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Interview and giveaway with Jamie Sumner, author of Roll with It

This week, author Jamie Sumner stopped by MUF to talk about her brand-new middle-grade title from Simon & Schuster, ROLL WITH IT (giveaway below!).  Here’s what Jamie had to say about writing for middle-grade readers, why stories about being the new kid are so appealing, and what’s on her TBR (to be read) list.

Roll with It by Jamie Sumner

Mixed-Up Files: Tell us a little bit about ROLL WITH IT (& CONGRATS!!!), as well as your background as a writer.

Jamie Sumner: I woke up at 2:30 a.m. one late night/early morning with the idea for ROLL WITH IT rattling around in my head. My son has cerebral palsy and the notion of writing a story that he could relate to had been percolating for a while. But I knew I couldn’t tell Charlie’s story. I needed more distance from real life to let my imagination go where it would.

What woke me up at 2:30 a.m. was this vision of someone in a wheelchair trying to navigate my grandparent’s old trailer in Oklahoma. It would be impossible! It would be insane to even try! But maybe, just maybe, if you’re determined enough and young enough to brave it, it could be awesome. And so the idea of ROLL WITH IT was born.

The story follows Ellie, a 12-year-old girl with cerebral palsy, who moves with her mom into a trailer park in Oklahoma to help take caring of her grandpa who has dementia. It’s a tight fit, but there is so much love in that small space and that small town. She finds freedom in this most unexpected place and she makes friends and pursues her dream of becoming a famous chef. She comes into herself here.

As for my background as a writer, it’s all over the place. I’ve written essays, both personal and reported, for The New York Times and The Washington Post. And I’ve also written a faith-based parenting book, Unbound, which came out last year and I have another faith-based parenting book, this time for parents of children with special needs, called Eat, Sleep, Save the World, that comes out with Lifeway March of 2020! I am also the reviews editor at Literary Mama so not only do I get to write, but I get to read great stuff as well.

MUF: You’ve written personal essays about your son, Charlie. Had you always wanted to write or was being a mom to Charlie what sparked that interest? 

JS: I still remember the first story that caused someone to call me “a writer”. It was fourth grade and the story was seven pages longer than the requirement and it followed the perilous journey of an elephant in India trying to escape from the zoo. My teacher loved it and I felt so important when the words I wrote made someone else feel things. I’ve written off  and on ever since, but began to pursue it full time after Charlie and my twins got a little older. And writing about Charlie is how I first jumped back in. There were so many things I wanted to tell other parents who might be in the same boat as me. And then later, there were so many things I wanted to share with kids who are like Charlie!

Jamie Sumner, author, Roll With It

MUF: What made you turn to fiction, and then specifically, middle grade fiction? What is it about MG readers that made you want to write for them?

JS: I love middle schoolers! I think this is the hardest age for a reason. When you’re in it, you have no idea what’s going on with yourself or anybody else. You’re confused and maybe a little scared. But all that makes you curious. And curious readers are the best kind! Kids this age are looking for answers and for stories that reflect what they are experiencing. They read with an appetite for comfort or understanding or simply distraction and when they find it they are loyal readers for life. I still remember reading Bridge to Terabithia as an 11-year-old and wondering how anyone could understand me so completely without having met me.

As for why I decided to write fiction—it was just too much fun to let the characters lead me wherever they wanted to go. I couldn’t imagine not telling Ellie’s story of friendship with Bert and Coralee and the wonderful things they get into. They are as real to me as my own family now.

MUF: I was interested in seeing that you’d made your main character, Ellie, “the new girl.” That’s a popular theme in MG — what is it about being the new kid that you think is such an appealing topic for readers? 

JS: Being the new kid is like stepping up to a precipice and peering waaaaay down and then waaaaay up and wondering where to go from here. It makes you stop and think about the kind of person you want to be. You get to reinvent yourself, or more to the point, dig deeper to find the person you know you are. The “new kid” is just a metaphor for how we all feel when we encounter something for the first time – new house, new friends, new family dynamic – it’s a chance to see yourself in a different light. If a story is about character development, what better way to do that than having them starting fresh?

MUF: What’s next for you?

JS: So many things! I’m excited to get rolling (pun intended) on school visits for ROLL WITH IT. And as I mentioned earlier, EAT, SLEEP, SAVE THE WORLD comes out in March so I’ll be traveling quite a bit and speaking about that.

But also…I have two more middle grade books coming out with Atheneum/Simon & Schuster! Next up for fall of 2020 is THE SURVIVAL PLAYLIST, the story of 12-year-old Lou Montgomery, a talented singer with a flighty, fame-hungry mother and an undiagnosed sensory processing disorder that makes performing nearly unbearable. I just saw the cover for that one and I was blown away by how wonderful it is.

MUF: Finally, what is on your bedside table/massive book pile by your bed now?

JS: Oh, this is  my favorite question. Ready?
Heretics Anonymous by Katie Henry
Sweep by Jonathan Auxier
The Lost Husband by Katherine Center
Beverly, Right Here by Kate DiCamillo (so excited for this one!)
After the Flood by Kassandra Montag
Akin by Emma Donoghue
The Distance Between Me and the Cherry Tree by Paola Peretti
The Green Children of Woolpit by J. Anderson Coats

Find out more about Jamie and subscribe to her newsletter here.  

Want to win your own copy of ROLL WITH IT? Enter below!

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Meet The Dark Lord Clementine by Author Sarah Jean Horwitz

I love many elements of reading and writing middle grade literature, but one of my favorites is how creative and genius the titles are! And The Dark Lord Clementine is no exception.

Let me introduce you to the girl herself. *the bugle blares

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Isn’t she amazing?!!

Here’s a little more information about Clementine’s world before we meet her wonderful creator.

The new face of big evil is a little . . . small.

Dastardly deeds aren’t exactly the first things that come to mind when one hears the name “Clementine,” but as the sole heir of the infamous Dark Lord Elithor, twelve-year-old Clementine Morcerous has been groomed since birth to be the best (worst?) Evil Overlord she can be. But everything changes the day the Dark Lord Elithor is cursed by a mysterious rival.

Now, Clementine must not only search for a way to break the curse, but also take on the full responsibilities of the Dark Lord. As Clementine forms her first friendships, discovers more about her own magic than she ever dared to explore, and is called upon to break her father’s code of good and evil, she starts to question the very life she’s been fighting for. What if the Dark Lord Clementine doesn’t want to be dark after all?

Clementine is being published by Algonquin Young Readers and will meet bookshelves everywhere on October 1, 2019.

Let’s give a warm hello to the author of this wonderful book, Sarah Jean Horwitz.

It’s wonderful to have you visit us, Sarah. Now I was fortunate enough to read an ARC of this book, so I know Clementine is a strong and bold middle grade character  – loved her! – but she also has vulnerabilities that might surprise readers.

Clementine has had a very unusual and sheltered upbringing under her father, the Dark Lord Elithor. (Yes, readers, you read that correctly. He’s an Evil Overlord!)

Her upbringing is one aspect of her world that I felt very intrigued by. It drew me in.

She’s been raised with some pretty negative and unhealthy habits when it comes to interacting with others. She hasn’t learned how to trust people or foster any sort of compassion, kindness, or community. She’s been taught that she’s better than everyone else, and that the only way to survive in the world is to make people fear her. And so Clementine has a lot of privilege to acknowledge, a lot of unhealthy habits to unlearn, and a lot of healing to do as she discovers there’s a different way to be in the world.

What is your favorite part of Clementine’s world, why, and why do you think readers will relate to it?

My favorite part of Clementine’s world is the bureaucratization of the pretty traditional, Western fairytale and epic fantasy-inspired story world. For example, there’s an official Council of Evil Overlords that gives Clementine’s father his Dark Lord designation, and there’s open acknowledgement in the book of professional classifications of Heroes, Good Witches, etc. I love playing with tropes and (gently!) poking fun at genres I enjoy, and the idea of all this administration, standardization, and red tape functioning in a fairytale setting just tickles me. I hope readers will recognize all the fantasy tropes I’m playing with and get a chuckle out of it, too.

I also hope to draw a bit of attention to the ways in which evil is firmly embedded in our own institutions, and how we sometimes take that – and the suffering of others – for granted. When the oppression and pain of others is built into a system that benefits us, just as Clementine benefits from being a Dark Lord’s daughter, it can be easy to turn a blind eye, or to accept this as just “the way things are.” But just as Clementine realizes that her status quo situation is not normal and rejects the lies she’s been taught about how the world works…so must we.

This is so important! I’m glad you touched upon it.

Favorite thing about Clementine is and why? What’s your least favorite?

My favorite thing about Clementine is that despite her isolated childhood, the emotional abuse she’s been subjected to by her father, and the terrible lessons she’s internalized over the years about her place in the world…she is still able to make room in her heart for beauty, love, and forgiveness.

See . . . love her.🖤

She has to work at it, but she gets there, and she finds out a lot about herself along the way. That takes a tremendous amount of strength. Of course, my least favorite parts of Clementine are the behaviors she learned from the Dark Lord and relies on heavily in the beginning of the book – her tendency to use bullying, intimidation and snobbery to try and get her way. Fortunately, she learns those aren’t exactly the best ways to make friends!

If you were Clementine’s sidekick what sort of things would you do? Talk about?

I’m pretty scared of heights, but just once, I’d like to hitch a ride on a broomstick. That seems like an opportunity I shouldn’t pass up. I’d probably make Clementine talk about her feelings a lot, because she’s got a lot of issues to unpack…which would probably annoy her enough to get me magically transfigured into something unfortunate!

Bahhh! So true.

One question for our reading-writers out there – The book is written from different and alternating perspectives. How did you go about organizing all the information you knew readers would need to keep reading?

I make detailed outlines before I start writing any project, so that helps. Sometimes I color-code them by point of view to keep things straight. Then as I revise, I try to read as if I’m just another reader who knows nothing about the book, and that helps me see if I’ve planted enough information in the correct order. Of course, lot of stuff still slips through the cracks, and so my great critique partners and editor will point out any slip-ups I missed.

What was one of the most surprising things you learned while writing this book?

I learned that my sense of humor is even darker than I realized (seriously – a few jokes got cut from the book because they were just a bit too much!) and that I tend to write about characters with chosen families. I also learned a lot about the medical consequences of getting sideswiped across the face by a unicorn horn! Yikes.

*Oh, the visuals.*

What do you hope young readers take with them from Clementine’s journey?

As cheesy as it sounds, when I think of Clementine’s journey, I think of that famous Tennyson quote, “’Tis better to have loved and lost / Than never to have loved at all.” It’s often quoted out of context and used to talk about romantic relationships, but the poem is actually about the death of one of Tennyson’s close friends. And I just think the sentiment from those two lines is very applicable to this book. Clementine puts her heart on the line (literally, at one point!) and takes a risk by trusting people and building new relationships. And it doesn’t 100% work out! She gets hurt, and she hurts people, and none of it is perfect. But the rich rewards of opening her heart to love are worth the possible disappointments. I hope that’s something readers remember.

Sounds perfect! Thank you for stopping by and for sharing Clementine’s wonderfully fantastical story with our Mixed-Up Files readers. 

Sarah Jean Horwitz grew up next door to a cemetery and down the street from an abandoned fairy-tale theme park, which probably explains a lot. She currently lives near Boston. Find her at sarahjeanhorwitz.com.

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Dear Readers, are you ready for The Dark Lord Clementine?

Great New Releases for October

Our new releases for this month features the latest from The Mixed Up Files contributor Jennifer Swanson, a biography of a president, a sequel, several middle-grade debuts, a Junior Library Guild selection and starred reviews for a number of these great new books for young readers. Buy or pre-order now using the links below each title. Snuggle in with one of these new releases. Happy reading!

Save the Crash-test Dummies, written by Jennifer Swanson, illustrated by Temika Grooms Peachtree Publishing Company, October 1

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Jennifer Swanson, author of more than thirty-five nonfiction books for young readers, once again educates and entertains in her latest.

This entertaining book navigates readers through the history of car production and offers a front‐seat view of the science and engineering that makes the world’s most important vehicle safe for us to drive.
Cars take us to work. To school. To soccer practice. To the grocery store and home again. Can you imagine a world without them? It’s not easy! One of the reasons we can use cars so much in our everyday lives is because they are safe to drive. But that hasn’t always been the case. If it weren’t for the experiments conducted over decades that involved all kinds of crash test volunteers―dead, alive, animal, or automated―cars as we know them might not be around. And then how would you get to school?
Filled with fun four‐wheeled nuggets of history and explanations of how cars actually work, this nonfiction book from former science educator and award-winning author Jennifer Swanson will appeal to lovers of all things that go and readers who are interested in getting in under the hood and seeing how things work.

“Attractively designed and engagingly written―sure to appeal to readers with a taste for the scientific and technical.” ―Kirkus Reviews”

Lexi Magill and the Teleportation Tournament, written by Kim Long, Running Kids Press, October 1

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For fans of The Amazing RaceLexi Magill and the Teleportation Tournament is the perfect adventure for middle grade readers who like scavenger hunts and puzzle-solving.

Twelve-year-old physics whiz Lexi Magill won’t let anything stop her from winning Wisconsin’s Teleportation Tournament–the annual competition where teams teleport around the world to solve science-based puzzles. She needs the prize money if she wants to re-enroll in the science academy her parents can no longer afford. Added bonus: she’ll be able to reconnect with her best friend Haley.

But Lexi’s two teammates put a wrench in her plans. When one misreads a clue that lands the team in a castle in Germany, and the other loses her teleportation medallion in Poland, Lexi wonders what she’s gotten herself into. Struggling to keep her team under control as the race rages on, Lexi not only has to figure out how to get back on course (literally), but she must decide how far she’s willing to go to win, and who her real friends are. With riddles to solve and messages to decode, this interactive read won’t disappoint!

Lily’s Story, written by W. Bruce Cameron, Tom Doherty Associates, October 8
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Lily’s Story is a new standalone story in the bestselling A Dog’s Purpose Puppy Tales middle grade series by New York Times bestselling author W. Bruce Cameron!

A rescue dog to the rescue!

Lily is the smallest puppy in her litter and the only girl. Her brothers are bigger and stronger and like to push her around. When Lily meets a girl named Maggie Rose at the animal shelter, Lily discovers things are not so bad. Lily’s size means that she can help other animals who are in trouble. It’s Lily to the rescue!

The Last Dragon, The Revenge of Magic #2, written by James Riley, Aladdin, October 8
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Fort Fitzgerald is determined to uncover the truth, but a new student at school and the secrets he has to keep complicate matters in this second novel in a thrilling new series from the author of the New York Times bestselling Story Thieves!

Fort Fitzgerald can’t stop having nightmares about the day his father was taken from him in an attack on Washington, DC. In these dreams, an Old One, an evil beyond comprehension, demands the location of the last dragon. But other than some dragon skeletons dug up with the books of magic on Discovery Day, Fort has never seen a dragon before. Could there still be one left alive?

And weirdly, Fort’s not the only one at the Oppenheimer School having these nightmares. His new roommate, Gabriel, seems to know more than he’s letting on about this dragon as well. And why does everyone at the school seem to do whatever Gabriel says? What’s his secret?

Fort’s going to need the help of his friends Cyrus, Jia, and Rachel, if he’s going to have any chance of keeping the Old Ones from returning to Earth. Unless, the Old Ones offer something Fort could never turn down…

Franklin D. Roosevelt, written by Teri Kanefield, Abrams, October 8
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The fifth book in the Making of America series, Franklin D. Roosevelt examines the life of America’s 32nd president: his birth into one of America’s elite families, his domineering mother, his marriage to Eleanor Roosevelt, his struggle with polio, and his political career. A Democrat, Roosevelt (1882–1945) won a record four presidential elections and is the longest-serving US president.

During his time in office, he led the country through the Great Depression and World War II. He helped to redefine the role of the US government with the New Deal. Scholars often rate him as one of the three greatest US presidents along with George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. The book includes selections from FDR’s writings, endnotes, a bibliography, and an index.

The Story That Cannot Be Told, written by J. Kasper Kramer, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, October 8

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A powerful middle grade debut that weaves together folklore and history to tell the story of a girl finding her voice and the strength to use it during the final months of the Communist regime in Romania in 1989.

Ileana has always collected stories. Some are about the past, before the leader of her country tore down her home to make room for his golden palace; back when families had enough food, and the hot water worked on more than just Saturday nights. Others are folktales like the one she was named for, which her father used to tell her at bedtime. But some stories can get you in trouble, like the dangerous one criticizing Romania’s Communist government that Uncle Andrei published—right before he went missing.

Fearing for her safety, Ileana’s parents send her to live with the grandparents she’s never met, far from the prying eyes and ears of the secret police and their spies, who could be any of the neighbors. But danger is never far away. Now, to save her family and the village she’s come to love, Ileana will have to tell the most important story of her life.

Hazel’s Theory of Evolution, written by Lisa Jenn Bigelow, HarperCollins Publishers, October 8
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The Thing About Jellyfish meets Raymie Nightingale in this tender middle grade novel from Lisa Jenn Bigelow, acclaimed author of Drum Roll, Please.

Hazel knows a lot about the world. That’s because when she’s not hanging with her best friend, taking care of her dog, or helping care for the goats on her family’s farm, she loves reading through dusty encyclopedias.

But even Hazel doesn’t have answers for the questions awaiting her as she enters eighth grade. What if no one at her new school gets her, and she doesn’t make any friends? What’s going to happen to one of her moms, who’s pregnant again after having two miscarriages? Why does everything have to change when life was already perfectly fine?

As Hazel struggles to cope, she’ll come to realize that sometimes you have to look within yourself—instead of the pages of a book—to find the answer to life’s most important questions.

Lost Horizon, written by Michael Ford, HarperCollins Publishers, October 8

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This gripping sequel to Forgotten City is a twist-filled survival adventure that’s Mad Max for tweens.

Everything Kobi once believed was a lie. Not only are there other survivors of the Waste that devastated the world thirteen years ago, but beyond the wasteland of Old Seattle lies a gleaming new city where thousands are desperate for a cure.

To put an end to the Waste—and bring justice to those responsible–Kobi and his new friends will have to return to the heart of Old Seattle, where the outbreak began. It’s a dangerous journey. But Kobi knows what lies ahead. And he’s ready to fight.

Nail-biting suspense and nonstop thrills make this action-packed adventure perfect for young readers who love survival adventures like Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet or dystopian series like Jeanne DuPrau’s City of Ember.

Blood Mountain, written by James Preller, Feiwel & Friends, October 8
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Told in alternating points-of-view, James Preller’s powerful middle-grade survival story will have readers on the edge of their seats.

Carter and his older sister Grace thought the hike with their dad and their dog would be uneventful. If anything, they figured it was Dad’s way of getting them off their screens for a while.

But the hike on Blood Mountain turns ominous, as the siblings are separated from their father, and soon, battling the elements. They are lost.

They are being hunted, but who will reach them first? The young ranger leading the search? Or the mysterious mountain man who has gone off the grid?

The Space We’re In, written by Katya Balen, Holiday House, October 8

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Ten-year-old Frank has trouble navigating his relationship with his younger brother Max who is autistic.

Frank loves soccer, codes, riding his bike, and playing with his friends. His brother Max is five. Max only eats foods that are beige or white, hates baths, and if he has to wear a t-shirt that isn’t gray with yellow stripes he melts down down down.

Frank longs for the brother he was promised by his parents before Max was born—someone who was supposed to be his biggest fan, so he could be the best brother in the world. Instead, Frank has trouble navigating Max’s behavior and their relationship. But when tragedy strikes, Frank finds a way to try and repair their fractured family and in doing so learns to love Max for who he is.

In her debut novel, Katya Balen uses her knowledge of autism and experience working with autistic people to create an intriguing and intense yet always respectful family story.

For readers of Counting by 7s and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime.

A Junior Library Guild Selection!

Fighting for the Forest, written by P. O’Connell Pearson, Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, October 8

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In an inspiring middle grade nonfiction work, P. O’Connell Pearson tells the story of the Civilian Conservation Corps—one of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal projects that helped save a generation of Americans.

When Franklin D. Roosevelt took office in March 1933, the United States was on the brink of economic collapse and environmental disaster. Thirty-four days later, the first of over three million impoverished young men were building parks and reclaiming the nation’s forests and farmlands. The Civilian Conservation Corps—FDR’s favorite program and “miracle of inter-agency cooperation”—resulted in the building and/or improvement of hundreds of state and national parks, the restoration of nearly 120 million acre of land, and the planting of some three billion trees—more than half of all the trees ever planted in the United States.

Fighting for the Forest tells the story of the Civilian Conservation Corp through a close look at Shenandoah National Park in Virginia (the CCC’s first project) and through the personal stories and work of young men around the nation who came of age and changed their country for the better working in Roosevelt’s Tree Army.