Tag Archives: fantasy

A Chat With Author Kelly Barnhill

Book jacket for The Girl Who Drank the Moon. Some books grab you from the first moment you see their gorgeous cover. Such was the case the first time I saw Kelly Barnhill’s beautiful middle-grade fantasy, The Girl Who Drank the Moon.

Anticipation grew even more when Barnhill and her publisher released two prequels to the story last month on Entertainment Weekly (read Part 1 and Part 2 for a taste of Barnhill’s storytelling). So I was delighted to have the opportunity to chat with Kelly and to help her celebrate the release of The Girl Who Drank the Moon.

Hello Kelly, welcome to From the Mixed-Up Files! Which middle-grade books did you love when you were younger?

A: I wasn’t much of a reader before fifth grade. Like at all. I knew that one should read, and I was very good at pretending to read, but the ability to sink into a page just wasn’t there for me. What I did love was listening. My parents read to us all the time, and I can remember listening to Grimm’s fairy tales, and later C.S. Lewis, and later Tolkien, and later Dickens. I also —thanks to a garage sale purchase of a Fisher Price orange plastic record player — loved checking out books on records from the library. Because, once upon a time, that was a thing. I listened to Treasure Island and Kidnapped and Just So Stories and both Jungle Books. Later, when I started seeking books out on my own, I loved weird things. L. Frank Baum, particularly. And Roald Dahl. And Daniel Pinkwater. And Diana Wynne Jones. And Ursula K. LeGuin. And Andre Norton. You don’t have to scratch my skin very deeply to find the undercurrent of those writers, pulsing in my veins.

Q: Which came first, the story itself or the prequel?

A: Oh, the story. For sure. But one thing that I didn’t realize when I started writing the story was how much Xan’s unremembered history would come to play in the way the action unfolded. There is much that I couldn’t include in the story itself, simply because Xan had chosen not to remember it — because memory is dangerous, as is sorrow. Or so Xan thinks. Anyway, the idea of her as a child in the company of a bunch of irascible magicians and scholars — many of whom do not have her best interests at heart — intrigued me. And so some of the cut pages and a bunch of the notes started swirling around until a story emerged.

Q: Last year, you wrote a novella for adults called The Unlicensed Magician. Can you talk a little bit about the differences between writing for adults and for children? Which do you prefer? Should we expect more adult stories from you in the future?

Writing a novella, I feel, is a bit like the Spanish Inquisition — no one expects it. I have written and published quite a few short stories for grown-ups that have appeared in a variety of journals. I like writing short stories; I like the muscle of it and the precision needed. It’s an entirely different skill set from what is required for a novel. And while I’ve written a few short stories for kids, the vast majority of them have been for adults. I’m not entirely sure why this is. Maybe my “adult fiction voice” is just more narrow than my “children’s fiction voice.” Or something.

When I started “The Unlicensed Magician,” I assumed I was writing a short story. And then 30,000 words poured out over the course of a couple days — just like that. This was a muscle that I didn’t know I had, and when I finished, I was tired and sore and had no idea what to do with the thing. I’m glad it’s found an audience, and that people seem to like it. As far as the intended audience goes — man. I don’t know. I will think and think and think about a story — just the story — and have no idea if it is a kid’s story or an adult’s story or just a weird story that only I would like. I don’t really know that until I’m done. Really, all I think about is the story itself — what the experience is, what the language feels like, what the big ideas are underpinning the whole thing. I don’t think about audience until the very end.

Author Kelly Barnhill

Author Kelly Barnhill

Q: Like you, I attended my first nErDcamp this year. Can you talk a little bit about the experience and what it meant to you as a writer and former teacher?

A: nErDcamp is magic, plain and simple. I have been fighting for so long — first as a teacher and then as a parent — for reading instruction in schools that is humane and empathetic and inspiring and challenging and ultimately joyful. Reading instruction and encouragement that helps young minds to be more than they are through the power of radical empathy in books. And I have found myself thwarted and frustrated at every turn. Coming to nErDcamp felt like coming home. So many joyful teachers! So many joyful book pushers! So many joyful writers and readers and kids! It was one of the most wonderful experiences of my life.

Q: You teach writing to adults and children and you mentioned on your web site that a big part of that involves “un-teach(ing) what they have already learned.” Can you elaborate on that?

A: When we learn to write, we learn there are rules, and when we actually write, we throw those rules away. So often, my students come to me already stuck in particular boxes of what they think “good” writing is, and is not, and what kind of writer they think they are, and are not. And primarily, I think a lot of kids and adults have learned over the years that their ideas just aren’t good enough. That they don’t have a story to tell. That an idea for a story is something that happens to other people — special people. This is balderdash. All of us are built out of stories. I have to un-teach them the lie in order to teach them the truth.

Q: What books are on your nightstand right now?
A: A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC, by V E Schwab. And after that, I have some marvelous Murakami waiting for me. There is something about summer that simply begs for Murakami. After that, I plan to read MR. FOX, by Helen Oyeyemi and a few Diana Wynne Jones books that are due for a re-read.

***

Oh, how I loved A Darker Shade of Magic and so did both of my children (readers, please note that it is technically adult, although I let my 10 & 11 year old read it!). Thanks so much for your time, Kelly, and best of luck with your new book.

THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON releases today from Algonquin Young Readers.

June New Releases

A couple of new series launch, others continue — and many, many delightful new stand-alone books. All in time for summer reading purchases and your library hold lists. Here we go:

The Education of Ivy Blake by Ellen Airgood
ivy blakeIvy has loved living with her best friend, Prairie, and being part of Prairie’s lively, happy family. But now Ivy’s mom has decided to take her back. Ivy tries to pretend everything is fine, but her mom’s neglect and embarrassing public tantrums often make Ivy feel ashamed and alone. Fortunately, Ivy is able to find solace in art, in movies, and from the pleasure she finds in observing and appreciating life’s small, beautiful moments. And when things with her mom reach the tipping point, this ability gives her the strength and power to push on and shape her own future.

dungeoneersThe Dungeoneers by John David Anderson
In an effort to help make ends meet, Colm uses his natural gift for pickpocketing to pilfer a pile of gold from the richer residents of town, but his actions place him at the mercy of a mysterious man named Finn Argos, a gilded-toothed, smooth-tongued rogue who gives Colm a choice: he can be punished for his thievery, or he can become a member of Thwodin’s Legions, a guild of dungeoneers who take what they want and live as they will.

enemies and endingsOf Enemies and Endings by Shelby Bach
Conclusion to the Ever After series. The whole fairy-tale world is on high alert. The Snow Queen and her minions are targeting Characters, and Ever After School is the only safe refuge left. Rory Landon knows a final confrontation is inevitable, and she worries about the safety of her family and friends–particularly Chase, who has been acting very strange lately. Will Rory be able to count on Chase when she needs him most? Can she put an end to the Snow Queen’s terrible reign once and for all? It’s time for Rory to find out if her tale ends in happily-ever-after.

ruby on the outsideRuby on the Outside by Nora Raleigh Baskin
Eleven-year-old Ruby Danes is about to start middle school, and only her aunt knows her deepest, darkest, most secret secret: her mother is in prison. Then Margalit Tipps moves into Ruby’s condo complex, and the two immediately hit it off. Ruby thinks she’s found her first true-blue friend–but can she tell Margalit the truth about her mom? Maybe not. Because it turns out that Margalit’s family history seems closely connected to the very event that put her mother in prison, and if Ruby comes clean, she could lose everything she cares about most.

circus mirandusCircus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley
Even though his awful Great-Aunt Gertrudis doesn t approve, Micah believes in the stories his dying Grandpa Ephraim tells him of the magical Circus Mirandus: the invisible tiger guarding the gates, the beautiful flying birdwoman, and the magician more powerful than any other the Man Who Bends Light. Finally, Grandpa Ephraim offers proof. The Circus is real. And the Lightbender owes Ephraim a miracle. With his friend Jenny Mendoza in tow, Micah sets out to find the Circus and the man he believes will save his grandfather. The only problem is, the Lightbender doesn’t want to keep his promise. And now it’s up to Micah to get the miracle he came for.

book scavengerBook Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman
For twelve-year-old Emily, the best thing about moving to San Francisco is that it’s the home city of her literary idol: Garrison Griswold, book publisher and creator of the online sensation Book Scavenger (a game where books are hidden in cities all over the country and clues to find them are revealed through puzzles). Upon her arrival, however, Emily learns that Griswold has been attacked and is now in a coma, and no one knows anything about the epic new game he had been poised to launch. When Emily and her new friend James discover an odd book that might have a copy of the new game, they , which they rush from clue to clue, desperate to figure out the secret at the heart of Griswold’s new game–before those who attacked Griswold come after them, too.

wand and seaThe Wand & the Sea by Claire M. Caterer
Holly and Ben are back, hoping to again join Everett and return to Anglielle, the land ruled by a ruthless king and sorcerer who have outlawed magic.
But when they arrive, Anglielle is not what they expect: Their friends are imprisoned and the alliance is scattered. Ruthless King Reynard and the sorcerer Raethius are determined to find the very Adepts they exiled in the first place. But why? It’s up to Holly and the boys to sail to the Isle of Exile and find the Adepts first, but that means enlisting the help of the Water Elementals–and a pirate captain with a secret agenda.

i text dead peopleI Text Dead People by Rose Cooper
Annabel Craven’s worried she’ll be friendless and phoneless at the Academy. But when she finds a mysterious phone in the woods near the cemetery, one of her problems is solved . . . and another one is just beginning. Someone won’t stop texting her. And that someone seems . . . dead. How is Annabel supposed to make friends when her phone keeps blowing up with messages from the afterlife? And what will happen if she doesn’t text back?

raising rufusRaising Rufus by David Fulk
Martin stumbles across an egg, which is remarkable in itself … but then a week later he finds himself taking care of a Tyrannosaurus rex. As the summer unfolds, Martin finds it harder and harder to keep Rufus hidden from rest of the world.  Can Martin save Rufus from his parents, his neighbors, and most importantly, the owner of the town carnival? With the help of his best friend, Audrey, and his science teacher, Mr. Ekhart, Martin must uncover his inner hero and find Rufus a home, even if it means losing the one thing he’s come to really care about.

mothman's curseMothman’s Curse by Christine Hayes
Josie may live in the most haunted town in America, but the only strange thing she ever sees is the parade of oddball customers that comes through her family’s auction house each week. When she and her brothers discover a Polaroid camera that prints pictures of the ghost of local recluse John Goodrich, they are drawn into a mystery dating back over a hundred years. A desperate spirit, cursed jewelry, natural disasters, and the horrible specter of Mothman all weave in and out of the puzzle that Josie must solve to break the curse and save her own life.

sign of the catThe Sign of the Cat by Lynne Jonell
Duncan is very smart. He also has a most unusual gift. So why does his mother encourage him to be perfectly average and insist he only get mediocre grades ? His special talent is the ability to talk to cats–but Duncan longs more than anything for academic success. When Duncan rebels and gets a perfect test score, people start taking notice of him. And it turns out that some of those people may not have the best intentions . . . not by a long shot.

nooks and cranniesNooks & Crannies by Jessica Lawson
Tabitha Crum, who never goes anywhere without her pet mouse Pemberley, receives one of six invitations to the country estate of wealthy Countess Camilla DeMoss. Upon the children’s arrival at the sprawling (and possibly haunted) mansion, it turns out the countess has a very big secret–one that will change their lives forever. When children beginning disappearing, one by one. Tabitha takes a cue from her favorite detective novels and, with Pemberley by her side, takes on the case to rescue the other children, who might just be her first real friends.

unlikely adventures mabel jonesThe Unlikely Adventures of Mabel Jones by Will Mabbitt
Kidnapped, Mabel is forced to serve aboard “The Feroshus Maggot” with the strangest crew you ll ever meet. And the captain an odious wolf named Idryss Ebenezer Split won t let her go until she helps the pirates unlock the treasure they seek.
Mabel’s voyage takes her across the Greasy Pole of Certain Death, into the belly of a whale, and underground to a decrepit crypt. And she does it all in pajamas

just my rotten luckJust My Rotten Luck by James Patterson and Chris Tebbetts
In this seventh Middle School episode, Rafe heads back to the place his misadventures began: the dreaded Hills Village Middle School, where he’s now being forced to take “special” classes and ends up on the school’s football team–alongside his main tormenter, Miller the Killer. Rafe has grand plans for a better year, including a super-secret art project. And he may just have to deal with something completely new: popularity.

spacejackersSpacejackers by Huw Powell
As a baby, Jake Cutler was separated from his family and left on the planet Remota, deep in the seventh solar system. Eleven years later and Jake isn’t like other boys-he has purple eyes and carries a secret within himself that could change the entire universe. When Remota is attacked by ruthless space pirates on the hunt for Jake, he manages to escape. But now he’s on the run with a bounty hunter and the suspicious-looking crew of a spaceship called the “Dark Horse.” Forced to contend with zero-gravity, shipwrecks, black holes, and countless enemies, Jake must discover the truth about his past before he is hunted down and caught.

crown of threeCrown of Three by J.D. Rinehart
First in series. Toronia, a kingdom composed of three realms, is wracked with civil war. King Brutan rules with an iron fist. Cruelty and suffering abound. The kingdom’s only hope is a prophecy that the king will have triplets who will one day rebel and take over the throne. Separated at birth and scattered throughout the realms, the triplets face a desperate fight to secure their destiny. Will they survive long enough to rule?

woundaboutWoundabout by Lev Rosen
Siblings Connor and Cordelia and their pet capybara are sent to the precariously perched town of Woundabout to live with their eccentric aunt. Woundabout is a place where the mayor has declared that routine rules above all, and no one is allowed to as questions–because they should already know the answers. But Connor and Cordelia can’t help their curiosity when they discover a mysterious crank that fits into certain parts of the town, and by winding the crank, places are transformed into something beautiful. When the townspeople see this transformation, they don’t see beauty–they only see change. And change, the mayor says, is something to fear. With the mayor hot on their trail, can Connor and Cordelia find a way to wind Woundabout back to life?

everyday etiquetteCassidy’s Guide to Everyday Etiquette (and Obfuscation) by Sue Stauffacher
Eleven-year-old Cassidy has just inherited a gift from her late great-grandmother. Unfortunately, that gift turns out to be a summer trapped in etiquette school. What good are manners, anyway, for a girl who dreams of living life on the road as a hobo er, knight of the road ? As if trying to remember to keep her elbows off the table isn t bad enough, Cassidy’s best friend, Jack, suddenly seems more interested in doing chores for the new teenage girl who’s moved in next door than in fishing with Cassidy down by the river. Not even her classic epic pranks seem to be saving Cassidy from having her worst summer ever. It’s time to face facts: growing up stinks.

golden capeAttack of the Alien Horde by Robert Venditti
When twelve-year-old Miles Taylor unexpectedly inherits a golden cape that gives him amazing superpowers, his life instantly changes: he becomes a superhero. For real. With some help from a new friend named Henry, Miles does his best to protect his city. But his skills and courage are about to be put to the ultimate test–an alien horde is working its way toward Earth, with their sights set on the golden cape…and total domination. An adventure story with humor — and comics.

survival strategiesSurvival Strategies of the Almost Brave by Jen White
It’s easy to be brave when your eight-year-old sister, Billie, looks up to you as her protector. Twelve-year-old Liberty feels it’s her job to look after Billie once they are sent to live with their father, whom they haven’t seen since they were very young. Dad is unpredictable on his best days, but when he abandons the girls at a gas station in the middle of nowhere, Liberty’s courage is truly put to the test.

Descriptions and book cover images from IndieBound.

 

April New Releases: 13 Middle-Grade Novels

So many books to buy or place on hold at your library this month! Here are a few hand-picked middle-grade titles for your to-read list:

Hide and Seek (Capture the Flag, #2)Hide and Seek by Kate Messner
José, Anna, and Henry are junior members of the secret Silver Jaguar Society, sworn to protect the world’s most important artifacts. When they discover that the society’s treasured Jaguar Cup has been replaced with a counterfeit, the trio and their families rush to the rain forests of Costa Rica in search of the real chalice. But when the trail runs dry, new mysteries emerge: Who can they trust? Is there a traitor in their midst? With danger at every turn, it will take more than they realize for José and his friends to recover the cup before it falls into the wrong hands. This is the sequel to Capture the Flag. (April 1.)

 

All My Noble Dreams and Then What Happens by Gloria Whelan
Rosalind inhabits two worlds in 1920s India. There is the world of her heritage—English to the core, with a strict father who is a major in the British Indian Army, a muted mother, and a tutor to educate her within the walls of the luxurious estate her family occupies. And then there is the world of her homeland—or the land that feels like home, anyway. The world where followers of Gandhi surround her, and the streets are full of poverty and the whispers of independence.  When she has a chance to meet the Prince of Wales, Rosalind must decide if she has the courage to speak up about the injustice she witnesses in the streets of India. (April 2)

The Key and the Flame by Claire M. Caterer
Eleven-year-old Holly Shepard is given an old iron key that unlocks a door—in a tree—that opens to the stunning and magical medieval world of Anglielle. Holly is joined on her journey by two tagalongs—her younger brother Ben, and Everett, an English boy who hungers after Holly’s newfound magic and carries a few secrets of his own. When Ben and Everett are sentenced to death by the royals, whose fear of magic has fueled a violent, systemic slaughter of all enchanted creatures, Holly must save them and find a way back home. But will she be able to muster the courage and rise above her ordinary past to become an extraordinary hero? (April 2)

The Vine Basket by Josanne La Valley
Things aren’t looking good for fourteen-year-old Mehrigul. She yearns to be in school, but she’s needed on the family farm. The longer she’s out of school, the more likely it is that she’ll be sent off to a Chinese factory . . . perhaps never to return. Her only hope is an American woman who buys one of her decorative vine baskets for a staggering sum and says she will return in three weeks for more. Mehrigul must brave terrible storms, torn-up hands from working the fields, and her father’s scorn to get the baskets done. The stakes are high, and time is passing. An intergenerational story of a strong, creative young artist in a cruelly oppressive society. (April 2)

The Sasquatch Escape by Suzanne Selfors
When Ben Silverstein is sent to the rundown town of Buttonville to spend the summer with his grandfather, he’s certain it will be the most boring vacation ever. That is, until his grandfather’s cat brings home what looks like . . . a baby dragon?
Ben takes the wounded dragon to the only veterinarian’s office in town: Dr. Woo’s Worm Hospital. But as Ben and his friend Pearl discover once they are inside, Dr. Woo’s isn’t a worm hospital at all — it’s actually a secret hospital for imaginary creatures, and now it seems a rather large, rather stinky, and very hairy beast has escaped from the hospital. (April 2)


Story's End (Storybound, #2)Story’s End
  (Storybound Book #2) by Marissa Burt
Heroes, Villains, and characters of all kinds lived out new Tales filled with daring quests and epic struggles when a King ruled the land of Story long ago. Then the King disappeared, and over the years, nearly everyone forgot that he had ever existed. Now an evil Enemy has emerged, determined to write a new future for Story that he will control. And an ordinary girl named Una Fairchild is inextricably tangled up in his deadly plan. Una and her friends Peter and Indy are desperate to find a way to defeat the Enemy. But Una soon discovers that the real key may lie in her own mysterious ties to Story’s past–and to the long-forgotten King, who could be Story’s only hope for survival. (April 2)

The Flame in the Mist by Kit Grindstaff
Thirteen-year old Jemma has no clue about her supernatural powers, let alone that a Prophecy says she is the one who will save her country from the evil Agromond rulers and the sinister Mist they create. Then, some very disturbing discoveries reveal the truth of who she really is, propelling Jemma into dark dangers that she faces with her two telepathic golden rats, and her friend Digby. But in the end, her own untapped powers might be the only hope for a kingdom in peril. Magic, mystery, and mayhem spice this action-packed medieval-flavored fantasy debut. (April 9)

Rump: The True Story of Rumplestiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff
In a magical kingdom where your name is your destiny, 12-year-old Rump is the butt of everyone’s joke. But when he finds an old spinning wheel, his luck seems to change: Rump can spin straw into gold. Magical gold. His best friend Red Riding Hood warns him that magic is dangerous. With each thread he spins, Rump weaves himself deeper into a curse. There’s only one way to break the spell: Rump must go on a quest to find his true name, along the way defending himself against pixies, trolls, poison apples, and one beautiful but vile-mannered queen. The odds are against him, but with courage and friendship—and a cheeky sense of humor—Rump just might triumph in the end. (April 9)

Hiding Out at the Pancake Palace by Nan Marino
Eleven-year-old musical prodigy Elvis Ruby was supposed to win Tween Star, the most coveted reality show on television. None of the other contestants even came close to his talents. But in the middle of the biggest night, with millions of people watching, Elvis panicked. He forgot the words to the song. He forgot the tune. He forgot how to play every single instrument he’d ever known and froze on national TV. So Elvis must run from the paparazzi camped outside his door and spend the summer working with his aunt and cousin at Piney Pete’s Pancake Palace in the remote wilds of New Jersey. It’s the perfect place to be anonymous, that is until Elvis meets Cecilia, a girl who can’t seem to help blurting out whatever’s on her mind. (April 16)

Hero on a BicycleHero on a Bicycle by Shirley Hughes
Italy, 1944: Florence is occupied by Nazi forces. The Italian resistance movement has not given up hope, though, and neither have thirteen-year- old Paolo and his sister, Costanza. As their mother is pressured into harboring escaping POWs, Paolo and Costanza each find a part to play in opposing the German forces. Both are desperate to fight the occupation, but what can two siblings, with only a bicycle to help them, do against a whole army? Middle-grade fans of history and adventure will be riveted by the action and the vividly evoked tension of World War II. This is the first novel by Hughes, who has written more than 50 books and has twice won the Kate Greenway award for illustration in Britain.

The Ability by M.M Vaughan
When Christopher begins at his new school, he is astounded at what he can do. It seems that age twelve is a special time for the human brain, which is capable of remarkable feats. Schoolmates Ernest and Mortimer Genver, at the direction of their vengeful and manipulative mother, are testing the boundaries of the human mind. All this experimentation has definite consequences, and Chris soon finds himself forced to face them … or his new life will be over before it can begin. (April 23)

TGirl from Felony Bay, Thehe Girl from Felony Bay by J.E. Thompson
The last year has been rougher than sandpaper for Abbey Force and her dad. He’s in a coma after his accident a year back, wherein he was framed for a terrible crime he didn’t commit. And their home on the eastern coast of South Carolina had to be sold to pay off his debt. The new family that moved into Abbey’s old house has a daughter named Bee who is just as curious about all the No Trespassing signs and holes being dug out by Felony Bay, in the corner of what used to be Abbey’s home. It appears someone’s been poking around a mystery that dates all the way back to the Civil War—and it just might be the same someone who framed Abbey’s dad. (April 30)

The Hero's Guide to Storming the CastleThe Hero’s Guide to Storming the Castle by Christopher Healy
Prince Liam. Prince Frederic. Prince Duncan. Prince Gustav. You remember them, don’t you? They’re the Princes Charming, who finally got some credit after they stepped out of the shadows of their princesses–Cinderella, Rapunzel, Snow White, and Briar Rose–to defeat an evil witch bent on destroying all their kingdoms. But alas, such fame and recognition only last so long. And when the princes discover that an object of great power might fall into any number of wrong hands, they are going to have to once again band together to stop it from happening–even if no one will ever know it was they who did it. (April 30)

                             Book descriptions courtesy of publishers and IndieBound.