Join us for #MGBookMarch!

2017’s #MGBooktober was such fun that we thought we’d do something similar again this March!

We hope you’ll join us on Twitter and Instagram to share and discuss your favorite middle grade books and celebrate supporters of MG.  Use the hashtag #MGBookMarch with your posts and pictures.  And we’re excited to see all your responses and connect with the MG community!


Make sure to follow us on Twitter at @MG_BookBot for daily prompts and other great MG posts.

And if you have ideas for future prompts, please contact us here.

Happy reading!

-Annaliese, Jarrett, Kathie & Corrina


MG at Heart Book Club Book Review: SEE YOU IN THE COSMOS by Jack Cheng

See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng

In the spirit of SEE YOU IN THE COSMOS, this review was recorded. Listen here (or read the transcript below):

. . .

Amanda: If you’re listening that means you must have found this recording floating somewhere out in space. I wonder what planet you’re from. Maybe Pluto? I guess that’s not a planet anymore. Maybe it’s one we haven’t discovered yet. I wonder what you look like. Maybe instead of fingers, you have silverware for fingers. And then you just can eat all the time.  What do you think they might look like, Max?

Max: Hmmmmm. I think they look like something cool! Maybe they have Nintendos for brains.

Amanda: Nintendos for brains. Nice! Jane, what do you think they might look like?

Jane: I think they might look like they have this huge belly button. Yeah, huge. Like, uh, ten feet or something. And they have huge nostrils and most of their body is their head.

Max: *whispers* Mom!

Amanda: Oh, crazy.

Jane: And you have supersonic ears so you can hear a lot. Even in different galaxies.

Amanda: Nice.

Jane: What do you look like?

Amanda: We just finished listening to SEE YOU IN THE COSMOS by Jack Cheng and we listened to the audiobook and it was such a good audiobook, wasn’t it guys?

Jane and Max: mm-hmm

Amanda: What was your favorite part, Max?

Max: My favorite was when he launched the rocket!

Amanda: Oooh, that’s a good part. How ‘bout you?

Jane: My favorite part is when he finds his dog. Do you know what a dog is?

Amanda: That’s a good question. I wonder, do you think aliens have pets? And if they do, what kind of pets would they be?

Jane: Would they be slimy, icky pets like the Grimer of Pokemon moon?

Amanda: Maybe. Maybe. That’s possible.

SEE YOU IN THE COSMOS is a story about a little boy named Alex who leaves his house to go launch a rocket at a rocket festival. And on the way, he meets all kinds of people. A man who has taken a vow of silence and a college kid and he ends up finding his half-sister that he didn’t even know existed. Together, he charms…he charms all of these new people in his life and they all grow to love him. And that’s because Alex is so easy to love. You fall in love with him from the very first page. His enthusiasm for life is contagious. Jane, what did you like about Alex?

Jane: I like his astronomy jokes. And how he never gives up. Never, ever, ever!

Amanda: He definitely has some great astronomy jokes. Max, what did you like about Alex?

Max: I liked about him…making his rocket and caring for his mother.

Amanda: Yeah. So, SEE YOU IN THE COSMOS is about Alex leaving his house and going on a trip to launch a rocket at a rocket festival. And he’s hoping to put his golden Ipod with new sounds on it, much like the “golden record” that was launched into space by his hero, Carl Sagan. He wants to launch hi golden Ipod with his recordings on it on his rocket into space. And as he goes to the rocket festival and then everything that happens after he just…he learns how to be brave and how to tell the truth. He learns that people can be redeemeD. I think my favoritE part of the book was when he talked about those moments when we tell the truth, when we are brave, that those are the moments that really stand in time. Those are the moments when we exist through time. Like a tessaract. And I really loved that idea.

SEE YOU IN THE COSMOS is a perfect listen for young and old alike. My husband enjoyed listening to it, my kids enjoyed listening to it. I would recommend it to anyone.

Jane: Unless you have a green, slimy pet that loves to eat books and has goobers in her eyes.

Amanda: Yes, unless you’re an alien that likes to eat books, then you’re not allowed to read. because it’s too good for that.

Jane: I meant the alien’s pets.

Amanda: It’s too good for that. So, aliens, if you’re out there and if you’re listening, you should really check out SEE YOU IN THE COSMOS.

. . .

Don’t miss the MG@Heart Book Club’s Twitter chat, where there’ll be further discussion of LOVE, SUGAR, MAGIC. It’s happening this Monday, March 6th, at 8 pm EST. Find it, and participate, using the #MGbookclub hashtag. See you there!

A Conversation with Jack Cheng: Books Between, Episode 44

Episode Outline:

You can listen to the episode here.


Hi and welcome to the Books Between Podcast! I believe in the power of stories to inspire us and to change our lives for the better. And I know that being a reader encourages us to be more empathetic and to be better citizens in our world.  And I want to help you connect kids with those amazing, life-changing stories and bring you inspiring (and fun!) conversations with the authors and educators who make that magic happen.  Every other Monday, I bring you book talks, interviews, and ideas for getting great books into the hands of kids between 8-12.

I am Corrina Allen – a mom of two tween girls, a teacher to 23 fifth graders, and I’ve beenScreen Shot 2018-02-26 at 12.46.42 AM planning a baby shower this week! My brother (who is also a teacher) and his wife (whois a librarian) are expecting their first this April. So – of course, I had to throw them a picture book themed baby shower.


This is Episode #44 and today I’m sharing with you a conversation with author Jack Cheng about his debut middle grade novel (and the MG at Heart February Book Club pick) See You in the Cosmos! And then I’ll end with a Q&A.

A few quick announcements. For those participating in the MG at Heart Books Club – the Twitter Chat to discuss See You in the Cosmos will be on Monday, March 6th at 8pm EST. Just follow the Hashtag #mgbookclub and I’ll see you there! Also, the March book is The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser. And the April book is The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson. If you want to know the rest of the schedule along with other great middle great content, please head over to – we have a book-release calendar and a great blog. One of my favorites from this past week is the post from Sayantani Dasgupta (author of The Serpent’s Secret) called “Nothing About Us Without Us: Writing #OwnVoices Fantasy in the Age of Black Panther”  – if you haven’t read it yet – it’s great. (And go see Black Panther – it was phenomenal!!)

So – there’s lots going on at MGBookVillage. It’s where all the transcripts of this podcast can be found. And – Kathie and Jarrett and Annaliese and I have been cooking up something pretty awesome for March. So stayed tuned!


Jack Cheng – Interview Outline

Joining me this month to ask Jack Cheng questions is one of the founders of the MG at Heart Book Club – and an author herself , Cindy Baldwin. Her novel, Where the Watermelons Grow, is out this July. We got the chance to connect with Jack on Skype last week and here is our conversation…

See You in the Cosmos

CA: For our listeners who haven’t yet read the novel, can you tell us a bit about Alex’s journey in See You in the Cosmos?cheng_jack

CA: The premise of this book is that the entire thing is recorded on Alex’s Golden iPod.  What were some aspects of writing the novel that were challenging because of that decision?

CB: Did you ever consider writing it another way?

CB: Alex is such a pitch-perfect balance of being really naive but also really precocious and shouldering a lot of adult responsibility. How did you strike that sweet spot in his voice between a kid who’s shouldering adult responsibilities but also being really clueless?

CB: How did you figure out how to assign time logs to the recorded entries? Did you read any of them aloud or was it all random guesswork?  

CA: Where you a fan of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos?  

JL: Yours is the second recently released kidlit book I’ve read in the past few months that voyager_golden_record_large_clock-r1f6c4faf1974455bac41f648cd2d6ad2_fup13_8byvr_324features the Voyager Golden Record and spacecraft centrally. (The Care and Feeding of a Pet Black Hole is the other one.)  Carl Sagan said that “the launching of this ‘bottle’ into the cosmic ‘ocean’ said something very hopeful about life on this planet. I’d love to know what YOU think it is about the Golden Record project, and the launching of it out into space, that so captures and ignites the imagination, and why it might be a powerful thing for young people in particular to learn about.

CB: Have you ever built a rocket? And what kind of research did you do?

Your Writing Life / See You on the Bookshelf Podcast

CA: I just loved your podcast – See You on the Bookshelf – where you interview all the different people who helped make See You in the Cosmos as reality – from your agent and editor and copyeditor to the audio people. Why did you decide to create podcast to document the journey of your novel?See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng

CA: Did I hear that See You in the Cosmos was originally written as an adult book? If so – what changes did you make to angle your writing more toward middle grade?

CB: You tackle some serious topics in this book. You touch on child neglect, mental illness, running away, infidelity… What made you decide to explore these issues in this book? Why do you think it’s important to address difficult, mature topics like this in middle grade?

CB: Do you feel like you’ll continue to experiment with unusual formats in your work in the future?

CA: What are you working on now?

Your Reading Life

CA: One of the goals of this podcast is to help educators and librarians inspire kids to read more and connect them with amazing books. Did you have a teacher or librarian in your life who helped you grow into a reader?

CB: What role did reading have on your decision to be a writer?

CA: What are you reading now?

Thank You!Processed with VSCO with a6 preset


Jack’s website –

Jack on Twitter and Instagram

Jack’s See You on the BookShelf Podcast

Original Cosmos Series

Information about the Voyager Golden Record

Audio version of See You in the Cosmos

Books & Authors We Chatted About:

Pale Blue Dot (Carl Sagan)

The Care and Feeding of a Pet Black Hole (Michelle Cuevas)

The Kid Who Only Hit Homers (Matt Christopher)

Orphan Island (Laurel Snyder)

Origin of Species (Charles Darwin)

Q & A

This week I’m going to end by addressing some questions and comments that I have been getting a lot over the last two weeks. In the wake of the most recent school shooting, at the Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on February 14th – many many people have emailed and messaged me to express their anguish and to simply ask, “How is everyone doing?”  I know a lot you listening have been reaching out to me and to each other and hoping that maybe something’s different this time.

Every time I record a show I start by saying that I am a mom and I am a teacher.  And living in this society that glorifies gun violence and seems to tolerate it against its most vulnerable, I want to tell you what that means.

So as a mom, it means that my husband and I send our girls to school and we hope and feel lucky when they come home safely. As a mom, it means that your heart shreds a little more every time your child comes home and tells you where they hid during that day’s drill.  And as a mom, it means all too often I need to pull over to the side of the road on the way home from work to dry my tears at the latest news of yet another shooting of a child – in a school or in a neighborhood where all they’ve done wrong is wear a hooded sweatshirt. But as mom, you pull yourself together so you can listen to your children tell you about their day without dimming their smiles.

And I am also a teacher living in a culture where we and our students have become prey. And I want to tell you what that means.

It means that twice a year my students and I practice a lock down in case a shooter is in the school. They hide. Try to be quiet. And I shut the lights and hover near that locked door and plan how I might react if it wasn’t a drill. How could I use my body to shield theirs. Is there something nearby I can grab and use as a weapon?

A stapler?  Should I have grabbed that screwdriver out of the science kit?  

And I know it would never stop them. But it might just slow them down, a little. So that some could escape and there might be one less family to suffer that unimaginable grief of losing a child.

But being that shield would mean that my own children would be left without a mother.  And yet – all teachers I know do it willingly and gladly. Because we protect our kids – no matter what. That is the deal.

And I know my own teachers would have done the same. I know my daughters’ teachers would do the same. They’d protect those lives with their own.  But our society has broken that promise of protection.

And it is a heavy heavy burden placed on the shoulders of our children and our teachers. And it is too much. And I’ve even been asked – well, hey – what if you had a gun? Couldn’t you save more kids? First of all, a handgun is no match for assault weapon. And even a highly trained professional only averages an 18-25% accuracy rate in that kind of situation. When I think of where those other bullets might go in a school? For that reason and for a thousand more – NO! If you want to arm us, arm us with more counselors who serve students and not just sit in meetings about testing!

It’s already too much. But in return for that heavy burden on our children and their teachers – the drills, the anxiety that comes with every news story and every false alarm (and there are so many more of them than you know) – we expect action to end this brutal, soul-crushing gun violence. Action from our representatives, but also action from YOU.  Please.

Because our government WILL act. Once we are LOUD enough. And make them feel uncomfortable enough. And it’s really no surprise to me that the generation who grew up reading about Malala are at the forefront of this. They cut their teeth on the stories of brave young activists. They have finally gotten some momentum, so let’s help them.  I’ve called my representatives three times a week, and I’m going to the March for Our Lives on March 24th.

So I am begging you – please if you live in the US. – please help. Call the people who claim to represent you and I’ll see you at the march.



Corrina Allen is a 5th grade teacher in Central New York and mom of two energetic tween girls. She is passionate about helping kids discover who they are as readers.

Corrina is the host of Books Between – a podcast to help teachers, parents, and librarians connect children between 8 and 12 to books they’ll love.

Find her on Twitter at @corrinaaallen or Instagram at @Corrina_Allen.


Cover Reveal: THE HOTEL BETWEEN by Sean Easley


Hi everyone!

#MGBookVillage is excited to bring you the cover reveal for Sean Easley’s The Hotel Between!  This debut novel is also the November pick for the Middle Grade at Heart Book Club, so you are definitely going to want to read along with us!

A big thank you to Sean for letting us host the reveal and for taking the time to answer a few questions about The Hotel Between.  You’ll hear more from Sean this fall since he’s scheduled to be a guest on the Books Between podcast.

Read my brief interview with Sean and check out the book’s magical cover below!

~ Corrina

Hi Sean! Before we reveal the cover, can you tell us a bit about The Hotel Between?

Of course! But first, thanks so much for hosting; I love what you’re doing, and I’m really excited to be sharing my book here!  

Okay, so the short version: The Hotel Between is a middle grade adventure about a boy who uses the enchanted doors in a magical hotel to search the world for his father. It’s a globe-spanning journey of learning what makes a family–both the family you’re born with and the family you choose–and discovering that what you think you know isn’t always true. And, more than anything, it’s about the connections between us all, and how the whole of humanity is bound together in this amazing, magical world family.

But now I’m getting all abstract, so instead of me rambling on here’s the publisher description:

“Twins Cam and Cass have never known their parents. They’ve been told their mother died, and Cass is certain their father abandoned them. Cam isn’t so sure. He wants to prove her wrong; he must.

Cam’s wish is soon granted in the form of a glistening, golden sign with elaborate flourishes that reads: The Hotel Between. With doors that open to countries all over the world, magical trollies, charmed corridors that can be altered on a whim, stone elephants that turn to life, sweets made from rocks; everything is possible in The Hotel. Cam has a hunch his father is somehow connected to this magical place, and may even be lost within its hidden halls.

Every journey has its risks, and The Hotel Between is full of dangerous secrets. If Cam’s not careful, his stay may be over before his vacation has even started.”

So, this being a book about traveling the world, what are some of the places the characters end up going?

Oh, the places you’ll go! We hop magical doors constantly throughout the book, starting out in Dallas but eventually making our way to Moscow, Budapest, Northern China, the Democratic Republic of Congo, a cruise ship in the Antarctic, Honduras and Sydney and Bermuda and India and… well, those are just the start. And to top it off, the Hotel Between itself is a magical place full of its own hidden mysteries to be explored.

Who is the artist that designed your cover?  And what did you think when you saw the final version?

I had to pick my jaw up off the floor when I saw the unbelievable illustration from Petur Antonsson (you can find his stuff here: Never in my wildest dreams could I have expected anything this breathtaking. The colors! The doors showing the world! The elephant! The kids being awesome! It’s just incredible, and I’m so thankful to Petur for his illustration and the cover designer Chloe Foglia for her direction in putting it all together.

Let’s take a look!



I love that when you look at the cover from different angles, it shifts your perspective as a reader and you notice different details.  Can you discuss how shifts in perspective might be included in the story?

Me too! The perspective-defying layout is one of the things I love most about Petur’s illustration. In the book, there’s a tangible reason for the layout of the hotel to not make complete sense spatially, but also this is a book about the world as a whole, and how people–and kids–fit into it. So that dynamic fits the book in so many ways.

One of the biggest examples of changing perspectives is how the main character reacts to his sister throughout. Cam goes into the story feeling like he has to protect Cass–who was born with a serious and complicated health condition–from her own sense of adventure. It’s that assumed responsibility that drives him on his own adventure out into the wide world looking for help. But as Cam encounters new people and discovers that he doesn’t know all the things he assumes he knows, his understanding of his sister can finally begin to change, and he can start believing in her they way she believes in herself. The same is true for who Cam chooses to trust, what relationships he builds, etc.

Sean – thanks so much for letting us take a peek at the cover of The Hotel Between! When can readers get it, and where is a good place to preorder?

The Hotel Between is coming September 4, 2018 from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. It’s up for preorder at the following places: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Indiebound.  Also, feel free to add it to your Goodreads TBR

Thank you, Sean!

No, thank YOU for having me!

Sean Easley (credit_Michelle Easley)Sean Easley started writing in third grade because he was looking for adventure. He’s worked with kids and teens for well over a decade, listening to their stories, and somehow ended up with a Master’s degree in education along the way. Now he’s a full-time writer living with his wife and son in Texas, where he stubbornly refuses to wear cowboy boots. Visit him at and on Twitter and Instagram @AuthorEasley.

Cover Reveal: THE THREE RULES OF EVERYDAY MAGIC by Amanda Rawson Hill


Happy Saturday!

Today we’ve got yet ANOTHER cover reveal for you, this one for Amanda Rawson Hill’s highly anticipated debut, THE THREE RULES OF EVERYDAY MAGIC! Check out my brief interview with Amanda below, in which we discuss her book, Everyday Magic, music, and more, and then stick around to take a look at the wonderful cover!

~ Jarrett

. . .

First off, Amanda, thank you so very much for letting us host your cover reveal here at the Village — we’re thrilled about it. But before we get to the cover, could you tell us a little bit about your book?

THE THREE RULES OF EVERYDAY MAGIC is a middle-grade contemporary coming of age novel about a girl trying to hold on to all the people in her life who seem to be leaving in different ways. Kate’s dad disappeared a few months before the story starts, her Grammy moves in with her because she has early stage dementia, and Kate’s best friend Sofia seems to be moving on to a new best friend. Kate has to navigate these changing relationships, learning, in her words, “What’s just the right amount of love and the right amount of letting go.”

Everyday Magic — there’s something so exciting and enticing about the idea of it. Is it an entirely fictional creation? Or did someone teach it — or something similar to it — to you at some point in your life?

Everyday Magic is something that I swear my fingers typed out by themselves. I was doing a rewrite, because this book started out being about guardian angel grandmas, and I needed something to tie everything together. I was right at the first turning point and still wasn’t sure what that story “glue” was going to be. But whatever it was, I knew it needed to show up THAT night.

All of a sudden, Grammy said, “There are three rules to Everyday Magic. The first is to believe.” Then she went on to tell a story about fixing an old friendship after a fight. And Kate responded with, “That doesn’t sound like magic. That sounds like making up.”

Then Grammy replied, “Maybe. But I like to think that forgiveness is a special kind of magic.”

Well I had to stop typing right then and write down the three rules because they were coming to me faster than I could take it all in. They were still kind of fuzzy. I didn’t have them as succinctly as believe, give, trust yet. But in a few days, I had boiled them down to that point. I mention this because it was my first experience feeling like this idea came to me and it honestly didn’t feel like it came FROM me. You know?

Anyways, as I’ve continued to hone this book, I have had to come back to this idea of Everyday Magic and the rules around it and had to ask myself over and over again if I really believe that. Because if I’m going to pass it along to kids, I want it to be as true as I can make it. Where does it fall short? What are the weaknesses? And so on. Toward the end of the book, Kate has these light bulb moments about Everyday Magic and what it really is and all the different ways we make it in our lives, and that was kind of me really processing all of it as well. Now it feels like a part of me and I see it all the time.

For example, I live in an HOA with a couple of crank pots who would prefer that the common area in our neighborhood just be decoration instead of something children play on. But for the last few months, I’ve been really focused on the GIVE part of the Everyday Magic equation and I can personally attest to magical things happening because of it. Friendships blooming, hearts healing, attitudes changing. So no, not fictional at all. At least, not to me.

Now, onto the cover. Were you involved in the creative process at all?

A little bit. I was sent a cover back in early October that just didn’t feel right to me or my agent. We sent some feedback and my publisher came back with it tweaked but it still just wasn’t right. So we asked if they’d be willing to completely re-imagine it. Which…is a HUGE ask and I felt sick to my stomach for a couple of days over it. But my editor, Rebecca Davis, and the art director, Tim Gilner, were just absolutely amazing. They took my suggestions of what I thought would be fitting and said, “Yes.” You hear so many stories from debut authors especially about cover woes and the fact is that publishers don’t have to listen to what the author wants. They don’t. But mine did. They really, really listened and never made me feel like I was impertinent or going beyond my station. I love that so much. Boyds Mills Press really is a dream to work with.

What was your first response when seeing the cover art?

I had to wait two months after requesting the redesign to see the new cover. And it was completely and totally worth it. When I got the email, I was soooo nervous. But when I opened the attachment, I gasped and started crying. Truly.

Okay. I can’t wait any longer. Let’s do the big reveal!


Art by Tim Gilner.

Wow! Where’s the heart-eyed emoji when you need it? It’s stunning!
One more question for you, after seeing the cover art:

Music isn’t mentioned at all in the jacket copy for the book, but it’s clear from the cover that music is an important part of Kate’s story. Can you discuss the role of music in your life, and how it’s incorporated into the story?

Yes! So music has been a part of my life from the very beginning. My parents both love to sing and my mom was always playing music in our home. When I was 5, I watched someone play “Mary Had a Little Lamb” on the piano and then proceeded to go home and play it myself. Neither of my parents played, so they were super impressed! They enrolled me in piano lessons and I continued to take those until I graduated from high school as a very advanced pianist. I also played the French horn all through junior high and high school, making it into the All-State orchestra, where I played Dvorjak’s “New World” Symphony, which was a life-changing experience for me. That’s something you never forget. My husband and I fell in love singing and playing the guitar together. Especially “Can’t Help Falling in Love.”

In THE THREE RULES OF EVERYDAY MAGIC music acts as both a source of sadness and of healing for Kate. It’s used to give us insight into her father’s slide into depression and Kate’s inability to move on from his departure from the family. It’s also used to help trigger Grammy’s memory and connect with her despite the dementia, which I lifted straight from my own Grandma’s experiences with my Grandpa who died of Alzheimer’s when I was fifteen. There is also a special scene near the end of the book where Kate’s mom tells her a story about playing Beethoven’s “Pathetique.” It’s this really lovely moment of healing. And the story is word for word exactly something that happened to me at a recital. 

Okay, last question — I mean it this time! When can readers get their hands on THE THREE RULES OF EVERYDAY MAGIC?

September 25th!

author photo 2018
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.

How to Amplify Muslim Stories

We live in a nation where our Muslim neighbors are facing discrimination from all quarters. At the same time, we work in a publishing industry that is slowly becoming more attune to the voices clamoring for diversity. More and more publishing houses have created diverse imprints, and hashtags like #WNDB and #DVpit have gained popularity on social media.

This is good, but we can do better.

As a Muslim writer who also helps other authors market themselves, and as editor-in-chief of a literary magazine aimed at encouraging Muslim writers to throw their hats in the ring, I feel that there is much more to be done to level the playing field. Books by Muslim authors are more common now than ten years ago, but not at satisfactory levels. There’s lot more to be done, because the Muslim world is so diverse that a handful of stories do not paint a diverse picture.

If you somehow belong to the publishing industry as a writer, editor, blogger or anything else, I hope you’ll want to amplify Muslim stories. If so, but you don’t know where to start, here are my recommendations:

Seek out Muslim writers on social media. Sharing their book news or expressing excitement for their new projects is not going to undermine your own work but it will make a huge difference to them. One goal of most Muslim writers is to spread their stories among non-Muslim audiences, and your actions on social media can be valuable in that regard.

Ask Muslim writers to join your online groups. You know the ones, where you sit and moan about being on submission or how nobody showed up to your book signing. Make them a part of Twitter chats, invite them into your writing groups on Facebook or in person. Help them with support, critique and feedback. A big challenge that Muslim writers face is getting access to critique or support groups that are diverse, and any invitations to be part of online communities will probably be very happily accepted.

If you have a blog, ask Muslim writers to contribute. Remember that different writers will have different perspectives because of religious, cultural and individual diversity, so one blogger or one post may not be enough. And don’t expect them to always write about their “Muslimness” any more than you’d expect a white writer to write about being white. We are more than our faith and/or culture. We’re human beings.

If you’re an editor or agent, make sure you have a list of Muslim sensitivity readers, just in case you’re working on books about Muslims written by someone who isn’t qualified to be writing them. Better yet, encourage Muslim writers to send in their manuscripts: this could be through Twitter parties, contests, or calls like this (

Invite Muslim writers to be part of conferences in larger numbers. Ask them to sit on panels – and not only that one panel about diversity but all panels. They are writers first and foremost, and their perspectives can be helpful to others too. Consider promoting their books as much as possible without hurting other authors. Often publishers think Muslim books aren’t meant for broad audiences and hence don’t put marketing dollars behind them.

If you’re a book reviewer or freelance writer, search for those hidden gems. Chances are if you ask around, you’ll find lots of lesser-known books by Muslim authors for your next Summer Reading List. Consider only reviewing Muslim authors for a year. It will be an eye-opening experience.

If you’re a teacher, librarian or parent, your job is the sweetest. Choose books by Muslim authors, champion them in your libraries and classrooms, help students get excited about reading diverse perspectives. If we can get our younger generation hooked on reading about their Muslim neighbors, they are going to grow up to be empathetic and responsible adults who don’t fear the “other.”

Imagine what kind of world that would be.


Saadia Faruqi is Pakistani American author of the early reader Yasmin series by Capstone. She also writes fiction and essays for adults and is editor-in-chief of Blue Minaret, a magazine for Muslim writers. She was profiled by O Magazine in 2017 for her interfaith and intercultural sensitivity trainings. Visit her website at


The Superhero I See

both covers.jpg

“Doing something even when you are afraid.”

“Being fearless.”

“Standing up for someone.”

Words of wisdom from fifth and sixth graders when asked what it means to be brave. I had spent the day visiting with them in their classrooms. We talked books, characters, secrets we keep, and then we talked bravery and courage and strength. The truth, kids know what bravery is. The other truth, they often don’t see it in themselves. When asked to share a time of bravery, they pointed to the travails of Firefighter Dad, Rosa Parks, their very smart teacher, Martin Luther King, Roller-Coaster Riding Big Brother, The Flash, Dog-fearing Mailman, and Captain America. Even Spiderman and Superman got a lot of love.

Inward, however, was the last place they identified as brave.

As strong.

As courageous.

When I asked this same group of kids the traits of someone who was brave, they said that person was smart, fearless, fierce, empathetic, kind, dependable. So now, let’s consider this. What if these kids saw bravery within? What if these kids saw themselves as brave? Would they also then see themselves as smart, fearless, fierce, empathetic, kind, and dependable?

After reading Finding Perfect, a reader reached out to me. Tragedy had happened in his world and he connected with Molly. He was scared and lonely. He said that reading helped. And that in the midst of all the chaos, he wished he had been brave.

I didn’t understand how this young reader did not see himself as brave? For just showing up. For getting to school. For beginning each day. What if we could provide that mirror for him to see himself as brave. For him to feel in that place that is real and raw and can’t hide, that he is brave. And if he believed he was brave, would he also then believe he was strong and smart? Would he find the confidence that’s tucked away down deep to find his voice? Use his voice?

To me, kids are the real heroes. They do the hard stuff even when the hard stuff is small and invisible. Like speaking out when the last thing you want to do is hear your voice echo through the classroom or asking for help when you don’t understand what everyone else seems to get or sitting next to someone when you feel only-one-in-the-world lonely. Sometimes just speaking is hard. Sometimes just being is hard.

Bravery is what gives you the strength to stand up for yourself and others. It gives you the sass to be curious. The freedom to make mistakes. And the resilience to get back up. It gives you the room to grow and the patience you need to get there.

Bravery is the foundation upon which so much of ourselves is built.

I want kids to see the bravery they possess. To feel the power and kindness and strength that comes from it.

I want them to look inside.

And see the superhero I see.

IMG_9578.jpgElly Swartz loves writing for kids, Twizzlers, and anything with her family. Her debut novel, FINDING PERFECT (FSG 2016), is about twelve-year-old Molly, friendship, family, OCD, and a slam poetry competition that will determine everything. In her second book, SMART COOKIE (Scholastic, 2018), you meet the spunky and big-hearted Frankie. Frankie’s all about family with a dash of mischief and mystery! And then in 2019, say hello to Maggie in GIVE AND TAKE (FSG). Elly lives in Massachusetts with her family and beagle named Lucy. If you want to connect with Elly, you can find her at, on Twitter @ellyswartz or on Instagram @ellyswartzbooks.

Nothing About Us Without Us: Writing #OwnVoices Fantasy in The Age of Black Panther

Kiranmala Reveal Cvr

I, like much of movie-going America right now, want to move to Wakanda.

By this I both mean the specific Wakanda imagined into being by the box-office busting cultural sensation Black Panther, and the Wakanda-as-idea that to me represents a time, space and place where brown, Black, and other historically marginalized heroes don’t just survive, but thrive.

Growing up as a daughter of Indian immigrants to the U.S., I didn’t know such places existed. More to the point, I didn’t know such a place could be permitted by mainstream America to exist. A place where someone like me could be magical, powerful, brave – a place where someone like me could save the universe.

There are two reasons for this. One of them is that when I was young, I rarely saw myself celebrated, or even portrayed at all, in books, media, or the wider culture. As the saying goes, “it’s hard to be what you cannot see,” and since I hardly saw myself at all, I almost became convinced that maybe I shouldn’t even be – in other words, that I should make myself small, quiet, and nearly invisible.

If it wasn’t for my long summer vacation trips back to my grandparents’ homes in West Bengal, India, I might have continued on my quest to erase myself from my own story. It was during those trips that I could see people who looked like me, and sounded like me, and celebrated me. Through them I learned to celebrate myself. What also helped were the stories of my own cultural Wakanda — my grandmothers’ folktales that transported me to a magical place called ‘the Kingdom Beyond Seven Oceans and Thirteen Rivers.’ These were fantastic stories of flesh eating rakkhosh demons, evil serpent kings, brave princes and princess, and wise talking birds. I loved these stories so much, I first translated a number of them into a volume called The Demon Slayers and Other Stories: Bengali Folktales (Interlink, 1995) and later used them to inspire my debut middle grade novel, The Serpent’s Secret (Scholastic 2018), which is the first in the middle grade fantasy series, Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond. 

Screen Shot 2017-07-23 at 4.47.34 PM copy

In addition to the neglect afforded by cultural invisibility was the experience of venomous, purposeful, cultural erasure. From almost daily racist microaggressions – like kids in the schoolyard who rubbed at my skin to see if my ‘tan’ would come off — to macroaggressions like tar in our family mailbox, when I was a child, I got the message loud and clear that I – who had been born in the U.S. – would always be a perpetual foreigner, that my family and my community had no place in the xenophobic, racist, homogenized story mainstream America insisted on telling about itself. Luckily, I had a model of resistance at home, activist parents who helped me name my demons. While my character Kiranmala fights multiple long-toothed, sharp clawed, carnivorous rakkhosh, my personal rakkhosh was racism. It wasn’t until I learned to recognize this monster as something systemic, and not something that was inherently wrong with me or my community, that I could defeat its hold over me.

Art by Vivienne To.

When my own children, who are now teenagers, were middle grade readers, the cultural representations available to them were a bit better than during my childhood. But it wasn’t true across all genres. Middle grade (and YA) fantasy in particular has been far slower than other genres to make space for Indigenous and LGBTQIA heroes, heroes of color and heroes with disabilities. And yet, middle grade fantasy is the genre which is all about radical imagination — in which children can fly, and do magic, and save the universe. And so, I wrote The Serpent’s Secret as much for my children as for myself, in answer to Toni Morrison’s famous call, “If there’s a book you want to read and it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” That said, I would add an addendum to Morrison’s call – if there is a book you want to read, and need to write, you must also ask yourself whether you are the right person for the job, and why you want to write it. What I’ve outlined above is my own self-examination in regard to this question. All I ask is that my fellow authors of all backgrounds do the same.

In my ‘day job,’ I work in the field of Narrative Medicine, also known as the Health Humanities, an interdisciplinary field dedicated to honoring the role of story in healing. In my teaching, I urge my students to ask questions like “Who speaks?” and “Who is spoken for?” as well as “Whose stories count?” and “Whose stories are discounted?” We discuss the potential violence of more socioculturally powerful tellers speaking for less socioculturally powerful communities. In her essay “The Problem of Speaking for Others,” philosopher Linda Martín Alcoff has suggested that, “the act of more privileged persons speaking for or on behalf of less privileged persons has actually resulted (in many cases) in increasing or reinforcing the oppression of the group spoken for.”

The truth of the matter is, my personal Wakanda – The Kingdom Beyond Seven Oceans and Thirteen Rivers — was decades in the making. It does not come from me thinking that diversity is a trend or that it might be interesting to explore an Indian American character. It comes from my own many experiences – with invisibility and visibility, with racism and anti-racist activism, with stories and with silence. In the same way, the magic of the Black Panther film is born from its nearly all-Black cast and African American director. It might be considered, if it were a novel, consistent with the notion of #ownvoices, or, as the phrase goes in disability activism, “nothing about us without us.”

This doesn’t of course mean that all writers shouldn’t populate their worlds diversely – reflecting the real world around them. But it does mean that they should think about their own power, and their own reasons for telling any particular story. It means that all us writers must work collaboratively, giving and receiving input, to get our stories ‘right’ – particularly when we are seeking to tell stories of those communities whose stories have been erased or willfully silenced.

We are living in a time where, more than ever, we need cultural spaces like Wakanda, and cultural stories like those imagined into existence by #ownvoices fantasists. We need the warriors of Black Panther, immigrant daughters who are superheroes and little girls of color who travel through time and space, like Meg Murry in Ava DuVernay’s forthcoming A Wrinkle in Time. We need to recognize that these stories are paralleled in real life by the heroic teen survivors of the Parkland, Florida, mass shooting, who are speaking out and telling their story because it is their story to tell, and they refuse to let anyone else write their lives out of existence.

Wakanda is a fictional place, but Wakanda is also an idea. It is an idea about liberation, and fantasy, and who among us gets to imagine themselves into the future. Indeed, #representationmatters, not only because it heals traditionally marginalized people, but because the healing of our hurting world is going require as many superheroes of as many backgrounds as we can get.



Sayantani DasGupta grew up hearing stories about brave princesses, bloodthirsty rakkhosh and flying pakkhiraj horses. She is a pediatrician by training but now teaches at Columbia University. When she’s not writing or reading, Sayantani spends time watching cooking shows with her trilingual children and protecting her black Labrador Retriever Khushi from the many things that scare him, including plastic bags. She is a team member of We Need Diverse books and can be found on Twitter at @sayantani16 or at

Writing Like a Doctor, Doctoring Like a Writer

When I tell people I write stories for young people, they are inevitably pleased, but also sometimes surprised and bemused. Really, they ask. Why?

Part of the reaction to my writing life comes from the fact that I’m a practicing internal medicine doctor. I have the honor of being a primary care physician, which sometimes feels like being everybody’s mom. I take care of everything from stomachaches to headaches to heartaches, and I love it. I love medicine, I love my colleagues, I love my students, and I especially love my patients.

But I’m also a writer. I write because I have to. I can’t stop. I write because books have always been essential to me, my best friends. And I write for kids because the books I read as a child helped shape who I am today in significant ways. Plus, I might still have the mind of a 12-year-old.

To me, medicine and writing have a lot in common. And I’m not just talking about the long list of famous writers who happened to be doctors – Oliver Wendell Holmes, William Carlos Williams, Michael Crichton, Abraham Verghese – the list goes on and on.

I’m talking about the similarities in process between medicine and writing. They involve flexing many of the same muscles…uh, brain cells.

The Years of Training Sequence

Think of your favorite hero movies. The best ones have a thrilling montage of the hero training to prepare for the big battle: Rocky punching frozen sides of beef and running stairs in Philly; Daniel-San painting fences and waxing surfaces and practicing crane technique; Katniss honing her archery skills and trying to learn to relate to other humans.

Medicine has a particularly long and not particularly glamorous Years of Training sequence. Four years of college followed by four years of medical school in which students essentially learn a new language and enough science to make their heads explode, all while trying to perfect taking a great medical history, performing an excellent physical exam, generating the proper differential diagnoses, and still relating to other humans. That earns the MD. But after that comes the grueling residency (yes, the root is the word resident, since they essentially live in the hospital) that lasts a minimum of three years but can extend to five or more, followed by fellowships for those who decide to subspecialize. Oh, and lots and lots of tests! It’s a very long road, not for the faint of heart, and certainly not for those who don’t love medicine with every fiber of their being.

Writing has a Years of Training sequence, too. Great writers are made, not born, and it takes years and years of practice to hone one’s skills. Unlike medicine, this doesn’t necessarily require formal education – MFAs are great, but you don’t need one to write well, and you don’t need a license to write either. But good writing doesn’t just happen overnight, and it’s a myth that some people just “have it” and spit out best-selling, award-winning novels without working hard. Writers put in hours and hours perfecting the craft by reading, writing about reading, reading about writing, talking, reflecting, and just plain writing. We take classes, participate in critique groups, attend webinars, conferences, workshops, writing retreats … and we write. And write, and write.

Which leads me to another similarity between medicine and writing: the learning never ends. I’m required by my state medical board to devote a certain number of hours to Continuing Medical Education (CME) in order to stay up to date with the latest advances. Trust me, you don’t want your doctor to still be practicing medicine like it’s 1958 or 1998…or even 2008. Similarly, even the most accomplished writers I know are constantly pushing themselves to improve their craft every single day. Each book we write is written differently, and requires different skills. The learning really never ends. And that’s a good thing!

Which brings me to…

Science vs. Art

Everyone knows that medicine is a science. It’s also an art.

You can read all the books, take all the exams, and complete the training, but there’s nothing that teaches like experience. The best doctors listen as much as they talk, and take into account a patient’s body language and tone to elicit both what the patient is worried about, and what they care about – their values. This, more than anything, is what helps a doctor guide a patient through a difficult decision. Now that I’ve been practicing medicine for over 20 years, I find myself listening more, panicking less, and understanding my patients better than I ever could as a younger doctor.

Meanwhile, everyone knows that writing is an art. But it’s also a science.

There are plenty of ways to find inspiration, and sometimes writing is just about putting something (anything!) down on a page, but I love it when I devise or discover a strategy for getting my writing unstuck. This is not to say that writing is ever cookie-cutter, or one-size-fits-all…it never is. But to me, having a structure is extremely helpful. Classes and workshops and books have taught me practical approaches to developing an outline, deepening a character arc, or revising a scene. In the world of plotters vs. pantsers, I fall squarely on the plotter side…but it’s impossible for me to cut out pantsing entirely, and sometimes it’s absolutely essential! Often when I sit down to write a chapter, something surprising happens, and things go in a completely different direction than I’d planned. In any case, focusing on the structure and the science of storytelling can be a huge help when staring down a blank page. And sometimes, when I’ve worked on a piece forever and I can’t tell up from down, it’s helpful (and even fun!) to just focus on the nitty-gritty aspects of writing — like line editing!

And when things get tough, in medicine and in writing…

I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends

Practicing medicine can be high pressure, perplexing, and emotionally exhausting. Sustaining a life in medicine would be impossible without my colleagues – everyone from other doctors to nurses, nurse practitioners, medical assistants, and administrative folks. Not to mention the security guards, technicians, translators…without the whole team, we wouldn’t be able to take great care of our patients. And when I’m confused or excited, upset or elated, I can go to any of them with my questions/concerns/thrilling news, and they help. They always do.

Built into our system of medical education is a brilliant way of paying it forward: as a faculty member at a teaching hospital and medical school, I have the privilege of helping to teach and train the next generation of doctors, who go on to teach and train the ones who follow them.

And at the heart of it all is our sacred duty: to care for our fellow human beings, to advise them as honestly as we can, and to tend to them when they need us.

I never thought I’d ever meet a group of people as brilliant, hard-working, mission-driven, and generous as the medical community I’ve been fortunate to be part of.

And then I met writers.

I’ve met writers in person and online, in my hometown and across the country. They are published, pre-published, and almost published, women and men, young and old, newbies and mentors. And in them I’ve found another group of brilliant, hard-working, mission-driven, generous colleagues. We read each other’s work and cheerlead each other and serve as confidantes and counselors and promoters in the best possible way. Writers are constantly learning from fellow writers, and they pay it forward all the time.

And at the heart of it all is our sacred duty: to care about our fellow human beings, to tell our stories as honestly as we can, and to tend to each other when we need it.

Because people are at the heart of both medicine and writing. Beautiful, infuriating, wonderful, awful, glorious, ever-changing, transcendent people. People who make terrible choices. People who are braver than we can fathom. People who face impossible odds and keep trying. I’m so very lucky to care for real people who tell me their stories, and have these experiences inform the stories I spin in my mind. And fictional people, in the books I read and the books I write, inform how I take care of my patients. They make me a better doctor, and a better human being.

Stories matter. They always have. They always will.

So that’s what I try to do: write like a doctor, and doctor like a writer. Keep my chin up during the never-ending Years of Training. Keep my team close, and let them help me. Use science and art in my writing and my doctoring. And keep my heart open to all kinds of people with all kinds of stories. To listen to theirs, and tell them mine.

Rajani LaRocca Cropped.JPG


Rajani LaRocca writes (middle grade and picture books), doctors (adults), and bakes (as much as possible) in eastern Massachusetts. Her home team includes her superhero husband, two brilliant kids, and the world’s handsomest dog. You can learn more about her at and on Twitter @rajanilarocca.

Cover Reveal: SVEN CARTER & THE ANDROID ARMY by Rob Vlock


For the second Saturday in a row here at the #MGBookVillage, we’re hosting a cover reveal! This week, it’s for SVEN CARTER & THE ANDROID ARMY, the sequel to Rob Vlock’s SVEN CARTER & THE TRASHMOUTH EFFECT!

Rob’s debut was one of my favorite reads of all last year. It had me laughing out loud, gnawing at my fingernails, and canceling plans just so I could keep on reading. Sven’s first adventure is a total blast, and I can’t wait to see what he gets up to in the second installment of his story.

Read my brief interview with Rob below, and then check out the cover of SVEN CARTER & THE ANDROID ARMY!

~ Jarrett

. . .

First of all, Rob, thanks so much for hosting your big reveal at the Village — we’re all super excited about it. As we are about SVEN CARTER & THE ANDROID ARMY! Now, the first SVEN novel was one of the wildest, craziest, most action-packed books I’ve ever read. How do you follow THAT up?

Thanks, Jarrett! You’re making me blush! To be honest, it was kind of tough to follow up the first book. I had already thrown clown snakes and murderous roast chickens and a kid who has a face where his butt should be into Sven’s first adventure, so I definitely had to get creative to keep up the craziness. But it was worth the all the effort, because there are plenty of new freakish Ticks to keep readers shaking their heads!

Before we get to the new cover, can you tell us a bit about the new book?

SVEN CARTER & THE ANDROID ARMY picks up right where the first book left off. Sven, Alicia, Will and Junkman Sam discover that Dr. Shallix’s evil plan to wipe out humanity goes way beyond Sven. There are six other Ticks out there just as deadly as Sven himself and they could extinguish the human race at any time. So Sven and his friends need to track them down and stop them before they carry out their missions.

Did you have the same illustrator who did the first cover do the second? What were your thoughts and feelings when you first saw the sketches and/or final product?

Yes! Steven Scott is the fantastically talented London-based illustrator who did both covers. He also did the art for the Sven Carter trading cards that I’ve been giving out at events. Steve totally captured both books with his cover art. I was really lucky in that I had the opportunity to come up with the idea for the second cover. And what Steve ended up drawing matches what I had in my head perfectly!

When you talk to kids about SVEN CARTER, what do you tend to hear from them?

It’s funny, when I describe the first book to kids, I see a ton of jaws drop every time! Especially when I get to the part where Sven’s arm falls off and then reattaches itself. I think they’re just surprised to hear that a grownup is writing the kind of silly absurdity that can only come from channeling one’s inner 10-year-old. Which is great for me, because that’s pretty much my maturity level (much to the embarrassment of my kids!).

Finally, I have to ask: you seem to know an awful lot about sophisticated androids masquerading as human beings. Are you, yourself, a sophisticated android masquerading as a human being?

What? No, that’s absurd. I’m just a regular human.

But wouldn’t an android posing as a human say that same thing?

Well, yeah. I guess. But I’m not an android.

Which is exactly what an android would say! By saying you’re not an android, you’re proving that you actually are one!

Wait! I… I’m… uh… you see… Illogical! Illogical! Does not compute! Does not compute! System overload! Shutting down in 5…4…3…2…1…………….

I guess that’s it for my interview with author Rob Vlock. So we’ll go ahead and share the cover now!


If you haven’t read SVEN CARTER & THE TRASHMOUTH EFFECT, hurry up and do so. And be sure to pick up a copy of Rob’s new book, SVEN CARTER & THE ANDROID ARMY, coming out October 18 from Simon & Schuster/Aladdin and available for pre-order now!



Rob is the author of SVEN CARTER & THE TRASHMOUTH EFFECT (Simon & Schuster/Aladdin) and SVEN CARTER & THE ANDROID ARMY (October 16, 2018, Simon & Schuster/Aladdin). He writes fun, funny, fast-paced kids’ books that are perfect for reluctant readers. And when he’s not writing, you can usually find him somewhere in the greater Boston area trying to make his trumpet sound like something other than a dying goose. It’s a work in progress.