Category Archives: Reading

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

 

 

Adam Shaughnessy and THE UNBELIEVABLE FIB: BK II Over The Underworld

I couldn’t be more excited to share this  middle grade book with you because, as most of you already know, I love mythology! And today we get to chat with an author who knows quite a lot about that subject. But . . . let me share his book with you first.

The Norse gods have returned to Middleton—and they’ve brought bad news. Loki’s misdeeds have grown from mischief to murder. He has killed Baldur, favorite of the gods. By doing so, he has set in motion events that will lead to Ragnarok, a war between the gods and giants that will destroy their world and ours. Now Odin wants ABE and Pru to help find Loki and imprison him before the giants can rally to his side. But the gods aren’t the only ones back in town. An old friend has also returned and he’s brought new questions about Baldur’s death.

To answer those questions, ABE and Pru will travel to Niflheim, the Norse underworld and confront the Queen of the Dead herself. Unfortunately, they quickly find that getting into the world of the dead is easy. It’s getting out again—alive—that proves difficult. And, in the end, can anyone really escape Death?

Hi Adam! It’s great having you here. Let’s start with when you realized you wanted to be a writer.

The impulse has struck me at various points in my life. I wrote my first manuscript, The Knight’s Quest, in third grade.

Third grade? Very cool…

I remember thinking at that point that I’d like to be a writer. I also thought I’d like to be an illustrator, too. And, to be fair, the glowing sword I drew for the cover was pretty sweet. But I went away from the idea of being a writer for a while—a long while, in fact. I think being an English major in college helped to push me away. Writing began to seem like something that other (far more clever) people did. But even as my desire to be a writer ebbed and flowed, my love for stories remained true, as did my desire to share stories with people—and young people, in particular. I did some storytelling in and after college, and over my two decades in education I developed a brand of enrichment programming that shared stories with children through interactive tales that blended storytelling and cooperative games. It wasn’t really until my mother passed away that I began to revisit what I really cared about and what I really wanted to accomplish in life. That’s when I circled back to the idea of being a writer, around 2009, and started on the path that led to my first book.

I love how you mentioned that, at one point, you felt that writing was what other, more clever people did, not you. I’m sure many of our writing readers can relate.

This series uses lots of mythological elements, so obviously you enjoy mythology. What is it about mythology that intrigues you the most?

I think I’d have to say it’s the familiarity of mythology that draws me to it. That might sound strange to some people. But anyone who loves to read and who loves to read fantasy, in particular, will understand the sentiment. I grew up reading myths. So the landscapes and characters, fictional and fantastic though they are, are also familiar and welcoming. I feel like I’ve been a tag-along on many a hero’s journey. When it came time to write my own book it was impossible to resist the draw to revisit the mythological realms I loved as a child.

How did you approach writing this second book in the series? Did you find you used craft and technique differently from developing the first book?

The biggest different between my approach to the first book and the second book was in the degree to which I listened to my inner editor. I wrote about eleven drafts of the first book. Many of those drafts were complete rewrites, start to finish. That’s because in the early drafts, in particular, I shut off my inner editor completely. I went down any and every narrative path that struck my fancy. Naturally, I made a lot of wrong turns and ran up against plenty of dead ends. But I learned something from each digression and I had a ton of fun along the way. I think there’s a tremendous value to just letting your imagination go and not worrying about how the content you’re producing will be received.

That definitely takes the pressure off a little.

Writing is all about revision and trusting that you can make the bad stuff good, in time. When it came time to write the second book, though, I had to approach things a little differently. I had a contract and deadlines. Fortunately, I also had the experience I’d gained from writing my first book. I’d learned to trust my instincts a little. I’d learned to recognize which narrative paths were most likely to get me where I needed to go. I didn’t have to wander so much (which was great, because time was much more of a factor!)

Ooh… ‘Writing is all about revision and trusting that you can make the bad stuff good…’ Very wise. 

What is a question you’ve never been asked during an interview that you’ve always wanted to answer?

I’ve always wondered that nobody has asked me about ABE’s name and why it’s capitalized. To be fair, I do explain in the book that the nickname ABE comes from the character’s initials. But nobody’s asked why I chose to use initials and capitals in the first place. For the record it’s because I read once that our eyes and brains have to work a little harder on capital letters. We have a greater visual fluency with lower case letters. When we come across a capital letter we slow down a bit. We have to look more closely. That’s ABE’s thing. He looks closely. He sees things that other people miss. So I liked the idea of his name reflecting that. It’s a small detail, and ultimately an unimportant one, but it’s one of those details that floats just beneath the surface that writers like to fit into their works.

In today’s ever-changing publishing landscape, what have you found is the hardest part of being a published author?

I have to preface this answer by saying I’ve been very fortunate. Very. Every single person I’ve encountered through the process of bringing my two books to life has been a pleasure to work with. My agent, my editors, my copyeditors, my publicists—I’ve learned from and been treated well and kindly by all of them. Now, having said that, I have to confess that the hardest part of being a published author is having had to face the reality that this is a business. As I said, I’ve had excellent individuals around me who have served as a buffer against what lurks beyond—the publishing industry. And it is that, an industry. There are times I miss my days as a educator. I had the good luck to enter education at a time and in a place where the work was driven wholly by a passion to improve the circumstances of the children and families with whom we worked. There was no other metric. We weren’t selling anything. And I worked at a community school where with ramparts still held against the onslaught of standardization and testing. As an author, things are a little different. I still have the great pleasure of working with people who care about creating good works for young people. But as an author I have to sell myself. I have to sell my books. That element of self promotion was absent in my first career.

I really love this answer. Thank you for sharing it with us and for dropping by! It’s been a pleasure having you here, again. One last question: Please tell our readers what’s up next for you.

There are many projects I’m eager to advance. I’d love to write a third Unbelievable FIB book someday.

Yes, please!

I’m also currently working on a new middle grade science fiction book involving cryptids and secret organizations with monstrous origins. And I have an idea for a graphic novel that really excites the adolescent comic book lover that’s still kicking around inside me. I have to confess, though, that the past year has been dominated by the birth and growth of my daughter. Now that I’m settling into fatherhood I’m hoping to have more time to get back to writing!

Adam Shaugnessy likes to tell people that he is a superhero, a space explorer, and a pirate. None of those things are true, but Adam likes to say them anyway.
In fact, Adam is the author of The Entirely True Story of the Unbelievable FIB and is currently at work on the second book in the Unbelievable FIB series. He began his career in education first as an elementary-school teacher and then as a director of school-aged programs, but gradually realized that his passion was for sharing stories. Adam also owns and runs Red Dragon Adventures, which brings story-based education enrichment programs to young people throughout New England.
Adam is currently working on his master’s degree in children’s literature at Hollins University. He lives in Connecticut with his wife, Jane, their cat, Sydney, and an unnamed mouse that Sydney has yet to catch, but Adam is sure she will.

For more on Adam: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Publisher

Do you enjoy mythology? What about it intrigues you?

January New Releases!

It’s always fun to discover what books are being released next, but especially at the beginning of a brand new year. So let’s welcome 2018 in with these new middle grade releases:

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgSHADOW WEAVER by MaryKate Connolly

Fans of Serafina and the Black Cloak and The Night Gardener will devour Shadow Weaver, the first in a dark middle-grade fantasy duology that’s filled with shadows, danger, magic, and has the feel of a new classic.

Emmeline’s gift of controlling shadows has isolated her from the rest of the world, but she’s grown to be content, hidden away in her mansion with Dar, her own shadow, as her only company.

Disaster strikes when a noble family visits their home and offers to take Emmeline away and cure her of magic. Desperate not to lose her shadows, she turns to Dar who proposes a deal: Dar will change the noble’s mind, if Emmeline will help her become flesh as she once was. Emmeline agrees but the next morning the man in charge is in a coma and all that the witness saw was a long shadow with no one nearby to cast it. Scared to face punishment, Emmeline and Dar run away.

With the noble’s guards on her trail, Emmeline’s only hope of clearing her name is to escape capture and perform the ritual that will set Dar free. But Emmeline’s not sure she can trust Dar anymore, and it’s hard to keep secrets from someone who can never leave your side.

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Betty Before X by Ilyasah Shabazz, Renee Watson

In Detroit, 1945, eleven-year-old Betty’s house doesn’t quite feel like home. She believes her mother loves her, but she can’t shake the feeling that her mother doesn’t want her. Church helps those worries fade, if only for a little while. The singing, the preaching, the speeches from guest activists like Paul Robeson and Thurgood Marshall stir African Americans in her community to stand up for their rights. Betty quickly finds confidence and purpose in volunteering for the Housewives League, an organization that supports black-owned businesses. Soon, the American civil rights icon we now know as Dr. Betty Shabazz is born.

Inspired by Betty’s real life–but expanded upon and fictionalized through collaboration with novelist Renée Watson–Ilyasah Shabazz illuminates four poignant years in her mother’s childhood with this book, painting an inspiring portrait of a girl overcoming the challenges of self-acceptance and belonging that will resonate with young readers today.

Backmatter included.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgSPY ON HISTORY: Victor Dowd and the World War II Ghost Army by Enigma Alberti

Your mission: Find Victor Dowd’s missing sketchbook. And discover one of the most unusual stories of World War II.

Meet the 603rd Camouflage Engineers, better known as the Ghost Army. This group of artists and sound engineers were trained to deceive the Germans in World War II with everything from fake tanks to loudspeakers broadcasting the sound of marching troops. And meet Victor Dowd, a real-life sergeant who with his fellow Ghost Army troops fought his way from Normandy, through France, and eventually across the Rhine.

Second in the Spy on History series, it’s a compelling story of a little-known chapter from the war—and a mystery to solve. Using spycraft materials included in a sealed envelope, readers will discover and unravel the clues embedded in the book’s text and illustrations, and uncover the mystery of Victor Dowd’s missing sketchbook.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgMARTIN RISING: Requiem For A King by Andrea Davis Pinkney, Brian Pinkney

In a rich embroidery of visions, musical cadence, and deep emotion, Andrea and Brian Pinkney convey the final months of Martin Luther King’s life — and of his assassination — through metaphor, spirituality, and multilayers of meaning.

Andrea’s stunning poetic requiem, illustrated with Brian’s lyrical and colorful artwork, brings a fresh perspective to Martin Luther King, the Gandhi-like, peace-loving activist whose dream of equality — and whose courage to make it happen — changed the course of American history. And even in his death, he continues to transform and inspire all of us who share his dream.

Wonderful classroom plays of Martin Rising can be performed by using the “Now Is the Time” history and the 1968 timeline at the back of the book as narration — and adding selected poems to tell the story!

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgTHE TRUTH AS TOLD by Mason Buttle
Nothing but the truth

From the critically acclaimed author of Waiting for Normal and All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook, Leslie Connor, comes a deeply poignant and beautifully crafted story about self-reliance, redemption, and hope.

Mason Buttle is the biggest, sweatiest kid in his grade, and everyone knows he can barely read or write. Mason’s learning disabilities are compounded by grief. Fifteen months ago, Mason’s best friend, Benny Kilmartin, turned up dead in the Buttle family’s orchard. An investigation drags on, and Mason, honest as the day is long, can’t understand why Lieutenant Baird won’t believe the story Mason has told about that day.

Both Mason and his new friend, tiny Calvin Chumsky, are relentlessly bullied by the other boys in their neighborhood, so they create an underground club space for themselves. When Calvin goes missing, Mason finds himself in trouble again. He’s desperate to figure out what happened to Calvin, and eventually, Benny.

But will anyone believe him?

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgJUST LIKE JACKIE by Lindsey Stoddard
Family is family, no matter what it looks like. Readers will cheer for this pitch-perfect story, just right for fans of such books as The Great Gilly Hopkins and Fish in a Tree.

For as long as Robinson Hart can remember, it’s just been her and Grandpa. He taught her about cars, baseball, and everything else worth knowing. But Grandpa’s memory has been getting bad—so bad that he sometimes can’t even remember Robbie’s name.

She’s sure that she’s making things worse by getting in trouble at school, but she can’t resist using her fists when bullies like Alex Carter make fun of her for not having a mom.

Now she’s stuck in group guidance—and to make things even worse, Alex Carter is there too. There’s no way Robbie’s going to open up about her life to some therapy group, especially not with Alex in the room. Besides, if she told anyone how forgetful Grandpa’s been getting lately, they’d take her away from him. He’s the only family she has—and it’s up to her to keep them together, no matter what.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgLOVE by Matt de la Peña, Loren Long
From Newbery Medal-winning author Matt de la Peña and bestselling illustrator Loren Long comes a story about the strongest bond there is and the diverse and powerful ways it connects us all.

“In the beginning there is light and two wide-eyed figures standing near the foot of your bed and the sound of their voices is love.

A cab driver plays love softly on his radio while you bounce in back with the bumps of the city and everything smells new, and it smells like life.”

In this heartfelt celebration of love, Newbery Medal-winning author Matt de la Peña and bestselling illustrator Loren Long depict the many ways we experience this universal bond, which carries us from the day we are born throughout the years of our childhood and beyond. With a lyrical text that’s soothing and inspiring, this tender tale is a needed comfort and a new classic that will resonate with readers of every age.

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THE JOURNEY OF LITTLE CHARLIE by Christopher Paul Curtis

Twelve-year-old Charlie is down on his luck: His sharecropper father just died and Cap’n Buck — the most fearsome man in Possum Moan, South Carolina — has come to collect a debt. Fearing for his life, Charlie strikes a deal with Cap’n Buck and agrees to track down some folks accused of stealing from the cap’n and his boss. It’s not too bad of a bargain for Charlie… until he comes face-to-face with the fugitives and discovers their true identities. Torn between his guilty conscience and his survival instinct, Charlie needs to figure out his next move — and soon. It’s only a matter of time before Cap’n Buck catches on.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgA GRAPHIX BOOK: Wings of Fire Graphic Novel #1: The Dragonet Prophecy 
by Tui T. Sutherland

Not every dragonet wants a destiny …

Clay has grown up under the mountain, chosen along with four other dragonets to fulfill a mysterious prophecy and end the war between the dragon tribes of Pyrrhia. He’s not so sure about the prophecy part, but Clay can’t imagine not living with the other dragonets; they’re his best friends.

So when one of the dragonets is threatened, all five spring into action. Together, they will choose freedom over fate, leave the mountain, and fulfill their destiny — on their own terms.

The New York Times bestselling Wings of Fire series takes flight in this first graphic novel edition, adapted by the author with art by Mike Holmes.

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THE TERRIBLE TWO GO WILD by Mac Barnett ,‎ Jory John

Everyone’s favorite pranksters are at it again! School’s out, and Miles and Niles are running wild in the woods outside town: climbing trees, exploring caves, and, yes, pranking. But these leafy, lazy days of mischief darken when bully Josh Barkin and his cadets from a nearby kids’ boot camp discover the merrymakers—and vow to destroy them. Are our heroes’ sharp minds any match for these hooligans’ hard fists? The latest installment of the witty, on-target illustrated series is another “fast paced, laugh-out-loud novel” (School Library Journal) that proves once again that, in the hands of the powerless, pranks can be tools of justice—plus, they’re funny.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgTREASURE HUNTERS: Quest for the City of Gold by James Patterson

When Bick and Beck Kidd find a hidden trove of pirate treasure, it includes a map with clues to an even bigger score: the lost Incan city of Paititi. But treasure hunting is never easy–and when the map is stolen, the Kidds must rely on Storm’s picture-perfect memory to navigate the dangerous Amazon jungle. Watch out for that nest of poisonous snakes!

To save the Amazon rainforest and stop a Peruvian tribe from losing their home, the Kidds must unlock the secrets to the missing map and find the fabled city of Paititi…before the bad guys find it first. The race is on!

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgHILO Book 4: Waking the Monsters by Judd Winick

Calvin and Hobbes meets Big Nate meets Bone in HILO-the hilarious, action-packed New York Times BESTSELLING GRAPHIC NOVEL SERIES that kids, critics (and robots!) love! “A Total BLAST,” says the Miami Herald! Chock full of MORE MONSTERS! MORE ACTION! MORE LAUGHS! MORE FUN!

DJ and Gina are TOTALLY ordinary kids. But Hilo isn’t! Has Hilo finally met his match? Not if D.J. and Gina can help it! ALERT! ALERT! ALERT! Mega Robot Monsters are suddenly waking up all over and they’re TOO BIG and TOO STRONG for Hilo to fight on his own! Luckily, he doesn’t have to! He has GINA and some brand new SUPER POWERS on his side! Being heroes can be super fun-but it can also be SUPER dangerous! And the closer Hilo and Gina get to saving their world from the monsters–the closer Hilo gets to the dark secret of his past. Does he really want to know? Do WE?!

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgTHE LEGEND OF KORRA TURF WARS Part Two by Michael Dante DiMartino

Threats member Tokuga solidifies his ties with the duplicitous Wonyong. Meanwhile, when Republic City’s housing crisis reaches its peak, Zhu Li sets her sights on the biggest public figure in the city—President Raiko—in a bid for the presidency! With her friend’s success, the future of the spirit portal, and the wellbeing of Republic City’s citizens at stake, can Korra remain neutral and fulfill her duties as the Avatar?

Written by series co-creator Michael Dante DiMartino and drawn by Irene Koh (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Afrina and the Glass Coffin), with consultation by Bryan Konietzko, this is the official continuation of The Legend of Korra!

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgDRAGON OVERNIGHT (Upside-Down Magic) by Sarah Mlynowski,‎ Lauren Myracle

Nory Horace can turn herself into a kitten. But sometimes she adds in a bit of dragon and, well, accidentally turns into a dritten. Oops? Her friend Andres Padillo can fly high . . . but then he can’t fly back down again.

Nory and Andres are in an Upside-Down Magic class with other kids who have unusual magic. Now they’re off on their first-ever overnight field trip! At Dragon Haven, Nory, Andres, and their UDM classmates get to swim with dragons, fly with dragons, and feed dragons. There’s even a Hatchery, where they might get to see a newborn dragon.

There’s only one downer. The UDM kids aren’t the only ones visiting Dragon Haven. There are other students there, too. Students from another school. Students with “normal” magic. Dragon rescue, bonfires, and pajama breakfasts won’t be nearly as fun with a bunch of snooty strangers.

Unless . . . maybe everything isn’t as bad as it first seems. Thrown together with kids who are probably enemies, but might be friends, the UDM kids dive into their topsy-turviest adventure yet.

And there you have just a few of the new middle grade releases coming this month! Have a wonderful January reading all sorts of amazing middle grade books…