." She wipes her face with a sleeve. "And speaking of magical, have you two come up with ideas for this year's Halloween costumes?"

Some people might say seventh graders are too old for Halloween costumes, but that's not true in our town. Cuper Cove's annual Halloween festival, which is less than three weeks away, is the biggest event of the year. Everybody's part of it, including Asha, because, in addition to being tall and smart and pretty, she is a total theater geek. At Cuper Cove High School, she makes costumes and works on stage crew for the plays and musicals. Asha's constructed wings for Tinker Bell, sewed ball gowns for Cinderella, and built a giant singing dragon puppet for Shrek. With Asha's help, Ajay and I have dressed for Halloween as giant robots, X-wing fighter pilots, the Batmobile, several different superheroes, and a cow.

Not two cows. Just one cow.

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

"You could be Pulikali dancers," Mrs. Kalli suggests.

I look up from my dosas. "What are Pulikali dancers?"

Ajay rolls his eyes. "Here we go."

"When I was a little girl in India," Mrs. Kalli tells me, "my parents would take me to the Swaraj Round to see Pulikali during the Hindu Onam festivities. It was very exciting."

I have no idea what Mrs. Kalli is talking about.

"You left out the tigers," Asha tells her mom.

I glance between Asha and Mrs. Kalli. "Tigers?"

Mrs. Kalli laughs. "That is the point, Danny. Puli means 'tiger,' and kali means 'play.'"

"Tiger play?"

"Exactly! During Onam in Kerala, many hundreds of men will spend all day and all night decorating themselves with paints to resemble tigers. Following preparations, they will pounce and leap and dance through the streets for hours and hours in a public display of manly spirit and macho energy. It is quite spectacular."

Asha shakes her head. "I don't think Cuper Cove is ready for a public display of Danny and Ajay's macho spirit."

"Danny is going to be a marine like his father." Apparently, Mrs. Kalli has been at my mother's campaign events. "That is very manly," she adds.

"There are girl marines," Asha tells her mother.

Asha might be the kindest, gentlest, and most creative girl in Cuper Cove, but there is no doubt in my mind that she would be a much better marine than me.

"We've already been a cow," Ajay reminds everybody. "How much more manly can you get?"

Mrs. Kalli laughs. "You were a very good cow."

I have no idea whether or not we were a very good cow. The view from my part of the costume was limited. And that's all I'm going to say about that.

I spread chutney on another dosa. "I wouldn't mind going as a dancing tiger."

"You could be Cuper Cove's first Pulikali dancers," says Mrs. Kalli.

"I've got a better idea," says Ajay.

I bite into a chutney-covered dosa and talk with my mouth full. "What could be better than dancing tigers?"

"A Trojan unicorn," says Ajay.

I shake my head. "That's not a real thing."

"And dancing tigers are?"

Good point.

"We can build an actual-size Trojan horse out of cardboard," Ajay tells me. "Then we'll add a horn to turn him into a unicorn."

"You can name him Cooper," says Asha. "You'll be your own school's mascot."

Ajay grins. "Exactly!"

"The actual Trojan horse carried about forty soldiers," I point out.

I know my Greek mythology. I've got the comic book.

"Maybe not actual actual size, then," says Ajay. "But still really big."

"As long as it isn't a cow," I say. "I don't want to be another cow."

Asha stands to clear her dishes from the table. "You just don't want to be another cow's rear end."

"Isn't that what I just said?"

"Will you help?" Ajay asks his sister.

"Let me get this straight," says Asha. "You want to build a giant, cardboard, fantasy creature loosely based on Greek mythology?"

Ajay nods. "That's right."

"Do you really think you'll be able to keep me away from that?"

Basically, Ajay has the best big sister in the world.

"But first," Mrs. Kalli announces, "Ajay and Danny have to go to school."

"What about you?" I ask Asha, who, I just noticed, is wearing a pair of plaid pajama bottoms and a sweatshirt that says freaky friday: the musical.

"High school is closed today and tomorrow," Asha informs me. "Our teachers have some kind of in-service, so I get a two-day vacation."

"I hope your vacation plans include homework, groceries, and housecleaning," Mrs. Kalli tells Asha. "And in case you're wondering, they do."

Ajay gives his sister a big grin. "Enjoy your vacation."

Asha rolls her eyes, grabs her cereal box off the table, and then heads for the kitchen. She stops before leaving the dining room. "Hey," she says. "Check this out." She reads aloud from the back of the box. "Every time you buy these hearty and delicious flakes and grains, we donate to the Natalie Flores Griffin Foundation, making your breakfast even sweeter!" Asha turns to Ajay and me. "Do either of you ever hear from Natalie Flores Griffin?"

Believe it or not, Natalie Flores Griffin--actress, singer, model, and apparently the founder of the Natalie Flores Griffin Foundation--is from Cuper Cove. As a matter of fact, Natalie and I were best friends from kindergarten through fourth grade. But the summer before fifth grade, she and her parents visited a large California amusement park where a tall, talking rodent invited Natalie to step on stage and sing a song. There was a Hollywood agent in the crowd. The rest is history.

"She and I used to email each other for a while," I say. "But then she stopped answering back."

"I heard that her parents divorced." In addition to being a theater geek, Asha's obsessed with Hollywood news, celebrity gossip, and the movies in general.

I shrug. "I think she just got really busy."

"And really famous," says Ajay, who knows I've had a crush on Natalie since forever.

"Maybe that too," I admit.

"But now," says Ajay, "Danny has to settle for being president of the Natalie Flores Griffin Fan Club."

"There's a fan club?" says Asha.

"There is no fan club," I tell her.

Ajay stands and squeezes past Asha to bring his dishes to the sink. "Danny has seen every movie Natalie Flores Griffin ever made," he tells his sister. "I think that counts as a fan club."

"Why don't you call her?" Asha asks me.

"Because she's Natalie Flores Griffin," Ajay calls from the kitchen.

"Wasn't she always Natalie Flores Griffin?" Asha says matter-of-factly.

"Yes," says Ajay, "but now she's NATALIE FLORES GRIFFIN!"

"Well," says Asha, "that clears things up."

I help carry the remaining plates from the dining room to the sink, where Mrs. Kalli offers me a smile. "Natalie might be glad to hear from you, Danny."

"I don't know," I say reluctantly.

"Maybe she and her family would like to visit for the Halloween festival."

"Mom," says Ajay, "this isn't the Pulikali party in Kerala."

"It's true," Mrs. Kalli says a little sadly. "They really know how to throw a party in Kerala."

Asha shoots me a grin. "Maybe Natalie would like to go with you to the Cuper Cove Middle School Halloween festival dance."

Ajay grabs a towel and starts to dry. "That's not going to happen."

"It could be like a date," says Asha.

"It would not be like a date," I tell her.

"As if you wouldn't love to go on a date with Natalie Flores Griffin," Ajay says to me.

"Is that true?" asks Asha.

"Going on a date with Natalie Flores Griffin would not be the worst thing that ever happened to me," I admit.

"So what are you waiting for?" she asks.

Ajay tosses a dish towel at his sister. "How exactly is Danny supposed to ask Natalie Flores Griffin out on a date?"

Asha catches the towel in midair, turns quickly, and whips it at me. "There's this new invention," she says. "It's called the telephone."

I duck but not before the towel smacks me in the face. "I don't have Natalie's phone number."

"Then send her an email," Asha says.

"She probably has a new address by now."

"Or she's got the same email address," says Asha, "and she wonders why the boy she used to know back in Cuper Cove stopped being her friend."

"I didn't stop being her friend."

"You probably wouldn't be a very good date either," Asha adds.

Mrs. Kalli snatches the dish towel away from me before I can throw it at Asha. "Danny would be a very good date," she says.

Asha puts her hands on her hips. "Prove it."

"What exactly do you want me to do?" I pull out my phone and pretend to type a quick message. "Hi, Natalie! Sorry we haven't talked since fourth grade. Want to be my date for the Cuper Cove Halloween festival dance? Trick-or-treat from--"

Before I can finish my sentence, Asha grabs the phone from my hand and races away.

"Hey!" I shout.

Asha swipes at my screen while she runs back into the dining room. "Hi, Natalie!" she says. "Trick-or-treat!"

"Give that back!" I holler.

Asha laughs. "Want to be my date for the Cuper Cove Halloween festival dance? Hope all's well!"

"Asha," Mrs. Kalli says sharply. "Give Danny his phone."

Asha stops with the table between us. She continues to type. "Happy Halloween from your old friend Danny Constantino!"

"Don't worry," Ajay calls from the kitchen. "She doesn't have Natalie's email."

Asha looks up from the phone and grins. "I see Natalie at Natalie the Griffin dot com in your address book. Is that--"

"Yes!" I say. "I mean, no! Don't!"

Asha laughs. "Relax," she tells me. "I didn't hit send."

I sigh. "Thank you."

Asha pokes at my screen. "Now I hit send."

My mouth drops open.

"Danny," says Asha, "what's the worst thing that can happen?"

Before I can reply, the low rumble of a diesel engine thrums in the distance. Ajay, backpack already over his shoulders, steps into the dining room. "That's our bus," he says to me. "We've got to go."


He cuts me off. "Relax," he says. "None of this matters. Movie stars do not go to Halloween dances with seventh graders."

"Natalie's a seventh grader too," Asha reminds her brother.

"She lives in California." Ajay starts toward the door. "She's not coming to Cuper Cove."

"Natalie Flores Griffin can probably fly all over the world anytime she wants," Asha tells him. "Plus, I bet she still has family nearby."

"She would be a very lucky girl to go to the dance with Danny Constantino," Mrs. Kalli offers from the kitchen doorway.

Asha grins. "We'll see about that."

"No," says Ajay. "We won't."

"Danny," says Asha as her brother drags me toward the door, "you were willing to be a dancing tiger. Don't you think a date with Natalie Flores Griffin would be a better way to spend Halloween?"

Dancing tigers versus middle school dance?

Bring on the dancing tigers.

Excerpted from Danny Constantino's First (and Maybe Last?) Date by Paul Acampora
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Between going out with his celebrity crush and his mom's campaign to be the next town mayor, Danny's got a lot to learn about life in the spotlight.

When Danny Constantino asks his old-friend-turned-Hollywood-movie-star, Natalie Flores Griffin, to his local school dance and homecoming parade, she surprises him . . . by saying yes! Unfortunately, now everyone in Cuper Cove has something to say about Danny's love life--especially since Natalie is the hometown hero. Throw in herds of TV reporters and NFG groupies, his mom using Natalie's arrival for free publicity, and a pep rally gone horribly, horribly awry, and Danny's left absolutely clueless in this new world of crushes and becoming (kind of) famous.

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