MG at Heart Book Club Book Review: THE THREE RULES OF EVERYDAY MAGIC, by Amanda Rawson Hill

Middle Grade at Heart’s October book club pick was the touching and magical THE THREE RULES OF EVERYDAY MAGIC by our contributor and co-founder Amanda Rawson Hill.


Believe. Give. Trust. Kate doesn’t really believe in magic. She hasn’t had much reason too since her dad left and her best friend started to drift away. But when Grammy moves in with Kate and her mom and starts telling Kate about the three rules of Everyday Magic, Kate’s willing to try anything to put things back to right.

“There’s a part of me that wants to believe in magic, especially if it has anything to do with Dad.”

Grammy and Kate share many moments together baking cookies, sharing memories of Kate’s dad, knitting, and, of course, talking about the three rules of Everyday Magic. Even as Grammy’s mental clarity fades, she shares so much with Kate about life, love, and magic in a series of bittersweet scenes:

“If you love someone you can always give them magic. And you always should. We never give up on people we love. I know better than most.”

But sometimes the magic doesn’t work exactly the way you’d planned. Sometimes it can’t stop relationships from shifting, diseases from changing the people we love, or bad things from happening. That’s when the third rule comes in and it’s the most important of all:

“You have to trust the magic. That means you can’t give it away expecting a certain outcome. You can’t put demands on it and say it only worked if everything goes how you wanted it to, or when you wanted it to. Magic has its own timeframe and its own ideas about what should happen. You can hope it will cause some event, but sometimes it will do something else entirely. That doesn’t mean it didn’t work.”

Kate’s world is forever changed by the events in THE THREE RULES OF EVERYDAY MAGIC. And even though the magic she discovers isn’t able to put everything back the way it used to be, it does help her navigate her changing world with a little more grace and love.

That’s the beauty of this bittersweet, touching story, one that will support young readers who are struggling with the same issues Kate faces and give others a safe space to process their own complicated emotions.

To learn more about Amanda, or for printable drawing pages, activities, recipes, and discussion questions, check out our Middle Grade at Heart newsletter devoted to THE THREE RULES OF EVERYDAY MAGIC here (  

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The Middle Grade @ Heart book club pick for November is THE HOTEL BETWEEN by Sean Easley! Stay tuned for more posts about this awesome book and don’t forget to join us for our Twitter chat on THREE RULES OF EVERDAY MAGIC on November 6!


MG at Heart and the Need for Sad Books in Middle Grade


The MG at Heart team is back again with a mid-month post about our October pick, Amanda Rawson Hill’s The Three Rules of Everyday Magic. A heartfelt story that explores mental illnesses and their effect on family.

Kate has trouble believing in magic, especially since the people she loves keep leaving her. But when Grammy tells her the three rules of everyday magic—believe, give, and trust—Kate can’t resist believing, at least a little. Following Grammy’s advice, she tries to bring her father, her best friend, and even Grammy herself back to her. Nothing turns out as Kate expects, yet the magic of giving—of trusting that if you love and give, good things will happen, even if you don’t see them happen—will change Kate and her family forever.

One of Amanda’s soap box topics is the need for sad books in middle grade, and we, at MG at Heart, know that life is not always sunshine and roses. Sometimes awful things happen to wonderful kids, and we want to explore all facets of a middle-grader’s emotions. It’s totally apropos that Amanda wrote one of these desperately needed novels.

In Amanda’s book, Kate’s father suffers from severe depression. He’s moved out of the house and hasn’t told Kate where he went—a mystery she eventually solves (and also breaks my heart). His depression is so realistic and unfiltered. There’s nothing sheltered about what depression can do to a person and how broken it can leave a child.

In addition to the severity of her dad’s depression, Kate also learns what Alzheimer’s can do to a loved one, her grandmother. Grammy has partially “left” in a different way; she can’t remember people or things that she loved. She does have moments of clarity, but she and Kate figure out that soon her memory will be completely gone. And they’ll have to learn to love each other in a new way.

These types of huge life events change a child. A best friend becomes best friends with someone else. A grandparent has Alzheimer’s. A parent dies.

We want kids to know that it’s okay. It’s okay to feel what you need to feel. It’s okay to be sad or angry or frustrated.

You’re not alone.

To enjoy Amanda’s wonderfully realistic book, check out The Three Rules of Everyday Magic, where her beautiful words will tug at your heartstrings and color your emotions with warmth.

The Importance of Reading Aloud to Kids: or, Do Kids Grow Out of Read-Aloud Time?

The Colors of the Rain

When my oldest son turned ten, he told me he now wanted his privacy during bath time.

This, of course, is a normal part of growing up; children like the presence of their parents, the stability they can offer in the moments of a day when they are young—and then one day they no longer need us. But I was not quite ready.

For the last seven years I had sat in the bathroom while he bathed and I read a book aloud, just him and me. We read fun books together—The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, The Westing Game. We read serious books: Chicken Boy, Home of the Brave, Brown Girl Dreaming. We read biographies—George Lucas, Abraham Lincoln, Maya Angelou. We read novels in verse, graphic novels, short novels, long novels, all the ones in between. We laughed, we cried, we talked, we wondered, we connected.

We connected. This is what reading aloud to kids—no matter how old they are—does: it connects us.

This bathing time was not the only time my son and I read together, so though it was a difficult time to surrender (because a mother has difficulty surrendering at every stage), it was also not so difficult. In my home, I read stories to my sons in the morning, during their lunch (I have only one who is not in school now, so this has become a precious time with him), and before they go to bed. We read picture books, joke books, magazines, newspapers, poetry. Lots of poetry. Sometimes we read around our dinner table (it helps kids stay put at the table). We are always working on a chapter book I read aloud to the entire family—sometimes two if it’s summertime. (Current reads are the latest Incorrigible Children book and Chicken Boy, again.)

One of the earliest pictures my husband took of my first son and me is one where I am stretched out on the floor, reading to him from a collection of Shel Silverstein poetry. This is not intended to be a self-congratulatory admission; it is only to say that the structure of read-aloud time is built one day at a time. We all start somewhere; for me that starting place was on the floor, with my infant, reading poetry I could almost recite by heart, so loved is it.

Reading aloud to children has multiple benefits. For very young children, it familiarizes them with the pattern of language and encourages speech. For children who are emerging readers, reading aloud introduces them to the random letters that turn into words that pave the way for reading proficiency. As children get older, reading aloud to them builds their vocabulary and their interest in stories—which leads to a lifelong love.

But the most important value that reading loud offers is its connection.

When my twins were newly born, they spent twenty excruciating days in the neonatal intensive care unit. They were perfectly healthy with a good set of lungs; it was hospital procedure, however, to keep premature babies in NICU to ensure they knew how to eat and would flourish in the first weeks of life. During that time, when I was allowed only pockets of visitation, I brought bags of books and read them to my babies, silently urging them to eat so that I could bring them home.

We connected, in those first weeks of their lives, through touch, through nourishment, through stories.

Yes, some might be thinking—but they were babies. What happens when your children are older—ten, say, or fourteen, or eighteen?

My answer is always the same: Kids don’t grow out of read-aloud time.

There are days in my life that fly by with hardly a notice. I am not alone in this; our lives roll on at a staggering pace. Carving out reading aloud time allows families—parents and children—to press pause, to take a breath, to connect again. And those threads of connection weave all throughout our lives. They are everlasting threads.

My oldest son is now eleven. He is about to embark on a new journey, heading into middle school, navigating puberty, experimenting with who he wants to be. He needs connection now more than ever.

The other night, after an explosive argument on all sides (strong wills are abundant in my home), my son let himself into my bedroom, plopped down on my bed beside me, and said, “Mama will you read to me? I just need someone to read to me.”

And what could I do but say yes?

Rachel Toalson


Rachel 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

Nailing the School Visit

Cover Del Toro Moon

Let’s be honest. Book promotion is a part of a writer’s life, and publishers require their authors to be active partners. Many authors, especially those who write for children or teens often receive invitations to speak at schools. Every kid lit author will say this, but it’s really true: talking face to face with your target readers is the second best time you’ll ever have as a writer. So, if the opportunity arises, go for it.

A little nervous? Well, here are a few tricks of the trade that might help you out:


Have your talk or presentation down pat. Over prepare. Use note cards or powerpoints or whatever helps you keep from losing your train of thought.

Touch base with the teachers before the date and ask what they’d like you to emphasize about the writing process to support what they’re doing in the classroom.

If you’re able to sell your books while you’re there, then create a book order form and send it to the school ahead of time. You’ll always have students who bring their money at the last minute, so have extra books on hand. Bring change. Bring some Sharpies for kids that want you to autograph their shirt or arm. I balk at faces, though.

I do ask for an author’s visitation fee, in addition to book sales. I waive the fee if it’s a school that I have a personal relationship with. It can be a touchy subject as many schools are unable to pay the author. Maybe they can at least purchase a few copies for their library. It’ll be up to you.

Wear a lanyard with a plastic badge holder and your business card. You can slip the school’s Visitor’s Pass into the other side. If they give you a peel-n-stick pass, just stick on the back of the holder.

Get to the school early. Trust me. Assume technology will fail you, so have a back-up plan.

The Big Day:

Right before you start, check once more with teachers about how you can support their curriculum. Also, if it is possible, ask one of the teachers to give you a five minute warning. You want to end as scheduled as schools have their days timed down to the minute.

Start out with a funny story. Or a story when you were the fool. People love that and laughter builds an instant rapport. The students will be more interested in what you are sharing.

Or teach them a series of goofy claps (clam clap, shark clap, golf clap, around-the-world clap, standing 0 clap, etc). Fun for them and gets them moving a little bit.

Speaking of moving: Do it. Yes, it may be a bit of a challenge in some situations, but proximity does wonders for crowd control and makes for active listening. Look them in the eye and smile while you’re talking. High five them when they ask good questions. Tell them that all humans are story tellers, which makes them story tellers, too.

Even though you have a set presentation, allow for students’ questions to send you in a new direction. It’s a balancing act between sticking with your agenda and taking side journeys.

The three things I always emphasize in my talks:

  • Revising is the most important part of writing.
  • Writing takes times and practice, and there are no shortcuts. I tell them that writers are “word warriors” and being a warrior takes practice, practice, practice.
  • Writing is hard. Good hard like learning a new musical instrument or playing a new sport, but still hard.

Be prepared for these questions:

  • “How old are you?” I always tell them the truth. I mean, why not?
  • “Are you famous?” I tell them I’m working on it and they can help.
  • “Are you rich?” I tell them “rich enough.”
  • “Do you know JK Rowling?”  I say yes. (Until they ask me if I know JK Rowling personally, I can say yes without lying. Hair splitting at its finest.)

At The End:

Even if you may not be able to use pictures of students for publicity (due to legalities), take pictures anyway. Ask the students to make the goofiest/saddest/happiest faces they can, then click away. Your publisher might have a photo release form you can hand the teachers afterwards, so make sure you ask.

Have something to give to every student. I order two-sided postcards (Vistaprint is a favorite of mine and very affordable) with my book cover on one side, and the blurb and my contact info on the back. Autograph them ahead of time. Students who didn’t purchase your book will still get a nice reminder of you.

All this may sound intimidating. It sure did for me when I first started out. And I had fourteen years as a 7th grade social studies teacher under my belt! But know this: you are planting seeds in ways you may never realize in your lifetime, either through your books or your visits. Powerful seeds that may grow into something mighty.

Darby Karchut author photo


Darby Karchut is an award-winning author, dreamer, and compulsive dawn greeter. A proud native of New Mexico, she now lives in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, where she runs in blizzards and bikes in lightning storms. When not dodging death by Colorado, Darby is busy wrangling words. Her latest book (lucky number thirteen), DEL TORO MOON, released October 2 from Owl Hollow Press. Visit the author at

Why Boys Should Read Books About Girls

Often, I have walked into a bookstore and heard someone tell a bookseller how so-and-so won’t read “that” book because there’s a girl on the cover. Or how their son or grandson won’t read “that” book because the main character is a girl. It takes all of my willpower to keep from intervening to remind them (as an author, as a parent, as a book-buyer) that there’s no such thing as “boy books” or “girl books.”

We need to stop doing this. When we assume boys don’t want to read books about girls, we are continuing the narrative that girls and their experiences are somehow “less than.” We are furthering the idea that boys don’t want to read about girls because there’s little or no value in what girls do or that their experiences are not interesting to boys. And frankly, we are underestimating boys in assuming they only want to read about “boy things.”

Before we get too far, yes, I do believe the flipside of this as well: girls should read books with boys on the covers and books about boys. But girls already are. We always have been. I cannot think of one book I read in middle school or high school that featured a strong female heroine. There’s not the same stigma attached to a girl grabbing a book with a boy on the front cover as there is with a boy reading a book about a girl. There was a recent twitter chat about this very subject and the resounding conclusion from educators and authors was that adults are perpetuating this stereotype, not kids.

We all know that one of the greatest gifts of reading is that books create empathy by placing the reader in the shoes of the main character. My debut book, THE PROPHET CALLS, tells the story of Gentry, a girl who has grown up in a patriarchal society. She faces discrimination on a daily basis simply because she was born a girl.

In this era of trying to finally, finally move past toxic masculinity and mansplaining, shouldn’t we help our boys to understand how misogynist attitudes make our girls feel? When ideas about sex and gender are forming in those middle school years, what better place than a book to create safe spaces to explore these confusing concepts with our kids?

When it comes down to it, children like stories. Period. If you listen carefully, they will tell you what they want: adventure, drama, fantasy, suspense and so on. I have never once heard a child request a book about a boy or a girl.

In this global society, empathy building is as important a skill as ever. But when we’re too busy placing boys and girls in old-fashioned boxes, we are only furthering the inequity that already exists. It’s up to all of us. We cannot expect our kids to be empathetic if we don’t ever give them a chance.

So the next time a child is looking for a good read, peel away your assumptions about what you think they want, and listen. Really listen. You just might be surprised.



Melanie Sumrow received her undergraduate degree in Religious Studies and has maintained a long-term interest in studying world religions. Before becoming a writer, Melanie worked as a lawyer for more than 16 years, with many of her cases involving children and teens. THE PROPHET CALLS is her debut novel.



Discovering the Power of Funny Books

Three years ago, I set out to save our school library. I didn’t know it then, but I was about to discover the power of funny books.

Not that the immediate situation was funny at all. Due to major cuts in school library funding, our town’s only primary school had lost its librarian long ago. By 2015, the library itself was on its last legs. “We called it the book dumping ground,” someone later told me. Random collections of old books were piled higgledy-piggledy, upside-down and backward, with pages torn and spines bent backward. It was impossible to find what you wanted, or to keep track of which books were where.

Every time I walked into that library, my heart hurt. I’d been lucky enough to grow up with great school libraries. They opened up the world for me. I wanted my daughter and her friends to have that. I wanted every kid to have that.

So I stepped up and volunteered to take charge of the library.

At first, I was asked only to straighten things up. But my dreams were much bigger than that. I wanted new books and new shelves, a computer system to check books out, and library training for all the children.

Step by step, with many people helping and raising funds, we got there. But it took an incredible effort, and I was giving my time for free. For a couple of years, the library needed anywhere from four to 20 hours a week from me—time that I had to take from my writing.

To save the library, I’m having to kill off my own books, I thought, And that didn’t seem funny at all.

Yet I was learning a lot from my library work. I was having conversations with dozens of children about the books they loved. I was watching them share their favorite books with each other. I was helping book-shy kids get hooked on series. And because I was in charge of buying new books with the PTA’s hard-earned funds, I was reading more widely than ever before.

I was also getting a new appreciation for the power of humor. Adults sometimes look down on funny books, especially for kids. Everyone knows that serious books are more likely to win prizes. But in our library, it was the funny books that went out again and again. Top borrowers, reluctant readers, the kids in the middle: they all wanted books that made them laugh. They would rush up to tell me about them, and they would get their friends to read them, too. If a new book in a funny series came in, I’d see absolute joy in their faces.

My experiences in the school library went deep. My own writing had always tilted toward the serious, with plenty of suspense and fear and darkness. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I’d reached a point in my life where I was searching for the light. Slowly, slowly, my time in the library began to change me as a writer.

Inspiration works in strange and not always obvious ways. I didn’t see it coming, but my very next work-in-progress turned out to be a funny book for young readers. Set in Ancient Egypt, RA THE MIGHTY features an unusual detective duo: Pharaoh’s pampered cat and his scarab beetle sidekick, who must solve a crime that’s baffled Pharaoh’s court.

I loved writing about this odd couple, it makes me happy to know that they’ve made my editor and illustrator laugh, and reviewers as well. Best of all, I now get letters telling me that RA THE MIGHTY makes children laugh, too.

And our school library? Thankfully, it’s on its feet now. And this year there will be a copy of RA THE MIGHTY for everyone to borrow, with my profound thanks.

. . .

20180921_151828 (2).jpgA. B. Greenfield grew up in New York State, where she once had four kittens living in her closet. After studying history at Oxford, she became an award-winning writer, and she now lives with her family in England. Her latest book, Ra the Mighty, has been praised as “perfect for young gumshoes” by Booklist and “a charming page-turner of a mystery” by School Library Journal. For an excerpt, educator’s guide, and more, visit her at



I’m thrilled to welcome Christina Soontornvat to the MG Book Village today to reveal the cover of the first book in her newest series, DIARY OF AN ICE PRINCESS! Christina is also the author of THE CHANGELINGS series, which has been widely celebrated and which Booklist praised for its emphasis on “the importance of family, whether it’s the one you’re born into, the one you find yourself in, or the one you create for yourself.” If you haven’t checked out The Changelings and its sequel, In a Dark Land, hurry up already! But first read the interview below and get excited about what Christina’s got coming next!

~ Jarrett

. . .

First of all, Christina, thanks so much for choosing the MG Book Village to host your cover reveal! We’re thrilled to have you here! But before we reveal the cover, could you tell us a bit about DIARY OF AN ICE PRINCESS?

Princess Lina is a Windtamer, which means she has the magical ability to control the wind and weather – at least she’s supposed to. Somehow Lina’s magic always ends up a snowy, icy mess. Her grandfather (The North Wind) wants her to practice with him, but Lina just wants to be normal. That means going to school on the ground.

Lina convinces her parents to let her go to Hilltop Science Academy on the condition that she keeps her magic a secret. That means no frozen water fountains. No snowball fights at recess. No icicles in the classroom. No problem! Lina just has to stay cool – ack! Not cool. Warm. That’s it. Warm. She just has to keep everything warm and under control…

Did you participate in the cover design process at all?

Yes, I did! The main character of the series, Lina, is mixed race Asian American and it was really important to all of us involved in the book to get her just right. My editor asked me to put together some character samples and notes, not just for Lina but for her entire family. That was really fun! It felt like I was involved in casting a movie. But the overall design, with the clouds and the palace in the background, all came from the design team. I had no idea what Lina was going to look like, or what style she would be rendered in until my editor sent the first image.

Okay, let’s take a look at the cover…


I love it! It’s getting me excited for winter and snow (but not the shoveling of the snow…). What was YOUR reaction to seeing the cover for the first time?

A gasp of delight at seeing Lina! I thought the artist, Barbara Szepesi Szucs, did an absolutely perfect job with capturing her personality. And it meant so much to me to see a character of Asian descent on the cover of a book – a magical princess book, no less! When I was growing up, I never found books with characters that looked like me on the covers unless it was a folktale. I do love folktales, and I do think books that address serious topics around Asian identity and history are important. But I also want the world to have books with Asian leads that are just pure, unabashed fun. That made this cover all the more meaningful for me.

So you loved the whole cover right away, without any reservations?

Ok, I do have to confess that one of my first reactions was…wow, that’s a lot of pink! I’m not a pink person! And here we’ve got pink font, pink spine, pink clouds. But then of course I realized that the pink thing was just my personal hang-up. The color and the aesthetic are perfect for this story. Lina and her best friend, Claudia, both have a love for science and math that plays into book’s plot. I am a big supporter of making STEM accessible for all children, including pink-adoring, tutu-wearing, princess-loving girls and boys. So I am a total pink convert now!

Plus, there’s a dog!

That would be Gusty! He was a late addition who has become one of my favorite characters. And wait until you see Book 2. He’s wearing a snow hat. The adorable factor is out of control.

I can’t wait to see it! And I can’t wait to read Snow Place Like Home! When can readers get their hands on the book?

June 25, 2019!

Soontornvat_24Sep15_Cathlin McCullough Photography.jpg

Christina Soontornvat grew up behind the counter of her parents’ Thai restaurant reading stories. These days she loves to make up her own, especially if they involve magic. Christina also loves science and worked in a science museum for years before pursuing her dream of being an author. She still enjoys cooking up science experiments at home with her two daughters. She is the author of THE CHANGELINGS series, as well as several forthcoming picture books and novels for young readers. You can learn more about Christina and her books on her website at