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October New Releases

Leaves are changing. The temperature is dropping. Fall is definitely here, and just in time for a great month of new middle grade books.
Check out our list of October New Releases – including some that will arrive just in time for Halloween reading.

Nina Soni, Halloween Queen by Kashmira Sheth (Author) Jenn Kocsmiersky (Illustrator)

Halloween hijinks reign supreme in this fourth installment of Kashmira Sheth’s series starring Nina Soni, a charming, distractible Indian-American girl, and her family and friends.

Halloween brings out Nina Soni’s competitive spirit. Her friend Jay has a great costume planned, so–of course–Nina has to come up with an even better idea. A bunch of old boxes in the basement inspires her to create an impressively scary haunted house, for which she can charge admission. So what could possibly go wrong for the Halloween Queen?

In Nina Soni, #OwnVoices author Kashmira Sheth has created an endearing heroine and charming stories of family, friendship, and her efforts to manage her life with lists, definitions, and more. A fun read for STEAM enthusiasts!

 

 

Middle School Bites: Out for Blood by Steven Banks (Author) Mark Fearing (Illustrator)

Tom the Vam-Wolf-Zom is back–and so is the werewolf that bit him–in this monstrously funny series about a boy who’s dying to fit in.

Eleven-year-old Tom was bit by a vampire, a werewolf, and a zombie right before the first day of middle school. It was a weird and crazy day. And he didn’t even get excused from sixth grade!

Now he’s being hunted down by the werewolf that bit him. Should Tom join a wolf pack? On the one hand, he could give up school and homework forever. (He really doesn’t want to do his history report.) On the other hand, he’d miss his band, his friends, and Annie, his maybe-possibly-someday girlfriend. He might even miss his big sister, Emma.

Then the vampire that bit him returns with a warning: the werewolf is dangerous. Perhaps Tom should stick with sixth grade–even if it’s mostly talent show disappointments, detention, and chicken-turkey-salami-roast beef sandwiches.

Created by an Emmy-nominated writer for SpongeBob, The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, and CatDog, this hilarious series is illustrated with clever, cartoon-style art on every spread. Perfect for fans of Diary of a Wimpy Kid and The Last Kids on Earth.

 

Only If You Dare: 13 Stories of Darkness and Doom by Josh Allen (Author) Sarah J. Coleman (Illustrator)

Thirteen chilling short stories to keep you up at night–but only if you dare.

You never know what’s out to get you. Though you might think you’re safe from monsters and menaces, everyday objects can turn against you, too. A mysterious microwave. A threatening board game. A snowman that refuses to melt. Even your own heartbeat has its secrets. Thu-thump. Thu-thump. When you stop to listen, each beat sounds more menacing than the last.

Master storyteller Josh Allen brings thirteen nightmare scenarios to life in this page-turning collection that’s perfect for budding horror junkies. In his wondrous world, danger waits behind every doorway . . . even in the most ordinary places.

Eerie illustrations by award-winning artist Sarah Coleman accompany the stories, packaged in a stunning hardcover edition complete with glow-in-the-dark jacket. Readers will sleep with one eye open!

Salt Magic by Hope Larson (Author) Rebecca Mock (Illustrator)

When a jealous witch curses her family’s well, it’s up to Vonceil to set things right in an epic journey that will leave her changed forever.

When Vonceil’s older brother, Elber, comes home to their family’s Oklahoma farm after serving on the front lines of World War I, things aren’t what she expects. His experiences have changed him into a serious and responsible man who doesn’t have time for Vonceil anymore. He even marries the girl he had left behind.

Then a mysterious and captivating woman shows up at the farm and confronts Elber for leaving her in France. When he refuses to leave his wife, she puts a curse on the family well, turning the entire town’s water supply into saltwater. Who is this lady dressed all in white, what has she done to the farm, and what does Vonceil’s old uncle Dell know about her?

To find out, Vonceil will have to strike out on her own and delve deep into the world of witchcraft, confronting dangerous relatives, shapeshifting animals, a capricious Sugar Witch, and the Lady in White herself–the foreboding Salt Witch. The journey will change Vonceil, but along the way she’ll learn a lot about love and what it means to grow up.

Hope Larson is the author and illustrator of the Eisner Award nominated All Summer Long and the illustrator of the Eisner Award winning A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel. Salt Magic is an utterly unique graphic fairy tale complete with striking illustrations by Rebecca Mock.

 

Playing the Cards You’re Dealt by Varian Johnson

SECRETS ARE ALWAYS A GAMBLE

Ten-year-old Anthony Joplin has made it to double digits! Which means he’s finally old enough to play in the spades tournament every Joplin Man before him seems to have won. So while Ant’s friends are stressing about fifth grade homework and girls, Ant only has one thing on his mind: how he’ll measure up to his father’s expectations at the card table.

Then Ant’s best friend gets grounded, and he’s forced to find another spades partner. And Shirley, the new girl in his class, isn’t exactly who he has in mind. She talks a whole lot of trash — way more than his old partner. Plus, he’s not sure that his father wants him playing with a girl. But she’s smart and tough and pretty, and knows every card trick in the book. So Ant decides to join forces with Shirley — and keep his plans a secret.

Only it turns out secrets are another Joplin Man tradition. And his father is hiding one so big it may tear their family apart…

Literary powerhouse and Coretta Scott King Honor- and Boston Globe / Horn Book Honor-winning author of The Parker Inheritance Varian Johnson explores themes of toxic masculinity and family legacy in this heartfelt, hopeful story of one boy discovering what it really means to be a man.

 

Susie B. Won’t Back Down by Margaret Finnegan

Roll with It meets Absolutely Normal Chaos in this funny, big-hearted novel about a young girl’s campaign for student council president, told through letters to her hero Susan B. Anthony.

Susie B. has a lot to say. Like how it’s not fair that she has to be called Susie B. instead of plain Susie. Or about how polar bears are endangered. Or how the Usual Geniuses are always getting picked for cool stuff over the kids like her with butterflies in their brain. And it’s because Susie B. has a lot to say about these very important things that she’s running for student council president!

If she’s president, she can advocate for the underdogs just like her hero and fellow Susie B., Susan B. Anthony. (And, okay, maybe the chance to give big speeches to the whole school with a microphone is another perk.) But when the most usual of Usual Geniuses also enters the student council race, Susie realizes this may be a harder won fight than she thought. Even worse, Susie discovers that Susan B. Anthony wasn’t as great as history makes it seem, and she did some pretty terrible things to try to help her own cause. Soon, Susie has her own tough decisions to make. But one thing is for sure–no matter what, Susie B. won’t back down.

 

Sorry for Your Loss by Joanne Levy

Evie Walman is not obsessed with death. She does think about it a lot, though, but only because her family runs a Jewish funeral home. At twelve, Evie already knows she’s going to be a funeral director when she grows up. So what if the kids at school call her “corpse girl” and say she smells like death? They’re just mean and don’t get how important it is to have someone take care of things when your world is falling apart. Evie loves dusting caskets, polishing pews, and vacuuming the chapel–and on funeral days, she dresses up and hands out tissues and offers her condolences to mourners. She doesn’t normally help her parents with the grieving families directly, until one day when they ask her to help with Oren, a boy who was in a horrific car accident that killed both his parents. Oren refuses to speak and Evie, who is nursing her own private grief, is determined to find a way to help him deal with his loss.

 

 

 

 

The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy by Anne Ursu

From the acclaimed author of The Real Boy and The Lost Girl comes a wondrous and provocative fantasy about a kingdom beset by monsters, a mysterious school, and a girl caught in between them.

If no one notices Marya Lupu, is likely because of her brother, Luka. And that’s because of what everyone knows: that Luka is destined to become a sorcerer.

The Lupus might be from a small village far from the capital city of Illyria, but that doesn’t matter. Every young boy born in in the kingdom holds the potential for the rare ability to wield magic, to protect the country from the terrifying force known only as the Dread.

For all the hopes the family has for Luka, no one has any for Marya, who can never seem to do anything right. But even so, no one is prepared for the day that the sorcerers finally arrive to test Luka for magical ability, and Marya makes a terrible mistake. Nor the day after, when the Lupus receive a letter from a place called Dragomir Academy–a mysterious school for wayward young girls. Girls like Marya.

Soon she is a hundred miles from home, in a strange and unfamiliar place, surrounded by girls she’s never met. Dragomir Academy promises Marya and her classmates a chance to make something of themselves in service to one of the country’s powerful sorcerers. But as they learn how to fit into a world with no place for them, they begin to discover things about the magic the men of their country wield, as well as the Dread itself–things that threaten the precarious balance upon which Illyria is built.

 

Yummy: A History of Desserts (a Graphic Novel) by Victoria Grace Elliott

Cake is delicious and comics are awesome: this exciting non-fiction graphic novel for kids combines both! Explore the history of desserts through a fun adventure with facts, legends, and recipes for readers to try at home.

Have you ever wondered who first thought to freeze cream? Or when people began making sweet pastry shells to encase fruity fillings? Food sprite Peri is excited to show you the delicious history of sweets while taking you around the world and back!

The team-up that made ice cream cones!

The mistake that made brownies!

Learn about and taste the true stories behind everyone’s favorite treats, paired with fun and easy recipes to try at home. After all, sweets–and their stories–are always better when they’re shared!

 

Bugs for Breakfast: How Eating Insects Could Help Save the Planet by Mary Boone 

Most North Americans would rather squish a bug than eat it.

But mopane worms are a tasty snack in Zimbabwe, baby bees are eaten right out of the can in Japan, and grasshopper tacos are popular in Mexico. More than one-fourth of the world’s population eats insects–a practice called entomophagy. Bugs for Breakfast helps middle-grade readers understand the role insects fill in feeding people around the world.

Readers will be introduced to the insect specialties and traditions around the globe. They’ll discover how nutritious bugs can be and why dining on insects is more environmentally friendly than eating traditional protein sources. Kids will see how making small changes in their own diets could help ensure no one goes hungry. It even includes 13 insect recipes!

No doubt about it: teachers, librarians, and parents are hungry for books that entice young readers to be active participants in science.

Bugs for Breakfast may not completely remove the yuck-factor from the notion of eating bugs, but it will open young readers’ minds to what is happening in the world around them.

 

The Bookshop of Dust and Dreams by Mindy Thompson

What does all the magic in the world matter if it can’t save the ones you love? For self-proclaimed bookstore lovers and fans of Pages & Co. comes an exploration of the way war can shape a family, in the tradition of Pax and Wolf Hollow.

It’s 1944 Sutton, NY, and Poppy’s family owns and runs, Rhyme and Reason, a magical bookshop that caters to people from all different places and time periods. Though her world is ravaged by World War II, customers hail from the past and the future, infusing the shop with a delightful mix of ideas and experiences.

Poppy dreams of someday becoming shopkeeper like her father, though her older brother, Al, is technically next in line for the job. She knows all of the rules handed down from one generation of Bookseller to the next, especially their most important one: shopkeepers must never use the magic for themselves.

But then Al’s best friend is killed in the war and her brother wants to use the magic of the shop to save him. With her father in the hospital suffering from a mysterious illness, the only one standing between Al and the bookstore is Poppy. Caught between her love for her brother and loyalty to her family, she knows her brother’s actions could have devastating consequences that reach far beyond the bookshop as an insidious, growing Darkness looms. This decision is bigger than Poppy ever dreamed, and the fate of the bookshops hangs in the balance.

 

Pighearted by Alex Perry

Charlotte’s Web meets My Sister’s Keeper in this charming story told from the alternating perspectives of a boy with a fatal heart condition and the pig with the heart that could save his life.

Jeremiah’s heart skips a beat before his first soccer game, but it’s not nerves. It’s the first sign of a heart attack. He knows he needs to go to the hospital, but he’s determined to score a goal. Charging after the ball, he refuses to stop…even if his heart does.

J6 is a pig and the only one of his five brothers who survived the research lab. Though he’s never left his cell, he thinks of himself as a therapy pig, a scholar, and a bodyguard. But when the lab sends him to live with Jeremiah’s family, there’s one new title he’s desperate to have: brother.

At first, Jeremiah thinks his parents took in J6 to cheer him up. But before long, he begins to suspect there’s more to his new curly-tailed companion than meets the eye. When the truth is revealed, Jeremiah and J6 must protect each other at all costs–even if their lives depend on it.

 

There are lots of great titles to choose from this month. Any catch your eye? Please, let us know in the comments below, and happy reading!

 

 

Mixed-Up Files interview with Dan Abdo and Jason Patterson, authors of, Barb the Last Berzerker!

Hello Mixed-Up Filers,

Wow, you have me three times this month! How I envy you! Well, we are in for a treat today! We have the authors of the new graphic novel series from Simon & Schuster, Barb the Last Berzerker, by Dan Abdo and Jason Patterson.

JR: Thanks for joining us over at Mixed-Up Files!

Dan: Thank you so much for having us! It’s an honor!

Jason: Thank you so much!

JR: I was fortunate enough to have a chance to read Barb the Last Berzerker already, and found it to be so much fun! For those who don’t know, can you tell us a little bit about the book and where the idea for Barb came from?

Dan : Sure. Jason and I are writers, cartoonists, and animators. We were bouncing ideas off each other over sandwiches in Manhattan. We are huge fans of orcs, dragons, magic swords, and all things dorky. We knew we wanted to come up with an adventure story and we also knew we wanted to design a hero that our kids could look at and see themselves in. A real hero who did the right thing, even when doing the right thing is hard. Especially when it’s hard.

Jason: I think we were both in a place in our lives where we were creatively a bit frustrated. We hear the word no a lot! And so Barb is kind of this champion who never takes no for an answer. She never gives up! She really inspired us. It’s funny to say but we really do think of her as a real person.  The more we got to know her, the world of Balliwick just kept unfolding in front of us in a really exciting and organic way. It felt more like a place we discovered rather than a place we created. Side note: Are italics kind of annoying? I can’t tell.

JR: They don’t bother me at all! There is a lot of humor in the book, as well as some more touching moments. How difficult is it to strike the right balance?

Jason: I think in all fiction, but especially  fantasy, you have to really ground the reader. Action is a blast, but unless there is a real emotional story underneath, things can start to feel flat. Barb’s backstory was a really important element to get right.

Dan : Barb’s backstory and her relationship with her mom is one of things that makes Barb real. The comedy just flows out of these characters and the crazy predicaments that Barb and her pal Porkchop find themselves in. I grew up in a household with a single mom, and had never really seen an honest and fun relationship between a kid and a single parent portrayed in a fantasy adventure story. Barb’s relationship with her mom is rich and complex and gives us lots of places to go as writers and cartoonists.

JR: When reading the book, I doubt that this was in your minds, but I got a kind of Groo by Sergio Aragones vibe from it. Were you fans? Who were some of your influences?

Dan : We LOVE Groo! Sergio Aragonés is a genius cartoonist and we’re huge fans. I have always loved comics and cartoons that can really mix adventure and comedy. Teenage mutant Ninja Turtles has been a huge influence on me my whole life. The Scrooge McDuck comics and the Ducktales cartoon are also reference points I always go back too. Jason and I are always chatting about film and TV too. I think we’ve learned a lot about story telling by deconstructing some of our favorite films, like

Jason: Totally! Groo meets Conan!  I think that could be the elevator pitch. Going over to Dan’s house after school and reading comics together was always such a blast. We would both just sit on the floor and get lost for hours. I remember one time in particular when Dan was super excited about a TMNT storyline where there was a dinosaur from the future. It was such a wacky idea but still totally worked in the world. It was so rad!

Dan : Triceratons rule!

 JR: I could write a thesis about how much I love Duck Tales! The two of you have been friends since high school. What’s it like to work with your friend?

Dan : It’s a never ending nightmare I can’t wake up from.

Jason: Ha! I think Dan is joking. (God what if he’s not. This would be an amazing place to find that out. ) The best part is that we are in this together. It’s hard to make a comic. (probably not quite as hard as Barb defeating Witch Head, but close) What makes it easier is that as I sweat over my pages I know Dan is sweating over his pages too. When one of us starts taking this too seriously (usually me) the other one (usually Dan) can offer some perspective, we get to make comics everyday!

JR: Funny, I also like to tell my friends what I think that they’re doing wrong. What is your process like, and are there ever any disagreements over your projects?

Dan: We write and draw and do everything together. In all honesty, I feel super lucky to have a creative partner who is so talented and so fun to work with. I feel like I’m always running to keep up with Jason’s drawings and writing  which makes me a better artist. Jason has one of the funniest and most twisted senses of humor I’ve ever encountered and I am constantly in stitches. We never really have huge disagreements.

Jason: That’s not true Dan, we do argue about stuff.

Dan: No we don’t!

Jason: Yes we do! Side note: Dan is an amazing story teller and artist, I have to run to keep up with him! I think his brain never stops.

 

JR: You’ve been responsible for projects in TV, movies, comics, and now graphic novels. What are the differences/pros and cons in each of these formats, and which do you prefer?

Dan: Right now we are all in on comics. It’s so great to be able to make something start to finish, with just a few people. One of the most frustrating parts of television and film development is that you can work for years on a project, and then in the blink of an eye it can go away. You can be left with literally nothing to show for it. Where in graphic novels there will always be a book, a physical thing, that you can hold. And the experience of reading a book is so exciting, so laugh inducing, and often more intimate and personal than watching something. We love film and TV, but dang comics are just so rad I can’t praise the art form enough.

Jason: Totally. It’s such a fun medium. Literally every part about making comics is fun. The writing, the first pass of thumbs, adding color, even answering questions about making comics is fun!

JR: When you do projects for TV/movies, how much autonomy do you have, as opposed to when you work on your graphic novels and can decide everything for yourselves?

Dan : Every project is a little different, but generally you have much less autonomy in TV/film. TV/Film is such a collaborative process, which is part of what’s amazing about it, but also there can be  so many cooks in the kitchen  that often all the edges get rounded off, and things become homogenized. Lots of metaphors there, but you get the idea.

Jason: With comics you can make changes up until the last second, which is so great. It gives the story a much more spontaneous and I think natural feeling. Like Improv Jazz . Animation has its own set of wonderful attributes, but you really can’t make changes once you lock picture. It’s just a much bigger boat and takes so much longer to change direction. Oops, switched metaphors there… I mean animation is more like a thirty piece orchestra.

 

JR: What are you working on next, and also, what’s next for Barb?

Dan : We have a graphic novel series called Blue, Barry, & Pancakes out with First Second books. It’s very different from Barb — these are super fun, surreal, stories of friendship between Blue a worm, Barry a frog, and Pancakes, a big fuzzy rabbit. They are aimed at a younger reader and are chock full of comedy, adventure, and heart!

Jason: Barb is definitely going to three books. We just wrapped the second book this week called “Barb and the legend of the Ghost Blade.”  We will take a few minutes off…then it’s onto MORE COMICS!

JR: Thank you so much for joining us, and best of luck to Barb the Last Berzerker!

Dan and Jason: Thank you so much for hosting us and posing such thoughtful questions. We can’t wait to chat with you again! Cheers!

Well, that’s it for this time, Mixed-Up Filers! Hope you enjoyed, and make sure you go out and get Barb the Last Berzerker!

How to Stop a Boulder

The bell will be ringing soon, but there’s a different sound coming from the intercom in my classroom. It’s the triple beep of an announcement, followed by the voice of our head principal. Even through the tinny speaker I can tell she’s deathly serious. She even does the thing where she pauses mid-sentence to make sure everyone is listening. 

I stop handing out papers and wait. I’m just as curious as my students. We don’t usually get announcements directly from the principal.

You’ve probably heard of the latest trend on Tik Tok, she says. 

I haven’t, but I nod my head anyway because it doesn’t take much to lose street cred with middle schoolers.

The trend, our principal explains, encourages students to vandalize school property. Break things, steal things, deface things. I gather that you do these bad things and then post a video of said bad things online for other people to see. This is all new to me. I thought Tik Tok was dance videos. Or maybe it was cat videos. Isn’t there one that’s just cat videos?

Don’t get sucked into this trend, our principal warns. It’s a Level 3 Offense to vandalize the school. I look out at my classroom and gather that my students know very little about Level 3 Offenses but plenty about this Tik Tok thing. I can tell by the whispers that it must be popular. Maybe even more popular than cat videos.

I’ve done some research since that announcement (including trying to get my head around Tik Tok in general — the national PTA put out a very helpful guide for parents). Turns out the trend is very popular. Like, millions-of-views popular. Most of the videos are short. Kids ripping soap dispensers off walls or swiping things off teachers’ desks or breaking bathroom mirrors. I haven’t seen the videos myself — Tik Tok rightly blocked them and made searching for them on the platform much more difficult.

Even now, a few days after digesting all of this, I still can’t understand the appeal. All moral arguments aside, the risk/reward analysis doesn’t add up. You’re literally posting the evidence of your crimes online and hoping other people find it. How could you not get caught? I was a pretty savvy middle schooler and did plenty of questionable stuff, so this just isn’t making any sense to me.

But that’s the thing about trends — they don’t have to make sense to be popular. The momentum of a trend is enough to flatten most logical arguments like a boulder careening down the side of a mountain.

So did the announcement work? Did our school escape the clutches of the latest Tik Tok trend? We’ll see, but I’m not sure an announcement alone, no matter how long the mid-sentence pauses, can halt something with so much momentum. For that, change has to come from within. It has to be planted like a seed and grow into a sapling that grows into a tree that’s strong enough to stop a boulder. I only know of a few things that can do that in a person, and since this is a book blog you can probably guess what’s coming next.

Listed below are three incredible books that highlight the allure of trends, social pressure, and the power of transcending what’s popular for the sake of what’s right. Whether you’re a current middle schooler, a former middle schooler, or a very former middle schooler, I think you’ll be encouraged by the strong, sometimes refreshingly subversive characters in these books.

Shannon, the main character in this memoir-style graphic novel, spends most of the book trying to figure out whether she’s in or out. It could easily have been a story about a girl abandoning her moral compass for the sake of being popular, but instead it’s a much messier and more realistic portrayal of the delicate balancing act of fitting in and finding friends. Shannon is honest, self-aware, and painfully loyal. She’s also angry, scared, sometimes vindictive and confused. One thing she’s not is a follower, and that makes for a heartwarming and poignant story with a satisfyingly untidy ending.

 

Writing a story about a student with special needs is tough. Writing it in the first person is an even bolder choice, yet Leslie Connor navigates it beautifully. As a special education teacher myself, I started this book with some healthy skepticism, but I was quickly won over by Mason’s honesty, his charm, his way of seeing the world in such simple yet vivid detail. More than anything, Mason is who he is. He wrestles with his shortcomings, but he also has an elusive sense of peace about the kind of kid he is. He finds beauty in all sorts of things that others miss, and while other characters in this book are jockeying for popularity and approval, Mason is content in a world where there are simple truths like right and wrong. It challenged my own thinking more than I expected it to, which I’m sure Mason would not have intended but would be happy to know.

Jack Cheng set out to write an adult novel. He says as much in an episode of his Podcast about the development of See You in the Cosmos. In writing the story, he discovered the gentle, hilariously honest Alex Petroski. As the story developed, I’m so glad it eventually landed in the world of middle grade. Kids need to read more characters like Alex. He’s driven, but not in the cliche, success-at-all-costs way so many characters tend to be. His arc is refreshingly unique — an ever-widening net of relationships and perspectives, all set against the backdrop of a message to hypothetical aliens somewhere out there in the universe. Alex often plays the role of commentator, and it’s through this commentary that we see his resilience and his refusal to accept the things around him at face value. The story also serves as a reminder that bucking trends and pursuing truth doesn’t always have a perfectly happy ending, and loose ends don’t mean we were on the wrong path.

I’m sure there will be other trends. Something tells me Tik Tok isn’t going away any time soon. And not all trends are bad. Some of my educator friends were wondering if maybe bringing teachers coffee could go viral someday. 

It all comes down to decisions — I think that’s what our building principal was getting at. We balance the input of the world with the things we already know and hold true. Sometimes the decision lands us in the world of the Level 3 Offense, but on our good days we look more like the powerfully human characters in the books that shape our lives.