Category Archives: Nonfiction

Interview with Brianna DuMont, Author of Famous Phonies

We’re pleased to welcome debut author Brianna DuMont to the Mixed-Up Files today. She’s the author of a new middle grade nonfiction book, Famous Phonies — Legends, Fakes, and Frauds Who Changed History.

Q: Welcome, Brianna, and congrats on your debut book. Can you tell us what it’s about?

A: Thank you! It’s been a life-changing journey to learn the ups and downs of publishing professionally. As for Famous Phonies, if I had to distill it down, I would say that the book is about teaching kids how fun and strange history can be. While I love to learn about things like kings and queens and important wars, history is so much more than that. I wanted to write a series that showed kids the quirky underbelly of history. Famous Phonies, the first book in the series, details the “lives” of twelve people who changed history despite the fact that they never existed. Some literally never existed, like Homer. Some were legends whose myth had come to overshadow and obscure the truth of the real person, like Confucius. And some were hoaxes and fakes that tricked people for hundreds of years. I didn’t want it to be a dry textbook either. I wanted the voice to match the material, so I worked hard to make the stories funny. Being able to poke fun at famous people was just a bonus.

Q: How did you come up with this idea? untitled (2)

A: I studied Art History and Classical Archaeology in college and got my second degree in Classics. Ancient history has always been my favorite thing to study. While translating Homer’s Iliad one day for fun (yes, I consider that fun!), I started thinking how it’s too bad most people learn that Homer is a real guy in a bed sheet who sat down and penned two of the greatest stories in Western literature — the Odyssey and the Iliad. He’s not. The idea snowballed from there. Immediately, I came up with three or four other people who never existed. Eventually through more research, I realized there were many people we learn about in history who never existed or were totally different from what we were taught.

Q: Tell us about your research process. How did you find out these behind-the-scenes details about famous historical figures?

A: Luckily, I live right next to Loyola University in Chicago. I pop over there a few days a week to snoop around their stacks and pretend I’m still a student. They have a great collection of scholarly books and articles. And, when picking out a movie, I typically gravitate toward documentaries, so I find a lot of interesting tidbits and trivia that way as well, which I can follow up with more research. It’s mostly a lot of tracking down and cross-referencing. I’d say I spend ninety percent of my time researching and only ten percent writing.

Q: Can you share with us one of the interesting tidbits from the book?

A: One of my favorite characters is Prester John, the imaginary king who inspired Europe to launch crusades and explorations in order to track him down. More than likely, he was one of history’s biggest hoaxes. A bishop made him up in the 12th century, but for hundreds of years, kings and popes were obsessed with finding him because they believed he was rich beyond their wildest dreams, held the secret to immortal life, and would help them reclaim the Holy Land. Also, interestingly, Pythagoras had nothing to do with math.

Q: What are you working on next? Is this book going to be part of a series? 7772WebReady

A: I’m under contract for one more book in this series with potentially two more after that. The second book is Fugitives Who Changed History. The manuscript is due in February, with a planned release of January 2016. In addition, I’m always working on side projects — novels, fantasy, historical fiction, maybe a little sci-fi.

Q: What is your writing routine?

A: I’m big on routines and schedules. Every Sunday night I write down a list of what I want to accomplish for the week. Then every morning, I work on nonfiction, take a coffee break, and leave the afternoon for novels if I feel I’ve gotten enough done on my history books. I take frequent dance and jump-around-like-crazy breaks. My cats love and hate that I’m home all day. They have no opportunity to jump on the counters and sniff for crumbs. Some days I spend the whole morning at Loyola researching then come home in the afternoon to write about what I discovered. I love what I do, so I don’t mind working all day.

Q: You’re a big history buff, obviously! Were you always interested in history, even as a kid?

A: Yes. In fourth grade, my parents moved us to Germany for six months. There, we got to travel to many of Europe’s castles, museums, and historical sites. I think that really ignited my love of history and travel. Getting to see where Marie Antoinette was beheaded is pretty life-changing for a nine year old. I could imagine in exquisite detail what she would have felt like walking to her doom (or so I thought at the time).

Q: Growing up, you were the oldest of three. You credit being the oldest with helping you become a creative person. Tell us about that.

A: When it was rainy or when none of the neighbor kids could play, it was up to me, the big sister, to come up with something to do. I invented many games in our basement to occupy the younger two, which usually involved Indiana Jones adventures, playing pioneers on the frontier, or spinning a globe to choose a new country to pretend to visit. I’d make us look up the country in my Dad’s encyclopedias and give reports. Also, I was the biggest, for a while. (Now I’m the shortest.) And I was naturally bossy, so my rules were golden. I wanted to be the one to make up the games, and I hated to sit still or be ladylike.

Q: What do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors?

A: I love to read nonfiction! Of course, I always love learning new stuff about the world, people, and history, but I also enjoy a good, old fantasy. My favorite authors are J.K. Rowling, Katherine Kurtz, and Rick Riordan. indexBut my childhood hero will always be Laura Ingalls Wilder — Little House in the Big Woods was the first book I ever read alone.

Q: Fill in the blanks: I’m really awesome at___. I’m embarrassed to admit I can’t___. If I had the chance, I’d like to___.

A: I’m really awesome at cooking obscure, snooty French food. Chicken liver mousse, anyone? I’m embarrassed to admit I can’t tie my shoelaces with the one loop method. I’m a bunny ear believer! If I had the chance, I’d like to travel back in time and see what happened to the Lost Colony: Roanoke.

Thanks, Brianna, for visiting! Teachers and librarians can download a guide to Famous Phonies on Brianna’s website at briannadumont.com. It’s Common Core aligned, and free.

Michele Weber Hurwitz is the author of two middle grade novels, The Summer I Saved the World…in 65 Days, and Calli Be Gold, both from Wendy Lamb Books. Visit her at micheleweberhurwitz.com.

 

 

Bad News and the MG reader

One of the things I love most about writing for MG readers is their fascination with the wide world around them. UnknownI want that wide world to be a kind and welcoming place, but this last stretch of three months has been awash in very difficult news from the wider world. Much as I’d like to shield young readers from the harsh realities of the events in Ferguson, MO, the activities of violent insurgents in the Middle East, natural disasters–a volcano in Japan, a blizzard in Nepal, it’s too late for that. MG readers also read or see or hear about the news all around them. This news has an impact on how they view the world.

So how to address disasters in the news with young readers who are not so young, and here I’m thinking kids under the age of 8 or so, that they can skip the it and learn later when they are better equipped to understand. 9-14 year olds are old enough to have a discussion about the news. 513lCzmWx3L._AA160_

I’ve found over the years that books are a great way to offer context on horrific events. Two mainstays of my household have been The Encyclopedic Atlas of the World and Children Just Like Me. They offer some context about where world events are happening and a few bite sized morsels about  what life is like there under not-tragic circumstances. I think it’s important for kids to see a country and culture not in crisis to counter the images they see in the news. A few minutes with Aseye, the Ghanian girl featured in Children Just Like Me, gives a useful counterpoint to frightening images from the region. Africa is more than Ebola.

51Slf5+HDOL._AA160_ 61W7Zg3ReIL._AA160_Sometimes a more general book about an issue in the news also helps a child put concerns in context. Understanding something about how disease transmission occurs is a good jumping off place for understanding any epidemic. Bill Nye the Science Guy and The Magic School Bus series both have titles about germs and how they interact with the human body. These are on the young side for MG readers but sometimes it’s not so bad to go back to non-fiction picture books as a starting point for conversation.

Once a child has a grasp of some of the basics about epidemics and how they function, and an understanding of their own risk and the wider risk to the world, it’s great to have a more in depth conversation about how people act during an epidemic and the larger issues of discriminations that occur because of them.

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Christopher Paul Curtis’s newest book, The Madman of Piney Woods includes the epidemic of Typhus that the grandmother endures on her immigration from Ireland to Canada. It has some some parallels to what is occurring now with our talk about who should travel to and from West Africa. It would be a great jumping off place for an in depth conversation.

And lastly I’d love to highlight some of the best biographies of people who have dedicated their lives to the eradication of disease. And here’s where I’d love to have some reader input. Have you got a favorite biography of Louis Pasture, Jonas Salk, or Marie Curie? What other heroes of micro-biology would you like young readers to know about? Please mention them in the comments and I’ll add the covers to this post in the next few days.

November New Releases

Starting to feel the chill in the air? Curl up in a chair with a warm blanket and a cup of cocoa… and one of these great new books.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul   by Jeff Kinney

A family road trip is supposed to be a lot of fun . . . unless, of course, you’re the Heffleys. The journey starts off full of promise, then quickly takes several wrong turns. Gas station bathrooms, crazed seagulls, a fender bender, and a runaway pig–not exactly Greg Heffley’s idea of a good time. But even the worst road trip can turn into an adventure–and this is one the Heffleys won’t soon forget.

 

 Rogue Knight  by Brandon Mull

Magic and danger abound in the second book in a series of “fanciful, action-packed adventure” (Publishers Weekly, starred review) from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Fablehaven and Beyonders series.

 

 

Keeper Lost Cities: Everblaze   by Shannon Messenger

Sophie uncovers shocking secrets—and faces treacherous new enemies—in this electrifying third book in the Keeper of the Lost Cities series.

 

 

 

Who Was Gandhi?   by Dana Meachen Rau

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born in 1869 in British-occupied India. Though he studied law in London and spent his early adulthood in South Africa, he remained devoted to his homeland and spent the later part of his life working to make India an independent nation. Calling for non-violent civil disobedience, Gandhi led India to independence and inspired movements for civil rights around the world. Gandhi is recognized internationally as a symbol of hope, peace, and freedom.

 

Alex Rider: Russian Roulette  by Anthony Horowitz

Alex Rider’s life changed forever with the silent pull of a trigger. Every story has a beginning. For teen secret agent Alex Rider, that beginning occurred prior to his first case for MI6, known by the code name Stormbreaker. By the time Stormbreaker forever changed Alex’s life, his uncle had been murdered by the assassin Yassen Gregorovich, leaving Alex orphaned and craving revenge. Yet when Yassen had a clear shot to take out Alex after he foiled the Stormbreaker plot, he let Alex live. Why? This is Yassen’s story. A journey down the darker path of espionage.

 

Absolute Truly  by Heather Voegel Frederick

 

An unsent letter in a first edition copy of Charlotte’s Web leads to a hunt for treasure in this heartwarming middle grade mystery from the author of The Mother-Daughter Book Club.

 

That’s Sneaky!  by Crispin Boyer

 

Do you think spies are stupendous? Ninjas are neat? Mysteries are more than meet the private eye? Then you’ll love That’s Sneaky, the most surprising and suspenseful information that we’re legally permitted to print. Jam-packed into this top secret title is the most classified and downright dangerous information you’ll ever get your amateur detective hands on. Want to escape one of history’s most heinous prisons? Consult chapter 7. Dare to dodge ocean predators by slipping into a sharkproof suit? Check out chapter 1. Prefer to gear up with spy gadgets? Flip to chapter 5. With stealthy Agent ’Stache as your partner, you’ll face elements of surprise and masters of disguise. Embrace the adventure and listen well—you never know when this book may self-destruct!

 

Bayard Rustin: The Invisible Activist
by Jacqueline Houtman, Walter Naegle, and Michael G. Long
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To many, the Civil Rights Movement brings to mind protests, marches, boycotts, and freedom rides. They often think of people like Martin Luther King or Rosa Parks.  They seldom think of Bayard Rustin.

Raised by his Quaker grandmother to believe in the value of every human being, Bayard made trouble where ever he saw injustice. As a teenager, he was arrested for sitting in the whites only section of a theater. More arrests followed, for protesting against segregation, discrimination, and war.  His belief in nonviolent action as a means for social change gave him a guiding vision for the Civil Rights Movement, which he used to mentor the young Martin Luther King.  When A. Philip Randolph needed the best organizer on the planet, he turned to Bayard Rustin to bring 250,000 people to the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Thomas Paine: Crusader for Liberty   by Albert Marrin

Dubbed ‘The Father of the American Revolution’, Paine began his written reign by fervently proposing the idea of American independence from Great Britain, where he lived before emigrating to the United States in his thirties. As one historical event led to another, Paine continued to divulge his ideas to the public, risking his reputation and even his life. Award-winning author Albert Marrin illustrates the hardships and significance of a man’s beliefs and its affects on our nation in a way that all ages can comprehend.

 

  Amazing Feats of Electrical Engineering   by Jennifer Swanson

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Engineers design our modern world. They combine science and technology to create incredible vehicles, structures, and objects. This title examines amazing feats of electrical engineering. Engaging text explores the global positioning system, solar power plants, and self-driving cars. It also examines the engineers who made these projects a reality and traces the history of the discipline.