Category Archives: new releases

New Year… New Nonfiction Books!!

A New Year brings lots of changes… excitement for new beginnings, cold crisp weather, and also New Nonfiction BOOKS!

If you’re looking for ways to spend those gift cards that you may have gotten over the holidays, why not buy some new books to add to your collection?  Since there are so many great ones to choose from, I thought I’d highlight some amazing nonfiction books releasing this year.  Be sure to put them on your list!

 

The Women’s Rights Movement by Rebecca Langston-George (Capstone Press, Jan 2018)

Discusses the main concerns of the womens’ movement in the 1960s, and how those have evolved since; what’s changed for the better, what might be worse, and where do we go from here.

 

 

Dr. E’s Super Stellar Solar System: Massive Mountains! Supersize Storms! Alien Atmospheres! by Jennifer Swanson (National Geographic Kids, January 2018)

This stellar book introduces kids to outer space through in-depth info and comic book adventure. Along the way, kids follow explorer Bethany Ehlmann, a member of the NASA Mars Rover Curiosity mission, and her lovable robo-dog, Rover, as they study and protect our amazing solar system. Dr. E’s conversational and funny explanations of the solar system and planetary geology will pull kids in like gravity. The pairing of fun, graphic novel side stories with science facts makes big concepts accessible and interesting to boys and girls of all levels, from STEM science fans to reluctant readers alike.

 

 

Dog Days of History: The Incredible Story of Our Best Friends (Animals)  by Sarah Albee (National Geographic Kids, March 2018)

 

 

 

Back from the Brink: Saving Animals from Extinction by Nancy Castaldo (HMH Kids, April 2018)

 

The acclaimed author of Sniffer Dogs details the successful efforts of scientists to bring threatened animals back from the brink of extinction, perfect for animal lovers and reluctant nonfiction readers. With full-color photography.

 

 

Count the Wings: The Life and Art of Charley Harper by  Michelle Houts (Ohio University Press, April 2018)

When you look at a bird, do you see feathers and a beak? Or do you see circles and triangles? Artist Charley Harper spent his life reducing subjects to their simplest forms, their basic lines and shapes. This resulted in what he called minimal realism and the style that would become easily recognized as Charley Harper’s. Art fans and nature lovers around the world fell in love with Harper’s paintings, which often featured bright colors and intriguing nature subjects.

 

 

Two Truths and a Lie: Histories andMysteries by  Ammi-Joan Paquette (Author),‎ Laurie Ann Thompson (Walden Pond Press, June 2018)

Crazy-but-true stories about history, geography, and human achievement make this acclaimed nonfiction series perfect for fans of curiosities and wonders. A fun way for middle graders to explore ways to separate fact from fiction.

 

Pearl Harbor (American Girl: Real Stories From My Time)
by Jennifer Swanson (Scholastic, June 2018)

Pearl Harbor features real stories of that fateful Sunday morning in 1941 when Japanese planes executed a surprise attack on the American base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. American Girl Nanea Mitchell shares her own experiences adjusting to the drastic changes to everyday life in Hawaii following the attack.

 

 

The Secret Life of the Little Brown Bat by Laurence Pringle (Boyds Mill Press, September 2018)

This gorgeous and lyrical picture book continues the Secret Life series by renowned science author Laurence Pringle and illustrator Kate Garchinsky. It follows a year in the life of a little brown bat named Otis as he learns to be a hunter, escape predators, and find a mate. Stunning, realistic illustrations celebrate the beauty of these mysterious creatures as readers learn important facts through an engaging and fascinating story. The book also includes back matter with more in-depth information, a glossary, and further resources.

More to come!

Eavesdropping on Elephants by Patricia Newman (Millbrook Press, Fall  2018)

Something Rotten: A Fresh Look at Roadkill by Heather L. Montgomery (Bloomsbury Publishing, October 2018)

Check out all of these great nonfiction titles!  What about you? Do you have a nonfiction title to share that is coming out in 2018?  Give it a shout-out below in the comments. YAY for NONFICTION!!  #NonfictionRocks!

Folk Storytelling in South Asia, Author interview with Sayantani DasGupta, and Giveaway

Like many countries, South Asia is a source and inspiration for folk storytelling.  You can see folk storytellers like our mothers and grandmothers at homes as well as performers on the streets and marketplaces in rural villages, small towns, and even in some of the bigger cities. Men and women perform in elaborate style, using colorful costumes, large picture cloths, and scrolls. They perform in groups, accompanied by the narrator, actors, and musicians. They tell stories in stage performances, in areas where there is public attraction, courtyards of homes, wedding ceremonies, or special gatherings.  Their repertoire is usually wide and consists of historical tales, myth, episodes from the two Great Indian epics – Ramayana and Mahabharata, Christian scriptures, Sufi stories, as well as local folklore.

Today, I am delighted to welcome Sayantani DasGupta to Mixed-Up Files to talk about her experience writing Bengali folk tales in middle-grade fiction. Sayantani’s middle-grade novel, THE SERPENT’S SECRET is available to pre-order and will be released on February 27, 2018.

Sayantani, thank you for stopping by at Mixed-Up Files. The protagonist of THE SERPENT’S SECRET, Kiranmala is an interdimensional demon slayer. Could you tell us more?

Thank you so much for having me! It’s a joy to be back on The Mixed Up Files!

So Kiranmala thinks she’s just an ordinary sixth grader living in Parsippany, New Jersey, until the morning of her 12th birthday. That day, her parents go missing – transported to an alternate dimension because of an expired spell – and two mysterious princes show up at her doorstep, promising to help her find her family. She’s a little skeptical (she’s a Jersey girl, and as she’ll tell you herself, Jersey girls are no dummies), until a drooling rakkhosh demon slams through her kitchen, totaling her suburban split level. Kiranmala’s forced to fly off with the princes Lal and Neel on their flying pakkhiraj horses, through a transit corridor that’s a lot like the customs and immigration lines at an airport, and to a magical dimension called The Kingdom Beyond Seven Oceans and Thirteen Rivers. There, she has to solve riddles, battle the evil Serpent King and vicious Rakkhoshi Queen, who may or may not also be a black hole, and find her parents before the spell protecting them entirely expires and they get eaten by a newborn rakkhosh baby! All that and make it home in time to finish the sixth grade…

Tell us why the subject of Bengali folktales is important to you. What inspired you to write this story?

Toni Morrison has that great quote – “If there’s a book you want to read, and it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” The Serpent’s Secret is the funny and fast-paced fantasy adventure with a kick butt brown skinned heroine that I always needed, but never found, as a young reader. So that’s the short answer to what inspired me to write this novel.

The longer answer is that my parents immigrated to this country in the late 1960’s and so I was born and grew up in the Midwest at a time when there weren’t a lot of people of color, nonetheless South Asians, in the community where I lived. Back then, I didn’t see anyone who looked like me in media or advertisements. I was a big reader, but there was still a big disconnect between me and Laura Ingalls, Meg Murry or the other heroines I loved. But when I went back on my long summer vacations to my grandparents’ homes in Kolkata, India, that’s when I saw others who looked like me, that’s when I found a sense of belonging and history, that’s when I felt seen and heard in a deep and real way that I didn’t find in my life in America.

Of course, stories are such an important way that anyone finds ‘home’ in any community. So when we’d gather on those sweltering summer nights, under the whirring fan and the gently swaying mosquito net, and my grandmother would tell us cousins these fantastic folk stories about flesh eating rakkhosh and flying pakkhiraj horses, evil serpent kings and brave princes and princess, my imagination would be completely captured. I loved those stories so much that I translated/adapted several in a 1995 folktale collection for grownups I wrote with my mother called The Demon Slayers and Other Stories: Bengali Folktales (Interlink, 1995).

Fast forward many years, to when my now teenage son and daughter were becoming big middle grade readers. I was impressed with the increased range of diverse titles they had access to. The problem was, most of those books (at least then) were realistic fiction, and my son in particular was a big Harry Potter, Percy Jackson and Artemis Fowl fan. I was so frustrated to realize that he and his sister were experiencing that same lack of literary mirrors I had suffered as a kid. There were more diverse titles, sure, but mostly in contemporary or historic realistic fiction. Intentional or not, this still sent out the message that kids of color and kids of other marginalized identities weren’t allowed to be heroic, or funny, or central to the saving of the universe. So I went back to those Bengali folktales I had loved so much, those stories which were such an important part of my finding my own identity. In the same way I had found myself in West Bengal, India – the land of my ancestors – the heroine of my novel would have to travel to the magical Kingdom Beyond Seven Oceans and Thirteen Rivers to find her own strength and power. Eventually, the book I began as a family project for myself and my children took wings and became The Serpent’s Secret, first in the Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond series!

Let me ask you about Bengali folklore, since that’s the heart of Serpent’s Secret. What types of Bengali folklore do you write about in THE SERPENT’S SECRET? Could you explain how the local folklore is different from Indian epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata, or stories from other religions?

Thanks so much for asking! First, these are stories from Bengal – a region which used to be one united area but is now comprised of the state of West Bengal in India, and the country of Bangladesh. In 1947, when the British rulers of India were leaving, they split up the subcontinent into the independent countries of India and Pakistan (In 1971, East Pakistan would win its independence from Pakistan to become Bangladesh). This was a time fraught with a lot of violence between religious communities – people who had previously been neighbors and friends were suddenly pitted against one another – and these bloody tensions have in many ways been South Asia’s postcolonial legacy, influencing politics and religious strife in the region today.

All this to say that the folklore that I’m drawing from is actually pre-partition – these are stories shared by Bengalis of India, of Bangladesh and of course of the diaspora. They are also stories loved by Bengalis of multiple faiths, including Hindus and Muslims. These hilarious stories of rakkhoshi demons disguising themselves as beautiful maidens and marrying human kings, these adventures of princes and princesses riding on pakkhiraj horses, wise cracking tia birds playing tricks on silly humans – these are all our collective stories. Although it’s inevitable The Serpent’s Secret novel is colored by my own particular background and my own particular experience, I wanted to honor and celebrate the fact that the folktales and other children’s stories that inspired the novel aren’t bound by any one country or religion. I wanted to celebrate our commonly loved stories.

As oral tradition, these folktales are also different than myths, which tend to have more spiritual significance. Epics like The Ramayana and The Mahabharata, which are wonderful, and were a big part of my growing up as well, are linked to a religious tradition – to Hinduism – and are beloved across multiple regions of the subcontinent. In contrast, the folktales collected in 1907 by Dakshinaranjan Mitra Majumdar in a collection called Thakurmar Jhuli (Grandmother’s Satchel) and the other Bengali children’s stories which influenced The Serpent’s Secret are regional, not necessarily religiously bound. That’s a really important distinction for me as I want to resist artificial separations based on nation or religion.

Do you see Kiranmala’s story as a fracturing of Indian folktales like the fractured fairytales of Snow White or Cinderella or Goldilocks? If you could use fairytales to pitch your book, which two stories or characters would you choose and why?

I definitely fractured the Bengali folktales and children’s stories I was inspired by – playing very fast and loose with multiple stories. For instance, my protagonist is inspired by a character who appears in a folkstory called “Arun, Barun and Kiranmala” in which the youngest sister, Kiranmala, has to go save her two older brothers. I was inspired by this story because it’s about female strength and smarts saving the day. But I didn’t stay true to the tale at all beyond that core message about an empowered and heroic girl. My Kiranmala lives in New Jersey and is the only daughter (or so she thinks) of loving convenience store owners. The heroic princes she meets early on in her adventure, Lalkamal and Neelkamal, come from a totally different folktale. People who know these stories will hopefully recognize references I make, but I really don’t stay true to any one story or tale. Rather, the entire novel is kind of a love story to the Bengali children’s stories which helped link me to my own heritage and identity as a child.

The one big difference between The Serpent’s Secret and traditional Western fairytales is that, although Kiranmala does turn out to be a princess, she’s a pretty reluctant one. In fact, she hates all things princess-y, so she’s certainly not waiting around for anyone to rescue or marry her (I mean, she’s only 12!). So rather than liken my novel to traditional Western fairy tales (I’m not sure there’s a good comparison), I might say that like Harry Potter, Kiranmala has to discover her hidden powers and potential. Like Percy Jackson, her story is inspired by traditional tales. Like Katniss Everdeen, she’s a bow and arrow wielding warrior, and like Meg Murry, she has to travel across time and space to rescue her parents. Finally, like Mia Thermopolous, Kiranmala is a wise cracker, making references to Bengali and American pop culture all the time. But of course, although she shares commonalities with Harry, Percy, Katniss, Meg or Mia, she’s her own intergalactic, demon-fighting joke-making heroine!

What do you want readers to take away from this book?

Being from an immigrant family is to be a superhero. Being able to straddle multiple worlds, code-switch between multiple languages and cultures – that’s a kind of a superpower! I hope that, particularly in this time that is so fraught with anti-immigrant sentiment, readers of The Serpent’s Secret are able to recognize and celebrate the strength of kids from immigrant families.

I also love fantasy as a genre, because while all books can strengthen readers’ imaginations, fantasy in particular is in the business of radical imagination. And I truly believe that to save our own universe, to imagine and then bring about a better and healthier world for all of us, we’re going to need a lot of brave young people armed with radical imagination. So my hope is that, on reading The Serpent’s Secret, readers’ imaginations are caught on fire!

Ultimately, I hope that, like Kiranmala, readers of The Serpent’s Secret can embrace their own inner heroism and slay whatever demons come their way!

Enter the giveaway for an advanced reader copy of THE SERPENT’S SECRET by leaving a comment below.  You may earn extra entries by blogging/tweeting/facebooking the interview and letting us know. The winner will be determined on January 21, 2018 and will be contacted via email and asked to provide a mailing address (US/Canada only) to receive the book.

If you’d like to know more about Sayantani and her novel, visit her website: http://www.sayantanidasgupta.com/writer/  Or follow her on twitter : https://twitter.com/Sayantani16

 

 

Interview with Author N.H. Senzai

Naheed Hasnat Senzai calls herself a voracious reader, stalwart writer, intrepid traveler, and eater of good things.

Born in Chicago, she grew up in San Francisco, Jubail, Saudi Arabia, and attended boarding school in London, England. She has hiked across the Alps, road-tripped through Mexico, swum with barracudas in the Red Sea, taken a train across the Soviet Union, floated down the Nile, eaten gumbo in New Orleans and sat in contemplation at the Taj Mahal. She attended UC Berkeley and Columbia University, and lives in San Francisco.

She is the award-winning author of Shooting Kabul (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books 2010), Saving Kabul Corner (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books 2014), and Ticket to India (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books 2015).

She joins us today to talk about her newest book, released this week from Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books , Escape from Aleppo. About the book (From IndieBound):

Silver and gold balloons. A birthday cake covered in pink roses. A new dress. Nadia stands at the center of attention in her parents’ elegant dining room. This is the best day of my life, she thinks. Everyone is about to sing “Happy Birthday,” when her uncle calls from the living room, “Baba, brothers, you need to see this.” Reluctantly, she follows her family into the other room. On TV, a reporter stands near an overturned vegetable cart on a dusty street. Beside it is a mound of smoldering ashes. The reporter explains that a vegetable vendor in the city of Tunis burned himself alive, protesting corrupt government officials who have been harassing his business. Nadia frowns.It is December 17, 2010: Nadia’s twelfth birthday and the beginning of the Arab Spring. Soon anti-government protests erupt across the Middle East and, one by one, countries are thrown into turmoil. As civil war flares in Syria and bombs fall across Nadia’s home city of Aleppo, her family decides to flee to safety. Inspired by current events, this novel sheds light on the complicated situation in Syria that has led to an international refugee crisis, and tells the story of one girl’s journey to safety.

A common theme in your books is the experience of refugees, what they leave behind, and how they struggle to adapt to a new way of life. What drives you to write about such a difficult subject?

As Americans, whether we consciously realize it or not, we have a particular connection with refugees; at one point of time, most of our families sought refuge in this country. They arrived from all around the world, fleeing war, persecution, famine or just hoping to find a better life for themselves and their children. Most of my books deal with such families, and in Escape from Aleppo, my hope is that Nadia’s story allows readers to walk in the shoes of a child whose life has been turned upside down by the trauma of war and the loss of everything they know and love. If we pause to reflect on that connection, that at one point we were all refugees, we can share in a common humanity.

How did you decide to depict the uglier, more violent aspects of Nadia’s journey and still make the book appropriate for middle-grade readers?

I believe that you do a disservice to your reader, especially middle graders, by not to telling them the truth, no matter how ugly. This is especially the case when discussing war, atrocities and the complexities of politics and history. We shouldn’t be afraid of shocking them about how terrible humans can be to one another, whether around the globe, or in own back yards. Without sharing the harsh realities, in a way digestible format for that age group, you cannot hope to dissuade a future generation from committing the same crimes over and over again.

You use flashback both to provide information about how Aleppo became such a dangerous place and to show what Nadia’s life was like before she had to flee. Why was it important for you to show that?

When people see scenes of war and images of refugees fleeing death and destruction, that becomes the viewer’s only frame of reference for that country and its people. When writing Escape from Aleppo, I wanted to show that Nadia had a normal life before the war, like that of any teen around the world. Aleppo was an advanced, cultured city where she had a loving family, friends, supportive teachers, a sweet tooth, a passion for music and a dislike of Algebra! In showing the two sides of the coin, peace and conflict, I wanted to show how anyone’s normal, everyday life can be turn upside down in a matter of moments.

The book depicts a place and a culture that is very different from the experience of most Americans. What kind of research did you do to get the details right?

This, as with most of my books, was very research intensive, and I spend months absorbing and cataloging information! I’m lucky that I’ve lived and travelled in the Middle East for fifteen years, and have many friends in the region. It also helps that my husband teaches Middle East politics at Santa Clara University and he helped in putting the history and politics of the region in perspective. I spoke to many journalists and Syrians who shared first-hand accounts of the terrible conflict.

If there was one single thing that you wanted readers to get from Escape from Aleppo, what would it be?

Kids may have heard about the war in Aleppo or seen images of the conflict on the news or in social media. While reading Escape from Aleppo, I hope that can further delve into the rich history of Syria, the root causes of the war, the culture and people of this amazing country. I’d like to illustrate that Nadia and her family are like families anywhere around the world. Like parents living in San Francisco, Beijing, Sydney or New Delhi, Nadia’s mother and father want to give their children a safe and secure place to grow up, pursue their dreams, get an education and have a family of their own. At the end of the day, all families, no matter their origin, want the same things – peace, security and chance at a hopeful future.

What other books do you recommend to readers who enjoyed Escape from Aleppo?

What’s your favorite thing about middle-grade fiction (as a reader or a writer)?

I love writing for middle graders because at this age they can still suspend belief and journey with you through a story – but they can smell a skunk a mile away. They are sophisticated readers that can handle “heavy” topics via believable plots, authentic characters, dialogue that rings true and reality based facts. At this age, if we present complex material in the right context, we can open their hearts and minds to the world around them so that they build bridges of understanding with others, rather than walls.

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

I know this is advice often given, but it is at the core of writing middle grade fiction; READ. And not just middle grade novels. The best books are those that bring in unique, interesting, sometimes esoteric knowledge – that knowledge comes from reading about space travel, obscure poisons, baking techniques, Russian history, chemistry, flora and fauna of Madagascar… you get my drift. Read about things that interest you – it will make it into your books which will also be interesting!