MG at Heart Book Club’s April Pick

The Middle Grade at Heart book club’s pick for April is . . .


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When Candice finds a letter in an old attic in Lambert, South Carolina, she isn’t sure she should read it. It’s addressed to her grandmother, who left the town in shame. But the letter describes a young woman. An injustice that happened decades ago. A mystery enfolding the letter-writer. And the fortune that awaits the person who solves the puzzle. 

So with the help of Brandon Jones, the quiet boy across the street, she begins to decipher the clues. The challenge will lead them deep into Lambert’s history, full of ugly deeds, forgotten heroes, and one great love; and deeper into their own families, with their own unspoken secrets. Can they find the fortune and fulfill the letter’s promise before the answers slip into the past yet again?

* “Johnson’s latest novel holds racism firmly in the light. Candice and Brandon discover the joys and terrors of the reality of being African-American in the 1950s. Without sugarcoating facts or dousing it in post-racial varnish, the narrative lets the children absorb and reflect on their shared history. The town of Lambert brims with intrigue, keeping readers entranced until the very last page. A candid and powerful reckoning of history.” — Kirkus Reviews, starred review

* “Part historical fiction, part critical problem-solving exercise, part suspenseful mystery, this story weaves through the past and present of one town’s struggle with hatred and racism…. The characters are varied, authentic, and well developed. The plot moves along quickly and seamlessly between the past and present, with chapters from the 1950s shaded in light gray for a smart visual effect. The present day isn’t sugarcoated, showing readers that racial equity is still an unresolved problem. Appended author notes offer additional context, making it an excellent link to social studies or history units. A must-purchase.” — School Library Journal, starred review

* “Johnson’s Westing Game–inspired tale is a tangled historical mystery, a satisfying multigenerational family story, and an exploration of twentieth-century (and contemporary) race and racism. . . . His protagonist is intelligent, endearing, and believable; scenes with her father, especially, have both humor and poignancy. Well-placed textual clues keep historical context and race relations at the front of readers’ minds–and examining those constructs, ingeniously, provides the key to solving the mystery.” — The Horn Book, starred review

. . .

Our newsletter — including an interview, discussion questions, activity, recipe, and more — will go out April 30. Sign up for it here. And don’t miss the Twitter chat about our March pick, Karina Yan Glaser’s THE VANDERBEEKERS OF 141ST STREET, which is happening tomorrow, Tuesday, April 3rd at 8pm EST. Use the hashtag #MGBookClub to join in the fun!

A Conversation with Karina Yan Glaser: Books Between, Episode 46

Episode Outline:

Listen to the episode here!


Hi everyone and welcome to the Books Between Podcast! I believe in the power of stories to brighten our world and spark change within ourselves.  My goal is to help you connect kids with those amazing stories and share inspiring conversations with the authors and educators who make that magic happen.

I am Corrina Allen – a mom of two tween girls, a 5th grade teacher, and surrounded by slime. Oh. My. God. There is no escaping this stuff – it’s like a preteen version of The Blob with sparkles and glitter and sequins and now – foams beads!

This is Episode #46 and today I’m sharing three books featuring the magical power of dogs, and then I’ll share with you a conversation with Karina Yan Glaser – author of The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street!

Two quick announcements before we get started – the MG at Heart Twitter chat about  The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street is tomorrow night – Tuesday, April 3rd at 8pm EST using the hashtag #MGBookClub. And if you want to get ahead with your reading, the April Middle Grade at Heart Book Club pick is The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson and the May pick is Every Shiny Thing by Laurie Morrison and Cordelia Jensen. I was excited to have Laurie join me today to interview Karina and can’t wait to have her back to discuss her own debut.

Book Talk – Three Novels Featuring the Special Magic of Dogs

In this section of the show, I share with you a few books centered around a theme and discuss three things to love about each book.  This week I’ll be talking about three awesome middle grade novels about separation, unlikely friendships, and the special magic of dogs. Now I will admit up front that am not a huge dog person. I mean – a well-trained dog is an amazing pet, and I love visiting with my friend’s dogs but I am more than okay with not having one of my own. But these three books hit me hard – and if YOU love dogs, they will wend their way into your heart even more. The books this week are Good Dog by Dan Gemeinhart, Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly, and Granted by John David Anderson.

Good Dog

81qemgIfCELFirst up –  Good Dog! Just….wow – Dan Gemeinhart hits another one out of the park! He is already a favorite author of so many of my students, and I’m glad to have another title to recommend after they have finished Scar Island or Some Kind of Courage or especially – The Honest Truth. This novel has a slightly different feel than his previous books. It is told from the point of view of Brodie – a dog who we meet just after he’s entered the great beyond after his death. And as our Brodie figures out the rules of this new place, and makes some friends, he remembers more of his past life on Earth. And remembers the danger that his boy, Aidan, is still in. And Brodie has to decide whether to move on to that ultimate Forever or if saving his boy from that threat is worth the awful price he’ll have to pay to even attempt helping him. Here are three things to love about Good Dog:

  1. The afterlife concept in this book. So – I don’t believe in life after death, but if it existed – I would hope it’s like this one. Going to an in-between place, a passing-through place where peace will rise up to you through your remembering as the goodness in you shakes off the last bits of darkness and sadness until you can move on to that final Forever.
  2. Tuck. I loved this dog – this sweet can’t-stand-still, can’t-be-quiet, always-running heart of gold black pit bull who was a good dog – even when it was hard. This dog who maybe – sort of – sold a bit of his soul for a French Fry. (Hey, I can relate!)
  3. It’s hard to explain how much I came to love this book without giving away a major spoiler. And I had prided myself on the fact that even though others had warned me to have tissues handy, I was fine… no tears, just FINE. Until page 285 when I learned that tiny but significant detail about the narrator that had me a sobbing wreck and needing to reread the entire thing!

Hello, Universe

30653713The second book I want to tell you about this week is the 2018 Newbery Award winner – Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly. This one has a special place in my heart because it’s a novel that my daughters and I experienced together. We listened to the audio book throughout December and January and grew so attached to – well, I was going to say, to all the characters in the book, but I’ll say all but one. Hello, Universe is a quietly powerful story told from the point of view of four children. Virgil Salinas, a shy and quiet boy who longs to be recognized as more than just the “turtle” of his family. And who wants to be friends with Valencia – the girl in his special needs class at school. His close friend is Kaori Tanaka who has this physic business for kids and who places a lot of stock in signs and horoscopes and telling fortunes and the concept of Fate. And the final of the main trio is Valencia Somerset, who loves nature and adventure and who is also deaf. She and Virgil attend the same school but haven’t really met. However, they’ve both met Chet Bullens – the school bully. The entire story takes place over the course of one day when at various times, all four children end up in the woods near their school. And one of them falls in an abandoned well. Here are three things to love about Hello, Universe.

  1. The blend of the mystical and the modern intertwined with Filipino folktales that really show the power of those stories across generations. And how those archetypes of heroes can inspire us to our bravery. Or as Virgil’s grandmother says, to discovering your inner “bayani” – your inner “hero”.
  2. Valencia! She was my favorite character – wise and clever and stubborn – and so attuned to others’ reactions to her deafness. Someone pointed out that hers is the only point of view told in the first person so maybe that’s why I identified so much with her. It’s a tiny moment but when she describes sneaking tupperware bowls of food into the woods to feed this poor stray dog, and how she never remembers to return them….. I felt like the author captured something so real there. I remember taking my mother’s measuring cups and spoons out to play in the dirt until suddenly we had none left. And there was this one summer where I fed this stray cat in our neighborhood for weeks…one can of tuna fish every day. I felt like there was something very true to preteens about that mix of compassion and cluelessness.
  3. The role of the dog in this book. Like I mentioned, Valencia has befriended this stray dog who lives in the woods. And he doesn’t play a huge part in the story – at first – but his role is crucial in surprising ways later on. He didn’t turn up when I thought he might. But I felt as though he could have known Brodie and Tuck from Good Dog.


x500And the final book I want to talk about this week is Granted by John David Anderson. You probably know him from the incredible Ms. Bixby’s Last Day and Posted. Both of those novels were realistic fiction, male protagonists, with stories centered around school. Granted is totally different – it’s about a fairy named Ophelia Delphinium Fidgets. One of the dwindlingly few fairies in the Haven entrusted with the job of Granter – a fairy who ventures out of their safe community and into the dangerous human world to grant a wish. So – everyday, people wish on stars, or candles or wishbones – and each of those wishes (if they follow the rules) are entered into a lottery of sorts. But in the fairies’ world – their magic has been decreasing and the number of wishes they can grant has plummeted to the point where on Ophelia’s first day on the job only a handful are scheduled to be granted. So she has two problems on her mind – is the wish-granting system they’ve always followed breaking down and if so, what can they do to fix it? And… how to complete her mission to grant one lucky 13 year-old girl’s wish for a purple bike. All Ophelia has to do is fly to Ohio and find the nickel the girl used for her wish. But what should be a routine mission turn into this epic quest that has Ophelia questioning so much of, well – what she took for granted. Here are three things to love about Granted:

  1. The fairies’ names! They receive their middle name first – which comes from the plant where they were born. (Like Rose or Oak or Daffodil). Their last name is given by their Founder – the fairy who discovers the newborn sprite and oversees their early care and adds a name that expresses something about their personality. (Like Fidgets or Crier). And their first name is completely random. So you get names like our protagonist Ophelia Delphinium Fidgets, her best friend Charlie Rhododendron Whistler, May Rose Crier,  or…Gus Fothergilla Gaspasser!
  2. Sam!  The mangy, smelly golden-haired mutt who after first wanting to eat then chew then chase Ophelia, offers to help her track down the wish she must grant. And.. maybe get to eat some donuts along the way. Ophelia is definitely NOT into this arrangement. Their conversations are HILARIOUS!  
  3. Ophelia’s song. So – every fairy has a magical song that they can sing for a particular effect- perhaps enchanting the listener or having a more negative effect. And while most fairies opt for a traditional tune like “Greensleeves” or “Rolling in the Dew” or maybe even a Sinatra song, Ophelia’s song is….  oh I so want to tell you what it is! But you just have to read it! Let’s just say, it’s something more….modern!

Granted and Good Dog, and Hello, Universe are three books that will cast a magical spell on your heart.  


Karina Yan Glaser – Interview Outline

Joining me this month for our Middle Grade at Heart interview with Karina Yan Glaser is author Laurie Morrison. We got an opportunity to sit down together last month to chat about brownstones, balancing your reading life, and of course – The Vanderbeekers!

Take a listen…

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina GlaserCA: Can you tell us what this story is about?

LM: I love that the book is so balanced between the Vanderbeekers and has five equally developed main characters. Was one of the kids especially challenging or especially fun for you to write? Do you have any advice for other writers who are working on stories with ensemble casts?

CA: One of the things that made me fall so hard for this book was that vibrant Harlem, New York setting with Castleman’s Bakery and the brownstones and City College in the background…  Was the Vanderbeeker’s neighborhood modeled after your own?

LM: I’ve seen many readers comment that the book feels classic or timeless or old-fashioned. What do you think it is about the book that makes it feel classic to readers?

LM: I noticed that you created the wonderful illustrations inside the book. How did you decide to include those, and were they always a part of the manuscript?

CA: I noticed that you have an adorable bunny! Can she do tricks like Paganini?

Your Writing Life

LM: I’m so excited that there are two more Vanderbeekers stories on the way! Did you always know there would be more than one book, and what has it been like to write more Vanderbeeker adventures?The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden, Final Cover

LM: I know you’re a contributing editor at Book Riot and write a weekly newsletter. That must mean you do a lot of reading and a lot of writing outside of your fiction! How do you balance those different kinds of book-related work?

Your Reading Life

Sometimes it only takes that one adult in a kid’s life to influence them as a reader – either in a positive way to spur them on and spark that passion in them, or sometimes to squelch it.

CA: Was there an adult in your life who impacted you as a reader?

LM: I think The Vanderebeekers of 141st Street would be a fabulous book to read aloud to kids. Do you have any favorite books to read aloud to your own kids or kids you’ve worked with in the past?

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

Karina Glaser-31




Karina’s website –

Karina on Twitter and Instagram

BookRiot’s Children’s Section


Books & Authors We Chatted About:


Charles Darwin’s Around the World Adventure (Jennifer Thermes)

Grandma Gatewood Hikes the Appalachian Trail (Jennifer Thermes)

The Penderwicks at Last (Jeanne Birdsall)

Tuck Everlasting (Natalie Babbitt)

See You in the Cosmos (Jack Cheng)

Ginger Pye (Eleanor Estes)

The Moffats (Eleanor Estes)

The Hundred Dresses (Eleanor Estes)

The Land (Mildred T. Taylor)

Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry (Mildred T. Taylor)

Every Shiny Thing (Laurie Morrison & Cordelia Jensen)

They Say Blue (Jillian Tamaki)

Front Desk (Kelly Yang)

The Right Hook of Devin Velma (Jake Burt)

Greetings From Witness Protection (Jake Burt)


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.

Screen Shot 2018-04-01 at 9.05.40 AMAnd – if you are wanting more discussion focused on middle grade, check out the new podcast called Lifelines: Books That Bridge the Divide hosted by authors Ann Braden and Saadia Faruqi. I’ll drop a link to their first two episodes in our show notes, and I am really excited to see more middle grade podcasts out there.

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.


The Power of Slow

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Sometimes people ask me how I stay focused on my writing and keep going.  I often answer, as many writers do, that it takes discipline and a good helping of inner motivation to be with a manuscript over a long period of time. It also takes a lot of patience. Ultimately, patience may be the most important thing. I find as technology accelerates the world, speed is often valued over quality. I can write fast if I need to, but I’ve discovered that I’m better when I’m slow. That’s where patience comes in.

A while ago, I saw one of my favorite writers, Jhumpa Lahiri, give a live interview in New York. In the past few years, she’s decided to reinvent herself and master the Italian language. Now she only reads and writes in her newly adopted language. This process has taken her many, many years. She spoke of her own slowness and how this choice has forced her to move even more slowly. Her decision is unusual, but I also see it as an extension of a practice I’ve always found in her work. She doesn’t rush her stories. She doesn’t rush her characters. She writes to work something out and it takes as long as it takes. I find an enormous patience in her work.

After I saw her speak, I took note of how I was always rushing myself, always trying to figure out ways to write faster, to read faster, to get where I wanted to go—faster! Though I tend to give off a calm energy with other people, I can be a very impatient person with myself. I was working on my middle-grade novel, The Night Diary, when I saw Lahiri speak, and the book was moving slowly. I was feeling quite impatient with it.

This wasn’t an easy book to write. Before I wrote the book, I did a lot of research. I thought and talked about it often. Even when I started writing, I didn’t begin in a rush of inspiration, which can be the case for me. Instead, I treaded cautiously and found road blocks everywhere I turned. I wanted to be responsible and careful with the material. I was writing a story about the partition of India in 1947, based on some of the things my father and his family went through. I had never written a historical novel before, and certainly not one I was so connected to. So I would write a little and then find the need to research more. I repeated that cycle many times. Over about three years and many false starts, I had a first draft. I wrote slowly, carefully, and I believe (I hope) my writing was better for it.

Slowness goes hand and hand with mindfulness. I’d rather wait for one perfect pear to ripen and eat it slowly, than gobble down three hard, tasteless ones. In the same vein, one thoughtfully written page is usually better than five hurried pages. It doesn’t mean I won’t hit my deadlines, it just means I need to practice more frequently and clear the space for doing so.

Here’s the catch — it also means letting go of things I think might be important, or at least letting go of having to get everything done in a short amount of time. We’re always making choices with our time and choosing one thing over another.  I’m still a work in progress, but when I do summon up more patience, and allow myself a slower pace, I’m not just a better writer, I’m a better person.

But perhaps this essay is just a warning to my family that I won’t be doing as many household chores in the future – and making more space for this slow and steady practice we call writing.

Screen Shot 2018-03-30 at 8.31.20 AM.pngVeera Hiranandani is the author of The Night Diary (Dial), which was featured on NPR’s Weekend Edition and is a New York Times Editor’s Choice Pick, The Whole Story of Half a Girl (Yearling), which was named a Sydney Taylor Notable Book and a South Asian Book Award Finalist, and the chapter book series, Phoebe G. Green (Grosset & Dunlap). She earned her MFA in fiction writing at Sarah Lawrence College. A former editor at Simon & Schuster, she now teaches creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College’s Writing Institute and is working on her next novel.