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    April 11, 2014:
    Fall 2014 Children's Sneak Peek
    A peek at forthcoming middle grade books (as well as picture books and YA books) in a round-up from Publisher's Weekly. First printed in the February 22 issue, but now available online. Time to add to your to-read list. Read more ...

    April 9, 2014:
    How many Newbery winners have you read?
    You could make a traditional list of all the Newbery Medal Award-winning Children's Books you've read, but there's something so satisfying when you check them off and get a final tally on this BuzzFeed quiz. Read more ...

    March 28, 2014:
    Middle Grade fiction is hot at 2014 Bologna Children's Book Fair

    For the second year in a row, publishers are clamoring for middle-grade, reporters Publishers Weekly. "I’ve been coming [to Bologna] for 12 to 15 years, and I’ve never had as many European publishers asking for middle-grade," said Steven Chudney of the Chudney Agency. Read more ...

    February 14, 2014:
    Cybils Awards announced
    Ultra by David Carroll (Scholastic Canada) wins the Cybil for middle grade fiction; Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud (Disney Hyperion) wins for Speculative Fiction. Read more.

    January 27, 2014: And the Newbery Medal goes to ...
    Kate DiCamillo won the Newbery Medal for "Flora & Ulysses"; Rita Williams-Garcia won the Coretta Scott King Author award for "P.S. Be Eleven." Newbery Honor awards to authors Vince Vawter, Amy Timberlake, Kevin Henkes and Holly Black. For all the exciting ALA Youth Media Award News ... READ MORE

    November 12, 2013:
    Vote in the GoodReads semifinal round

    Readers' votes have narrowed the middle-grade semifinals down to 20 titles. Log in to your GoodReads account and vote for your favorite middle-grade (and in other categories, of course). Read more ...

    November 9, 2013:
    Publishers Weekly Top Children's Books of 2013

    Middle-grade and young adult titles selected by the editors of Publishers Weekly as their top picks of the year. Let the season of "top ten books" begin! Read more ...

    October 14, 2013:
    Middle Shelf: Cool Reads for Kids debuts January 2014

    Shelf Media Group, publisher of Shelf Unbound indie book review magazine, will launch a new free digital-only publication for middle-grade readers. The debut issue features interviews with such notable authors as Margaret Peterson Haddix and Chris Grabenstein as well as reviews, excerpts, and more. Middle Shelf will be published bi-monthly beginning in January 2014.
    Read more ...

    September 19, 2013: Writer-in-Residence program at Thurber House

    Dream of time and space to focus on your own writing project? Applications now being accepted (11/1/2013 deadline) for The Thurber House Residency in Children's Literature, a month-long retreat in the furnished third-floor apartment of Thurber House in Columbus, Ohio. Read more ...

    September 18, 2013: Vermont College of Fine Arts Scholarship opportunity

    Barry Goldblatt Literary launches The Angela Johnson Scholarship, a talent-based grant for writers of color attending the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults program at VCFA. Up to two $5,000 grants will be awarded each year. Read more ....

    September 16, 2013:
    National Book Awards longlist for youth literature

    For the first time, the NBA is presenting lists of 10 books/authors on the longlist in each category. The 2013 young adult literature list includes five middle grade novels and five YA. Read more ...

    Sept. 13, 2013: Spring preview
    Check out Publishers Weekly roundup of upcoming children's books to be published in spring 2014. Read more...

    August 21, 2013:
    Want to be a Cybils Award Judge?

    Middle grade categories are fiction, speculative fiction, nonfiction. Applications due August 31! Read more ...

    August 19, 2013:
    S&S and BN reach a deal
    Readers will soon be able to find books from Simon & Schuster at Barnes & Noble. The bookstore chain was locked in a disagreement with the publisher over how much it was willing to pay for books. Read more ...

    August 6, 2013:
    NPR's 100 Must-Reads for Kids
    NPR's Backseat Book Club asked listeners to nominate their favorite books for readers ages 9 to 14. More than 2,000 people nominated titles, and a panel of Newbery authors brought the list to 100. Most are middle grade books. Read more ...

    July 2, 2013:
    Penguin & Random House Merger

    The new company, Penguin Random House, will control more than 25 percent of the trade book market in the United States. On Monday, the newly formed company began to take shape, only hours after a middle-of-the-night announcement that the long-planned merger had been completed. Read more ...

    March 28, 2013: Big at Bologna

     This year at the Bologna Children's Book Fair, the focus has shifted to middle-grade.  “A lot of foreign publishers are cutting back on YA and are looking for middle-grade,” said agent Laura Langlie, according to Publisher's Weekly.  Lighly illustrated or stand-alone contemporary middle-grade fiction is getting the most attention.  Read more...


    March 10, 2013: Marching to New Titles

    Check out these titles releasing in March...


    March 5, 2013: Catch the BEA Buzz

    Titles for BEA's Editor Buzz panels have been announced.  The middle-grade titles selected are:

    A Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates #1: Magic Marks the Spot by Caroline Carlson

    Counting By 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

    The Fantastic Family Whipple by Matthew Ward

    Nick and Tesla's High-Voltages Danger Lab by Bob Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith

    The Tie Fetch by Amy Herrick

    For more Buzz books in other categories,


    February 20, 2013: Lunching at the MG Roundtable 

    Earlier this month, MG authors Jeanne Birdsall, Rebecca Stead, and N.D. Wilson shared insight about writing for the middle grades at an informal luncheon with librarians held in conjunction with the New York Public Library's Children's Literary Salon "Middle Grade: Surviving the Onslaught."

    Read about their thoughts...


    February 10, 2013: New Books to Love

    Check out these new titles releasing in February...


    January 28, 2013: Ivan Tops List of Winners

    The American Library Association today honored the best of the best from 2012, announcing the winners of the Newbery, Caldecott, and Printz awards, along with a host of other prestigious youth media awards, at their annual winter meeting in Seattle.

    The Newbery Medal for the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature went to The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. Honor books were: Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz; Bomb: The Race to Build--and Steal--the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin; and Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage.

    The Coretta Scott King Book Award went to Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America written by Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrated by Brian Pinkney.

    The Laura Ingalls Wilder Award,which honors an author for his or her long-standing contributions to children’s literature, was presented to Katherine Paterson.

    The Pura Belpre Author Award, which honors a Latino author, went to Benjamin Alire Saenz for his novel Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, which was also named a Printz Honor book and won the Stonewall Book Award for its portrayal of the GLBT experience.

    For a complete list of winners…


    January 22, 2013: Biography Wins Sydney Taylor

    Louise Borden's His Name Was Raoul Wallenberg, a verse biography of the Swedish humanitarian, has won the Sydney Taylor Award in the middle-grade category. The award is given annually to books of the highest literary merit that highlight the Jewish experience. Aimee Lurie, chair of the awards committee, writes, "Louise Borden's well-researched biography will, without a doubt, inspire children to perform acts of kindness and speak out against oppression."

    For more...


    January 17, 2013: Erdrich Wins Second O'Dell

    Louise Erdrich is recipient of the 2013 Scott O'Dell Award for her historical novel Chickadee, the fourth book in herBirchbark House series. Roger Sutton,Horn Book editor and chair of the awards committee, says of Chickadee,"The book has humor and suspense (and disarmingly simple pencil illustrations by the author), providing a picture of 1860s Anishinabe life that is never didactic or exotic and is briskly detailed with the kind of information young readers enjoy." Erdrich also won the O'Dell Award in 2006 for The Game of Silence, the second book in theBirchbark series. 

    For more...


    January 15, 2013: After the Call

    Past Newbery winners Jack Gantos, Clare Vanderpool, Neil Gaiman, Rebecca Stead, and Laura Amy Schlitz talk about how winning the Newbery changed (or didn't change) their lives in this piece from Publishers Weekly...


    January 2, 2013: On the Big Screen

    One of our Mixed-up Files members may be headed to the movies! Jennifer Nielsen's fantasy adventure novel The False Prince is being adapted for Paramount Pictures by Bryan Cogman, story editor for HBO's Game of Thrones. For more...


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Interview and Giveaway with Anne Blankman!

Authors, Giveaways, Interviews, Librarians


In 1930s Munich, danger lurks behind dark corners, and secrets are buried deep within the city. But Gretchen Müller, who grew up in the National Socialist Party under the wing of her “uncle” Dolf, has been shielded from that side of society ever since her father traded his life for Dolf’s, and Gretchen is his favorite, his pet.

Uncle Dolf is none other than Adolf Hitler.

And Gretchen follows his every command.

Until she meets a fearless and handsome young Jewish reporter named Daniel Cohen. Gretchen should despise Daniel, yet she can’t stop herself from listening to his story: that her father, the adored Nazi martyr, was actually murdered by an unknown comrade. She also can’t help the fierce attraction brewing between them, despite everything she’s been taught to believe about Jews.

As Gretchen investigates the very people she’s always considered friends, she must decide where her loyalties lie. Will she choose the safety of her former life as a Nazi darling, or will she dare to dig up the truth—even if it could get her and Daniel killed?

From debut author Anne Blankman comes this harrowing and evocative story about an ordinary girl faced with the extraordinary decision to give up everything she’s ever believed . . . and to trust her own heart instead.


Let me start by saying Prisoner of Night and Fog is technically a young adult novel (full disclosure and all that) but I thought it would be a great addition to our historical fiction here at The Mixed-Up Files, especially for our upper Middle-Grade readers.

Amie: I mentioned above that your book is technically YA, but how do you feel it will relate to the MG reader?

Anne: As a librarian, I’m a big believer in matching children with books…and holding off when they’re not quite ready for a particular title. PRISONER OF NIGHT AND FOG is geared for those 12 and older, so I don’t consider it too mature for the upper MG crowd, let’s say seventh and eighth graders. My story does deal with weighty issues, such as anti-Semitism and violence, though, so I wouldn’t feel comfortable putting it in a ten- or eleven-year-old’s hands. What MG readers will probably like the best is my book’s mystery…and some female readers may like the romance the most of all. :)
Amie:  That’s a good point. My 10 year old read a book recently that was a YA for 12 and up and she adored it! I think it comes down to the individual child, their reading preferences, abilities, and maturity level.  What was the most interesting thing you learned when writing this book?
Anne: Oooh, it’s hard to pick just one! The strangest detail I discovered is actually about Hitler’s mustache. The reason he sported such a bizarre, tiny mustache is because he thought it made his nostrils look smaller. Apparently he was very self-conscious about them!
Amie:  Ha! A Napoleon complex of nostrils! Do you have a favorite MG book from childhood?
Anne:  This is almost a cruel question! I can only pick ONE favorite book?Hmm, the first one that leaps to mind is THE RUBY IN THE SMOKE by Philip Pullman. Gorgeous writing, a thrilling plot, a Victorian London setting, and a gutsy heroine–really, what more could you ask for?
Amie: *Adds book to to-read list* We like to have a little fun here At MUF…so….Bed bugs or head lice? Farts or burps? Chocolate or vanilla?

Anne:  I love these questions. Bed bugs for sure! Just the thought of little things crawling over my head wants me shudder. Ack! Definitely burps–it’s a compliment to someone’s cooking, right? And vanilla every time! Yum. Now you’ve made me hungry.

Thanks so much for having me “visit”, Amie!

Amie: Glad to have you, Anne!


Anne Blankman grew up in a small town in upstate New York. She studied history and English at Union College and earned a master’s degree in library science from the University at Albany. She has worked for several years as a librarian. Currently Anne lives with her college sweetheart husband, Mike, and young daughter, Kirsten, in southeastern Virginia, where the hot summers haven’t killed her yet. PRISONER OF NIGHT AND FOG is her first novel.

So, what do you say, Mixed-Up Members? Want to win a copy of Prisoner of Night and Fog? Well, you know what to do!

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Amie Borst writes twisted fairy tales. Cinderskella and Little Dead Riding Hood are the first two books in the Scarily Ever Laughter series. Find her on facebook and her blog.


Happy Book Birthday, Michele

Authors, Interviews

I’m pleased today to interview one of our very own Mixed-Up Files authors, Michele Weber Hurwitz, whose novel for ages 10-14, The Summer I Saved the World…in 65 Days, came out yesterday from Wendy Lamb Books. Welcome, Michele!

Michele-author-pic3Q: Can you tell us about the book?

A: The summer after she graduates from middle school, Nina Ross is feeling kind of lost. Her beloved grandma died a year ago, her super-lawyer parents are obsessed with the biggest case of their careers, and her brother — about to leave for college — has become distant. Plus, she’s feeling the sting of growing apart from her best friend. Her close-knit cul-de-sac neighborhood has changed, too — no one even comes outside anymore. Partly because of her eighth-grade history teacher’s parting advice, Nina brainstorms a plan to do 65 anonymous good things — one each day of her summer vacation — to find out if her small acts can make a difference. But people react in ways she didn’t imagine, and things get a little chaotic and messed-up.

Q: Wow, so the book is about paying it forward and random acts of kindness? What got you started on this theme? Does it have a resonance in your own life?

A: The story is about random kindness, but more complex. We hear a lot about doing good things these days, but when I started writing, I asked myself a simple question: does doing good really do any good? Sometimes the amount of problems in our world overwhelms me, and I wondered, do acts of kindness make a difference? Are they helping change the world?

I’ve always tried to be a little kinder than necessary, as the saying goes, but after writing this book, I try even more so. It’s remarkable how much a simple kindness resonates with others, then bounces back to yourself. Often, these small gestures are what stick with us at the end of the day. Maybe someone held a door open for you when your arms were full of grocery bags, or shared tomatoes from their garden, or cheered you up when you felt sad.SUMMER final cover image (2)

Q: Was it hard to come up with the 65 things that Nina does for her family and neighbors?

A: I thought it might be, but it wasn’t that hard! There are a lot of characters in the book, and their situations and antics kept providing me with ideas. One mysterious neighbor never comes out of his house, so Nina bakes brownies and leaves them on his doorstep. Another, a widow with grown children, has broken her leg, and Nina thinks of many small ways to help. I had a lot of fun writing about how some of Nina’s anonymous good deeds go awry and a suspicious neighbor (with an overactive imagination) takes them the wrong way. She even calls the police at one point!

Q: I was just talking to some middle school kids this week about how often they are misunderstood in the community, even when they are trying to do the right thing. Sounds like you’ve got a theme that will really resonate with kids.  Do you have a favorite quote from the book?

A: There are two that I love. In the first chapter, Nina is thinking about how her family has become detached, and she describes their backyard furniture as a “love seat that needs love.” In a nutshell, that quote portrays so perfectly what’s going on with her family. And in the fourth chapter, a five-year old boy in the neighborhood, Thomas, finds a good luck penny and tells Nina he can now get the “crinimals” because he has a “magic coin.” I love this quote because his little boy enthusiasm and innocence is so strong and believable and carries through much of the story.

Q: Are you at all like Nina?

A: In some ways. Nina is quiet, perceptive, observant; many of the same qualities I possess. I also have a deep sensitivity like she does. However, I can be stubborn sometimes, and assertive. That’s come with age. I wasn’t like that at 13, for sure.

Q: I see that your book is under Wendy Lamb’s imprint. I’m a huge Wendy fan. She’s been at this for such a long time and turns out one amazing book after another. And she does great talks at the SCBWI conferences I’ve been to. Do you work with Wendy herself?

A: Yes, Wendy was the editor for this book, and she was a joy to work with. She’s everything an author would want in an editor. She’s very intuitive; in the early drafts, I think she knew more about the story than I did! She gently encouraged me to go deeper into the story at points where I was skimming the surface. Everyone at Random House has been supportive and enthusiastic.

Q: What’s your favorite thing about being an author?

A: I think it’s the variety. Every day is different. One day I could be visiting a school, the next, working on edits, and another day, answering interview questions! And, that I can create something. I’m constantly turning over ideas in my head for potential characters, dialogue, scenes. My family is used to my zoning-out moments at dinner.

Q: I love the variety of writing too! Did you always want to be a writer?

A: Pretty much. As a child, I was more comfortable communicating my thoughts in the written word rather than speaking. When I babysat for my two younger brothers, I used to write my parents long notes describing their bad behavior, and in a sense, I consider these my first stories. In fifth grade, I wrote my first “book.” It won a school contest. The prize was reading it to the kindergarten classes and that was the best reward — seeing their expressions as I read the story. The author in me was born at that moment!

Q: Wow! You are so lucky to have such an affirming experience so young. So many writers go for years and years with nothing but their inner drive to keep them at the page. Do you ever think about that first class of kindergarten kids or imagine writing for them?

A: To this day, I remember that experience so clearly. I was nervous, but as I read, and they listened, the joy of storytelling calmed me. It’s funny, because when I’m writing now and fully immersed in a story, the ???????????????????????????????same feeling of calm washes over me.


Q: My favorite place to write is my tree house. Do you have a special spot for your work? Tell us about your writing routine.

A: Wow! I don’t have a tree house but I write in a first-floor home office that looks out on my tree-filled backyard. I’m most productive in the morning. I’m a big coffee drinker, although my family teases me that I have more flavored creamer in my cup than coffee! One of my faults is that I tend to stress about how much other stuff I need to do — the little tasks of daily life. Not to mention getting swept up in the myriad of social media! I’ve learned that the day gets away from me real fast and I never get to the writing. Some of my author friends have taught me good advice: the other stuff will always get done. So I make a conscious effort to put everything else aside, clear my mind, and write every morning. I love to walk, too, and that time away from the computer — thinking time — really helps me move ahead with a story.

Q: And now the lightning round! Where would we find you on a Sunday afternoon?

A: I’m usually straightening up the house or doing laundry! So boring :) Although, on Sunday, May 4, I’m riding in the 40-mile Five Boro Bike Tour in New York City, so the laundry will have to wait.

Q: What’s your favorite ice cream flavor?

A: I love peanut butter and chocolate ice cream and would happily eat it in place of dinner.

Q: Do you have any pets?

A: I don’t have a pet because two of my kids are allergic to dogs and cats, but I did have a very feisty poodle when I was growing up. She had a mean streak and bit everyone but she adored my mom and the piano teacher. Go figure.

Thanks, Michele, for popping in today! Visit her website at, her Facebook page, and follow her on Twitter @MicheleWHurwitz.

Michele is generously giving away one signed copy of TSISTW. Enter the Rafflecopter giveaway below!

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Being Small is Good: A Conversation with a Small Press

Industry News, Interviews, Writing MG Series
@ 2013 Familius, LLC.

@ 2013 Familius, LLC.

We talk a lot about middle-grade books here at From the Mixed-Up Files. But most of the books we highlight come from the big, national publishers in New York City. I’ve been curious to learn more about smaller publishing houses.

Luckily for me, I ran into a good friend of mine, Carol Lynch Williams, a well-known MG and YA author.  Co-writing with her friend Cheri Pray Earl, they’ve published their lower middle-grade Just In Time series with a new and very small publisher, Familius. Today I talk with them, their illustrator, the company’s design director, and the company’s CEO to learn the process of publishing a book with a small press.

The cast for today’s interview (click on the links below for a more detailed bio of each of our players):

Carol Lynch Williams, co-author of the Just in Time Series
Cheri Pray Earl, co-author of the Just in Time Series
Manelle Oliphant, illustrator of the Just in Time Series
David Miles, Director of Digital Development and Design at Familius
Christopher Robbins, Founder and CEO of Familius
MUF (the Mixed-Up Files interviewer, aka me)

MUF: Welcome to all of you! First, let’s start at the beginning of this process. Carol and Cheri, how did you decide to write this series of books together?

Carol Lynch Williams

Carol Lynch Williams

Cheri: I asked Carol to write the series with me because (a) we are hilarious when we are together. We sort of feed off each other . . . or something. It’s magic; (b) neither one of us writes lower middle-grade novels—we write YA and adult mostly—but somehow we can achieve a younger perspective when we write together (The Dumbening Effect?); and (c) when the idea for the series first jumped into my head, it came as a story told by both main characters, George and Gracie. I love the variety of personality and the texture that format gives to our writing and to our stories.

Carol: Cheri called me one day, told me her idea of twins traveling in time and started to ask if I might want to write with her. The words weren’t even out of her mouth when I said, “Yes!” Her idea was fun and intriguing. While I have written plenty of middle grade novels, and several young adult, too, together Cheri and I can write for a younger reader. It was scary when we started. But it’s been a lot of fun. We’ve researched like crazy. Gone back and forth like crazy. Worked crazy hours to get the best books we can.

MUF: How did you find Familius, and what was the submission process like with a small press?

Carol: Cheri and I had the first two books written when we went to visit Christopher Robbins. We’d actually sold them to another small press. But things hadn’t worked out there. I’d met Christopher before, was actually working on a nonfiction book with him (a book I wrote with my second daughter entitled SISTER, SISTER). I kept thinking Cheri and I should see what he thought of the Just in Time series. I knew Christopher wanted to start publishing young adult books. I was tentative about approaching Cheri. We were headed to another small publishing house. And a brand new house, at that.

Cheri: Well, our good friend, Rick Walton, put us in touch with Christopher Robbins and we pitched our idea for the series to him. We drove out to his beautiful home in Huntsville, Utah where he introduced us to his family and made us lunch. He liked the idea of Just In Time, and after some follow-up discussions about our target audience and marketing and such, we started working together on the series. I’d say maybe six weeks went by before he said yes to us. That doesn’t happen in big publishing houses, I can tell you. Your agent does all the pitching and the publisher doesn’t make you lunch at his/her house. It could take months and months before you get an acceptance or a rejection, or it could happen on the spot. That happens too. The same with small presses, but in my experience they tend to be even slower at responding than big houses. Fewer hands to manage submissions?

MUF: Since there are two of you writing the series together, how do you decide on a story for each book? Is it harder to pick an idea with two heads in the pot, or do you find The One comes just as easily as it does when writing your own books?

Cheri Earl Pray

Cheri Earl Pray

Cheri: Carol and I begin a new book in the Just In Time series by digging around in whichever state we’re writing about to find interesting people or events in that state’s history. We look for lesser-known historical events, at least lesser known for most people. We talk back and forth for a week or so about the cool stories we’re discovering and then decide which we like best. We’ve never had problems deciding on The One; not sure why. I think maybe we have the same taste in suspense. For instance, Book Four (coming out in Fall 2014) is about an event that happened off the Georgia coast in early 1942, right after the United States entered WWII; Georgia is our state for Book Four. Most kids don’t know that WWII was fought in part on US shores; in fact, most adults don’t know that either.

Carol: And Cheri and I wanted to write about facts that kids might not know about. Sure, lots of children in Pennsylvania know about the chocolate factory there in Hershey. But few kids in other states know what a kind and good man Milton Hershey was. We seek out stories we know little about. That spark our interests.

MUF: So, what happens at Familus after you finish writing a book in the series?

Cheri: Carol and I draft a book, revise and edit it to get it as clean as we can—for content as well as micro stuff—before we email it to Maggie Wickes, the executive editor at Familius. She emails the manuscript to our editor for the series, Amy Stewart, who then reads the book and gives us input on the story (macro stuff). We revise and email it back to her. We do this back and forth until Amy thinks the book is ready for micro editing, which she also does. Then she emails the manuscript to Maggie. David designs the book and emails the galleys to Amy, Carol, and me before the book goes to press, then he inputs the edits we suggest.

For our first three books, all of this back and forth was done via email. But starting with Book Four, Maggie will send us (me, Carol, and Amy) hardcopies to look at just before and just after the book is designed. The beauty of working with a new and small press is that if a process, for instance the editing process, needs some tweaking we get to say, “This needs tweaking,” and our publisher listens to us. We negotiate the new process until everyone is happy. That’s why we now work on hardcopy pages instead of electronic pages midway through the editing process; it was a negotiation. Very cool.

Carol: This IS one of the cool things about being at a smaller house. We work closely in all parts of the process. Again, that’s different in the national world of publishing.

MUF: And that’s a great segue into the art and design aspect of creating a book. David, as Cheri mentioned, you are in charge of the book designs for the Just in Time series. How does the design process work with a small press?

David Miles

David Miles

David: As we’ve talked with librarians and sales reps, we continue to find that design is a critical—and sometimes tricky—part of the success of a series. On one hand, you want the books’ look to be fresh and original. On the other hand, I hear from librarians that they’re expecting a certain “look,” a result of years of successful children’s series that have inadvertently set the conditioned standard for children’s packaging. And therein lies the challenge: make something different, that isn’t. We’ve worked to create a series look that we feel incorporates our favorite elements of some of the most celebrated children’s series packages, while still offering our own flavor. It took a few goes to find what we wanted, but we’re excited with the result. That new look will be rolling out later this year.

The art department of a small publisher is, well, small. For the Just in Time series, I’m acting as both the art director and the book designer. This presents some definite challenges, but it does have some pros to it as well. Between just Manelle and myself, we complete every detail of the cover illustration, the cover design, the series logo, the layout, the interior illustrations, the back-cover marketing copy, the visual extras in the front matter—all down to the last semicolon. It’s a lot of work for just two people, but it also means that we have a cohesive, solid package that’s consistent throughout. And it means that we work more as a team. I work to guide Manelle in the development of her illustrations, but Manelle is also welcome to offer critique and suggestions for the development of the front cover or book design. The emails fly back and forth and the result, I think, is a much stronger package. Roles do emerge more strongly when final decisions need to be made, but for the most part, it’s a team effort.

MUF: Manelle, as the illustrator, when were you brought in on this project?

Manelle: I was chosen as the illustrator when Carol and Cheri had the manuscript at a different publisher. It was a project I was really excited about so when they decided to move to a new publisher I was disappointed. I found Carol at a writers and illustrators conference and told her I really wanted to illustrate the books and to suggest me when she found a new publisher. I sent her the sketches I had been working on and later when they found Familius they recommended me. I was lucky that Christopher and David thought I would be good a illustrator for the project too.

MUF: What is your process for creating illustrations for this series?

Manelle Oliphant

Manelle Oliphant

Manelle: I usually don’t see the manuscript until one of the final drafts. I know I can start sketching and the story isn’t going to change. It makes for less work that way.

As I read it, I underline things that are important for the illustrations, scenes, descriptions etc. Then at the end of each chapter I write down a few ideas of what in the chapter will make a good illustration. After that I start researching. It’s important to get the historical details right and I usually need a good amount of photo reference. I usually use the internet for this and I pin any relevant image on a Pinterest board. By the time I’m finished with the book I have around two hundred images pinned on my board. The images can be anything from pictures of the historical character in the book, to costumes, to a picture of what corn looks like. I also ask the authors any questions I have about the story or the time it takes place.

After that I start sketching. Before I can do the images I have to makes sure I know what any new characters look like. I sketch up quite a few character sketches before I can start drawing the images that actually go into the book. I have to make sure the new characters will look the same every time I draw them, as well as fit the style of the reoccurring characters like George and Gracie. After that I start on the sketches that will become the finished illustration.

When the sketches are done I send them to David. We talk about any changes that need to be made and make sure everything is reading clearly. Once we make changes if any I can then finish the illustrations.

MUF: Let’s talk a little bit about the business side of a small press. Christopher, as founder and CEO of Familius, you can see the company’s big picture. Is the process of editing and publishing a book the same with your press as with the larger publishers?

Christopher Robbins

Christopher Robbins

Christopher:  The process of editing and publishing a title is basically the same between national publisher and small press. Both have an intention to publish nationally, even globally. However, the large publishers sometimes have more influence due to economies of scale and size to influence buyers. Editorial still requires careful editing, but large houses traditionally have editors who have had decades of experience while small presses are either start ups or houses that depend on quick learning and intelligent editors with less overall experience. However that is not always true as I know many small independent presses who have editors with 40 or more years of experience.

MUF: Cheri and Carol, what do you see is the biggest difference between publishing with a small press and one of the Bix Five?

Cheri: You’ll be, as my agent, Steve Fraser, says “A big fish in a small pond” with some small presses. You may get more attention, more marketing dollars, more access to your publisher, depending on the press.

Carol: Cheri and I know the owner of the company. He’s our friend. He’s invested in this series. When we met with him in his office that first time, he wanted to know what Familus could do for us, as writers. In all my years of publishing, I’ve never had the big boss say much more than, “Love your book.”

MUF: Speaking of the business side of things, marketing and distribution make up a huge part of publishing. How does Familius, and other small presses, compete with the larger publishers, Christopher?

Christopher: All publishers regardless of size have the same access to the traditional bookstore market, either online or brick and mortar. For titles with established authors or platforms, both types of publishers have opportunity to influence in store marketing. Where national publishers have an edge is that they have larger marketing budgets. This does not always result in success however. I have published multiple best-selling authors who then left for much larger houses for large advance royalties who were extremely disappointed in the sales results with the national publisher. Smaller publishers often have a competitive advantage in that they are more hands on and able to reach niche markets. The internet and democratization of publishing has leveled the playing field and independent presses and self-published authors are dramatically influencing the industry with bestselling titles, marketing creativity, and industry innovation far more than the national houses.

MUF: It sounds like, because your company is so small, that many of you do the job of several people, particularly when it comes to the marketing side of this business. Do you find this to be true, David? You did more than just the book design, is that right?

David: Because Familius is still launching out of the gate, your hats don’t end there. I’ve also been heavily involved in the marketing strategy for the Just in Time books, doing everything from designing bookmarks to creating a website to planning virtual author visits and book orders. Again, there are challenges, but the pros are rewarding. I love seeing a book progress from start to finish. I see the earliest, roughest manuscript filled with notes from Cheri and Carol to each other (and believe me, those are hi-la-ri-ous), the illustration sketches, the marketing copy, the layouts, the advanced galleys, the finished book, the book signings, the school visits, the notes from kids that love them—even a photo of one girl that dressed up like a horse to deliver a book report on the first book in the series (whose courage I applaud—I was Augustus Gloop in 3rd grade). It means you get a bird’s eye view of the full series progressing while simultaneously wringing your hands over the details. And that’s honestly fun!

MUF: Thanks to all of you for sharing your journey with us. It’s been illuminating to see how small presses, and yours in particular, are making a difference in today’s publishing world. We wish all of you the best of luck with this and the rest of your projects.

Readers, check out Carol and Cheri’s newest book in the Just in Time Series, THE WIZARD OF MENLO PARK, out May 20, 2014.  Also check out the other published titles in the series, THE RESCUE BEGINS IN DELAWARE, and SWEET SECRETS IN PENNSYLVANIA.  And be sure to visit Familius on the web at

And as an added bonus, Familius is offering the first two books in the Just in Time series to one lucky winner. Please leave a comment below to be entered. The winner will be announced Sunday, April 6, 2014.


Elissa Cruz likes to talk to her writing and illustrating friends about today’s kidlit publishing world. In addition to working here on this blog, she is also the founder of #MGlitchat and ARA for SCBWI Utah/Southern Idaho. She writes middle-grade fiction and is represented by Josh Getzler of HSG Agency.

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