Monica Sherwood, Author of THE ICE HOUSE + Giveaway!

Today at the Mixed-Up Files, we’re delighted to introduce you to Monica Sherwood and her debut novel The Ice House, which was published by Little, Brown Books For Young Readers on November 16.

Monica is a former elementary school special education teacher in New York. She holds a master’s degree in Childhood and Special Education and currently works in edTech, designing digital products for teachers and students.

For a chance to win a copy of The Ice House, click on the Rafflecopter at the bottom of this post and then leave a comment below, share this interview on your social media, tweet about it, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram to increase your chances of becoming the lucky winner.

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For more about Monica, check out her website.


Dorian: Can you tell us a little bit about The Ice House?

Monica: The Ice House tells the story of twelve-year-old Louisa, whose life has been upended by the Freeze, a dangerous global climate event that caused her grandmothers death. Shes been snowed-in to her apartment for months with her grieving mother, her annoying little brother, and her firefighter father, who is increasingly stressed by the Freezes treacherous conditions. Her downstairs neighbor (and former friend) Luke is the only kid her age in the building, and when his dad is seriously injured, shes forced to keep him company.

A mutual desperation to escape their scary new realities brings Louisa and Luke outside, where they build a massive snow fort in their yard. In the ice house, they share with each other what they want most: for Louisas mom to recover from her grief, and for Lukes dads memory to return. When they begin to see visions of their families happy and healed, they embark on a mission to stop the Freeze and bring about this better future theyve envisioned.


Inspiration and Influences

Dorian: What was the inspiration for the story?

Monica: I started writing The Ice House during an especially freezing winter that felt never-ending. I began wondering what life would be like if the snow never melted. I was teaching in Brooklyn at the time, and I started imagining what it might be like for a kid to be snowed-in with no end in sight.

The emotional turmoil Louisa and Luke are facing was inspired in part by my own personal experiences with grief as a child. When I was a kid, I didn’t have a book that represented what I was experiencing. If I had, I think I would have felt less alone.

(The trees to the left, which provided much inspiration, are what Monica looked out at as she began writing The Ice House.)


Dorian: What middle-grade books inspired you to become a writer, and what about these stories did you appreciate most?

Monica: The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin, Lily’s Crossing by Patricia Reilly Giff, and PS. Longer Letter Later by Paula Danziger and Ann M. Martin were some of my favorite books growing up, and each of them inspired me to want to be a writer.

Although each of these books are very different, they are all clever and handle serious subject matter thoughtfully.  They each have their own charm, uniquely capturing the nuanced details that captivate kid readers. I distinctly remember getting lost in each of these books, a feeling I still chase when I read today.


Dorian: Youve mentioned that you wrote The Ice House before the pandemic, but Im wondering if there were similarities between the events in the book and how you later got through the pandemic?

Monica: Yes, definitely. One of the biggest similarities between Louisa and Luke’s experience during the Freeze and my own during the pandemic was the sense of camaraderie that formed in the face of the unknown. I definitely forged closer bonds with the people in my life I quarantined with and was comforted by the desire we shared to have life as we knew it return.

Dorian: What kind of research did you have to do for the authenticity of the novel?

Monica: I researched the Inuit people and the origins of the igloo, as well as the science behind igloo formation. To create the theories proposed by climate experts in The Ice House, I researched some aspects of climate science. I also did research into memory loss associated with traumatic brain injuries.


Writing for the Middle-Grade Audience

Dorian: What made you want to write for the middle-grade audience? And how has your background in education influenced you?

Monica: Middle grade readers are some of the best to write for because of their passion and their curiosity; when they love a book, they really love it. I so appreciate their hunger for strong, nuanced characters, and meaningful stories.

As a teacher I always wanted to lead with honesty, because, in my experience, kids have a strong ability to tell when someone is keeping the truth from them. It’s why I didn’t want to shy away from the darker realities tackled in the story. My time as an educator taught me that kids deserve truthful depictions of the experiences they have had or one day might have. Sadly, kids do experience grief every day, and I hope that those who do can point to Louisa and Luke’s story to feel less alone.

Dorian: What do you hope readers take away from the novel?

Monica: Many kids find themselves in circumstances where they lack agency, or feel as though they have no control over their lives. I hope that The Ice House helps kids see that this feeling won’t last forever, and that they can make decisions that have a positive impact even though they aren’t adults yet.

I would also love for readers to realize that whatever they’re going through, they aren’t alone. We don’t talk to kids enough about what grief, trauma, or depression can be like, which makes it easy for them to feel isolated.

Most of all, I hope readers walk away with the knowledge that envisioning a better future and working to achieve it, even if their dreams feel out of reach at first, is brave.


Writing Tips

Dorian: What are two of your best writing tips?


1. You are your book’s first audience member. If you aren’t writing a book that you would enjoy, it will eventually become very challenging to complete your manuscript.

2. One tactical piece of editing advice that was enlightening while editing The Ice House is to search for the high frequency words you’ve reused in your manuscript. It’s easy to repeat certain words or terms way too many times without realizing it. Chances are you can cut out about half of the instances of repetition (if not more) which can strengthen the clarity of your prose.

Thanks so much, Monica, for taking the time out to talk to us! We look forward to hearing about your future work.

For a chance to win a copy of The Ice House, click on the Rafflecopter link below and follow the directions. A winner will be chosen on Sunday. (U.S. Only)

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Cover Reveal: THE TILTERSMITH by Amy Herrick

Drumroll please…

I am so excited for this chance to present a cover reveal and preview of Amy Herrick’s upcoming book, The Tiltersmith, which promises supernatural overtones that allude to the works of Susan Cooper and Madeleine L’Engle.

Spring is late coming to Brooklyn, NY, and while climate change might have something to do with the chaotic weather patterns bringing late snow and even a tornado to the city, there may be supernatural elements at work, too. A curious character named the Tiltersmith —Superintendent Tiltersmith, he claims — shows up at the kids’ school, in search of the tools that will bring Spring to life. But the Tiltersmith is trying to collect them himself and use them to keep the Lady of spring underground and in his power. Unbeknownst to Edward, Feenix, Danton, and Brigit, the tools have been entrusted to them, but competing forces are working to lead and mis-lead them. If the quartet can protect and use the tools properly, spring will arrive. But if the Tiltersmith has his way, as the underworld teems with life, our world will be trapped in an eternal winter.

The cover features a tight grouping of four young heroes surrounded by a maelstrom of colors. Lightning bolts strike leaves from the trees, hinting at the story’s chaotic weather themes. The kids are layered in brightly colored outerwear, arms akimbo, with hair and jewelry chains flying as if we’ve caught them in the middle of a dance.

And you’ll see it soon.

But first, an excerpt…

Edward Finds a Cocoon

Edward was dreaming. He was trying to pick something up with a spoon. The thing, which was going to lead him to a brilliant scientific discovery, kept sliding away like a piece of spaghetti. Then, just as he thought he’d finally got it, there was a tremendous kaboooooom! and he woke up.

He found himself in the deep middle of the night. A thunderbolt lit the sky outside his window, and in its brief flash of light, he saw that it was snowing again. Seriously? It was March 21. Enough already with the snow.

He lay there counting. Ten seconds and kaboooooom! This meant, he knew, that the storm was about two miles away. He waited for the next flash of lightning, which came quickly. It tore out of the clouds and shot down behind the houses beyond Ninth Street. Snow swirled madly through the air. This time the kaboooooom! came only five seconds later.

The storm was headed right this way.

Edward forced himself out of bed with his blanket around his shoulders. He stood in front of the window, scanning the sky. He wanted to see another bolt up close.

Perhaps thirty seconds later, the next strike happened, right up the street. This time the lightning appeared to burst out of the ground like an enormous electrified finger. It was met almost simultaneously by a bolt from the sky, followed by an enormous concussive baaadoooooom! The whole house shook, and the windows rattled. Peering into the darkness and the snow, Edward saw a round metal disk go flying through the air. It landed with a great crumpling noise on top of a nearby car. The roof of the car folded upward like a piece of origami paper. The disk then slid off the car and came to a stop balanced against its side.

A manhole cover! That was what it had to be. He’d read all about how these things happened. Between the flammable gases that could build up underground and the old and frayed electrical wiring down there, sometimes all it took was a little spark to cause an explosion and—boooom!—a manhole cover would go flying off.

His theory was confirmed when a long tongue of fire shot up from what he could see was an open hole in the middle of the street. All the streetlamps went out like the candles on a birthday cake as the tongue of flame reached higher and higher and slowly died back. He was surprised at what a short time it took before the fire department and then Con Edison began to arrive.

A few minutes later, Edward’s aunt Kit knocked on the door and came in without waiting for an invitation. She was barefoot and wearing her flannel pajamas. The storm had already begun to move slowly off. She joined him at the window. “Well, did you see it?” she asked.

“Did I see what? Could you be a little more specific?” Her vagueness often drove him crazy.

“The part where the lightning shot up out of the ground.”

“Well, yes, I did. That was pretty cool. But it’s common, you know. There’s a positive electrical charge on the ground, and it shoots upward to meet the negative electrical charge coming from the clouds. Happens all the time.”

“Does it, now? Well, that’s an interesting explanation.” “Isn’t it?” he said and hoped she wasn’t going to give him one of her crazy alternative theories.

She didn’t. Instead, she said, “Well, in any case, the timing is amazing, isn’t it?”

He didn’t like to encourage her, but he couldn’t help asking her what this meant.

“I mean with tomorrow being what it is.” “What’s tomorrow?”

“Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten. Well, you’ll remember in the morning. We’d better get to bed. We’re going to need our sleep.”

Science and supernatural weirdness in a middle-grade novel that starts on a dark and stormy night… If you liked A Wrinkle in Time, this book will hook you for sure.

And now, the big reveal

The Tiltersmith by Amy Herrick

The Tiltersmith releases on April 5, 2022 from Algonquin Young Readers.

About Amy Herrick:

Amy Herrick grew up in Queens, New York, and attended SUNY Binghamton and the University of Iowa. She lives in Brooklyn, where she has raised two sons, taught pre-K and grade school, written books, and kept company with her husband and numerous pets. A retired teacher, she loves traveling, learning Spanish, and above all reducing her carbon footprint.

WNDMG — Interview and Giveaway with Karla Arenas Valenti

We Need Diverse MG Logo
We Need Diverse MG

Artwork by Aixa Perez-Prado



Cover art by Dana Sunmar

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Karla Arenas Valenti, author of the extraordinary new MG novel, LOTERIA. This story blends the magic with the real in the spirit of much Latin American literature, and takes places in Mexico. As a writer who strives to celebrate diversity in language and culture in my writing, I found this book especially inspiring and had lots of questions for Karla.

Diversity as a Transformative Experience

APP: Karla, I very much enjoyed reading LOTERIA! Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions.

I love it when authors mix languages and incorporate diverse cultural perspectives in literature. Is that something that you feel was important to this story, and to your other writing.

KAV: Absolutely! In fact, this was one of my objectives in writing “diverse” literature. I see diversity in storytelling as having two prongs: (a) writing or illustrating stories in which all readers can see themselves (diversity serves to ground the reader in the familiar) and (b) writing or illustrating stories that diversify the reader’s experience (diversity serves to transform the reader).Of course, I hope that readers will see themselves in LOTERIA (as I do), but I also wrote this book with the intent of diversifying the personal experience of non-Mexican readers. My goal was to plunge readers into life in a Mexican city: experiencing sounds and sights that are familiar to children in Mexico; exploring culture themes and ideas that are common and beloved in Mexico. By immersing readers in this “diverse” world, I hope they will be transformed, incorporating aspects of this new world into their existing one.

Exploring Big Questions

Illustration by Dana Sunmar

APP: I love that idea, literature as a transformative experience.This book is about one girl but it is also about a philosophical question – whether or not there is free will. How did you come to write about that and why?

KAV: I am a philosopher at heart and am always exploring big questions. As a writer for children, I always try to pose some of these big questions in my stories. This one (the one about free will vs fate) was one I had been trying to write about for many years.

I wanted to find a way to pose the question and present both sides of the argument in a thought-provoking and engaging manner for children. It occurred to me that a game of chance would provide a perfect setting. The question was, which game?

As it turned out, my father provided the answer when he came to visit us and brought a reminder of home: a LOTERIA game set. As we laid out the boards and shuffled the cards, the story began to take shape in my mind and before I knew it, Life and Death had made their grand appearance.

APP: As a  critical and creative thinking teacher, I love the idea of introducing big questions through stories. When you are writing, how important is it to you that your stories make your readers think?

KAV:All of my stories explore some “big” question, whether in a picture book format or a novel. In fact, my biggest challenge as an author is not straying too far in the weds with the big ideas. But making sure there’s enough of a plot to keep my readers engaged.

Extraordinarily Ordinary


Illustration by Dana Sunmar

APP: There certainly is plenty of plot to keep readers very much engaged in Loteria! I enjoyed the relationship between Life and Death, both of whom are characters in the book. Did you base these characters’ personalities purely on your imagination or are they grounded in Mexican folklore and/or belief systems?

KAV: Catrina is a beloved Mexican figure that I cannot take credit for. And in a way, she created Life, for he needed to be her equal – as riveting and wise as Death – in order for the story to work.

APP: I found their relationship very interesting. Yet, they are not the main characters in the story. The main character is an eleven year old girl named Clara. Was it important for you that Clara not be particularly good at anything or have any special talents or abilities?

KAV: Thank you for pointing this out. Yes! This was a deliberate choice. I wanted Clara to be “extraordinarily ordinary” precisely to show that her transformation from ordinary to heroic was not the result of a special trait but rather the ordinary magic that lived within her.

Twists and Turns

APP: I love the idea of being ‘extraordinarily ordinarily’ and still being the main character in a book. As it turns out, her experience is anything but ordinary. Clara is the focus of an extraordinary game played by Life and Death. Did you invent the game of Loteria as it is played in this book, or is this based on an actual game that is played by people?

KAV: It is an actual and very popular game in Mexico. The game is a bit like Bingo with a board that has a grid of sixteen boxes on it. Each board has different images printed on each of the boxes (instead of numbers as is traditional in Bingo).

The game master (cantor) will flip a card from a deck of 54 cards and call out a riddle that relates to that image. Once the players figure out the riddle, they must find it on their board. If they have that image, they place a token on that square. The first person to get four squares in a row wins the game.

APP: Well, now I really want to play the game myself! Solving the riddles sounds like fun. On another note, I was quite surprised at how the story ended. Without giving away any spoilers, can you tell us if you changed your mind about how the story would end while writing it? Or did you know the end from the beginning?

KAV: I knew pretty early on how I wanted the story to end. However, I needed the philosophical justification to make sense. So, I was very deliberate in how I built up the arguments for free will vs fate along the way, such that by the time the reader got to the end, it would all make sense. Unfortunately, that was not at all how things panned out in my first draft.

Ironically, the fate I had planned for Clara did not unfold as I intended. And I had also argued Life and Death into a philosophical conundrum that I could not resolve. What did I do?

You’ll laugh, but I had to give Clara free will to tell the story as she wanted it told. To my great surprise (and relief!) she came up with an answer to the question of free will that I had not anticipated. And it also led to the surprise ending!

Challenge by Design

APP: Wow, that is amazing and it really works for the story. Congratulations on a masterful plot! Ia m wondering about the challenges you faced as you wrote this story.

KAV: The biggest challenge I had was making sure the philosophical debate lined up with the plot, and that every argument (for or against free will) unfolded seamlessly in Clara’s life. My second challenge was making sure I didn’t get too lost in the philosophical aspects of it all. Fortunately, my brilliant editor (Katharine Harrison), was able to give the right amount of guidance to make this work!

APP: Yay for brilliant editors, and editors who are willing to take on books that explore stories from diverse perspectives that may not quite fit mainstream narratives. I find that much Latin American children’s literature is a bit edgier than what is often published in the United States. Did you feel that your book was pushing the limits a little bit or were you confident that it would appeal to a US audience?

KAV: Yes, and that was by design (part of my attempt to diversify the experience of non-Mexican readers).

What’s Next?

APP: I think you definitely accomplished your goal! What’s next for you as a storyteller?

KAV: I am currently working on a second book for Knopf. This is not in the LOTERIA world but will have similar elements: a big philosophical question, magical realism, set in beautiful Mexico. I also have a number of picture books coming out in the next two years with Knopf and Chronicle. As well as a number of story drafts in the pipeline.

And here are some upcoming events:

APP: That is wonderful! I look forward to all of them!

And now for the giveaway! Karla and her publisher have generously agreed to give away a copy of LOTERIA, with beautiful illustrations by Dana Sunmar, to one lucky winner – U.S. entries only please.

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