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Winnie Nash Is Not Your Sunshine: An Interview with Author Nicole Melleby

Looking for a great coming-of-age book? Winnie Nash Is Not Your Sunshine has a little bit of everything. It will be the perfect summer read. I love getting a chance to interview the author and learn more about how the book came to be.

About the Book

Hi Nicole! I really enjoyed Winnie Nash Is Not Your Sunshine. It reminded me a lot of Judy Blume’s Are You There, God, It’s Me Margaret in that your character was relatable and a great example of a young teen trying to make sense of the world and her place in it.

Can you give us a short summary about the book?

Winnie Nash is a twelve-year-old kid who is staying with her grandmother, who lives in a senior citizen community center in Seabright on the Jersey Shore for the summer. Her mom is pregnant again after a string of miscarriages and is coming off of a really deep depression, so while she and Winnie’s dad take some time to “regroup”, they send Winnie to have a summer at the shore with her grandmother.

The problem is, Winnie’s parents don’t want her telling her grandmother about how bad her mom’s depression was, and they don’t want Winnie telling her grandmother about how Winnie already knows she’s gay, too. It’s a lot of weight to put on Winnie’s shoulders, particularly since all she wants is to find a community in which she can be herself with—which is why her dream is to go to NYC Pride.

Throughout the book, Winnie learns how to carve out space for herself and find the people in her life who are there to hold her when she needs to feel held.

About the Author

How did your childhood help to shape Winnie Nash Is Not Your Sunshine?

I grew up here in New Jersey and spent almost the entirety of my childhood on the Seabright beaches, where I set Winnie’s grandmother’s home. Like Winnie, my cousins and I used to walk along the seawall, gazing out at the water and the New York City skyline across the bay, dreaming of our future. Also like Winnie, I used to wonder what it would be like to be able to be out and confident and able to go to NYC Pride and celebrate with a community I wanted so badly to feel like I belonged to.

When did you begin writing? And what did you do before that?

I began writing when I was eight years old and saw the Harriet the Spy movie adaptation, and wanted to carry around a notebook like she did and write about everything. I started coming up with stories in those notebooks, and haven’t stopped writing since! I got my undergrad college degree in TV/Fillm (I wanted to write for soap operas!) and I worked for a little while as a personal trainer, but I always came back to writing, which is what my focus is on now.

What authors and/or books would you say influenced your writing style and/or this book?

I’m always inspired by Kate DiCamillo’s stories—she’s the first writer who I felt like gave me permission to let my middle grade characters be sad. Kids can be sad, and I think Winnie is a very sad, confused, and angry kid. I also was an MFA student of Eliot Schrefer, and I learned from him a lot then, and I still learn from him a lot now, as his friend.

What is something from your childhood that you snuck into the book? (Were you similar to Winnie?)

It’s funny, because when writing Winnie, I didn’t particularly think she was much like me, or that I wrote from a personal place with her—not anywhere close to what I had done when I wrote my second book, In the Role of Brie Hutchens, at least. Brie was a character that was wholly like myself and who I was as an 8th grader, so much so that I always say that Brie Hutchens is my most personal book. But a colleague of mine at Fairleigh Dickinson, where I teach (Minna Zallman Proctor, who is a wonderful translator and writer of creative nonfiction) read an earlier draft of Winnie and mentioned how much she sees *me* in this book, and I’ve since reflected on it a bit more. I think it’s there in a lot less obvious pieces than with Brie, but I think that I connect with Winnie’s yearning, and sadness, and anger, a lot more than I let myself realize when I sat down to write her.

 

Research/Writing

You tackled a lot of important topics (mental illness, embracing one’s sexuality, dealing with miscarriages, and family secrets). Was there one of these topics that you started with? Can you tell us how the story then came together?

Mental health and embracing one’s sexuality are two things I always aim to write about in my books, so I didn’t start with these topics but I always knew that they’d be included. And for this book in particular, I knew that I wanted Winnie to be well aware of her own sexuality and confident about it—she’s not confused about liking girls. But what I actually started with was the idea that Winnie’s mom had struggled with these miscarriages she had.

One in four pregnancies end in miscarriages, so I know that Winnie as an “almost-sibling” isn’t alone. It’s not my story to tell, but before my younger brother was born, my mom had miscarriages—I was younger than Winnie and it didn’t affect my own life like it does Winnie’s, and now being an adult who has friends who have experienced their own losses, it’s something that I thought deserved space on the page in a middle grade book. It’s sad, and it’s hard, but like I said earlier (thanks to what I’ve learned by reading Kate DiCamillo) kids can be sad, they can go through hard things, and they deserve to have stories written about them, too.

Which topic was the most difficult to write about?

The miscarriages, and how it affected Winnie’s parents. I think it was a difficult balance to get right; Winnie’s mom and her dad are human, they’re people, they’re struggling. And they make mistakes. They try and protect and shield Winnie, but only end up hurting her more. They are in the middle of their own grief and fear and trying to find their way to the other side of it. They suck at it; they’re doing their best. They make a lot of bad choices, but it’s the only choices they know how to make. Hopefully they learn. Hopefully they grow. Hopefully Winnie finds strength in the relationships she has with her grandmother and the people around her so that she’ll be okay.

A lot of my readers have been coming down hard on Winnie’s parents, and I get it, I do. I’m mad at them, too. But I think that life is hard and complicated for everyone involved, and writing that, figuring it out and getting this family to a place where they could maybe, hopefully, someday be okay, was the one thing I wanted to do right.

I read on your website [nicolemelleby.com] that you have a lot of Easter eggs connecting your books! I love that idea. Any hints?

Here is my favorite easter egg: Every single one of my books has the characters ordering or eating pizza from Timoney’s Pizzeria—which some readers may recognize from my book How to Become a Planet (every single one, including the books that came before How to Become a Planet did!) But since all of my books take place in the same area of New Jersey, if you read carefully enough, you might just find even more overlap!

For Teachers

Are you doing school visits related to this book?

I love doing school visits and am happy to and available to do visits with middle school students! I usually do visits with 5th-8th grade classrooms, where I talk about what it’s like to be a writer, how I became a writer, and what it’s like to write about mental health and identity. If you want to find out more about my school visits, you can head to hownowbooking.com!

How can we learn more about you?

You can find out more about me at www.nicolemelleby.com, or say hey to me on social media! I’m currently most active on Instagram, @nicolemelleby.

Thanks for your time, Nicole.

Be sure to check out Winnie Nash Is Not Your Sunshine!

STEM Tuesday — Astronomy/ Eclipse — Book List

This is an active month for sky-watchers. Not only will the “Great North American Eclipse” happen on April 8, but the night sky will feature a comet that you should be able to view without a telescope.

Eclipse Chaser: Science in the Moon’s Shadow (Scientist in the Field) by Ilima Loomis, photos by Amanda Cowan

This is a story about the last “Great North American Eclipse” – August 2017 – and how a science team studies eclipses. Not only do they have to find the best place for observing the event, they have a lot of instruments to set up and test prior to the day. Plus, a bagel production line on the morning of the Big Day.

Casting Shadows: Solar and Lunar Eclipses with The Planetary Society by Bruce Betts

This book uses straightforward language aimed at younger middle grade readers. Beginning with shadows, it then shows how eclipses happen and how you can observe them. One chapter focuses on lunar eclipses and one on solar eclipses.

The Science Behind the Wonders of the Sun: Sun dogs, Lunar Eclipses, and Green Flash by Suzanne Garbe

This is also a lower middle grade text discussing the cause and cycle of sunspots, solar and lunar eclipses, solar winds, flares, and ejections, As well as the reason for, and places to find, the green (and rarer blue) flash. Photo illustrated, it also includes fascinating “fact sidebars,” a link to activities, and critical thinking questions.

Astronomy for Curious Kids: An Illustrated Introduction to the Solar System, Our Galaxy, Space Travel – and More! by Giles Sparrow

This browsable book is divided into six chapters, each highlighting some aspect of astronomy. The first two introduce the study of astronomy and tools astronomers use. Others focus on the solar system, stars, and galaxies. There’s a great spread on eclipses and another showcasing comets, plus a section about life in the universe.

Can’t Get Enough Space Stuff: Fun Facts, Awesome Info, Cool Games, Silly Jokes, and More! by Julie Beer and Stephanie Warren Drimmer (National Geographic)

Another browsable astronomy book with engaging photos, a matching game glossary, space puns and riddles, space guessing games, a plethora of amazing facts, “Rad Records” on planets and astronauts, and lots of activities to try.

Sky Gazing: A Guide to the Moon, Sun, Planets, Stars, Eclipses, Constellations by Meg Thacher

A browsable book, divided into sections that focus on the sky, the moon, the sun, planets, and stars and constellations. Each section includes activities, including how to make a pinhole eclipse-viewer and there is a list of upcoming solar and lunar eclipses through 2030.

Stargazing for Kids: An Introduction to Astronomy by Jonathan Poppele

This handy hand-held guide is a wonderful color introduction to astronomy and the observation and mapping of the night sky. Conversational “What can I see?’ and “How do we know?” sections offer ways to spot the planets, stars, galaxies, and satellites. In addition to mini biographies of scientists and scholars, it offers a detailed sky map and guide for each season.

Asteroid vs Comet by Dr. Marc Kuchner, illustrated by Matt Schu

This book is aimed at younger MG readers, written as a fight match with sections that compare and contrast various properties of asteroids and comets. Who’s heavier? Who’s the fastest? And who will come out the winner? End pages feature named asteroids and comets and back mater gets into more details about comets and asteroids.

Out Of This World: Star-Studded Haiku by Sally M. Walker; illustrated by Matthew Trueman

Yes, there IS a haiku about a solar eclipse (with tiny nibbles / the moon gobbles down the sun …) There are also tiny poems about Saturn’s rings, nebulae, and shooting stars. Plus, wonderful back matter. This book will inspire readers to create their own eclipse (or comet) haiku.

The Day the Universe Exploded my Head: Poems to Take You Into Space and Back Again by Allan Wolf, illustrated by Anna Raff

From a “Solar Sunnet” (sonnet) to a “Poem for Three Meteors,” and a black hole shape poem to “The Children of Astronomy” (with their profiles outlined by stars), whimsical illustrations make learning poetry forms and space facts fun. Includes fun side by side solar and lunar eclipse poems, as well as “Notes on the Poems” with additional scientific facts and information on the various poems.

When the Sun Goes Dark by Andrew Fraknoi, illustrated by Eric Freeberg

This story, published by the National Science Teacher’s Association, uses fiction to introduce young people to the science behind eclipses. It includes some hands-on activities for re-creating eclipses in your living room using a lamp, a tennis ball, and a couple hula hoops.


This month’s STEM Tuesday book list was prepared by:

Sue Heavenrich, author

Sue Heavenrich, who writes about science for children and their families on topics ranging from space to backyard ecology. Bees, flies, squirrel behavior—things she observes in her neighborhood and around her home—inspire her writing. Visit her at www.sueheavenrich.com.

Maria Marshall, a children’s author, blogger, and poet who is passionate about making nature and reading fun for children. When not writing, critiquing, or reading, she watches birds, travels the world, bakes, and hikes. Visit her at www.mariacmarshall.com.

April Showers New Books on Middle-Grade Readers!

It’s raining awesome new middle-grade titles for young readers! This month’s releases include fantasy, adventures, a memoir, a fun creative art book, fascinating book on the octopus, and a collection of stories from award-winning authors. Check them out!

The Deadlands: Survival by Skye Melki-Wegner, Henry Holt Books, April 2.

Wings of Fire meets Jurassic Park in the thrilling finale of this action-adventure series about five outcasts—and former enemies—who are the only hope to save their warring dinosaur kingdoms from impending doom.As bloody battle rages between the two surviving dinosaur kingdoms, Eleri and the other young exiles—including a peppy stegosaur, a stoic sauropod, a testy triceratops, and a mysterious spy—have temporarily thwarted the Carrion Kingdom, a conniving cabal of carnivores, and destroyed their secret stronghold.

Fearing that their cunning enemies will soon regroup and seek vengeance, the exiles must risk their lives by returning home to unite and lead the war-torn herds that turned their backs on them into one final, all-out battle for the very future of the land of Cretacea. Will they convince their kingdoms to follow them into battle against the true enemy, or will Cretacea be overrun by an army of predators?

Running in Flip-Flops From the End of the World, by justin a. reynolds, Scholastic, April 2

A hilarious middle-grade from justin a. reynolds that asks: What happens when five unsupervised kids face the apocalypse under outrageously silly circumstances?

When twelve-year-old Eddie Gordon Holloway and his friends are left home from Beach Bash, aka the greatest party of the year, only to realize that everyone in town has disappeared without a trace, they do what any smart, responsible kids would do . . . have the best day ever!

No parental supervision sounds fun for a while, but forever is a long time. And soon the gang starts to notice strange things happening around town, and they’re only getting stranger. They have to figure out what happened to their families. It seems like getting to the beach will answer all their questions . . . but the only problem is that some mysterious force seems determined to prevent them from making it there.

Eddie knows that this is a clear sign — obviously they should be focused on having as much fun as possible for as long as possible. But everyone deals with the fear differently, and soon the friendships begin to fracture. Can Eddie find a way to get all his friends on the same page? And will they ever make it to the beach?

Lightning Born (Storm Dragons Book 1) by Julie Kagawa, Disney Hyperion, April 2

In a world in the clouds where only the rich own dragons, a poor boy named Remy finds a wild baby dragon–believed to be extinct–and becomes the focus of an evil pirate’s vengeance.

REMY spends his days trying to survive the mean streets of Cutthroat Wedge–one of the many islands floating in the gravitational pull of the magical Maelstrom raging below. But his life changes forever when a violent storm brings a baby dragon to his doorstep, and he feels a bond he has never felt with anyone. Remy names the dragon Storm and vows to protect this new friend, no matter the cost.

GEM longs for the day when she call herself a true mage. That is, if she can convince her teachers and peers that just because she’s a princess doesn’t mean she’s lazy and spoiled. But when Gem learns that the floating islands that make up her kingdom are rapidly sinking into the Maelstrom, she makes it her mission to save her world. Against the king’s wishes, she accesses forbidden research and discovers the secret to saving humanity may lie in a True Dragon–a dragon capable of intelligent thought and able to cast and use magic. But True Dragons are extinct . . . aren’t they?

Remy’s and Gem’s lives will never be the same when their fates collide, thanks to Storm. With an evil pirate mage named Jhaeros determined to claim the rare dragon for himself, the two must learn to trust in each other as they team up with a shifty pirate captain and her crew, stand together against impossible odds, and embark on the adventure of a lifetime.

Make Art With Nature: Find Inspiration and Materials from Nature, by Pippa Pixley, DK Publishing, April 9

Artist Pippa Pixley shows children how to make amazing art with materials found in nature in this hands-on book.

Get creative and make incredible pieces of art using rocks, wood, berries, flowers, and leaves in this nature craft book for children.

Find out how the very earth beneath your feet can be used to make paints and pastels, and how flowers can be repurposed to create inks. Children can learn how to pour paint onto a canvas, how to put pencil to paper and draw, how bits of old paper can make a beautiful collage, and how different mediums can come together to create incredible prints through nature.

Three Summers: A Memoir of Sisterhood, Summer Crushes, and Growing Up on the Eve of War, Written by Amra Sabic-El-Rayess and Laura L. Sullivan, Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, April 9

An epic middle-grade memoir about sisterhood and coming-of-age in the three years leading up to the Bosnian Genocide.

Three Summers is the story of five young cousins who grow closer than sisters as ethnic tensions escalate over three summers in 1980s Bosnia. They navigate the joys and pitfalls of adolescence on their family’s little island in the middle of the Una River. When finally confronted with the harsh truths of the adult world around them, their bond gives them the resilience to discover and hold fast to their true selves.

Written with incredible warmth and tenderness, Amra Sabic-El-Rayess takes readers on a journey that will break their hearts and put them back together again.

 

 

The Incredible Octopus: Meet the Eight-Armed Wonder of the Sea, by Erin Spencer, Storey Publishing, April 16

Packed with mesmerizing undersea photography, this book invites kids to explore the fascinating behavior and intelligence of this remarkable creature of the deep.

The Incredible Octopus combines amazing photos with in-depth facts to get kids aged 7 and up excited about octopuses and the underwater world in which they live. Readers are introduced to the fascinating biology of the octopus, from its 3 hearts and 9 brains to suction cups and how they work, and learn all about what it’s like to be an octopus: how they use camouflage and ink, what they eat, and how they reproduce (nests and eggs!). The book also explores the intelligence and playfulness of this animal–and, of course, the famous stories of octopuses who escaped their tanks. Readers will meet 13 different species of octopuses and find out what makes them unique, from the most venomous and best disguised to the deepest and coldest. They’ll also get a glimpse into exciting octopus research, technology inspired by octopuses, and ways to help conserve our oceans.

The Door is Open: Stories of Celebration and Community by 11 Desi Voices by Hena Khan,  Veera Hiranandani, Supriya Kelkar, Maulik Pancholy, Simran Jeet Singh, Aisha Saeed, Reem Faruqi, Rajani Larocca, Naheed Hasnat,  Sayantani Dasgupta, Mitali Perkins, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, April 23

Discover stories of fear, triumph, and spectacular celebration in the fictional town of Maple Grove, New Jersey, where the local kids gather at the community center to discover new crushes, fight against ignorance, and even save a life.

Cheer for Chaya as she wins chess tournaments (unlike Andrew, she knows stupid sugary soda won’t make you better at chess), and follow as Jeevan learns how to cook traditional food (it turns out he can cook sabji– he just can’t eat it).

These stories, edited by bestselling and award-winning Pakistani-American author Hena Khan, are filled with humor, warmth, and possibility. They showcase a diverse array of talented authors with heritage from the Indian subcontinent, including beloved favorites and rising stars, who each highlight the beauty and necessity of a community center that everyone calls home.