Tag Archives: middle-grade fiction

Interview with Julie Mata–and a Giveaway!


Julie's book portrait (2)

 About Julie:

Julie Mata didn’t realize she was a humor writer until she started writing and it came out…sideways. She admits she has occasionally tried to force funny, which always hurts. Julie is the author of Kate Walden Directs: Night of the Zombie Chickens, published by Disney Hyperion. Her second novel, Kate Walden Directs: Slug Man from Mars, arrives in May 2015. Both books will also be published in German by CBT, a division of Random House Germany. Julie’s Instagram, KateWaldenDirects, offers fun 15-second filmmaking tips for kids, and you can learn more about Julie on her website, juliemata.com, or by following her on Twitter at @juliehmata.

 

 

ZombieChickens2

About the Book  (From IndieBound):

Night of the Zombie Chickens is supposed to be Kate Walden’s breakout film. But her supporting actresses-her mother’s prize organic hens-are high maintenance, to say the least. Thank goodness Kate’s best friend Alyssa is the star. She’s great at screaming and even better at killing zombies in creative ways.

But when Alyssa ditches Kate for the most popular girl in seventh grade, Kate suddenly finds herself both friendless and starless. Now, thanks to Alyssa’s new crowd, Kate is the butt of every joke at school and consigned to the loser table at lunch.

If movies have taught Kate anything, it’s that the good guy can always win-with the right script. And her fellow social outcasts may be the key to her own happy ending. Kate hatches the perfect revenge plot against her former best friend, but even though her screenplay is foolproof, Kate soon realizes that nothing-in filmmaking or in life-ever goes exactly as planned. Especially when there are diabolical hens out to get you.

 

Kate Walden Directs: Night of the Zombie Chickens is your debut novel. Can you tell us a little about its journey from idea to book?

I knew I wanted to write a middle grade novel but I wasn’t sure what to write about. I was sitting in my kitchen one night and the familiar maxim came to mind, write what you know. My first reaction was, I don’t know much! As I thought more about it, I realized that wasn’t exactly true. My husband and I own a video production business and I once wrote and directed a short film, so I know about film and video production. It occurred to me that kids love to make movies with their friends.  Why not write about a girl who wants to be a Hollywood director when she grows up? Of course, she had to be working on a movie. At the time, we were living on an acreage with a small menagerie that included chickens, so I knew about raising hens. Kids love zombies, so I decided that Kate would make a movie about zombie chickens. And Kate Walden Directs: Night of the Zombie Chickens was born!

 

What advice do you have for kids who want to make their own movies?

Kids can learn a lot just by watching movies. For instance, how do the professionals frame their shots and how do they move the camera? They can also try Kate Walden’s method, which is to just do it—make a short movie with their friends.  It’s okay to make mistakes because that’s a great way to learn what works and what doesn’t. My Instagram, KateWaldenDirects, offers quick 15-second filmmaking tips on easy ways to create some cool shots. I cover everything from how to make blood to using a skateboard as a camera dolly. Lastly, I would advise kids to try writing a script instead of just winging it. And keep it fun!

 

What have you got against chickens?

Those evil creatures! Ha, actually I love chickens. I also think eggs are delicious. Some of the chicken behavior in my book came from our own hens’ antics, like roosting (and pooping) in the garage, or climbing into cars and pecking at groceries. For my story, I thought it would be funnier if Kate hates eggs and suspects her mother’s hens are trying to ruin her life. She has to work with them because they have roles in her movie, but she doesn’t trust them!

 

It looks like you’ve got a sequel lined up. Can you tell us about it? Are there more to come after that?

There is a sequel, and I’m thrilled because I recently finished final revisions on it and sent it off! It’s entitled, Kate Walden Directs: Slug Man from Mars. In this story, Kate’s classmates can’t wait to be in her next production…until a know-it-all new boy shows up who also likes to make movies. Kate hopes to impress him with her vast movie-making knowledge. Instead, they become rivals. But can Kate’s slime-spewing sci-fi flick beat the new boy’s gritty crime drama? The film wars are on!

I haven’t heard anything yet about additional books, but I certainly hope there will be more!

 

If there was one single thing that you wanted readers to get from Kate Walden Directs: Night of the Zombie Chickens, what would it be?

In my story, Kate and her friend Alyssa have a huge fight and Kate is sure their friendship is over. She even does some mean things to get back at Alyssa. I hope readers take away that friendships are important and despite the confusion and frustration they sometimes cause. Even if mean things are said or done in the heat of a fight, just saying I’m sorry can go a long way toward healing hurt feelings. And, of course, if we want our friends to forgive us, we have to be willing to forgive them, too!

And if I’m allowed a second thing, it would be that it’s great to dream big, but you have to work hard to make your dream come true, and you can’t give up when obstacles get in the way. Kate runs into big problems trying to make her movie, including her fight with Alyssa, but she doesn’t give up trying to finish it.

 

What other books do you recommend to readers who enjoyed KATE WALDEN DIRECTS: NIGHT OF THE ZOMBIE CHICKENS?

The Year of Billy Miller, by Kevin Henkes, is for a slightly younger audience but I think readers will really enjoy the quirky humor. The Wig: Crazy Summer by Renata Suerth is funny and a great story, and Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald is also loads of fun. There are so many good books out there right now that it’s hard to pick just a few!

 

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

I love that middle-grade fiction is more complex than early readers but more innocent than YA. Middle grade is perfect because it’s right in the middle. It doesn’t have to deal with boyfriend-girlfriend drama in the same way that seems to be expected in YA these days. MG characters might have similar concerns as YA characters, like friendships, family problems, a crush, but those themes can be treated in a lighter fashion. I love that middle grade readers are perceptive and smart and can read about weightier issues as long as they’re handled well. In fact, I think they appreciate real characters with real flaws. That’s why I love writing middle-grade fiction, and I love reading it for the same reasons.

 

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

I would advise reading A LOT, but especially new middle-grade fiction. Reading the old classics is great, too, but it’s important to study current styles to see what young readers like and what publishers are buying. I wrote a middle-grade fantasy novel before Kate Walden Direct: Night of the Zombie Chickens (it’s still sitting in my drawer!) and I didn’t follow my own advice. I wrote it in a style similar to middle-grade fantasies I had read as a child. After finishing it, I did the research I should have done earlier and realized that style was dated. Even worse, I read an agent’s description of overused plot elements she didn’t want to see, and almost every element was in my story!

I think it’s also essential to become a member of the Society of Children Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). SCBWI provides valuable information and classes, as well as great networking and learning opportunities through their conferences. It’s a wonderful way to meet other authors, gain access to agents and publishers, and make friends!

Thanks Julie!

Julie has generously offered to give away a Zombie Chicken signed copy of Kate Walden Directs: Night of the Zombie Chickens. Enter below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 Jacqueline Houtman  learned her way around the insides of a chicken at the University of Delaware. Her next book is a middle-grade biography of civil rights activist Bayard Rustin (Quaker Press). 

 

Interview with Gayle Rosengren–and a Giveaway

Fiona & Me

Gayle Rosengren (and Fiona)

About Gayle: Gayle Rosengren grew up in Chicago and majored in creative writing at Knox College.  She never outgrew her passion for children’s books, and she worked in the children’s and young adult services departments of  her local library for several years, enthusiastically sharing her love of books with young people.  After moving to Madison, Wisconsin, she worked first in the reference library and later as a copyeditor at American Girl.  She also published short stories in Cricket, Ladybug, Jack and Jill and Children’s Digest. Now Gayle writes full-time in her home outside of Madison, where she lives with her husband Don and their slightly neurotic rescue dog, Fiona. She is living her dream, she says, writing books she hopes will make the same difference in children’s lives as her favorite books made in hers.   What the Moon Said is her first novel.

WhatTheMoonSaid_presales

 

From Indiebound: Thanks to her superstitious mother, Esther knows some tricks for avoiding bad luck: toss salt over your left shoulder, never button your shirt crooked, and avoid black cats. But even luck can’t keep her family safe from the Great Depression. When Pa loses his job, Esther’s family leaves their comfy Chicago life behind for a farm in Wisconsin.

Living on a farm comes with lots of hard work, but that means there are plenty of opportunities for Esther to show her mother how helpful she can be. She loves all of the farm animals (except the mean geese) and even better makes a fast friend in lively Bethany. But then Ma sees a sign that Esther just knows is wrong. If believing a superstition makes you miserable, how can that be good luck?  Debut author Gayle Rosengren brings the past to life in this extraordinary, hopeful story.

What the Moon Said is a Junior Library Guild Selection.

Here is what the reviewers had to say:

“Rosengren, in her first novel, offers an intimate account of a family’s adjustment to country life and the hardships of the Great Depression. It’s easy to root for Esther, who makes the most of each day, wants little, and gives much.”  Publishers Weekly

“A coming-of-age tale gets to the heart of family dynamics in the face of drastic life changes in the earliest days of the Depression.”   Booklist

“…the story triumphs in its small vignettes…”  School Library Journal

“… Sensitive and tender.”     Kirkus

What kind of research did you do about depression-era Chicago and Wisconsin? What was the hardest part?  

I had heard a lot of stories about my mother’s  life on the farm while I was growing up, but it was all in very broad strokes. I needed to fill in lots of details, about life on a farm and especially about farm and city life during the Great Depression.  I first reached out to my mother and she was able to provide a few really nice details, but for the most part her memories were cloudy and unreliable.  So I moved on to books for a general sense of the times, and then I went to my computer to research more nitty-gritty details online.  The hardest part was not taking anything for granted. For example, I originally planned to have the two teachers at Esther’s school distribute candy canes on the last day of school before Christmas.  I suddenly wondered if they would have been wrapped in cellophane at the time, or if perhaps the teachers would have wrapped them in waxed paper. Asking my mother led to a vague, “They must have been…it wouldn’t have been sanitary if they weren’t.”  Unconvinced, I went to my laptop to research candy canes only to discover they weren’t even available to the public until the 1950’s!  Who knew?  So a quick change from candy canes to gingerbread men was immediately made to the manuscript.  I was incredibly relieved I’d caught the error before it made it into print.  All my careful research was nearly undermined by a candy cane!  But this taught me a lesson about research that I won’t soon forget:  Never assume!

Esther’s mother seems to have a superstition for every possible situation. Do you have any superstitions of your own? 

My grandmother lived with us from the time I was eight years old, so she instilled in me the same superstitions that “Ma” drummed into Esther.   Even as a child I had my doubts about the connections between my actions and good or bad luck, but there was no getting around the required actions:  you spill salt, you toss it over your shoulder; you never tell a bad dream before breakfast or –eek!–it will come true; you never put a hat on a bed or someone is going to die(!); and, of course, you never EVER bring an open umbrella inside the house.  There were lots more, but you get the idea.  To this day, I won’t bring an umbrella inside the house until it’s closed, even if I get wet in the process of closing it outside.  It’s silly, and intellectually I know this but even though I don’t really believe in them, I “honor” them rather than tempting fate.  (Which I guess sort of undoes my denial of belief!)  In terms of my own superstitions, I do have a few.  The most significant one is that I always wear my mother’s ring when I do an event about What the Moon Said.  Although my mom knew I had written a book inspired by her childhood and had even read an early draft, she passed away before it was accepted for publication. Wearing her ring makes me feel as if she’s with me, seeing how well her story is being received and how many readers have fallen in love with the character of Esther.  She’d be so happy to know that.

If there was one single thing that you wanted readers to get from What the Moon Said, what would it be?

That you should follow your heart–trust it to guide you when you must make difficult decisions, as Esther did in the book.

Why do you write middle-grade?

I write middle grade because I think it’s the most fertile ground for planting and nurturing a love of books.  So much is new to middle grade readers.  They’re wide open to all kinds of stories–fiction, non-fiction, biographies, fairy tales, historical fiction, contemporary, mysteries, suspense, silliness.  This time in their lives is when the vast majority of them will discover the joy and excitement of entering the world of a book and be started down the path to being life-long readers.  I love being a part of that very important adventure and discovery.

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

As with writing for any genre, but especially writing for children and young adults, the first step is always to read, read, read what has been published in recent years.  Especially read the award winners and the books on recommended reading lists at libraries.  The children’s publishing market is evolving nearly as quickly as everything else. Read to get a sense of what is out there already and to get some sense of the terrain.  Then forget about what you read and write your own story–not with the thought of making a fortune or a getting a movie deal.  Just with the hope that it will resonate with young readers.  Write from your heart with no other goal than to touch theirs.

Gayle is giving away a signed copy of What the Moon Said. Enter here: a Rafflecopter giveaway

Jacqueline Houtman is the author of The Reinvention of Edison Thomas. She is currently working on a biography of Bayard Rustin for young readers.

Indie Spotlight: Birchbark Books , Minneapolis MN

birchbark logoImagine a bookstore founded and owned by a world-renowned poet and author for adults and children. Such a unique store exists. It’s Birchbark Books in Minneapolis, created fourteen years ago by Louise Erdrich as part of her passion to ensure that true stories of the native people are told and known, and their laguages not forgotten. Birchbark Books is a teaching store, infused with a generous and welcoming spirit.  We’re talking today with store manager Susan White, about whom the website says. “If you are lucky enough to visit when Susan White is there, you will feel mysteriously better all day.”birchbark storefront

MUF:  Susan, who comes to Birchbark Books, in person and online? What experiences do you strive to provide for native readers? For non-native readers?
Susan: Ours is a neighborhood store, only 800 square ft., but people visit from all over the world, especially from France, Germany, and Great Britain, and from all over North America.  Last week we had visitors from New Zealand. People make pilgrimages!  Our online catalog serves customer in th U.S. and Canada. What makes us so unique is that we serve many communities.  Our mission is to provide accurate and truthful books about native people of the Midwest and all over the country, but we are also a carefully curated full-range bookstore for children and adults.Birchbark Interior

MUF: Your catalog and staff recommendations include so many interesting titles that we have seen nowhere else, and especially intriguing books written for, or appropriate for, children.  As middle-grade authors, we would love to know some of the titles, you particularly recommend to boys and girls ages eight to twelve?birchbark house
Susan: All our children’s books, whether native or not, are chosen for truth and beauty.   Recommendations?  First of all would be Louise Erdrich’s award-winning Birchbark House Series (The Birchbark House, The Game of Silence, The Porcupine Year).  Louise grew up on Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie series and loved it, but she  knew Laura’s mother was wrong when she said “there is nothing here.” Louise set the Birchbark House novels in the same place to show how much was there when seen from the eyes of the native Ojibwe.  How I Became a Ghost is by Tim Tingle , who sets his series in the 1835 Trail of Tears and writes from the character of a boy who didn’t survive it.  Moose Tracks and Wolf Shadows by Mary Cassanova are especially great for reluctant readers.  I would also recommend Summer of the Wolves, by Polly Carlson-Voiles and a native-title picture book, Black Elk’s Vision, A Lakota Story, by S.D. Nelson.Birchbark How I Became a GhostBirchbark Black ElkBirchbark-- summer of the wolves

Birchbark moose tracksMUF: We’re told that one of the most wonderful things one can take away from a visit to Birchbark Books—guaranteed forgiveness— is absolutely free.  Please tell our readers about the forgiveness booth and other features of your shop—reading spaces, native arts— that create its special atmosphere.
Susan: The forgiveness booth is meant to replace the confessional booth.  Everyone is forgiven and you don’t have to confess anything. You can get a glimpse of it in Bill Moyers’ interview of Louise : http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/04092010/watch2.html. 

Despite our small size, we carry not only books but native arts, cards, and jewelry in the store, which we buy directly from the artists.  There is a loft where kids can go to read, and the younger ones can hang out in the Hobbit Hole below. 

The Forgiveness Booth

The Forgiveness Booth

Dharma

Dharma’s favorites: DOG SONGS by Mary Oliver and E.B. WHITE ON DOGS

MUF: Everyone who works at Birchbark Books seems to have a dog helping them peruse the books.  Do these four-footed aides spend their days in the shop, or do they mostly work from home?
Susan: We usually have a dog in the store.  Most often it’s my own dog Dharma.  She’s the Queen Bee and has good bookstore manners.

MUF: Do your native language materials include some introductory books for the curious beginner?
Susan: We’re part of the native language revitalization movement, especially of the Dakota, Ojibwe and Lakota languages.  We carry language materials for adults and children, including several children’s books with CDs.  Some of these materials are hard to find, and we have a large and varied selection.  Louise and her sister Heid have formed Wiigwaas (Birchbark) Press that publishes books in Ojibwe only.  So far they have three books of animal stories. We also have many bilingual books.

MUF:Do you have any  events at the store that would be of special interest to middle-graders?  Anything coming up this spring?
Susan: Of course we don’t have a lot of space for events, but we have had author signings with many young adult and children’s authors, including Phyllis Root.  This spring we’re planning to do feature her new book, Plant a Pocket of Prairie, illustrated by Betsy Bowen.  It’s coming out in May.screenshot_1266

MUF: If a family from out of town made a day visit to Birchbark Books, would there be a family-friendly place nearby where they could get a snack or a meal afterward?  And if they could stay a little longer, are there some other unique activities or places of interest nearby that they shouldn’t miss?Birchbark crafts
Susan:  Right next door is the Kenwood Restaurant, and at the end of the block is Bockley Gallery (www.bockleygallery.com)with works by contemporary native artists.  We’re only two blocks from Lake of the Isles where there are trails for hiking. And of course there are many museums and attractions throughout Minneapolis.

MUF: Thank you so much, Susan, for sharing this wonderful store and its passion with us.  Readers, if you have visited Birchbark Books or are intrigued and think you would like to, please leave a comment.

Sue Cowing is the author of the puppet-and-boy novel You Will Call Me Drog, Carolrhoda 2011, Usborne UK 2012