Book Lists

Charlotte for President!!

It’s Presidents Day here in the USA, a day that never fails to make me consider what qualities make a good and effective leader.

Compassion?

Courage?

Brains?

Creativity?

Seeing the list made me wonder where I last saw all of these characteristics in one person. The answer was easy – the very last Middle Grade book I read – Meg Medina’s MERCI SUAREZ CHANGES GEARS. Merci would make an excellent president.

And so would so many other Middle Grade characters. I jotted down a few names from my childhood reading. (They’d be plenty old enough by now). Ramona Quimby (remember her No Smo King campaign?), Peter Hatcher (anyone who can manage Fudge can manage the White House), and Cassie Logan (who knew more about standing up at the age of 9 than most adults ever will) rose to the top of the list. Each one of them would make an excellent world leader.

As would wise, kind, and clever Charlotte from CHARLOTTE’S WEB. (Why limit ourselves to people?)

I had so much fun playing with this idea that I asked some of my author friends to help me out and nominate a Middle Grade Character they’d most like to see as President. Lucky for me (and for our readers) they had some great suggestions.


The Nominees

Karuna Riazi, Author of The Gauntlet and The Battle

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org“Valencia Somerset from HELLO UNIVERSE. As she says herself in the book, she has a name that seems like you could follow it into battle. She’s smart, she’s sweet, she has big dreams, and I think her and her new friend Kaori Tanaka would be an awesome running team.”

 

 

Jarrett Lerner, Author of Enginerds and Revenge of the Enginerds

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org“Beatrice Zinker (from Shelley Johannes’s books)! She is a courageous, creative, out-of-the-box (in fact upside down!) thinker. And perhaps most importantly, she has a big, kind heart.”

 

 

 

Melissa Roske, Author of Kat Greene Comes Clean and Mixed-Up Files Member

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org“I would elect Willy Wonka from Roald Dahl’s CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY. Yes, Mr. Wonka is a bit odd, but his heart is always in the right place and he gets things done. And let’s not forget the free candy.”

 

 

Lindsey Becker, Author of The Star Thief

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org“Hm, first thought was Ramona Quimby, but she’s probably blowing things up at JPL…
Folly from HOW TO STAGE A CATASTROPHE is a born leader with big ideas. I’d give him a vote.”

 

 

 

Heather Murphy Capps, Author and Mixed Up Files Member

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org“How about Nancy Drew? She’s methodical, diplomatic, takes no prisoners, observant, and kind!”

 

 

 

Andrea Pyros, Author of My Year of Epic Rock and Mixed-Up Files Member

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org“Anne Shirley, from the ANNE OF GREEN GABLES series. She’s smart and strong-willed (a president needs a strong backbone) and hard-working. Plus, though Anne hasn’t had it easy in life, she still finds a way to survive and thrive. A role model for us all!”

 

 

Rob Vlock, Author of Sven Carter & the Trashmouth Effect and Sven Carter & the Android Army

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org“Ooh, I think I’d pick Bartimaeus from Jonathan Stroud’s BARTIMAEUS series. Sure, he’s a sarcastic, irreverent (and arguably evil) djinn, but I think he’d be a big improvement for our country!”

 

 

 

Samantha Clark, Author of The Boat, the Boy, and the Beast and Mixed-Up Files Member

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org“I’d vote for Gaby from Varian Johnson’s THE GREAT GREEN HEIST. She’s my kind of president with organic food and sharing.”

 

 

 

David Neilsen, Author and Mixed-Up Files Member

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org“I nominate Hermione Granger. She’s the smartest character out there, level-headed, strong, and would have the country running at peak efficiency in no time!”

 

 

 

Rosanne Parry, Author of Heart of a Shepherd, Second Fiddle, Written in Stone, and The Turn of the Tide and Mixed-Up Files Member

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org“I’d nominate Tenar from the Wizard of Earthsea series if I was choosing from my childhood reads.”

 

 

 

 

Janet Sumner Johnson, Author of The Last Great Adventure of the PB&J Club

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org“Mikayla (Mickey) Delgado (from TAKEDOWN by Laura Shovan). She works harder than anyone to accoplish her goals, and doesn’t give up when things get hard. Best of all, she inspires others to stand up for themselves, too.”

 

 

 

Which Middle Grade character would you nominate for President this Presidents Day? Please share below, so we can add them to our list. And, if you’re looking for a more traditional Presidents Day book list, check out this one by Michele Weber Hurwitz.

 

Author Spotlight: Jen Petro-Roy

Today is Valentine’s Day, but for middle-grade author Jen Petro-Roy, February 19 is the day to celebrate. Why? She has not one but TWO MG books launching that day, both from Feiwel & Friends: Good Enough, a contemporary middle-grade novel that explores a preteen’s recovery from anorexia, and You Are Enough, a self-help book for young readers who are struggling with eating and body-image issues. Here, Petro-Roy discusses why she chose to address the theme of disordered eating, and what she hopes readers will gain from her books.

MR: First, happy book(s) birthday, Jen! Publishing two books on the same day is a huge achievement—and highly unusual. What was your publisher’s strategy behind this? And what does it feel like to launch two books at once?

JPR: It is unusual—and exciting! I don’t think this is done very often in publishing, and I’m honored that Macmillan/Feiwel & Friends believed in me enough to market and publish these books together. Good Enough was the second book of my publishing contract (my MG debut, P.S. I Miss You, was published in 2018), and after I began writing it, I realized that besides the manuscript that I was writing, I wasn’t aware of many middle- grade books that featured a protagonist suffering from an eating disorder.

This made me realize that there weren’t many self-help books out there for teens and tweens with eating disorders, either–and that this disease, which seems to be starting earlier and earlier, is an all-too-common occurrence. When I was sick, the “recovery literature” was mainly geared towards college-aged kids or adults—either that, or to parents, and I really wanted there to be something out there that kids could turn to when they compared themselves to their friends; or saw their peers or parents going on a diet; or felt like their body was defective in some way. So I wrote up a proposal and my agent sent it on to my editors. They accepted, and I got to work!

MR: Let’s talk first about your contemporary MG, Good Enough. In this novel, 12-year-old Riley, an aspiring artist, is placed in an in-treatment facility for anorexia. I’ve read that the topic of disordered eating is a personal one for you. Can you tell us how this is reflected in your book?

JPR: Like Riley, I suffered from anorexia nervosa, with an accompanying exercise addiction. Unlike Riley, though, I got sick later in life, when I went to college. However, the feelings that I felt, both when I was sick and when I started to go through treatment and recovery, are universal. There’s fear and hope, bargaining, and doubt. There’s relapse and struggle and so much more. I have a huge stack of old journals from when I was sick, and like Riley, I wrote about what I went through and the people I met through treatment. I definitely cried at some points while writing this book, but I’m so glad that I reflected the journey accurately. I’ve heard from some readers who had once had an eating disorder that they related to Riley a lot.

MR: What most connects you most to your main character, Riley? How is she different from you? How is she the same?

JPR: Riley and I are definitely a lot alike. Like her, I struggled with running as a symptom of my disease and felt like my family didn’t understand how hard recovery was for me. I actually felt like no one understood what I was going through, which was a major reason I wanted to write this book; to assure kids that they aren’t alone, and to help others become more empathetic to the struggles of those dealing with an eating disorder. Riley and I are both highly internal and like to reflect on the world through words. She’s absolutely her own person, though; she has different insecurities than I do and her relationships play out in different ways. I love her so.

MR: Writing such a deeply personal book must have been an extremely emotional experience for you. How did you deal with the highs and lows? Were some sections/chapters harder to write than others?

JPR: Like I mentioned, I absolutely did tear up. I think that unpacking those emotions was really cathartic. I’ve gone through therapy but there’s always more to deal with, and it was interesting to be able to see my feelings and journey through Riley while also making her a unique character of her own. The beginning of the book, when she is more ambivalent and conflicted about recovery, was definitely more difficult for me to write. From my vantage point, I wanted to just tell her to get better; that life is so much more fulfilling on the other side! But I knew that for Riley, as for the many other kids who suffer from eating disorders, recovery is a process and she had to go through these struggles to move forward.

MR: What kind of research did you do for Good Enough? And what about for your self-help book, You Are Enough: Your Guide to Body Image and Eating Disorder Recovery?

JPR: I did so much research, and I honestly enjoyed every second of it. Above all, I wanted to make sure that You Are Enough was super inclusive, so I interviewed males who had suffered from eating disorders, those who identify as LGBQTIA+, people with chronic illnesses, and those who aren’t the size that stereotypically suffer from eating disorders. I also talked to people active in the fat-acceptance movement, to body-positive nutritionists, and to those who suffered from bulimia, binge-eating disorder, and more. The end result is that this book isn’t about the “typical” eating- disorder sufferer. It has lessons for anyone who is struggling with their self-image.

MR: Speaking of which, what is the main message behind You Are Enough? Do you consider it a companion to your novel?

JPR: I do consider You Are Enough a companion to Good Enough; in fact, I’m sure Riley would have gotten a lot of out of it! But the books can be read independently from each other, too. They’re connected in their message, though; that you don’t have to look a certain way, or act a certain way, or “seem” a certain way to have value. You don’t have to control your life through an eating disorder, because eventually it will come to control you. Deep down, you are enough just as you are. All you have to do is live…and BE.

MR: Finally, your first MG novel, P.S. I Miss You (Macmillan, 2018), garnered considerable controversy when schools and libraries, in both liberal and conservative parts of the country, declined visits from you, due to your book’s frank examination of sexual orientation, teen pregnancy, and religion. How did this affect you overall? And how did it affect your approach to writing Good Enough? Was it a help, or a hindrance?

JPR: I honestly don’t think the pushback that P.S. I Miss You received affected Good Enough in any way. Partly because the book was drafted by the time of my debut’s release, but mostly because I firmly believe that kids need books that deal with “tough” issues; books that talk about the sensitive issues that everyone deals with in some way. Every reader may not have an eating disorder, but they may know someone with one. Or they may struggle with another issue. It’s only by bringing the full range of humanity into the light that we can learn how to have to empathy for others and realize we are not alone.

For more about Jen Petro-Roy, visit her website and follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

Stuck in a Midwinter Rut? Middle Grade Journey Stories to the Rescue

The very words make one shiver: polar vortex. We were plunged into the depths of one last week, here in Pennsylvania and across much of the country. School was cancelled, the lemon tea was steaming, and the furnace was valiantly trying to tame the chill. With a few extra hours to peruse some middle grade novels, I knew where I wanted to go: long journeys to faraway places.

Even if you live in a warm-year-round kind of place, you might be ready for a good book to take you away. February is a short month by its count of days, but it can feel quite long, no matter the weather nor where you live. If you are a teacher, student, librarian, or homeschooling parent, this month might require some extra patience; the holiday season is over, signs of spring are stubbornly holding off, last summer is a nostalgic memory, and next summer isn’t countdown-worthy just yet.

Many students and adult readers alike appreciate a good book journey at this time of year: questing through a fantasy world, trailing a real-life athlete toward a championship, playing time-traveler to witness historical events through the characters who experience them. I crave books in which I can follow the character on actual traveling experiences, planned or spontaneous, with ocean settings or road trips to new lands—I suppose because I dream of travels, old and new, in late winter.

After some reflection, I think readers might also be drawn to journey stories for reasons like these:

  • Atmospheric settings are an important, teachable element of MG works. A descriptive passage lends itself to analysis of figurative language devices such as imagery and metaphor. Often a setting symbolizes a character’s emotions or foreshadows an event yet to occur.
  • A character “leaving the ordinary world” is an iconic plot device (see Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces or Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey for more) that pulls in a wide variety of readers of all ages, as it speaks to a questing spirit and curiosity about other places, times, and cultures.
  • The culmination of a journey to a new place—whether that journey is a literal traveling experience or an internal, dynamic shift of emotion or conviction—seems particularly fulfilling with a well-drawn MG character, and often provides inspiration to readers of many ages.

Here are a few journey-themed books from recent years on my midwinter reading table.

 Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm – Turtle is a strong-minded girl who bravely faces reality: in the Depression-era South, her mama must take a live-in housekeeper job with a no-children-allowed rule. Turtle tries to be positive about being sent to live with an aunt and cousins in Key West, Florida; however, she is out of her element there (scorpions like to hide in shoes, so be careful; also, alligator pear is what’s for breakfast—rather, avocado on toast.) Turtle tries to find ways to get along with the relatives who were not expecting her arrival, and to open her heart to a deeper meaning of family.

Stowaway by Karen Hesse – The first-person journal narrative of Nicholas Young, a stowaway on Captain James Cook’s ship in 1768, relates a historical sailing story through the perspective of a bold narrator. The opening of Stowaway pulls the reader in to join Nick in his tiny, cramped hiding place on the Endeavour, waiting through long days and nights, until the ship sails far enough away from England for him to be revealed to the Captain and crew. Nick’s story brings the reader along for adventure and excitement in long-ago days of exploration and discovery as Captain Cook pursues a secret mission to relatively unknown waters.

A Bandit’s Tale: The Muddled Misadventures of a Pickpocket by Deborah Hopkinson — In the mood for a picaresque tale? Think “I-voice” narrative by a roguish young person setting out on independent adventures in the face of daunting surroundings or social circumstances; examples include Moll Flanders, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and Oliver Twist, to name a few. In A Bandit’s Tale, main character Rocco’s story begins with an actual journey from late 1800s Italy to America following a misunderstood misdeed in his hometown. In New York, the guardian supposedly responsible for him requires that he and other boys play street instruments for money. Rocco’s “journey” continues as he learns to navigate difficult living conditions, the challenges of early immigrants, and historic reform movements to improve the treatment of children and animals.

 

Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell  — Baby Sophie is rescued after a ship sinks in the English Channel and brought up by Charles, an eccentric and loving guardian who quotes Shakespeare, serves meals on books, and allows Sophie to wear trousers and practice handstands. But once Sophie turns twelve, their enigmatic way of life catches the attention of the authorities, and Sophie is set to be sent to an orphanage for young ladies. Using only a few cryptic clues, the two set out on a journey to Paris to attempt to find Sophie’s mother–who may or may not still be alive.

Of course, the journey is just one theme that might interest midwinter snow day or “cold day” readers. What are your getaway titles, and do any themes connect them?

Thanks for reading!