Author Archives: Karen B. Schwartz

Here Where the Sunbeams are Green Winner

Thanks to all who stopped by to check out Helen Phillips’ Here Where the Sunbeams are Green interview. The winner of our giveaway is:



Here Where the Sunbeams are Green with Helen Phillips

Today we welcome Helen Phillips to the Mixed-Up Files! Her novel, HERE WHERE THE SUNBEAMS ARE GREEN, just released on November 13th. Her official bio: Helen Phillips grew up in the foothills west of Denver with her three siblings. When she was eleven, she lost her hair due to the autoimmune condition alopecia, which was pretty hard at the time, but now she thinks there are some major advantages to not having hair (no shampoo in the eyes, for one). Soon after she lost her hair, she (like Mad) made a New Year’s resolution to write a poem a day, a practice she continued for more than eight years. Helen attended Yale University and went on to earn a master of fine arts in fiction from Brooklyn College. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, artist Adam Douglas Thompson, and their child.

About HERE WHERE THE SUNBEAMS ARE GREEN: Mad’s dad is the Bird Guy. He’ll go anywhere to study birds. So when he’s offered a bird-tracking job in Central America, his bags are packed and he’s jungle bound. But going bird tracking in the jungle and disappearing completely are very different things, and when the Very Strange and Incredibly Creepy Letter arrives, Mad can’t shake the terrible feeling that her father is in trouble. Roo, Mad’s younger sister, is convinced that the letter is a coded message. And their mom is worried, because the letter doesn’t sound like Dad at all. But Mad is sure it’s a sign of something sinister. The only way to get to the bottom of it is to go to Lava Bird Volcano and find their dad themselves. Though they never could have imagined what they’re about to discover. (from IndieBound)

I loved that Madeline and Ruby are a sister team. Ruby, the younger sister, often comes across as the fearless leader. How does Madeline gain the courage to ultimately save her family from the evil corporation La Lava Resort and Spa?

Mad’s journey from scaredy cat to heroine is in a sense the central journey of the book. When push comes to shove, Mad has plenty of inner resources—it’s just that push has never come to shove until now. A lot of the struggle has to do with how she perceives herself; she has to overcome considerable self-doubt. All along she gives herself less credit than she deserves. She’s intelligent and creative and big-hearted. But in comparison to Roo, she feels weak and wimpy and un-magical. At the same time, Roo’s courageousness is what inspires Mad in the climactic scene.

Speaking of La Lava Resort and Spa, it purports to be an eco-friendly resort while it’s actually hunting the Lava-Throated Volcano trogon [a type of bird] to extinction for use in a stay-young cosmetic. What inspired this type of villain?

I thought it would be interesting for a place that seems like paradise to have a very dark underbelly. It was a fun writing challenge to depict the sinister qualities of such a gorgeous, “perfect” location. Moreover, as someone who attempts to tread lightly on the earth and buy green products, I’m fascinated/horrified by the trend of “green-washing,” in which companies falsely claim to be environmentally friendly and market their products as being greener than they actually are, taking advantage of well-intentioned consumers like myself.

Madeline and Ruby’s father, the Bird Guy, is thrilled to discover the Lava-Throated Volcano trogon is a Lazarus species. This was the first time I’d heard of a Lazarus species, where a species thought to be extinct is rediscovered. Is this based on a true story? How frequently are Lazarus species discovered?

I write about this in my Author’s Note: in the early 2000s, my dad showed me a newspaper article about a recent sighting of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, otherwise known as the “Lord God Bird” for its spectacular appearance. Declared extinct by the International Union for Conservation of Nature in the 1990s, it had supposedly been sighted in its former territory, causing a flurry of excitement in the ornithological community and inspiring a great search effort. Unfortunately, none of the searches for the Lord God Bird has proven that it still exists. Even so, this tale stuck with me, a tiny bright spot amid the disturbing news about the ever-decreasing biodiversity of our planet. It seemed as magical to me as the sighting of a unicorn or dragon. For years I knew I wanted to write a book about the thrilling possibility that a species believed extinct might have managed to survive. There are some wonderful examples of these so-called “Lazarus species” (Lazarus, in the Bible, was raised from the dead). The Bermuda Petrel, a bird believed extinct for 330 years, was found alive on small, remote islands. The Lord Howe Island stick insect, believed extinct since 1930, was rediscovered beneath a shrub on the world’s most isolated sea stack. The Monito del Monte, a marsupial believed extinct for eleven million years, was revealed in a thicket of Chilean bamboo. These are just a few from the intriguing list of thirteen Lazarus species on the Mother Nature Network site. Wikipedia also maintains a list of Lazarus species.

One thing that stands out in your story right away is how strong the rainforest is as a setting. How much research did you do to make it come alive?

Though I (sadly!) didn’t get the chance to travel to Central America for research purposes while I was writing the book, I lived in Costa Rica for two summers in high school and college, studying Spanish and doing volunteer work. As someone raised in the arid foothills of Colorado, those first encounters with the rain forest made a huge impression on me, and I drew on that stockpile of rich, quasi-magical images in writing Here Where the Sunbeams Are Green. My creation of the jungle setting got a boost when my brother and sister-in-law spent their honeymoon in Costa Rica while I was revising the book; they sent me about 200 pictures of birds, flowers, foliage, bugs, monkeys, etc. Aside from that, the Internet was helpful in terms of jogging my memory and enhancing the details.

In the rainforest, you describe an umbrella flower that blooms just in time to be a shelter for the rain. Does that exist? And can flowers really grow out of your toes, like they do for Ruby?

I wish! As far as I know, there are no umbrella flowers or toe flowers. But they’re both just believable enough …

What’s next for you?

I’m working on a collection of short stories for adults, and I have the idea for my next book for young readers, which will be set in a post-apocalyptic world.

What’s your favorite middle-grade book?

I have to confess that I adored From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler; now that I live in New York City and actually get to visit the Met, I think of that book every time I step through those doors. Other favorites include Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie books. And everything by Cynthia Voigt. And Lloyd Alexander. And C.S. Lewis. And J.R.R. Tolkein. And … well, you get the idea …

To learn more about Helen and her books, check out her website and her book trailer. Leave a comment to win a copy of HERE WHERE THE SUNBEAMS ARE GREEN (US only).

Karen B. Schwartz writes humorous middle-grade novels (and tween and YA) and raises humorous middle-grade kids (one is a tween that thinks he’s YA).


Tweens and Middle-Grade Books

Do you have a tween reader at home or in your classroom or library? Marketing-types define a tween as a kid between the ages of 10 and 14. But I think a tween reader is any kid that’s in-between the little kid stage and the hormonal teen stage—a reader as young as nine or as old as fifteen. The maturity level matters more than the number. It could be a thirteen-year-old girl who secretly plays with Barbies. Or a ten-year-old boy who says he’s too old for his stuffed animals, yet they find their way into his bed each night. That kid who claims to want their mother as a classroom volunteer, and when their mother makes a special effort to be there, that tween child refuses to make eye contact or answer a simple hello! Hmph. Not that I have any personal experience with that last type of tween.

So, we’re talking upper middle-grade. For tween girls, two publishers have a line targeted just for them—the Candy Apple line of Scholastic and the Aladdin Mix line of Simon and Schuster.

Here are some more great books for that in-beTWEEN reader:

THREE TIMES LUCKY by Sheila Turnage


Rising sixth grader Miss Moses LoBeau lives in the small town of Tupelo Landing, NC, where everyone’s business is fair game and no secret is sacred. She washed ashore in a hurricane eleven years ago, and she’s been making waves ever since. Although Mo hopes someday to find her “upstream mother,” she’s found a home with the Colonel–a café owner with a forgotten past of his own–and Miss Lana, the fabulous café hostess. She will protect those she loves with every bit of her strong will and tough attitude. So when a lawman comes to town asking about a murder, Mo and her best friend, Dale Earnhardt Johnson III, set out to uncover the truth in hopes of saving the only family Mo has ever known.


ONE FOR THE MURPHYS by Lynda Mullaly Hunt


Carley uses humor and street smarts to keep her emotional walls high and thick. But the day she becomes a foster child, and moves in with the Murphys, she’s blindsided. This loving, bustling family shows Carley the stable family life she never thought existed, and she feels like an alien in their cookie-cutter-perfect household. Despite her resistance, the Murphys eventually show her what it feels like to belong–until her mother wants her back and Carley has to decide where and how to live. She’s not really a Murphy, but the gifts they’ve given her have opened up a new future.




Foster McFee dreams of having her own cooking show like her idol, celebrity chef Sonny Kroll. Macon Dillard’s goal is to be a documentary filmmaker. Foster’s mother Rayka longs to be a headliner instead of a back-up singer. And Miss Charleena plans a triumphant return to Hollywood. Everyone has a dream, but nobody is even close to famous in the little town of Culpepper. Until some unexpected events shake the town and its inhabitants-and put their big ambitions to the test.





Mellie has been trying, unsuccessfully, to live down the day she told her kindergarten class she had a fairy living in her bedroom. Years later, she is still teased. So when her parents inherit her grandfather’s inn and their family moves to a new town, Mellie believes she’ll leave all that fairy nonsense behind – only to discover that her family members have been fairy guardians for generations and the inn is overrun with small persons with wings (they hate to be called fairies). Before she knows it, the family and fairies are all facing an evil temptress in disguise who wants the fairy magic all for her own. Can Mellie set things right and save the day?



Every year in Quill, thirteen-year-olds are sorted into categories: the strong, intelligent Wanteds go to university, and the artistic Unwanteds are sent to their deaths. Thirteen-year-old Alex tries his hardest to be stoic when his fate is announced as Unwanted, even while leaving behind his twin, Aaron, a Wanted. Upon arrival at the destination where he expected to be eliminated, however, Alex discovers a stunning secret–behind the mirage of the “death farm” there is instead a place called Artime. In Artime, each child is taught to cultivate their creative abilities and learn how to use them magically, weaving spells through paintbrushes and musical instruments. Everything Alex has ever known changes before his eyes, and it’s a wondrous transformation. But it’s a rare, unique occurence for twins to be separated between Wanted and Unwanted, and as Alex and Aaron’s bond stretches across their separation, a threat arises for the survival of Artime that will pit brother against brother in an ultimate, magical battle.




Ariel has always been curious, but when she and her best friend Zeke stumble upon a mysterious old telling dart she feels an unexplained pull toward the dart, and to figuring out what it means. Magically flying great distances and only revealing their messages to the intended recipient, telling darts haven’t been used for years, and no one knows how they work. So when two strangers show up looking for the dart, Ariel and Zeke realize that their discovery is not only interesting, but very dangerous. The telling dart, and the strangers, leads them to a journey more perilous and encompassing than either can imagine, and in the process both Zeke and Ariel find their true calling.




Trevor is just plain funny, and he’s lucky he is. Because this year he needs a sense of humor. Moving to a new home is hard enough—the sign reads hedley gardens, but everyone calls these projects deadly gardens. And the move to a fancy new school is even harder—all the kids from Deadly Gardens seem to be in the same classes and keep to themselves, but somehow Trevor’s ended up in an advanced science class with kids who seem to have everything, and know everything, including how to please their strange new teacher. Someone else might just give up, but Trevor has plans. This is going to be his year.  And he is going to use whatever he has, do whatever it takes, to make it at this new school. He may not have what these other kids have, but Trevor knows he’s got some stuff to show. No one is better at juggling in soccer, and he knows he can draw—he calls himself the Graffiti Guy. But Xander, a star in the classroom and on the soccer field, has other plans for Trevor. He doesn’t like anyone trespassing on his turf and begins to sabotage Trevor at every opportunity. Who is going to believe Trevor over the school star? Is there any way that Trevor can achieve his goals against a guy who is as good at bullying as he is at everything else he does?

All descriptions are from IndieBound. Thanks to Genevieve leBotton, book guru at Indie children’s book store, Little Joe’s Books, for her suggestions for this list.

What do you offer your eager tween reader?


Karen B. Schwartz accidentally wrote a book for tweens (twice!). Her own tween boy swears he’ll never read his mother’s girly stories of crushes and first kisses. Mwah, sweetie!