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.

#HappyPottermas Part 2, Bridging the Gap: Books Between, Episode 64

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 will love for a lifetime.

I’m your host, Corrina Allen – a mom of a 9 and 11 year old, a teacher, and recently – staying up way too late wrapping presents and watching cheesy Netflix holiday specials like The Princess Switch and The Holiday Calendar. And apparently losing my voice a bit – it seems a tad scratchy tonight.

I believe in the power of the right story at the right time to transform you into a different kind of reader. And a different kind of person. And Harry Potter is that one series that seems to have accomplished that for so many.

In today’s special #HappyPottermas episode you’ll hear some clips from a variety of kids, parents, educators, and authors about what Harry Potter has meant to them.

And then I’ll share with you a conversation with one of the founders of #HappyPottermas and the MGBookVillage website, author Jarrett Lerner and – David Marsh – and educator and the creative force behind the LEGO Batman Book Talks on YouTube.

Main Topic – #HappyPottermas Audio Submissions

  • Katelynn Giordano (@Mrs_Giordano), 6th Grade English Teacher
  • Stephanie Lucianovic (@grubreport) –  author of The End of Something Wonderful: A Practical Guide to a Backyard Funeral  and Hello Star
  • Rajani LaRocca (@rajanilarocca) – author of Midsummer’s Mayhem and 7 Golden Rings
  • Jazz Anders (@snazzsinclair) – student, Kid YouTuber Snazzy Reads
  • Amber Stivers Anders – library aid, Jazz’s mom
  • Karen Chow (@KChowrites) – author, contributor at MG @ Heart

Jarrett Lerner & David Marsh – Interview Outline


Our special guests this week are author Jarrett Lerner and educator David Marsh. We talk about the influence of Harry Potter, our favorite books, the movie adaptations – among lots and lots of other things!

Take a listen…

Topics we chatted about

  • Introductions
  • How Harry Potter first came into our lives
  • Growing up with Harry Potter
  • Skipping the beginning chapters of The Sorcerer’s Stone
  • Favorite characters
  • Pottermore
  • Favorite book
  • Movies vs. Books
  • Adult appeal of Harry Potter
  • Harry Potter merch
  • Harry Potter sorting
  • Prizoner of Azkaban movie
  • DtqAMiAVAAAoyAY.jpg-large
    David’s Harry Potter swag!



Jarrett Lerner on Twitter – @Jarrett_Lerner

David Marsh on Twitter – @Davidmarsh80

The Harry Potter books

Pottermore website

Tight (by Torrey Maldonado)

The Bicycle Spy (Yona Zeldis McDonough)

Skylark and Wallcreeper (Anne O’Brien Carelli)

Oathbringer: Book Three of the Stormlight Archive (Brandon Sanderson)

Stella Diaz Has Something to Say (Angela Dominguez)

We’re Not From Here (Geoff Rodkey)


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 or message me on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.

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

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 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!


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.




#HappyPottermas Part 1, A Conversation Across the Pond: Books Between, Episode 63

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 will love for a lifetime.

I’m your host, Corrina Allen – a mom of two tweens, a 5th grade teacher, a Ravenclaw, and celebrating all things Harry Potter this month! I believe in the power of stories to give us the language and situations to help us identify and make sense of what is wonderful in our world. And give us the words and the way to fight against the injustices we see. And few books do that better than Harry Potter. Across generations parents and educators who grew up inspired by Rowling’s stories are sharing the books with the children in their lives.

In today’s episode you’ll hear some short clips from a variety of librarians, and parents, and educators, and authors about how much the series has meant to them.  And the special moments in their lives that were made a little more magical by Harry Potter.Ds2bST1XcAABnFm

And then I’ll share with you a lenghtier conversation from across the pond where I chat with two of the founders of #HappyPottermas – Annaliese Avery from Suffolk in the UK and Lorie Barber from Chicago in the U.S.

Defintely check out #HappyPottermas on Twitter and all the Monday night #MGBookChat topics throughout December will be all about Harry Potter! And I really would love to hear YOUR thoughts about Harry Potter as well So, if you are interested in being featured on this podcast later in December, just check out the link posted in the show notes, which includes very quick and easy instructions on to submit an audio clip to me. And I can’t wait to hear from you!

Main Topic – #HappyPottermas Audio Submissions



Funk Harry Potter Wedding Cake
Josh Funk’s Harry Potter wedding cake!

Annaliese Avery & Lorie Barber – Interview Outline

Our special guests this week are Annaliese Avery and Lorie Barber – two of the founders of #HappyPottermas!  We talk about Harry Potter inspired advocacy, the challenges of friendship trios, and the our thoughts about the new Fantastic Beast movies.

Take a listen…

Topics we chatted about

  • Introductions
  • How Harry Potter first came into our lives
  • The origins of #HappyPottermas
  • Harry Potter ushering in a golden age of children’s books
  • Harry Potter fueled activism
  • Flawed characters & friendship trios
  • Teaching Harry Potter
  • Complicated characters in Harry Potter
  • The Crimes of Grindlewold / The Fantastic Beast movies
  • The Harry Potter books vs. the movies
  • The Cursed Child
  • Sorting in Schools
  • Harry Potter in the UK vs. Harry Potter in the U.S
  • Looking at Harry Potter through a critical lens

Some pics from Lorie’s classroom!


Annaliese Avery on Twitter – @AnnalieseAvery

Lorie Barber on Twitter – @BarberChicago

Screen Shot 2018-12-10 at 12.27.54 AM.png

Jess Lifshitz on Twitter – @Jess5th

The Harry Potter Alliance

A Monster Calls

The Harry Potter books

The Cursed Child

Pottermore website


Okay, that wraps up our show this week!  Remember to check out #HappyPottermas throughout December for some magical fun and remember to send in your own audio submission for a future episode.

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 or message me on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.

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


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.

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 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!



Launching a Community Book Club & a Conversation with Harper and Maggie: Books Between, Episode 62

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 incredible stories. I believe in the power of books to bring communities together. And my goal is to help you connect your children and your community with fantastic books and share inspiring conversations with the people who make that magic happen.

I’m your host, Corrina Allen – a mom of a 9 and 11 year old, a 5th grade teacher in Central New York, and glad to be back with you after a short hiatus to focus on school and supporting some local candidates in the mid-term elections! Before this year, I had NEVER done any phone banking or canvassing, but after being inspired by so many of YOU – I knew I had to get off my bum and get to work.

This is episode #62 and Today’s show is all about promoting literacy in your community.  First, I’ll share some advice about launching a community book club based on my experience starting a ProjectLIT Book Club at my school. And then I’ll share a conversation with Harper & Maggie, two young girls who’ve launched Books & a Blanket – an organization to promote literacy and well-being among young children in need.

Before we get started, I have a BIG announcement that I am delighted to tell you about!  For the whole month of December, Annaliese Avery and Jarrett Lerner and myself fromDs2bST1XcAABnFm MGBookVillage are teaming up with Lorie Barber and Erin Varley to bring you #HappyPottermas – a month-long celebration of all things Harry Potter! There will be daily Twitter prompts and all the 9pm EST Monday night #MGBookChat topics throughout December will be all about Harry Potter! And…. I’ve got some special guests lined up for the December episodes of the podcast to talk about the Wizarding World.  And I would love to feature YOU on the show as well. So if you have THOUGHTS about Hogwarts, Snape, the books vs. the movies. If you have OPINIONS you want to share – I really, really want to hear what you have to say!  So, if you are interested in being featured on this podcast, just check out the link posted in the show notes, and I can’t wait to hear from you!

Main Topic – Launching a Community Book Club

This week I’m sharing some things I’ve learned about launching a community book club based on my experiences starting a ProjectLIT Book Club at my school. But whatever type of book club you might already have going or are considering starting – whether that’s a ProjectLIT club or not – I think you’ll get some good ideas from today’s discussion.  And – just know that every document I mention (flyers, surveys, discussion guides, etc…) are all available for you to download right in the show notes and on this episode’s post at And all of them are editable so you can download and adjust them however you need.

Today I’ll be talking about the difference between ProjectLIT and other traditional community book clubs, including the pros and cons of each. Then I’ll share some ideas about how to prepare to launch your club, some ideas about how to decide what books to read and how to get copies of those books, how to get students and the wider community involved and excited, and then I’ll get into some specifics about planning meetings and hosting a community-wide book celebration.

That’s a lot to cover! So let’s dig right in!

What is the difference between a traditional book club with community involvement and a ProjectLIT Community Book Club – and what are the pros and cons of each?

ProjectLIT is a grassroots literacy movement with community book club chapters all over the country. As of this week, there are now 592 chapters. Their goal is to increase access to culturally relevant books and promote a love of reading in our schools and communities. Each spring the ProjectLIT team consults with chapter leaders and announces a list of 20 books from middle grade to YA that include topics that will generate lots of discussion and bring awareness to issues in our society. Since this is the second year, there are now 40 books to choose from. The books feature characters from a wide variety of backgrounds and are usually #ownvoices – written by authors who share the marginalized identity of the main character. For example, some ProjectLIT books are Amina’s Voice by Hena Kahn and Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes. Some of the YA choices are Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime and Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo. ProjectLIT is all about bringing together a community to discuss the big ideas put forth in these booksand to encourage students to take a leadership role in planning community meetings and doing community service projects to promote literacy. It’s beyond just a book club that might meet to read and discuss books.  If you want to know more about ProjectLIT, their founder, Jarred Amato was a guest on this podcast on episode 54. So, if you are bb54featureconsidering whether or not to launch a more traditional book club in your school or to be a ProjectLIT chapter, here are some pros and cons to keep in mind.


  • The book choices are more limited. There are about 20 middle grade titles to choose from and about 20 YA, but I found that the middle grade titles weren’t all the best fit for my club which is geared toward 4th and 5th graders. For example, the March graphic novels are listed as middle grade but I decided to not offer that as one of our choices since it seemed more like a middle school fit.  I’m really hoping that the book options next year will include some lower middle grade titles to expand the choices for elementary kids and to include a variety of reading levels for older students, too.
  • Many of the titles are newer so they are only available as hardcover which makes it financially challenging. And students are less familiar with them so you might need to do some book talks and sampling to get them really pumped about reading them.
  • If you advertise an event as ProjectLIT, it does need to be one of the approved titles. You can mix things up but it does make it more complicated. And if you are trying to make your book club ALSO connect with other things like Battle of the Books or March Book Madness, it is a little bit limiting in that way.


  • The book choices ARE amazing! Long Way Down, Amal Unbound, The First Rule of Punk, Ghost, The Parker Inheritance – truly – these are fabulous reads!!
  • Yes, they are new. But that also means that most kids haven’t already read them. I know when I’ve attempted book clubs with really popular books that have been out for awhile, some kids didn’t come because well – if they were interested in the book, they’d already read it. Newer books pull in those readers who will be literacy DhM7H6RV4AAXvH0-1leaders. Those kids who want to be on the cutting edge and draw in the rest of their peers and community with their excitement.
  • You have an amazing supportive community who are all working toward the same goals and really eager to help make your life easier by sharing ideas and resources. If you need discussion questions for Towers Falling – they are already done! There’s a wonderful Facebook group, a Sunday Twitter chat, and a weekly newsletter emailed to you. So, you are not in it alone. And because of that, there are great opportunities for clubs to collaborate and maybe Skype with other groups reading the same book to discuss beyond their community and to get ideas from each other.

How can I prepare my launch to make the book club successful?

Doing some work ahead of time can really help get your book club started off on the right foot and get some community behind you from the very beginning. One of the first things I did was to decide who I might strong-arm into, I mean…. invite to partner with me. In most schools there are at least a couple book lovers who would be down with helping out. At my school – that would be the amazing Kelly. So I emailed Kelly – who was totally excited about launching a club at our school!  Sometimes you just have to ask people. Then I emailed our local public librarian, the PTO, our principal, and let them know about the awesome new club for kids that was coming soon.

Then, I needed to decide how often we would meet, when, and where.  And that really depends on two main factors – time available at your school or library. And YOU!  Because honestly – you are the one who needs to be the main force in making this work. So just…decide and promote the heck out of it!  Since our school day starts early, a before school time was not going to work. So I decided to offer the club to 4th and 5th graders after school from 2:10 to 3:15. The reason I went with 3:15?  Because that’s the time that Drama Club and the Book Cooks let out so I decided to be consistent with them so parents wouldn’t be confused about pick-up times. I also decided to go with Thursdays to avoid those other club days as well.  Now, I will say – I’ve had to do some push back against getting sucked into meetings on Thursdays. But I am holding firm. I don’t want the job to get in the way of my actual work – expanding literacy and love of reading in my school. So if there is a meeting on a Thursday? I’m not going. I’m with the kids doing THAT important work.

The next thing to decide is how many books you want to read throughout the year and when you want to hold a community-wide celebration of those books. Again – this all depends on YOUR availability and how many books you think you can get.  Maybe you start small with just 4 books and 4 events. Maybe every other month works for you. Since I have no chill whatsoever, I decided to go for once a month but to use our first month of school to let everyone get settled and start promoting it, and then officially launch in October.  Kudos to ANYONE who can jump start something the first month of school – I just can’t quite manage the logistics of that. So – cut yourself some slack and give yourself a month head start.

After looking at the calendar and our school schedule, I decided that our community-wide celebrations would be the first Saturday of every month from 10am to 11:30am. I went with this for a few reasons –

  • Everyone seems to already have things in the evenings and I really wanted parents and adults to be able to come. Our school gets out at 2:10 – very few adults can make it at that time if we had after school events.
  • Sundays are often tough for some people in our community because of religious observances in the morning so I wanted to avoid any conflict there.
  • I wanted it to be early enough in the day so that it didn’t wreck people’s entire day. They can come, enjoy, and then have all the rest of Saturday do whatever they want.
  • The first weekend of the month tends to avoid most major holidays.

That being said – there is absolutely no possible way you can accommodate everyone’s schedule and avoid hockey tournaments and dance recitals and the plethora of other obligations people have. So – no worries!  If kids can’t come to the Thursday after school meetings, they are always welcome to just attend the celebration event! And if they can’t attend the community celebration, they are still welcomed wholeheartedly to the after school meetings. And if November doesn’t work out – come join us when your schedule frees up in the spring!  I really try to make it as socially and emotionally easy to join us as possible – whenever they can.

Okay – so once you’ve decided the meeting days and when your community book club celebrations will be – figure out a place to meet.  We meet in my classroom after school because I know that location will be available and I am not inconveniencing anyone else. And we meet in the school library for those Saturday celebrations. I had considered meeting at the local public library, but opted for the school library for a couple reasons – one, I am familiar with that space and have access to it so I can set up the night before. Perhaps you are noticing a theme here – make it as easy as possible for YOU. Also, I want the school and our library to be a literacy hub for the community.  And I wanted access to the technology in that space – Promethean Board and Chromebooks. And the public library didn’t have those options and the students and I were comfortable with our school’s space and technology.

Alright, so your prep phase should include the Who, When, and Where. Who – figuring out who will help you and who you will reach out to to let them know the amazingness that is coming. When you will meet with students and when you and those students will host the community book club celebration. And where -the location of these meetings.

How do you decide which books to read?

Picking awesome and interesting books are what’s really going to get people excited.  And I recommend letting kids have some ownership of that process. Kelly and I decided to pick the first book ourselves so we could do some work ahead of time to get copies and then have the kids vote on the other middle grade ProjectLIT choices.  You might decide to have the students pick from a list you provide or have them pick every other month so there is some variety but also honors student choice. We launched our book club with Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes. For us, this seemed like a good start for a few reasons. It was one of the books with an easier reading level and being in New York, our families have many personal stories about 9/11 that this book club would give them an opportunity to share. So I’d recommend picking a really high interest book to start that will get a lot of support in your community.

During our first after school meeting, I had the students do a book tasting of 15 ProjectLIT books that I thought would be a good fit for our 4th and 5th graders – Ghost Boys, The Wild Robot, Amal Unbound, Wonder, The Crossover, Rebound, Booked, Ghost, Patina, Sunny, The Parker Inheritance, The First Rule of Punk, Wishtree, and Refugee.  Perhaps you could give some choices that align with your goals and that ensure a variety of perspectives.  So – I had scrounged up multiple copies of each book and printed out evaluation forms. (Those are available to download right in the show notes!) Kids sat in groups of about 4 and examined and previewed about 3 books at a time.  Just like any other book tasting, I encouraged them to look at the cover, read the teaser material on the back cover or inside flaps, and read the first page. And I framed this for them as – don’t JUST think about what YOU like. Think about what books you like and what titles you think would be important and interesting for our community to discuss.  So – then they voted on their top choices. I had intended this to be done on a Google Form (which I will share with you) but our internet went down so we went old school and they wrote down their lists and we tallied them up. The seven books that got the most votes were The Wild Robot, Wonder, Amal Unbound, Ghost, Sunny, Wishtree, and The First Rule of Punk. And… I’m not gonna lie. I was a tad heartbroken that a certain book I really, really wanted to read with them didn’t quite make the cut. BUT – I had committed to honoring their choices. Also – Sunny was chosen but NOT book 2 of that series (Patina), so I just decided to go with it since each book can really stand on their own.

After that, I matched each book to a month – putting the two Jason Reynolds books (Ghost then Sunny after each other later in the year since their reading levels were more challenging) and timing Wishtree so our celebration would fall close to May 1st since that date plays a big part in the novel. So, as you schedule the books, think about what seasonal connections you might make and consider putting those more challenging books later on in the year. Also – some books will be available in softcover later in the year, so you might want to schedule those then to reduce costs.  Speaking of costs….

How do you get copies of the books?

This is the big challenge. Ideally, you want to gather enough copies for each student who wants to participate AND some extras for those in the community to borrow as well. (But that’s not always possible.) So, here are a few suggestions:

  1. Ask students to purchase the books themselves if they are able (I have this listed on our permission slip for each month’s club and having families that are willing and able to purchase books for their child helps free up funds to get books for other kids)
  2. Ask the PTO/PTA for funding – our PTO actually approached ME to attend a meeting and share the goals of the club.  Not only did I get more families interested in joining by talking to their folks, they gave us $250 for books! So definitely seek out your PTO!
  3. Take advantage of Scholastic points and perhaps ask teachers in your building to donate some copies. Not all of our books were available through Scholastic, but we had several members of the staff donate copies of Towers Falling because it was only $4!
  4. Try doing a Donors Choose project!
  5. Apply for grants! Right now, Kelly and I have a grant submitted that would totally cover the cost of the remaining books – so cross your fingers for us!
  6. Ask local businesses and organizations for support! Our local Lions Club is really receptive to opportunities to support the schools. And those local businesses and organizations might be EVEN MORE into it when you invite them to read the books with you and come to the book celebrations. I also make sure to thank all our donors by name during the meeting and you can also have a few “Sponsored by” flyers around as well.
  7. Collaborate with your school library and the local public library. They can often gather copies for you that kids and the community can check out.  The library right down the street from our school has a special display for our book club with our monthly flyer and the books stacked right underneath it available to check out.
  8. Start an Amazon Wishlist and share that link EVERYWHERE – in your email signature – in a newsletter – on social media… Ask friends to share it with their friends and family who might be looking for an opportunity to support a great cause.

How do you get students and the community to join your book club?

Alright – now that you’ve built something amazing and have everything organized and have a plan to get those books – you need to build that excitement so kids will come and continue coming!  And the community will read the books with you and come to the celebrations. Let’s start with the kids:

  • I think the single most effective thing we did was at the beginning of the year, Kelly and I went into all the 4th and 5th grade classrooms with a stack of the book options and gave a quick book talk of each one and passed them around for the kids to look at. And then we passed out the permission forms.  After that, I make a quick visit at the beginning of each month to do a quick chat about the upcoming book and pass out those permission slips so you know who is coming and if they need a copy of the book. (And an editable copy of that slip is right in the show notes for you to download.)
  • Wherever your school promotes events – on the morning announcements, in a newsletter, on a school calendar… get the club mentioned!  About once a week, I make an announcement reminding the kids to come to our weekly meeting AND reminding folks to come to the upcoming Saturday celebration. Our school also has a weekly news show – The Minoa Morning Messages – and some of our members made an appearance to promote the club and announce the next book.
  • Be visible! Last year I spent a lot more time in my classroom whenever I could but this year I am making more of an effort to hang out by the buses at dismissal and say hello to kids not in my class during lunch. I have been surprised by how many kids approach me during those casual times and ask about the book club or see me and suddenly remember their permission slip! If out of sight means out of mind, then you‘ve got to literally be in their sights. And each of those encounters builds interest and awareness among the other kids (and staff) who observe those conversations!

So – how about getting the staff and community to come to your celebrations?  That can be a bit trickier, but I do have some ideas for you:

  • Have the students invite them!  Each month, students help design an invitation and I print off a bunch of copies. Then we get some envelopes and personally invite every single member of the staff – not just classroom teachers, but secretaries, TAs, custodial staff, lunch monitors, the superintendent – everyone!  One student even Screen Shot 2018-11-25 at 11.57.50 PM.pngsnagged the mail carrier on his way in and handed him an invitation! I also give students multiple copies of the invitation – and the digital version for them to invite family members. We also branch out and invite folks at the town hall, the mayor, the fire chief. And based on their suggestions, I drive around and post flyers in areas they think would be a good idea – like the post office or the fire department or the local pizza shop.
  • Another way to get the staff involved is to email them and ask them to read the book and come to the celebration. And last month, we had some extra copies of Towers Falling, so some of the kids just walked around after school and asked the staff if they wanted to borrow the book and talked up how good it was. And of course, included an invitation tucked into the front cover.
  • Harness the power of social media! Our club has both a Twitter account (@ProjectLITMinoa) and an Instagram account (@ProjectLITMinoa) and are both nice places to showcase what the students are doing and share those awesome pictures of your events. And if you are on the social media platforms that parents and kids already use, it makes it easier for them to tag you and start to build awareness among the community. Have a social media presence also makes your club Google-able. You could also make a website, but that’s definitely an in-the-future step for us.
  • Make a display and put it in a high traffic area in your school! Last month, I finally realized I needed to make a display of some kind because people kept asking when the next book club was and what books we were reading next. So having one place they can look is really helpful both to be informative and to also serve as an advertisement!DsJMe6UVsAAH56p.jpg

How do you run the student book club meetings?

One thing that I did on a whim was to start our very first meeting with a quick get-to-know-you activity. I definitely didn’t know all the students and I’m certain they didn’t know each others’ names, so we did a quick round of “When the Cold Wind Blows”. Basically each kid takes a turn standing in the center of the circle and says their name and something about themselves. Like, “My name is Corrina and I like Harry Potter!” And if that applies to you, you stand up and move like the wind to another seat.  That went over so well, that each month, when we have a new mix of students, we start with a new ice breaker. During that first meeting, I pass out the reading schedule (and yup – that’s right online for you!), and we start reading together! Sometimes we listen to the audio book and sometimes Kelly and I take turns reading it out loud. For the meetings after that first one, we take the first 10-15 minutes to discuss the reading we did last week – talking about any confusing parts, big ideas, connections, questions, favorite parts, or favorite quotes… and then I read aloud or we listen to the audio book for the next 20 or so minutes. And the last 20-30 minutes is planning time. This is when the kids take care of invitations, come up with discussion questions, trivia questions, brainstorm new ideas together – and basically take care of all the things that come up when planning an event. After that, we pack up and I escort the crew down to the main hall to be picked up and take that opportunity to connect with parents and answer any questions. So basically, our after school book club meetings are discussion, read together, plan together.

How do you host a great community book club celebration?

Honestly, I wasn’t sure this was going to work out at ALL. The Saturday morning of our first event, two things happened that did not bode well.  First, despite the fact that I had requested the room through the proper channels and filled out all the school-required paperwork, the library was locked and NO ONE with the key was available. Okay – so we just relocated to my room, and I scrambled to get the space organized. Second – several of the kids and staff had volunteered to come in early at 9:30 to help me set up and it was 9:50 and NO ONE was there but ME. And I thought – well…. I’ll just hang out here and grade papers and eat the cider and muffins I brought myself. But – then…. EVERYONE showed up!! And our final count was over 40 people and it was an amazing event!  So – here is the schedule we followed.

  • First – ask for some volunteers to bring in drinks and snacks. We had cocoa (a BIG hit!), cider, donuts, and muffins. Kelly and I brought in some and parents had volunteered to supply snacks and drinks, too.
  • When people arrived from 10:00 – 10:20, there was a sign-in sheet, and we had an Screen Shot 2018-11-26 at 12.01.28 AM.pngactivity set up at each table for them to complete when they came in. For Towers Falling, we supplied big pieces of paper and markers, and had people create their own Social Units diagram. For our next read, The Wild Robot, we’re planning on a build-your-own-robot craft. I think having something fun to do for the first 15 minutes as people arrive is a good idea since families want to get a snack and everyone wants to chat anyway.
  • From 10:20-10:30 I welcome everyone, give a brief introduction – go through the agenda, explain what ProjectLIT book clubs are all about, show pictures of the book club in action that I’ve been taking throughout the past month, and give thanks to the organizations and donors and volunteers that have helped us out. It’s a quick power point, and I’ll drop a link to that in the show notes if you want to use it for your events.  Also, as each person arrives, we hand them a half-sheet copy of the agenda with an exit survey stapled to the back to we can get some feedback.Screen Shot 2018-11-26 at 12.00.33 AMScreen Shot 2018-11-26 at 12.00.26 AM
  • From 10:30-10:50 is Group Discussion time!  Students pass out a discussion guide with six questions they’ve developed.  And each group takes about twenty minutes to chat about the book! These could be general questions like, what character could you relate to the most or what scene stood out to you? Or they might be specific to the novel, like “Why do you think Dejá’s father didn’t want her to learn about 9/11?”  For this particular book, we also asked the adults in each group to share where they were on 9/11 and what were their experiences and feelings on that day.Screen Shot 2018-11-25 at 11.59.19 PM.png
  • From 10:50-11:15 is trivia! I created an online quiz based on the trivia questions that the kids made using the website Kahoot – which was lots of fun!  You do need access to a device though, so traditional trivia is fine, too!  We had everyone break up into teams of no more than 6 and then the top team each won a prize of a full-sized Hershey’s Bar, the second place team each got a Hershey’s mini, and the 3rd place team each got a Hershey’s kiss. That trivia game and those little prizes were such a HUGE hit – and the competition was quite fierce!  I’ll drop a link to that Kahoot if you want to check it out.
  • From 11:15 – 11:20 – We drew prizes!  We were lucky enough to have some community members and parents donate books and a few small gift cards to Barnes & Noble and a local yogurt shop. So at the beginning of the meeting, we had a student in charge of passing out tickets and then we just drew names at the end of the meeting.
  • From 11:20 – 11:30 is cleanup!

A few things I would change – we forgot to explicitly ask people to fill out the surveys and return them to us. Oops! And I forgot to take a big group picture! Next time, I’d also make sure that at least one of the book club kids were seated at each group. We also didn’t get DrHDC6pU4AA_-9kas many community members who weren’t directly connected to the school as I had hoped. So, we are going to keep reaching out! And our next steps are to do more community service events like book drives and to find ways for the students to be literacy advocates in other ways in our community.

So, overall – it was REALLY successful and a TON of fun! Our new principal came – even though he hadn’t technically started until the following week! We had almost all the book club kids come with at least one family member – including bringing older siblings who were former students which was wonderful!  About six staff members came, including one with her new baby.

I was truly overcome with the passion and excitement and generosity that our community showed. And really – all I did was provide an outlet and an opportunity for kids and the community to express their passion for reading and literacy.

I know, if you decide to start a community book club in your school, you won’t regret it!   And if you have any questions at all, I’d be happy to chat more with you. You can email me at or reach out on Twitter or Instagram at the handle @Books_Between. And if you have some suggestions or tips about how to run a successful community book club – I’d love to share your ideas so we can all learn from each other!

Maggie & Harper from Books and a Blanket – Interview Outlinebooks_and_a_blanket_1_blog.jpg

Our special guests this week are sisters Maggie & Harper – founders of Books and a Blanket!  We talk about the origins of their project, their favorite books, and how you can help them promote literacy and well-being among young children in need.

Take a listen…

Books & a Blanket

What is Books and a Blanket and how did it get started?

How has Books and a Blanket changed from when you first came up with the idea?

How do you get all the books and blankets? And do you accept both used and new?

What are your plans for the future of Books and a Blanket?

How do you decide who gets them?

If our listeners wanted to get involved and help you out, what could they do?

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?

We have a lot of teachers and librarians listening. What is something you want them to know?

What is something you wish teachers did MORE of?

What is something you wish teachers did LESS of?

What are some of your all-time favorite books?

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


Books & a Blanket website –

Books & a Blanket on Twitter

Books & Authors We Chatted About:


Mr. Lemoncello’s Library (Chris Grabenstein)

The Penderwicks (Jeanne Birdsall)

Penderwicks at Last (Jeanne Birdsall)

The Harry Potter series (J.K. Rowling)

The Hunt for Red October (Tom Clancy)

The Mysterious Benedict Society (Trenton Lee Stewart)

The Candymakers (Wendy Mass)

Nevermoor (Jessica Townsend)

The Land of Stories (Chris Colfer)

Rick Riordan

Ender’s Game (Orson Scott Card)

Artemis Fowl (Eoin Colfer)


Okay, that wraps up our show this week!  I hope you’ll head over to to help support a great cause.

And remember to check out #HappyPottermas throughout December for some magical fun.

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 or message me on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.

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

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 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!


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.



Interview: Kara LaReau

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Today I’m excited to welcome Kara LaReau to the MG Book Village! She’s here to discuss her latest book, Project Fluffy, which just hit shelves yesterday. Project Fluffy is the third installment of her The Infamous Ratsos series — one of my personal favorites.

One of the things that regularly amazes me about Kara’s work is her ability to simultaneously write on multiple levels. The Ratsos books are always interesting and entertaining — if not flat-out hilarious — but they also deftly tackle all kinds of thorny topics and big ideas. (Her other chapter book series, The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters, is similar in all of these ways.)

The Ratsos books occupy that murky territory between picture books and solidly Middle Grade novels. But these books are wonderful for Middle Grade readers. Hooked by the excellent storytelling and intrigued by the cleverly broached themes, striving readers won’t be able to put the books down until the very end — at which point they will have gained a great deal of reading confidence. And these books would be excellent choices for read-alouds in any grade. They wouldn’t take up a tremendous amount of class time, yet could be used to kickstart some seriously productive discussions, and could also be used to teach craft.

I hope you enjoy the interview below — and then hurry out to get your hands on Project Fluffy!

~ Jarrett

. . .

First of all, Kara, thanks for stopping by the MG Book Village to celebrate the release of the latest book in the Infamous Ratsos series! Before we get to the book, do you care to tell our readers what you’ve been up to since you last visited us?  

Thank you so much for having me! I’ve had quite a bit going on over the past few months. I’ve written the fourth and fifth Infamous Ratsos adventures, the third and final (??) Bland Sisters adventure, and the first story in a new (secret, for now!) chapter book series. I’m working on the second story in that series right now, and I have a new picture book in the works, illustrated by this year’s Caldecott winner, Matthew Cordell!

Wow! You’ve been busy! Okay, onto the new book. Can you tell us a little about Project Fluffy?

Project Fluffy is basically Cyrano de Bergerac for the elementary school set. It turns out that the most popular kid in school, Chuck Wood, has a bit of a crush on Louie and Ralphie’s friend, Fluffy. Chuck wants Louie to help him get Fluffy’s attention; unfortunately, Louie has some pretty flawed ideas about how to do that. At the same time, Ralphie’s jealous that Louie is spending all his time with Chuck.

The Infamous Ratsos books are entertaining, funny, and relatable, but in them, you also very deftly address some “bigger” topics and ideas, in particular ones about boys, men, and “masculinity.” Can you talk at all about this element of the books?

Of course. While the main goal in my writing is always to entertain, I’m hoping these stories also encourage further thought and discussion. Each of the Infamous Ratsos books portrays and subverts a different aspect of toxic masculinity: the first is about the façade of male toughness; the second, The Infamous Ratsos Are Not Afraid, is about admitting fears and different definitions of bravery; Project Fluffy is about personal connection and empathy, and female objectification.

Here at the Village, we’ve been trying to give our readers more behind-the-scenes peeks at the book-making process. The Infamous Ratsos is thoroughly (and wonderfully!) illustrated by Matt Myers. Could you tell us a bit about working with Matt?

Matt and I are friends, but we actually don’t work closely together on the Infamous Ratsos; I work with my editor at Candlewick and he works with his designer there, and that editor and designer work together, but Matt and I don’t usually connect until after the book is finished. However, since I now know Matt (and his sense of humor!) pretty well, I find myself writing to his sensibility. In the manuscript I sent to my editor for Project Fluffy, I put in several art notes where I specifically said, “I bet Matt will have a field day illustrating this!” And he absolutely did.

What do you hope your readers will take away from Project Fluffy, and the Infamous Ratsos series in general?

Louie and Ralphie make a lot of mistakes, but they’re always willing to learn from them. I think that’s the most any of us can do in life. I hope my readers feel encouraged to keep trying to be their best, most authentic selves. And of course, I hope they have as much fun reading these books as I have writing them!

Many of our site’s readers are educators. Is there anything you’d like to say to them about the Ratsos – in particular those planning to add Project Fluffy to their classroom libraries?

First off, I’d like to say THANK YOU FOR DOING WHAT YOU DO!!! Knowing that you’re all out there sharing your love of books and reading and learning gives me hope for the world.

With regard to The Infamous Ratsos, I hope these books find their way to kids who might be ready to try reading something a bit more challenging than picture books, but who aren’t quite ready for middle grade. And as I’ve mentioned, I hope these are fun, entertaining reads, but I hope they might encourage further discussion. Candlewick has put together some terrific reading guides that might help to get the conversation started; here are links to those guides for The Infamous Ratsos, The Infamous Ratsos Are Not Afraid, and Project Fluffy.

Now, please tell me this isn’t the last we’ll be seeing of Louie and Ralphie…

Not by a long shot! As I’ve mentioned, I just finished the fourth and fifth books in the series, and a sixth is on the way!


IMG_1531.JPGKara 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.

3 New Paranormal Releases & A Conversation w/ Pablo Cartaya: Books Between, Episode 61

Episode Outline:

Listen to the episode here!


Hello everyone! Welcome to Books Between – a podcast for teachers, librarians, parents, and anyone who loves middle grade books!

I believe in the power of stories to change our mood – make us laugh, cry, or… creep us out in the best possible way!  My goal is to help you connect kids with those fabulous books and share inspiring conversations with the authors and educators who make that magic happen.

I am your host, Corrina Allen – a mom of a 9 and 11 year old, a 5th grade teacher in Central New York, and spending a few hours each week phone banking!   

This is episode #61 and today I’m booktalking three recent paranormal reads that will get you and your kids in the perfect fall mood, and sharing a conversation with Pablo Cartaya about his latest novel, Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish!

Before we jump into things, a few updates:

The Middle Grade at Heart Book Club pick for October is The Three Rules of Everyday Magic by Amanda Rawson Hill and The Hotel Between by Sean Easley is the November pick. And – I just got sneak peek at the first four MG at Heart picks for 2019 and they’re fantastic. In fact, one of the authors, was recently featured on the show.

Also remember to check out #MGBooktober to check out all the great discussions around middle grade and connect with other educators, librarians, authors, and fans.

And remember that Monday nights at 9pm EST is the #MGBookChat Twitter chat!  This month some of the topics are: Building Vocabulary with Middle Grade Books, and Taboo Roll Call: Does anything go in Middle Grade now?  We always have a great time a leave with tons of suggestions for the kids in our lives. And…of course, ourselves!

Book Talk – 3 New Paranormal Releases

This week I am sharing with you three new paranormal releases that are perfect for the fall – or anytime, really! They are Edison Beaker Creature Seeker by Frank Cammuso, Sheets by Brenna Thummler, and Small Spaces by Katherine Arden.

Edison Beaker Creature Seeker

Let’s start with Edison Beaker Creature Seeker. This full-color graphic novel is the first in a new series by Frank Cammuso – author of The Knights of the Lunch Table series and 9780425291924the Misadventures of Salem Hyde series.  This book is about a young boy named Edison who has always been afraid of the dark. When his mom has to go out of town, Edison and his little sister, Tesla, go to stay with their Uncle Earl. Uncle Earl is an exterminator and he reluctantly takes the kids on a late-night “emergency” job where they end up going through a door to a shadowy other-worldly place where Edison has to confront his fears and lots of bizarre creatures!  Here are three things to love about Edison Beaker Creature Seeker:

  1. Tesla’s hamster, Scuttlebutt! He is so stinking cute!! And gets into so much trouble – or rather, gets everyone else into trouble when he rolls away in his ball into the darkest, most dangerous corners.
  2. How FUNNY this book is!  I was at the park with my daughters when I finished it last week, and I just could NOT help laughing out loud – even though I knew I was getting weird looks. The word play, especially, is so much fun. Already the names Edison and Tesla are awesome – but another example, the portal to the other realm is through the Night Door which is found in an old building called the Wherehouse. And so the creatures call their underworld – the UnderWhere. And as you can imagine – the conversations around that are THE BEST.
  3. This intriguing little creature called Knox who is this fierce, cute little purple scavenger with a blue mohawk. I. LOVE. HER. She’s complicated and tough and vulnerable – and clearly has a much bigger part to play in future books.

Edison Beaker Creature Seeker is a fantastic graphic novel that you will definitely want to add to your collection. It’s sort of like a mix between HiLo and Amulet. So if you have kids who loved those two series, this is one to introduce them to next.



Next up this week is another graphic novel – Sheets by Brenna Thummler. This story is about 13 year-old Marjorie who is responsible for running her family’s laundromat. She 51rVAwnO8xL._SX352_BO1,204,203,200_has a lot going on – dealing with her father’s depression, taking care of her little brother, middle school drama – and the horrid Mr. Saubertuck who is trying to close down the family business. And then, in floats Wendell – a ghost (sheet and all) who accidentally ends up in Marjorie’s laundromat and creates his own complications.  Here are three things to love about Sheets:

  1. The ghosts! Even though they all wear a sheet, they each have their own personalities – some wearing hats, or glasses.
  2. The parts about the laundromat business. I love stories that get you behind the scenes of how things run.
  3. Brenna Thummler’s illustrations!  Such a gorgeous color palette in shades of blue, pink, and green. I love her backgrounds – the buildings, all the little details of the interiors, and especially her trees!  I noticed this in her illustrations for Anne of Green Gables, too – Brenna’s trees and leaves are stunning.

Sheets is a great suggestion for kids who might be looking for a realistic fiction graphic novel with a twist of paranormal that it’s too scary.


Small Spaces

And finally – a new middle grade novel you NEED to get your hands on – Small Spaces by Katherine Arden. It’s about a young girl named Ollie whose mother died under tragic91StTYa-U4L circumstances last year, and understandably – Ollie is withdrawn and raw.  She ends up with this creepy book that tells the legend of two local brothers who come under the influence of The Smiling Man – with horrific results. When Ollie takes a field trip to a nearby farm, she and her friends Coco and Brian end up in an other-wordly fight to survive the lure of those mysterious forces. I love what Betsy Bird said about this book: “Are you afraid of scarecrows? No? Well, bad news bucko. You’re about to be.” And oh is she right!!  Here are three things to love about Small Spaces:

  1. It’s so immersive and atmospheric!  I loved Arden’s lush descriptions of a gorgeous sunny autumn in Vermont that slowly turns dark and foreboding – scarlet sugar maples, the silvery gleam of the distant creek, and then fog descending over a broken-down bus.
  2. It is straight up terrifying! And the pacing is perfect – taking the tension up a notch bit by bit.  Small things, then bigger and bigger. A thrown rock. A frightened woman at the watering hole. A mysterious book from 1895. The weird, bad story about the schoolhouse fire. And that’s only the first quarter of the book!!  
  3. That twist at the END!!! Ahhh! It is SUCH a pleasure when a book truly surprises you!

If you have kids who like scary – kids who liked Stranger Things. Kids who liked The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street. This is the book to hand them next.

Pablo Cartaya – Interview Outline


Our special guest this week is Pablo Cartaya – author of The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora and his most recent middle grade novel – Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish. We talk about the people of Puerto Rico and their strength, we discuss why he included a character with Down’s Syndrome and the efforts he made to get that portrayal right, and we also chat about the proper storage of peanut butter – among lots of other things. And don’t forget that when you are done reading the book and you want to hear Pablo and I discuss the ending of Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish, just wait until the end of the show after the credits and that bonus section will be waiting for you.

Take a listen…

Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish

Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish is your second middle grade and has been getting all kinds of great buzz online!

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?

One of the reasons I loved this book so much was that I felt like I was traveling through Puerto Rico right along with Marcus!

Can you talk a little bit about your research?pablo-cartaya

There is a fair amount of the novel that is in Spanish (a language I don’t speak) and yet somehow I never felt lost in the story.

What was your process like for deciding how much Spanish to include and where it would go?

In the novel, Marcus’ younger brother, Charlie, has Down Syndrome.  What made you decide to include a character with Down Syndrome and how did you make sure to get that representation as authentic as possible?

In your acknowledgments,  you thank your father for teaching you how to cook. What are some of your favorite things to make?

Where do YOU store your peanut butter?

**BONUS SPOILER SECTION: Pablo 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 59:50 mark.

Your Writing Life

I noticed that your first book was a picture book!

What lead you down the path of writing middle grade?

Do you think you’d ever write another picture book?

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 person who helped launch your reading life as a child? And if so, what did they do that made such a difference?

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

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


Pablo’s website –

Pablo on Twitter and Instagram

Information about Kokila Imprint


Books & Authors We Chatted About:

Journey to the Center of the Earth (Jules Verne)

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (Jules Verne)

Roald Dahl

Things Fall Apart (Chinua Achebe)

The Color Purple (Alice Walker)

Sounder (William H. Armstrong)

The Poet X (Elizabeth Acevedo)

Stella Diaz Has Something to Say (Angela Dominguez)

Amal Unbound (Aisha Saeed)

Me, Frida, and the Secret of the Peacock Ring (Angela Cervantes)


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 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

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 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!


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.



Interview: Jacqueline West

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If I had to choose one word to describe Jacqueline West’s The Collectors, it would be “spellbinding.” From the very first page — scratch that: from the very first sentence — the story gets its hooks in you, and tugs you along until the very end. Yet I found myself fighting that tug almost constantly. Because as much as I wanted to rush along to find out what happened next and make sure the characters I came to care so much about were okay, I wanted to linger, to relish each exquisite sentence, every artfully chosen word, and to prolong my stay in the wonderful, magical world Jacqueline has created. Just like the worlds in all the best fantasies, the world of The Collectors both is and isn’t our own. But a trip to that world does what every great book does — it leaves us more appreciative of, curious about, and tuned into the everyday (yet often unnoticed) magic surrounding us.

It was an honor and a pleasure to get to ask Jacqueline some questions about herself, her new book, her process, and more. Check out the interview below, and then go get your hands on a copy of The Collectors — it is not a book you want to miss.

~ Jarrett

. . .

First off, Jacqueline, thank you for stopping by the MG Book Village to celebrate The Collectors and to chat a bit. Before we get to the new book, would you care to introduce yourself to our readers?

Hi! I’m Jacqueline, and I’m a writer (and reader and parent and former teacher and obsessive cookie-froster). I write everything from poetry and plays for adults to novels for young readers. My middle grade series The Books of Elsewhere began in 2010 and concluded in 2014, and now I’m about to release The Collectors. It’s my first middle grade book in four years, so I’m more than a little excited. 

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 all before or while writing?

I tend not to think about categories until I’m pretty deep into a first draft. (The more I think about what kind of slot a book will fit into, the more I worry that it won’t fit anywhere at all.) Also, I’ve found that the age of my protagonist tends to choose my category for me. An eleven-year-old main character will see and experience the world very differently from an eighteen-year-old – so once I know my main character and understand him/her, that character will determine a lot of the content of the book, whether it’s MG, YA, or something else entirely.

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

There’s just something about the middle grade age range that means magic. MG readers and MG protagonists live in the borderland between childhood and adolescence, where there are a zillion chances for discovery, a zillion doors to open. They’re able go off on adventures on their own, and make choices on their own, and read entire books on their own; they’re stepping into the real world for the first time, but they’re still able to believe in fantastical, imaginary worlds too. They’re at the age where everything is possible. I’m not saying I’d choose it for myself, but I totally understand why Peter Pan decided to stay twelve years old forever.

Now, let’s get to the new book – The Collectors. Can you tell us a little about it?


The Collectors is about an eleven-year-old boy named Giovanni—although nobody calls him that except for his opera-singing mother. Everybody else calls him Van, if they bother to speak to him at all. Due to his mother’s work, Van has traveled all over the world, never staying in one place for long, never making close friends or becoming part of any groups. Van is also hard-of-hearing. These things have made him an isolated, imaginative, extremely perceptive kid. His favorite hobby is collecting the tiny objects that he finds on the ground in the places that he and his mother visit—things that nobody else even bothers to notice.

One day, when he’s alone in a park in a big city, searching for miniature treasures, Van sees something that he’s not supposed to be able to see… and someone else notices that he’s seen it. And then Van’s life starts to get extremely dangerous.

Van is about to encounter magical and monstrous creatures, underground worlds, allies and enemies, strange collections, and wishes that actually come true. Ooh—and one easily distracted talking squirrel. 

What compelled you to write a book about wishes and wish-making?

Most of my very favorite stories involve magical, impossible things that happen within the real world. I’m also a bit obsessed with superstitions. (When I started writing The Collectors, I was already at work on a collection of superstition-based poems, so I’d been researching and daydreaming and making notes about them for years.) Superstitions are everyday, real-world magic. They’re a magic so ordinary that it goes unnoticed—which gives them a sneaky kind of power.

I’d guess most people, or at least most grownups, don’t truly believe in magic. But we still worry about seven years of bad luck when we break a mirror. We won’t walk underneath a ladder. We’re excited when we find a four-leaf clover. And wish-making superstitions are some of the most common and most overlooked superstitions of all. I mean, who doesn’t make a wish when they blow out their birthday candles? Who hasn’t made a wish on a star, just in case it might come true?

What we don’t think about is: Who is granting these wishes? What magic forces are at work here? Who decides which wishes will come true? I wanted to chase after these questions and see where they led me. I wanted to write about a real world that is filled with unseen, beautiful, dangerous magic. Because I hope it is. 

A big theme of the book is noticing, as well as what you might call the unnoticed – the people, places, creatures, and objects that the majority of people pass over without a second though (or even a first!). Do you consider yourself good at noticing the often unnoticed? Do you have to work at it?

Like a lot of writers, I’m a story scavenger. I’m always looking for shiny little things that spark my imagination: an image, a face, a line of dialogue, an emotional memory. It’s a chicken-and-egg situation—I’m not sure if I’m a writer because I’ve always done this, or if I do this because I’m a writer (but it’s probably the former!). In that sense, I think I’m good at noticing the unnoticed, or the under-noticed. For me, crafting stories is a way of paying close attention, and of remembering things that might otherwise slip away.

But I also know that I overlook amazing things all the time. I have a three-year-old son, and he’s constantly spotting things that are completely invisible to me. Look, there’s a bird! I see a button under that chair. My pear looks like a whale! He sees things that I just don’t see—not until he has pointed them out.

The things we’ve seen a thousand times are easy to overlook. But for a small child, everything is new, so everything is worth paying attention to. I try to remind myself to look at the world more like my kiddo does: to look closely, to pay real attention, not just to see the things that I already expected to see. Because Van, the main character in The Collectors, is a child who is on his own so much, and because he relies so strongly on his vision, he’s able to see the world in this sharpened, heightened way. He sees what other people don’t see.

One thing about the book that I was continually (and delightfully) surprised by was your use of humor. Often in the most unexpected moments, there’s a note of lightness, or even silliness. Can you discuss your use of humor in your writing?

Oh, I’m so glad this came through! Growing up, my very favorite books combined fantasy, fear, and humor. I loved books that could both terrify me and make me laugh—things like the Bunnicula series, and The Hobbit, and pretty much everything by Roald Dahl.

As I write, I try to think about the mood and point of each scene. If there’s a moment that needs to be truly dark and heartbreaking, then it’s not a place for some goofy humor. But if there’s a moment of tension where one of my oddball characters would naturally do or say something funny, it can be like this little glint of light in the darkness. The glint doesn’t erase the darkness, it just gives it greater depth. Funny characters make us love them. And then we’ll fear for them even more.

Plus, there’s just nothing better than that thrilling, telling-stories-around-the-campfire feeling of shivering and laughing at the same time.

What do you hope your readers – in particular the young ones – take away from The Collectors?

I hope The Collectors will remind readers to take a closer look at the world all around them. Magic could be hidden anywhere.

I also hope it will remind readers that our differences—the senses we have or don’t have, the physical qualities we were born with or develop, the gifts we use or lack—give each of us our own completely unique lens with which to experience the world. And that makes the world so much richer.

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 Collectors to their classroom libraries?

First, thank you for being a teacher. I think it’s the hardest, best, most vital job in the world (although as a fourth-generation teacher myself, I might be just a teeny bit biased).

I was a lucky kid: I grew up in a house full of books, with access to a friendly local library. But I know that for many kids, school is the only place where they encounter books—and it matters so much that some of those books be ones they read just for pleasure, or that they get to choose for themselves. If you have kids in your classroom who like books that combine fantasy and mystery and adventure, or who like scary stories with some humor mixed in, I’d be honored if you would guide them toward THE COLLECTORS.

I also frequently hear from teachers who use my books as classroom read-alouds, which makes me happier than I can express. If you do that, please get in touch and make my day.

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

You can find me online at I keep a (usually) up-to-date appearance calendar and blog there, along with lots of other info. You can contact me through my website, or reach out via Facebook or Goodreads. And if you’d like to see pictures of my dog (and my books and my writing process), you can follow me on Instagram: jacqueline.west.writes.

JacquelineWest2.2017.jpgJacqueline West is the author of the middle grade fantasy The Collectors, the YA novel Dreamers Often Lie, and the NYT-bestselling series The Books of Elsewhere. Her debut, The Shadows (The Books of Elsewhere, Volume One), garnered multiple starred reviews and state award nominations, was named a Publishers Weekly Flying Start, and received the 2010 CYBILS award for fantasy/science fiction. Jacqueline lives amid the bluffs of Red Wing, Minnesota, surrounded by large piles of books and small piles of dog hair.