Agent Spotlight: Kristin Ostby from The Greenhouse Agency

Today, I’m thrilled to introduce our readers to agent Kristin Ostby from The Greenhouse Literary Agency. Now an agent, Kristin has been an editor, as well as a writer, of children’s books for many years. Check out the books she’s edited here and the books she’s written here.

Dorian: Welcome, Kristin!

Kristin: Thank you so much for having me at Mixed-Up Files! Middle-grade is the age category closest to my heart, and I’m so glad to have the opportunity to introduce myself to your readership.


Dorian: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your path to becoming a literary agent?

Kristin: I spent many years as a children’s book editor, most notably at Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster, and becoming a literary agent always seemed like an interesting opportunity. During my time as an editor, a couple of agents indicated there was a place for me should I be interested in the job, and a former boss encouraged agenting at one point as well. I spoke to agent friends and gathered information, but the right opportunity didn’t come my way until Greenhouse came calling and everything clicked into place.


Dorian: Please tell us a bit about The Greenhouse Literary Agency?

Kristin: Greenhouse is an editorial agency. It was founded by a former publisher and is led by another former editor—the phenomenal Chelsea Eberly—so it was a fantastic fit for me, not to mention a golden opportunity. Greenhouse’s sterling reputation and remarkable track record speak for themselves. It’s a fabulous place to be an agent, and I’m really looking forward to what’s to come.


Dorian: What middle-grade books inspired you as a child?

Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech is, for me, the gold standard, and I’ll always be looking for middle-grade novels that affect me the way that book did as a child. It’s lyrical, it’s off-beat, the voice jumps off the page, and the surprise ending sincerely pulled the rug out from underneath me when I first read it.











Because I was a voracious reader as a kid, it’s hard to narrow down the books that inspired me, but I remember being impacted by the honesty of Judy Blume, the whimsy and weirdness of Roald Dahl, the grounded friendships of the Babysitters Club, the devourable mysteries of Nancy Drew, the delightfully trippy qualities of A Wrinkle in Time, and the depth and nuance of Number the Stars.


Dorian: What are some of your favorite contemporary middle-grade novels?

Kristin: When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead, Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos, Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo, El Deafo by Cece Bell, and The Crossover by Kwame Alexander











Dorian: All great books! What genres, subjects, or themes do you wish to see in your inbox?

Kristin: I would love to see high concept stories with hooky premises, preferably by BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and disabled creators. I would particularly love to see more stories from Native American authors. I’m a sucker for observational humor and wit, and I would love to see clever humor in all stories including mysteries, contemporary literary fiction, speculative fiction, magical stories, supernatural stories, horror or spooky stories, and light fantasy and sci-fi with a focused set of characters and minimal world building.


Dorian: Do you have any hobbies or special interests that most people don’t know about?

Kristin: I love to downhill ski. My guilty pleasure is celebrity gossip. I religiously write in a journal. I also enjoy reading tarot!


Dorian: Interesting! What tips do you have for writers in the querying stages?

Kristin: If you’re reading Mixed-Up Files, there’s a good chance you’re doing your homework as far as nailing a query letter. But I would still emphasize being sure to hit agents at the top of your query letter with an impactful elevator pitch, including your comp titles. This is the most important part of your query letter, so don’t be afraid to get right to it. Agents get so many queries each day that it’s important to hook them as soon as you can, and to demonstrate your knowledge of the marketplace.

Beyond that, good luck! What you’re doing is really hard, and I wish you all the best finding a great advocate for your story.


Dorian: How can people follow you on social media or query you?

Kristin: You can occasionally find me on Twitter at @kristinostby. Learn more about me at and about Greenhouse at

Thanks so much, Kristin, for taking the time out to tell us about yourself and Greenhouse!

Author Spotlight: Linda Williams Jackson

In today’s Author Spotlight, Linda Williams Jackson, award-winning author of Midnight Without a Moon and its sequel, A Sky Full of Stars, chats about her latest middle-grade novel, The Lucky Ones—out now from Candlewick Press—as well as her own childhood in the Mississippi Delta. PLUS, a chance to win a signed copy of The Lucky Ones! Scroll down for details! 👇👇👇

The Lucky Ones: a summary

It’s 1967 and eleven-year-old Ellis Earl Brown has big dreams. He’s going to grow up to be a teacher or a lawyer—or maybe both—and live in a big brick house in town. There’ll always be enough food in the icebox, and Mama won’t have to run herself ragged looking for work as a maid to support the family. Ellis Earl applies himself at school, soaking up the lessons Mr. Foster teaches his class and borrowing books from his teacher’s bookshelf, including Charlie and the Chocolate Factory—a story about a family that’s even worse off than Ellis Earl’s… but with a happy ending. When Mama tells Ellis Earl that he might need to quit school to help support the family, he wonders if happy endings are only possible in storybooks…

MR: Welcome to the Mixed-Up Files, Linda! Thanks for joining us today.

LWJ: I’m honored to be here! Thanks for having me!

The Interview

MR: The protagonist of The Lucky Ones, eleven-year-old Ellis Earl Brown, cares deeply about his family, is passionate about furthering his education, and he adores books—particularly Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which resonates with him profoundly. What was the inspiration behind Ellis Earl? Also, what’s the secret to creating lovable, sympathetic MG characters?

LWJ: When I initially began this story, the main character was a girl named Annie. After my agent asked me how I would make this character different from my main character Rose (Midnight Without a Moon/A Sky Full of Stars), I decided to make the main character a boy instead. I know a real-life Ellis, whom I admire, so I decided to name the main character after him and portray him as a nerdy, ambitious kid.

As far as creating lovable, sympathetic MG characters is concerned, well… I don’t know if it’s a secret, but I find lovable, sympathetic real-life people, imagine what they might have been like as children, then use them as muses.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

MR: Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has an enormous impact on Ellis Earl and features prominently in the novel. What prompted you to choose this particular middle-grade book for Ellis Earl, despite its problematic backstory?

LWJ: Memory is a tricky thing, so I don’t remember exactly why I decided to incorporate Charlie and the Chocolate Factory into the story. But I knew I wanted the main character to struggle with reading novels even though he loves books, because that was true for me until age twelve. I think the book might have popped into my mind because Charlie Bucket’s situation resembles Ellis Earl’s, plus the book is as familiar today as it was in the 1960s, when it was first published. I thought today’s kids would be fascinated by that. As far as the problematic backstory, I didn’t find that out until I was deep into the manuscript. At that point, even though I was very disappointed by what I found, I didn’t want to remove the book from my story.

I tried ignoring it, but my editor pointed it out in our first round of edits. I knew that if she had pointed it out, then others would, too, after The Lucky Ones was in print. At first, I addressed it within the story itself. But in another round of edits, I removed it and decided to include an author’s note at the end of the book. I didn’t want to taint Ellis Earl’s story with a problematic backstory that Roald Dahl himself did, indeed, later fix.

{FYI, Charlie fans: Check out this Mixed-Up Files interview with Julie Dawn Cole, Veruca Salt from the movie Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.}

Backstory: RFK’s “poverty tour”


MR: The Lucky Ones includes Robert F. Kennedy’s visit to the Mississippi Delta during his groundbreaking “poverty tour,” in 1967. Can you share the backstory behind your decision to write about this historic event?

LWJ: My son asked me, “Who is RFK?” when he saw the letters on the cover of a magazine while we stood in the checkout at the grocery store. This was in 2018, 50 years after RKF’s assassination. I told my son who Robert Kennedy was, but I also dug a little deeper because I, too, am curious. (I hated history as a student, but I love it as an adult.) In my research, I discovered the book Delta Epiphany by Ellen Meacham. I stopped working on whatever I was working on at the time because I knew I had to write this story, because it literally hit close to home. I grew up in the very area that Robert Kennedy visited, and my family experienced the exact poverty that he witnessed. How could I not write this story?

Mothers: fiction versus reality

MR: I read that Ellis Earl’s mama is based in part on your own mother, Ernestine Scott Williams. What are the main similarities between the two matriarchs? The differences…?

LWJ: Similarities: My mom had a TON of kids. My mom was gentle and kind. My mom generously opened her home to grandchildren, nieces and nephews, and any of our friends. My mom didn’t like asking for help even though she needed it.

Differences: While Mrs. Brown (my grandmother’s maiden name, by the way) was hesitant about using the strap on her children, my mom sure wasn’t! She wasn’t abusive or anything, but she was a strong disciplinarian.

Food and hunger

MR: Food and the lack thereof play a tremendous role in Ellis Earl’s story. There’s never enough for his large family, and food is always on Ellis Earl’s mind. In many ways, food is like a separate character in the book. Was this an issue for you growing up? If so, how has it affected you as an adult?

LWJ: How interesting! I hadn’t thought of food as a separate character, but Ellis Earl is pretty obsessed with it, isn’t he? And yes, food was an issue for me growing up, which is, in part, why I wrote the book. I wanted to give readers an inside look at poverty, specifically hunger.

Now, as an adult, I tend not to waste food. I’m also the type of person who won’t stock too much food at once, for fear of waste. It might seem as if growing up with food insecurity would make me want to keep my refrigerator and pantry full to the brim, but I like to make sure I use every bit of food that I buy. So I don’t store more food than I can readily see when I open the fridge or peer into the pantry.

Life in the Mississippi Delta

MR: In addition to The Lucky Ones, your previous novels, Midnight Without a Moon and A Sky Full of Stars, are set prior to and during the Civil Rights era, in the Mississippi Delta. They’re also autobiographical in nature. What is it about this historical era that speaks to you personally and as a writer?

LWJ: Personally, I am tied to this historical era because it directly impacted my own family in one way or another. My mom once remarked that she believed she knew someone involved in the murder of Emmett Till. During my research, I found I out that I actually did know someone (indirectly) who was involved. I wasn’t born during that time, but I am still connected to it. With my latest book, I was born during the time period (still a baby at the time), so I wanted to share what life was like for a poor Black child growing up in the Mississippi Delta during the tumultuous years of the Civil Rights Movement. My little hometown of Rosedale, Mississippi, might seem pretty insignificant today, but it holds plenty of history that relates to the entire nation.

Write what you know

MR: The most common advice given to writers is: “Write what you know.” How does this apply to you and your writing?

LWJ: Before I wrote the manuscript that became the book Midnight Without a Moon, I tried writing what I didn’t know, and I failed miserably. Taking the plunge to write “what I knew” made my writing more authentic and paved the way for publication. I’m not saying that the only way to succeed is to write what you know, I’m only sharing my experience and saying, “It helped.”

Reginald James and The Lucky Ones audiobook

MR: I should mention that The Lucky Ones is available as an audiobook, narrated by actor Reginald James.  I listened to it yesterday and was blown away by James’ spot-on portrayal of Ellis Earl, his sister Carrie Ann, Mama, and the other members of the Brown family. James really nailed the dialogue. How was he chosen for the project?

LWJ: Ha! It was his portrayal of Carrie Ann that sealed the deal! I was sent samples of several readings by various people. I chose Reginald James because he didn’t sound like he was trying to be southern as he read. His portrayal of Carrie Ann actually made me laugh out loud.

Dialect in MG fiction

MR: Speaking of dialogue, except for Ellis Earl’s beloved teacher, Mr. Foster—and Ellis Earl, who tries to speak “proper”—the characters in your books use local dialect. What’s your advice to other writers when it comes to using dialect? I know this can be tricky to pull off.

LWJ: I think that goes back to writing what you know. I grew up with that dialect, and, when I’m not in a professional setting, I still use it a bit myself. So, it’s easy to write it. I guess my advice would be, “Don’t try to write a dialect that you can’t naturally speak yourself.”

A sense of wonder

MR: When a reader finishes one of your novels, what do you hope stays with them long after they’ve replaced the book on the shelf? Also, what stays with you after you finish a writing project?

LWJ: I want readers to leave my books feeling a sense of wonder—like they’ve actually visited another time and place and gotten to know the characters so well that they feel it’s possible to run across them in real life. And when I read a book, I want that same feeling.

MR: What are you working on now, Linda? Enquiring Mixed-Up Files readers want to know!

LWJ: Oh, a mix of things…

Lightning Round!

MR: And finally, no MUF interview is compete without a lightning round, so…

Coffee or tea?

Coffee, but I do drink tea occasionally.

Cat or dog?

Neither. I tolerated my daughter’s cat because I had to.

Favorite character in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?

Charlie, of course.

Zombie apocalypse: Yea or nay?

Haven’t you heard? We’re already in it! The Internet is eating our brains!


X-ray vision. I can see right through most people.

Favorite place on earth? My own home.

 If you were stranded on a desert island with only three things, what would they be? Courage, wisdom, and the power to become invisible at will.

MR: Thank you for chatting with us, Linda—and congratulations on the publication of The Lucky Ones. I absolutely loved it, and I know MUF readers will too!

LWJ: Thank you for the interview, Melissa! And thanks for reading The Lucky Ones! I’m so glad you enjoyed it!


For a chance to win a signed copy of The Lucky Onescomment on the blog–and, if you’re on Twitter, on the Mixed-Up Files Twitter account, for an extra chance to win! (Giveaway ends 5/31/22; U.S. only, please.)

About the author

Born and raised in the Mississippi Delta in the teeny-tiny town of Rosedale, Linda Williams Jackson likes to spin stories about everyday people in small-town settings. Though she has lived in a few other states (Alabama, Missouri, and Kansas), Linda currently makes her home in a not-so-small town in Mississippi with her husband and three children. While a degree in Math and Computer Science from the University of Alabama allowed her to enjoy a career in Information Technology as a Database Administrator and Adjunct Professor, Linda now prefers manipulating words rather than numbers and symbols. Besides her novels for young readers, Linda has also written reading assessment passages for various educational publishers and is published in five Chicken Soup for the Soul titles. Learn more about Linda on her website and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Great Friendships in Middle Great Books

Honey and Me, my debut novel out Oct 18th with Scholastic Press, which follows the highs and lows of 6th grade with best friends Milla and Honey. Cover art by Shamar Knight-Justice.

In honor of my debut novel Honey and Me—a coming-of-age story about the friendship and escapades of two eleven-year-old girls—being available for preorder, I thought I would do a post about the central theme of friendship in middle grade novels. Although main character Milla has her insecurities and must find the courage to step out of her best friend Honey’s shadow, I deliberately wanted to write about a true friendship, supportive rather than undermining, with give and take, each friend filling in in the spaces where the other needs help.

I adore the friendship between Isaac and Marco in Falling Short by Ernesto Cisneros

For this reason, I just absolutely loved Falling Short, the new book by Pura Belpré-award-winning author Ernesto Cisneros. Isaac and Marco go through sixth grade going to all kinds of lengths to try to help each other when one has a strength and the other a weakness. The two boys continuously respect each other despite their differences, and I can’t think of another book where the friendship between two boys appears in quite this way (please add in the comments any that you know of!) Everyone should be blessed with a friend like Isaac to Marco, and Marco to Isaac.

Alexa & Katie on Netflix, my favorite show about a friendship


A special shout-out to the Netflix show Alexa & Katie for one of the most beautiful of female friendships I’ve ever seen depicted. While this is obviously not a middle grade novel, I think it’s noteworthy in this context. I watched it with my seven-year-old (who was watching it a second time), my sixteen-year-old loved it too, and although it’s about two girls starting high school (while one is just finishing a course of chemo for leukemia,) I’d say it’s perfectly pitched toward a middle grade audience. If you haven’t already, I urge you to watch it for its humor, poignancy, spot-on cast, fabulous acting, sharp dialogue, and that perfect combination of every episode making me both laugh out loud as well as surreptitiously wipe tears from my eyes.


The Year of the Dog by Grace Lin, a wonderful book about finding yourself and friendship

Another book that I adore for the core friendship at its heart is The Year of the Dog by Grace Lin, about Pacy, known as Grace at school, who is looking for her talent, her identity and a best friend. The essence of the Chinese Year of the Dog, which Pacy’s mother tells her is a year for friendship, comes true when Melody arrives and the two girls develop an instant bond. Especially moving and illuminating is this joint interview of Newbery Honor-winning author/illustrator Grace Lin and Alvina Ling, VP and Editor-in-Chief at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, about how this book is actually based on their own friendship as children!  Or this joint podcast interview with them about the publishing industry, or even better their own podcast Book Friends Forever.



I put a call-out to my fellow MUF contributors as well as to the SCBWI-British Isles Facebook group for more suggestions of great, not-so-great, favorite or otherwise memorable friendships in MG literature—whether something that you read as a child and stuck with you, or something you’ve read more recently— and got some great recommendations.

Props to YA author Matt Killeen for immediately suggesting “Anne Shirley and Diana… bosom friends.” Although I used “Judy Blume meets All-of-A-Kind Family” to pitch Honey and Me, I think the friendship between Anne and Diana in Anne of Green Gables was definitely an inspiration for my own characters Milla and Honey. And actually, when I think about it, it really does all come back to Anne and Diana, who are eleven when they first meet, as the prototype for middle grade friendships in modern literature. (Again, please add in the comments if there’s something older I’m not thinking of.)

When I See Blue by Lily Bailey has a gorgeous friendship in it. Hannah Gold’s books have beautiful animal-human friendships of course! And Phil Earles’s When the Sky Falls has an animal-boy friendship too and themes of being understood my someone/thing. The Super-Miraculous Journey of Freddie Yates has a really authentic friendship trio in it and it’s worth checking out Jenny Pearson’s other books as she really gets child friendships right (being a teacher helps).” Anna Gamble

MUF bloggers write:

I like Wish by Barbara O’Connor, Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Patterson, and as a kid I loved the loyalty and friendship between Sara Crewe and Ermengarde St. John in A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett.” Laurie J. Edwards

Soup by Robert Newton Peck was my favorite friendship book growing up. Its about the hilarious adventures during the 1930s of Robert and Soup and it’s based on the author’s own childhood. I also loved All-of-a-Kind Family which explores friendship and sisterhood. Most recently feels almost impossible to choose. So many! But I must include a shout to Simon & Schuster’s MIX imprint (Aladdin Books) which is dedicated to books about tween female friendship. I’ve had the honor of writing three books for the imprint including, Queen of Likes, The Hot List and Things Are Gonna Get Ugly.Hillary Homzie

The Hot List, by Hillary Homzie, about the “de-intensification of a friendship”

I also want to note that sometimes friendships are unstable, toxic, or unhealthy, and unfortunately this is something that most people encounter at some point in their life, not to mention being the root cause of so much middle school emotional injury. Hillary Homzie’s The Hot List is about what she describes as the “de-intensification of a friendship” which I think is an invaluable topic for an MG book.


Many people suggested New Kid by Jerry Kraft, which was on my list too.
“I was thinking about your Q[uestion] about MG books and friendship, and how essential friendship is at that age and often how complicated those relationships are. One more recent MG book I really enjoyed was the graphic novel NEW KID by Jerry Craft, about a 7th grade boy named Jordan who starts at a new school where he is one of the few kids of color in his grade. Jordan wants to keep his old friends from his neighborhood and make new ones at his school, but he often feels like he doesn’t really fit in anywhere. This is a smart, engaging, funny and moving #middlegradenovel I think kids really relate to.” Andrea Pyros

Agreed! And I particularly love that in its sequel, Class Act, we also get the POV of some of Jordan’s friends.


I think that one could argue that friendship is both essential in MG literature, and also that little bit of magic ingredient that makes it stick with you long after you are a child, becoming a part of the make up of your own coming of age. Here are some great lists of middle grade books about friendship that have already been compiled. Please add your own favorites, from childhood or more recently, in the comments!

15 Great Middle Grade Books About Friendship

4 of the Best Friendships in Middle Grade Books


50 Must-Read Middle Grade Friendship Stories

12 Books About Friendship for Middle Grade Readers

Better Together: 10 of the Best Friendships in Middle Grade Lit


Honey and Me, out with Scholastic Press on October 18th, 2022, and available for preorder now. Visit me at