Monthly Archives: February 2012

Why Author Taylor Morris Writes About Failed Middle School Friendships

I’m thrilled to welcome prolific Taylor Morris, author of the five-book (so far–wow) Gorgeous series, and titles such as Total Knockout: Tale of an Ex-Class President and Class Favorite to the Mixed Up Files. To learn more about Taylor go to In this interview, Taylor speaks about her latest single title, BFF Breakup.

1) What compelled you to write a book about best friends who have split?

I realized, sadly, that adults aren’t immune to splitting with a best friend. For a long time I would have guessed that it was something that only happened in school, to tweens and teenagers, as if we adults are so mature that we could never fight, then greatly (greatly) dislike someone we used to call our best friend. So for any kids who read this, I’m sorry to report that you may not be free of these things once you leave school.

2) Do you feel as if there are any significant issues that you would face in middle school when you lost your best friend?

Being alone. Watching friends take sides. Then, through all that, still having to go to class with them, find someone to sit with at lunch, make weekend plans. As an adult we can more easily avoid certain people (unless we work with them) but when you’re in school you’re stuck seeing them every week day and there’s not a lot you can do about it. Aside from homeschooling, which I don’t know much about but sounds kind of boring.

3) Do you think that middle school is a time when best friends are more likely to break up? If so why?

I don’t necessarily thing they’re more likely to break up. I think in middle school you’re learning to stand your ground more, figuring out who you are and what you’re about and maybe for the first time you’re willing to even stand up to your own best friend. But fights with friends can really happen at any age. Haven’t you seen the Real Housewives franchise? Proof right there that there is no age limit on BFF breakups.

4) Did you learn anything about friendship as you were writing your novel?

One big thing I learned is that you’re responsible for how you treat other people, regardless of what’s happening in your life. If you’re having a bad day or going through something traumatic (like Madeline does) that doesn’t give you license to treat your friends poorly. Even if your life is rotten, you can’t be rotten to the people who most want to help you and expect them to take it. And if you do, you should know enough to apologize.

5) Is there anything that you would like to add about best friends and the pain of moving away from each other?

It never gets easier. Most of us, we love our best friends like we love our siblings. At times we do everything together, share our worst secrets with each other, our wildest, most outrageous dreams, things we would only write in our diaries. When something happens to make that one person your enemy, or someone you can’t trust, it’s devastating. They know everything about you and now they hate you, or suddenly you can’t trust them? That’s hard at any age. But if you’re always honest in your relationships—all of them, with boys, girls, parents—then you’re less likely to have an epic blowout fight. If you do have to face a breakup—if things just can’t be repaired and all trust is lost—at least remember what was good about that person. It’s unlikely they’re straight-up evil, even if you want to believe they are. Something drew you to them in the first place, so try not to vilify them. Most importantly, don’t go smack-talking about them afterward. It doesn’t do any good, makes a bad situation worse, and no one wins by doing it. Try to keep your trap shut.

Hillary Homzie still remembers what it was like to be called someone’s second best friend. Ouch. She likes to read and write about other people’s friendship problems. To learn more about Hillary and her books go to

Hip Hip Hooray! Win a Skype visit from Sayantani DasGupta today!

Tuesday is Skype Day on the Mixed-Up Middle Grade Skype Tour!

You can win a Skype visit for your class, troop or reading group with Sayantani DasGupta! And we have a winner from last week’s contest!

But first let’s meet Sayantani– welcome to the Skype tour bus, Sayantani! Tell us about you and your books.

I write middle grade and young adult stories and novels, usually based on Indian folktales and myths. These stories of wise animals, demonicrakshas and brave princes, flying horses, and evil snake-creatures were often told to me by my grandmothers during my long summer vacations to India. They were a bridge that connected me, an immigrant daughter living in the U.S., with my own history and family. In dipping into myths and folktales, I seek to pay homage with my words and images to those great storytellers who came before me, celebrating personal cultural traditions while contributing maybe otherwise unheard stories to an ever shrinking, globalized world.

What do you like best about writing for middle grade readers?

Middle graders are fantastic readers – they are generous and wise but can be zany, fun-loving and adventurous. I think middle-graders are open to learning about different cultures but are able to see how people are unique as well as similar to one another. Middle grade was also the age I really fell in love with books, and in writing for middle-grade readers, I get to remember that feeling of excitement a great story brings at that age.

What was your favorite book when you were 8-12?

So many! I loved Madeline L’Engle’s Wrinkle in Time books of course, but I really loved her Meet the Austins series too – A Ring of Endless Lightwas one of my all time favorites. A heroine who can talk to dolphins and wants to be a marine biologist? How can you go wrong with that? Other favorites included The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Little Women, the Little House on the Prairie books (On the Banks of Plum Creek! Remember that one?). Now, my kids and I enjoy everything from Harry Potter to Percy Jackson to Peter and the Starcatchers. I guess I tend to gravitate to books filled with fantasy, adventure, humor, and hope.

What makes your school visits special?

In this school visit, we’ll have a chance to visit a new part of the world. And here’s a secret – the Indian ghosts and demons in these folk tales not only tell great stories, but they like to rhyme. So we’ll hear some ghostly and demonic rhymes and maybe get to make up some ones of our own!

Fantastic! Readers would you like Sayantani to visit your classroom, book club or any other group of enthusiastic middle-grade readers? You came to the right place. Leave a comment here for your chance to win. Pass it along on Facebook or Twitter for more chances– just be sure to come back and leave a comment telling us how you’ve spread the word. We’ll draw the lucky winner next Tuesday when we’ll present the next Mixed-Up Middle-Grade author for your Skyping pleasure! For all the scoop and frequently asked questions about the contest look HERE!

But wait!!!! We have a winner to announce! The lucky winner who’ll be welcoming Katherine Schlick Noe to meet her readers is…….

Ramona Behnke! Ramona come on down!!!

Please email the please email the Mixed-Up Files at msfishby (at) fromthemixedupfiles (dot) com with your contact information! You’ll be hearing from Kaherine shortly! And huge congratulations!!!!!

Readers keep those entries coming and you might welcome Sayantani to your group… and come back next week for our next pit stop on the Mixed-Up Middle-Grade Skype Tour!


The Mixed-Up Middle-Grade skype bus doesn’t worry about rising gas prices… we run on imagination! When Tami Lewis Brown isn’t dreaming up another detour on the tour she’s visiting classrooms to talk about her middle-grade books SOAR, ELINOR! and THE MAP OF ME.

Indie Spotlight: Green Bean Books in Portland, Oregon

Portland , Oregon is a lucky city with not one but several independent bookstores catering to children! We’re talking today with Jennifer Green, owner/founder of the newest of them, Green Bean Books, established in July, 2009 and located in the city’s Alberta district. “Green Bean Books is the quintessential spot for cheerful coziness on a rainy Portland day,” says Portland-based children’s author Roseanne Parry (Heart of a Shepherd, Second Fiddle). “Whether you need just the perfect picture book, a chapter book for a finicky fourth grader or a novel and a mustache, the Green Bean staff is there with just the right suggestion.”

MUF: Jennifer, it’s heartening to see a relatively new bookstore thriving. What made you decide to take the plunge?
Jennifer: I was an elementary school teacher for ten years and wanted to try something new with some of my favorite aspects of teaching: fantastic children’s literature and reading-based activities with kids! Portland is a city with lots of families with young kids just looking for fun activities and educational things to do, so I thought I could fulfill a need in my neighborhood. Developing a sense of community for friends and neighbors was key to me in creating Green Bean Books.

MUF: What’s unique about Green Bean Books (aside from the vending machines, which I’ll ask about in a moment)?
Jennifer: Green Bean is all about noticing minutia (: There are surprises waiting to be discovered around every corner of the shop. I wanted it to be a place where people are constantly noticing new things that they may have overlooked the first time they perused the place. My hope is that people do not think of Green Bean as just a store but an adventure and a discovery!

green Bean reading couch

MUF: What kinds of things do you do to welcome the community and make them feel the store is theirs?
Jennifer: I’ve tried to make the store a cozy, friendly, and inviting space that encourages families to snuggle up with a book and hang out for awhile. I’ve also created interactive displays that beacon kids to explore on their own. We have a sweet, weeping mulberry bush in the yard that I’ve turned into a reading fort when the weather is good. We also do lots of activities on our beautiful deck in the summer.

MUF: Although Green Bean Books is a small store, you could close your eyes, reach in any direction, and pick a book you’d want to read. One of your booksellers said,” We don’t have any bad books here. We don’t have room for them!” How do you go about selecting books to carry at Green Bean?
Jennifer: All three of us read, read, read, and I like to think we have really good taste in books. We also try and keep in mind our audience and our neighborhood. . . what people are talking about and asking for each day when they come in and chat with us. We write it all down and make title choices based on our community.

MUF: We’re Middle Grade authors, so we just have to ask: what is your favorite book of fiction (all-time or current) for readers ages nine to twelve? Nonfiction?
Jennifer: That’s actually my favorite group to read for! There are sooo many good ones! I’ve recently loved The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis. Inside Out and Back Again by Thanha Lai and With a Name Like Love by Tess Hilmo were excellent, too! In the nonfiction arena, I love Maira Kalman’s new picture book geared toward older readers, Looking at Lincoln. I also found World wIthout Fish by Mark Kurlansky completely fascinating.

MUF: Thanks, I’ve just added some titles to my to-read list! Okay, now let’s talk about those vending machines. You won’t find that kind of creativity at Barnes & Noble.
Jennifer: Yes, I collect vintage vending machines and re-purpose them into dispensing new items that kids will enjoy. For example, I have an old tampon machine from the 70s that you can by fake-fur mustaches and beards out of for 25 cents. I also hand-make muskrat finger puppets and sell them out of a funky old cigarette machine from the 60s (I collect finger puppets, too). There’s a mini-journal and pencil set machine, a tattoo/sticker machine, and a miraculous baby machine that dispenses miniature babies with bottles and birth certificates. I’m always trying to thing of the next machine to invent.

Mustaches. anyone?

MUF: You seem to have a lot going on at your store all the time.. .
Jennifer: We offer a ton of community activities each month, including weekly story times, monthly Spanish story time, bookmaking classes, author visits, sing-alongs, and surprise craft stations. One of our most sccessful events was probably Fairy Day last summer. We read fairy books, kids made magic wands, ate sparkly cookies and then they got to create miniature woodland fairy houses outside all around the bookstore yard. It was truly magical.

Fairy Day at Green Bean Books

MUF: Any events coming up that you’re especially excited about?
Jennifer: Yes! Singer Laura Viers is coming on February 29 at 11 AM to share her beautiful music with families from her new album Tumble Bee.

MUF:We encourage families, especially those whose towns don’t have a children’s bookstore, to make places like Green Bean Books a day-trip destination. In case they can stay awhile, are there any family restaurants nearby where they could have a meal or a snack after book-browsing?
Jennifer: Yes, there are several great restaurants that are kid-friendly in Alberta. One of my favorites is the Grilled Cheese Grill: kids get to eat deliciously greasy grilled cheese sandwiches on an old school bus that has been converted into a restaurant. Helzer’s, right next door, also is very family friendly and has the best potato pancakes in town!

MUF: And if they can stay the whole day or the weekend, are there a couple of unique Portland sights and activities they shouldn’t miss?
Jennifer: The Portland Children’s Museum is awesome, and I’ve recently discovered an eccentric museum in NW Portland called The Peculiarium that even has an alien abduction room! What kid would not like that?!

MUF: Thank you so much, Jennifer, for giving us a glimpse of Green Bean Books!
Readers, if you’ve already visited this store or would like to, please let Jennifer know in a comment here. Or share your thoughts about children’s bookstores with us and let us know of one you like that you think we should feature. Then stay tuned each month to read about still more children’s book experiences that you won’t get online or in a chain store. On March 26, we’ll be visiting Blue Manatee in Cincinnati.