Monthly Archives: August 2011

Reading Childhood Favorites… As A Grown Up.

Snuggled in my daughter’s bed for our evening read aloud, I tripped once again over a clumsy sentence. Pippi Longstocking–how could you? As a child, I idolized your spunky independence and raucous mess-making! How could one of my all-time favorite books disappoint me?

I had delighted in sharing Charlotte’s Web with my daughters. I loved exploring Charlie’s chocolate factory again, laughing about how my mother used to call me Veruca Salt–a surname so close to my own–when I misbehaved. Stuart Little was a little bit more bizarre than I’d remembered… And that got me thinking about how my other childhood favorites would stack up to my adult sensibilities.

Recently, thanks to the Internet, I figured out the title of one of my all time favorite stories, The Genie Of Sutton Place by George Selden.

11-year-old me: I discovered the book in the public library on a hot Palm Springs, California summer day–that delicious blast of air conditioning turned the book-filled shelves into an oasis. I remember loving the magic and the humor. I’ve been wanting to reread the book for years and years.

Now: I laughed loud enough and often enough to make my teenager express concern for my sanity. I delighted in the clever dialogue and admired the superb writing. The story is peopled almost entirely with adults, reminding me how children used to fit into adult lives, whereas now families tend to be more child-centric. I found myself wondering if the hilarious cocktail party scene would be eliminated if the book were published today (a dog transformed into a man imbibes too much). I relished my time spent with these characters–and I’m thrilled to finally own a copy. Returning this book to the library back in 5th grade might have turned me into the book collector I am today.

Wanting to laugh some more, I turned to How To Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell.

11-year-old me: I remember twisting with squeamish delight, wondering if Billy would really eat all those disgusting worms. And it was a short, easy read. Good for a last-minute book report for a procrastinator like me.

Now: I didn’t laugh as much as I expected, and that surprised me. But I was also impressed with Rockwell’s concise language and brief, yet apt characterization. The theme of peer pressure and manipulation reminded me of darker books like this year’s Printz honoree Nothing by Janne Teller, as well as all those stupid eating bets–bowls of gravy, trays of lemon bars–made by my husband’s fraternity brothers in college. Again, the parents were quite involved in the story. The boys’ parents communicated with each other regarding discipline, and the kids suffered consequences for misbehavior. At one point two of the boys go around to apologize to neighbors for making late-night noise. Would we ask our kids–or our characters–to do that now, I wondered? Mid-way through the book, I ran to the grocery store. I overheard a middle grade child reprimanding her mother. Things have really changed since 1973.

Finally, I opened my tattered copy of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume.

11-year-old me: Finally somebody understands me! I remember how much I loved reading about girls who weren’t so perfect or so nice. The relationships and problems felt so REAL!

Now: WOW! With the exception of a feminine-hygiene anachronism, the book reads incredibly modern. I couldn’t help but think about my 11-year-old daughter and the things we’ve been talking about recently. And, oh how it brought back memories! My friends and I snuck into one father’s laundry hamper to peek at his copy of Playboy–just like Margaret. But would that scene be included in a middle-grade story published today? I thought about the list of unmentionables that prevent novels from being accepted into school book clubs. Sometimes I worry that we try too hard to protect children from the difficult questions, experimentation, and curiosity Margaret and her friends experience, even though kids are still dealing with those same issues today. I’m not sure if my copy will survive many more readings, so I ordered a brand new book for my daughter. Mine cost me $1.25. My daughter’s cost $8.99. Sharing Margaret with my 6th grader? Priceless!

Rereading these books inspired thought-provoking conversations with my children, husband, and my own mother. And I’m thinking harder about the kinds of stories I hope to write. I encourage all of you to give your childhood favorites a grown-up read.

Sydney Salter, author of Jungle Crossing, hopes that her writing will also delight future grown ups.

Watch out! It’s Margie Tempest from THE MAP OF ME (and win a book!!)

Tami Lewis Brown’s new novel THE MAP OF ME careens into bookstores today! THE MAP OF ME is the story of two sisters, twelve-year-old Margie and big brained baby genius Peep, and what happens when they steal a car to bring their run away Momma back home.

Ingrams’s calls THE MAP OF ME a “slim gem of a novel” and says “Brown’s straightforward prose, short chapters, and engaging narrator are perfect for reluctant readers ages 9 to 12.” Publisher’s Weekly says Brown “combines pathos and humor for an emotionally resonant story.”

We expected Tami Lewis Brown to pop into the Mixed-Up Files for an interview… but Margie Tempest showed up instead.

Um Margie where’s Tami and why are you here in her place?

Ms. Brown’s busy with the launch of the fall Mixed-Up Middle Grade Skype Tour—you know that thing you all do, where some famous author visits a winning classroom via Skype, and all the kids have to sit there and pretend to be happy about it? Okay, fine. I admit it sounds like a lot of fun to have an author visit your class. Especially on Skype. Especially if we win Ms. Brown. Less homework, too. I’m going to tell Miss Primrose to enter our class.

Margie, any grown up can enter, for any class, book club, scout troop, library, or group of book lovers. Tell all the moms and dads you know to enter for an author visit on the Mixed-Up Middle Grade Skype Tour, too.

Sure. All you grown ups- Watch here on September 6th for more details to win a Skype author visit for your kids. Even if you entering does reduce the chance Ms. Brown will visit my class at Jesse Stuart Elementary.


While Ms. Brown’s revving up the bus for the fall Skype tour I offered to be interviewed in her place. Actually I wanted to drive but she wouldn’t let me. She must not remember my incredibly amazing motor vehicle talents. Anyway, I know way more about THE MAP OF ME than she does.

Can you tell us a little about THE MAP OF ME?

Sure. When me and Peep came home from school Momma had disappeared. All she’d left was a note that said I HAVE TO GO. Of course Peep went all baby-fied, tears dripping all over Momma’s chicken collectibles. It was perfectly obvious Momma was headed for the Rooster Romp at the International Poultry Hall of Fame. And Daddy’s Faithful Ford was just sitting there, ready. Who says twelve-year-olds can’t drive?

When did you learn you’d be the star of Tami’s novel? How does it feel?

Star? I sort of prefer hero, to tell the truth.

It’s not like Ms. Brown asked me if it was okay. I didn’t know she was writing a book about me until I sneaked a peek inside her computer and found a picture of the book cover with my face on it. Man was I surprised!

It’s not just all the stuff I did that turned up in that book. It’s all the stuff I thought! How would you like a ton of people reading every idea that ran through your head? It’s like the whole world snuck into my diary. At least Ms. Brown left out the time Jimmy McDonald tried to kiss me. The unfortunate square dance incident was bad enough!

Still—it’s pretty great being called a hero. Publisher’s Weekly said “Margie (is) as sympathetic a criminal as any in children’s literature.” Honestly! Is that supposed to be a compliment? Me??? A criminal????? Even Daddy never called me that and it was his car I borrowed.

Your little sister Peep does very well in school. She’s even been promoted from fourth to the sixth grade. To your class, in fact. How does that make you feel?

Pleeeeese. Peep Peep What a creep. How do you think it makes me feel? Sometimes I’d like to grab hold of that golden ponytail and snatch Peep baldheaded. You want to know how rotten Peep can be? Read the first chapter of THE MAP OF ME, posted over at the Farrar, Straus and Giroux website.

All right. Peep’s not always awful. And she is real smart. Daddy says they would have shoved she into junior high but she’s too short for the desks. I was sort of amazed she didn’t end up the star of that book… To tell the truth me being picked over Peep is the best part of the whole “my life is an open book” thing.

If you could tell kids who read THE MAP OF ME one thing you learned what would it be?

Don’t drive a car until you’re sixteen! Ha!

No really this is it—Be proud of who you are, not the person somebody else thinks you should be. FOLLOW YOUR DREAMS!

Oops! I think Daddy’s here, wondering what I did with his car keys! Bye!

Thanks Margie… and thanks Tami!

LEAVE A COMMENT TO WIN A SIGNED COPY OF THE MAP OF ME. Then post it on Facebook, tweet it on Twitter, or write about it on your blog for a second (and third and fourth!!!) chance to win. Be sure to come back here and let us know about your additional entries, one comment for each extra entry. Limited to addresses in the United States. We’ll draw the lucky winner on Thursday September 1.

Tami Lewis Brown may have written THE MAP OF ME but “hero” Margie Tempest was in the driver’s seat all the way.



Interview with “Water Balloon” author, Audrey Vernick

WATER BALLOON is a wonderful coming-of-age story about 13-year-old Marley Baird who finds the easy life of her childhood is slipping away. With the pending divorce of her parents, a tough summer job, strained relationships with her two closest friends, and a summer with a father who struggles to relate to her, Marley feels “stretched as tightly as an overfull water balloon.” With her world quickly changing and a budding first love in the picture, Marley must reach deep inside to let go of the past and embrace her future.

Kirkus wrote, “Preteen female readers will eat this up and learn a wise and wistful thing or two about friendships.”

From the Mixed-Up Files is thrilled to present an interview with the author of WATER BALLOON, Audrey Vernick. Learn more about her at


Audrey, thank you for visiting with us! You’ve been very successful as a picture book writer and non-fiction writer. What made you decide to step into middle grade novels?

I wrote the first draft of WATER BALLOON years before I wrote any of the picture books I’ve published recently. At the time I had co-written one picture book that was published by a small press. I had also published about a dozen short stories (for adults) in literary magazines. I was taking the turn from literary short fiction to children’s, and I believed the best way to find representation was to write a novel.

When I started the book that ultimately became WATER BALLOON, I believed I was writing a young adult novel. It took a long time and a few readers to make me realize I was treading in the waters of upper middle grade.

I love middle-grade fiction—from that first proud stride out of chapter book terrain all the way through that final stepping stone into YA. I think it’s the most delicious and profound territory there is.

One thing I really liked about WATER BALLOON is how true to life it reads. I think a lot of girls will be able to see their own lives in many of Marley’s experiences. Did any of her story come from your growing up years?

None of the plot came from my growing up years, but probably all of the emotion did. I remember feeling traumatized when friends treated me and each other terribly. I felt everything deeply, wholly. I think the same could be said for Marley.

Marley learns a lot over the summer, about friendship, boys and first loves, and her own father. But her greatest lessons are the things she learns about herself. Not only her strengths, but also her weaknesses and vulnerabilities. As an author, was it ever difficult to let those lessons unfold naturally for her, knowing how tough the consequences might be?

I am terrible at letting my characters suffer. I know, as a writer, that it’s necessary, but that doesn’t mean it comes easily. In earlier drafts, I protected Marley from almost every bad thing that happens. Draft by draft, I layered in some of the harder stuff. I had to ease myself into it—slowly, gently, bit by bit.

What do you hope young readers will take away from this story?

I hope they will find, in Marley, a character they feel they know, care about, think about, and feel close to. A literary friend.

Finally, I know you have a lot of other literary gems still to come. Can you give us any hints at what we’ll see from you next?

In 2012, I have two picture books coming out. SO YOU WANT TO BE A ROCK STAR, illustrated by Kirstie Edmunds, a guide to finding your inner rock star, will be out in late February. In April, BROTHERS AT BAT: THE TRUE STORY OF AN AMAZING ALL-BROTHER BASEBALL TEAM, illustrated by Steven Salerno, will hit the shelves.

Both were probably the most challenging texts I’ve written, in terms of illustration. ROCK STAR is a direct-address text intended to encourage reader participation. BROTHERS AT BAT features twelve main characters. Both illustrators rose to and beyond the challenge in unexpected and amazing ways.


Jennifer Nielsen’s most recent release is “Elliot and the Pixie Plot” (Sourcebooks), and she will soon release “The False Prince” (Scholastic). Learn more about her at