Category Archives: MUF Contributor Books

February New Releases

Looking for a good book to curl up with next to the fire? Check out these awesome new releases! We even have a few from our very own MUF members.

HUGE Congratulations to Dori Hillestad Butler and Kimberly Giffiths Little for their new book releases this month!

The Ghosts at the Movie Theater #9  by Dori Hillestad Butler (Grosset & Dunlap)

Kaz are Claire are on the case again–this time, they’re looking for Kaz’s long-lost uncle Their search takes them to a bakery and a movie theater. Along the way, they meet another kid ghost detective. Will Kaz and Claire be able to figure out what’s going on?


 

Returned by Kimberley Griffiths Little (HarperCollins)

After tragedy strikes on the day they were to wed, Jayden must support Kadesh as he ascends the throne and becomes king of Sariba. But with the dark priestess Aliyah conspiring to control the crown, and the arrival of Horeb, Jayden’s former betrothed, Kadesh’s kingdom, as well as his status as king, is at stake.

Jayden knows that the time to be merciful has come and gone, and that some enemies can only be halted by death. Now she and Kadesh must prepare to fight not only for their love, but also for their kingdom.

 

Dragon Captives (The Unwanteds Quests) by Lisa McMann (Aladdin)


Ten years after Alex and Aaron Stowe brought peace to Quill and Artimé, their younger twin sisters journey beyond the islands in this first novel of a new sequel series to The Unwanteds, which Kirkus Reviews called “The Hunger Games meets Harry Potter.”

 

The Playbook: 52 Rules to Aim, Shoot, and Score in This Game Called Life
by Kwame Alexander (HMH BFYR)


You gotta know the rules to play the game. Ball is life. Take it to the hoop. Soar. What can we imagine for our lives? What if we were the star players, moving and grooving through the game of life? What if we had our own rules of the game to help us get what we want, what we aspire to, what will enrich our lives?

 

Hilo Book 3: The Great Big Boom Hardcover by Judd Winick (Random House BFYR)


Hilo may look like an ordinary kid, but he’s DEFINITELY not! When we last saw Hilo, DJ, and Gina, Gina had been sucked into a mysterious portal to who knows where! But friends don’t let friends disappear into NOWHERE! It’s up to D.J. and Hilo to follow her. Will there be danger? YES! Will there be amazing surprises? OF COURSE! Will Gina end up being the one to save them? DEFINITELY! The trio will have to battle bad guys and face disgusting food, an angry mom, powerful magic, and more! Will they survive . . . and make it back to Earth before the portal closes again?!

 

Avatar: The Last Airbender–North and South Part Two by Gene Luen Yang (Dark Horse Books)

After attempting to kidnap Katara and Sokka, Southerner Gilak leaves a haunting note for Hakoda: “Soon you will see the truth, chieftain”. The vow leaves everyone on edge–including Katara, who remains wary of the two tribes’ integration. As Northerner Malina announces a partnership with the company owned by Toph Beifong’s father, her own brother comes forward to defame her. Have Katara’s worst fears been confirmed?

 

Tornado Terror (I Survived True Stories #3): True Tornado Survival Stories and Amazing Facts from History and Today by Lauren Tarshis (Scholastic Press)

The Tri-State Tornado of 1925 was the deadliest tornado strike in American history, tearing through three states and killing 700 people. The Joplin Tornado of 2011 was a mile-wide monster that destroyed heart of a vibrant city. The true stories of these two events plus fascinating facts, profiles of tornado scientists and storm chasers create a unique and thrilling nonfiction read, by the author of the New York Times bestselling I Survived series.

 

The Heroes of Olympus, Book Two, The Son of Neptune: The Graphic Novel  by Rick Riordan (Disney Hyperion)

Percy is confused. When he awoke after his long sleep, he didn’t know much more than his name. His brain-fuzz is lingering, even after the wolf Lupa told him he is a demigod and trained him to fight. Somehow Percy manages to make it to the camp for half-bloods, despite the fact that he had to continually kill monsters that, annoyingly, would not stay dead. But the camp doesn’t ring any bells with him.

 

Survivors: The Gathering Darkness #3: by Erin Hunter  (Harper Collins)

Storm is determined to protect her Pack from any threat—but how can she protect it from her own Packmates? Some dog is sabotaging the Pack from within, and suspicion and distrust are tearing the dogs apart. If they don’t uncover the traitor soon, there will be nothing left for Storm to protect…

 

Saturdays at Sea (Tuesdays at the Castle) by Jessica Day George (Bloomsbury)

There is never a dull moment for Celie and her family in Castle Glower–even when they’re not in the Castle itself! After traveling to the seaside kingdom of Lilah’s betrothed prince, Lulath, Celie and her companions are busy training griffins, enjoying wedding festivities, and finishing construction of a grand ship built from parts of the Castle. But on their maiden voyage, the Ship steers them far off course into uncharted waters. Celie and Lilah hope that the Ship is taking them to the ancient island where unicorns once roamed, but as the journey grows longer and supplies run low, they are in trouble. Celie, Lilah, and Rolf know they must trust the Ship as they trust the Castle, but what if they never reach land again?

 

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Meets World Hardcover by Shannon Hale (Marvel Press)

WHO RUNS THE WORLD? SQUIRRELS! Fourteen-year-old Doreen Green moved from sunny California to the suburbs of New Jersey. She must start at a new school, make new friends, and continue to hide her tail. Yep, Doreen has the powers of . . . a squirrel! After failing at several attempts to find her new BFF, Doreen feels lonely and trapped, liked a caged animal. Then one day Doreen uses her extraordinary powers to stop a group of troublemakers from causing mischief in the neighborhood, and her whole life changes. Everyone at school is talking about it! Doreen contemplates becoming a full-fledged Super Hero. And thus, Squirrel Girl is born! She saves cats from trees, keeps the sidewalks clean, and dissuades vandalism. All is well until a real-life Super Villain steps out of the shadows and declares Squirrel Girl his archenemy. Can Doreen balance being a teenager and a Super Hero? Or will she go . . . NUTS?

Reasons to be Cheerful

Whatever your political leaning, you probably agree that it’s been a bruising couple of weeks. So for my last post on this blog, I’d like to share a few things that have made me happy lately.

truth-or-dare_final1- A book club for girls at Forgan Middle School in Forgan, Oklahoma chose to read my latest middle grade novel, TRUTH OR DARE. For the club’s seventh and eighth grade girls, as well as their teachers, to be able to buy their own copies, they needed a sponsor. And you know who sponsored their purchase of 23 hardcover copies? Delbert, the school custodian. The idea that this lovely man stepped up to buy all those copies of TRUTH OR DARE for a group discussing girls’ body issues, self-esteem, and related topics–well, it makes my heart burst.

A lot of folks want to keep kids reading–and they’re not just teachers, librarians, and publishing world insiders. Let’s be sure to celebrate the Delberts of the world. They’re definitely out there.

star-crossed-jpeg-516kb2-My next middle grade novel, STAR-CROSSED, will be published by Aladdin/S&S in March 2017. It’s about a middle school production of Romeo & Juliet in which the girl playing Romeo realizes she has a crush on the girl playing Juliet. This book is very much a middle grade novel–positive, gentle, and, unlike Shakespeare’s play, a comedy. Despite its lightness and wholesomeness, STAR-CROSSED would surely have been deemed too edgy for mainstream publication just a few years ago. But when I proposed STAR-CROSSED to my publisher, Simon & Schuster, they embraced it immediately–in fact, they recently highlighted it in their Spring 2017 Library/Education newsletter as a book promoting diversity. I’m also delighted to report that Scholastic has just licensed STAR-CROSSED (with a specially designed cover) for sale through book fairs and book clubs.   

So yes: #weneeddiversebooks on middle grade shelves. And you know what? We’re getting them. Joining STAR-CROSSED, LILY AND DUNKIN, GRACEFULLY GRAYSON, DRAMA, GEORGE,  LUMBERJANES and others, there’s Jen Petro-Roy’s PS, I MISS YOU coming Fall, 2017.  For more middle grade titles with LGBTQ characters, click here.

3-A related development in middle grade fiction: tough topics explored with special sensitivity for the age of the reader–for example, Nora Raleigh Baskin’s NINE, TEN, A September 11 Story

 

and RUBY ON THE OUTSIDE,

and Kate Messner’s THE SEVENTH WISH.

 My other book launching next year, HALFWAY NORMAL (Aladdin/S&S Dec 2017), deals with a different sort of tough topic. It’s about a girl who, upon returning to middle school after two years away for pediatric cancer treatment, feels as if she can’t communicate her story–until the class begins its study of Greek mythology. Not once did my publisher fret about the subject matter being too dark for middle grade readers; they trusted me to write something age-appropriate and even (yes, really, I promise!!) fun.

Ultimately, what I think HALFWAY NORMAL and STAR-CROSSED are both about is how books give kids a language to express themselves, and connect to others. I’m truly encouraged by the way publishers have embraced stories like these, which promote empathy, inclusiveness, self-expression and self-esteem. We’re expanding the notion of what middle grade books should be–reaching more kids, touching more hearts, and opening more minds. We’re also making kids smile. As we give thanks this week, let’s remember that middle grade books are better, and more important, than ever. Cheers!        

BARBARA DEE is the author of six middle grade novels published by Aladdin/Simon & Schuster, including TRUTH OR DARE, which was published in September.  Next year Aladdin/S&S will publish STAR-CROSSED (March 2017) and HALFWAY NORMAL (December 2017). 

Symbols and Subtext in Middle-Grade Novels

The meme below, which gets posted around social media every once in a while, is something that I imagine drives teachers crazy.

the-curtains-wre-blue

I know a lot of writers who aren’t thrilled about it either. The reason: we writers often do mean the color blue symbolizes depression. Maybe not all the time. And obviously that’s not the only thing that makes a great novel. But I defy anyone to argue that F. Scott Fitzgerald didn’t make the light on Daisy’s dock green for several reasons and that it doesn’t enhance the important themes in The Great Gatsby. (For those wanting to read more about those reasons, click here.)

I’m not sure why looking for symbols and subtext in literature has gotten such a bad rap. In fact, close readings meant to uncover layers of meaning are widely thought to teach students to think critically in all areas of knowledge. In addition, this type of analytical thinking is tied to success in high school, college, and beyond.

Although I can’t speak for all writers, I know that in my most recent novel, every symbol or simile was deliberate. And after close readings of a couple of my favorite middle-grade novels, I’m sure even some of the tiniest details were not casually thrown in and were included to enhance deeper meaning as well as to illuminate certain truths about life.

 

5138cpo40slFor example, in Kate DiCamillo’s Raymie Nightingale, a National Book Award finalist, the narrator says, “The baton looked like a needle.” DiCamillo could have written that the baton looked like a twig or a sword or even a pool cue. But I would suggest that the simile was chosen purposely to reinforce Raymie’s belief that the baton will help stitch her family back together when she uses it to win Little Miss Central Florida Tire.

In addition, it’s evident that a deliberate pattern of light imagery is woven through the book to emphasize Raymie’s struggle to come out of the darkness of her mother’s depression and her own sadness as a result of her father leaving. From the jar of candy on Mrs. Sylvester’s desk, which is lit up by the sun “so that it looked like a lamp” to Raymie’s beloved book, A Bright and Shining Path: The Life of Florence Nightingale, to the sun glinting off the abandoned grocery carts, making them “magical, beautiful,” it’s clear this light imagery is important to both the story and to Raymie herself. At the end of the novel, the observant reader is rewarded when these images come full circle (spoiler alert) and figure into Raymie’s transformation into a girl who comes to believe in her own strength. As she attempts to save Louisiana from drowning, it’s that magical glint of the shopping cart that points her in the right direction. And as she and Louisiana swim to the surface, Raymie has the realization that it’s “the easiest thing in the world to save somebody. For the first time, she understood Florence Nightingale and her lantern and the bright and shining path.” At that moment, we realize everything that Raymie has observed and learned so far in her life has helped her find her way out of both literal and figurative darkness.

 

51t7dzpi9lRebecca Stead is another author who uses rich symbolism and imagery to enhance the reading experience. Her novel, Liar & Spy, begins with this passage: “There’s this totally false map of the human tongue. It’s supposed to show where we taste different things, like salty on the side of the tongue, sweet in the front, bitter in the back. Some guy drew it a hundred years ago, and people have been forcing kids to memorize it ever since. But it’s wrong—all wrong.” In this opening passage, Stead is basically hinting to her audience that they should read critically and not believe everything at face value. This is a clue as to how to read the book. Astute readers who parse that passage might read with a more critical eye and at some point realize they are dealing with an unreliable narrator—as unreliable as that map of the tongue.

Important subtext can also be found in the novel with references to Seurat’s painting A Sunday on La Grande Jette. Georges’s mother has told him that the artist’s pointillist technique of painting with tiny dots requires the viewer to take a step back to look at the big picture rather than each dot. Later when Georges’s father urges his son to stand up to bullies, Georges repeats his mother’s philosophy about the big picture, that the little things don’t matter in the long run. His father, however, tells him that some things do matter in the here and now. This conversation results in Georges rethinking his perspective on life: “The dots matter.” Stead could have merely written that sometimes you look at the big picture and sometimes you don’t. But how much more memorable has she made this truth by using such a beautiful analogy?

 

51zcudf9d3lIn my own novel, The First Last Day, the main character Haleigh gets her wish to live her last day of summer over and over again. Each morning, her mother throws her an apple to take with her as a snack. The first time Haleigh misses the apple, and it falls to the floor. The second time, since she’s ready for it, she catches it and throws it back to her mother. By the end of the novel, after Haleigh takes the final step that will reverse her wish to stay in summer forever, she takes a bite of the apple and “waits for the future to happen.” I could have chosen a peach or a banana for those scenes. But I chose the apple because of its almost universal cultural significance. Haleigh, like Eve, revels in her innocence, at first rejecting the apple, which will bring her knowledge and, possibly, pain. Her finally taking the bite of the apple reinforces the novel’s subtext that the loss of innocence is a necessary rite of passage, which can also bring positive experiences along with the pain.

In another recurring image, Haleigh sees a waxing crescent moon, on its way to being full, and imagines it to be “the final curve in a pair of parentheses, the close of a single thought, suspended in the infinite sky.” Once she makes her decision to move on, she sees the moon differently: “No longer a closed parenthesis, it seemed more like a giant comma, a pause in the middle of a sentence, ready for the rest to be written.” The moon symbolism and Haleigh’s thoughts about it, underscore the meaning of Haleigh’s evolution from someone who is content to live a secure life, suspended in time, to someone who is now eager to move forward and see what the future will hold.

As both a writer and a reader, I’ve found that uncovering the significance of such examples of symbolism and subtext that I’ve cited here can reap great long-term rewards, making the whole reading experience richer. I’d urge all readers, even those who already were annoyed by that meme above, to do a little detective work by taking a closer look at the similes and symbols woven through some of your favorite books. You’ll no doubt enhance your critical thinking skills. And along the way, you just might discover some of life’s universal truths in a more memorable way.

Dorian Cirrone is the co-regional advisor for the Florida Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. She has written several books for children and teens. Her most recent middle-grade novel, The First Last Day (Simon and Schuster/Aladdin), is available wherever books are sold. 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/