MG at Heart Book Club Book Review: THE VANDERBEEKERS OF 141ST STREET by Karina Yan Glaser

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The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser is a charming, funny, and heart-warming book about the five Vanderbeeker kids—Isa, Jessie, Oliver, Hyacinth, and Laney—and the plans they concoct to stay in their beloved Harlem home after their grumpy landlord decides not to renew their family’s lease.

It’s an absolute joy to read, and it would make a perfect class or family read-aloud. You will want to climb inside the world of this story and stay there, befriending the entire Vanderbeeker family!

Just in case you need any more convincing, here are our top five reasons why you should read the book, plus a “Which Vanderbeeker Are You?” quiz to help you determine your Vanderbeeker kindred spirit.

Top Five Reasons to Read The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street

1.) The setting. The book features an extraordinarily vivid, delightful setting—Karina Yan Glaser does a masterful job of depicting the Vanderbeekers’ brownstone and their entire Harlem neighborhood. People often talk about world-building in fantasy or science fiction, but the world-building in this contemporary realistic story is top-notch.

2.) An interesting, happy family. It’s refreshing to read a book that features a big, noisy, content, biracial family with devoted parents and lots of lovable siblings and pets. Sure, the Vanderbeeker siblings have some conflicts, but the moments of affection between the kids and the parents are truly touching.

3.) The story isn’t just happy. Overall, this is a humorous, joyful story, and reading it feels a bit like curling up under a cozy blanket and eating Mama Vanderbeeker’s double chocolate pecan cookies. But there’s some tragedy in the novel as well, and it’s handled in an appropriately gentle way but is not at all sugarcoated. This is a comforting story, yes, but it’s set in a world in which sadness coexists with joy.

4.) The ensemble cast of main characters. In this book, you get five main characters for the price of one! All five Vanderbeeker siblings are equally lovable and equally well-developed. Any writers who want to write a book with an ensemble cast would do well to study this one!

5.) More Vanderbeeker adventures are on the way! After you fall in love with the Vanderbeekers in this book, you’ll get to read more about this charming family’s escapades! The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden releases on September 25, and then a third Vanderbeekers story will follow.

The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden, Final Cover

All of the Vanderbeeker siblings are delightful, but which one is most like you? Take this quiz to find out!

1.) Your friend is having a terrible day. How would you cheer her up?

a.) By playing her favorite song for her.

b.) By creating a Rube-Goldberg-type machine that would light up with a smiley face.

c.) By writing her a haiku and challenging her to a game of pick-up basketball.

d.) By making her something crafty.

e.) By giving her lots of enormous hugs!

2.) Uh oh. You’ve done something that frustrated someone you care about. What did you do to push his buttons?

a.) You were working so hard on your favorite creative pursuit that you weren’t around to hang out when he came by to see you.

b.) You thought you knew what he would want in a certain situation, so you made a decision for him instead of letting him speak for himself.

c.) You lost your temper just a little bit and wrote him an angry note.

d.) You couldn’t quite summon up all your bravery and were too nervous to do something he wanted you to do.

e.) You got a little too exuberant and knocked him over with an extra-giant hug.

3.) It’s your birthday! What gift is at the top of your wish list?

a.) Tickets to a musical performance.

b.) An amazing chemistry set.

c.) New basketball sneakers and the new book by your favorite author.

d.) Arts and craft supplies and a recipe book.

e.) Fun clothes for dressing up.

4.) You’re working with a few other people on a group project. What role will you take on?

a.) You’ll be the leader who gets everyone organized.

b.) You’ll do all the detail-oriented sketches and calculations.

c.) You’ll be in charge of the written part.

d.) You’ll be in charge of the artistic stuff. Posters and other visuals have your name all over them.

e.) You’ll be the one to encourage everybody and to keep a positive attitude even when things are hard.

5.) What would other people say is your best trait?

a.) You’re a compassionate friend and you forgive people when they make mistakes.

b.) You’re extremely loyal, and you always stick up for the people you care about.

c.) You’re not too proud to learn from your mistakes, apologize for them, and make things right.

d.) You are always kind to everyone, people and animals alike, and you can be brave even when frightened.

e.) You make people laugh, and your enthusiasm and affection bring joy to others.

If you answered mostly A, you’re an Isa! Musical, organized, responsible, and kind.

If you answered mostly B, you’re a Jessie!  Passionate, scientific, and fiercely loyal.

If you answered mostly C, you’re an Oliver! You love sports, books, and poetry, and you truly want to do what’s right.

If you answered mostly D, you’re a Hyacinth! Brave when you need to be and kind to all.

If you answered mostly E, you’re a Laney! Funny, loving, and brimming with contagious joy.

. . .

We hope you love the book as much as we do, and we hope you’ll join us for the MG at Heart Book Club Twitter chat about THE VANDERBEEKERS OF 141ST STREET! It’s happening on Tuesday, April 3rd at 8:00PM EST. Use the hashtag #MGbookclub to participate!

Teaching Without Teaching

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Teaching is a tricky business. Children are inundated with teachers from a young age—parents or caregivers, school or homeschool teachers, media in all its forms. They have an overabundance of people trying to give them information. And done well, with respect and genuine concern for the child as an individual, teaching can be a magical thing that opens up the doors of the world.

When I was young, I learned more from books than anything else. And yet when I felt like a book was trying to teach me something I cringed away. I hated most of the books I was asked to read in class. Lesson Books. Moral Books. They always felt patronizing and disrespectful. How could the author of a book—who had never met me, and likely never would—know what I needed to learn? They couldn’t, and it was presumptuous for them to try. And this applied even to me—a cisgendered, straight, white boy who could see his own experience reflected back at him in almost every book he read. How much further off the mark must these lessons be for children who weren’t represented in the books they read? Who couldn’t read the voices of people who shared their experience?

So how did I learn so much from books, while avoiding books that tried to teach me?

When I decided to write children’s books (largely because they’re still the books I love to read), it became an urgent task to figure that out, so I could avoid being yet another patronizing voice in young lives. I care about my readers, but I don’t know them personally, so I can’t presume to know what they need from my books. As I started writing I went back to the stories that resonated with me—books like Susan Cooper’s Dark is Rising series, or just about anything by Charles de Lint. What I found was that these books weren’t trying to teach something so much as trying to figure something out. They’re searching for answers, rather than revealing them.

This has certainly been the case in my books, Dominion and Terra Nova. Molly, the hero, struggles to figure out who she is, who she wants to be, and how to do the right thing in a world that actively pushes against it. Here on the other side of adulthood, I’m still neck-deep in those same struggles. Writing Molly helped me find my own answers. And helped me realized that no matter how many answers I find, I can never stop asking myself these big questions.

It’s the questions I hope people take from my books. Young readers will be able to come up with their own answers, answers I could never imagine. Braver answers, smarter answers, maybe even simpler answers (which, for me, are the most difficult to find).

In Dominion, a wind spirit named Ariel helps Molly get hold of a journal with some secret—and dangerous—information. When Molly asks Ariel why she’s helping, Ariel says, “Because the journal you seek contains surprising information, and you, Molly Stout, are a surprising girl. I am curious to see what might happen if I bring the two of you together.” As an author, I want to be like Ariel. I can’t predict what will happen when readers meet my books. But I’m curious to see.

SA Author Photo 3.jpgShane Arbuthnott is the author of the Molly Stout Adventures from Orca Book Publishers. Both DOMINION and TERRA NOVA will be available in paperback on March 27th—but if you can’t wait, the first book is already available in hardcover. Shane grew up in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, and now lives in southwestern Ontario with his family. His short fiction has previously appeared in On Spec and Open Spaces. When he is not writing, he can be seen chasing his three adventurous children, trying to convince them to eat green things. For more information, visit

Interview: Tami Charles

Today we are excited to welcome author Tami Charles to #MGBookVillage to chat about her debut novel, Like Vanessa, pageants, and much more!


I am so excited to see your debut novel, Like Vanessa, out in the world and getting all kinds of love!  What is this story about?

I so appreciate the love! Thanks so much! Like Vanessa tells the story of 13-year-old Vanessa Martin, who faithfully watches the Miss America pageant, but never sees anyone who looks like her win. That all changes on September 17, 1983, when Vanessa Williams makes history as the first woman of color to win this title. Finally, young Vanessa believes that she can also reach for the impossible. The opportunity arrives when her school hosts their very first pageant. Vanessa’s grandfather and cousin believe in her, but her classmates think she doesn’t stand a chance.LV Hi Rez Cover

What kind of research did you do to make the details feel authentically 1983?

The Newark Public Library has an awesome research room with news clippings from that time period. I spent some time there, reading and absorbing events that took place in Newark and beyond. I also had lots and lots of conversations with my father, who lived on Grafton Avenue, where the story is set, for many years. I lived there briefly, but I was quite young. He helped fill in some of the blanks for me. And lastly, thank goodness for Google!

I’ll admit that I’ve felt a bit ambivalent about pageants, but your novel helped me see a different side. What was your pageant experience like and what elements of that experience did you want to convey in Like Vanessa?

I should probably point out that I don’t believe this isn’t necessarily a “pageant” story. One could easily fill in the blank with any school- related activity and the feelings of ambivalence and doubt would remain. I remember trying out for cheerleading and being deathly afraid—I was awful, by the way!

One thing is for sure, no matter what your dream is, it’s good to have a role model who came before you to pave the way. That’s what Vanessa Williams did for me and for my main character. My experience with pageantry was a positive one. There were a few competitive moments, but the friendships gained, lessons learned, and opportunities provided outweighed any aspect of pageantry that could be deemed as negative.

I think Vanessa Martin sees this in her journey as she prepares herself for the Miss King Middle School contest.

What advice would you give young girls today who might be considering participating in pageants?

Find the right pageant that aligns with your goals. “Beauty” pageants weren’t really my thing. I mostly participated in pageants where your academic standing and talent were crucial to your chance of winning. Scholarships are a big deal, too. And last but not least, many pageant systems promote community service as part of their branding. All of these ideals are, to me, what makes a pageant worth signing up for.

I really appreciated that Vanessa is not the typical “beauty queen.” She admires Vanessa Williams but doubts that her own incredible talent – her voice – will matter because of her darker skin and larger body type….

For me, it was important that I showed this contrast. Yes, a black woman won Miss America, but in young Vanessa’s eyes, she questioned if her “black” was beautiful enough. Vanessa Williams has a much lighter complexion than my main character, who is dark and reluctant in seeing her own beauty. Young Vanessa’s singing voice alone would have gotten her through the pageant, but she still had crippling doubts because of her complexion and body type. Colorism is an issue that runs deep in POC communities and the media, especially during the 1980s era, didn’t do much to show the beautiful complexities in the ranges of our skin color. I enjoyed developing Vanessa in a way that made her love the skin she’s in.

And did I see that you actually MET Vanessa Williams?! What was that like?

Amazing! Incredible! I probably said something silly, but who cares! I met THE QUEEN!!!!

Can we talk about TJ for a moment? I LOVED him!  In my head canon, he’s a future Project Runway winner and has his own fashion line…. 😀

Ah, TJ! I loved developing his character! In my mind, in the year 2018, TJ has his own couture fashion line, a penthouse in Manhattan, an amazing husband, and adorable twin daughters. He is living and loving the way he should’ve been able to in 1983.

One of the things I loved about Like Vanessa is how it shows the power of one teacher’s belief in their student to make a huge difference in that child’s life.  Did you have a Mrs. Walton?

Oh, most definitely! I’ve had several Mrs. Waltons in my life. But before I mention them, I want to clarify that Vanessa Martin initially had trust issues in relation to Mrs. Walton, who was a new, white teacher at school. Mrs. Walton was not able to convince Vanessa to do the pageant. Her Pop Pop and cousin, TJ, were instrumental in encouraging Vanessa to compete. They deserve all the credit. Mrs. Walton certainly helped, but Pop Pop and TJ worked with Vanessa daily on preparing her for her moment in the spotlight. That said, I have to acknowledge the “Mrs. Walton’s” in my life. My amazing teachers at University High School: Juanda Boxley, Darnell Davis, Marie Gironda, and Quetzy Rivera. Thank you for lighting a fire in me that still burns bright today.

What are you are working on next?

I’m currently revising a YA novel, which will be a companion to Like Vanessa. The story will focus on the bully, Beatriz Mendez, from book #1. Beatriz wasn’t born mean. Once upon a time, she had a dream. We’ll see it reignited in book #2.

What have you been reading lately that you’ve liked?

I just finished “The Poet X” by Elizabeth Acevedo. So, so good! Right now, I’m loving “The Way to Bea” by Kat Yeh. The poetry is lush and addictive.

Thank you so much!

My pleasure!

Author Pic, Tami CharlesTami Charles is a former teacher and full-time author of picture books, middle grade and young adult novels, and nonfiction. As a teacher, she made it her mission to introduce her students to all types of literature, but especially diverse books. While it was refreshing to see a better selection than what she was accustomed to as a child, Tami felt there weren’t nearly as many diverse books as she’d hoped for. It was then that she decided to reignite her passion for writing. Tami is the author of the middle grade novel Like Vanessa (2018) and the picture book Freedom Soup (Candlewick Press, 2019).

Visit Tami online at her website and on Twitter and Instagram.


Cover Reveal: FROM SUNSET TILL SUNRISE by Jonathan Rosen


When Jonathan Rosen told me he was interested in hosting the cover reveal for his next book, From Sunset Till Sunrise, here at the #MGBookVillage, I was psyched. His debut, Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies, was one of my favorite novels of last year. The book did something that I find exceptional, not to mention a whole lot of fun — it both creeped me out AND cracked me up.

If you haven’t read Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies yet, do yourself a favor and read it before From Sunset Till Sunrise hits shelves. In the interim, check out my brief interview with Jonathan below — and, of course, stick around to see the new book’s cover!

~ Jarrett

. . .

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

Absolutely! From Sunset Till Sunrise is a sequel to Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies. This time, Devin and his cousin Tommy suspect the new girl in the neighborhood is a vampire. When they go to a dance at her performing arts school, the Nosfer Academy of Talented Understudies, Devin and Tommy try to make sure this isn’t one party that lasts forever.

While the first book played off of zombie movies and films such as Gremlins and Fright Night, I tried to give this one a feel of From Dusk Till Dawn, but for middle graders.

Your first book managed to do something I find quite incredible: it blended the humorous and the horrifying — often in the space of a single scene, and sometimes even in the space of a single sentence! How do you accomplish that?

Thank you! I find that horror naturally lends itself to comedy. You always want to yell at the people on the screen about the stupid decisions they’re making. Don’t go in the house! Why are you opening that closet instead of running away? No, the man with the hook isn’t a good person to ask for directions!

I do try to make the characters slightly self-aware about horror movie staples and comment on them, to give a wink to the reader.

Are there favorite books of yours that combine the funny and the frightening?

Of course, I’ll start with Goosebumps. There have been other scary/funny books, but that was one of the books that made the genre really successful.

I also like Adam Gidwitz’s Grimm series, and David Lubar’s Weenies series. Both fun/scary books.

Now, on to the cover. . . Did you have the same illustrator as you had for the first book’s cover?

Yes, both illustrations were done by Xavier Bonet, with design by Kate Gardner. I think both covers capture the scariness and humor.

What was your reaction when you first saw the new cover?

I absolutely loved it. Yes, I know I have to say that, since it’s my cover, but I promise I do! What’s funny is, on Night of the Loving Cuddle Bunnies, they asked me for ideas and didn’t use any of them, and I still loved it. This one, they mostly took what I asked for. So, I’m happy!

Okay, now for the big reveal!

From Sunset Till Sunrise_Final cover

Whoa! It’s GREAT! And I love how it riffs off the first book’s cover. On that one, Devin is all alone (well, unless you count the horde of cuddle bunnies leering at him…) and looks rather nervous. Here, he’s got a crew, and he’s looking a LOT more ready for whatever is about to come his way.

Yes! I love how they’re on stage, with the vampires coming!

So, when can readers get their hands on the new book?

From Sunset Till Sunrise comes out August 21 of this year, but is available for pre-order now.

Thanks a lot for having me and sharing the cover!

Screen Shot 2018-02-03 at 7.15.23 AMJonathan Rosen is a transplanted New Yorker, who now lives with his family in sunny, South Florida. He spends his “free” time chauffeuring around his three kids. Some of Jonathan’s fondest childhood memories are of discovering a really good book to dive into, in particular the Choose Your Own Adventure Series and Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. He currently writes middle-grade because he finds that he shares the same sense of humor as that audience. Jonathan is proud to be of Mexican-American descent, although neither country has been really willing to accept responsibility. You can find him on Twitter, Facebook, FromtheMixedUpFiles.Com, The Tuesday Writers and his own website,



In 2014, Christine Baldacchino and Isabelle Malenfant introduced Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress to the picture book scene, a story about a boy who liked to wear a dress. Progressive parents and schools snapped this up, and many children learned that a boy who wanted to wear a dress was no big deal, just part of who he was.

Jen Wang’s The Prince and the Dressmaker is for an upper middle grade crowd, but is also a welcome addition to its own scene of books. In certain school plays for this book’s readership (including one that I saw last year), boys in dresses provide comic relief, teaching boys and girls that mockery is the expected response. I’m glad that this beautiful, engaging, and fun graphic novel will stand up against those responses.

No reader is going to laugh at Prince Sebastian. Handsome, sensitive, and kind as a boy, and glamorous and outgoing in his alter ego Lady Crystallia, Prince Sebastian redefines what it means to be a fairy tale prince.

The Prince and the Dressmaker is a fairy tale—but an edgy one with modern elements laced through its 19th century Paris. It begins with the announcement of a ball where all eligible young ladies will be introduced to Crown Prince Sebastian of Belgium, who is celebrating his 16th birthday. One particularly rebellious eligible young lady, however, comes clothed in an unusual gown—“Make me look like the devil’s wench,” she tells Frances the dressmaker, who was assigned to her at the last minute. We see the prince in shadows watching her attentively.

He’s not in love with her, though; rather, it’s her dress. And soon Frances, who both designed and sewed it, is working for the prince as his private seamstress, hired to make him dresses. It’s the job of a lifetime for her: to create costumes for a client with bold and adventurous tastes. And for him, it’s a relief: to share his secret love of wearing dresses with someone who will care about making them and him look the best they can possibly be, and who loves high fashion as much as he does.

Prince Sebastian is a prince who wears dresses. Not all the time, but when he wants to feel like himself, and feel strong. Secretly going out in Frances’s elaborate gowns as Lady Crystallia is an antidote to the parade of eligible young ladies whom his father the King of Belgium forces him to meet. And at first, this is glorious for Frances, who can let her imagination rule her designs for an appreciative client. But Frances soon realizes that while her dresses will receive great acclaim, she never will while they—and she—are the prince’s secret.

Ultimately, this is a story of being true to who you know you are. Prince Sebastian—refreshingly—never wavers in that. And neither does Frances, who risks her close friendship with the prince when she refuses to stay in the shadows any longer.

Throughout this book, the King and Queen remind Prince Sebastian of his role, while encouraging him to be himself (not quite understanding who he really is). That made me think of well-meaning parents who tell their children to be themselves, though within a certain role, that of traditional boy or traditional girl. I hope that this book—and especially its imaginative and satisfying ending—helps young readers understand that being themselves can encompass far more than their identity within gender roles, and is more important than any role could be.

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All things medieval fascinate children’s author Diane Magras: castles, abbeys, swords, manuscripts, and the daily life of medieval people, especially those who weren’t royalty. Diane lives in Maine with her husband and son and thinks often of medieval Scotland, where her stories are set. Her middle grade fantasy adventure The Mad Wolf’s Daughter (March 6, 2018, KD Books/Penguin Younger Readers) is her debut novel.

Interview: Rebecca Behrens

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THE LAST GRAND ADVENTURE, Rebecca Behrens’s new novel, hit shelves yesterday! Today, Rebecca’s here at the #MGBookVillage to celebrate the book’s release and answer some questions. Check out the interview below, in which I ask Rebecca about the new book, her interest in Amelia Earhart, her love of history, her feelings about flying, and more!

~ Jarrett

. . .

First of all, can you tell us a bit about your new book, THE LAST GRAND ADVENTURE?

Sure! Set during the summer of 1967, it’s about twelve-year-old Bea, who winds up on the adventure of a lifetime with her grandmother, who is searching for her long-lost sister, Amelia Earhart. Bea and Pidge are convinced that if they can make it from Los Angeles all the way to Atchison, Kansas—Amelia’s birthplace—the sisters will finally be reunited. But their secret, planes-trains-and-automobiles trip has plenty of surprises along the way . . .

What is it about Amelia Earhart and/or her life that drew you to write a book in which her story plays an important part?

I’ve always been fascinated by the mystery surrounding Amelia Earhart’s famous last flight. Every time a new clue is uncovered or a new analysis of the evidence is announced, I hope that we’ll finally know what happened to her and Fred Noonan on their way to Howland Island . . . but until some evidence is found that definitively proves their fate, only fiction can try to answer the question.

So it was the mystery that inspired me to write a book that incorporates her story, but while researching her life, I remembered what an incredible figure she is aside from her disappearance. Amelia was smart, daring, and a charismatic publicity whiz. She racked up all kinds of firsts and accomplishments and surely inspired a lot of women to fly, or to pursue education and careers in STEM fields that they might not have done otherwise—her advice to women was to “dare to live.”

Amelia Earhart has been in the news a lot these past couple weeks. Care to comment on the continuing mystery of her disappearance? Do you think it’s been solved?

It’s been an exciting couple of weeks for Earhart enthusiasts! I think the new forensic analysis of the old evidence—bones that were found on Nikumaroro in the 1940s—is compelling. (In short, a researcher reevaluated the old records and photos and has concluded it’s very likely that those previously examined remains belonged to Earhart. Unfortunately, the actual bones were destroyed decades ago and can’t be analyzed firsthand.) Personally, unless some kind of undeniable evidence is identified, like a piece of her plane with the serial number or DNA evidence, I don’t think we can declare the mystery “solved.” But I’m inclined to believe this new study is on to something. And I hope it means she wasn’t eaten by giant coconut crabs, which is an actual theory.

All of your books, in one way or another, incorporate history. Have you always been interested history?

I have! I credit my parents—both history buffs—who loaded my sister and I into the station wagon for road trips when we were kids. We stopped at every historical site or marker along the way, and that was a great way to learn about new events and people and places. I’m also grateful for my fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Gerlach, who really encouraged my enthusiasm for social studies. She did a wonderful job of finding historical fiction for me to read, so I could keep learning and thinking about what we’d studied in class. 

Why do you think it’s important to teach kids about history, and how is fiction uniquely able to do this?

Knowing the past helps us understand the present, and historical fiction makes history “real” by adding feelings to the facts. That helps readers create not just informational but emotional connections to what they’re learning. Fiction kindles awareness and empathy, which are so important to encourage in a world that is very often divided.

What are some of the challenges of incorporating real people in your fiction? How do you make sure you get it “right”?

When writing about Amelia Earhart, I felt pressure to somehow explain her disappearance. Author Caroline Starr Rose once shared with me a really important idea about writing historical fiction—that history can be hazy, but stories can’t. So I always try to, at least in the world of my story, have a clear idea of what I think happened, even when the historical record is uncertain. (That doesn’t mean I won’t write an ambiguous ending, though . . .)

In The Last Grand Adventure, both Meelie and her sister, Pidge, are fictional characters based on two real, fascinating women. It’s tricky to write about real people—which I’ve done in all three of my books so far. I think an author’s note is essential because it’s a space in which the author can point out the liberties taken with the historical record and remind readers that even though the story is sprinkled with facts throughout, it’s still fiction. 

What are some of your favorite history books, fiction or non-fiction?

I love Candace Fleming’s Amelia Lost and the Who Was? series of MG biographical and historical nonfiction (I should disclose that I’ve worked on that series in my other job as a copy editor—but I’d be a fan regardless). For MG historical fiction, some favorites are Laurie Halse Anderson’s Fever 1793, Lois Sepahban’s Paper Wishes, Rita Williams Garcia’s One Crazy Summer, and the Birchbark House series by Louise Erdrich. I also love Jennifer Holmes’s historical fiction—she does a wonderful job of incorporating humor with her history.

Would you ever attempt to circumnavigate the globe in a Lockheed Model 10 Electra?

Definitely not! I can be a bit of a nervous flyer, and that’s in planes that have all the comforts like upholstered seats, in-flight entertainment, a snack cart, and a bathroom!

Behrens author photo

Rebecca Behrens grew up in Wisconsin, studied in Chicago, and now lives in New York City. A former textbook editor, Rebecca loves writing and reading about kids full of moxie and places full of history. She is the author of the middle-grade novels When Audrey Met Alice, which BookPage called “a terrific work of blended realistic and historical fiction”; Summer of Lost and Found, which Kirkus praised as “a good find indeed”; and The Last Grand Adventure, which School Library Journal called “a heartfelt tale of discovery and hope.” Visit her online at


FLIGHT – Cover reveal!

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When Vanessa showed me the cover for Flight I was completely blown away. We were in Daunt Books, our backs turned from the crowd of people there for a book launch both of us safely guarding the ipad with the cover image on it.
I am so privileged that I now get to share this amazing cover, designed by Anne Glenn, with you, along with a few comments on the cover from Vanessa and Janet – from Firefly, the lucky publishers of Flight!

Annaliese x


I love book covers. I know they say don’t judge a book by a cover, but I think book covers can almost sing. Beautiful colours, design and texture can make picking up a book a real experience. That’s before you even start reading the book. I had deliberately not thought about the cover to my book because I had been warned previously that often you don’t like the cover to your first book as supposedly it never sums up the story that is in your head. The story that you have spent so long crafting. I had prepared myself to hate it and had told myself to just accept the fact, telling myself ‘be grateful your book is being published.’ Just before Christmas an email came through with nine potential covers to give me a sense of what they were thinking. I confess, I sat in my office and sobbed. I felt totally overwhelmed as I loved every single one of them and I didn’t care which one they picked. They more than summed up my story. The one they thought was their favourite was the one that I also thought would be the best one as I also thought it would appeal to boys too. That was their argument as well. They were going to send it out to get feedback and then let me know. A couple of weeks ago a final version was sent through. Again, I admit it I had a little weep. The font, the colours, the images, everything did what it was supposed to. It encompassed the story. The designer Anne Glenn had really nailed it. What a star! I can’t thank her enough.

Vanessa Harbour


The cover for Flight was designed by Anne Glenn. Anne always sends us many gorgeous ideas for every cover – the difficult part is to choose only one! This cover jumped out at me because it combined so well the different elements of the story: the horses, the danger, the war and the mountains. Vanessa’s novel is full of danger and excitement, and it’s also a very uplifting story of how two abandoned, shunned children, after terrible loss, will come to find a place that will welcome them, the way their love of horses gives them a chance to belong again. I feel this cover captured both the action and the beauty of Vanessa’s wonderful novel.

Janet Thomas – Firefly

MG at Heart Writer’s Toolbox: Characterization

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Crafting a well-drawn, fully-formed character is one of the hardest parts of writing. And one of the most important. No high-octane, super exciting plot is going to matter if the reader doesn’t care about the character. In THE VANDERBEEKERS, Karina Yan Glaser doesn’t just have to create one real-feeling main character, but six! And yet, she’s able to do so within the very first chapter (only fifteen pages!).

So how does she do it? Well, let’s take a look.

The details and bits that make a character come to life are referred to as CHARACTERIZATION. Characterization includes how a character looks, what they like, how they react to things, their hobbies, their quirks, their idiosyncracies, their vocabulary — all of it. With six characters, Glaser has to characterize each one distinctly and with only a few, efficient brush strokes. Below, I’ve listed different ways that we can reveal a character’s nature with each Vanderbeeker sibling and the brief passages that give us insight into them. Most of these use several techniques at once, obviously. But I tried separating them a bit to help you see the different tools in Glaser’s toolbox.


Isa – Isa had discovered Mr. Beiderman’s particular distaste for instruments six years ago, when she was in first grade. She was performing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” on her tiny, one-eighth-sized instrument for their second-floor neighbor, Miss Josie. Isa stood outside Miss Josie’s apartment, but halfway through her song, Mr. Beiderman’s door on the third floor burst open. He yelled down the staircase for the terrible racket to stop or he would call the police. Then the door slammed.

The police! On a six-year-old violinist! Isa was in tears, and Miss Josie invited her in and fed her cookies from a delicate china dish and gave her a pretty lace handkerchief to dry her eyes. Then Miss Josie insisted that Isa keep the handkerchief, which Isa to this day stowed in her violin case.

This might seem like a story about Mr. Biederman, but it actually makes Isa this real person to the reader. Not only do we see her backstory of playing the violin, but we can tell that she is gentle and soft. That she appreciates pretty things. That she appreciates kind gestures. Look at how she remembers that moment. It says so much about her.

Outward Appearance

Laney – “What’s a dorce?” interrupted Laney, who was four and three-quarters years old and practicing her forward rolls on the carpet. She was wearing an outfit of red plaids, lavender stripes, and aqua polka dots that she had matched herself.

What can we see about Laney here? We read her as innocent and sweet. But possibly a handful and full of energy (hello, forward rolls.) What do you think her outfit says about her? I think it says free-spirit, independent, and bright and colorful!


Jessie – “It means Mama and Papa don’t love each other anymore,” said twelve-year-old Jessie, glaring at her parents from behind chunky black eyeglasses. “What a nightmare.”

And then later: “Are you serious? We’ve been so good, there might as well be halos above our heads!” exclaimed Jessie, her glasses slipping down the bridge of her nose.

What can we surmise about Jessie from these two excerpts? I’m definitely getting attitude and a bit of a sharp-around-the-edges personality.

The Reactions of Others

Hyacinth – “Is it because I can’t keep Franz quiet?” asked Hyacinth as she chewed her fingernails. When Franz heard Hyacinth say his name, his tail gave a little wag and his eyes fluttered open, then drifted closed again.

Two sentences, and yet we already can tell that Hyacinth cares about animals and that animals love her. We also see that she is a bit on the nervous side, with the fingernail chewing.

Narrator Exposition

Of course, the Vanderbeeker home itself is also a character. One that the narrator straight up tells us things about. The paragraph on page 18 does this wonderfully.

The Vanderbeekers’ home—a humble red brown-stone with a weathervane that spun on windy days—sat in the exact middle of the street. The brownstone stood out not because of its architecture, but because of the constant hum of activity that burst out of it. Among the many people who had visited the Vanderbeeker household there was quite a bit of debate about what it was like, but general agreement about what it was NOT: Calm, Tidy, Boring, Predictable.

You don’t really need to draw any additional conclusions here because the narrator has told us exactly what the home is. However, she has done it in such a way that the house feels like an old friend, doesn’t it?

All of it Together

Oliver – Oliver, who was nine years old and wise to the ways of the world, put down his book and squinted. “Are you guys getting divorced? Jimmy L’s parents got a divorce. Then they let him get a pet snake.” He kicked the backs of his sneakers against the tall stack of ancient encyclopedias he was sitting on.

There is so much information in just this paragraph. Already we can see the Oliver is smart, but maybe a little too smart. That he cares, but maybe tries to act like he doesn’t. You get the feeling that he likes snakes, wouldn’t mind getting a snake, and really likes to learn (as evidenced by the stack of encyclopedias.) The inclusion of sneakers on his feet also points to something. What is it?

As you read through the book, be sure to pay attention to other instances where the author quickly paints a picture of each character.

When Dreams take Flight

My Writing Journey – by Vanessa Harbour

My writing journey has been a long one. When I was young I wanted to be a doctor or a writer. My sister sent me photos of a ‘book’ we think I wrote when I was 5ish and sent her when she was away training to be a nurse. You might notice I’d a few issues with spellings (and still do!). I was obviously rather precocious too with wild ambitions to be a poet or rather a ‘powit’ [sic]. It took nearly 40 years before my next poem was published.

My journey back to writing was rather circuitous as was the story of everything in my life. I never take the easy route. I was always a vociferous reader and I wrote a lot when I had my own company, however, it was things like press releases and articles. My life changed when I had some health issues that had a major impact. I started writing poetry and fiction to help deal with them, but it was all adult fiction. It hadn’t occurred to me to write for children at this stage. I had three children that I constantly read to and I loved children’s books but never thought about writing them. Not until I did a degree in English at the University of Winchester. I wanted to do it for various reasons, but the main one was because at that stage they had various creative writing modules and I fancied myself as the next Joanne Trollope! (At that stage they didn’t do the single honours in Creative Writing that they do now) While on the course I had various opportunities to write for children with Judy Waite and Andrew Melrose. It was a revelation as it felt so natural.

Andrew Melrose once said to me ‘If you can write for children you can write for anyone, it’s hard.’ This was a piece of advice that I have held close for a long time. Following my degree, I did an MA in Writing for Children and then eventually achieved my childhood dream, well, sort of, I became a doctor…of writing. I got a PhD in Creative Writing. As part of it I wrote a young adult novel. My third novel by then.


While doing my PhD I started to lecture in Creative Writing at the University at both undergraduate and postgraduate level which I loved. It was during this time that Imogen Cooper came to talk to the students. Sometimes people walk into your life and it is like you have known them forever. This is what it was like with Imogen. We started talking and we have never stopped!

After a little while she came to me and said, ‘I have this idea, would you be interested in being involved.’ That was the Golden Egg Academy and I certainly was. It allowed me to work with aspiring writers. Imogen also offered to mentor me, working on getting my PhD novel out there. It seemed to me a win win situation.


We spent some time working on that novel, but it never felt right, and I went over to see her one day where we had one of ‘those’ discussions. It must have been tough for her and I can imagine she was dreading it beforehand. She suggested I walked away from the PhD novel and started something brand new. Imogen felt the same way I did. It was too much of a ‘PhD’ novel and we just couldn’t get away from it. Half of me panicked as I’d spent four years working on it and wondered if I could remember how to write a story? The other half was thinking, thank goodness, now let’s write something I want too. I will be forever grateful to her for making me do that.

I spent the next couple of weeks worrying. I could write anything I wanted to, yet no story would come. I know this often happens to students they panic when I offer them a chance to write whatever they want. Deep down I’ve the faith that an idea will appear when it’s ready and so it was. It was the August Bank Holiday weekend and I was messing about with Google asking a lot of ‘What happened to…’ questions. In particular, I’d been thinking about my parents who were both alive during the Second World War and I remembered the stories they told. It suddenly came to me ‘What happened to the Spanish Riding School during the Second World War?’ Google took me on a journey including telling me about Operation Cowboy. Suddenly a nugget of a story began to form, and the first line of the story was written. ‘If Jakob sneezed he could die.’ That line has never changed.

I played with it a bit more than emailed Imogen and said what do you think of this idea. She loved it and so Flight began. That was in 2013. There was a total sense of freedom writing this story. It involved a lot of research as it was historical fiction, but I loved that aspect of it. I immersed myself in the world.

I write cold and edit hot. What this means is I get the bare bones of a story down and then go back in and fill in the detail. It also means I can write quite quickly working this way. I typed ‘The End’ on the first draft on the 31st December 2013. Or perhaps that was draft zero as Terry Pratchett suggests, the one where I am telling myself the story. Then started the really hard work, the editing process. A process which I thoroughly enjoy as I bring the story to life.

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In 2016 Imogen had another one of ‘those conversations. This time it was to say, ‘let’s start submitting!’ It is always a lot harder than you think. It is never easy to accept rejection, though they were always positive ones. I was at a Golden Egg Academy Retreat where I read a bit of Flight, but more importantly Penny & Janet Thomas of Firefly were there. I knew Penny well having worked with her on various occasions. This time I heard them talk and I fell in love with the pair and the way they worked. Penny had expressed an interest in Flight at the LBF previously but then it wasn’t quite ready. Afterwards Imogen said to me Penny really wants to see Flight and I said “yes, definitely.” Quite quickly (in publishing terms) during a lecture I was giving I could feel my phone vibrating madly. When I’d finished I looked, they were all calls and messages from Imogen. My immediate concern was what had happened to her. I rang her, and she informed me that Penny wanted to meet with me to discuss Flight…and so started me living my dream. See you are never too old. I was 55 this year when my debut novel will be published. Never give up.


Thank you so much for sharing your journey with us, Vanessa.
Flight sounds amazing!
Be sure to check back into the village next week when we will be hosting the cover reveal for this amazing book!

Annaliese, Jarrett, Kathie and Corrina x

How to Rock Your Read Aloud & a Conversation w/ Colby Sharp: Books Between, Episode 45

Episode Outline:

Listen to the episode here!


Hi everyone and welcome to the Books Between Podcast! I believe in the power of stories to connect us to others in our world.  My goal is to help you connect kids with incredible books and share inspiring 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 an 8 and 10 year old, a 5th grade teacher, and now making multiple visits to the orthodontist for both of my daughters. Farewell popcorn and hello palate expanders!

This is Episode #45 and Today I’m discussing some ideas to make your read alouds even better and then sharing with you a conversation with educator Colby Sharp about The Creativity Project!

Two quick announcements. First, the March MG at Heart Book Club pick is The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street and the April book is The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson. So adjust your TBR pile if you want to join us for those conversations later this spring.  And remember that #MGBookMarch is going strong this month, and I have been so inspired by all of your responses. If you haven’t yet, I hope you’ll jump into the conversation!

How to Rock Your Read Aloud

41oQ29LcQTL._SX400_BO1,204,203,200_Last week, I had to be out of my classroom for three days for special ed meetings and various professional development training. And so I left some short picture books for the sub to read while I was away and the students foisted some of their favorites on them as well. And let me tell you – my students had OPINIONS about those experiences when I got back!  And it got me thinking – it is SO hard to grab a book you’ve never read and be open and vulnerable enough in front of an audience to read it aloud well. It takes some bravery to take those chances to give yourself over to the book. In case you were
wondering, it was
The Book With No Pictures – the incredible book that “tricks” the reader into saying silly things.

So today I am going to share with you some ways that you can rock your read aloud with your students, your own kids, or any group of children. I’ll chat about what to do before,
during, and at the end of your read aloud.  And I’ll read aloud some non-spoilery samples from one of my all-time favorite books – and the one whose
sequel is released tomorrow – The Wild Robot.

Before the read aloud

There are some things you can do to prepare ahead of time to make that read aloud really come to life.

  1.  Pick the right book!

Some books just aren’t that great to read aloud. My daughters asked me to read aloud El Deafo a few years ago and it worked…okay… since they could sit on either side of me and see the illustrations, but I think a whole class read aloud of a whole graphic novel would be tough.  Books with short chapters are really great. Books that have tons of internal thinking or long sections of description can be tough though. Also, some of the classics have tricky sentence structure or difficult vocabulary. Or contain messages or stereotypes that we don’t want to perpetuate anymore. So – look to resources and people you trust for some good recommendations.

  1. Listen to great examples

If you want to improve, listen to other people read aloud to pick up their tricks. And listen to audio books. There are often samples you can listen to on Audible that will give you some ideas of voices to do. Or how to modulate your voice and tone and speed to match the story and the characters. We’ll chat more about that in a bit, but I have learned SO much from Jim Dale’s performance of Harry Potter. And Neil Gaiman’s readings of his novels, or most recently, the masterful performance of The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Robin Miles. Listening to those examples, helped me realize that a good read aloud IS a performance.

  1. Preview the book ahead of time.

It really helps if you’ve at least read the chapter before so you don’t get lost in the sentences. And read it out loud – even if you’re just mouthing it to yourself. Three things to pay attention to: new characters you’ll have to voice, punctuation, and dialogue tags (the part of the sentence that says “she yelled”, or “he said angrily”). I am reading The 516KJ8Rsa9L._SX342_BO1,204,203,200_Wild Robot with my class right now. I’ve read it before so I thought I was all good, but I didn’t skim Chapter 45 first so when we got reintroduced to the otters, I forgot that the first otter speaking was Shelly and so I read it in a low male voice – and so I backed up and reread it in a more female-coded voice. (I could have decided to just have our Shelly have a low voice – sometimes I think it’s good to adjust expectations a bit. But, I’d recommend just being intentional about it.)  Or sometimes the dialogue tag at the end will say, “he whispered.” and oops! I didn’t whisper that. Skimming the chapter ahead of time will help.

  1. Review

When continuing a read aloud of a chapter book, I have found that it’s helpful to do a quick recap of the last section.  In my class, we call this “Previously in The Wild Robot” and I’ll call on a few kids to refresh our memory of what happened and where we left off. And sometimes I’ll even reread the last paragraph or two just to pick back up the threads of the story to get that momentum back. I notice that my Audible app does this automatically – when I stop the book and restart, it goes back about 15 seconds – which is so helpful.

During the read aloud

As you are performing the story, there are three elements that when they are working well, you will have a memorable and awesome read aloud! Those three elements are your voice, your body language, and your audience.

Let’s talk about your voice first because there’s a lot going on here. First of all, project your voice. And probably more than you think you have to. I don’t know about your space, but I am battling a TON of white noise in my classroom – the heater is blowing, the projector is whirring, the class across the hall is making some noise. So you have to cut through all that and angle your mouth further up than maybe you naturally would.

When you are reading aloud a text, you want to try to find the music and rhythm in the language. It’s about how the cadence and inflection of your voice matches the tone of the scene and how the characters are feeling. If it’s something mysterious is happening, add that little question to your voice. If it’s a sad moment, then you’ll want to slow down and maybe read more carefully with that emotion coming through.

For example, on page 58 of The Wild Robot, there is the part where Roz falls down the cliff:

Expressing the right tone is about finding that rhythm, but it’s also about volume. If a character yells – you yell. And whisper those poignant lines so your class leans in to hear them. Use the dramatic slow down. Speed up when there’s energy or a chase or big climatic scene.

And repeat important parts – look up at the kids. Give them a moment to digest and think. Those lines in the book that give you a deep message, that foreshadow something later, that are the heart of the story – repeat them! And maybe emphasize a different word the second time.

Here’s an example from Chapter 37 of The Wild Robot where we first meet a new character – Chitchat the squirrel.

SO in that section, based on the cues of the text – I made my voice bouncy when Chitchat bounces across the lawn and then fast and sort of nervous when she’s talking.

Another hugely important aspect of using your voice to convey meaning is by what most kids call “doing the voices”. That’s often their biggest compliment to an adult who reads out loud to them – that they do the voices well.  And it takes some practice and some planning to figure out how to perform and almost embody those various characters. Something that has really helped me is to think about what actor or actress might be cast in that role and then try to “do” their voice.  In The Wild Robot, I modeled Roz on Alexa. The older goose, Loudwing, was Julia Sweeney for some reason. Here’s an example from Chapter 44, The Runaway:

Now, YOU and the students might not hear those actors in my voice, but it helps me to keep the character’s voice straight and consistent throughout the book. And it gives me ideas of different ways that I could do different voices.

Now let’s talk about your body language!  First of all, move around the room instead of just sitting in one spot. And try gesturing with the hand not holding the book.  If a character is described as doing an action, like pointing, I’ll point. If the author has the character cough or sneeze – do that! And let your facial expressions reflect the tone of the story and mood of the characters. If there’s anxiousness in the description, furrow your brow and curl into yourself.  If they are described as smiling, I’ll smile as I say that part. And you can hear that smile in your voice. The children look for visual cues to understand the text so add a little performance to it.

A last way to really boost the engagement of your students or children during the read aloud is to get them involved in some way.

51JRcqfTfaL-1._SX409_BO1,204,203,200_Shorter picture books are easier to do this with because they can often see the words to say them. My class loves reading the colored words in books like She Persisted or You Don’t Want a Unicorn.

But it’s a bit trickier when you are reading aloud a novel. But – there are some ways to do it.  One idea is to include your audience in some kind of small action.

I remember when I was taking a graduate education class, my professor read us Seedfolks. And I vividly recall her gently placing imaginary seeds into the palms of each of our hands as she read. Just that small little thing brought us into the story, and I’ve never forgotten it.  (It also goes to show that you are never too old to enjoy a read aloud! And that you can get cool ideas by listening to experienced people read out loud.)519mQUtDjYL._SX309_BO1,204,203,200_

In our class, one of the mentor texts we use a lot is Eleven by Sandra Cisneros. And there’s this part where the teacher dumps this nasty old red cottage-cheese-smelling sweater on the desk of one of her students. So, of course when I read it aloud, I mimic dropping that sweater on a student’s desk and then aim the teacher’s dialogue at that kid.

Or one time I was reading a poem where one of the characters got their shoulder bumped by another person, so as I read that part and walked past a student I dipped down and (gently!) bumped their shoulder with mine.  Now, you have to know your kids well enough to know who would respond well to that. Adding those little actions can really get the audience more invested and involved in the story.

At the end of the read aloud

At the end of the read aloud time, when you’ve got to stop. Always try to end on a cliffhanger – even if it’s the middle of a chapter. A lot of authors are really skilled at those chapter endings but you want to leave them wanting more! Begging to read just one more chapter! And sometimes – indulge them!

Most importantly – enjoy yourself!  If you are having fun reading the story and you are getting into it – your kids will love it, too.

51fDe0NaimL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_There a hundred reasons why read alouds are so important. Of course it models fluency and introduces sophisticated vocabulary. I’ll just end by  mentioning that many accomplished readers talk so fondly about those early experiences being read to that sparked that passion for story in their lives. For me, that’s my 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Simile, reading The Search for Delicious to us. I just fell head over heels for that story in a way that it became part of me. Read alouds create this shared experience that you and those children will have forever.

And now – I would love to hear from you! I am always looking for ways to improve my read alouds, and I’m sure our listeners would love more ideas as well. And I am sure you have some awesome suggestions! You can email me at or connect with me on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.

Colby Sharp – Interview Outline

Our guest this week is Colby Sharp! He is a teacher, one of the founders of the Nerdy Book Club site, a co-host of The Yarn podcast, organizer of NerdCamp Michigan, and now…. author of The Creativity Project!  A few weeks ago we sat down to chat about the book, what’s been inspiring him in his classroom, books he’s been reading, and so much more!

Take a listen…

The Creativity Project

The Creativity Project will finally make its way into the world this March. How did this project get started?

Logistically – how did the exchange of prompts work and how did you decide who received which prompt? Did you get to see them before they went out?

Are there some responses that are really memorable to you?TCP-Promo-Cover-PromptMap-v4-flat-600

I love that The Creativity Project works not only as an anthology that you could just enjoy as a reader, but also as a spur to your own writing. It’s going to be a great resource for teachers!

Have you used the prompts in your own classroom?

What writing projects are you working on now?

Your Teaching Life

You recently switched grade levels – going from teaching 3rd grade to 5th grade. How has that been going for you?neverstop

What have been some of your favorite, most memorable teaching moments with your students this year?

What does reading look like in your class?

Your Reading Life

Something that I think about a lot is how sometimes it only takes ONE person to really influence a child’s reading life – either in a positive way or sometimes in a negative way.

Was there someone in your life who impacted you as a reader?

What have you been reading lately that you’ve liked?


cropped-justcolby_72_crop-22Colby’s website –

Colby on Twitter and Instagram

Student Podcasts: Colby’s Students & Corrina’s Students


Books & Authors We Chatted About:

Hatchet (Gary Paulsen)

Holes (Louis Sachar)

Enticing Hard to Reach Writers (Ruth Ayres)

The Truth as Told By Mason Buttle (Leslie Connor)

Freak the Mighty (Rodman Philbrick)

See You in the Cosmos (Jack Cheng)



Alright, that wraps up our show this week!

If you have a question about how to connect kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love or a suggestion about a topic we should cover, I would love to hear from you. You can email me at or message me on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.

Books Between is a proud member of the Education Podcast Network. This network EPN_badgefeatures podcasts for educators, created by educators. For more great content visit

Thank you so much for joining me this week. You can get an outline of interviews and a full transcript of all the other parts of our show at And, if you are liking the show, please leave us some love on iTunes or Stitcher so others can discover us as well.

Thanks and see you soon!  Bye!


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.