• From the Mixed-Up Files... > Learning Differences > Talking MG, Inspiration & Space Monkeys with the Awesome Nathan Bransford
  • OhMG! News


    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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Talking MG, Inspiration & Space Monkeys with the Awesome Nathan Bransford

Learning Differences

Maybe you know him from his fun and informative blog. Perhaps you’ve been the recipient of one of his lightning fast query responses. Or maybe you just recognize him as that cool California dude in the orange shirt that looks like he’d be a whole lot of fun to surf with.

Now, get ready to know Nathan Bransford in a whole new role: middle-grade author.

Nathan’s sci-fi adventure, JACOB WONDERBAR AND THE COSMIC SPACE KAPOW, debuted May 12. Both funny and full of action, JACOB tells the story of three kids who trade a corn dog for a spaceship, blast off into space, break the universe and have to face their fears (and a planet full of substitute teachers) to find their way home again.

Nathan was kind enough to accept a virtual corn dog in return for an interview here on the Mixed-Up Files. Read on to find out how Nathan came to write middle grade, what’s next for Jacob — and how you can get a chance to win a free copy of this hilarious debut!

First, congratulations! You must be so excited after all the work that goes into creating a book to see JACOB WONDERBAR on the shelves. How does it feel to finally have your baby out in the world?

It feels great! Also a bit surreal because I’ve been anticipating it for so long. I began writing WONDERBAR in the summer of 2008, so it’s been nearly three years in the making.

Back in your agenting days, your tastes seemed to lean more toward literary and young adult fiction. Were you surprised when you sat down to write and the voice of a middle-grader popped into your head? What drew you to writing for this age group?

Yes, it did surprise me a bit. When it came to children’s books, as an agent I was definitely drawn more toward young adult fiction and more literary novels. But I let the idea guide the genre. The initial idea that sparked JACOB WONDERBAR was of a kid trapped on a planet of substitute teachers, and that felt middle-grade to me so I went with it.

I also was drawn to middle-grade because the books I read when I was that age were among my favorites. Between 8-12 years old is a powerful time to be reading books.

What are some of the books that influenced your own middle grade reading days?

Anything and everything by Roald Dahl, BY THE GREAT HORN SPOON by Sid Fleischman, ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS by Scott O’Dell, HARRY’S MAD by Dick King-Smith, MY SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN by Jean Craighead George, and the Calvin & Hobbes comics by Bill Watterson.

I love the fact that even though he’s on a wild space adventure, Jacob and his friends are still real kids with real-world problems. How do you keep your characters grounded, so-to-speak, when they’re off flying through (and breaking) the universe?

I knew that I wanted to ground the characters with some real-life issues, because it felt real to me. Even though kids have a very active imagination, it’s impossible to avoid coming back down to Earth. So Jacob has a missing dad and is a good-hearted troublemaker, Sarah is overscheduled and puts a lot of pressure on herself, and Dexter is timid. They have to confront their problems in order to make it back home.

Corn dogs… spaceships… burp breath… you’ve pretty much hit the trifecta for middle grade boys right there. How do you come up with your ideas? And names, too… I mean, what kid wouldn’t crack up at “Mick Cracken?”

Thanks! I tried as much as possible to remember the types of things I thought were funny when I was that age. So… yeah. Corndogs, burp breath and upside-down calculator jokes.

The name Jacob Wonderbar was inspired by my favorite coffee drink from Philz Coffee down the street from my apartment (Jacob’s Wonderbar Brew), and Dexter’s last name is an homage to a friend (who doesn’t take after Dexter). I don’t actually remember where Mick Cracken came from, but I do remember feeling that the name fits!

(Also, my son would like to add that a planet reeking of burp breath is quite disgustingly awesome. Not so much a question. Just a statement of fact from a nine-year-old boy.)

Haha, your son sounds a lot like me when I was that age.

You’ve written some very enlightening posts on your blog about ebooks and the evolution of publishing. How do you see ebooks changing the MG landscape?

I think middle grade may be a bit slower to switch over to e-books than adult books simply because parents may be reluctant to put $100+ e-book readers in the hands of 9-year-olds, but as prices come down and the devices become more ubiquitous I think you’ll see kids reading e-books more and more. I can remember the stacks and stacks of books I used to have on my nightstand, and I would have read even more if I didn’t have to wait for a trip to the bookstore or library.

Speaking of your blog, it’s such a fantastic resource for writers — chock full of industry information, inspiration, updates on The Hills. The blog’s reported to have 150,000 visits a month — and has even spawned its own baby blogs. Did you have any idea when you began it would gain such a following? What do you think is the key to social media success (space monkeys notwithstanding, of course)?

No, I really had no idea what to expect, but I’ve been extremely lucky. I think the key to success is to really cultivate a sense of community, and for that I was very fortunate to have such a great group of regular commenters, who set the tone in the comments section and who add so much to the blog experience. Other than that, I think the keys are consistency, patience, and remembering it’s all about what you can do for your readers and not what they can do for you.

And on the subject of space monkeys, rumor has it they’ll make an appearance in the next installment of JACOB WONDERBAR. What other tricks do you have up your sleeve for future books in the series?

Haha, yes they will! A band of space monkeys of suspect intelligence feature prominently in JACOB WONDERBAR FOR PRESIDENT OF THE UNIVERSE, the sequel to WONDERBAR #1. As the title suggests, Jacob runs for president of the universe and has to contend with the planet of news reporters, more crazy Astral planets, and his own self-doubt.

Book #3 is tentatively titled JACOB WONDERBAR AND THE INTERSTELLAR TIME WARP, and I’m just in the process of starting that one.

Lastly, it sure seems you can do it all — pen a novel, hold down a day job, educate and entertain the writerly community, host contests and critiques — and heck, in your agent days you were one of the most queried agents around. (And still, you answered every single query, often within minutes.) All that is just a long way of asking… Are you actually a robot?

Haha, no, I am all human. Very busy though! And if anyone has a spare robot could I borrow it?

Okay, good — thanks for clearing that up :-). It was so awesome to have you here today on the Mixed-Up Files! I’ll check my junk drawer for spare robot parts…

And, for our readers — since it turns out Nathan’s not actually a robot (but in fact, a really good guy), I’m giving away a copy of JACOB WONDERBAR! Just leave a comment below and our random generator will select our first winner on Saturday, May 28. And, because it’s the unofficial start of summer and we’re feeling good here at the Files, we’ll be choosing a SECOND WINNER on Tuesday, May 31! Yes, you read that correctly — for all of you that missed the first go around, we are giving away another copy of JACOB WONDERBAR on Tuesday. Just leave a comment below for a chance to win! (And, for all of you who entered the first time who didn’t win, you’re automatically entered in the second round!)

Plus, don’t forget — you get extra entries for linking to this interview on Twitter, Facebook, your blog (or by clicking the “follow this blog” button on the right). Just mention each link in a new comment so the random generator will add your extra entries.

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