Tag Archives: humor

The Drake Equation: Bart King Interview and a Giveaway!

Welcome to From the Mixed Up Files, Bart! We’re happy to have you. Congratulations on the release of The Drake Equation!

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I have to admit that I am such a birdbrain myself that I jumped at the chance to read a book about a bird-watching kid, and to interview you, and to give away a copy of your book to one of our lucky readers. Are you ready? Here we go!

MUF: Did you get the idea for this character because of an interest in birdwatching yourself, or did it come from another place?

Bart: “I love all animals (seriously!), birds included. But while I’m not a birdwatcher myself, I have the greatest respect for birders. They tend to be the most wonderful, civic-minded, polite people among us.

I also love reading. About two years ago, I finished a book about black swifts, and was amazed to learn about this mysterious, rare little bird that nests behind waterfalls. So I imagined a boy-birder (who’s based on my nephew) who thinks he *might* have seen a black swift… and the story took off from there!”

MUF: Love this inspiration, thanks for sharing. And okay, birdwatching… with – um… some strange twists. I’m all about protecting endangered species, so this story spoke to me. I’ve read many books on this topic, but I must say, this is the first one I’ve ever encountered with – erm… yes, well, no spoilers here! But seriously, where did you get this sci-fi birdwatcher mash-up idea, anyway?

Bart: “Well, since we humans are quietly watching birds, why wouldn’t there be other beings that are quietly watching us humans? Maybe they even have field guides on how to best observe us.

And if extraterrestrials really ARE watching us, it’s a little scary thinking about what conclusions they’d draw about our species!”

MUF: Now I’m feeling a little nervous…

Say, I’m always curious about how authors find their writing paths. What made you choose to write for a middle grade audience?

Bart: “The short answer is “teaching.” See, I taught middle school language arts for many years, and reluctant readers were my primary focus. Since I was constantly searching for just the right book for those kids, at some point I thought: “Hey, why don’t I just WRITE one?”

Those reluctant readers have been a terrific motivation for me. I ended up writing a dozen nonfiction titles with them in mind, and now I have a novel that I hope they like, too. :-)”

MUF: How wonderful! I think readers at many places in their reading journey will love it, for sure.

Do you have any other titles in progress right now?

Bart: “Yes! The Drake Equation was conceived with a large story arc with a natural halfway point. That point is where the novel ends. If the story attracts enough readers, then I’ll get a chance to finish the tale I envisioned. (Oh please oh please)

I’ve also just finished a funny novel called Three Weeks to Live (Give or Take). Among other things, it’s a “SickLit” satire about a teen girl named Jackie who nearly gets hit by a meteorite in her PE class. (Her tennis partner is not so lucky.) Jackie finds herself becoming a reluctant celebrity—but she may not be around long enough to enjoy her new status.

Lastly, I’m writing a book of poems about some well-known teenaged franchise characters who must—for the moment—go unnamed. :-)”

MUF: We’ll be watching for those for sure!

And now for one last question. I always have to ask authors about their own reading lives, and books that might interest our readers, so here we go: can you please share a few of your favorite middle grade titles with us?

Bart: “I have a soft spot for funny MG and YA books, but I don’t like to read too many of them. This isn’t because they’re not great (they are). But it’s really intimidating to read other authors in the field, because it’s like, “They’re SO good, who do I think I am? Oh, just forget the whole thing!” 😛

That said, one recent MG book I really liked was Dave Barry’s Worst Class Trip. In a more YA vein, I was very impressed by Patrick Ness’s The Rest of Us Just Live Here.”

Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing with us.

You can find Bart in a variety of places: Website/Facebook/Twitter/Tumblr/Instagram  

Now we’d love to give away a copy of your book, so it’s time for a little fun! I see you’re ready, Bart!

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Often we use Rafflecopter around here to draw a winner. Instead,  I’m going to use an “Alien Landing” to choose the lucky winner of a copy of Bart King’s The Drake Equation.  

To enter: 

Comment on this post by 5 p.m. Pacific Time Thursday, May 12 to enter. I’ll announce the winner on Saturday, by sharing our “Alien Landing” in a bonus post. 

In fourth grade, Valerie Stein touched an ancient artifact from an archaeological dig. Though she never got to travel the world in search of buried treasure, she ended up journeying to new and exciting places between the pages of books. Now she spends her time researching history, in museums and libraries, which is like archaeology but without the dirt. Valerie’s book, The Best of It: A Journal of Life, Love and Dying, was published in 2009.  Both her current work and an upcoming middle grade series are historical fiction set in Washington State. Valerie is Publisher at Homeostasis Press  http://www.homeostasispress.com/index.php, and blogs at Gatherings, the blog of Gather Here: History for Young People https://gather-here-history.squarespace.com/

 

 

Interview–and Giveaway–with Shelley Tougas

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Shelley Tougas writes fiction and nonfiction for tweens and teens. Shelley is a former journalist who also worked in public relations. Her award-winning book, Little Rock Girl 1957: How a Photograph Changed the Fight for Integration, landed on the top ten lists of Booklist and School Library Journal. Shelley lives near the Twin Cities.

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Today, Shelley has joined us to talk about her new book, Finders Keepers (Roaring Brook Press 2015).

Christa spends every summer at the most awesome place in the whole world: her family’s cabin on Whitefish Lake in Wisconsin. Only her dad recently lost his job and her parents have decided to sell the cabin. But not if Christa can help it. Everyone knows Al Capone’s loot is hidden somewhere near Whitefish Lake, and her friend Alex’s cranky grandpa might have the key to finding it. Grandpa says the loot is gone, or worse -cursed – but Christa knows better. If she finds it, she can keep it and save her family and their beloved cabin.

Booklist gave it a starred review “A charming story of family history and personal connections (both lost and found) that is reminiscent of Blue Balliett and the Penderwicks‘ adventures.”

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Finders Keepers is your second novel, but you have ten published nonfiction books as well. How does your nonfiction inform your fiction writing?

I was a journalist for seven years, so my background is nonfiction. Working at a daily newspaper is a writer’s boot camp. Deadlines range from a week to a frantic thirty minutes. When you have limited space, you learn to treat every word like gold. Clarity and economy are essential. There’s only room for the most telling details and the best quotes. I learned about everything from police investigations to murder trials to elections to sewer systems. I met fascinating people, including a man who walked around the world, a barbed-wire collector, young men who canoed from Canada to the Amazon, a family who raised wolves, an anti-government militant who barricaded herself from the FBI for three months, and so much more.

I did a little Internet research on gangsters in Wisconsin’s Northwoods and was surprised at how many Chicago criminals spent time there. How much of the Al Capone content is fact and how much is legend? How much of it did you make up?

I invented the characters and their adventure, but everything about Capone is based on facts and legends. Capone didn’t use banks or accountants, so even historians and journalists believe he hid money or gave it to colleagues for safe keeping. His illness caused him to be delusional, so he wasn’t making rational decisions. In 1986, journalist and entertainer Geraldo Rivera had a live television special during which his crew used dynamite to blast open a vault of Capone’s. He thought he’d find Capone’s loot and maybe even human remains. IRS agents were there to collect Capone’s estimated $800,000 in unpaid taxes. Thirty million people watched him enter the vault where he discovered … nothing.

The setting in Finders Keepers felt very real to me, even though I’ve never been there. How did you do that?

Christa’s beloved cabin on Whitefish Lake is actually my parents’ real cabin on Whitefish Lake. The difference is my parents’ cabin is part of a group of cabins near a lakeside restaurant. Christa’s cabin is a standalone place near the Clarks’ home, which is also invented. The town of Hayward does have a popular candy store with a fudge lady, an ice cream store, and the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame in the shape of a huge muskie. I think it’s safe to say there aren’t underground tunnels in town!

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If there was one single thing that you wanted readers to get from Finders Keepers, what would it be?

Put down your electronics, unleash your imagination, and play outside. That’s a message for adults, too.

What other books do you recommend to readers who enjoyed Finders Keepers?

It’s a bit self-serving to suggest my debut novel The Graham Cracker Plot [recently released in paperback], but it’s also a funny adventure story. Two novels I always recommend: Savvy by Ingrid Law and Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage. I recently read Lisa Lewis Tyre’s novel Last in a Long Line of Rebels, which is also about kids seeking a hidden treasure, and I loved it.

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What’s your favorite thing about middle-grade fiction (as a reader or a writer)?

Kids are hilarious, often without meaning to be funny. I’ve had more laugh-out-loud moments reading kid lit than adult work.

What advice do you have for someone who wants to write middle-grade fiction?

Spend a lot of time with kids. Listen to the way they talk and observe how they handle conflict and problems. Read your work out loud to kids and pay attention to their body language. If they’re staring out the window, you know you’ve got work to do. My daughter is my first editor. My early draft of The Graham Cracker Plot  opened with backstory. When I read it to my daughter, she said, “Mom, it’s really good. But when is the story going to start?” And she was right. In middle-grade novels, you need to invite the readers immediately. Most are impatient and won’t wade through a sluggish beginning.

Shelley has kindly offered to give away a copy of Finders Keepers. Leave a comment below by midnight on Monday, November 30 and the winner will be announced on Tuesday, December 1.

Jacqueline Houtman is the author of the middle-grade novel The Reinvention of Edison Thomas (Front Street/Boyds Mills Press 2010) and coauthor, with Walter Naegle and Michael G. Long, of the biography for young (and not-so-young) readers Bayard Rustin: The Invisible Activist (Quaker Press 2014).

November New Releases

Looking for great new titles you can fall back on this November? Here are some books that we’re looking forward to reading at MUF:

November 3rd:

RUBY REINVENTED by Ronni Arno (Aladdin) Ruby Miller has it made. As the only child of model-turned-TV-host Celestine Cruz and pro-baseball star Zack Miller, she has everythinRubyReinventedg a twelve-year-old girl could want. Well, except for real friends.

After a disastrous birthday party where she discovers her supposed BFFs are only friends with her because her parents are uber-famous, she finds a place as far from fake and phony Hollywood as she can get: a boarding school in Camden, Maine. In her desperation to distance herself from her star-studded parents and the paparazzi who trail them, Ruby tells her new friends that she’s an orphan. She feels awful about lying, but once she starts, it’s hard to come clean. Plus, now that nobody’s comparing her to her perfect parents, Ruby can finally let her own talents as a dress designer take center stage.

When Ruby finds herself connecting with a cute boy who really did lose his parents, she’s torn between who she is and who she’s pretending to be. And with Parents’ Weekend approaching, she must find a way to keep her secret—without losing her new best friend, the trust of her first crush, and the chance to shine as the designer of her very own fashion show.

MY DIARY FROM THE EDGE OF THE WORLD by Jodi Lynn Anderson (Aladdin)MyDiaryFromTheEdgeOfTheWorld Spirited, restless Gracie Lockwood has lived in Cliffden, Maine, her whole life. She’s a typical girl in an atypical world: one where sasquatches helped to win the Civil War, where dragons glide over Route 1 on their way south for the winter (sometimes burning down a T.J. Maxx or an Applebee’s along the way), where giants hide in caves near LA and mermaids hunt along the beaches, and where Dark Clouds come for people when they die.

To Gracie it’s all pretty ho-hum…until a Cloud comes looking for her little brother Sam, turning her small-town life upside down. Determined to protect Sam against all odds, her parents pack the family into a used Winnebago and set out on an epic search for a safe place that most people say doesn’t exist: The Extraordinary World. It’s rumored to lie at the ends of the earth, and no one has ever made it there and lived to tell the tale. To reach it, the Lockwoods will have to learn to believe in each other—and to trust that the world holds more possibilities than they’ve ever imagined.

DEAD POSSUMS ARE FAIR GAME by Taryn Souders (Sky Pony) DeadPossumsAreFairGame As the end of the school year approaches, the fifth-grade teachers at Victor Waldo Elementary conclude there’s not enough time to complete a new math unit before summer break. Great news for math-phobic Ella, right?

Wrong! The teachers decide instead to have their students host the first-ever Math Fair. And the fair project is worth two major math grades.

Add in one dead possum plus two horrible roommates who come to stay while their house is being renovated, and you have an equation for disaster. Ella is headed for summer school and math tutoring for sure. Can she stop her troubles from multiplying before it’s too late?

FAST BREAK by Mike Lupica (Philomel) FastBreakForced to live on his own after his mom dies and her boyfriend abandons him, 12-year-old Jayson does whatever it takes to get by. He will do anything to avoid the foster care system. Besides, his real home has always been the beat-up basketball court behind the projects in the North Carolina hills, and his family has always been his friends and teammates. He manages to get away with his deception until the day he gets caught stealing a new pair of basketball sneakers. Game over. Within a day a social worker places him with a family from the other side of town, the Lawtons. New home, new school, new teammates.

Jayson, at first, is combatative, testing the Lawtons’ patience at every turn. He wants out, yet the Lawtons refuse to take the bait. But not everyone in Jayson’s new life is so ready to trust him–and even Jayson’s old friends give him a hard time now that he’s attending a school full of rich kids. It’s on Jayson to believe that he deserves a better life than the one he once had. The ultimate prize if he can? A trip to play in the state finals at Cameron Indoor Stadium–home to the Duke Blue Devils and launching pad to his dream of playing bigtime college ball. Getting there will be a journey that reaches far beyond the basketball court.

PRESIDENT OF THE WHOLE SIXTH GRADE by Sherri Winston (Little, Brown) In this sequel to PRESIDENT OF THE WHOLE FIFTH GRADE, Brianna navigates her toughest challenge yet: middle school.

PresidentOfTheWholeSixthGradeBrianna Justice is determined to raise enough money for the big class trip to Washington, D.C., but she’s up against a lot: classmates who all pretend to be something they’re not, a new nemesis determined to run her out of office, and the sinking feeling she’s about to lose her two best friends. But just when she begins to lose hope, she comes to realize that sometimes surprises can turn out even better than the best-laid plans.

 

November 10:

A BITTER MAGIC by Roderick Townley (Knopf) Everything is in place: the packed theater, the Amazing Thummel, and, center stage, the magician’s mysterious assistant. Some have called her the most beautiful woman in EuroABitterMagicpe.

Then, in a swirl of light, she vanishes!

An astounding illusion, but she never reappears. All that remains are a bloodstained white scarf and her daughter, Cisley, who lives in a glass castle and walks her pet lobster each morning by the sea.

Enter Cole, a rambunctious boy from town and Cisley’s first true friend. Together they hunt for clues to her mother’s disappearance. They puzzle over broken mirrors, ever-shifting labyrinths, a closet full of whispering ball gowns, and a fatal quest for a pure black rose.

Roderic Townley spins a deliciously spooky tale of one girl’s journey to discover what’s real and what is simply an illusion.

IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF CRAZY HORSE by Joseph Marshall, illus. by Jim Yellowhawk (Amulet) Jimmy McClean is a Lakota boy—though you would not InTheFootstepsOfCrazyhawkguess it by his name: his father is a white man and his mother is Lakota. When he embarks on a journey with his grandfather, Nyles High Eagle, he learns more and more about his Lakota heritage—in particular, the story of Crazy Horse, one of the most important figures in Lakota history. Drawing inspiration from the oral stories of the Lakota tradition and the Lakota cultural mechanism of the “hero story,” Joseph Marshall provides readers with an insider’s perspective on the life of Tasunke Witko, better known as Crazy Horse. Through his grandfather’s tales about the famous warrior, Jimmy learns more about his Lakota heritage and, ultimately, himself.

FINDING FORTUNE by Delia Ray (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) Running away from home isn’t as easy as Ren thinks it will be. At least she isn’t running very far-just a few miles to the ghost town of Fortune . . . or Mis-Fortune as everyone else calls it. Mis-Fortune on the Mississippi. Supposedly, there’s an abandoned school on tFindingFortunehe outskirts with cheap rooms for rent. Ren knows her plan sounds crazy. But with only a few more weeks until Dad comes home from his tour of duty in Afghanistan, she also knows she has to do something drastic so Mom will come to her senses and stop seeing that creep Rick Littleton for good.

From the moment she enters the school’s shadowy halls, Ren finds herself drawn into its secrets. Every night old Mrs. Baxter, the landlady, wanders the building on a mysterious quest. What could she be up to? And can Mrs. Baxter’s outlandish plan to transform the gym into a pearl-button museum ever succeed? With a quirky new friend named Hugh at her side, Ren sets out to solve the mystery that could save Fortune from fading away. But what about her family’s future? Can that be saved too?

NINJA TIMMY by Henrik Tamm (Delacorte) NinjaTimmyTimmy the cat, his pal Simon the mink, and the pig brothers Jasper and Casper are inventors, and they’re hoping to sell their fabulous new contraption to a local merchant. With high hopes, they haul their machine through the crowded streets of Elyzandrium—and are promptly robbed by a gang of bullies. With the help of two new friends, Alfred, a kindly old toymaker, and Flores, a skilled cat pilot, Timmy and his pals set out to get back what is rightfully theirs. As it turns out, they’re not the only victims of these dastardly criminals. But what can this band of misfits do?

In this action-packed adventure, the intrepid Timmy and his wily friends transform themselves into crime-fighting ninjas—and quite possibly heroes!

BORROWED TIME by Greg Leitich Smith (Clarion) BorrowedTimeIn this time-travel dinosaur adventure, Max Pierson-Takahashi and his friend Petra return to the days of the dinosaurs, where they must survive attacks from mosasaurs, tyrannosaurs, and other deadly creatures, including a vengeful, pistol-toting girl from the 1920s. The fast pace, mind-bending time twists, and Greg Leitich Smith’s light, humorous touch make this an exciting, fun choice for readers looking for adventure and nonstop action.

 

November 17:

ABRACADABRA: THE STORY OF MAGIC THROUGH THE AGES by H.P. Newquist, illus. by Olga and Aleksey Ivanov Abracadabra(Henry Holt) Magic is a word we use to describe something amazing, awe-inspiring, or spectacular. Truly great magic makes us believe in things we know can’t be real. In the hands of the greatest magicians, even a simple card trick can become truly wondrous.

Now, in this nonfiction narrative of magic through the ages, HP Newquist explains how the world’s most famous tricks were created. From the oracles of ancient Egypt and the wizards of medieval Europe on to the exploits of Houdini and modern practitioners like Criss Angel, this book unlocks the secrets behind centuries of magic and illusion.

Fully illustrated and including step-by-step instructions for eight classic magic tricks, this book will have middle-grade readers spellbound.

ON THE RUN by Tristan Bancks (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) Ben has always wanted to be a cop, so he’s intrigued when police officers show up at the door, asking for his parents.OnTheRun Then his parents arrive after the police leave and rush him and his sister into the car, insisting they are going on a vacation. Ben’s a little skeptical–his family doesn’t go on vacations. After they lose the police in a high-speed car chase and end up in a remote cabin deep in the woods, Ben discovers his parents’ secret: millions of dollars were deposited into their bank account by accident, and they took the money and ran off. Ben isn’t sure what to think. Are his parents criminals? And because he ran off with them, is he a criminal, too?

THE HUMAN BODY: THE STORY OF HOW WE PROTECT, REPAIR, AND MAKE OURSELVES STRONGER by H.P. Newquist (Viking) TheHumanBodyDid you know the first blood transfusions were between people and lambs? Or that the first prosthetic hand with a hook was created so a French soldier could hold the reins of his horse in battle? Or that scientists recently grew a nose?

Invention & Impact, an exciting new series from PYRG-Smithsonian, introduces young readers to experiments, discoveries, and breakthroughs such as these, which have huge impacts on our world.  Designed with exciting  images from the Smithsonian’s vast collections, each highly visual book in the series starts with a big idea and then explores that concept through specific objects that give kids the micro and meta picture on how inventions and ideas connect over time.

The debut book in the series looks at one of the most complex systems on planet Earth: the human body. From artificial eyeballs to aspirin to 3-D printed body parts, The Human Body profiles the objects that scientists and tinkerers throughout history have invented (or cobbled together) to protect, repair, or improve our physical selves. And there are plenty of fascinating stories behind these objects!

Which of these or other middle-grade titles are you looking forward to reading? Let us know in the comments!