2018 is just around the corner, and here at the #MGBookVillage that means it’s nearly time to start the #MGBookathon! Learn more about our year-long celebration of Middle Grade books and reading here, and take a look at the nifty graphic below to learn how YOU can take part. We hope you’ll join us!
Laney: When Sky Pony approached me about writing a novel for their new line for tween readers (Swirl), one of the first things I did was figure out my mentor texts. I read (and reread) books by Jo Whittemore, Joanne Levy, and you! Queen of Likes (Aladdin, 2016) is a favorite of mine, as is Pumpkin Spice Secrets. You capture the concerns and the voice of a tween protagonist perfectly. How do you do it? What’s your secret?
Hillary: Okay, when I read that question, I had to re-read the first part. The mentor text part. You read my book before you knew me?
Hillary: Okay, wow, I’m going to momentarily pretend that I’m suave and oh-so-used to someone reading my book as a mentor text! (She pinches herself.) Now what was the question? Oh, right. How do I capture the concerns and the voice of a tween?
My true secret? Immaturity. I just interviewed my 12-year-old and asked him and his friend if I were more immature than the other moms. They said yes. Point proven! They also said I was fun but could be lecture-y (yes, I still do have a mom brain). I’m the one who taught them all of the silly songs from my childhood that I probably shouldn’t repeat here in case this is a strictly G-rated blog. But shockingly, there are times when my inner 13-year-old and innate immaturity isn’t enough. So when I don’t think I remember something well, I will interview my seventh grader’s friends. And then if I feel like I really need some more tween immersion, I will go and visit a middle school. In the past, I’ve visited during class time, lunch, and even a school dance! I try not to stick out with my reporter’s notebook. But I’m afraid I’m not very good at incognito.
Laney: (Laughing.) I love picturing you at a middle school dance with a reporter’s notebook, and maybe a pair of dark sunglasses and a hat pulled down low over your face. If I could get away with it, I’d do it! I’ve definitely whipped out my notebook in the car (at a stoplight, of course) to record bits of speech my daughters or their friends have said from the backseat. Once they get their driver’s licenses, I’ll miss those fun life moments — plus I may need to find some new sources of inspiration. (Laughing.)
Hillary: Yeah, two of my kids have driver’s licenses and it’s so true. It gets harder to eavesdrop. Luckily, I still have a 12-year-old. Speaking of capturing all of those bits of real life, I thought you did a wonderful job of showing day-to-day school life in Peppermint Cocoa Crushes without getting your characters stuck sitting in the classroom. You used after-school activities extremely well. How did you manage that? I would think as a former classroom teacher, you might have been tempted to keep the kids sitting still in class all day!
Laney: The main characters in Peppermint Cocoa Crushes really identify with their extracurricular activities. So even if I’d been tempted to keep them in the classroom, they wouldn’t let me! It was fun writing about kids who are so focused and passionate. Sasha is a real doer and her commitment to her community is admirable. She’s like a lot of kids I know who are very involved in service and busy with after-school activities.
I have to say, as a former classroom teacher, I really appreciate how you depict the school project in Pumpkin Spice Secrets. Maddie, the main character, learns to express herself as she gains debate skills in the classroom. When I was a teacher, I loved watching how certain projects would develop my students’ skills in ways that expanded their sense of themselves. And that’s what happens with Maddie. So the teacher in me was so happy to see that portrayed. And it was done in such a fun way!
Hillary: Laney, thank you so much. My inner teacher was happy about that as well. While I’ve never been a classroom teacher in middle school, I actually have a master’s degree in education and did a semester of student teaching, which I loved. In your novel Peppermint Cocoa Crushes, Sasha, your protagonist, is pretty clueless that her crush Kevin doesn’t like her back. As an adult reader, I could read his disinterest right away so I was privately hoping Sasha would get it but also enjoying her not getting it because it provided tension. Did you have to plot out when Sasha gets her aha moment, and did you struggle with how far you could take it?
Laney: Great question! It’s been so interesting to hear from readers on this aspect of the story. Adults know right away, but I’ve heard from a number of middle schoolers who experienced the aha moment right along with Sasha. They then go back and see the signs Sasha (and they) missed. Sasha approaches the whole crush like she does school, her community service projects, and the talent show. She’s so focused on the outcome that she’s not picking up on what’s actually happening. I did struggle with how far I could take it, and even more than that I wanted to make sure I was depicting Ryan and Kevin’s interest in one another in an authentic way. I hope it resonates with readers who are experiencing these feelings for the first time. First crushes are fun, but they are also confusing!
Hillary: Can I just say that you depicted Ryan and Kevin’s crush in such a sweet and lovely way. They obviously enjoy each other so much and connect. If you ever did a spinoff book, those two could easily have their own book. I’m such a sucker for first crushes. Big happy sigh.
Laney: Speaking of first crushes, do you remember yours? And in writing Pumpkin Spice Secrets, did you mine those memories?
Hillary: Oh my gosh! I’m blushing thinking about my first crush. It was sixth grade, and I thought he was perfect! I’m embarrassed to give out his name, in case he’s reading this — ha ha! In sixth grade, my crush had adorable brown eyes and cute glasses. He was decent at soccer and super smart. At a sixth grade dance, he offered me a piece of hot pepper gum. My mouth caught on fire, so I had to run to the water fountain. Then he asked me to dance and even though my tongue burned, I readily and giddily accepted. I felt at the time that the practical joke was a sure sign that he really liked me. And for Pumpkin Spice Secrets, I might have mined my feelings but not my memories. Because I never had a boy who was quite as, um, mature as Jacob. He’s more like how I wished things might have gone with my first crush!
Laney: This memory is like a scene out of a tween novel. I love it! What advice would you give to your middle school self about balancing friends and crushes and school?
Hillary: Hmm, in terms of balance, I’m probably not the best person to give advice because I haven’t quite figured out the balance thing as an adult. But I would say that if you find that you’re so mono-focused that you’re neglecting one aspect of your life, then you need to recalibrate. Family, friends, and school should always come before crushes. But there’s no doubt that it’s fun having a crush going!
Laney: I agree. In middle school, I think it’s more fun daydreaming and reading about crushes than actually “dating.” It’s the perfect time for having fun with friends and pursuing your own interests. Romance? Relationships? They can wait. (Okay, that’s the mom in me talking!)
Hillary: Laney, I so agree about waiting to actually date. Personally, I enjoyed flirting in middle school and high school but didn’t actually get my actual first boyfriend until college! On that front, I was even more shy than Maddie. Okay, I think it’s only fair that I ask you a crush question. Sasha was pretty clueless that her crush Kevin wasn’t into her, and equally clueless that Pete Sugarman (he’s such a sweet boy with the perfect last name, by the way!) was crushing on her. In middle school, were you ever clueless that a boy didn’t like you back or that a boy liked you and you had no idea? And if so, did you mine any of those memories for Peppermint Cocoa Crushes?
Laney: In middle school, I was clueless when it came to boys. I went to an all-girls school. So the biggest opportunities to socialize came at dances at nearby all-boys schools. I remember after “slow dancing” with one boy, he asked for my number. And in that moment with my heart beating fast, I gave him the first phone number that popped into my head — my best friend’s. I didn’t realize what I’d done until later that week when the boy called my best friend’s house and her little brother answered the phone and thought it was quite funny that someone was calling for me at their house. I can’t recall if my friend’s brother gave the boy my number or not, but needless to say I never heard from him again. And I felt so badly that he thought I’d done it on purpose! I hadn’t. I’d done it because I was nervous. So I might not have experienced the same cluelessness as Sasha, but as you can see I was bumbling in my own way.
Mining those memories is definitely a fun part of writing realistic middle grade fiction. The details of our stories might not be autobiographical, but the emotions behind them are our truth.
By the way, what you are drinking? A peppermint cocoa? A pumpkin spice latte?
Hillary: In my fridge, I actually have some pumpkin spice almond milk that I add to my morning coffee. And I just bought some cocoa and have some candy canes on hand to crush into the mix. Yes, hand-mixed peppermint cocoa crushes.
Hillary: So I plan to drink both — not at once, of course. I think the pumpkin spice will be a morning treat and the peppermint cocoa a late afternoon one!
Laney: I wish we lived closer so I could pop over for a mugful of either one of those treats!
But right now, I’m raising my cup of tea and toasting Annaliese, Jarrett, and Kathie for starting the MG Book Village! And for inviting us to blab. Uh, I mean blog!
Hillary and Laney: Cheers!
Hillary is the author of the tween novels, PUMPKIN SPICE SECRETS (Swirl/Sky Pony), QUEEN OF LIKES (Simon & Schuster/M!X), THE HOT LIST (Simon & Schuster/M!X), THINGS ARE GONNA GET UGLY (Simon & Schuster/M!X), a Justice Book-of-the-Month, which was optioned by Priority Pictures, as well as the humorous chapter book series, ALIEN CLONES FROM OUTER SPACE(Simon & Schuster/Aladdin), which was developed to become an animated television series and was sold to ABC Australia. Her forthcoming chapter book series about the antics of second grader ELLIE MAY will be debut in December of 2018 from Charlesbridge. Hillary holds a master’s degree in education from Temple University and a master’s of arts degree from Hollins University in children’s literature and writing, where she currently teaches. In addition, she teaches Middle Grade Mastery and the Chapter Book Alchemist, interactive e-courses, for the Children’s Book Academy. Visit her at www.hillaryhomzie.com and connect with her at @hillaryhomzie.
Laney is a writer of middle grade fiction and lots of to-do lists. She’s a former classroom teacher with a Masters in Education and a past recipient of the Cynthia Leitich Smith Mentorship. Laney lives with her family in Plano, Texas. Her novel, Peppermint Cocoa Crushes is part of the Swirl series, Sky Pony’s new line for tween readers. For more information visit LaneyNielson.com or follow her on twitter @LaneyNielson or on Instagram official_laneynielson
I am currently working on a 2018 MG book release calendar that you’ll see shortly here at MG Book Village. I’m so excited about all the wonderful books that will be released this year, and I want to share 12 titles that are on my radar for January 2018. I’d love to hear what you’re looking forward to this month, and what else you think should be on my radar.
Every week or so, Kat Greene Comes Clean author Melissa Roske invites a fellow author onto her blog and has them answer the Proust Questionnaire. Popularized by the French essayist, novelist, and madeleine-lover Marcel Proust, the questionnaire is said to reveal a person’s true nature through a series of probing (i.e., nosy) questions.
Melissa seems to take great pleasure in putting her author pals in the “hot seat,” as she calls it, and then revealing their true nature to the world at large. The other day, it occurred to me — someone really ought to give Melissa a taste of her own medicine. Someone really ought to put herin the hot seat.
Well, I went and did it.
Get to know Melissa’s true nature below, and then head over to her site to learn more about her and her work.
What is your idea of perfect happiness? Hanging out with my daughter, Chloe, eating ice cream (any flavor, I’m not picky) and watching Scandal on Netflix.
What is your greatest fear? That something terrible could happen to my family.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? Indecision. At least I think that’s my most deplorable trait.
What is the trait you most deplore in others? A lack of empathy.
Which living person do you most admire? Anyone who advocates for the rights of children. Esther Rantzen, the founder of the UK-based nonprofit ChildLine, comes to mind.
What is your greatest extravagance? Not counting books (they’re educational, okay?), I’d say frequent trips to Sephora to buy overpriced – and alas, ineffective – face creams.
What is your current state of mind? Cautiously optimistic.
What do you consider the most overrated virtue? Excelling at sports. Wait. That’s not a virtue. How about patience?
On what occasion do you lie? When my husband asks if his bald spot is getting bigger.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse? “Seriously?” “Really?” “Seriously…?”
Besides writing, which talent would you most like to have? I’d love to tap dance like Ann Miller in Kiss Me, Kate (ideally, the “Too Darn Hot” number). I tried tap classes, but it was a complete disaster. I couldn’t remember the steps. And I kept tripping.
What do you consider your greatest achievement? Besides having a book published, I’d say my daughter, Chloe. She’s the smartest, loveliest, most level-headed person I know. And I’m not just saying that because I’m her mother. Seriously. I’m not.
If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be? An elderly man surrounded by lonely widows. That, or a well-loved puppy.
What is your most treasured possession? After my family experienced an apartment fire in 2004 and lost many of our possessions, including my daughter’s baby clothes, I learned not to get attached to material objects. Everything is replaceable. Except people.
What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? Watching someone you love suffer without being able to do anything about it.
What do you most value in your friends? Empathy, reliability, and a sense of humor. Bonus points for the ability to tap dance.
Who are your favorite writers? Louise Fitzhugh; Judy Blume; Norma Klein; M.E. Kerr, Rebecca Stead; Kate DiCamillo; Kwame Alexander; Terry McMillen, Nora Ephron; Armistead Maupin; Chinua Achebe; Sara Lewis, Ernest Hemingway; Ann Hood; Toni Morrison… Can I stop now?
Who is your hero of fiction? Harriet M. Welsch. She’s super busy with her spy route, yet she always has time for a chocolate egg cream at the local luncheonette.
Which historical figure do you most identify with? I should make myself sound intellectual and say Eleanor of Acquitaine or Madame Curie (or Sacagawea, or Susan B. Anthony, or Indira Ghandi…), but I’m going with Cleopatra. She was smart, sexy, and rocked a bold eye.
What is your motto? “Life is a struggle, and a good spy gets in there and fights.”
Melissa Roske is a writer of contemporary middle-grade fiction. Before spending her days with imaginary people, Melissa interviewed real ones, as a journalist in Europe. In London, she landed a job as an advice columnist for Just Seventeen magazine, where she answered hundreds of letters from readers each week. Upon returning to her native New York, Melissa contributed to several books and magazines, selected jokes for Reader’s Digest, and got certified as a life coach. She lives in Manhattan with her husband, daughter, and the occasional dust bunny. Find Melissa on her website, on Facebook, on Twitter, Instagram, and Goodreads.
Some people lament that kids aren’t reading enough these days, but one of the bigger problems for children’s book authors is that sometimes kids are reading too much! For example, if you’ve ever seen a kid point out that Harry is told that Moaning Myrtle haunts the first floor bathroom, but is later led to her by the writing on the second floor wall, you should probably kick this kid far outside.
As someone with a chapter book series (Beep and Bob, Aladdin/S&S) about to release in the world, I am haunted about what “mistakes”, or continuity errors, my books might contain. On the one hand, each phase of the manuscript has been combed multiple times by an editor and then fine-combed by a copy-editor whose very job is to hunt for mistakes and then correct them all day long. The problem: even they don’t know how to read and then re-read a book fifty times like an obsessed kid!
Not to be outdone by a child, I’ve been working on a three-pronged defense that can address ANY error or mistake that may have slipped by the hawk-like eyes of myself and a number of paid professionals.
To any error in the writing, my response will be: “Each chapter is a journal entry by an elementary school kid named Bob, and Bob admittedly isn’t known for being attentive to details. Therefore, any ‘mistake’ you see is actually Bob’s.”
To any error in the illustration (which I also provide), my response will be: “Each drawing is a supplement to Bob’s journal, done by a small, young alien named Beep who is known for eating his pencils. Therefore, any ‘mistake’ you see is actually Beep’s.”
However, if for some reason these aren’t adequate explanations and a kid keeps pestering me, I can only humble myself and say this: “The mistake is actually a result of the characters passing through a worm hole and changing key details in the entire time-line. (And just to be safe, they’re also in a parallel universe.)”
Sadly, this defense won’t come until book 4 of my series, which includes an intentionally confusing time travel element in which Beep and Bob attempt to defeat the evil doubles they accidentally created by going back in time to change the future. Really, ALL science fiction books and shows should probably start with time travel in the very first book or episode just to be safe. So for instance when Kirk gets in the turbolift wearing one style of groovy space shirt (Season 1, Episode 2; see, errors start early) and then gets off wearing another, all he has to do is shrug and with a smile say, “Glitch in the time-space continuum.” Simple!
So, in conclusion, everyone makes mistakes, even J.K. Rowling and Captain Kirk, and smart readers are going to catch them. And in further conclusion, if you happen to know any of these bright kids between the ages of ages 6-9, please give them lots of Beep and Bob books – but under no circumstances give them my contact info!
Author-Illustrator Jonathan Roth is a public elementary school art teacher who likes reading, writing, drawing, cycling, and napping. He lives in Rockville, Maryland, with his wife and two kitties. BEEP AND BOB (releasing March 13, 2018) is his first series. Learn more at http://www.beepandbob.com.
Believe. Give. Trust. These are the three rules of Everyday Magic.
Those words came to me on a long car trip a little over two years ago as I was working on a rewrite of what would eventually become my debut novel. As soon as the words were on the page, I knew they were truer than true and spoke to the very heart of the message of my story.
A lot has happened since that road trip. But recently, I’ve been reflecting on those three rules even more.
Indeed, believe, give, trust are the words of the holiday season. The only sequence of actions that can truly lead to hope. To the Solstice’s return of light (figuratively). To Christmas’ peace on earth and good will toward men. To Hanukkah’s miracles.
Believe. It’s such a prominent word during this holiday season. Believe in Santa Claus. Believe in God born as a child. Believe in the miracle of a single cruse of oil lasting for eight days. Believe in goodness. Believe, even during the longest night of the year, that the light will return once more.
Give. The most recognizable action of December. Give gifts. Give time. Give love. Give light. Give songs and smiles and hugs and cookies. Give charitably. Generously.
Trust. This is the hardest part of the whole process. It’s the hardest part for Kate in my book, The Three Rules of Everyday Magic. It’s the hardest part for me. It’s probably the hardest part for all of us. Because after we believe that good things are possible, that magic can happen, that miracles abound, and after we give and give and give some more — in essence, after we work to put good into the world — we have to wait and hope. We have to trust that, in the words of Anne Frank, “it will all come right.” We have to trust that the little bit of light we tried to kindle actually did its job and brightened someone’s day. We have to trust that many people putting light into the world can create something brilliant and beautiful.
This holiday season, I have to trust that there are more beginnings even after sad endings. That family bonds can heal broken hearts. This year, I am holding on to Believe, Give, Trust more than ever.
The holidays are always described as a magical time of year. But perhaps the magic doesn’t lie in the sparkle and colored lights. Not the gifts, the candles, the crackling fire, or Santa and his reindeer. Maybe the real magic is that all of us are trying to truly live these three rules.
And with every hat or scarf knitted, every present wrapped, every batch of cookies left on a doorstep, every dollar to charity, or secret act of service, I hope we can all remember the words of Kate’s grandmother.
“Anytime love becomes visible, there’s magic.”
Amanda Rawson Hill grew up in Wyoming with a library right out her back gate. She attended Brigham Young University where she earned her BA in Chemistry. She now resides in central California with her husband, three children, a bulldog named after Moaning Myrtle, and a cat (Luna Lovegood) who is still mad about the acquisition of the dog. Her debut novel, THE THREE RULES OF EVERYDAY MAGIC, releases from Boyds Mills Press in the fall of 2018.