Book Lists

Road Trip Roundup: Adventurous Reads for Your Summer List

trunk was a little full, but the views were killer!

Six years ago my wife and I went on a babymoon. We didn’t call it that. We still don’t call it that. But I’m pretty sure that’s what it was. We packed up our little car with snacks and camping supplies and a dog, then made for the West Coast. It was a pretty epic adventure to sneak in just before the birth of our first son. 

Fast forward and we’re now getting ready to welcome #3 into the world. No babymoon this time, unless you count a clandestine trip to IKEA while the grandparents watch our kids. We still talk about the road trip, though. We’d both love to take our littles across the country when they’re slightly less little. There’s just something about the roads out west — how the guardrails converge into pinpoints on those impossibly long, straight highways. Or the way every town has a story — usually recorded on some miniscule placard in the center of town, bronze letters boiling hot from the summer sun.

So maybe I won’t be loading up the car for an epic cross-country voyage this summer, but that doesn’t mean I can’t live vicariously through the adventures of someone else. Listed below are my favorite road trip-themed middle grade books. Whether you’re skipping town or waiting for gas prices to come back down to earth, I think there will be something here to take you into that vast, beautiful, mysterious open space of our incredible country. Enjoy!

 

See You In The Cosmos by Jack Cheng

When space enthusiast Alex Petroski sets out to find the truth about his family, he discovers a menagerie of interesting characters and locations spanning from his hometown of Rockview, Colorado all the way to Los Angeles. Told entirely through recordings on an iPod, it’s a refreshingly original take on the road trip concept, and Alex’s revelations about love and family mirror the complexities of the landscape.

 

 

We’re Not From Here by Jeff Rodkey

What road trip could be more epic than a journey to an entirely new planet? When Earth is rendered  uninhabitable, a small envoy of survivors travel for 20 years only to wake up from hypersleep and find that the arrangement with their new alien hosts has fallen apart. It’s up to Lan Mifune’s family to prove that humanity is still worth saving in this high-concept exploration of immigration and cultural acceptance. 

 

 

Doll Bones by Holly Black

Calling this a “road trip” book may be a stretch, but the theme of journey is so strong in this story that I couldn’t resist adding it to the list. The characters embark on a quest to return a haunted doll to its proper grave site, and while the trip only takes them to a neighboring town, the adventure manages to include bus rides, boat trips, and a secret overnight stay in a library. But Zach, Alice, and Poppy take more than just a physical journey — they explore the depths of their friendship, the ways it’s changing before their eyes, and the uncertain road that lies ahead.

 

The Honest Truth by Dan Gameinhart

In this clever and twisty adventure story, Dan Gameinhart takes us across Washington state with a main character bent on fulfilling a lifelong dream before it’s too late. Mark’s journey is not just an exploration of some of the most breathtaking parts of that region, it’s also an exploration of terminal illness, dreams, and the line between determination and foolishness. 

 

 

Are We There Yet? By Dan Santat

Okay, so this one’s not technically a middle grade book, but I still think it belongs on this list. Dan Santat’s vivid illustrations and clever formatting make this a picture book that I consistently come back to with my kiddos. Add in the hidden Easter eggs (including embedded QR codes!) and it’s a book with enough layers to entertain even the most bored car trip voyagers.

 

 

So how about you? Will you be taking any epic adventures this summer? Or maybe you’ll be road tripping from your couch like me. Either way, feel free to drop a comment with your favorite road trip-themed books so those of us who are staying local this summer can still look forward to a few adventures. Happy travels!

June New Releases

June is here and so is a treasure trove of new middle grade to fill those long summer days.
There’s something for every reader in this month’s list – so get ready for some reading.

 

The Lost Ryu by Emi Watanabe Cohen

Kohei Fujiwara has never seen a big ryū in real life. Those dragons all disappeared from Japan after World War II, and twenty years later, they’ve become the stuff of legend. Their smaller cousins, who can fit in your palm, are all that remain. And Kohei loves his ryū, Yuharu, but.

.Kohei has a memory of the big ryū. He knows that’s impossible, but still, it’s there, in his mind. In it, he can see his grandpa – Ojiisan – gazing up at the big ryū with what looks to Kohei like total and absolute wonder. When Kohei was little, he dreamed he’d go on a grand quest to bring the big ryū back, to get Ojiisan to smile again.

But now, Ojiisan is really, really sick. And Kohei is running out of time.

Kohei needs to find the big ryū now, before it’s too late. With the help of Isolde, his new half-Jewish, half-Japanese neighbor; and Isolde’s Yiddish-speaking dragon, Cheshire; he thinks he can do it. Maybe. He doesn’t have a choice.

 

 

Alice Austen Lived Here by Alex Gino

Sam is very in touch with their own queer identity. They’re nonbinary, and their best friend, TJ, is nonbinary as well. Sam’s family is very cool with it… as long as Sam remembers that nonbinary kids are also required to clean their rooms, do their homework, and try not to antagonize their teachers too much.

The teacher-respect thing is hard when it comes to Sam’s history class, because their teacher seems to believe that only Dead Straight Cis White Men are responsible for history. When Sam’s home borough of Staten Island opens up a contest for a new statue, Sam finds the perfect non-DSCWM subject: photographer Alice Austen, whose house has been turned into a museum, and who lived with a female partner for decades.

Soon, Sam’s project isn’t just about winning the contest. It’s about discovering a rich queer history that Sam’s a part of — a queer history that no longer needs to be quiet, as long as there are kids like Sam and TJ to stand up for it.

 

 

Super Troop by Bruce Hale

Cooper just wants to spend the summer before 7th grade drawing and having adventures with his best friend, Nacho. Anything to keep his mind off the fact that his dad’s new girlfriend and his mom’s announcement that she’s going to start dating.

But when one of his adventures with Nacho goes too far, Cooper’s parents freak out. Either he joins the Boy Rangers, a dorky club that’s all about discipline and rules, or that dream cartooning camp at the end of his summer? Will get erased.

At first it’s not so bad–the troop is a disorganized mess. But then a new scoutmaster starts. Mr. Pierce is a gruff ex-Marine who’s never worked with kids before, especially not a ragtag team of misfits like Troop 19. As he tries turning them into a lean, mean, badge-earning machine, Cooper longs for freedom. He doesn’t want to break the rules, but the rules are going to break him!

 

 

The Secret Battle of Evan Pao by Wendy Wan-Long Shang

A fresh start. That’s all Evan Pao wants as he, along with his mother and sister, flee from California to Haddington, Virginia, hoping to keep his father’s notoriety a secret.

But Haddington is a southern town steeped in tradition, and moving to a town immersed in the past has its own price. Although Evan quickly makes friends, one boy, Brady Griggs, seems determined to make sure that as a Chinese American, Evan feels that he does not belong. When Evan finds a unique way to make himself part of the school’s annual Civil War celebration, the reaction is swift and violent. As all of his choices at home and at school collide, Evan must decide whether he will react with the same cruelty shown to him, or choose a different path.

 

 

 

Smaller Sister by Maggie Edkins Willis

Lucy’s always looked up to her big sister, Olivia, even though the two are polar opposites. But then, Lucy notices Olivia start to change. She doesn’t want to play with Lucy anymore, she’s unhappy with the way she looks, and she’s refusing to eat her dinner. Finally, Lucy discovers that her sister is not just growing up: Olivia is struggling with an eating disorder.

While her family is focused on her sister’s recovery, Lucy is left alone to navigate school and friendships. And just like her big sister, she begins to shrink.

But with time, work, and a dose of self-love, both sisters begin to heal and let themselves grow. Soon enough, Olivia and Lucy find their way back to each other–because sisters are the one friend you can never ditch.

 

 

 

Lies I Tell Myself by Beth Vrabel

Raymond has always preferred to keep life simple and leave adventuring to other people. But then he’s sent across the country, against his will, to spend the summer before fifth grade with grandparents who think he’s “troubled” and needs to have playdates set up for him. Determined to show everyone how brave, confident, and untroubled he can be, Raymond hatches a three-step plan:

1) Learn to ride a bike. His mom never got around to teaching him before she left.
2) Learn how to swim.
3) Make friends. On his own.

But can Raymond really change, or is this whole plan just a bunch of lies he’s telling himself? With the help of his great-grandfather’s old journal, a feral chicken, and a possibly imaginary new friend, Raymond might just overcome his fears and figure out who he really wants to be.

 

 

 

Not Starring Zadie Louise by Joy McCullough

Zadie loves Tae Kwon Do, comic books, and outer space. She also loves visiting the community theater that her mom runs, especially the lighting grid over the stage and the stage manager’s booth, which is filled with levers and buttons like a spaceship control panel. So when the family’s finances suffer a blow and Zadie has to give up her usual activities to spend the summer at the theater, she doesn’t mind too much. After all, she’s always wanted to tech a show.

She knows she’d be great at it, but her mom and the new stage manager are totally opposed to the idea of having a kid do tech. Instead, Zadie’s stuck handing out snacks and folding flyers. But the future of the theater rides on this show, and Zadie is determined to help. She’s going to make Spinderella the hit of the season–unless she accidentally turns it into a disaster

 

 

 

Can’t Be Tamed (Horse Country #1) by Yamile Saied Méndez

Carolina Aguasvivas grew up on Paradise Ranch, which she knows down to every last pony. But things are sure to change when the new owner’s daughter, Chelsie Sánchez, sweeps in with an attitude and a feisty Thoroughbred named Velvet. The mare is skittish, headstrong, and hurt — and Carolina is determined to ride her.

Chelsie, who considers herself too good to clean stalls, certainly doesn’t seem like a real horse girl. Caro knows she’s the only one who can help Velvet recover, and she’s ready to prove it — no matter what it takes.

The girls may discover they have more in common than they think… including a passion for bringing the healing power of horses to every kid.

 

 

 

The Kaya Girl by Mamle Wolo

When Faiza, a Muslim migrant girl from northern Ghana, and Abena, a wealthy doctor’s daughter from the south, meet by chance in Accra’s largest market, where Faiza works as a porter or kaya girl, they strike up an unlikely and powerful friendship that transcends their social inequities and opens up new worlds to them both.

Set against a backdrop of class disparity in Ghana, The Kaya Girl has shades of The Kite Runner in its unlikely friendship, and of Slumdog Millionaire as Faiza’s life takes unlikely turns that propel her thrillingly forward. As, over the course of the novel, Abena awakens to the world outside her sheltered, privileged life, the novel explores a multitude of awakenings and the opportunities that lie beyond the breaking down of barriers. This is a gorgeously transporting work, offering vivid insight into two strikingly diverse young lives in Ghana.

 

 

 

Repairing the World by Linda Epstein

Twelve-year-old Daisy and Ruby are totally inseparable. They’ve grown up together, and Daisy has always counted on having Ruby there to pave the way, encourage her to try new things, and to see the magic in the world. Then Ruby is killed in a tragic accident while on vacation, and Daisy’s life is shattered.

Now Daisy finds herself having to face the big things in her life–like starting middle school and becoming a big sister–without her best friend. It’s hard when you feel sad all the time. But thanks to new friends, new insights, and supportive family members, Daisy is able to see what life after Ruby can look like. And as she reaches beyond that to help repair the world around her, she is reminded that friendship is eternal, and that magic can be found in the presence of anyone who chooses to embrace it.

 

 

 

 

Out of Range by Heidi Lang

Sisters Abby, Emma, and Ollie have gone from being best friends forever to mortal enemies.

Thanks to their months-long feud, they are sent to Camp Unplugged, a girls’ camp deep in the heart of the Idaho mountains where they will go “back to nature”–which means no cell phones, no internet, and no communicating with the outside world. For two whole weeks. During that time, they had better learn to get along again, their parents tell them. Or else.

The sisters don’t see any way they can ever forgive each other for what they’ve done, no matter how many hikes and campfire songs they’re forced to participate in. But then disaster strikes, and they find themselves lost and alone in the wilderness. They will have to outrun a raging wildfire, make it through a turbulent river, escape bears and mountain lions and ticks. They don’t have training, or food, or enough supplies. All they have is each other.

And maybe, just maybe, it will be enough to survive.

 

The Boy Who Failed Dodgeball by Jordan Sonnenblick

Funny, outrageous things didn’t stop for Jordan Sonnenblick after he left fourth grade. No, in many ways the events detailed to hilarious effect in The Boy Who Failed Show and Tell were but a prelude to sixth grade, a time when Jordan would have to deal with…

— A rival named Jiminy (his real name is Jimmy — but, hey, he looks like a cricket)

— A stickler English teacher who doesn’t care that all the old, worn copies of Great Expectations smell like puke

— An Evel Knievel obsession

— A first crush on a girl from band

— An assistant principal who brands Jordan a repeat offender… on his first day (If you want to know why, you have to read the book. A tooth is involved.)

— A continued reckoning with both anxiety and asthma

— And more!

 

The Do-Over by Jennifer Torres

The Mendoza sisters need a do-over!

Raquel and Lucinda used to be inseparable. But ever since their parents split, Raquel has been acting like editor-in-chief of their lives. To avoid her overbearing sister, Lucinda spends most of her time with her headphones on, practicing her skating routine.

Then a pandemic hits, and the sisters are forced to spend the lockdown at their dad’s ranch house. Suddenly Raquel sees a chance to get back everything they’ve lost. If they can convince their mom to come along, maybe they can get their parents to fall in love again and give their family a second chance, a do-over.

But at the ranch, they get a not-so-welcome surprise: their dad’s new girlfriend and her daughter are already living there! Lucinda finds she actually likes them, which only makes Raquel more desperate to get rid of them. And as her Raquel’s schemes get more and more out of hand, Lucinda starts to wonder what they are really fighting for. Is trying to bring the Mendoza family back together really just tearing them further apart?

 

Hana Hsu and the Ghost Crab Nation by  Sylvia Liu

Hana Hsu can’t wait to be meshed.

If she can beat out half her classmates at Start-Up, a tech school for the city’s most talented twelve-year-olds, she’ll be meshed to the multiweb through a neural implant like her mom and sister. But the competition is fierce, and when her passion for tinkering with bots gets her mixed up with dangerous junkyard rebels, she knows her future in the program is at risk.

Even scarier, she starts to notice that something’s not right at Start-Up–some of her friends are getting sick, and no matter what she does, her tech never seems to work right. With an ominous warning from her grandmother about being meshed, Hana begins to wonder if getting the implant early is really a good idea.

Desperate to figure out what’s going on, Hana and her friends find themselves spying on one of the most powerful corporations in the country–and the answers about the mystery at Start-Up could be closer to home than Hana’s willing to accept. Will she be able to save her friends–and herself– from a conspiracy that threatens everything she knows?

 

High Score by Destiny Howell

Darius James–DJ to his friends–has a head for cons and a heart of gold. He pulled his last con months ago at his old school. Now safely enrolled in the Fitz (Ella Fitzgerald Middle School) he’s determined to keep his head down. But when Conor, his best friend from his old school, suddenly shows up, DJ knows his anonymous days are numbered.

Sure enough, within a week of arriving at the Fitz, Conor runs afoul of Lucky, the seventh-grade bully who runs a complicated contest based on tickets from Starcade, the games-and-pizza joint across the street from the school. Lucky has the power to ruin any kid’s life, including Conor’s, unless DJ agrees to come up with 100,000 Starcade tickets within two weeks.

It’s impossible! Or is it? If anyone can stay on the straight and narrow–and pull off the biggest ticket heist of all time, it’s DJ. In the process, he just might save his friend–and maybe even the whole school–from Lucky.

 

 

 

Coming Up Short by Laurie Morrison 

Bea’s parents think she can accomplish absolutely anything–and she’s determined to prove them right. But at the end of seventh grade, on the same day she makes a gutsy play to send her softball team to the league championships and Xander, the boy she likes, makes it clear that he likes her too, a scandal shakes up her world. Bea’s dad made a big mistake, taking money that belonged to a client. He’s now suspended from practicing law, and another lawyer spread the news online. To make matters worse, that other lawyer is Xander’s dad.

Bea doesn’t want to be angry with her dad, especially since he feels terrible and is trying to make things right. But she can’t face the looks of pity from all her friends, and then she starts missing throws in softball because she’s stuck in her own head. The thing she was best at seems to be slipping out of her fingers along with her formerly happy family. She’s not sure what’s going to be harder–learning to throw again, or forgiving her dad. How can she be the best version of herself when everything she loves is falling apart?

 

 

Valentina Salazar Is Not a Monster Hunter by Zoraida Córdova

It takes a special person to end up in detention on the last day of school.

It takes a REALLY special person to accidentally burn down the school yard while chasing a fire-breathing chipmunk.

But nothing about Valentina Salazar has ever been “normal.” The Salazars are protectors, tasked with rescuing the magical creatures who sometimes wander into our world, from grumpy unicorns to chupacabras . . . to the occasional fire-breathing chipmunk.

When Val’s father is killed during a rescue mission gone wrong, her mother decides it’s time to retire from their life on the road. She moves the family to a boring little town in upstate New York and enrolls Val and her siblings in real school for the first time.

But Val is a protector at heart and she can’t give up her calling. So when a mythical egg surfaces in a viral video, Val convinces her reluctant siblings to help her find the egg before it hatches and wreaks havoc. But she has some competition: the dreaded monster hunters who’ll stop at nothing to destroy the creature . . . and the Salazar family.

 

 

Lia Park and the Missing Jewel: Volume 1 by Jenna Yoon

Twelve-year old Lia Park just wants to fit in. Her parents work with a mysterious organization that makes them ridiculously overprotective. Lia’s every move has been scrutinized since she was born, and she’d love to have the option of doing something exciting for once. So when she gets invited to the biggest birthday party of the year–and her parents say she can’t go–Lia sneaks out.

But her first act of rebellion not only breaks her parents’ rules, but also an ancient protection spell, allowing an evil diviner spirit to kidnap and ransom her parents for a powerful jewel that her family has guarded for years. With just the clothes on her back and some very rusty magical skills, Lia finds herself chasing mysterious clues that take her to her grandmother’s home in Korea.

From there, she has to make their way to the undersea kingdom of the Dragon King, the only person who knows where the powerful jewel might be. Along with her friend, Joon, Lia must dig deep and find courage to stand up for those who are weak–and become the hero her parents need.

 

 

Catch That Dog! by Will Taylor

When Joanie first encounters Masterpiece, he’s curled up in an alley and she mistakes him for (of all things!) a cat. Soon, though, she cleans him up and shows him home and discovers he is, in fact, a poodle.

What Joanie doesn’t know is that Masterpiece isn’t any ordinary poodle. No, Masterpiece is a world-famous poodle, who has been in movies and advertisements and has been seen hobnobbing with celebrities. So how did Masterpiece go from a palatial apartment in New York City to an alley in a small town in New Jersey? He was dognapped! And now not only does the dognapper want him back, but his former owner is offering a big reward.

Masterpiece knows he should want to go home to the luxury of his old life. But nobody’s ever loved him the way Joanie loves him.

What’s a dog to do?

 

There’s so many great books, I’m not sure where to start. Let me know which ones you’re looking forward to in the comments below.

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!

Superpower?

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!

Giveaway!

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.