• From the Mixed-Up Files... > Giveaways > Lisa Railsback and Sarajo Frieden Interview and Giveaway
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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.
    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
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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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    August 6, 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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Lisa Railsback and Sarajo Frieden Interview and Giveaway

Giveaways, Interviews

A brilliant artist must try not to be afraid.

That’s what Noonie Norton says, and Noonie should know. The feisty fourth grade protagonist of Noonie’s Masterpiece is trying her best to be brave, pursuing her art with single-minded passion even when the rest of the world is baffled by her brilliance.

Incorporating full-color artwork throughout, Noonie’s Masterpiece (Chronicle, 2010) is a gem of a book, with words and pictures to draw in even the most reluctant reader. Today at the Mixed-Up Files we’re lucky to have two brave and brilliant artists with us: Lisa Railsback, author of Noonie’s Masterpiece, and Noonie’s illustrator, Sarajo Frieden. Lisa and Sarajo have never met in person, but thanks to the magic of the Mixed-Up Files, they’re here together today.

Before we begin, though, here’s a bit on Noonie from the book jacket.

Noonie Norton knows a few things:

  • She is a brilliant artist.
  • The rest of the world just doesn’t know it yet.
  • She misses her father, an archaeologist who works on the other side of the globe.
  • She doesn’t belong with her actor/postman uncle, dental hygienist aunt, and super dork cousin. Just because they’re related doesn’t make them family.
  • If she wins the school art contest, her dad will come home. Pronto.
  • The only problem? To win, she has to create a family portrait.

Welecome to the Mixed-Up Files, Lisa and Sarajo!

Lisa, when you first submitted Noonie for publication did you envision it being illustrated?

Lisa: My dream was that it would be illustrated. I guess I always assumed it would bethe book is all about Noonie’s art life, after all. But I was very naïve (and still am) about how much things cost in the publishing world. I feel so lucky that Chronicle, renowned for their love of art and beautiful art books, picked up Noonie.

How and when did Sarajo get involved in the project?

Lisa: I was nearly finished with my book edits, when Victoria Rock (our editor) told me that she’d found a wonderful artistthe perfect matchto illustrate Noonie. And then Sarajo leaped into the picture…

Sarajo: I was contacted (via my agents at Lilla Rogers) by Victoria Rock at Chronicle, who sent along the Noonie manuscript. The initial brief called for about 50 black and white drawingsalmost doodles, something you might draw in the margins of your notebook while not paying much attention in class! It went through a number of changes, which meant the project was on hold at different points while issues about how many illustrations, how much color, etc., were resolved. At some point it was decided that the entire book would be color. This opened up a world of new possibilities, and I was able to start on the drawings again with the luxury of coming back to something a second time.

Did you and Sarajo have any contact during the process?

Lisa: Only in an indirect way. During the illustrating process, I received every set of sketches that Sarajo had done.  It was fascinating for me to witness her process as Noonie evolved. I was invited to convey my notes through Victoria, but I don’t remember having any notes.  I was so impressed and intrigued and mesmerized with Sarajo’s interpretation of Noonie’s art, including the very early sketches. Sarajo and I have never met (we will someday!).  It sounds cheesy, but I feel connected to Sarajo in the sense that we share Noonieher voice, and artwork, and emotions.

What was the best part of working on Noonie for each of you, and what was most challenging?

Lisa: During the entire process I felt that the teamSarajo, and the Chronicle folks, and Iwere on the same wavelength, with a similar vision; I didn’t feel any glaring aesthetic differences, or that I had to fight for things I wanted to keep or cut.  The hardest part has been the post-Noonie release: trying to speak about Noonie in brief concise sentences. Trying to sell her, in so many words, and justify why Noonie might be a good book for kids. I’m a lousy saleswoman and usually prefer to sit in the quiet, at my desk.

Sarajo: The best part of working on Noonie was getting to create a whole little world from scratch. This was something I loved doing as a kid: creating whole towns and the people in them, drawing their clothing, the interiors of their homes! (I’m still completely fascinated by interior magazines and how people live.)  The hardest part, the sheer number of drawings and a deadline in which to finish them, was made so much easier for me by the enthusiasm of Chronicle designer Amelia Anderson and editor Victoria Rock. It was hard to let Noonie go. After working almost exclusively on the illustrations for several months, I wasn’t entirely sure what the world was going to be like without her.

Lisa, you mentioned that you went through many early drafts of Noonie.  Has working on Noonie changed your creative process in any way?

Lisa: Before the book reached Chronicle, the Noonie manuscript had very dark elements to it. Incredibly dark! I laugh, with at least a little humility, as I look back on these drafts. In doing rewrites I had to go through a process similar to Noonie’s.  I had to take a step back and work through my own lurking thoughts: “Of course art (and writing) is the most important thing in the whole world! Of course the world should like my art (and writing) or they’re undoubtedly clueless!”  Noonie definitely feels misunderstood, and that her art is misinterpreted. Through my process of revisions, though, Noonie also comes to realize that she is misunderstanding the people, and the world, around her. They may not necessarily love art, or get her art, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t love her and support her.  People can be incredibly passionate and serious, such as Noonie’s friend Reno, about things having nothing to do with art. Despite this being a book for ten year olds, it’s also a gentle reminder for me about the creative process.

Sarajo, the illustrations for Noonie are lavish–humorous and poignant at the same time. What was your process like? Did you or Noonie create the illustrations?

Sarajo: Well, thank you! It’s funny because that’s exactly how I approached the illustrations—as if I was Noonie, and this was my personal “Noonie” sketchbook. I called it “channeling my inner Noonie”.  It was a combination of paying attention to details in the manuscript as well as what I could bring to it. It’s written in first person and there are Noonie’s drawings, letters she and her anthropologist father exchange, as well as conversations Noonie conducts with her favorite artists from the past—all of these elements had to fit together. For example, with regard to the famous and quite dead artists that crop up in the story, the designer and I agreed most kids wouldn’t know what they look like, so I drew them as paint brushes while giving little hints about who they were. Additionally, this part of the book makes it a wonderful vehicle for inspiring artists to learn more about who these artists were.

Another question for both of you. What was middle-school like for you? Were either of you a misunderstood genius like Noonie?

Lisa: Third, fourth, and fifth grade were my favorite school years.  I feel that I was very introspective and contemplative, as opposed to my unruly, insecure teen years. Oddly, I can still remember conversations, and dreams, and feelings that I had as a middle-grader. Writing for this age group now feels very natural. Thus far, I have only written my protagonists in first person, and I honestly haven’t had to alter my adult voice very much to fit my kid voices (minus a few swear words).

Sarajo: I am the youngest of four (as is Lisa), and had to follow behind three disgustingly smart siblings who always received straight A’s. I was actually a pretty good student, except in Math, but I’m sure I felt misunderstood, or that what I excelled in, which to some extent was day dreaming, was not appreciated nearly as much. In fact, growing up, who does not feel misunderstood?

Are there any books you remember being special to you?

Lisa: In my middle-grade years I was into realism; I read…books about spunky, outspoken, quirky girls.  The Laura Ingalls Wilder series was very special to me, as were the Ramona the Pest books, all the Judy Blume books, and the Boxcar Children. Books such as Where the Wild Fern Grows, Black Beauty, Sounder, and Old Yeller, were special in a different way. These books had such a powerful emotional impact on me!  They made me cry like crazyespecially the dying animals business. It may sound contrary, but even the thought of re-reading them gives me teary shivers. I can’t. Now, I vacillate between wanting to write books that are fun and light and easily put down, versus books that have strong resonance years later.

Sarajo: My mom was a teacher and she didn’t believe in television, so for the longest time we didn’t have one. She did bring my siblings and I on weekly visits to our local library and reading was and always has been one of my greatest pleasures. I also loved the Wilder series, and my mom was fond of giving me books about famous and accomplished women (subtle hints there). As I got a bit older, I loved Ray Bradbury and books with an other-worldly twist. One of my favorite books as a kid was A Wrinkle in Time.

Lisa, you already have another middle-grade novel out this year, Betti on the High Wire (Dial). Do either of you have any other projects Mixed-Up Files readers should be watching for?

Lisa: I’m excited about another middle-grade novel that I’m working on for Dial. I’m hoping it will be ready for the world by next year. I also have a fourth book finishedmore of a “tweener” novelthat I hope will see the light of day someday, somewhere.

Sarajo: I work in so many diverse areas: one thing I’m currently working on is a bedding design for Land of Nod that involves dancers. I’ll be able to sleep on my work (as opposed to while doing my work!). I’d also love to illustrate another bookeither for middle grade or a picture book.

Thank you, Lisa and Sarajo, for visiting and sharing so much of yourselves (and Noonie) with our readers. May you meet again soon!

* * *

If you’d like to win your very own copy of Noonie’s Masterpiece, leave a comment below. Our random generator will choose a winner on Thursday, Sept. 16.

Like Lisa and Sarajo, Laurie Schneider is the youngest of four siblings. Her three older brothers excelled at math and debate, but she liked to dream and doodle in notebooks. She still does. Today she channels her inner Noonie into contemporary and historical middle-grade novels.



  1. Karen Scott  •  Sep 13, 2010 @7:37 am

    This is a great interview, and I’m glad to read about a collaborative process. I write with a co-author, and have also found that our recent project has some of its own gentle reminders — for me — threaded through the story.

    And like Lisa, I can completely relate to the “teary shivers” you talk about when thinkign about re-reading those books that had the biggest emotional impact from my childhood. Where the Red Fern Grows was one of my favorites, but I don’t think I can ever bring myself to re-read it. I remember sobbing when I was about in 4th grade over the story. Very powerful.

    Thanks for your interview! Loved it!

  2. Mindy Alyse Weiss  •  Sep 13, 2010 @7:48 am

    Thanks for posting such a great interview. It’s nice to hear the thoughts of both the author and illustrator. I hadn’t heard of Noonie’s Masterpiece before, and can’t wait to read it now. It sounds adorable, and I love the detailed art work.

  3. Karen Schwartz  •  Sep 13, 2010 @8:19 am

    Fascinating! I’ve got Noonie on my to-be-read pile!

  4. Mezzowriter  •  Sep 13, 2010 @8:29 am

    This sounds wonderful! :)

  5. Kim  •  Sep 13, 2010 @9:42 am

    As well as they mesh, I’m always surprised to read when an author and illustrator have never met…great job!

  6. Lilla Rogers  •  Sep 13, 2010 @10:18 am

    Wonderful, Sarajo! It was fantastic to watch the book evolve. Your drawings are what helped make the book go to full color interior. Xo

  7. Elissa Cruz  •  Sep 13, 2010 @10:26 am

    Like Kim above mentioned, I think it is amazing when a book comes together even though the writer and illustrator have never met (and in most cases, never even communicated directly with each other). I guess that’s what a good editor is for, among other things.

    Thanks for the interview, Laurie!

  8. BonnieAdamson  •  Sep 13, 2010 @11:20 am

    I thoroughly enjoyed this interview and glimpsing a bit of the process from both author and illustrator. NOONIE’S MASTERPIECE is on my must-have list!

  9. Laurie McBride  •  Sep 13, 2010 @2:43 pm

    What a fascinating interview! I’ll look for the book at my neighborhood library!

  10. Tanya  •  Sep 13, 2010 @4:08 pm

    This sounds like a wonderful book I would love to win a copy for my niece. She loves to draw, paint and color :)

  11. teachergirl  •  Sep 13, 2010 @4:58 pm

    This book sounds so interesting, especially the full-color artwork. I haven’t seen many MG books with color on the inside. It would be a great addition to my classroom library.

  12. Cruz  •  Sep 13, 2010 @7:24 pm

    Wow, what fun to read about the creative process; thank you!

  13. Llehn  •  Sep 13, 2010 @7:58 pm

    I’m intrigued!

  14. Diana Greenwood  •  Sep 13, 2010 @10:02 pm

    Great interview! I am now and will forever be, a Noonie. I love this character.

  15. Sheela Chari  •  Sep 14, 2010 @5:53 am

    Lovely, lovely book! My local bookstore recommended it to me the other day, and my daughter and I took it home. I love the colors – you don’t get to have the luxury of MG in color…it knocks you off your feet.

    Fascinating interview, Laurie, Lisa, and Sarajo. I’m going to share it with my 7 year old (who adored the book). Thanks so much!

  16. Sara Zoe  •  Sep 14, 2010 @7:14 am

    Thanks for this interview …. I actually hadn’t heard of this book before so that is an exciting find!

  17. Liz Straw  •  Sep 14, 2010 @6:34 pm

    I love this interview. I remember seeing this book, but I couldn’t buy it at the time. I love the concept and the art at the time I first saw it. Great to see the author and illustrator talk about the book.

  18. Mariska  •  Sep 14, 2010 @11:31 pm

    I love the color of the cover and the illustrations looks great. i can’t wait to show it to my son :) enter me in.

  19. Stephanie M  •  Sep 15, 2010 @10:16 pm

    This book looks great and I love the whole theme of the importance of family.