Author Archives: Andrea Pyros

Natalie Rompella on OCD, #OwnVoices, and Sled Dog Racing

Today we welcome author and MUF contributor Natalie Rompella to the blog. We asked her to speak about the #OwnVoices movement in #kidlit, and how it relates to her latest book, Cookie Cutters & Sled Runners.

The character, Ana Morgan, in my book Cookie Cutters & Sled Runners, has obsessive-compulsive disorder.  She obsesses about germs, and she washes compulsively. At the start of the book, we learn that Ana has OCD. She sees a therapist and seems to be working through her obsessions and compulsions. However, her life faces many changes, and her OCD flares up.

The idea of Ana having OCD wasn’t planned. That’s just what came out as I began writing. I’m often influenced by other research I’ve done. The idea of sled dog racing came from a book I wrote on sports that started in the United States. I had also just finished writing a nonfiction book for teens called It Happened to Me: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (Scarecrow Press, 2009). I couldn’t get either topic out of my mind and recycled them for this book.

Although I didn’t have in mind who I wanted my readers to be when I started writing the book, I’m glad I tackled this topic. While writing my nonfiction book on OCD, I reached out to teens, hoping to get narratives about what it was like for them living with the disorder. It was very difficult to find people with OCD who were willing to share their experience. But I think it’s important for others with OCD to see that they’re not alone. And I think it’s just as important for people without OCD to learn about the disorder. I hope that in my book, I help the reader get inside Ana’s head and feel what obsessive thoughts are like and how powerless you can feel to them.

Books that fall under the category of #OwnVoices are written by someone who is from the same marginalized group as the protagonist in the book. Like my character, Ana, I have suffered from OCD. Although I feel it is under control, I will find it gets worse when I’m stressed or overtired. I have not had it spiral out of control as it does for Ana, but I was able to draw on my own experiences with both OCD and anxiety when writing her story. I vividly remember having a flare up on an airplane. When I got home, I was able to write up the big OCD scene in my book. The whole idea of knowing that your brain is throwing out these unwanted thoughts but not being entirely sure whether to ignore the thoughts or act on them is from experience. (For instance, having the desire to check that you turned off the oven even though you’re pretty sure you did already check but not feeling 100% positive you actually did. So you check you turned it off. And then, as you’re walking away, part of your brain wonders, Did you really check that it was turned off? I’m not sure you actually did, so you check once more. This process may repeat numerous times.)

I want kids who have OCD to be able to relate to Ana. They know what it’s like to have these unwanted thoughts. They can see they’re not alone.

Author Natalie Rompella

Natalie Rompella is the author of eleven trade books including Cookie Cutters & Sled Runners (Sky Pony Press, 2017) and The World Never Sleeps (Tilbury House Publishers, 2018) as well as twenty leveled readers and workbooks on a variety of topics, including STEM, text evidence, common core, and science fair experiments. Natalie lives in the Chicago suburbs. You can follow her on Twitter at @NatalieRompella or find her at www.natalierompella.com.

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