• From the Mixed-Up Files... > New Releases > Interview and Book Giveaway with Donna Gephart, Award Winning Author
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    New-Oh-MG-critter

    April 11, 2014:
    Fall 2014 Children's Sneak Peek
    A peek at forthcoming middle grade books (as well as picture books and YA books) in a round-up from Publisher's Weekly. First printed in the February 22 issue, but now available online. Time to add to your to-read list. Read more ...

    April 9, 2014:
    How many Newbery winners have you read?
    You could make a traditional list of all the Newbery Medal Award-winning Children's Books you've read, but there's something so satisfying when you check them off and get a final tally on this BuzzFeed quiz. Read more ...

    March 28, 2014:
    Middle Grade fiction is hot at 2014 Bologna Children's Book Fair

    For the second year in a row, publishers are clamoring for middle-grade, reporters Publishers Weekly. "I’ve been coming [to Bologna] for 12 to 15 years, and I’ve never had as many European publishers asking for middle-grade," said Steven Chudney of the Chudney Agency. Read more ...

    February 14, 2014:
    Cybils Awards announced
    Ultra by David Carroll (Scholastic Canada) wins the Cybil for middle grade fiction; Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud (Disney Hyperion) wins for Speculative Fiction. Read more.

    January 27, 2014: And the Newbery Medal goes to ...
    Kate DiCamillo won the Newbery Medal for "Flora & Ulysses"; Rita Williams-Garcia won the Coretta Scott King Author award for "P.S. Be Eleven." Newbery Honor awards to authors Vince Vawter, Amy Timberlake, Kevin Henkes and Holly Black. For all the exciting ALA Youth Media Award News ... READ MORE

    November 12, 2013:
    Vote in the GoodReads semifinal round

    Readers' votes have narrowed the middle-grade semifinals down to 20 titles. Log in to your GoodReads account and vote for your favorite middle-grade (and in other categories, of course). Read more ...

    November 9, 2013:
    Publishers Weekly Top Children's Books of 2013

    Middle-grade and young adult titles selected by the editors of Publishers Weekly as their top picks of the year. Let the season of "top ten books" begin! Read more ...

    October 14, 2013:
    Middle Shelf: Cool Reads for Kids debuts January 2014

    Shelf Media Group, publisher of Shelf Unbound indie book review magazine, will launch a new free digital-only publication for middle-grade readers. The debut issue features interviews with such notable authors as Margaret Peterson Haddix and Chris Grabenstein as well as reviews, excerpts, and more. Middle Shelf will be published bi-monthly beginning in January 2014.
    Read more ...

    September 19, 2013: Writer-in-Residence program at Thurber House

    Dream of time and space to focus on your own writing project? Applications now being accepted (11/1/2013 deadline) for The Thurber House Residency in Children's Literature, a month-long retreat in the furnished third-floor apartment of Thurber House in Columbus, Ohio. Read more ...

    September 18, 2013: Vermont College of Fine Arts Scholarship opportunity

    Barry Goldblatt Literary launches The Angela Johnson Scholarship, a talent-based grant for writers of color attending the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults program at VCFA. Up to two $5,000 grants will be awarded each year. Read more ....

    September 16, 2013:
    National Book Awards longlist for youth literature

    For the first time, the NBA is presenting lists of 10 books/authors on the longlist in each category. The 2013 young adult literature list includes five middle grade novels and five YA. Read more ...

    Sept. 13, 2013: Spring preview
    Check out Publishers Weekly roundup of upcoming children's books to be published in spring 2014. Read more...

    August 21, 2013:
    Want to be a Cybils Award Judge?

    Middle grade categories are fiction, speculative fiction, nonfiction. Applications due August 31! Read more ...

    August 19, 2013:
    S&S and BN reach a deal
    Readers will soon be able to find books from Simon & Schuster at Barnes & Noble. The bookstore chain was locked in a disagreement with the publisher over how much it was willing to pay for books. Read more ...

    August 6, 2013:
    NPR's 100 Must-Reads for Kids
    NPR's Backseat Book Club asked listeners to nominate their favorite books for readers ages 9 to 14. More than 2,000 people nominated titles, and a panel of Newbery authors brought the list to 100. Most are middle grade books. Read more ...

     
    July 2, 2013:
    Penguin & Random House Merger

    The new company, Penguin Random House, will control more than 25 percent of the trade book market in the United States. On Monday, the newly formed company began to take shape, only hours after a middle-of-the-night announcement that the long-planned merger had been completed. Read more ...

    March 28, 2013: Big at Bologna

     This year at the Bologna Children's Book Fair, the focus has shifted to middle-grade.  “A lot of foreign publishers are cutting back on YA and are looking for middle-grade,” said agent Laura Langlie, according to Publisher's Weekly.  Lighly illustrated or stand-alone contemporary middle-grade fiction is getting the most attention.  Read more...

     

    March 10, 2013: Marching to New Titles

    Check out these titles releasing in March...

     

    March 5, 2013: Catch the BEA Buzz

    Titles for BEA's Editor Buzz panels have been announced.  The middle-grade titles selected are:

    A Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates #1: Magic Marks the Spot by Caroline Carlson

    Counting By 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

    The Fantastic Family Whipple by Matthew Ward

    Nick and Tesla's High-Voltages Danger Lab by Bob Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith

    The Tie Fetch by Amy Herrick

    For more Buzz books in other categories, read more...

     

    February 20, 2013: Lunching at the MG Roundtable 

    Earlier this month, MG authors Jeanne Birdsall, Rebecca Stead, and N.D. Wilson shared insight about writing for the middle grades at an informal luncheon with librarians held in conjunction with the New York Public Library's Children's Literary Salon "Middle Grade: Surviving the Onslaught."

    Read about their thoughts...

     

    February 10, 2013: New Books to Love

    Check out these new titles releasing in February...

     

    January 28, 2013: Ivan Tops List of Winners

    The American Library Association today honored the best of the best from 2012, announcing the winners of the Newbery, Caldecott, and Printz awards, along with a host of other prestigious youth media awards, at their annual winter meeting in Seattle.

    The Newbery Medal for the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature went to The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. Honor books were: Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz; Bomb: The Race to Build--and Steal--the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin; and Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage.

    The Coretta Scott King Book Award went to Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America written by Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrated by Brian Pinkney.

    The Laura Ingalls Wilder Award,which honors an author for his or her long-standing contributions to children’s literature, was presented to Katherine Paterson.

    The Pura Belpre Author Award, which honors a Latino author, went to Benjamin Alire Saenz for his novel Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, which was also named a Printz Honor book and won the Stonewall Book Award for its portrayal of the GLBT experience.

    For a complete list of winners…

     

    January 22, 2013: Biography Wins Sydney Taylor

    Louise Borden's His Name Was Raoul Wallenberg, a verse biography of the Swedish humanitarian, has won the Sydney Taylor Award in the middle-grade category. The award is given annually to books of the highest literary merit that highlight the Jewish experience. Aimee Lurie, chair of the awards committee, writes, "Louise Borden's well-researched biography will, without a doubt, inspire children to perform acts of kindness and speak out against oppression."

    For more...

     

    January 17, 2013: Erdrich Wins Second O'Dell

    Louise Erdrich is recipient of the 2013 Scott O'Dell Award for her historical novel Chickadee, the fourth book in herBirchbark House series. Roger Sutton,Horn Book editor and chair of the awards committee, says of Chickadee,"The book has humor and suspense (and disarmingly simple pencil illustrations by the author), providing a picture of 1860s Anishinabe life that is never didactic or exotic and is briskly detailed with the kind of information young readers enjoy." Erdrich also won the O'Dell Award in 2006 for The Game of Silence, the second book in theBirchbark series. 

    For more...

     

    January 15, 2013: After the Call

    Past Newbery winners Jack Gantos, Clare Vanderpool, Neil Gaiman, Rebecca Stead, and Laura Amy Schlitz talk about how winning the Newbery changed (or didn't change) their lives in this piece from Publishers Weekly...

     

    January 2, 2013: On the Big Screen

    One of our Mixed-up Files members may be headed to the movies! Jennifer Nielsen's fantasy adventure novel The False Prince is being adapted for Paramount Pictures by Bryan Cogman, story editor for HBO's Game of Thrones. For more...

     

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Interview and Book Giveaway with Donna Gephart, Award Winning Author

New Releases

You couldn’t have picked a better day to visit From the Mixed-Up Files! Donna Gephart’s debut middle-grade novel, As If Being 12 ¾ Isn’t Bad Enough, My Mother is Running for President! won numerous awards, including the Sid Fleischman Humor Award. Her sophomore novel, How to Survive Middle School, which came out early this May, received a starred review from Kirkus Reviews. I ask you, does it get any better?

Why,YES—yes, it does!

Donna is here today to answer questions for the inquiring middle-grade minds. And if that isn’t good enough, Donna’s going to give a brand new hardcover of How to Survive Middle School to one lucky commenter.

But first, a little more about Donna! I explored her website, and I found a question in her Q & A section that was oh, so appropriate to introduce Donna with and to explain what middle-grade means to her. The question posed was, “Why did you decide to write How to Survive Middle School?”

Here’s Donna’s answer:  Middle school (also called Junior High in some places) was very hard for me . . . and for our sons . . . and for most people. When I was about thirteen and fourteen, I went from feeling deliriously happy to miserably depressed often in the same day . . . even in the same hour!  I wish someone had explained that it was just my hormones going a little crazy and they would calm down again.  I wish someone told me that I didn’t really “hate” my mother, but it was a normal part of adolescence to push away from her.  I wish someone had told me I’d survive the acne, the braces and the crush on a cute guy who didn’t like me.   I want young people to know they are not the only ones having a hard time.  I also want young people to know that they can get through middle school.  So hang in there.  It gets better.  Much better.

Thanks for the good words, Donna. Middle-graders, take heart!

And now for THE INTERVIEW!

Your first book won the Sid Fleischman Humor Award. Has winning for humor affected your writing and confidence?

It was a thrill to hear Lin Oliver’s and Steve Mooser’s voice on my answering machine, telling me I’d won the Sid Fleischman Humor Award.  The award allowed me to give a workshop about writing humor at the national SCBWI conference in L.A., which led to other speaking engagements, like The Erma Bombeck Humor Writer’s Workshop in Dayton, OH .  After writing humor for over twenty years, it was an honor to win an award named after such a kind, generous and hard-working man.

You’ve woven sad and scary threads into your books, yet your stories are funny. How do humor and grief fit into the same book?

I strive to create books that combine humor and heartbreak, which mirror life.  Funny without substance gets boring quickly, so I try to create characters with whom young readers can relate and connect.  Of course, there will be problems—big problems—or else why write the book, right?  It’s just that the heartbreak is handled with humor to cushion the blows.

When I picked up my copy of How to Survive Middle School (available everywhere!), I spotted the toilet on the back jacket flap! My first thought: What on earth? But I thought this with a smile on my face, and it set my expectations for the book—I knew it would be funny. What was your reaction when you saw the jacket design?

My first thought was:  There can’t be another book with a singing hamster on the front and a toilet on the inside flap!  The jacket design captures what the book is about in a fun, funny way.

Readers, it’s true—the toilet picture is not random. In fact, the combination of the cool singing hamster on the cover  and the toilet photo on the jacket flap mirrors the dissimilar parallel lives of David Greenberg, the main character in How to Survive Middle School.

David is a celebrity in the cyberworld but a regular kid—sometimes overlooked—in the real world. I felt this was a good commentary on the social world in which today’s children are involved. What do you think of our lives online—are they real? Are cyber-friends true friends? Are children losing anything with or do they benefit by interacting online?

What a great question.  The answer to this could fill a book.  With two teenage sons, I’ve watched our kids sit next to a friend, each with an electronic device in hand.  “Hello,” I want to say.  “You are sitting next to an actual friend; you don’t need to text/IM/chat with your virtual friend right now.”  The Internet is a great means of connecting to the wider world. It’s a wonderful way to share information and ideas and create communities.  But it must not replace actual interaction with human beings, connecting with communities in the real world and being part of nature.  As with all things, there must be a healthy balance.

I reread As If Being 12 ¾ Isn’t Bad Enough, My Mother Is Running for President! in preparation for this interview, and I enjoyed it even more upon this reading. The voice rang true. It had a loneliness to it, a slight melancholy that I liked. And in both books, the MCs feel like losers even after hurdling major accomplishments. What’s your take on this aspect of your books?

My parents divorced when I was young, and I lived with my mom.  She worked full-time and I didn’t have a lot of friends, so I spent a lot of time alone.  Sometimes, I was quite lonely.  Other times, I found companionship in the pages of a book, borrowed from our local library.  Oh, I loved that library!  As an author, I want to provide those books that provide companionship, that may keep a lonely child company.

Good books do become good friends! When children read your books, they’re left unattended in the playground of imagination–their parents are trusting you, Donna Gephart, alone with their kids. With that in mind, what responsibility do you feel you have to parents and your readers?

I love your phrase:  “In the playground of imagination.”  Of course, there is a big responsibility in creating books for young people.  And my responsibility, I feel, is to be honest and true in my writing.  I just got an e-mail from a young reader, thanking me for being real in my books and including things that might not make people happy, but are the way it really happens.  I loved that e-mail.  I try to be true to my characters and therefore, true to my young readers.  It’s a wonderful thing that young people can explore some of life’s challenges through the safety of books.  They can experience things on the page instead of in real life.  Parents who try to “protect” their children by limiting their reading choices are often simply not allowing them to “prepare” for challenges they might face in the real world.

That’s a perfect lead to my next question: When you write for middle-grade audiences, what experience do you hope to deliver? By this, I mean aside of the plot, what do you want your readers to take from your books?

It’s my hope that young readers of my books will feel like they’ve made a new friend.  It’s my hope they will understand that all people have flaws and faults and it’s okay that they do, too.  It’s my hope that they will realize they have power to affect changes in their lives and in the lives of others.  And it’s my hope they will learn a bit of compassion and empathy for themselves and for others.

Nice goals, Donna! I think you deliver that sense of flaws and self-acceptance because, as I mentioned before, your main characters, especially Vanessa, engage in the kind of critical internal dialog common to that age. Middle-graders don’t always realize how much they have to offer or how wonderful they really are (and that not just their mothers think that!).

If you could choose one book to be made into a movie, which novel would it be and whom would you cast for the main roles?

AS IF BEING 12 ¾ ISN’T BAD ENOUGH, MY MOTHER IS RUNNING FOR PRESIDENT . . . would be a fun movie because of the spelling bees, the political process, life in the governor’s mansion and the mystery element of the threatening notes and the assassination attempt.  Meryl Streep would make a great potential president, don’t you think?

Oh, my gosh, Meryl Streep would be perfect for that role!

HOW TO SURVIVE MIDDLE SCHOOL might make a fun TV series because of its connection to Jon Stewart and The Daily Show and the main character, David Greenberg’s love of creating funny videos.  I hope the book inspires young readers to create their own shows/videos.  I’d love Jon Stewart to have a guest appearance, if this ever were made into a TV show or movie.  Wouldn’t that be fun?

Okay, Hollywood, are you listening? You never know! But one thing I do know is you’re not sitting around with your feet up–what’s next for you, Donna Gephart?

The next book down the lane is OLIVIA BEAN, TRIVIA QUEEN, about a twelve-year-old trivia geek, who will do anything to get on Kids’ Week on Jeopardy!

That sounds like a winner! (Haha! Okay, that was lame.) Thank you so much for your time and thoughtful answers, Donna.  It was fun!

Folks, if you have questions for Donna or would like to jump into the conversation, post a few words in the comment box. Remember, one lucky poster will be selected by a random number generator to win a hardcover of Donna’s new book, How To Survive Middle School.

~~

Danette Haworth is the author of The Summer of Moonlight Secrets and Violet Raines Almost Got Struck by Lightning. Danette stays up past her bedtime to read and write into the wee hours; she swears the next morning that she will go to bed on time the next night. It never happens.

Visit Danette at www.danettehaworth.com

31 Comments

31 Comments

  1. Kurtis Scaletta  •  Jun 15, 2010 @7:12 pm

    I want Jane Lynch to be the mom in the movie.

  2. Melina  •  Jun 15, 2010 @7:27 pm

    How funny. I just posted about graduating from elementary school on my blog today.

    http://readingvacation.blogspot.com/

    Your books sound really fun to read.

  3. Terry Lynn Johnson  •  Jun 15, 2010 @7:52 pm

    Love this interview! Donna is funny in person too – I got to attend one of her talks on how to be funny at the Michigan SCBWI conference. Way to go Donna!

  4. WilowRaven  •  Jun 15, 2010 @7:52 pm

    Thank you so much for introducing me to Donna and her books – they sound wonderful!

  5. Natalie Aguirre  •  Jun 15, 2010 @7:52 pm

    I read Donna’s book before the Michigan SCBWI conference and loved it. Unfortunately I had to leave early so couldn’t introduce myself. I could so see Meryl Streep as the mom.

  6. Jemi Fraser  •  Jun 15, 2010 @8:32 pm

    These books sound fabulous – can’t believe I don’t have them in my classroom yet. I will correct that over the summer!

    Love this line: ‘Funny without substance gets boring quickly’ – so very, very true!

  7. Laura Marcella  •  Jun 15, 2010 @9:01 pm

    These books sound fabulous! I love Donna’s hopes for what middle-graders will take away from reading her novels. She has a true passion for the genre and audience, which is refreshing!

    Thanks for having another fantastic giveaway!

  8. Crystal Allen  •  Jun 15, 2010 @9:35 pm

    Donna, it was a pleasure meeting you at Erma Bombeck’s Writer’s Workshop. I bought AS IF BEING 12 3/4 while I was there and after reading it, had to have HOW TO SURVIVE MIDDLE SCHOOL. I love your style and look forward to following your writing career. And I actually believe Sogourney (sp) Weaver would make a great president and maybe even Angelina Jolie. hahahaha!

  9. michelle  •  Jun 15, 2010 @9:38 pm

    What a great interview! I’m not familiar with either of these books but now I will keep my eye out for them at our library!

  10. KatherineR  •  Jun 16, 2010 @6:35 am

    Hamsters! Toilets! Would love to read it!

  11. mindy  •  Jun 16, 2010 @7:57 am

    this sounds just wonderful thanks for the giveaway

  12. Danette Haworth  •  Jun 16, 2010 @9:04 am

    Haha! KatherineR–I like your comment!

  13. Natalee  •  Jun 16, 2010 @9:06 am

    I just picked up How to Survive from my local library! (I LOVE my local library!!!!) I teach middle school and, similar to Donna hated being in middle school and now try to do everything I can to help kids through that time. I’m looking forward to reading How to Survive and sharing it with my students next fall.

  14. Deb  •  Jun 16, 2010 @9:31 am

    I loved this interview! So insightful, inspiring, funny…the list goes on. Thanks Danette and Donna.

  15. abby  •  Jun 16, 2010 @10:19 am

    I am loving this site, this interview, this author. There is so much focus on YA right now, it’s good to shine some light on MG as well.

    I will definitely be reading Donna’s books in the very near future. Thanks for introducing her to us!

  16. Cindy  •  Jun 16, 2010 @11:11 am

    I loved AS IF and can’t wait to read HOW TO SURVIVE… thanks for the great interview. I loved the part about wanting the book to become like a friend. I think many of us write for children partly because we experienced that so intensely growing up.

  17. Donna Gephart  •  Jun 16, 2010 @12:03 pm

    Thanks so much for the great comments. Danette, you came up with such good questions, and I think your books are fantabulous!
    And a huge thank you for all the hard work, dedication and ingenuity from a lot of amazing people to create this site — this community.

  18. Madelyn  •  Jun 16, 2010 @12:59 pm

    Hooray for libraries and for this interview!! Thanks so much! This sounds like a great book for the graduating fifth grades I know!

  19. Tracy Edward Wymer  •  Jun 16, 2010 @3:30 pm

    Great interview. As a middle school teacher and writer, I can’t wait to read this.

  20. Alan Silberberg  •  Jun 16, 2010 @5:37 pm

    Great interview filled with advice, hope and of course, humor! Thanks Danette and Donna.

  21. Karen B. Schwartz  •  Jun 16, 2010 @6:18 pm

    I love books with humor and heart. I’m definitely going to check these out!

  22. Cathe Olson  •  Jun 16, 2010 @6:44 pm

    My daughters are going to love the new book . . . and so will the kids in my elementary school library. Will add it to my summer reading list.

  23. Donna Gephart  •  Jun 16, 2010 @7:39 pm

    Thanks! Your kind comments almost make me forget that our large puppy has chewed a sofa pillow today, peed on the floor twice and hopped onto our glass kitchen table when we turned our backs for a second. In other words, keep those nice comments coming. Who knows what the puppy has in store for us tomorrow!

  24. Cathi O.  •  Jun 16, 2010 @8:18 pm

    Like Donna Gephart, twelve and thirteen were the toughest years of my life, and that was when I first thought about writing for Middle Grade kids, so I could entertain the kids who really need it the most. I love finding all these kindred spirits on this site!

  25. Llehn  •  Jun 16, 2010 @9:09 pm

    I love the title of the book! It is so awesome!

  26. Joanne Prushing Johnson  •  Jun 16, 2010 @9:48 pm

    Count me in as another reader who loved AS IF and will put HOW TO SURVIVE on my TBR (to be read) list right away. Thanks for the great interview Donna and Danette!

  27. Laurie  •  Jun 16, 2010 @11:38 pm

    Another favorite author, Joan Bauer, said something about humor and sorrow needing to sit down and share the same sofa…. I’m sure I’m misquoting her (it was an interview at the end of an audiobook), but I love books like these (like Donnna’s and Joan’s and Jordan Sonnenblick’s) that can make you laugh and cry simultaneously, sort of the MG versions of Anne Lamott.

  28. Donna Gephart  •  Jun 17, 2010 @6:54 am

    Laurie, what a great quote from Joan Bauer. Perfect. I’m a big fan of Bauer and Sonnenblick and well, Anne Lamott is an absolute fave. Love the truth and honesty in her non-fiction.

  29. Elliah Terry  •  Jun 17, 2010 @5:58 pm

    I’m so glad I found this site. It’s so nice to find a place focusing on MG! I love the interviews and everything else.

    I can’t wait to check out this funny books!

  30. Mindy Alyse Weiss  •  Jun 18, 2010 @12:24 am

    Thank you so much for sharing this interview with us. I absolutely loved As If Being 12 ¾ Isn’t Bad Enough, My Mother Is Running for President! and can’t wait to read your new book, Donna.

    I think middle school can be a rough time for a lot of kids. My twelve year-old had a fantastic time in sixth grade, but my first year in middle school definitely wasn’t easy. You are so right that kids should hang in there, because it does get much, much better!

  31. Judy-Ann  •  Mar 8, 2011 @7:14 pm

    im in the middle of how to survive middle school i cant wait to read her other books that i will have to relate to in a few months when go to middle school