No fooling! April has some seriously great new middle grade releases: Fiction that ranges from funny to fantastic; books that tell true life stories; an interactive journal; a novel written by a fictional TV character; and two new books (a biography and a historical novel) by our own Julie K. Rubini and Rosanne Parry. Congrats to Julie, Rosanne, and all our featured April authors!
Eye to Eye: Sports Journalist Christine Brennan by Julie K. Rubini
Christine Brennan, the USA Today sports columnist, author, and commentator, uses her voice to advocate for diversity and equality in the world of sports, and her wisdom to encourage future journalists. Her passion for sports was sparked by her dad, who encouraged her to participate in athletics and, as he said, “smell the game”—go watch baseball and football games together. As a child, Christine wrote daily entries in her diary and listened to play-by-play coverage on her radio. She pursued this love of words through journalism school and applied her passion for sports by reporting on them for various newspapers. Since then, she has portrayed the setbacks and triumphs of athletes, all the while fighting her own battles for success—and respect—as a female journalist. From knocking down barriers in NFL locker rooms to covering every Olympics since 1984 to being the go-to commentator whenever scandal occurs in the sports world, Christine Brennan has done it all. Eye to Eye invites young readers to learn more about this remarkable journalist and perhaps to nurture their own dreams of investigating and telling important stories.
Last of the Name by Rosanne Parry
Twelve-year-old Danny O’Carolan and his sister, Kathleen, arrive in New York City in 1863. Kathleen refuses to be parted from her only remaining relative, so she finds a job in domestic service for herself and her younger … sister. Danny reluctantly pretends to be a girl to avoid being sent to the children’s workhouse or recruited as a drummer boy for the Union army. When he occasionally sneaks off to spend a few hours as a boy and share his rich talent for Irish dancing, he discovers the vast variety of New York’s neighborhoods. But the Civil War draft is stoking tensions between the Irish and free black populations. With dangers escalating, how can Danny find a safe place to call home?
The Next Great Paulie Fink by Ali Benjamin
When Caitlyn Breen enters the tiny Mitchell School in rural Mitchell, Vermont, she is a complete outsider: the seventh grade has just ten other kids, and they’ve known each other since kindergarten. Her classmates are in for a shock of their own: Paulie Fink–the class clown, oddball, troublemaker, and evil genius–is gone this year. As stories of Paulie’s hijinks unfold, his legend builds, until they realize there’s only one way to fill the Paulie-sized hole in their class. They’ll find their next great Paulie Fink through a reality-show style competition, to be judged by the only objective person around: Caitlyn, who never even met Paulie Fink. Who was this kid, anyway–prankster, performance artist, philosopher, or fool? Caitlyn’s quest to understand Paulie is about to teach her more about herself than she ever imagined. Told via multiple voices, interviews, and other documents, The Next Great Paulie Fink is a lighthearted yet surprisingly touching exploration of how we build up and tear down our own myths…about others, our communities, and ourselves.
A Kind of Paradise by Amy Rebecca Tan
Thirteen-year-old Jamie Bunn made a mistake at the end of the school year. A big one. And every kid in her middle school knows all about it. Now she has to spend her summer vacation volunteering at the local library—as punishment. What a waste of a summer! Or so she thinks. A Kind of Paradise is an unforgettable story about the power of community, the power of the library, and the power of forgiveness.
Extraordinary Birds by Sandy Stark-Mcginnis
Eleven-year-old December knows everything about birds, and everything about getting kicked out of foster homes. All she has of her mother is the book she left behind, The Complete Guide to Birds: Volume One, and a message: “In flight is where you’ll find me.” December believes she’s truly a bird, just waiting for the day she transforms and flies away to her real home. The scar on her back must be where her wings have started to blossom – she just needs to find the right tree and practice her flying. She has no choice; it’s the only story that makes sense. When she’s placed with Eleanor, a new foster mom who runs a taxidermy business and volunteers at a wildlife rescue, December begins to see herself and what home means in a new light. But the story she tells herself about her past is what’s kept December going this long, and she doesn’t know if she can let it go… even if changing her story might mean that she can finally find a place where she belongs.
by Jeff Kinney
Get ready for a whole new look into Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid! Introducing the newest Wimpy Kid author—Rowley Jefferson! Rowley’s best friend Greg Heffley has been chronicling his middle-school years in thirteen Diary of a Wimpy Kid journals . . . and counting. But it’s finally time for readers to hear directly from Rowley in a journal of his own. In Diary of an Awesome Friendly Kid, Rowley writes about his experiences and agrees to play the role of biographer for Greg along the way. (After all, one day Greg will be rich and famous, and everyone will want to know his life’s story.) But Rowley is a poor choice for the job, and his “biography” of Greg is a hilarious mess. Diary of an Awesome Friendly Kid: Rowley Jefferson’s Journal offers readers a new way to look at the Wimpy world—one fans won’t want to miss!
Spy School British Invasion by Stuart Gibbs
Stranded in Mexico after nearly capturing the leaders of SPYDER, thirteen-year-old Ben Ripley desperately needs to take a shower. But even more so, he and his spy school friends need to come up with a new plan to defeat their enemies, their only clue a key that opens…something. The Mission: Go rogue from the CIA, join up with the British MI6 to locate the leader of SPYDER, the enigmatic Mr. E, and bring down the evil organization once and for all. Only it won’t be easy. They’ll have to deal with rival evil splinter factions, devious double-crosses and learning to drive on the opposite side of the road. But they have no other choice: this is their last and final chance to crack the code on SPYDER.
Warriors: The Broken Code #1 Lost Stars by Erin Hunter
For the first time, all five warrior Clans have settled into their true homes in the territory around the lake. But when a shockingly harsh leaf-bare season descends on the forest, a new darkness begins to spread—a shadow that threatens a beloved Clan leader, the cats’ connection with their ancestors in StarClan, and the very warrior code they live by. Packed with action and intrigue, the beginning of this sixth Warriors series is the perfect introduction for readers new to the Warriors world. And dedicated fans will be thrilled to discover the new adventures that unfold after the events of A Vision of Shadows.
Trevor Noah, the funny guy who hosts The Daily Show, shares his remarkable story of growing up in South Africa, with a black South African mother and a white European father at a time when it was against the law for a mixed-race child like him to exist. But he did exist–and from the beginning, the often-misbehaved Trevor used his keen smarts and humor to navigate a harsh life under a racist government. This compelling memoir blends drama, comedy, and tragedy to depict the day-to-day trials that turned a boy into a young man. In a country where racism barred blacks from social, educational, and economic opportunity, Trevor surmounted staggering obstacles and created a promising future for himself, thanks to his mom’s unwavering love and indomitable will. It’s Trevor Noah: Born a Crime not only provides a fascinating and honest perspective on South Africa’s racial history, but it will also astound and inspire young readers looking to improve their own lives.
Wild Rescuers: Escape to the Mesa by Stacy Plays
From YouTube gamer StacyPlays comes the exhilarating sequel to her Minecraft-inspired adventure novel about a girl raised by wolves. Stacy would do anything to protect the Taiga where she lives with the pack of intelligent wolves who raised her. But when humans start to encroach on their forest, their only choice is escape to a place no Arctic wolf has gone before: the desert. The Mesa, with its canyons, snakes, and coyotes, will be like nothing the pack has ever seen. Even in this unfamiliar territory, Stacy is determined to rescue animals in need. But as she and her wolves face new dangers and old secrets, Stacy can’t help but wonder—where does she truly belong?
Share Your Smile: Raina’s Guide to Telling Your Own Story by Raina Telgemeier
Calling all fans of Raina Telgemeier! Have you ever thought about telling your own story, whether it be true or imagined? Are you interested in writing, drawing, or both? If the answers are yes, this fun, colorful, and interactive journal is for you! With guidance from Raina herself, brainstorm ideas, make lists, paste in personal photos, and use your imagination like never before to create your own stories. For additional inspiration, behind-the-scenes info from Raina’s own comics-making adventures is featured inside. BONUS: Raina’s next graphic novel, Guts, will be published on September 17, 2019. A special sneak peek is included in this book!
– Make a deal with a sneaky trader
– Climb a beanstalk into the sky
– Try not to get eaten by a giant
– Find the goose that lays golden eggs
Otherwise, Jack won’t get his treasure, and our troubles will be GIGANTIC . . .
Mirror, Mirror: A Twisted Tale by Jen Calonita
Mirror, Mirror: A Twisted Tale poses the question, what if the Evil Queen poisoned the prince? Following her beloved mother’s death, the kingdom falls into the hands of Snow White’s stepmother, commonly referred to as “the Evil Queen” by those she rules. Snow keeps her head down at the castle, hoping to make the best of her situation. But when new information about her parents resurfaces and a plot to kill her goes haywire, everything changes for Snow. With the help of a group of wary dwarfs, a kind prince she thought she’d never see again, and a mysterious stranger from her past, Snow embarks on a quest to stop the Evil Queen and take back her kingdom. But can she stop an enemy who knows her every move and will stop at nothing to retain her power… including going after the ones Snow loves?
For their whole lives, Oscar and Molly have been told that katts and doggs hate each other. One day, they each get hopelessly lost in the woods, but those lifelong prejudices flare up when they cross paths. Slowly, they realize that the only way to survive and find their way home is to…work together?! Yeah, that’s not going to happen!
Flashback Four: The Hamilton-Burr Duel by Dan Gutman
In this jaw-dropping final installment of New York Times bestselling author Dan Gutman’s action-packed series, four risk-taking friends travel back in time to record the most infamous duel in American history. Billionaire Miss Z might be out of the picture, but a top-secret agency wants to send Luke, Julia, David, and Isabel on one final mission. This time, the Flashback Four are headed to Weehawken, New Jersey—in 1804—to videotape the fateful duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. But once they arrive, the team faces a question of historic proportions: Should they capture the tragic details of the duel or try to change them? With real photographs to help put young readers right in the action, plus back matter that separates fact from fiction, The Hamilton-Burr Duel tells the story of one of history’s fiercest rivalries from a fun and fresh new angle.
Welcome to Wonderland: Beach Battle Blowout by Chris Grabenstein
Welcome to the Wonderland Motel–the funnest place on earth! Contestants, start your engines! The race to be the best on the beach is on, and this year the Wonderland is FINALLY going to win! The competition is fierce! But who needs ROLLER COASTERS and JET PACKS and PIRATES when you have not one but two SECRET WEAPONS? That’s right–P.T. and Gloria, of course! Now they just need to SLEUTH OUT who the secret contest judges are and come up with enough brand-new attractions to WOW them and OUT-FUN the competition! Can they do it? Or will the Wonderland crash and burn? Anything’s possible when you live in the FUNNEST PLACE ON EARTH! Extras include P.T. and Gloria’s famous fact-or-fiction quiz and P.T.’s (Not Exactly) Patented Storytelling Tips!
A Black Woman Did That! by Malaika Adero
A Black Woman Did That! spotlights vibrant, inspiring black women whose accomplishments have changed the world for the better. A Black Woman Did That! is a celebration of strong, resilient, innovative, and inspiring women of color. With a vibrant mixture of photography, illustration, biography, and storytelling, author Malaika Adero will spotlight well-known historical figures and women who are pushing boundaries today—including Ida B. Wells, Madam CJ Walker, Shirley Chisholm, Serena Williams, Mae Jamison, Stacey Abrams, Jesmyn Ward, Ava DuVernay, and Amy Sherald. Readers will recognize some names in the book, but will also be introduced to many important black women who have changed history or who are reshaping the cultural landscape.
Fast Break (Jeter Publishing) by Derek Jeter and Paul Mantell
Between promising Vijay that he’ll compete in the school talent show and promising Dave that he’ll try out for the basketball team, Derek Jeter has a lot he’s trying to juggle. A commitment is a commitment, and Derek is determined to work hard and try his best, but he worries he might be in over his head and fears he’s going to let his friends or himself down. How can Derek do it all? Inspired by Derek Jeter’s childhood, Fast Break is the sixth book in Jeter Publishing’s New York Times bestselling middle grade baseball series that focuses on key life lessons from Derek Jeter’s Turn 2 Foundation.
The Last Last-Day-of Summer by Lamar Giles
Otto and Sheed are the local sleuths in their zany Virginia town, masters of unraveling mischief using their unmatched powers of deduction. And as the summer winds down and the first day of school looms, the boys are craving just a little bit more time for fun, even as they bicker over what kind of fun they want to have. That is, until a mysterious man appears with a camera that literally freezes time. Now, with the help of some very strange people and even stranger creatures, Otto and Sheed will have to put aside their differences to save their town—and each other—before time stops for good.
I just read an absolutely delightful debut called OPERATION FROG EFFECT (Random House), by author Sarah Scheerger. It’s funny, sometimes sad, has a wonderfully diverse cast of characters, and even includes a graphic novel element. The multi-POV novel traces one transformative year in the life of teacher Ms. Graham’s fifth-grade students. Because of her innovative teaching style, students learn to rely on their own ingenuity, deepen their empathy for each other, and fight for what they believe in. Their story is told through their journal entries and drawings.
As I often do, I drafted my middle-grade son to read with me, and he loved it too, so when I got the chance to interview Sarah, I included some of the questions he had for her as well.
Interview with Sarah Scheerger
The Origins of OPERATION FROG EFFECT
MUF: What inspired you to write this book?
My fourth-grade teacher, Mr. Nubling, was innovative. He took risks, he made us think, and he understood when we made mistakes. He had a “growth mindset” before that was such a popular concept. He actually had us build our own model rockets in class and shoot them off on the school fields. (This probably wouldn’t happen today, but this was the eighties.) Mr. Nubling only had four fingers on one hand. One year (not my year), a student accidentally shot off his rocket while Mr. Nubling was still securing it in place. And despite losing a digit, Mr. Nubling continued to shoot off rockets every year with his fourth graders.
When I thought of writing a middle-grade novel, my upper elementary years jumped out at me as the most memorable. My character Emily has the voice most similar to my own fifth-grade voice. I connected with her need to belong and her confusion as her friend group shifts. All the characters in this story are fictional, of course.
MUF: Why did you decide to use a multi-POV approach?
I love the way multiple points of view provide the opportunity for misunderstandings, for unreliable narrators, and for a quick moving pace. I love the use of the graphic novel component (Blake’s voice) for multiple reasons. I see how my own children gravitate toward reading graphic novels, and I wanted a way to incorporate some of that element in this story. I thought perhaps the graphic novel component might widen the potential readership. Plus. . . I love how illustrations can convey emotions. Also, I wanted to create a character who has his own unique learning style. Blake is a student who struggles with writing but loves to draw.
MUF: I was fascinated by the Whistler/Non-Whistler project. Is that a real teaching model?
My fourth-grade teacher, Mr. Nubling, did this experiment with our class. To be honest, my memory is fuzzy, so I’m not sure whether he did an eye color experiment or based it on gender. I only remember my feelings of injustice! I was confused and upset… and that experiment has stuck with me ever since.
When writing this book, I researched the eye color experiment. It originated with a teacher, Jane Elliot. She talked about it on “Oprah” back in the nineties. Here’s a clip. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/01/02/jane-elliott-race-experiment-oprah-show_n_6396980.html
In my first version of Operation Frog Effect, I considered doing the actual “eye color experiment”. But after much thought, my editor and I decided the point would be most poignant if I selected something entirely random, like the ability to whistle. (By the way, I cannot whistle myself.)
About that Frog…
MUF: Frogs are an important symbol in many cultures – often indicating a need for transformation or cleansing, for a new perspective on life. I can’t help but wonder whether this symbolism tied into your choice of the frog as a class pet? Ms. Graham’s class had an incredibly transformative year!
You’re totally right. This was a transformative year for Ms. Graham’s class.
Sweet Kermit was an addition during my first round of edits. My editor and I were brainstorming titles and ideas for metaphors and themes. We decided that a class pet frog could bring out Blake’s nurturing/caring side, had the potential for fun complications (oops—frog on the loose!) as well as created fun cover art. (My heart melts for the frog on the cover of the book.)
The frog symbolism was important too. You’re right that frogs are an important symbol for many cultures, and my editor and I also loved the concept of making ripples. Frogs make ripples in the water, and my characters made ripples in the world. (I love the ripples on the cover too!)
Writing the Book
MUF: What is your favorite part?
I love Blake’s sections. Gina Perry did a fabulous job. I’m hopeful that his sections will reach kids in a different way than the traditional text. Interestingly, I rewrote all of Blake’s sections for the audiobook. It was a group effort—I worked together with the producer to transform the illustrations back into inner dialogue… what Blake would have been thinking as he was sketching. (This was so fun—the producer and I met for coffee and worked together!)
And the counselor in me loves the little tidbits of social-emotional learning that Ms. Graham shares with her class.
MUF: What was the hardest part of the book to write?
Oh, great question! I did find it challenging to keep track of threads and details across characters. I kept lists and charts. I wanted to give each character equal playing time, make sure they each had their own arc, their own strengths, and their own weaknesses. I wanted to be sure the voices were different enough to be distinct. I also took extra care with the representation of my diverse characters. I had seventeen different authenticity readers! Each reader shared different insights, from his/her own perspective. It was really important to both me and my editor that we take extra steps to be sure we represented each character authentically.
(Cool fact: the audiobook is narrated by nine different diverse voices. This was really important to me, and I’m so thrilled with the end result.)
MUF: How many times did you have to rewrite?
Too many to count! Let’s just say that I started this book when my daughter was born. And now
she’s four and a half!
I do love revisions, though. Once I have the skeleton of the book written, I enjoy going back and fine-tuning.
Writing Multiple POV
MUF: Multi-POV books can be a real challenge in revisions – how did you approach that challenge?
This was definitely a challenge! There were so many layers of revisions with this book. I managed this in a variety of ways, but mostly I followed these steps:
• I went through and revised threads/overall plot
• then went back through one voice at a time, looking carefully at how this specific change impacted each specific character (for example, all of Kayley’s entries, then all of Cecilia’s, etc.)
• And then… I went back through the whole manuscript from beginning to end.
These multi-layered revisions occurred many times throughout the revision process. One change in a single plot point impacted each character in his/her own unique ways. Each time I went through I found more details to change.
MUF: My son and I both had the same comps in mind as we read – BECAUSE OF MR. TERUPT by Rob Buyea, and THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY by Laura Shovan. Did either of those influence your writing or your choice to do multi-POV?
Perhaps on some level, the book Wonder impacted my choice to do Multi-POV. I have a huge author crush on that book. R.J. Palacio reached so many kids, and I’ve enjoyed watching how teachers have incorporated Wonder into their curriculum. Since I’m a school-based counselor, I love it when teachers find creative ways to incorporate social-emotional learning and empathy-building into their curriculum.
I think Because of Mr. Terupt and The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary are great comps too. In fact, you’ll find all these books (as well as tips about classroom activities) in the School Stories Educator’s Guide at the following link: https://images.randomhouse.com/promo_image/9780525644125_5528.pdf
Thank you for reading Operation Frog Effect! Here’s a link to the audiobook clip: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/575577/operation-frog-effect-by-sarah-scheerger/9780525644125/
OPERATION FROG EFFECT, published by Random House, will be on shelves TOMORROW, February 26, 2019.