Writing the Familiar in the Future: A Creative Writing Exercise

One of the things we love about Seventh Grade Vs. The Galaxy by Joshua S. Levy is how familiar the setting feels.

I mean, sure, none of us have actually been anywhere near space, let alone on a space station near Ganymede, and yet we instantly connect with the run down school, the gym run low on supplies, the corny principal, the bored lunch ladies, and the boring end of year assemblies. In fact, at the very beginning of the book, it feels like the only thing that’s changed for middle school between our time and Jack’s, is the potential for the artificial gravity to go out.

However, even though it all feels very familiar at first, and like nothing has really changed except the tech, Levy takes us on a rollicking adventure, mixing the old familiarity of junior high with the new possibilities of space, robots, and aliens. It’s something that takes a lot of imagination and a whole lot of remembering the real world, too.

So here’s the writing prompt. Have your students write a story about a day in the year 2019 that starts off perfectly ordinary…but there’s a twist. Something that we have now…was never invented. What would our world look like if, for instance, cars were never invented? Or phones? Or television? What about books? Pens? The piano? Have them brainstorm beyond just the obvious and immediate lack of that thing. What would the far-reaching domino effect be? What else might be lost if that thing is gone?

We hope their writing is as fun and full of possibility as the future!!

Book Review: GUTS, by Raina Telgemeier

I knew as soon as I finished Guts by Raina Telgemeier that I needed to write about it. It was a highly anticipated book, partly due to the success of her other graphic novels. Now you may have been like me, where you are excited for kids to want to read any book, but you had no intention of reading it yourself.  However, once I saw just how popular it was, I decided I needed to read it myself, and I’m so glad I did.

Guts is a memoir about a 5th grade girl, Raina, who is going through your average friend drama, but is also dealing with her own personal issues with anxiety. She is very lucky in that she’s got parents that are very supportive and try to get her the help that she needs. Raina also discovers that being honest with friends can be helpful in dealing with those sorts of issues, because sometimes you realize you’re not the only one dealing with stuff.

The thing that got me so excited about this graphic novel that centers on what anxiety can look like is that you actually get to see what anxiety looks like, and for young people this is so important. Just being able to give feelings like that a name is something that many 5th graders may not be able to do. I know there are other wonderful Middle Grade books that deal with the same or similar topics, but there is something about the graphic novel format that makes the anxiety in this book so much more accessible for so many more kids, and that makes my heart so happy.

I myself am a strong believer in kids reading graphic novels, and this story is a great example of why. So if you haven’t read Guts, hopefully I have given you some motivation to do so, or at least some motivation to recommend this book to a child you think might need it.

Deana Metzke, in addition to being a wife and mother of two, spent many years as a Literacy Coach, and is now an Elementary Teacher Instructional Leader for Literacy and Social Studies for her school district. In addition to occasionally sharing her thoughts here at MG Book Village, you can read more of her thoughts about kid lit and trying to raise children who are readers at raisingreaders.site or follow her on Twitter @DMetzke. She is also a member of #bookexcursion.

Cover Reveal: PREMEDITATED MYRTLE, by Elizabeth C. Bunce

“Covers are always a surprise for the author—seeing how someone else will envision your characters. My agent leaked the news that Brett Helquist (cover artist for A Series of Unfortunate Events and so many other great works) might be working on Premeditated Myrtle, so I had to pretend for months that I didn’t know! I knew his work, of course, but what really sold me were his illustrations for A Christmas Carol. There are no ghosts in my Victorian mystery, but Brett did an amazing job capturing Myrtle’s determined energy—and even more importantly, Peony the cat! We went back and forth on a couple of sketches for hair and clothing, but what never changed was Myrtle’s perfect expression. The scene he chose to illustrate was one of my favorites to write, so it’s been great fun watching it come to life in full color.”

~ Elizabeth C. Bunce

Twelve-year-old Myrtle Hardcastle has a passion for justice and a Highly Unconventional obsession with criminal science. Armed with her father’s law books and her mum’s microscope, Myrtle studies toxicology, keeps abreast of the latest developments in crime scene analysis, and Observes her neighbors in the quiet village of Swinburne, England.

When her next-door neighbor, a wealthy spinster and eccentric breeder of rare flowers, dies under Mysterious Circumstances, Myrtle seizes her chance. With her unflappable governess, Miss Ada Judson, by her side, Myrtle takes it upon herself to prove Miss Wodehouse was murdered and find the killer, even if nobody else believes her — not even her father, the town prosecutor.

With sparkling wit and a tight, twisty plot, Premeditated Myrtle, the first in a series from an award-winning author, introduces a brilliant young investigator ready to take on hard cases and maddening Victorian rules for Young Ladies of Quality in order to earn her place among the most daring and acclaimed amateur detectives of her time or any other.

Elizabeth C. Bunce grew up on a steady diet of Sherlock Holmes, Trixie Belden, and Quincy, M.E., and always played the lead prosecutor in mock trial. She has never had a governess, and no one has ever accused her of being irrepressible, but a teacher did once call her “argumentative”—which was entirely untrue, and she can prove it. She lives in Kansas City with her husband and their cats. Premeditated Myrtle is her first book for middle-grade readers. You can find her online at elizabethcbunce.com.

Cover Reveal: THE TOTAL ECLIPSE OF NESTOR LOPEZ, by Adrianna Cuevas

I am so THRILLED to introduce you to Adrianna Cuevas, and reveal the cover for her debut middle grade book, THE TOTAL ECLIPSE OF NESTOR LOPEZ. This is one of my most anticipated debut reads of 2020. Adrianna, please introduce yourself to our readers and tell them a little bit about yourself.

Hola, readers! I’m so excited to introduce my book to you. I’m a first generation Cuban-American who grew up in Miami, Florida. I now live outside of Austin, Texas with my husband and son. I taught English for Speakers of Other Languages and Spanish for 16 years. I’m completely obsessed with books and stories and could talk about them all day. But when I’m not doing that, I love watching silly YouTube videos with my son and attempting new baking recipes to varying success. 

Can you give us a brief synopsis of your book?

It’s about Nestor Lopez, who wants nothing more than to live in one place for more than a few months and have dinner with his dad, an Army sergeant deployed in Afghanistan. When he and his mother move to a new town to live with his grandmother, Nestor plans to lie low, and he definitely doesn’t want anyone to find out his deepest secret: that he can talk to animals.

But when animals in his new town start disappearing, Nestor’s grandmother becomes the prime suspect after she’s spotted in the woods where they were last seen. As Nestor investigates the source of the disappearances, he learns that they are being seized by a tule vieja- a witch who can absorb an animal’s powers if she bites it during a solar eclipse. And the next eclipse is just around the corner…

It’s up to Nestor and his extraordinary ability, along with his new friends, to catch the tule vieja- and save a place he just might call home. 

What inspired you to write this story?

This book is truly a family story. Nestor’s interactions with his father are based on my experiences when my husband was deployed in Iraq as a military policeman. Nestor’s obsession with animal trivia comes from my son, who used to sit on my bed with a huge animal encyclopedia and regale me with random facts. Finally, Nestor’s grandmother and his Cuban-American heritage come from my own background. It was important to me that my son see himself as the hero of the story and for all readers to see that children from diverse backgrounds can save the day. 

Did you have any say in cover or its design, and please tell us who illustrated it?

My cover is illustrated by the amazing Andrea Galecio. She also illustrated the cover of Sal and Gabi Break the Universe by Carlos Hernandez, one of my favorite books, so I was excited when she signed on to illustrate NESTOR. I actually had more say in the cover design than I thought I would. I was able to send my editor pictures of prickly pear cactus, live oak trees, and mesquite bushes, as well as photos of the Texas hill country landscape. Andrea’s final design definitely captured the Texas setting of the book as well as the energy of the story. 

OK, let’s show everyone what it looks like!

This is SO cool! I love the way the cover looks like it’s illuminated by the flashlight beam!

One of my favorite parts is that the ‘O’ in Nestor is an eclipse! I love that Nestor is wearing his father’s dog tags and I’m glad my favorite character, Cuervito the snarky raven, got his proper recognition on the cover. And if you look closely, you’ll see some clues about the tule vieja…

Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about your book?

Among all the talking animals and witches, The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez is about finding a home. It’s my hope that readers find a home in my story, even just for a little while. Whether they’re graphic novels, poetry, comics, or prose, books are always there to welcome us and give us a means of escape and a way to see ourselves. I hope my story does just that. 

What is the release date for THE TOTAL ECLIPSE OF NESTOR LOPEZ, and where can our readers go to find out more information about it, and you?

Adrianna: The release date is May 12, 2020. Readers can find out more about me, my book, and school visits at my website adriannacuevas.com. 

Adrianna Cuevas is a first-generation Cuban-American originally from Miami, Florida. After teaching Spanish and ESOL for sixteen years, she decided to pursue her passion for storytelling. Adrianna currently resides outside of Austin, Texas, with her husband and son, where they enjoy hiking, traveling, and cooking lots of Cuban food.

Interview: Sarah Jean Horwitz

Hey there, Sarah! Thank you so much for stopping by the MG Book Village to chat about your new novel, THE DARK LORD CLEMENTINE. Before we get to the new book, would you care to share a bit about yourself and your previous books?

Hello! Thanks so much for having me. I’m a middle grade fantasy author. My first two books, THE WINGSNATCHERS and THE CROOKED CASTLE, are steampunk adventure books about a magician’s apprentice named Carmer and a one-winged fairy princess called Grit who solve magical mysteries together. My most recent novel is THE DARK LORD CLEMENTINE, which just came out in early October from Algonquin Young Readers. 

And what is this new book of yours all about?

THE DARK LORD CLEMENTINE is about a young girl, Clementine Morcerous, who has been raised since birth to be an Evil Overlord. When her father, the current Dark Lord, succumbs to a witch’s curse, Clementine must take over his official evildoing duties much sooner than expected and try to find a cure for the curse. The problem is, Clementine isn’t even sure she wants to carry out all the required Dastardly Deeds that Dark Lords are supposed to do. As she take her first steps out of the sheltered world she’s grown up in, Clementine starts to question the family legacy she’s trying so hard to save. 

I’m curious to hear what it was like for you to write outside of the Carmer and Grit universe, where you were for your first two novels. Scary? Exciting? A relief? All of the above and more?

It was very exciting to write outside of the Carmer and Grit universe. I was very energized by the opportunity to explore new characters, a new story world, and a fresh voice with Clementine. I’ll always miss my first imaginary kids, but I was glad of the opportunity for a fresh start! 

Can you tell us about the gestation for Clementine’s story? Where did the initial idea and inspiration for it come from? How did it develop from there?

As strange as it sounds, I have two babies to thank for the idea for THE DARK LORD CLEMENTINE. The first is my friend Brooke’s niece, whom she nicknamed “the Dark Lord.” Ha! I’m sure little Fallyn will appreciate that when she’s older. The second is my old high school English teacher’s daughter, whose name is…Clementine! Yup. A few years ago, I was playing with baby Clementine with some friends, and we were trying to get her to make the sounds of her toy farm animals. We’d say, “What sound does the pig make, Clem? Does the pig go ‘oink oink’? Does the cow go ‘moo’?” But Clementine just sat there stoney-faced, not humoring us at all, which I thought was so funny. And so I put on this scary voice and said something like, “The animals say nothing. All of the animals are silent. They are always silent.” And everyone cracked up laughing, and I remembered Brooke’s nickname for her niece, and it occurred to me that The Dark Lord Clementine and Her Silent Farm would be such a fun title for a book. So it started this sort of running joke with my friends, but then I started thinking…what if it really was a book? And the whole idea spiraled from there. 

Amazing. And just goes to show that stories really can come from anywhere and anything! And speaking of humor — there were moments in this book where you really seemed to let your silly side come out to play. Was it a conscious choice to do so? Or did that come about naturally, as a necessity for the story?

The humorous tone and dark humor in the book came very naturally right away. I think that started from the contrast that’s inherent in the title – whoever heard of a Dark Lord named Clementine?! And then as I kept writing, I thought the humor was a good way to temper some of the more serious and emotional elements in the book. I hope I struck that balance in a way that serves the story. 

What do you hope your readers – especially the young ones – take away from THE DARK LORD CLEMENTINE?

I hope they can see that opening one’s heart to love and friendship and new experiences is always worth it, even if you get hurt sometimes. I hope they also see how liberating it can be to follow your heart and be true to yourself. 

Many of our site’s readers are teachers of Middle Grade-aged kids. Is there anything you’d like to say to them – in particular those planning to add THE DARK LORD CLEMENTINE to their classroom libraries?

In this moment in particular, I think it’s more important than ever to examine how evil becomes normalized, and how it has always embedded itself in our institutions. We learn from a very young age to take the suffering of others as a give-in. When the oppression and pain of others is built into a system that benefits us, just as Clementine benefits from being a Dark Lord’s daughter, it can be easy to turn a blind eye, or to accept this as just “the way things are.” But just as Clementine realizes that her status quo situation is not normal, so can we. Books are one of the most powerful tools we have to foster empathy for others and explore the complexities of right and wrong in a safe way (with plenty of unicorns and magic!), and I hope THE DARK LORD CLEMENTINE does that in some small way. 

Where can readers find you online, and how can they learn more about you and your work?

Readers can find me online at www.sarahjeanhorwitz.com, where they can read more about me and check out some extras for all of my books, like Pinterest boards and playlists, as well as some guides to the world of Carmer and Grit. I’m also on Twitter @sunshineJHwitz, on Instagram @sunshineJH or on Facebook @SarahJeanBooks.

Sarah Jean Horwitz grew up in suburban New Jersey, next door to a cemetery and down the street from an abandoned fairy-tale theme park, which probably explains a lot. She attended Emerson College in Boston, MA as a film student, where she discovered her love of writing in her first screenwriting class.

Volunteering with the Boston Teen Author Festival sparked her interest in writing for children and young adults, and Sarah began writing the book that would become her debut novel, THE WINGSNATCHERS, in late 2012. A handful of odd jobs and a few continental US states later, this first book in the CARMER AND GRIT series was published by Algonquin Young Readers in 2017. THE WINGSNATCHERS was a Spring 2017 Kid’s Indie Next pick and a Junior Library Guild selection. THE CROOKED CASTLE, the second book in the series, was released in April 2018. Her most recent book is the standalone middle grade fantasy THE DARK LORD CLEMENTINE.

Sarah’s other passions include feminism, extensive thematic playlists, improvisational movement, tattoos, and circus arts. She currently works as an administrative assistant and lives with her partner near Cambridge, MA.

Cover Reveal: WHAT HAPPENS NEXT, by Claire Swinarski

Hi Claire, and thank you so much for giving MGBookVillage the opportunity to do the cover reveal for your debut middle grade novel, WHAT HAPPENS NEXT. Can you please tell us a little bit about yourself?

Hi, Kathie! Thank you so much for featuring my cover reveal. I live in Wisconsin with my husband and two toddlers. When I’m not working on books for kids, I’m hosting the podcast MAKING A MIDDLE GRADE, learning how to bake bread, and perusing my local library. I’m a summer girl through and through, so the fact that the leaves are starting to change is bumming me out a bit. 

Can you give us a bit of a description of your book?

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT is the story of 12-year-old Abby dealing with her older sister’s mental illness and her own place in her busy family. Ballerina-in-training Blair has always been Abby’s best friend, but when she’s sent away for the summer to an in-patient eating disorder treatment center, Abby feels like she’s floating away among the stars that she loves to study. When a world-famous astronomer happens to rent one of her family’s cabins and enlists her help to find a missing telescope, she throws herself headfirst into his quest, hoping to distract herself from Blair–but becoming closer to her sister than ever through the process. 

Think: sisters, STEM, and the northwoods of Wisconsin!

This sounds really intriguing, I look forward to reading it! What is it about the subject matter that inspired you to write a book about it?

I don’t know how to not write about siblings. As one of four kids, I’m used to being in a loud, boisterous family, and the different tensions and scenarios that play out when one member of the family is having a difficult time. So the relationship between Abby and her sisters was very natural for me to write. I was also really inspired by the eclipse in the summer of 2017, and how it took up so much attention and media coverage. I started daydreaming about a girl who was super into the stars, especially because of how small they make her feel, particularly at a time when she’s trying to find out where she fits into the universe.

Did you have any input on the cover design?

Yes! I’d always heard authors didn’t get a lot of say in their cover, but I’m so thankful that HarperCollins asked for my input and took it really seriously. I suggested a blueish cover with a night sky…and that’s exactly what we got! I’ve been a big fan of illustrator Pascal Campion for ages–his Instagram feed is one of my favorites. So when I asked if we could reach out to him and HarperCollins said yes, I was over the moon!

It’s time for the big drum roll, here it is!

I LOVE the cover, and the way the letters in the title look like constellations!

Thank you so much, Kathie. All of the credit goes to Pascal. Seriously–I am in awe of his art and the way he was able to play on the subjects in the book. It reminds me of a summer night, which is actually what I dreamed of!

Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about your book?

Abby is a huge Star Wars fangirl! If there are any young girls out there who can’t wait for The Rise of Skywalker, have binge-watched every episode of The Clone Wars, and have a poster of Princess Leia in their room, this is the book for them. Also, the library + it’s kindhearted manager play a central role in the mystery of the story. 

I certainly love a book with great library staff featured in it! What is the release date for WHAT HAPPENS NEXT, and where should we go to find out more information about your writing?

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT takes place in the summer, so its release day is at the start of my favorite season–May 19, 2020. It’s available for pre-order now. Readers can learn more about me and bringing me to their school or library at www.claireswinarski.com! But the best place to stay in touch with me is my newsletter, which you can hop on the list for at claireswinarski.com/newsletter

Thank you so much for doing your book reveal with us, Claire, and all the best in your debut year.

Thanks for having me and for all of the work you do sharing MG books with the world!

Claire Swinarski was born and raised in snowy Wisconsin, where she still lives with her husband and two kids. In addition to writing books for kids and the grownups who love them, she hosts two podcasts, writes content for businesses, and is learning to bake a mean sourdough loaf. WHAT HAPPENS NEXT, her debut middle-grade novel, will be published by HarperCollins on May 19, 2020. 


Cover Reveal: TREASURES OF THE TWELVE, by Cindy Lin

Hi Cindy, and welcome to MG Book Village! I’m so delighted to be a part of your cover reveal. Please introduce yourself so our readers can get to know you a bit.

Hello! I’m so excited to be here and share the cover for my next book! Before I became a children’s book author, I was a journalist for many years. I started off in broadcast as a television news producer and then this thing called the Internet started to get big, so I switched to producing news for kids online. Later I transitioned to entertainment, working at both Disney-ABC and Sony Pictures Entertainment here in Los Angeles, where I live. Now I spend my time dreaming up stories for kids to enjoy. I get a little help from my two cats, who like to warm my feet as I write. 

I absolutely loved your debut book, THE TWELVE, which just came out in July. Can you tell our readers a little bit about it for those who aren’t familiar with it?

Oh, it’s so gratifying to hear that you enjoyed it! Thank you — it’s still surreal to know that my book is out in the world when it was just in my head (and computer) for so long. THE TWELVE is set in a land where some are blessed with the powers of the Asian zodiac, which is made up of twelve animals (rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, ram, monkey, rooster, dog and boar) and five elements (fire, water, earth, wood and metal). Usagi, a 12-year-old orphan born in the year of the Wood Rabbit, can leap over treetops and hear a squirrel’s heartbeat from a mile away. She lives secretly in the forest with her little sister and best friend in order to hide their powers from the Dragonlord, the ruthless ruler of their island kingdom. When both her sister and her best friend are captured, Usagi teams up with a ragtag group of rebels who turn out to be the last surviving Heirs of the Twelve — a mystical group of warriors who once protected the land. As she seeks to rescue her loved ones, Usagi must learn to master her own talents and gifts, and find her inner warrior. 

Did you know that you were going to write a sequel to it? 

Happily, yes! Which means that as I wrote THE TWELVE, I had to keep in mind what I wanted to explore in a sequel, and try to leave some openings for another book. At the same time you want the story to be satisfying on its own! It was definitely a fun challenge.

What inspired you to write this series?

I was taking my very first creative writing class, right around the time of the Lunar New Year. The year of the Rat was giving way to the year of the Ox, and I started thinking about all the animals of the zodiac, and what it would be like if people had powers of the animal that ruled the year of their birth. People will say “I’m an Ox!” or “I’m a Tiger!” in relation to their birth year — so what would it mean if they actually had the powers of a tiger or an ox? And wouldn’t that make a cool story? So that was the start, but it took me a while to learn the building blocks of fiction writing, and also to figure out how to incorporate my idea in a way and a world that made sense to me. 

Well, I think you certainly figured out those building blocks! What do you hope that readers will take away from your books?

I hope that they’re inspired to think about what their own talents and gifts might be! Zodiac powers aside, I believe everyone has something special in them that can be cultivated. There’s something so satisfying about seeing hard work pay off, and to have the support of friends and family come through, especially when you think you’re alone. I’m really drawn to stories that explore all that.

As a kid I loved reading fantasy adventure (and still do!) but rarely saw anything that incorporated the rich traditions and myths of my Asian heritage. My dream is for readers to identify with and inhabit the characters and worlds I create, just as I did in my childhood reading stories about fauns, elves, and wizards. Ultimately, I hope that my readers are transported to another world for a while — and have lots of fun while they’re there.    

Were you involved in the process of designing this cover, and is it the same illustrator for both books?

The covers for both books are illustrated by Sher Rill Ng, an enormously talented artist in Melbourne, Australia. She did such an incredible job with THE TWELVE, so I was excited to see what she would do with TREASURES. I know she read an early draft of the sequel, just as she’d read a draft of the first book. My editor had asked if I had any ideas of scenes from the second book that might inspire a cover illustration, and I submitted a list of possibilities. But I had absolute faith in both Sher Rill and art director Molly Fehr that they’d find something that worked — I didn’t bank on them going with any of my ideas. It just was a bonus to find that they went with a scene I’d thought had potential. They also showed me a few color sketches before the cover was finalized, and I got to give input on the color scheme I liked the best. I have to say, everything they showed me was beautiful — it was hard to choose!  

What did you think when you saw it?

was beyond thrilled! Seeing it fills me with joy. I adore the colors, and the new characters, and everything about it, really. I love the scene that it represents, which was so much fun to write, and can’t wait for people to read it. I think it makes a fabulous companion to the first book, but is also beautiful on its own. Also, I love butterflies!

OK, let’s show everyone what it looks like!

Oh WOW, this is absolutely gorgeous!! I cannot wait to read it and delve back into this world! Thank you so much for letting us be part of the reveal. Please tell us what the release date is for TREASURES OF THE TWELVE, and where can readers learn more about you and your books?

TREASURES OF THE TWELVE is scheduled to hit shelves on July 7, 2020! 

It can be added on Goodreads here:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/46649546-treasures-of-the-twelve

And for further updates, follow me on social media at Instagram @cindylin_stagram or on Twitter @cindylin_tweets. Or go to my website, www.cindylinbooks.com.

A former journalist with degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University, Cindy Lin has worked for Sony Pictures Entertainment and has written and produced many multimedia news features for children, one of which received a Peabody Award. The Twelve is her debut novel. You can learn more about Cindy at www.cindylinbooks.com.