Interview: Jo Knowles

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Hello, Jo! Thank you so much for stopping by the MG Book Village to celebrate the release of Where the Heart Is and to chat about the book. You write both Middle Grade and Young Adult fiction. How early on in your process do you know which category a story idea will fit into? Do you think about it at all before or while writing? 

Thanks for having me! I do think about how old my character is when I first start writing, mainly because age is often how I introduce my characters. But… I admit that often after I’ve written several chapters I realize the voice sounds either too young or too old for the original age I thought they were. At that point, I need to decide which is stronger: the voice, or the need to have my character be a certain age to tell a particular story. But I don’t think in terms of, “My next book needs to be middle grade.” It’s the story idea that comes first. Then, I starting writing and let the story tell me what the book will be. 

Is there anything about the Middle Grade age range that you especially enjoy or appreciate?

I love writing about 12-13 year olds because it’s fun to straddle childhood and adolescence. I realize I may be the only one who feels this way! But I think it’s such an emotional and exciting time of life to write about. Kids are on the cusp of gaining independence and developing their own identities, and I love going through that growing-up experience with them. It can be both hysterical and heartbreaking. 

Okay, let’s get to the new book. Can you tell us a little bit about Where the Heart Is?

It’s about a girl named Rachel who just turned 13 and is looking forward to a fun summer with her best friend, Micah. But her parents are going through a financial crisis, and it’s causing lots of stress at home. In addition, she’s questioning her sexual identity and it’s causing a rift between her and Micah, who has had a crush on her since they were little. 

One thing I especially love and admire about your writing is your use of humor – in this latest book and your previous ones. You tackle some seriously heavy, tough topics, yet still manage to infuse humor into your stories. Does this come naturally? Is it something you are conscious about including?

Thank you! I try really hard to keep my stories “real” in that they reflect every day stuff as well as the bigger, looming issues in their lives. I don’t think about it in the sense of, say, “OK, you just wrote a sad scene now you need to balance it with something funny.” I guess I think of it more in terms of a necessary part of character and world building. When I walk my characters through their worlds, there’s just naturally some funny stuff that plays out. And maybe as a writer, I need comic relief just as much as my readers. 

I know there are both large and small elements of Where the Heart Is that were inspired by your own life experiences. Did you set out to write about these? Can you talk about what it’s like to transform such “facts” into fiction?

The book emerged from a writing prompt a friend of mine gave at a pop-up lecture. He said to think of an object that held a strong memory, and I thought of a sweater of my dad’s that I used to wear. As soon as I started writing, the memory of losing our home came to me very clearly and powerfully. I shared what I wrote with my friend, and he encouraged me to keep going. The problem was, I didn’t want to write a memoir. I decided to select some of the most important things that happened to me during that time, and try to weave them into a story that would work as a middle grade novel. Turning “facts” into fiction is a challenge for sure, because it’s hard to let go of what really happened. But once you do let go, you can see that by allowing yourself to create the emotion of what happened rather than the thing itself, you’re still essentially telling the same story, just in a way that’s hopefully more accessible to more people. 

Before they even pick up Where the Heart Is, readers will notice that the word home has been “taken away” from the title. I’d love to hear your thoughts on that word. Home. What does it mean to you? How do you define it? Has your understanding of it changed over time?

I’m glad you noticed! The process of writing this story, and further back, losing my own home, led me to rethink about how I define home. So often when we meet people they ask, “Where do you call home?” What if we changed it to “Who do you call home?” The lesson for me, in all of this, is that it’s the people in your life that give you a sense of belonging. Home is something deep inside us. It’s more than walls, it’s the invisible structure of love we create through the people we care about, and who care about us.

Many of our site’s readers are teachers and librarians of Middle Grade-aged kids. Is there anything you’d like to say to them – in particular those planning to add Where the Heart Is to their classrooms and libraries?

Some teachers who have read advanced copies have said they are excited to use the book to open up discussions about poverty and identity with their students, which I love. I also have a discussion guide available on my Web site:

Where can readers find more information about you and your work? lists all of my books and information about school and library visits. Thank you!

Jo-Heart.jpgJo Knowles is the author of several young adult and middle grade books including See You At Harry’s, Still a Work In Progress, and Read Between The Lines. Her newest book, Where The Heart Is, has been called “an immensely appealing, hard-to-put-down story about friendship and love, heartache and bravery” by Newbery Award-winner, Rebecca Stead. Jo’s awards include a New York Times Editor’s Choice and Notable, the PEN New England Children’s Book Discovery Award, an ALA Notable, Bank Street College’s Best Books for Children, YALSA’s Best Fiction for Young Adults, and two SCBWI Crystal Kites. Jo’s books have also appeared on numerous state award lists. She teaches writing at the Mountainview MFA program through Southern New Hampshire University.

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Tomorrow, April 2nd, is also the publication day of the paperback edition of Jo’s Still A Work In Progress, the cover of which is above!

A Conversation with Alyson Gerber: Books Between, Episode 71

Episode Outline:

Listen to the episode here!


Hi everyone and welcome to Books Between – a podcast for teachers, parents, librarians, and anyone who wants to connect kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love.

I’m your host, Corrina Allen – an elementary school teacher in Central New York and mom of two daughters – a 9 year old and a just turned 12 year old. Yesteday we celebrated her birthday with the most amazing cake – white with whipped cream frosting and layers of cannoli filling and raspberry filling inside. And just in case you are wondering – no, I did not make it.  But if you live near a Wegmans, you can order one!

This is episode #71 and today and I’m sharing with you a conversation with Alyson A1MEhcDj3NLGerber – author of Braced and the recently released Focused. Her latest novel is about a gutsy, chess-loving, 7th grader named Clea who is learning to cope with her ADHD.

So….do you know that slightly disorienting feeling you have when you are looking out a window & suddenly the lights shifts, your perspective shifts, and you realize you are seeing your OWN reflection? That is the experience I had when reading Focused.  Like so many other people, Dr. Rudine Bishop’s analogy of books as mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors has always resonated with me.  And I picked up Focused anticipating that I would get a window into the experiences of a young girl with ADHD – that it would help me become a better, more empathetic teacher. And while Focused absolutely did that – it also helped dispel a lot of the misconceptions I had about ADHD, particularly how it tends to manifest in girls and women.  And launched me on a path to discovering that I have ADHD. I opened Focused thinking I was reading a window book – and it turned into a mirror book for me.

I know that books can change minds and can change lives. But rarely has a novel changed my life for the better so completely and so soon. And by extension – the lives of my family and students. And when that happens – you just have to let the author know! And so, I emailed Alyson and thanked her and asked her to come on the show to talk about Focused, chess, her experiences with ADHD, her writing process, and so so much more.

Take a listen.

Interview Outline – Alyson Gerber


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

In what ways is Clea’s situation and experiences similar to your own and in what ways did you angle her story so that it was different from your own?

Screen Shot 2019-03-31 at 11.39.05 PMAnother thing that I think you do masterfully in Focused is how you show Clea’s relationship with her therapist evolving over time from her denial and distrust to an eventual positive relationship. I think so many kids can benefit from that peek inside a therapist’s office…

Is the testing you describe Clea doing things you’ve experienced or did you do some research to get those aspects of the story right?

One of the other parts of the story that really rang true were the conversations around medication…

One of the things that made me fall so hard for this book was the CHESS! My husband and daughters are all big chess players though not competitively.  Do you play?

So…. there is some romance in this story!!

Your Writing Life

What are you working on now?

My students and kids are always eager to hear writing advice from authors.  What’s a tip or trick that you’ve picked along the way that has helped your writing?

Is there a piece of feedback that you got that changed Focused?

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Your Reading Life

One of the goals of this podcast is to help educators and parents inspire kids to read more and connect them with amazing books.  Did you have a special person who helped launch your reading life as a child? And if so, what did they do that made such a difference?

What have you been reading lately that you’ve liked? What do you hope that readers take away from reading Focused?

Thank You!


Alyson’s website –

Alyson on Twitter – @AlysonGerber

Alyson on Instagram – @alysongerber

Alyson on Facebook –

Resources about ADHD:

Books & Authors We Chatted About:

The Science of Breakable of Things (Tae Keller)

Barbara Cooney

Merci Suarez Changes Gears (Meg Medina)

New Kid (Jerry Craft)

The Serpent’s Secret (Sayantani DasGupta)

Eventown (Corey Ann Haydu)


Thank you so much for joining me this week.  You can find an outline of interviews and a full transcript of all the other parts of our show at   And, if you have an extra minute this week, reviews on iTunes or Stitcher are much appreciated.

Books Between is a proud member of the Lady Pod Squad and the Education Podcast Network. This network features podcasts for educators, created by educators. For more great content visit

Talk with you soon!  Bye!


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.




Interview: Jennifer Robin Barr

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First off, Jennifer, thank you for stopping by the MG Book Village to celebrate Goodbye, Mr. Spalding and to chat about the book. Before we get to the new book, would you care to introduce yourself to our readers?

Thank you for having me! I’m a big fan of MG Book Village. Happy to introduce myself – I am a writer from the Philadelphia area. I spend my days on a local college campus working with students, and my free time writing for young readers.

At the start of my writing journey, I spent a short career writing how-to style guide books, publishing The Complete Idiot’s Guide To Bridal Showers in 1999 and The Everything Scrapbooking Book in 2002. These experiences were a great introduction to the publishing industry, and helped me to see where I wanted to spend my writing energy. I then joined SCBWI, found a great writing group, and have been writing stories for children ever since. I especially love writing Middle Grade, and about little-known nuggets of history.

One other question, before we get to the book. I know your journey to the printed page has been a long one, as it is for so many. I learned from your Acknowledgements that you worked on Goodbye, Mr. Spalding for eight years! Kids – and adults! – are often shocked to learn how long it takes to finish a book. Is there anything you’d like to share about your journey? Do you have any advice or wisdom for those still working toward publication?

There was one big difference-maker outside of the actual writing, and it all has to do with having a strong support system and dedicated writing group. That’s the biggest piece of advice I can give – to surround yourself with people who have your back, whether that’s family, an online community, an in-person group, or a combination. My family was so encouraging, and my three critique partners definitely pushed me when I wanted to pack up, motivating me to take the manuscript out of a figurative drawer several times. They all believed in Goodbye, Mr. Spalding from the start, and they gave me the confidence to continue. 

Okay, on to the book – Goodbye, Mr. Spalding. Can you tell us a little about it? 

I love talking about it! First some historical background:

Early baseball in Philadelphia consisted of two major league teams – the Phillies and the Athletics. The A’s played in Shibe Park, and one of its most unique was a short 12-foot right-field wall. The row homes across the street had an incredible vantage point of the field. In fact, they were closer than some of the right field stands in ballparks today. Homeowners sold tickets and built bleachers on their flat rooftops, and it became a source of income for the neighborhood.

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The Shibe Park owners never really loved the “freeloaders” in right field, and with diminishing ticket sales and the Great Depression, in 1934 they decided to build a wall to block their view. 

Goodbye, Mr. Spalding explores characters Jimmy and Lola, best friends who live in the homes and have a perfect view of the field. Their families and others on the street make extra money by selling tickets to rooftop bleachers. When they learn that a wall will be built before the 1935 season, Jimmy and Lola come up with a variety of ways to stop it.

As Jimmy becomes more and more desperate, he finds himself wondering how far he’s willing to go – including conspiring with the neighborhood bullies and creating a deep rift between him and Lola. Jimmy must work to repair their strong bond, and what started out as a fight against the ballpark owners, ends as a fight to save a friendship.

In recent years, it seems both the quantity and quality of Middle Grade historical fiction has been on the rise. What do you think accounts for this? What does historical fiction uniquely offer its readers?

I agree, the quality of MG historical fiction right now is really incredible. I’m not sure I can pinpoint why it’s been on the rise, although I do feel like school curriculums are doing an excellent job of using historical fiction books to crossover between language arts and social studies. That kind of instruction resonates so well for this age group.

Did you read historical fiction as a kid? Are there any more recent historical fiction books you’d count among your favorites?

I don’t remember reading historical fiction as a kid, but I will plug my all-time favorite childhood MG book, The Little Witch by Anna Elizabeth Bennett, and illustrated by Helen Stone. I even have an original first-edition goof – printed upside-down!

I’d consider Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson and Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool among my favorite historical fiction middle grade novels. For a more recent title, I just read The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani, a powerful and heartfelt book that I would highly recommend.

Now, when it comes to writing historical fiction, how do you balance fact and fiction? Do you have your own set of rules or guidelines when it comes to taking artistic liberties? Do you ever “fudge” some facts for the sake of making a scene more compelling?

The accuracy of the history can set one book apart from another, and I took it very seriously – although it definitely is a balance of wanting to be as genuine as possible, and also wanting to move the story forward. Lucky for me, the baseball community has always done such a fantastic job with archiving their history, which made it easier to be authentic.

What drove you to write a story about America’s Pastime? Are you a baseball fan? Have you always been?

I am a lifelong baseball fan. I even collected and traded baseball cards in the late 1970s, and the 1980 Phillies World Series win is one of my best childhood memories. I have witnessed a no-hitter in person (Kevin Millwood, 2003), and October 29, 2008 was one of the best nights of my life.

Truthfully though, it’s all Philadelphia sports. If we had a little more time, I’d go on about my deep love for the Philly Special, how I still Trust the Process, and how Gritty is misunderstood.

Something I particularly loved about Goodbye, Mr. Spalding was the sense of community you depicted. There’s a real closeness between everyone in the families and the neighborhood at large – for better or worse! Was it important for you to show this? 

Thank you! I’m so happy you feel that way. Early in my journey – I think it was 2009 – I interviewed Dr. John (Jack) Rooney, an original resident of the bleacher seat community. He would have been about the same age as my main character, Jimmy, in 1934. He talked so passionately about the neighborhood community surrounding the ballpark, and it was very important for me to try and capture that aspect of the story.

None of my research in books and newspapers were as strong as that interview, and it really showed me the importance of primary sources when writing historical fiction. I’m not sure I would have been able to genuinely show the sense of community without speaking with him.

What do you hope your readers – in particular the young ones – take away from Goodbye, Mr. Spalding?

On a smaller level, I hope one of the takeaways is that history can be pretty cool. I also hope they get something out of it that they did not expect. For example, if they pick it up for the baseball, maybe they leave with an appreciation of the friendship, or visa versa. And I hope everyone starts making their own set of rules of their own.

On a larger scale, there are life-lessons. The most obvious is that things will not always go their way – and that’s okay. Even more important is that young readers will witness a character make poor decisions, see the consequences of those decisions, and how they have to work hard to make it right.

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 Goodbye, Mr. Spalding to their classroom libraries?

Only that I’m so grateful. I’ve had a great response from the school and library community so far, and I’m so impressed by the creative ways they are planning to use it in the classroom and communities. My favorite so far is a teacher and little-league coach planning to tie it into summer reading incentives for his team.

I am very eager for school and library visits, and I should have some teacher guides on my website before the launch in March. Feel free to reach out anytime!

Where can readers find more information about you and your work?

jrb1.jpgYou can find me at, on Twitter at @JenniferRBarr, and reach me directly using the contact form on the website. It’s definitely a work-in-progress, so keep checking.

Also, if you are in the Philly area, I’m having a book launch at Children’s Book World on March 31, 2019 at 1:00. Please join us!

Interview: Alyson Gerber

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Alyson Gerber’s Focused is one of my favorite reads this year – and an important book that I hope finds its way into as many hands as possible. I’m thrilled that Alyson agreed to stop by the MG Book Village today to talk about her latest middle grade novel.  Focused hits shelves next week so make sure you plan a visit to your local bookstore or pre-order a copy here!

~ Corrina

Alyson – I am incredibly excited to see your latest novel, Focused, out in the world! What is this story about?

Thank you! It means a lot to hear that you’re excited about my new book! Focused features Clea, a gutsy, seventh grade chess player, who is caught between her love of chess and her ADHD.

You’ve mentioned that Clea’s story is somewhat based on your own experiences with ADHD. One of the most powerful aspects of the novel is how Clea starts to recognize that what she considered a weakness can actually be a strength. In fact, you recently said on Twitter “ADHD is one of my favorite parts of myself.”  What are the positives for you?

This is such a great question! There are so many positive aspects of having ADHD. I’ll share a few here, but there are definitely more. First, hyperfocus! When I find something I love to do, it’s all I can think about and talk about. I get consumed, and that has been a huge asset to me in writing books. Hyperfocus enables me to dive into a character’s mind and live in their world. Also, I have a difficult time regulating my emotions, I’m very open about my feelings and experiences. While this wasn’t great in middle school, as an adult, it has given me the chance to connect with a lot of different people. I’ve been able to share, listen, learn, help and be helped. Lastly, my brain works really fast, and because of how I process information, I often see things differently than other people. While that can be a problem at times and in certain situations, it can also be a huge asset, because I can solve puzzles and problems very quickly and come up with unusual solutions.

One of the things I really loved is that even though your novel is about a particular girl coming to terms with her particular diagnosis of ADHD, how she and her family and friends handle that can be generalized to so many other situations.

Thank you. That was my intention in writing Focused. I wanted all readers to be able to find themselves in this book. We each have our own unique problems and struggles. Part of growing up is facing those challenges and learning to stand up for what we need and ask for help when we can’t handle things alone.

Let’s talk about CHESS! I learned so much about the game and the tournament process from reading Focused.  Are you a chess player yourself?  And what kind of research did you do?

I love chess, but I don’t play. That’s one of my favorite parts about writing fiction: I get to pretend to be really amazing at something I barely know how to do. I actually became interested in chess after I watched a British mystery where obscure chess strategies were being used as clues. After that, my husband taught me the basics, and then I learned how to play using a online training program. For research, I read non-fiction and strategy books, and I watched a lot of chess tournaments on YouTube. It also helped that Maya Marlette, who is an assistant editor at Scholastic, played competitive chess. She was an invaluable resource to me.

I was really intrigued by Clea’s organization notebook! Is that a particular strategy or product that really exists? And do you use something similar yourself?

For someone with ADHD, staying organized can be a lifelong challenge, there are a lot of strategies and systems that can be helpful. A notebook, like the one Clea uses, as well as color coding can be great tools.

What do you hope readers with ADHD take away from reading Focused?

There isn’t one way to be smart. Some of the most innovative people, who have changed the world for the better, saw things very differently, like Einstein.

What do you hope readers who do not have ADHD take away from reading Focused?

My hope is that all readers can find themselves in Focused, and realize that even when they feel alone and like they’re the only one who is having a hard time, they aren’t and they don’t have to handle everything on their own.

What resources would you suggest for students and adults to help them understand ADHD and start to develop strategies to help?

Reading Focused is a great place to start! I wrote this book for a lot of reasons, but one of the main reasons was that I wanted readers, who are family members, friends, and teachers to kids with ADHD, to be able to experience what it feels like. I would also recommend reading more on and

What are you working on next?

I just finished a draft of a new middle grade novel that will be published by Scholastic, and I can’t wait to share more details soon!

Can’t wait to hear more and thank you so much for stopping by today, Alyson!

Thank you for having me and for all of the wonderful questions. I can’t wait until Focused is out in the world! You can pre-order a copy now through your local bookstore or at

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Alyson Gerber wore a back brace for scoliosis from the age of eleven to thirteen, an experience that led directly to her debut novel Braced from Scholastic. Alyson’s new middle grade novel Focused, about a girl caught between her love of chess and her ADHD, will be in stores on March 26, 2019. Focused  has received a starred review from Kirkus Reviews and the American Library Association’s Booklist and is a Junior Library Library Guild Selection.

Alyson is a graduate of The New School’s MFA in Writing for Children and lives in New York City with her husband and daughter.  You can connect with Alyson on Twitter ( @alysongerber) or Instagram (@alysongerber).


Three New Graphic Novels & a Conversation with Jerry Craft: Books Between, Episode 70

Episode Outline:

Listen to the episode here!


Hi everyone and welcome to Books Between – a podcast for teachers, parents, librarians, and anyone who wants to connect the tweens in your life to books they’ll love.  I’m your host, Corrina Allen – 5th grade teacher, a mom of an 11 and 9 year old, and desperate to be DONE with winter, please!! Yesterday we saw robins all over the yard and today… it’s covered with snow again.

I believe that the right book can change the trajectory of a child’s life and can help them recognize the world for what it is and what it can be.  And I want to help you connect kids with those wonderful, life-shaping books and bring you inspiring conversations with the authors and educators who make that magic happen.

This is episode #70 and today I’m discussing three new graphic novels that would be great additions to your collection, and I’m also sharing with you a conversation I had with one of their creators.

Book Talk – Three New Graphic Novels

In this segment, I share with you a selection of books centered around a theme and discuss three things to love about each book. This week I am featuring three new graphic novels released in the last few months that should absolutely be on your radar – Click, New Kid, and Meg, Jo, Beth & Amy.  


Let’s start with Click by Kayla Miller.  This full-color graphic novel is about 5th grader Olive who is feeling left out and left behind when all of her friends have matched up with each other for the school variety show. They’ve all formed acts together and Olive is 51Cjbn97YrL._SX342_BO1,204,203,200_feeling like she just doesn’t “click” with anyone or anything.  Here are three things I really enjoyed about Click:

  1. Olive’s Aunt Molly! She’s the kind of aunt we all wish we could have – the one whose house you can stay at when things are tricky at home. The cool aunt with ripped jeans, green streaks in her hair, and a “Kiss the Librarian” coffee mug. (I mean – well, *I* think that’s cool!)  It’s Aunt Molly that gets Olive these DVDs of old-timey variety shows that leads to her “a-ha” moment.
  2. The friendship dynamics in the book! I know a lot of kids can feel like they don’t belong. Don’t feel popular, don’t have a best friend. And as someone who always seemed to be friends with girls who were best friends with each other – I could really relate to Olive.
  3. The third thing that I ended up liking about this book is that it’s slower paced, has essentially one main conflict, and it can be read in one sitting.

Click is a great option for kids in grades 3-6 who liked Sunny Side Up or Raina Telgemeier’s graphic novel.  And – Kayla Miller has a sequel coming out on April 23rd called Camp – so if they enjoy Click, they’ll have another one on the way.

Meg, Jo, Beth & Amy

Next up is Meg, Jo, Amy, and Beth by Rey Terciero and Bre Indigo which is, as you might have guessed from the title – a modern retelling of Little Women. A full-color, 256 page graphic novel reboot of the March sisters’ story. In this retelling, the March family lives in a brownstone in New York City and their father is deployed overseas in the Middle East. So the setting is different, but the girls’ personalities are pretty much the same, but 51DPECs2-oL._SX351_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgwith a modern twist. Meg is the responsible one and works as a nanny. Jo is an ambitious writer, Beth is shy and loves writing music but plays a guitar and not the piano, and Amy is still her obnoxious self – just in a slightly different way.  My eleven-year-old and I devoured this book – oh it’s so good! And here are three reasons why:

  1. That the March family is reimagined as a modern blended biracial family. Mr. March is black and was a widower with one daughter, Meg. And he marries Mrs. March, who is white and also had one daughter, Jo. And they go on to have Beth and Amy together.  And that mix of closeness and conflict that can happen between sisters had my daughter nodding her head and laughing in recognition. We also loved that this modern retelling including gay characters and just an overall more diverse slice of society.
  2. Noticing what’s changed from the original. I’d read the Little Women many years ago but my daughter hadn’t and I doubt many middle grade readers will have. But we had both seen the movie recently and it’s cool to see how those classic characters are updated. Amy is into gaming – and boy is she competetive about it! And she wants to sell Aunt Catherine’s ring to either go to art school or launch a career as a video game reviewer on YouTube. The book includes most of the iconic Little Women scenes – Jo cutting her hair, Amy wrecking some of Jo’s writing, Jo not saving Amy from an accident that could have been tragic, Meg hanging out with a crowd of a different class, the whole Laurie situation. But each are shifted and told in a totally new way that makes sense for the now.
  3. The ending is the same yet totally different. I want to be careful with what I say so I don’t ruin anything if you haven’t read Little Women. First, the story ends when the girls are younger. Jo is still in high school and Meg is in college so there might be an opportunity for a sequel? Also – just like the original, you will need tissues but maybe not an entire box.

Meg, Jo, Amy, and Beth is a must-purchase graphic novel for I would say about grades 5 and up. And just like other graphic novels versions of classics like Anne of Green Gables and the Iliad, it’s a way for young readers to access those stories in a format they love. And adult fans of Little Women will love it, too.

New Kid

The third graphic novel that I want to recommend to you this week is New Kid by Jerry Craft. I’m fairly confident that you have already heard about this book since it seems like NewKidCover.jpgeveryone is raving about it. But let me add my voice to those to say – yes, it’s THAT good. And I am really excited to have Jerry Craft on the show today to talk about how the book connects to his own experiences attending a private school, micro-aggressions, his favorite Chinese food, his inspirations, what’s he’s been reading – and so so much more.

Take a listen:

Interview Outline – Jerry Craft

New Kid has been getting so much love and support from readers online –   you have knocked it out of the park! For our listeners who have not yet read the novel, can you tell us a bit about it?

I’ve heard you say that Jordan’s story is somewhat based on your experiences. What are those those similiarites and also – where does the novel diverge from your experiences?

In a previous interview you were asked what message you hoped people would take away from reading New Kid. And one of the things you mentioned was addressed to teachers and librarians “when you see kids of color, make sure you see them as kids first. Because they are! They like to laugh, and play, and use their imaginations, but to me they are constantly bombarded with so many things that force them to grow up at a much faster rate than other kids. Their books. Their movies. Their music. Everything is such a heavy reminder of how terrible their lives are going to be.  And that scene at the book fair is such an illustration of that….

jerrycraftHiResSo I have to talk to you about the audiobook of New Kid!  What was the process like and what did you think of the final audiobook?

So – what’s YOUR favorite Chinese food?

A question from Jarrett Lerner.. “I’d love to hear about your favorite comics, comic book artists, graphic novelists. You do such inventive, clever things with your paneling and your visual language. Who are your influences and favorites?

So, everyone wants to know – will there be a sequel?!

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

Thank You!


Jerry’s website –

Jerry on Twitter – @JerryCraft  

Jerry on Instagram – @jerrycraft

Jerry on Facebook –

New Kid audiobook

Jerry’s influences:

John Buscema

Jim Steranko

Gil Kane

Jack Kirby

Will Eisner

Barbara Slate

Books & Authors We Chatted About:

Nimona audiobook

Angel Love (Barbara Slate)

Sweet Sixteen (Barbara Slate)

You Can Do a Graphic Novel (Barbara Slate)

Class Act (Jerry Craft)

Piecing Me Together (Renée Watson)

Queen Raina Telgemeier

Nic Stone

Ibi Zoboi

Jason Reynolds

Kwame Alexander

American Born Chinese (Gene Luen Yang)

Anika Denise

Pura Belpré

Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library (Carole Boston Weatherford)


Thank you so much for joining me this week.  You can find an outline of interviews and a full transcript of all the other parts of our show at   And, if you have an extra minute this week, reviews on iTunes or Stitcher are much appreciated.

Books Between is a proud member of the Lady Pod Squad and the Education Podcast Network. This network features podcasts for educators, created by educators. For more great content visit

Talk with you soon!  Bye!


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.




World Read Aloud Day Celebration!

Every year on World Read Aloud Day, educators, librarians, and authors from around the globe celebrate the special magic that happens when you read out loud to a child.  This year, as we celebrate the 10th annual World Read Aloud Day, we’ve invited four educators and authors to join us at the MGBookVillage to discuss reading aloud.

Jake Burt

bio2Jake is a 5th grade teacher and the author of Greetings From Witness Protection, The Right Hook of Devin Velma, and the upcoming The Tornado. You can connect with him on Twitter @JBurtBooks.

What’s one of your favorite read aloud memories?
It’s the most formative event of my life as a reader: my father reading The Hobbit aloud to us when I was a kid. I’d get into my top bunk, my brother in the bottom, and my dad would sit in the chair across the room. I’d hang my head over the guardrail on top of a pillow and watch him like a hawk as he turned the pages, gesturing with his off-hand and contorting his face to deliver each character’s unique voice.
Why is reading aloud so important?
From building fluency to engaging imagination to modeling a love of the written word, read-aloud is an essential tool in a teacher or parent’s box. I think my favorite thing about it, though, is the way it allows for immediate, shared insight and conversation about a story. Whether it’s about a connection a child makes with a character or deconstructing a beautiful bit of prose; unpacking an intense, emotional scene or predicting what might happen next, those follow-up discussions are often just as enjoyable and meaningful as the performance itself.
What is one of your favorite books to read aloud?
I have read Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book aloud over a dozen times now, and I still adore it. The book itself is fantastic, but there’s something special Gaiman does that 220px-thegraveyardbook_hardcovermakes it that much better as a read-aloud. If you dare to do voices for the characters…and oh lordy, do I do voices…it adds some absolutely delightful moments to a story already chock-full of them. (SPOILERS AHEAD) For instance, I’ll never get tired of hearing my class gasp when they hear Mr. Frost speak for the first time, his voice a more avuncular version of the man Jack from the beginning of the book. And giving Silas just a hint of the old Bela Lugosi is a great little nod for sharp listeners as to his true nature. The best part, though, might be that The Graveyard Book is one of those rare works of fiction that allows its main character to grow up. As Bod matures (both physically and emotionally), the performer gets to change his voice, too, allowing a deeper sense of understanding to develop between the narrative and the audience. All that, and the book has one of the greatest “Oooooh, SNAP!” lines in all of MG literature…folks familiar with the book will know the one…

Karina Yan Glaser

screenshot2019-01-31at10.57.19pmKarina is a contributing editor at Book Riot and the author of The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street and The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden. You can connect with her on Twitter at @KarinaYanGlaser

What’s one of your favorite read aloud memories?
When I was in fourth grade, my teacher spent a lot of time reading aloud to us. She was new to teaching and reading aloud was one of the only ways to keep the classroom in order! I loved read aloud time. I have no memory of being read aloud to by my parents when I was growing, so the read alouds at school were magical. Now, as a parent, I love reading aloud to my kids. I actually started reading out loud to each of them when they were in the womb because I was so excited about reading children’s books to them! I especially enjoy reading aloud to them on the subway; it makes the commute feel short and I love spotting other subway riders listening in on the story.
Why is reading aloud so important?
Reading aloud is important for so many reasons, but for me I love that it invites opportunities for deeper connections between adults and kids. I adore the questions that my kids ask me when we read books together. Last night I read Ode to an Onion: Pablo Neruda and His Muse by Alexandria Giardino, illustrated by Felicita Sala, to my nine-year-old daughter, and she had so Unknown-1.jpegmany funny questions: “Why is Pablo so gloomy?” “Why do onions make us cry?” “Was Pablo a real person?” “Can we read his poem about the onion again?” “Now can we read the poem in Spanish?” “Can we do shadow puppets behind the onion skin paper?”
What is one of your favorite books to read aloud?
Only one?! I have to name more than that, I’m sorry! The Wednesday Wars and Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt; Dreamers by Yuyi Morales; Alfie by Thyra Heder, Dave the Potter by Laban Carrick Hill, illustrated by Bryan Collier; The Best Man by Richard Peck; Her Right Foot by Dave Eggers, illustrated by Shawn Harris;Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson, A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip Stead and Erin Stead; and All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Marla Frazee, are just some of the ones that I love to read aloud!

Christina Carter

Jg8RK8Mn_400x400.jpgChristina is a K-5 librarian, book reviewer, and ProjectLIT Buffalo site leader. You can connect with her on Twitter @CeCeLibrarian.

What’s one of your favorite read aloud memories?

My favorite read aloud memory is with my Dad because he had his very own unique way of fracturing any story that was familiar. I can’t point to any specific book really but every time we sat down to read together was a blast. When I became an adult and then watched my Dad interact with his grandchildren, reading them stories in that same special way, it made (and still makes) my heart happy. I think this honestly is a HUGE reason why I love sharing fractured fairy tales.

Why is reading aloud so important?

Every read aloud we do with our children is an opportunity for them to fall in love with reading. I approach each read aloud that way, thinking, “what if this is that book that will spark the magic and wonder of their own imaginations and creativity or pique their curiosity to the point of further inquiry? ” Knowing that this is a possibility, I bring everything I have in me to the story rug; taking on the voice and role of each character and inviting our students to engage in this reading journey together. The read aloud gifts the participants with memories that will live on in their hearts as they recall the experience(s) that evening with their families or even years beyond this moment in time. It goes without saying, that I believe read alouds to be incredibly powerful!

What is one of your favorite books to read aloud?61ksfpfx5gl._sx384_bo12c2042c2032c200_

My absolute favorite read aloud at the moment is It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk by Josh Funk! It has been a big BIG hit with every grade level that I see in the library (K-5). The idea of Jack speaking directly to the narrator and giving him a hard time about how the story is going gets our students giggling every time! During our most recent read aloud, we turned it into a mini readers theater performance and I invited my library aide, our tech aide, and every and any adult who wanted to participate. We transformed our story rug into a “stage”, taking on the roles of each character and showed our students how to bring a story to life. Students then had a chance to come on up to the “stage” and read an advance copy of It’s Not Hansel and Gretel (also by Josh Funk). We had so much FUN! After every reading, students were like, “Again! Again!” This experience made my heart so happy and it is one that I will always remember.

Amanda Rawson Hill

author-photo-2018.jpgAmanda is cofounder of the MG @ Heart Book Club, a PitchWars mentor, and the author of The Three Rules of Everyday Magic. You can connect with her on Twitter at @amandarhill32


What’s one of your favorite read aloud memories?

My favorite read aloud memory is when my mom read the first Harry Potter to me and my siblings. Right around the troll scene, I picked up the book and finished it myself. Too impatient to keep taking it chapter by chapter!

Why is reading aloud so important?

Reading aloud is important because it changes books from a solitary experience to a shared one, which I think is a vital part of having them be well-loved and creating readers.

What is one of your favorite books to read aloud?

I love reading Neil Gaiman’s FORTUNATELY, THE MILK aloud. So many fun and silly voices plus lots of laughter.

Have a wonderful World Read Aloud Day and share your thoughts using the #WorldReadAloudDay hashtag!

Interview: Kara LaReau


Kara LaReau’s The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters is one of my all-time favorite series. The books are sharp, savvy, and seriously funny, and I am seriously upset that the series has come to a close. I will miss Jaundice, Kale, and the cast of one-of-a-kind characters that they met on their adventures. Fortunately for us all, Kara (along with illustrator Jen Hill) has given the girls a glorious sendoff in the form of Flight of the Bluebird — it might just be the best book of them all. I’m delighted that Kara chose to stop by the MG Book Village to chat about the book and what else she’s been working on lately. Check out the interview below — and then, if you haven’t already, fly over to your local bookstore or library to get your hands on Flight of the Bluebird!

~ Jarrett

. . .

Thanks again for stopping by the MG Book Village on your tour, Kara! Let’s get right to it. Flight of the Bluebird is the third book in the Unintentional Adventures trilogy. What are some things readers will learn in this final installment?

Among other things, they’ll learn just who (and where) Jaundice and Kale’s parents are, whether or not the Bland Sisters are twins, and how they got their names. Oh, and they’ll learn that this isn’t exactly their “final” adventure!

In the second book, The Uncanny Express, Jaundice and Kale have a series of mysterious dreams involving their parents and a ringing phone. Will we learn more about this mystery in Flight of the Bluebird?

Jaundice and Kale learn that what seemed like a souvenir paperweight Jaundice pocketed in The Uncanny Express is really one of a pair of magical scarabs that allows them to communicate with anyone in possession of the scarab’s twin — as long as the scarab is placed near one’s head. Jaundice had the scarab in her smock pocket during The Uncanny Express, which is why she kept dreaming of a phone ringing; it was like a “missed call” from their parents. Readers will learn a lot more about these scarabs and their origins in Flight of the Bluebird. And there will be a lot more mysterious dreams!

Dreams figure prominently in this series. Can you talk more about that?

Well, aside from writing, sleeping is one of my favorite things to do (especially now that I have a 5-year-old, and a writing career, and a full-time day job!) and I’ve always been fascinated by dreams, so it’s no surprise that I’ve incorporated both into these stories. Dreams are so powerful; while they often seem random and ridiculous, they can be full of meaning if you break them down. And while Jaundice and Kale seem bland and pretty reserved, there’s a lot of emotion they’ve repressed in their parents’ absence, so it felt right that some of those emotions would manifest in their dreams.

What was the hardest thing about writing this story?

For sure, the hardest thing was saying goodbye to the Bland Sisters. I love them so! But this was also the first story in the series (and in my writing career, to be honest) that takes place in a real location (Luxor, Egypt) and features a real, rich culture, so I really wanted to do it justice. I got very lucky (Jaundice and Kale might even call it “serendipity”) to find a renowned Egyptologist from Brown University, just a few minutes from my house; he and his wife (also a well-traveled archaeologist) were very generous with their time and energy and expertise and helped me to keep the details in this story respectful and authentic — although, of course, I did take a few artistic liberties!

What’s up next for you, now that you’ve said “Bland voyage” to Jaundice and Kale?

I’m still working on the Infamous Ratsos chapter book series; I just saw Matt Myers’ (brilliant!) jacket and interior sketches for Book 4 and delivered the text for Book 5. And I’m working on a new chapter book trilogy about a cat who may or may not be a zombie; the first book, called Rise of Zombert, is being illustrated by Ryan Andrews, and I’m hard at work writing Book 2 right now. And I have a picture book called BABY CLOWN coming out next year, illustrated by Matthew Cordell; I’m just about to see some artwork for it and I couldn’t be more excited!

As bummed as I am about saying bye to Jaundice and Kale, I’m so glad we’ve got so much more to look forward to you from you! Can’t wait!

%j7qk2tkrl21hu0oabod7w_thumb_3f8cKara LaReau was born and raised in Connecticut. She received her Masters in Fine Arts in Writing, Literature, and Publishing from Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts and later worked as an editor at Candlewick Press and at Scholastic Press. She is the author of picture books such as UGLY FISH, illustrated by Scott Magoon, and Good Night Little Monsters, illustrated by Brian Won; an award-winning chapter book series called The Infamous Ratsos, illustrated by Matt Myers; and a middle-grade trilogy called The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters, illustrated by Jen Hill.  Kara lives in Providence, Rhode Island with her husband and son and their cat.