Tag Archives: Book Giveaway

Interview and Giveaway with Janet Sumner Johnson

I’m so excited that I got the opportunity to talk with Janet Sumner Johnson about her Contemporary Middle Grade novel, THE LAST GREAT ADVENTURE OF THE PB&J SOCIETY – now in paperback!

Please tell us a little bit about The Last Great Adventure of the PB&J Society.

The Last Great Adventure of the PB&J Society is about two best friends, Annie and Jason, trying to find a way to save Jason’s house from foreclosure. Because foreclosure means Jason will have to move, and that is just not okay with either of them. Their plans range from the pretty decent (like finding Jason’s dad a new job), to the pretty crazy (like selling an appendix on ebay). But even more, this story is about friendship, and what that really means. 

What inspired you to write this story and/or these characters?

Much of this story was inspired by my own childhood. I had a best friend named Jason who had to move away when we were five. It was horribly tragic! But the foreclosure aspect came from the big housing crash that happened around 2009. I had a friend who faced losing her house, and I can still remember the haunted looks on her kids’ faces. I wondered what it must be like to go through foreclosure as a kid, and that question was the driving force of this story. I wanted to help kids see that even if we can’t control everything in our lives, we are never powerless. THEY are never powerless. 

What do you hope readers will take away from Annie and Jason’s adventure?

Haha! Oops, guess I got ahead of myself with the last question, but in addition to the whole not being powerless thing from above, I hope that readers will think of their own best friends. That they will remember all the good times, and also remember that sometimes, if we are being a true friend, we won’t get what we want. And that’s okay. Because helping a friend feels so much better than getting what we want. 

We know no writer is created in a vacuum. Could you tell the readers about a teacher or a librarian who had an effect on your writing life?

I have known so many great teachers and librarians in my life, but one in particular gave me the encouragement I needed to think that maybe, just maybe I could succeed with writing. English was always my weakest subject. I had to work hard in it, but I always loved my English classes best. My 10th and 12th grade English teacher was Mrs. Johnston. She made me look at literature in a new way, and learn to appreciate even the things I didn’t love (A Tale of Two Cities, I’m looking at you!).

When I got to college, one class required me to interview someone who worked in a field that interested me, and I chose her.  Honestly, I don’t remember much of what I asked her, but I do remember that at one point, she told me how she’d always been so impressed with my writing, and knew I would do well if I decided to go that direction. Such a simple thing, but her words were what I needed to hear. Because of that interview I majored in English, and allowed myself to believe I could write a book. Thank you, Mrs. Johnston!

What makes your book a good pick for use in a classroom? Is there any particular way you’d like to see teachers use it with young readers/teens?

The Last Great Adventure of the PB&J Society is a great pick for use in the classroom because it’s a quick, humorous read that deals with some serious topics. It is a gateway to discussion of important issues that affect so many students (poverty, friendship, bullying, dealing with stress, keeping secrets). In addition, there is a discussion guide that is geared for use in a classroom. Not only are there some great discussion questions that encourage social skills, self-confidence, and empathy for others, but there are a lot of fun extension activities across all subjects (math, economics, science, etc.). I would love to see classes using these questions and activities to enrich their learning.

What was your favorite book growing up? How did it influence you as a person and/or as a writer?

 I went through phases. Ramona by Beverly Cleary and Tales of the Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume really spoke to me when I was in 4th grade. The whole Narnia series by C.S. Lewis was my go to in 6th. L.M. Montgomery was my author in Junior High (Anne of Green Gables, Emily of New Moon, Pat of Silver Bush (my favorite!), and everything else she wrote). Robin McKinley’s Beauty, Outlaws of Sherwood, and more filled what little free reading time I had in High School.

I don’t know that any one book influenced me more than another, but all of these stories taught me that reading was more than just something I enjoyed. These stories helped me cope with my own stresses. They made me feel like I wasn’t alone. Like I was good enough just the way I was . . . even if I got into trouble a lot (Ramona), or if I didn’t like a certain aspect of how I looked (Anne), or if life didn’t go the way I wanted (Robin of the hood, Beauty). I still love escaping into books, and it really means so much to me when I hear from kids who have had a similar experience with my book.

 

Janet Sumner Johnson lives in Oregon with her husband and three kids. She bakes a mean cinnamon twist and eats way more cookies than are good for her, which explains her running habit. Though her full-time occupation as evil tyrant/benevolent dictator (aka mom) takes most of her time, she sneaks in writing at night when her inner funny bone is fully unleashed. You can learn more about her on her website, on Facebook, on Instagram, and Twitter.

 

 

To celebrate the paperback release, I have 4 signed paperbacks of
The Last Great Adventure of the PB&J Society to give away!
Enter to win a signed copy by commenting below! Winners will be chosen randomly and announced on this post on Tuesday, Oct. 24th.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Interview and Giveaway with Sarah Jean Horwitz – Author of The Wingsnatchers: Carmer and Grit Book One

Today we welcome Sarah Jean Horwitz, whose debut middle grade novel, The Wingsnatchers:  Carmer and Grit Book One, comes out April 25th from Algonquin Young Readers.

The Wingsnatchers:  Carmer and Grit Book One is a stunning debut about a magician’s apprentice and a one-winged princess who must vanquish the mechanical monsters that stalk the streets and threaten the faerie kingdom.

Aspiring inventor and magician’s apprentice Felix Carmer III would rather be tinkering with his latest experiments than sawing girls in half on stage, but with Antoine the Amazifier’s show a tomato’s throw away from going under, Carmer is determined to win the cash prize in the biggest magic competition in Skemantis. When fate throws Carmer across the path of fiery, flightless faerie princess Grit (do not call her Grettifrida), they strike a deal. If Carmer will help Grit investigate a string of faerie disappearances, she’ll use her very real magic to give his mechanical illusions a much-needed boost against the competition. But Carmer and Grit soon discover they’re not the only duo trying to pair magic with machine – and the combination can be deadly.

The Wingsnatchers is such a wonderful middle grade read. What are your favorite things about middle-grade fiction (as a reader and as a writer)?

One of the things I love about middle grade fiction – and fantasy in particular – is the unadulterated sense of magic and wonder. I don’t mean to say that the middle grade fictional universe is an uncomplicated one; on the contrary, this is the age when most kids are getting quite acquainted with the complexity of their own worlds, and the best stories know this. But there is an absence of outright cynicism, and that’s always a refreshing pond to dive into for a little while – both as a reader and a writer.

What inspired you to write The Wingsnatchers?

I knew for some time that I wanted to write a faerie-centric urban fantasy, but I never really had an idea with teeth to it until one day – as early as 2011, I think – a very specific image fell into my head: a boy in a shabby top hat and a faerie with a mechanical wing sitting on the brim. I was still in school at the time and working on other projects, so I put the two of them on the back burner, but I think I knew, even then, that this was the story to stick with. I just had to know more about them.

One of the things I love most about The Wingsnatchers is the world-building. Both the steampunk world of Carmer and the fairy kingdom of Grit come to life on the page in vivid detail. Can you tell us a little bit about your process in creating such a colorful and lively fantasy world?

Despite how integral the steampunk aesthetic is to the book now, it happened mostly by accident! The story is set (super!) roughly in an alternate 1880’s-1890’s, but that wasn’t always the case. When I started, it was way earlier – think mid-to-late 1700’s – and that wasn’t sitting quite right. Then, when my research into the Industrial Revolution went a bit too far down the rabbit hole and well into the 1800’s, I came across the early history of electric lighting – which, of course, became a central element of the plot and the story world. Building a Victorian-inspired setting from there, especially with a focus on the stage magic and vaudeville scenes, was just plain fun.

I was also, obviously, heavily inspired by Boston and its public parks. My personal map of the Oldtown Arboretum in the book is literally a traced-over and heavily rearranged version of the Arnold Arboretum in Jamaica Plain in Boston. I would walk by the Boston Public Garden at night and imagine the globes of the streetlamps powered by faerie lights. I love this city and its unique blend of old and new so much. I hope the fictional Skemantis is a fitting tribute.

Also, some of the coolest elements of the story world actually exist! The Moto-Manse, for example, is based on a Burning Man exhibition I found on Pinterest called the Neverwas Haul. It’s a thing!

Carmer and Grit are such wonderful heroes – and so perfect together. What drew you to writing these characters and what are your favorite things about each of them?

Thank you! Carmer and Grit were inspired by some of my favorite mystery-solving duos – all the way back from the original Holmes and Watson to today’s Joan and Sherlock on the show Elementary, Sam and Dean Winchester from Supernatural, and even Hiccup and Toothless from How to Train Your Dragon. I’m a firm believer in “platonic soulmates” – the one person out there who gets you, man, even if on paper, you may not have much in common. Carmer and Grit literally come from different worlds, but that doesn’t stop them from being a great team. In fact, it makes them better! I wanted to write a story about friends whose differences bring out the best in each other.

I love Carmer’s wry sense of humor and his determination to do the right thing, even if it’s uncomfortable or disadvantageous to him personally. I love Grit’s passion and impulsiveness – even when it gets her into trouble – and her frankness. I wish I could be as no-nonsense as she is!

There are so many interesting secondary characters in the book – from automata cats, to talking puppets, to the wonderful Antoine the Amazifier. Do you have a favorite?

The cats are my favorite, because my best friend hates them. Ha! Okay, let me explain: I was always convinced they were fun and creepy and different, even if they were pretty ridiculous, and she was like, “No, girl, just no,” but I kept them anyway. And I trust her opinion more than anyone’s in the world, but I kept them in anyway. And then not only did the book get published, but those creepy cats made it all the way to the cover! So that will be forever entertaining to me.

Your steampunk world is full of magic and science. Did you do any research while writing The Wingsnatchers? If so, what did you learn?

I did quite a bit of research! And then a lot of it got chucked out the window in service of the story, because magic is cool and I wanted to let magic be cool. Carmer would most definitely not approve. My major areas of research were the history of electric light and Victorian era stage magic and magicians. I obviously wasn’t concerned with writing a true historical fantasy, but I did try to play off the general “look and feel” and some of the driving social anxieties of the time.

The Wingsnatchers is Book One in the Carmer and Grit series. Can you give us any hints about what’s coming next and do you have any book recommendations for fans while we wait impatiently for the book two?

Well, I joked in my debut author group the other day that I was torn between two titles for book two: “Youths Flying Airships and Making Questionable Decisions” or “Everyone is a Little Bit Traumatized From the Events of Book One.” Does that count as a hint?

If you haven’t read it already, I highly recommend the wonderful The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill, which just won the Newbery Medal. It is the perfect blend of magical and honest and complex-but-not-cynical.

Sarah Jean Horowitz author of The Wingsnatchers: Carmer and Grit Book OneSarah Jean Horwitz is the author of the middle grade fantasy novel CARMER AND GRIT, BOOK ONE: THE WINGSNATCHERS and a member of the Boston Teen Author Festival organizing team. She loves storytelling in all its forms and holds a B.A. in Visual & Media Arts with a concentration in screenwriting from Emerson College. You can find her reading, writing, and occasionally dancing around like a loon throughout the Boston, MA area.

 

You can reach Sarah through her website or at one of these social media links:

Twitter: @sunshinejhwitz

Instagram: @sunshinejh

Facebook: sarahjeanbooks

Website: www.sarahjeanhorwitz.com

Sarah is giving away one Advanced Reader Copy of The Wingsnatchers:  Carmer and Grit Book One (US entries only, please).

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Patricia Bailey is the author of  the  middle-grade historical novel The Tragically True Adventures of Kit Donovan (April 2017). She blogs here and at her website patriciabaileyauthorcom.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Growing Up with Biographies ~ Biographies Have Grown Up

old bios 2

Remember these? I do. I was in 3rd or 4th grade when I discovered the section of the school library that housed all the books labeled with a capital B on the spine. Biographies. Martha Washington. Dolly Madison. Mark Twain. Clara Barton. These are a few I remember reading from the shelves of that wonderful basement library that doubled as the music room.

When my young son, a dyed-in-the-wool farmer even at age ten, seemed to lose interest in reading anything not part of a class assignment, I found a biography of John Deere. Suddenly, my little reader was back!

A few years ago, I submitted a picture book biography to a publisher who contacted me with the best kind of rejection. “This isn’t right for our list, but…”  The “but” was a great one. They were very interested in launching a new series of biographies for middle-grade readers, and since I had previously published books for middle-graders, would I be interested in writing the first book in the series? Now that’s a rejection I could handle!

This middle-grade series was a new venture for the publisher, and the editors and designers were more than willing to lend an ear to my suggestions about what a middle-grade bio should look like. Immediately, I went back to that row of “B” books in my elementary library. Yes, they had grabbed my attention, but not every elementary reader was as enamored as I was. I took a more critical look at the biographies of my youth. They were text-heavy and sparsely-illustrated, usually with some pen and ink line drawings smattered here and there.

And then, I thought about the most recent biography I’d purchased for my youngest daughter. It was Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart by Candace Fleming.

amelia lost

Filled with photographs, text boxes, diary entries, and varied fonts, this is how an engaging middle-grade biography should look, feel, and read. Luckily, others agree. Today’s biographies are a far cry from the those bios of old (beloved though they may have been!)

Below are some recently-released biographies for the middle-grade crowd.  Stick with me to the end. There’s a GIVEAWAY hiding there!

Bayardcover

Bayard Rustin: The Invisible Activist by Jacqueline Houtman, Walter Naegle, and Michael G. Long – Bayard Rustin was a civil rights leader who believed in nonviolent action as means of achieving social reform. The organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, Bayard Rustin’s story will inspire young readers to stand up in the face of injustice.

most dangerous

Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War by Steve Sheinkin was recently named a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2015.  Sheinkin’s confidence his middle-grade audience is evident as he tackles the political life of government whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg during a tumultuous time in recent history.

MILLIE B COVER

Missing Millie Benson: The Secret Case of the Nancy Drew Ghostwriter and Journalist  by Julie K. Rubini 

Hot off the presses is this biography of Mildred Wirt Benson, the original ghostwriter of the Nancy Drew series. Rubini takes readers on a journey through Millie Benson’s life as a journalist and as the very uncelebrated author of  many books in history’s most celebrated juvenile series. Why did it take years to discover the identity of the writer we’ve always known as “Carolyn Keene?” Follow the clues to solve the mystery of Millie Benson.

Kammie Cover

Kammie on First: Baseball’s Dottie Kamenshek by Michelle Houts

Here is the initial installment in the new Biographies for Young Readers series I mentioned earlier. Dorothy Kamenshek was a teenager from Cincinnati, Ohio when a man named Philip Wrigley sent scouts to find women who could play baseball as well as the men on his Chicago Cubs (men who were rapidly leaving the ball field for the battlefield at the start of World War II.)  Made famous by the movie A League of Their Own, Kammie and her Rockford Peaches inspire girls to “throw like a girl” and be proud of it.

And now, since you stuck with me…

THE GIVEAWAY!

Author Julie Rubini has generously provided The Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors a signed paperback copy of Missing Millie Benson: The Secret Case of the Nancy Drew Ghostwriter and Journalist. To enter, please comment below. Maybe you’d like to add the title and author of a noteworthy biography for middle-grade readers. Maybe you’d rather reminisce and tell us about your favorite biography.

Just leave a comment below by midnight Eastern Time on Tuesday, November 10, 2015. 

The lucky winner will be announced on Thursday, November 12, 2015!

Michelle Houts is the author of four books for middle-grade readers. She’s still a fan of biographies and good old-fashioned letter-writing. She created The 52-Letter Challenge for those who are up to writing a letter a week for an entire year.   Find Michelle at www.michellehouts.com. On Twitter and Instagram @mhoutswrites and on Facebook as Michelle Houts.