Browsing the archives for the historical fiction tag.

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    April 11, 2014:
    Fall 2014 Children's Sneak Peek
    A peek at forthcoming middle grade books (as well as picture books and YA books) in a round-up from Publisher's Weekly. First printed in the February 22 issue, but now available online. Time to add to your to-read list. Read more ...

    April 9, 2014:
    How many Newbery winners have you read?
    You could make a traditional list of all the Newbery Medal Award-winning Children's Books you've read, but there's something so satisfying when you check them off and get a final tally on this BuzzFeed quiz. Read more ...

    March 28, 2014:
    Middle Grade fiction is hot at 2014 Bologna Children's Book Fair

    For the second year in a row, publishers are clamoring for middle-grade, reporters Publishers Weekly. "I’ve been coming [to Bologna] for 12 to 15 years, and I’ve never had as many European publishers asking for middle-grade," said Steven Chudney of the Chudney Agency. Read more ...

    February 14, 2014:
    Cybils Awards announced
    Ultra by David Carroll (Scholastic Canada) wins the Cybil for middle grade fiction; Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud (Disney Hyperion) wins for Speculative Fiction. Read more.

    January 27, 2014: And the Newbery Medal goes to ...
    Kate DiCamillo won the Newbery Medal for "Flora & Ulysses"; Rita Williams-Garcia won the Coretta Scott King Author award for "P.S. Be Eleven." Newbery Honor awards to authors Vince Vawter, Amy Timberlake, Kevin Henkes and Holly Black. For all the exciting ALA Youth Media Award News ... READ MORE

    November 12, 2013:
    Vote in the GoodReads semifinal round

    Readers' votes have narrowed the middle-grade semifinals down to 20 titles. Log in to your GoodReads account and vote for your favorite middle-grade (and in other categories, of course). Read more ...

    November 9, 2013:
    Publishers Weekly Top Children's Books of 2013

    Middle-grade and young adult titles selected by the editors of Publishers Weekly as their top picks of the year. Let the season of "top ten books" begin! Read more ...

    October 14, 2013:
    Middle Shelf: Cool Reads for Kids debuts January 2014

    Shelf Media Group, publisher of Shelf Unbound indie book review magazine, will launch a new free digital-only publication for middle-grade readers. The debut issue features interviews with such notable authors as Margaret Peterson Haddix and Chris Grabenstein as well as reviews, excerpts, and more. Middle Shelf will be published bi-monthly beginning in January 2014.
    Read more ...

    September 19, 2013: Writer-in-Residence program at Thurber House

    Dream of time and space to focus on your own writing project? Applications now being accepted (11/1/2013 deadline) for The Thurber House Residency in Children's Literature, a month-long retreat in the furnished third-floor apartment of Thurber House in Columbus, Ohio. Read more ...

    September 18, 2013: Vermont College of Fine Arts Scholarship opportunity

    Barry Goldblatt Literary launches The Angela Johnson Scholarship, a talent-based grant for writers of color attending the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults program at VCFA. Up to two $5,000 grants will be awarded each year. Read more ....

    September 16, 2013:
    National Book Awards longlist for youth literature

    For the first time, the NBA is presenting lists of 10 books/authors on the longlist in each category. The 2013 young adult literature list includes five middle grade novels and five YA. Read more ...

    Sept. 13, 2013: Spring preview
    Check out Publishers Weekly roundup of upcoming children's books to be published in spring 2014. Read more...

    August 21, 2013:
    Want to be a Cybils Award Judge?

    Middle grade categories are fiction, speculative fiction, nonfiction. Applications due August 31! Read more ...

    August 19, 2013:
    S&S and BN reach a deal
    Readers will soon be able to find books from Simon & Schuster at Barnes & Noble. The bookstore chain was locked in a disagreement with the publisher over how much it was willing to pay for books. Read more ...

    August 6, 2013:
    NPR's 100 Must-Reads for Kids
    NPR's Backseat Book Club asked listeners to nominate their favorite books for readers ages 9 to 14. More than 2,000 people nominated titles, and a panel of Newbery authors brought the list to 100. Most are middle grade books. Read more ...

    July 2, 2013:
    Penguin & Random House Merger

    The new company, Penguin Random House, will control more than 25 percent of the trade book market in the United States. On Monday, the newly formed company began to take shape, only hours after a middle-of-the-night announcement that the long-planned merger had been completed. Read more ...

    March 28, 2013: Big at Bologna

     This year at the Bologna Children's Book Fair, the focus has shifted to middle-grade.  “A lot of foreign publishers are cutting back on YA and are looking for middle-grade,” said agent Laura Langlie, according to Publisher's Weekly.  Lighly illustrated or stand-alone contemporary middle-grade fiction is getting the most attention.  Read more...


    March 10, 2013: Marching to New Titles

    Check out these titles releasing in March...


    March 5, 2013: Catch the BEA Buzz

    Titles for BEA's Editor Buzz panels have been announced.  The middle-grade titles selected are:

    A Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates #1: Magic Marks the Spot by Caroline Carlson

    Counting By 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

    The Fantastic Family Whipple by Matthew Ward

    Nick and Tesla's High-Voltages Danger Lab by Bob Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith

    The Tie Fetch by Amy Herrick

    For more Buzz books in other categories,


    February 20, 2013: Lunching at the MG Roundtable 

    Earlier this month, MG authors Jeanne Birdsall, Rebecca Stead, and N.D. Wilson shared insight about writing for the middle grades at an informal luncheon with librarians held in conjunction with the New York Public Library's Children's Literary Salon "Middle Grade: Surviving the Onslaught."

    Read about their thoughts...


    February 10, 2013: New Books to Love

    Check out these new titles releasing in February...


    January 28, 2013: Ivan Tops List of Winners

    The American Library Association today honored the best of the best from 2012, announcing the winners of the Newbery, Caldecott, and Printz awards, along with a host of other prestigious youth media awards, at their annual winter meeting in Seattle.

    The Newbery Medal for the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature went to The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. Honor books were: Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz; Bomb: The Race to Build--and Steal--the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin; and Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage.

    The Coretta Scott King Book Award went to Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America written by Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrated by Brian Pinkney.

    The Laura Ingalls Wilder Award,which honors an author for his or her long-standing contributions to children’s literature, was presented to Katherine Paterson.

    The Pura Belpre Author Award, which honors a Latino author, went to Benjamin Alire Saenz for his novel Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, which was also named a Printz Honor book and won the Stonewall Book Award for its portrayal of the GLBT experience.

    For a complete list of winners…


    January 22, 2013: Biography Wins Sydney Taylor

    Louise Borden's His Name Was Raoul Wallenberg, a verse biography of the Swedish humanitarian, has won the Sydney Taylor Award in the middle-grade category. The award is given annually to books of the highest literary merit that highlight the Jewish experience. Aimee Lurie, chair of the awards committee, writes, "Louise Borden's well-researched biography will, without a doubt, inspire children to perform acts of kindness and speak out against oppression."

    For more...


    January 17, 2013: Erdrich Wins Second O'Dell

    Louise Erdrich is recipient of the 2013 Scott O'Dell Award for her historical novel Chickadee, the fourth book in herBirchbark House series. Roger Sutton,Horn Book editor and chair of the awards committee, says of Chickadee,"The book has humor and suspense (and disarmingly simple pencil illustrations by the author), providing a picture of 1860s Anishinabe life that is never didactic or exotic and is briskly detailed with the kind of information young readers enjoy." Erdrich also won the O'Dell Award in 2006 for The Game of Silence, the second book in theBirchbark series. 

    For more...


    January 15, 2013: After the Call

    Past Newbery winners Jack Gantos, Clare Vanderpool, Neil Gaiman, Rebecca Stead, and Laura Amy Schlitz talk about how winning the Newbery changed (or didn't change) their lives in this piece from Publishers Weekly...


    January 2, 2013: On the Big Screen

    One of our Mixed-up Files members may be headed to the movies! Jennifer Nielsen's fantasy adventure novel The False Prince is being adapted for Paramount Pictures by Bryan Cogman, story editor for HBO's Game of Thrones. For more...


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March Madness in the Bookshelves

Book Lists

Hello, my name is Tracy and I’m college basketball-obsessed. It’s been three minutes since I watched a men’s NCAA game, and I’m quite sure I’ll sneak away** from this post to check out another. I’d like to say my family is supportive of my attempts at recovery, but they’re not much more functional than me. And in the case of my 16-year-old son, I’d say he’s got it worse. At least I’m not constantly checking scores on my phone.

(Why yes, it is an ancient flip-phone. What’s your point?)

In addition to love-love-loving college basketball, I adore reading. Fortunately, there are lots of books out there for middle-grade readers who enjoy this sport. While I couldn’t find any books aimed at young people on the art and science of bracketology, I did find a broad array of fiction with basketball playing a prominent part in the story.


Tracy’s note: While author says she personally is “not tall, not very coordinated, and has no hustle,” Mills wrote a convincing story about a reluctant basketball player who makes funny observations on his way to becoming a player.


Tracy’s note: Grimes does a beautiful job writing in verse about what it’s like to be a 12-year-old girl who lives and breathes basketball, and then experiences both physical and emotional changes that affect how she views the boys she used to only see as competitors.


Tracy’s note: Being the mom of a long-time basketball player, this story, told from the point of view of three sixth-grade boys and one girl, rings absolutely true regarding parental expectations, highs and lows of competition, and the politics of team sports. While this book definitely would hook young readers, I think parents would also enjoy and benefit from these narrators’ insights.


Tracy’s note: Stanford loves basketball so much he’s willing to be tutored in English by “the world’s biggest nerdball, Millicent Min” so that he can be on the team. I can relate, seeing as I have to get these blurbs evenly spaced before I can get back to my beloved games. Aargh!

THE REAL SLAM DUNK by Charisse K. Richardson

Tracy’s note: This story of 10-year-old Marcus and his twin Mia doesn’t contain basketball action, but instead delivers a message about how it’s okay to dream of being a basketball star as long as you have other dreams, too.

DRAGON ROAD by Laurence Yep

Dragon Road cover

Tracy’s note: I’m interested in reading this book about a 1939 Chinese American basketball team, but stopped when I realized the protagonists are recent high school graduates (the book was shelved in the juvenile section of  my library but is at minimum an upper middle-grade story). If I can find time between games, I’m going to continue reading this.

The NCAA brackets have now been set. I watched Selection Sunday with my two sons as the teams and initial match-ups were announced, and am giddy with anticipation. Happy March Madness, everyone! The first games aren’t until tomorrow so you still have plenty of time to pick up a book. Please add any other basketball-inspired books in the comments and also tournament favorites or predictions.

**I watched the last minutes of the Wisconsin – Indiana game.  Shhh!

Tracy Abell wishes her free throw percentage was higher because, you know, they’re FREE throws. 


August new releases

Book Lists, New Releases

August = reading for pure pleasure, at least in a perfect world. And August 2012 is looking fairly perfect, with a wide selection of middle grade fiction and a couple of notable nonfiction titles. Although this list is by no means comprehensive, here are a few titles to add to your TBR (to be read) list.


Liar & Spy (Wendy Lamb Books) — Rebecca Stead
When seventh grader Georges (the S is silent) moves into a Brooklyn apartment building, he meets Safer, a twelve-year-old coffee-drinking loner and self-appointed spy. Georges becomes Safer’s first spy recruit. His assignment? Tracking the mysterious Mr. X, who lives in the apartment upstairs. But as Safer becomes more demanding, Georges starts to wonder: how far is too far to go for your only friend?

 Liar & Spy is an inspired, often-funny story about destiny, goofy brilliance, and courage. Like Stead’s Newbery Medal-winning When You Reach Me, it will keep readers guessing until the end.

Eighth Grade Is Making Me Sick: Ginny Davis’s Year in Stuff (Random House) — Jennifer L. Holm (author); Elicia Castaldi (illustrator)
Ginny has big plans for eighth grade. She’s going to try out for cheerleading, join Virtual Vampire Vixens, and maybe even fall in love. But middle school is more of a roller-coaster ride than Ginny could have ever predicted. Her family has just moved into a fancy new house when Ginny’s stepdad loses his job. (Can worrying about money make you sick?). Ginny’s big brother keeps getting into trouble. And there’s a new baby on the way. (Living proof that Ginny’s mom and stepdad are having sex. Just what she needs.) Filled with Post-its, journal entries, grocery lists, hand-drawn comic strips, report cards, IMs, notes, and more, Eighth Grade Is Making Me Sick is the sometimes poignant, often hilarious, always relatable look at a year in the life of one girl, told entirely through her stuff.

A Star Is Born: Book 3 in The Cruisers series (Scholastic Press) — Walter Dean Myers
The Cruiser, an alternative newspaper published by Zander and his crew of middle school misfits, is alive and well. And now there’s plenty to report on when LaShonda, one of the Cruisers, steps into the spotlight with her costume designs for an upcoming play. LaShonda’s designs get rave reviews, but she soon learns that show business is filled with challenges and choices. LaShonda is forced to consider what’s more important–fame, or loyalty to her autistic brother. Whether she gets a standing ovation or the curtain pulled down on her is up to LaShonda. And she can’t help but wonder if the Cruisers have got her back and will be there for her whether she’s center stage or waiting in the wings.

Dear Blue Sky (Scholastic Press) —  Mary Sullivan
Ever since her brother Sef left for Iraq, Cassie has felt like her life is falling apart. Her parents are fighting over her brother having gone to war. Her smart, beautiful sister is messing up. Her little brother, who has Down syndrome, is pretending he’s a Marine. And her best friend no longer has time for her. In her loneliness Cassie turns to a surprising source of comfort: Blue Sky, an Iraqi girl she meets through her blog. The girls begin a correspondence and Cassie learns that when Blue Sky says “I want my life back,” she means something profound, as she can no longer venture out in her destroyed city. Cassie takes strength from Blue Sky’s courage and is inspired to stop running away from the pain, and to reclaim her life.

Hisss-s-s-s-s! (Holiday House) — Eric A. Kimmel
Omar wants a snake more than anything, but his mom is unenthusiastic to say the least. However, the family manages to strike a compromise: Omar can get a corn snake; but the pet, which he names Arrow, must stay inside Omar’s room, where his mom will not have to set eyes on it. So when Arrow escapes, Omar has got to keep his family from finding out. But with an inquisitive little sister, and parents mindful of odd behavior, Omar is having a time of it. When Arrow makes a surprise appearance, it couldn’t be at the worst moment–yet the incident becomes a catalyst for Omar to gain a new understanding of his mother and her childhood in war-torn Lebanon.

The Second Life of Abigail Walker (Atheneum Books for Young Readers) —  Frances O’Roark Dowell
Seventeen pounds. That’s the difference between Abigail Walker and Kristen Gorzca. Between chubby and slim, between teased and taunting. Abby is fine with her body and sick of seventeen pounds making her miserable, so she speaks out against Kristen and her groupies—and becomes officially unpopular. Embracing her new status, Abby heads to an abandoned lot across the street and crosses an unfamiliar stream that leads her to a boy who’s as different as they come. Anders is homeschooled, and while he’s worried that Abby’s former friends are out to get her, he’s even more worried about his dad, a war veteran home from Afghanistan who is dangerously disillusioned with life. But if his dad can finish his poem about the expedition of Lewis and Clark, if he can effectively imagine what it is to experience freshness and innocence, maybe he will be okay. As Abby dives into the unexpected role as research assistant, she just as unexpectedly discovers that by helping someone else find hope in the world, there is plenty there for herself, as well.

After Eli (Candlewick) — Rebecca Rupp
Some people die heroically, others accidentally. When Daniel Anderson’s older brother dies, he wonders which category Eli’s death falls into. In an attempt to understand, Danny creates a Book of the Dead — an old binder that he fills with details about dead people, how they died, and, most important, for what purpose. Time passes, and eventually Daniel is prompted to look up from his notebook of death and questions to make new friends and be swept into their imaginings.


Hunter Moran Saves the Universe (Holiday House) —  Patricia Reilly Giff
Twins Hunter and Zack have a small problem to solve: they must save their town from a diabolical dentist who is planning to blow it to smithereens. But first they have to hold a funeral for an incriminating report card before it breaks their mother’s heart, hide a cello that has been demolished, and keep their father from finding out what they did to his laptop. None of this is going to be easy with their busybody older sister, Linny, watching their every move; older brother, William, just waiting to get them in trouble; five-year-old brother, Steadman, tailing them; and baby Mary banging her spoon like a maniac so no one can think. Before the book is over, a vintage airplane, a hot air balloon, and a borrowed fire engine will all play parts in the unfolding mystery.


Always October (HarperCollins) – Bruce Coville
No doubt about it, little brothers can be monsters. When sixth grader Jake Doolittle finds a baby on the doorstep and his mother decides to keep it, those words are more than just an expression. Instead, they perfectly describe the way his new little brother, LD, sprouts pointy ears, thick fur, and fangs in moonlight. Not only is LD a monster. . . . other monsters have plans for him. But together with his friend “Weird Lily” Carker, Jake isn’t about to let anything happen to the baby. The little guy is still his brother, even if it turns out that LD may be the key to saving the world—or destroying it. Soon Jake and Lily are on a perilous quest through Always October, a world populated with monsters ranging from the venomous to the ridiculous.

Ungifted (Balzer + Bray) – Gordon Korman
The word “gifted” has never been applied to a kid like Donovan Curtis. It’s usually more like “Don’t try this at home.” So when the troublemaker pulls a major prank at his middle school, he thinks he’s finally gone too far. But thanks to a mix-up by one of the administrators, instead of getting in trouble, Donovan is sent to the Academy of Scholastic Distinction (ASD), a special program for gifted and talented students. It wasn’t exactly what Donovan had intended, but there couldn’t be a more perfect hideout for someone like him. That is, if he can manage to fool people whose IQs are above genius level. And that becomes harder and harder as the students and teachers of ASD grow to realize that Donovan may not be good at math or science (or just about anything). But after an ongoing experiment with a live human (sister), an unforgettably dramatic middle-school dance, and the most astonishing come-from-behind robot victory ever, Donovan shows that his gifts might be exactly what the ASD students never knew they needed.

The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee: An Origami Yoda Book (Amulet Books) —  Tom Angleberger
With Dwight attending Tippett Academy this semester, the kids of McQuarrie Middle School are on their own—no Origami Yoda to give advice and help them navigate the treacherous waters of middle school. Then Sara gets a gift she says is from Dwight—a paper fortune-teller in the form of Chewbacca. It’s a Fortune Wookiee, and it seems to give advice that’s just as good as Yoda’s—even if, in the hands of the girls, it seems too preoccupied with romance. In the meantime, Dwight is fitting in a little too well at Tippett. Has the unimaginable happened? Has Dwight become normal? It’s up to his old friends at McQuarrie to remind their kooky friend that it’s in his weirdness that his greatness lies


Emily and Jackson Hiding Out (Delacorte Books for Young Readers) —  Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Emily Wiggins is thrilled that she and her orphan friend Jackson have escaped the clutches of the Child-Catching Services and Emily’s villainous uncle Victor. Emily and Jackson are now living happily with her loving aunt Hilda. But just a mighty mouth minute! Someone’s snooping around for an orphan child on the run! He knows Jackson is hiding nearby and aims to get a reward for snatching him and sending him to work at a mill. What in leapin’ livers should Jackson do? And Emily can’t rest easy either, since some sort of creature is coming to their gate when Jackson and Emily are home alone. What in simmering succotash is that moving pile of dirt? Is it a heap of black rags, is it a dusty tumbleweed, no it’s . . .

Kizzy Ann Stamps (Candlewick Press) —  Jeri Hanel Watts
In 1963, as Kizzy Ann prepares for her first year at an integrated school, she worries about the color of her skin, the scar running from the corner of her right eye to the tip of her smile, and whether anyone at the white school will like her. She writes letters to her new teacher in a clear, insistent voice, stating her troubles and asking questions with startling honesty. The new teacher is supportive, but not everyone feels the same, so there is a lot to write about. Her brother, James, is having a far less positive school experience than she is, and the annoying white neighbor boy won’t leave her alone. But Shag, her border collie, is her refuge. Even so, opportunity clashes with obstacle. Kizzy Ann knows she and Shag could compete well in the dog trials, but will she be able to enter?

Jump into the Sky (Knopf Books for Young Readers) —  Shelley Pearsall
Levi Battle’s been left behind all his life. His mother could sing like a bird and she flew away like one, too. His father left him with his grandmother so he could work as a traveling salesman—until Levi’s grandmother left this world entirely. Now Levi’s staying with his Aunt Odella while his father is serving in the U.S. Army. But it’s 1945, and the war is nearly over, and Aunt Odella decides it’s time for Levi to do some leaving of his own. Before he can blink, Levi finds himself on a train from Chicago to Fayettville, North Carolina, where his father is currently stationed—last they knew.



Splendors and Glooms (Candlewick Press) — Laura Amy Schlitz
The master puppeteer, Gaspare Grisini, is so expert at manipulating his stringed puppets that they appear alive. Clara Wintermute, the only child of a wealthy doctor, is spellbound by Grisini’s act and invites him to entertain at her birthday party. Seeing his chance to make a fortune, Grisini accepts and makes a splendidly gaudy entrance with caravan, puppets, and his two orphaned assistants. 
Lizzie Rose and Parsefall are dazzled by the Wintermute home. Clara seems to have everything they lack — adoring parents, warmth, and plenty to eat. In fact, Clara’s life is shadowed by grief, guilt, and secrets. When Clara vanishes that night, suspicion of kidnapping falls upon the puppeteer and, by association, Lizzie Rose and Parsefall. 
As they seek to puzzle out Clara’s whereabouts, Lizzie and Parse uncover Grisini’s criminal past and wake up to his evil intentions. Fleeing London, they find themselves caught in a trap set by Grisini’s ancient rival, a witch with a deadly inheritance to shed before it’s too late.

The Wondrous Journals of Dr. Wendell Wellington Wiggins (Knopf Books for Young Readers) —  Lesley M.M. Blume
The journals of Dr. Wendell Wellington Wiggins might just be the most extraordinary contribution to the study of the earth’s past since the discovery of the Rosetta Stone. In the incredible pages of these thought-to-be-lost diaries, Dr. Wiggins—whom we now must consider the greatest paleozoologist of all time—has divulged the secrets of the truly ancient animal world: a world before human beings; a world before dinosaurs; a world that, until now, existed well beyond the outer reaches of human imagination.

The Prairie Thief (Simon & Schuster) — Melissa Wiley (author) and Erwin Madrid (illustrator)
Louisa Brody’s life on the Colorado prairie is not at all what she expected. Her dear Pa, accused of thievery, is locked thirty miles away in jail. She’s living with the awful Smirches, her closest neighbors and the very family that accused her Pa of the horrendous crime. And now she’s discovered one very cantankerous—and magical—secret beneath the hazel grove. With her life flipped upside-down, it’s up to Louisa, her sassy friend Jessamine, and that cranky secret to save Pa from a guilty verdict.


The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy (Razorbill) —  Nikki Loftin
Lorelei is bowled over by Splendid Academy — Principal Trapp encourages the students to run in the hallways, the classrooms are stocked with candy dishes, and the cafeteria serves lavish meals featuring all Lorelei’s favorite foods. But the more time she spends at school, the more suspicious she becomes. Why are her classmates growing so chubby? And why do the teachers seem so sinister?

It’s up to Lorelei and her new friend Andrew to figure out what secret this supposedly splendid school is hiding. What they discover chills their bones — and might even pick them clean!

Mix one part magic, one part mystery, and just a dash of Grimm, and you’ve got the recipe for a cozy-creepy read that kids will gobble up like candy.

The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers) — Claire Legrand
Victoria hates nonsense. There is no need for it when your life is perfect. The only smudge on her pristine life is her best friend Lawrence. He is a disaster—lazy and dreamy, shirt always untucked, obsessed with his silly piano. Victoria often wonders why she ever bothered being his friend. (Lawrence does too.) But then Lawrence goes missing. And he’s not the only one. Victoria soon discovers that The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls is not what it appears to be. Kids go in but come out…different. Or they don’t’ come out at all.

Survivors: The Empty City (HarperCollins) —  Erin Hunter
First in a new series. Lucky is a golden-haired mutt with a nose for survival. He has always been a Lone Dog, relying on his instincts to get by. Other dogs have Packs, but Lucky stands alone. Then the Big Growl strikes. Suddenly, the ground is split wide open. The Trap House is destroyed. And all the longpaws have disappeared. Now Lucky is trapped in a strange and desolate new world with no food, foul water, and enemies at every turn. He falls in with others left behind, including his littermate Bella, a Leashed Dog. Relying on other dogs—and having them depend on him—brings new dangers that Lucky isn’t prepared for, but he may not be able to survive on his own. Can Lucky ever be a true Pack Dog?

The Spy Princess (Viking Children’s Books) — Sherwood Smith
When twelve-year-old Lady Lilah decides to disguise herself and sneak out of the palace one night, she has more of an adventure than she expected–for she learns very quickly that the country is on the edge of revolution. When she sneaks back in, she learns something even more surprising: her older brother Peitar is one of the forces behind it all. The revolution happens before all of his plans are in place, and brings unexpected chaos and violence. Lilah and her friends, leaving their old lives behind, are determined to help however they can. But what can four kids do? Become spies, of course!


Zora! The Life of Zora Neal Hurston (Clarion Books) —  Judith Bloom Fradin and Dennis Brindell Fradin
From beginning to end, author Zora Neale Hurston’s life was extraordinary. As a young and confident girl who grew up in an all-black community in Eatonville, Florida, she didnt experience the prejudice that many African Americans felt at the time. In fact, she was so confident as a child, that she thought the moon followed her wherever she went. Such confidence could only lead one down the path of becoming a writer, and so Zora Neale Hurston traveled to New York City where she met prominent African American writers such as Langston Hughes, Alain Locke, and many more figures of the Harlem Renaissance. Unfortunately, despite writing such luminary works as Their Eyes Were Watching God, she was always tight on money. Though she took odd jobs as a housemaid and as the personal assistant to an actress, Zora often found herself in abject poverty. Through it all, Zora kept writing. And though none of her books sold more than a thousand copies while she was alive, she was rediscovered a decade later by a new generation of readers, who knew they had found an important voice of American Literature.

Animals Welcome: A Life of Reading, Writing and Rescue (Dutton Children’s Books) —  Peg Kehret
A mother cat and her kittens, shot with a pellet gun. A poacher illegally stalking a bear. Peg Kehret tells these true stories and more as she invites readers into her life on a small wildlife sanctuary. Vividly showing the joys of animal rescue while providing facts about the animals and birds she encounters, Kehret also shares the tragedy of her husband’s sudden death, and the pain of losing Pete, the shelter cat who co-authored three of her books. Written with honesty, heart, and humor, Animals Welcome is a personal glimpse into the life of an author who loves animals, and the philosophy by which she lives.


Summaries and descriptions from IndieBound and publishers. And we’d like to thank them very much!






















A Peek into the Life of Kirby Larson

Historical Fiction, Research, Writing MG Books

Writers are often told that perseverance is the key to publishing. Sure, your story has got to be great. Of course your characters need to be memorable. Yes, it does help if you’re a hardworking, pleasant, flexible, patient, independently wealthy, witty person who can also juggle while riding a unicycle.

But it’s resolve that will get that book onto the shelves.

I flipped through my dictionary to read the definition of “perseverance.”

It said: “Kirby Larson.”

So today, the Mixed-Up Files is pleased to peek into the life of award-winning author, Kirby Larson. Welcome, Kirby.

Thank you for inviting me! There’s nothing I love better than a good middle grade read, so thanks for focusing your blog on this genre.

We’re pretty nosy here at the Mixed-up Files so I’ll start with a few personal questions. What was your family like? Did you have a favorite teacher?

I’m the oldest of 4 kids in a family that moved around. A lot. Nearly every year, I was the new kid in school, which wasn’t that yippy-skippy at the time, but helped move me toward becoming a writer (Lawrence Yep said being an outsider is good training for writers). My parents weren’t able to give us extras but they always made time for us, and that attitude made my entire childhood wonderful. I was lucky to have many caring teachers but it was my 6th grade teacher who really made me feel I could do just about anything. I’m still in contact with him.

What events in your young life do you feel shaped you to become a writer?

I remember vividly the first moment I realized the power of story. In second grade, the thing at recess – at least for the girls – was to play Wizard of Oz. And of course, every girl wanted to be Dorothy. I managed to milk an entire week of playing that coveted role by letting it slip on the playground that my mother was in the hospital. Boy, did that get me the sympathy vote! When the other girls discovered that the reason Mom was in the hospital was to deliver my baby brother, I quickly got demoted from Dorothy. But that incident stuck with me. And the fact that stories had a huge pull on me in my formative years contributed to my becoming a writer. Also, I am terrified of heights which put the kibosh on my dream to be an astronaut.

You decided to write your first picture book one day while in the library with your children. Tell us about that day. How long did it take from first draft to the first contract? How did being a mom influence your writing?

I took my kids to the library every week, bringing home stacks of books. I wanted to pass on my love of reading (it worked!). One day, we brought home a book written and illustrated by Arnold Lobel called Ming Lo Moves the Mountain. I will never forget that moment: our son, Tyler, sat on one side of me on our old lumpy green couch and our daughter, Quinn, was snuggled up on the other side. When I finished that story, it was as if a light switch was turned on inside me. I knew at that moment I had found what I wanted to do for the rest of my life and that was to write stories that would touch other families the way this book had touched mine. Of course, that message didn’t get out to the universe for another 5 or 6 years! During that time I wrote story after story on yellow legal pads, typing them up after the kids went to bed and mailing them off — with great hope in my heart — to publishers who were troublesomely resistant to my efforts. Being a mom was a great way to help me remember what it was like to be 4 or 8 or 16. Being a mom is great. Period.

You are one of those rare people who write successfully for various age groups, including, in your early writing years, essays and short stories for adults. I’ve heard you say that writing picture books is the most difficult. Is there an age group you are drawn to most often? Does the story idea determine the genre? What’s difficult for you? What delights you?

I’m incredibly flattered by your compliment; thank you! And, yes, I do think picture books are painfully difficult! Each word must earn its way into the story and that weighing process can be excruciating. I don’t know how many more picture books I have in me, honestly. (Picture book writers out there: run and buy Ann Whitford Paul’s Writing Picture Books; she knows what she’s doing!).

*Interviewer nods*

Kirby continues…

My favorite genre is the chapter book, which I call the soap operas of children’s literature. The passion! The drama! You can be best friends with someone at first recess and by second recess they’ve thrown you over. The primary grades are rife with conflict and tension.

As you’ve suggested, for me, the story does decide the genre. I’ve just completed an historical chapter book, for example, in which one of the plot lines involved a young girl being separated from her dog. That’s an issue that seems to me to be better suited to an 8- or 9-year-old main character than a 16-year-old character.

You ask what’s difficult for me – I despair of ever completing that first draft. What delights me? Research, and typing “The End.”

Was there ever a time when you thought you’d give up writing?

(Kirby is trying to control a bout of hysterical laughter here) Every day.  Honest. But the feeling generally passes quickly.

I did seriously consider packing it in. Twice. Once, after the first book contract I signed got cancelled, I stopped writing for six months. Then my son, who was in first grade, said, “Mom, you’re so grumpy all the time. I think you need to start writing again.” So I did. I also considered giving up during a slump between the sale of a picture book called The Magic Kerchief (1997) and the acceptance of Hattie Big Sky (2004).  During that seven year period, EVERYTHING I submitted was rejected.

Perseverance, indeed. You’re known as a great friend to new writers and graciously give tips at conferences and workshops where you teach. You post helpful hints on your blog at What’s the most important tip for writers on craft? For writers trying to break into publishing? 

I truly believe everyone can write and that each person has a story only she can tell. (Though I have to say, I do love Flannery O’Connor’s saucy reply when a reporter asked her if she thought the universities discouraged too many writers. “They don’t discourage enough of them,” said Ms. O’Connor.)

I think the most important thing is for a writer to finish. Something. Anything. And accept the fact that much of what’s written won’t be perfect. And in fact some days, it won’t even be bad, it will be wretched. Fear not! Bad writing can be fixed! That’s what revisions are for. But without a rough draft, you’ll have nothing to fix and you’ll be like those people who have been workshopping the same first chapter at conferences for ten years. So the magic word is “finish.” As for trying to break into publishing I would say be professional, join SCBWI, do your homework, go to conferences and read this blog, as well as others, to learn as much as you can about your chosen profession/passion.

One of my favorite books, of course, is your Newbery Honor Book, Hattie Big Sky. Mixed-Up Files readers would love to hear how you decided to tell the story of your great-grandmother, Hattie Inez Brooks.

As I mentioned above, I was ready to quit writing after a lo-o-o-ng slump. During that same time, I was losing my beloved grandmother to Alzheimers. One day I was with her, and she said, “You know, the only time Mom was afraid was during the winter when the wild horses stampeded.” I could only say, “What do you mean, Grandma?” but she was at a stage where she didn’t remember things she’d said only moments before. Mind you, our family is mostly city folks. I couldn’t imagine where “Mom” (Hattie) could have encountered wild horses. I thought my grandmother was confused, but I was intrigued. And I now fully believe that my grandmother – even in her confused state – bet I would be intrigued. She knew me better than anyone and understood that what I needed to get on track again was a story to tell.

Curiosity led me to discover that Hattie Inez Brooks Wright – all 4 foot 11 inches of her – had homesteaded by herself as a young, single woman in eastern Montana. Though I found her homesteading documents, I never found anything Hattie herself had written about her experience. So I began to read about other female homesteaders and what I found was utterly compelling. But I had suffered such a loss of confidence when it came to writing. Again, Grandma to the rescue. After I told her about finding out about Hattie’s homestead, nearly every time I visited, she would ask me how Hattie’s book was coming. This, when she often didn’t even remember her own name. How could I let my grandma down? I couldn’t. That’s how Hattie Big Sky came to be.

*Interviewer in tears* I know you’ve been asked this a thousand times but describe the morning of the Newbery phone call.

Surreal! I hadn’t slept well the night before – I felt like I was coming down with a bug. I’d finally fallen asleep around 4 a.m. and at 6:30 the phone rang. A woman asked, “Is this Kirby Larson? The Kirby Larson who wrote Hattie Big Sky?” I was thinking it was way too early to be calling to discuss a school visit but I said yes. Then she said, “This is the Newbery Committee calling to say Hattie Big Sky has won a Newbery Honor.” At that moment, I inhaled and then couldn’t exhale or inhale again or anything. My husband had no idea what was wrong with me and was ready to dial 911. Finally, I caught my breath. I have NO IDEA what I said but my husband assures me I thanked the committee. After hanging up the phone, I immediately burst into tears. That euphoria lasted about 30 seconds until I decided someone must be playing a practical joke on me.

I’m so grateful that it wasn’t a practical joke. But I surely wish my grandmother had lived long enough to share in that moment.

She would’ve been proud, Kirby. You sometimes collaborate with your good friend, Mary Nethery, and that partnership resulted in two award-winning nonfiction picture books: Two Bobbies: A True Story of Hurricane Katrina, Friendship and Survival (illustrated by Jean Cassels) and Nubs: The True Story of a Mutt, a Marine and a Miracle. Both are poignant stories and anyone who has ever loved a pet should read them. What’s next for you and Mary?

I feel so blessed to have been able to write stories about good friends – Bobbie and Bob Cat, and Nubs and Brian – with my good friend. Mary and I have our eyes and hearts open for another book to do together. We know it’s out there but we haven’t found the right subject yet.

In your blog, you often write about Winston the Wonder Dog, your faithful companion in the studio. When did Winston join your family and how has he changed your daily routine? Has Winston sparked any story ideas?

Writing two books about dogs made me want to be owned by one, so, in May of 2009, Winston joined our family. He insists on two walks each day and he herds me to my office each morning so he can do the important work of napping by my feet. He and I are in training to be a Reading with Rover team, so we can go to bookstores, libraries and schools where kids can read to him. He’s really looking forward to that! Winston has definitely sparked story ideas but he insists on writing his own book.

Our readers will love The Fences Between Us, The Diary of Piper Davis, released in September 2010 as a re-launch title for the Dear America series. It takes place in Seattle in 1941 and I can imagine how much research was involved. It’s an emotional story with so much rich, American history told through the voice of one savvy character. What was it like writing in diary format?

I was honored to be approached by Scholastic about writing the kick-off title for their relaunch of the series. When I learned they were interested in a WWII story, I knew just the story I wanted to tell. I grew up in Washington but didn’t learn about the Seattle Japanese incarceration camps until I was in college. It boggled my mind that such a powerful chapter of American history could’ve been overlooked in my education. I’d been researching the topic with an eye for including the material in The Friendship Doll, but it ultimately didn’t fit. So I pitched a story to Scholastic, inspired by the real-life actions of a pastor named Emery Andrews, about a young girl’s experiences with the camps and the people sent to them. They said yes, and we were on our way. Initially, I took the diary format too literally. My editor nudged me to expand entries until she finally got it through my thick head that the book was to suggest a diary, not literally be a diary. I think a diary is a powerful format for the young teen reader; they often keep diaries and it‘s important to them to feel a genuine connection to a character, which a diary readily encourages. I got a kick out of a recent email from a young girl who so believed The Fences really was a diary that she wanted Piper’s address so she could write her a letter!

Your next book, The Friendship Doll, releases in May 2011 from Delacorte/Random House. Would you give us a sneak preview?

Writing this book just about did me in – its final form is nothing like the story I worked on for oh, 97 drafts. But my editor helped me find the story I truly wanted to tell even if it took me several years longer than it should have. The Friendship Doll, focuses on how a doll –sent to the US in 1927 as an ambassador of friendship by the children of Japan – impacts the lives of four different girls during the Great Depression. It’s told from four viewpoint characters.

*Interviewer squeals at cover*

Your first book, Second Grade Pig Pals, was published in 1994. Here we are seventeen years and five books later, and you’re preparing for yet another release. How have you grown and changed as a writer? What are you working on next?

Something I’ve learned is that one book doesn’t teach you how to write the next. While that can be frustrating (and intimidating!) at times, it’s what keeps the work fresh. I’ve also learned that it’s healthy to stretch and try something that seems scary or crazy or both (like writing a book with multiple viewpoint characters, and one of them a doll!).

As for what’s next, it’s a sequel to Hattie Big Sky (due to my editor in August – yikes!!), and another historical novel is beginning to bubble on the back burner of my feeble little brain.

One last question: Can we buy you a latté?

Yes! Tall, nonfat and extra hot!  

Per-se-vere v. continue steadfastly or determinedly; persist, Kirby Larson. Possibly the only writer we know who can drink a latté while simultaneously juggling and riding a unicycle.

Kirby lives in Kenmore, Washington with her husband, Neil. When she’s not reading, writing, or walking Winston the Wonder Dog, Kirby enjoys gardening, bird watching, traveling, or drinking lattés with friends. Visit her website at

Mixed-Up Files member, Diana Greenwood, lives in Napa Valley, CA. Her debut novel is INSIGHT, Zondervan (Harper Collins), on shelves May 2011. Visit her website at

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