Tag Archives: middle-grade readers

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

Indie Spotlight: Vroman’s Bookstore, Pasadena CA

Sue Cowing for Mixed-Up Files: It’s a pleasure to feature this month a bookstore that has served and been part of its community since 1894!  We’re speaking today with the store’s Promotional Director, Jennifer Ramos.
MUF: Vroman’s is a Pasadena landmark that has seen the city and the bookstore business through many ups and downs over the years—120 years and counting– and continues to thrive.  What’s your secret?vroman's front #2
Jennifer: There are so many factors that contribute to our longevity. We have a spectacular mix of book and gift items that is ever changing from the moment we opened; our booksellers are friendly, knowledgeable and very helpful; and a strong event series.

MUF: Describe the “feel” of Vroman’s today?  What do you hope people, especially young people will experience when they visit?
Jennifer: Vroman’s has a great feel to it. Welcoming, comfortable, a place where you may run into someone you know. With our events and mix of books and gift items, you never know what fun item you might find.

MUF: So glad to see you have a book club especially for middle-graders! Vroman's Counting What will The Tribe of Endless Readers be reading and discussing vrioman's 3Xnext?
Jennifer: their August pick is Counting by 7’s by Holly Goldberg Sloan and for September it will be Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage.

MUF: Tomorrow is your Harry Potter release party.  What’s planned?  Any other events coming up that would be of special interest to middle-graders?Jennifer: Our Harry Potter party will be taking place at Nucleus Gallery in Alhambra.Vroman's HP
They will have a Harry Potter art show up, we will be hosting a costume contest, crafts, a photo booth and then we will be handing out the new release at midnight! Tickets were available to those who pre-ordered the book from Vroman’s.
This coming August we have a few events that would be fun for middle-graders. On August 9th we are hosting a Krafttime with Kelly, on the 11th we will be having a storytelling event out under the stars, and that following Saturday we will be hosting a Caped Crusaders event. This event is a continuation of our Summer Reading Club.

MUF: One of the best things about independent bookstore collections is that they’re curated by people who know, love, and read books and can carry what they think best.  How do you go about choosing titles for Vroman’s?Vroman's MG shelf
Jennifer: We have book buyers who are in charge of picking the books we carry for our store. They work with our publisher representatives and watch for trends when picking what we are carrying. They also listen to our booksellers and look to our customers choices for additional help.

MUF: As middle grade authors, we’d love to know what titles, new or old, fiction or nonfiction, you find yourselves recommending to ages eight to twelve these days? (This question answered by Children’s Department manager, Ashlee Null).Vroman's CircusVroman's Copernicus
Ashlee: Fiction: Circus Mirandus by Vroman's One & OnlyCassie Beasly, Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson, Copernicus Legacy by Tony Abbott, Wonder by R J Palacio, The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, and Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart
Guts & GloryNon Fiction: Guinea Pig Scientists by Mel BoringVrman's Guinea8 and the Guts and Glory series by Ben Thompson (each one a different topic Vikings, World War 2, Civil War, etc)
These are common ones but it usually depends on the kid. Sometimes I pick things I’ve never read but know what its about enough to know they’d probably enjoy it.

MUF: If a family came from out of town to visit Vroman’s, would there be family-friendly places in the neighborhood where they could get a snack or a meal after shopping?  And if they could stay awhile, are there some unique sights or activities nearby they shouldn’t miss?
Jennifer: We have a few really great restaurants surrounding our store that would be good to stop into, including Tender Greens and Blaze Pizza. For unique sights or activities I’d suggest Kidspace and the Pasadena Museum of California Art.

MUF:  Thanks Jennifer and Ashlee, for telling more about your store.  Readers, have you visited Vroman’s?  If so, please comment here.  If not, be sure to stop by the next time you’re in the area!

Sue Cowing is the author of the middle-grade novel You Will Call Me Drog (Carllrhoda 2011, Usborne UK 2012).

Vromans front #1

Do You Think the World is Ready?

I don’t shock easily, but two recent incidents had me reeling.

The first happened during a creative writing workshop I ran for kids in Grades 4-6. At the start of the workshop, several kids mentioned which of my books they’d read. Then one girl raised her hand and shyly announced that she wanted to read my books, but her mom wouldn’t allow her. “She says they have bad words,” the girl reported.

I tried to seem blase. “Has your mom read any of my books?” I asked her.

“No,” the girl admitted.  “But she’s seen the covers.”

I assured her that I was always careful not to use “bad words”–and that it wasn’t fair to judge a book by its cover. But how a parent viewed any of my covers and decided the text contained inappropriate language  was a mystery to me. And the sad thing was, this girl was an enthusiastic writer who clearly craved access to all sorts of books.

The other incident occurred at the start of an elementary school’s Read Aloud Day. Because my books fall into the  upper elementary/ middle school category, I was assigned a fourth grade class, as was the local middle school principal.  As the two of us chatted before the program, he asked what books I had on the horizon.

I told him about my upcoming middle grade novels:  TRUTH OR DARE (Aladdin, S&S/Sept. 20, 2016), which is about a mom-less girl’s experience of puberty, and STAR-CROSSED (Aladdin/S&S, March 2017), which is about a girl who has a crush on the girl playing Juliet in the middle school production of Shakespeare’s play.

The principal’s face turned pink. He laughed nervously. “Oh,” he said. “Do you think the world is ready?”

I explained that all my books were wholesome, completely appropriate for tweens. I hoped he’d express enthusiasm, maybe even extend an invitation to the middle school, or say he’d mention the books to the school librarian.  But he didn’t do either. Instead, he changed the subject.

I’ve been thinking about  both of these incidents  a lot lately, in light of Kate Messner’s recent dis-invitation from a school uncomfortable with her newest MG, THE SEVENTH WISH. That book, which I deeply admire, is about a girl whose older sister has a heroin addiction– a topic the school decided was inappropriate for its students .

What scares me is not so much outright book-banning, because that happens in the bright light of day, and often leads to heightened interest in the banned book, anyway.  What I find even more troubling is “quiet censorship,” the sort of thing that happens when an adult decides the world, or a school, or a classroom, or a particular kid “isn’t ready” to read about certain topics. And so he doesn’t extend the invitation, or order the book–not because the book isn’t good, or isn’t written at the right level, but because the subject makes him nervous. It’s a type of book-banning–but because it happens under the radar, it’s difficult to detect.

When Kate Messner was disinvited from a school, she had an overt act, the revoked invitation, to react to, and she did so eloquently and effectively, both on her blog and behind a podium at ALA 2016. But many authors who tackle challenging subjects just won’t get the initial invitation, or their book simply won’t get ordered by the library.  So how do they even know they’ve been “quietly censored”? And how can they–or their readers–protest? After all, schools and libraries are free to make their own choices, as they should be.  If they choose not to order a certain book, who’s to say the choice was motivated by the book’s challenging or controversial subject, and not by the author’s writing style?

I keep coming back to the realization that kids are older than we think they are, older than we were when we were their age.  Girls are menstruating at younger ages, getting eating disorders at younger ages (this is the subject of my upcoming eighth novel STUFF I KNOW ABOUT YOU (Aladdin/S&S Sept. 2017).  The internet has exposed all of our kids to a cruel, violent, judgmental world. If we don’t allow kids to read MG novels that reflect the world they live in, one of two things will happen. Either kids will turn off reading realistic fiction altogether (and with the internet constantly beckoning, that’s a real concern)– or they will crash the gate, choosing, and perhaps sneaking, YAs that are too explicit and dark for their years.  As any parent of a teen knows, once a kid starts reading YA fiction, he/she seldom wants to discuss the edgier content with an adult. Isn’t it better to allow access to books specifically geared toward a MG sensibility–the way  THE SEVENTH WISH is?  And shouldn’t we as adults want to stay in the conversation–even when (or especially when) the conversation makes us nervous?

We can’t be in favor of diversity in kidlit without welcoming books that include all sorts of previously ignored characters: kids of color, LGBT kids, kids in nontraditional families, kids coping with a family member’s addiction, kids coping with mental illness (like Dunkin in Donna Gephart’s  beautiful LILY AND DUNKIN).  There’s nothing inherently “wrong” or “inappropriate” about these characters–they’re just kids on the basketball team, kids on the school bus, kids in the play. And they deserve to be represented, read about, identified with, empathized with.

The world is ready.

Barbara Dee’s next book, TRUTH OR DARE, will be published on September 20, 2016.