Tag Archives: middle-grade fiction

Interview with Middle grade author Greg R. Fishbone and a Giveaway!

I amgfishbone_headshotsquare delighted to be able to interview one of the Mixed Up File’s very own! Greg R. Fishbone is a very talented author and has an awesome new book to share with us today.

Who is Greg Fishbone? 

A lawyer by day and author/illustrator by night, Greg fights a never-ending battle for truth, justice, and fun. He and his wife live in the Boston area with their daughter and two cats of varying temperament.

Tell us about your latest book. Was it fun to write?

51qltyqq1tl-_sx311_bo1204203200_ My latest book is The Amorphous Assassin, the second book in the Galaxy Games series. It’s a blend of sports and science fiction with an international cast of all-star kids and one very dangerous alien.

 This is the first time I’ve written a sequel, being able to build off an existing world with a known backstory. I wanted new readers to be able to pick this book up and quickly get oriented and invested in the story, but I also wanted readers of the first book to remember the ongoing story lines and deepen their understanding of characters they already knew.  It was a challenging balance to create, which made it a whole lot of fun for me to write.

Where do you get your ideas?

 Everywhere! Places I’ve lived, things I’ve done, people I’ve known, books and articles I’ve read, TV shows, movies, those weird insurance commercials with the talking lizard, daydreams, nightmares, randomly-firing neurons… Sometimes it feels like it all sloshes around in my head until it comes out like a story-flavored smoothie. Everyone can do that, but each person’s story flavors are unique and special to them.

Why do you like writing sci-fi?

 Science fiction is the genre of what isn’t, but could be. And since we humans keep advancing our scientific knowledge, our technology, and our society, science fiction is a constantly moving target. Writing science fiction means, first, defining what science fiction means today, then redefining it for tomorrow.

And what draws you to write for middle graders? 

 I was in that range is when I got drawn into books and read some great authors who permanently expanded my mind—Madeleine L’Engle, Douglas Adams, J.R.R. Tolkein, Ellen Raskin, Isaac Asimov, Ursula K. LeGuin, Ray Bradbury, Natalie Babbitt, Piers Anthony, Arthur C. Clarke, and others. Plus my eldest daughter is in third grade now, so I especially like the idea of paying it forward to her and her generation.

It seems that you have always been drawn to superheroes. Can you tell us about some of the ones you have created in the past?

 Ages ago I had a superhero team that called themselves the Super Seven, with the joke being that they weren’t very super and there were only six of them. Or eight. Or three. Or a hundred. The Super Seven were always adding or subtracting members, but they could never quite get their membership to stabilize at seven.

 I also had a kid superhero team made up of Sporkboy, Spoongirl, and AquaRegia. They were a lot of fun.

What would be your ultimate super power? 

 Having an undo button for the real world. It would give me the ability to say, “No, that thing didn’t just happen, but here’s the better, cooler, and more interesting thing that happened instead.”

When did you start writing? 

 I used to write for fun with my friends after school, all through high school and into college. We’d take turns alternating chapters in a convoluted story that lurched in random directions and never reached an ending.

Why did you become an author?

 Writing is something I’ve always enjoyed, and I found that liked it even more as worked to get better at it. I’m still learning new things, refining my technique, and constantly being blown away by what some other authors are able to do. Besides, if I can’t have an undo button in the real world, being able to do it in a fictional world is the next best thing.

Can you name one teacher that inspired you to write or had an effect on your life? 

 Rabbi Wohlgemuth, who was a Holocaust survivor and taught at the Hebrew high school. He was such a spellbinding storyteller that his words still resonate in my memory as a general background buzz of warmth, wisdom, pain, and laughter.

What is your favorite part about being an author? 

 As an author, I’m part of a select group that gets to enrich the lives of people we don’t know and usually never get to meet. Except when we do meet them, which is the very best part of all.

Anything else that you’d like to add:

 Thanks for doing this interview, and also to everyone who took time to read it.

My Galaxy Games series isn’t from one of the biggest publishers around. It doesn’t have a huge buzz about it, and you may have to go out of your way to find the book online or to order it from your local independent bookstore, but finding just the right read is worth a little effort. I know kids will have a lot of fun reading this series, and it’s been a labor of love for me to create books that fill a gap on the shelf where nothing like them currently exist.

And if you enjoy these books, or any other books, please share them with friends, recommend them to other readers, and drop a note to the author. We always love hearing from you.

Thanks so much, Greg! If you’d like to learn more about Greg’s books or just drop him a line, check out his website HERE

Greg has generously offered to giveaway an autographed copy of his latest book.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

*****Jennifer Swanson is a self-professed science geek and author of over 25 books for kids. You can learn more about her at www.JenniferSwansonBooks.com

Pete Hautman: Interview and Giveaway!

smiley-1

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.

forgetting

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.

shocked-pete-1

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?

two-dogs-1

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?

flinkwater

“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

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.

unusual-chickens

UNUSUAL CHICKENS FOR THE EXCEPTIONAL POULTRY FARMER by Kelly Jones

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.

roll-of-thunder-hear-my-cry

ROLL OF THUNDER, HEAR MY CRY by Mildred D. Taylor

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

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

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

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.

orbiting-jupiter

ORBITING JUPITER by Gary D. Schmidt

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.

steering-toward-normal

STEERING TOWARD NORMAL by Rebecca Petruck

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

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.