CHILDREN’S STORIES, ANIMAL STYLE, by PJ Gardner

I have a confession to make—I speak for my dogs. They have different voices, of course. Rosie’s is higher and more refined, while Rocky’s is deep and confused. She blames me for making her an older sister at six, and he talks about the joys of biting things. Yeah, I’m one of those people, and, yeah, it’s silly, but I do it because I’m certain they have rich inner lives. All animals do. That certainty is why I write animal POV. Well, that, and it’s a blast.

To me there are three keys to writing it successfully—research, responsibility, and relatability.

RESEARCH

Researching animals isn’t all Dodo stories and YouTube videos. Although, those are great sources for inspiration. No, sometimes it’s asking google which animals have paws like hands and then looking at images of chickens wearing fake arms for two hours. It’s a real thing, I promise. Personally, I do a LOT of secondary research. There’s a lot of great information online and, of course, the library has much to offer. Where possible I try to do primary research There’s nothing as helpful as spending time with the animals I’m writing about and the people who care for them.

When I was writing Horace & Bunwinkle I had the opportunity to visit with Better Piggies Rescue based in Phoenix. I learned so much from them that my online research hadn’t provided. The most important thing I learned is there’s no such thing as teacup pigs or micro mini pigs or a pig that stays under 25 lbs. The only way to keep a pig small is to underfeed it. Which leads me to my next point.

RESPONSIBILITY

Writing for young readers carries a lot of weight. They aren’t as familiar with the suspension of disbelief so they tend to accept what you write in the story. That makes it all the more important to be accurate or at least acknowledge where you varied from fact.

Because it’s a series, none of the characters age in Horace & Bunwinkle, but I don’t want readers to misunderstand, so I wrote a note at the end of the book. The last thing I want is for people to buy a piglet thinking it won’t grow up. It’s not fair to the pig or the family. And I can only imagine the angry letter I’d get from the parents.

I also think seeing through an animal’s eyes strengthens kids’ connection to that animal and the world it lives in. They become more invested in protecting the environment and preserving habitats.

RELATABILITY

I always hope readers identify with my characters, even if they’re a dog or a pig. Horace struggles with a move from the suburbs to a farm, and for most of the book he refuses to adapt to his new home. Bunwinkle is the younger sister who always feels like she has to prove she can do everything her older sibling is doing. I think a lot of kids can relate to those feelings, and they enjoy the story more because of it.

Great animal characters combine both animal behaviors and human emotions. They create a connection with the natural world and inspire us to protect it. And they are a lot of fun to write.

When PJ Gardner was a little girl growing up in Colorado she dreamt of being an actress or a dental hygienist or even Mrs. John Travolta. It didn’t occur to her that she could be a writer until she was a grown up. Now her debut middle grade novel, Horace & Bunwinkle, is being published by Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins, and she’s thrilled.

PJ lives in the scorching heat of the Arizona desert with her husband, sons, and Boston Terriers, Rosie and Rocky. She doesn’t own a pig because her husband says she’s not allowed to.

Interview with Alisha Sevigny re: THE DESERT PRINCE

Hi Alisha, and thank you so much for joining me at MG Book Village today. What a crazy year this has been for debuting a new series, so let’s tell our readers a little bit about Secrets of the Sands. The first book, THE LOST SCROLL OF THE PHYSICIAN, came out in January, and the sequel, THE DESERT PRINCE, comes out on September 19th. Can you tell us a bit more about the series, please?

The series centers around the adventures of a young scribe and healer named Sesha, her brother Ky, and her friends. In the first book, Sesha searches for a mysterious scroll her father was transcribing for the Pharaoh before his death. The Pharaoh needs the medical document to reduce the casualties of potential war with the rival Hyksos from the North and Sesha wants it because she believes there is a procedure in it that can save her brother’s life. The scroll in the book is based on a real-life artifact called The Edwin Smith Papyrus. The second book follows Sesha – who must leave her brother behind in Thebes – and her friends into the desert, in search of a hidden oasis. There, she ends up training as a spy, and learns that the very same scroll is at the center of a prophecy, which has far-reaching implications for the kingdoms and her world.

Ancient Egypt is such fascinating topic to so many kids. What is it about this time period that you think is such a draw, and what compelled you to write about it?

I think it’s such a fascinating period because of all the incredible things the Egyptians did and accomplished, so many thousands of years ago – many of which we can still see today! I’ve always loved the era and was compelled to write this story, particularly when I learned about the real papyrus and the time it is believed to have been written in: the Second Intermediate Period. It was long thought that Egypt fell into “disarray,” during this era, its power diminished as it was ruled by the Hyksos, “Rulers of Foreign Lands.” The Hyksos were originally thought to be invaders that took the land by force, when in reality, it’s been shown through recent excavations these people settled in the land over time and slowly gained prominence through marriage, trade and immigration. This whole series centers around the Hyksos enigma and is this author’s imagining of how things might have been back then, during this mysterious pocket of time which eventually led into the New Kingdom, Egypt’s most prosperous and well-known period (which in part, the Egyptians have the Hyksos to thank for!).

How much research goes into writing a historical fiction series like this one.

Several pyramids worth! (Sorry, couldn’t resist ;). Happily, I am an avid fan of Ancient Egypt and ancient civilizations in general, so I enjoy it, but it can be challenging at times, because compared to more recent past, there’s very little material to go on. I read a lot of academic papers and am always fact-checking as best I can, but research is one of those things that is in flux, as the more we discover, the greater chance our theories and assumptions might change. Overall, it’s worth it because I feel like these details make the story so much richer and the setting becomes a character in itself, which is an important aspect of my YA novels as well. One example of my nit-picky fact-checking is that I fully expected there would be camels in THE DESERT PRINCE, but it turns out (at that time) donkeys were more commonly used in caravan treks and so we have Nefer, the donkey instead of Nefer, the camel. 

Can you share with us three things about your upcoming book that you think will appeal to young readers?

Sesha and her friends free a Hyksos spy so he can help them escape into the desert and embark on a harrowing trek in search of a hidden oasis. There, she convinces the Hyksos to train her as a spy. Third, she finds out about an earth-shattering prophecy that could change the course of history, which also has enormous implications for her personally. So there’s plenty of non-stop action, intrigue and kick-butt characters! (That might be more than three 😉 

Our friend, Paul Coccia, created a wonderful video for your book. Let’s share it with everyone now.

What part of the writing process do you most enjoy? Is it the research, drafting, editing, or something else?

Each aspect of the writing process has its charms and frustrations. I definitely enjoy the research and the writing, but the editing is where I fine-tune each word so that the whole manuscript sings (hopefully) as one song. Definitely the most challenging part is after the book is written: the marketing and publicity, and trying to make your voice heard amongst all the other equally amazing voices out there. I have faith that this series will find its audience though, because there’s something in it for everyone! And come on, Ancient Egypt!

Are you working on another book at the moment?

I’m working on writing the third installment in the series, THE ORACLE OF AVARIS, which sees Sesha and her friends arriving in the capital city of the Hyksos. There, they try to find a mysterious oracle, learn more about the aforementioned earth-shaking prophecies, and try to save the land from all-out war. 

Where can our readers go to find out more about you and your writing?

I love hearing from readers on Social Media, such as Instagram and Facebook, and also have my author website at alishasevigny.com. 

Thank you so much for chatting with me today, Alisha, and best of luck with your book’s release. I certainly look forward to reading it.

Thank you so much Kathie, it’s been a pleasure and I hope you and your readers enjoy the series!

Alisha Sevigny is the author of the SECRETS OF THE SANDS adventure series. featuring THE LOST SCROLL OF THE PHYSICIAN and THE DESERT PRINCE. She also has two published Young Adult novels, KISSING FROGS, an eco-retelling of The Frog Prince fairy-tale, and SUMMER CONSTELLATIONS, a CCBCs Best Book for Kids and Teens pick and NERFA 2019 finalist for North America. Originally from Kitimat, BC in the Pacific Northwest, she makes her home in Toronto with her family. 

Book Review: ALONE, by Megan E. Freeman

Set in Colorado, twelve year old Maddie and her friends hatch a scheme for a secret sleepover, but her friends suddenly have to cancel. Maddie decides to go ahead with her plans and enjoy an evening of snacks and solitude. But when she wakes up the next morning, she discovers she’s mysteriously all alone, left behind after her town’s been completely evacuated and abandoned due to an imminent threat.

Her only companion is the neighbor’s Rottweiler, George. Maddie must learn to survive with no power, no internet, and no way to communicate with the family that’s (unknowingly) left her behind. Facing natural disasters, looters, and wild animals, Maddie grapples with intense loneliness as the seasons pass and the thought of being rescued grows dimmer each day.

As a MG teacher, my readers love novels in verse. And they enjoy rereading them, piecing the storylines, characters, and words together that they might have overlooked on a first read. Maddie’s journey of strength and perseverance is one I think they’ll love.

The 4 star review was tough for me. I longed to give it a 5, but not knowing exactly what caused the massive evacuation left me yearning for more answers. While I know that’s not the purpose of the book, and realizing Maddie’s storyline did have closure, I wonder if middle grade readers will feel the same. (It made me think of the ending of Lisa Graff’s Lost in the Sun or Laurel Snyder’s Orphan Island in the same way).

Publishing in January of 2021, and I’ll definitely purchase to add to my MG classroom library.

*Thank you to Simon & Schuster/Aladdin for providing Middle Grade Book Village with an early copy of this novel in verse to read and review.*

Katie Reilley is a fourth and fifth grade ELA teacher from Elburn, Illinois, and a proud mom to two amazing daughters, ages 14 and 10 who has been married to a wonderful husband for 18 years. She’s a member of #bookexpedition, a group of teachers, librarians and authors who read and review ARCs and newly released middle grade books. She’s also happy to be part of the #classroombookaday community, and loves to learn alongside her students and fellow educators. She has been teaching for twenty-two years, and her passion is getting books into the hands of her students. You can find her on Twitter at @KReilley5.

Book Trailer Release with Jackie Yeager for POP THE BRONZE BALLOON

Hi Jackie! Thank you so much for allowing MG Book Village to host your book trailer release.

Hi Kathie! I’m so happy to be here. I should be thanking you, though. I’m thrilled and excited to have the book trailer released here today!  

POP THE BRONZE BALLOON comes out on November 10th from Amberjack Publishing, and it’s the third book in The Crimson Five series. Can you give us a brief synopsis of this story?

Yes, it’s coming so soon… now just two months away! 

Without giving away any spoilers of the first two books, here’s a short teaser: Pop the Bronze Balloon tells the story of Kia Krumpet and her teammates as they travel (literally!) through the final stage of the Piedmont Challenge… a year long, world-wide creativity tour! But the tour isn’t what Kia, Ander, Mare, Jax & Jillian are expecting. Besides inspiring kids around the world with their latest inventions and building a brand new invention, their team is challenged to work with two other international teams in an unexpected way. While traveling the globe, they discover that all their futures are at stake and risking everything they’ve worked so hard for may be the only way to finally make their dreams come true.  

It was such a fun story to write because it’s not just the futuristic inventions that are showcased in this third book, the incredible settings, notable places, and foods of eleven countries are as well. I’m really excited to take readers on this journey with the team.

If you could describe this book in five words, what would they be?

I guess I’ll use the tagline: 

Wonder. Question. Imagine… and Soar!

Who created the book trailer, and were you involved in the process?

I did! I created the book trailers for the first two books, Spin the Golden Light Bulb and Flip the Silver Switch as well. It was a fun process and a chance to be creative in a different way. 

Wow, good for you! OK, let’s share it with everyone!

Are there more books to come in this series?

Pop the Bronze Balloon is the final book. So, the Crimson Five books are soon to become a trilogy! It’s been amazing to write this series but at this point, I’m thrilled with the ending and happy to share this last story with readers. I hope they like how Kia’s journey wraps up and how she and her teammates end their quest to gain spots at the Piedmont Inventor’s Prep School. Never say never, but at this point, this is the last book.  

Where can our readers go to find out more about your and your writing?

My website is the best place to learn more about me, my writing, all book information, links to my social media handles, and to watch the other book trailers too! http:// swirlandspark.com

Thanks again for chatting with me today, Jackie, and best of luck with the book’s launch.

Thanks, Kathie. It was great talking with you too. And thank you so much to MG Book Village for hosting the Pop the Bronze Balloon book trailer release!  

Jackie Yeager is the author of the Crimson Five books, a middle grade series that inspires children to think more, work hard, and dream big. She holds a master’s degree in Education and spent several years coaching Odyssey of the Mind, where her team once-upon-a-time competed at the World Finals. She lives in Rochester, NY with her husband and two kids. When she’s not writing, she can be found conducting creative problem-solving workshops for kids, spending time with her family, and blogging at http://www.swirlandspark.com. You can connect with Jackie there, or on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Cover Release for ONE LIGHT with Anne O’Brien Carelli

Hi Anne, and welcome to MG Book Village. Congratulations on the upcoming release of your new MG historical fiction book, ONE LIGHT. Can you tell a bit about it, please?

Thank you! In One Light, twelve-year-old Eleanor, a descendant of Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, joins the WWII French Resistance. She is responsible for a group of Jewish children hiding in a monastery cellar, and befriends feisty Shoshana, one of the fugitive children. When Shoshana is kidnapped by the Germans, Eleanor sets out on a dangerous quest to rescue her new friend. One Light is an action-packed story of friendship based on actual contributions of children to the Resistance.

I’m  curious to know the inspiration behind your story?

After the publication of my novel Skylark and Wallcreeper I had many requests from readers of all ages for another story about the French Resistance. I find the topic fascinating and have researched it for many years. I have piles of information! There was so much more to write about, so I happily wrote another book that can either stand alone or be a companion to Skylark. 

You went a different route with publishing this book. What were your thoughts?

I think that current events have really impacted the way people think about their goals in life. I had four books either with my agent or on submission, including One Light. The publishing process is very slow and became even more sluggish when the pandemic arrived. After considerable deliberation and consultation with my wonderful agent, I decided to release One Light instead of waiting a year or two for it to be published. I am not a spring chicken and entered the children’s publishing world at a later age than most writers, so I decided I couldn’t wait for the publication of books to be stretched out over a lengthy timeline. It was a scary decision but I’m excited about getting One Light out into the universe!

How do you fit writing into your daily life?

I would love to say that I block off a set amount of time and pump out a certain number of words every day. That’s never been my style, although I do tend to start writing a book and just keep on writing until it’s done. It may be a chapter at 3 a.m. or research at 10 p.m., grabbing chunks of time whenever possible in between. I have piles of post-its, notebook pages and backs of receipts with ideas and paragraphs scribbled in haste. The revision part is not the fun part for me, but as I tell students when I do Skype sessions, “Good writing is actually revising, revising, revising.”

OK, let’s talk about your cover. Did you have any input on it, and if so, what was the experience like for you?

When I reached out to the amazingly talented illustrator, Roberta Collier-Morales, to see if she would be interested in doing the cover for One Light, I was thrilled when she read the story and produced this cover. I had a couple of requests such as the Resistance flag, but I knew to leave her alone and let her do her magic. Roberta’s about to start working on the cover of my next middle grade novel, Beneath the Heart, which takes place during the Revolutionary War.

Let’s show everyone what it looks like!

I love the suspense with the wire cutters! Can you tell us about the illustrator, and what you thought when you first saw the cover?

I am happy to sing Roberta’s praises. She is not only a brilliant artist, but very perceptive about conveying a mood. I first met her when I was doing a project for teachers of refugee children called Welcome to Our Schools, and I needed posters. She then illustrated my picture book Amina’s New Friends, a story about a Somalian refugee girl’s first day at an American school. I knew that she would capture the intrigue and suspense of One Light and I think she did that with the wire cutters and the car heading toward the village. By the way, I am also a quilter and have used fabric that Roberta has designed.

What do you hope young readers will take away from your story?

I remember so many times as a child when I looked up from a book and realized the real world had been going on around me and I was lost in a story. It’s always my primary goal to replicate that feeling. In addition, One Light has many messages, not only because it’s a story about bravery and friendship, but it’s meant to encourage thinking (and hopefully discussions) about secrecy and resistance. That’s why I added Discussion Questions at the end of the novel.

What is the release date for ONE LIGHT, and where can readers go to find out more about you and your writing?

Anne: One Light is now available now on Amazon Kindle at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08HJSHR19. I decided to do an introductory rate of $2.99 and will move to the e-book price of $7.99 when it is released on October 6, 2020. Information about me and my books can be found on www.anneobriencarelli.com. I just added a free story for students called Not Right Now, Grace: The True Story of Susan B. Anthony’s Picture. Grace was a friend of Susan B. Anthony and was my ancestor!

Thank you for allowing us to be part of your cover reveal, and all the best with your book’s release?

Thank you so much and stay tuned for more books!

Anne O’Brien Carelli is the author of adult nonfiction, the Middle Grade books Skylark and Wallcreeper and One Light, and the picture book Amina’s New Friends. She has always been fascinated by the French Resistance, and studied history at Case Western Reserve University. For her PhD, Anne researched psychology of the gifted. Originally from Ann Arbor, Michigan, Anne lives in the Hudson River Valley in upstate New York and spends any free time quilting and reading, reading, reading. 

Website: www.anneobriencarelli.com 

Website: www.aminasnewfriends.com

Twitter: @aobc

Instagram: @anne.o.carelli

Interview: Fleur Bradley

Thank you for joining me today, Fleur. I’m really enjoyed your upcoming MG novel, MIDNIGHT AT THE BARCLAY HOTEL (releases August 25th with Viking Books for Young Readers). Can you tell our readers what it’s about, please?

MIDNIGHT AT THE BARCLAY HOTEL is the story of JJ, Penny and Emma, three kids who think they’re tagging along with their respective grownups for a fun weekend at the (reportedly haunted…) Barclay Hotel. Only when they arrive, the butler announces to the guests that hotel owner Mr. Barclay is dead, and that he orchestrated for the adult guests to be there as suspects.

JJ in particular is shocked, because his mom is a suspect in Mr. Barclay’s murder too—and all he really wanted to do was spend the weekend ghost hunting. Now, with the help of his new friends, Penny and Emma, JJ has to track down a killer, clear his mother’s name… And he even meets a ghost or two along the way.

I’ve heard your book compared to THE WESTING GAME meets ESCAPE FROM MR. LEMONCELLO’S LIBRARY meets the CLUE movie. Are these the types of books you liked to read when you were younger, or where did the inspiration from the story come from?

Actually, I grew up in the Netherlands, so the books I read were different ones. But I was such an avid reader, by age twelve or so, I’d worked my way through most of the children’s department at my library. And there was no YA section at the time… A nice librarian (I wish I could remember her name) pointed me toward the mystery section—Agatha Christie in particular. I started with the ABC Murders, and I’ve been hooked on mystery ever since.

Midnight at the Barclay Hotel is a bit of a nod to Agatha Christie. I love the quirky characters, the slight sense of humor, and the twisty mysteries she wrote.

Can you tell us 3 interesting tidbits about this story or its journey to publication?

1. The Barclay Hotel is modeled loosely after the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado—of the Shining. I visited the hotel and even went on one of the ghost hunting tours, that was so fun. The Barclay Hotel is an over-the-top fictional version of the Stanley: it has a carousel, a bowling alley, a pool… All fun stuff I imagined loving as a kid.

2. It took a long time to find a home at Viking Children’s! But my editor Aneeka Kalia really understood how to make the story better. I’m lucky to be there.

3. I was not expecting the book to be illustrated, so when the illustration came in, I was floored. It was like the illustrator (Xavier Bonet) looked right into my brain and put the characters to the page.

How did the process of writing this book differ from any of your previous books?

My previous books (the Double Vision trilogy, a spy adventure series) were all sold based on a partial, so I worked together with my agent and editor(s) to develop the books very early on. For Midnight at the Barclay Hotel, I wanted to take the time to develop the book, characters, and story so it was exactly where I wanted it to be before sending it out into the world.

It took me about a year to feel like the book was ready, then once it was acquired at Viking, I had to trim the book from 50K words to about 35K…! The original manuscript had many chapters written from the adult characters’ perspectives—I think the book is more accessible now, with the illustrations and tighter narrative.

It was a long process, but I’m really proud of how Midnight at the Barclay Hotel turned out. I can’t wait for the kids to read it!

Which character was easiest for you to write, and why?

Penny, without a doubt. Penny is a bookworm, but wants to be brave. She’s smart, kind to her grandpa (the detective in the book), and is a little bit of a sceptic when it comes to the existence of ghosts.

Penny is probably the closest to a twelve-year-old me.

Are you currently working on another writing project?

Ah, it’s top-secret! Well, not really, but it’s still in the early stages of writing and plotting. All I’ll say is that it has a cool setting, a mystery, and some spooky stuff. Stay tuned…

Where can our readers go to find out more about you and your writing?

My website: www.ftbradley.com. There’s more information on author visits, a teacher guide, downloadable activities… And pictures of me when I was a kid, and of my cats, of course.

Thanks for dropping by the Village today, Fleur, and all the best your book’s launch.

Fleur Bradley is passionate about two things: mysteries and getting kids to read. When she’s not active in her local SCBWI chapter, she’s doing school visits and is speaking at librarian and educator conferences on reaching reluctant readers. Originally from the Netherlands, Fleur now lives in Colorado Springs with her husband and two daughters, and entirely too many cats.

For more information on Fleur and her books, visit www.ftbradley.com, and on Twitter @FTBradleyAuthor.

12 BOOKS SET ON THE FARM by CJ and Elza from Middle Grade Carousel

Today at MG Book Village we’re featuring a great list of middle grade recommendations for August all about the barnyard from CJ and Elza from Middle Grade Carousel.

Hello from Middle Grade Carousel! We’re CJ and Elza, a mother-daughter blogging duo who love all things middle grade.

Although we’re both readers, CJ and I don’t always want to read the same book. This inspired us to start our own reading challenge, where we pick a theme and run with it! In looking for books that fit our challenges, we often discover new books that maybe we wouldn’t have noticed or tried before.

Today, we’re here to share a dozen books inspired by our theme this August. From prize-winning pigs and powerful poultry to fields of creepy scarecrows and crops with a mind all their own, farms hold plenty of possibility for everyday adventures, extraordinary discoveries, and creature comforts. We hope you’ll read and explore along with us!

MOO  

(https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/28217808-moo)

Sharon Creech

Lower Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction/Novel in Verse

When their family moves from the big city to rural Maine, Reena and her brother, Luke, are recruited by a kooky neighbor to help care for her menagerie, including a stubborn beltie cow named Zora.

UNUSUAL CHICKENS FOR THE EXCEPTIONAL POULTRY FARMER

(https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/22926534-unusual-chickens-for-the-exceptional-poultry-farmer)

Kelly Jones

Middle Grade, Magical Realism

Sophie and her family inherit Blackbird Farm from her recently deceased great-uncle. Moving in and learning how care for a farm is more work than they expected. Especially when Sophie realizes Uncle Jim’s chickens are far from ordinary.

PIXIE PUSHES ON

(https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35209422-pixie-pushes-on)

Tamara Bundy

Middle Grade, Historical Fiction (1940s)

Pixie feels she’s been cursed with bad luck. Her family’s been torn apart by loss and illness, and she’s not getting along with her classmates at school. With no one else to turn to, Pixie takes to caring for the farm’s newest resident, a runt lamb named Buster.

JACK: THE TRUE STORY OF JACK AND THE BEANSTALK

(https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/22747768-jack)

Liesl Shurtliff

Middle Grade, Fairy Tale Fantasy

Jack gets into trouble when he’s bored, which means he’s in trouble a lot. Life on the farm isn’t very exciting. That is, until his father is carried away by an unusual force of nature. With the help of his sister, Annabella, Jack takes on the adventure he’s always wished for.

100 CUPBOARDS

(https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1661390.100_Cupboards)

N.D. Wilson

Middle Grade, Portal Fantasy

When his parents go missing, Henry York is taken in by his aunt, uncle, and many cousins in rural Kansas. A bump in the night leads to a mysterious discovery in the farmhouse attic that tuns his quiet new life upside down all over again.

SMALL SPACES

(https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/43231098-small-spaces)

Katherine Arden

Middle Grade, Speculative/Horror

Upon rescuing an old book and receiving a cryptic warning, Ollie reads a chilling tale of feuding brothers and a mysterious “smiling man”. Her class’s field trip to the farm reveals spooky similarities to the story, but when their bus breaks down on the way home, it’s too late to get out before nightfall.

DRIZZLE

(https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/6658679)

Kathleen Van Cleve

Middle Grade, Magical Realism

Polly Peabody lives on a magical rhubarb farm where jewels appear in the soil, bugs can talk, and rain falls every day at precisely 1:00 P.M. without fail. When things go awry and the rain stops falling, Polly decides to investigate.

WHERE THE WATERMELONS GROW 

(https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36341193-where-the-watermelons-grow)

Cindy Baldwin

Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction

Della Kelly’s family is struggling. The farm is in trouble, and mama’s condition is taking a turn for the worse. In hope of finding a cure, Della decides to ask the Bee Lady for a jar of honey rumored to work like magic.

CHARLOTTE’S WEB

(https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/24178.Charlotte_s_Web)

E. B. White

Lower Middle Grade, Classic/Magical Realism

Born a runt of the litter, Wilbur was raised by the farmer’s kindhearted daughter, Fern. Moving into the Zuckerman’s barn is a big step for the little pig, but he soon befriends the other animals, including an intelligent spider named Charlotte.

CHICKEN FEATHERS

(https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2607210-chicken-feathers)

Joy Cowley

Lower Middle Grade, Humor/Magical Realism

Semolina is a sassy and spirited chicken, but only Josh knows she can speak. When eggs begin to go missing from the henhouse, Semolina has a birds’ eye view of the culprit, but Josh has a hard time convincing anyone to listen to her advice.

THE UNICORN IN THE BARN

(https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/30971733-the-unicorn-in-the-barn)

Jacqueline K. Ogburn

Middle Grade, Magical Realism

When Eric Harper encounters Chinaberry Creek’s much-rumored “white deer”, he discovers the magic that’s been hidden away right next door. What was once his grandmother’s farm is now a veterinary hospital for magical creatures, and Dr. Brancusi is willing to share its secrets with Eric.

WISHES, KISSES, AND PIGS

(https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1429768.Wishes_Kisses_and_Pigs)

Betsy Hearne

Lower Middle Grade, Magical Realism

A careless wish turns Louise Tolliver’s brother, Willie, into a pig. Unfortunately, this isn’t their first—nor last—brush with trouble. With her father missing, neighbors conspiring, and magic mixing everything up, Louise and her mother must keep their wits about them while searching for a spell to make everything right.

If you’re ready for more farming fun, join us at Middle Grade Carousel. Our reading challenge for the month of August is Barnyard Bookshelf (https://elymnifoquent.com/2020/08/01/mgcarousel-august-2020/)!

Elza Kinde is a designer of graphics, writer of fiction, reader of Middle Grade, nerd for words, and maker of bad puns. She celebrates her many hobbies and passion for creativity on her personal blog at ElzaKinde.com. (https://elzakinde.com/)

C. J. Milbrandt is a lifelong bookworm with a love for fairy tales, far-off lands, and fantasy worlds. Her family-friendly stories mingle humor and whimsy with a dash of danger and a touch of magic. She is a moderator on the Great Middle Grade Reads (https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/71883-great-middle-grade-reads) group on Goodreads. You can also find her at CJMilbrandt.com (https://cjmilbrandt.com/).

Together, this mother-daughter duo run Middle Grade Carousel, a blog designed to make reading fun with a variety of games and challenges for middle grade readers of all ages. Learn more at Elymnifoquent.com (https://elymnifoquent.com/)!

FAST FORWARD FRIDAY – Lorelei Savaryn

Hi Lorelei! Thank you for stopping by MG Book Village to talk about your upcoming debut novel, THE CIRCUS OF STOLEN DREAMS (releases September 1, 2020 by Philomel Books). I love the sound of this story, can you share the synopsis with everyone, please?

Absolutely! 

After Andrea’s brother, Francis, disappeared, everything changed. Her world turned upside down, and there was nothing she could do to right it. So when she discovers a magical dream world called Reverie in the woods near her home, Andrea jumps at the chance to escape her pain and go inside. But the cost of admission is high: Andrea must give up a memory in order to enter. And she knows exactly which memory she’d like to give up.

Once inside, Andrea discovers tent after tent of dreams come alive; she can fly on a gust of wind, brave swashbuckling pirates and search for buried treasure, reach for–and wish on–a tangible star, and much, much more. But Andrea soon realizes that not all of Reverie’s dreams are meant to delight, and the Sandman behind the circus tents seems to have plans of his own. When Andrea finds a tent in which her brother’s darkest nightmare has been brought to life, she realizes the dark truth: Reverie is not an escape; it’s a trap.

Will Andrea and her new friend Penny have what it takes to find Francis, figure out what’s really going on in Reverie, and break free from this nightmarish dream world?

What was the inspiration behind this story, and was there an aspect of it that came to you first before the rest?

Many of my story ideas come to me first in the form of a very sharp image or idea. THE CIRCUS OF STOLEN DREAMS began when my then six-year-old daughter showed me a picture she had drawn that brought me to wonder what would happen if a world of dreams started to creep into and impact real life. I immediately knew that I wanted to play around with the idea of the dream world being a circus and it took a lot of work to flesh out all the details and get things right, but it was so very much fun.

Was there a character that you enjoyed writing the most? What about the one that was the most challenging for you?

Oh my goodness, I’m not sure I could pick a favorite! Each character has grown so very special to me in their own way. But, I think I’d have to say that my antagonist, the Sandman, really does hold a special place in my heart. Creating an antagonist who is both working actively against Andrea, the main character, but who has wounds of his own that echo Andrea’s struggles (and also has magic at his fingertips to boot!) definitely stretched me as a writer. Figuring out the Sandman’s story was one of my most significant challenges while writing this story, but it also was the most rewarding when I finally figured it out.

So, in the end, I think the answer to both of those questions is the same: The Sandman!

Can you tell us 3 things you’d like readers to know about this book?

1- This story is meant to feel like a hug to any kid who has ever walked a difficult road, who loves to immerse themselves in magic and wonder, and who dreams of being brave.
2- As a kid whose parents divorced and who didn’t see much representation of the child experience of divorce when I needed it most, I hope that this story will find kids who may be walking through that journey & who may benefit from feeling less alone.
3- I’d also like readers to know that this book is the product of about 100 rejections over the span of two years, and is a testament to resilience and continuing to pursue one’s dreams, even when it’s hard.

What has surprised you about the journey to get this book published?

Through this journey, I have learned so much more about patience! There are a lot of quiet periods and periods of waiting at every stage of the process to publication. It takes time to get a story right, it takes time to wait for feedback, or to get a chance to send an agent your full manuscript, and then to receive an offer. It takes time to get it ready for submission, and then to hear back from an editor, and then to revise it again. And the waiting continues, even now! I’ve learned to be a lot more patient and willing to accept that things will happen in the right way at the right time. 

So many writers have found it challenging to write over the past few months. What is one technique you use to keep the words flowing?

Having a deadline for my book two edits has definitely helped! But I’ve given myself a heaping helping of grace, too. I’ve used this time to really reflect on the kind of stories I want to bring into the world, which is helping me hone future story ideas. I’ve read a bit, or watched TV a bit, or sat outside a bit. Whatever allowed me to refresh and recharge. I also think that now, with so much uncertainty in the world, that stories are as important as they ever were, and I’m so thankful that I get to write stories for kids. We make sense of the world through stories. Stories affirm that the world can sometimes be a scary place, but that there is also hope and love and joy and magic to be found in sometimes the most surprising of places. To paraphrase Chesterton, stories teach us that dragons exist, but that they also can be beaten. Focusing in on the value of my work has helped me continue to be creative even now. 

Are you working on another project now that you can share with us?

I am! I am contracted for a second book, due to be released in Fall 2021. It’s another creepy, magical story, this time inspired by The Secret Garden! I can’t wait to share it with the world soon.

Where can our readers go to find out more information about you and your writing?

Lorelei: You can find me at www.loreleisavaryn.com. I’m also @loreleisavaryn on Twitter, loreleisavarynauthor on Instagram, and on my author page on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/loreleisavarynauthor/

Thanks for spending time with us today, Lorelei, and I look forward to seeing your book in the hands of young readers soon!

Thank you so much for your hospitality, Kathie, and for inviting me to chat about my book!

Lorelei Savaryn is an author of creepy, magical stories for children. She holds a BA in creative writing and is a former elementary teacher and instructional coach. When she isn’t writing, she spends her time amidst the beautiful chaos of life with her husband and four children outside of Chicago.

Cover Reveal: THE SHIP OF STOLEN WORDS, by Fran Wilde

Hi, Fran! Thank you for stopping by the MG Book Village to reveal the cover for your new book, THE SHIP OF STOLEN WORDS! Can you tell us a bit about the book?

Hi Jarrett! So happy to be here — I’m a huge fan of MG Book Village and @MGatheart!

The Ship of Stolen Words is about Sam, a fifth grader who can’t wait for summer to begin. But when his favorite get-out-of-trouble word is stolen, and then his sister’s is as well, Sam and his sometimes-best-friend Mason have to track down the thieves. Sam’s entire summer depends on getting those words back! Sam discovers that goblins are sneaking into our world and collecting overused and mis-used words when he meets Tolver, a goblin boy, and Tolver’s word-hunting pigs. This kicks off an adventure across two worlds where humans and goblins race to recover Sam’s words before goblin prospectors invade Sam’s neighborhood… using flying pig ships called word hogs.

There’s a lot of magic in this book, and I’m so excited for readers to meet Sam, Tolver, and their families (and some of the prospectors too!). 

Word hogs?! WOW. I can’t wait!

What do you hope your readers — especially the young ones — will take away from the book?

I hope they have a lot of fun with the book, and also take away the feeling that words are pretty magical!

I know that the book originally sold with a different title. How did you feel about the switch?

I love the new title a lot. The original title was focused on the first word that was stolen, and this title, which my brilliant editor Maggie Lehrman and her family came up with, really captures the adventure of the book.

You write fiction, non-fiction, essays, and poetry. What do you love about fiction in particular? Is there anything about Middle Grade fiction that you find especially exciting to write and/or read?

What I love about fiction is that imagination can take the lead. If you’d told me, when I set out to write this book, that it would end up where it did, I would have been so surprised… and that’s part of what’s so great about fiction: the more surprises, the better. 

My excitement for Middle Grade goes all the way back to reading The Phantom TollboothEarthsea, and The Westing Game as a kid — the way that wordplay and adventure mixes, and a new discovery seems to be on every page. I love reading what’s happening in Middle Grade fiction now as well — so many adventures! Some of my favorites lately include Sayantani DasGupta’s The Serpent’s Secret, Carlos Hernandez’ Sal & Gabi Break the Universe, Frances Hardinge’s The Lie Tree, Molly Brooks’ Sanity & Tallulah, Laurie Morrison’s Up for Air, Kate Messner’s Chirp, a series called Enginerds (you might have heard of it!), Lamar Giles’ The Last Last-Day-of-Summer, and Kate Milford’s The Thief Knot

At the same time, Middle Grade can engage both serious and silly topics, and I love that too. My debut Middle Grade – Riverland – was about a very serious topic, and used portal fantasy to allow two sisters to work out a solution to a problem they — and others — had been trying to conceal.

I couldn’t agree more. And what a great list of books! Thank you! Okay — let’s get to the cover. Were you at all involved in the creative process? If so, how so?

My main involvement with the cover development was screeching with delight. The first cover comps were among the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. Maggie Lehrman had asked me about what I’d like to see, and I’d given some general guidelines, but I’ve also worked with so many great cover artists over the past five years that I know they’re the masters of their craft.

Artist Shan Jiang (website) did an amazing job – the colors and the motion on the cover makes me want to jump right into the story.

All right — let’s take a look!

My word. It’s magnificent!

What did YOU think when you first saw the cover?

Honestly, my first thought was: FLYING PIGS!!!!

Hahaha! So, when can readers get their hands on THE SHIP OF STOLEN WORDS?

The Ship of Stolen Words comes out June 1, 2021, and Riverland comes out in paperback on May 11, 2021 — both are available for preorder at Abrams Kids and Amazon— and soon, everywhere. You can also mark it as “want to read!” at Goodreads.  And Riverland is also available for paperback preorder: https://www.amazon.com/Riverland-Fran-Wilde/dp/1419743384/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1596470860&sr=1-1

Where can we find out more about you and your work?

You can find me at http://www.franwilde.net and on instagram (along with my dog, Luna, and a lot of summer garden vegetables) at https://www.instagram.com/fran_wilde/.

Kickstarter Creators Photo by Bryan Derballa

Fran Wilde’s novels and short stories have been finalists for six Nebula Awards, a World Fantasy Award, three Hugo Awards, three Locus Awards, and a Lodestar. They include her Nebula- and Compton-Crook-winning debut novel Updraft, and her Nebula-winning debut Middle Grade novel Riverland. Her short stories appear in Asimov’sTor.comBeneath Ceaseless SkiesShimmerNatureUncanny, and Jonathan Strahan’s 2020 Year’s Best SFF. (Bibliography.) Fran directs the Genre Fiction MFA concentration at Western Colorado University and writes nonfiction for publications including The Washington PostThe New York Times, and Tor.com. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook, and at franwilde.net.

The Narrative Neighborhood: Little Free Library Liberation and Story Scavenging During Quarantine, by S.G. Wilson

My neighborhood had achieved a state of peak Little Free Library years ago. By the start of 2020, it was headed for a full-scale borrowed-book market collapse. 

You couldn’t walk a block without bumping into one book-lending box after another on their curbside posts. So many of my neighbors had taken up littlefreelibrary.org’s nonprofit mission to share books and promote literacy that the glut had nearly robbed the whole endeavor of its magic. With practically everybody putting up a little free library, the little structures become so much background noise, like fire hydrants or post-911 yard flags circa 2003.

However picturesque they looked, the libraries stood there either empty (save for ancient tomes on marketing written before the internet, food-encrusted picture books spotted with cover mold, etc.) or saddled with the same boring stack of Barnes & Noble remainders everybody had already read or didn’t want to read. Day in and day out I’d pass these ghost libraries on the bike ride to my son’s school, rolling my eyes at the Tom Clancys and James Pattersons that never left the shelves, as if they were squatting there to keep books people actually wanted to read from moving in. I even watched one neglected Little Free Library rot and fall apart from disuse, a sight that traumatizes me to this day.

Then COVID-19 struck, and everything changed. Desperate for diversion like the rest of the world as we all sheltered in place, my neighbors produced sidewalk-chalk art, stuffed-animal hunts and lawn decorations as funny and uplifting as anything else you’d see on the internet. The world may have gone down the crapper, but the creative spirit of my neighborhood had come to life. And so had its Little Free Libraries.

The outdoor book shelves filled to bursting again, and the boring old titles finally moved on to make way for the new. I found novels I’d always wants to read, as well as fresh discoveries I couldn’t believe I’d never heard of, like a 1980s spiritual dieting book by Jim and Tammy Faye Baker. This blessed browsing filled a void that had opened in me since all the libraries and bookstores shut down.

I got so excited by all this quality time with books that I started making videos about the experience. With my son’s help, I fashioned them after the unboxing videos I used to deride, calling them my “Little Free Library Book Tour.” (Feel free to check them out here.)

Story Scavenging

Fun as it was to make a project out of my new hobby, I wanted to produce something that would contribute to this neighborhood renaissance I’d enjoyed so much. I found that something while walking around the next neighborhood over (which had generally proven to be a less creative neighborhood, but I’m biased).

“Which is the coldest planet?” the sidewalk asked us in chalk. Arrows pointed from the multiple choices: “Neptune” going one way and “Uranus” another. We could have just looked up the answer on our phones and headed back home. But this challenge was the most excitement I’d had during quarantine since discovering that Jim and Tammy Faye diet book (well, that and the impending streaming release of Hamilfilm). Never mind that when we made it around the block, the right answer had washed away from the pavement. Never mind that we wound up having to look it up on our phones (Uranus). All we cared about was that after weeks of isolating at home, for just a few moments there, we had an actual destination to reach.

I loved the way this sidewalk-chalk trivia challenge made people interact with the physical world in order to answer a question in their heads. It was kind of like Pokémon Go but with an actual reason to exist. I decided to take this basic format and give it my own spin: I devised a real-world Choose Your Own Adventure.

I loved Choose Your Own Adventure books as a kid. If you’re not familiar, these books give readers a choice about where to go at the end of every section. “If you decide to attack the dragon, go to page 14.” “If you decide to talk with the dragon about the Republicans’ chances of holding on to their senate majority in the next election, go to page 50.” What I had in mind was something more akin to, “If you decide to attack the Dragon, go to the intersection of Dancy St. and Duval Avenue.”

Figuring everybody loves middle-grade books (again, I’m biased), I dug up a rejected novel my friend and podcast co-host Matthew Bey wrote years ago. When Monsters Attack, the tale of a boy protecting his school from an invasion of 1950s-esque B-movie aliens, lent itself to the conventions of a Choose Your Own Adventure once I boiled it down to seven parts told over a few paragraphs apiece. I made the story and its choice path super-simple, figuring the average pedestrian might get a headache from too many decisions, especially in the summer heat just around the corner.

I printed up signs, titled them “Story Scavenger: Navigate the Narrative,” and coated them using the lamination machine my son requested for his birthday (because he’s THAT kid, bless him). With the help of my other son, who prefers staple guns to lamination machines (because he, in turn, is THAT kid), we affixed them to utility poles within a five-block radius of our house.

I can’t say this experiment in interactive neighborhood narratives caused some sort of sensation, but over the course of several weeks, I saw a fair share of kids, families, hipster couples and other random folks try their hands at When Monsters Attack. One reader even fixed a typo.

At my site, I’ve made a set of these story signs with blank lines for filling in the directions in case you’re inclined to hang them up in your neighborhood. Still, I’d recommend making up your own Story Scavenger tale, if you’re so inclined. It’s a fairly straightforward process, but keep these points in mind as you go:

  1. Use second person. Stick with “you” instead of “I” or “he” or “she” or “they”. “You wake up in a cave in your underwear with no memory about who you are and a full-size bear is licking your face.” It’s a good way to immerse the reader in the story.
  2. Another way to maintain that sense of immersion is to not go into detail about the point-of-view character. Try to avoid mentioning gender, race and other details about the character if you can help it. Otherwise, it might remove them from buying into the story and feeling that immediacy when they’re making their choices. For When Monsters Attack, I left out most details about the character beyond the implication that they’re a middle school student with a knack for getting into trouble. Most people have been a middle-school student, so they can hopefully relate.
  3. Also, keep it concise. I didn’t write more than three or four paragraphs for any of the parts, figuring people reading the signs would want to get a move-on eventually.
  4. And while you’re at it, don’t complicate the choice path unduly. Too many choices and the reader (or in this case, the walker) might feel overwhelmed. In When Monsters Attack, I kept thing super simple: a choice to press forward with the story or an “out” to escape. However, the escape hatch choice bumps the reader to the conclusion, so it’s all tied together.

And one last piece of advice while you’re out turning your neighborhood into a story: wear a mask and keep a healthy distance from your readers!

S.G. Wilson is the author of the upcoming middle grade novel, Me Vs. the Multiverse: Pleased to Meet Me, due out Aug. 4. Alternate versions of S.G. from parallel Earths have worked as an Olympic shufflepuck commentator (Earth 24), food taster for Emperor Justin Bieber (Earth 101), stage manager for an all-mime version of The Sound of Music on Broadway (Earth 3), and many others. This Earth’s S.G mostly just writes stuff in Austin, Texas, where he lives with his partner, kids and cats. He’s worked as a magazine writer and editor and hosts a podcast called This Week in the Multiverse. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter: @SGWilson_Earth1.

. . .

S.G. Wilson is holding an Alternate Earth Giveaway for a free copy of ME VS. THE MULTIVERSE!

Me Vs. the Multiverse Alternate Earth Giveaway!

Everybody who enters gets: 

1. A “Greetings from the Multiverse” postcard (doubles as a bookmark)

2. A copy of “The Budget Guide to Traveling the Multiverse” (a zine)

3. The chance to win a copy of ME VS. THE MULTIVERSE!

To enter:

1. Think up an alternate Earth

2. DM it to me on Twitter or Instagram (bonus for follows): @sgwilson_Earth1

3. I’ll read out the entries at my online book launch have an the audience vote on the winner!

4. You don’t have to attend the launch by any means, but here’s the registration info just in case: Aug. 5, 4pm CST: tinyurl.com/y29fbpzw