Tag Archives: michelle houts

What does getting a Starred review from Kirkus mean?

I was enjoying an evening of golf and dinner with my husband and friends. I left my phone at home. When we got home to walk our lovable two-year-old Labrador (who has the incredible literary name of Luna), I grabbed my phone. As I fired it up, I had several texts from my editor, Michelle Houts.

“Hey! I’m so very excited and happy for you, the shining star (think emoji) of our series!! Congratulations! (Another emoji.)

I sent a text back. “I have no idea what you are talking about.”

“Julie…you got a Kirkus STARRED REVIEW for Virginia Hamilton.”

At which point I called Michelle and had a memorable, fun conversation about this good fortune that has been bestowed on my recently released middle-grade biography of the most honored author of children’s literature.

Wow.

Even though this all occurred about a month ago, I’m still pinching myself. My third book published, just my second biography, and I’ve received this incredible validation of my writing abilities. And to be honest, from the outset, I didn’t really know the significance or the impact the glorious review meant. So, being the true-blue, nonfiction writer I am, I did my research.

Kirkus is one of four magazines that review books for publishers, for a fee.

Publishers Weekly is considered the leading magazine covering every aspect of “creating and selling the written word…” Over 7,000 book and media reviews are conducted each year. Subscribers shell out $250 annually for the benefit of reading the magazine. Kirkus gives individuals in the industry a preview of the most notable books being published, weeks before they are released. Kirkus sends out weekly emails to subscribers, doling out their reviews. Digital and print subscriptions cost $200 a year.

Library Journal and Booklist are the other two, and geared mainly toward librarians.  Booklist reviewers are affiliated with the American Library Association and reviews over 8,000 books annually. Library Journal reviewers are librarians and library experts who review a similar number of books as Booklist.

All four offer Starred Reviews.

But getting one from Kirkus is a whole different level, so I’m told. Kirkus has a reputation in author’s circles as being, well, let’s say persnickety. Harsh was another adjective used.

So, getting a Starred review is even more significant. It symbolizes excellence in writing. As the Kirkus website offers, “The Kirkus Star is one of the most prestigious designations in the book industry.”

When I shared the news with Arnold Adoff, the late Ms. Hamilton’s husband, he shared that in all the many years he and Virginia wrote, “getting a star from Kirkus was the hardest.”

So, what does that review mean? For me, that little star hopefully shines a big light on Virginia’s life journey, and ultimately creates new readers and fans of her work.

Virginia Hamilton Cover

She’s the real star.

Cinco de Mayo, Middle-Grade Style

Cinco de Mayo is celebrated by many in the United States, but does everyone who celebrates know what the holiday commemorates?  A popular myth is that Cinco de Mayo is Mexico’s Independence Day, similar to America’s Fourth of July.

But, it isn’t. Mexico’s Independence Day is September 16th.

Here’s the real story:  On the 5th day of May in 1862, though out-numbered and poorly equipped, Mexican soldiers held off French soldiers in the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War. This stopped the the French from progressing to Mexico City. It was a victory worth celebrating!

Also worth celebrating are some great middle-grade titles that feature Latina/Latino characters.  But first, two words of caution as we think about diversity in our reading selections:

Not just today. Cinco de Mayo (or any holiday of cultural significance) is a great time to move readers toward more diverse book selection. But, let’s not limit that practice to the “culture of the month.”  Each and every day, we should strive for diversity in our home, classroom, school, and public libraries.

Not just the classics. There will always be that treasured and timeless book we adore. We love it for its heart and for its story. And, because its characters helped us learn more about a given culture (in this case, think Esperanza Rising), we tend to gravitate toward it again and again.  I say, Great! But, don’t stop there. Look for and champion new middle grade titles, like the ones below.

Click the book to go to the publisher’s page to read more about it.




Comment below with a book featuring Latina/Latino main characters that you’d like to read on Cinco de Mayo (or ANY day!)

A Word or Two with Phil Bildner

Today the Mixed-Up Files blog is talking with author Phil Bildner. You may know Phil from his amazing picture books, including Marvelous Cornelius: Hurricane Katrina and the Spirit of New Orleans and Derek Jeter Presents: Night at the Stadium.

I met Phil Bildner on a three-hour bus ride through rural Missouri last spring when we were both featured authors at Truman State University’s Children’s Literature Festival. (The Mixed-Up Files’ own Tricia Springstubb will be taking that bus ride this April!) On that trip Phil taught me how to capture great photos from slo-mo video (we had a lot of time to fill!). I practiced on him. Want to see?

I also learned that Phil Bildner is a high-energy, deep-thinking, and talented middle-grade author and former middle school teacher. In addition to picture books, Phil writes the Rip and Red series. This series is all about the things that, when it comes to kids, matter most to Phil:  school, sports, friendships, community, and empathy.  Look for Tournament of Champions, the third book in the series this June.

So, I was going to call this post A WORD WITH PHIL BILDNER and limit his responses to a single word, but then I thought how difficult that might be, so I gave him a little wiggle room.  He could answer with TWO words if he needed to.

So, let’s see how he does. Ready?

MH:  I always pick a word of the year. Do you have a word for 2017?
PB:  Evaluate
MH: What’s the best thing about being a successful middle-grade author?PB: Kid readers

MH: Which is your favorite part of the writing process:  research, drafting, or editing?
PB: Research
 
MH: How would you describe your writing style?
PB: Scattered
 
MH: What’s the best time of day to write?

PB: Morning

MH: What food have you tried that you hope you’ll never have to eat again?
PB: Beets
MH:  So, I guess I won’t serve these to you, then.

 
MH: What is the latest you’ve ever been on a deadline?
PB:  Late? Never.
MH:  Wow!
 
MH: If you could visit anywhere in the world, where would you go?
PB:  Machu Picchu
 
MH: When you were in middle school, what did you think you would be when you grew up?

PB: Lawyer

MH: What animal would be a great pet?
PB: Dogs!
 Meet Katniss, Phil’s rescued pitbull mix.

She’s smiling, isn’t she?

MH: Where do you most like to write?
PB: Back porch
 
MH: What’s the hardest part of writing for children?
PB: Time management
 
MH: Is there a word that you really like the sound of?
PB: Boo-yah!
MH:
MH: What is the farthest from home you’ve ever travelled?
PB: South Africa and China
 
Which is more challenging to write: picture books or middle-grade?

PB: Middle-grade

MH: Who is your favorite character from middle-grade fiction?
PB: Auggie Pullman

MH: If you could meet any famous person, who would you meet?
PB: President Obama

MH: What do the best middle-grade books offer their readers?
PB: Hope

MH: If you could talk to your 12-year-old self, what would you say?
PB: You got this.

 
MH: What could our world use more of?
PB: Empathy
MH:  I agree.MH:  So, besides the third Rip and Red book, I know that you have a picture book coming soon about two famous tennis players, titled  Martina and Chrissie: The Greatest Rivalry in the History of Sports.  What can you tell us about that book?

PB: 
MH: What’s wrong? Do you need more than one or two words? Oh, well, I guess. Take as many as you need.

 

PB:  The rivalry between Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert was (and is) the greatest rivalry in the history of sports. No other rivalry comes close. They faced one another an incredible eighty times, fourteen times in grand slam finals. But what makes their rivalry and story so compelling and important is that it went far beyond the grass courts of the All England Club and the red clay of Roland Garros. What makes their rivalry transcendent is the humanity of the combatants.

Martina and Chrissie were fierce competitors. They played under the brightest lights and on the biggest stages. But they were also the best of friends, and in the world of sports where we often carelessly serve and volley phrases like “going to war” and “doing battle” and “fighting for your life,” Martina and Chrissie never lost sight of their humanity.

MH: Now I’m really glad I gave you more space. I loved watching Martina and Chrissie play tennis when I was young!

Thank you, Phil, for your brief, but heartfelt answers! It’s been fun talking with you on the Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors!  Folks, find Phil Bildner by clicking here, and find his books in your neigborhorhood bookstores.

 Michelle Houts is the author of many books for middle-grade readers. She’s rarely a person of few words, so she completely appreciates the challenge Phil Bildner faced doing this interview! Find Michelle at www.michellehouts.com and on Twitter and Instagram as mhoutswrites.