Why Author Taylor Morris Writes About Failed Middle School Friendships

I’m thrilled to welcome prolific Taylor Morris, author of the five-book (so far–wow) Gorgeous series, and titles such as Total Knockout: Tale of an Ex-Class President and Class Favorite to the Mixed Up Files. To learn more about Taylor go to In this interview, Taylor speaks about her latest single title, BFF Breakup.

1) What compelled you to write a book about best friends who have split?

I realized, sadly, that adults aren’t immune to splitting with a best friend. For a long time I would have guessed that it was something that only happened in school, to tweens and teenagers, as if we adults are so mature that we could never fight, then greatly (greatly) dislike someone we used to call our best friend. So for any kids who read this, I’m sorry to report that you may not be free of these things once you leave school.

2) Do you feel as if there are any significant issues that you would face in middle school when you lost your best friend?

Being alone. Watching friends take sides. Then, through all that, still having to go to class with them, find someone to sit with at lunch, make weekend plans. As an adult we can more easily avoid certain people (unless we work with them) but when you’re in school you’re stuck seeing them every week day and there’s not a lot you can do about it. Aside from homeschooling, which I don’t know much about but sounds kind of boring.

3) Do you think that middle school is a time when best friends are more likely to break up? If so why?

I don’t necessarily thing they’re more likely to break up. I think in middle school you’re learning to stand your ground more, figuring out who you are and what you’re about and maybe for the first time you’re willing to even stand up to your own best friend. But fights with friends can really happen at any age. Haven’t you seen the Real Housewives franchise? Proof right there that there is no age limit on BFF breakups.

4) Did you learn anything about friendship as you were writing your novel?

One big thing I learned is that you’re responsible for how you treat other people, regardless of what’s happening in your life. If you’re having a bad day or going through something traumatic (like Madeline does) that doesn’t give you license to treat your friends poorly. Even if your life is rotten, you can’t be rotten to the people who most want to help you and expect them to take it. And if you do, you should know enough to apologize.

5) Is there anything that you would like to add about best friends and the pain of moving away from each other?

It never gets easier. Most of us, we love our best friends like we love our siblings. At times we do everything together, share our worst secrets with each other, our wildest, most outrageous dreams, things we would only write in our diaries. When something happens to make that one person your enemy, or someone you can’t trust, it’s devastating. They know everything about you and now they hate you, or suddenly you can’t trust them? That’s hard at any age. But if you’re always honest in your relationships—all of them, with boys, girls, parents—then you’re less likely to have an epic blowout fight. If you do have to face a breakup—if things just can’t be repaired and all trust is lost—at least remember what was good about that person. It’s unlikely they’re straight-up evil, even if you want to believe they are. Something drew you to them in the first place, so try not to vilify them. Most importantly, don’t go smack-talking about them afterward. It doesn’t do any good, makes a bad situation worse, and no one wins by doing it. Try to keep your trap shut.

Hillary Homzie still remembers what it was like to be called someone’s second best friend. Ouch. She likes to read and write about other people’s friendship problems. To learn more about Hillary and her books go to

Indie Spotlight: Green Bean Books in Portland, Oregon

Portland , Oregon is a lucky city with not one but several independent bookstores catering to children! We’re talking today with Jennifer Green, owner/founder of the newest of them, Green Bean Books, established in July, 2009 and located in the city’s Alberta district. “Green Bean Books is the quintessential spot for cheerful coziness on a rainy Portland day,” says Portland-based children’s author Roseanne Parry (Heart of a Shepherd, Second Fiddle). “Whether you need just the perfect picture book, a chapter book for a finicky fourth grader or a novel and a mustache, the Green Bean staff is there with just the right suggestion.”

MUF: Jennifer, it’s heartening to see a relatively new bookstore thriving. What made you decide to take the plunge?
Jennifer: I was an elementary school teacher for ten years and wanted to try something new with some of my favorite aspects of teaching: fantastic children’s literature and reading-based activities with kids! Portland is a city with lots of families with young kids just looking for fun activities and educational things to do, so I thought I could fulfill a need in my neighborhood. Developing a sense of community for friends and neighbors was key to me in creating Green Bean Books.

MUF: What’s unique about Green Bean Books (aside from the vending machines, which I’ll ask about in a moment)?
Jennifer: Green Bean is all about noticing minutia (: There are surprises waiting to be discovered around every corner of the shop. I wanted it to be a place where people are constantly noticing new things that they may have overlooked the first time they perused the place. My hope is that people do not think of Green Bean as just a store but an adventure and a discovery!

green Bean reading couch

MUF: What kinds of things do you do to welcome the community and make them feel the store is theirs?
Jennifer: I’ve tried to make the store a cozy, friendly, and inviting space that encourages families to snuggle up with a book and hang out for awhile. I’ve also created interactive displays that beacon kids to explore on their own. We have a sweet, weeping mulberry bush in the yard that I’ve turned into a reading fort when the weather is good. We also do lots of activities on our beautiful deck in the summer.

MUF: Although Green Bean Books is a small store, you could close your eyes, reach in any direction, and pick a book you’d want to read. One of your booksellers said,” We don’t have any bad books here. We don’t have room for them!” How do you go about selecting books to carry at Green Bean?
Jennifer: All three of us read, read, read, and I like to think we have really good taste in books. We also try and keep in mind our audience and our neighborhood. . . what people are talking about and asking for each day when they come in and chat with us. We write it all down and make title choices based on our community.

MUF: We’re Middle Grade authors, so we just have to ask: what is your favorite book of fiction (all-time or current) for readers ages nine to twelve? Nonfiction?
Jennifer: That’s actually my favorite group to read for! There are sooo many good ones! I’ve recently loved The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis. Inside Out and Back Again by Thanha Lai and With a Name Like Love by Tess Hilmo were excellent, too! In the nonfiction arena, I love Maira Kalman’s new picture book geared toward older readers, Looking at Lincoln. I also found World wIthout Fish by Mark Kurlansky completely fascinating.

MUF: Thanks, I’ve just added some titles to my to-read list! Okay, now let’s talk about those vending machines. You won’t find that kind of creativity at Barnes & Noble.
Jennifer: Yes, I collect vintage vending machines and re-purpose them into dispensing new items that kids will enjoy. For example, I have an old tampon machine from the 70s that you can by fake-fur mustaches and beards out of for 25 cents. I also hand-make muskrat finger puppets and sell them out of a funky old cigarette machine from the 60s (I collect finger puppets, too). There’s a mini-journal and pencil set machine, a tattoo/sticker machine, and a miraculous baby machine that dispenses miniature babies with bottles and birth certificates. I’m always trying to thing of the next machine to invent.

Mustaches. anyone?

MUF: You seem to have a lot going on at your store all the time.. .
Jennifer: We offer a ton of community activities each month, including weekly story times, monthly Spanish story time, bookmaking classes, author visits, sing-alongs, and surprise craft stations. One of our most sccessful events was probably Fairy Day last summer. We read fairy books, kids made magic wands, ate sparkly cookies and then they got to create miniature woodland fairy houses outside all around the bookstore yard. It was truly magical.

Fairy Day at Green Bean Books

MUF: Any events coming up that you’re especially excited about?
Jennifer: Yes! Singer Laura Viers is coming on February 29 at 11 AM to share her beautiful music with families from her new album Tumble Bee.

MUF:We encourage families, especially those whose towns don’t have a children’s bookstore, to make places like Green Bean Books a day-trip destination. In case they can stay awhile, are there any family restaurants nearby where they could have a meal or a snack after book-browsing?
Jennifer: Yes, there are several great restaurants that are kid-friendly in Alberta. One of my favorites is the Grilled Cheese Grill: kids get to eat deliciously greasy grilled cheese sandwiches on an old school bus that has been converted into a restaurant. Helzer’s, right next door, also is very family friendly and has the best potato pancakes in town!

MUF: And if they can stay the whole day or the weekend, are there a couple of unique Portland sights and activities they shouldn’t miss?
Jennifer: The Portland Children’s Museum is awesome, and I’ve recently discovered an eccentric museum in NW Portland called The Peculiarium that even has an alien abduction room! What kid would not like that?!

MUF: Thank you so much, Jennifer, for giving us a glimpse of Green Bean Books!
Readers, if you’ve already visited this store or would like to, please let Jennifer know in a comment here. Or share your thoughts about children’s bookstores with us and let us know of one you like that you think we should feature. Then stay tuned each month to read about still more children’s book experiences that you won’t get online or in a chain store. On March 26, we’ll be visiting Blue Manatee in Cincinnati.

Full S.T.E.A.M. Ahead — Making Nonfiction Fun!

I have a confession.  I am a science geek. As a kid, instead of playing tag or football, I  was in my garage with the members of my science club. My friends and I spent our days identifying plant species, collecting rocks, and even looking for microscopic animals in drops of river water. While that may not sound strange, the following probably does:  the most prized possession of our club was the skull of a dead cow. It sat in a special box on top of the milk crate containing our rocks. It was awesome! Unfortunately, when we moved, my mom wouldn’t let me keep it. (Can’t imagine why…)

So what’s the point of telling you this? For us, science was something to be explored, to learn about, and most importantly a way to have FUN!


Unfortunately, many of us see science as dull and boring, something that you read from an out-dated text book.  Come on, how many of you didn’t like science in school? Raise your hand.

Did a lot of hands go up?  That’s too bad, because science ROCKS!  (No pun intended)

As a middle-school science teacher, I try to impress on my students that science is all around us., we just need to be aware of it. Consider this: When you go for a walk at night, why are there frogs all over the sidewalk? Or why you can see planets among the stars during certain times of the year?  Why do dogs bark? How do magnets stick together?

Answers to these questions and many more can be found in a nonfiction book. Gone are the days of boring texts that contain page after page of ho-hum concepts. Today’s nonfiction is full of information that is presented with unique ideas in a fascinating and electrifying way.



But where do you find these books? Go to your local library. Pull a book off the nonfiction shelf and open it up. It’s probably filled with pictures and exciting words that jump off the page. The goal is to make science come alive for the readers – of any age.

Here are a few more examples:




These books are gaining such popularity, that they’ve been given their own catchy term. They are called STEM books (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics).  The term STEM has been used not only to describe books, but STEM programs that also teach kids about these topics in a fun way. These uniquely interactive programs have sprung up all over the country.

STEM programs aren’t the only way to get your kids involved, however, a lot of STEM books have a “hands on” section with suggestions to try or even mini-experiments they can do. Maybe you want to build a bridge and see how stable it is. Or perhaps you wish to freeze water in a cup and learn how ice, unlike most solids, is actually less dense when it’s frozen. Kids love interacting with STEM topics. Some student even learn better when they can see what’s going on, instead of just reading about it. It allows them to get into the middle of science and figure it out. Science is not a spectator sport!!

For other ways to find some great nonfiction books, check out some of these fantastic blogs:


INK- Interesting NonFiction for Kids

STEM Friday Blog  or      Nonfiction Monday    both created  by Author Anastasia Suen


The excitement surrounding this topic continues to grow. Recently educators have been lobbying to change STEM to STEAM. STEAM encompasses regular STEM topics but also adds Art and Design books to the acronym. Advocates of this change insist that Art and Design concepts are critical to making STEM topics fun and interesting.

Check out these links to see the S.T.E.A.M. discussion unfold:




Regardless of whether you support STEM or STEAM, we can all agree that these books are much needed in the classroom and beyond. After all, they provide a way to inspire kids to expand their horizons and notice the world around them.

And just a small hint for aspiring authors out there, STEM and STEAM books are in great demand by teachers and librarians. If you love these topics and feel you can present them in a unique way, you might want to consider writing nonfiction. It’s fun!

Finally, thanks for letting me share my science “geek-ness” with you.  I hope it will encourage all you readers out there to pick up a STEM/STEAM book soon. Who knows, maybe one day, you might find yourself hosting your own science club in your garage. (Although maybe you want to skip the cow skull…)




Jennifer Swanson is the author of seven STEM books and a self-professed science geek. When not writing or hanging out with her family, you will find her at the beach collecting shells.  (And yes, she keeps them in her garage.) You can learn more about Jennifer at