Tag Archives: middle-grade fiction

Pete Hautman: Interview and Giveaway!


Pete Hautman is the author of more than twenty novels for adults and teens, including the 2004 National Book Award winner Godless, Los Angeles Times Book Prize winner The Big Crunch, and three New York Times Notable Books: Drawing Dead, The Mortal Nuts, and Rash.

His “young adult” novels range from science fiction (The Obsidian Blade) to
mystery (Blank Confession) to contemporary drama (Godless) to romantic comedy (What Boys Really Want.)

With novelist, poet, and occasional co-author Mary Logue, Hautman divides his time between Golden Valley, Minnesota, and Stockholm, Wisconsin.  His latest books are the YA novel Eden West, the story of a boy growing up in an isolated doomsday cult in Montana, and the middle-grade novel The Forgetting Machine a sci-fi comedy about, among other things, censorship in the age of ebooks.


From IndieBound: People all over Flinkwater are losing their memories and it’s up to Ginger to figure out what’s going on in this sequel to the quirky, dryly funny (Booklist) The Flinkwater Factor. Absentmindedness in Flinkwater, a town overflowing with eccentric scientists and engineers, is nothing new. Recently, however, the number of confused, forgetful citizens has been increasing, and no one seems to know why. Ginger Crump figures it’s none of her business. She has her own problems. Like the strange cat that’s been following her around a cat that seems to be able to read. And the report for school due Monday. And the fact that every digital book in Flinkwater has been vandalized by a fanatical censor, forcing Ginger to the embarrassingly retro alternative of reading books printed on dead trees. But when Ginger’s true love and future husband Billy Bates completely forgets who she is, things suddenly get serious, and Ginger swings into action.

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

There is an openness, an innocence, a hopefulness in middle-grade characters (and readers) that I like. The characters are less self-conscious, less brittle, and more about who they are rather than who they want to become.

How is writing middle-grade fiction different from writing for young adults, or “old adults?”

I get to tap into my goofy side—that part of me that enjoys scatalogical and banana peel humor. My middle-grade characters and I are not constantly striving to be cool. “Also, I get to use lots of adverbs,” he said adverbially.


Which do you prefer to read, digital books or dead trees?

I love paper books. I love the way they feel, the way they smell, and the sound of a turning page. But they do take up a lot of space, so I do about half my reading on my iPad. I like the search function on ebooks, and that you can adjust the font size and page brightness. I guess you could say I LOVE dead tree books, but I find digital books to be quite useful.

If your dogs could talk (as some of the animals do in Flinkwater), what would they say?


My dogs are quite small and very talkative. They have an assortment of barks, whines, and growls that I translate as, “Feed me, let me in, feed me, let me out, feed me, hold me, feed me, play with me, feed me.” But who knows—maybe they are asking me deep questions about the meaning of life.

If you could use a real-life REMEMBER system (without forgetting anything), what would you download into your brain?

People’s names. I’m always forgetting names, or calling people the wrong name. It’s embarrassing, and rude.

I enjoyed the “Present or Future” section at the end. Can you tell us what prompted you to add that, and to change it from the “Science, Sciency, or Fantasy” section in THE FLINKWATER FACTOR?


“Science, Sciency, or Fantasy” seemed, in retrospect, a bit fuzzy to me. For example, a hundred fifty years ago the idea of Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth might have seemed “sciency,” but today it looks more like fantasy. And self-driving cars once looked like fantasy, but today they are current technology. So I went with “Present or Future,” because things that seem like fantasy today might be reality in fifty or a hundred (or a hundred thousand) years.

What kind of research did you do to get the science (both present and future) right?

I try to keep up with scientific and technological advances, so a lot of it I already knew. But I did have to read up on antigravity and drones and maglev trains. One thing that surprised me was looking into bookless libraries—I thought they were “future,” but it turns out we already have some.

Last month, during Banned Books Week, you spoke out about censorship, which was also an important part of the plot of THE FORGETTING MACHINE, with interesting twists on the role of gatekeepers and digital media. Why did you choose CHARLOTTE’S WEB as a target for censorship in the story? 

Mostly because it seemed like an unlikely target for censors. I wanted Mr. and Mrs. Tisk to challenge a book that no reasonable person could object to, and CHARLOTTE’S WEB fit the bill.

If there was one single thing that you wanted readers to get from THE FORGETTING MACHINE, what would it be?

A few laughs, a few questions, and the desire to pick up another book. Oops, that’s not a single thing. Let’s go with laughs. To me, the most important thing is that a book be entertaining.

Will we be seeing more of Ginger Crump and her buddies in future books?

I hope so! I’m taking a break from Flinkwater to work of a couple of other middle-grade novels. One is about eating contests, the other is a sort of ghost story.

What other books do you recommend to readers who enjoyed THE FLINKWATER FACTOR and THE FORGETTING MACHINE?

THE REINVENTION OF EDISON THOMAS is pretty good. I can’t remember who wrote it. I’m terrible with names.

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

Embrace your inner child—the one you’ve been suppressing for years. The one who bursts into laughter at inappropriate moments, who asks the wrong questions, who puts her shirt on backwards, who tells silly jokes, who burps. Let your characters be kids. Do not preach. Use adverbs.

Pete is giving away one copy of THE FORGETTING MACHINE (U.S. only, please).  Enter here: 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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).



Middle Grade Farm Stories

I recently read Rebecca Petruck’s excellent STEERING TOWARD NORMAL, the story of a boy raising a prize steer for the state fair. Not long afterward, I went to my local county fair, where I fell in love with these beauties:

chicken-4 chicken-3 chicken-2

It’s possible I became briefly chicken-obsessed.

All of this got me thinking about the way that farm stories are so perfect for kids—the combination of hard work, a beautiful setting, and animals (with all the comic opportunities they provide), as well as the chance to explore big issues like life and death, as in CHARLOTTE’S WEB. I decided to go looking for more middle grade farm stories. Here is what I found. (All descriptions and images are from IndieBound, which is also linked.)


MOO by Sharon Creech

Fans of Newbery Medal winner Sharon Creech’s Love That Dog and Hate That Cat will love her newest tween novel, Moo. This uplifting tale reminds us that if we’re open to new experiences, life is full of surprises. Following one family’s momentous move from the city to rural Maine, an unexpected bond develops between twelve-year-old Reena and one very ornery cow.

When Reena, her little brother, Luke, and their parents first move to Maine, Reena doesn t know what to expect. She’s ready for beaches, blueberries, and all the lobster she can eat. Instead, her parents volunteer Reena and Luke to work for an eccentric neighbor named Mrs. Falala, who has a pig named Paulie, a cat named China, a snake named Edna and that stubborn cow, Zora.

This heartwarming story, told in a blend of poetry and prose, reveals the bonds that emerge when we let others into our lives.



Fans of Polly Horvath or Roald Dahl will love this quirky story of a determined girl, and some extraordinary chickens.

Twelve-year-old Sophie Brown feels like a fish out of water when she and her parents move from Los Angeles to the farm they ve inherited from a great-uncle. But farm life gets more interesting when a cranky chicken appears and Sophie discovers the hen can move objects with the power of her little chicken brain: jam jars, the latch to her henhouse, the “entire” henhouse….

And then more of her great-uncle’s unusual chickens come home to roost. Determined, resourceful Sophie learns to care for her flock, earning money for chicken feed, collecting eggs. But when a respected local farmer tries to steal them, Sophie must find a way to keep them (and their superpowers) safe.
Told in letters to Sophie’s “abuela, ” quizzes, a chicken-care correspondence course, to-do lists, and more, “Unusual Chickens” is a quirky, clucky classic in the making.



Winner of the Newbery Medal, this remarkably moving novel has impressed the hearts and minds of millions of readers.

Set in Mississippi at the height of the Depression, this is the story of one family’s struggle to maintain their integrity, pride, and independence in the face of racism and social injustice. And it is also Cassie’s story – Cassie Logan, an independent girl who discovers over the course of an important year why having land of their own is so crucial to the Logan family, even as she learns to draw strength from her own sense of dignity and self-respect.


WOLF HOLLOW by Lauren Wolk

Growing up in the shadows cast by two world wars, Annabelle has lived a mostly quiet, steady life in her small Pennsylvania town. Until the day new student Betty Glengarry walks into her class. Betty quickly reveals herself to be cruel and manipulative, and while her bullying seems isolated at first, things quickly escalate, and reclusive World War I veteran Toby becomes a target of her attacks. While others have always seen Toby’s strangeness, Annabelle knows only kindness. She will soon need to find the courage to stand as a lone voice of justice as tensions mount.

Brilliantly crafted, Wolf Hollow is a haunting tale of America at a crossroads and a time when one girl’s resilience and strength help to illuminate the darkest corners of our history.


HATTIE BIG SKY by Kirby Larson

This Newbery Honor winning, “New York Times” bestseller celebrates the true spirit of independence on the American frontier.

For most of her life, sixteen-year-old Hattie Brooks has been shuttled from one distant relative to another. Tired of being Hattie Here-and-There, she summons the courage to leave Iowa and move all by herself to Vida, Montana, to prove up on her late uncle’s homestead claim.

Under the big sky, Hattie braves hard weather, hard times, a cantankerous cow, and her own hopeless hand at the cookstove. Her quest to make a home is championed by new neighbors Perilee Mueller, her German husband, and their children. For the first time in her life, Hattie feels part of a family, finding the strength to stand up against Traft Martin’s schemes to buy her out and against increasing pressure to be a loyal American at a time when anything or anyone German is suspect. Despite daily trials, Hattie continues to work her uncle’s claim until an unforeseen tragedy causes her to search her soul for the real meaning of home.

This young pioneer’s story is lovingly stitched together from Kirby Larson’s own family history and the sights, sounds, and scents of homesteading life.


A DAY NO PIGS WOULD DIE by Robert Newton Peck

Originally published in hardcover in 1972, “A Day No Pigs Would Die “was one of the first young adult books, along with titles like “The Outsiders “and “The Chocolate War.” In it, author Robert Newton Peck weaves a story of
a Vermont boyhood that is part fiction, part memoir. The result is a moving coming-of-age story that still resonates with teens today.



The two-time Newbery Honor winner Gary D. Schmidt delivers the shattering story of Joseph, a father at thirteen, who has never seen his daughter, Jupiter. After spending time in a juvenile facility, he’s placed with a foster family on a farm in rural Maine. Here Joseph, damaged and withdrawn, meets twelve-year-old Jack, who narrates the account of the troubled, passionate teen who wants to find his baby at any cost. In this riveting novel, two boys discover the true meaning of family and the sacrifices it requires.



Eighth grade is set to be a good year for Diggy Lawson: He’s chosen a great calf to compete at the Minnesota State Fair, he’ll see a lot of July, the girl he secretly likes at 4-H, and he and his dad Pop have big plans for April Fool’s Day. But everything changes when classmate Wayne Graf’s mother dies, which brings to light the secret that Pop is Wayne’s father, too. Suddenly, Diggy has a half brother, who moves in and messes up his life. Wayne threatens Diggy’s chances at the State Fair, horns in on his girl, and rattles his easy relationship with Pop.
What started out great quickly turns into the worst year ever, filled with jealousy, fighting, and several incidents involving cow poop. But as the boys care for their steers, pull pranks, and watch too many B movies, they learn what it means to be brothers and change their concept of family as they slowly steer toward a new kind of normal.


CHICKEN BOY by Frances O. Dowell

Meet Tobin McCauley. He’s got a near-certifiable grandmother, a pack of juvenile-delinquent siblings, and a dad who’s not going to win father of the year any time soon. To top it off, Tobin’s only friend truly believes that the study of chickens will reveal…the meaning of life? Getting through seventh grade isn’t easy for anyone, but when the first day of school starts out with your granny’s arrest, you know you’ve got real problems. Throw on a five-day suspension, a chicken that lays green eggs, and a family feud that’s tearing everyone to pieces, and you’re in for one heck of a ride.

Katharine Manning hasn’t eaten lamb since she saw one born at her parents’ farm in West Virginia. She blogs here and at The Winged Pen, and is thrilled to be a 2016 CYBILS judge for poetry. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram, and at www.katharinemanning.com.

Indie Spotlight: Second Star to the Right Children’s Books, Denver CO

second-star-ooks-logoHooray! A new and thriving all-children’s bookstore!  This month we’re talking with Dea Lavoie, Co-owner of Second Star to the Right Children’s Books in Denver.

MUF: We’re excited about your new store, a true children’s bookstore that includes both new and used books. What inspired you to set up shop, and how’s it going so far?second-star-front
Dea: Opening the bookstore has been a dream for a long time. I could see myself as the Meg Ryan character in the movie You’ve Got Mail! My husband and I had been teachers for around 12 years, and I knew I wanted to continue working with children. Children’s literature is amazing, and I wanted to share my love of it, and help children discover their love of it as well. It has been such a learning experience and we have been so grateful that people have embraced and encouraged us along the way. We just had our best month ever and keep continuing to grow!second-star-interior

MUF: In a small store like this, you must have room only for good books. How do you choose the titles you carry, both new and used?
Dea: Choosing the books for the shop is truly a joy. We make sure that we have the beloved favorites from way back, along with the most current titles. Fortunately we get to look at samples of new books before each order to help decide which ones we think our customers would love the most. Then you just have to decide which ones tug on your heart strings the most, or envision if you think a specific customer might enjoy the book. It ‘s a little tricky sometimes, but your intuition kicks in a lot.second-star-lilysecond-star-bfg

 MUF: As middle grade authors, we’re curious to know some titles– new and old, fiction and nonfiction– you find yourself recommending to readers ages 8-12 these days?
Dea: When I taught third grade, my students always seemed to love the Roald Dahl books, especially The BFG. The humor in the book really engaged the kids. So I do recommend those. secon-star-raymiesecond-star-wrinkleThe One and Only Ivan by Kathrine Applegate is such a poignant book about animals and friendship my students really enjoyed, and one I recommend.  Also, A Wrinkle in Time is an amazingly imaginative book that kids now appreciate as much as many years ago when it was written. Some of the newer books I recommend are Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo, whom I adore, Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart that tackles transgender and bipolar issues in a beautiful story, and The Girl who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill,second-star-girl-who-drank a magical middle grade fairy tale about a young girl with emerging magical powers that result from drinking moonlight.

MUF: Bug parties, dog adoptions, math tutoring, yoga lessons—tell us about some of the activities going on at Second Star on the Right. Any author visits or other events coming up that would be of special interest to middle-graders?second-star-banned-books
Dea: Our many events and activities keep us on our toes! We have such a creative staff that includes teachers, actors, and artists. Everyone is always thinking of something new to try. We do monthly read to a dog, read with a local police officer, local dentist, storytime in Spanish or French, Baby Storytime, Parent book clubs, and birthday parties! We also have a middle grader advisory group that get to read books before they’re released. They give us opinions on what they like which books they think will sell. (They also get to keep some of the books!) We’re always looking for new members.
We frequently have author appearances. Upcoming October events include a Pete the Cat and the Missing Cupcake Party at 4:00 on the 9th and  Kathleen Pelley and her new book Happy Mamas on October 15th, when we will have a Spanish translator present to translate the book into Spanish. Author Stan Yan who second-star-zombiewrote There’s a Zombie in the Basement is coming on the 16th. We also have a Pumpkin Party on the 21st and Trick or Treat Street on the 29th where Kids trick or treat through the neighborhood! We add new authors and events all the time.ssecond-star-best-bkstore

MUF: If a family from out of town visited your shop, would there be family-friendly places to get a snack or meal afterward? And if they could spend the day or more, are there some unique family activities or sights nearby that they shouldn’t miss?
Dea: We are located on Tennyson street, in northwest Denver, that features many boutiques, restaurants, and shops to explore. We are right next to Cozy Cottage, a tasty breakfast and lunch place, along with Parisi, a yummy Italian restaurant, and across from El Chingon, an authentic Mexican food restaurant. This area has many festivals going on that feature arts, crafts, and local food items, we’re also a hop, skip, and jump from the mountains which are always great for a picnic! Elitch’s is Denver’s big amusement park, and lots of fun, and so are the Aquarium, Denver Zoo, and Botanic Gardens. scond-str-welcome

MUF:  Thanks so much Dea for opening this store and for telling our readers about it.  Readers, next time you’re in Denver, be sure to visit this addition to the world of children’ books.

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