Gender Empowerment and Risks: A Conversation Between Diane Magras and Laura Shovan

The ranks of strong girls in middle grade fiction is growing. (Thank goodness for that!) These girls come in all forms: tough, spunky, wild—and occasionally soft and gentle but with a core of steel. They’re fantastic models for girls (and boys) to see diversity in how girls are represented. And often, these days, they have male sidekicks who play the time-honored role of helper. It’s a nice transposition of gender roles in books. And I applaud that.

But I applaud even more books where the boys who are helping out the girls and taking risks to do so. These books are models that the world needs to see: It’s important for boys and men to back up girls and women and hear their voices, especially when the easier choice would be to turn away and pretend they never saw or heard what’s happening.

If readers of this post have read The Mad Wolf’s Daughter, my debut novel, you may have noticed that Emerick and Tig (my two primary male characters) listen to, support, and rely on Drest (my female protagonist). Her brothers and father also believe in her unquestioningly; hers is a world where she knows her voice matters. And Emerick and Tig risk much to follow her, in the end their very lives.

I was delighted when I read Laura Shovan’s newest book Takedown to find some of these themes as well. The risks Lev takes to support Mikayla’s wrestling show how hard it can be in today’s world for a boy to support a girl, and indeed, he doesn’t at first. But the way he does, and his final acts of support, are magnificent. Part of this book is about finding yourself and having the courage to be yourself, but also the courage to stand up for someone else.

And here’s Laura Shovan to tell you more about that! Laura, I’d love to know how you began thinking about writing these kinds of themes.

Laura: Diane, so much of what you’re saying here resonates with me. I grew up in a family that said strong women were valued, while making it clear that men came first. As a kid, writing was a way to make my voice heard, a place where I could be strong without bucking the system or feeling unsafe. Using writing to speak about injustice became a major theme of my first novel, The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary. Unlike Drest, Mickey’s experience is closer to my own. She is fighting against labels like “little sister” and “girl wrestler.” Her voice is all about getting others to see her as a whole person.

Early notes for Takedown were poetic sketches jotted down during my son’s wrestling practices. It was always going to be a book about a boy, Lev, and his nemesis on the mat. One day, I drafted a scene about Lev meeting a girl wrestler. Almost as soon as Mickey appeared, Takedown became a book told from two points of view, hers and Lev’s.

I think of wrestling as a type of setting in this story, a backdrop against which Lev and Mickey are struggling to figure out who they are in a traditionally male sport. Mickey is fiercely determined to keep her sense of “girlness” even though she’s a wrestler. She emulates her two older brothers, who are both in the sport, but she doesn’t want to become them. It’s important to her to keep her sense of self. Lev struggles with almost the opposite problem. He’s realizing that he’s lost an important part of himself in his desire to man-up and be a tough, competitive wrestler. In helping Mickey, he begins to rediscover a gentler part of his personality.

I see that aspect in The Mad Wolf’s Daughter, too. In forming a close friendship with Emerick and Tig, Drest begins to examine who she is. Not her role in her father’s war band, or how her brothers see her, but something deeper. How do Emerick and Tig draw this new, more mature view of herself out of Drest?

Diane: Tig has a clear perception of who Drest is: a hero, an extraordinary being, different from what he’s always heard warriors were like. When he tells her she’s a legend, he’s drawing her apart and above her brothers. Drest isn’t comfortable at first thinking of herself as “better” than the rest of the war-band; in her own mind, she’s nearly as great as they, and will be as great when she gets older. To be “better” than a man was not something any girl of the period was told (even Drest). Tig quite literally puts his life and safety in her hands, and proves that he means his compliments.

Emerick influences Drest’s understanding of herself in a slightly different way. At first, he despises her as an enemy. And to start, it’s both his disparagement of her but also his helplessness that give Drest a choice: to see him as an enemy and act accordingly, or to follow her instinct toward mercy. Once she does the latter, she continues. Emerick is deeply affected by her generous moral character, but also by her fearless nobility. He’s grown up with the expectation of chivalry, and here he finds the daughter of his worst enemy, of all people, exemplifying that tradition. He challenges her, encourages her, and gently teases her—just as her brothers might, except his ways have a gentleness that subtly place her in control. In many ways, that’s the most powerful technique both Emerick and Tig use to draw out Drest’s true character: to willingly put her in charge of their journey, a life-and-death situation for each of them. (While her family has always loved and trusted her, they’ve never trusted her that much.)

Emerick and Tig discover much about their own identities and strengths and weaknesses through their friendships with Drest. By giving her a voice, they find their own, and it’s not quite what they’ve always been told they must be. I notice that you’ve done this with Lev, as you describe above. And Mickey certainly redefines her wrestling ambition as something greater than being in line with her two brothers thanks to Lev’s friendship.

I love to see characters transcend gender stereotypes through this kind of mutual support, especially when the support is hard and characters risk giving up (or literally give up!) something for it. Lev takes some major risks (he feels), but also Mickey does too. What do you feel were the biggest risks they thought they were taking, versus the ones that they really saw?

Laura: The biggest risk that Lev takes in supporting Mickey is stepping out of the circle of men and boys. There’s a scene in Takedown where all of the boys on the team are trying on their new singlets — the one piece wrestling uniform. There’s not much modesty in a wrestling room and, as the only girl, Mickey opts to change in the bathroom. When Lev’s best friends on the team follow her to the bathroom, he realizes that they have crossed the line between ignoring Mickey and bullying her. He knows standing up for her might mean losing his friends or being bullied himself. It’s similar to what you said about Drest and Emerick, except Lev is the one who has to stop seeing Mickey as an enemy. That’s the major shift in Lev’s character, the moment when he puts his morals above the need to be one of the guys. What he doesn’t realize is that this decision, this risk, is the start of some serious self-examination for Lev. He begins to ask himself: What kind of man do I want to be? It’s important that his bar mitzvah ceremony is not too far off. In Lev’s religious tradition, he will be considered a man soon.

For Mickey, the biggest risk is continuing to wrestling after her best friend, Kenna, quits. She’s been rejected by her brothers’ youth coach, and finds herself on the Gladiators, a team where she knows no one and is the only girl. Her family’s support is lukewarm at this point in the story. They’re worried about her physical and emotional safety and are unsure of her commitment to the sport. Mickey doesn’t realize how lonely she will be until she steps into the Gladiators’ wrestling room for the first time. This is something I heard about in interviews with parents of female wrestlers and from women who compete in traditionally male sports like jiu jitsu. Until they earn the respect of the guys, it can be a very isolating experience. Mickey really needs Lev’s friendship. He’s the one who widens the circle to include her. And in being Mickey’s partner and friend, Lev grows enormously as a person.

We haven’t talked yet about how both our girl characters, Drest and Mickey, have grown up being socialized by boys and men. Mickey’s mom is in the picture, but she tends to support traditional gender roles and excuses her sons’ behavior as “boys will be boys.” How does the journey with Tig and Emerick help Drest to confront that kind of thinking in her family?

Diane:  Drest grows up in total isolation with men! She doesn’t even meet a single woman until her journey. And yet even though her father and brothers are brutal warriors and believe that women need protection, they break the mold of medieval male stereotypes: Not one of them has ever doubted that Drest, the youngest and the only girl, can do what they do. Each of her brothers trains her, challenges her, and believes in her utterly. How often has any girl in our world grown up knowing that every man in her life respects her and thinks she’s capable of doing literally anything? The only time Drest’s family shows concern about her abilities is in the beginning, and it’s all tied to her youth, not her gender.

When Drest starts meeting other women and girls, she can’t quite believe that they’re not weak and feeble and need protection (one of her family’s moral codes is all about that). She notices ways in which they’re just like her—and in the companion book (which will be out on March 5, 2019), she adds her own line to that family moral code with a dose of gender empowerment. To Drest, a woman’s role is to be herself. And that’s something I want my readers to really feel: no matter what box anyone tries to stick them into as girls or boys, who they feel they are is who they are, and it may not link one bit to any predetermined gender role.

I loved your book, and I love books where girls are leading the action and boys are supporting them in powerful ways. One of my recent favorites is The Eye of the North by Irish author Sinéad O’Hart. In this fast-paced fantasy adventure, a timid girl named Emmeline finds her adventuresome scientist parents abruptly and mysteriously gone, and then is kidnapped by a villainous scientist who is planning to raise a creature from the deep to gain world domination. Emmeline may be timid, but she’s self-sufficient (especially with her satchel of inventions), and decides to take her safety into her own hands right before the kidnapping, when she’s traveling by steamship to her new guardian. She meets and befriends a young stowaway named Thing—and when she’s kidnapped, he spends his part of the novel doing all he can to help her escape. There are secret societies, steampunk contraptions, and a lot of heart in this book.

And there are some great subtle gender role twists. I loved how Thing understood Emmeline’s situation and went after her, at great risk to himself, for no other reason than to further her goal. He’s the classic sidekick, and takes actions pretty much only for Emmeline. There are also plenty of very powerful women (including the villainous scientist’s nemesis) supported by a whole cast of men, which brilliantly shows readers that women and girls can certainly take the lead in adventures. What’s one of your favorite books that challenges gender roles like this?

Laura: I just finished reading the ARC of Padma Venkatraman’s The Bridge Home, which comes out in February. The narrator is an Indian girl named Viji. Because of domestic violence at home, Viji is determined that she and her older, developmentally disabled sister Rukku must run away. Life as a homeless child in the city of Chennai is difficult and dangerous, but the sisters find stalwart supporters in two boys, Arul and Muthu. Instead of competing for resources, the boys teach Viji how to survive. The four children form a makeshift family. Through Arul and Muthu, Viji even realizes that she’d had some limiting views about Rukku’s capabilities. When Viji blames herself for a terrible turn of events, it’s the boys who help her see the good in herself.

Viji is a strong, and sometimes headstrong, character. When she and Rukku leave home, it is Viji who steps into the role of leader. When she meets Arul and Muthu, she has to learn how to negotiate and share the leadership of their small group. I loved how the two boys accepted and encouraged Viji and Rukku. When Viji doubts herself most, they are the ones who remind her what a strong, caring person she is.

Diane: That’s a wonderful example of what middle grade fiction is doing these days: expanding the notion of who’s allowed to lead the action.

Most of the books I grew up with had girls who needed to be rescued or were the noble love interest or were simply lesser and more feeble than their male companions. While I loved many of those books, it was hard to repeatedly read about submissive, helpless girls, especially since such gender biases were present in my real life too. Having a voice and being believed in obviously changes the way a person will think of themselves, and it’s something that most boys have always had in both the imagined and real worlds. It’s a relief to find so many girls in today’s middle grade fictional landscape with that voice, with boys taking great risks to listen to them. And the real world is starting to follow.

Diane-Magras_ABOUT-DIANE

 

Diane Magras is author of the NYT Editors’ Choice The Mad Wolf’s Daughter, which came just before The Hunt for the Mad Wolf’s Daughter. All things medieval fascinate Diane: castles, abbeys, swords, manuscripts, and the daily life of medieval people, especially those who weren’t royalty. Diane lives in Maine with her husband and son and thinks often of Scotland, where her books are set.

 

SAMSUNG CSCLaura Shovan’s debut middle grade novel, The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary, was an NCTE 2017 Notable Verse Novel, a Bank Street College of Education Best Children’s Book of the year, and won a Cybils Award for poetry. It was named the Arnold Adoff Poetry Award for New Voices honor book in 2018. Laura’s second children’s novel, Takedown, is about the first girl to join an all-boys wrestling team. Laura lives with her family in Maryland, where she is a longtime poet-in-the-schools for the Maryland State Arts Council.

Book Review: THE BATTLE OF JUNK MOUNTAIN, by Lauren Abbey Greenberg

The Battle of Junk Mountain.jpg

Maine is a beloved state, as I well know. I grew up here, moved away at one point, and then moved back. It’s a state that inspires a lot of visits, and a lot of fiction—from both people who have lived here and people who haven’t. For someone who lives here to read a book about Maine can be a sensitive matter. As a middle grade reader, I was especially critical of stereotypes of rural life and the kind of people I grew up with on the Maine coast.

Middle grade kids in Maine won’t feel that way about Lauren Abbey Greenberg’s new novel of growing up The Battle of Junk Mountain. That may be because Greenberg has summered in the state for twenty years and has a strong sense of what it’s like here. But it’s also her talent at sketching characters with the tiny edges of heart and humility that draw them well beyond any stereotype.

Take Bea, the grandmother at the center of Shayne’s annual summer visit to Maine. Bea has always been a collector, a frequent visitors to flea markets and yard sales, but recently has become more than that: a hoarder whose house is packed with knick-knacks, old clothes, and other people’s discarded stuff. It’s a collection of stuff that means a lot to Bea, Shayne realizes after she tries to sell some of it behind Bea’s back. Bea’s finances are precarious and Shayne thinks she can help with that as well as with the state of Bea’s house, but her attempt shakes something deep in her and her grandmother’s relationship.

Bea is not a sweet, gentle grandmother, nor a fierce, grand fighter of a woman, but a very real person, a woman deeply wounded by her lobsterman husband’s tragic death at sea who is trying to live through memories and the comforts she can garner with the items she collects. I’ve known people like Bea, women with immense inner strength, weighed beneath obsessions that begin to rule their lives.

This story is the core of the novel, but The Battle of Junk Mountain is also a what-happened-this-summer story of friendship. One bond is Shayne’s with her “summer sister” Poppy, a summer best friend. This bond seems to have slipped a knot, just like the friendship bracelets they used to make together. The other bond is with Linc, the grandson of an old, tough, angry lobsterman of a new neighbor. Linc is an avid Civil War reenactor, which initially puts Shayne off, but his lack of shame, pride in his interests, and genuinely kind heart show her that a good friend doesn’t necessarily fit in a mold.

This is a story that will show young readers that an ordinary girl can be a true hero, act nobly, and face her fears when the time is right. And while it’s a story that will satisfy readers everywhere, it will feel especially real and right to kids who live on the New England coast.

Diane-Magras_ABOUT-DIANE

 

Diane Magras is author of the NYT Editors’ Choice The Mad Wolf’s Daughter, which came just before The Hunt for the Mad Wolf’s Daughter. All things medieval fascinate Diane: castles, abbeys, swords, manuscripts, and the daily life of medieval people, especially those who weren’t royalty. Diane lives in Maine with her husband and son and thinks often of Scotland, where her books are set.

Cover Reveal: THE HUNT FOR THE MAD WOLF’S DAUGHTER, by Diane Magras

COVER_REVEAL

A big THANK YOU to Diane Magras for choosing the MG Book Village to host the cover reveal for The Hunt for the Mad Wolf’s Daughter, the highly anticipated sequel to her debut The Mad Wolf’s Daughter! If you haven’t read The Mad Wolf’s Daughter yet, I can’t recommend it enough. You’ll be torn between wanting to race ahead to see how each dramatic scene unfolds and wanting to linger to enjoy every one of the crisp, powerful sentences — and you won’t be able to get enough of Drest, the Mad Wolf’s daughter herself.

Read the interview below to learn about the new book and the creation of its cover, and stick around, of course, for the big reveal!

~ Jarrett

. . .

Thank you for stopping by the MG Book Village, Diane, and for choosing us to host the cover reveal for The Hunt for the Mad Wolf’s Daughter! Before we get to the cover, can you tell us a bit about the new book? Does it pick up right where we left Drest?

The Hunt for the Mad Wolf’s Daughter begins a few hours after the first book ends, throwing Drest into a very personal battle when she learns that a price has been put on her head. Sir Oswyn, who has taken over Faintree Castle, claims that Drest had murdered the young Lord Faintree. He’s singled out Drest as being more dangerous than even her brutal father and her fearsome brothers. She’s not proud of that, though; it’s a terrifying consequence of her legend. But being what she is, Drest doesn’t accept her father’s solution to run and hide. She plans to somehow gain back Faintree Castle for her friend the young Lord Faintree, who is the only one who can remove Sir Oswyn’s sentence. But she’s up against a whole castle army that’s after her and her family, and one of its knights is close on her trail, eager to win that generous price for her head.

Wow! I can’t wait! Had you ever written a follow-up novel before? Was the experience at all different from writing THE MAD WOLF’S DAUGHTER?

This is my first experience writing a follow-up novel, which happens to be both a second and final book in a series. So I needed to not only draw upon the characters and conflicts of the past book, but conclude everything as well (leaving a handful of loose ends, just because that’s life!). This book could also be read as a stand-alone, so I needed to summarize what happened in the last book and who my enormous cast of characters are. I quickly realized that it’s just like starting a new novel of a new world, using the same techniques of summarizing past experiences amidst the action. And so I begin the story with a tense moment, swiftly capture the relationship between the first characters whom the readers meet (Drest and Emerick), and launch into the conflict at once.

Did the same artist do this cover as did the last?

Yes, I’m honored that Antonio Javier Caparo created the jacket art for this book too. I love how he captures the style of my storytelling with his own interpretations of Drest and her world. And I love his attention to detail. If you look closely at my cover, you’ll see the subtle touches that make the characters come alive and their clothes, weapons, and surroundings look so real.

Here at the Village, we’ve been trying more and more to give readers behind-the-scenes peeks of the book-making process, at all stages. Can you talk at all about the work of art designers, and in particular the work your designer did for your book?

The art designer for my covers, Maggie Edkins, was involved from the very beginning. She had a sense of the kind of feel that Penguin Young Readers wanted the art for The Hunt for the Mad Wolf’s Daughter to have, and shared that with Antonio, who then sketched his vision for the cover. Then he and Maggie went back and forth over little matters up to the final sketch. Antonio performed his magic, added his signature details, and made the art come alive (I’ve watched a few of videos of his artistic process for other works, and I still find it staggering). Maggie also hand-lettered the title for both this and the previous book. I’m a big fan of her work too!

Were you at all involved in the process?

I’ve been a sidelines participant in the cover art process, suggesting details (such as dirt on all the characters’ clothes, and making sure that Drest is depicted as left-handed), and sharing my reactions. I’ve been very lucky to have the chance to look at each sketch. I’m grateful for this input (I know that keeping me in the loop was an extra step in a very busy process) because I pay a lot of attention to cover art. I regularly chat with kids and librarians about what attracts my readership and what doesn’t (I put together a focus group with questions like this for the first book), so my feedback isn’t just my personal feelings (though my personal feelings did sneak in now and then!).

What was your reaction when you saw the new book’s cover?

I was thrilled. Here’s my wee lass, out for another adventure, with that great defiant look in her eye. And I love seeing her friends on the cover with her, and the emotion that Antonio put in their faces and poses. He really nailed who these people are and even what they’re thinking in that scene. And the color scheme is beautiful. I know this cover will stand out. (By the way, there’ll be a surprise on the jacket’s back. It’s not going to be shared until the book is out in March, but I’m especially thrilled at what Antonio and Maggie have done. It may involve Drest’s family…)

Is there anything else you want to share about the role of covers more generally?

A middle grade cover is a reader’s first introduction to a book. It’s a book’s face, and also a visual representation of the story. Within seconds, it tells the reader what they’re about to experience. Cover art can be witty, humorous, beautiful, intense—and it’s art, just like what you see in a museum or in a frame on someone’s wall. But cover art needs to do more than framed art: It needs to not only grab the viewer but also turn that viewer into a reader. That puts tremendous pressure on cover artists. Their work serves as one of the most important pieces of marketing a book has, and can determine that our books are picked up in the first place—or not.

Thanks for the interview. I hope everyone loves my new book’s cover as much as I do!

Well, how about we let them see it?! Thanks again, Diane!

MadWolf2_cvr_683x1024.png

Diane-Magras_ABOUT-DIANE

 

Diane Magras is author of the NYT Editors’ Choice The Mad Wolf’s Daughter, which came just before The Hunt for the Mad Wolf’s Daughter. All things medieval fascinate Diane: castles, abbeys, swords, manuscripts, and the daily life of medieval people, especially those who weren’t royalty. Diane lives in Maine with her husband and son and thinks often of Scotland, where her books are set.

More Fab Nonfiction & a Conversation w/ Diane Magras: Books Between, Episode 53

Episode Outline:

Listen to the episode here!

Intro

Hi everyone and welcome to the Books Between Podcast! I believe in the power of books to help us see our world more clearly and to see each other more clearly.  My goal is to help you connect kids between 8-12 with those amazing books and share inspiring conversations with the authors and educators who make that magic happen.

I’m your host, Corrina Allen – a mom of a 9 and 11 year old, a 5th grade teacher and currently in a battle with Japanese beetles!  Argh! My hollyhock has finally bloomed after three years and those buggers and destroying it! A green thumb, I do not have.

This is Episode #53 and today I’m discussing more fabulous nonfiction and sharing a conversation with Diane Magras, author of The Mad Wolf’s Daughter!  

A couple quick announcements for you!  The July Middle Grade at Heart Book Club pick is Just Under the Clouds . Where the Watermelons Grow is the read for August and the September pick is The House That Lou Built.

And don’t forget that Monday nights are our #MGBookChat Twitter chats with upcoming topics like graphic novels, ending gendered labels of MG books, and the importance of refugee stories. So set a reminder for Mondays at 9pm EST and check out #MGBookChat for conversations and collaboration between educators, librarians, and authors.  I’ll warn you though – if you think your TBR stack is bad now… it only gets WORSE after one of those chats! (There are worse vices to have, right?)

Alright – take a listen…

Book Talk – More Fabulous Nonfiction

A couple weeks ago, on episode #51, I started a list of fantastic nonfiction reads with the promise that I would continue the list in the next episode. Well, the conversation with special guest Nikki Mancini was so good that I didn’t want to cut any more and so I bumped this nonfiction book talk to today.  So here are more fabulous nonfiction books that you and your middle grade students will love this year!

First up is a brand new book called Squidtoons: Exploring Ocean Science with Comics by Garfield Kwan and Dana Song. I love this book for its bright, bold comics that are easy to read and with just the right amount of humor to keep a smile on your face as you learn about cool creatures like the moon jelly, and the narwhal, and seadragons! It reminds me a lot of the Science Comics series (which I mentioned in that last episode) but this one is a tad easier to read with bigger font. So I think the readability on this one could hit a younger audience. I’m really excited to share this one with my class in the fall.

51JQoDwPsNL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

Another nonfiction book that bubbled up into my awareness late last school year is Discovering Black America: from the Age of Exploration to the Twenty-first Century by Linda Tarrant-Reid. This books offers 200+ pages of in-depth history from the black sailor who traveled with Columbus to the indentured servants of the colonial era and tragedies of enslaved Africans to the Harlem Renaissance and up to the presidency of Barack Obama.  And those stories are set in a greater context of the entire history of the United States. This is a book that is great to read cover to cover but also a helpful resources to have on hand to offer a perspective about a historical topic that might not be covered completely in a traditional history text. For example, there is an entire section on black patriots who fought for independence and the black women in the Women’s Army Corps in the 1940s. Definitely check this one out.

51Z7i4VuLDL._SX425_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

Another couple of books that were really popular with my 5th graders – and frankly, with me too, since they were my personal books that I brought in – were the Star Wars Visual Dictionaries. The two I have (so far) are the ones for The Last Jedi and The Force Awakens. These books are must-haves for any Star Wars fans because they let you see in detail all the little things go by so quickly in a movie.  Like, everything that’s in Rey’s salvage kit. The names of the Resistance pilots and their backstory. And little surprises like Ben Solo’s calligraphy set. Visual Dictionaries are really fun to explore and DK Publishers does a really incredible job with them. So have a few on hand that appeal to the interests of your kids.

Also – if you and your kids have not yet read any of Sarah Albee’s nonfiction books – you all are in for a treat!  My daughters and I just read Bugged: How Insects Changed History and were simultaneously enthralled and appalled! From the disturbing fact of where that brilliant red dye comes from to how bugs were a factor in the Louisiana Purchase. It’s a COOL book and can either be read cover to cover or just read the textbox features.  Sarah Albee is also the author of the incredible Why’d They Wear That – a gorgeous, glossy book all about fashion through the ages with an introduction by the amazing Tim Gunn.  

Note: I mistakenly say on the podcast that How They Croaked (about the awful deaths of famous people) and How They Choked (all about the epic fails of the super famous) are by Sarah Albee. They are both, in fact, by Georgia Bragg and Kevin O’Malley.

Albee’s latest book is called Dog Days of History: The Incredible Story of Our Best Friends – featuring, well – stories of dogs through history!

A really interesting book that blend forensics with history is Written in Bone: Buried Lives of Jamestown and Colonial Maryland. By Sally M. Walker. It’s a gorgeous full color book showcasing new insights gained about this era based on information scientists have gathered by examined the newly excavated bones of Europeans and Africans from colonial sites in Virginia and Maryland. And again even if kids don’t read this one cover to cover, I think reading and discussing a chapter would really help children understand how our knowledge of history changes over time as we make new discoveries and have better tools to analyze.

51U6hxHsNdL._SX399_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

Another nonfiction book that I keep bumping into online – and was FINALLY able to get at my public library – is Two Truths and Lie by Ammi-Joan Paquette and Laurie Ann Thompson.  It’s a clever book that is just begging to be read with a friend – or out loud in the car! Essentially, each chapter is about a topic. Like, Chapter 1 is Crazy Plants and Chapter 6 is Large Animals. And within each chapter are three stories: A, B, and C.  Each story is about 3-5 pages long with lots of bold colors and cool fonts and photos. And the reader has to decide which of those three stories is false. The answer key is in the back and it gives a paragraph or so of explanation. This book is called Two Truths and a Lie: It’s Alive so I’m kind of hoping there are more in the series.

51F2LuX-MTL._SX373_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

A book that has recently intrigued my daughters and me is called Survivors: Extraordinary Tales from the Wild and Beyond by David Long with illustrations by Kerry Hyndman.  It is a collection of extreme survival stories from all over the world. Some you may have heard of – like Aron Ralston – the climber in Colorado who cut off his own arm to survive. It was made into the movie 127 Hours with James Franco. But others may be unfamiliar – like the story of Poon Lim – the sailor who survived a shipwreck by sucking the blood from a shark.  This is definitely not a book for the faint of heart, but for those kids who like shocking stories of people overcoming the most dangerous situations this is the book for them!

51wh4+7RUBL._SX412_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

Another beautiful new nonfiction book is Grand Canyon by Jason Chin. It’s a large format book about the size of a picture book with such detailed and multi-layered artwork. It’s written in a unique way. It’s written in the 2nd person where the narrator takes you on a tour of the canyon as it gives you information. For example, here is a line: “After climbing out of the Inner Gorge, you’ll find yourself on a broad, sun-baked slope.”  And as the narrator gives you information about the Grand Canyon, you see in a center spread, illustrations of a father and daughter exploring the canyon and doing what the narrator just said. And around the edges of the main illustration, kind of in a Jan Brett format, are small drawings of the animals and plants found in the canyon, or a cross section of the layers, sketches of the weathering process… it’s really cool!  And some of the pages have holes in them to show the fossils and when you turn the page – you just have to see it for yourself! This book is amazing!

51xxjG+gVzL._SX402_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

Okay – I hope this has given you some ideas for new nonfiction books to freshen up your informational section of your library. And if you have a suggestion about a great nonfiction book we should all know about, email me at booksbetween@gmail.com or connect on Twitter at @Books_Between.

Diane Magras – Interview Outline

Joining me this month for our Middle Grade at Heart interview with Diane Magras is engineer by day and middle grade author by night, Karen Chow. We got an opportunity to sit down together last month to chat about The Mad Wolf’s Daughter.

Take a listen…Diane-Magras_ABOUT-DIANE.jpg

CA: For our listeners who haven’t yet read The Mad Wolf’s Daughter, what is this story about?

CA: Love the mix of swashbuckling medieval adventure mixed with humor – at times it reminded me a bit of The Princess Bride. What were your inspirations?

CA: There seem like there might be elements of fantasy in this book. What genre do you see this book falling in?

KC: Drest is very brave throughout the book. Did you take some of her bravery from a historical figure?

KC: Drest is mistaken for a boy several times. Is that because of the way she is dressed? Her short hair? Why did you decide to have Drest this way?

KC: Did real warriors have a code of ethics?

**BONUS SPOILER SECTION: Diane and Karen 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 38:13 mark.

CA: What are you working on now? And will there be a sequel for Drest?

CA: One of the goals of this podcast is to help educators and librarians inspire kids to read more and connect them with amazing books.  Did you have a special teacher or librarian in your life who helped you grow into a reader?

KC: Do you have book recommendations for people who liked your book?

CA: What are you reading now?

 

Links:

Diane’s website – https://www.dianemagras.com

Diane on Twitter and Instagram

Karen’s website – http://www.karenschow.com

Karen on Twitter

Books & Authors We Chatted About:

The Dark is Rising (Susan Cooper)

Here Lies Arthur (Philip Reeve)

The Hunt for the Mad Wolf’s Daughter (Diane Magras)

The Shadow Hunt (Katherine Langrish)

The Serpent’s Secret (Sayantani DasGupta)

The Jumbies (Tracey Baptiste)

Bounders Series (Monica Tesler)

The Parker Inheritance (Varian Johnson)

Where the World Ends (Geraldine McCaughrean)

Closing

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 booksbetween@gmail.com 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 edupodcastnetwork.com

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 MGBookVillage.org. 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!

CorrinaAllen

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.

 

SaveSaveSaveSave

MG at Heart Book Club Book Review: THE MAD WOLF’S DAUGHTER, by Diane Magras

Screen Shot 2018-06-30 at 10.04.56 AM.png

Our June book club pick was THE MAD WOLF’S DAUGHTER by Diane Magras. This meticulously researched story set in medieval Scotland was engrossing from the very first page to the detailed research notes just after the story’s conclusion.

Although the book was full of adventure, battles, tough scrapes, and excellent social commentary, it was Drest’s internal journey that captivated me. Because while the plot of the book centers on Drest rescuing her father and brothers, members of a legendary war-band, the heart of the story is all about whether she herself will take her place in the Mad Wolf’s legend or create one of her own.

And so she sets off for Faintree Castle with Emerick, a wounded enemy soldier, as her sometimes prisoner, sometimes friend. Throughout her rescue mission to Faintree Castle, Drest not only recounts her family’s code to Emerick and Tig, an additional companion they pick up on the way, but she forms guiding principles of her own. In what feels like a timeless middle-grade theme, Drest moves from the very battle-focused code her father and brothers taught her to one of her own design.

That’s not to say that Drest doesn’t throw herself into danger, risking her life not only for her friends, but complete strangers. She has a strong moral compass and constantly fights to right wrongs when she sees injustice happening around her. That’s why the revelation that some consider her family bandits, not heroes, weighs so heavily on her.

Ultimately, the pragmatism and bravery Drest shows on her journey—whether saving a witch from burning at the stake or sparing a bandit who torments her throughout her journey—makes her a legend in her own right. And she even discovers, as with all legends, the truth about her family’s own legends isn’t black and white: Not quite as heroic as her family might have led her to believe, but not as dastardly either.

Readers ages 10 to 110 will fall under Drest’s spell as they fly through this captivating story. To learn more about the author, or for printable drawing pages, activities, recipes, and discussion questions, check out our Middle Grade at Heart newsletter devoted to The Mad Wolf’s Daughter.

. . .

The Middle Grade @ Heart book club pick for July is JUST UNDER THE CLOUDS by Melissa Sarno! Stay tuned for more posts about this awesome book and don’t forget to join us for our Twitter chat on THE MAD WOLF’S DAUGHTER on July 3!

MG at Heart Writer’s Toolbox: Using Imagined Conversations to Draw Character Relationships

The Middle Grade at Heart team is back again with a mid-month post about our June pick, The Mad Wolf’s Daughter by Diane Magras.

Screen Shot 2018-02-26 at 10.21.36 AM

If you haven’t already read The Mad Wolf’s Daughter, get thee to a library! I really couldn’t put this one down, tearing through Drest’s enchanting story in the wee hours of the night.

This story has the feel of the classic medieval fantasies I loved as a child and still devour today. Set in Great Britain, the story follows the adventures of Drest, the youngest child of the infamous Scot known across the land as The Mad Wolf, as she tries desperately to save her family from imprisonment and execution.

Since it happens in the first twenty pages, I’ll give you a little spoiler to set the stage. Late one night, Drest wakes from her place by the fire with her brothers and father. She’s heard a noise and tries to warn the others, but they ignore her. Soon after, they are surprised by a nearby kingdom’s soldiers, who capture Drest’s father and all her brothers, leaving her alone with only a wounded knight they left behind during the attack.

The reader only gets to meet Grimbol (the Mad Wolf) and Drest’s brothers for a few brief scenes during the battle and ensuing capture. And yet, Magras needed a way for us to understand how a young girl could love her family enough to risk a terrifying journey and terrible odds to save them. The way she did this was one of my favorite aspects of the story—a series of ongoing imaginary conversations between Drest and her family members.

Even though we know right off that these are imagined conversations (not ESP or some sort of magical communication), the conversations are so natural that the reader gets a chance to get to know Drest’s beloved family and to understand their family dynamic even though her family is miles away in prison.

“Uwen’s voice in her mind let out a snort of disgust. Go along and hide, then. Be the sniveling, grub-spotted barnacle you are. But when Drest rose, she didn’t’ go hide; she began to run.” P17

The brilliance of lines like these is that they not only show us the hilarious curse-filled banter that is normal in Drest’s family, but they begin to draw both Drest’s brothers and her own character. Because of course, even though the words are delivered in her brother’s voices, they are actually a product of Drest’s own mind. So in the example above, she’s goading herself to action even when she’s cold, and tired, and terrified. Such is her strength and tenacity throughout the story.

img2

These conversations with her brothers also allow us to understand more about what Drest’s life was like before her family was captured. Since we don’t get to see more than a few moments of “regular life” before the action begins, this gives the reader much-needed context and makes us care about the stakes: If Drest fails, her entire family will hang.

Eventually, real-life conversation with Drest’s traveling companions pulls her away from these in-depth conversations with her brothers. But by the time that happens, we know what we need to know about how she feels about her family, what the rules of their world are, and how the brothers treated their beloved—but never coddled—younger sister. All without meeting them in person. That’s some great storytelling, if you ask me.

. . .

Read The Mad Wolf’s Daughter by Diane Magras and then join us for our #MGBookClub Twitter chat on July 3 at 8pm EST. Also check us out on FlipGrid: https://flipgrid.com/b4a8ac  (password: themadwolfsdaughter). And don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter by June 25 to get recipes, activities, discussion questions, and other resources on The Mad Wolf’s Daughter: http://Eepurl.com/cRubSH 

 

MG at Heart Book Club’s June Pick

The Middle Grade at Heart book club’s pick for June is . . .

THE MAD WOLF’S DAUGHTER, by Diane Magras

Screen Shot 2018-01-29 at 5.09.34 PM

One dark night, Drest’s sheltered life on a remote Scottish headland is shattered when invading knights capture her family, but leave Drest behind. Her father, the Mad Wolf of the North, and her beloved brothers are a fearsome war-band, but now Drest is the only one who can save them. So she starts off on a wild rescue attempt, taking a wounded invader along as a hostage.

Hunted by a bandit with a dark link to her family’s past, aided by a witch whom she rescues from the stake, Drest travels through unwelcoming villages, desolate forests, and haunted towns. Every time she faces a challenge, her five brothers speak to her in her mind about courage and her role in the war-band. But on her journey, Drest learns that the war-band is legendary for terrorizing the land. If she frees them, they’ll not hesitate to hurt the gentle knight who’s become her friend.

Drest thought that all she wanted was her family back; now she has to wonder what their freedom would really mean. Is she her father’s daughter or is it time to become her own legend? 

“[I]t’s clear we’re in the hands of a master storyteller. ‘The Mad Wolf’s Daughter’ feels like an instant classic.”—The New York Times Book Review

“Empathetic, bold, and entirely herself at a time when women were dismissed as weak, Drest shines in this fast-paced adventure.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Drest is a wonderfully fierce and feisty heroine, able and quick of wit, and she is joined by other sympathetic and complex characters. . . . The plot is packed with twists and turns, and the ending leaves enough to suggest a sequel.”—Booklist

“Drest is a likable and headstrong character, and the composite of various regions in Scotland will appeal to tweens who appreciate atmospheric woodsy settings. Readers will learn, along with Drest, about feudal village life, contemporaneous attitudes toward gender, and the relationship between truth and legend. . . . Drest’s embrace of unlikely friendships and a new code of honor are well done. A solid quest story for tweens with an interest in the Picts and medieval Scotland.”—School Library Journal

“Action-packed at every turn.”—Kirkus Reviews

The Newsletter will go out June 25.

The #MGBookclub Twitter Chat will take place July 3 at 8 pm EST.