Author Archives: Michele Weber Hurwitz

An Interview with author Wendy McClure

We’re pleased to host author Wendy McClure today on the Mixed-Up Files. Wendy is the author of the three Wanderville books, an historical fiction series about three children who dare to jump off a Kansas-bound orphan train at the turn of the century. After hearing rumors about the terrible lives that await them, Jack, Frances, and Harold leave the train behind and hide in the woods. There, they meet a mysterious boy who will transform their lives forever. Books 1 and 2 are already out, and book 3 publishes in June.

Q: Welcome to the Mixed-Up Files, Wendy! Tell us how you came up with the idea for the series.

A: When I was growing up, I always loved reading about kids on their own. And wendymcclureas an editor of children’s books, I think the idea of kids being independent and having their own world is just one of those essential things that you need for a great story. I started trying to figure out where that notion came from — some of it is just human nature, I guess, but history also is full of times where kids had to work, leave home, fend for themselves. Which led me to the orphan trains, which seemed full of potential for historical adventure.

Q: What were the orphan trains?

A: The orphan trains were one of the first large-scale social programs in the U.S. From the 1850s to 1929, various charities in New York, Boston, Chicago, and other big, mostly eastern cities sent groups of poor and homeless city children on trains out west to be placed in homes — or as it sometimes turned out, work situations. Many of the orphan train riders weren’t orphans at all, but were given 9781595147004Mup by their families; often they were encouraged to forget their old lives. There were both good and bad things about the orphan trains. Thousands of kids escaped urban poverty, but siblings were separated and families broken apart.

Q: You’re a big fan of The Boxcar Children series. Did that influence you as you were writing?

A: It did! I didn’t actually read the books when I was young, but I came to know them VERY well when I started editing the series (at Albert Whitman). It definitely made me think about the ways kids can build their own worlds with just a few objects and some imagination. The trick is getting readers to look at an old cup, or a suitcase, or a fallen tree, and see all the possibilities.

indexQ: Can you share a favorite quote from one of the books?

A: It’s when the kids are taken in by a family involved in the temperance movement, and the youngest kid, Harold, is taught some of their songs:

“They [the songs] were all about how cold water was better than liquor, but everyone knew that, Harold thought. He’d never tasted liquor, of course, but he knew it smelled exactly like shoes on fire. Couldn’t folks tell the difference between that stuff and cold water? Why did they need so many songs to explain?”

Q: What do you hope readers learn or take away from the books?

A: That a lot of things in history were good and bad at the same time. Oh, but that sounds heavy…I really want them to just have a great reading experience.

Q: As a middle grade author, what do you love best about writing for this audience?

A: The school visits! The kids are great — their enthusiasm is fantastic, and they ask great questions.

2Q: Describe the series in three words.


Q: What are you working on now?

A: Nothing! I’m enjoying having some time in the evenings right now.

Q: You’re also a children’s book editor at Albert Whitman, as you mentioned. Was it difficult or easy to be both a writer and editor?

A: It was hard in terms of having time and energy to write. But at the same time, knowing the editorial process can make writing easier — I have more perspective on my drafts, and I worry less about certain things (because I know it’s a copy editor’s or proofreader’s job to worry about them). Really, I’ve learned so much about both professions by spending time in the other!

Q: What’s in your to-read pile at the moment?

A: A lot of manuscripts! Also I just tracked down some out-of-print middle grade books I remember reading as a kid, like A Candle in Her Room by Ruth Arthur and What the Neighbours Did by Phillipa Pearce. Very British stuff, and I can’t wait to read.

Q: And finally, what do you like to do in your spare time, when you’re not writing or editing?

A: Read read read!

Thanks so much, Wendy, for joining us! Find Wendy on Twitter @Wendy_Mc.

Michele Weber Hurwitz is the author of The Summer I Saved the World…in 65 Days and Calli Be Gold. Find her at


Middle Grade Reads for your Valentine

There are numerous picture books for Valentine’s Day, but not as many in the middle grade category. Valentine’s Day begins to take on a whole new meaning during the middle grade years, with crushes, body changes, and parties.

The following ten humorous and sometimes poignant Valentine-themed stories are sure to hit the sweet spot with middle grade readers.

51AbrQ9WvdLSweet Treats & Secret Crushes by Lisa Greenwald. When a blizzard threatens to ruin Valentine’s Day, three seventh-grade friends make and distribute fortune cookies to their lonely neighbors, and confront the secrets they’ve been keeping from each other.


51sz3Paq-jL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The Candy Smash by Jacqueline Davies. Jessie and Evan Treski, of Lemonade War fame, are back in this story of Jessie’s determination to get to the bottom of the mysterious candy hearts that appear in their classroom.


5171PlXrmOL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_My Weird School Special: Oh, Valentine, We’ve Lost our Minds! by Dan Gutman. New in the Weird School series, it’s the week of Valentine’s Day and A.J.’s class is getting a foreign exchange student from France, Pierre. There’s a duel over a cute girl and lots of hilarious antics, plus Valentine’s Day themed trivia and puzzles.

108890Ready, Freddy #10 Super Secret Valentine by Abby Klein. Freddy wants to make a special Valentine’s Day card for his friend Jessie but is afraid he’ll get laughed at. He secretly tries to cut and paste his way into Jessie’s heart.


9781416949442_p0_v1_s260x420Valentine’s Day Secret (Nancy Drew and the Clue Crew #12) by Carolyn Keene and Macky Pamintuan. Nancy’s best friends Bess and George are in a huge fight on Valentine’s Day and Nancy is caught in the middle.


9781479559589_p0_v1_s260x420Kylie Jean, Valentine Queen by Marci Peschke. It’s almost Valentine’s Day and Kylie Jean is helping her parents throw a fiftieth anniversary party for her grandparents. Between party planning and her school’s Be Sweet project, there’s a lot happening, but Kylie Jean is still determined to be the Valentine Queen.

alexiss-cupcake-cupid-9781481428644_lgAlexis’s Cupcake Cupid (Cupcake Diaries) by Coco Simon. A new book in the series. Alexis makes a special Valentine cupcake for her crush and leaves it by his computer but he starts acting really uncomfortable around her. With no certain Valentine in sight, Alexis ends up leaving a surprise gift for her BFF.

n193028Junie B. Jones and the Mushy Gushy Valentime by Barbara Park. Of course, no Valentine’s Day book list would be complete without this classic. Junie B gets a big, mushy card from a secret admirer on Valentine’s Day and she’s determined to find out who it is.


w514611The Annoying Crush (Galaxy Zack) by Ray O’Ryan. A little guy humor. The Super Advanced Robotic Assistant (SARA) develops a huge crush on Zack. He has to figure out a way to fix this mixed-up robot or he’s doomed to a life of her annoying robot love.


Xxx-russell-dork-diaries-bo-3_4_r560Dork Diaries #6: Tales from a Not-So-Happy Heartbreaker by Rachel Renee Russell. Love and crushes are in the air for Nikki Maxwell. She’s hoping her crush wants to take her to the big dance but what if he doesn’t want to go with her? Or worse, he ends up taking Mackenzie! OMG!


Happy Valentine’s Day, and happy reading!

Michele Weber Hurwitz is the author of The Summer I Saved the World in 65 Days (Wendy Lamb Books 2014) and Calli Be Gold (Wendy Lamb Books 2011). When not eating candy hearts, she can be found at

Sibling Stories

Who doesn’t love a good sibling story? Growing up as the oldest of three, I remember sparring often with my two younger brothers. We argued about who hogged the bathroom or didn’t let the dog out or whose turn it was to set the table, and of course, we vied for the best spot in the back seat of the car (no one wanted the squishy middle with the floor hump, and everyone wanted a window). But there were also endless games of “volcano” where we had to walk around the house without touching the floor, as well as many summer nights of spud and running bases and “statue maker.”

There’s something about the sibling relationship that lends itself well to middle grade stories, and here are some of my favorites:

One of the most well-known sibling stories is The Lemonade War series by Jacqueline Davies. Evan and Jessie compete against each other to see who can sell the most lemonade in this endearing,71u-+yYb5CL._SL1500_ much-loved story with tons of truth and heart. Other issues arise too, such as Jessie’s skipping a grade which puts her in the same year as Evan, and the siblings’ different personalities.


Sisters by Raina Telgemeir is the story of awkward teenager Raina’s relationship with her baby sister Amara. The siblings’ road trip from San Francisco to Colorado makes up the framework of 3ece9235bb9da853c4c6324cc35bb882the book, told through flashbacks and the present. Raina and her firecracker sister provide a familiar setting of both family tension and love.


The Pet War by Allan Woodrow examines the sibling relationship between Otto, who wants a dog, and his sister Lexi, who wants a cat. Their mom, a busy nurse who 17625083wants neither, finally relents, telling them that the first one to raise enough money to purchase the pet can decide — dog or cat. And so the pet war begins.



Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume, another endearing sibling story that has held up to the test of time, is the story of two brothers and their 71bG0qTrHWLbaby sister — their adventures, annoyances, and squabbles. We read this years ago in my mother-daughter book club and the girls loved the story of Peter, his brother Fudge, and baby sister Tootsie. In print for 40 years, the book was recently given this new cover design.


The Five Lives of our Cat Zook, by Mixed-Up Files contributor Joanne Rocklin, is the story of Oona, her brother Freddie and their cat Zook. Oona Five Lives of Our Cat Zook Coverweaves tales of the cat’s past lives for her younger brother, entwined with their own family stories.



No Passengers Beyond This Point, by Gennifer Choldenko, an eerie, dreamlike novel, features siblings India, Finn, and Mouse, who take a trip to their uncle’s house in Colorado. When the plane lands in a very unusual place7740753 instead, the children are thrust into a dramatic, tense situation they must work their way out of. Each chapter is narrated by a different sibling in this clever, compelling novel.


The Boxcar Children series by Gertrude Chandler Warner. Still retaining its popularity and charm, the adventures of orphaned siblings who live in train boxcars is a children’s literature classic. 297249


Also check out Wendy McClure’s historical novel Wanderville. McClure wrote the book because she loved the Boxcar Children series so much as a child. Siblings Jack, Frances, and Harold jump off an orphan train then meet a boy in the woods who will change their lives forever. He takes the siblings to a place he says “all children in need of freedom are accepted.”index




And of course, no list of sibling stories on the Mixed-Up Files blog would be complete without From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, by E.L. Konigsburg, the book that inspired our blog’s name. Siblings Claudia and Jamie run away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and become involved in an intriguing mystery. 9780689853548_xlg

Please leave a comment and tell us, what’s your favorite sibling story?


Michele Weber Hurwitz’s two middle grade novels, Calli Be Gold, and The Summer I Saved the World in 65 Days, both feature sibling relationships woven into the stories. Visit Michele at