Author Archives: Jennifer Swanson

SPY ON HISTORY Book – Interview with Workman Publishing’s Editor Daniel Nayeri and a Giveaway!

Looking for an innovative way to experience history? Give this new series a try. It is AWESOME! I read the first book and loved it! Not only do you learn, but you get to solve mysteries as you read. Very interactive reading and totally fun. I’m thrilled to be able to introduce this book to you today and also give you a behind-the-scenes interview with the editor  behind this new series!


Mary Bowser and the Civil War Spy Ring introduces an exciting interactive series for middle grade readers Spy on History, where the reader gets to experience history in a whole new way.

Meet Mary Bowser, an African American spy who was able to infiltrate the Confederate leadership at the highest level. Enigma Alberti dramatizes Mary Bowser’s suspenseful story how she pretended to be illiterate, how she masterfully evaded detection, how she used her photographic memory to copy critical documents.

Using spycraft materials included in a sealed envelope inside the book, a canny reader will be able to discover and unravel clues embedded in the text and illustrations, and solve the book’s ultimate mystery: Where did Mary hide her secret diary?



What people are saying about this book:

“A gripping story that offers a window into a pivotal time in U.S. history and puts a face to a little-known figure.” — Publishers Weekly

“Alongside it being a great story, this will rise to the challenge to any curious-minded wannabe spies.” — Black Girl Nerds

“Sometimes, a very special book comes along that allows your mind, and the kids’ minds, to actively exercise and expand while tromping through a story and learning some history. Mary Bowser and the Civil War Spy Ring…is one such book.” — Geek Dad

The cool thing, or maybe I should say, the mysterious thing about this book, is that the author is unknown. This is done on purpose, to add to the intrigue of the book and also well, it’s just cool! So instead of interviewing the author, the editor of this amazing series has agreed to speak with us.

 

Meet Daniel Nayeri, Director of Children’s Books at Workman Publishing, editor, and author.

 

Daniel Nayeri was born in Iran and spent a couple of years as a refugee before immigrating to Oklahoma at age eight with his family. He is the author of How to Tell a Story, and Straw House, Wood House, Brick House, Blow, a collection of four novellas. Daniel is the director of children’s books at Workman Publishing. Before entering children’s publishing, he was a pastry chef.

 

Daniel, thanks for joining us today. We are so excited to learn about this book. Let’s jump right in!

1. How did you come up with this unique format?

Books like THE ELEVENTH HOUR by Graeme Base have always been enthralling to me. Escape Rooms, of course, are extremely popular. We wondered, what if there was a book series where a kid could read about little-known figures in history while also engaging with a larger puzzle? The puzzle could be contextually relevant to the story, using primary texts, and methods contemporary to the narrative. The only thing cooler than reading about Mary Bowser and her incredible spy craft would be employing some of your own to complete your own mission. It just seemed like the kind of book we would have all devoured as kids.

2. Why use an actual nonfiction fact as the focus point for the book?

There are so many unexplored nooks and crannies of history that are full of drama. We couldn’t imagine anything else. The series was always about these moments that read like thriller novels, but have the added import of being true.

3. How do the clues work to solve the mystery (without giving anything away of course)

Once we had the manuscript, our Art Director—Colleen AF Venable—and the illustrator, Tony Cliff, began an incredible process of layering clues and encrypting messages throughout the illustrations. There are several “threads” of clues that can lead a reader to the final solution, which is the codeword you need to decrypt Mary Bowser’s letter at the end of the book. Some of these threads are easy…they’re just a few steps…solve some Morse code here, compare it to a map there, and voila. Some are incredibly hard. My favorite—spoiler alert—is the thread that uses the language of flowers. Early in the book, Mary is told that some flowers means different things, and there is an illustration that gives the reader some examples. One flower, the snapdragon, means deceit. So on all the pages that have snapdragons on them (as border illustrations), all the clues are lies.

4. Was editing this book the same as editing any other book or were there more challenges?

Outside of the usual challenges in editing a nonfiction narrative story, we had lots of added issues with the hidden codes. I had to become fluent in Vigenere ciphers, but Colleen had to become a downright cryptologist by the end. You could say the puzzles were like a third layer of discourse (alongside the text and imagery). We had several vetters going through to make sure the puzzles worked and weren’t too deeply embedded.

5. Why is there a secret cadre of authors writing these books? Is that part of the mystery, too?

Mysteries upon mysteries!
The nature of a secret cadre of authors is that they are like any other cadre of authors: murderous if you give up their secrets. I wish I could tell you everything.

6. Can you tell us about the next book in the series?

This, I can do. The next book is called VICTOR DOWD AND THE WORLD WAR II GHOST ARMY. It follows an amazing unit of soldiers made up of painters, composers, and other artists whose job was to create decoys to fool the Nazis. They painted inflatable tanks to look life-like and trick the German spy planes. There are moments in the story where a tiny group of sound engineers hide in a forest and project the sounds of an entire battalion marching through. If the Nazis only knew, they could have walked right into the forest and captured them.

7. Workman creates such neat and interesting books. Many of them are interactive. Can you tell us why you feel this is a great thing for your readers?

The editorial mandate I have for the group is to make “Art Objects for Great and Terrible Children.” To us, this means a great number of things. First and foremost, it means we take our work seriously enough to call it art. Of course, we’re not too precious about it. We know a good fart joke is an art form to kids. And we call them objects because we care about the “thingness” of books, the format, the interactive possibility of a book that wants to speak, but also wants to listen. In other words, a book that asks for input, a book that wants kids to learn, certainly, but also make and do. Those are all perfectly synchronous behaviors as far as we’re concerned. A book as an act of play is no less a literary endeavor than a book as a lecture. To us, the interaction is even more compelling when trying to inform a child on a nonfiction topic.

8. What future Workman titles should our middle grade readers be aware of?

We have so many exciting titles in the works. Of course, we just launched WHO WINS, which is an interactive book with 100 biographies of historical figures. We’ve also got the third book in our DOODLE ADVENTURES series, which is like a visual Mad Libs where kids draw in parts of the story. One title on the same list as SPY ON HISTORY 2 is a history of archery called THE MOST DANGEROUS BOOK: ARCHERY. It tells the history of archery in war, in battles like Agincourt, and in folklore. It shows bow designs from all over the world, and explains the physics of arrow in flight. The book also turns into an actual bow. It shoots paper ammunition (included in the book) at papercraft hay bales, and a William Tell apple (papercraft targets also included). I can’t wait to see the grown-ups’ faces when that one launches.

Sounds fantastic, Daniel! Thanks so much for joining us today and giving us a behind-the-scenes look at this awesome book.

Since we already offered a giveaway of this amazing book last week, we are offering a different book as a giveaway. Daniel mentioned it above, it is called, Who Wins and is a fantastic book for spurring discussion in the classroom.

Simply enter a comment below for a chance to win.


Jennifer Swanson is a huge nonfiction nerd and loves all things science and history. Throw in a mystery and she is hooked! You can read more about Jennifer at her website  www.JenniferSwansonBooks.com 

 

December New Releases

Looking for some great holiday gifts? Check out this list of new releases. These books will make fantastic presents for kids (or adults)!

The End of Olympus (Pegasus) by Kate O’Hearn  (Aladdin)

Emily and Pegasus face their greatest challenge yet when they venture back to Earth to save a friend in this sixth and final book of an exciting series that puts a modern thrill into ancient mythology. As Emily and her friends delve deeper into the CRU’s history, horrible discoveries are made. Not only about the victims the powerful agency has been trapping and abusing for centuries, but about the very origins of the secret agency itself.
Origins that lead directly back to…Emily.

 


Dog Man Unleashed (Dog Man #2)  by Dav Pilkey  (Scholastic)

Dog Man, the newest hero from the creator of Captain Underpants, is still learning a few tricks of the trade. Petey the cat is out of the bag, and his criminal curiosity is taking the city by storm. Something fishy is going on Can Dog Man unleash justice on this ruffian in time to save the city, or will Petey get away with the purr-fect crime?

All Heart: My Dedication and Determination to Become One of Soccer’s Be  by Carli Lloyd (HMH Kids)

In the summer of 2015, the U.S. women’s national soccer team won the World Cup behind an epic performance by Carli Lloyd. Carli, a midfielder, scored three goals in the first sixteen minutes the greatest goal-scoring effort in the history of World Cup finals. But there was a time when Carli almost quit soccer. She struggled with doubts and low confidence. In All Heart, adapted from When Nobody Was Watching specifically for younger readers, Carli tells the full inspiring story of her journey to the top of the soccer world an honest, action-packed account that takes readers inside the mind of a hardworking athlete.


Crystal Storm:A Falling Kingdoms Novel by Morgan Rhodes (Razorbill)

An epic clash between gods and mortals threatens to tear Mytica apart . . . and prove that not even the purest of love stands a chance against the strongest of magic.

 


Word of Mouse By James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein

James Patterson’s newest illustrated middle grade story follows the illuminating journey of a very special mouse, and the unexpected friendships that he makes along the way.
What makes Isaiah so unique? First, his fur is as blue as the sky–which until recently was something he’d never seen, but had read all about. That’s right–Isaiah can read, and write. He can also talk to humans…if any of them are willing to listen After a dramatic escape from a mysterious laboratory, Isaiah is separated from his “mischief” (which is the word for a mouse family), and has to use his special skills to survive in the dangerous outdoors, and hopefully find his missing family. But in a world of cruel cats, hungry owls, and terrified people, it’s hard for a young, lone mouse to make it alone. When he meets an equally unusual and lonely human girl named Hailey, the two soon learn that true friendship can transcend all barriers.

 



Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina  by Misty Copeland (Aladdin)

Determination meets dance in this middle grade adaptation of the New York Times bestselling memoir by the first African-American principal dancer in American Ballet Theatre history, Misty Copeland. As the first African-American principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, Misty Copeland has been breaking down all kinds of barriers in the world of dance. But when she first started dancing—at the late age of thirteen—no one would have guessed the shy, underprivileged girl would one day make history in her field.

 


The Bad Guys by Aaron Blabey (Scholastic Press)

They sound like bad guys, they look like bad guys . . . and they even smell like bad guys. But Mr. Wolf, Mr. Piranha, Mr. Snake, and Mr. Shark are about to change all of that…

 

 


Spy on History:Mary Bowser and the Civil War Spy Ring    By Enigma Alberti (Workman Publishing)

Mary Bowser and the Civil War Spy Ring introduces an exciting interactive series for middle grade readers Spy on History, where the reader gets to experience history in a whole new way. Meet Mary Bowser, an African American spy who was able to infiltrate the Confederate leadership at the highest level. Enigma Alberti dramatizes Mary Bowser’s suspenseful story how she pretended to be illiterate, how she masterfully evaded detection, how she used her photographic memory to copy critical documents. Using spycraft materials included in a sealed envelope inside the book, a canny reader will be able to discover and unravel clues embedded in the text and illustrations, and solve the book’s ultimate mystery: Where did Mary hide her secret diary?

 



 Pallas the Pal By Joan Holub; Suzanne Williams (Aladdin)

Pallas, the daughter of Triton and messenger of the sea, enrolls at Mount Olympus Academy in this twenty-first Goddess Girls adventure!


 The Stolen Chapters By James Riley (Aladdin)
Owen Conners’s whole life changed the day he found out his classmate Bethany was half-fictional, and could take him into any book in the library. Which story would they jump into next? Another fantasy, like the Kiel Gnomenfoot, Magic Thief books? Maybe something with superheroes? Owen’s up for anything except mysteries those just have too many hidden clues, twists that make no sense, and an ending you never see coming.

 Hidden Rock Rescue (Secrets of Bearhaven #3)
By K. E. Rocha (Scholastic Press)

Spencer and the team will have to sneak in, find his parents in the maze of the zoo, and make their escape. Or at least that’s the plan. But when it starts to go wrong and Spencer and Aldo are cut off from the rest of the team, it will take some fast thinking, some serious stealth, and a lot of teamwork to get everyone out safe!

Interview with Middle grade author Greg R. Fishbone and a Giveaway!

I amgfishbone_headshotsquare delighted to be able to interview one of the Mixed Up File’s very own! Greg R. Fishbone is a very talented author and has an awesome new book to share with us today.

Who is Greg Fishbone? 

A lawyer by day and author/illustrator by night, Greg fights a never-ending battle for truth, justice, and fun. He and his wife live in the Boston area with their daughter and two cats of varying temperament.

Tell us about your latest book. Was it fun to write?

51qltyqq1tl-_sx311_bo1204203200_ My latest book is The Amorphous Assassin, the second book in the Galaxy Games series. It’s a blend of sports and science fiction with an international cast of all-star kids and one very dangerous alien.

 This is the first time I’ve written a sequel, being able to build off an existing world with a known backstory. I wanted new readers to be able to pick this book up and quickly get oriented and invested in the story, but I also wanted readers of the first book to remember the ongoing story lines and deepen their understanding of characters they already knew.  It was a challenging balance to create, which made it a whole lot of fun for me to write.

Where do you get your ideas?

 Everywhere! Places I’ve lived, things I’ve done, people I’ve known, books and articles I’ve read, TV shows, movies, those weird insurance commercials with the talking lizard, daydreams, nightmares, randomly-firing neurons… Sometimes it feels like it all sloshes around in my head until it comes out like a story-flavored smoothie. Everyone can do that, but each person’s story flavors are unique and special to them.

Why do you like writing sci-fi?

 Science fiction is the genre of what isn’t, but could be. And since we humans keep advancing our scientific knowledge, our technology, and our society, science fiction is a constantly moving target. Writing science fiction means, first, defining what science fiction means today, then redefining it for tomorrow.

And what draws you to write for middle graders? 

 I was in that range is when I got drawn into books and read some great authors who permanently expanded my mind—Madeleine L’Engle, Douglas Adams, J.R.R. Tolkein, Ellen Raskin, Isaac Asimov, Ursula K. LeGuin, Ray Bradbury, Natalie Babbitt, Piers Anthony, Arthur C. Clarke, and others. Plus my eldest daughter is in third grade now, so I especially like the idea of paying it forward to her and her generation.

It seems that you have always been drawn to superheroes. Can you tell us about some of the ones you have created in the past?

 Ages ago I had a superhero team that called themselves the Super Seven, with the joke being that they weren’t very super and there were only six of them. Or eight. Or three. Or a hundred. The Super Seven were always adding or subtracting members, but they could never quite get their membership to stabilize at seven.

 I also had a kid superhero team made up of Sporkboy, Spoongirl, and AquaRegia. They were a lot of fun.

What would be your ultimate super power? 

 Having an undo button for the real world. It would give me the ability to say, “No, that thing didn’t just happen, but here’s the better, cooler, and more interesting thing that happened instead.”

When did you start writing? 

 I used to write for fun with my friends after school, all through high school and into college. We’d take turns alternating chapters in a convoluted story that lurched in random directions and never reached an ending.

Why did you become an author?

 Writing is something I’ve always enjoyed, and I found that liked it even more as worked to get better at it. I’m still learning new things, refining my technique, and constantly being blown away by what some other authors are able to do. Besides, if I can’t have an undo button in the real world, being able to do it in a fictional world is the next best thing.

Can you name one teacher that inspired you to write or had an effect on your life? 

 Rabbi Wohlgemuth, who was a Holocaust survivor and taught at the Hebrew high school. He was such a spellbinding storyteller that his words still resonate in my memory as a general background buzz of warmth, wisdom, pain, and laughter.

What is your favorite part about being an author? 

 As an author, I’m part of a select group that gets to enrich the lives of people we don’t know and usually never get to meet. Except when we do meet them, which is the very best part of all.

Anything else that you’d like to add:

 Thanks for doing this interview, and also to everyone who took time to read it.

My Galaxy Games series isn’t from one of the biggest publishers around. It doesn’t have a huge buzz about it, and you may have to go out of your way to find the book online or to order it from your local independent bookstore, but finding just the right read is worth a little effort. I know kids will have a lot of fun reading this series, and it’s been a labor of love for me to create books that fill a gap on the shelf where nothing like them currently exist.

And if you enjoy these books, or any other books, please share them with friends, recommend them to other readers, and drop a note to the author. We always love hearing from you.

Thanks so much, Greg! If you’d like to learn more about Greg’s books or just drop him a line, check out his website HERE

Greg has generously offered to giveaway an autographed copy of his latest book.

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*****Jennifer Swanson is a self-professed science geek and author of over 25 books for kids. You can learn more about her at www.JenniferSwansonBooks.com