Category Archives: Book Lists

Hana Hou! Middle Grade Fiction About Hawaii

Fine and colorful picture books about Hawaii abound, as do adult books, both fiction and nonfiction, and there are a fair number of YA novels.  But what if a middle grader wants to curl up with a good novel set in Hawaii? These are few, but still there are some engaging choices.screenshot_1692

Graham Salisbury’s books stand out. Most are set in Kona on the island of Hawaii where he grew up, and they draw in part on family stories.   Under the Blood Read Sun (Yearling Reprint, 1995) is the story of a young Japanese American boy, Tomi, and his haole (Caucasian) friend Billy just before and after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Under the Blood-red Sun has just been made into a moving locally-produced and acted film that was featured at the Hawaii Book and Music Festival in May. I predict it will be the talk of film festivals all over when it is released  September 14. A twentieth-anniversary edition of the book will also appear in September.

Well okay, maybe Under the Blood Red Sun is technically YA because the main boy characters are thirteen, but the actor who plays Billy first read and loved the book when he was eight.  Also launching September 14 is the fourth and latest book in that WWII series, Hunt for the Bamboo Rat.  In it a 17-year-old Japanese  boy from Hawaii undergoes harrowing experiences as an undercover agent for the U.S. Army in the Philippines during the War.screenshot_1691

Among my other favorites of Salisbury’s books are Jungle Dogs (Yearling, 1999) in which a boy must overcome his fear of the wild dogs along his paper route and learn to hold his own with troublemakers at school, and Night of the Howling Dogs (Wendy Lamb Books, 2007), based on a true story of a boy whose courage

Hawaii MG #5 Hawaii MG #8Hawaii MG #6and leadership are put to an extreme test when his Boy Scout troupe is caught first in an earthquake and then in a tsunami while camping in a remote spot below the volcano.

Throughout his career, Salisbury has worked with one editor, Wendy Lamb, and this has proved a winning collaboration. In addition to MG and YA novels, Salisbury has written a collection of stories called Island Boyz (Wendy Lamb Books, 2002), full of the rich flavor of island life and the inter-kid relations and negotiations that are so much part of growing up in the islands. For those on the younger end of Middle Grade, he has also recently published an amusing series of books about Calvin Coconut, a boy character who lives in Kailua on the island of Oahu, where Graham also once lived and went to school.

Shan Correa’s Gaff (Peachtree, 2010) gives a glimpse into the semi-secret world of cockfighting, a rural island tradition Hawaii MG #7many visitors are hardly aware exists. Seventh-grader Paul Silva, whose disabled father raises fighting cocks for a living, thinks the birds are magnificent. But he has been sheltered from the nature of the fighting, and once he sees it first-hand, he vows to get his father out. A poignant story of courage and coming-of-age.

For mystery/thriller-lovers, try P.J. Neri’s Hawaii Chiller series (Bess Press) if you can find them, or Elaine Masters’ Thief in Chinatown (Island Hertiage, 1998).

Want something intriguing kids can sink their teeth into (or vice versa)? Don’t miss the exciting new Niuhi Shark Saga trilogy. Hawaii, with all its myths and ghosts and traditions, would seem an ideal fermenting ground for middle-grade fantasy, but whoever writes it needs to be well versed in the stories already here before making anything up or they’ll be off-pitch. HawaiiMG #3

Now we have we have Lehua Parker who grew up in the islands, knows the old tales, knows island people and life, and lets all reverberate through her own very original, page-turning books. MG Hawaii #2Two have been published: One Boy, No Water (Jolly Fish, 2012) and One Shark, No Swim (Jolly Fish, 2013).  A third will come out in 2015. In the series, 11-year old Zader has been adopted as a newborn under strange circumstances into a family of surfers and fishermen. Trouble is, he’s allergic to water, and when he eats raw seafood he has haunting dreams. His Uncle Kahana, a marvelous combination of mystic and down-home, no-nonsense elder, knows a lot more than he’s telling about Zader’s origins and destiny. Suspense and humor guaranteed.

Let’s hope, with the success of these books, there will be many more in the future for middle-grade readers to enjoy!


Sue Cowing is the author of the puppet-and-boy novel, You Will Call Me Drog (Carolrhoda 2011) and My Dog Has Flies, Poetry for Hawaii’s Kids (BeachHouse, 2005)

Always, Abigail Interview and Giveaway!

always abigail

A triumphant story of friendship from two girls who seem worlds apart.

When Abigail’s dreams of becoming a pom pom girl are dashed, she finds herself in the unlikely situation of having to choose between her two best friends and the school’s biggest outcast.

Abigail and her two best friends, Alli and Cami, (aka AlliCam) are poised for a long life of pom poms and popularity.  But for Abigail, her own insecurities and lack of confidence coupled with her bad luck at being assigned to a different homeroom than AlliCam make for a rough start to sixth grade.  Abigail uses her list writing to calm herself down and keep her anxiety at bay. Even worse, her language arts teacher assigns Abigail to be friendly letter partners with Gabby Marco—the biggest outcast at Crestdale Heights.  Being partners with Gabby is something that could ruin a person’s life.

When she doesn’t make the team, Abigail’s dreams are crushed in an instant, and, in the days that follow, she loses touch with AlliCam as they begin spending their time practicing and hanging out with the other girls on the squad. But through her letters and interactions with Gabby, Abigail discovers that she has more in common with the least popular girl in school than she thought. Bullied by other students at school, Abigail is the only one who knows how badly Gabby needs a friend, but will she find the courage to do what she knows is right? 

Amie: Welcome Nancy! It’s great to have you back at MUF! The last time you were here we talked about your first book, This Journal Belongs to Ratchet (which my daughter loved, btw).  How was writing/publishing your second book different than your first?

Nancy: Actually ALWAYS, ABIGAIL was written before THIS JOURNAL BELONGS TO RATCHET.  My agent Holly Root and I submitted it to several publishers.  We were getting lots of great feedback about the book (then called SIXTH GRADE LISTS AND LETTERS AND LOTS LOTS MORE), but we weren’t able to find its perfect home.  We then began sending out RATCHET and were able to sign it with Sourcebooks/Jabberwocky and soon after, Sourcebooks also acquired ABIGAIL.

Amie: I love stories like that! Somehow it gives me hope for all the unpublished manuscripts I’ve written. Both of your books are MG. Do you think you’ll venture out to YA or even PB? Or is your heart and solidarity to MG?

Nancy: My heart is very close to MG.  I love reading MG.  I love writing MG.  It’s definitely my comfort zone.  That said, in my early endeavors at writing children’s books, I wrote several picture books.  Though none have been published, I believe that writing experience taught me a lot.  Picture book writing has to be VERY tight – every word has to pack a punch because you have to tell your story in so few words.  Writing those books helped me practice making my writing precise and powerful.  I hope that at some point I’m able to go back and resurrect one or two of those manuscripts and someday have a picture book published as well.  As for YA, not to sound too much like a middle schooler with low self-esteem, but I’m not sure I’m cool enough to write for that audience.  YA is so edgy and gritty and honest in such a raw way.  For me that sounds like jumping into shark infested waters.  Not sure I could muster that kind of courage.  That said, I do have an idea in my works-in-progress file for a YA book, but we’ll have to see if I am ever brave enough to jump off that cliff.

Amie: *laughs* I totally get where you’re coming from! Tell us a little about your inspiration for Always, Abigail.

Nancy: The character of Abigail and her long-time desire to be a pom pom girl was where the book began for me.  And then, the idea for the format came.  I asked myself, “Could I tell an entire story through lists and letters?”  A lot of middle schoolers, especially girls, like to jot their thoughts down in different ways.  Telling Abigail’s story this way really gets readers inside her life (her thoughts and her experiences), and writing the book this way made it very creative and fun for me as the author.  I enjoyed the process of figuring out how to tell a story in such a unique format.

The story of Abigail is close to my heart because I was a lot like Abigail.  I almost always knew the right thing to do, but I often had a difficult time choosing to do it, especially when something big was at stake.  I think lots of young people struggle with this.  We talk to students all the time about bullying, and I think that’s good, but sometimes we forget that “knowing” what to do is not the same as having the courage to do it.  We also forget how much courage that takes and how much is at stake for young people faced with these kinds of situations.

Amie: One last question. NYC or Virginia horse country?

Nancy: Definitely NYC – I love the Broadway musicals and the fantastic Italian restaurants.  A dinner of crunchy Italian bread and pasta with sauce so good I want to lick the bowl followed by a musical to which I know all the lyrics by heart is just about as good as it gets.

Amie: Thanks for joining us again Nancy! Best of luck to you with Always, Abigail!


Nancy J. Cavanaugh is the award-winning author of This Journal Belongs to Ratchet, the Gold Medal Winner for the Florida State Book Awards. She has a B.S. in education and an MA in curriculum and instruction with multiple published works. She was a teacher for more than fifteen years and currently works as a Library Media Specialist at an elementary school near Tarpon Springs, FL.  Website  Twitter Facebook Goodreads Buy Links:Amazon | B&N | BAM | iBooks | IndieBound | !ndigo

Would you like to win a copy of this book? Leave a comment below and you’ll be automatically entered!

Amie Borst is the co-author of Cinderskella. Her second book, Little Dead Riding Hood, releases October 14th, 2014! Find her at her blog, facebook, and twitter.

THE TIME OF THE FIREFLIES Launch, Giveaway, and Time Travel Titles!

Do you love a little bit of time-travel/time-bending elements in your middle-grade books? We’ve got some great titles for you – plus we’re celebrating one of our very own Mixed-Up File-rs brand new Middle-Grade with Scholastic!

Time of the Fireflies_Cover

THE TIME OF THE FIREFLIES is the story of a beautiful heirloom doll with a secret family curse, a bit of historical fiction from 1912–and time-slipping. The novel has received terrific reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus, and School Library Journal who said, “Haunting, well-constructed tale . . . A plot filled with suspense, adventure, and mystery. A perfect choice for lovers of ghost stories, historical fiction, or just a good yarn.”

Help Kimberley celebrate THE TIME OF THE FIREFLIES by entering the Rafflecopter below to win a signed hardcover copy of FIREFLIES, gorgeous Book Club Cards, and a glow-in-the-dark firefly necklace like this one:

Fireflfy Necklace


Watch the mysteriously spooky book trailer right here, too!

Time Travel Middle-Grade Titles – a Mix of New and Oldies!

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle

The Infinity Ring series by James Dashner, et al

WARP, Book 1 The Reluctant Assassin by Eoin Colfer

Watcher in the Woods by Robert Liparulo

Seven Stories Up by Laurel Snyder

Nick of Time by Anne Lindbergh

The Last Snake Runner by Kimberley Griffiths Little

Here’s an even bigger list of MG and YA Time Travel books from Goodreads:

Let a book carry you away to another time and place!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Kimberley Griffiths Little’s best ideas come when taking long hot baths, but instead of a sunken black marble tub with gold faucets and a dragon-shaped spigot, she has New Mexico hand-painted tiles in her adobe home along the Rio Grande. She makes a lot of chocolate chip cookies when writing/revising.

Find Kimberley on Facebook. and Twitter:@KimberleyGLittl Teacher’s Guides, Mother/Daughter Book Club Guides, and book trailers “filmed on location in the bayous/swamps of Louisiana” at Kimberley’s website.