Anna Meriano, 3 Fails & 1 Win: Books Between, Episode 43

Episode Outline:



Hi and welcome to the Books Between Podcast! I believe that books can change your life for the better. I know because books did that for me.

And I want to help you connect kids with those amazing, life-shaping books and bring you inspiring (and fun!) conversations with the authors and educators who make that magic happen.  Every other Monday, I bring you book talks, interviews, and ideas for getting great books into the hands of kids between 8-12.

I am Corrina Allen – a mom of an eight and ten year old, a 5th grade teacher, and excited about two things this week!  First, the Winter Olympics.  And second – today’s announcement of the American Library Association Youth Media Awards including t


he Caldecott, the Newbery, The Coretta Scott King, and lots more!  I am so excited for those authors and illustrators who will be getting those early morning phone calls. I’ll be streaming it with my class and can’t wait to chat more with you about it!

This is Episode #43 and today I’m talking about some fails, some wins, and bringing you a conversation with author Anna Meriano about her debut novel (and the MG at Heart January Book Club pick) Love, Sugar, Magic!

But first I have some exciting news to share with you — I’m joining the fabulous team at!  MGBookVillage has become THE place for all things middle grade, and I’m so thrilled to be working with Annaliese Avery, Jarrett Lerner, and Kathie MacIsaac who’ve done such an incredible job developing a home for lovers of middle grade that I can’t imagine we ever made do without it!

MGBookVillage has it all; a book-release calendar, a Kids’ Corner, a monthly book club (MG at Heart), an all-day twitter chat on Mondays (#MGBookathon)—and so, so much more.

And from now on it will be the new home of the Books Between podcast and where you can find all our transcripts.

Three Fails & One Win

And now a new segment I am calling three fails and a win. So – I am going to share with you three failures.  And then one thing that went well recently.  I think we all have the tendency to share our achievements and hide our failures, only revealing things that put us in a positive light. Inadvertently, it can lead to people feeling like they aren’t living up to all the amazingness they see on Instagram and Facebook and Pinterest, and next door. It’s an unrealistic view of teaching and parenting and it makes it seem like there are just these amazing rockstar kidlit advocates who have success after success. Nah! In the interest of acknowledging that the most learning happens through our mistakes, I’ll share three of mine with you today. And then I share something good that happened.

Fail #1

Last summer I had an great conversation with Jillian Heise about #ClassroomBookADay and was so inspired to give it a try this year. (If you want to hear that conversation about the power of reading one picture book a day with your students, check out episode 30). Screen Shot 2018-02-03 at 7.33.09 PMSo, at the beginning of the year I made this GIANT public display of 280 blank polaroid-style frames – all waiting for me to post colorful pictures of the books we are reading. And I have! Up until about like 40. Now – we have STILL been reading those picture books. Mostly.  We’ve missed a few days here and there, but – ugh that display has embarrassingly just… stalled. And I want to catch up but now I can’t quite remember the order of the titles we’ve read or even the names of them all.  And in fact, one of my eagle-eyed gals noticed that we have Not Quite Narwhal on there twice.  Not my best moment of this year.

Fail #2 

So last summer, I secretly pre-ordered a certain book for my daughter.  I will withhold the name because it doesn’t really matter but I’ll just say that it was the next title in a fun graphic novel series that my 8 year-old daughter LOVES. She’s picky with her reading, so when she finds something she likes, I RUN to the ball. Well, I thought I was getting the Best Mom Ever award when a few weeks ago the book arrived on our stoop Tuesday afternoon and I gleefully called her into the kitchen as I whipped the book from around my back and held it out to her with a GIANT grin on my face! TA-DA!! And she….backed out of the room cringing. And then told me she’s just not into those books as much anymore.  Okay then – mom win turned into major mom fail.

Fail #3

This is the one I refer to as The Armadillo Book Debacle. So, a couple weeks ago my daughter comes home upset because she’s going to have to pay $15 to replace a missing library book. Well – High Alert in the Allen household! We tear apart the house looking for it. All the bedrooms, under the couch cushions. I look at school. I call the 51J3OjN-s9L._SX398_BO1,204,203,200_grandparents! Nowhere is this darn Armadillo book. And my husband and daughter start to think they saw it go in the backpack and back to school. And mistakes happen, so we email the librarian and explain that we think it was returned and could she look? And I just want to say – she was extraordinarily nice about it!  And so – she’s looking all over the school for it.

Yeah, you know where this is going don’t you? A couple months ago we had a party at our house. And, like happens, there comes a point when you have cleaned and scrubbed and dusted and vacuumed and people are just about to arrive! So you switch from cleaning mode to hiding mode. You know,  there’s that one dirty casserole dish in the sink so you shove it in the oven. And there’s a stack of random papers and mail and books that you haul down into the basement. Including an Armadillo book that ended up tucked away in a corner of our basement for two months. My fault.  Awkward email back to the librarian.

And…. a WIN!

I have to end on a positive note. So I have this student who I love but he was tough nut to crack when trying to find a book that would hold his interest. In September, I discovered he had liked The One and Only Ivan, so I handed him my ARC of Wishtree weeks before it came out. Nope. I piled book after book after book on his desk – asking him questions about what he liked – to no avail.  It seemed like he was going to be one of those kids that you just hope the next person can help them find books they’ll love because it just didn’t click with you. But, then – I found out that he LOVES wrestling – like WWE wrestling. And 51N+1--1BgL._SX334_BO1,204,203,200_a friend on #mglitchat recommended these Choose Your Own Adventure style WWE wrestling books. I order them on Amazon Prime and two days later, I slid one across his desk and his eyes just lit up!  I even caught him reading it as he walked to the bus! Heread those books back and forth cover to cover for weeks. And now – he’s on to the second Tapper Twins book and on a roll and YES!!!  (I’ll link to those wrestling books in the show notes if you want to check them out. As far as I can tell there are only two of them – Race to the Rumble and then Night of Champions. Both are by Tracey West)

So, maybe my hallway display has stalled out, and I got overzealous with my child, and I embarrassed myself with the school librarian, but I helped that one kid get himself on his way.

Anna Meriano – Interview Outline

This week I had the opportunity to have a fantastic conversation with two authors Meriano_Credit_Rita_Meriano_copy_2debuting middle grade novels in 2018. Joining me today is Amanda Rawson Hill. She is the author of the upcoming book Three Rules of Everyday Magic and one of the
organizers of the MG at Heart Book Club. Her and I hopped on Skype to chat with Anna Meriano about her debut novel (and the January MG at Heart Book Club pic),
Love Sugar Magic.

Take a listen…..

Love, Sugar, Magic

CA: Your first middle grade novel, Love Sugar Magic, debuted last month. For those listeners who haven’t yet read the book – can you tell what the story is about?

MG-Meriano-LoveSugarMagicCA: One of things I loved about this book was that passing down of family recipes from mother to daughter generation to generation. So – did I hear that you aren’t actually much of a baker?

CA: Where did the recipes come from?

CA: In your novel, each sister has a special power, depending on her birth order. First born daughters have the gift of influence, second born daughters have the talent of manifestation, and the third borns have the gift of communicating with the dead.  Which gift would YOU want to have?  

ARH: I wanted to get some insight into how you wrote a big family so well…

Your Writing Life

CA: How long ago did you start writing Love, Sugar, Magic?

ARH: You’ve talked a lot about how you worked with Cake Literary, a book packager. I was wondering what the experience of doing that from the beginning with someone else was like compared to when you’re writing a book all on your own.  And how did it affect your creative process?

CA: What is Cake Literary and what is a book packager?rliidh27sfn6xh6n76hw

CA: How did you end up connecting to Leo?

JL: I’d be interested to hear about Anna’s experience with her debut group. The Electric Eighteens seem like such a positive and supportive bunch, and they’re so active in promoting one another. I’d love to hear what Anna got out of being a part of such a group — both in practical terms of promotion and things, and emotionally and psychologically, too, since the debut experience can be so confusing and exciting and overwhelming and joyful and terrifying and a million other things, too!

CA: The more I chat with authors about their process, the more I want to share with my students the idea that what they see as a finished story is the very tip of a gigantic iceburg of planning and writing and revising that never sees the light of day. What below-the-surface part of your writing process do you really enjoy? And what parts are challenging?

Your Reading Life

CA: Something that I think about a lot is how sometimes it only takes ONE person to really influence a child’s reading life – either in a positive way or sometimes in a negative way. Was there someone in your life who impacted you as a reader?

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



Anna on Twitter

Cake Literary website –

Electric Eighteen Debut Group website –

Anna’s Nerdy Book Club Post is here

The Coco Movie

Books & Authors We Chatted About:

The First Rule of Punk (Celia C. Perez)

Goosebumps (R.L. Stine)

Calvin & Hobbes (Bill Watterson)

The Inquisitor’s Tale (Adam Gidwitz)

The Gauntlet (Karuna Riazi)

Betty Before X (by Ilyasah Shavbazz & Renee Watson)

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.

CorrinaAllenThank 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. Or even better – tell a friend about us!

Thanks and see you soon!  Bye!

MG at Heart Book Club Book Review: LOVE SUGAR MAGIC by Anna Meriano


LOVE SUGAR MAGIC: A DASH OF TROUBLE is about a girl named Leo, who is almost twelve and not a little kid anymore. But her family seems to be keeping secrets from her. Her four older sisters all get to work in the family bakery with their Mama and Tia. But not Leo. Leo hates being left out, so she does some snooping.

What she discovers is that her Mama and Tia and sisters aren’t just bakers baking breads and cookies. They are brujas making magic with sugar and love.

Leo isn’t supposed to know. Initiation into being a bruja and working in the bakery happens at fifteen. But Leo hates being left behind. So she keeps a secret of her own. She has started practicing magic.

At first, it’s flour into snowflakes and flying cookies. But when a boy hurts her best friend’s feelings, Leo decides to take matters into her own hands. What results is a total disaster. Now Leo must fix her mistakes without letting Mama know. Because if Mama finds out, she might never let Leo learn the family magic. Ever.

This book was just a delight to read. It’s one of those books that not only will have kids flipping pages to get to the end, but will make them want to get up and do something. In this instance, BAKE! I foresee many kids trying their hand at baking magic in the near future.

There is so much in here to love. From a teacher’s perspective, it is the perfect book to read for Dia de los Muertos, as the holiday is featured prominently in the book, with plenty of details about what it really is and how to celebrate it. I especially loved that the whole town comes out for the celebration, but Meriano showed how those outside the culture could celebrate it without appropriating it.

While there is magic and speaking to the dead, there is nothing creepy or scary. And I appreciated that, in keeping with the spirit of Dia de los Muertos, the spirits of the dead were family, loving, and not scary at all.

LOVE SUGAR MAGIC also does a wonderful job of showing a (mostly) happy large family dynamic, which is something we don’t get to see very often in children’s literature. I’m the oldest of six kids, so I love seeing these portrayals done well. Leo had two loving and very involved parents. She had four sisters with their own personalities. And the hubbub and love that comes along with that was all very real.

Overall, this is a book that both adults and children will love and enjoy together.

For fun . . . I asked the other contributors at MG@Heart to answer some silly questions about the book. Here are their responses:

Which sister did you relate to the most?

AMANDA: Leo! I always want to know EVERYTHING! I hate secrets!

LAURIE: Definitely Isabel. I’m the oldest sibling in my family, so I relate to the ways she tries to look out for Leo, and I also relate to her conscientiousness and eagerness to learn and practice something she cares about.

KIT: Definitely the twins. They were kind to Leo. They talked to ghosts! I can’t really talk to ghosts myself . . . but I really wanted to hang around with the twins.

JULIE: Marisol. She was willing to be different and not go along with the others. But despite being a little prickly at times, she was still fiercely loyal to her family.

Which tasty treat tempted you the most as you read?

AMANDA: The cinnamon rolls! I’m trying to cut out added sugar most days so that scene was torture.

LAURIE: Mmm, those cinnamon rolls Leo and her mom make for breakfast sounded AMAZING.

KIT: I’m actually not a huge baked goods fan! But the honey scene made me want to scoop honey out of our jar at home like Pooh bear.

JULIE: Ginger snaps! My favorite 🙂

What kind of magical recipe would you make?

AMANDA: I think I’d make up “Perfect Sleep Tea.” Something I could drink before bed that would make me wake up at the perfect time feeling rested and refreshed.

LAURIE: I liked the idea that Leo was able to put a mild good luck charm on a cookie recipe for her snack club friends. I’d like to make something with a mild happiness charm — something that would just give people a little push towards staying positive and seeing the good in people and situations.

KIT: I’d like to make something to soothe me when I’m stressed or anxious. I wouldn’t mind having Isabel as a family member, the way she could help her mother or sisters relax.

JULIE: Pan de Muerto so that I could talk to my father and grandmother from time to time

What do you think Leo’s special magical power is?

AMANDA: I think it might be that Leo just has a really extra dose of magic. So every spell she does is always more powerful than usual.

LAURIE: Hmm, good question! Maybe it has something to do with her intuition, because I was pretty impressed with the ways she listened to her gut as she figured out how to adapt and then reverse spells.

KIT: I’d like to think it’s something undiscovered! That Leo is truly a special sister, and her skill will be revealed in a later story.

JULIE: I think she must be an influencer like Isabel since she’s so good at convincing everyone to bend the rules for her. But I also suspect she has a special knack for creative spell interpretation!

. . .

Don’t miss the MG@Heart Book Club’s Twitter chat, where there’ll be further discussion of LOVE, SUGAR, MAGIC. It’s happening this Tuesday, February 6th, at 8 pm EST. Find it, and participate, using the #MGbookclub hashtag. See you there!

MG at Heart Writer’s Toolbox: Using Character-Specific Figurative Language to Enhance Voice


The MG at Heart team is happy to share our first mid-month post! This month, we’re analyzing the delightful voice in our January pick, Anna Meriano’s Love Sugar Magic: A Dash of Magic, and considering what other writers can learn from it.

It’s easy to tell when a story has a great voice, but it’s not so easy to say why that’s the case. When the voice is especially strong, readers are invited right into the mind and world of the character whose point of view we’re following. There’s something special and vibrant about the rhythm, word choice, and personality of the narrative. Something wonderful . . . but a bit difficult to pin down.

Screen Shot 2018-01-15 at 8.25.16 AM

Because voice is an elusive concept, it can be a hard element for writers to work on. Some people even believe voice can’t be taught. But voice is all about specificity: the sense that we readers are getting a unique, fully-realized character’s account, and no other character would perceive or phrase things in quite the same way.

One thing writers can do to can enhance the voice in their stories is to figure out the specific lens through which the point-of-view character sees the world and then filter the character’s language choices through that lens. This is something Anna Meriano does masterfully in Love Sugar Magic: A Dash of Trouble.

The book is told from Leonora “Leo” Logroños’s point of view, and the third-person voice is absolutely charming, in part because of the way Anna Meriano uses character-specific figurative language to convey Leo’s thoughts and emotions.

If you’re reading the novel along with us, you know that Leo’s family owns a bakery and Leo desperately wants to help out as much as her older sisters do, especially after she discovers that her mother, sisters, and aunts are brujas who add magic to their recipes. Baking is an important part of Leo’s life, so it shapes the lens through which she sees the world. Here are some of the times when Anna Meriano uses baking-related figurative language to bring Leo’s voice to life:

“A plan started to rise like dough inside Leo.” (17)

Screen Shot 2018-01-15 at 8.25.29 AM

“Half worried from Caroline’s talk about secrets, half furious that she was being left out again, Leo felt her bad feelings swell like cake in an oven.” (21)

Screen Shot 2018-01-15 at 8.25.40 AM

“Mamá would be boiling-oil mad if she found out that Leo had left school without permission.” (22)

“Her brain felt like a stuffed empanada, with Mamá’s words oozing out the sides like guava jelly.” (24)

These examples work so well in part because the sentence structures are interesting and varied, and there are vivid verbs such as “ooze” and “swell.” But in addition, thanks to the baking language, these sentences help us get to know Leo and experience the world through her unique perspective. They convey emotions in an original way, without resorting to clichés. They are specifically and vibrantly Leo. “Boiling-oil mad” has so much more life and voice than just plain “mad.” And how brilliant and evocative is that empanada simile, which suggests the way Leo’s family’s culture shapes her worldview, as well?

If you’re joining us in reading Love Sugar Magic: A Dash of Trouble this month, see if you can spot more baking-related figurative language that enhances the strong voice, and please share other examples in the comments or on Twitter.

And if you’re writing something of your own or working with kids on their creative writing, you can ask this question: What passions, culture, and experiences shape the way your character sees the world, and how can these things impact the unique way the character might perceive and phrase things? We’d love to see examples of character-specific figurative language from your own work in the comments or on Twitter, as well!

Happy reading and writing, and make sure you’ve subscribed to the Middle Grade at Heart newsletter so you won’t miss this month’s edition, which goes out on January 29th and will include an author interview, an activity, a recipe, and other great content for Love Sugar Magic: A Dash of Trouble. And we look forward to chatting with you about the book on our Twitter book chat on February 6th!

MG at Heart Book Club’s January Pick

The MG at Heart team is excited to announce that our January book club pick is . . .

LOVE SUGAR MAGIC: A DASH OF TROUBLE, by Anna Meriano, illustrations by Mirelle Ortega


Leonora Logroño’s family owns the most beloved bakery in Rose Hill, Texas, spending their days conjuring delicious cookies and cakes for any occasion. And no occasion is more important than the annual Dia de los Muertos festival.

Leo hopes that this might be the year that she gets to help prepare for the big celebration—but, once again, she is told she’s too young. Sneaking out of school and down to the bakery, she discovers that her mother, aunt, and four older sisters have in fact been keeping a big secret: they’re brujas—witches of Mexican ancestry—who pour a little bit of sweet magic into everything that they bake.  

Leo knows that she has magical ability as well and is more determined than ever to join the family business—even if she can’t let her mama and hermanas know about it yet.

And when her best friend, Caroline, has a problem that needs solving, Leo has the perfect opportunity to try out her craft. It’s just one little spell, after all…what could possibly go wrong?

Debut author Anna Meriano brings us the first book in a delightful new series filled to the brim with amor, azúcar, y magia.

“A delectable debut with wide appeal, and a must-have for middle grade fiction collections.” — School Library Journal

“Meriano builds a wonderful contemporary world in small-town Texas, full of diverse characters, where magic feels right at home and muggles will feel equally welcome. A series opener that’s proof that windows and mirrors can be magical ingredients.” — Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

. . .

Our newsletter with all book club plans — including a recipe, activity, discussion questions, and more — will go out January 29th. Sign up for it here. Our Twitter chat will happen soon thereafter, date and time TBA.