• From the Mixed-Up Files... > Interviews > Clever Books for Good Readers – an interview with Marie Rutkoski and Elise Broach
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    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:
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    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.
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    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
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    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:
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    July 2, 2013:
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    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,


    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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Clever Books for Good Readers – an interview with Marie Rutkoski and Elise Broach


In our previous post, Sydney Salter wrote about books that appeal to reluctant readers. Today we’re switching gears and talking about what might draw the eager reader into a story. With us here to help are authors Elise Broach (Shakespeare’s Secret, Masterpiece) and Marie Rutkoski (The Cabinet of Wonders, The Celestial Globe), who were the stars of a signing event I recently attended titled, ”Clever Books for Good Readers.”

Join us for a joint interview with Elise and Marie as they share their take on mystery novels, history, middle-graders, and good readers.  

AND AS A SPECIAL BONUS, I WILL HOST A GOOD READER GIVEAWAY! See the end of the interview for details.

   Marie Rutkoski
        Elise Broach                        Marie Rutkoski

(photos courtesy of Words Are Wonderful and Macmillan respectively) 

Hi Marie! Hi Elise! We’re so happy to host you both at From The Mixed Up Files. What’s the special appeal that mysteries hold for middle-grade readers that’s different from a young adult audience? What drew you both to the genre? 

Marie: My friend, the writer Neel Mukherjee, says that all novels are mysteries, and I think that’s true. Maybe young readers are more attuned to the natural mystery of the process of reading books, because it is a newer experience to them than to adults, and so actual mystery novels seem like the perfect thing. Also, all of us are trying to untangle the mysteries of our worlds (relationships, how things work, etc.), but the younger you are, perhaps the more aware you are that this is an important aspect of life. Children learn so many amazing things every day that we take for granted, like what makes the moon shine.   

Take E.L. Konigsberg’s From the Mixed-up Files (great blog title, by the way). There are two mysteries in that book: who sculpted Angel, and who is Saxonberg? The Angel mystery is one that readers can’t ultimately figure out before Claudia and Jamie do, but readers can guess at Saxonberg’s identity.  

 This is a really clever move on Konigsberg’s part, because it creates a symmetry between the reader’s experience and Claudia and Jamie’s; they’re all trying to solve a mystery. And the different mysteries tap into children’s growing awareness that there are different paths to discovering the truth to secrets, in books and in the world.  

As for what drew me to the genre of mystery, I don’t have a particularly interesting answer. I knew that I wanted Petra to go to London in The Celestial Globe but I wasn’t quite sure, for a while, what she would do there beyond learning from John Dee. At some point I thought, “Hey. What if she had to solve a murder mystery? That’d give her something to do.” Then I thought, “Uh oh. Can I actually write a murder mystery? I don’t know!” I figured it would be good for me, as a writer, to find out.   

Elise: I think middle-grade readers love puzzles and games and anything they can play an active role in solving, so this genre is perfect for them.  As Marie says, they like the idea of an answer or solution that they can figure out alongside the characters in the book, and the best middle-grade mysteries leave plenty of room for the reader… to assess the evidence, hunt for clues, and make deductions alongside the detective character(s) in the story.  Mysteries are a good fit for this audience because the story usually points to a solid, specific conclusion–the missing thing is found; the culprit is apprehended; the disappearance is explained, etc.  Young adult fiction tends to be more open-ended and ambiguous.  If I can make a gross generalization, I think teenagers are less interested in ‘the one right answer’ than they are in exploring the question.  

As to how I came to write mysteries: the simplest answer is that my children loved reading them, and I remember loving them when I was that age.  When I started to write my first novel (Shakespeare’s Secret), I wanted it to have that kind of natural appeal to kids that would keep them turning the pages.  A good mystery by its very nature has suspense, twists, surprises, revelations–all things I love in fiction.  

Both of your books are cleverly crafted mystery/adventures with references to history. What were some of the considerations you made when keeping in mind your audience’s age?  

Marie: I didn’t know that middle-grade existed as a category before writing The Cabinet of Wonders. I knew it was for children, and I thought it would be for somewhat older children, but I wasn’t aware, at the time, of the different age categories there are for young readers.   

I didn’t think too hard about my reader’s age when writing my first two books. The historical elements spring from my own interest in the Renaissance, which I’ve studied and researched for, oh, about fifteen years now. Sometimes things appear in the book only because I read or saw something and thought, “That’s awesome! Everyone will think so! I have to share it!” So when I read an original book from the 1600s about how to make fireworks, or build a water fountains with fake birds that sing, I decided I had to work that in. I did a lot of research on ships in the Renaissance for The Celestial Globe, and when, for example, I learned the names of the various sails, and what a drogue is and how Sir Francis Drake actually used one to capture a Spanish galleon, I thought, “Would young readers be interested in that? Sure! I am!” You can probably guess that I have a laughable confidence that what is interesting to me will also be interesting to my readers.  

Elise: Like Marie, I didn’t consciously shape my plot according to the age of my audience.  The age of the book’s central character tends to determine the age of your readers, so both Shakespeare’s Secret and Masterpiece were by definition middle-grade.  The challenge when you have a historical basis to the plot is not to overload the book with details.    

I try to only include the most interesting, relevant historical facts, and to weave them into dialogue or dramatic scenes so they’d engage the readers.  I also try to build the story in a logical way so that the historical tidbits seem important when they appear; the reader is primed to pay attention to them, and to know that they will matter to the solution of the mystery.    

And finally, what’s your idea of a good reader?

Marie: I think there are different ways of being a good reader. You can be an enthusiastic reader, and tear through books. You can go slowly, and notice the details. You can dislike what you read, and argue against it, and decide exactly what it is you don’t like. I think being a good reader is making a promise to give a book your best effort.   

Elise: My idea of a good reader is a reader who brings an open mind and heart to the book… not even a reader who loves the book; just a reader who engages with it fully, on its own terms.  I have three children who are very different readers.  The one who devours books and reads non-stop never tested well on reading comprehension exams; the one who tests very well would pretty much do anything to avoid reading, though he will spend hours with a chess book or other nonfiction; the third is an exceptionally fussy reader and it’s hard for her to find a book she likes, but once she does, you can’t pry it out of her hands and she will make sure all of her friends read it too.  My point is, they are all good readers for the right kind of book. 

MARIE RUTKOSKI is a professor of English literature at Brooklyn College. She specializes in Renaissance drama, children’s literature, and creative writing. Her books, The Cabinet of Wonders and The Celestial Globe are the first two books in the Kronos Chronicles. Marie lives in New York City, where she is hard at work on the third book of her series.

ELISE BROACH holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in history from Yale University and lives with her family in Easton, Connecticut. Shakespeare’s Secret, named an Edgar Award Finalist, an ALA Notable Book, and an IRA Teacher’s Choice. She is currently working on a mystery series set in Arizona at a place called Superstition Mountain, which has been the site of many historical disappearances and unexplained deaths.  The first book comes out next year.

Many thanks to Marie and Elise for speaking with us! And now the good reader giveaway!

For today I will be giving away a brand-new copy of Elises’s Masterpiece OR Marie’s The Cabinet of Wonders. You choose! To enter, leave a comment and share with us some of the middle grade books that have been favorites with the good readers in your life. And yes, that good reader can be YOU!

Sheela Chari hearts mysteries and good readers of all kinds. Her middle-grade mystery novel, VANISHED, will be published by Disney-Hyperion, July 2011.



  1. Keri Lewis  •  Jul 9, 2010 @8:19 am

    Fav MG novels for me: A Crooked Kind of Perfect, Rules, and the Theodosia series.

  2. Renae Hipple  •  Jul 9, 2010 @8:56 am

    My favorite middle grade novel ever: Sharon Creech’s “Walk Two Moons.” What a beautifully written book. :)

  3. Yat-Yee  •  Jul 9, 2010 @9:48 am

    I loved both Masterpiece and The Cabinet of Wonders! Thanks for bringing the wise and thoughtful people behind these two wonderful books. (If you’re interested, I’ve written reviews of both of them on my blog.)

    My 9-year old’s favorite is Matilda, which she’s read at least once a year since first grade. My 7-year old, who is not as fluent a reader and who hasn’t wanted to finish any of the early chapter books from the popular series, willingly handles words he’s never seen in How To Train A Dragon.

  4. Tracy Abell  •  Jul 9, 2010 @1:15 pm

    I really appreciated Marie and Elise’s definitions for “good readers.” It’s important to remember that books mean different things to different readers, which is why it’s vital we have variety on the bookshelves.

    Thanks for a great interview.

  5. Jemi Fraser  •  Jul 9, 2010 @2:11 pm

    My all-time favourite book as a kid was Anne of Green Gables – followed by Encyclopedia Brown, Nancy D & the Hardy Boys, Little Women.

    In my classroom, the eager readers devour Gary Paulsen, Lois Lowry, Gordon Korman, Roald Dahl, Stephanie Meyer, Scott Westerfield… tons of authors! :)

  6. brian_ohio  •  Jul 9, 2010 @2:20 pm

    I’m not eligible, but I enjoyed Barrie Summy’s ‘I So Don’t Do…’ books. They’re great mysteries with lots of humor.

  7. Cathe Olson  •  Jul 9, 2010 @5:47 pm

    The kids at my school LOVE Masterpiece and Shakespeare’s Secret. I can’t wait to share the interview with them. I haven’t read Marie’s books but will put them on my list for sure.

    Some of the books that my avid readers love are the Gregor the Overlander series, Theodosia series, Mysterious Benedict Society, Children of the Lamp, Sharon Creech, Percy Jacson series, Fever and Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson.

  8. Laurie Schneider  •  Jul 9, 2010 @11:23 pm

    I loved mysteries as a middle-schooler…and now I know why! I’m printing out Elise & Marie’s response to the question about good readers for my husband, a teacher of English Ed.

  9. Meaux Riley  •  Jul 10, 2010 @9:49 am

    “The Watsons Go to Birmingham” hooked all our fifth graders when the first chapter was read aloud, especially when the reader mimics the sound of the panicked character who gets his lips stuck on the frozen mirror of a car!

  10. Melina  •  Jul 10, 2010 @11:25 am

    Middle grade…..

    Mysteries are great. I just read The Red Blazer Girls and loved it.

    I also read a lot of historical fiction and recently read The Snipesville Chronicle series.

    Of course, girlie books are a favorite too – and Karma Bites was a recent one that I just loved.

  11. sheelachari  •  Jul 10, 2010 @1:43 pm

    There are so many books here I’m eager to try. Thanks for sharing your favorites with us.

    Yat-Yee – Mathilda is one of my all-time favorite books!

    Melina – The Red Blazer Girls is on my to-read list.

    And of course I really love Elise Broach’s and Marie Rutkoski’s books. They made such a great pair for a signing.

  12. Denise I Teach  •  Jul 12, 2010 @9:56 pm

    My 6th graders love The Last Apprentice series by Joseph Delaney. The series contains just enough spook and suspense to keep those avid readers turning the pages and enough of a creepy tingle to entice those reluctant readers.

  13. Pragmatic Mom  •  Jul 13, 2010 @7:03 pm

    I personally LOVE LOVE LOVE From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Loved it as a child, love it now. But kids these days (including my oldest and CapabilityMom’s youngest) could not get into it. It was “too confusing” for them. Maybe this generation is used to instant gratification; I am just not sure. Totally bums me out.

    Pragmatic Mom
    Type A Parenting for the Modern World

    I blog on children’s lit, education and parenting.

  14. Kiri Jorgensen  •  Jul 13, 2010 @9:48 pm

    My 5th Graders are devouring the Fablehaven series, Percy Jackson, and anything by Shannon Hale. I think my all time favorite is Holes, but I love so many :)

  15. jpetroroy  •  Jul 17, 2010 @3:32 pm

    I love Rules, A Crooked Kind of Perfect, Love, Aubrey, and When You Reach Me–all solid recommendations in the past.

  16. Gabrielle  •  Sep 16, 2010 @5:35 pm

    My favorite book is Fever 1793!