Let’s Play Ball!

Do you know a middle-grade kid who’d rather run than read? Maybe one of these action-packed sports stories will be a winner.

The Wild Soccer Bunch by Joachim Masannek. When the last of the snow has finally melted, soccer season starts! Kevin the Star Striker and The Wild Bunch rush to their field. They have found that Mickey the bulldozer and his gang, theUnbeatables, have taken over. Kevin and his friends challenge the Unbeatables to the biggest game of their lives. Can the Wild Bunch defeat the Unbeatables, or lose their field of dreams forever? Can they do what no team has done before? Lots of action will hook reluctant readers, plus it’s a series that might really get a soccer fan reading.


Storm Mountain by Tom Birdseye. Impossible! Suicidal! That’s thirteen-year-old Cat’s reaction to herimpulsive, irrepressible cousin Ty’s harebrained scheme to spread the ashes of their late fathers at the summit of the same treacherous mountain that claimed both their lives. But when Ty sets off on his own–stealing her dog and her father’s ashes–Cat is forced to follow against her better judgement. Things deteriorate quickly. Avalanches, dangerous glacial crevasses, and a blinding blizzard force Cat to put all her mountaineering knowledge to work if they are to survive. This gripping wilderness survival story is lightened by humor and made truly memorable by the young protagonists, whose struggles help mend their fractious relationship and strengthen the bond formed by shared tragedy.


The Rivalry by John Feinstein. Teen sportswriters Stevie Thomas and Susan Carol Anderson are thrilled to be covering “America’s Game.”  The Black Knights of Army and the Midshipmen of Navy have met on the football field since 1890, and it’s a rivalry like no other, filled with tradition. But this year, the match-up is also filled with intrigue. For weeks, Stevie and Susan Carol have been spending time at Annapolis and West Point, getting to know the players, and coaches. And the secret service agents. Since the president will be attending the game, security will, of course, be tighter than tight. As the game draws nearer Stevie and Susan Carol can tell that the agents are getting tenser. But as usual when Stevie and Susan Carol cover a big event–nothing is quite as it seems, and the coaches aren’t the only ones calling plays… Fans of this mystery will be pleased to read Feinsteins other books.

The Boy Who Saved Baseball by John Ritter. Tom Gallagher is in a tight spot. The fate of the Dillontown team rests on the outcome of one baseball game, winner take all. If Tom’s team loses, they lose their field too. But how can they possibly win? Just when everything seems hopeless, a mysterious boy named Cruz de la Cruz rides into town and claims to know the secret of hitting. Not to mention the secrets of Dante Del Gato, Dillontown’s greatest hitter ever. Since he walked away from the game years ago, Del Gato hasn’t spoken a word to anyone. But now he might be Tom’s only hope for saving his hometown. From the award-winning author of Over the Wall and Choosing Up Sides comes this imaginative tale of one boy’s struggle to preserve the spirit of the game he loves.
Bull Rider by Suzanne Morgan Williams. Cam O’Mara, grandson and younger brother of bull- riding champions, is not interested in partaking in the family sport. Cam is a skateboarder, and perfecting his tricks — frontside flips, 360s — means everything until his older brother, Ben, comes home from Iraq, paralyzed from a brain injury. What would make a skateboarder take a different kind of ride? And what would get him on a monstrosity of a bull named Ugly? If Cam can stay on for the requisite eight seconds, will the $15,000 prize bring hope and a future for his big brother? Readers will love this book that combines two sports in one story!
Mudville by Kurtis Scaletta. Welcome to Moundville, where it’s been raining for longer than Roy McGuire has been alive. Most people say the town is cursed—right in the middle of their big baseball game against rival town Sinister Bend, black clouds crept across the sky and it started to rain. That was 22 years ago . . . and it’s still pouring. Baseball camp is over, and Roy knows he’s in for a dreary, soggy summer. But when he returns home, he finds a foster kid named Sturgis sprawled out on his couch. As if this isn’t weird enough, just a few days after Sturgis’s arrival, the sun comes out. No one can explain why the rain has finally stopped, but as far as Roy’s concerned, it’s time to play some baseball. It’s time to get a Moundville team together and finish what was started 22 years ago. It’s time for a rematch. Another great baseball book. Well, it is baseball season!
I hope your favorite athletes enjoy giving their muscles a rest while reading these sporty stories.

Sydney Salter was always, seriously, always picked last for teams in PE. She’s the author of Jungle Crossing, My Big Nose And Other Natural Disasters, and Swoon At Your Own Risk which does feature some pretty great skateboarding!

Middle-Grade Moms

Mother’s Day was yesterday, and across the land, mothers were celebrated with cards and flowers, brunches and lovingly-made breakfasts in bed. It is the day that more international phone calls are made than any other day of the year.

In the land of middle-grade, though, the tribute to motherhood can be a bit more backhanded. In preparation for this post, I went back through my Goodreads list to kickstart my rusty ol’ neural net and realized that mothers in middle-grade are frequently in short supply for a variety of reasons: out of the country, death, a choice not to be involved or just a convenient stage left, exit mom. In short, in middle-grade books, a good mom can be hard to find!

The fact that good mothers are a scarce commodity in middle-grade comes as no surprise; it speaks to the power of motherhood. Mothers usually help children avoid bad decisions, stay away from dangerous situations and provide a safe place to land when trouble happens. All of these situations are frequently the stuff of middle-grade books. The presence of a mom could eliminate a serious chunk of plot!

In spite of these literary obstacles, though, there are some stand-out moms in middle-grade who deserve recognition. Feel free to add your favorite middle-grade mom in the comments! Here are mine.

Molly Weasley, of the Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling: All moms are busy, but Mrs. Weasley might take the prize of multi-tasker of the year. Planning a wedding, riding herd over a passel of kids including George and Fred, and battling those pesky Death Eaters takes an admirable level of grit and organization. And she does all of this while making Harry feel welcome in her home as one of her own. (Though a magic wand for housecleaning…what could us real-life moms do with that!)

Yup, there’s Ma at the bottom of the cover, making a dirt dugout CLEAN.

Caroline Ingalls, from the Little House series, by Laura Ingalls Wilder: If I had to put one mom on Survivor, I think it would have to be Caroline Ingalls. Think of it: this woman made a fine apple pie with no apples, survived the long winter with a coffee grinder and a button, and smacked a bear on the nose with her bare hand! (Okay, she thought it was a cow, but still…) When a log rolled on to her ankle (she was helping to build the family cabin, you know), she wrapped it up and kept going. Mrs. Ingalls would dust those other Survivor contestants, with a smile on her face and never once whine or compromise her integrity.

Mrs. Murray, from A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle: My friend, Madelyn Rosenberg, said it best, “Mrs. Murray from Wrinkle in Time was the epitome of awesome — she was like a walking Enjoli ad — She was a scientist, she cooked delicious stew on her bunsen burner, she raised her kids on her own while her husband was away, she tried to understand her children and celebrate their differences, and she was always okay having new people over for dinner.”

Mrs. Hatcher, from Tales of a Fourth-Grade Nothing by Judy Blume: While many of the most memorable things in the book happen when Mrs. Hatcher leaves the scene (what didn’t happen when she left the guys alone to visit her sister?), I’m putting Mrs. Hatcher in for one simple reason: she acknowledges she made a mistake after blaming Peter for his little brother’s accident on the playground.

“Peter, I said some things yesterday that I didn’t really mean.”

I looked at her. “Honest?” I asked.

“Yes…you see…I was very upset over Fudge’s accident and I had to blame somebody. So I picked on you.”

“Yes,” I said. “You sure did.”

“It wasn’t your fault though. I know that. It was an accident. It could have happened even if I had been in the playground myself.”

“He wanted to fly,” I said. “He thought he was a bird.”

“I don’t think he’ll try to fly again,” my mother said.

“Me neither,” I told her.

Then we both laughed and I knew she was my real mother after all.

The whole scene from beginning to end was written so honestly, I still remember the first time I read those words, and suddenly liking Mrs. Hatcher at a whole new level.

Every mom on this list reminds me of at least one great mom I know in real life: she is gritty and smart, takes on too much but leaves time to love her kids (and maybe a few extra kids who need it). She frequently can make something out of nothing.  She makes mistakes but sets things right.

And great moms, in life and in fiction, know when to step back, and let their children create their own stories.

Welcome to our Newest Mixed-Up Members

We will miss the authors that recently left who all contributed immensely to our blog. In our recent call for new members, we had so many wonderful applications from those hoping to join us on the Mixed-Up Files that it was a really tough decision. We felt as stumped as this guy:

via Flickr by Zoomar


We may not be able to fit them all, but we’d like to announce the following eleven new contributing members of From the Mixed-Up Files…of Middle-Grade Authors:

Greg Fishbone
Linda Johns
Michelle Schusterman
Jaye Robin Brown
T.P. Jagger
Erin Shakespear
Jen Gennari
Michele Weber Hurwitz
Yolanda Ridge
Jonathan Rosen
Bruce Eschler

We are excited to have these amazing writers joining in the Mixed-Up fun!  Be watching for their debut entries later this summer.  In the meantime, if you’d like to learn a little more about our new members, please feel free to peruse their bios on our Mixed-Up Author Bios page.

Welcome to our new Mixed-Up Authors!