Tag Archives: Middle Grade

A Word or Two with Phil Bildner

Today the Mixed-Up Files blog is talking with author Phil Bildner. You may know Phil from his amazing picture books, including Marvelous Cornelius: Hurricane Katrina and the Spirit of New Orleans and Derek Jeter Presents: Night at the Stadium.

I met Phil Bildner on a three-hour bus ride through rural Missouri last spring when we were both featured authors at Truman State University’s Children’s Literature Festival. (The Mixed-Up Files’ own Tricia Springstubb will be taking that bus ride this April!) On that trip Phil taught me how to capture great photos from slo-mo video (we had a lot of time to fill!). I practiced on him. Want to see?

I also learned that Phil Bildner is a high-energy, deep-thinking, and talented middle-grade author and former middle school teacher. In addition to picture books, Phil writes the Rip and Red series. This series is all about the things that, when it comes to kids, matter most to Phil:  school, sports, friendships, community, and empathy.  Look for Tournament of Champions, the third book in the series this June.

So, I was going to call this post A WORD WITH PHIL BILDNER and limit his responses to a single word, but then I thought how difficult that might be, so I gave him a little wiggle room.  He could answer with TWO words if he needed to.

So, let’s see how he does. Ready?

MH:  I always pick a word of the year. Do you have a word for 2017?
PB:  Evaluate
MH: What’s the best thing about being a successful middle-grade author?PB: Kid readers

MH: Which is your favorite part of the writing process:  research, drafting, or editing?
PB: Research
 
MH: How would you describe your writing style?
PB: Scattered
 
MH: What’s the best time of day to write?

PB: Morning

MH: What food have you tried that you hope you’ll never have to eat again?
PB: Beets
MH:  So, I guess I won’t serve these to you, then.

 
MH: What is the latest you’ve ever been on a deadline?
PB:  Late? Never.
MH:  Wow!
 
MH: If you could visit anywhere in the world, where would you go?
PB:  Machu Picchu
 
MH: When you were in middle school, what did you think you would be when you grew up?

PB: Lawyer

MH: What animal would be a great pet?
PB: Dogs!
 Meet Katniss, Phil’s rescued pitbull mix.

She’s smiling, isn’t she?

MH: Where do you most like to write?
PB: Back porch
 
MH: What’s the hardest part of writing for children?
PB: Time management
 
MH: Is there a word that you really like the sound of?
PB: Boo-yah!
MH:
MH: What is the farthest from home you’ve ever travelled?
PB: South Africa and China
 
Which is more challenging to write: picture books or middle-grade?

PB: Middle-grade

MH: Who is your favorite character from middle-grade fiction?
PB: Auggie Pullman

MH: If you could meet any famous person, who would you meet?
PB: President Obama

MH: What do the best middle-grade books offer their readers?
PB: Hope

MH: If you could talk to your 12-year-old self, what would you say?
PB: You got this.

 
MH: What could our world use more of?
PB: Empathy
MH:  I agree.MH:  So, besides the third Rip and Red book, I know that you have a picture book coming soon about two famous tennis players, titled  Martina and Chrissie: The Greatest Rivalry in the History of Sports.  What can you tell us about that book?

PB: 
MH: What’s wrong? Do you need more than one or two words? Oh, well, I guess. Take as many as you need.

 

PB:  The rivalry between Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert was (and is) the greatest rivalry in the history of sports. No other rivalry comes close. They faced one another an incredible eighty times, fourteen times in grand slam finals. But what makes their rivalry and story so compelling and important is that it went far beyond the grass courts of the All England Club and the red clay of Roland Garros. What makes their rivalry transcendent is the humanity of the combatants.

Martina and Chrissie were fierce competitors. They played under the brightest lights and on the biggest stages. But they were also the best of friends, and in the world of sports where we often carelessly serve and volley phrases like “going to war” and “doing battle” and “fighting for your life,” Martina and Chrissie never lost sight of their humanity.

MH: Now I’m really glad I gave you more space. I loved watching Martina and Chrissie play tennis when I was young!

Thank you, Phil, for your brief, but heartfelt answers! It’s been fun talking with you on the Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors!  Folks, find Phil Bildner by clicking here, and find his books in your neigborhorhood bookstores.

 Michelle Houts is the author of many books for middle-grade readers. She’s rarely a person of few words, so she completely appreciates the challenge Phil Bildner faced doing this interview! Find Michelle at www.michellehouts.com and on Twitter and Instagram as mhoutswrites.

SPY ON HISTORY Book – Interview with Workman Publishing’s Editor Daniel Nayeri and a Giveaway!

Looking for an innovative way to experience history? Give this new series a try. It is AWESOME! I read the first book and loved it! Not only do you learn, but you get to solve mysteries as you read. Very interactive reading and totally fun. I’m thrilled to be able to introduce this book to you today and also give you a behind-the-scenes interview with the editor  behind this new series!


Mary Bowser and the Civil War Spy Ring introduces an exciting interactive series for middle grade readers Spy on History, where the reader gets to experience history in a whole new way.

Meet Mary Bowser, an African American spy who was able to infiltrate the Confederate leadership at the highest level. Enigma Alberti dramatizes Mary Bowser’s suspenseful story how she pretended to be illiterate, how she masterfully evaded detection, how she used her photographic memory to copy critical documents.

Using spycraft materials included in a sealed envelope inside the book, a canny reader will be able to discover and unravel clues embedded in the text and illustrations, and solve the book’s ultimate mystery: Where did Mary hide her secret diary?



What people are saying about this book:

“A gripping story that offers a window into a pivotal time in U.S. history and puts a face to a little-known figure.” — Publishers Weekly

“Alongside it being a great story, this will rise to the challenge to any curious-minded wannabe spies.” — Black Girl Nerds

“Sometimes, a very special book comes along that allows your mind, and the kids’ minds, to actively exercise and expand while tromping through a story and learning some history. Mary Bowser and the Civil War Spy Ring…is one such book.” — Geek Dad

The cool thing, or maybe I should say, the mysterious thing about this book, is that the author is unknown. This is done on purpose, to add to the intrigue of the book and also well, it’s just cool! So instead of interviewing the author, the editor of this amazing series has agreed to speak with us.

 

Meet Daniel Nayeri, Director of Children’s Books at Workman Publishing, editor, and author.

 

Daniel Nayeri was born in Iran and spent a couple of years as a refugee before immigrating to Oklahoma at age eight with his family. He is the author of How to Tell a Story, and Straw House, Wood House, Brick House, Blow, a collection of four novellas. Daniel is the director of children’s books at Workman Publishing. Before entering children’s publishing, he was a pastry chef.

 

Daniel, thanks for joining us today. We are so excited to learn about this book. Let’s jump right in!

1. How did you come up with this unique format?

Books like THE ELEVENTH HOUR by Graeme Base have always been enthralling to me. Escape Rooms, of course, are extremely popular. We wondered, what if there was a book series where a kid could read about little-known figures in history while also engaging with a larger puzzle? The puzzle could be contextually relevant to the story, using primary texts, and methods contemporary to the narrative. The only thing cooler than reading about Mary Bowser and her incredible spy craft would be employing some of your own to complete your own mission. It just seemed like the kind of book we would have all devoured as kids.

2. Why use an actual nonfiction fact as the focus point for the book?

There are so many unexplored nooks and crannies of history that are full of drama. We couldn’t imagine anything else. The series was always about these moments that read like thriller novels, but have the added import of being true.

3. How do the clues work to solve the mystery (without giving anything away of course)

Once we had the manuscript, our Art Director—Colleen AF Venable—and the illustrator, Tony Cliff, began an incredible process of layering clues and encrypting messages throughout the illustrations. There are several “threads” of clues that can lead a reader to the final solution, which is the codeword you need to decrypt Mary Bowser’s letter at the end of the book. Some of these threads are easy…they’re just a few steps…solve some Morse code here, compare it to a map there, and voila. Some are incredibly hard. My favorite—spoiler alert—is the thread that uses the language of flowers. Early in the book, Mary is told that some flowers means different things, and there is an illustration that gives the reader some examples. One flower, the snapdragon, means deceit. So on all the pages that have snapdragons on them (as border illustrations), all the clues are lies.

4. Was editing this book the same as editing any other book or were there more challenges?

Outside of the usual challenges in editing a nonfiction narrative story, we had lots of added issues with the hidden codes. I had to become fluent in Vigenere ciphers, but Colleen had to become a downright cryptologist by the end. You could say the puzzles were like a third layer of discourse (alongside the text and imagery). We had several vetters going through to make sure the puzzles worked and weren’t too deeply embedded.

5. Why is there a secret cadre of authors writing these books? Is that part of the mystery, too?

Mysteries upon mysteries!
The nature of a secret cadre of authors is that they are like any other cadre of authors: murderous if you give up their secrets. I wish I could tell you everything.

6. Can you tell us about the next book in the series?

This, I can do. The next book is called VICTOR DOWD AND THE WORLD WAR II GHOST ARMY. It follows an amazing unit of soldiers made up of painters, composers, and other artists whose job was to create decoys to fool the Nazis. They painted inflatable tanks to look life-like and trick the German spy planes. There are moments in the story where a tiny group of sound engineers hide in a forest and project the sounds of an entire battalion marching through. If the Nazis only knew, they could have walked right into the forest and captured them.

7. Workman creates such neat and interesting books. Many of them are interactive. Can you tell us why you feel this is a great thing for your readers?

The editorial mandate I have for the group is to make “Art Objects for Great and Terrible Children.” To us, this means a great number of things. First and foremost, it means we take our work seriously enough to call it art. Of course, we’re not too precious about it. We know a good fart joke is an art form to kids. And we call them objects because we care about the “thingness” of books, the format, the interactive possibility of a book that wants to speak, but also wants to listen. In other words, a book that asks for input, a book that wants kids to learn, certainly, but also make and do. Those are all perfectly synchronous behaviors as far as we’re concerned. A book as an act of play is no less a literary endeavor than a book as a lecture. To us, the interaction is even more compelling when trying to inform a child on a nonfiction topic.

8. What future Workman titles should our middle grade readers be aware of?

We have so many exciting titles in the works. Of course, we just launched WHO WINS, which is an interactive book with 100 biographies of historical figures. We’ve also got the third book in our DOODLE ADVENTURES series, which is like a visual Mad Libs where kids draw in parts of the story. One title on the same list as SPY ON HISTORY 2 is a history of archery called THE MOST DANGEROUS BOOK: ARCHERY. It tells the history of archery in war, in battles like Agincourt, and in folklore. It shows bow designs from all over the world, and explains the physics of arrow in flight. The book also turns into an actual bow. It shoots paper ammunition (included in the book) at papercraft hay bales, and a William Tell apple (papercraft targets also included). I can’t wait to see the grown-ups’ faces when that one launches.

Sounds fantastic, Daniel! Thanks so much for joining us today and giving us a behind-the-scenes look at this awesome book.

Since we already offered a giveaway of this amazing book last week, we are offering a different book as a giveaway. Daniel mentioned it above, it is called, Who Wins and is a fantastic book for spurring discussion in the classroom.

Simply enter a comment below for a chance to win.


Jennifer Swanson is a huge nonfiction nerd and loves all things science and history. Throw in a mystery and she is hooked! You can read more about Jennifer at her website  www.JenniferSwansonBooks.com 

 

Gifts for the Bookish Types

I nearly titled this post My Holiday Wish List, but  I thought that might be too personal and only my family would read it. So, I decided to broaden the scope just a bit. Here’s a list of gift ideas for anyone who loves books. (And if you happen to be in my family: pay attention!)

Bookplates  Bookplates come in all forms. I found some great traditional sticky Charley Harper bookplates at The Wooster Book Company last month.  I think these Bookplate Stamps  are pretty fun, too!

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Click the link for more than a dozen styles and options! (Mom, I just can’t decide which one, so you pick for me, OK?)

 

 

 

 

Book embossers If sticking or stamping your name into your books isn’t permanent enough, you could always engrave it right into the paper with a super-cool book embosser from Horchow.com.zzembosser

Book scarves Wrap up your shopping with one of these! zz-john-green-scarves zzjgscarf

Several different John Green quote scarves are available here.  And, if your reader prefers classics, find some sweet Jane Austen, Dickens, and Anne of Green Gables scarves here.  (Dear daughter, I already have the Alice in Wonderland scarf, so maybe the Jane Eyre one? Hint. Hint.)

Literary Phone Cases  The reader on your list would love one of these!

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You’ll find a million different book-related phone cases here. (I may be exaggerating just a bit, but there are pages and pages of them!)

Literary ornaments  I could have a whole tree of these! Aren’t they awesome? Find A Wrinkle in Time, James and the Giant Peach, Charlotte’s Web and a hundred more (I’m not exaggerating!) at Novel Adornments Etsy shop.  I could have a whole tree of these. (I know I said that already, but it seemed worth repeating. Ahem.)

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Wax and seal kits Some readers are writers, but all readers love the mystery of a sealed letter. Give your reader a wax and seal with their monogram.

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A wand for your wizard  Is your wizard a Luna Lovegood? Or a Neville Longbottom? A Lupin, Weasley, or Krum? There’s a wand for every wizard here!  (Honey, I think I’m a Trelawny. Just saying.)

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And who’d have dreamed that these are even a thing?

Periodic Table of World Literature   Yes. You heard me. Who says there’s nothing scientific about being a book nerd? You’ll find the proof here.

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Candles, Lip Balm, and Beard Oil   With scents that include Unicorn Breath, Narnia Forest, and Gatsby’s Shoreline, you’ll find candles and lip balm for the reading ladies on your list and, yep, beard oil for the headmaster of your holidays if you stop by From the Page.

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Library card socks  While you’re here buying library card socks, check out all the other bookish clothing at www.outofprintclothing.com.

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The greenest book mark you’ve ever seen.  Find your page or grow a garden. It’s up to you with Green Marker.

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So, now my family is well prepared to start their shopping. I hope the rest of you got a few ideas as well.

P.S., Honey (and the rest of you)– Shop early! Some personalized, customized, and handmade items take a bit longer to ship. (Wink.)

Michelle Houts is the author of many books for young readers. She loves gift-giving and takes pride in being “the book aunt” in her family. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @mhoutswrites , on Facebook, and at www.michellehouts.com.