Happy Book Birthday Michele Weber Hurwitz

The Mixed Up Files’ own Michele Weber Hurwitz has a book birthday! Her newest MG novel Ethan Marcus Stands Up comes out this week from Simon and Schuster/Aladdin.

Here’s the gist of the story.

Perennial good kid Ethan Marcus has just done the unthinkable: refuse to stay seated during class. He’s not causing a riot; he’s not wandering around; he’s just super fidgety and sick of sitting. But the rules aren’t designed for Ethan, so he is given two afternoons of Reflection—McNutt Junior High’s answer to detention. The science teacher who oversees Reflection suggests that Ethan channel his energy into the school’s Invention Day event. Ethan doubts his ability to make anything competition-worthy; that’s his sister’ Erin’s department. But then Ethan gets a brilliant idea and recruits his best friend Brian to help.

Enter Romanov, the resident tech whiz, who refuses to give them tips, which causes Erin to be furious at her formally slacker now traitor brother, because Romanov won Invention Day last year. Meanwhile, Erin’s friend Zoe is steering clear of Erin’s drama for the first time ever after realizing that she may be crushing on Ethan. Brian has bigger things to worry about though, and loner kid Wesley may know more than others realize. Narrated by five seventh-graders, discover what really happens after one fidgety kid decides to take a stand against sitting down.

Congratulations Michele! This was such a fun read! It totally reminded me of my middle grade justice warrior self.  MG readers range from 8 to 13 years old, spanning the range of late elementary through middle school. Why choose characters from the upper end of this range, in the 7th grade?

Kids are able to move around more in earlier grades but as they get older, they’re expected to sit for long hours in class. But just because they’re older doesn’t mean they have any more patience for sitting! In fact, in the preteen years, kids may even be more fidgety as their bodies are typically undergoing a big growth spurt. I remember when my son was in eighth grade, he needed to move around while he studied for a test, usually throwing and catching a ball at the same time. This was actually what sparked my initial idea for the story. He once told me that when he’s moving, his brain “works better.” I thought, of course it does, that makes perfect sense! So, seventh grade seemed like a natural fit for this story about literally standing up for a cause you believe in.

I totally relate to Ethan’s need to move. I’m a long way from middle school but I can’t stand to sit still either. One of the things I loved about being a teacher is that you’re always on your feet and on the go. I think if I’d worked in an office all these years I’d have been murdered by my colleagues for spinning in the office chairs! 😀 School science fairs are a staple of the elementary and middle school experience. Why did you decide to branch out into the Invention Day?

There were several middle grade books with science fair themes, and the growing popularity of maker fairs and the whole maker movement, where kids can create anything, not just work on a science experiment, felt like an exciting, fresher backdrop for the story.

One thing I’ve noticed working at Annie Bloom’s in Portland this year is a proliferation of non-fiction maker books for kids. I’d totally pair your story with this one from the Smithsonian! Of course I have to ask, did you really make a prototype of a clip-on standing desk like Ethan does? And what is your workspace like? Do you stand? Walking desk? Combo?

I didn’t make a standing desk prototype like Ethan does in the book although that would’ve been fun. And my model would’ve turned out worse than what Ethan cobbles together because I have a very challenged mechanical aptitude. As for my workspace, I generally write on a desktop and those long hours of sitting really get to me. I take frequent standing breaks and I have this sort of makeshift platform for my keyboard so I can stand and type when I want to. I remember when I was a kid, getting that sort of brain soup dazed feeling in school – Ethan calls it “scomas” (school comas). I never did stand up to protest, though!

I have a standing desk too, a former woodworking bench, it even has a vice on the end should I need to get a grip! I’ve written one novel in two points of view and found it really tricky. Why five POV characters? And how did you keep track of them all?  How did you choose which character was perfect for that particular scene?

I’m so excited about this book because it’s different than my two previous middle grade novels which both had one girl narrator. This is my first book in multiple points of view but it felt natural and necessary for the telling of this story. I wrote several drafts where Ethan was the only narrator and it didn’t feel like it was working. When I added the other POVs, it clicked. The back-and-forth narration between the kids feels almost like comments on social media posts – everyone has an opinion and their own version of what “really happened.” I chose to have the five characters all narrate because they were so interconnected – Ethan, his sister Erin, their best friends Brian and Zoe, plus the outcast kid, Wesley, who knows more than everyone realizes and is an integral part of the plot. As I wrote, it seemed like each character popped up exactly when it was their time to talk.

It was satisfying to see Ethan and Erin’s combative sibling relationship evolve through the story. Not to give away the ending, but I love how they realize their differences can work for them, not against them. Did you draw on your relationship with your own siblings, or your kids?

I have two younger brothers who are insanely competitive with each other but mostly, I drew from my two older kids’ relationship. They have similar personalities to laid back, easy going Ethan and organized, perfectionist Erin. There are times (in real life and in the book) they can’t deal with each other, and other times they realize how much more they can accomplish as a team if they put aside their differences.

I love the message of empowerment in Ethan Marcus Stands Up because it’s subtle. Yes, you should stand up for things you believe in. Yes, anybody can do it. But real change is hard and not especially linear. And often requires collaboration with others. Did you have a particularly empowering experience as a young person in advocating for a cause?

I love how Ethan changes things (or tries to) in a roundabout way. All he wants to do in the beginning of the story is be able to stand up in class when he’s fidgety, but that goes against his language arts teacher’s class rules. It takes a kind-hearted science teacher to suggest that he can solve his problem through inventing his own solution. The story becomes much more than just about standing and sitting as Ethan digs deep and finds a resolve within himself. I was a quiet, shy kid so I didn’t really stand up and advocate for a cause but I do remember going “on strike” one day and not doing my household chores. That did not go over well with my parents.

What do you think kids will love most about this book?

It’s an easy to read story, and the characters are very relatable. I think it’s interesting and eye-opening to hear each character’s perspective because we all see the world from our own lenses and can interpret a situation so differently than someone else.

You mention on your website that there will be a follow up book in 2018. Are you finished writing that one? Can you give us a preview?

In the sequel, which will be out in September 2018, Ethan and Erin are nominated by the science teacher to attend a prestigious invention camp with brilliant kids from around their state. They feel intimidated and aren’t sure if they’ll be able to measure up. But when they meet two new kids and form a team, they dream up something that just might rise to the top. Not without a lot of drama mixed in, of course.

How exciting to have a sequel already on the way! Congratulations. Can’t wait to share this book with our patrons at Annie Bloom’s bookstore. I hope you have a very happy book birthday!

Rosanne Parry

A Peek Into the Creator of Rise of the Jumbies

Hi Mixed-Up Files Readers,

I’m thrilled to introduce our next author guest and share her brand new book with you! Some of you will remember her from The Jumbies, the first book in her creepy middle grade series.  Let’s hear a warm welcome for Tracey Baptiste!

Hi Sheri! Thanks so much for doing a feature on the series.

It’s my pleasure. So excited to chat! Let me ground the readers by starting with an element of the first book – without giving anything away. In the first book of A photo of Tracey Baptiste's book, The Jumbiesthis series, The Jumbies, your main character Corinne is a confident girl for the most part; she’s afraid of nothing. But then she must learn how to call upon that confidence in the form of courage to save her island home. You’ve continued Corinne’s story in Rise of the Jumbies with her discovering she’s suspect to the story’s main plot line. That had to be hard for her, especially after she’d found and used her courage in book I.

Did she go through self-doubt and questioning? How else did she react to this? What will young readers gain by exploring this with Corinne?

There are always going to be moments when a person does all the right things, and people still aren’t on their side. This is Corinne’s experience at the beginning of the book, and it hurts her. It also propels her to go to extraordinary lengths to save the children of the island. I’m not sure she would have risked herself in this way otherwise since she had already done so much.

Such an important lesson for kids to learn alongside Corinne.

I absolutely love the culture and diversity of this book! The story world is rich and intriguing. I’m always intrigued when authors talk about stories they recall from childhood. How closely did you follow those stories you were told as a child and how did you weave in your imagination to create such a unique tale?

At their core, the jumbies have the same traits as the ones in stories I listened to as a child, but I did let my imagination run wild. For one thing, the jumbies are all somewhat unified, and in the stories I heard, it was always one jumbie on the prowl, or maybe a few douens together, but they never worked together the way I have them in this series. And Severine was entirely my invention—a jumbie who unified those on land. I needed her to focus Corinne’s anger/sadness/loss, but also to make it a bigger story because all the jumbies under Severine make for a more dire situation for the island.

What’s the most important message or lesson readers will find in this book?

That individual groups have more in common than they realize. That squeezing any group to the fringe is cruel, and a recipe for disaster.

How would you describe Rise of the Jumbies in either five descriptive words or 140 characters?

Exciting, magical, gorgeous, brutal, frightening.

These really are perfect.

A fun question: if Corinne could be any character from any fairytale, who would it be and why?

Corinne falls firmly in the Cinderella trope. The dead mother, the evil stepmother (in this case wannabe stepmother), the magical trees (one of which is near the mother’s grave), the need to overcome the stepmother in order to get to a “happy” ending. This was all deliberate. I love Cinderella stories, so when I read the Haitian folktale “The Magic Orange Tree,” I recognized the same story bones as Cinderella, and that was the inspiration for the first Jumbies book.

How did you find writing a sequel different from writing the first book and what advice could you share with our writer friends about how to approach writing a ‘book 2’?

I had ideas for a book 2 when we sold the first Jumbies, but it wasn’t bought as a multi-book deal, so I dropped those ideas in favor of making book 1 stand alone. Then book 2 became a possibility so keeping the consistency was very difficult. I struggled a lot. I knew I needed to up the ante on the danger Corinne and her friends were in, but that I also needed to deepen the emotional story. The mermaids were always in my thoughts for a book 2, so I was thrilled to bring them in, and I had a very specific agenda for them—they would tell the most harrowing emotional story in the book, that of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. Their story was the most crucial and difficult for me, and moving some of the focus away from Corinne helped to drive the second book. This was a deliberate strategy to keep things fresh and unexpected in the sequel.

Oh wow, this is such a powerful part of the story. So glad you were able to bring it to readers in book II.

What do you see as the most challenging aspect of growing up ‘middle grade’ in today’s world of books? How can authors make a difference in these middle schoolers lives?

Middle grade readers are watching a world where hate is once again bubbling to the surface, and that’s all in the spotlight because of social media, which they all have access to. Books that accurately represent different cultures and different stories are crucial now so that there isn’t an ingrained sense of “otherness” about people who don’t look the same, or who live differently. I am a strong advocate for Own Voices stories because who better to tell stories than the people who live them? Unfortunately, there are still more books published about [insert non-white culture/ethnicity here] than written by people within those groups.

Care to share what your readers can expect from you next? We’d love to hear!

I’m working on two books of historical nonfiction. One is about the civil rights movement, and the other I’m still researching, so I can’t say much about it yet.

Ooh, secretive … we like that! Best of luck with both projects. We’ll anxiously await their releases. And thank you for sharing yourself and your work with the Mixed-Up Files.

Tracey Baptiste is a YA and MG author, former elementary school teacher, and freelance editor. For more on The Jumbies series and the author herself visit her website.

S. A. Larsen on BloggerS. A. Larsen on EmailS. A. Larsen on FacebookS. A. Larsen on InstagramS. A. Larsen on LinkedinS. A. Larsen on PinterestS. A. Larsen on TumblrS. A. Larsen on Twitter
S. A. Larsen
S.A. Larsen is the author of the multi award-winning middle grade novel Motley Education, numerous community interest stories, young adult shorties, and her young adult romance Marked Beauty releasing October 17, 2017. Visit her cyber home salarsenbooks.

Oops!

The interview with James Ponti was sent out prematurely. Please return to the blog on September 29 for his interview and a giveaway.

And watch this space on the 19th and 20th for interviews Tracey Baptiste and Michele Weber Hurwitz!

Sorry for any confusion.

 

 

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Dorian Cirrone
Dorian Cirrone's most recent middle-grade novel is the award-winning,THE FIRST LAST DAY. She has published several books for children and teens and is the Co-Regional Advisor of SCBWI-Florida. Visit her at www.doriancirrone.com