• From the Mixed-Up Files... > Learning Differences > Under a “Tortilla Sun”: Author Interview with Jennifer Cervantes (and book 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:
    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,


    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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Under a “Tortilla Sun”: Author Interview with Jennifer Cervantes (and book giveaway!)

Learning Differences

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Twelve year old Izzy Roybal is disappointed she’ll have to spend the summer with her grandmother in a small New Mexican village while her mother is away. But when she finds a baseball with the words “Because… magic”, it begins her on a journey of self-discovery that includes the secrets of her father’s death, and her own life.

Jenniver Cervantes’ TORTILLA SUN (Chronicle)  is rich with love, family, cultural lore, and warms the reader like the glorious New Mexico sun. Jennifer was gracious enough to talk food, writing and cats with us (yes, that’s her with the Cat in the Hat).

1. Setting is so important in TORTILLA SUN. In it, the colors, tastes and flavors of a small New Mexican village come alive. Was Izzy’s grandmother’s village based on a real one?

No, the village is fictionalized, but there are many small villages still here that have a lovely old world feel to them.

How did your life in New Mexico influence this book?

New Mexico is called the Land of Enchantment and it truly is. I began writing Tortilla Sun in Santa Fe and was easily inspired by the natural landscape and beauty of the place in addition to the rich culture found here.

2. Food is another critical component of this book – empanadas, burritos and of course tortillas. You even include a recipe for tortillas in the back of the book! So tell the truth – do your tortillas come out crooked like Izzy’s or round like the sun? :)

Truth: CROOKED…but I have practiced and now they come out round…kind of.

How important is cooking to you?

Actually, I’m not a cook (but I do love to bake). It’s one of those things I wish I was good at, but time never seems to allow me to “play” in the kitchen. But don’t worry I don’t starve my family. I have a good ten recipes I make over and over. I know—so uncreative.

What made you incorporate food so centrally in this story? While I don’t do much cooking, I LOVE to eat and I have such fond memories of being in both my grandmothers’ kitchens and the comfort and love I felt there, so I wanted to bring some of that to this story.

3. Your character Izzy is a writer – is she based on your own childhood? Did you always want to be a writer?

Izzy is all her own. And actually, writing found me much later in life. I was always obsessed with reading and words in general. I used to read the dictionary for fun and make a list of three new words a day. Yep, I was a nerd. But even with my love of language and story, I can’t recall ever thinking, “I’m going to be a writer.”

4. Izzy has a wonderful writing process – putting together ideas on index cards and eventually stringing them together. Is this reflective of your own process?

Ha…not exactly. I tend to dive right in and write one chapter after the next. I wish I was an outliner though. It’s just not part of my process, I suppose.

5. How did you choose to make loss of a parent a central issue in Tortilla Sun?

My stories grow organically and that’s how this story grew. I never set out to write about one particular issue—it just sort of happened that way.

How did you balance writing about such a difficult issue in a middle grade book?

I wanted the book to feel hopeful which is why I included certain scenes (don’t want to give any spoilers here J) and I hope I achieved that. But grief is such an important emotion and one we don’t talk a lot about in our culture, so I wanted to show the different sides of grief and how we can celebrate the life of someone we’ve lost, be happy, and still miss that person.

6. Ok, what’s with Frida, the cat in the story who thinks she is a dog? :)

LOL. I get this question a lot! Good ‘ol Frida…I love her. I have no idea where that came from. I have two dogs and just thought it would be hilarious to have a cat who acted like a dog. Who’s to say, cats can’t do tricks

7. Did you always know this book was a middle grade novel?

Most definitely.

Have you always thought you would write for this age group?

This is where I found my voice and it’s a good fit. I love the possibilities of this age group as well. Kids are right on the verge of discovery of self and life and it’s a time when dreams are made.

8. What are some of your own favorite books from childhood?

One of my favs is out of print called LITTLE WITCH. I read that book over and over. I also loved CHARLOTTE’S WEB, LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE (the whole series), AND THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE. Loved Judy Blume too.

Recently? Oh boy, that’s so tough. I love so many books and I read probably 2-3 on a good week (both MG and YA) so this changes from week to week. With that said, this past month’s favs have to be THE PRINCE OF MIST, BOOKS OF ELSEWHERE, NIGHTSHADE, HEX HALL, CLOCKWORK THREE, BONESHAKER, and DELIRIUM… I could go on and on.

9. What are your top 3 pieces of advice for writers?

1. Surround yourself with positive people who will lift you up when the road gets tough and cheer you on when you have good news to share.

2. Read widely and as much as time allows. I study the structure of many novels I love and end up not only enjoying a great story, but I learn more about my craft in the process.

3. Be gentle with yourself and tell the inner critic to take up residence elsewhere.

10. Are your stories good medicine? I think they are but I’d love to hear your thoughts!

I hope my stories resonate with readers emotionally and I think that’s good medicine!

Jennifer Cervantes grew up believing in the magic of story and often asked “what if?” In TORTILLA SUN she brings this magic and her love of family and the rich New Mexico culture to her writing. TORTILLA SUN has garnered strong reviews and was recently honored with a Zia Book Award. Additionally, Jennifer was named a 2010 New Voices pick by the American Booksellers Association and has been invited to speak at various national conferences, including the Texas Book Festival as part of the Reading Rock Stars program, the National Council of Teachers of English, the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and recently she spoke to GEAR UP students at University of Texas Pan American at the FESTIBA festival. In addition, Jennifer has presented at state and local conferences including the NMSU Don and Sarra Kidd Conference, the New Mexico Women’s Book Festival, and the Children’s Literature Inquiry Project as part of her commitment to literacy efforts in the state.

Jennifer also teaches Children’s and Young Adult Literature at New Mexico State University. She has made the Land of Enchantment her home for the last twenty years and currently lives with her husband, three active daughters and two feisty dogs.

Intrigued? Inspired? Hungry for Tortillas? Well, comment below and you could win your very own copy of TORTILLA SUN by Jennifer Cervantes! But be quick! Winner will be announced tomorrow, April 28th!

Photos courtesy of Jennifer Cervantes.

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