Tag Archives: middle-grade fiction

Interview with Brooks Benjamin, Melanie Conklin, Shari Schwarz, and Laura Shovan + Giveaway

We have a treat today on the blog. Four middle grade authors are releasing their stunning debuts on April 12th. We’ve asked each of them a few fun questions (learn all about Bunnicula, a debut author slumber party, and the power of brightly colored socks). At the end of this post, you’ll find a link to a Rafflecopter giveaway where you can win all four books! Here are the books and authors:

Brooks Benjamin, My Seventh-Grade Life in Tights

Seventh Grade Life

LIVE IT.

All Dillon wants is to be a real dancer. And if he wins a summer scholarship at Dance-Splosion, he’s on his way. The problem? His dad wants him to play football. And Dillon’s freestyle crew, the Dizzee Freekz, says that dance studios are for sellouts. His friends want Dillon to kill it at the audition—so he can turn around and tell the studio just how wrong their rules and creativity-strangling ways are.

WORK IT.

At first, Dillon’s willing to go along with his crew’s plan, even convincing one of the snobbiest girls at school to work with him on his technique. But as Dillon’s dancing improves, he wonders: what if studios aren’t the enemy? And what if he actually has a shot at winning the scholarship?

BRING IT.

Dillon’s life is about to get crazy . . . on and off the dance floor.

About Brooks: In sixth grade, Brooks Benjamin formed a New Kids on the Block tribute dance crew called the New Kidz. He wasn’t that good at dancing back then. But now he’s got a new crew—his wife and their dog. They live in Tennessee, where he teaches reading and writing and occasionally busts out a few dance moves. He’s still not that good at it. His first novel, MY SEVENTH-GRADE LIFE IN TIGHTS will be released by Delacorte/Random House (April 12, 2016).

Melanie Conklin, Counting Thyme

Counting Thyme

When eleven-year-old Thyme Owens’ little brother, Val, is accepted into a new cancer drug trial, it’s just the second chance that he needs. But it also means the Owens family has to move to New York, thousands of miles away from Thyme’s best friend and everything she knows and loves. The island of Manhattan doesn’t exactly inspire new beginnings, but Thyme tries to embrace the change for what it is: temporary.

After Val’s treatment shows real promise and Mr. Owens accepts a full-time position in the city, Thyme has to face the frightening possibility that the move to New York is permanent. Thyme loves her brother, and knows the trial could save his life—she’d give anything for him to be well—but she still wants to go home, although the guilt of not wanting to stay is agonizing. She finds herself even more mixed up when her heart feels the tug of new friends, a first crush, and even a crotchety neighbor and his sweet whistling bird. All Thyme can do is count the minutes, the hours, and days, and hope time can bring both a miracle for Val and a way back home.

About Mel: Melanie Conklin is a writer, reader, and life-long lover of books and those who create them. She lives in South Orange, New Jersey with her husband and two small maniacs, who are thankfully booklovers, too. Melanie spent a decade as a product designer and approaches her writing with the same three-dimensional thinking and fastidious attention to detail. Counting Thyme is her debut middle grade novel, coming from G.P. Putnam’s Sons on April 12, 2016.

Shari Schwarz, Treasure at Lure Lake

Lure Lake

An epic adventure—that’s all Bryce wants this summer. So when he stumbles upon a treasure map connected to an old family secret, Bryce is determined to follow the clues to unearth both, even it means hiking in the wilderness in the middle of nowhere. Bryce must work with his bickering brother, Jack, or they may never see the light of day again!

About Shari: Shari Schwarz is a mom of four boys–three preteen/teenagers and one preschooler. (Yes, they are alike in many ways!) and the author of the upcoming, TREASURE AT LURE LAKE, out April 12, 2016 by Cedar Fort.

Shari is a simple person (her husband would totally disagree!) and a homebody, but she does love long chats with friends over a latte, dreaming of going to the beach, and writing adventure stories for children. If she’s not writing, she’s reading, whether it be a manuscript for the literary agent she interns for or working on an editing project. In the quiet spaces of life, she might find time for her other loves: gardening, weight-lifting, hiking, and a bit of photography. Shari has had a lifelong faith in God and tries to leave it ALL in his hands.

Shari has degrees in Cross-Cultural Studies and Elementary Education with an emphasis in Literacy. She worked as an elementary school librarian before her little guy came on the scene. Now she stays home with him and writes.

Laura Shovan, The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary

last fifth grade cover

Laura Shovan’s engaging novel is a time capsule of one class’s poems during a transformative school year. The students grow up and move on in this big-hearted debut about finding your voice and making sure others hear it.

About Laura: Laura Shovan is former editor for Little Patuxent Review and editor of two poetry anthologies. Her chapbook, Mountain, Log, Salt and Stone, won the inaugural Harriss Poetry Prize. Laura works with children as a poet-in-the-schools. The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary, her novel-in-verse for children, will be published in 2016 (Wendy Lamb Books/Random House).

What is your favorite quote on reading or writing?

Brooks: I’d have to go with one from Ray Bradbury. “I don’t need an alarm clock. My ideas wake me.”

Shari: There are so many! Here’s one I love by Robert Frost, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”

Mel: This is not quite a writing quote, but it is my favorite.  “Only the soul that knows the mighty grief can know the mighty rapture. Sorrows come to stretch out spaces in the heart for joy.” — Edwin Markham

Laura: Neil Gamain’s epigraph for the novel Coraline is “Fairy tales are more than true – not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.” It’s a paraphrase of a longer quote from author G. K. Chesterton.

Do you have any writing rituals or superstitions?

Brooks: Yes! When I’m writing in the morning, I always have to have coffee in a particular mug. I also have to have something to listen to while I write. For the longest time this was music, but I’ve recently discovered Noisli and I’m falling in love with it.

Shari: None that I know of. I write wherever and whenever I can. As a busy mom of four active boys, I’m usually going in several directions at once, so I take any moment I get to write.

Mel: I like to wear brightly colored socks while I write. I also like to sit on my couch and bed and other soggy sitting spots that are terrible for my back!

Laura: When I’m struggling with my writing, I like to wear a giant plum-colored corduroy jacket that belonged to my grandmother.

What was your favorite middle grade book as a kid?

Brooks: As a kid it was probably Bunnicula. I loved Halloween (still do) and haunted houses and monsters (still do) so it’s no surprise that I fell in love (and still am) with a book that combined humor and horror.

Shari: I was sort of raised on the classics, so a couple of my favorites when I was young were The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett and Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery.

Mel: The Secret Garden.

Laura: So many! My fifth grade class was obsessed with the Narnia books. But I still remember when we read, and then watched a movie of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. I wanted to be Claudia in the worst way.

Any middle grade book that you missed the first time around, but have come to love as an adult?

Brooks: Bridge to Terabithia. I never read it as a kid. But when I finally did, I couldn’t believe what I’d missed. It’s such an incredible book and I read it every single year.

Shari: Before I was a teenager, I don’t think I ever read Madeleine L’Engle’s work, namely A Wrinkle in Time, but when I discovered her writing as an adult, I loved several of her books.

Mel:  I did not read The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros until I was in college, but it is one of my favorites now.

Laura: Elizabeth Enright’s Gone Away Lake. My children and I listened to the audio book in the car one summer. It’s funny, quirky, and filled with mystery and adventure. It’s a perfect summer read.

What inspired you to write your book?

Brooks: What inspired me to write my very first book was actually my eighth-grade reading teacher. The whole class had to come up with an idea which could be a single short story, a collection of poems, an essay, anything. So I wrote a fully illustrated 61-page story loosely based on my favorite video game at the time, Golden Axe 2. It went on to win an award and it convinced me that maybe there were some other stories that might be worthy to have a life on paper.

Shari: My preteen/teenage sons inspired me. Two of them are reluctant readers and I wanted to write something that would be fun, exciting and a fast read for them. They both read my book in record time when we received the first copies the other day! The look of wonder and contentment on my 14-year-old’s face when he finished Treasure at Lure Lake made the hard work and rejections along the way worth every second.

Mel: One day, after reading several modern contemporary stories about children facing tough circumstances, I asked myself what it would be like to be the sibling of such a child? That in combination with my connection to pediatric cancer through volunteer work with Cookies for Kids’ Cancer led me to the core story of Counting Thyme: a girl facing life in a new city as her brother faces cancer treatment.

Laura: In my work as a poet-in-the-schools, I love seeing how each classroom forms its own sense of community. That’s something I wanted to capture in my book — how a group of students with different personalities and backgrounds works together as a group. I was interested in exploring the things the students in a class know, and the things they don’t know about one another. It was a lot of fun to create those layers in my fictional fifth grade class.

As you’re on the eve of your debut, what has been the biggest surprise in the past year?

Brooks: I expected a few of my debut siblings to be supportive, but every single one of them has been the absolute best cheerleader for each of our books. Also, I figured the debut authors from 2015 might be cool with helping us new authors out a little, but they’ve been so willing to talk, to email, to allow us to vent, to point us in the right directions. Finally, I assumed I wouldn’t have a single second to write as I got closer to my release day, but I’ve still been able to dedicate an hour or two every single morning to it. There are as many downs as there are ups, but I’ve been so pleasantly surprised every single day. And I owe a great deal of that to the people around me.

Shari: I totally agree with Brooks. The other debut authors have been essential to the process of getting our books out into the world. I am also constantly surprised by the kindness and support shown to me by family and friends and others I am only now meeting through my book.

Mel:  For me, the biggest surprise of the last year has been the wonderful friendships I’ve formed with other writers and readers. I love books because they bring us together.

Laura: I agree with Brooks, Shari, and Mel. One of the highlights of my past year was when three of my fellow debut authors spent the night at our house. I may have gotten a little teary eyed as we sat around the dinner table with my husband and daughter, talking about writing. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was in middle school, but it was a surprise to me that sharing a meal at my house with other writers was my “I did it” moment.

I’m sure you, like me, are now dying to get your hands on these books. Want a chance to win them all? Click here: a Rafflecopter giveaway

Katharine Manning’s towering To Be Read pile just got a little higher. You can see her middle grade book recommendations at Kid Book List. You can also find her at www.katharinemanning.com and on Twitter.

April New Releases

Happy April! While today may be the day to play tricks, these books on this list are the REAL DEAL!
I’m thrilled to announce some amazing titles that are being released this month including two from our very own Mixed-Up Files Members:

Hillary Homzie and Tricia Springstubb!!

 

 The Queen of Likes by Hillary Homzie (Aladdin)

A tween social media queen is forced to give up her phone and learn that there’s more to life than likes in this M X novel from the author of “The Hot List.”
Karma Cooper is a seventh grader with thousands of followers on SnappyPic. Before Karma became a social media celebrity, she wasn t part of the in-crowd at Merton Middle School. But thanks to one serendipitous photo, Karma has become a very popular poster on SnappyPic. Besides keeping up with all of her followers, like most kids at MMS, her smartphone a bejeweled pink number Karma nicknamed Floyd is like a body part she could never live without.
But after breaking some basic phone rules, Karma’s cruel, cruel parents take Floyd away, and for Karma, her world comes to a screeching halt. Can Karma who can text, post photos, play soccer, and chew gum all at the same time learn to go cold turkey and live her life fully unplugged?

 

cody 2 cover Cody and the Mysteries of the Universe by Tricia Springstubb  (Candlewick)

Not everything turns out to be as it first appears when Cody and her best friend, Spencer, navigate a neighborhood mystery and the start of a new school year.
Cody’s best friend, Spencer, and his parents are moving in with his grandmother right around the corner, and Cody can t wait. For one thing, Cody needs Spencer to help solve the mystery of the never-seen Mr. Meen, who lives on the other side of the porch with a skull-and-crossbones sign in the window and an extermination truck out front. How’s Cody to know that a yellow jacket would sting her, making her scream “Ow Ow ” just as they start spying? Or that the ominous window sign would change overnight to “Welcome home,” only deepening the mystery? In this second adventure, Spencer’s new-school jitters, an unexpected bonding with a teacher over Mozart, and turf-claiming kids next door with a reason for acting out are all part of Cody’s experiences as summer shifts into a new year at school.

CONGRATULATIONS Tricia and Hillary!!!

Keep going for some more fantastic books releasing this month:

Demigods & Magicians: Percy and Annabeth Meet the Kanes by Rick Riordan (Disney-Hyperion) Magic, monsters, and mayhem abound when Percy Jackson and Annabeth Chase meet Carter and Sadie Kane for the first time. Weird creatures are appearing in unexpected places, and the demigods and magicians have to team up to take them down. As they battle with Celestial Bronze and glowing hieroglyphs, the four heroes find that they have a lot in common–and more power than they ever thought possible. But will their combined forces be enough to foil an ancient enemy who is mixing Greek and Egyptian incantations for an evil purpose? Rick Riordan wields his usual storytelling magic in this adrenaline-fueled adventure.



Scar: A Revolutionary War Tale  by Jennifer Ann Mann (Candlewick) Sixteen-year-old Noah Daniels wants nothing more than to fight in George Washington’s Continental Army, but an accident as a child left him maimed and unable to enlist. He is forced to watch the Revolution from his family’s hard scrabble farm in Upstate New York—until a violent raid on his settlement thrusts him into one of the bloodiest battles of the American Revolution, and ultimately, face to face with the enemy. A riveting coming of age story, this book also includes an author’s note and bibliography.


 


The Pet and the Pendulum (The Misadventures of Edgar & Allan Poe) by Gordon McAlpine (Viking BFYR) In The Tell-Tale Start, twins Edgar and Allan Poe foiled the nefarious Professor Perry, who wanted to use them in his deadly quantum entanglement experiment. In Once Upon a Midnight Eerie, they took on his equally evil mother and daughter. Now, in The Pet and the Pendulum, it’s time for the real showdown, which takes place in an old mansion right outside Baltimore. As with the first two books, The Pet and the Pendulum is filled with codes, brain-teasers, smart (not snarky) humor, and cameos by the actual Edgar Allan Poe, who is watching over his great-great-great-nephews from the Great Beyond. Readers won’t want to miss the Misaventures’ end.

 

 


Evil Spy School  by Stuart Gibbs (Simon &Schuster BFYR) When Ben gets kicked out of the CIA’s spy school, he enrolls with the enemy. From “New York Times “bestselling author, Stuart Gibbs, this companion to the Edgar Award nominated “Spy School “and “Spy Camp “is rife with action, adventure, and espionage.

 

 


Red: The True Story of Red Riding Hood By Liesl Shurtliff (Alfred A Knopf BFYR) “Red” is the most wonder-filled fairy tale of them all Chris Grabenstein, “New York Times” Bestselling author of “Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library.”
Red is not afraid of the big bad wolf.She’s not afraid of anything . . . except magic.
But when Red’s granny falls ill, it seems that only magic can save her, and fearless Red is forced to confront her one weakness.
With the help of a blond, porridge-sampling nuisance called Goldie, Red goes on a quest to cure Granny. Her journey takes her through dwarves caverns to a haunted well and a beast’s castle. All the while, Red and Goldie are followed by a wolf and a huntsman two mortal enemies who seek the girls help to defeat each other. And one of them just might have the magical solution Red is looking for. . .

 

War Dogs: Churchill and Rufus By Kathryn Selbert (Charlesbridge) Winston Churchill, the prime minister of England during World War II, was one of the greatest wartime leaders of the modern era. While he is often likened to the English bulldog due to his tenacious personality and even his physical resemblance to the breed, Mr. Churchill was actually a devoted poodle owner and held quite an affinity for his miniature poodle, Rufus, who withstood the trials of World War II by his owner’s side.
Readers follow Rufus and Winston’s friendship through major events in World War II from the bombings of London and the invasion of Normandy to post-war reconstruction. Secondary text includes quotes from Churchill himself taken from his rousing speeches to the people of England and to the world. Backmatter includes a timeline of World War II, an author’s note about Churchill’s pets, as well as a short biography, quote sources, and a list of recommended resources for further study.

This or That 4:Even More Wacky Choices to Reveal the Hidden You By Michelle Harris; Julie Beer (National Geographic Kids) Would you rather choose THIS: Join a Viking festrival, or THAT: Join a voodoo festival? Welcome to This or That?, a wacky book of choices where every answer brings you one step closer to discovering the hidden YOU. This fourth all-new book in the series features 10 awesome categories: outer space, amazing animals, festivals from around the world, amazing inventions, music, silly stats, and more Discover amazing stuff about the real-world and yourself, with fun facts about every option and insights about what your answers mean from the hilarious Dr. Matt Bellace at the end of every chapter.



Write Your Own Book by  DK (DK Publishing) Tell your own story with this unique book filled with creative writing prompts and activities. Young writers can build their skills, develop their confidence, and learn how to write a book in this unique format filled with creative writing ideas and exercises.

 


Do Fish Fart?Answers to Kids’ Questions about Lakes By Keltie Thomas (Firefly Books) This intriguing collection of questions and answers about our lakes and freshwater systems will fascinate, amaze and inform young readers and anyone who is curious about this world of water. The book answers questions submitted by youngsters curious about water and life in a watershed.

 

Indie Spotlight: Learned Owl Book Shop, Hudson OH

screenshot_2208

Ah, the smell of books!  You certainly can’t get that online.  It’s a pleasure to feature yet another successful small bookshop this month, The Learned Owl Book Shop (www.learnedowl.com,) and to interview its owner/manager Kate Schlademan.
MUF: Learned Owl has recently made an apparently seamless transition to new ownership. What do you feel is special about your shop and what keeps you going?
Kate: Over the years The Learned Owl has become a hub for the community.  Being almost 50 years old, many people have grown up coming to the store and now bring their children here.  We are a meeting place and information place.  We are very fortunate to have tremendous support from our community.screenshot_2205

MUF: Describe the atmosphere of Learned Owl. What to you hope people will experience when they come in?
Kate: The store is housed in a building built in 1867.  It has been a number of different things over the years including a carpentry shop, shoe repair, and art gallery.  We have an upstairs and lower level with lots of nooks and crannies to explore. We always hope people will feel welcome and at home when they enter the store.  Many people comment one two things: they love the smell of books when the walk in and it reminds them of the store in the movie You’ve Got Mail.

MUF: A small store has to be selective in its collection. How do you decide what books to carry, and how do you help a customer find his or her next book?13-Story Treehouse Andy Griffiths
Kate: Deciding what inventory to carry is always difficult, especially when you consider the massive amount of books that are published every year.  It is very important that I understand my market and customers.  I try very hard to have a broad selection of titles for customers to choose from.  When helping people select books, I always ask them what they like to read or what they have read recently that they enjoyed.  This really helps me narrow down where to start.screenshot_2201

screenshot_2200MUF: As middle-grade authors, we have to ask: what are some screenshot_2199 13-Story Treehouse Andy Griffiths Warriors Erin Huntertitles– old or new, fiction or poached Stuart Gibsnonfiction– that you find yourselves recommending to middle grade readers these days?
Kate: Some of my current favorites as well as old stand-bys in no particular order are: The Apothecary series by Maile Meloy, School of Good and Evil series by Soman Chaining, The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin, Counting By 7’s by Holly Goldberg Sloan, Three Times Lucky series by Sheila Turnage, Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd, Poached series, by Stuart Gibb, 13 Story Treehouse series by Andy Griffiths and the Warriors original series by Erin Hunter.

MUF: Do you have any activities or events coming up that would be of special interest to readers ages eight to twelve?flamecaster
Kate: We are having a launch party for Cinda Williams Chima’s new book Flamecaster on 4/5.  She is local to the area and we are big fans.

MUF: How do you plan to celebrate Independent Bookstore Day next month?screenshot_2207
Kate: We will have a number of specialty items for sale that day as well as hourly give aways.  We are partnering with some other stores in the area to create a passport of independent bookstores to show how many are around and in hopes of getting people to visit as many as possible.

MUF: If a family from out of town came to visit the Learned Owl, are there family-friendly places in the neighborhood where they could get a meal or a snack afterward? And if they could spend more time, are there unique activities or places of interest nearby that a family would enjoy?
Kate: We have a number of family friendly restaurants within walking distance.  We also have a few game and novelty shops which are fun to visit.  The Cuyahoga National Park is about 15 minutes away and one of the most visited National Parks in the U.S.  There are tons of trails to explore.  We are only about 30-40 minutes south of Cleveland where we have a wonderful Art Museum, Natural History Museum, and you can’t forget the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  About 20 minutes south of us is Akron which also boasts a beautiful art museum and a minor league ball park which is always a fun option for affordable family fun.

MUF:  Thank you, Kate.  Readers,  don’t you love the idea of a passport for visiting independent bookstores?   If you’re in Ohio or planning to go, you might want to include Learned Owl Book Shop in your itinerary.

Sue Cowing is the author of the middle-grade puppet-and-boy novel, You Will Call Me Drog (Caroldrhoda 2011, Usborne UK 2012, Harpers UK 2014)