Introducing Spooky Middle Grade with Lindsay Currie

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Hello! So happy to be here today on MG Book Village! Some of you may have noticed me cryptically tweeting this week about a fun, new development related to the hashtag #SpookyMG. Well, today I can finally be slightly less cryptic! Just kidding . . . I can spill the beans entirely! I am SO excited!

But first, let’s rewind a bit. About a month ago, several “spooky” MG authors and myself banded together to begin offering free panel-style Skype sessions. These sessions were wonderfully well-received, and before we knew it we had requests from all over the country! From there, the concept bloomed into something more — something incredible. It bloomed into a full-fledged resource center for not only lovers of spooky middle-grade books, but also for educators and librarians who want to satisfy the reading needs of their most daring, fright-chasing students. It bloomed into www.spookymiddlegrade.com.

This new website features author bios and fun facts for over ten middle-grade authors! In addition, there are: teacher resources, free Skype sessions, book trailers, and get this . . . A SPOOKY MG READING CHALLENGE complete with prizes! It’s the ultimate stop for seasoned readers of chilling middle-grade as well as those who are just beginning to dip a toe into the world of spine-tingling books!

The authors contributing to www.spookymiddlegrade.com all have one thing in common, and it’s not just that we love books with a creep factor (we do, though. Totally). It’s that we believe spooky stories serve an important role all year round. Don’t believe me? Maybe these quotes from some of our talented, spooktastic authors will change your mind!

Jonathan Rosen (Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies/From Sunset Till Sunrise): “Spooky stories are reassuring to kids, by allowing them to face their fears and then closing the book and putting them back in the safety of the real world.”

Kim Ventrella (Skeleton Tree/Bone Hollow): “Spooky’ books run the full range, from stories with humorous thrills and chills, to stories that touch readers’ hearts and change the way they think about the world. Why limit these transformative tales to just one season of the year?”

Lindsay Currie (The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street): “Spooky books are a fabulous way for readers to explore things that frighten them in a safe environment. Becoming attached to a main character and then watching that character grapple with frightening scenarios and ultimately succeed doesn’t just inspire a new nightlight purchase; it inspires bravery. And bravery is for life.”

Samantha Clark (The Boy, The Boat, and the Beast): “Spooky stories provide a safe place for kids (of all ages 😉 ) to make their own courage, because they can identify with the fears of the characters and see them be brave.”

Pat Moody (The Gravedigger’s Son): “Spooky stories are important because they bring fear to life, and in doing so, provide kids with an identifiable hero who overcomes fear, which can extend to their own lives outside the confines of the story.”

Sheri Larsen (Motley Education): “Stories with spooky elements hold an air of mystery that nudge the reader to face their fears while following a character in the safety found between the pages to inspire, encourage, and challenge.”

Janet Fox (The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle): “Spooky stories are important because shadows and darkness can only be illuminated when we face them head on, and when we write those stories for kids we give them a safe space for that confrontation.”

David Neilsen (Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom/Beyond the Doors): “Spooky stories challenge children to peer into the darkness of their world and learn to meet their fears head-on in a safe, controlled environment.”

To learn more about all our #SpookyMG authors, schedule a Skype, or peruse our teacher resources, visit the website asap. We can’t wait to meet you!

~At spookymiddlegrade.com, we seek to promote stories and authors that honor and reflect the lives of all young people. To accomplish this goal, we are actively seeking diverse voices. If you are a traditionally-published author of middle grade spooky stories, we invite you to join our team and help us show that spooky stories have value all year round. Email us today!~

Twitter: @spookymgbooks

Facebook: https://bit.ly/2FaHx1y

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To celebrate the launch of Spooky Middle Grade, Lindsay is hosting a giveaway of the books below! To learn more about the giveaway — and enter! — head over to Lindsay’s Twitter feed –> @lindsayncurrie.

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COVER REVEAL: WARREN & DRAGON VOLCANO DELUXE, by Ariel Bernstein, illustrated by Mike Malbrough

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MG Book Village: Thanks so much for choosing the MG Book Village to host your cover reveal. We’re thrilled to have you! Before we get to the new book and its cover, would you care to introduce yourself to our readers?

Ariel Bernstein: Thanks so much for having me at the MG Book Village! I’m an author of picture books and chapter books. I love to write about balloons, animals, and kids with a lot of character. I live in New Jersey with my family and a very energetic cat.

All right — let’s get right to the new book, the third book in the WARREN & DRAGON series. Can you tell us a bit about it?

VOLCANO DELUXE is about Warren and his pet dragon, Dragon, who see a deluxe volcano building set at a toy store. It shoots lava in the air and they want it more than anything! Some kids would use their allowance to buy it, but since Warren has never been one to do his chores, he and Dragon have to think of other ways to earn money. Unfortunately, Warren’s twin sister mistakenly thinks Warren is trying to earn money to buy toys for kids in the hospital. Soon, everyone thinks Warren is doing a good deed. Warren has to figure out who he really wants to help, or no one may get the volcano deluxe building set!

We loved your Nerdy Book Club post from a few months back about “thinking outside categories” when giving young readers book suggestions. Would you care to talk about that at all, and would you like to share some “outside-of-category” books to pair with your WARREN & DRAGON books?

Thank you! I really enjoyed writing that post. There is a lot of discussion with parents, teachers, and librarians about what books kids should be reading. Some people think that kids should only read books at or above their ‘level.’ Conversely, I believe that kids should read whatever books they are drawn to, as it will better help to foster a lifelong love of reading. I saw with my own daughter that while she has started to enjoy middle grade books, she still loves reading picture books, chapter books, and especially graphic novels.

Here are some great “outside-of-category” books to pair with WARREN & DRAGON:

  1. The picture book WHEN A DRAGON MOVES IN by Jodi Moore and illustrated by Howard McWilliam, for kids who love the idea of hanging out with a dragon.
  2. The BINK & GOLLIE early reader books by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee, illustrated by Tony Fucile. For kids who enjoy the funny back and forth banter characters with strong, distinct voices.
  3. Dana Simpson’s PHOEBE AND HER UNICORN graphic novels. I think these books, like WARREN & DRAGON, are great for readers who need lots of humor to draw them in. Plus, the illustrations are so good!
  4. Kids who relate to Warren’s shyness and feeling out of place will also likely relate to Firoozeh Dumas’ middle grade novel IT AIN’T SO AWFUL FALAFEL. Like WARREN & DRAGON, it is told in a genuine first person voice and focuses on a kid who wants to make friends.

Okay, now let’s get to the cover. Were you involved in the creation process at all?

I wasn’t involved in creating the cover (other than thinking up the title!). But it’s pretty common for an illustrator to work on a cover directly with the editor and art department. Luckily I’m friends with Mike Malbrough, the illustrator, and I sometimes get to see sneak peeks of the art which is always fun!

Let’s check it out!

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Wow! It’s fantastic! What did YOU think when you first saw the cover art?

I loved Mike’s art when I first saw it! He really captures the silly humor of the characters and story, as well as Warren’s relatable struggles. In VOLCANO DELUXE, there’s a scene where Warren and some other kids are taking a photo for the town newspaper, and Dragon manages to photo bomb it. I was hoping Mike would choose to illustrate it, and he did! The illustration is so funny and makes me laugh whenever I see it.

When can readers get their hands on the book?

VOLCANO DELUXE is available now for pre-order online and from local stores, and can be found in bookstores and libraries starting April 2, 2019! The first two books in the series, 100 FRIENDS and WEEKEND WITH CHEWY, are out now.

Ariel Bernstein.jpgAriel Bernstein grew up outside of Philadelphia (developing a cheesesteak obsession), went to college at Barnard in New York (developing a sushi obsession), and now lives in the suburbs of New Jersey with her family (developing a marshmallow obsession). She doesn’t have a pet dragon, but does have the occasional herd of deer show up in the backyard. Besides writing children’s books, Ariel’s worked in a movie theatre, at a Baskin-Robbins, as a camp counselor, as a paralegal, in human resources, and as a stay-at-home mom. Visit her at arielbernsteinbooks.com.

Why I Write Upper Middle Grade

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Flash back four years ago. My daughter was ten, an avid reader and seeking her next book. She wanted something different. She and I didn’t know what it was called at the time, but what she wanted was an “issue book”—a book that deals with a real world issue that she could discuss with her friends and, if I was lucky, she might discuss with me.

As a full-time lawyer who was already transitioning between careers to become a writer, I thought it would be easy to find what she was looking for. Wow, was I wrong!

The kinds of social justice books she wanted, whether historical or contemporary, were few and far between. It was easy to find what she was seeking over in the YA section, but as a parent, I didn’t think she was quite ready for some of the content. I didn’t want her love of reading to fizzle because of a lack of books, so I ended up previewing the YA books before handing them over to her. Now, to be honest, I love children’s literature, so this wasn’t really a trying task for me. But most parents don’t have the time or desire to pre-read all the books their kids read, and they shouldn’t have to.

Fast-forward a few years when my agent called, asking if I would consider writing for the upper middle-grade market. My first reaction: What upper middle-grade market? Did I really want to put my heart into a book when no publisher would want it?

But my agent followed-up with an explanation: Sonali Fry, the publisher of a new middle-grade imprint, Yellow Jacket, wanted to make a concerted effort to focus on that upper middle-grade category (ages 10-14; grades 4-9). Lucky for me, Sonali was also extremely interested in learning more about an unexplored topic in middle-grade books—polygamous communities.

Yes, I can hear your laughter. Polygamy and middle-grade? Believe me, I laughed, too, when I thought HOW on earth can I write about this topic for the middle-grade audience, even a so-called “upper middle-grade audience?”

And then, I thought about it a little longer. My background is in Religious Studies, so I already had the knowledge base to write the book (though I did update my research). More importantly, I started to ask myself questions. How would I think if I was born into one of these communities, and it was the only life I’d known? How would I feel about the rules being imposed on me as a girl and on my sisters and my mothers? How would I perceive the privileges and expectations placed on my father and brothers? And finally, would this be a book my daughter would want to read?

I soon realized I wasn’t really writing a book about polygamy; the community was only the setting. Instead, THE PROPHET CALLS explores female empowerment, the importance of family and questions of faith. In other words, it’s exactly the type of book my daughter had wanted.

As of late, my publisher is not the only one that has realized this previously unmet need for older middle-grade books. I’ve been so fortunate to debut with other authors who are also wrestling with important themes for this category of readers.

For example, PEASPROUT CHEN, FUTURE LEGEND OF SKATE AND SWORD by Henry Lien is a futuristic fantasy that explores the politics of culture and identity. EVERY SHINY THING by Laurie Morrison and Cordelia Jensen is a contemporary realistic story that examines a friendship between a girl who occasionally has to take on the role of parent and another who struggles with shoplifting. LEGENDS OF THE LOST CAUSES by Brad McLelland and Louis Sylvester is a western fantasy that delves into feelings of vengeance versus justice in the wake of the death of a loved one. And these are only a few of the fantastic books publishers have designated for ages 10-14 in 2018!

Four years ago, I could only hope to find books specifically written for my upper middle-grade reader on the shelves. I’m so happy these books now exist and, if you ask for recommendations, I’ll excitedly point out the numerous titles that are as diverse and wonderful as their authors. From what I’m hearing, educators and booksellers and parents have welcomed this overdue addition. And most important (to me at least), my daughter thinks it’s pretty cool, too.

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

MG at Heart Book Club’s November Pick: THE HOTEL BETWEEN, by Sean Easley

The Middle Grade at Heart selection for November is….
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The Hotel Between by Sean Easley!

A magical hotel, a mysterious tree, and a cryptic story about their missing father leads twins Cam and Cass on a worldly adventure in this enchanting debut novel that’s perfect for fans of Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library and Wildwood.

Twins Cam and Cass have never known their parents. They’ve been told their mother died, and Cass is certain their father abandoned them. Cam isn’t so sure. He wants to prove her wrong; he must.

Cam’s wish is soon granted in the form of a glistening, golden sign with elaborate flourishes that reads: The Hotel Between. With doors that open to countries all over the world, magical trollies, charmed corridors that can be altered on a whim, stone elephants that turn to life, sweets made from rocks; everything is possible in The Hotel. Cam has a hunch his father is somehow connected to this magical place, and may even be lost within its hidden halls.

Every journey has its risks, and The Hotel Between is full of dangerous secrets. If Cam’s not careful, his stay may be over before his vacation has even started.

“Easley’s first novel is a fantasy adventure brimming with action and anchored by familial love. Cam constantly worries about Cass, whose spina bifida confines her to a wheelchair, but he also must learn that she’s more capable than he gives her credit for. The story begs a sequel and will draw fans of A Wrinkle in Time.” – Booklist

“Magic and mystery draw you into The Hotel Between, and I couldn’t leave until I knew all its secrets. Can I make a reservation yet?” – James Riley, NEW YORK TIMES bestselling author of the Half Upon a Time and Story Thieves series

“Danger, fun, and heartbreak abound in this rollicking magical adventure around the world.” – Lisa McMann, NEW YORK TIMES bestselling author of The Unwanteds Quests series and many other books

The newsletter will go out November 26th, and the #MGBookClub Twitter chat will be held December 4th.

We can’t wait to share this book with all of you!