Tag Archives: Bruce Hale

Author Website Page Update

Kids love finding out about their favorite authors. Here are some popular middle grade writer and series websites for them, their families and their teachers to check out!

From Kwame Alexander to Dav Pilkey and Jacqueline Woodson, these authors are all about interacting with and providing fun content for their young readers.

This is an update to the list, and we plan to update it again in the near future, so if you’d like to find out more about an author not here, let us know in the comments section.

School for S.P.I.E.S–Giveaway and Interview with Bruce Hale

I’m thrilled to welcome author Bruce Hale back to the Mixed-Up Files. He’s one of the funniest and most entertaining people I’ve ever met. He’s been busy since his last Mixed-Up Files interview. Today, we’re celebrating the launch of Playing With Fire, the first book in his newest series, School for S.P.I.E.S.


Bruce Hale and his School for S.P.I.E.S. editor, Stephanie Lurie.

Juvenile delinquent and budding pyromaniac Max Segredo belongs in juvie hall. At least, that’s what his most recent foster family would tell you. Instead, Max ends up on the doorstep of Merry Sunshine Orphanage-their very heavily guarded doorstep. As he begins to acclimate to his new home, Max learns a few things straightaway: first, cracking a Caesar Cipher isn’t as hard as it seems; second, never sass your instructor if she’s also holding throwing knives; and third, he may not be an orphan after all.

I love Playing With Fire! How did you come up with the idea for your School for S.P.I.E.S. series?

PLAYING WITH FIRE represents the coming-together of several ideas and loves.  First, ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved spy stories.  James Bond, Get Smart, The Bourne Identity, Mission: Impossible — all these and more inspired me to want to write a spy story myself.

Second, I had a yoga teacher in Hawaii who was like the ultimate drill sergeant — crusty on the outside, but big-hearted underneath.  She spoke in a kind of hybrid of Japanese and broken English, and she was such a character, I wanted to put her in a book someday.  And third, I had an odd what-if thought: What if an orphanage was actually a covert school for spies?

When all these influences came together, I hit upon the title “Shanghai Annie’s School for Spies (and Merry Sunshine Orphanage).”  For a long time, all I had was the title (which changed), but eventually I developed that germ of an idea into the book it is today, with my old yoga teacher in the Hantai Annie role.


The spy school feels so authentic. How did you learn so much about spy techniques?

Sadly, college didn’t teach me any of what spies call tradecraft.  (An education, wasted!) Instead, I learned it all — lock picking, code breaking, surveillance — through interviews and reading.  I read lock-picking articles online (while wondering if the FBI was tracking my reading habits). I interviewed a computer guy about hacking.  In fact, I even took a kickboxing class to help me with the martial arts stuff.  I tell you, if they ever offered a spy summer camp for adults, I’d take it in a heartbeat.  That stuff is fun!


Once you get a book published, is it easier to get offers for future books?

Yes and no.  Yes, in that they know you can deliver, so all else being equal, they’re inclined to trust your abilities.  No, in that it always depends on the quality of the book you’re submitting and whether it fits their list.  To my occasional exasperation, publishers will still pass on one of my stories if they feel it’s not right for them.


What are some of the pros and cons of writing a series?

First off, I love reading series, so it’s a joy to write the kind of books I like to read.  Series give you the chance to deeply explore the world and characters you’ve created, and to build a relationship with your readers, which will carry over into other books you write.

On the down side, series can be challenging.  You have to strike a balance between familiarity and freshness — introducing new elements and characters while preserving enough of what readers loved in the previous books.  Also (if you’re lucky and your series lasts long enough), you may find you’ve cycled through all your ideas and are having a hard time coming up with plots you haven’t used already.

Bruce Coville once said that series books are training-wheel books, helping kids learn to read more confidently.  I’m honored to be producing these kinds of books for young readers.


How do you develop characters strong enough for an entire series?

Main characters need a number of key elements to make them series-worthy.  First, they must be likeable, even if they’re an anti-hero.  Second, they must have some quality that makes them stand out (Harry Potter’s wizarding abilities, Katniss’s archery skills and loyalty, Chet Gecko’s punning, etc.).  Third, they must have a certain optimism and drive that keeps them moving forward.  And fourth (just to keep this list short), they must be active.  Passive characters can’t sustain a series.  When asked to move the plot forward, they just say, “Eh, maybe later.”

Photo of Bruce Hale taken by Sonya Sones

Photo of Bruce Hale taken by Sonya Sones

Can you share a writing exercise for series or humor?

Here’s a fun one for humor: Experiment with the triple play.  A triple play is a list of three words or things, in which the first two are expected and the third is a surprise.  That surprise creates the humor.  For example: in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Bill and Ted say that Beethoven’s favorite works include Handel’s Messiah, Mozart’s Requiem, and Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet.  The first two items set up an expectation, which is subverted by the third.  Like, “Tall, dark, and loathsome.”

Have fun experimenting, and remember comedy writing’s Rule of Nine: For every ten jokes you come up with, nine will suck!  But that tenth one will be a gem. 


Want a chance to win one of two signed copies of Bruce Hale’s School for S.P.I.E.S.: Playing with Fire? Click on the Rafflecopter widget below, and you’ll see seven quick and easy ways to enter! The winners will be announced on Tuesday, July 23. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Thank you so much for visiting the Mixed-Up Files, and for your generous giveaway, Bruce! 


The second book in Bruce’s School for S.P.I.E.S. series is called Thicker than Water, and is scheduled for June 2014. While waiting for the next spy book, you can check out some of the other humorous series Bruce has written. Bruce has sixteen books in his Chet Gecko series, and four books in his Underwhere series. He recently released his new picture book, Clark the Shark, the first of seven in that series. Clark the Shark – Dare to Share! will be out in January 2014.


You can find out more about Bruce Hale on his main website, his School for S.P.I.E.S. site, his writing tips website, or on Twitter. Here’s a link to Bruce’s Chet Gecko activity guide. You can view a message from Agent X: School for S.P.I.E.S., and watch the below video of Bruce Hale reading an exciting scene from Playing with Fire.


Mindy Alyse Weiss writes humorous middle-grade novels and quirky picture books. She’s constantly inspired by her twelve and fifteen year-old daughters, an adventurous Bullmasador adopted from The Humane Society, and an adorable Beagle/Pointer pup who was rescued from the Everglades. Visit Mindy’s blog or Twitter to read more about her writing life, conference experiences, and writing tips.

Books That Help Kids Take the Leap Into Middle-Grade Novels

In my last post, I interviewed author Laurie Friedman and mentioned that her Mallory books help kids make the important (and sometimes scary) transition into novels.  Not only is Mallory a fun character kids love, but she starts off as an eight year-old in the series and finishes at age ten, so she takes the leap into middle-grade along with readers. My pup, Lolly, loves listening to chapter books and middle-grade novels.  She can’t wait until she can chew…um, I mean read them along with her favorite picture books.  Longer books can seem scary at first, but there are so many amazing characters and worlds to discover.  I especially love funny books that have a quirky main character with a voice that jumps out at you and put together a list of fun books that can help kids make the transition from picture books and early chapter books into middle-grade novels.

Ellie McDoodle Have Pen, Will Travel by Ruth McNally Barshaw (there are two other great books in this series).

I laughed my way through this book that’s loaded with funny and creative pictures, plus instructions for games you can play.

Description from Indiebound:

When Ellie’s family moves to a new town, she’s sure she won’t fit in. Nobody else likes to read as much as she does, the other kids tease her, and even the teachers can’t seem to get her name right. But when the students need someone to help them rally against unfair lunch lines, it’s Ellie to the rescue! And if shorter lines and better food prevail, can friendship be far behind?

And for the second book: Just in time for the back to school season, Ellie McDoodle takes pen in hand again as she chronicles the woes—and the happy surprises—of being a new kid. Chock-full of cartoons, diagrams, lists, games, and plenty of witty asides, this charming follow up to Ellie McDoodle: Have Pen,Will Travel will ease the new kid blues–and perhaps inspire some creative doodling, too.

Geek Chick: The Zoey Zone by Margie Palatini

Imagination, illustrations, and fun word fonts pop from the pages of this funny, quirky book.

Description from Indiebound:

Meet Zoey.  She’s eleven. Well, almost eleven. Okay—halfway to eleven. And Zoey’s got a few problems: She has the lowest possible score on the coolability meter, a  bad     hair situation, and growing earlobes. What Zoey needs is a fairy godmother who can give her a very chic makeover and a seat at the primo lunch table. Will Zoey be able to pull it all off? Tune in!

Clementine by Sara Pennypacker, illustrated by Marla Frazee (there are several more in this fun series).

Between the amazing voice and illustrations, it’s easy to immediately connect with Clementine’s spunky, larger than life personality.

Description from Indiebound:

Clementine is having not so good of a week.

  • On Monday she’s sent to the principal’s office for cutting off Margaret’s hair.
  • Tuesday, Margaret’s mother is mad at her.
  • Wednesday, she’s sent to the principal…again.
  • Thursday, Margaret stops speaking to her.
  • Friday starts with yucky eggs and gets worse.
  • And by Saturday, even her mother is mad at her.

Okay, fine. Clementine is having a DISASTROUS week.

Amber Brown Goes Fourth by Paula Danziger, illustrated by Tony Ross (check out all the other fun Amber Brown books)

Amber’s quirky personality makes me laugh (and feel for her when things don’t go her way).

Description from Indiebound:

Amber Brown isn’t entirely ready for fourth grade. She has her pens, pencils, new clothes, and new shoes. But the one thing she doesn’t have is her best friend, Justin       Daniels. Justin has moved away, leaving Amber utterly best friend-less. Amber knows Justin can’t be replaced, but she is on the lookout for a new friend. Brandi seems a likely choice–but does Brandi want to choose Amber in return? Will Amber Brown go fourth, and go forth, with a new best friend?

My Last Best Friend by Julie Bowe (look for the other great books in this series)

I had fun reading the secret notes, and couldn’t wait to see things work out for Ida May.

Description from Indiebound:

As Ida May begins fourth grade, she is determined never to make another best friend–because her last best friend moved away. This is a doable plan at first. Thanks to bratty, bossy Jenna Drews who hates Ida, no one in class has ever really noticed her before.  It’s when the sparkly Stacey Merriweather comes to her school that her plan goes awry. Ida reaches out despite her fear, but doesn’t say hello—instead she writes Stacey anonymous notes. Soon their friendship develops without Ida ever having to reveal her real identity. Until she has no choice. And that’s when the true friendship begins.

* If you’re looking for books boys will love, I bet you’ll find some amazing ones below (and I think they’re great for girls, too).

Bobby Vs. Girls (Accidentally) by Lisa Yee, illustrated by Dan Santat–also check out Bobby the Brave (Sometimes)

I laughed so much (and okay, a few tears escaped during one scene).  I love Bobby, the fish named Rover, and the static cling scene was one of the funniest things I’ve ever read.  The expressions of the characters are amazing—the illustrations just leap off the page!

Description from Indiebound:

Meet Robert Carver Ellis-Chan — a perfectly normal fourth-grader who gets into perfectly crazy situations! Like when he was running for class president and discovered his big sister’s panties (static-)clinging to the back of his sweater. Or when he got stuck to the rare sticky (and stinky) Koloff tree on a field trip. . . . Then there’s his family — busy mom, ex-pro football player dad, a bossy older sister and an adoring younger one — and best friends (one of whom is a secret, because she’s a *girl*). Life may be complicated for Bobby, but it’s going to turn out just fine.

Prince of Underwhere by Bruce Hale, illustrated by Shane Hillman (check out the rest of this funny series)

Zeke’s quirky sense of humor immediately hooked me, and I love that this is such an unusual format—half novel, half graphic novel.

Description from Indiebound:

It’s tough to be Zeke.  He’s got his hands full: There is his prissy, know-it-all twin sister; his mean cousin Caitlyn, who’s house-sitting for his missing parents; and a bully making life tough at school (as though it wasn’t hard enough already). And now, thanks to a stinky, scruffy, good-for-nothing talking cat, he’s also got to cope with zombies, midget freedom fighters, devious spies, superstar rappers, and a whole weird world beneath our own where people wear their underwear on the outside of their clothes.

Lin Oliver writes incredibly funny series with voices that pop off the page.  I’ll list two of them below.

Hank Zipzer #1: Niagara Falls, Or Does It? (Hank Zipzer, the World’s Greatest Underachiever) by Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver.

Description from Indiebound:

For Hank, fourth grade does not start out on the right foot. First of all, he gets called to the principal’s office on the very first day of school. Then the first assignment his teacher gives him is to write five paragraphs on “What You Did This Summer.” Hank is terrified-writing one good sentence is hard for him, so how in the world is he going to write five whole paragraphs? Hank comes up with a plan: instead of writing what he did on vacation, he’ll show what he did. But when Hank’s “living essay” becomes a living disaster, he finds himself in detention. Strangely enough, however, detention ends up becoming a turning point in his life.

Attack of the Growling Eyeballs (Who Shrunk Daniel Funk?) by Lin Oliver, illustrated by Stephen Gilpin

Description from Indiebound:

Meet Daniel Funk, a regular guy who’s stuck living in a house full of girls. Why couldn’t he have a brother instead of all those sisters? That would be so cool. When Daniel shrinks to the size of the fourth toe on his left foot, he discovers that he actually does have a brother. A little brother. A very little brother. He’s Pablo Funk, Daniel’s tiny twin, who is a toeful of trouble.

Wow, I could go on and on—there are so many fantastic books to help kids make the transition into middle-grade novels.  Here are a few others to check out (click on them for more info):

Author Laurie Friedman thinks that finding a character they like is what helps kids take the leap into more substantial middle-grade books.  Here are some of the series she thinks can help kids make this transition:  Junie B. Jones, Judy Moody, Ivy and Bean, and Captain Underpants.

Which books do you think help children take the leap from picture books and early chapter books to middle-grade novels?

Mindy Alyse Weiss writes humorous middle-grade novels and is constantly inspired by her ten and twelve year-old daughters, adventurous sock and underwear munching puppy, and two stinky but adorable ferrets. Visit her blog to read more about her writing life, conference experiences, and writing tips.