Author Archives: Jennifer Swanson

“Pumpkin Spice Secrets” — Interview with Author Hillary Homzie

Happy October!! If you love pumpkin, I have got an amazing thing for you, a pumpkin spice BOOK!  I am so excited to have Author Hillary Homzie, one of our very own MUF-ers to interview today.

 

 

Her new book is called

Pumpkin Spice Secrets: A Swirl Novel 

It is the first middle grade novel in the new Swirl series by Sky Pony Press

Here are some great reviews for this fantastic new book:

“No one understands the tangled emotions of middle-school crushes better than Hillary Homzie. I have a serious crush on Pumpkin Spice Secrets!” — Claudia Mills, author of Zero Tolerance and Write This Down

“Sweet, smart, and entertaining, Pumpkin Spice Secrets is sure to appeal to tween readers!” — Barbara Dee, author of Star-Crossed and Halfway Normal

“Homzie laces key ingredients in her latest middle school story: empathy topped with a froth of fun!” — Candice Ransom, author of Rebel McKenzie

“[F]rothy and sweet enough that tween readers will drink it right up.” — School Library Journal

Hillary, thank you for joining us today. Our readers are so excited to learn more about you, your writing process, and this book in particular:

Why do you like writing for middle grade readers?

For various reasons, I remember vividly what it is like to be a tween. One might argue it’s because I’m emotionally stuck, and that might very well be true. I write to my younger self, reinventing my own history. Socially, once I hit about nine, my social skills left the premises. It’s taken me a long time to learn the basics. And maybe because I had to work so hard at how to interact with peers, I remember that period so well.

What was your favorite part about writing this book?

In Pumpkin Spice Secrets, Seventh grader Maddie Campbell is not the alpha in the friendship. Her best friend, Jana Patel, is much more confident and athletic and activated. Maddie is the reasonable friend. The one who keeps her feelings in check and others tell their problems to. Not the one that other kids whirl around. And, honestly, in many ways that’s been me socially. While I was usually the leader creatively in my friendships (I might be the one to make up the story that we would act out), in other ways, I was that kid just waiting for the invitation versus creating the event to invite others to. Yet others often confessed stuff to me because I appeared so grounded and thoughtful. I don’t think it’s atypical for authors to be the observers versus the doers. But, usually, nobody wants to read about the observers. But in this book, I did tackle a character who usually plays second fiddle socially, the listener, and that just felt very true to my own experience. Learning to not just observe and be proactive socially is something I’m still working on!

 

Can you share an excerpt from the book that gives us a flavor of your character’s voice? How did you find your character’s voice?

 

With my frappé in my hand, I race to our table to intercept the women before they sit down.

And then somehow I don’t see the boy walking in front of me to stand at the back of the line.

And then somehow I slam my plastic cup right up against him.

And then somehow the lid flips off my iced pumpkin spice frappé and it all spills onto his shirt. I mean all of it. The whipped cream, the caramel swirls, the sprinkles and the icy rest of it.

The boy jerks back and lets out a groan of surprise. His voice is surprisingly deep.

“Uh oh! Spill!” cries somebody. Chairs scrape against the floor. I can feel eyes on me.

“Sorry. Sorry. Sorry,” I say, at first not looking up.

And then I do. And I wish that I hadn’t because the boy looking at me is cute. Really cute. Like if he were a yearbook picture, I would stare at it all day. His eyes are sky blue. His teeth are whipped-cream white. He’s got a swirl of curly reddish-brown hair on his forehead that’s shaggy but still not messy, almost windblown or something. He’s got these adorable dimples and his eyes look extra alive somehow. Freckles dust his nose.

I think I’m saying something like, “I’ll get. Napkin. Now.” But I’m not really sure.

“It’s fine, seriously,” says the boy. A staff person comes over and hands him a rag, and says she’ll be back with a mop.

“I actually need to cool off,” says the boy, waving his hand in front of his face like a fan. “Just got back from practice. It was really hot.”

He’s just too cute. I worry that he might be a mirage or a figment of my imagination. That I might have inhaled too much sugar. But of course I really haven’t had any of my frappé yet, since it’s dripping off this boy.

But I do know that I’m scrambling for the napkins. There’s a stack of brown ones on a service counter to the left. They’re in my fist and I almost embarrass myself further by starting to wipe the pumpkin-colored swirly sludge off his shirt, but I stop myself in time.

I try not to show any sign of distress, even though I feel so stupid right now. Breathe, I tell myself. Breathe. Among my friends I’m the calm one. The reasonable one. The one you can talk to and who won’t blab.

 

In order to find Maddie’s voice I just dove into my own inner insecurity. The one who overthinks and idiotically assumes everyone is looking at her.

 

Do you do research for your books? If so, can you tell something about your research process?

Yes, I always do some research. In Pumpkin Spice Secrets, Maddie, who hates public speaking (in this way, we’re different as I rather enjoy it) must participate in a debate in her social studies class. I had to research debates, and specifically what the requirements of a seventh grade social studies team project might look like. For that, I jumped online and read lots of teacher blogs. I also watched YouTube videos of actual middle schoolers debating. This book had a very tight deadline, so I didn’t have time to actually attend some debates in person, but YouTube was my friend!

How long was it from the first glimmer of a story idea to your book launch day?

 

Okay, believe it or not—8 months

Do you have any interesting stories to share about how this book came about or things you encountered while writing it?

Well, I think I’ll elaborate on the quick turnaround time. The folks at Sky Pony approached me to write the first book in their new Swirl Line for tween girls in February of 2017.  I was excited to be able to launch a brand new imprint and eagerly said yes! By early March, I wrote the first five chapters. Luckily, I had been thinking abut this character, someone who was public speaking phobic, for quite some time, so I had an idea of how to write her. By April 13, I was done with the first draft. By the end of April, I was done with second draft and by May 11, I was returning the copyedit, and then, on October 17, my book was officially launched. So, yes, Pumpkin Spice Secret had a fast pass to publication! That’s a good problem, honestly, although not without a little bit of pressure.

Which of your four middle grade books is your favorite? Why?

That’s a really tough question! In addition to Pumpkin Spice Secrets, I’ve written Things Are Gonna Get Ugly, The Hot List, and Queen of Likes. I also have a chapter book series, Alien Clones From Outer Space. And I can’t choose a favorite among them. My grandmother had five children and she used to say she couldn’t pick her most beloved child. She said it would be like picking out a favorite finger. However, that being said, there’s nothing more exciting than introducing your new baby to the world, and that baby would definitely be Pumpkin Spice Secrets!

Can you give us a hint about the next book you are working on?

I’m working on a character-driven chapter book series that will debut in September of 2018. I’m super excited about it because the main character is exuberant, brave and troublemaking. She’s pretty much the opposite of me as a little kid, and it was fun to write about so different from msyelf. Although it’s contemporary realistic fiction, I think in some ways it’s wish fulfillment.

I wish I could have been less afraid, even if it meant making more mistakes. As a helicopter parents (who’s trying to reform), I think we all need to embrace mistakes, and I’d recommend that parents read the parenting book, Blessings of a Skinned Knee. I’m just tired of beating myself for being flawed—so much better to see each mess-up as a learning experience. It’s the make lemonade theory of life! I’m trying to get used to drinking lemonade on a regular basis.

 

Jen, thanks so much for interviewing me. It’s definitely not a lemonade day. It’s a sweet and happy occasion to be interviewed during the launch of a new book. It’s definitely a pumpkin spice day!

“Fall” into Nonfiction with some great new Titles

Looking for some AWESOME Middle Grade and YA nonfiction to add to your shelves this fall?  Check out some of the Amazing titles listed below– from a playful book about cats, to a history thriller about the famous Booth Brothers, two books about women and girls who changed the world, an incredible story of bionic animals, a creepy book about the way poison was used throughout history,  a series on discovering animal secrets, and the first in a series of facts that are too crazy to be true, yet they are… These books showcase Nonfiction as the very exciting, highly intriguing topic it is. #NonfictionROCKS

 

True Stories of Kindness and Companionship with Kitties

By Aline Alexander Newman (Nat Geo Kids)


We humans love our cats and these surprising true stories will prove our cats love us back This collection of tales of playfulness, friendship, heroism, and inspiration is sure to touch the soul, tickle the funny bone, and inspire animal lovers everywhere to be the best kitty caretakers and companions they can be. There’s Bambi, whose owners taught her to respond to commands in American Sign Language; Millie, who loves exploring the outdoors and goes rock climbing with her owner; Leo, a rescued lion who changed the life of one South African family forever, and more.

 

The Booth Brothers: Drama, Fame and the Death of President Lincoln by Rebecca Langston-George (Capstone Press)


Today everyone knows the name of John Wilkes Booth, the notorious zealot who assassinated Abraham Lincoln. But in his lifetime, the killer was an actor who was well-known among fans of the theater, well-known but less famous and less admired than his brother Edwin. In the 1860s, Edwin Booth ranked among the greatest and most-respected stars of the stage. He lived in New York and sympathized with the Union cause, while his younger brother stomped the streets of Washington, D.C., and raged as the Civil War turned in favor of the North. John fantasized about kidnapping the president, but after the defeat of the Confederacy, he sought deadly vengeance. The night Lincoln attended a performance at Ford’s Theatre, Edwin was far away, knowing nothing of the plot unfolding in the nation’s capital.

 

 

Bold Women of Medicine
21 Stories of Astounding Discoveries, Daring Surgeries, and Healing Breakthroughs By Susan M. Latta (Chicago Review Press)

Meet 21 determined women who have dedicated their lives to healing others. In the 19th century, Florence Nightingale and Clara Barton–the “Lady with the Lamp” and the “Angel of the Battlefield”–earned their nicknames by daring to enter battlefields to aid wounded soldiers, forever changing the standards of medicine. Modern-day medical heroines such as Bonnie Simpson Mason, who harnessed the challenges of her chronic illness and founded an organization to introduce women and minorities to orthopedic surgery, and Kathy Magliato, who jumped the hurdles to become a talented surgeon in the male-dominated arena of heart transplants, will inspire any young reader interested in the art, science, and lifechanging applications of medicine. Lovers of adventure will follow Mary Carson Breckinridge, the “nurse on horseback” who delivered babies in the Appalachian Mountains and believed that everyone, including our poorest and most vulnerable citizens, deserve good health care, and Jerri Nielsen, the doctor stationed in Antarctica who, cut off from help, had to bravely treat her own breast cancer. These and 15 other daring women inspire with their courage, persistence, and belief in the power of both science and compassion.
Packed with photos and informative sidebars and including source notes and a bibliography, Bold Women of Medicine is an invaluable addition to any student’s or aspiring doctor or nurse’s bookshelf.

Lotta Crabtree: Gold Rush Fairy Star By Lois Harris (Pelican Publishing Company)

With the California Gold Rush reaching a feverish peak, it was up to child performers called “Fairy Stars” to keep the miners entertained. As adventurers from all over the world spent hours scouring the land for gold, the children would dance, sing, and act to raise spirits and money–and the most successful among them was Lotta Crabtree. At just eight years old, Lotta won hearts on the West and East Coasts with her extraordinary talent for performing. Thus began a career that lasted decades, launching Lotta to stardom and making her one of the most beloved actresses of the nineteenth century. In this unique biography for young readers, follow Lotta’s first years, her struggle to support her family, and her spectacular journey to fame by age twenty.

 

Unstoppable:True Stories of Amazing Bionic Animals By Nancy Furstinger (Houghton-Mifflin Harcourt)


Chris P. Bacon was born with malformed legs, but with the help of a wheelchair made of construction toys, he’s become a hero to people with similar challenges. Nancy Furstinger profiles Chris P. Bacon and many other animals in Unstoppable–all of whom are making their way around with the help of prosthetics, braces, orthotics and wheelchairs Readers will meet the caretakers, prosthetists, vets, and loving families that help to make recovery possible. Furstinger offers a glimpse into the cutting-edge technologies, such as 3D printing and brain-controlled prosthetics, that are helping to improve the lives of animals and humans alike.

 

Poison:Deadly Deeds, Perilous Professions, and Murderous Medicines By Sarah Albee (Crown BFYR)

Science geeks and armchair detectives will soak up this non-lethal, humorous account of the role poisons have played in human history. Perfect for STEM enthusiasts
For centuries, people have been poisoning one another–changing personal lives and the course of empires alike.
From spurned spouses and rivals, to condemned prisoners like Socrates, to endangered emperors like Alexander the Great, to modern-day leaders like Joseph Stalin and Yasser Arafat, poison has played a starring role in the demise of countless individuals. And those are just the deliberate poisonings. Medical mishaps, greedy “snake oil” salesmen and food contaminants, poisonous Prohibition, and industrial toxins also impacted millions.
Part history, part chemistry, part whodunit, Poison: Deadly Deeds, Perilous Professions, and Murderous Medicines traces the role poisons have played in history from antiquity to the present and shines a ghoulish light on the deadly intersection of human nature . . . and Mother Nature.

 

The Secret of the Scuba Diving Spider… and More!
By Ana Maria Rodriguez (Enslow Publishing)


Readers will dive along with an underwater spider and also discover why caterpillars need an emergency whistle, how moths talk back to bats, that zombie beetles really exist, and what makes cockroaches so hard to catch. Primary sources include interviews with the scientists and original photos. Simple yet detailed language makes complicated scientific ideas easy to understand. A hands-on activity allows students to take on the role of scientist and examine these basic biological principles themselves.

 

Fault Lines in the Constitution:The Framers, Their Fights, and the Flaws That Affect Us Today By Cynthia Levinson; Sanford Levinson (Peachtree Publishers)

Many of the political issues we struggle with today have their roots in the US Constitution.

Husband-and-wife team Cynthia and Sanford Levinson take readers back to the creation of this historic document and discuss how contemporary problems were first introduced–then they offer possible solutions. Think Electoral College, gerrymandering, even the Senate. Many of us take these features in our system for granted. But they came about through haggling in an overheated room in 1787, and we’re still experiencing the ramifications.  From the award-winning team, Cynthia Levinson, children’s book author, and Sanford Levinson, constitutional law scholar, Fault Lines in the Constitution will encourage exploration and discussion from young and old readers alike.

 

Two Truths and a Lie: It’s Alive!  By Ammi-Joan Paquette; Laurie Ann Thompson (Walden Pond Press)

Two Truths and a Lie is the first book in a fascinating new series that presents some of the most crazy-but-true stories about the living world as well as a handful of stories that are too crazy to be true–and asks readers to separate facts from the fakes

Every story in this book is strange and astounding. But not all of them are real. Just like the old game in this book’s title, two out of every three stories are completely true and one is an outright lie. Can you guess which? It’s not going to be easy. Some false stories are based on truth, and some of the true stories are just plain unbelievable. And they’re all accompanied by dozens of photos, maps, and illustrations. Amaze yourself and trick your friends as you sort out the fakes from the facts

 

Geoengineering Earth’s Climate: Resetting the Thermostat By Jennifer Swanson (21st Century Books/Lerner)

“Most scientists agree that Earth is warming rapidly. Glaciers are melting and rising seawaters are submerging islands and coastal cities. In the coming decades, millions will likely have to escape extreme weather caused by climate change. Some scientists say we need to act faster and with radical new technologies—now—to save our planet. They propose geoengineering, or “”engineering Earth,”” to reset our global thermostat. Ideas include thickening clouds with chemicals to reduce the amount of sunlight and pulling carbon dioxide from the air with machines. However, critics say that geoengineering could backfire and create even worse weather. Is geoengineering too risky? Or is it our best hope of survival?”

August New Releases

Can you believe it’s August already? Time to start thinking about gathering school supplies and shopping for clothes. Don’t forget to throw some new books into your basket. Here’s a few new releases that would add a whole lot of fun to your back-to-school purchases!

First off, a few of our very own MUF authors have new releases. Congratulations to  Jonathon Rosen, and Dori Hillestad Butler!!

Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies By Jonathan Rosen (Sky Pony Press)

Twelve-year-old Devin Dexter has a problem. Well, actually, many of them. His best friend, Tommy, sees conspiracies behind every corner. And Tommy thinks Devin’s new neighbor, Herb, is a warlock . . . but nobody believes him. Even Devin’s skeptical. But soon strange things start happening. Things like the hot new Christmas toy, the Cuddle Bunny, coming to life.That would be great, because, after all, who doesn’t love a cute bunny? But these aren’t the kind of bunnies you can cuddle with. These bunnies are dangerous. Devin and Tommy set out to prove Herb is a warlock and to stop the mob of bunnies, but will they have enough time before the whole town of Gravesend is overrun by the cutest little monsters ever? This is a very funny “scary” book for kids, in the same vein as the My Teacher books or Goosebumps.

 

The Underground Ghosts #10 A Super Special By Dori Hillestad Butler (Grosset & Dunlap)

It’s almost Halloween, and Kaz and Claire are off to Seattle to visit Claire’s cousins. They explore the local library…and find a ghost living there The ghost’s family has been missing, so Kaz and Claire decide to investigate. When they discover ghostly activity in the city’s subterranean passages, they put their detective skills to work. Kaz and Claire are on the case.

 

Laugh Out Loud By James Patterson; Chris Grabenstein (Jimmy Paterson Books)

Get ready to Laugh Out Loud (a lot ) with James Patterson’s newest illustrated middle grade story 
Jimmy loves reading so much that he’s inspired to start a book company for kids–run by kids. It’s a bit dream for a twelve-year-old boy–some would even say it’s laugh-out-loud ridiculous
But that doesn’t stop Jimmy from dreaming even bigger His company will be as imaginative and fun as Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory…with a Ferris wheel instead of an elevator, a bowling alley in the break room, and a river filled with floating books He just has to believe in himself and his idea. (And maybe win the Lotto.)

 

Patina (Track) by Jason Reynolds (Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books)

A newbie to the track team, Patina must learn to rely on her teammates as she tries to outrun her personal demons in this follow-up to the National Book Award finalist Ghost by New York Times bestselling author Jason Reynolds.

Ghost. Lu. Patina. Sunny. Four kids from wildly different backgrounds with personalities that are explosive when they clash. But they are also four kids chosen for an elite middle school track team—a team that could qualify them for the Junior Olympics if they can get their acts together. They all have a lot to lose, but they also have a lot to prove, not only to each other, but to themselves.

Lucy & Andy Neanderthal: The Stone Cold Age by Jeffrey Brown (Crown BFYR)


Neanderthal siblings Lucy and Andy are back to their paleo pranks. This time, they have to put up with more than just each other—the cave is feeling awfully cramped since the humans moved in. They’re in the Ice Age, and legroom comes at a real premium!

Jeffrey Brown skillfully blends humor and history with paleontologist sections: Timeline of Key Discoveries, Ice Age Fact vs. Fiction, Silly Cavemen Myths, and more.

I Survived the American Revolution, 1776 By Lauren Tarshis (Scholastic Press)

The battlefield was soaked in blood. Screams of injured soldiers rang through the air. Eleven-year-old Nathaniel Knox knelt behind a rock, his gun clutched in his shaking hands. Nate had been heading to New York City to find his father. But now he was trapped in a terrible gunfight between American and British troops.
Thousands of American troops were either dead or dying in filthy British prison ships. General George Washington’s army was in tatters.
All Nate wanted was to find his father…and to get out of here alive.

 

Who Was Alexander Hamilton? by Pam Pollack and Meg Belviso (Penguin Workshop)

Born in the British West Indies and orphaned as a child, Alexander Hamilton made his way to the American Colonies and studied to become a lawyer. He joined a local militia during the American Revolution, rose to the rank of Major General, and became the chief aide to General George Washington. After the war, he became the first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury. He founded the Bank of New York and The New York Post newspaper. He served as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention and is also celebrated as a co-author of The Federalist Papers, a series of essays that are still used today to interpret the U.S. Constitution.

The Friendship Code #1 (Girls Who Code) by Stacia Deutsch (Penguin Workshop)


Loops, variables, input/output – Lucy can’t wait to get started with the new coding club at school. Finally, an after school activity that she’s really interested in. But Lucy’s excitement turns to disappointment when she’s put into a work group with girls she barely knows. All she wanted to do was make an app that she believes will help someone very special to her.

Suddenly, Lucy begins to get cryptic coding messages and needs some help translating them. She soon discovers that coding – and friendship – takes time, dedication, and some laughs!

 

Vanished! (Framed!) by James Ponti (Aladdin)

Florian Bates—the only kid on the FBI Director’s speed dial and several international criminals’ most wanted lists—must uncover the truth behind a series of middle school pranks that may or may not involve the daughter of the President of the United States in this hilarious second novel in the T.O.A.S.T. Mystery series.