Interview: Kara LaReau

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Today I’m excited to welcome Kara LaReau to the MG Book Village! She’s here to discuss her latest book, Project Fluffy, which just hit shelves yesterday. Project Fluffy is the third installment of her The Infamous Ratsos series — one of my personal favorites.

One of the things that regularly amazes me about Kara’s work is her ability to simultaneously write on multiple levels. The Ratsos books are always interesting and entertaining — if not flat-out hilarious — but they also deftly tackle all kinds of thorny topics and big ideas. (Her other chapter book series, The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters, is similar in all of these ways.)

The Ratsos books occupy that murky territory between picture books and solidly Middle Grade novels. But these books are wonderful for Middle Grade readers. Hooked by the excellent storytelling and intrigued by the cleverly broached themes, striving readers won’t be able to put the books down until the very end — at which point they will have gained a great deal of reading confidence. And these books would be excellent choices for read-alouds in any grade. They wouldn’t take up a tremendous amount of class time, yet could be used to kickstart some seriously productive discussions, and could also be used to teach craft.

I hope you enjoy the interview below — and then hurry out to get your hands on Project Fluffy!

~ Jarrett

. . .

First of all, Kara, thanks for stopping by the MG Book Village to celebrate the release of the latest book in the Infamous Ratsos series! Before we get to the book, do you care to tell our readers what you’ve been up to since you last visited us?  

Thank you so much for having me! I’ve had quite a bit going on over the past few months. I’ve written the fourth and fifth Infamous Ratsos adventures, the third and final (??) Bland Sisters adventure, and the first story in a new (secret, for now!) chapter book series. I’m working on the second story in that series right now, and I have a new picture book in the works, illustrated by this year’s Caldecott winner, Matthew Cordell!

Wow! You’ve been busy! Okay, onto the new book. Can you tell us a little about Project Fluffy?

Project Fluffy is basically Cyrano de Bergerac for the elementary school set. It turns out that the most popular kid in school, Chuck Wood, has a bit of a crush on Louie and Ralphie’s friend, Fluffy. Chuck wants Louie to help him get Fluffy’s attention; unfortunately, Louie has some pretty flawed ideas about how to do that. At the same time, Ralphie’s jealous that Louie is spending all his time with Chuck.

The Infamous Ratsos books are entertaining, funny, and relatable, but in them, you also very deftly address some “bigger” topics and ideas, in particular ones about boys, men, and “masculinity.” Can you talk at all about this element of the books?

Of course. While the main goal in my writing is always to entertain, I’m hoping these stories also encourage further thought and discussion. Each of the Infamous Ratsos books portrays and subverts a different aspect of toxic masculinity: the first is about the façade of male toughness; the second, The Infamous Ratsos Are Not Afraid, is about admitting fears and different definitions of bravery; Project Fluffy is about personal connection and empathy, and female objectification.

Here at the Village, we’ve been trying to give our readers more behind-the-scenes peeks at the book-making process. The Infamous Ratsos is thoroughly (and wonderfully!) illustrated by Matt Myers. Could you tell us a bit about working with Matt?

Matt and I are friends, but we actually don’t work closely together on the Infamous Ratsos; I work with my editor at Candlewick and he works with his designer there, and that editor and designer work together, but Matt and I don’t usually connect until after the book is finished. However, since I now know Matt (and his sense of humor!) pretty well, I find myself writing to his sensibility. In the manuscript I sent to my editor for Project Fluffy, I put in several art notes where I specifically said, “I bet Matt will have a field day illustrating this!” And he absolutely did.

What do you hope your readers will take away from Project Fluffy, and the Infamous Ratsos series in general?

Louie and Ralphie make a lot of mistakes, but they’re always willing to learn from them. I think that’s the most any of us can do in life. I hope my readers feel encouraged to keep trying to be their best, most authentic selves. And of course, I hope they have as much fun reading these books as I have writing them!

Many of our site’s readers are educators. Is there anything you’d like to say to them about the Ratsos – in particular those planning to add Project Fluffy to their classroom libraries?

First off, I’d like to say THANK YOU FOR DOING WHAT YOU DO!!! Knowing that you’re all out there sharing your love of books and reading and learning gives me hope for the world.

With regard to The Infamous Ratsos, I hope these books find their way to kids who might be ready to try reading something a bit more challenging than picture books, but who aren’t quite ready for middle grade. And as I’ve mentioned, I hope these are fun, entertaining reads, but I hope they might encourage further discussion. Candlewick has put together some terrific reading guides that might help to get the conversation started; here are links to those guides for The Infamous Ratsos, The Infamous Ratsos Are Not Afraid, and Project Fluffy.

Now, please tell me this isn’t the last we’ll be seeing of Louie and Ralphie…

Not by a long shot! As I’ve mentioned, I just finished the fourth and fifth books in the series, and a sixth is on the way!

Hooray!!!

IMG_1531.JPGKara LaReau was born and raised in Connecticut. She received her Masters in Fine Arts in Writing, Literature, and Publishing from Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts and later worked as an editor at Candlewick Press and at Scholastic Press. She is the author of picture books such as UGLY FISH, illustrated by Scott Magoon, and GOOD NIGHT LITTLE MONSTERS, illustrated by Brian Won; an award-winning chapter book series called The Infamous Ratsos, illustrated by Matt Myers; and a middle-grade trilogy called The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters, illustrated by Jen Hill. Kara lives in Providence, Rhode Island with her husband and son and their cat.

Collaboration Celebration: The Lowdown on Co-Writing & a Big-Time Giveaway — co-written by Laurie Morrison and Cordelia Jensen

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Our co-written middle grade novel, Every Shiny Thing, came out six months ago, and since its release, we’ve gotten lots of questions about why and how we wrote together. We wondered how other writing duos would answer these questions and how their co-writing processes are similar to and different from our own. So we connected with four other co-author pairs who had some fascinating things to say. Read on to find out all the wisdom they shared for writers wanting to collaborate and teachers assigning co-writing projects. And don’t miss the details at the end about a special eight-book giveaway!

INSPIRATION

The most common question any writer gets is, “Where do you get your ideas?” That question becomes more complicated for co-written books because there’s the added question of who got the idea.

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Some co-authors hit upon their idea together when they find a shared interest. That’s what happened for Brad McLelland and Louis Sylvester, authors of the Legends of the Lost Causes series. Brad and Louis were in grad school together and discovered a shared passion for the Western genre. They became excited about the idea of writing a Wild West adventure for kidsthe kind of series they would have wanted to read when they were growing up.

Other times, one person has the initial inspiration and approaches the other. That’s how it worked for us with Every Shiny Thing; we were friends and critique partners, and Cordelia wanted to write a story about a girl who has always taken care of her mom and falls into similar caretaking patterns with a new friend. She thought this story would be richer if it included each friend’s point of view and asked Laurie to take on the friend’s perspective.

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Kristine Asselin and Jen Malone, authors of The Art of the Swap, had been friends for several years before they carpooled to a conference and discussed potential projects on the drive. Kris described one idea she hada middle grade novel set in a Newport mansionand together, they ran with it. By the end of the weekend, they had “the expanded concept for a time traveling body swap story set in Newport.”

Meanwhile, Laura Shovan had worked with Saadia Faruqi a bit through the PitchWars author mentoring program and asked Saadia to partner with her on a book. Laura explained, “I wanted to write about the challenges and joys of growing up bicultural and first-generation American. But I realized that there were areas of the first-generation experience I couldn’t address because my mother came to the U.S. from England.” Laura knew Saadia was a recent U.S. citizen raising first-generation American children, and Saadia agreed to collaborate on their forthcoming novel, A Place at the Table, which is due out in 2020 and features Pakistani-American Sara and half-British, half-Jewish Elizabeth. Laura feels that working together has helped them both “see the first-generation experience through a broader lens.”

LOGISTICS

No matter whereor whothe initial idea comes from, co-authors then need to figure out how they will write together. The logistics to consider include whether they will each take one character’s point of view or work jointly on the whole narrative and how much planning they will do.

Naomis too.jpgMost of us opted to craft a dual-perspective book with each person writing one character’s perspective. That was the case for us with Every Shiny Thing, and it was also true for Kris and Jen, Saadia and Laura, and Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich and Audrey Vernick, who collaborated on Two Naomis and Naomis Too, novels about two girls named Naomi whose divorced parents get together.

For Every Shiny Thing, we did some loose plotting but then largely improvised, writing chapters back and forth in Google Docs until we were more than halfway through the book, when we met up to outline the rest.

Like us, Olugbemisola and Audrey didn’t create detailed outlines before they began. They alternated writing chapters and sometimes gave each other what Olugbemisola described as an “advance preview of what would lie ahead.” Then they got on the phone or Skype to tackle problems that arose—usually with the book’s timeline, they said.

However, Kris and Jen and Saadia and Laura planned their projects much more precisely. Jen and Kris set up a detailed, chapter-by-chapter outline and adjusted the outline as needed. Saadia and Laura also created an outline, but they didn’t stop there; they then set up a chart to figure out which scenes would be in which character’s voice and a table in Google Docs to track what happens in each chapter and which character is narrating.

Brad and Louis took a different approach for their series. Although they do take turns writing chapters, they do not each have an assigned character; they collaborate on one point of view. They set up a working outline, and then they edit each other’s work as they go to ensure their books have one narrative voice throughout. But they also work on Google Docs! This seems to be the most popular forum for co-writing.

CHALLENGES AND BENEFITS

The biggest challenge when co-writing is fitting the project into an author’s busy schedule. In addition, challenges can arise because of the way the authors’ writing styles or working patterns fit together, but these challenges often lead to benefits, too.

In some instances, writing styles might be very similar, and that can present a challenge. Audrey and Olugbemisola said, “If we were allowed to, our books would be all about two girls sitting in bakeries and talking and NOTHING ELSE. So coming up with and trying to execute a plot was definitely the biggest challenge.”

Other times, authors have different working styles. Saadia feels that working with Laura has taught her “so much about different ways of working.” She told us, “For me, working with another person is challenging anytime, because I have a controlling personality. It was a challenge to get used to Laura’s writing habits, ranging from her multiple drafts to her timeline for completing chapters. When I am working on a novel by myself, I power through without breaks for days on end, and I edit as I go along. For this project though, the pace and intensity of my work had to evolve.”

Saadia’s pacing slowed down, but others of us sped up the pace of our work. Kris said, “I was a lot more diligent about my writing, knowing Jen was counting on me to get my part done when I was supposed to!”

Similarly, the first draft of Every Shiny Thing was the quickest thing we ever wrote, and we found that our different writing styles occasionally posed problems but ultimately enriched our work. Cordelia is more of a big picture thinker and Laurie is more detail-oriented. These different approaches can occasionally lead to challenges, but overall we end up stretching each other and learning from each other as we collaborate.

ADVICE FOR WRITERS

It can be smart to set some non-negotiable priorities before you begin co-writing. For Kris and Jen, their friendship came first. Jen explained, “The single best thing we did at the outset, in my opinion, was take a literal vow to one another that we wouldn’t let the co-authoring experience mess with our friendship. That took priority over all.”

Saadia and Laura set some “non-negotiable items” for their point of view characters. They each made it clear upfront that there were certain things about their characters that they would not be willing to change.

It’s also important to “set aside your ego,” as Brad and Louis put it, and to be flexible. “You’ll want to be open to new, strange ideas,” Brad and Louis advise. “Your partner might make suggestions that at first seem odd . . . but if you’re open and consider your partner’s inspiration, you’ll find sometimes the strange idea on the table can actually take the story in an exciting new direction, leaving you with a tale you could’ve never created on your own.”

Similarly, Audrey and Olugbemisola advise co-writers to “be open to working in ways you haven’t worked before” and to “take the story, but not yourself, very seriously.”

It is also essential for co-writers to communicate honestly. Conflicts will invariably arise, and having committed to a project together means working through them; as Kris said, “Being honest with each other and communicating was paramount to the process!”

ADVICE FOR TEACHERS

It’s challenging to structure effective collaborative projects in the classroom, and there are kids who get stressed out by the idea of writing together. But we think co-writing assignments can be very valuable.

Jen described one great reason for assigning this kind of work: “As much as I’ve heard the groans over group project assignments, I’m a big fan of co-writing ones because I think it’s really important for students to know there are so many different approaches to writing (and to having a writing/storytelling career, if that’s something of interest to any of them) and the majority of those approaches are not ‘sit alone at a computer and write a novel.’” She pointed out how many careers involve many creative people working together to develop stories.

Jen advises that teachers keep co-writing assignments very structured at first. She suggests having students collaborate on a play, which is mostly dialogue; they can outline it together and then each write the dialogue for one specific character.

Teachers can also set students up for success by pairing them up based on the topics they want to write about. As Laura pointed out, “When studentsor adultshave a common interest or experience, that supports collaborative writing.”

Audrey suggests that teachers should “encourage students to identify and take advantage of each person’s strength”good advice for any group work.

Oh, and she has one other excellent piece of wisdom to share: “And when possible, reward yourselves with freshly baked treats.” That’s good advice for any circumstances, we think!

THE GIVEAWAY

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We hope you’ve enjoyed learning about how five writing duos collaborate, and we’re excited to offer an *EIGHT BOOK!* collaboration celebration giveaway! One randomly selected winner will receive a signed copy of our book, Every Shiny Thing, as well as four other co-written books and three solo books by the generous authors who worked with us on this article.

To enter, post on Twitter or Instagram about any co-authored book you love and why you love it by Friday, October 26th and tag your post with #CollaborationCelebration so we’ll see your entry.

You can choose a book that’s featured in this piece or any other co-authored book, MG or not. US only, multiple entries are fine. Tweet or DM @LaurieLMorrison with questions.

3 New Paranormal Releases & A Conversation w/ Pablo Cartaya: Books Between, Episode 61

Episode Outline:

Listen to the episode here!

Intro

Hello everyone! Welcome to Books Between – a podcast for teachers, librarians, parents, and anyone who loves middle grade books!

I believe in the power of stories to change our mood – make us laugh, cry, or… creep us out in the best possible way!  My goal is to help you connect kids with those fabulous books and share inspiring conversations with the authors and educators who make that magic happen.

I am your host, Corrina Allen – a mom of a 9 and 11 year old, a 5th grade teacher in Central New York, and spending a few hours each week phone banking!   

This is episode #61 and today I’m booktalking three recent paranormal reads that will get you and your kids in the perfect fall mood, and sharing a conversation with Pablo Cartaya about his latest novel, Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish!

Before we jump into things, a few updates:

The Middle Grade at Heart Book Club pick for October is The Three Rules of Everyday Magic by Amanda Rawson Hill and The Hotel Between by Sean Easley is the November pick. And – I just got sneak peek at the first four MG at Heart picks for 2019 and they’re fantastic. In fact, one of the authors, was recently featured on the show.

Also remember to check out #MGBooktober to check out all the great discussions around middle grade and connect with other educators, librarians, authors, and fans.

And remember that Monday nights at 9pm EST is the #MGBookChat Twitter chat!  This month some of the topics are: Building Vocabulary with Middle Grade Books, and Taboo Roll Call: Does anything go in Middle Grade now?  We always have a great time a leave with tons of suggestions for the kids in our lives. And…of course, ourselves!

Book Talk – 3 New Paranormal Releases

This week I am sharing with you three new paranormal releases that are perfect for the fall – or anytime, really! They are Edison Beaker Creature Seeker by Frank Cammuso, Sheets by Brenna Thummler, and Small Spaces by Katherine Arden.

Edison Beaker Creature Seeker

Let’s start with Edison Beaker Creature Seeker. This full-color graphic novel is the first in a new series by Frank Cammuso – author of The Knights of the Lunch Table series and 9780425291924the Misadventures of Salem Hyde series.  This book is about a young boy named Edison who has always been afraid of the dark. When his mom has to go out of town, Edison and his little sister, Tesla, go to stay with their Uncle Earl. Uncle Earl is an exterminator and he reluctantly takes the kids on a late-night “emergency” job where they end up going through a door to a shadowy other-worldly place where Edison has to confront his fears and lots of bizarre creatures!  Here are three things to love about Edison Beaker Creature Seeker:

  1. Tesla’s hamster, Scuttlebutt! He is so stinking cute!! And gets into so much trouble – or rather, gets everyone else into trouble when he rolls away in his ball into the darkest, most dangerous corners.
  2. How FUNNY this book is!  I was at the park with my daughters when I finished it last week, and I just could NOT help laughing out loud – even though I knew I was getting weird looks. The word play, especially, is so much fun. Already the names Edison and Tesla are awesome – but another example, the portal to the other realm is through the Night Door which is found in an old building called the Wherehouse. And so the creatures call their underworld – the UnderWhere. And as you can imagine – the conversations around that are THE BEST.
  3. This intriguing little creature called Knox who is this fierce, cute little purple scavenger with a blue mohawk. I. LOVE. HER. She’s complicated and tough and vulnerable – and clearly has a much bigger part to play in future books.

Edison Beaker Creature Seeker is a fantastic graphic novel that you will definitely want to add to your collection. It’s sort of like a mix between HiLo and Amulet. So if you have kids who loved those two series, this is one to introduce them to next.

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Sheets

Next up this week is another graphic novel – Sheets by Brenna Thummler. This story is about 13 year-old Marjorie who is responsible for running her family’s laundromat. She 51rVAwnO8xL._SX352_BO1,204,203,200_has a lot going on – dealing with her father’s depression, taking care of her little brother, middle school drama – and the horrid Mr. Saubertuck who is trying to close down the family business. And then, in floats Wendell – a ghost (sheet and all) who accidentally ends up in Marjorie’s laundromat and creates his own complications.  Here are three things to love about Sheets:

  1. The ghosts! Even though they all wear a sheet, they each have their own personalities – some wearing hats, or glasses.
  2. The parts about the laundromat business. I love stories that get you behind the scenes of how things run.
  3. Brenna Thummler’s illustrations!  Such a gorgeous color palette in shades of blue, pink, and green. I love her backgrounds – the buildings, all the little details of the interiors, and especially her trees!  I noticed this in her illustrations for Anne of Green Gables, too – Brenna’s trees and leaves are stunning.

Sheets is a great suggestion for kids who might be looking for a realistic fiction graphic novel with a twist of paranormal that it’s too scary.

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Small Spaces

And finally – a new middle grade novel you NEED to get your hands on – Small Spaces by Katherine Arden. It’s about a young girl named Ollie whose mother died under tragic91StTYa-U4L circumstances last year, and understandably – Ollie is withdrawn and raw.  She ends up with this creepy book that tells the legend of two local brothers who come under the influence of The Smiling Man – with horrific results. When Ollie takes a field trip to a nearby farm, she and her friends Coco and Brian end up in an other-wordly fight to survive the lure of those mysterious forces. I love what Betsy Bird said about this book: “Are you afraid of scarecrows? No? Well, bad news bucko. You’re about to be.” And oh is she right!!  Here are three things to love about Small Spaces:

  1. It’s so immersive and atmospheric!  I loved Arden’s lush descriptions of a gorgeous sunny autumn in Vermont that slowly turns dark and foreboding – scarlet sugar maples, the silvery gleam of the distant creek, and then fog descending over a broken-down bus.
  2. It is straight up terrifying! And the pacing is perfect – taking the tension up a notch bit by bit.  Small things, then bigger and bigger. A thrown rock. A frightened woman at the watering hole. A mysterious book from 1895. The weird, bad story about the schoolhouse fire. And that’s only the first quarter of the book!!  
  3. That twist at the END!!! Ahhh! It is SUCH a pleasure when a book truly surprises you!

If you have kids who like scary – kids who liked Stranger Things. Kids who liked The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street. This is the book to hand them next.

Pablo Cartaya – Interview Outline

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Our special guest this week is Pablo Cartaya – author of The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora and his most recent middle grade novel – Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish. We talk about the people of Puerto Rico and their strength, we discuss why he included a character with Down’s Syndrome and the efforts he made to get that portrayal right, and we also chat about the proper storage of peanut butter – among lots of other things. And don’t forget that when you are done reading the book and you want to hear Pablo and I discuss the ending of Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish, just wait until the end of the show after the credits and that bonus section will be waiting for you.

Take a listen…

Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish

Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish is your second middle grade and has been getting all kinds of great buzz online!

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 reasons I loved this book so much was that I felt like I was traveling through Puerto Rico right along with Marcus!

Can you talk a little bit about your research?pablo-cartaya

There is a fair amount of the novel that is in Spanish (a language I don’t speak) and yet somehow I never felt lost in the story.

What was your process like for deciding how much Spanish to include and where it would go?

In the novel, Marcus’ younger brother, Charlie, has Down Syndrome.  What made you decide to include a character with Down Syndrome and how did you make sure to get that representation as authentic as possible?

In your acknowledgments,  you thank your father for teaching you how to cook. What are some of your favorite things to make?

Where do YOU store your peanut butter?

**BONUS SPOILER SECTION: Pablo 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 59:50 mark.

Your Writing Life

I noticed that your first book was a picture book!

What lead you down the path of writing middle grade?

Do you think you’d ever write another picture book?

What are you working on now?

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 person who helped launch your reading life as a child? And if so, what did they do that made such a difference?

What were some of your most influential reads as a child?

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

Links:

Pablo’s website – http://www.pablocartaya.com

Pablo on Twitter and Instagram

Information about Kokila Imprint

 

Books & Authors We Chatted About:

Journey to the Center of the Earth (Jules Verne)

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (Jules Verne)

Roald Dahl

Things Fall Apart (Chinua Achebe)

The Color Purple (Alice Walker)

Sounder (William H. Armstrong)

The Poet X (Elizabeth Acevedo)

Stella Diaz Has Something to Say (Angela Dominguez)

Amal Unbound (Aisha Saeed)

Me, Frida, and the Secret of the Peacock Ring (Angela Cervantes)

Closing

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!

CorrinaAllen

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.

 

SaveSaveSaveSave

An Open Letter-Orb from Peasprout Chen Denouncing Reveals of Book Covers and Song

COVER_REVEAL

Venerable and Sagacious Readers of Pearl Shining Sun News,

I am Chen Peasprout, second year student at Pearl Famous Academy of Skate and Sword, former Peony Level Brightstar, and future legend of skate and sword.

I am infuriated to death by this newspaper’s reveal of the covers of the books written about me by some author named Lien Henry. I have not read these books entitled PEASPROUT CHEN, FUTURE LEGEND OF SKATE AND SWORD and the new sequel PEASPROUT CHEN: BATTLE OF CHAMPIONS. However, I do not need to read them to know that they are worthless and less than trash, as well as being dull and completely without qualities.

This Lien Henry claims to recount the true story of my first two years at Pearl Famous, as if some old man with a head as bald as Turtleback Mountain could appreciate the bitter sacrifices that I went through in my first year mastering the beautiful but deadly art of martial skating. It is impossible to imagine him adequately portraying the wrenching choices I have to make in my second year as I form a battleband to protect my new home of Pearl from invasion by my original homeland of Shin. I have challenged this Lien Henry to single combat but he hid behind his army of litigation masters like a flea diving into tiger fur. My rage explodes like ten thousand volcanos when I think of a single person ever seeing the covers of his miserable books ever again.

[Editors’ Note — The covers of the books are reproduced again below for our readers, compliments of Pearl Shining Sun News.]

I have submitted to the editors of Pearl Shining Sun News my list of complaints about the covers, which they promised to include here in its entirety.

[Editors’ Note — The list has been omitted in its entirety.]

I beg you to direct your attention to some of these most outrageous of injustices in the list.

Complaint Number 82 — I believe that the first cover depicts me finishing a third-gate, East-directional slashing crane leap but I’m portrayed as completing the move with two feet rather than one. As if someone who was Wu Liu Champion for all of Shui Shan Province five times before the age of ten would ever need two feet to land. I am not a duck. Ten thousand years of stomach gas!

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Art by Afu Chan

Complaint Number 527 — The second cover depicts me completing a fifth-gate phoenix prancing across the Eight Jade Seas triple jump, which is a move I have done flawlessly since before I even learned to crawl, but where is the apple in my cheeks? I am portrayed as having wholly apple-less cheeks. Make me drink sand to death!

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Art by Afu Chan

I also denounce Pearl Shining Sun News’ dissemination of the letter-orb containing the recording of “The Pearlian Battlesong” by my battleband. That recording was never meant to be made public. It refers to the name of my battleband as “Nobody and the Fire-Chickens”. That name is just the temporary result of an administrative misunderstanding, about which I have protested to the senseis of Pearl Famous and over which my ultimate victory is more certain than anything under Heaven. I thank the editors of Pearl Shining Sun News for promising not to further disseminate the song.

[Editors’ Note — A letter-orb containing the recording of the song is attached again hereto for our readers, compliments of Pearl Shining Sun News, this time with the lyrics.]

THE PEARLIAN BATTLESONG

Sisters of the skate,
Brothers of the blade,
Come and lend your hands and stand up for your motherland.
Answer the command,
Come and join our band!”

Chorus
Come and join, come and join our band!
Come and join, come and join our band!
Come and join, come and join our band!
Come and join our band!”

Come to summon some
Of what you would become.
Come to understand the grandeur of the greater plan.
Answer the command,
Come and join our band!”

Chorus

Give a cheer to Hisashi for a pipa well-played.
Over there, we’ve got Yinmei riding on the drumblade.
Doi is playing erhu like the Empress of Heaven.
With Peasprout dominating the magnetic shamisen.
As for me, you may call me Crick
And we are Nobody and the Fire-Chickens!”

No one can deny
Someday we will die!
How we live and what we give will be determinative!
How we live and what we give will be determinative!
How we live and what we give will be determinative!
Answer the command,
Come and join our band!

Pearl Shining Sun News and I have not always been the best of friends. However, my heart is filled with a thousand strains of peace knowing that the editors will at last allow my whole story to be told and stop smearing my face with disgusting and vomit-scented lies.

I thank the benevolent readers for buying this issue of Pearl Shining Sun News to finally get the whole story. 

Your humble and grateful servant,

Chen Peasprout

Screen Shot 2018-10-08 at 5.28.27 PM.pngHenry Lien is a 2012 graduate of Clarion West. His short fiction has appeared in publications like Asimov’s, earning multiple Nebula Award nominations. He is the author of the Peasprout Chen series, on which he was mentored by George R.R. Martin, Chuck Palahniuk, and Kelly Link. Born in Taiwan, Henry currently lives in Hollywood. Henry has worked as an attorney, fine art dealer, and college instructor. Hobbies include pets, vegan cooking, writing and performing campy science fiction/fantasy anthems, and losing Nebula awards.

www.henrylien.com/peasproutchen

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For more about artist Afu Chan, visit: www.afuchan.com

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

The Middle Grade at Heart book for October is…

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THE THREE RULES OF EVERYDAY MAGIC, by Amanda Rawson Hill!

Magic doesn’t work the way you think it will, but it’s what Kate needs as she confronts friendship trouble, her parents’ divorce, and Grammy’s dementia in this lyrical middle-grade coming-of-age novel for fans of Half a Chance and The Same Stuff as Stars.

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.

“Narrated in Kate’s quiet first-person voice, the book is the book is divided into three parts, one for each rule… (r)eading cultivates empathy. This should do the trick.” – Kirkus Reviews

“While familiar unions are falling apart, other surprising connections are blossoming. As Kate struggles to untangle the truth and find her power, she discovers new friendships and the enduring love of her family. The theme of loss is heartrending, the story line fast-paced and compelling. A fine addition to middle grade collections in need of character-driven family stories.”– School Library Journal

The newsletter goes out October 29.

The #MGBookClub Twitter chat will be November 6.

Happy reading!

 

Three Questions for Fred Koehler

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Best known as a creator of picture books, author and illustrator Fred Koehler is celebrating the publication of GARBAGE ISLAND, his first middle-grade book and the debut title in The Nearly Always Perilous Adventures of Archibald Shrew series.  In GARBAGE ISLAND, Fred creates an adventure story about a society of animals who live in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.  The book has received rave reviews:

“This adventurous tale is packed with action, examples of creative thinking, and ingenuity. Use this as an introduction to STEM thinking, a science fair project, a lesson on ecology, or simply read it for the enjoyment the story provides. This book will appeal to the adventure seeker, animal lover, explorer, and just about everyone else. A must-read for readers ready to strap in for a great ride!” – School Library Connection, starred review

“Exciting, fast-paced adventure and unexpected friendship in a “trashy” venue.” –Kirkus Reviews

“(With) fast-paced action and danger… this entertaining animal adventure stands out… because of its strong characters and an underlying message of environmental awareness.”–School Library Journal

The Middle Grade Book Village team had some interesting questions for Fred… and his fascinating answers are below!

From Kathie: “If you could magically turn into any MG character, who would it be and why?”

Oh wow! Any one I want? This is fun… In my middle school mind, I set sail with the Voyage of the Dawn Treader along Prince Caspian, Reepicheep, and the Pevensies in search of lost Narnian Lords. Of all of those characters, it was Reepicheep the mouse who I admired most. His sense of courage, honor, and dignity were so refreshing then, and perhaps even more relevant today. When the voyage reached the end of the known world and the Dawn Treader could go no farther, it was Reepicheep who got in his little coracle (much like the kayak I paddle around Tampa Bay), and, well, perhaps best to let him tell it.

“My own plans are made. While I can, I sail east in the Dawn Treader. When she fails me, I paddle east in my coracle. When she sinks, I shall swim east with my four paws. And when I can swim no longer, if I have not reached Aslan’s country, or shot over the edge of the world into some vast cataract, I shall sink with my nose to the sunrise.”  ~Reepicheep

From Jarrett: “What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten and did you enjoy it?”

Boy howdy did you ask that question to the right person. After college, I served in the US Peace Corps in Togo, West Africa. For 26 months, I lived in a farming village, pulled water from a well, washed my clothes by hand, etc. The food in West Africa was incredible! (And weird.) The things I can publicly admit to eating include bush rat (agouti), monitor lizard, fish heads, antelope, and far more parts of a cow than are typically sold at an American grocery store. The weirdest of all was most definitely cow brain. Yum!!!

From Corrina: If you had to live in the world of any board game or video game, which one would you choose?

Okay, first let’s talk board game vs. video game — two totally different universes!  I grew up on video games, spending countless hours in the levels of Super Mario, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Kirby’s Dreamland. But now, with my own kids, we geek out on board games like Machi Koro, Pandemic, and Clue! And with Clue! releasing a Harry Potter edition, this question becomes an easy decision. If anybody needs me, I’ll be at Hogwarts solving a mystery! (Pretty sure it was Hermione in the Forbidden Forest with the Elder Wand.)

Thanks again for bringing me ’round your blog! It’s always such a great pleasure to meet fellow artists and book lovers. May our paths cross often!

Screen Shot 2018-10-09 at 9.57.38 PM.pngFred Koehler is an artist and storyteller whose real-life misadventures include sunken boats, covert border crossings, and fighting off robbers in the dead of night. Whether free diving in the Gulf of Mexico or backpacking across Africa, Fred’s sense of adventure and awe of nature overflow into his characters’ stories. Between book projects, Fred also runs a highly-sought after design studio, helping brands across the US tell their own stories. Fred is passionate about encouraging young artists, promoting social justice, and conserving our environment. He lives in Florida with his wife, kids, and a rescue dog named Cheerio Mutt-Face McChubbybutt.

Don’t miss the rest of Fred’s GARBAGE ISLAND blog tour! See below for his schedule!

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Interview: Jacqueline West

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If I had to choose one word to describe Jacqueline West’s The Collectors, it would be “spellbinding.” From the very first page — scratch that: from the very first sentence — the story gets its hooks in you, and tugs you along until the very end. Yet I found myself fighting that tug almost constantly. Because as much as I wanted to rush along to find out what happened next and make sure the characters I came to care so much about were okay, I wanted to linger, to relish each exquisite sentence, every artfully chosen word, and to prolong my stay in the wonderful, magical world Jacqueline has created. Just like the worlds in all the best fantasies, the world of The Collectors both is and isn’t our own. But a trip to that world does what every great book does — it leaves us more appreciative of, curious about, and tuned into the everyday (yet often unnoticed) magic surrounding us.

It was an honor and a pleasure to get to ask Jacqueline some questions about herself, her new book, her process, and more. Check out the interview below, and then go get your hands on a copy of The Collectors — it is not a book you want to miss.

~ Jarrett

. . .

First off, Jacqueline, thank you for stopping by the MG Book Village to celebrate The Collectors and to chat a bit. Before we get to the new book, would you care to introduce yourself to our readers?

Hi! I’m Jacqueline, and I’m a writer (and reader and parent and former teacher and obsessive cookie-froster). I write everything from poetry and plays for adults to novels for young readers. My middle grade series The Books of Elsewhere began in 2010 and concluded in 2014, and now I’m about to release The Collectors. It’s my first middle grade book in four years, so I’m more than a little excited. 

You write both Middle Grade and Young Adult fiction. How early on in your process do you know which category a story idea will fit into? Do you think about it all before or while writing?

I tend not to think about categories until I’m pretty deep into a first draft. (The more I think about what kind of slot a book will fit into, the more I worry that it won’t fit anywhere at all.) Also, I’ve found that the age of my protagonist tends to choose my category for me. An eleven-year-old main character will see and experience the world very differently from an eighteen-year-old – so once I know my main character and understand him/her, that character will determine a lot of the content of the book, whether it’s MG, YA, or something else entirely.

Is there anything about the Middle Grade age range that you especially enjoy or appreciate?

There’s just something about the middle grade age range that means magic. MG readers and MG protagonists live in the borderland between childhood and adolescence, where there are a zillion chances for discovery, a zillion doors to open. They’re able go off on adventures on their own, and make choices on their own, and read entire books on their own; they’re stepping into the real world for the first time, but they’re still able to believe in fantastical, imaginary worlds too. They’re at the age where everything is possible. I’m not saying I’d choose it for myself, but I totally understand why Peter Pan decided to stay twelve years old forever.

Now, let’s get to the new book – The Collectors. Can you tell us a little about it?

Absolutely!

The Collectors is about an eleven-year-old boy named Giovanni—although nobody calls him that except for his opera-singing mother. Everybody else calls him Van, if they bother to speak to him at all. Due to his mother’s work, Van has traveled all over the world, never staying in one place for long, never making close friends or becoming part of any groups. Van is also hard-of-hearing. These things have made him an isolated, imaginative, extremely perceptive kid. His favorite hobby is collecting the tiny objects that he finds on the ground in the places that he and his mother visit—things that nobody else even bothers to notice.

One day, when he’s alone in a park in a big city, searching for miniature treasures, Van sees something that he’s not supposed to be able to see… and someone else notices that he’s seen it. And then Van’s life starts to get extremely dangerous.

Van is about to encounter magical and monstrous creatures, underground worlds, allies and enemies, strange collections, and wishes that actually come true. Ooh—and one easily distracted talking squirrel. 

What compelled you to write a book about wishes and wish-making?

Most of my very favorite stories involve magical, impossible things that happen within the real world. I’m also a bit obsessed with superstitions. (When I started writing The Collectors, I was already at work on a collection of superstition-based poems, so I’d been researching and daydreaming and making notes about them for years.) Superstitions are everyday, real-world magic. They’re a magic so ordinary that it goes unnoticed—which gives them a sneaky kind of power.

I’d guess most people, or at least most grownups, don’t truly believe in magic. But we still worry about seven years of bad luck when we break a mirror. We won’t walk underneath a ladder. We’re excited when we find a four-leaf clover. And wish-making superstitions are some of the most common and most overlooked superstitions of all. I mean, who doesn’t make a wish when they blow out their birthday candles? Who hasn’t made a wish on a star, just in case it might come true?

What we don’t think about is: Who is granting these wishes? What magic forces are at work here? Who decides which wishes will come true? I wanted to chase after these questions and see where they led me. I wanted to write about a real world that is filled with unseen, beautiful, dangerous magic. Because I hope it is. 

A big theme of the book is noticing, as well as what you might call the unnoticed – the people, places, creatures, and objects that the majority of people pass over without a second though (or even a first!). Do you consider yourself good at noticing the often unnoticed? Do you have to work at it?

Like a lot of writers, I’m a story scavenger. I’m always looking for shiny little things that spark my imagination: an image, a face, a line of dialogue, an emotional memory. It’s a chicken-and-egg situation—I’m not sure if I’m a writer because I’ve always done this, or if I do this because I’m a writer (but it’s probably the former!). In that sense, I think I’m good at noticing the unnoticed, or the under-noticed. For me, crafting stories is a way of paying close attention, and of remembering things that might otherwise slip away.

But I also know that I overlook amazing things all the time. I have a three-year-old son, and he’s constantly spotting things that are completely invisible to me. Look, there’s a bird! I see a button under that chair. My pear looks like a whale! He sees things that I just don’t see—not until he has pointed them out.

The things we’ve seen a thousand times are easy to overlook. But for a small child, everything is new, so everything is worth paying attention to. I try to remind myself to look at the world more like my kiddo does: to look closely, to pay real attention, not just to see the things that I already expected to see. Because Van, the main character in The Collectors, is a child who is on his own so much, and because he relies so strongly on his vision, he’s able to see the world in this sharpened, heightened way. He sees what other people don’t see.

One thing about the book that I was continually (and delightfully) surprised by was your use of humor. Often in the most unexpected moments, there’s a note of lightness, or even silliness. Can you discuss your use of humor in your writing?

Oh, I’m so glad this came through! Growing up, my very favorite books combined fantasy, fear, and humor. I loved books that could both terrify me and make me laugh—things like the Bunnicula series, and The Hobbit, and pretty much everything by Roald Dahl.

As I write, I try to think about the mood and point of each scene. If there’s a moment that needs to be truly dark and heartbreaking, then it’s not a place for some goofy humor. But if there’s a moment of tension where one of my oddball characters would naturally do or say something funny, it can be like this little glint of light in the darkness. The glint doesn’t erase the darkness, it just gives it greater depth. Funny characters make us love them. And then we’ll fear for them even more.

Plus, there’s just nothing better than that thrilling, telling-stories-around-the-campfire feeling of shivering and laughing at the same time.

What do you hope your readers – in particular the young ones – take away from The Collectors?

I hope The Collectors will remind readers to take a closer look at the world all around them. Magic could be hidden anywhere.

I also hope it will remind readers that our differences—the senses we have or don’t have, the physical qualities we were born with or develop, the gifts we use or lack—give each of us our own completely unique lens with which to experience the world. And that makes the world so much richer.

Many of our site’s readers are teachers of Middle Grade-aged kids. Is there anything you’d like to say to them – in particular those planning to add The Collectors to their classroom libraries?

First, thank you for being a teacher. I think it’s the hardest, best, most vital job in the world (although as a fourth-generation teacher myself, I might be just a teeny bit biased).

I was a lucky kid: I grew up in a house full of books, with access to a friendly local library. But I know that for many kids, school is the only place where they encounter books—and it matters so much that some of those books be ones they read just for pleasure, or that they get to choose for themselves. If you have kids in your classroom who like books that combine fantasy and mystery and adventure, or who like scary stories with some humor mixed in, I’d be honored if you would guide them toward THE COLLECTORS.

I also frequently hear from teachers who use my books as classroom read-alouds, which makes me happier than I can express. If you do that, please get in touch and make my day.

Where can readers find more information about you and your work?

You can find me online at http://www.jacquelinewest.com. I keep a (usually) up-to-date appearance calendar and blog there, along with lots of other info. You can contact me through my website, or reach out via Facebook or Goodreads. And if you’d like to see pictures of my dog (and my books and my writing process), you can follow me on Instagram: jacqueline.west.writes.

JacquelineWest2.2017.jpgJacqueline West is the author of the middle grade fantasy The Collectors, the YA novel Dreamers Often Lie, and the NYT-bestselling series The Books of Elsewhere. Her debut, The Shadows (The Books of Elsewhere, Volume One), garnered multiple starred reviews and state award nominations, was named a Publishers Weekly Flying Start, and received the 2010 CYBILS award for fantasy/science fiction. Jacqueline lives amid the bluffs of Red Wing, Minnesota, surrounded by large piles of books and small piles of dog hair.