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Diversity in MG Lit #35 April 2022

Here’s the roundup of some of the many diverse MG books on sale in April.  As always if I’ve missed an April title please drop a mention in the comments on this page.
Contemporary
The Not-so-uniform Life of Holly Mei is the debut MG novel of Christina Matula. It’s refreshing to see a character whose biracial identity (Taiwanese-Canadian) is not the focus of conflict in the novel. Another nice twist is the immigration story is not to North America but from there to Hong Kong. Kids will find plenty to root for as Holly Mei finds her way in a new city and school. This is the first of a planned three book series.
In Shabbat Sabotage by Emma Carlson Berne, Maya’s first time at sleep-away camp is enlivened by the mystery of who stole the kiddush cup and candlesticks they need to celebrate Shabbat.
Horse Country: Can’t be Tamed by Yamile Saied Méndez is a new series centered around a western horse ranch and the power of second chances. Great to see a horse series that does not feature wealthy East coast mean girls, but rather centers on the Hispanic contributions to the American west and the healing power of horses.
book cover Karthik DeliversKarthic Delivers by Sheela Chari has elements to delight a wide range of readers. Karthic trys to help his parents hold things together financially by delivering Indian groceries around his Boston neighborhood on his bike. He loves theater, admires fellow immigrant Leonard Bernstein, and is navigating a first crush with the aid of his earnest, even aspirational, to-do lists.
My Sister’s Big Fat Indian Wedding by Sajni Patel is a YA rom-com that should have plenty of appeal for older MG readers. What I liked the most about this story of finding love amid the busy events of a traditional Indian wedding was the many cousins who are on Zurika’s side every step of the way.
Graphic Novels
In the full color graphic novel Miss Quinces by Kat Fajardo, Sue/ Suyapa was hoping for a summer with her American friends at an art camp but her mother brings her to Honduras instead to be with family and have her Quinceñero ceremony. Sue is mortified but comes to appreciate them in the end. I appreciated the way the story embraced the spiritual elements of a the ceremony, rather than focusing entirely on the more glamorous party afterward. There is back matter with more information on the meaning of the Quinceñero traditions.
Messy Roots: a graphic memoir of a Wuhanese-American by Laura Gao is a YA graphic novel that may appeal to the older end of the MG spectrum. It’s a memoir about growing up as an immigrant queer Chinese-American in Texas. It’s rare to find a book that illuminates the experience of being both an immigrant and an LGBT community member. I’m hoping it will do well enough to usher in more intersectional stories.
Fantasy & SciFi & Historical
The Last Mapmaker by master storyteller Christina Soontornvat is going to appeal to fans of popular dragon series like Wings of Fire but also to kids who like maritime adventure stories in the mold of the Horatio Hornblower books.
Memorably set on a family estate in the Himalayas, Tamarind and the Star of Ishta by Jasbinder Bilan is a tale of  culture shock overcome and family secrets unraveled.
Young chapter books
Wednesday & Woof: Catastrophe by Sherri Winston is a new chapter book series featuring a spunky black main character with juvenile arthritis and her service dog  Woof. Together they solve the mystery of a neighbor’s missing cat. Short chapters, large type and plenty of color illustrations make this an inviting first series for a new reader.

Interview with Emma Carlson Berne, author of Shabbat Sabotage!

Hello Mixed-Up Filers!

We have a treat for you today! An interview with with a friend, and author of the new book, Shabbat Sabotage, out soon from Yellow Jacket, and a PJ Our Way selection. Please help us welcome Emma Carlson Berne!

Emma, thanks for joining us today!

JR: To start with, I really enjoyed this! Maya is my daughter’s name, so I loved having the main character with the same name. Can you tell us a little bit about Shabbat Sabotage and where the idea came from?

ECB: I was a pretty fearful person growing up (actually, I’m still a total coward), and one of my sons was kind of a fearful child, so I really wanted to write about fear and secrets and how those two things can prey on each other. I like the idea that at summer camp, where adults sort of fade into the background, that’s where the characters can really roll in around in the very real, sometimes very dark, world of kids alone, together.

JR: I love a good summer camp story! Tell us a little bit about Maya.

ECB: Maya really is not a camp kid but I like to think that she becomes one over the course of the book. She doesn’t like getting dirty, she’s afraid of all kinds of things – swimming is the main one in this story – and she’s just not sure about the whole togetherness-in-a-cabin, sleeping-away-from-home thing. It takes a place like Camp Shalom and a friend like Dani to show her that she can grow to love camp while still being herself.

JR: Good advice. What are the similarities and differences between you and Maya?

ECB: I spent most – okay, all – of my childhood reading, and I didn’t like getting sweaty or dirty and I was afraid of a lot of things, like loud people, and big people, and deep water, and muddy water. . .it was a long list. I wanted to write that girl – the one who doesn’t have any desire to be the hero, who doesn’t even want to be the protagonist. She just wants to be left alone to read her book or think to herself or hide.

JR: I’d like the same thing now, but it never happens. Did you go to camp when you were Maya’s age?

ECB: Yes, I definitely did. I was obsessed with horses, so I usually went to horse camp. I was very small when I was Maya’s age and really skinny, so my main memory is of being kind of weak and unable to lift things like saddles, and unable to reach the horse’s head to put on its bridle. I remember being in a really far away part of a stable at horse camp, with everyone else off somewhere else, and trying to lift up this horse’s hoof, which was like as big as my head, and just being unable to get it up at all. It was like lifting a boulder. I think I just gave up after awhile. Probably when some adult asked me if I’d picked her feet, I just lied and said yes.

JR: You dedicated the book to Camp Livingston. How similar is Camp Livingston to Camp Shalom?

ECB: My oldest son has gone to Camp Livingston for the last few years, and we’re friends with the director, so this was a natural place for me to go in my imagination. I based the layout of Camp Shalom on Camp Livingston and the songs they sing, and the director, and some of the rituals. But I also asked my friends for their best and worst camp memories and I slapped some of those in there – like the gum tree – and I also mined my own memories as well. The girl with the pith helmet is based on a real person from my own past.

JR: What is it about mysteries that appeals to you?

ECB: Most mysteries – at least, the ones I like to read and write – are a little dark. Sometimes, a lot dark. I love thinking about secrets and hiding and what keeping secrets does to a person’s relationships. So the mysteries I write tend to be based more on the way people act together and treat each other, rather than logic puzzles, where lots of clues fall into place at once.

 JR: There are some humorous moments between Maya, Dani, and Yael, as well as some more touching ones. How difficult was it to try and strike the right balance?

ECB: Writing humor is hard, as you know, Jonathan, being a very funny guy yourself. You have to be relaxed to write funny and I’m sometimes kind of tense when I write. I want the story to go well, I want to get the words out in the right way – that kind of thing makes me tense up. So when I was writing the more loose, funny parts, I found I needed to write quickly, just splash the words on the page and not think about it too much. Then the funny comes out more naturally.

 JR: I first met you on a wonderful PJ Library trip. Shabbat Sabotage is part of PJ library’s children’s book division, PJ Our Way. Tell us a little bit about PJ Library and how they came to your book.

ECB: We met on the 2018 Author Israel Adventure and it was wonderful, wasn’t it? We went to Israel with PJ Library and a bunch of other authors and spent a week touring and learning. I took so many notes during our trip and fiddled around with many ideas, but in the end, I asked PJ, “What kind of book do you want that no one else has shown you?” and they thought about it and came back with, “You know, what we really want is kind of a girl Encyclopedia Brown, but at summer camp.” You got it, I thought. This is a story I know how to write. And boom, SHABBAT SABOTAGE was born.

JR: That simple. 🙂 How hands on have they been through the process?

ECB: Very hands-on, which is exactly what I asked for. I wanted to write a book tailored for PJ, so I asked if they would look at each draft after I finished. They would give me notes, which I would incorporate into the next draft, and so on. When I was done, everyone knew what kind of manuscript they were getting. It was a great, collaborative, really rewarding process.

JR: That actually sounds great. You’ve written books in the Star Wars franchise. How cool was it to get to use official characters in a story?

ECB: Jonathan, so fun. So cool. The Lucasfilm Story Group read my manuscripts for the Star Wars books, and gave me notes, and I felt like hot s**t. But I also felt a lot of pressure – people have strong feelings about these characters and there were many, many readers and writers who know a lot more Star Wars than I do. I didn’t want to let anyone down. I also didn’t want to sound stupid. It’s a fine line.

 JR: What are you working on next?

ECB: And now for something completely different – sparkly, crime-fighting dragons! I have a graphic novel series called Sparkle Dragons coming out in May from Clarion. It’s a book about a posse again, like the girls of Shabbat Sabotage, except that these are dragons, so, different, and they live in a magical kingdom run by a selfish princess, so, also different. And they fight crime, so that’s sort of like Maya and Dani and the rest.

 JR: That sounds awesome! Looking forward to reading. Where can people find you on social media?

ECB: On Twitter, I’m @emmacberne and on Facebook, I’m at Emma Carlson Berne Books. And my Instagram looks like of sad and weird because I don’t really know how to use it, but there I’m emmacarlsonberne (I’m actually not sure if I’m even writing my handle in the right way). And my website is www.emmacarlsonberne.com. Message me to talk books and writing!

JR: Emma, thanks so much for spending time with us today, and the best of luck with Shabbat Sabotage!

 

That’s it for now, Mixed-Up Files friends. Make sure you get a copy of Shabbat Sabotage, and until next time . . .

Jonathan

WNDMG Wednesday – COMING OF AGE Interview

We Need Diverse MG
We Need Diverse MG Logo

Illustration by: Aixa Perez-Prado

COMING OF AGE Anthology Author Interview

We Need Diverse MG is so lucky this month … we get to feature an incredible new anthology called COMING OF AGE: 13 B’Nai Mitzvah Stories (Albert Whitman)–which happens to be the number one release on Amazon for children’s Jewish fiction. We’re thrilled to have an “in” with one of the editors and a contributing author–because they’re both MUF contributors! Jonathan Rosen and Melissa Roske graciously agreed to interview with us. Moreover, because they’re so cool, we did half our interview in text and the other half on Zoom audio. So, enjoy our multi-media visit and get excited for COMING OF AGE before it appears on your bookshelves on April 19.

Book Cover for COMING OF AGE antholody features book title and starburst graphic around the text

 

About COMING OF AGE Anthology

Coming of Age: 13 B’Nai Mitzvah Stories: As you might be able to deduce from the title, COMING OF AGE  is geared to a middle-grade audience. What does it mean to become an adult in your faith? Join thirteen diverse characters as they experience anxiety, doubt, and self-discovery while preparing for their b’nai mitzvah. And whether celebrating with a lavish party or in reception room A with an accordion player, the Jewish rite of passage remains the same. Filled with humor, hope, and history, there’s something in this anthology for every reader, regardless of their faith.

Meet Co-Editor Jonathan Rosen

WNDMG: Tell us the origin story for the book?

JR: Basically, the impetus was just wanting to get something with Jewish content for kids out. I’ve experienced someone telling me to make a book “less Jewish”. Or that Jewish books don’t sell well. I’ve spoken to many other Jewish authors who have told me about their similar experiences. Also, in my mind is how over the last ten years or so, antisemitism has been skyrocketing. So, wanted to do something that would feature Jewish characters, not just for Jewish kids to see themselves and their own experiences, but hopefully for non-Jewish kids to be able to read, and see how similar Jewish kids are. I know it’s cliché, but making a difference really does start with children. Lastly, one of the things that was important to me was to have a portion of the proceeds donated to Jewish organizations that fight antisemitism.

yellow road sign with word antisemitism lined through with red

WNDMG: How did your selection of authors come together?

JR: To start, it really was as simple as first reaching out to Jewish authors that I knew. I had done a couple of trips sponsored by PJ Library, so I got to meet several other Jewish authors as well. So, I reached out to who I knew. There were also people who were on my wishlist who I didn’t know. When I spoke to Henry Herz, my co-editor on this book, he suggested some people he knew, so between the two of us, we were able to get a great collection of authors. Fortunately, almost everyone that was asked, immediately agreed to participate. My biggest regret was after word got out, many other Jewish authors reached out to me to find out if there was room, because they wished to participate, but there wasn’t enough room. Perhaps, I’ll have to do another anthology. 😊

Centering on B’Nai Mitzvah

WNDMG: What direction/driving question did you give the authors for their stories?

JR: I didn’t want to give too much direction, because I wanted each one to write what they wanted. The only criteria was that it had to be centered around a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, since we were targeting Middle Grade readers, that’s kind of the biggest event in a middle grade Jewish kid’s life. But, otherwise, each author had the freedom to take the story where they saw fit. It was interesting to me that everyone wrote such different kinds of stories. We had memoirs, comedic stories, more serious, and even a few sci/fi which surprised me that more than one person thought along those lines.

Welcome to Melissa Roske

At this point in our conversation, we are joined by contributing author Melissa Roske, whose short story is a lovely exploration of a meeting of generations.

Connecting to Grandparents

WNDMG: Let’s talk about your stories—both are about connecting to grandparents but in very different ways. Melissa, what led you to write about connecting with Grandma Merle?

MR: Unlike Bella, the protagonist of my story, I was extremely close to my maternal grandmother, Molly. We even lived in the same New York apartment building, and she took care of me after school while my parents were at work. Most days we played “School,” where I was the teacher and Granny (that’s what I called her) was the pupil. I insisted on playing this game every single day, and Granny was kind enough to go along with it.

Author Melissa Roske with her grandmother posed in front of a decorated orange backdrop

Melissa and Granny

Like most Jewish grandmothers of her generation, Granny loved to feed people—especially me. She even kept a special drawer of chocolate in her kitchen for my sole enjoyment. Unfortunately, the chocolate drawer was the source of multiple cavities and a root canal. J Another thing about Granny, besides her tiny stature (she was 4’10”), was her impressive collection of flowered housedresses. I never saw her in anything else, except on the day of my Bat Mitzvah. She wore a fancy black-and-gold dress to please my mom.

Melissa Roske at her Bat Mitzvah standing with her parents

Melissa and Family

Earlier in her life, Granny was against the Viet Nam War and refused to pay her taxes in protest. My mom was convinced Granny would be arrested and begged her to pony up the funds. I was too young to witness this, but it says a lot about my grandmother’s character. She was little but fierce. Maybe that’s why I wrote a story about a girl who didn’t know her grandmother. I was blessed to know mine, and somehow wanted to pay it forward.

((Curious about more books with B’Nai Mitzvah themes? Read Melissa’s book list here.))

Time Travel and Grandparents

WNDMG: Jonathan – same question for you, but I need to add – is there a personal significance to the time travel watch? (I mean, I’m half expecting you to say you met Abraham Lincoln at your Bar Mitzvah, which was of course only 20 or so years ago)

JR: Twenty? More like fifteen! Actually, my kids always wonder why their ages keep increasing, but when I give them mine, it decreases every time they ask.

But as far as the story goes, I had figured that most of the stories would be more conventional stories, or memoir types, so I figured I’d do something different. Little did I know that I’d get other sci/fi submissions as well. But, the idea for me was always to show that the tradition is more important than the spectacle. That’s something that’s sometimes lost, because the tendency, at times, is to treat a Bar/Bat Mitzvah as big as a wedding, and there really have been times throughout history, where Jews had to do these things in secrecy because of certain regimes in power made it illegal for Jews to observe. So, through time travel, the main character kind of gets to experience that.

Jonathan Rosen Bar Mitzvah at the Western Wall standing with his father behind him, a young boy and his smiling father wearing sunglasses

Jonathan Rosen Bar Mitzvah at the Western Wall

Finding the Relatable

WNDMG: As authors, we all want our books to resonate with readers. Beyond that, we also have dreams about how exactly our words might become a part of our readers’ hearts. What do you each hope for with this book?

MR: My hope is that kids from all religious and ethnic backgrounds will find something relatable within the pages of Coming of Age. Yes, it’s a B’nai Mitzvah-themed book, written by Jewish authors and aimed primarily at Jewish readers. But you don’t have to be Jewish to appreciate the stories and themes each author presents. In my story, “Grandma Merle’s Last Wish,” I wanted to show readers that there’s more than one way to achieve a goal. In Bella’s case, it was having a Bat Mitzvah—something she thought was unobtainable because she wasn’t “Jewish enough.” Children often feel as if they’re not “enough.” Smart enough, fast enough, thin enough, popular enough… Here’s hoping they’ll see themselves in a more positive light, and acquire greater self-acceptance, after reading the stories in this book.

JR: Really, I just hope that the book as a whole entertains. Of course, there are things that I hope the reader takes away, but the overall purpose for me was to put out something with Jewish stories, and Jewish characters, which Jewish readers could identify with. And even non-Jewish readers could relate to seeing kids their age going through similar experiences to things that they experience in their lives.

The Jewish Equivalent to the Easter Egg

WNDMG: Authors often like to put small references in their books—maybe to a friend’s inside joke, a family tradition, or even a previous book. Ironically, they’re often referred to as “Easter eggs.” What would the Jewish equivalent phrase be? And did either of you put any in your stories?

So, What’s the Answer?

Curious about Jonathan and Melissa’s answer to that last question about the Jewish equivalent to the Easter egg?

We decided to have some fun and offer you all a mixed-media interview: blending text with audio for a true immersion into our conversation. So, to hear the answer,

Click here to listen to the rest of our interview:

We also talked about being Jewish in America, Jonathan and Melissa’s own Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, and whether Melissa is going to be able to sell books out of her car at Time Square.

Thank you so much to Jonathan and Melissa for a wonderful chat and CONGRATULATIONS!

Release Date: April 19

COMING OF AGE: 13 B’Nai Mitzvah Stories (Albert Whitman) releases April 19, 2022.  To buy a copy:

Amazon

Bookshop

About the Authors

Author head shot, dark-haired man with beard

Jonathan Rosen

Jonathan Rosen is a transplanted New Yorker who now lives with his family and rescue dog, Parker, in sunny South Florida. He is proud to be of Mexican-American descent, although neither country has really been willing to accept responsibility. He is the author of the Spooky Middle Grade titles, Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies and its sequel, From Sunset till Sunrise, as well as the co-editor of the anthology of Jewish stories, Coming of Age: 13 B’Nai Mitzvah Stories, He is an administrator of the Middle Grade reading site, FromtheMixedUpFiles.com, and the co-host of the YouTube channel, Pop Culture Retro. He can also be found on his own site at www.Houseofrosen.com

Author photo woman in dress sitting in bookstore signing books

Melissa Roske

Melissa Roske is a writer of middle-grade fiction. Before spending her days with imaginary people, she interviewed real ones as a journalist in Europe. In London she landed a job as an advice columnist for Just Seventeen magazine, where she answered hundreds of letters from readers each week. Upon returning to her native New York, Melissa contributed to several books and magazines, selected jokes for Reader’s Digest (just the funny ones), and received certification as a life coach from NYU. In addition to her debut novel Kat Greene Comes Clean (Charlesbridge, 2017), Melissa’s short story “Grandma Merle’s Last Wish” will appear in the forthcoming Jewish middle-grade anthology, Coming of Age: 13 B’Nai Mitzvah Stories (Albert Whitman & Compay, 4/19/22). An active blogger for the popular MG website, From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle-grade AuthorsMelissa lives in Manhattan with her husband, daughter, and the occasional dust bunny. Learn more about Melissa on her Website and follow her on  TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.