If you’ve ever been bumped from the cool table in the cafeteria, suffered through an accidental mullet, shouldered an unfortunate nickname (ahem, such as … I don’t know… Beef instead of Beth), or otherwise were pelted by puberty’s relentless arrows, Pipi McGee can relate. But Pipi’s determined to use her eighth grade year righting the wrongs of her early education. She’s aiming for redemption but will take revenge. Take a look at this trailer to hear more about The Humiliations of Pipi McGee!
Click here for more information about The Humiliations of Pipi McGee!
Beth Vrabelis author of the Cybils’-nominated Caleb and Kit, ILA award-winning A Blind Guide to Stinkville, JLG-selection A Blind Guide to Normal, The Reckless Club, and the Pack of Dorks series. She is a former journalist so speaks from a very real point of reference and personal experience. She lives in Canton, Connecticut.
“Nitty…took out her Gleam Jar and held it up to the dim light slanting through the barn’s siding. She did this every day with the jar, taking stock of its contents and comfort in its presence. The light bounced off the objects in the jar, sending flecks of blue, yellow, and red spinning about the room. Blue, yellow, red; ribbon, button, marble. These three objects—so small—to a stranger might’ve seemed unremarkable. To Nitty they were her only link to family, and a world brimming with color that she’d never seen.”—from A Tale Magnolious
Before I began writing A Tale Magnolious, I was feeling glum about the state of our world. As my main character Nitty Luce would say, I feared that our world had become lovelorn. This may have been why I wrote about the lovelorn town of Fortune’s Bluff, the setting for Nitty’s story. But I could not write about a lovelorn town without also writing about an orphan and elephant who rescue the town from its dire predicament. I could not write about the world without, also, writing about hope.
Hope is what orphan Nitty Luce carries with her in her Gleam Jar—a humble mason jar filled with her most precious (and only) belongings. The jar holds three items: a blue ribbon, a yellow button, and a red marble. To Nitty, these objects embody her wish for a family—her wish to be loved and to find a home. Nitty never gives up on this wish. Her hope keeps the wish alive. The wish, however, changes as Nitty changes. Nitty grows to love Magnolious, the elephant she rescues from death. She grows to trust the curmudgeonly Windle Homes, the farmer who offers her and Magnolious refuge. With time, Nitty discovers that she doesn’t need to cling so tightly to her Gleam Jar anymore. She can entrust her Gleam Jar, her heart, and her wishes to her newfound family and friends in Fortune’s Bluff. More importantly, she can share her hope, which she’s clung so tightly to, with others, spreading it to Magnolious, Windle, and the entire town of Fortune’s Bluff.
In our trying times, hope is important to impart to young readers, and also important to protect and preserve. More than ever, we have a responsibility as educators, writers, and artists, to guard the hopes of children, to protect the “Gleam Jars” in their hearts. How can we do this? We can teach young readers empathy by sharing with them a wide variety of stories with diverse casts of characters. We can encourage them to search for pieces of themselves in each and every story. We can discuss the challenges facing our world, but also strive to instill in them a hope for the future. And we can keep a watchful eye out for the “Gleam Jars” in their hearts. What are the treasures they keep close to their hearts? When they entrust us with their wishes and dreams, let us place a book in their hands that speaks to and nurtures those dreams. Let us assure these children that, though wishes may grow and change as we do, though the oftentimes lovelorn world may not always be gentle with our Gleam Jars, there are safe places, people, and books to turn to for hope and refuge.
“Make Your Own Gleam Jar” activity for classrooms
At the beginning
of the school year, ask each student to bring in:
A small or medium sized mason or jelly
3 small items or mementos that have deep
meaning to them. These can be items that hold fun or special memories, or items
that represent three wishes students have for the upcoming year.
Have the students write a
short description of each item and why it is important to them. If the items
represent wishes, have the students describe each wish. Students might be placed
in pairs or small groups to discuss the items and their meanings. Find a cozy
spot in the classroom to keep the Gleam Jars for the year. At the end of the
school year, ask students to revisit their Gleam Jar wishes or memories. Have
them reread what they wrote about their Gleam Jars at the beginning of the
year. Consider asking them some of these questions, or using these questions as
Are the objects in your Gleam Jar still as
meaningful to you now as they were at the beginning of the school year? Why or
Did any of your wishes for this year come
If you had to make a Gleam Jar right now,
would you fill it with the same objects you did before, or with different ones?
Did any of your wishes change over the
course of the year? If your wishes changed, do you think it was because you
changed over the course of this year, too? Why or why not?
Suzanne Nelson is the author of numerous young adult and middle grade novels, including A Tale Magnolious, and Serendipity’s Footsteps, a Sydney Taylor Honor Book for Teen Readers and a 2016 CCBC Choice for Young Adult Fiction. Her other books include Cake Pop Crush, Macarons at Midnight, Hot Cocoa Hearts, and over a dozen more. You can find her online at www.suzannenelson.com, and on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
HEIDI: Happy National Sisters Day! In honor of this made-up but still absolutely valid holiday, Kati and I thought we’d chat a little about what it’s like to write with your sister. And if you stick around, we’ll be giving away a few books at the end. 😉
KATI: Most people are surprised when I tell them I cowrite with my sister. Usually they want to know how that works, and how we don’t kill each other by the end of the book.
HEIDI: I can’t say we never have any heated . . . um, discussions.
KATI: That’s one of our writing rules. They’re never fights, they’re always “discussions.”
HEIDI: Exactly. 😉 And since we both liked most of the same books and shows growing up, and are interested in a lot of the same themes, writing together has worked out really well. Our brains overlap quite a bit.
KATI: That is a terrifying image.
HEIDI: A little bit! As kids, Kati and I used to play pretend together all the time, so writing a story together felt almost like that. It was really fun. And then somewhere along the way, we realized that we actually thought our story had the potential to make it. So once we finished our first extremely rough draft, we decided to take it more seriously.
KATI: And we’ve been serious ever since!
HEIDI: So serious. ;D
KATI: Our third and final book in the Mystic Cooking Chronicles, A Pinch of Phoenix, just came out last month, but we’re already working on a new series together. This one will have aliens and ghosts and other supernatural creepiness. So it’s very fun to write.
HEIDI: Speaking of fun, here’s a fun fact in honor of National Sister’s Day: one of the villains in our Mystic Cooking Chronicles trilogy is loosely inspired by our older sister.
KATI: We love you, Rosi! But maybe you should have been nicer to us when we were little. ;D
HEIDI: We haven’t actually written any sisters books . . . yet. But we both love stories where those relationships are portrayed. One of my recent middle grade favorites is Prisoners of Ice and Snow by Ruth Lauren. Valor purposely gets herself sent to an impossible-to-escape prison in order to try to break her sister Sasha out. It’s a wonderful fantasy adventure, very action-packed, and I loved the relationship between sisters Valor and Sasha. I tore through this book in a day.
KATI: One of my recent favorites is actually young adult . . . Stephanie Garber’s Caraval. In it, sisters Scarlett and Tella would do anything to help each other, which is the driving force behind the whole story. At the same time, their relationship is a little complicated, just like most sisters. Plus there’s the fantastic world building, romance, and excitement.
HEIDI: So today, Kati and I want to give away a “sisters bundle” of a signed copy of our complete Mystic Cooking Chronicles trilogy, plus a hardcover copy of Ruth Lauren’s Prisoner of Ice and Snow, and a signed hardcover copy of Caraval.
KATI: And since we’re always looking for more good sister stories, please comment and tell us any you’d recommend so we can check them out!
A poignant, laugh-out-loud illustrated middle-grade novel about an eleven-year-old boy’s immigration experience, his annoying little brother, and their cake-baking hijinks! Perfect for fans of Raina Telgemeier and Gene Luen Yang!
Recipient of FIVE starred reviews!
“Pie in the Sky is like enjoying a decadent cake . . . heartwarming and rib-tickling.” ―Terri Libenson, bestselling author of Invisible Emmie
When Jingwen moves to a new country, he feels like he’s landed on Mars. School is torture, making friends is impossible since he doesn’t speak English, and he’s often stuck looking after his (extremely irritating) little brother, Yanghao.
To distract himself from the loneliness, Jingwen daydreams about making all the cakes on the menu of Pie in the Sky, the bakery his father had planned to open before he unexpectedly passed away. The only problem is his mother has laid down one major rule: the brothers are not to use the oven while she’s at work. As Jingwen and Yanghao bake elaborate cakes, they’ll have to cook up elaborate excuses to keep the cake making a secret from Mama.
In her hilarious, moving middle-grade debut, Remy Lai delivers a scrumptious combination of vibrant graphic art and pitch-perfect writing that will appeal to fans of Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham’s Real Friends, Kelly Yang’s Front Desk, and Jerry Craft’s New Kid.
A Junior Library Guild selection!
The Middle Grade @ Heart newsletter will go out on August 19th, with the Twitter chat to follow on August 27th!
When I began writing the first book in the DIARY OF AN ICE PRINCESS series, including a science element came organically. After all, my main character is a princess whose entire family has magical weather powers. You can’t have weather without science! As the book started coming together, I realized I had been given a fantastic opportunity to counter stereotypes about girls and STEM.
As an engineer and a longtime science-lover, I remember
having a hard time reconciling the many facets of my identity as I was growing
up. Society and mass media often sends girls messages that STEM is only open to
people who look a certain way, dress a certain way, and enjoy “typical” STEM
stuff. I remember suppressing my femininity when I was younger because I didn’t
want to be perceived as weak or “too girly” to excel in the STEM activities I
enjoyed. The reality is that STEM is for everyone – including children who love
dress-up and tea parties.
We know that girls begin dropping out of the STEM pipeline
around middle school. It’s not because they aren’t good at it. If girls believe
that pursuing STEM conflicts with their identity and vision of their future
selves, they are more likely to leave STEM behind.
With DIARY OF AN ICE PRINCESS, I wanted to write characters who are unabashedly awesome at STEM and also enjoy all the trappings of “traditionally feminine” pursuits. The characters came naturally because they are modeled off many girls I know in real life (including my own daughters!). These girls enjoy and excel at so many different things – including STEM.
Happily, more books for young readers are now being published that celebrate STEM heroines who are multi-faceted and complex – just like the actual girls who will read them. Here are some of my favorite chapter books and middle grade novels that feature STEM-loving girl characters:
Little Robot by Ben Hatke – This graphic novel is nearly wordless, but tells a full and stirring story of friendship and perseverance. A little girl who seems very much on-her-own stumbles upon an adorable robot whom she must protect from other sinister robots. Even though the girl is quite small, she is also resourceful and knows her way around a wrench set. To save her new friend, the heroine employs all the ingenuity and problem-solving of a top-notch engineer.
Jada Jones, Rockstar by Kelly Starling Lyons– This is the first book in a wonderful series about a fourth-grade girl navigating relatable challenges with friends, school, and family. Jada loves rocks – but she loves her best friend even more. When the book starts out, Jada’s BFF has moved away and she has to find a whole new group. Jada’s interest in STEM feels reflective of real kids I know. Yes, she loves geology, but that’s just one facet of her total personality. By the end of the book, she finds a creative way to include everyone in the class in her rock appreciation.
Nikki Tesla and the Ferret-Proof Death Ray by Jess Keating – Nikki Tesla is a genius. I love that this is stated matter-of-factly and unapologetically right off the bat! But even though Nikki never downplays her supreme smarts, she has a hilarious self-deprecating sense of humor about all the conundrums she gets into. Author Jess Keating has an infectious love of science and curiosity about the world, which shines through in her videos and web resources for kids. It’s great to see another series from her that’s sure to inspire more girls to follow in her STEM footsteps.
Lights, Music, Code! by Jo Whittemore – This third book in the Girls Who Code series reminds me of the Babysitters Club with a STEM twist. The main characters are friends who are working together to code the music and lights for their school’s winter dance. I love that the book shows both the challenges and triumphs of a group of girls working together on a project. Many stereotypes of people who work in STEM is that they’re loners, toiling away in a lab. In reality, one of STEM’s greatest perks is getting to collaborate with awesome people!
My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich by Ibi Zoboi – This middle grade novel counters the stereotype that people who love STEM are purely analytical. Ebony has an imagination so vivid that the lines often blur between reality and her make-believe worlds (as someone who spent most of third grade imagining she had been kidnapped to an alternate dimension, I can relate). Ebony loves science fiction, a passion shared by her grandfather, who was one of NASA’s first Black engineers. When Ebony moves to Harlem for the summer, others try to push her to fit in this or that box, but she stays true to her unique and awesome self.
Christina Soontornvat grew up behind the counter of her parents’ Thai restaurant in a small Texas town with her nose stuck in a book. She is very proud of both her Thai and her Texan roots, and makes regular trips to both Weatherford and Bangkok to see her beloved family members (and eat lots and lots of Thai food!). In addition to being an author, Christina holds a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering and a master’s degree in Science Education. She spent a decade working in the science museum field, where she designed programs and exhibits to get kids excited about science. She is passionate about STEM (science, technology engineering, and math), and loves learning new things. She lives in Austin, Texas with her husband, two young children, and one old cat.
Hello, Jess! Thank you so much for stopping by the MG Book Village during your debut week! We’re very excited to have you here to chat about THE MIRACULOUS!
Thank you so much for
having me! I love MG Book Village, and I’m so pleased to be here.
You’ve been here
before — last month, when you shared the teaching guide for THE MIRACULOUS, as
well as some how-to tips for authors interested in creating their own guides –
but I don’t believe you shared much about YOU. Would you care to tell our
readers a little bit about yourself?
Sure! I was raised in a
house of readers, and I am a lifelong book nerd. I’m married to an English
teacher, who is considerably better at grammar than I am, and we have two
wonderful young children.
also a therapist and an adjunct professor of psychology, although I’ve stepped
back in both of these roles. As a therapist, I’ve worked with kids in the
foster care system, in community mental health centers, and in private practice
with girls and young women.
Has your work as a
therapist and psychology teacher influenced your writing or the stories that
I think so. When I was
first getting started as a therapist, I had a position as an intake counselor
at a mental health center. In that position, I got to sit with literally
hundreds of people in crisis and listen to their stories. That was pretty much my
whole job—meet someone new and find out what brought them to us, what their life
was like, how they were feeling, what they needed. Then I would go and think
about that story and write up a report.
The hard thing about
that position was that I didn’t get to spend much time with each person—sometimes
just that initial visit. But the wonderful thing was that I was able to meet so
many people and hear so many, many stories.
Recently, I’ve been
talking with groups of therapists about the power of stories and literature,
and it’s a topic I’m very passionate about. Therapy is about story just as much
as literature—the story the client is telling in that moment, and the movement
toward the story they want to tell.
Truthfully, I was
drawn to the therapy field because I was already someone who was interested in
emotions and big questions. But being a therapist has, hopefully, helped me
understand those emotions and questions a little better, and that, also
hopefully, shows up in my writing.
THE MIRACULOUS is your
debut. Can you tell us about your journey to the printed page?
Reading and writing
were my only hobbies when I was a kid, and I was fully devoted to them. I wanted,
with all my heart, to be an author when I grew up, and I filled up notebook
after notebook with stories.
From teenagerhood on, I
assumed that I would end up writing Very Serious Adult Literature. But then I
found myself working on a middle-grade fantasy while I was pregnant with my
first child. And it became clear to me, very quickly, that middle-grade was
where my heart was.
Then there was
querying which brought much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, but
finally I queried something that agents wanted, and I signed with my
extraordinary agent, Sara Crowe of Pippin Properties.
The story that Sara
signed me on, however, did not sell right away (although I have high hopes for
it in the future). So while I was waiting and biting my nails and bemoaning my
fate, I wrote another book and that was THE MIRACULOUS.
Sara loved THE
MIRACULOUS, and after two weeks of submission, I was on the phone with editors,
and shortly after MIRACULOUS found a home with FSG/Macmillan. I was very lucky
to end up with my editor, Janine O’Malley, who connected with the story and
brought much-needed clarity and new perspective.
And that is the
nutshell story of how my biggest dream became a reality!
Do you have any tips
for authors debuting either later this year, in 2020, or just generally in the
There is so much that
you can do as a debuting author, and the vast majority of it is optional. I
think debut year is like starting a really awesome new job—you will make
mistakes and feel confused and uncertain, but you’ll also learn so much and
feel exhilarated and wonderful.
Just know that there
is a learning curve, like any new venture, and do the things that you know
you’ll enjoy. Like, if you’re me, make three book trailers! Why not?
Also, join a debut
group! My debut group, the Novel Nineteens, has been an incredible resource for
me. I ask questions—where did you get those gorgeous stickers? Are you doing a
cover reveal? What should I even be doing right now?—all the time.
Now, let’s get to the
book itself. Can you give us a brief summary of THE MIRACULOUS?
THE MIRACULOUS is the story of a
miracle-collecting boy named Wunder and a cape-wearing girl named Faye—two kids
who have recently experienced great losses. Both are drawn to the mysterious
DoorWay House in the woods where an old woman has recently appeared. The old
woman—who Faye is convinced is a witch—sends the two new friends on a series of
sometimes-magical quests. These quests take them through graveyards and
forests, to police stations and town halls, by bike and by train. It’s a journey
filled with friendship, healing, magic, and miracles. This book trailer that I
created introduces with the cut-outs from the incredible cover illustration by
THE MIRACULOUS is the story of my heart. It’s
a story about grief and belief, about friendship and community and searching
for truth and about how there is brightness to be found no matter how dark the
The book’s central
character, Wunder, keeps a journal, and is an observer and recorder of the
world around him. Setting aside plot-related reasons, were there any other
reasons you included this element in the book?
I kept a lot of
journals as a child, although I threw away most of them in my late teens. I was
a pretty intense kid, and my journals definitely reflected that, and I was always
petrified that someone would read them.
I did salvage a few
recently, and it showed me how much I have always used writing and reading to
understand the world and myself. Writing, to me, is so closely tied to the
search for goodness and truth. I would love for readers to be inspired by
Wunder and to journal, to observe, to search on their own.
Why do you think it’s
important for kids’ books to tackle tough topics?
The truth is that kids
are already tackling these topics, even if adults like to imagine they’re not. During
those middle-grade years, kids are interested in absolutely everything. They
are just starting to look out and beyond themselves. What children’s books can
do is provide language and new perspective for these explorations that are already
beginning to happen.
I don’t think that
kids need to be exposed to everything, of course. I’m very careful about what
my young children read and watch. But stories can be opportunities. Stories can
begin conversations. Stories can frame some of the realities of the world in a
way that can give kids confidence and tools, in ways that can promote healthy
coping and grow empathy.
Another author, Marcie
Colleen, once told me during an interview that she typically doesn’t read books
for audiences older than MG, because she prefers books that end with at least
some note of hope. I’m curious to hear what you make of that.
I love this! For me, this speaks to what makes middle-grade literature so
special. There are tough topics addressed in middle-grade, to be sure. But
there is also wonder and hope and a belief in the goodness and creativity of
humanity. When I read and write middle-grade, I do feel like I am the best
version of myself, and it is easier for me to love this world and the people in
I think it also speaks to knowing yourself. Here’s a little story: When I
was around 10, I got my hands on LORD OF THE FLIES. I felt very grown up
reading it—until the “hunt” got out of hand and they almost killed poor Robert.
I was horrified and sick to my stomach, and I took the book to the basement and
buried it at the bottom of a hamper of dirty clothes. Who knows, maybe it’s still
there to this day.
I wasn’t ready for that book.
I think that kind of self-monitoring can come naturally, but I also think
it’s something we can help teach kids. When you’re 10 years old, you don’t
always know what you need or what you’re ready for. I think that’s where
parents and teachers and librarians and other adults who know and care about
the reader can help.
Where can readers find
you, and how can they learn more about you and your work?
My website http://www.jessredman.com
is a great place to learn more about me, THE MIRACULOUS, and my next book,
QUINTESSENCE. The teaching/discussion guide, book trailers, and pre-order
campaign info (just a few more days left!) are all there.
I’m also on Twitter quite a bit at @Jess__Red and on Instagram less often at that same handle. I love hearing from readers!
Jess Redman has wanted to be an author since age six, when her poem “I Read and Read and Read All Day” appeared in a local anthology. It took a little while though. First, she did things like survive middle school, travel around the world, become a therapist, and have two kids.
But then finally, her childhood dream came true! Her middle-grade debut, THE MIRACULOUS, will be published by FSG/Macmillan on July 30, 2019. Her second middle-grade novel, QUINTESSENCE, will be out on July 28, 2020. You can find her at www.JessRedman.com.
In the tradition of heartwrenching and hopeful middle grade novels such as Bridge to Terabithia comes Jess Redman’s stunning debut about a young boy who must regain his faith in miracles after a tragedy changes his world.
Eleven-year-old Wunder Ellis is a miracle-collector. In a journal he calls The Miraculous, he records stories of the inexplicable and the extraordinary. And he believes every single one. But then his newborn sister dies, at only eight days old. If that can happen, then miracles can’t exist. So Wunder gets rid of The Miraculous. He stops believing.
Then he meets Faye―a
cape-wearing, outspoken girl with losses of her own. Together, they find an
abandoned house by the cemetery and a mysterious old woman who just might be a
witch. The old woman asks them for their help. She asks them to believe. And
they go on a journey that leads to friendship, to adventure, to healing―and to
The Miraculous is Jess Redman’s sparkling debut novel about facing grief, trusting the unknown, and finding brightness in the darkest moments.
Praise for THE MIRACULOUS
“Redman explores faith, the intertwined nature of sorrow and
joy, and the transformative process of grief through Wunder’s eyes in a
part-fantasy, part-realistic adventure with genuinely humorous moments…Layered,
engaging, and emotionally true.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“Redman’s gorgeous debut uses a cozy world of bright
characters to tackle themes of death, grief, and doubt with gentle
compassion and a light touch…a moving lesson for young people
learning to cope with both the good and the bad that life has to offer.”
“A stunning story expressing the complexities and mysteries of love and
death in all of its light and darkness. A beautifully rendered and meaningful
read for young readers asking deep questions.” —Veera Hiranandani, author
of Newbery Honor-winning THE NIGHT DIARY
“Filled with longing,
love, hope, and wisdom, THE MIRACULOUS is a small miracle of a book.” —Alison
McGhee, author of SHADOW BABY and the NYT Bestseller SOMEDAY
serious, yet woven through with wry humor, this story’s miracles are its fierce
and tender characters. I loved this extraordinary debut.” —Leslie Connor,
author of the National Book Award Finalist THE TRUTH AS TOLD BY MASON BUTTLE