Author Archives: Andrea Pyros

Meet Catherine Newman, author of One Mixed-Up Night

As y’all know, here at MUF, we are ALL ABOUT From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (c’mon, it’s obvious!), so when we heard that Catherine Newman wrote a middle grade novel, One Mixed-Up Night, about two kids who run away and spend the night in IKEA, we knew we had to feature her and her new book. The Massachusetts-based Newman, who is also the author of the kids’ craft book Stitch Camp and writes the blog Ben and Birdy, talked to us about her inspiration for One Mixed-Up Night, what makes middle grade the golden years of reading, and where she dreams of spending the night.

One Mixed-Up Night by Catherine Newman

One Mixed-Up Night by Catherine Newman

From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors: What does the novel, Mrs. Basil… mean to you? Did you fantasize about running away to the Met?
Catherine Newman: I was probably ten when I read that book, and yes, yes, yes! I completely fantasized about running away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art! (I grew up in New York City, so I maybe kind of extra-fantasized about it.) I loved the idea of sleeping in that antique bed, pulling coins from the fountain to buy hotdogs… everything. My book’s plot, set in Ikea, is of course what I was going for. It’s my main characters’ favorite book, and it’s what inspired them (and me). Although someone pointed out to me recently that my book also has a little of the picture book Corduroy in it, which is totally true!

MUF: What is it about your novel that speaks to kids so successfully, do you think? Did your own children read it and enjoy it?
CN: Oh, well, gosh. I really do hope it speaks to kids successfully! My daughter Birdy, who is really the person I wrote it for, did love it. I think there’s an undercurrent of nerd-positivity in the book that really speaks to kids who are on the cusp of teenagerhood. (I mean except for, I guess, kids that don’t identify at all with geeky awkwardness. Are there kids like that? Those kids probably don’t need the imaginary friends that a book can offer.) Frankie (short for Francesca) and Walter, the main characters, are bookish kids who decide to do something crazy. I think that’s a combination that lots of kids can relate to, or at least aspire to. Also, they’re really, really good friends, and they take excellent care of each other. I know that my own kids were always craving books where the main characters treated each other kindly.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg

MUF: What gave you the idea of doing an homage to Mrs. Basil? 
CN: I got the idea from the way my son Ben and his long-time best friend Ava used to sit on the couch with the Ikea catalogue for hours on end. (They still do, actually.) They always got so dreamy about it—“If you could live in any of these Ikea rooms, which would it be?”—and maybe that’s what triggered the Mrs. Basil plot overlap. At first I was worried that not that many kids would related to the Ikea obsession, but I can’t tell you how many parents have said to me, “Oh my god! My kids are obsessed with Ikea!” So now I’m not so worried about that.

MUF: What do you hope readers will experience by reading your novel?
CN: Okay, please skip this next part if you’re worried about spoilers: There’s a subplot in the book that’s about grief and healing, and I think that—beyond the fun, fantasy Ikea adventure plot—kids might really enjoy seeing these friends work through something hard together and grow so much, with so much decency. So, I hope they’re entertained, but there’s also something deeper here too, maybe.

Author Catherine Newman. Photo credit: Ben Newman

MUF: What made you want to write a middle grade novel?
CN: Ah. Two things, mainly. First, my daughter Birdy was middle-grade age when I wrote this book, and I knew so much about the books she loved. Harry Potter, of course, but also books like When You Reach Me by (my idol) Rebecca Stead or The Dragonfly Pool by Eva Ibbotson or Framed (and everything else by Frank Cottrell Boyce). Also books that challenged and inspired her in different ways, like Wonder and Out of My Mind and Counting by Sevens. But the second reason is that, for me, those were the golden years of reading—the years when I was scolded for showing up at the dinner table with Black Hearts in Battersea, or for burying my nose in Harriet the Spy when I was supposed to be doing cartwheels for my grandmother. I have loved books all my life, but there was something special about those middle grades.

MUF: So if you could run off and spend the night anywhere in the world, where would you go? And who would you bring?
CN: Not Ikea! I’m like Frankie and Walter’s parents, who all kind of love-hate Ikea, rather than just loving it like the kids do. Maybe I’d spend the night in Zabar’s, that enormous deli in New York City (I’d eat all the whitefish salad and French cheese). Or at a place with hundreds of cats and kittens, though I don’t know what kind of place that would be! So I would probably pick our campsite at Nickerson Campground, on Cape Cod. Because, besides home (with our cats), that spot, in our tent, is my family’s happiest place.

Middle Grade Books For Military Appreciation Month

May is National Military Appreciation Month, a time for all of us to reflect upon the historical impact of the military, and honor those who served or are currently serving in the armed forces. Here are fiction titles for middle grade readers with an interest in stories that relate to the U.S. military (both past and present) and want to explore the lives of children who have family members serving.

Heart of a Shepherd by Rosanne Parry
When Brother’s dad is shipped off to Iraq, along with the rest of his reserve unit, Brother must help his grandparents keep the ranch going. He’s determined to maintain it just as his father left it, in the hope that doing so will ensure his father’s safe return. (From MUF contributor Rosanne Parry.) 

 

 

 

Max: Best Friend. Hero. Marine. by Jennifer Li Shotz
A moving story about Justin, whose older brother Kyle is killed in Afghanistan, leaving behind not only a grieving family, but a traumatized military canine named Max. When Max and Justin meet, the heartbroken boy and the troubled dog may be able to help each other as they grapple with their loss—if they’re able to learn to trust each other. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt 

Sixth grader Ally may be smart, but things aren’t easy for her. Her military dad has been deployed overseas and she’s struggling in school because of a undiagnosed learning disability. But with a new teacher and a supportive group of buddies, Ally may have a chance to come out of her shell and find her own, unique way.  

Code Talker: A Novel about the Navajo Marines by Joseph Bruchac
A fictional story inspired by true events of the incredible Navajo code talkers of World War II, whose unbreakable code, using their native language, saved countless American lives. In this older middle grade/early YA story, readers meet sixteen-year-old Ned, a Navajo teen who becomes a code talker.

 

Operation Yes by Sara Lewis Holmes
On the highly disciplined Air Force base, sixth-grade teacher Ms. Loupe sure is different–from her unique style to her interest in improv and theater games. But her students come to love her, and when Ms. Loupe’s brother goes missing in Afghanistan, the kids and and the community come together to support her.

 

 

Peace, Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson
Lonnie and Lili are siblings who are in separate foster homes after their parents died in a fire. Both are in loving homes, but Lonnie wants to be sure the siblings stay in touch, so he writes his little sister a series of letter to remember each other and their lives together. In them, we learn about Lonnie’s life, and the issues raised when Lonnie’s foster brother is injured in the war and returns to live at home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


(Younger elementary and early MG readers will appreciate Woodson’s picture book, Coming oComing on Home Soonn Home Soon, during World War II. It tells the story of Ada Ruth, who stays behind with her grandmother when Ada Ruth’s mother leaves for Chicago, one of the many women filling jobs left empty by the men who went off to fight in the war.)  

 

 

 

 

You Can Fly: The Tuskegee Airmen by Carole Boston Weatherford and Jeffery Boston Weatherford
Thirty three poems about the famous Tuskegee Airmen, the World War II American fighter pilots. Racism meant their bravery and accomplishments were woefully underappreciated for far too long after the war.

 

 

Lily’s Crossing by Patricia Reilly Giff
It’s 1944, and Lily is spending the summer with her grandmother in Rockaway, New York. When Lily’s father is drafted and Lily’s best friend moves away, Lily finds herself sad and alone. That is, until she meets a Hungarian refugee her own age named Albert, and the two bond in this realistic and age-appropriate portrayal of what life during World War II. Lily's Crossing

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Valentine to Our Favorite Books

In honor of Valentine’s Day, the Mixed-Up Files team shares the middle grade books they love the most. Share your loves in the comments section! 

“As an adult I really enjoyed Larger-Than-Life Lara by Dandi Mackall. Truly heartwarming story about loving yourself, having a positive outlook, and being kind. I cry just thinking about it!”
Amie Borst

 

 

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. How can you not love a book about a gorilla who paints?”
—Natalie Rompella 

The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages is a perfect blend of emotional journey, immersive history and science on both a large (nuclear physics) and small (inquisitive kid) scale.”
—Jacqueline Jaeger Houtman

 

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume sparked my love of reading and writing. It was one of my favorite books as a child, became even more special when I saw it through the eyes of my own children, and will remain one of the most beloved books for the rest of my life.”
—Mindy Alyse Weiss  

“I love Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan for its messages of hope, recovering from a tragedy, and learning to rely on your inner strength.”
Michele Weber Hurwitz  

“I loved Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin for Rose’s indomitable spirit, despite the challenges she faces.”
Beth Von Ancken McMullen

“I love the Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel series by Michael Scott. I have read it several times, and in fact, am now re-reading it again. It is filled with mystery, fantasy, and tons of historical figures. The way he weaves history, science, magic and fantasy together is just stupendous. Makes me lose myself in his world every time I read it.”
Jen Swanson

“Two of my favorite books are perfect for Valentine’s Day because they are both love letters in story form. My childhood favorite, Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl is the world’s best love letter to dads. More recently, Ms. Bixby’s Last Day by John David Anderson is a heartfelt love-letter to teachers.”
—Julie Artz

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“I’ve got to give two as well… one to an old love, and another to a new one! Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising is probably THE book that made me want to become an author. Seeing Will grow and become capable of surviving meant so much to me at the time. And more recently, Anne Ursu’s The Real Boy tugged at my heart in a way few books can. Seeing a kid who thinks he’s broken discover that people can love him for who he is… that’s love.”
—Sean Easley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve got to give two too!! Also, like Sean, I’ve got old and new.  A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle will always always hold a special place in my heart because tesseracts are fascinating science and Meg Murray. I always want to read about a brave and smart girl. And A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd because magic, mystery, family, and finding your home are themes I will read again and again. Plus the language is so so beautiful!!”
Heather Murphy Capps

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“To choose just one is hard, but I’ll go with Bridget Hodder’s The Rat Prince. I just adored how she used the rat’s POV to share the familiar tale, and there’s even a teeny bit of romance in there.”
Sheri Larsen

Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary! And more recently, Waiting for Normal by Leslie Connor. Lovable Ramona doesn’t always behave, which is very refreshing in a character. Connor’s character Addie has a way of being upbeat in the face of terrible odds. She’s resourceful in the most heartbreaking way.
Phyllis Shalant

Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt, a deep and sensitive dive into the heart of a boy. I love everything about this book and the spare language Schmidt uses to communicate so much.”
Amber J. Keyser

“Amber stole mine. But I refuse to change my answer, so put me down for Okay for Now, as well. It made me laugh. It made me cry. And sometimes it did both within the span of a single page.”
TP Jagger

“I have to second Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan.”
Dori Hillestad Butler

“My latest favorite is Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan for its use of POV switches and voice.”
—Jenn Skovira Brisendine

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Now? If I have to choose just one I’d say Crossover, by Kwame Alexander. SO powerful – feelings like a punch to the chest – but real and hopeful and so true to how kids feel things.”
Valerie Stein

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. Why? Because it’s a beautifully written, Jungle Book-inspired tale with ghosts and ghouls and creatures of the night fighting the man Jack who means to harm the orphan Bod. All in an ancient burial ground/cemetery. And it starts with the multiple homicide of Bod’s family by Jack. An exceptional book at all turns and it landed perfectly in my literature sweet spot.”
Michael Hays

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“My favorite that I discovered as an adult is Skellig by David Almond. I really think it’s the perfect book–spare, lovely, magical, and with so much heart. As a kid, my favorite was Anne of Green Gables, which I am loving all over again now that I’m reading it aloud to my 8-year-old redhead.”Kate Manning

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“On the fantasy side, I still love the Harry Potter books and on the historical fiction side, Blood on the River James Town, 1607 by Elisa Carbone. It’s a story about the founding of James Town. It kept my 5th grade class riveted in their seats.”
—Robyn Oleson Gioia

 

The Naked Mole-Rat Letters by Mary Amato has stolen hearts in my family. My daughter has read it more times than I can count. And she cries every time.”
Louise Galveston  

 

 

 

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume is THE book of my tween years–Blume gets kids of a certain age so perfectly right. What a gift!”
—Andrea Pyros

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Andrea Pyros is the author of My Year of Epic Rock, a middle grade novel about friends, crushes, food allergies, and a rock band named The EpiPens.