And our NOOK goes to….

Karen Rivera!


Our random name generator chose you as the winner of our anniversary prize, a NOOK Simple Touch and a $25 Barnes and Noble gift card.  Congratulations!  You should be receiving an email from us soon.

Thanks again to everyone for two amazing years!  We are glad we could share them with all of you.

Dads in Middle-grade Books

A few weeks ago I caught myself staring at the JC Penney Father’s Day advertisement. It shows a happy family: Two playful kids and their proud, smiling dads. I thought, wow, wouldn’t this family make a great story? Having two dads can create interesting complications, especially if the story takes place long ago or in a contemporary setting where people aren’t so open minded. And even though the story wouldn’t be about the dads, their presence would add a unique element to our main characters’ lives.

Authors of middle-grade novels often struggle with how to get the parents out of the picture so that the main characters, the kids, can go have their adventure without being bothered by finger-wagging, bossy adults. Roald Dahl said, “Kill the parents!” But, we don’t always want our parents to be eaten by rhinos in broad daylight, do we? So, in light of Father’s Day coming up, I thought I’d write about how parents, especially dads, play an important role in some of my own favorite books in children’s literature. These stories would be completely different without the dads.

1. One of my all-time favorite middle-grade novels is Linda Urban’s A Crooked Kind of Perfect. I adore Zoe’s sweet and loving
dad in spite of his quirky fears and inhibitions about leaving the house. Zoe, who dreams of someday performing in Carnegie Hall, asks for a piano. But to her horror, her dad buys her an organ instead. I felt Zoe’s pain, but I also appreciated and admired the way she protected her father’s feelings and never let on that learning to play the organ was making her miserable. She understood her father’s fragility and left her dream and ambition by the wayside to keep from hurting him. Seeing this side of our protagonist made my heart go out to her from the very beginning of the story.

2. Opal Buloni in Kate DiCamillo’s Because of Winn-Dixie also has one of the kindest and gentlest dads in children’s literature. But he’s no
Atticus Finch; in fact, Opal refers to him as a turtle retreating into his shell. He’s deeply saddened and scarred by the loss of Opal’s mother and he doesn’t seem to want to deal with his emotions. We see the strength in Opal as she moves forward with her life and the ending scene with her father is absolutely heart wrenching. The novel works so beautifully because of Winn-Dixie, yes, but also because of Opal’s father.

3. Then there are the scary dads.
I read The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett many times as a child and then I read it to my own kids several years ago. Every time I read it I was creeped out by Archibald Craven, the father of “sick” and bed-ridden Colin. I could understand Craven’s pain and I could sympathize with his hollowness after the death of his wife, but still, I was like, “Dude! You’ve got a kid! And for years he’s been lying in a dark room day and night, screaming in pain, and the only time you ever go near him is when he’s asleep!” Thank goodness Mary Lennox comes along and saves poor little Colin or I would have had to call social services.

4. The abusive fathers in children’s literature make us love our main character more than ever. We want to protect the kids from harm and see
them get the happy ending they deserve. But, unfortunately, it doesn’t always happen that the father and child walk off into the sunset hand in hand. Pap Finn never does a good thing for poor ol’ Huckleberry. And there’s Doug Swieteck’s dad in Gary Schmidt’s beautifully written Okay For Now. I just have to hang all my hopes on the title and believe that Doug will indeed be okay.

5. I don’t want to end this post on a sad note, it is almost Father’s Day, after all. So let’s make a list of the dads we love. I’ll start, and you can add to the list by way of the comments section. Here are just a few:

Pa – Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Mr. Quimby – Ramona and Her Dad by Beverly Cleary

Moses’ dad – Crow by Barbara Wright

Mr. Krupnik – Anastasia Krupnik by Lois Lowry

William – Danny, the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl

Mr. Watson – The Watsons Go to Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis


Jennifer Duddy Gill is the author of The Secret of Ferrell Savage and Mary Vittles, Atheneum (Simon & Schuster), 2014.




Calling all Teachers! (and librarians and parents and writers and book lovers!)

About six weeks ago I attended my first IRA (International Reading Association) annual conference in Chicago.

I got to go as a Presenter, and not as an Attendee – a first for me at a major conference! Nine authors from around the country (moi included) were shocked to have our all day panel workshop accepted and after numerous phone calls and hundreds of emails to plan our eight-hour workshop, we were off!

We spoke to a room full of reading specialists, teachers and librarians, as well as teachers and librarians who aspire to be writers themselves and wanted all our inner *secrets* – which we gladly gave them. What was so great about it, is that everything we talked about and demonstrated can be used in the classroom or at home.

Our topic? Rekindling the Reading Fire – Using the Story Strategies of Professional Authors to Inspire a Love of Reading and Writing.

Please Raise Your Hand if you’ve ever attended IRA!! 25,000 people attend every year – at least – from all over the world. We had a women from Nigeria and England as well as all over the USA – and those are just the ones I personally got to chat with during breaks and lunch.

In the comments below, we’d love to hear your thoughts and impressions of any past IRA experiences and how it helped you as a teacher.

With eight hours to fill from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., of course we had to break the day into segments. We discussed aspects of story techniques, The Hero’s Journey, plotting, prose, poetry, verse novels, middle grade, fantasy, young adult novels, picture books, history, and research.We also did several hands-on writing exercises – things the teachers could take back with them to the classroom to use with their students. (Here’s a link to info about The Creative Diary; a classroom hands-on writing workshop as an example of what authors do when they visit schools.)

Since we have the most awesome readers here at From the Mixed-Up Files, I’m including links to a few of our handouts from the day. Use them for yourself or your own kids or the students in your classroom.The ones below were created by the wonderful author and former elementary school teacher, Caroline Starr Rose of MAY B fame.

1. Easy Stick Man Character Sketch

2. Where in the World are We Reading?

3. Book Travel Log with Specific Writing Exercises and Games

I paired up with Kersten Hamilton and we spent one of the slots of time discussing Fantasy: all types and genres, but more importantly, the great way fantasy books can be used with kids to expand their minds and their creativity. Books with even just a splash of magical realism can get kids to enlarge their reading horizons into other more *serious* books, like historical novels or straight contemporary stories – step by step. (See my Handout below for title ideas).

I created a PDF about fantasy books for Middle-Grade and Young Adult readers. I DEFINE each fantasy GENRE (there are 11!) as well give 3-4 EXAMPLES of current books for each genre. And here it is for easy download:


Our IRA Panel of Authors (in case you’re curious):

Carolee Dean

Uma Krishnaswami

Carolyn Meyer

April Halprin Wayland

Esther Hershenhorn

Caroline Starr Rose

Kersten Hamilton

Lisa Schroeder

Kimberley Griffiths Little

Hope the links and Handouts help you in your own reading and teaching adventures!

Kimberley turns in her proofread typeset pages of her next novel (Spring, 2013), WHEN THE BUTTERFLIES CAME *today* and will be napping this afternoon. (*crosses fingers*)

If you’d like to see the dazzling cover Scholastic’s design team and artist Erin McGuire created, go here to take a peek and enter the NINE book giveaway on her blog: www.