Tag Archives: Middle Grade

Cover Reveal! The Long Trail Home

Today I’m honored to participate in some Cover Reveal Fun! I’m celebrating with Kiersi Burkhart and Amber J Keyser, whose new middle grade series, Quartz Creek Ranch, launches in January 2017.

It’s a bit out of the ordinary for all the first books in the series to drop at once, but I’m really excited about it! Books 1-3 in the series, are Shy Girl & Shy GuyOne Brave Summer, and At Top Speed. I got a sneak peek at the first few chapters of The Long Trail Home, the fourth book, to prepare for this cover reveal. I have to tell you,  I can’t wait to read them all.

Here’s what the publishers have to share about the series:

Every summer, the gates of Quartz Creek Ranch swing open for kids in trouble. Under the watchful eyes of lifelong ranchers Willard and Etty Bridle, these ten to twelve-year-olds put their hands—and hearts—to good use, herding cattle, tending the garden, harvesting hay, and caring for animals. Aided by two teenage horse trainers, the kids must forge a bond with their therapy horses, grow beyond the mistakes that brought them to the ranch, and face unique challenges in the rugged Colorado rangeland.

I spent many formative hours on a cattle ranch when I was a middle grade kid, and learning to coexist with working animals shaped my view of the world in some powerful ways. This volume in the series is also important because it helps young readers see themselves between the pages of a book. As Amber shared with me, this book is near and dear to her heart. “I so wanted to have a book about a Jewish girl that wasn’t about the Holocaust, and this is it!”

Also from the publishers, about The Long Trail Home, the subject of our post today:

Rivka can’t wait to get away from her family for the summer.  Since that terrible day last year, she wants no part in their Jewish community. At least at Quartz Creek Ranch, she feels worlds away from home among the Colorado scenery, goofy ranch owners, and baby animals. Other parts of Quartz Creek, however, are too familiar, including the unsettling wave of anti-immigrant threats to ranch workers. On a trip to the country, Rivka is also surprised to learn the history of Jewish pioneers in the area. When she and her defiant cabinmate, Cat, face disaster in the wild, Rivka will need to find strength deep within her to help them both get home safely.
I’ve read Amber’s work, both fiction and nonfiction, and her books are unique and wonderful reflections of this diversely talented author. I’m really looking forward to this series by Kiersi and Amber, and I hope you are, too.

And now, drumroll…

The cover! Isn’t it lovely?

I will be so happy when these books are available to share with my favorite nieces, nephews, and school libraries…

More about Kiersi and Amber:

KIERSI BURKHART grew up riding horses on the Colorado Front Range. At sixteen, she attended Lewis & Clark College in Portland and spent her young adult years in beautiful Oregon—until she discovered her sense of adventure was calling her elsewhere. Now she travels around with her best friend, a mutt named Baby, writing fiction for children of all ages. Kiersi’s website is: www.kiersi.com. Find her on Twitter @kiersi.

AMBER J. KEYSER is happiest when she is in the wilderness with her family. Lucky for her, the rivers and forests of Central Oregon let her paddle, hike, ski, and ride horses right outside her front door. When she isn’t adventuring, Amber writes fiction and nonfiction for young readers and goes running with her dog, Gilda. Her website is: www.amberjkeyser.com and you can follow her on Twitter: @amberjkeyser.

Thanks so much for allowing me to share in the fun with our readers, Amber and Kiersi!


In fourth grade, Valerie Stein touched an ancient artifact from an archaeological dig. Though she never got to travel the world in search of buried treasure, she ended up journeying to new and exciting places between the pages of books. Now she spends her time researching history in museums and libraries, which is like archaeology but without the dirt. Valerie’s book, The Best of It: A Journal of Life, Love and Dying, was published in 2009.  Both her current work and upcoming middle grade stories are historical fiction set in Washington State. Valerie is Publisher at Homeostasis Press  http://www.homeostasispress.com/index.php, and manages Gather Here: History for Young People https://gather-here-history.squarespace.com/

And Baby Makes…

The age-old adage is, of course, “And Baby makes three.”

But in middle grade fiction, the addition of a baby often makes for more. Much more.

Full disclosure here: I’ve got babies on my brain. And for the first time in decades, I’ve got diapers in my shopping cart and onesies in my closet, and a portable crib in my guestroom. As I write this, I’m days (maybe hours???) away from becoming a first-time grandmamma, and I’m just a little way, way too excited about it.

So, when I saw my next Mixed-Up Files post was due at the same time as our next family member, I knew right away what my topic would be. Babies. Babies. MIDDLE GRADE BABIES!

There are loads of middle-grade characters dealing with the addition of a new sibling. Some handle it better than others, but one common thread weaves throughout: Babies change everything!

Alvin Ho, Allergic to Babies, Burglars, and Other Bumps in the Night by Lenore Look, illustrated by LeUyen Pham


In this, the fifth installment in the Alvin Ho series, Lenore Look and LeUyen Pham deliver (ha,ha!) with great hilarity a story that many older brothers can relate to – what if that thing in mom’s belly is a …. girl?!  Alvin’s always-entertaining tales are great for younger middle-graders and middle-graders struggling with reading.

Ramona Forever by Beverly Cleary


By the time this book came out in 1984, Beverly Cleary had already won two Newbery Honors and a National Book Award, and Romona had already faced challenges both big and small. When her mother announces she’s pregnant, Ramona realizes she’ll be taking on a role she’s never played before-BIG sister.

Clementine and the Family Meeting by Sara Pennypacker, illustrated by Marla Frazee


Third-grade Clementine is surrounded by changes. When a family meeting is called to announce the pending arrival of a new baby, Clementine isn’t sure what to expect. At school, changes are happening as well. Her best friend is acting differently, and Clementine has to face the fact that nothing stays exactly the same.

The Key that Swallowed Joey Pigza by Jack Gantos


In a way that only Jack Gantos can, this final book in the Joey Pigza saga blends humor and wackiness with the very serious reality of postpartum depression. When Joey’s mother decides she should enter the hospital, Joey has to step up and care for his newborn baby brother.

Sometimes, babies appear in middle grade tales and they grow up to be the main character. Think of how Harry Potter began. A dark street, streetlights go out, and figure is seen leaving something on a doorstep. Number 4, Privet Drive.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhillgirl-who-drank-the-moon

This new book, from the author of The Witch’s Boy, centers around a community who believes they must sacrifice a baby each year to appease the evil witch who resides in the forest. But the witch isn’t evil at all, and she cares for the babies until she can place them in a deserving home far away. When an unfortunate mishap forces her to keep one of the babies as her own, everything changes. This one is being called a “new classic.”

And sometimes, it’s the middle-grade main character who finds an abandoned baby…

Baby by Patricia MacLachlan


Sophie is a baby left by her mother and found by twelve-year-old Larkin. Larkin’s family has lost a newborn boy and finds healing and hope in the arrival of Sophie. But the note left by Sophie’s mother promises she’ll return someday. How can they love if they know they’ll have to let go? Touching and timeless. True MacLachlan.

And finally, sometimes the middle grade main character is not the finder, but the seeker…

Winterfrost by Michelle Houts


Yes, this one’s my own, and I hesitated to mention it, because we writers are great at singing others’ praises, but it always feel a little uncomfortable to shout about our own work. But, Winterfrost fits the criteria for this post, so I’ll go ahead and share it. When twelve-year-old Bettina is left home alone to care for her not-quite-one-year-old baby sister, the unthinkable happens. Baby Pia disappears into the white wilderness, and Bettina is forced to  enter a magical world she’d only heard about from her grandfather. Based on Danish folklore.

So, what can you add?  Comment below with a middle-grade story featuring a baby. And stay tuned for more baby news! I promise to update this blog post when my first grandbaby is here!

** UPDATE** Baby Jack arrived promptly on his due date. Mom, Dad, and baby are all doing well. Grandma Michelle has fallen head over heels in love.


Michelle Houts is the author of five books for young readers. She lives on a farm where babies of the animal kind are a common occurrence. She absolutely cannot wait to hold her first grandbaby in a few days. That’s all she can think to write about, baby. She just signed a book to her first grandchild and is looking forward to sharing books of every kind with him.

In Praise of Grandparents

There are many relationships I’ve treasured through my life, and high on that list lives the bond I had with my grandparents. I was a late baby, and all my grandparents were elderly or gone by the time I came along, so I always felt I missed many special years of growing up with them, while I appreciated the time I did have. I’m so grateful that our own daughter, now grown, got to spend many wonderful hours with her grandparents.

On hunting down a title I know I’ve recently read that features a grandparent, I stumbled upon an eye-opening article written by the author of one such book here. Who knew that the comfortable role of grandparents I grew up with in my family dynamic and in the books I read as a middle grade kid has changed so drastically?

The following booklist is by no means comprehensive, and it’s quite diverse in style, content and approach to grandparents. Some of these books were childhood favorites that I read and re-read, like Heidi, by Johanna Spyri.

Our daughter introduced me to A Long Way from Chicago, by Richard Peck, when she was in 4th grade. That grandma has such a strong voice.

The Hello, Goodbye Window,  by Norton Juster and illustrated by Chris Raschka, may be a picture book but it is also an homage to grandparents and their relationship with grandchildren. It also proves how cool they can be. Students of all ages loved this vibrant book in my library.

Another book that features  a “cool” grandparent is our own MUF member, Barbara Dee’s Trauma Queen.

Fablehaven, by Brandon Mull, proves that we aren’t always right when it comes to thinking we’re going to be spending a boring summer at the grandparents’ house…

I’m eager to read the tender story many are talking about in Love, Aubrey, by Suzanne M. LaFleur.

Who wouldn’t love The Summer Book Tove Jannson?

Another book I read countless times was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl. The relationship Charlie had with his grandparents has stuck with me since I read it at 10 years old.

Seven Stories Up, by Laurel Snyder, a magical book featuring a beloved grandmother, is a lovely journey into this relationship.

A grandmother is not the character I think of when I remember the powerful The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, by John Boyne, but one of many blog posts I read about grandparents in books mentioned this relationship in particular. I think it’s time for a re-read.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, by Ian Fleming, was another childhood favorite of mine, one I read when sick in bed, feeling blue, or otherwise at loose ends.  Do you remember them saving the grandfather? I remember more about the quirky things. Guess it’s time for a re-read of this one, too.


We’ve got talented members her at The Mixed Up Files! Two of our own  Rosanne Parry’s novels, Heart of a Shepherd and Written in Stone, feature grandparents in prominent roles.


It’s fantastic when a grandparent works to solve the problem, as in Granny Torrelli Makes Soup, by Sharon Creech, illustrated by Chris Raschka.

I was captivated by the description of Bird, by Crystal Chan, and can’t wait to read this story about a girl whose grandfather does not speak since he is blamed for a family tragedy.

And what about a grandparent you’ve never met, but your mom refuses to talk about it? Brendan Buckley’s Universe and Everything in It, by Sundee T. Frazier was a real hit with my students.


And last but not least, there are too many wonderful reads to list individually here, so I’ll send you over to Cynthia Leitich Smith’s blog for this list of books featuring grandparents (you should just all read her blog regularly).

I’ve had this post on my mind for a long time without writing it, partly because I was afraid of missing some stand-out titles featuring grandparents. Do you have any to add?