Category Archives: Giveaways

Interview–and Giveaway–with Robin Yardi

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Robin Yardi lives in the California foothills, where—every once in a while, in the dark of night—a skunk or two will sneak by. She loves good stories, animals of all sorts, homemade cakes, and kids. She blogs about books, teaches at her local Natural History Museum, and is the author of the nonfiction picture book, They Just Know: Animal Instincts, and the absolutely-not-nonfiction middle grade novel, The Midnight War of Mateo Martinez, scheduled for release on March 1.

Life is confusing for Mateo Martinez. He and Johnny Ramirez don’t hang out anymore, even though they used to be best friends. He and his new friend Ashwin try to act like brave, old-time knights, but it only gets them in trouble. His parents keep telling him to hold his sister’s hand when crossing busy streets, even though she’s the one who always runs ahead.

And last night, two skunks stole Mateo’s old trike.

Wait—two skunks stole his trike?

Mateo is too big for that rusty kid toy. He has a cool, shiny new bike anyway. But Mateo also has a neighborhood to protect. And he’s about to begin a big, stinky quest to catch the thieves. A quest that starts in the middle of the night!

Kirkus called The Midnight War of Mateo Martinez, “A magnificent novel that defines what it is to be an older brother, a friend, and, yes, even a knight.” Come visit her on the web to ask a question, schedule a Skype visit, or peek into her books: www.RobinYardi.com!

Your first book They Just Know: Animal Instincts (Arbordale Publishing 2015) features anthropomorphized animals and humor to teach about instinctive animal behavior. How does that compare to your approach to The Midnight War of Mateo Martinez?

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I’ve never thought about it before, but both books feature animals doing things kids usually do! In the picture book those funny images of animals playing board games, hugging teddy bears, and getting coached, are contrasted by spreads that show the real deal. Frogs don’t get coached—they just know how to hop! Snakes don’t need stuffed animals—they already are stuffed with animals!

Learn to Leap

The Midnight War of Mateo Martinez begins with two skunks creaking away on Mateo’s rusty old trike, again an animal doing something a kid would, but the real deal in the novel is all about being a boy, not a skunk, about being a big brother, and a good friend, and an honorable knight… even when you are nine.

So, I guess, my books leave room for real life and imagination. I believe kids need both!

You are obviously an animal lover. What can you tell us about your work with the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History? In a typical week, what animals do you interact with in real life? Any close encounters with skunks?

I teach in a special, very kid centered, section of the Museum that we call the Backyard. We have a clubhouse with specimens and live animals, an outdoor waterway with wooden boats and pumps, tins, spoons, pots, and pans for making mud pies, and a dig pile for finding worms and pill bugs and millipedes. All that is surrounded by a riparian woodland of oaks and sycamores! When a child comes into the clubhouse I become a librarian of creepy crawly animals.

  • Which snake should we bring out (we have three)?
  • Have you ever held a beetle?
  • Would you like to hold a frog?
  • Do you know what a stick insect is?

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I try to keep to the facts when I’m teaching at the museum, but I am the only naturalist, so far as I know, who has insisted on naming all of our tree frogs.

And don’t get me started on my animals at home… sometimes we name our spiders.

Where did the idea for skunks on a trike come from?

Well, the idea for that book started in my backyard. One night, through the backdoor, my daughter and I watched skunks, raccoons, and stray cats battling it out for some leftover dog food. I said, “I wonder if the skunks and raccoons play on the playground at night when you’re asleep?”

“How would they even get there?” my daughter asked.

“On your creaky old trike!” I told her. She laughed pretty hard, so I knew I had a good beginning.

Mateo, his little sister, Mila, and his best friend, Ashwin, were inspired by kids I know and teach in Santa Barbara. In fact I overheard one of my favorite Mila lines while working in the Museum Backyard. Someone asked a little girl, “How do you think snakes get clean?”

“They lick themselves like kitties,” was her answer, which I thought was brilliantly funny and completely plausible, so I stole it and snuck it into the book!

If there was one single thing that you wanted readers to get from The Midnight War of Mateo Martinez, what would it be?

Mateo is struggling to understand the world around him and how he fits into it.  He’s dealing with changing friendships, his Mexican-American identity, his need to be a good big brother and an honorable knight. That’s a lot. Any kid who reads my book is going to have their own worries, things they don’t quite understand, maybe some things they never will. I want kids who read the book to deal with those worries bravely and with honor, without leaving behind the fantastical thinking of childhood, because sometimes that’s the only way to find understanding, by following the trike-riding skunks that are creaking down your driveway, up your street, and through your dreams.

What other books do you recommend to readers who enjoyed The Midnight War of Mateo Martinez?

I love The Hoboken Chicken Emergency, the Dyamonde Daniel books, the Cold Cereal Saga, and the whole Clementine series. And this one is a bit of a throwback, but The Mouse and the Motorcycle has a tidy kinship to two skunks on a trike, don’t you think?

How long did it take from first spark of an idea to finished book in your hands?

SIX years. My daughter was three when we watched those skunks through the backdoor—she’s nine now.

Why do you write middle-grade?

First, middle grade kids don’t question how real life worries and trike riding skunks end up in the same book. They just know. They get it! I guess part of my brain never grew out of that kind of thinking.

Second, as a kid middle grade novels were a huge part of my life. Sometimes books were my best friends. Sometimes books were my only friends. They kept me company and taught me about the world. I hope my books can do the same!

What advice do you have for someone who wants to write middle-grade fiction?

Don’t underestimate your audience. Middle grade readers can be deep thinkers… deep thinkers who like fart jokes and talking animals. Respect what they can understand and respect what they like and want to read! Be funny, be adventurous, and be honest. Pretend you are still nine, or ten, or eleven—in short, be AWESOME!

Robin has kindly offered a signed hardcover copy of The Midnight War of Mateo Martinez and a bookmark for a giveaway. Leave a comment by midnight on Friday, February 12. The winner will be announced on Saturday, February 13.

Jacqueline Houtman is the author of the middle-grade novel The Reinvention of Edison Thomas (Front Street/Boyds Mills Press 2010) and coauthor, with Walter Naegle and Michael G. Long, of the biography for young (and not-so-young) readers Bayard Rustin: The Invisible Activist (Quaker Press 2014).

 

 

A Second Life for the Hannah West books by Linda Johns (And a Giveaway)

Have you ever searched for a well-loved book, only to find that it was out of print? Several years ago, former librarian and bookseller Nancy Pearl decided to do something about that by giving a few of her favorite books a second life.

The former Executive Director of the Washington Center for the Book, regular commentator on NPR’s “Morning Edition,” and author of Book Lust to Go, Book Crush, and more, created Book Lust Rediscoveries, a series of reprints for adults. Out of that program, grew Book Crush Rediscoveries, specifically for kids.

This month we’re celebrating the rediscovery of books by our own MUF contributor, Linda Johns: Hannah West: Sleuth in Training and Hannah West: Sleuth on the Trail.

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First, here’s a little bit about Nancy Pearl’s Book Crush Rediscoveries:

MUF: Why did you feel there was a need for such a series of reprints?

NP: I’ve always felt that there were so many wonderful books (both for adults and children) that have gone out of print and I wanted new generations of readers to discover them and enjoy them as much as I had.

MUF: How many books have been given a second life through Book Crush Rediscoveries?

NP: There will be eleven books total. The last one, coming out this September, is Bonny Becker’s The Christmas Crocodile, which is wonderfully illustrated by David Small.

MUF: How many books do you do per year?

NP: Unfortunately, the publication of Bonny’s book brings the project to an end. It’s a bigger job than you might think to do reprints of older titles, because first you have to find who owns the copyright and then track them down. It takes the skills of a detective to do this, involving reading everything from obituaries to Facebook posts. One of my former students at the University of Michigan tracked down eleven of the twelve authors for the adult series—he was terrific at it. I ended up doing most of the searching for the children’s series. I remember trying to find the heirs of Carol Ryrie Brink (author of Caddie Woodlawn as well as the three books I wanted to reprint). This involved calling a county museum in Idaho in the hope that they happened to have some contact information for her heirs. And then you have to hope that they’re interested in having the book reprinted—the authors of at least two of the books I wanted to reprint didn’t want to be part of the project for various reasons.

MUF: What made you decide that a book needed to be back in print?

NP: Really, my only criteria for what books to include were how much I loved them—how much I loved reading them to my own daughters and granddaughters (using my own, well-read copies) and, years ago, recommending them to children when I was a children’s librarian.

Thank you so much, Nancy, for dropping by and for your contribution to literature for adults and children.

Click here to find the eleven titles in the Nancy Pearl Book Crush Rediscoveries series.

Now let’s hear from Linda Johns on the rediscovery of Hannah West:

MUF: First, congratulations that your Hannah West books are back in print. How long had they been out of print?

LJ: Thank you! There were four books in the series, first published by Penguin’s Puffin/Sleuth imprint. They’ve been out of print for three to four years. Nancy Pearl’s Book Crush Rediscoveries program (Two Lions Publishing) bundled two titles into one book (there are now two books, rather than four) and gave them new titles and cover art to differentiate them from the originals.

MUF: Your books are about a girl detective. What were your influences when writing them?

LJ: I’m a big mystery lover (my all-time favorite is The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin), and I’m also completely in love with my town (Seattle) and its many distinct neighborhoods. I wanted to find a plot structure that would allow my character, Hannah, to explore new neighborhoods and solve a mystery or two along the way. Combining those two elements led to making Hannah and her mom professional house sitters.

MUF: Was the character of Hannah based on anyone in particular?

LJ: I based the character of Hannah on one of my favorite girls, who happens to have been born in China and adopted by an American family. I didn’t know of any books at that time with a main character who was Chinese-born and adopted as a baby and brought to the US. In fact, there were very few books that represented the people I know and see every day. We have obviously been in need of more diversity in children’s books, and I’m happy to see that the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign is bringing that message to a large audience.

MUF: Did you have to make any changes in the novels to reflect modern day technology or anything else?

LJ: We left the novels as they were, with another round of copy editing and proofreading. They were published pre-iPhone era, but Hannah does have a cell phone for emergencies since she’s a latch-key kid, and she moves so often. Lack of technology in a story makes crime solving a bit more difficult for the detective—and a lot more fun for the writer.

MUF: What has Nancy Pearl’s Book Crush Rediscoveries publishing program meant to you as a writer and a librarian?

LJ: This is just one more way—a quite substantial way—that the wonderful Nancy Pearl advocates for readers. It isn’t a gimmick or bestseller status that will connect a reader with a book; it’s getting the right book at the right time. A book needs to be in print and available for that book match to occur.

Thanks so much , Linda, for taking the time out to tell us about your books. Readers can learn more about Linda, her books, and her book recommendations here.

GIVEAWAY!!

Linda is offering one lucky reader, who leaves a comment, a chance to win signed paperbacks of Hannah West: Sleuth in Training and Hannah West: Sleuth on the Trail. Comment before Tuesday, January 26, 2016, at midnight to be eligible for the raffle.

Dorian Cirrone has written several books for children and teens. Her middle-grade novel, The First Last Day, which takes place on the New Jersey Shore, will be published in June 2016 by S&S/Aladdin. You can find her on Facebook and on Twitter as @DorianCirrone. She gives writing tips and does occasional giveaways on her blog at: http://doriancirrone.com/welcome/blog/

 

 

 

We have a winner!

Thank you everyone for the kind and encouraging comments about my upcoming debut! This is why I am so grateful for the kidlit community! And now, without further ado, the winner of a signed copy of ZERO DAY is:Zero-Day_Final

SHANNON!

Shannon, I’ll be emailing you shortly with details. And again, thank you all for your incredible support! Wishing everyone a Very Happy 2016!