Fiction

Author Spotlight: Summer Rachel Short… plus a Giveaway!

Today, let’s give a warm Mixed-Up welcome to Summer Rachel Short, author of the debut middle-grade novel, The Mutant Mushroom Takeover.

Described by Kirkus as “Packed to the gills with fun,” and by School Library Journal as “A fun debut novel with an action-packed climax that will leave readers eager to scope out the weirder side of nature,” the book is out now from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

About The Mutant Mushroom Takeover

Ever since Magnolia Stone’s scientist dad left Shady Pines to find a new job, Maggie’s been stuck in her gramma’s mobile home with her grumpy older brother, Ezra. Now she’s on a mission to put her family back together by winning the Vitaccino Junior Naturalist Merit Award.

When Maggie and her best friend, Nate, a wannabe YouTube star and alien conspiracy theorist, scout out a rare bioluminescent fungus, Maggie is certain she’s a shoo-in to win. But after animals around town start sprouting unusual growths and Ezra develops a bluish glow and hacking cough, Maggie wonders what they’ve really stumbled onto.

As things in Shady Pines become stranger and more dangerous, and conversations with her dad get complicated, Maggie must use her scientific smarts and Nate’s impressive knowledge of all things supernatural to put things back in order and prevent these peculiar glowing mushrooms from taking over their home.

Q&A with Summer Rachel Short

MR: So glad to have you with us, Summer. Welcome to the Mixed-Up Files!

SRS: Thanks so much for having me! I’m so glad to be here!

MR: So, I stayed up late into the night reading The Mutant Mushroom Takeover and it really gave me the heebie-jeebies! It also made me rethink my love of mushrooms. 🙂 What inspired you to write about bioluminescent fungus–and the “weird” side of nature–in the first place?

SRS: Thank you! I do hope you’ll be able to resume your love of mushrooms–once you’ve given your produce a solid once over, of course!

Things that are a little weird have always fascinated me, because they spark my curiosity and make me ask “how” and “why.” One of my first inspirations for this book was an old documentary on fungi that I stumbled upon on YouTube. There was an ominous voiceover, creepy soundtrack, and time-lapse video of fungi unfurling and spewing their spores on unsuspecting hosts. It was all so bizarre, and such an unknown world to me, that I wanted to know more. I kept researching, and eventually the bits and pieces coalesced into a story idea.

Maggie and Nate: The Dynamic Duo

MR: The novel’s protagonist, Magnolia “Maggie” Stone, is a STEM-savvy eleven-year-old aspiring naturalist. She’s brave, smart, and committed to discovering the truth about the mutant fungus. Her best friend, Nate, a wannabe YouTube star and alien conspiracist, is loyal to Maggie’s cause and hysterically funny. What allowed you to create such nuanced—and incredibly realistic—characters as Maggie and Nate? Also, do you have a favorite?

SRS: Thank you for saying that, Melissa. I love all my characters, particularly the main pair, Maggie and Nate. But in terms of who was the most fun to write, it’s probably some of the side characters, like Nate, and my villain. One thing I focus on when creating characters is paying attention to their dialogue. I read it out loud and then play it back to myself using the text-to-speech function on my computer. It gives me a feel for how the characters may sound to others.

MR: In the novel, Maggie’s older brother, Ezra, displays weird symptoms after coming into contact with the bioluminescent fungus. When Maggie and Nate go into the forest to investigate, they wear hazmat suits made from garbage bags, and wear protective goggles, to keep themselves safe. This sounds eerily similar to precautions taken during the coronavirus. Am I reading too much into this?

SRS: I didn’t know about coronavirus at the time I wrote those scenes, but there are some similarities in how the problem is tackled. Since the kids don’t have access to fancy hazmat suits, they improvise and create their own makeshift suits using household items. It was fun to brainstorm what a couple of kids without a lot of money could come up with on the fly to protect themselves from mutant spores.

Extra, Extra! Read All About It!

MR: Before writing The Mutant Mushroom Takeover, you were a science reporter for a newspaper, covering such diverse topics as nanotech tweezers, poultry farm pollution, and the nighttime habits of spiders and snakes. What was the strangest story you ever covered?

SRS: The nanotech tweezers is still one of my favorites. The professor I interviewed was working on a project at NASA at the time and was very excited about all the possibilities in the field of nanotechnology. The project focused on the creation of laser tweezers that would allow scientists to manipulate things like atoms and molecules without damaging them. It’s been a number of years, so I’m sure the science has continued to grow. It would be interesting to find out what can be done with nano-particles in 2020. Perhaps something that could end up in a middle-grade mystery?

MR: Can you tell Mixed-Up Files readers a bit about your path to publication? Smooth sailing or bumpy terrain? Or something in between?

SRS: It’s probably somewhere in between. I started writing fiction many years ago, in college, with hopes to one day write a novel. But then I started my professional life, had kids, and life got busy. I put the dream on the back burner for a long time. Then, about five years ago, it was like a switch flipped and I started writing again; this time with more intention and focus. I felt determined to see things through, and approached the goal with more drive than I’d previously had.

It took about two years of writing–including finishing and querying a different manuscript–before I got the idea for The Mutant Mushroom Takeover. I entered an early draft of the manuscript into a writing contest called Pitch Wars, and selected to be a mentee in the fall of 2018. Boosted by the advice from my mentors, I spent that winter revising the book. In early 2019, I landed my agent, Alyssa Eisner Henkin, and that summer we sold the book to Simon & Schuster. Now, about a year later, The Mutant Mushroom Takeover is out in the world!

Tips for Multitaskers

MR: I read that you have three kids. How do you balance your parenting responsibilities with your writing? It must be a herculean feat, especially in these difficult days of Covid. Any tips to share with other multitasking writers? 

SRS: It can be challenging at times. When I’m on deadline, I try to squeeze writing in whenever I can–early mornings, afternoons, late at night. Otherwise, when I’m drafting or working at a more usual pace, I carve out a window of a couple of hours most days and head to a quiet room in the house to work. Thankfully, my kids aren’t tiny anymore so they’re able to be independent for a bit.

The process isn’t always picture perfect. My house gets messy and sometimes our meals aren’t as great as I’d like. But the busyness comes and goes in waves, so I try to have grace with myself and not feel too guilty about dusty furniture or laundry in need of folding.

MR: What’s next on your writing agenda, Summer? Care to share a bit about your latest project?

SRS:  I’m currently revising the sequel to The Mutant Mushroom Takeover, which is set in Yellowstone National Park and features a brand new mystery for Maggie and Nate to solve. I won’t say too much, but there are large reptiles involved! The book is slated to release Fall 2021, and I hope to do a cover reveal in the next few months. (I’ve seen a sneak peek and it’s gorgeous!)

MR: Oh! Last thing. No MUF interview is complete without a…

Lightning Round!

Preferred writing snack? Dark chocolate.

Coffee or tea? Coffee with cream and cinnamon.

Favorite mushroom? Shiitake.

Favorite song? “West Coast” by Imagine Dragons.

Zombie apocalypse: Yea or nay? Nay, unless they’re the really slow kind.

Superpower? Snap my fingers and the house cleans itself.

Favorite place on earth? The Redwood Forest.

You’re stranded on a desert island, with only three items in your possession. What are they? Well, my husband is building a boat in our garage, so if I can take that then I’ll just make it a relaxing day trip to the island and have my other two items be a book and a snack.

MR: Thank you for chatting with me, Summer—and congratulations on the publication of The Mutant Mushroom Takeover. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I know MUF readers will too!

SRS: Thanks so much for having me!

And now…

A GIVEAWAY!!!

For a copy of The Mutant Mushroom Takeover, comment on the blog–and, if you’re on Twitter, on the Mixed-Up Files’ Twitter account–for a chance to win! A winner will be chosen at midnight EST, 10/30. Good luck… and may the best mushroom win!

SUMMER RACHEL SHORT Summer lives in North Texas with her charming husband, three hilarious kids, a fluffy kitty, and a big yellow dog. Before spinning tales about mutant mushrooms, she once worked as a science reporter for her university’s newspaper, where she wrote on topics like nanotech tweezers, poultry farm pollution, and the nighttime habits of spiders and snakes. For fun, she enjoys exploring new places with the family, playing tennis, and dreaming up ideas for her next book. Learn more about Summer on her website and follow her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Mysteries in Bookstores and Libraries, at Book Fairs and Festivals, in Literary Landmarks, and Other Literary Places

Books and places featuring them inevitably have mysteries about them!

Books may be in a library or a bookstore, even in an attic. They can also be at book fairs or festivals, in a literary landmark, or in some other unusual setting where you wouldn’t expect to find them.

Here are some middle-grade readers’ stories that reveal some bookish mysteries, bookplace mysteries, and young protagonists getting caught up in them; both fictional and real. 

 Eleven year-old Celia lives with her Great Aunt Agatha. Although she must act in a proper way when out and about with her aunt, Celia has her room — her sanctuary — where she can be on her own. One day her aunt says that the attic needs sorting. It’s full of boxes, and books. That’s a chore for Celia. Then her aunt adds: “Oh, and it would be nice if you could find a book to read.” And so it is that Celia’s adventure starts….

Things have changed as a new school year begins, and young Neeghan (with a native Alaskan name) wonders how she’ll fit in. Then she finds a book that seems to have the answer she needs.

BOOK SCAVENGER by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman / Emily, with new friend James, goes on a scavenger book hunt that an author has set up around the United States; particularly one in her new hometown of San Francisco. They search, guided by clues in puzzles. Then they discover an odd type of book they believe has something to do with the author, but something is missing. They find out, also, that the author has been injured and is in a coma, so he can’t reveal any more clues. And then there’s a feeling each has had ever since their discovery. Are Emily and James being followed?

Fiona and her family move to where her older sister is working on her ice skating career, but Fiiona feels alone. She finds the town library (a renovated mansion donated by its owner). In this place of respite or solace, Fiona discovers a book that captures her attention. However, the book soon  disappears and Fiona is told that there isn’t such a book! Fiona sets about aiming to unravel the mystery of this elusive tome.

THE LIBRARY OF EVER by Zeno Alexander / Lenora spends most of her time in her town’s library. One day while there, she discovers a secret doorway. Curious, of course, she enters. Suddenly she finds herself caught up as a library assistant helping library visitors with unusual searches. Meanwhile there’s something sinister in the air and she must uncover secrets and answers among the library shelves.

REBEL IN THE LIBRARY OF EVER by Zeno Alexander / Lenora came back to the secret library area she had discovered. Now, however, things are dark all around. She eventually finds some others, called members of a resistance group, who are striving to bring light back to the library. She, too must now face, stand up to, dark forces that are keeping the library in darkness.

ESCAPE FROM MR LEMONCELLO’S LIBRARY by Chris Grabenstein / When a popular game maker becomes involved in the building of a new library in Kyle’s hometown, Kyle gets caught up in a contest, and wins one of the prizes offering a night of playing games in the library. He and the other winners have a fun night, but then when morning comes, they try to leave, but the doors are still locked. They discover that they must play another game, following clues and puzzles, to find the exit.

NIGHTMARE AT THE BOOK FAIR by Dan Gutman / Just as he arrives to try out for soccer, Trip is asked by his school’s PTA president to help her with something. Not really wanting to, but doing it anyway. Suddenly a pile of books falls on him. He gets knocked out. When he wakes up, he’s in a strange place. Now he just wants to get home, but strange obstacles are blocking his way!

MARY ANNE AND THE HAUNTED BOOKSTORE by Ann M. Martin (Babysitters Club Mysteries #34) / For a school assignment, Mary Anne gets a book from a local bookstore, where she is introduced to the works of Edgar Allen Poe, who may have visited this town where she lives. Caught up in Poe’s stories and poems, and must figure out a presentation for her school project. Eventually, Mary Anne is able to get a job at the bookstore, but then, she wonders, what’s that tap tap tapping? Are the spirits of the raven and Edgar Allen Poe lurking in the  shadows?

PAGES & CO.: BOOK WANDERERS by  Anna James, with illustrator Paola Escobar / Tilly enjoys visiting her grandparents bookshop, wandering around the bookshelves;  then one day she finds unusual wanderers wandering about, and she decides to follow them… into books…

THAT BOOK WOMAN by Heather Henson / Cal wonders why a strange woman always comes to where he and his family live on a mountainside in the Appalachian Mountains. She comes in any weather, rain or snow, and on horseback! All she seems to do is just to leave books for his sister to read. “There are better things to do,” Cal muses; or so he thinks.

THE LIBRARIAN OF AUSCHWITZ by Antonio Iturbe, translated by Lilit Thwaites, retold from a true story / Thirteen year old Jewish girl, Dita Kraus, is imprisoned in the Auschwitz Concentration Camp in NAZI-occupied Poland during WW II, only because she is Jewish. Then she’s suddenly given a job by the camp’s Jewish leader. She is asked to be in charge of books for other children at the camp. The books come to her whenever prisoners secretly smuggle them into to the prison area when they are given the task of emptying suitcases taken away from new prisoners. / Dita’s future husband (a teacher at the camp) was called ‘a living book’; telling stories from memories of great works read before imprisonment.

LOST IN THE LIBRARY by Josh Funk / Illustrated by Stevie Lewis / Imagine. The library lion statues (named Patience and Fortitude), who guard the front entrance of the New York Public Library in Manhattan, New York City, are alive one night. A story in clever rhyming verse tells of Fortitude waking up and discovering that Patience is missing. He ventures into, and wanders about, the wondrous big library to search for his companion.

“The best kid-lit homes are extensions of their occupants’ personalities,” as said at nerdybookclub.wordpress.com, with a reference to the Weesley family home in the Harry Potter stories. Here are samples of how ‘kid-lit homes’ or ‘kid-lit’ author homes or other places of importance to children’s authors, could be settings for fictional mysteries.

Ever wonder about the houses and other dwelling places in classic stories, including Robinson Crusoe, David Copperfield, Alice in Wonderland, Little Women, and Charlotte’s Web? Here you can discover something about them.

Have you ever wondered about the house where young blind and deaf Helen Keller learned w-a-t-e-r and other words in sign language with her hands? Have you wondered what life was like in the pioneer houses where young Laura Ingalls Wilder lived? Have you thought about the house where iconic American poet Emily Dickinson spent her life, or the places where Mark Twain grew up or wrote some of his novels, or where Robert Frost wrote his poems? Have you mused about the house where Longfellow penned “The Children’s Hour”? Here you can get glimpses of them, and more.

 

Of Kauai Hawaii and Other Hawaiian Islands -Tales and Traditions for Middle Grade Readers

On the south shore of Kauai, Hawaii, one of the Hawaiian islands, the one known as The Garden Isle, there is a treasure in the town of Hanapepe: THE TALK STORY BOOK STORE: The Westernmost Bookstore in the U.S. It has gems within.

The compiler of this list visited Kauai two times. During one visit she was gifted with the bookstore’s “author’s lei.” She also was privileged to get a signed copy of  the book Good Night, Hawaiian Moon.

Here are some books they have, and some possible others they may have, for middle grade readers. The books are for various ages within this age group. They reveal the culture plus character of this unique U.S. state and people; from the past and during the present.

This list features stories about, and information on, Kauai (the oldest Hawaiian island), as well as all of Hawaii, the people and culture, that this visitor discovered  during her trips, and after. 

A great introduction to this unique place! In a realistic fiction story, experience with young visitors to Hawaii the wonder and  awesomeness, beginning with their approach to the islands in an airplane. Page 13 introduces some of the young main characters captured in an enthusiasm anyone of any age can feel when coming to Hawaii.  

 In two books, there are true stories that were told by island inhabitants to the books’ compiler. There’s a story of two sisters, Jeslie (a young teen) and Breeze Ann (a pre-teen), who learn the hula and take part in the garden island’s children’s hula competition. There’s a tale of an award-winning hula instructor who helps keep this cultural tradition alive. Funny stories are included, such as those of the island’s wild chickens (a result of Hurricane Iniki in 1992) now being accepted as part of Kauai life; and then there are stories on children creating toys from whatever they can find, and young people growing up barefoot until they go to high school.  

An illustrated book about the movies made on the island of Kauai. It includes data about Jurassic Park, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Pirates of the Carribbean, South Pacific (including two young children and the song “Tell Me Why” sung in French), and The Descendants (the story of two young girls, a pre-teen and a young teen, and their father, who inherit land that is a part of the garden island owned by their ancestors, including one who was a Hawaiian princess). Some parts of the story may be just for older readers. 

FIVE GARDENS OF KAUAI at https://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/travel/green-hawaii-garden-isle-kauai-article-1.282169  

Well-known people have come to Hawaii for fun, rest, relaxation, and respite. They have left their unique marks on the place and the people. Find out about visits by writers Robert Louis Stevenson and Mark Twain; movie star Shirley Temple; singers Elvis Presley (on Kauai) and George Harrison; historical figures including aviators Amelia Earhart and Charles Lindbergh; even U.S. First Lady Jackie Kennedy and her young children (on Kauai).

A story that is so relevant for today! 16 year old Lei (Leilani) and her dad are visiting Honolulu, on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. Suddenly, something strange happens and they are cut off from the rest of the world! There’s only sporadic contact with the other Hawaiian islands. It will be difficult for them to get back to their home in Hilo, on the Big Island of Hawaii – over 200 miles away, although just a half hour flight by airplane (now grounded). The only way to get back to the family is by way of pre-technology methods, across ocean waters. Can they make it through all of the perils that face them, on top of Lei’s epilepsy, and an age-old prejudice that frowns on people of mixed ethnic heritage?

Another story so relevant for today. One day at school, just before Puanani’s science project presentation, an earthquake happens; then a bigger after-shock. Soon the Kilauea volcano erupts, threatening the island where she lives. Frightened Puanani is, however, determined to channel her fear into saving sea animals as the volcano’s hot lava rushes down the mountain, over the land, toward the ocean. She and friends from a canoe club are determined to be up to the task. (Sold out at Talk Story Bookstore, but check back for new shipment.)

A boy and his family move back to his Dad’s home place: Hawaii. The boy starts right away to find out about things, and mysteries, from local Hawaiians.

 Anna and Jack find themselves on a Hawaii island, and back in time. They learn to surf the gentle waves. They’re having such fun until a hugh tidal wave appears!

 Of young Lydia, the Hawaiian princess who became the last queen (called Liliʻuokalani) of this nation of islands. She opposed the U.S. annexing the islands as a territory, then as a state; had the support of one president, but not another. She wrote the now iconic Aloha Oi (the song that happened to become Hawaii’s state song, officially or unofficially). For some lyrics (especially the chorus) in English to the song, see the Web site http://www.jenniferdsmallphd.com/MET_102_Readings/Liliuokalani%20_1878.pdf. 

Ellen Emerson White has written a story for a fictional royal diary series for young readers, but her book: Kaiulani: The People’s Princess, Hawaii 1889 is based on a real person. The last princess and last heir apparent of Hawaii is brought alive in words so like what she must have thought and spoken. A descendant of a first cousin of the first Hawaiian monarch, Kaiulani was also daughter of Likelike (sister of two Hawaiian monarchs) and Archibald Scott Cleghorn (her businessman father from Scotland who helped the monarchs with their gardens). In this diary, young Victoria Kaiulani muses about her anticipated destiny (although not her fate, not known during her childhood). In between, she enjoys moments with a visiting “Tusitala” (a teller of tales) (Scotland’s author Robert Louis Stevenson and his family). He wrote a poem for her with words that include “a little maid” “the island rose.” Alas, life would change drastically for her at ages 13 and 18. 

Marianne Cope, an early 20th century ‘first responder‘ from central New York, Marianne Cope, spent her adult life on Hawaii’s isolated island of Molokai, to help a leper colony, between 1884 and 1918. In a letter in 1883, in response to a request to help this colony of sick people, “Mother Marianne” wrote: “I am hungry for the work, I am not afraid of the disease, hence it would be my greatest delight even to minister to the abandoned lepers.”     

In Kimo Armitage’s THE HEALERS, two young boys are to inherit their family’s healing occupation on their Hawaiian Island home. Usually congenial, they turn against each other over something that happens, but then they must come together to solve a big problem they are given.

 THE SECRET OF THE HAWAIIAN RAINBOW by Stacey S. Kaopuiki (Hawaiian Island Concepts, 1991) / The menehune, a legendary leprechaun-like race of small people in Hawaii, chose various objects and, with the help of a kahuna (a respected person in charge), created the rainbow. The colors’ names are provided in English, Hawaiian, Japanese, and sign language.

    I SURVIVED! – SURVIVOR OF PEARL HARBOR BOMBING. 13 year old Danny has moved with his mother from New York City to Hawaii, but he misses the big city despite its hardships; but  then, on December 7 1941, as he wanders about a Hawaiian beach, the unthinkable happens!

A children’s book author who grew up in Hawaii, who was there at the time of the Pearl Harbor disaster, offers views in verse of what the people experienced then and there, and in Japan.

Ben Hansen, a young sailor is going about his chores.  Young twins Paul and Grace Yamada are going on their daily trip to the market. Then something horrible happens. Can a time traveling dog arriving in Hawaii on December 7 1941 come in time to help them all?

 

Although written for young children, these particular books offer something of interest to readers of all ages, including, especially, middle grade readers who are ready to start making their mark on the world; especially on the Hawaiian islands where they live. In a story based on a true news report, SAVING THE FAIRIES [who are Tern birds], features a bird family and a young person who is able to convince people to save these special birds from developers. Then, there’s a group of classmates who go on a field trip that’s a tour of a ship in Pearl Harbor, and it’s none other than the young narrator schoolgirl’s grandfather who is the tour guide! Why?! There’s also a boy who doesn’t have much paper to draw on; an activity he so likes to do; but his Grandpa soon reveals a solution that the boy can act on. Visiting Grandma [Tutu] is full of fun, but the children soon discover that this person is smarter than they think, and something is revealed about why older people on Hawaii are called “national treasures.”

One summer, thirteen-year-old Leilani Akamai and her friends, Maile and Sam, members of a Hawaiian Detective Club, set out to discover why pineapples are being stolen from a local plantation.

The author reveals the main meaning and many related meanings of the word Aloha; a word that is exclusively Hawaiian, but has influence all over the world. 

A Hawaiian alphabet told in rhyme.

England’s May Day happens to be the same day as Hawaii’s Lei Day. The customs for these days are observed in both places, with each place having roots in royalty. See instructions for lei-making that children (called keiki in Hawaii) can follow to create a lei.

Plumeria loves to play the ukelele her grandmother (her Tutu) gave her, but no one in her family usually wants to, or has time to, listen; except her dog. She hopes to take part in the island’s ukelele competition, and works hard at it, walking along the beach with her dog, but then her ukelele suddenly disappears. Did her brothers, or even her little sister, or, more likely, those not so neighborly ‘flip-flop’ sisters, take it? What can Plumeria do now!?

Here is a fictional story about a year in the life of a Nene – Hawaii’s state bird; a cousin of the Canadian Goose; with data on it, such as its endangered status.

Data on Hawaii’s sea turtles.

A family works together as they show the Ohana tradition (families getting together to accomplish something).  Poi is a root that is harvested and made into a concoction for a luau celebration held often on Hawaii. Poi can be a dip, or it can be made into muffins with added butter for a tasty treat. 

About what the traditional hula dance means, from historical times; and at the present time.

An astronaut from Hawaii; his achievements with Columbia shuttle’s first flight; his fate in the Challenger shuttle disaster.

of Barak OBama.

There is a quote young readers should note, in the chapter “LIVING ALOHA” in THE POWER OF ALOHA (a collection of sayings by Tulsi Gabbard, a Hawaiian who is a U.S. Congresswoman, ran as a 2020 presidential candidate, is a military veteran who advocates “no more unnecessary regime-change wars, and advocates for the environment), among other things. This quote is by an “aunty” (a term of endearment for a respected woman). Tulsi points out that “aunty” says: “The world will turn to Hawaii as it searches for world peace, because Hawaii has the key – and that key is Aloha!”