Changing Seasons

“But that’s how life is, Yuriko-chan. In our lives we must experience both beginnings as well as endings. It is like the season changing after the last cherry blossom falls.”  

This quote is from my MG historical fiction, The Last Cherry Blossom (Sky Pony Press), based on events in my mother’s life in Hiroshima during WWII and surviving the atomic bombing at 12-years-old. Yuriko’s (main character) Papa expressed the above sentiment to her, and it’s one of the reasons I chose my title.  I thought of cherry blossoms TLCB cover smaller.jpgscattering as they fall from branches. At first glance, one may think the beauty of the blossoms is lost, yet it’s just as lovely watching the fallen blossoms glide along with the river current or strewn along a walking path.  

In the final chapter of The Last Cherry Blossom, Yuriko moves to Tokyo with a relative she barely knows (No spoilers, in case you haven’t read it yet) and must start a new life after the atomic bomb took away all that she knew or ever wanted. At that time, she wondered how she’d survive all these changes, never mind thinking something good could come from it all (I’m writing about how my mother dealt with these feelings in my current WIP) 😊. Yet, those horrific events eventually led her to meeting/marrying my father, moving to the U.S., and having me.  

Interestingly, if I hadn’t been hospitalized for over a month from a near fatal blood clot, my Mom may not have shared her August 6th memories with me. The blood clot caused nerve damage and I spent months learning how to use my left leg again after being diagnosed with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome(CRPS). CRPS is a neurological pain disorder in which the autoimmune system attacks itself along with the sympathetic nervous system. Physicians have said it’s possibly a result of the radiation my mom was exposed to, which weakened my immune system.

After my hospitalization, I needed help to care for myself and my then 4-year-old daughter while my husband worked during the day. My parents helped me with that. During that time, my mother began revealing what happened on August 6th. A momentous occasion because she hadn’t discussed her experience of the atomic bombing with anyone. In fact, I was nine-years-old when she first told me she was born in Hiroshima, not Tokyo.  And when she told me, it was still too painful to discuss it further. She also asked me not to tell anyone. Twenty-two years later, she released these painful, horrific memories with each passing day of my recovery.

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At first, I had thought it was cathartic for her to finally be able to say it out loud, cry, be angry and unburden all that simmered within her for over 40 years. I’m a fixer by nature and felt that I could be useful again by being there for her. But as the days turned to weeks and another hospitalization, I sank deeper into depression because CRPS took away the person I used to be. However, my mother helped me to realize that even though she thought of giving up, she was grateful that she didn’t because she had me and a granddaughter she loved more than anything else in the world.  She showed me that despite the tragic events, something wonderful can also happen. She opened her heart to me and by doing that, she opened my path to rediscovering writing. I realized that if my mother had the courage and strength to survive after August 6th, then I could create through my own pain and loss.

I expressed my heart-felt appreciation to her 8 years later when I began writing The Last Cherry Blossom.  After reading one of the drafts, she told me that she finally understood why she survived. She couldn’t or didn’t know how to tell her story, but I could do that for her, for her Papa-for my Japanese family. I’m grateful we could give each other the gift of seeing the beauty in life’s changes as when the last cherry blossom falls.

~ Kathleen Burkinshaw

Kathy-400x565.pngKathleen Burkinshaw is a Japanese American author residing in Charlotte, NC. She’s a wife, mom to a daughter in college, and owns a dog who is a kitchen ninja. She has presented her mother’s experience in Hiroshima to middle and high schools for the past 8 years. Writing historical fiction also satisfies her obsessive love of researching anything and everything. The Last Cherry Blossom, is recently nominated for the NC School Library Media Assoc. YA Book Award,a SCBWI Crystal Kite Award Finalist (southeast region), 2016 & 2018 Scholastic WNDB Reading Club selection, nominated for both the 2018 NC Sir Walter Raleigh Fiction Award and the 2018 Sakura Medal in Japan.

Abby’s Top 4 Books of the Year!

Here are my top 4 favorite books that I read so far.

51UrTYDm5HL-1._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg1. The Peculiar Incident On Shady Street by Lindsay Currie

If you love scary spooky stuff you will love this book. It spooked me out. It is about thisgirl named Tessa who moves into this new house and she thinks the house is haunted but is it really?



51ky-SRzpKL._SX336_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg2. Hilo by Judd Winick

It is about this boy who falls out of the sky and this boy and girl named D.J and Gina who are trying to get Hilo home but he does not know how.



41dshYyYGIL._SX337_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg3.Wonder -by RJ Palacio

It is about this boy with a facial deformity who does not want to go to a school at first but it ends up happening so he goes to school but people bully him. He has a friend named Summer and kind of Jack Will. But this boy named Julian bullies him now.


516KJ8Rsa9L._SX342_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg4.The Wild Robot by Peter Brown

It is about a robot who gets dropped on the shore and then he meets all sorts of animals and he finds a bird with no home so he takes care of him and now he is his mom.



Screen Shot 2018-05-09 at 10.59.16 PMHi! My name is Abby and what I like to do when I am not reading is gymnastics. Also I like to play with my dogs and friends. I also love writing. I like to play on my iPhone 7.


Educator Spotlight: Denise Golden

In the Educator Spotlight today –  5th and 6th grade teacher Denise Golden! 

Please tell us about yourself!

My name is Denise Golden and I am a 5th and 6th grade ELAR teacher in Bigelow, Arkansas. This is my first year to teach 5th grade, but I have taught 6th grade for the last 5 years. I love 6th graders!!! My favorite time of the day is independent reading! I am a firm believer in student choice. I love to read and I am so thankful to be a part of Book Voyage which keeps me up to date on great books and wonderful authors.


What are some of your favorite middle grade books or authors?

Wow! This is a hard question. It changes yearly as I make a shelf of my top 5 favorite reads. The Crossover and Rebound by Kwame Alexander, Finding Perfect by Elly Swartz, Forget Me Not by Ellie Terry, Refugee by Alan Gratz, Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea, Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds, Walking With Miss Millie by Tamara Bundy, and The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling.  I have just recently began reading Harry Potter and I am obsessed!

What was your favorite book as a child? Why did you love it so much?

My favorite book as a child was Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume. I remember my mom buying it for me from a book order when I was in 4th or 5th grade. I loved this book, because I could relate to Margaret. She was in school trying to fit in, growing up wanting her period, and experiencing her first crush.

Who is your favorite fictional teacher?

Mr. Terupt from Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea  I want to be one of his students.

Tell us about your classroom library?

My classroom library is my pride and joy! I am known for it at my school. I have over 1,000 plus books. My room is pretty much wall to wall books. I pride myself on having/keeping an up-to-date current library. I am always buying books, working book orders, and begging for books from my principal. I love it when former students and teachers come to me for books!

What are some must-have books to include in a classroom library?

The must-have books that I am working to add in my library are more diverse books. I know that may sound like a “Sunday School Answer”, but it is important for my students to see themselves in books. Also, graphic novels are a must! The students love them. Yes, they are reading when they are reading graphic novels.

What are the “hot” books in your classroom right now?

The Crossover and Rebound by Kwame Alexander

The Track Series by Jason Reynolds

The Contract Series by Derek Jeter

Forget Me Not by Ellie Terry

Scar Island by Dan Gemeinhart

How do you stay “in the know” about new/upcoming books?

What keeps me “in the know” with books is my wonderful book club, #BookVoyage. It is a book club made up of 10 wonderful teachers from all over the United States. Also, I follow Colby Sharp on social media with his book recommendations, and Pernille Ripp on Instagram is wonderful to recommend books.

Take a picture of something in classroom and tell us the story of it!


This is a picture of my author wall. I love for my students to see pictures of the actual authors of the books they are reading. I want them to see authors are real people and they can be an author. Plus, it raises my “cool” factor when I can say I have met that author! Ha!

IMG_5741.jpgYou can connect with Denise on Twitter at @dgoldenreads .






Want more inspiration? Check out the other #MGEducators interviews and guests posts!






Will you be doing any reading this summer? OF COURSE you will! Why not spice up your reading life by participating in #MGBookVillage’s #MGSummer BINGO!

On the BINGO board below, you’ll see that each square corresponds to a different reading- or book-related challenge. Complete a full five-square line (vertically, horizontally, or diagonally), and you’re a #MGSummer Winner! Complete the whole 25-square board, and you’re a #MGSummer Champion! (Contact a Village administrator in order to get your badge.)

Participants are encouraged to share their progress on social media, but it is not required. If you DO post on Twitter, Instagram, or anywhere else, don’t forget to include the #MGSummer hashtag, so other participants can see what you’re up to.


Happy reading, all!

~Corrina, Jarrett, and Kathie

Fighting Childhood Fear and Trauma with Books and Art

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When I started writing THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST, all I had was a small idea about a boy waking up alone on a beach. I didn’t know what drove this boy or why his story had come to me, but when I got to the final scene, I understood both what the boy was looking for and why it was a story I wanted to tell—the boy’s struggles were my own.

Like many kids, I found much of my childhood challenging. First day of school, making new friends, even being called on in class brought anxiety. I wanted to be the best version of myself and wanted others to like me, but I had all these thoughts swirling around in my head telling me I wasn’t enough, that I’d fail or embarrass myself. Staying invisible seemed like the best course of action.

I couldn’t stay invisible forever, however, so as I grew up, I learnt a few things about believing in myself and quieting the bully in my brain. Many of them I learned from books. All of them I still use today, because that mean voice in my head is hard to silence completely.

That’s why THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST meant so much to me while I was writing it, and means even more now. When I was a kid with a bully in my head, characters in books helped me find strength and taught me ways to be more confident, and I wanted to give kids the same thing. So after the book sold to Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster, I knew I wanted to create a program that could help other kids who are held back by fear and anxiety—a way for kids to learn how to “Make Your Own Courage,” like the boy in the book.

To do this, I turned to my amazing friend Kirsten Cappy of Curious City (, and she, of course, knew the perfect person to help. Kirsten introduced me to Bonnie Thomas, LCSW (, an author and clinical therapist with experience in art therapy.

I was introduced to the power of art therapy when I was a reporter for the Tampa Tribune, when I covered a gallery exhibit of paintings by children who had been through the war in Croatia. The images were stunning, but even more amazing were their stories of healing. Through art—whether it’s drawing, painting, writing, or whatever form of creation that’s speaks to them—a child can more easily express the horrifying emotions they are feeling.

The boy in THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST uses stories to help him be brave, so I knew that art therapy would be perfect for the Make Your Own Courage project. After Bonnie read THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST, she thought so too.

“Children’s literature and stories have always provided rich material for exploring life’s experiences.  In this regard, stories and books are a valuable resource for counselors like myself that work with children—there’s a synergistic union where counseling and storytelling collide, where people can explore the beautiful, magical moments of the human condition,  as well as the heart wrenching, hard to look at, hard to feel experiences,” Bonnie says. “So, when Samantha M Clark contacted me about collaborating on an art therapy project related to THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST, I was instantly interested. The characters, the power of place, and the emotional content of Samantha’s book speaks to some of the rawness, and resiliency, of the human experience, which makes it prime for creative expression and art-based projects. I look forward to sharing this book and the activities with clients.”

Developed by Bonnie and myself, the Make Your Own Courage Art Therapy Project uses the Boy’s story to give adults tools they can use to help the scared kids in their lives. There are two programs: one for clinical therapists and one for parents, teachers, librarians or other caregivers.

Each program offers discussion points from THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST, focusing on what the Boy goes through and tools he uses to combat his fears. Along with each discussion point are fun exercises to help kids work through their own fears.

In the clinical program, the exercises have the potential to get kids to open up about any trauma they have experienced, a crucial step toward healing. Childhood trauma affects people all their lives, often morphing into other emotions, like anger, depression, eating disorders, addictions, and more. Look at this infograph about the impact of childhood trauma on adult disorders.

Through the exercises in the clinical Make Your Own Courage Art Therapy program, therapists can help kids begin to work through their trauma. This program is recommended for use by professional therapists because they can guide the child’s healing with deeper discussion.

In the second Make Your Own Courage Art Therapy program, the discussion points and exercises are designed not to dig into emotional trauma but more to help children see ways to turn their anxiety and fears into more positive feelings. This caregivers program is suitable for use by parents, teachers, librarians and other caregivers. As an example of the types of activities in the program, librarians can have children draw a comic where they’re the hero or create their own comfort box.

Writing THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST scared me and stretched me—many times I thought I couldn’t do it—but living the boy’s story helped me push through my negative thoughts of failure and gain confidence in myself and my work. I hope that through the book and the Make Your Own Courage Art Therapy Project by Bonnie and I, readers will find their own strength and hope.

For more information about the Make Your Own Courage Art Therapy program, visit my website at ( You can learn more about Bonnie Thomas here (

Screen Shot 2018-06-16 at 6.38.56 PM.pngSamantha M Clark is the author of THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST (Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster) and has always loved stories about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. After all, if four ordinary brothers and sisters can find a magical world at the back of a wardrobe, why can’t she? While she looks for her real-life Narnia, she writes about other ordinary children and teens who’ve stumbled into a wardrobe of their own. In a past life, Samantha was a photojournalist and managing editor for newspapers and magazines. She lives with her husband and two kooky dogs in Austin, Texas. Samantha is the Regional Advisor for the Austin chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators, and explores wardrobes every chance she gets. Sign up for news and giveaways at (

Using Flipgrid to Inspire Readers w/ Nikki Mancini: Books Between, Episode 52

Episode Outline:

Listen to the episode here!


Hi everyone and welcome to Books Between – a podcast to help teachers, parents, and librarians connect kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love.  I’m your host, Corrina Allen – Screen Shot 2018-06-25 at 11.46.05 PMa teacher, a mom of two girls, and finally done with school and on to summer break! I said goodbye to my 22 fifth graders last Friday at their Moving Up Ceremony since they are off to the middle school! And I gave each one of them an end-of-the-year gift which includes a Krazy Straw and a pack of Kool-Aid that I attach to a book. And each of my students gets a different book – one that I have hand-picked for them based on everything I’ve learned from a year of getting to know them as readers and as people. Each June I spend about 2 hours browsing the Syracuse Scholastic Warehouse to select something I think each child would like.  

This is Episode #52 and oday I’m sharing with you a conversation with 5th grader teacher Nikki Mancini. We chat about how to use Flipgrid to inspire readers, and of course, what middle grade books we’ve been reading lately.

Today’s episode is sponsored by MoxieReader – a literacy app that’s like a fitness tracker for your reading life. It gives educators insights into their students’ reading lives, unnamedcustomized recommendations, and a way for kids to set and work toward their own reading goals in a way that is engaging and fun. If you are looking for a way to ditch those reading logs and instead have students track their reading in a more natural way, you will definitely want to check out MoxieReader.  As you recharge and reassess your teaching methods this summer, it’s the perfect time to explore a new tool. So head over to and the use the code welovereading and try it out!

A couple quick announcements for you! Our next episode features Diane Magras – author of the Middle Grade at Heart book club pick The Mad Wolf’s Daughter. The July pick is Just Under the Clouds and I’ll be chatting with author Melissa Sarno in a couple days so watch out for that episode.  Where the Watermelons Grow is the August pick and for those of you that like plan out even further – we are reading The House That Lou Built for September. And… the Middle Grade at Heart Book Club now has a Flipgrid!  I’ll drop a link to that in the show notes – along with the password so you can join the conversation and hear directly from the authors.

MG@Heart Flipgrid:

Password: mg@heart

Also, our Monday night #MGBookChat Twitter chats have been awesome!  Some of our upcoming topics include graphic novels, building classroom libraries, and the importance of refugee stories. So set a reminder for Mondays at 9pm EST and check out #MGBookChat for great conversations between educators, librarians, and authors about how to get great books into the hands of middle grade readers!    

For me, Twitter has been an incredible positive influence on my teaching life – connecting me with amazing and inspiring educators across the globe. And one of those PxJLxySl_400x400educators is Nikki Mancini – who you may know as @missnikkiin5th. I kept seeing her talk about this thing called Flipgrid and finally I was like – you know what? I’ve got to invite her on the show.  I knew that Flipgrid could be a powerful tool, but I had some questions and figured you all might find value in that conversation as well.

After we chatted, I decided to try it out this summer. Because, I had the opportunity this year to meet my incoming 5th graders!  So, I could do what I’ve never done before – I
opened up my classroom library and let them take home 2 or 3 (or more!) books to enjoy for the summer. And along with their books, I send them home with a sheet explaining how to access our Flipgrid and posted two topics – one to introduce ourselves and one to share our summer reading!  Before the day was done I had two kids already submitting videos and whoa – I am just brimming with ideas about how to harness this for next year and expand it even further! And I hope this conversation leaves you excited as well. Plus – right after we recorded this conversation, Flipgrid announced that it is now FREE for educators! Oh yeah!

Alright – take a listen…

Nikki Mancini – Interview Outline


Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

What is Flipgrid and how did you first find out about it?flipgrid

Beyond the author element, what are some other projects or uses for  Flipgrid that you have done with your students?

What would you suggest for some quick, easy ways to get started with Flipgrid?

Where would you suggest people go to get more information about Flipgrid?

What are some things you’ve been doing this year in your classroom that you’ve been excited about?

What are your plans for next year?


Nikki’s website –

Nikki on Twitter

NerdCampNJ –

Nikki’s Author Connection Flipgrid:

Information about Flipgrid:

Educator & Student Info about Flipgrid:

Flipgrid Inspiration:

Flipgrid on Twitter and #FlipgridFever

Jewell Parker Rhode’s conversation about Ghost Boys on The Children’s Book Podcast


Books & Authors We Chatted About:

Smart Cookie and Finding Perfect (Elly Swartz)

Kat Green Comes Clean (Melissa Roske)

Babysitting Nightmares: The Shadow Hand (Kat Shepherd)

Amal Unbound (Aisha Saeed)

Daring Dreamers Club Series (Erin Soderberg)

The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street (Lindsay Currie)

Ghost Boys (Jewell Parker Rhodes)

Stanley Will Probably Be Fine (Sally J. Pla)

Someday Birds (Sally J. Pla)

Rules (Cynthia Lord)


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.



Takedowns and RPGs: Middle School Girl Athletes Rock And We’ve Got The Texts To Prove it!

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Have you ever wondered what it would be like if characters from different books met each other? MG Book Village Author Friends  Laura Shovan (The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary) and Denis Markell (Click Here To Start) were telling each other about their upcoming books (Laura’s Takedown and Denis’ The Game Masters Of Garden Place) when they realized that both novels featured athletic girls who seemed like they might be friends in real life. What could be more fun than to create a conversation between these two fierce and lovable sporty girls?

So imagine if you will that you’re Mikayla Delgado, getting ready for wrestling practice, when your phone buzzes, and you see this…

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Laura Shovan’s debut middle grade novel, The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary, was an NCTE 2017 Notable Verse Novel, a Bank Street College of Education Best Children’s Book of the year, and won a Cybils Award for poetry. It was named the Arnold Adoff Poetry Award for New Voices honor book in 2018. Laura’s second children’s novel, Takedown, is about the first girl to join an all-boys wrestling team. Laura lives with her family in Maryland, where she is a longtime poet-in-the-schools for the Maryland State Arts Council.


Screen Shot 2018-06-18 at 9.54.56 PM.pngDenis Markell, although not a games master himself, has been telling stories for most of his professional career. His stories have been featured in Off-Broadway Musicals and Revues, in sitcoms, and even in an episode of the legendary animated series ThunderCats. His own story took fantastic turn when he met and married the illustrator Melissa Iwai, with whom he has created two picture books, The Great Stroller Adventure and Hush, Little Monster. His debut novel, Click Here To Start (Delacorte Press), was a Junior Library Guild Selection and an Amazon Best Book of the Month. His next book, The Game Masters Of Garden Place (Delacorte Press) will be published in July of 2018. (Photo by Nelson Hancock)




Interview: Kester Nucum of LILbooKlovers

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Today I am extremely excited to welcome Kester Nucum to the #MGBookVillage. He’s here to share a bit about himself with the MG community, and also to celebrate his two-year blogoversary (more about the blog below!).

Kester is an extraordinarily — and I mean EXTRAORDINARILY — impressive young person. He’s a talented and devoted student, and yet, on top of all his AP classes and extracurricular activities, he somehow finds the time to devour Middle Grade and Young Adult literature AND run an active — and downright awesome — blog about it all. I encourage you to explore his archives, especially his author interviews and absolutely wonderful LILbooKtalks, which are “online discussion panels in which two (or more) authors talk about a theme that is related to both of their books” — a format which Kester himself created.

Kester and I connected last year, when he reached out to me about his growing interest in, and appreciation for, MG books (until then, he’d been primarily interested in YA). Since then, we’ve had a great ongoing conversation, and have swapped plenty of titles (he is responsible for a sizable portion of my TBR pile!). Kester’s interest in MG lit recently culminated in a paper he wrote for his AP Language & Composition class, titled “The Importance of Middle Grade Literature for Adult Readers.” Kester’s passion, involvement, and relentless energy is breathtaking — and all of this when he’s just on the cusp of officially becoming an “adult” himself!

I’m so very grateful to have Kester as part my book life — he has enriched it in many ways. Getting a chance to sit down with Kester and talk not just about books, but about his background and his hopes and plans for the future, was a real treat. Check out the interview below, and find additional links to his research paper and the rest of his site below!

~ Jarrett

First off, thank you again, Kester, for stopping by the Village to chat! It’s an honor to have you here.

Now, on to the questions. Here’s something I’ve been eager to know: Have you always been an avid reader? Where do you think your love of books and reading came from?

I was a very avid reader in elementary school, but because I felt “forced” to read at a middle school or high school level, I became less fond of books when I entered 6th grade. I still read, but not as much as before. Though I did enjoy classics such as To Kill a Mockingbird, 1984, and And Then There Were None, I felt restricted to novels that were written either with difficult and archaic language or before the early 20th century.

When I discovered the Infinity Ring series in 8th grade, my love for reading rekindled. A newfound confidence built up inside me as I realized I could finish a book in just a few days. As I entered my freshman year of high school, my school librarian pushed me to read more by providing me many amazing recommendations and discussing books and life to me. Eventually I ended up in the YA universe and later the MG community, and LILbooKlovers came into fruition.

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Why did you start your site? How did you go about contacting authors?

After I discovered the existence of book blogs, I had a strong desire to start one myself. I was very obsessed with books that I wanted to share my love with the whole world. After I presented my idea to one of my classmates, we both decided to start one up, and LILbooKlovers was born!

During the spring semester of my freshman year, I was originally slated to go to the first ever Southeastern Young Adult Book Festival (which all readers and authors must attend at least once) as a field trip, but my school cancelled our visit last minute. It was very heartbreaking, especially since I could not get my books signed. To make up for it, I decided to email the authors of those books for signed bookplates to paste in my copies. From there, I began to amass a giant collection of book swag by emailing authors.

My first ever author connections actually started from that, including the first ever writer I interviewed, Jennifer DiGiovanni. After the blog went up, I connected with a few indie authors through Goodreads. But Twitter has helped me meet so many novelists online, and I’ve become introduced to so many authors—from debuts to New York Times bestsellers—ever since.

You’ve recently developed a strong interest in Middle Grade literature. Can you tell us a bit about the “reading” journey that led you to here?

To be honest, before I became an avid bibliophile, I had always dissed Middle Grade as “light and fluffy.” I gladly grew out of this misconception as I learned more about the wonders of this amazing literary culture. The novel that first introduced me to Middle Grade was Just Like Me by Nancy J. Cavanaugh. I started off with very low expectations for Nancy’s novel, but the storyline connected with me in such a personal way that I finished the book with so many feels. Although I did not read any more MG for a year (I pretty much experimented with various genres and age groups at this time), in the fall of my sophomore year, I received signed copies of Prisoner B-3087 by Alan Gratz and Eden’s Wish by M. Tara Crowl from my school librarian and the author, respectively. I fell in love with both novels, and I began to build up even more respect for Middle Grade.

The Southeastern Young Adult Book Festival in March 2017 introduced me to many writers in the #kidlit community, many who are now some of my biggest supporters, including Monika Schröder, Andrew Maraniss, Jenn Bishop, Kym Brunner, and Kathryn Ormsbee. It wasn’t until the Fall of 2017—in which I met the wonderful Jarrett Lerner on Twitter along with Kimberly Brubaker Bradley and Linda Williams Jackson at the Southern Festival of Books—when I decided to take on a more active role in the MG community. I was astonished at how much power The War That I Finally Won and Midnight without a Moon possessed, which inspired me to delve deeper into Middle Grade. My love for MG has become so great that I have an entire shelf devoted solely to the literary culture and that I wrote an entire 22-page essay on why adults should read Middle Grade.

Okay, I’m going to ask that annoying question that ALL adults seem to ask teenagers, and that always got me groaning a bit when I got asked as a teen… What are your plans for the future? Do you have any thoughts as to what you might want to do? Will it involve books and reading?

Honestly, I actually like answering this question! With graduation less than a year away, college is about to become an actual reality for me. After I graduate from high school, I plan on pursuing computer engineering as my major with a minor in music and possibly another one in marketing. I intend on attending a university that will give me the best deal, which is the best engineering program for the best price. I want to graduate without any debt! I will also join my college’s orchestra and choir, and I hope to continue blogging and reading as much as I can.

After college, I don’t imagine myself ever leaving my home state of Tennessee. I would like to enter the workforce as a computer engineer somewhere around Nashville, and I wish to be a professional musician as a part-time job. (My dream is to play for the Nashville Symphony, or any symphony orchestra.) My future endeavors may include marketing, entrepreneurship, and even writing! Wherever God wants to take me, I will follow.

What other activities do you do when you are not reading or blogging?

My life’s passions can be summed up in four words: “God, Books, Music, Marketing.”

Music has been and will always be a huge part of my life. I sing as well as play the violin and the piano, though I can’t do all three at once. (I am trying to learn the guitar and ukulele at the moment.) I am a member of multiple ensembles, including my church’s contemporary choir and the Murray State University Symphony Orchestra. During my junior year, I sang with the Henry County High School Madrigals, my high school’s internationally acclaimed choir.

I am in multiple clubs at school, including DECA (Distributive Education Clubs of America), FBLA (Future Business Leaders of America), NHS (National Honors Society), and Leo Club. I serve as my high school’s DECA President and FBLA Vice President. I am the most active in DECA, which focuses mainly on marketing, and one thing that I love about being a part of this organization is that the lessons that I am learning can be applied virtually anywhere, especially blogging.

Thank you again for stopping by and sharing so much about yourself, Kester. I, along with the rest of the #MGBookVillage crew, wish you all the best in future endeavors. We can’t wait to follow along on your journey and see where you go!

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Kester’s AP Language & Composition paper, “The Importance of Middle Grade Literature for Adult Readers”

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Tux ProfileStanding at a mighty 5′ 3″, Kester Nucum may be small, but he has a big personality. He is the founder and head blogger at LILbooKlovers, a book blog devoted mainly to MG and YA literature. Kester is currently enrolled as a senior at Henry County High School, where he serves as the President of his local DECA chapter and the Vice President of his county’s FBLA chapter. He also sings and plays the violin and piano, though not all three at the same time. He has played for the Murray State University Symphony Orchestra for five years, and he sang with the internationally acclaimed HCHS Madrigals in his junior year. He loves to connect with readers and authors online, and you can find him on social media at @kesternucum or @lilbooklovers.

About the LILbooKlovers blog:

Founded in May of 2016, LILbooKlovers is a Young Adult and Middle Grade book blog headed and designed by Kester Nucum. Through the blog, Kester aims to “Unite Book Lovers, Both Big and Li’l” from all around world. He interviews and works with authors on a frequent basis, including New York Times and USA Today bestsellers, Newbery Honor awardees, debut novelists, and indie authors. LILbooKlovers takes on active roles in both the MG and YA community, and it is the home of the LILbooKtalk, a monthly online author panel where two authors discuss a single topic. Up to date, the blog has received over 18,000 views and nearly 9,700 visitors with an average of 980 views per month for the 2017 calendar year. Kester loves to connect with authors and readers online through email, the blog, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

MG at Heart Writer’s Toolbox: Using Imagined Conversations to Draw Character Relationships

The Middle Grade at Heart team is back again with a mid-month post about our June pick, The Mad Wolf’s Daughter by Diane Magras.

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If you haven’t already read The Mad Wolf’s Daughter, get thee to a library! I really couldn’t put this one down, tearing through Drest’s enchanting story in the wee hours of the night.

This story has the feel of the classic medieval fantasies I loved as a child and still devour today. Set in Great Britain, the story follows the adventures of Drest, the youngest child of the infamous Scot known across the land as The Mad Wolf, as she tries desperately to save her family from imprisonment and execution.

Since it happens in the first twenty pages, I’ll give you a little spoiler to set the stage. Late one night, Drest wakes from her place by the fire with her brothers and father. She’s heard a noise and tries to warn the others, but they ignore her. Soon after, they are surprised by a nearby kingdom’s soldiers, who capture Drest’s father and all her brothers, leaving her alone with only a wounded knight they left behind during the attack.

The reader only gets to meet Grimbol (the Mad Wolf) and Drest’s brothers for a few brief scenes during the battle and ensuing capture. And yet, Magras needed a way for us to understand how a young girl could love her family enough to risk a terrifying journey and terrible odds to save them. The way she did this was one of my favorite aspects of the story—a series of ongoing imaginary conversations between Drest and her family members.

Even though we know right off that these are imagined conversations (not ESP or some sort of magical communication), the conversations are so natural that the reader gets a chance to get to know Drest’s beloved family and to understand their family dynamic even though her family is miles away in prison.

“Uwen’s voice in her mind let out a snort of disgust. Go along and hide, then. Be the sniveling, grub-spotted barnacle you are. But when Drest rose, she didn’t’ go hide; she began to run.” P17

The brilliance of lines like these is that they not only show us the hilarious curse-filled banter that is normal in Drest’s family, but they begin to draw both Drest’s brothers and her own character. Because of course, even though the words are delivered in her brother’s voices, they are actually a product of Drest’s own mind. So in the example above, she’s goading herself to action even when she’s cold, and tired, and terrified. Such is her strength and tenacity throughout the story.


These conversations with her brothers also allow us to understand more about what Drest’s life was like before her family was captured. Since we don’t get to see more than a few moments of “regular life” before the action begins, this gives the reader much-needed context and makes us care about the stakes: If Drest fails, her entire family will hang.

Eventually, real-life conversation with Drest’s traveling companions pulls her away from these in-depth conversations with her brothers. But by the time that happens, we know what we need to know about how she feels about her family, what the rules of their world are, and how the brothers treated their beloved—but never coddled—younger sister. All without meeting them in person. That’s some great storytelling, if you ask me.

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Read The Mad Wolf’s Daughter by Diane Magras and then join us for our #MGBookClub Twitter chat on July 3 at 8pm EST. Also check us out on FlipGrid:  (password: themadwolfsdaughter). And don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter by June 25 to get recipes, activities, discussion questions, and other resources on The Mad Wolf’s Daughter: 


Interview: Jennifer Swanson on STEM Tuesday


Today we welcome Jennifer Swanson to the Village! Jennifer is an award-winning author of over 35 (!!!) nonfiction books, and also the creator of, and a regular contributor to, STEM Tuesday, a weekly feature hosted by the From the Mixed-Up Files…of Middle Grade Authors blog. Learn more about Jennifer and STEM Tuesday below, then head over to the site to catch up on old posts — and make sure you don’t miss future STEM awesomeness every Tuesday at From the Mixed-Up Files!

~ Jarrett

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Welcome to the MG Book Village, Jennifer! Thanks for stopping by to tell us about STEM Tuesday. Before we get started, would you care to introduce yourself to our readers who don’t already know you?

I’d be happy to, Jarrett.  I have loved science my whole life, which makes sense when you know that I started a science club in my garage when I was 7 years old. I studied chemistry in college and have my masters degree in science education. When I decided to try my hand at writing, it only made sense that I start with something I know. Eight years later, I’m the author of over 35 books for kids–mostly about science, with a few history books thrown in, too.  What I hope to do with my STEM and STEAM books is to share my passion for the topics and get kids excited about all aspects of science, technology, engineering, art, and math. That’s why I focus on exciting, interesting, and unique subjects. Helping to inspire a new bunch of future scientists and engineers is ultimately what all of us STEM writers hope to do.

STEM Tuesday is hosted by the From the Mixed-Up Files…of Middle Grade Authors blog. Can you tell us a bit about that site?

The Mixed-Up Files blog has been around for eight years. It was started by Elissa Cruz and is still going strong. We focus on all things middle grade: book topics, new release middle grade books, teacher tips, diverse books, and even writing tips for aspiring writers. With almost 30 published middle grade authors contributing, we aim to get the word out to teachers and librarians about fabulous middle grade books and also throw in some info about what’s going on in the publishing world with regard to middle grade books. As I said, all things middle grade.

Now, STEM Tuesday. What is it?

STEM Tuesday was an idea that I had for quite awhile.  You see, every time that I spoke about STEM middle grade books, teachers and librarians were asking me how they could find them. There is a lot of information about STEM picture books out there, but not a lot about middle grade ones. Then I read a post that librarian extraordinaire Betsy Bird wrote for her Fuse #8 blog. She talked about what would go into a great STEM blog that would be most helpful to teachers and librarians. I used her list as my blueprint for STEM Tuesday. Two years, and a lot of hard work and planning, and STEM Tuesday was born.

The official description is: STEM books ENGAGE. EXCITE. and INSPIRE! Join us each week as a group of dedicated STEM authors highlight FUN topics, interesting resources, and make real-life connections to STEM in ways that may surprise you. #STEMRocks!

Whose behind STEM Tuesday? Is there a team of contributors?

While I was the creator, I could not do any of this without my amazing team of contributors. I have gathered some of the top middle grade STEM authors in the business and asked them to help. They are: Nancy Castaldo, Heather Montgomery, Mary Kay Carson, Patricia Newman, Michelle Houts, Carolyn DeCristofano, and Mike Hays. We work together as a team to keep STEM Tuesday relevant and up-to-date with the newest books and activities. This team is really fantastic!

What are your goals for the weekly feature?

The goal of this blog is to highlight middle grade and YA STEM books. To help teachers not only find them, but learn how to use them in their classroom by providing actual activities for them to follow. We want to shine the light on the amazing and exciting STEM books that are being created for middle grade readers right now. They are truly amazing and unique and deserve attention!

What can readers expect from the posts?

We start with a monthly topic, say for example: space and exploration. The first Tuesday of the month is a list of middle grade STEM books about that topic.  We try to have a mix of new and old books, because sometimes it’s tough for teacher to get brand new books. The second week is called “In the Classroom,” which features actual activities that teachers can do with these books in their ELA classrooms. Yes, STEM books CAN and DO work in an ELA class! The third week is called “Writing Craft & Resources.” It’s sort of a mash-up of techniques that STEM authors use to write their books, STEM topics in the news, and also an Out of Left Field section. You never know what will end up there, but be sure it’s some unique bit of information about STEM. The last week includes an interview with a middle grade STEM author and a free giveaway of one copy of their book.

Why is it important for young readers to have books about STEM?

Love of science starts at an early age. Neil deGrasse Tyson said it best: “Every kid is a born scientist.” YES! Kids are curious and want to know how things work. By giving them a STEM book, you will extend that curiosity, feed it with fun facts, and allow it to grow into a passion for all things STEM in the future. A STEM book invites readers to open their minds to the world around them, encourages them to embrace diversity of thought and culture, and allows them to figure out how they can help take care of our home, the Earth.

There has been a profusion of wonderful and exciting non-fiction MG books coming out in recent years, and it seems like more and more authors are using their talents to tell true stories. What do you attribute this to? What can non-fiction offer readers that fiction can’t? 

Nonfiction offers FACTS. And while that may seem boring, understanding facts is anything but that. One of the most popular TV shows is Jeopardy, which is all about trivia–fun facts. One of the best-selling kids books of all time is still the Guinness Book of World Records–also facts. I do love fiction and it definitely has its place, but nonfiction, for me, allows me to explore the possibilities of real-world things. It helps those kids who have a burning desire to know how things work and how they are made, and how they interact, to get the answers they need. It encourages deep-thinking, collaboration, and inclusion of many different backgrounds, but most of all, ACTION. That is how scientists and engineers learn–by doing things. And that is one thing that this world needs right now.

Before you go, can you share a few past STEM Tuesday posts so readers can get a taste?

I would be happy to. I’m including the link here, but you can find STEM Tuesday at

A great place to start is a Highlights of STEM Tuesday blog that I just wrote. It sums up all of the topics that we’ve covered so far and shows the book of the month:

This month’s topic is Shining the Light on Technology, Engineering, and Math. You can find the book list here:

We invite everyone to stop by STEM Tuesday and check it out. We’d love to hear from you, too. If you have suggestions for topics or comments or even kudos to pass on, just email us at

Awesome! Thanks again for stopping by, Jennifer!

Thanks so much for having me, Jarrett!  Go STEM/STEAM books!

Jen Author Photo-2017.jpgScience Rocks! And so do Jennifer Swanson’s books. She is the award-winning author of over 35 nonfiction books for children. A self-professed science geek, Jennifer started a science club in her garage at the age of 7. While no longer working from the garage, Jennifer’s passion for science resonates in in all her books but especially, BRAIN GAMES (NGKids) and SUPER GEAR: Nanotechnology and Sports Team Up (Charlesbridge) which was named an NSTA Best STEM book of 2017 and an NSTA Outstanding Trade Book 2017. Jennifer’s book, Geoengineering Earth’s Climate: Re-setting the Thermostat (Lerner Books) received a Green Earth Book Honor Award. She has presented at National NSTA conferences, the Highlights Foundation, and also the World Science Festival. You can find Jennifer through her website