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


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!

Screen Shot 2018-10-08 at 5.21.57 PM.png
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!

Screen Shot 2018-10-08 at 5.23.00 PM.png
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.]


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!”

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!”


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.

For more about artist Afu Chan, visit:

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…



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

Screen Shot 2018-10-09 at 9.54.49 PM.png

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!

Garbage Island blog tour graphic_REVISED.jpg

Interview: Jacqueline West

The Collectors Cover .JPG

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?


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 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.



I am thrilled to welcome Andrea Pyros to the MG Book Village for the cover reveal of her latest novel…. PINK HAIR AND OTHER TERRIBLE IDEAS!  A big thank you to Andrea for letting us host the reveal and for taking the time to answer a few questions about PINK HAIR AND OTHER TERRIBLE IDEAS.

~ Corrina

Hi Andrea – we’re so excited to welcome you to the MGBookVillage today! Before we reveal your cover, can you tell us a bit about Pink Hair and Other Terrible Ideas?

Thanks for inviting me to chat with you at MGBookVillage!
Pink Hair and Other Terrible Ideas (Capstone, pub. date 2/1/19) is a middle-grade book about a seventh grade girl named Josephine who is dealing with friend stuff and boy stuff and divorced parents stuff and twin brother stuff. In other words, normal life stuff! Then her mother tells her that she’s been diagnosed with breast cancer, and suddenly nothing about Jo’s life feels normal anymore. At all. 

Your novel is set in middle school – what was that time like for you?

Those years are HARD! I still remember being self-conscious about my changing body and feeling so uncomfortable in my own skin. And in sixth grade, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was scared and also embarrassed — I hated thinking people would pity me. It took me a long time to tell even my closest friends about my mom, and in fact, the only reason it came out was because my mom was friends with one of my friend’s parents.

Who is the artist that designed your cover?  And what did you think when you saw the final version?

The Pink Hair and Other Terrible Ideas cover was designed in-house at Capstone by the talented Kay Fraser, using design elements from Shutterstock. I absolutely fell in love with the final art when I first saw it. They’d been playing around with type-only, which looked cute (and is what’s on the ARC), but when Kay pulled together this final illustrated look, it grabbed me. It’s so fresh and modern and fun, and I’m delighted (and very grateful).


Andrea –  I LOVE IT!! Thank you for letting us get a peek at the cover of Pink Hair and Other Terrible Ideas!  When can readers get it, and where is a good place to preorder?

Thanks so much for letting me talk to your readers today, Corrina! Pink Hair and Other Terrible Ideas  comes out Feb. 1, 2019, with pre orders available now on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

 IguZEe6QAndrea Pyros was born and raised in New York City, and she’s still sad that she’s never spent the night in any of the city’s museums. Andrea now lives in New York’s Hudson Valley with her husband and their two children and works as a freelance writer for a variety of publications. She is also the author of MY YEAR OF EPIC ROCK, a middle-grade novel about friends, crushes, and a 7th-grade rock band named The EpiPens. You can find her online at and on Twitter @AndreaPyros.

STEM Tuesday Spin-Off: School Lunch Edition

Today kicks off a new guest blogger addition to the MG Book Village blog, The STEM Tuesday Spin-Off. On a bi-monthly basis, members of the STEM Tuesday group at From the Mixed-Up Files…of Middle Grade Authors will share a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) post that ties middle grade STEM books, resources, and the STEM Tuesday weekly posts to the familiar, everyday things in the life of middle graders.

We’ll look at the things in life we often take for granted. We’ll peek behind the curtain and search underneath the hood for the STEM principles involved and suggest books and/or links to help build an understanding of the world around us. The common, everyday thing will be the hub of the post and the “spin-offs” will be the spokes making up our wheel of discovery. As my STEM Tuesday Craft & Resources cohort, Heather L. Montgomery often says, we’ll “Go deep!” on a common subject and take a look at its inherent STEM components.

For the inaugural post, we will take a closer look at something near and dear (and sometimes feared) by the average 8-14-year-old.

School Lunch!

The Hub: School lunch

Spoke 1: Nutrition & Menu Design

Contrary to popular belief, school lunch just doesn’t happen by accident nor is it a random offering of what foodstuffs are on hand. Believe it or not, even that turkey tetrazzini or the mystery meatloaf is part of school lunch by design. Over the past several decades, the spotlight on the importance of school lunch has garnered a bounty of attention. Heath, brain development, wellness, and food insecurity are now vital components of the one place in a school that is often taken for granted—the school cafeteria.

Performance nutrition

Spoke 2: Cafeteria Design & Engineering

The days of bland, boring, and institutional cafeterias and lunchrooms may be behind us. The cafeteria as a place to relax, unwind, refuel, and socialize is happening. And it’s pretty darn awesome. So awesome, I may have to re-enroll in elementary school to make up for all the brown bag bologna sandwiches I endured back in the day.

Spoke 3: Food Preparation Science/Food Disposal Science

Making good food is fun. Making good food for hundreds and perhaps even thousands of school kids safely is a challenge day after day after day. After all the food is prepared, served, and consumed, then something has to be done with all the waste, right?

Culinary Arts

Food Safety

I’m a microbiologist. I could probably bore you to tears with talk of Salmonella, Listeria, E. coli O157:H7, Aeromonas hydrophila, and other food pathogens. Wait! You’re already crying tears of joy reading this post? (I guess I should shelf the microbial talk and get back to business before I get booted from the MG Book Village.) Food safety is important. Food touches so many people in so many positive ways but it can also affect people negatively by causing illness. Take the case of cook Mary Mallon and the spread of Salmonella typhi in 1907 as an example of the importance of safely serving food.

Food Disposal/Recycling

Spoke 4: Food Production

Where does all that food come from? So much in the life of everyone depends on safe, nutritious, and tasty food finding its way onto the tables in homes and in school cafeterias everywhere.

Production Resources

  • United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service: Food and beverage manufacturing
  • I could watch this Most Amazing Food Processing Machines video over and over.

Spoke 5: Seed Science and Genetics

The science of food has been with us as long as we’ve been hanging around on this planet. Producing better crops, livestock, fruits, and vegetables have led to some of the greatest scientific advances of humanity. Production improvements and protection are vital to our future food security. Farmers and researcher are now using high-tech methodologies, satellite imaging, advanced weather and soil sensors, genetic data, performance data to predict and refine agriculture.

Seed Science Resources

Spoke 6: Hunger & Taste

At the end of the day, when you talk about school lunch, you got to talk taste. Hungry kids love the food but truthfully, how many sixth graders have you seen be excited about a sticky scoop of overcooked white rice plopped into their bowl? Food that tastes good = happy kids. Happy, healthy kids = a better world.

Can we talk about food and leave out dessert? NO WAY!

  • Author Interview: CHOCOLATE: Sweet Science & Dark Secrets of the World’s Favorite Treat by Kay Frydenborg


After researching this post on school lunch, my TBR pile has ballooned to a record high level. Some of this information I’ve read, some I am looking forward to reading ASAP. Dear trusty, MG Book Village reader, can you add additional books, comments on the listed books, and/or resources to any of the STEM Tuesday Spin-Off School Lunch spokes? If so, please do! We need all the details we can get our inquisitive hands on.


The true power of STEM doesn’t reside in the formulas, pathways, measurements, lines of code, or the blueprints we often associated with science, technology, mathematics, and technology. STEM lives and breaths in observation with an eye toward understanding and innovation. STEM is a way of looking at the world around us.

As we can see by taking a closer look at something ordinary like school lunch, STEM is all around us every day! There are multiple STEM stories around virtually every, single thing we interact with during the course of our day. There are also STEM books and resources to help explain most of these STEM stories we encounter.

Be curious. Think about the world around you. Figure out what makes it tick and work to make it better.

I want to read that story!

All this talk of school lunch has made me hungry. Now, where did I put that bologna sandwich?

SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT! STEM Tuesday is hosting a CoSTEM Contest to celebrate one whole year of STEM Tuesday blogs. The CoSTEM Contest is a mash-up of literacy and STEM costumes. So drag out your favorite books, take a good look at the theme, then create an amazing, one-of-a-kind, spectacular costume. Most important, there will be book prizes! Yes, book prizes! Check out the details HERE.


Mike Hays has worked hard from a young age to be a well-rounded individual. A well-rounded, equal opportunity sports enthusiasts, that is. If they keep a score, he’ll either watch it, play it, or coach it. A molecular microbiologist by day, middle-grade author, sports coach, and general good citizen by night, he blogs about sports/training related topics at and writer stuff at Two of his essays will be included in the Putting the Science in Fiction collection from Writer’s Digest Books release later this month. He can be found roaming around the Twitter-sphere under the guise of @coachhays64.


Cryptozoology: Pseudoscience or Gateway Science?


In my MG debut novel, THE CRYPTID CATCHER, I explore the world of cryptozoology, which is the study of ‘hidden animals,’ like Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster.  Many consider cryptozoology a pseudoscience, like ghost hunting and ufology, because there’s no scientific evidence these beasts exist. But can reading books about The Yeti be an educational tool for kids? I believe the answer is…absolutely yes!

What if we pretend for a moment that cryptids might be real and explore them as such? It’s not out of the realm of possibility. After all, 18,000 new animal species are discovered by scientists every year. Okay, most of those are insects and not Ottermen or Sea Kraken. But still, just recently a trout thought to be extinct was found swimming along just fine in Colorado. In this world that is beginning to seem over-explored, where kids can find the answer to any question by asking Alexa, isn’t it exciting to think that there are still some things left to be discovered?

So what do kids learn by studying cryptids? Loren Coleman, director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine, states, “Cryptozoology is the gateway to biology, zoology, ecology, anthropology, paleontology, and other life sciences. In the 1950s, a fascination with dinosaurs was later replaced by all sorts of scientific interests. Now, people want to know more and more about cryptozoology and are exposed to a vast universe of sciences full of animals and mysteries.”

Cryptozoology and its connection to other sciences is all around us. Just recently, yet another search of Loch Ness was done by scientists using environmental DNA to try to find proof of Nessie. And in Montana, a rancher shot a creature that nobody, not even the local wardens from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks could identify. Theories abounded about what the beast was, and cryptozoologists were interviewed about its potential identity, which ranged from the Direwolf to the Dogman. Alas, the animal turned out to be a standard gray wolf, but for a time the discovery about what this beast could be made science very exciting!

Whether or not you believe in the existence of these legendary creatures, studying them with kids can be a gateway science and help create our next generation of anthropologists, marine biologists and conservationists – because who wouldn’t want to protect the home of the Ugly Merman in Russia? Cryptids are the new dinosaur, and a child’s curiosity about the chupacabras or snallygaster could lead to an interest in other life sciences.



Lija Fisher is the author of THE CRYPTID CATCHER, a middle grade humorous adventure novel with Farrar, Straus & Giroux that received a starred review from Booklist and is a Junior Library Guild selection. THE CRYPTID KEEPER is forthcoming.   Lija was the Writer in Residence in 2017 with Aspen Words.

You can find her on Twitter @LijaFisher, or

Write What Scares You


We’ve all heard the tenet: Write what you know.

But let’s go further.

Write what scares you.

In The Reckless Club, five kids spend the last summer day before beginning high school serving detention at a nursing home. During the course of this one day, a Flirt, an Athlete, a Drama Queen, a Nobody and a Rebel reveal what they’ve done to earn detention, who they are when their labels are yanked away, and what they’re going to do now.

The Reckless Club has fun characters, a lot of humor, and experiences inspired by my own life. And, just as with every other book I’ve written, its themes are an exploration in what scares me.

Those fears include feeling unworthy, shouldering loss, hurting loved ones, losing friendship, and being judged. I put my characters through difficult, heartbreaking, awkward experiences. And you know what? They come out okay, giving me and, I hope, readers an understanding that they would, too.

When I began this project, I wanted to delve even deeper. To not only write what I know and what scares me, but also to step out of my comfort zone in how I write. This had always been first person, one perspective, past tense.

The Reckless Club was spread amongst five characters. Could I pull off having not just two but five viewpoints?

While I had always written first person, this book needed to be third person for a multitude of reasons, including the fact that each character was carefully guarding a secret. Could I handle that, too?

The Reckless Club is a middle grade homage to “The Breakfast Club,” particularly that realization of how a person’s whole perspective can shift in just the course of a few hours. Present tense would be the best way to conjure that anything-could-happen-any-moment mentality. But that would require yet another huge step out of my comfort zone.

I remember sitting at my kitchen table, where I had been plotting ideas for The Reckless Club, leaning back in the chair, and letting out a big breath. Tiptoeing out of my writing comfort zone was one thing. This project would require giant leaps. Could I do this?

I looked down at my character sketches. In my mind, Jason, who starts the story known as a Nobody and pushes himself to become a leader by the end, raised an eyebrow.

Yeah, I can do this. I reminded myself that I had written eight other books (eleven if you counted those first three that now live in a dusty drawer). Each one had been scary to send into the world. Each one had pushed me further as a writer and a human. Each one had been worth facing the fear.

Besides, I told myself. I now had a tried-and-true regiment of word count goals, a favorite corner table in the local coffee shop, and a group of friends who could talk me off the literary edge at a moment’s notice. With a support system like that in place, there was no better time to challenge myself.

Within weeks, contract with my amazing editor Julie Matysik of Running Press Kids and YA signed, it was time to write. And that’s when we found out that our family would be moving from our quaint little New England town to a sprawling suburb of Dallas.

Soon I was packing bulging boxes and saying painful goodbyes. We loaded up the car and drove fifteen hundred miles in three days. My son held his prized LEGO Millennium Falcon, my daughter carried a prized mini rosebush, and I clutched a fat, squirming dog prone to stress farts. (Only the dog survived the journey.)

The move not only meant losing that support system I had been relying on, it also ate up time, adding to deadline pressure.

I felt lost navigating this new space, surrounded by faces I didn’t recognize, all while staring my fear of incompetence straight on. Just like my characters.  

I leaned into that connection, letting it root me, forcing that tenet of “write what you know” to truly braid with “write what scares you.” While I don’t necessarily encourage writers to move across the country on deadline, I do encourage you to occasionally leap from your comfort zone. Allow yourself to become unmoored and anchor yourself all over again.

The Reckless Club, just like its author, is stronger for the experience.

9780762460400_Vrabel_credit 179 Pictures.jpg


Beth Vrabel is the award-winning author of Caleb and Kit, A Blind Guide to Stinkville, A Blind Guide to Normal, and the Pack of Dorks series. She can’t clap to the beat or be trusted around Nutella, but indulges in both often, much to the dismay of her family. She lives in Texas, in the Dallas area.


Kate DiCamillo (Louisiana’s Way Home): Books Between, Episode 60

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! I believe in the power of stories to lift us up and help us discover who we really are.  My goal is to help you connect kids with those incredible books and share inspiring conversations with the authors and educators who make that magic happen.

I am your host, Corrina Allen – a mom of two preteen girls, a 5th grade teacher in Central New York, and really, really glad that September is over.  I always feel like, for educators, September is a little bit like childbirth and having a newborn. Somehow you forget the utter exhaustion and work and lack of sleep every time. And instead you focus on the fresh start! Getting the room set up! Getting to know new personalities and a chance to get right THIS time what you you struggled with last time. And you forget that it took you MONTHS to get them into a decent schedule. And that the first weeks are just…. triage.   So… in solidarity with all the exhausted and overworked teachers and parents out there – I see you. I feel you. I AM you.

And after 15+ years of teaching, I did two things this September that helped my stress level a bit.

  1. I went to bed. And if you know me at ALL – you know how hard this is for me. I am a night owl. I am most inspired between 9pm and 1am. But when I have to get up for work at 5:15 – it was killing me.  Probably literally.
  2. I cut myself some slack. I DID NOT have my classroom “picture ready” on the first day of school. For the last few years, I have decorated my door with all the books I’ve read over the summer with favorite quotes. Nope – not this year. I just couldn’t pull it off. And that was…. honestly disappointing, but I think we need to give ourselves some grace with that stuff. I think we internalize all those Pinterest/Instagram ideas of what an “ideal” teacher and classroom should be and we give ourselves crap when we fall short of that imagined perfection. When in reality – NO one has it all together. Not the “education thought leader” with hundreds of thousands of followers, not the educator with the inspiring YouTube videos, not the teacher with that amazing new book out – NONE of them are living up to what we’re all “supposed to” be doing. Something is falling through the cracks. And I find the ones who admit that are really the ones worth listening to.

So, it is now October. I’m more rested and sooo ready to dive back into things – including bringing you some fantastic interviews this fall!

This is episode #60 and today I’m sharing a conversation I had this past summer with Kate DiCamillo about her latest novel, coming out tomorrow – Louisiana’s Way Home!

Before we dive into that, I want to give you 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.

Also – #MGBooktober is BACK!!  The MGBookVillage is hosting a month of awesome middle grade related book prompts. We hope that you and your students will join in the fun. Just use #MGBooktober to post your responses and to find everyone else’s pics.


And finally – remember to set yourself a reminder for Monday nights at 9pm EST so you don’t miss the #MGBookChat Twitter chat!  This month some of the topics are: Teachers as Readers, Middle Grade Spooktacular (Why Scary Stories Matter), Building Vocabulary with Middle Grade Books, and Taboo Roll Call: Does anything go in Middle Grade now?  Those all sound amazing – so see you Monday nights!

Kate DiCamillo – Interview Outline

Our special guest this week is Kate DiCamillo – author of Because of Winn-Dixie, Tiger Rising, Flora & Ulysses, The Tale of Despereaux, among so many other incredible books. I KD_2014_RGB_72got the opportunity to chat with her this summer about Louisiana’s Way Home– the follow-up to her 2016 novel, Raymie Nightingale. We talk about why she decided to write a sequel, Pinocchio, bologna sandwiches, and of course her latest novel – Louisiana’s Way Home.  


Take a listen…

Louisiana’s Way Home

Your latest novel, Louisiana’s Way Home, is coming out this October. I had the opportunity to read an ARC and simply fell in love this story. It has so much depth and so much clarity all at the same time.  For our listeners who have not yet read the novel, can you tell us a bit about it?

This is the first time you’ve revisited the world of a previous novel.  What was your journey to decide that you wanted to go further into Louisiana’s story?

Early on in the book, Louisiana observes that “There are the rescuers in this world and there are the rescued.”  Which one are you?

My daughter would like to know – do you like bologna sandwiches?

You are known for your vibrant character names but in this book – you have three characters with the same name!

bk_louisiana_198pxThroughout the novel there is this small thread about the book Pinocchio and how most people don’t remember that Pinocchio kills the cricket at the beginning of the story! It made me think that perhaps adults don’t remember how dark the stories they grew up with actually were…

You’ve mentioned before that when you are writing, the trajectory of the story or the characters will often surprise you.  Were there any unexpected parts of Louisiana’s Way Home?

**BONUS SPOILER SECTION: Kate 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 36:18 mark.

Your Writing Life

Was it challenging to write a novel that would be satisfying for readers of Raymie Nightingale but that would also stand on its own?

If you can talk about it….. 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 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 were some of your most influential reads as a child?

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


Kate’s website –

Kate on Facebook:


Books & Authors We Chatted About:

Pinnochio (Carlo Collodi)

The Juniper Tree, and Other Tales from Grimm (Illustrated by Maurice Sendak)

Island of the Blue Dolphins (Scott O’Dell)

The 21 Balloons (William Pene du Bois)

A Little Princess (Frances Hodgson Burnett)

The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett)

The Mouse and the Motorcycle (Beverly Cleary)

Stuart Little (E.B. White)

Black Beauty (Anna Sewell)

Island of the Blue Dolphins (Scott O’Dell)

Polly & Buster (Sally Rippin)

The Borrowers (Mary Norton)

Charlotte’s Web (E.B. White)

The Search for Delicious (Natalie Babbitt)

Clayton Byrd Goes Underground (Rita Williams Garcia)



Alright, that wraps up our show this week!

If you have a question about how to connect kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love or a suggestion about a topic we should cover, I would love to hear from you. You can email me at or message me on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.

Books Between is a proud member of the Education Podcast Network. This network EPN_badgefeatures podcasts for educators, created by educators. For more great content visit

Thank you so much for joining me this week. You can get an outline of interviews and a full transcript of all the other parts of our show at And, if you are liking the show, please leave us some love on iTunes or Stitcher so others can discover us as well.

Thanks and see you soon!  Bye!


Corrina Allen is a 5th grade teacher in Central New York and mom of two energetic tween girls. She is passionate about helping kids discover who they are as readers.

Corrina is the host of Books Between – a podcast to help teachers, parents, and librarians connect children between 8 and 12 to books they’ll love.

Find her on Twitter at @corrinaaallen or Instagram at @Corrina_Allen.