MG at Heart Writer’s Toolbox: Using Word Choice to Create Atmospheric Setting

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The MG at Heart team is back again with a mid-month post about our August pick, Cindy Baldwin’s Where the Watermelons Grow. A heartfelt story that explores mental illness and its effects on family.

Twelve-year-old Della Kelly has lived her whole life in Maryville, North Carolina. She knows how to pick the softest butter beans and sweetest watermelons on her daddy’s farm. She knows ways to keep her spitfire baby sister out of trouble (most of the time). She knows everyone in Maryville, from her best friend Arden to kind newcomer Miss Lorena to the mysterious Bee Lady.

And Della knows what to do when the sickness that landed her mama in the hospital four years ago spirals out of control again, and Mama starts hearing people who aren’t there, scrubbing the kitchen floor until her hands are raw, and waking up at night to cut the black seeds from all the watermelons in the house. With Daddy struggling to save the farm from a record-breaking drought, Della decides it’s up to her to heal Mama for good. And she knows just how she’ll do it: with a jar of the Bee Lady’s magic honey, which has mended the wounds and woes of Maryville for generations.

She doesn’t want to hear the Bee Lady’s truth: that the solution might have less to do with fixing Mama’s brain than with healing Della’s own heart. But as the sweltering summer stretches on, Della must learn—with the help of her family and friends, plus a fingerful of watermelon honey—that love means accepting her mama just as she is.

The entire setting of the book is in Maryville, North Carolina, and every word in the story points to the character and atmosphere of the little Southern town. Besides the Southern drawl of the characters, lines like “Anybody who knew Mylie knew that she had been born with mischief in her hands and big ideas in her head” and “I could see where Thomas got his springtime smile from, Miss Lorena’s liked to light up the whole town” immerse the reader in the setting. (And I’m not even talking about the lovely symbolism of the heat throughout book.) Della’s observations are seeped deeply in Southern lingo, which helps the character of the town come alive. Couldn’t you hear the drawl as you read?

Using the right descriptive words is important. I feel that, in middle-grade novels, it’s especially important. A budding scientist wouldn’t use “doodad” in her internal dialogue much like an aspiring fashion designer wouldn’t say “that pink thingy you’re wearing” (or similar 😉 ). Those words aren’t part of their world and definitely are not part of their vocabulary, so they wouldn’t be on the page.

I feel like the Holy Grail knight in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Choose wisely…and your words will immerse your reader in the world you’ve created.

And while you weigh your word-choice options, enjoy Where the Watermelons Grow, where Cindy Baldwin utilizes this art to the very best.

Interview: Cindy Baldwin — Plus: WHERE THE WATERMELONS GROW Book Trailer Premiere!

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I was super excited when Cindy Baldwin reached out to us about sharing her book trailer for WHERE THE WATERMELONS GROW at the MG Book Village. Book trailers are such a great way to invite viewers into the world of a book, to give them a small taste of what they’ll find behind the cover. And making sure that taste is tantalizing enough to get those potential readers to actually pick the book up and give it a read is no easy task. I was curious to learn about the process behind the creation of Cindy’s trailer — and, of course, to see it! Check out our interview below, and stick around to view the trailer.

~ Jarrett

Thanks, Cindy, for choosing the MG Book Village as the place to host the premiere of your book trailer! Before we get to that, though, can you tell readers who aren’t familiar with WHERE THE WATERMELONS GROW a bit about the book?

Sure! It’s a middle grade novel set in rural eastern North Carolina (about two hours from where I grew up!). Twelve-year-old Della would do anything to heal her mother’s schizophrenia permanently—even trying magic honey from the Bee Lady, whose honeys have tended the wounds and woes of Maryville for generations—but when all her efforts fail, Della has to realize that loving her mama means accepting her just the way she is.

The book has been out for a month and a half now. What has this time been like for you? Is it as you expected? What has most surprised you about finally having your book out there in the world for others to read, share, and discuss?

It has been so, so much more wonderful than I expected, actually! For much of this year I’ve felt like an anxious, neurotic mess of nerves, and I was really afraid that my release month would be the same, just more intense. But it hasn’t been like that at all! It’s been so cool to see people all over the country reading a book I wrote. It’s been especially meaningful to me how many people have privately shared with me the ways that their lives resemble Della’s, and how much the book resonated with them. That’s been really special.

Now, onto the trailer. Many books have trailers these days, though not all do. What made you decide that WHERE THE WATERMELONS GROW should have a trailer?

I have always been intrigued by book trailers, and I also really enjoy doing little video projects in my spare time. (Every Christmas, for instance, I make a family year-in-review video for us to watch on Christmas Day.) Initially I wasn’t planning to make a trailer, but the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to try! I also know that middle grade book trailers can be really helpful, because teachers and librarians are able to use them to get students excited about the book. I don’t know if I’ll be doing trailers for future books or not—probably just if inspiration strikes me again—but it was a really fun project to do this time.

Were there other book trailers you looked to for guidance, ideas, and/or inspiration?

I really loved Ellie Terry’s trailer for Forget Me Not last year, and I knew that I wanted mine to be somewhat similar, in terms of having real people and a voiceover, rather than just text. I looked at a LOT of other book trailers, too, to get a feel for length, pacing, and tone.

I know you made the trailer yourself. Can you tell us what that process and experience was like? Did you have a vision for it straightaway? Did it evolve?

I had a couple of different ideas to create a trailer, and I ran them all past some critique partners who had read the book. All of them voted unanimously for the one we ended up doing! I knew that I wanted the voiceover to be a girl with a wonderful Southern accent, so I outsourced to some of my friends who still live in the South (I now live in Oregon) and ended up using a friend’s granddaughter, who did the job beautifully. The actress in the video is actually a different girl—a local friend’s daughter, who was a great sport when I gave her instructions like “okay, now take a bite of the watermelon and smile. Okay, now sit on this uncomfortable gate and do it all again.” We shot the trailer at a local farm, Stoneboat PDX, whose CSA I’ve participated in for several years. It’s a really gorgeous property, with rolling hills and big trees and beautiful vistas! Originally I’d planned to share the trailer in late spring, and so we shot the trailer in May and actually had to buy watermelons from the grocery store to make it look more like a watermelon patch. That was kind of funny. It’s not often you roll up to the checkout lane with nothing in your cart but ten watermelons!!! My husband and I also had way too much giggly fun dropping a watermelon off the roof for the closing shot.

Most book trailers are about a minute long. That’s 60 seconds to tantalize potential readers, to compel them to go out and get their hands on YOUR book as opposed to the countless others vying for their attention — a tall order, for sure. How did you come to decide what to include in the trailer?

Like I mentioned, I ran a couple of different ideas by critique partners, and they picked what they felt was the most compelling and best representation of the book. I spent several days working on the voiceover script—it’s based on some text in the book, but also very different. I wanted to make sure that it was short and concise, but also showcased some of the things I love best about the book, like the tension and the lyrical language. Much of the trailer mirrors the first chapter of the book, and both have the same goal: to hook a reader and get them excited about reading further.

Let’s take a look at the trailer!

It’s wonderful!

Thanks! I really enjoyed making it.

One last question before I let you go. In the coming months and years, your book is sure to reach many, many more readers. What do you hope those readers — the young ones especially — take away from Della and her family’s story?

I always feel like there are two kinds of children I wrote this book for—children like I was, who feel like their lives are very different from (and much more difficult than) the kids around them, and struggle with feelings of loneliness and isolation as a result; and children like my daughter, who are growing up with disabled mamas who love them very much, even if their mothering, and what they’re capable of, doesn’t always look quite like other mothers. I hope that Where the Watermelons Grow is a reminder to children in all kinds of difficult situations that their lives have meaning, value, and beauty, even if they look different from the lives of their peers!

headshotsmallCindy Baldwin is a fiction writer, essayist, and poet. She grew up in North Carolina and still misses the sweet watermelons and warm accents on a daily basis. As a middle schooler, she kept a book under her bathroom sink to read over and over while fixing her hair or brushing her teeth, and she dreams of writing the kind of books readers can’t bear to be without. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and daughter, surrounded by tall trees and wild blackberries. Her debut novel, Where The Watermelons Grow, was published by HarperCollins Children’s Books on July 3rd of this year.

Cover Reveal: UP FOR AIR, by Laurie Morrison

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I am so excited to welcome Laurie Morrison to the MG Book Village for the cover reveal of her latest novel, UP FOR AIR. I’ve been a huge fan of Laurie’s work since her debut novel Every Shiny Thing, and I can’t wait to read this story!  A big thank you to Laurie for letting us host the reveal and for taking the time to answer a few questions about UP FOR AIR.

~ Corrina

. . .

Hi Laurie! Before we reveal the cover, can you tell us a bit about Up for Air?

Hi, Corrina! Thanks so much for having me on MG Book Village! Up for Air is a contemporary middle grade novel about self-esteem, swimming, summer, social pressures, shifting friendships, academic challenges, and an intense crush. Here’s the description from my publisher:

Thirteen-year-old Annabelle struggles in school, no matter how hard she tries. But as soon as she dives into the pool, she’s unstoppable. She’s the fastest girl on the middle school swim team, and when she’s asked to join the high school team for the summer, everything changes. Suddenly, she’s got new friends, and a high school boy starts treating her like she’s somebody special—and Annabelle thinks she’ll finally stand out in a good way. She’ll do anything to fit in and help the team make it to the Labor Day Invitational, even if it means blowing off her old friends. But after a prank goes wrong, Annabelle is abandoned by the older boy and can’t swim. Who is she without the one thing she’s good at? Heartwarming and relatable, Up for Air is a story about where we find our self-worth.

You’ve mentioned that this novel was inspired by your students. I’d love to hear more about that!

Yes! The short answer is that one student told me to write Annabelle’s story after reading a (now shelved) manuscript in which Annabelle was a secondary character. Then my conversations with several other students about the kinds of books they wished they could find convinced me to go for it.

The long version is this: I taught 6th, 7th, and 8th grade English Language Arts for ten years, and it was a challenge to find contemporary realistic novels that felt geared toward my 11-14 year-old students. A lot of middle grade novels felt too young to them, so many of them (especially the 7th and 8th graders) read young adult books instead.

There was nothing wrong with that at all! Except that I wanted them to know that their current experiences were important and worth reading about, too. And I saw how much it meant to them when I could hand them a book that was about a 12, 13, or 14 year-old character they related to—one who was confronting some of the same pressures and changes they were dealing with.

But I couldn’t find many books that explored things like the attention some middle school girls started to get as their bodies developed—attention that was thrilling in some ways but scary and isolating in others. And I struggled to find books that delved into the way some of my students were ready for certain kinds of experiences, friendships, and flirtations, and others just weren’t yet…or some of them were ready for these things in one moment and then eager to retreat to something innocent, silly, and kid-like in the next.

I wanted to write an upper middle grade novel that would address topics like these and appeal to 10-14 year-old readers, but I’d been warned against writing something that would fall into the unmarketable gray area between middle grade and young adult fiction. So I wrote a YA novel called Rebound, which featured a fairly innocent teen protagonist I thought older middle schoolers would relate to…and that teen protagonist had a younger stepsister named Annabelle.

One of my 7th grade students read Rebound in 2014 and said, “I want Annabelle’s story next.” I loved that idea! I loved Annabelle and knew her story could explore many of the adolescent pressures and changes I saw my students confronting. But I was apprehensive about pouring my heart, time, and energy into something unmarketable, so I held onto the seed of her story but didn’t do much with it….until I shared Rebecca Stead’s Goodbye Stranger with a group of 7th graders the next year.

Goodbye Stranger prompted incredibly rich, passionate conversations. Students were so eager to talk about the storyline that features a 7th grade girl getting attention for her developing body. And then I led a book club group of 5th-8th graders who read Natasha Friend’s Where You’ll Find Me. That book was a hit with all of the participants regardless of their age, but the older readers in the group especially talked about how good it felt to read a novel about an 8th grade protagonist who “really felt like an 8th grader.” They wanted more books like Goodbye Stranger and Where You’ll Find Me. They wanted a story like Annabelle’s, and I wanted to write it.

And so, finally, I did. I’m so happy that my critique partners, agent, and editor believe in Annabelle’s story as much as I do, and I can’t wait for it to be out in the world! I’m especially excited to give an advance copy to the student who asked me to write about Annabelle back when she was in 7th grade. She’s now about to start her senior year in high school, but better late than never, I figure!

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

The cover artist is Nishant Choksi, and the designer is Hana Nakamura. And I was so thrilled to see the final version! I love the bright colors, the way the title looks in those bubbles, and the way Annabelle looks simultaneously grown up and kid-like. I think it’s really eye-catching and vibrant, and it captures the story so well.

Laurie – thank you for letting us take a peek at the cover of Up for Air!  When can readers get it, and where is a good place to preorder?

It’s my absolute pleasure! Up for Air will be out on May 7, 2019 from Abrams/Amulet Books. Readers can preorder on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or IndieBound.

Thank you! And now let’s take a look!

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Laurie Morrison Headshot 1Laurie Morrison taught middle school English for ten years and is the author of two middle grade novels: Every Shiny Thing (Abrams, 2018, co-authored with Cordelia Jensen) and Up for Air (Abrams, 2019). She collaborates with other authors to run Middle Grade at Heart, an online book club and newsletter. Laurie holds a BA from Haverford College, an MA from The University of Arizona, and an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts.  She lives with her family in Philadelphia, and she loves iced coffee, freshly baked pastries, the ocean, and (of course) books.

Interview: Patricia Newman

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First, can you introduce yourself to our readers?

Writing about myself is harder than any other type of writing that I do. My official author’s bio lists the titles I’ve written and the awards I’ve won, but I imagine you’d like to go deeper. Here’s a compromise—a snapshot list.

I like:

The ocean better than the desert

Sunshine better than rain

Thunder better than lightning

Research better than writing a first draft

Life science better than physical science

Dogs better than cats

Breakfast better than lunch

Pasta better than steak

Game of Thrones better than Westworld

Board games/card games better that role-playing games

Outdoors better than indoors

Reading better than…um, well, anything

Oh, and I’m a Gryffindor

Now to the new book: EAVESDROPPING ON ELEPHANTS. What’s it all about?

Elephants! (That was for the elephant lovers out there, because for us that’s enough.)

But for those of you who don’t already love these magnificent animals, Eavesdropping on Elephants takes you deep into the forests of Central Africa to listen to the little-known forest elephant.

You probably already know that elephants live on two continents, Asia and Africa, but did you know there are two species of African elephants? Savanna elephants (which get most of the attention in books and nature documentaries) and forest elephants. Instead of roaming the wide-open plains of East Africa, forest elephants hide in the dense forests of Central Africa.

The Elephant Listening Project studies these complex creatures by eavesdropping on their conversations. Scientists hope to understand how elephants use the forest and decode what they’re saying to one another to save them from extinction.

I included QR codes in this book because it’s difficult to write about sound without the benefit of hearing it. Scanning the QR codes will transport you to the forest for elephant audio and video just as the scientists saw it!

What did your research for the book look like?

The story of the Elephant Listening Project (ELP) spans many years and involves several people—most of whom I interviewed during a cold rainy trip to Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. Technically, ELP belongs to Cornell’s famous Lab of Ornithology. Are you scratching your head trying to figure how birds and elephants mix? You’re not alone. Actually, it’s more about the technology. The Bioacoustics Research Program is housed at the Lab, and bioacoustics recording devices are used by ELP to listen to forest elephants.

I spoke with ELP founder Katy Payne (who (with her former husband) discovered humpback whales compose songs for each other). Katy, now in her 80s, took me back to that first day she proved elephants communicate with infrasound, sounds too low for us to hear. The sort of discovery every scientist dreams of, and one that launched a significant body of elephant research.

I interviewed Peter Wrege, the current director of ELP, about his trekking through the forest to put acoustic recorders in trees, and Daniela Hedwig, a young German scientist newly hired to study the language of elephants. Liz Rowland showed me around the ELP lab where she analyzes the forest sounds that Peter brings back. And I met several student volunteers trained to listen to the sounds and categorize them.

I also spoke with Andrea Turkalo, an elephant researcher from the Wildlife Conservation Society who partnered with ELP. Andrea knows thousands of elephants by name. I studied some of her index cards on which she recorded their features, such as sex, tusk length and shape, ear markings, and family relationships. By the time I finished my research even I could identify some of the elephants!

Scientific studies are always part of my research, and I waded through my fair share. Best of all I watched hours of elephant videos, learning their behavior and listening to their conversations.

Each book I research is truly a labor of love because of the hours spent questioning, describing, writing, and revising. Meeting the scientists was one of the highlights of Eavesdropping on Elephants. They are dedicated, generous people who want the world to step up and save elephants.

What was the most surprising and/or fascinating thing you learned during your research?

I already knew elephants communicated using infrasound because my daughter volunteered for ELP as an undergraduate. But I wasn’t prepared for the variety of sounds they make. We’ve all heard elephants trumpet, but have you heard them rumble, roar, and aooga? You will if you read this book and take advantage of the QR codes.

Of course these sounds are cool from a novelty perspective, but they’re also cool from a scientific perspective. The Elephant Listening Project is trying to find out what the sounds mean in combination with one another. Does a roar-rumble mean something different than a rumble-roar? What sounds do infants make when separated from their mothers? The answers to these questions are important because they help scientists decode elephant messages when they can’t see their behavior in the forest.

Why do you think it’s important for kids to have non-fiction books as part of their reading diet?

By now we’re all probably familiar with how children’s fiction acts as a window and a mirror, but the same is true for nonfiction—especially science nonfiction. I’ve written about marine debris, zoo scientists who promote conservation, Ebola, sea otters that save entire ecosystems, and now elephants. Every scientist was once a child who rescued animals, loved horses, participated in Earth Day clean-ups, or geeked out on technology. I hope my readers see themselves reflected in these inspiring scientists and dream big dreams for their futures.

Nonfiction books also act as windows onto the natural and physical world, filling kids with TRUE stories, connections, and facts. We all know kids who recite shark facts or pour over all things outer space, but nonfiction also promotes diversity by forging bonds between kids of different ethnicities interested in things such as sharks or space. Nonfiction expands the perspective of young readers beyond home and family to the wider world. It points out connections between us and the STEM fields. By understanding these connections, kids realize their place in the world and how they affect it.

What about conservation do you hope readers take away from EAVESDROPPING ON ELEPHANTS?

Conservation is about connections and balance. How the natural world affects us and vice versa.

For instance, in Sea Otter Heroes, I show kids how sea otters have a huge impact on the food chain in a seagrass ecosystem. No sea otters? No seagrass. Without seagrass, baby fish (our future food supply) wouldn’t have a place to grow up, our shores would erode because of waves, and climate change would be worse than it is now.

Let’s take that to present day politics. The White House plans to scale back protections on threatened species (such as sea otters), and allow economic factors to be considered before protecting species or habitats. Would this mean that an urchin or abalone fisher would have the right to kill a sea otter eating from the fishery? No one knows. But if sea otters suffer, so do seagrass ecosystems, and ultimately us.

In Eavesdropping on Elephants scientists from ELP are desperately trying to save elephants from poaching, mining, and other human intrusions into the forest. Not simply because elephants are the largest living land mammal on Earth, but because as Andrea Turkalo says, “Elephants are the architects of the forest.” They range widely eating fruit as they go and their feces contain seeds that sprout new trees and keep the forest alive. While the forest lives, it mitigates the effects of climate change, supports a huge array of mammals, insects, reptiles, birds, and plants, and sustains the native people who call the forest home.

I want kids to understand that the planet is not ours—we share it. Sharing always means compromise and compromise is a balancing act. Economic gain is not a divine right, but must live in harmony with the natural world that sustains us. I hope that my environmental nonfiction provides the appropriate connections so kids not only find their place in the world, but are moved to ACT.

Patricia_Newman.jpgPatricia Newman’s books inspire kids to seek connections to the real world. Titles such as SEA OTTER HEROES, EAVESDROPPING ON ELEPHANTS, and NEEMA’S REASON TO SMILE encourage readers to act and use imagination to solve problems. A Robert F. Sibert Honor recipient, her books have received starred reviews, two Green Earth Book Awards, a Parents’ Choice Award, been honored as Junior Library Guild Selections, and included on Bank Street College’s Best Books lists. Her author visits are described as “phenomenal,” “fantastic,” “mesmerizing,” “passionate,” and “inspirational.” Visit her at www.patriciamnewman.com.

. . .

Haven’t had enough elephants? Check out the EAVESDROPPING ON ELEPHANTS book trailer here, and learn even more about the book here. You can also find Patricia on Twitter at @PatriciaNewman and on Facebook at Patricia Newman Books. Below is a bit more about some of her other books.

NEEMA’S REASON TO SMILE is the story of a young Kenyan girl who wants to attend school but can’t. Winner of a Parents’ Choice Recommended Award, this beautifully illustrated picture book includes themes of equal access to education and financial literacy.

ZOO SCIENTISTS TO THE RESCUE is about three remarkable scientists who use scientific investigation to save endangered species. The book is a Bank Street College Best Children’s Book of the Year; A Chicago Public Library Best of the Best Book; a Junior Library Guild Selection; and a Eureka! Gold winner from the California Reading Association.

SEA OTTER HEROES: THE PREDATORS THAT SAVED AN ECOSYSTEM is a Sibert Honor book; a Green Earth Book Award winner; and a Junior Library Guild selection about Dr. Brent Hughes’ discovery that the sea otter, an apex predator in Elkhorn Slough off Monterey Bay, helps protect the seagrass ecosystem. The book received a starred review in KIRKUS and made the AAAS/Subaru SB&F Longlist.

EBOLA: FEARS AND FACTS tells the story of the 2014 Ebola epidemic and the amazing healthcare professionals and volunteers who helped stop it. The book received a starred review in BOOKLIST and was ranked one of the Best Books of the Year by Bank Street College

PLASTIC, AHOY! INVESTIGATING THE GREAT PACIFIC GARBAGE PATCH follows three female scientists who are among the first to study the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The book received the Green Earth Book Award sponsored by The Nature Generation, is a Junior Library Guild Selection, and was selected as a finalist for the AAAS/Subaru SB&F Award.

Paula Chase (So Done): Books Between, Episode 57

Episode Outline:

Listen to the episode here!

Intro

Hi everyone and welcome to Books Between – a podcast for teachers, librarians, parents, and anyone who loves middle grade books!  My goal is to help you connect kids between 8-12 with fantastic reads and share inspiring conversations with the authors and educators who make that magic happen.

I’m your host, Corrina Allen – a mom for the past 11 years, a teacher for the past 17 years, and a fan of flavored seltzer for the past two months. Either I have been oblivious to it or suddenly there is a plethora of sparkling waters and seltzer available everywhere! Including some tasty hard seltzers for those inclined. And during a hot, sticky summer – a frigid, fizzy can of black cherry seltzer poured over a full glass of ice is just about the best thing ever.!

This is episode #57 and today I am giving you a quick first impression of three new books, and sharing a conversation with Paula Chase – author of So Done.

One super quick announcement – set yourself a reminder for Monday nights at 9pm EST so you never miss the #MGBookChat Twitter chat!  We have some really great topics coming up like creating a classroom community through books, ending gendered labels, and how teachers and public librarians can support each other.

Book Bites

First up is a brand new segment I am calling Book Bites – where I will give you a quick sampling of a few books. And share first lines and first impressions from reading the first chapter. This week I am previewing The Phantom Tower by Keir Graff, The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden by Karina Yan Glaser, and Scream Site by Justina Ireland.

The Phantom Tower

The first novel I want to talk about is The Phantom Tower by Keir Graff. You may know him from his other middle grade novel The Matchstick Castle. This book is described as 51CPglxwY6L._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgmagic, mischief, and mystery colliding in a thrilling adventure. It’s about 12 year old identical twin brothers who move into a mysterious apartment building and discover a portal to a parallel dimension.

First lines: 

“The first time I saw Brunhild Towers was the day we moved in. Even though it wasn’t that long ago, I saw a lot of things differently back then, I thought old people were boring. I thought learning history was a good way to fall asleep. I thought dying was simple. You probably noticed I said Towers, not Tower. Pay attention and I’ll explain everything.”

First impressions: The first thing I noticed when I opened the pages – a map! The first chapter was fast-paced and fun but didn’t make you feel lost. You definitely get enough background info to help orient you to the characters and the tone with lots of touches of humor. The story is written in 1st person and told by one of the twins – Colm. The first chapter reminded me a bit of Peculiar Incident on Shady Street, so if you have kids who like that novel or The Explorers or The Mysterious Benedict Society, The Phantom Tower would be a good book to introduce them to next.

The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden

Next up is the sequel to a beloved middle grade novel – Karina Yan Glaser’s The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden. In this story – the Vanderbeeker kids band 61uVvYo6RtL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgtogether to do something nice for their upstairs neighbors (Miss Josie & Mr. Jeet) who are going through a tough time. And in classic Vanderbeeker fashion, the five kids make an elaborate plan to convert the abandoned (and possibly haunted) lot next to the church into the gorgeous community garden that Miss Josie has always wanted.  

First lines:

“This is the most boring summer in the whole history of the world,” nine year-old Oliver Vanderbeeker announced. He was wearing basketball shorts and a faded blue T-shirt, and his hair was sticking out in every direction.”

First impressions: Well – Oliver doesn’t stay bored for long!  And oh how I loved jumping back into the sweet Vanderbeeker banter! The premise of this novel reminds me a bit of the book Seedfolks, and I’m curious how they solve the water problem here…. Along with all the other obstacles I am sure they will encounter!   I love the Vanderbeekers, and I know so many of you do as well – and apparently we are not alone. Because Amy Poehler’s production company has optioned the rights to The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street!  Ahhhh! And I know, I know – that doesn’t mean it’s going to hit the screen next year, but I’m still so excited and so happy for Karina. If you want to hear her talk about the first Vanderbeekers novel, check out episode 46.

Scream Site

And finally, I wanted to check out Scream Site by Justina Ireland. She’s the author of the YA novel Dread Nation among other books. This novel features 14 year-old Sabrina 51xK-r2R+2L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgSebastian who wants to be an investigative reporter so she’s digging into this popular website where people post scary videos hoping to go viral. And she starts to think that maybe some of the videos are real – and then someone very close to her goes missing.

First lines:

“So, what do you think? Should I go with ‘Taco Tuesday is a Day Made of Lies’ or ‘Football Team Organizes Book Drive for Local Library’? Those are my two best stories, and I’ve narrowed it down to them. I think. I’m actually not sure.” Sabrina Sebastian leaned back in her chair and waited for her best friend, Evenlyn Chao, to respond.”

First impressions: Number one – the cover is awesome. It’s a gorgeous blue with the shadows of trees looming over a young girl’s silhouette as she faces what looks like an abandoned ferris wheel lit from behind by a full moon. Already – I’m drawn in. And the first chapter leads me to think that there is going to be some interesting and timely discussion about social media and journalism. Scream Site is marketed as YA,  but I’ve read in several places that it’s really geared toward more of an upper middle grade audience. Probably wouldn’t include it in my 5th grade classroom, but if you have strong readers in 6th grade and up – this would be a great book for kids who like mysteries and kids who are drawn to internet rumors and hoaxes and those paranormal YouTube videos.

This August be on the lookout for The Phantom Tower and Scream Site.

Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden will be headed our way September 25th.

Paula Chase – Interview Outline

Our special guest today is author Paula Chase. Her debut middle grade novel, So Done, comes out tomorrow. It’s about best friends Tai and Mila who are somewhat awkwardly back together after a summer spent apart from each other. And each is wondering if they 0-1.jpegcan salvage their friendship from the secrets and pressures of middle school and crushes and tryouts and memories that have started to loom in their lives.  I loved getting a chance to chat with Paula about her novel, being a dance mom, and the importance of books with authentic stories and authentic voices.

Take a listen…

So Done

Your middle grade debut, So Done, is coming out tomorrow!

For our listeners who have not yet read the novel, can you tell us a bit about it?

Would you mind reading a favorite passage?

From the very first pages, I had a huge smile on my face because I was so happy to be reading a book that sounds like some of my students when they are talking to each other. You have this special knack for voice – whatever that “it” is – you’ve got it!  

What is your secret for for capturing those voices?

I think I heard you mention that there was some back and forth with your editor about the vocabulary you used in the novel.

Can you talk a little about that?

One of things that I loved about So Done were scenes about dance. I’ve heard you mention that your daughter is a dancer.  

How much did you draw on her experiences to write this story?

Nicknames (as opposed to “government names”) are an important part of the story.  

Did you have a nickname?

Are you more like Tai or more like Mila?

**BONUS SPOILER SECTION: Paula 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 40:14 mark.
book-sodone-1.jpgYour Writing Life

Your previous series was young adult.

Did you decide from the outset that So Done would be middle grade or did it evolve in that direction?

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?

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

So – what ARE your thoughts about “dessert” books?

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

Links:

Paula’s website – http://paulachasehyman.com

Paula on Twitter

 

Books & Authors We Chatted About:

Mildred Taylor

Judy Blume

Dread Nation (Justina Ireland)

The Belles (Dhonielle Clayton)

Ghost Boys (Jewell Parker Rhodes)

Breakout (Kate Messner)

Parker Inheritance (Varian Johnson)

Closing

Alright, that wraps up our show this week!

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

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

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

Thanks and see you soon!  Bye!

CorrinaAllen

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

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

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

 

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Cover Reveal: THE HUNT FOR THE MAD WOLF’S DAUGHTER, by Diane Magras

COVER_REVEAL

A big THANK YOU to Diane Magras for choosing the MG Book Village to host the cover reveal for The Hunt for the Mad Wolf’s Daughter, the highly anticipated sequel to her debut The Mad Wolf’s Daughter! If you haven’t read The Mad Wolf’s Daughter yet, I can’t recommend it enough. You’ll be torn between wanting to race ahead to see how each dramatic scene unfolds and wanting to linger to enjoy every one of the crisp, powerful sentences — and you won’t be able to get enough of Drest, the Mad Wolf’s daughter herself.

Read the interview below to learn about the new book and the creation of its cover, and stick around, of course, for the big reveal!

~ Jarrett

. . .

Thank you for stopping by the MG Book Village, Diane, and for choosing us to host the cover reveal for The Hunt for the Mad Wolf’s Daughter! Before we get to the cover, can you tell us a bit about the new book? Does it pick up right where we left Drest?

The Hunt for the Mad Wolf’s Daughter begins a few hours after the first book ends, throwing Drest into a very personal battle when she learns that a price has been put on her head. Sir Oswyn, who has taken over Faintree Castle, claims that Drest had murdered the young Lord Faintree. He’s singled out Drest as being more dangerous than even her brutal father and her fearsome brothers. She’s not proud of that, though; it’s a terrifying consequence of her legend. But being what she is, Drest doesn’t accept her father’s solution to run and hide. She plans to somehow gain back Faintree Castle for her friend the young Lord Faintree, who is the only one who can remove Sir Oswyn’s sentence. But she’s up against a whole castle army that’s after her and her family, and one of its knights is close on her trail, eager to win that generous price for her head.

Wow! I can’t wait! Had you ever written a follow-up novel before? Was the experience at all different from writing THE MAD WOLF’S DAUGHTER?

This is my first experience writing a follow-up novel, which happens to be both a second and final book in a series. So I needed to not only draw upon the characters and conflicts of the past book, but conclude everything as well (leaving a handful of loose ends, just because that’s life!). This book could also be read as a stand-alone, so I needed to summarize what happened in the last book and who my enormous cast of characters are. I quickly realized that it’s just like starting a new novel of a new world, using the same techniques of summarizing past experiences amidst the action. And so I begin the story with a tense moment, swiftly capture the relationship between the first characters whom the readers meet (Drest and Emerick), and launch into the conflict at once.

Did the same artist do this cover as did the last?

Yes, I’m honored that Antonio Javier Caparo created the jacket art for this book too. I love how he captures the style of my storytelling with his own interpretations of Drest and her world. And I love his attention to detail. If you look closely at my cover, you’ll see the subtle touches that make the characters come alive and their clothes, weapons, and surroundings look so real.

Here at the Village, we’ve been trying more and more to give readers behind-the-scenes peeks of the book-making process, at all stages. Can you talk at all about the work of art designers, and in particular the work your designer did for your book?

The art designer for my covers, Maggie Edkins, was involved from the very beginning. She had a sense of the kind of feel that Penguin Young Readers wanted the art for The Hunt for the Mad Wolf’s Daughter to have, and shared that with Antonio, who then sketched his vision for the cover. Then he and Maggie went back and forth over little matters up to the final sketch. Antonio performed his magic, added his signature details, and made the art come alive (I’ve watched a few of videos of his artistic process for other works, and I still find it staggering). Maggie also hand-lettered the title for both this and the previous book. I’m a big fan of her work too!

Were you at all involved in the process?

I’ve been a sidelines participant in the cover art process, suggesting details (such as dirt on all the characters’ clothes, and making sure that Drest is depicted as left-handed), and sharing my reactions. I’ve been very lucky to have the chance to look at each sketch. I’m grateful for this input (I know that keeping me in the loop was an extra step in a very busy process) because I pay a lot of attention to cover art. I regularly chat with kids and librarians about what attracts my readership and what doesn’t (I put together a focus group with questions like this for the first book), so my feedback isn’t just my personal feelings (though my personal feelings did sneak in now and then!).

What was your reaction when you saw the new book’s cover?

I was thrilled. Here’s my wee lass, out for another adventure, with that great defiant look in her eye. And I love seeing her friends on the cover with her, and the emotion that Antonio put in their faces and poses. He really nailed who these people are and even what they’re thinking in that scene. And the color scheme is beautiful. I know this cover will stand out. (By the way, there’ll be a surprise on the jacket’s back. It’s not going to be shared until the book is out in March, but I’m especially thrilled at what Antonio and Maggie have done. It may involve Drest’s family…)

Is there anything else you want to share about the role of covers more generally?

A middle grade cover is a reader’s first introduction to a book. It’s a book’s face, and also a visual representation of the story. Within seconds, it tells the reader what they’re about to experience. Cover art can be witty, humorous, beautiful, intense—and it’s art, just like what you see in a museum or in a frame on someone’s wall. But cover art needs to do more than framed art: It needs to not only grab the viewer but also turn that viewer into a reader. That puts tremendous pressure on cover artists. Their work serves as one of the most important pieces of marketing a book has, and can determine that our books are picked up in the first place—or not.

Thanks for the interview. I hope everyone loves my new book’s cover as much as I do!

Well, how about we let them see it?! Thanks again, Diane!

MadWolf2_cvr_683x1024.png

Diane-Magras_ABOUT-DIANE

 

Diane Magras is author of the NYT Editors’ Choice The Mad Wolf’s Daughter, which came just before The Hunt for the Mad Wolf’s Daughter. All things medieval fascinate Diane: castles, abbeys, swords, manuscripts, and the daily life of medieval people, especially those who weren’t royalty. Diane lives in Maine with her husband and son and thinks often of Scotland, where her books are set.

MG at Heart Book Club’s August Pick

And the MG@Heart Book Club’s pick for August is….

WHERE THE WATERMELONS GROW, by Cindy Baldwin!!

Screen Shot 2018-01-29 at 5.09.58 PM 

Fans of The Thing About Jellyfish and A Snicker of Magic will be swept away by Cindy Baldwin’s debut middle grade about a girl coming to terms with her mother’s mental illness.

When twelve-year-old Della Kelly finds her mother furiously digging black seeds from a watermelon in the middle of the night and talking to people who aren’t there, Della worries that it’s happening again—that the sickness that put her mama in the hospital four years ago is back. That her mama is going to be hospitalized for months like she was last time.

With her daddy struggling to save the farm and her mama in denial about what’s happening, it’s up to Della to heal her mama for good. And she knows just how she’ll do it: with a jar of the Bee Lady’s magic honey, which has mended the wounds and woes of Maryville, North Carolina, for generations.

But when the Bee Lady says that the solution might have less to do with fixing Mama’s brain and more to do with healing her own heart, Della must learn that love means accepting her mama just as she is.

“Della’s voice will tug at readers’ heartstrings as she tries to hold her family together. Middle grade stories about mental illness, particularly those that focus on empathy and acceptance, are rare. This heartfelt story will stay with readers. A top choice.” (School Library Journal (starred review))

“[Della’s] first-person narration is realistically earthy without crossing into gritty. This debut novel gushes with Southern charm. This story’s as sweet as Della’s daddy’s watermelons but never saccharine.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“Della’s story is a reminder that even under the toughest rinds of troubles we can find the cool, sustaining sweetness of friendship.” (Kirby Larson, author of the Newbery Honor Book Hattie Big Sky)

“Baldwin has written a heartbreaking, yet heartening, story that explores mental illness and its effects on an entire family. Readers will connect with the novel’s well-formed characters and be absorbed by the plot, which pulls no punches but doesn’t overwhelm.” (ALA Booklist (starred review))

“This has a tenderness that will appeal to fans of DiCamillo’s Because of Winn-Dixie.” (Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books)

Where the Watermelons Grow takes a close look at the unpredictable and debilitating nature of schizophrenia. Baldwin writes with a genuine voice.” (Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA))

Where the Watermelons Grow is a spot-on, insightful novel about a preteen learning to live with and accept a parent’s mental illness.” (BookPage.com)

“Cindy Baldwin’s graceful debut is an ode to family and community. Hints of sweet magical realism touch Where the Watermelons Grow, balancing this exquisite novel’s bittersweet authenticity.” (Shelf Awareness (starred review))

The newsletter will go out 8/27. The Twitter chat will be 9/4!

Happy reading!