It’s an exciting time of year as we flip over the calendar and find a whole year’s worth of new MG titles scheduled for release. It’s especially thrilling for a debut author whose first book is coming out, and you can find many groups that form to support each other through the year. Class of 2K20 is one such group; it’s comprised of 20 debut authors (10 middle grade and 10 young adult) who have books coming out in 2020. You can learn more about all of the authors and their books here: https://classof2k20books.com/
Today, we’re sharing the first 6 books from the middle grade Class of 2K20 authors. Many of these titles are currently being reviewed and discussed on social media. Be sure to add these dates to your calendars and pre-order now!
Three things cannot long stay hidden: the sun, the moon and the truth. – Buddha
So, if the truth cannot stay hidden, what happens to all the secrets we keep. Everyone has a secret, either their own or one they promised to keep for someone else. When we’re pressed for the truth, it’s a dilemma. Do we tell or not? What are the stakes? The choice isn’t always easy or simple, and not for the faint-hearted.
The decision to keep a family secret is at the heart of my debut middle grade novel, SWALLOWED BY A SECRET, publication date January 21, 2020, from Immortal Works Press.
When twelve-year-old Rocky learns that his mom has told him a bogus story about how his dad really died, he is gut-punched. Now, in addition to his grief, he must deal with the loss of trust in his one remaining parent. Rocky’s mom compounds his misery when she puts the For-Sale sign on the front lawn right after the funeral, afraid that if they stay in town, someone will blurt out the truth before Rocky is ready.
While I wrote this story, a visual got stuck in my head of a fork in a road. One way beckoned me to the truth and the other to the vault where secrets are locked away.
Which way should you go?
Most of us remember from our childhood being taught that the truth is sacrosanct, and yet young kids often choose to lie to stay out of trouble. Recently, I watched a funny Facebook video of a cousin pressing her four-year-old daughter about the origins of some blue marker on the white counter, only to be told repeatedly by the little girl that “the dog did it.” That was her story, and she was sticking to it. Perhaps this sweet, adorable child is a natural-born fibber or a natural-born secret keeper.
By the time we reach adulthood, we have discovered that the truth is not all it’s cracked up to be. There are times when the emotional toll of honesty is too great and doesn’t serve a higher purpose. Should you tell Aunt Gertrude she got fat? Does your friend have to know that the boy she likes doesn’t like her? Should you tell your child about a parent’s illness that might send him reeling from the shock?
This was the burden Rocky’s mom faced. She knew that once she told the truth, there was no going back. You cannot re-secret a secret. But the not knowing consumed Rocky and embolden him to embark on a journey of risks, eavesdropping and snooping to discover the truth, forcing him to re-think who was the father he thought he knew.
Along the way, he found out what most of us know: family secrets are epidemic and no one is immune.
Born in Boston with the accent to prove it, Risa lived within ten miles of the city for decades until a recent move to the neighboring Ocean State.
For many years, Risa worked in a nonpartisan, not-for-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to promoting active participation in our democracy with a special focus on voting and elections.
Then a strange event that involved three pennies led her to take a deep dive into creative writing, which is now a priority and passion – unless grandchildren are nearby.
At other times, you might find Risa reading, exercising or doing therapeutic ironing.
The folks in Glimmer Creek know there’s something special about their small town. Every year, one lucky resident survives danger and is gifted with bits of magic that last a lifetime. There’s no explanation for these Miracles, but that doesn’t stop filmmaker Rosie from believing in them.
Readers will immediately feel part of Glimmer Creek as Rosie decides to create a documentary about the Miracles with the help of her friends Henry & Cam. She plans to show her film at the town’s yearly festival, and while her plan may seem innocent, she’s secretly hoping to meet her father, an actor whom she’s never met, by inviting him to the premiere.
Things I loved about this MG novel:
•The cast of characters in this small town was spectacular. Their perspectives on the documentary were varied and could encourage a good debate with readers.
•The complexity of friendship strengths & struggles between Rosie, Henry and Cam was relatable for middle grade readers.
•Things between Rosie and her mom weren’t perfect. Though they’re each other’s #1 fan, both made mistakes that pushed open discussion that (eventually) strengthened their relationship.
•There are recipes mentioned in the story that are included at the end of the book. I can’t wait to try them out!
With themes of community, family, friendship, and perseverance, this is one I’ll preorder for my 4th and 5th grade readers. Publishes 4/7/20.
* Thanks to Stacy Hackney and Simon & Schuster for sharing an ARC with MG Book Village!
Katie Reilley is a fourth and fifth grade ELA teacher from Elburn, Illinois, and a proud mom to two amazing daughters, ages 14 and 10 who has been married to a wonderful husband for 18 years. She’s a member of #bookexpedition, a group of teachers, librarians and authors who read and review ARCs and newly released middle grade books. She’s also happy to be part of the #classroombookaday community, and loves to learn alongside her students and fellow educators. She has been teaching for twenty-two years, and her passion is getting books into the hands of her students. You can find her on Twitter at @KReilley5.
We are excited to introduce you to debut author Cheryl Schuermann, whose book A BOY CALLED PREACHER, comes out on April 18th. You will find her cover reveal at the end of her post.
Thank you, MG Book Village, for the opportunity to introduce my upcoming middle grade novel, A BOY CALLED PREACHER! Here is a peek into my journey as a writer and how this story came to be.
As a child, I asked a million questions. I wanted to learn everything possible about my parents’ childhoods and the major historical events during those decades. I dreamed of traveling back in time and read historical fiction voraciously, two to three novels per week.
I relished my mother’s stories of her extraordinary childhood north of the Arctic Circle. Her parents were teachers for the Territory of Alaska and her childhood was happy, secure, and fulfilling, despite the isolation and bitter cold temperatures.
Her life was truly Little House on the Tundra. How could I not write about it? In 2007, I began to focus on the craft of writing. My mother’s story became my first book, a sort of love letter to her family.
When the Water Runs: Growing Up With Alaska (2008, 2019) is a work of creative non-fiction. I wrote in my mother’s voice, as if she were sitting in your living room, telling her stories over a cup of hot tea. Though not a middle grade novel, the opportunity to write one would soon come.
My father grew up in central Kansas on a 320-acre wheat farm, far from the Eskimo village in the wild, untamed North Country. After his father abandoned the family on the farm, life became much more difficult and challenging. At the age of eight, my dad dug in and worked to help keep the wheat crops going, feeling the weight of responsibility for his mother and younger brother. He went to school, hurried home, and climbed on the tractor.
In 2009, I began writing the story of a twelve-year-old boy who finds himself managing a Kansas farm. A Boy Called Preacher is fiction. The emotions and the frustrations in the story are, unfortunately, true.
Once or twice, I found a good time to offer my dad a cup of coffee and ask a few questions. Some of his responses developed into scenes in my novel. (Yes, he really did shoot jackrabbits for the War Effort in the early 1940s.) He also mentioned a best friend who always had time to fish and always had money for the soda fountain. My dad typically did not have either.
After completing a few chapters, I asked my dad if he would like to read them. One of the sweetest memories I have is standing in my kitchen listening to him chuckle from the living room as he read. When he finished reading, I asked him what he thought. He just said, “Good job, Sis.”
In my draft, I had nicknamed the main character Preacher and named his friend Sam.
What was your best friend’s name, Dad?
He grinned. Earl Floyd.
Yep, Earl Floyd. Both names together.
Thankfully, Word has a feature called Find/Replace. I quickly replaced every Sam with Earl Floyd.
In the Fall of 2010, I submitted the completed manuscript to several agents. One expressed interest but asked me to revise the last few chapters and submit again.
I was on track to re-submit at the end of February 2011. All writing came to a halt, however, when my dad suddenly passed away the first week of February. At the time, my mother was experiencing dementia and the next five years revolved around her care. Somehow in 2015, I managed to write a biography for children for the Oklahoma Hall of Fame, Jordan Tang: Think…Create…Discover.
In February of 2019, nearly three years after my mother’s passing, I opened the file titled Preacher and again immersed myself in the story of Johnny “Preache Wilcox, his dog Deke, and his best friend Earl Floyd. I revisited Preacher’s encounters with Eldon Dunn (meanest tractor mechanic in Kansas), his persistence at solving a water crisis threatening the family farm, and his relationship with a stranger who brings clues about his father’s past.
Through the years, I have grown to love Preacher and Earl Floyd, their personalities, the way they interact with one another, and the way Preacher tries to make Earl Floyd understand. Earl Floyd just doesn’t get it–not in a mean way, just in an Earl Floyd way. Though ignorant of the depth of Preacher’s pain, Earl Floyd is a faithful friend. And Preacher grows up before our eyes.
Having taught reading to all grades K-12, I can honestly say my favorite students to teach were the middle grade readers. I was especially drawn to reluctant boy readers in middle grades. Maybe because I raised four of them in my home. Oh, mine could read just fine. But they did not choose to read. What?? Why would I want to read? They would much rather be outside seining the pond for crawdads than curled up on the couch with a good book. Finding a book that would turn magic in their hands and draw them into a story was not always easy.
Will a middle grade reader start reading A Boy Called Preacher and not want to put it down? Will students relate to the characters, the challenges, and the emotions in this story? Will they ask, Is there another one?
Then, we have readers.
This is why I write middle grade.
And, yes! A second Preacher book is coming.
Cheryl Schuermann loved her many years in the classroom as a special educator and reading specialist. Always a literacy advocate, she spent sixteen more years consulting with educators across the United States. Her desire is for students everywhere to be proficient readers who can hardly wait to open a new book. Cheryl and her illustrator husband, Stan, live in Oklahoma where they enjoy being close to their family, including thirteen grandchildren.
A Boy Called Preacher is scheduled for release February 29, 2020 by INtense Publications. This is Cheryl’s debut MG novel and Stan Schuermann’s debut as a children’s book illustrator. Their debut picture book, Gwyneth Came to Dance, is scheduled for release Fall 2020.
Hi there, Ali! Thanks so much for stopping by the MG Book Village to talk about your upcoming chapter book series and to share one of the four book’s covers.
Hi! Thanks so much for having me. I’m honored and excited to chat with the MG Book Village community.
Let’s get right to it. The four books in the Sylvie series are coming out all at once, but together, they constitute your debut. Can you tell us about your journey to the printed page?
I started writing about
five years ago. Growing up in New York City I spent a lot of time volunteering
and attending rallies with my family, from a very young age. When I had
children of my own, I looked for books reflecting those experiences and values.
I found so many beautiful stories centered on themes of kindness and helping
others, which was amazing. That said, most tended to be set within the context
of one’s family, school, or friends. I did not find as many books showing the
characters in a larger context, or specifically engaged in service activities
reaching through their communities and beyond. So I was inspired to try to
create some myself.
I discovered a welcoming
and active kid lit community on twitter. I joined wonderful groups online
(including MG Book Village, Kidlit411, Sub it Club, Debut PB Study Group,
Storystorm, ReFoReMo) and programs (including 12×12 Picture Book Challenge,
Making Picture Book Magic, the Manuscript Academy, WriteOnCon). There I learned
about the craft of writing and the business of the children’s publishing
industry. I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI)
and attended conferences and workshops. I read hundreds of children’s books. I
read books on the craft of writing too. I took long walks with my dog, Janie,
to process it all. Perhaps the most important part of my journey was connecting
with my talented and supportive critique partners. They challenge and inspire
me every day. They also helped create Sylvie from her earliest character study
to the last lines of the final book.
Interestingly, I initially
wrote Sylvie in a picture book format. An editor said she loved Sylvie. She
called her a young “Leslie Knope” (from NBC’s Parks and Recreation) and
suggested I age Sylvie up and build out her story into a chapter book. I took
the advice and wrote Sylvie as a chapter book. Soon after, one of my critique
partners introduced me to the team at ABDO who would bring Sylvie to life.
Thank you for mentioning all of those fabulous resources — aspiring authors take note. Also, as a HUGE fan of Leslie Knope, I am now even more excited about meeting Sylvie! Now, back to you — did your work previous to writing influence and inform your writing at all?
All of my previous professional
and volunteer experiences provide me with an unusual but invaluable foundation
for my writing, especially for writing Sylvie.
Like Sylvie, I’m a lifelong altruist. Prior to writing, I served as Director of Corporate Affairs and Philanthropy for Polo Ralph Lauren. I’ve also worked or volunteered for numerous government, political, and nonprofit organizations including the White House, the United States Senate, three presidential campaigns, two presidential inaugural committees, and Special Olympics. These experiences, as well as the volunteer projects from my childhood through today, inform the events for this series.
In addition, I believe
resilience is a key for success in the publishing industry. My experience in
the political arena was an incredible lesson in giving your all and enjoying
the journey, regardless of the outcome.
I couldn’t agree more, and sometimes think resilience is the key to success in the publishing industry. Now, on to Sylvie. Can you tell us a bit more about her?
Sylvie is fiercely
determined to make a difference in the world, no matter what might get in her
way. She’s an altruist and an optimist. She is intensely passionate about the
things most important to her (especially making the world a better place, her
adopted puppy Snickers, her best friend Sammy, and ice cream sundaes with extra
Now, since today also marks the first time you are sharing any of your book’s covers, let’s talk about that. What did you think when you first saw your character, Sylvie, brought to life by illustrator Jen Taylor?
The first thing I noticed
on the cover was Sylvie’s megaphone. The inclusion of that personal item showed
how well Jen captured the spirit of this character. It was thrilling to see
Sylvie come to life with so much energy and excitement on all the covers and
interior art scenes.
Why do you think it’s
important for kids to read about a character like Sylvie?
More than ever, this
generation is growing up in a world with high-stakes challenges—environmental,
political, economic, social, and more. I hope they see these challenges as
opportunities to make a difference.
What do you hope your
readers – especially the young ones – take away from the Sylvie books?
I hope readers can see that
you are never too young to change the world for the better. And that there is
no one way to make it happen! I also hope the Sylvie books show kids they can
do anything they set their mind to, particularly when it comes to helping others.
Many of our site’s readers
are teachers and librarians. Is there anything you’d like to say to them – in
particular those planning to add Sylvie books to their classrooms and
First of all, I’d like to
say “thank you!” I have so many fond memories of my teachers and
librarians, who encouraged my love of learning and helping others. Educators
bringing Sylvie into their classrooms should check out the back matter. Each
book has a page with resources for extension activities, which I hope will
serve as a helpful roadmap. Information for events featured in the books is all
included (Make a Difference Day, Earth Day, beach clean up, and winter coat
Good to know! One last thing: where can our readers find out more about you and your work?
Thanks so much of this opportunity to connect with the incredible MG Book Village community! Readers can visit me at www.alibovisbooks.com or follow me on twitter @alibovis.
Ali Bovis is a children’s writer and lifelong altruist. Her debut chapter book series, Sylvie, releases in 2020, published by ABDO books. A Georgetown University graduate, Ali grew up in New York City and now lives in Bethesda, Maryland with her husband, two children, and two playful poodle-mixes. Like Sylvie, Ali is always dreaming up ways to make a difference in the world. Prior to writing for children, Ali served as Director of Corporate Affairs and Philanthropy for Polo Ralph Lauren. Ali has also worked or volunteered for numerous government, political, and nonprofit organizations including the White House, the United States Senate, three presidential campaigns, and Special Olympics. You can follow Ali on twitter @alibovis or visit her at www.alibovisbooks.com.
Whenever people find out I’m an author, they always end up asking me questions like:
What are the things you love to write about most?
What is the one characteristic of your writing that sets it apart?
What is your greatest writing strength?
Whatever the question, somehow, I always end of talking about complex characters and settings. I adore them both, and it’s always my goal to make my characters—particularly my main character, interact with my settings as if they too are characters in their own right. In the writing world, that is what is often referred to as “Setting as Character.” For me, it’s always been a necessity to create settings that live and breathe and act in ways that will affect what my characters will feel and think and do.
As someone who grew up in three different countries and travelled extensively as a child and adult, I’ve always found tons of inspiration in the places I’ve lived and visited. Paying attention to the sounds, the smells, the colors, the textures of a particular setting is so important in getting to know the heart of a destination and the heart of its culture.
Most often writers only focus on what the setting of a scene looks like, sprinkling descriptions here and there. That’s good and all, but a lot of times that only allows the reader to visualize the characters against a backdrop, rather than the characters interacting with that backdrop.
But how does one write setting as character without going overboard? Wouldn’t you need to go on and on, paragraph after paragraph describing every detail under the sun to make your point? Well, no, not really. A writer only needs to pick and choose those crucial details that will somehow affect your characters’ emotions. And to do that, you need to get to know your setting, as well as you get to know your characters.
What is the most effective way of doing that? For me, it’s a twofold process. Usually, I’ve either lived in or travelled to that particular place, so at the very least I have firsthand knowledge of the setting’s characteristics. While this is ideal, I realize it’s not possible for everyone. So that’s when research comes in. When researching, I love to do a combination of reading travel articles, and books about a place, and perusing hundreds of photos, choosing my favorites to add to a Pinterest board. I know that Pinterest can be a total time-suck. But whenever I start a new book, I find it really handy to create a new mood board, build a foundation, and elaborate on it as I write.
My mood boards are usually a combination of visuals of characters, settings, and objects that end up creating the whole universe of my book.
My MG debut, HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE SEA, takes place in the Philippines. Here is the official synopsis:
Pablo is homesick.
He’s only twelve years old, but he’s lived in more countries than he can count. After his parents divorced, he and his mother have moved from place to place for years, never settling anywhere long enough to call it home. And along the way, Pablo has collected more and more fears: of dirt, of germs, and most of all, of the ocean.
Now they’re living in the Philippines, and his mother, a zoologist who works at a local wildlife refuge, is too busy saving animals to notice that Pablo might need saving, too. Then his mother takes in Chiqui, an orphaned girl with a cleft lip—and Pablo finds that through being strong for Chiqui, his own fears don’t seem so scary.
He might even find the courage to face his biggest fear of all…and learn how to make friends with the sea.
Below, I’ll include excerpts from my book, and then show the images used in my Pinterest board while I was drafting. You’ll be able to see how Pablo interacts with each and every setting on a physical and emotional level, as if that setting was a character doing or saying something to him.
Photo #1: Sari-Sari store
In this excerpt, Pablo is overwhelmed by the variety of products crammed into the tiny convenience store. He recognizes that it’s a sensory overload for him, and he has to forcefully stop himself from obsessing with the display.
Meanwhile, I just gawked at all the stuff. It was an explosion of products—jam-packed from floor-to-ceiling. Everything they were selling was tiny—individual sachets of shampoo, soap, detergent, bleach, pieces of candy, gum, and chocolates in plastic jars, festive colored bags of chips hanging from the walls, and never-ending cans of tuna, sardines, and mystery meat. There was also a display of bottled sodas. Some brands I recognized, but others, like Royal Tru-Orange, Sarsi, and RC Cola, were completely foreign to me.
I had to stop myself from counting, from inspecting the rows to see if they were evenly spaced.
Photo #2: Tricycle
In this excerpt, Pablo is experiencing a lot of anxiety, and the appearance of the tricycle as a potential mode of transportation is triggering him even more.
Why was I the only one worried about this? The tricycles were basically rusty sardine cans with wheels. On one side was a motorcycle and driver, and on the other, a decrepit-looking sidecar barely big enough for two people. Instead of doors, there were filthy pieces of plastic. And the seat was a piece of plywood covered in moldy and torn vinyl. The two guys driving had on basketball shorts and flip-flops. Not a helmet in sight.
Photo #3: Narra flowers
In this excerpt, Pablo describes the carpet of yellow narra flowers, and then goes on to explain how he would ordinarily feel about it. We also see a change in him, based on how his outlook to the environment has evolved.
We left the adults behind and stood on the curb, waiting for the tricycles to pass by. Finally, the road cleared. A gust of wind blew above us, shaking the narra trees. Hundreds, maybe thousands, maybe even millions of tiny yellow flowers showered down. It was as if particles of light were falling straight from the sun.
I held Chiqui’s hand as we crossed. There was still part of me that was disgusted by the cheesy powder on her fingers. There was still part of me that wondered what bacteria, what viruses, what germs were floating in the air and oozing under our feet. There was still part of me that wanted to count every single flower on the ground, and then sweep them up with the old-fashioned broom and dustpan in my closet. But there was also another part of me that didn’t care quite as much.
Photo #4: Beach hut ceiling
In this excerpt, Pablo feels physically ill from a bad experience he just had. He uses the woven ceiling of the beach hut to try and soothe himself.
I collapsed on a bamboo bench. Maybe I would feel better after a nap.
Thankfully there was a breeze. It blew back and forth, ruffling the hut’s thatched edges. It was like listening to crinkling paper. For a while I gazed up at the pattern on the ceiling. The dried palm fronds were woven so meticulously. They were perfect. My eyes stung from staring so hard. Maybe if I stared and stared and stared, I wouldn’t think about what had happened.
Photo #5: Boodle Fight meal
In this excerpt, Pablo is presented with a situation where people are sharing a meal and eating with their hands. While that may seem fun to other people, it’s extremely stressful for him.
“Everyone! Kain tayo! Let’s eat!” announced Heinz.
The crowd parted. My breath halted.
What the . . .
I was in complete and utter shock.
There was a long and low table with sixteen floor cushions. There was no tablecloth, no place settings, no napkins, no coasters, no platters, no serving-ware. Nothing. Instead, there were huge, shiny green leaves covering the table. Along the center, from one end to the other, there were mounds of food plopped directly onto the leaves—grilled meat and seafood, tomato, onion and eggplant salad, sautéed greens, boiled eggs, red and white rice, watermelon and mango slices and little coconut bowls filled with condiments and water. I didn’t see a plate or a fork or a spoon or a knife in sight.
How am I supposed to eat?
People settled onto the floor cushions, and then they dipped their hands in water before helping themselves to the food. With. Their. Hands.
Photo #6: Bangka
In this excerpt, Pablo is already experiencing anxiety, but the appearance of the bangkas by the sea exacerbates his anxiety even more.
Miguel peered between the two front seats. He must have seen the confusion plastered on our faces, because he pointed toward the beach and said, “We can’t drive directly to the cove. That’s what all those bangkas are for.”
“Bangkas?” I blurted out. “What the heck are bangkas?”
Ms. Grace touched my shoulder. “See all those boats, Pablo? Those are bangkas. They’re outrigger canoes made out of wood. The larger ones are motorized. The smaller ones only use paddles. It’s the most common mode of water transportation in the Philippines. They can also be used for fishing,” she explained.
I gawked at the narrow canoes with their bamboo outriggers. They looked flimsy, like do-it-yourself balsawood boats a kid would make.
“It’s the easiest way, Pablo. The alternative would be hiking through a mountain to get to the other side,” said Miguel.
It felt like every gaze in the car was directed at me. White spots of panic flashed, making everything I looked at all polka-dotty.
I hope these examples from my debut have helped in some way to show how setting as character can be used as an effective tool in the MG narrative. Here are some points I’d like to emphasize:
1. Describe the setting with your protagonist’s voice in mind. With MG, I think this is of particular importance.
2. Don’t go overboard with describing everything in the setting. Pick a couple of elements that would set the mood and pique your character’s interest.
3. Use the mood of your setting as a tool to highlight your character’s emotional state.
4. As your protagonist goes through his/her/their character arc, make sure that the mood and description of the setting shifts as well. If your characters are happier, descriptions can be cheerier. If they are sadder, descriptions can be gloomier. If they are angrier, descriptions can be harsher. So on and so forth.
5. Finally, if you are challenged by writing “Setting as Character,” try to play around with visual tools such as creating a mood board on Pinterest, an actual mood board with a cork board collage, or if you have artistic skills, sketch out your scenes the way your protagonist would see them.
Tanya Guerrero is Filipino and Spanish by birth, but has been fortunate enough to call three countries home: the Philippines, Spain, and the United States. Currently, she lives in a shipping container home in the suburbs of Manila with her husband, daughter, and a menagerie of rescued cats and dogs. In her free time, she grows her own food, bakes bread, and reads. How to Make Friends with the Sea is her debut novel.