Today it’s my great pleasure to introduce MUF readers to a brand new collection titled Virginia Hamilton: Five Novels, which will be published by Library of America on September 28. The volume, edited by Mixed-Up Files contributor, Julie K. Rubini, includes five of Hamilton’s best known and most beloved works as well as twenty beautifully restored illustrations, (ten in full color for the first time); a newly researched chronology of Hamilton’s life and career; and a selection of other related writings, such as her Newbery Award Acceptance Speech and an essay titled, “Nonwhite Literature as American Literature: A Proposal for Cultural Democracy.”

The Library of America has generously offered to send one lucky winner a copy of Virginia Hamilton: Five Novels. Click on the Rafflecopter at the bottom of the interview for chance to win. (U.S. only.)


About Virginia Hamilton

Virginia Esther Hamilton (March 12, 1936-February 19, 2002) was the author of forty-one books. Her many achievements include winning The Boston Globe-Horn Book Award in 1974 and a National Book Award and the Newbery Medal in 1975, for her novel, M.C. Higgins, the Great. It was the first book to win all three awards. Not only was she the first African American to win the Newbery Medal, she was also the recipient of the international Hans Christian Andersen Award and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award (now called the Children’s Literature Legacy Award).

For more on Virginia Hamilton, see our archived post here.

About the Novels Included in the Collection

In Zeely (1967), Geeder Perry and her brother, Toeboy, go to their uncle’s farm for the summer and encounter a six-and-a-half-foot-tall Watusi queen and a mysterious night traveler. (Full color spread of the Zeely interior art, presented in full color in this edition for the first time.)

In the Edgar Award–winning The House of Dies Drear (1968), Thomas Small and his family move to a forbidding former waystation on the Underground Railroad—a house whose secrets Thomas must discover before it’s too late.

Junior Brown, a three-hundred-pound musical prodigy, plays a silent piano in The Planet of Junior Brown (1971), while his homeless friend Buddy Clark draws on all his New York City wit to protect Junior’s disintegrating mind. This novel was adapted for a 1997 film of the same name.

In the National Book Award–winning M.C. Higgins, The Great (1974), Mayo Cornelius Higgins sits atop a forty-foot pole on the side of Sarah’s Mountain and dreams of escape. Poised above his family’s home is a massive spoil heap from strip-mining that could come crashing down at any moment. Can he rescue his family and save his own future? Must he choose?

And in Sweet Whispers, Brother Rush (1982), fifteen-year-old Tree’s life revolves around her ailing brother, Dab, until she sees cool, handsome Brother Rush, an enigmatic figure who may hold the key to unlocking her family’s troubled past.


An Interview With the Publisher and Editor

Interviewed here are: Brian McCarthy, Associate Publisher for Library of America, and Julie K. Rubini, who is the author of Virginia Hamilton: America’s Storyteller as well as the editor of this new collection.

Dorian: Can you tell us a bit about the decision to create this beautiful book at this time and how you all determined which novels to include?

Brian: Virginia Hamilton was a major figure in American children’s literature and a natural for inclusion in the Library of America, which honors the full range of great American writing in authoritative new editions. In framing this volume we looked to her breakthrough novels of the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, which have stood the test of time with readers and critics and continue to inspire and delight some fifty years after they were written. In many ways, the social justice movement of the last year and a half has made these five books more resonant than ever, simply by the way they center African American young people and their families, powerfully underscoring that Black lives matter. (As for the beauty of the Library of America edition, much of the credit goes to star book designer Kimberly Glyder, who created a gorgeous original portrait of Hamilton for the cover.)


Dorian: What was your experience like in re-reading these five works by Virginia Hamilton for the collection?

Julie: In reading Virginia’s works for research purposes for my biography, Virginia Hamilton: America’s Storyteller (Ohio University Press, 2017), I focused more so on Virginia, the writer. I wondered about her process, her life during the time she wrote each novel. I studied where she was living while creating these amazing works, wanting to learn more about her life in both New York City and Yellow Springs. I tried to learn how changes in her life, from meeting and marrying Arnold, to becoming a mother, and ultimately a successful author with many demands for her time, impacted her writing and stories. When I read these five novels in the collection again, I read them as someone who simply wanted to enjoy and get lost in her work. What a joy it was to rediscover her incredible imagination and characters through this process. I can’t wait to receive my author copies to enjoy yet again in this wonderful collection!


Dorian: Can you tell us a little bit about what you discovered about Virginia Hamilton the person through your research?

Julie: Everyone I spoke with described Virginia as kind, loving, always willing to give of her time, and yet always keeping Arnold and their two children as her priority. Virginia was naturally shy, but rose to the occasion for the hundreds of speeches and presentations she shared through her career. She loved sharing coffee with Arnold throughout the day, comparing notes on their work, Arnold’s homemade marinara sauce bubbling away in the kitchen. Virginia embraced technology, graduating from her portable Olivetti typewriter to marveling over the ease of rewriting on personal computers. Virginia’s favorite animal was the jaguar, and she had a collection of frog figurines from her extensive travels!


Personal Favorites

Dorian: I’m sure you both love all of Virginia Hamilton’s novels, but which is your personal favorite and why? 

Julie: I have a special place in my heart for The House of Dies Drear. I hadn’t read the novel before beginning my research for my biography. After my first meeting with Virginia’s husband, the late (and great!) Arnold Adoff, I learned it was his favorite of all of her works. Arnold became a friend through the process of sharing her life journey with younger readers, so although difficult to choose a favorite, Virginia’s mystery set in a home that was part of the Underground Railroad has my vote, in honor of their epic love story.

Brian: I do love all these novels, but my favorite is Sweet Whispers, Brother Rush, from 1982, a deeply unsettling story of a family haunted (literally, as it happens) by abuse. Through the painful journey of fifteen-year-old Teresa, or Tree as she is known, Hamilton crafts an inspiring portrait of the power of forgiveness. I defy any reader not to be completely won over by Tree.


Dorian: Why do you think Virginia Hamilton’s work has so much staying power? 

Julie: Virginia often stated that her work always began with the central character, and eventually the story revealed itself to her. Virginia had the most incredible imagination, bringing us characters such as M.C. Higgins, who sits on top of a 40-foot pole watching over his beloved Sarah’s Mountain, the regal and mysterious Zeely, curious Thomas Small, and the streetwise and witty Buddy. Virginia’s characters remain some of the most unique characters in children’s literature.

Brian: I agree that character is key with Hamilton. She had a matchless gift for dialogue, for capturing the way that young people think and speak, that makes her novels feel profoundly true. And she had tremendous faith in her readers. While these books are great fun, full of wonder and imagination, as Julie says, they are also very serious in the themes they explore—from the legacy of slavery and environmental depredation to homelessness and mental illness—never shying from addressing the harder aspects of coming of age. They take us to the places where compassion begins.


Dorian: Virginia Hamilton is known as the most honored author of children’s literature of all time, yet her work is not as widely read as it should be. How do you hope Virginia Hamilton: Five Novels will change this?

Julie: The book is absolutely beautiful, inside, and out. It is my hope that through this recognition and exposure of her work in the Library of America collection, that educators will once again embrace her work and include it within their curriculums. Ultimately, hopefully more children will discover Virginia’s incredible writing voice and get caught up in her amazing work.

Brian: Hard as it is to imagine, a new generation has come of age in the nearly twenty years since Hamilton’s untimely death. All of us at Library of America hope that this volume will serve as an occasion for readers and reviewers to rediscover her work, to admire anew its range and fearless truth-telling.


Library of America Online Speaker Series

Dorian: The Library of Congress, home of Virginia Hamilton’s papers, is collaborating in the promotion of Virginia Hamilton: Five Novels. Could you elaborate on this?

Brian: Yes, we’re thrilled to announce that on October 6 Carla Hayden, the Librarian of Congress, will sit down with acclaimed author Jacqueline Woodson to discuss Hamilton and her legacy as part of Library of America’s free online speaker series, LOA Live. Please visit for more information.

Thanks so much Brian and Julie for carrying on Virginia Hamilton’s legacy and for taking the time to talk to us about this wonderful new book.

For a chance to win a copy of the book, click on the Rafflecopter link (U.S. Only). A winner will be announced on Sunday, Sept. 26.


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Mixed-Up Files interview with Adam Borba, author of The Midnight Brigade!

Hello Mixed-Up Filers!

Hope that you’re enjoying the first few weeks of the school year as now dive into Fall!

In case you’re sad that summer is now officially over, we have a treat for you that we hope will cheer you up. We’re thrilled to have Adam Borba with us, the author of the recently-released, The Midnight Brigade from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers!

Hi Adam, and welcome to Mixed-Up Files!

JR: To start with, can you tell us a little about The Midnight Brigade and the impetus for writing it?

AB: It started as a concept for a movie. My day job is to help develop and produce movies for a production company called Whitaker Entertainment which is based at Walt Disney Studios. I wanted to find a story about a troll to adapt but couldn’t find what I was looking for. Then on a trip to Pittsburgh, I fell in love with the city, and was wowed by the number of bridges – there are over four hundred. Statistically speaking, if you have four hundred bridges, there has to be a troll under at least one of them, right? So, I started making notes for a movie. Ideas about how great it would be to be a kid who found a troll. And how fun it would be to keep that troll secret with your friends. Usually, the outlines we do for films are about three pages, and then my colleagues and I will pass those outlines off to screenwriters who will work with us while making those stories their own. But my notes for this story became more and more detailed, and eventually I realized I had started writing a novel and I just kept going until I finished it.

JR: The book has a lot of humor in it, but there are also some more serious themes. How difficult did you find it to keep that balance when writing?

AB: It’s the only way I know how to do things. When we’re making movies – no matter what it is – I’m usually the one who says things like, “Hey, doesn’t it feel like a joke should go here?” Life is funny, right? Even during the tough times. And when I’m telling stories or having an important conversation, I just can’t be serious for too long. Conversely, I don’t think I’m funny enough to write or produce a traditional comedy. Plus, my story instincts tend to steer me away from big comedic set pieces and more towards emotional or dramatic moments.  

JR: Carl is an endearing main character and there’s a great dynamic between him, Teddy, and Bee, and actually, Frank, too, for that matter. How much of yourself or your experiences did you put into him?

Thank you! I think I’m a little like all of my characters. Like Carl, I was a quiet kid who spent a lot of time wanting to say more but worrying that I’d say the wrong thing. I think I was and am a dreamer like Teddy. And I was often a loner like Bee who took – occasionally too much – pride in my opinions. Lately, I’m feeling more like the troll, Frank – grumpy and tired, but I hope with my heart in the right place.

JR: Pittsburgh plays front and center in the book. What is it about that city that lends itself to stories with monsters and magic?

AB: Pittsburgh has so much character. It’s a beautiful city with over two hundred and fifty years of history, culture, and food. And its background with steel gives it a feeling of strength. But the big thing with this story is the bridges. Pittsburgh has so many bridges because three rivers flow through the city. The bridges are gorgeous, and it’s unusual for a city to have so many. And unusual leads to the possibility of the unexpected: monsters and magic, of course.

JR: So, what supernatural creatures do you believe in?

AB: I’m open to the possibility of any supernatural creature being real. Certainly trolls. And I’ve personally seen two ghosts, a griffin, and a leprechaun. Also, my cousin’s neighbor knows a guy who was trampled by a herd of unicorns.

JR: We’ll have to have you back to discuss the ghosts! You were one of the Producers on the Pete’s Dragon remake a few years ago. What were some of your other favorite movies or books with monsters in them when you were growing up?

Well, the original Pete’s Dragon was my favorite film as a four-year-old. E.T. was (and is) a big one for me. The Neverending Story, Gremlins, Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal, Willow, and The Flight of the Navigator were all on heavy rotation in my family’s VCR. In children’s literature, certainly The BFG. Alice in Wonderland, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. And I was a massive fan of rodent-lit: Mrs. Frisby & the Rats of NIMH, Stuart Little, Ralph S. Mouse, and the Redwall series.

JR: Loved all of those! Who were some of your influences?

AB: The list is constantly growing. But as a kid the big ones were Louis Sachar, Roald Dahl, Beverly Cleary, Jerry Spinelli, and Judy Blume for books, and Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante, Robert Zemeckis, and Tim Burton for films. Storytellers driven by a mix of wit, warmth, and wonder.

JR: So, The Midnight Brigade gets made into a movie. Who’s in your dream cast?

AB: The Muppets is always the correct answer to this question.

JR: I think it’s actually the answer to just about any question for that matter. Will there be a sequel to The Midnight Brigade?

AB: I like that the story stands on its own, with things wrapped up but still presenting threads for readers to guess what might happen next. But maybe someday if I come up with an idea that I just can’t keep to myself I’ll write another!

JR: What are you working on next?

AB: I’m working with my editor at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, Alexandra Hightower, on a new middle grade novel. It’s another nearly grounded story with a bit of magic. On the movie side, I’m currently in post-production on an epic live-action adaptation of Peter Pan & Wendy for Disney, which David Lowery directed. Both should be coming out towards the end of 2022.

JR: Can’t wait for both of those! How can people follow you on social media?

I’m on Twitter @adam_borba and Instagram @adamborba

To purchase The Midnight Brigade:

The Midnight Brigade


JR: Adam, thank you so much for joining us today, and good luck with The Midnight Brigade!

AB: Thanks so much for having me!


STEM Tuesday — Reptiles — Writing Tips & Resources


Opening movie scene.

Fade in.

Cue the David Attenborough or Morgan Freeman narrator voice:


For some reason, the title was the first thing that popped into my head when I sat down to draft this post. I have no reason why. But, what the heck? I felt obligated to the STEM creative muse to run with it.

Great reptiles in history!

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Green_turtle_in_Kona_2008-1024x823.jpg

Brocken Inaglory, CC BY-SA 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

Man alive, there sure are a lot of reptiles. How do you even start to make a list of the greatest ones when they’re all pretty dang awesome?

You start by making a fully-loaded, everything-you-can-think-of list. Just as in writing the first draft of a manuscript, the thing you wish to make won’t be a real thing, a thing full of possibility, until you put it to paper first. 

Nothing can be finished until it is started.

So make your list. Write that first word. And follow it with another. And another. And another. Make it real by making it a real thing.

Make that !@#$% first draft. (That has to be in Morgan Freeman’s narrator voice because David Attenborough’s narrator voice doesn’t seem appropriate saying, “!@#$%”)

Writing and Great Reptile Lists. Great Reptile Lists and writing.

Gadow, Hans, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The important bit in creating something is to first make it happen. Once you make something happen, it exists. If it exists, you can make it better. You can eliminate all the really, really good reptiles from the list to make a better, more meaningful list for someone interested in discovering Great Reptiles in History. With writing, you can cut everything from the !@#$% first draft that doesn’t belong in the story thread to make a more meaningful narrative for the reader.

Once the work exists, it can also be shared with others to mine the expertise and skill of a trusted network. With my now pared-down list of great reptiles, I can share it with other herpetology fans/experts to get their revision ideas, criticism, and advice on which reptiles belong on the list and which don’t. The writer can benefit from critique partners, writing groups, and beta readers to identify what works and what doesn’t. By sharing your work, your work can improve your writing. 

Creating better work. Isn’t that our ultimate goal?

Whether it’s the ultimate list of great reptiles in history, your first manuscript, or your 20th manuscript, get the words down.

Make them real.

Make them better.

Make them available.

Make them shine.

Cue the David Attenborough or Morgan Freeman narrator voice:





Fade to black.


Mike Hays has worked hard from a young age to be a well-rounded individual. A well-rounded, equal opportunity sports enthusiast, that is. If they keep a score, he’ll either watch it, play it, or coach it. A molecular microbiologist by day, middle-grade author, sports coach, and general good citizen by night, he blogs about sports/training-related topics at and writer stuff at  www.mikehaysbooks.comTwo of his science essays, The Science of Jurassic Park and Zombie Microbiology 101,  are included in the Putting the Science in Fiction collection from Writer’s Digest Books. He can be found roaming around the Twitter-sphere under the guise of @coachhays64.

The O.O.L.F Files

This month’s Out Of Left Field (O.O.L.F.) Files slither into the glorious world of reptiles. By land, by sea, and by air, here are some links to make the herpetologist in all of us a tad bit happier.