Coming July 3rd! (which is kind of soon)

I can’t believe it is not even two months until Power Play releases!  How did that happen?  Pre-order today to make sure it is on your doorstep July 3rd. I can’t wait for this book. It’s a lot of fun – perfect for the beach, the lake, the backyard sprinkler, wherever summer might take you.

Pre-order: AmazonBarnes & Noble, IndieBound or visit your local bookstore.

 

“Once again, Abby’s cheeky, first-person, present-tense narration lends immediacy, realism, and humor to her well-intended penchant for precarious adventure.” – KIRKUS

The Sophomore Effort

What is it like for an author to write that second book? I talked to Sally J. Pla and Elly Swartz about this very thing over at the Mixed Up Files blog. Check it out here:

The Sophomore Effort

Jonathan Roth, debut author of the Beep and Bob series, answers some questions…

Chapter books are where the magic happens. Finally able to tackle books on his own, my son delighted in more challenging prose, exciting plot twists and bright illustrations. He was taking the first step toward a lifetime of reading.

I love the humor and madcap adventures many of these books offer, often in series form, where kids can plow forward without pause. School Library Journal says of Jonathan Roth’s Beep and Bob series ‘Roth creates many unusual space terms and infuses the story with humor and gross details that are sure to make kids giggle. Beep is a cute and fun sidekick and Bob is ­relatable as an average kid in a not-so-average situation.’ This is exactly the type of series that has kids asking for more!

Beep and Bob: Too Much Space (Amazon, B&N, Indiebound) and Party Crashers (Amazon, B&N, Indiebound) are both available now. 

 

Now a few questions for the author…

Where did your love of books/storytelling/reading/writing come from?

My father was an English teacher and my mother is a painter, so books and art were always a big part of my childhood environment. Back then (last century!) there weren’t nearly as many awesome chapter books or middle grade novels as there now, so I mostly read comics or adult sci-fi (I could have really used fun school/action books like Mrs. Smith’s Spy School for Girls!). I was also fascinated with such classics as Alice in Wonderland and Charlotte’s Web (look for the references in my first Beep and Bob). Also, a real game changer was when my sixth grade teacher read Paul Zindel’s The Pigman aloud to us. It was about real kids doing real things, and it was absolutely poignant and even had fun doodles on some pages. My mind was blown (and not just because they drank beer).

The Beep and Bob series takes place in space. Were you interested in space as a child? What is your research process like?

My love of space, and any relevant research, takes three forms: favorite childhood sci-fi like Star Trek, Star Wars and E.T; an obsession with the real life stories behind the Apollo moon missions and other NASA adventures; and my love for the wonder of nature and being able to gaze with my with own eyes upon distant stars and worlds.

I love the pictures in this series! Do you illustrate your own work? Which is more fun, illustrating or writing?

Yes, I feel fortunate to get illustrate my own stories. But even though I went to art school and teach art to elementary kids for a living, the writing is where Beep and Bob truly come to life for me. But doing the illustrations is a lot of fun, too, especially because I can blast rock and jazz instead of the usual classical that I write to (writing with lyrics being sung or too much noise is distracting to me).

Who are your favorite authors?

Favorites are hard, but I certainly can trace much of my influence to such creators as Charles Schulz, Bill Watterson, Jeff Kinney and the true master of short, silly fiction, J.R.R. Tolkien. I also credit such perfect, concise and touching books as The Giver, Shiloh, Bridge to Terabithia, and Holes for showing me the amazing range of what is possible.

What is your favorite thing to do when not writing?

When I’m not writing or illustrating, I like to really go wild and…read. Preferably in bed. Though I also love to be outdoors, either walking with my wife or off on a cycling adventure.

What are you working on right now?

Even though Beep and Bob books 1 and 2 are just coming out, the manuscripts for books 3 and 4 have already been handed in, and I’m currently working on the illustrations for both. As you know, books require a lot of lead time!

How do you prefer readers get in touch with you?

There are a couple options on the contact page of my website, www.beepandbob.com. Look forward to hearing from folks!

 

Some questions for debut author Diane Magras, The Mad Wolf’s Daughter

When I was a kid, I wanted to be the girl version of Indiana Jones. And by girl version I mean, I wanted to be exactly like him but not be a boy. It made perfect sense. He had all the fun, the swashbuckling adventures, the near misses, and he got to save the world. What’s not to love?

So it’s been a thrill for me to see characters like Drest take their rightful place in the pantheon of action heroes. She’s smart, tough, loyal, determined but not without flaws. She can be a bit hot headed and doesn’t always make the right choices but her heart is in the right place and she will get the job done, even if it gets a little messy. Add in the compelling medieval setting and period details and The Mad Wolf’s Daughter will keep you up all night. (Buy the book: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound)

Where did your love of books/storytelling/reading/writing/etc. come from?

I’ve always been an avid reader. I grew up in a family where everyone read—there were books in just about every room of our house—and I started reading fairly young. My parents both loved reading aloud to me, but I didn’t make it easy for them: I often interrupted and told them how I thought the story should go. I wrote stories about my toys and their adventures, but really began taking writing seriously when I was 14 years old. I’d read Susan B. Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising, which inspired me to write longer stories about more complicated imaginary topics. And then my wonderful English teacher Ms. Plourde, who had always encouraged my writing, told me that people my age sometimes wrote novels. I decided that it was time for me to write a novel. And so I did.

The Mad Wolf’s Daughter is set in the 13th-century Scottish headlands. What research did you do to get a feel for the setting?

I’m a bit obsessed with medieval history, and I read a lot of that for fun. For this book, I focused on Britain and Scotland: David Santiuste’s masterful The Hammer of the Scots: Edward I and the Scottish Wars of Independence, which gave me a great picture of medieval Scottish politics, identity, and ways of thinking; Danny Danziger and John Gillingham’s 1215: The Year of the Magna Carta and Danny Danziger and Robert Lacey’s The Year 1000 for a broad look at Britain, social mores, and daily life during those periods; and Frances and Joseph Gies’s Life in a Medieval Castle and Life in a Medieval Village for more in-depth details. Then for a closer look at specific topics: Ewart Oakeshott’s A Knight and His Armor and A Knight and His Weapons and Malcolm Hislop’s How to Read Castles. Those were some of the most helpful books of my text-based research.

I also took research trips to Scotland in 2016 and 2017 to explore the castles and abbeys of the Scottish Borders. Wandering around those historical sites gave me a taste of what it was really like to be in the world I was describing—as well as to show me specific details that I’d read about but never seen, such as murder holes, arrow loops, and those wonderful narrow stairs that make it difficult to siege a castle. Historic Scotland Environment’s in-depth tourist guides and friendly staff helped me put these properties into context.

Drest is a hero for modern times, a girl rising to the occasion and stepping into a role more often filled by boys. What female heroes, fictional or real, were on your mind when you conceived Drest?

Philip Pullman’s Lyra—especially as she is in The Golden Compass: an independent, brave, mischievous, and intensely loyal girl—has always been a character I’ve admired, and I’m sure those qualities influenced Drest.

Gwynna, of Philip Reeve’s Here Lies Arthur, has also been an important character in my consciousness. I love the way she lived with Arthur’s war-band as a full member of its younger people (though her gender was a secret), and how she responded to the gruesome aspects of battle, then eventually made her own decisions about who and what she would be.

Finally, Kelly Barnhill’s Áine from The Witch’s Boy: a strong girl with her own moral code, determined to do what was right for her purposes, gradually growing to understand, accept, and work toward a greater purpose.

Those three protagonists no doubt influenced Drest, but so did all the fiction I read growing up. As you say, boys nearly always filled the role of hero and had the exciting adventures. As a child, I wanted to be like them—to still be a girl, but to be the one with the quest, the one in the armor with the sword, to be just as strong and tough as they were.

This novel is full of heart pounding danger, deception and adventure. I loved the mystery elements and the fast pace! What came first for you – character or plot?

The character of Drest came first, along with a situation—that she was in a family of bloodthirsty villains, and was going to learn about who they really were once she was separated from them. The rest of the basic plot came after that, and I introduced other characters and began understanding them as I went on with the story. I rewrote the whole novel about three times, honing in more and more on the strongest parts of the plot, each time discovering possibilities for secrets (and going back and editing those in throughout). As I rewrote, I also refined the characters—including Drest.

Writing for middle grade readers can be a challenge. What about this age range/genre appeals to you?

I love how smart, eager, and inventive middle grade readers are. They love books, and they take stories seriously. And they appreciate humor, heart, and action—as do I, in a very similar way. I also know from my own experience at that age how much books can make a difference. Being a middle grader isn’t easy, and the right book can be a friend or an inspiration or an escape—or all three. It’s an honor to write for this age group and try to write that book that will make that difference for a reader.

Who are your favorite authors?

I love Susan Cooper, in particular for The Dark is Rising series, which is rich with lore and filled with shivery moments that dig deep inside the reader. Also Philip Pullman, Philip Reeve, and Kelly Barnhill, with every work they write. I’m a huge fan of Katherine Langrish and reread her Dark Angels (published in the U.S. as The Shadow Hunt) each year; her historically accurate yet legend-filled medieval Britain and lovely, lovely story is such a pleasure. And I am grateful to Paul Durham for the Luck Uglies series, which awakened me to the lure of middle grade. (When I read the first book, I’d been writing adult historical yet reading middle grade to keep up with my son, and Luck Uglies was such a pleasure that it inspired me to write my own fast-paced middle grade adventure.)

What is your favorite thing to do when not writing?

I love to read fiction and nonfiction, both for pleasure and research. Also, to go outside and wander the woods with my family. When I’m in a country that has them, I’m always visiting castles, abbeys, and other heritage sites, looking for one more detail, one more story, one more fascinating historical fact.

What are you working on right now? Will we see more of Drest in future books?

I’m in the editing stage for the sequel to The Mad Wolf’s Daughter. I’m also working on a third Scottish medieval adventure that’s not a Drest book. It takes place in a different historical period with a different kind of strong female protagonist (and that’s all I can say until I’m done with it).

How do you prefer readers get in touch with you?

Twitter is my favorite social media platform and readers can find me there at @dianemagras. I’m also on Instagram (@dianemagras) and have an author page on Facebook (@dianemagrasbooks). Readers may also visit my website, www.dianemagras.com, and contact me through my form or email.

 

A chat with Sally Pla, author of Stanley Will Probably Be Fine

It was a thrill to read Sally Pla’s The Someday Birds when it came out last year so I was excited to dig into her newest novel, Stanley Will Probably Be Fine. And it lived up to expectations!

Stanley, suffering from a sensory processing disorder, lives in today’s new ‘normal’, dealing with lockdown drills at school, not to mention friend drama. But  his keen awareness of his own anxiety makes him relatable – elements of his struggles will resonate with almost everyone. Stanley escapes into comic books, where good and evil are often clear cut and logical.

I found this pivot away from a taxing reality both brave and heartbreaking.  Stanley reminds us that while the world may not make sense, we need strategies to live in it, and his journey toward doing just that will have you rooting for him all the way. And now, lucky us, some Q&A with author Sally Pla.

(Buy the book: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound)

Who were your favorite authors as a kid?

There weren’t many books in my house when I was a kid. I remember an old copy of Hans Christian Anderson. There was a set of Dickens that my late grandfather found on a sidewalk (the story goes), and carted home in his wheel barrel. There was a beautiful 19th century copy of Tennyson on the shelf (I still have it), a circa 1910 medical book with nightmare-inducing photos, an encyclopedia, and an art book on German Expressionism which was almost as scary as the medical book.

Once I got old enough to bike to the library by myself, my world brightened considerably! Nancy Drew, Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, Laura Ingalls Wilder, E.L. Konigsburg, Aahhhhhh!!!! Also, animal stories! Misty of Chincoteague! Dr. Doolittle! I reread James Herriott’s “All Things Great and Small” series a million times and decided that when I grew up, I’d become a vet in Yorkshire.

Both The Someday Birds and Stanley Will Probably Be Fine deal with children suffering from anxiety. What process do you go through to make sure your depictions are accurate?

Charlie in The Someday Birds and Stanley in Stanley Will Probably Be Fine are indeed both anxious. This was no problem at all to write. I have been anxious my whole life. Every physical symptom, every awfulizing, catastrophizing thought those characters have, are thoughts and symptoms and feelings that I have had. They are me; I am them.

Kids deal with things like active shooter and shelter in place drills in school all the time these days. How did you decide this could work as the focus of a middle grade novel?

We had a school principal, when my three boys were in elementary, who had a peculiar code phrase for initiating a drill. He’d get on the intercom and say: “John Lockdown is in the building!”

Now, everyone thought that was kind of funny. At home, my boys would run around playing this James Bond sort of gun chase game, pretending to be “John Lockdown.” They weren’t freaked out by the drills, not really.

But I was. What kind of a world do we have, when school kids accept as normal the possibility of an intruder bursting in and shooting them in cold blood? When they come home and cheerfully play-act about it?

This really bothered me.

I got to thinking: What if we don’t become inured to it? What if we fight against this societal desensitization? And so, further: What kind of a kid would have a problem with the normalization of violence in his life? What would that kid look like, and act like? What could that kid teach us, if we slipped inside his skin for a while?

Stanley is so wonderful, genuine and relatable. Is he based on anyone you know? Where did he come from?

Stanley is just Stanley. He has many of the same issues as Charlie in The Someday Birds, but Stanley has a dark, sardonic little sense of humor about himself and the world. Now that he exists, I love him like my own kin. Thank you for liking him too!

Superhero comic books are Stanley’s escape from reality and you include multiple panels from Stanley’s own comic creation, John Lockdown. Loved these! Did you work closely with an illustrator to get them right or did you do them yourself?

I did do my own version of Stan’s comic panels, just to storyboard it and see what needed to go where. But thank goodness for artist Steve Wolfhard! Steve’s a veteran comic artist whose work can be seen, most notably, on Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time. I think Steve’s art in the book (and on its cover) is just amazing. Originally, there were to be many, many more panels of Stanley’s comics. I so wish we could have included them all! Gosh darn!

Secondary characters can often feel cliché but yours, primarily Stanley’s messy family, provide depth and richness to the book. How much backstory do you create for them to achieve this, that never makes it to the page?

I write a lot of backstory, and take a lot of different approaches. At first, Stanley had two older brothers, not one. And he had both a dad and mom, but no grandpa… Things shifted a lot. What I like to do, repeatedly, is draw a bubble map with my main character in the center. Then I put each secondary character in a bubble around him. Each secondary character has to challenge the main character in a different, unique way, so the main character is always being tugged in different interesting directions. The bubble maps help me visualize this. Then, the supporting cast’s personalities grow from this. I also do a lot of journaling on each of them, until I can consistently hear their voices in my head.

What are you currently working on?

A love story between a big lonely girl named Alice Eugenia McMann and a woolly mammoth named Snowball, with a lot of cutting-edge genomic science – and an 85 year old best buddy — thrown in. It is not set in Yorkshire.

How do you prefer readers get in touch with you?

Check out www.sallyjpla.com — there’s a “contact me” link! Or email sallyjplawrites@gmail.com.

 

An interview with Elly Swartz, author of Smart Cookie

Elly Swartz’s new middle grade novel, Smart Cookie, has all the elements that are sure to delight young readers – friendship, family, secrets, mystery, a cool granny and ghosts.

At a young age, Frankie lost her mother but rather than wait for fate to intervene and choose a new partner for her father, she is determined to influence events. Along the way, she will have to wrestle with family secrets, an irritated best friend and, possibly, a haunted B&B. I loved Frankie’s spunk and grit and I know you will, too.

(Buy the book: Amazon, Barnes and NobleIndiebound)

(Also by Elly Swartz: Finding Perfect)

 

What were your favorite books as a kid?

I was a huge fan of Pippi Longstocking, Ramona the Brave, and Eloise. I think I loved their spunky, mischievous, independent nature.

In Smart Cookie, protagonist Frankie creates an online dating profile for her dad without his knowledge, with humorous results. What sparked this idea?

The best ideas are everywhere! You just have to store them away for the right story. I run a business where I help students and their families navigate the college process. And a long time ago, one of my students shared that she created an online dating profile for her grandmother. It wasn’t, however, a secret mission. Although this was many years before Frankie came to life, it planted the seed for Operation Mom. That’s the thing about idea seeds, you collect them, but they only germinate when the story is ready to spring to life.

Frankie feels like a classic middle grade hero – her voice is genuine and relatable. Did she show up that way or did you experiment with different versions of her?

Frankie came to me with all her spunk and heart. I loved her from the first moment she started whispering in my ear. She’s filled with a strong sense of loyalty and love of family. But, ultimately, learns that family isn’t about having all the pieces in place, it’s about having people in your life who love you unconditionally. And that circle is so much bigger than those with whom you’ve shared a childhood or a name.

Secrets and mystery are at the heart of Smart Cookie. Are you a mystery fan or did this just evolve as you went along?

The secrets and mystery element of Smart Cookie evolved as an integral part of the story. When I write, I start with the heart of a character. In this case, that was Frankie. From there, it’s like I’m the muse and the characters are whispering in my ear. They are sharing their secrets and telling me why it’s so important to keep them hidden. And, if I am listening, really listening, I get to write their story.

Frankie, her dad and her grandmother live together in a struggling B&B. I loved the details. How did you research what it might be like running a place like The Greene Family B&B?

My husband and I have spent a lot of time in B&Bs. They are warm and friendly and filled with family. And many of these B&Bs have been nestled in wonderful small towns in Vermont. During our stays, I’ve spoken to the owners of the B&Bs about what motivated them to buy the inn, how life has been for them as owners, and the travails that have ensued at the B&B.

What are you currently working on?

I am in the middle of revisions for a new middle grade novel that comes out in 2019. In GIVE AND TAKE, you’ll meet twelve-year-old Maggie. Maggie has a big heart and a hard time letting go. Of stuff. Of people. Of the past. With the help of her turtle Rufus, a baby named Izzie and the almost all-girls trap shooting team, she begins to understand that people are more than the things that hold their memories.

I also have ideas stirring for a nonfiction book and another new mg novel. So stay tuned. Good things are coming!

How do you prefer readers get in touch with you?

I love connecting with readers! They can reach me via my website, http://ellyswartz.com/contact or ellyswartz@outlook.com or on Twitter @ellyswartz. And, for all the educators and librarians reading, I also love visiting schools and Skyping!

 

Smart Cookie Curriculum Guide

http://ellyswartz.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Smart-Cookie-Curriculum-Guide-.pdf

 

 

 

 

A conversation with Jackie Yeager, author of Spin the Golden Light Bulb

Yay!  A new year of books! I’m excited to kick off my 2018 author conversations with Jackie Yeager. Spin the Golden Light Bulb (Buy the book: Amazon, B&N, IndieBound) is set in 2071 and finds eleven year-old Kia Krumpet determined to build her 67 inventions.  But she won’t have the opportunity unless she earns a spot at PIPS, the Piedmont Inventor’s Prep School. Kia, who has trouble making friends, has dreamed of winning the Piedmont Challenge and attending PIPS ever since she learned that her Grandma Kitty won the very first Piedmont Challenge. She wins, but that’s just the beginning. Things get complicated and Kia is in for the ride of her life.

Where did your love of books/storytelling/reading/writing/etc. come from?

I’ve always loved playing around with words and turning them into something. In elementary school, I loved writing plays for my siblings and neighborhood friends. Later, as a middle school and high school cheerleader, I loved making up cheers for our team to perform in between quarters, at halftime, and from the sidelines. For me cheers were more than just words though. They were like pieces of a story, each with a different message that would motivate the players at a certain point in the game. It wasn’t a conventional path toward writing but that’s pretty much where it started! It wasn’t until I became an elementary school reading teacher that I found my passion for writing actual stories. I loved the books my students were reading and soon felt compelled to write them too!

Spin the Golden Light Bulb is set in 2071. I love how life is familiar in some ways and yet dramatically different in others. How much world building did you do before you started writing or did it evolve as you went along?

Most of the world building happened as I went along at either the draft stage or during revisions. Though pretty early on, I realized that the story needed to be set in the future. That way, I could make it so the inventions found at Camp Piedmont, or that the kids created for the competition, could be absolutely anything—because anything is possible in the future. But I didn’t want it to be set so far into the future that life would be beyond recognition. I wanted readers to see the possibilities of what their very own future could look like if they worked to make it happen.

In your Author’s Note, you talk about your experience as a coach of Odyssey of the Mind. Are your characters based on your world final’s making team members?  

They were! After we returned from the World Finals competition, I knew that I had to tell a story similar to the experience we had just had—even though I had no idea at first what it would actually be about. The five kids on that team had such fun and different personalities that I had a lot of material to work with.

People have often asked me what it was about these kids that made them work so well together, where they were able to create such fantastic objects, costumes, and skits. I believe it was because they were so different from each other. Sure, they had their squabbles like any other team I had coached, but this team learned very early on how to play to each other’s strengths, overlook their differences, and motivate each other to create something special together. But most of all, they each had a certain quality, something special that I knew kids would relate to—even if I did exaggerate some of their quirks and personalities traits a bit. I mean this is fiction after all!

There’s a lot of suspense in this novel, edge of your sit type stuff. And thrillers need great characters to succeed. What came first for you – character or plot?

Thank you! It’s always a challenge to write a story with high enough stakes and I have to say that for this book, the characters came first. Even though I knew I wanted the story to be about a larger than life competition, I wasn’t sure right away what the competition itself would entail or what the stakes would be. The characters came to me right away and once I imagined them into the story, I was able to imagine the adventure they would be a part of.

Writing for middle grade readers can be a challenge. What about this age range/genre appeals to you?

 I love writing stories for this age group because kids are just beginning to form solid friendships and see themselves outside the world in which they live—the world their parents or other adult figures have created for them. But they also don’t necessarily want to veer too far away from them. It’s fun creating a world or situation for characters where they can venture out on their own a bit and grow into the best versions of themselves, but still want to come back home!

Who are your favorite authors?

 Oh so many! Some of my favorite middle grade authors are Jen Malone, Rebecca Stead, Suzanne LeFluer, and Trenton Lee Stuart, but I could go on and on! I read a lot of YA too though and my favorites are Suzanne Collins, Veronica Roth, Suzanne Young, and most recently Stephanie Garber. Caraval is my new favorite book!

What is your favorite thing to do when not writing?

 Oh let’s see…when I’m not writing, I love going out for bagels in the mornings with my husband—even though I don’t like bagels that much! I like going out to lunch or for coffee with my husband, my kids, my friends, my sisters, or my mom. I love meeting anyone in a cute restaurant or coffee shop to eat, drink, and chat! I love binge watching Netflix with my kids too. I have certain shows I watch with my son and ones that I watch with my daughter. But on a random day when it’s quiet at home and I feel like I can spare the time, I love doing yoga, watching The Young and the Restless, or planning our next trip to Disney!

What are you working on right now? Will there be a sequel to Spin the Golden Light Bulb?

Yes! In fact, when I signed my publishing contract, for Spin the Golden Light Bulb it was for a two-book deal. I recently completed the edits and the sequel, Flip the Silver Switch will be released on January 10, 2018! I can hardly believe it. I’m still getting used to the idea that I have a published book, and soon the second one will be out in the world too. I feel so lucky and so very grateful.

How do you prefer readers get in touch with you?

I love hearing from readers and the best way is through my website: swirlandspark.com. Links to my email address and social media accounts are there. I’m on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook quite a bit also so those are great ways to get in touch with me too!

(Don’t miss the book trailer!)

2017 Best Middle Grade Novels

When you think the world is falling apart and you just can’t take it anymore, I suggest a visit to your local bookstore or library. Browse the middle grade shelves. Pick up almost anything. What will you find?

Gold, pure gold.

Middle grade authors produce some of the best and bravest writing I’ve seen, no matter target audience or genre. Novels range from fantasy to contemporary to historical to completely silly and fun. (I have been known to shout “Funny or die!’ on occasion) These books embrace tough subject matter, not shying away from the difficulties of growing up in a complicated world. I appreciate, too, how girl characters are being elevated to positions of leadership and authority. It’s so important for girls to see themselves on the pages.

I say it all the time: what we read matters.

(Want a chance to win one of these titles? See details at the end.)

 

THE 2017 LIST

 

The Someday Birds, by Sally J. Pla (HarperCollins)

Authors talk a lot about ‘voice’ and how important it is to get it right. It’s hard to describe what exactly ‘voice’ is but when you encounter it, you know – you can feel it all the way down to your toes. You are with the character in his or her head, seeing the world through his or her eyes.The Someday Birds is a perfect example. Charlie struggles to fit in and understand the world around him and just when he thinks he’s got it nailed down, well, everything changes. I felt his pain and confusion and admired his passion. If this character suddenly walked into my living room, I would not be at all surprised. He is that real.

Read an interview with the author here.

 

 

The Countdown Conspiracy, by Katie Silvensky (HarperCollins) 

Holy cow, I loved this book!  Science, adventure, friendships, outer space, robots, bad guys. The stakes are high in this page turner and it will have you on the edge of your seat. Set in a future post war Earth, Miranda Regent is picked as one of six kids training to go to Mars. But things go immediately sideways and Miranda may be the only one who can herself, her family, her friends and, indeed, the world. Plus, this book has the best epilogue ever.

 

 

 

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street, by Karina Yan Glaser (HMH Books for Young Readers)

I loved this big, warm story about siblings trying to save their sprawling home, a New York City brownstone about to be rented out from under them. It’s an important lesson for kids that they are not powerless and their actions can have an impact. The neighborhood setting brings home the notion that children can experience an expansive world without leaving their city block. I read it in one sitting and look forward to the sequel, due next year.

Read an interview with the author here.

New York Times Book Review here.

 

 

Click’d, by Tamara Ireland Stone (Disney-Hyperion)

Best selling author Stone delivers a fun read with tech savvy Allie Navarro at its heart. Allie develops an app at code camp that helps kids make friends and it’s a hit. It might even be enough for her to beat arch enemy Nathan at an upcoming coding competition. But a glitch might bring down more than her game. Allie has to work fast to save her friendships and her chance at winning the competition. Along the way, she learns valuable lessons about what matters most. This story has all the elements of middle grade – friends, family, school – but bundled with the idea that girls can code as well as anyone. And I hope they do.

 

 

Kat Greene Comes Clean, by Melissa Roske (Charlesbridge)

Author Melissa Roske expertly captures the feelings of a middle school girl who finds herself dealing with how messy life can be. Navigating divorce and her mother’s worsening OCD plus a best friend who’s changing before her eyes. Kat’s bravery in dealing with the chaos broke my heart a little bit – kids being strong in the face of adversity gets me every time. But the message that we should never have to face problems on our own and that help is there no matter what is an important one that Roske brings home beautifully.

Read an interview with the author here.

 

 

 

A Dash of Dragon, by Heidi Lang & Katie Bartkowski (Aladdin/Simon & Schuster)

The premise of this book is completely delightful: A thirteen-year-old chef has a lot to prove as she tries to run a five-star restaurant, repay a greedy loan shark, and outsmart the Elven mafia in this entertaining novel that combines all the best ingredients—fantasy, humor, adventure, action, cute boys, and a feisty heroine. And the authors (who are sisters – cool, right??) deliver. This is the kind of book I would have loved as a kid and stayed up, hiding under my blankets with a flashlight, to finish. Good fun.

Read an interview with the authors here.

 

 

 

Ahimsa, by Supriya Kelkar (Tu Books)

As Ahmisa opens, it’s 1942 and Ghandi has asked families to give one member to the Indian freedom movement. In the case of Anjali, it’s her mother who steps up. As Anjali’s life changes, she’s forced to confront a new reality brought on my her mother’s commitment to the cause. I love stories where a girl is pushed out of her comfort zone and becomes a better, stronger version of herself. Anjali’s path is thrilling to follow and especially timely in today’s world.

Read an interview with the author here.

 

 

 

The Prisoner of Ice and Snow, by Ruth Lauren (Bloomsbury)

In order to rescue her sister from a maximum security prison, Valor needs to first be thrown in jail and then figure a way to bust out. The audacity of her plan tells us a lot about her character. She’s bold and daring and will stop at nothing to save her sister. I was taken from the start by Lauren’s intricate world building and edge of my seat pacing. There’s also a visual quality to her writing that had this tale unspooling like a movie in my head.

Read an interview with the author here.

 

 

Holly Farb and the Princess of the Galaxy, by Gareth Wronski (Aladdin/ Simon & Schuster)

This novel has a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy sensibility that I found irresistible. After a case of mistaken identity, Holly finds herself in outer space contending with bounty hunters, giant worms, perky holograms, cosmic board games, sinister insectoid librarians, and a robot who is learning how to lie. Things are complicated….and funny…but author Wronski never loses sight of Holly’s humanity and the struggles that abound in middle school.

Read an interview with the author here.

 

 

Karma Khullar’s Mustache, by Kristi Wientge (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)

I loved the adolescent angst in this one because if felt so familiar! Twelve and thirteen year old self doubt is unique and this book offers kids a chance to realize they are not alone dealing with all the weirdness. Karma’s body feels a little bit alien and her best friend seems ready to trade up to a newer shinier best friend. Add in her dad as the new stay at home parent, a mom at work all the time and Karma is just confused. And alone. In true Judy Blume fashion, Wientge captures Karma’s emotions with honesty and charm.

 

 

Free Books!

What’s better than free books? Nothing. Duh. Sign up for my occasional newsletter and be entered to win one of these titles!

 

 

 

 

FREE Skype visits to celebrate the cover release of Power Play!

For a limited time I’m offering FREE Skype visits to your school classroom or library to celebrate the awesome new cover for Mrs. Smith’s Spy School 2: Power Play!

Visits are 20-30 minutes of Q&A about the books, writing or whatever reading related topics your kids are interested in.

Email me for details at Beth@BethMcMullenBooks.com

Order Mrs. Smtih’s Spy School for Girls on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

Preorder Power Play on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.