#HomeToMe Middle Grade Mega Classroom Giveaway


What is “home?” Is it the place where we live? Or is it more than that?

These are some of the questions that middle grade authors Melissa Sarno and Mae Respicio loved exploring in their debut novels Just Under the Clouds and The House That Lou Built.

It started with this conversation and, then, the two authors learned that the theme of home can be found in many middle grade books, just as young readers begin to discover themselves and the world around them.

So, throughout September, 16 amazing middle grade authors will share thoughts and photos about what home means to them and how it plays a role in their books.

Teachers, we’re inviting you and your classrooms to join us!  

Think about what makes a home—then share it on social media using the hashtag #HomeToMe.

Here’s the fun part: #HomeToMe ends in a MASSIVE GIVEAWAY! 16 randomly selected educators will win one 10-15 minute author Skype call from one of our 16 authors, plus one signed copy of their book.

To enter, tell or show us what home means to you or your students on Twitter or Instagram by September 28th. Make sure to tag your posts with #HomeToMe. Winners will be announced the first week of October. (Contest open to US only.)

Questions? Tweet us at @MelissaSarno or @MaeRespicio.

We can’t wait to hear what homes means to you!

Here are the authors and books participating. Follow along with us!

Cindy Baldwin, author of Where the Watermelons Grow
Twitter: @beingcindy
IG: @cindybaldwinbooks

Ann Braden, author of The Benefits of Being an Octopus
Twitter and IG: @annbradenbooks

Samantha Clark, author of The Boy, The Boat, and the Beast
Twitter and IG: @samclarkwrites

Marie Miranda Cruz, author of Everlasting Nora
Twitter: @cruzwrites
IG: @mariveecruz

Lauren Abbey Greenberg, author of The Battle of Junk Mountain
Twitter: @LAGreenberg1
IG: @lagreenbrg

Ben Langhinrichs, author of Danger Tastes Dreadful
Twitter: @blanghinrichs
IG: @benlanghinrichs

Henry Lien, author of Peasprout Chen: Legend of Skate and Sword
Twitter and IG: @HenryLienAuthor

Diane Magras, author of The MadWolf’s Daughter
Twitter and IG: @dianemagras

Brad McLelland, coauthor of The Legends of Lost Causes
Twitter: @bradmcbooks
IG: @bradmclelland

Anna Meriano, author of Love Sugar Magic: A Dash of Trouble
Twitter and IG: @annamisboring

Victoria Piontek, author of The Spirit of Cattail County
Twitter: @victoriapiontek
IG: @victoriapiontekbooks

Mae Respicio, author of The House that Lou Built
Twitter: @maerespicio
IG: @maerespiciobooks

K.A. Reynolds, author of The Land of Yesterday
Twitter and IG: @KrisRey19

Melissa Sarno, author of Just Under the Clouds
Twitter and IG: @melissasarno 

Jeff Seymour, author of Nadya Skylung and the Cloudship Rescue
Twitter and IG: @realjeffseymour

Melanie Sumrow, author of The Prophet Calls
Twitter and IG: @melaniesumrow

Book Review: TAKEDOWN, by Laura Shovan

Screen Shot 2018-06-11 at 12.33.20 PM.png

Takedown by Laura Shovan is an amazing and inspiring book. I had a burning desire to meet the characters Mickey and Lev and be like them in my heart. An influential part of the story is where the main character Mickey went on to be the only girl on her wrestling team. She followed her heart pushing aside other people’s negative thoughts. Sports often do help kids find friendship. Takedown shows how two kids struggled to get along on a team while working together on a long journey ahead. The theme of the story is friendship found in sports. The bond between the two kids grows throughout the story. Friendship is priceless is the feeling I got after reading Takedown.

Screen Shot 2018-06-11 at 4.46.24 PM




My name is Siyona and I live in NJ. I love to play basketball and tennis. Reading is my favorite thing to do during my free time.


Barbara Dee (Everything I Know About You): Books Between, Episode 59

Episode Outline:

Listen to the episode here!


Hi and welcome to Books Between – a podcast for teachers, librarians, parents, and anyone who loves middle grade books! And what I love is to help you connect kids between 8-12 with fantastic reads and share inspiring conversations with the authors and educators who make that magic happen.

I’m your host, Corrina Allen – a mom of two, a teacher of twenty-two (as of the last classlist update), and a little over two days away from the first day of school.

This is episode #59 and today I’m sharing a conversation with Barbara Dee – author of Everything I Know About You along with many other fabulous middle grade reads!

A quick update on our Middle Grade at Heart Book Club schedule. This month’s pick is The House That Lou Built. And in October we are reading The Three Rules of Everyday Magic and The Hotel Between by Sean Easley is our November pick.

And remember to set yourself a reminder for Monday nights at 9pm EST so you don’t miss the #MGBookChat Twitter chat!  Our upcoming topics are Ending Gendered Labels, Books That Battle Mental Health Stigmas, and Teachers as Readers.  And I would love to have you join the conversation and share your thoughts about those topics.

Barbara Dee – Interview Outline

Our special guest this week is the amazing Barbara Dee – author of so many well-loved middle grade books like Halfway Normal and Star Crossed and Truth or Dare – and lots 0.jpegmore. We discuss Hamilton, body issues among young girls, her own experiences with an eating disorder, her secrets to capturing dialogue in her writing, the incredible book that she’s working on next, and of course her latest novel – Everything I Know About You !  

Take a listen…

Everything I Know About You

Your latest middle grade novel, Everything I Know About You, was just released this past summer.  For our listeners who have not yet read the novel, can you tell us a bit about it?

Would you mind reading a favorite passage?

One of the things I loved about this novel was that it shed some light on the body issues that so many teens and tweens grapple with. When Ava and her friends have that conversations about “thigh gaps” and being “pre-fat”, I kept think about how many kids feel that pressure over their body….   Why did you want to explore those issues in this novel?

This story centers around an overnight field trip to Washington D.C.   Did you travel there to do research? Did you see Hamilton?!

So how naughty ARE your cats?

**BONUS SPOILER SECTION: Paula and I discuss the ending of the novel, and if you’d like to hear that conversation, I moved that part of the recording to after the end credits of today’s episode at the 43:30 mark.

Your Writing Life

Everything I Know About You is your 9th published novel.  How has your writing process changed from those first books to now?

If you can talk about it….. what are you working on now?

You’ve mentioned before that one of the ways you get ideas is by eavesdropping. Where are some good places for aspiring writers to eavesdrop? And how do you keep from getting caught?

Your Reading Life

One of the goals of this podcast is to help educators and librarians and parents inspire kids to read more and connect them with amazing books.  Did you have a special teacher or librarian who helped foster your reading life as a child?  And if so, what did they do that made such a difference?

What have you been reading lately?


Barbara’s website – http://barbaradeebooks.com

Barbara on Twitter


Books & Authors We Chatted About:


A Wrinkle in Time (Madeleine L’Engle)

The Black Stallion Series (Walter Farley)

Island of the Blue Dolphins (Scott O’Dell)

Rascal (Sterling North)

Clock Dance (Anne Tyler)

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine (Gail Honeyman)

Every Shiny Thing (Cordelia Jensen and Laurie Morrison)

Hope in the Holler (Lisa Lewis Tyre)

You Go First (Erin Entrada Kelly)

So Done (Paula Chase)

Eating Disorder Resources:

National Eating Disorder Association – https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org

Eating Disorder Referral And Information Center – https://www.edreferral.com

Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness – https://www.allianceforeatingdisorders.com


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 booksbetween@gmail.com 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 edupodcastnetwork.com

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 MGBookVillage.org. 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.



Book Review: THE BATTLE OF JUNK MOUNTAIN, by Lauren Abbey Greenberg

The Battle of Junk Mountain.jpg

Maine is a beloved state, as I well know. I grew up here, moved away at one point, and then moved back. It’s a state that inspires a lot of visits, and a lot of fiction—from both people who have lived here and people who haven’t. For someone who lives here to read a book about Maine can be a sensitive matter. As a middle grade reader, I was especially critical of stereotypes of rural life and the kind of people I grew up with on the Maine coast.

Middle grade kids in Maine won’t feel that way about Lauren Abbey Greenberg’s new novel of growing up The Battle of Junk Mountain. That may be because Greenberg has summered in the state for twenty years and has a strong sense of what it’s like here. But it’s also her talent at sketching characters with the tiny edges of heart and humility that draw them well beyond any stereotype.

Take Bea, the grandmother at the center of Shayne’s annual summer visit to Maine. Bea has always been a collector, a frequent visitors to flea markets and yard sales, but recently has become more than that: a hoarder whose house is packed with knick-knacks, old clothes, and other people’s discarded stuff. It’s a collection of stuff that means a lot to Bea, Shayne realizes after she tries to sell some of it behind Bea’s back. Bea’s finances are precarious and Shayne thinks she can help with that as well as with the state of Bea’s house, but her attempt shakes something deep in her and her grandmother’s relationship.

Bea is not a sweet, gentle grandmother, nor a fierce, grand fighter of a woman, but a very real person, a woman deeply wounded by her lobsterman husband’s tragic death at sea who is trying to live through memories and the comforts she can garner with the items she collects. I’ve known people like Bea, women with immense inner strength, weighed beneath obsessions that begin to rule their lives.

This story is the core of the novel, but The Battle of Junk Mountain is also a what-happened-this-summer story of friendship. One bond is Shayne’s with her “summer sister” Poppy, a summer best friend. This bond seems to have slipped a knot, just like the friendship bracelets they used to make together. The other bond is with Linc, the grandson of an old, tough, angry lobsterman of a new neighbor. Linc is an avid Civil War reenactor, which initially puts Shayne off, but his lack of shame, pride in his interests, and genuinely kind heart show her that a good friend doesn’t necessarily fit in a mold.

This is a story that will show young readers that an ordinary girl can be a true hero, act nobly, and face her fears when the time is right. And while it’s a story that will satisfy readers everywhere, it will feel especially real and right to kids who live on the New England coast.



Diane Magras is author of the NYT Editors’ Choice The Mad Wolf’s Daughter, which came just before The Hunt for the Mad Wolf’s Daughter. All things medieval fascinate Diane: 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 Scotland, where her books are set.

The Importance of Hard Stories for Young People

The Colors of the Rain.jpg

Hard stories exist all around us.

I’ve been listening to some of them. I’ve been sitting with people who survived challenging circumstances when they were kids, who turned around and stamped “beautiful” on their lives. I am humbled and inspired by their tales of finding brilliant color in the rain.

My sons have, so far, lived regular lives, as far as their childhood is concerned. They are fortunate enough to have two parents still deeply in love with one another; they have security in a home and traditional family that loves them; they are cared for in every way (though they would argue that they don’t get enough tech time in a day).

They do not have to know what it’s like to be afraid of an alcoholic dad. They do not have to experience the strange, unsettling contrast between loving a parent because he’s a parent and hating that parent for the trauma he’s caused. They do not have to know the instability and panic and worry that comes from money shortage, which turns a little girl into a mini-adult, a second mom, much too early.

And, like any parent, I hope they never will.

My home is situated in a part of San Antonio, Texas, where most of the kids live lives like my kids. They live in relative stability, comfort, privilege. Their worlds are mostly protected, mostly safe, mostly predictable.

But there are others. Others like me. Others who grow up wondering what it’s like to go a day without worrying that a mom won’t make it to a pick-up spot because maybe she was so tired from her multiple jobs that she had an accident on the way here and Second Mom will become First Mom. Others who carry around the guilt of not being able to contribute money to the family, so he quits eating instead; that’ll help. Others who must come to terms with parents leaving and what family means now.

These “others” don’t go around talking about their difficult childhoods. They try to hide it—coloring the holes in their shoes or the stains on their shirts with Sharpie markers to minimize their visibility; pretending they’re not really hungry; hiding their bruises, making excuses, detaching. I did not talk about my home situation; I tried as best I could to fit in and be like all the others. I kept to myself, did what I was supposed to do, never told anyone I was halfway glad my dad was gone because I didn’t have to be afraid of him anymore.

But isolation—hiding—was dangerous, and so was the lack of communication around these difficult things. I thought my experiences marked The End to my story—I was not worthy enough to achieve my dreams (and there were so many!); I would never be anything more than a girl from the wrong side of the tracks. I carried a whole heap of shame on my back for a very long time. Sometimes, on the worst days, I still do.

The importance of stories that reflect these hard childhoods is that kids, in reading them, in hearing them read aloud, in discussing them, feel bolstered by the story of someone like them. They feel seen. They feel heard. They feel understood and known and loved.

They feel brave.

If we keep these stories from them—the stories that broach, in a gentle and hopeful way, neglect and abandonment, abuse and violence, depression and the whole gaping world of mental trauma that can touch a kid—they will do exactly what I did in my childhood: they will internalize their shame; they will build walls that promise a small semblance of safety; they will isolate and lock down.

The fastest way to defeat that I’ve ever known is isolation. We need each other to survive, and that has always been the truth of humanity. Belonging. Acceptance. Love.

Finding a place to belong is something every kid needs. And sometimes—many times—stories are where they find it. Stories that tell them they are significant, worthy, able. Yes, mostly able—able to survive—to flourish!—to become something more than they have been.

And if one of my difficult stories can do that for them, then I have done my job as a writer.

Rachel Toalson.jpgRachel Toalson is an author, essayist, and poet who regularly contributes to adult and children’s print and online publications around the world. She lives in San Antonio, Texas, with her husband and six boys. The Colors of the Rain is her first traditionally published novel. You can visit her online at www.rltoalson.com.

Book Review: SMART COOKIE, by Elly Swartz


I thought that this book was spectacular! This AWESOME book was about how the ‘smart cookie,’ Francine May Greene, tried to fill the empty hole in her heart caused from missing her mother.

The book is told from Frankie’s point of view, and I felt as if I stood right next to her—at Jessica’s house, at the library, at the B&B, at Reggie’s office, and on the float. Jess was such an interesting character, she felt like some sort of bully towards Frankie, and then like a great friend. I loved how Elly dreamed up Jess, so Frankie could encounter and learn from another situation. The thing I loved the most in this story was the entire bakery and food related items because I think Elly put them in to remind us of the sweetness in life. I had a craving for muffins, Doritos, pancakes, and obviously, cookies. Smart Cookie was better than amazing, and I can’t wait to read more from Elly Swartz!

Screen Shot 2018-06-11 at 4.43.38 PM


I’m Ariana, an 11 year-old fifth grader, who loves to read. I really like mystery and fictional books. My favorite books of all time are part of the series The School For Good and Evil by Soman Chainani. I love to draw, and my favorite animal is a cat. I really like to give other kids good book recommendations!

Cover Reveal: SEVENTH GRADE VS. THE GALAXY, by Joshua Levy


I’ve been excited for Josh Levy’s debut novel ever since I first read the title in his Twitter bio. SEVENTH GRADE VS. THE GALAXY? I mean, come on — you just know this book is going to be a blast. I’ve learned a bit more about the book in the months since first meeting Josh, and my excitement for the book has only grown. I was, therefore, beyond thrilled when Josh asked the MG Book Village to host his cover reveal.

Learn more about both SEVENTH GRADE VS. THE GALAXY and Josh in the interview below, and then feast your eyes on his awesome cover!

~ Jarrett

. . .

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

Absolutely! In a few words, SEVENTH GRADE VS. THE GALAXY is a middle grade adventure/sci-fi story about kids in the future who go to school in space, get mysteriously attacked, lost, and captured by aliens (!), and have to find their way home. (Okay, maybe that was more than a few words.)

More specifically, the book is about the PSS 118—a “public school spaceship” orbiting Ganymede (one of Jupiter’s moons) hundreds of years from now. The story opens on a pretty familiar future: Social studies tests; spelling bees; end-of-the-year assemblies. Kids (that aren’t from Earth or Mars) go to school in these old, outfitted spaceships. (To get to the teacher’s lounge on the PSS 118, just head past the library, science lab, and infirmary; go down to the lower level using the stairs by the gym; and it’s just beyond the gravity field generator. Can’t miss it. If you hit the secondary fusion reactor or are winding your way starboard, you’ve gone too far.)

But there aren’t any aliens. And there’s no light-speed travel.

Until there is.

When the school is attacked, Jack, Becka, and Ari—three seventh graders—make their way to the engine room, following cryptic messages that Jack is getting from his dad (the school’s recently-fired-for-tinkering-with-the-ship science teacher). Jack discovers that his dad built humanity’s first light-speed engine into the PSS 118—and has given Jack control over it. To save the ship, Jack catapults it hundreds of light years away…and into the clutches of the first aliens humans have ever seen.

It’s a zany story: Cranky cafeteria robots. Alien videogame arcades. Friendly (and not-so-friendly) sea dragons. But I wanted the world to be both familiar and different. And fun. I wanted it to be a lot of fun.

What led you to write a story about kids in space?

You know—I’ve always loved space stories. (Still do.) I was fairly obsessed with Star Wars as a kid. (Still am.) There’s just something so…transporting about them, whether they’re of the fantasy or the science fiction variety. And SEVENTH GRADE VS. THE GALAXY has got a ton of the usual trappings of space stories, combined with, well, all sorts of nonsense.

Long story short: A number of years back, I was teaching middle school and thought, “Okay. What would I have wanted to read if I were sitting in those chairs?” And this book is the result.

Who did the artwork for your cover? What did you think when you first saw it?

The incredible cover illustration was done was Petur Antonsson (@peturantonsson), who’s done other wonderful middle grade covers as well. The colors! The framing! It’s got this movie poster quality to it, bursting with little easter egg-type details everywhere. I was so happy with the cover (and earlier concept drawings).

Were you at all involved in the process?

Yes—and I’d say that my involvement with the process more than met my expectations about what my involvement was going to be. My editor first sent along various concept drawings, each of which took the cover in different directions. And I was looped into the conversation about which of the concepts the stakeholders thought was the best fit for the book. I’ll confess that I was at first partial to a drawing that didn’t ultimately manifest as the cover—but I’m so glad the result is what it is.

Once the illustration direction was solidified, I was afforded the opportunity to give input/suggest details that I can absolutely see given form on the cover. And I’m super grateful that I was able to have a voice in the process.

Alright! Let’s check it out!

Screen Shot 2018-08-21 at 11.19.37 AM.png

Can you tell us a little bit about at least one of those “little easter eggs” you mentioned?

Definitely. Becka’s over there on the right, spinning a dodge ball on her forefinger—not just because she’s the best seventh grade dodge ball player (which she is)—but because she’s the best zero-g dodge ball player in the class. Basically, if you like P.E., you’ll love it in zero gravity.

Awesome. When does the book come out and where can readers pre-order?

SEVENTH GRADE VS. THE GALAXY will be out on March 5, 2019, from Lerner/Carolrhoda. You can find pre-order links on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound, and the other usual haunts. And it’s floating around on Goodreads over here. Thank you!

 Screen Shot 2018-08-21 at 11.16.56 AM.pngJoshua S. Levy was born and raised in Florida. After teaching middle school (yes, including seventh grade) for a little while, he went to law school. He lives with his wife and daughter in New Jersey, where he practices as a lawyer. Unfortunately, outer space doesn’t come up in court nearly as often as he’d like. Seventh Grade vs. the Galaxy is his first novel. You can find him online at http://www.joshuasimonlevy.com/ and on Twitter @JoshuaSLevy.