Great New Titles for Tweens or Teens!

During our first year running this site, the MG Book Village team has had a number of goals. One of them has been to help spread the word about the work of debut authors — those new-on-the-scene creators who are actively trying to build an audience and get their books into readers’ hands. Another goal has been to actively respond to the needs, wants, and wishes of YOU, our community members.

Recently, both here and, even more so, over on Twitter, there’s been talk of the need for more so-called “Upper MG” books, or novels that are appropriate for MG-aged kids but that tackle issues or explore situations that have been traditionally reserved for YA. For that reason (and because we know that many of you are educators, and that your former students often come back to you to ask for book recommendations, and that many the librarians among you have teenage patrons!), we figure it can’t hurt to now and again venture outside of our MG world and see what’s going on in YA.

When Diane approached me with the idea for this post — to highlight some of the November and December 2018 MG and YA debuts — I was excited, because it helps accomplish a number of our goals at once. It also recognizes that the six authors featured below are debuting at a particularly difficult time, when many end-of-the-year lists have already been compiled and readers are pushed to start looking forward to next year’s books. But hold off just a little longer, and don’t miss the last of what 2018 has to offer!

~ Jarrett

. . .

We debut authors get a lot of jitters about how our books will be received. Fortunately, most of us have at least several months during our debut year to connect with teachers, students, and other readers. During those months, being a published author becomes a reality. But for authors whose works are published near the end of the year, there are no extra months. December 31 feels like the end of the end, and the celebration of being an author is short. I’m proud of my fellow debut #kidlit authors, and I wanted to give a shoutout to our November and December authors and their incredible books so we can help them feel beloved, like the rest of us. Read on to learn more!

—Diane Magras (The Mad Wolf’s Daughter)

Middle Grade

Love Like Sky, Leslie C. Youngblood

November 6, 2018, Disney-Hyperion

In this expertly-voiced, heartfelt middle-grade debut, a young girl copes with her new “blended-up” family and her little sister’s sudden illness.

Review: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/leslie-c-youngblood/love-like-sky/

Website: www.lesliecyoungblood.com

The Prophet Calls, Melanie Sumrow

November 6, 2018, Yellow Jacket

Gentry lives in a polygamous community among God’s chosen, but when the Prophet’s revelations put her family in danger, she must decide whether to adhere to his terrible demands or discover what it truly means to be free.

Review: https://bookpage.com/reviews/23294-melanie-sumrow-prophet-calls-childrens#.W_XtrS2ZNp8

Website: www.melaniesumrow.com

Young Adult

Synchro Boy, Shannon McFerran

November 6, 2018, Arsenal Pulp Press

Bart Lively, a 16-year-old competitive swimmer, is wooed over to the synchronized team. But things get complicated when he falls for his female duet partner – and crushes on a guy on the diving team.

Review: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/shannon-mcferran/synchro-boy/

Website: shannonmcferran.ca/synchroboy.html

Outrun the Wind, Elizabeth Tammi

November 27, 2018, Flux

When the legendary huntress Atalanta discovers her parentage, she and her handmaiden must devise a dangerous game to avoid marriage to dreadful suitors, and find a way for them both to reclaim their independence.

Article: https://news.mercer.edu/junior-elizabeth-tammi-to-host-book-signing-for-debut-novel/?fbclid=IwAR3TrF3jk_M4zUQ6ryQ8EaL9bE48PJnX2m1bavUeFrTBcvUgPU_DFiggeIA

Website: elizabethtammi.com

Paper Girl, Cindy R. Wilson

December 4, 2018, Entangled Teen

A girl who hasn’t left her house in over a year falls in love with a homeless boy and discovers that she’s the only one who can battle her own demons.

Review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2582819081?book_show_action=true&from_review_page=1

Website: www.cindyrwilson.com

The Disasters, M.K. England

December 18, 2018, Harper Teen

When hotshot pilot Nax fails out of Ellis Station Academy on his first day like a champ, his life is as good as over… right up until he gets blamed for a horrific crime, crashes a spaceship, and pulls a daring heist with his fellow rejects to hopefully stop an intergalactic terrorist group. Maybe. If they live long enough.

Review: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/mk-england/the-disasters/

Website (with preorder prizes!): http://www.mkengland.com/

 

Why I Write Upper Middle Grade

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Flash back four years ago. My daughter was ten, an avid reader and seeking her next book. She wanted something different. She and I didn’t know what it was called at the time, but what she wanted was an “issue book”—a book that deals with a real world issue that she could discuss with her friends and, if I was lucky, she might discuss with me.

As a full-time lawyer who was already transitioning between careers to become a writer, I thought it would be easy to find what she was looking for. Wow, was I wrong!

The kinds of social justice books she wanted, whether historical or contemporary, were few and far between. It was easy to find what she was seeking over in the YA section, but as a parent, I didn’t think she was quite ready for some of the content. I didn’t want her love of reading to fizzle because of a lack of books, so I ended up previewing the YA books before handing them over to her. Now, to be honest, I love children’s literature, so this wasn’t really a trying task for me. But most parents don’t have the time or desire to pre-read all the books their kids read, and they shouldn’t have to.

Fast-forward a few years when my agent called, asking if I would consider writing for the upper middle-grade market. My first reaction: What upper middle-grade market? Did I really want to put my heart into a book when no publisher would want it?

But my agent followed-up with an explanation: Sonali Fry, the publisher of a new middle-grade imprint, Yellow Jacket, wanted to make a concerted effort to focus on that upper middle-grade category (ages 10-14; grades 4-9). Lucky for me, Sonali was also extremely interested in learning more about an unexplored topic in middle-grade books—polygamous communities.

Yes, I can hear your laughter. Polygamy and middle-grade? Believe me, I laughed, too, when I thought HOW on earth can I write about this topic for the middle-grade audience, even a so-called “upper middle-grade audience?”

And then, I thought about it a little longer. My background is in Religious Studies, so I already had the knowledge base to write the book (though I did update my research). More importantly, I started to ask myself questions. How would I think if I was born into one of these communities, and it was the only life I’d known? How would I feel about the rules being imposed on me as a girl and on my sisters and my mothers? How would I perceive the privileges and expectations placed on my father and brothers? And finally, would this be a book my daughter would want to read?

I soon realized I wasn’t really writing a book about polygamy; the community was only the setting. Instead, THE PROPHET CALLS explores female empowerment, the importance of family and questions of faith. In other words, it’s exactly the type of book my daughter had wanted.

As of late, my publisher is not the only one that has realized this previously unmet need for older middle-grade books. I’ve been so fortunate to debut with other authors who are also wrestling with important themes for this category of readers.

For example, PEASPROUT CHEN, FUTURE LEGEND OF SKATE AND SWORD by Henry Lien is a futuristic fantasy that explores the politics of culture and identity. EVERY SHINY THING by Laurie Morrison and Cordelia Jensen is a contemporary realistic story that examines a friendship between a girl who occasionally has to take on the role of parent and another who struggles with shoplifting. LEGENDS OF THE LOST CAUSES by Brad McLelland and Louis Sylvester is a western fantasy that delves into feelings of vengeance versus justice in the wake of the death of a loved one. And these are only a few of the fantastic books publishers have designated for ages 10-14 in 2018!

Four years ago, I could only hope to find books specifically written for my upper middle-grade reader on the shelves. I’m so happy these books now exist and, if you ask for recommendations, I’ll excitedly point out the numerous titles that are as diverse and wonderful as their authors. From what I’m hearing, educators and booksellers and parents have welcomed this overdue addition. And most important (to me at least), my daughter thinks it’s pretty cool, too.

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Melanie Sumrow received her undergraduate degree in Religious Studies and has maintained a long-term interest in studying world religions. Before becoming a writer, Melanie worked as a lawyer for more than 16 years, with many of her cases involving children and teens. THE PROPHET CALLS is her debut novel.

Why Boys Should Read Books About Girls

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Often, I have walked into a bookstore and heard someone tell a bookseller how so-and-so won’t read “that” book because there’s a girl on the cover. Or how their son or grandson won’t read “that” book because the main character is a girl. It takes all of my willpower to keep from intervening to remind them (as an author, as a parent, as a book-buyer) that there’s no such thing as “boy books” or “girl books.”

We need to stop doing this. When we assume boys don’t want to read books about girls, we are continuing the narrative that girls and their experiences are somehow “less than.” We are furthering the idea that boys don’t want to read about girls because there’s little or no value in what girls do or that their experiences are not interesting to boys. And frankly, we are underestimating boys in assuming they only want to read about “boy things.”

Before we get too far, yes, I do believe the flipside of this as well: girls should read books with boys on the covers and books about boys. But girls already are. We always have been. I cannot think of one book I read in middle school or high school that featured a strong female heroine. There’s not the same stigma attached to a girl grabbing a book with a boy on the front cover as there is with a boy reading a book about a girl. There was a recent twitter chat about this very subject and the resounding conclusion from educators and authors was that adults are perpetuating this stereotype, not kids.

We all know that one of the greatest gifts of reading is that books create empathy by placing the reader in the shoes of the main character. My debut book, THE PROPHET CALLS, tells the story of Gentry, a girl who has grown up in a patriarchal society. She faces discrimination on a daily basis simply because she was born a girl.

In this era of trying to finally, finally move past toxic masculinity and mansplaining, shouldn’t we help our boys to understand how misogynist attitudes make our girls feel? When ideas about sex and gender are forming in those middle school years, what better place than a book to create safe spaces to explore these confusing concepts with our kids?

When it comes down to it, children like stories. Period. If you listen carefully, they will tell you what they want: adventure, drama, fantasy, suspense and so on. I have never once heard a child request a book about a boy or a girl.

In this global society, empathy building is as important a skill as ever. But when we’re too busy placing boys and girls in old-fashioned boxes, we are only furthering the inequity that already exists. It’s up to all of us. We cannot expect our kids to be empathetic if we don’t ever give them a chance.

So the next time a child is looking for a good read, peel away your assumptions about what you think they want, and listen. Really listen. You just might be surprised.

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Melanie Sumrow received her undergraduate degree in Religious Studies and has maintained a long-term interest in studying world religions. Before becoming a writer, Melanie worked as a lawyer for more than 16 years, with many of her cases involving children and teens. THE PROPHET CALLS is her debut novel.