For Librarians

Middle Grade Books About Friendship

There’s a line that pops up on social media from time to time that says, “People come into your path for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.” It’s been playing in my head this past week, ever since I learned that one of my closest friends is dying. Thinking about our too short friendship has got me thinking about the various other people I have had the fortune to call my friend. It’s also got me thinking about how friendships grow and change over time. Which is why I’ve put together a list of some of my favorite Middle Grade Books about friendship. Consider it a tribute to friendships old and new, long and short, loved and lost.

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgThe Last Great Adventure of the PB & J Society
by Janet Sumner Johnson

When her best friend’s house is threatened with foreclosure, young Annie Jenkins is full of ideas to save the home: selling her appendix on eBay, winning the lottery, facing down the bankers . . . anything to keep Jason from moving. But Jason’s out-of-work dad blows up at the smallest things, and he’s not very happy with Annie’s interventions, which always seem to get them into more trouble. But when Annie tracks a lost treasure to Jason’s backyard, she’s sure the booty will be enough to save Jason’s family. Pirate treasure in the Midwest seems far-fetched, even to Annie, but it could be the answer to all their problems. Now all she has to do is convince Jason. As the two hunt for answers and the pressure gets to Jason and his family, Annie discovers that the best-laid plans aren’t always enough and there are worse things than moving away.

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgYou Go First by Erin Entrada Kelly

Twelve-year-old Charlotte Lockard and eleven-year-old Ben Boxer are separated by more than a thousand miles. On the surface, their lives seem vastly different—Charlotte lives near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, while Ben is in the small town of Lanester, Louisiana.

Charlotte wants to be a geologist and keeps a rock collection in her room. Ben is obsessed with Harry Potter, presidential history, and recycling. But the two have more in common than they think. They’re both highly gifted. They’re both experiencing family turmoil. And they both sit alone at lunch.

During the course of one week, Charlotte and Ben—friends connected only by an online Scrabble game—will intersect in unexpected ways as they struggle to navigate the turmoil of middle school. The New York Times-bestselling novel You Go First reminds us that no matter how hard it is to keep our heads above troubled water, we never struggle alone.

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgRaymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo

Raymie Clarke has come to realize that everything, absolutely everything, depends on her. And she has a plan. If Raymie can win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition, then her father, who left town two days ago with a dental hygienist, will see Raymie’s picture in the paper and (maybe) come home. To win, not only does Raymie have to do good deeds and learn how to twirl a baton; she also has to contend with the wispy, frequently fainting Louisiana Elefante, who has a show-business background, and the fiery, stubborn Beverly Tapinski, who’s determined to sabotage the contest. But as the competition approaches, loneliness, loss, and unanswerable questions draw the three girls into an unlikely friendship — and challenge each of them to come to the rescue in unexpected ways.

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgThe Season of Styx Malone by Kekla Magoon

Caleb Franklin and his big brother Bobby Gene are excited to have adventures in the woods behind their house. But Caleb dreams of venturing beyond their ordinary small town.

Then Caleb and Bobby Gene meet new neighbor Styx Malone. Styx is sixteen and oozes cool. Styx promises the brothers that together, the three of them can pull off the Great Escalator Trade–exchanging one small thing for something better until they achieve their wildest dream. But as the trades get bigger, the brothers soon find themselves in over their heads. Styx has secrets–secrets so big they could ruin everything.

 

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgRoll by Darcy Miller

When Lauren (but call him “Ren,” pretty please) Hall sees birds falling from the sky, he knows something is wrong. But just as he’s starting to worry, he realizes that the birds are plummeting toward the ground on purpose.

Turns out they’re Birmingham Roller Pigeons, and his new neighbor Sutton is training them for a competition.

Sure, it’s strange, but Ren’s best and only friend Aiden has picked this summer to start hanging with the popular kids. So Ren starts training pigeons with Sutton—what’s the worst that could happen? A bird falls on his head?

 

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgThe Right Hook of Devin Velma by Jake Burt

Devin wants to hit it big on the internet by pulling a stunt at an NBA game—one the entire nation will be watching. Addison can’t turn Devin down, but he can barely manage talking to his teachers without freezing up. How’s he supposed to handle the possibility of being a viral sensation?

Addi’s not sure why Devin is bent on pulling off this almost-impossible feat. Maybe it has something to do with Devin’s dad’s hospital bills. Maybe it all goes back to the Double-Barreled Monkey Bar Backflip of Doom. Or maybe it’s something else entirely. No matter what, though, it’s risky for both of them, and when the big day finally comes, Devin’s plan threatens more than just their friendship.

 

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgStanley Will Probably Be Fine by Sally J. Pla

Nobody knows comics trivia like Stanley knows comics trivia.

It’s what he takes comfort in when the world around him gets to be too much. And after he faints during a safety assembly, Stanley takes his love of comics up a level by inventing his own imaginary superhero, named John Lockdown, to help him through.

Help is what he needs, because Stanley’s entered Trivia Quest—a giant comics-trivia treasure hunt—to prove he can tackle his worries, score VIP passes to Comic Fest, and win back his ex-best friend. Partnered with his fearless new neighbor Liberty, Stanley faces his most epic, overwhelming, challenging day ever.

What would John Lockdown do?

Stanley’s about to find out.

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgWish by Barbara O’Connor

Eleven-year-old Charlie Reese has been making the same secret wish every day since fourth grade. She even has a list of all the ways there are to make the wish, such as cutting off the pointed end of a slice of pie and wishing on it as she takes the last bite.

But when she is sent to the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina to live with family she barely knows, it seems unlikely that her wish will ever come true. That is, until she meets Wishbone, a skinny stray dog who captures her heart, and Howard, a neighbor boy who proves surprising in lots of ways. Suddenly Charlie is in serious danger of discovering that what she thought she wanted may not be what she needs at all.

From award-winning author Barbara O’Connor comes a middle-grade novel about a girl who, with the help of a true-blue friend, a big-hearted aunt and uncle, and the dog of her dreams, unexpectedly learns the true meaning of family in the least likely of places.

 

What are some of your favorite Middle Grade books about friendship? Please, share in the comments section.

August New Releases

Before vacation is over and fall brings many of us back to school, work, or whatever it is that interrupts these wonderful lazy days of summer, check out this list of books that will hit shelves this month. From silly to spooky and everything in between, August offers up something for everyone!

 

Best Friends by Shannon Hale, illus. by LeUyen Pham

Best Friends is the vividly honest follow-up to the runaway bestselling graphic memoir Real Friends. Sixth grade is supposed to be perfect. Shannon’s got a sure spot in the in-crowd called The Group, and her best friend is their leader, Jen, the most popular girl in school. But the rules are always changing, and Shannon has to scramble to keep up. She never knows which TV shows are cool, what songs to listen to, and which boys she’s allowed to talk to. Who makes these rules anyway? And does Shannon have to follow them? Or should she follow her heart? Bestselling creators of Real Friends Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham are back with a true story about popularity, first boyfriends, and finding your own path.

 

House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig

In a manor by the sea, twelve sisters are cursed. Annaleigh lives a sheltered life at Highmoor with her sisters and their father and stepmother. Once there were twelve, but loneliness fills the grand halls now that four of the girls’ lives have been cut short. Each death was more tragic than the last–the plague, a plummeting fall, a drowning, a slippery plunge–and there are whispers throughout the surrounding villages that the family is cursed by the gods.

Disturbed by a series of ghostly visions, Annaleigh becomes increasingly suspicious that her sister’s deaths were no accidents. The girls have been sneaking out every night to attend glittering balls, dancing until dawn in silk gowns and shimmering slippers, and Annaleigh isn’t sure whether to try to stop them or to join their forbidden trysts. Because who–or what–are they really dancing with? When Annaleigh’s involvement with a mysterious stranger who has secrets of his own intensifies, it’s a race to unravel the darkness that has fallen over her family–before it claims her next. House of Salt and Sorrows is a spellbinding novel filled with magic and the rustle of gossamer skirts down long, dark hallways. Get ready to be swept away.

 

CatStronauts: Slapdash Science by Drew Brockington

In the fifth book in the CatStronauts graphic novel series, Pom Pom pushes her experiments to the limit on the International Space Station, while the cats at Mission Control take a much needed break. What could possibly go wrong? While the cats are away, the other cats will play! Flight Director Maisy is off on her first vacation in years, and World’s Best Scientist is looking for a secret vacation of his own. But while the party picks up on Earth, the CatStronauts are trying to get all of their work on the International Space Station done in record time. So when disaster strikes in space, the CatStronauts will have to fix everything without their trusty support team at Mission Control. In this full-color graphic novel, debut author/illustrator Drew Brockington pushes the CatStronauts team farther than ever, adding in mounds of experiments, teamwork, and tuna fish by the ton!

 

13 and Counting by Lisa Greenwald

With winter break almost over and seventh grade spinning beyond their control, best friends Kaylan and Ari write a new list of 13 resolutions to make the New Year, middle school, and their friendship even more amazing before they go to separate camps next summer. But what happens when their bestie bucket list reveals issues in their friend group? Can they want totally different things and still be BFFs?

Told in the alternating POVs of Ari and Kaylan—and with goals inspired by suggestions from readers—this contemporary coming-of-age story is bound to be the most heartbreaking and hilarious Friendship List yet.

 

Dead Voices by Katherine Arden

Having survived sinister scarecrows and the malevolent smiling man in Small Spaces, newly minted best friends Ollie, Coco, and Brian are ready to spend a relaxing winter break skiing together with their parents at Mount Hemlock Resort. But when a snowstorm sets in, causing the power to flicker out and the cold to creep closer and closer, the three are forced to settle for hot chocolate and board games by the fire.

Ollie, Coco, and Brian are determined to make the best of being snowed in, but odd things keep happening. Coco is convinced she has seen a ghost, and Ollie is having nightmares about frostbitten girls pleading for help. Then Mr. Voland, a mysterious ghost hunter, arrives in the midst of the storm to investigate the hauntings at Hemlock Lodge. Ollie, Coco, and Brian want to trust him, but Ollie’s watch, which once saved them from the smiling man, has a new cautionary message: BEWARE. With Mr. Voland’s help, Ollie, Coco, and Brian reach out to the dead voices at Mount Hemlock. Maybe the ghosts need their help–or maybe not all ghosts can or should be trusted. Dead Voices is a terrifying follow-up to Small Spaces with thrills and chills galore and the captive foreboding of a classic ghost story.

 

Double Cross (Mrs. Smith’s Spy School for Girls) by Beth McMullen

Abby and her classmates have all been invited to Briar Academy to participate in The Challenge, a prep school competition where teams compete for prizes and the glory of being the best of the best.

While there, they figure out their nemesis, The Ghost, is using Briar as headquarters to plan a devastating attack on his enemies (a.k.a.: pretty much everyone) using a brand-new invention Toby developed. And this time, The Center and Mrs. Smith will be of no help as Abby suspects there is someone working for The Ghost on the inside—and they can trust no one.

 

 

Pencils, Pens and Brushes: A Great Girls’ Guide to Disney Animation by Mindy Johnson, illus. by Lorelay Bove

Based on Mindy Johnson’s critically acclaimed Disney Editions title, Ink & Paint: The Women of Walt Disney’s Animation, this nonfiction picture book is a fun and inspiring look at many of the amazing women who have worked at Disney Animation over the years–from Story Artists, to Animators to Inkers and Painters, all with unique personalities and accomplishments, such as becoming a record-holding pilot, or designing Hollywood monsters, or creating an international club for tall people!

 

 

My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich by Ibi Zoboi

Twelve-year-old Ebony-Grace Norfleet has lived with her beloved grandfather Jeremiah in Huntsville, Alabama ever since she was little. As one of the first black engineers to integrate NASA, Jeremiah has nurtured Ebony-Grace’s love for all things outer space and science fiction–especially Star Wars and Star Trek. But in the summer of 1984, when trouble arises with Jeremiah, it’s decided she’ll spend a few weeks with her father in Harlem.

Harlem is an exciting and terrifying place for a sheltered girl from Hunstville, and Ebony-Grace’s first instinct is to retreat into her imagination. But soon 126th Street begins to reveal that it has more in common with her beloved sci-fi adventures than she ever thought possible, and by summer’s end, Ebony-Grace discovers that Harlem has a place for a girl whose eyes are always on the stars.

 

 Crumbled! (The Misadventures of Nobbin Swill) by Lisa Harkrader

For Nobbin Swill, life is no fairy tale. His family has been the king’s royal dung farmers for generations. It’s a stinky job and someone has to do it, but Nobbin doesn’t want to spend his whole life as a dung farmer. On a dark, cloudy night, Nobbin catches a flicker of moonlight glimmering off something in the dung. It could be a button or a buckle, something that might fetch him a coin from the shoemaker. But it turns out to be a very valuable ring–the king’s ring, and one that could offer Nobbin a life free from dung!

But Nobbin isn’t a thief and would never steal from the king, so he makes his way to the castle. When he tries to return the ring, things only become more complicated, and he ends up having to help the hapless Prince Charming solve a mystery when the woodcutter’s children–Gretel, and her younger brother, Hansel–go missing. Will the two be able to solve the case? Children will enjoy this hilarious mystery, with two-color illustrations throughout by author/illustrator Lisa Harkrader!

 

Case Closed #2: Stolen From the Studio by Lauren Magaziner

In this wildly entertaining and interactive adventure, YOU pick which suspects to interview, which questions to ask, and which clues to follow. You pick the path–you crack the case! Carlos Serrano needs your help–again! His mother has received an urgent assignment to find the missing star of a wildly popular TV show, but she won’t let Carlos investigate!

With his genius friend, Eliza, and her little brother, Frank, along for the case, Carlos is excited to examine the studio for clues and interrogate suspects on the set of Teen Witch, but he has to keep his detective work hidden from his mother’s laser-sharp gaze. And just like before, he can’t do it without you! Can you help Carlos and his friends solve the puzzles and stay out of trouble long enough to save Layla Jay? Or will it be case closed?

 

The Trouble With Shooting Stars by Meg Cannistra

Wonder meets Mary Poppins in this heartfelt debut novel about magic, healing, and the importance of family. Twelve-year-old Luna loves the nighttime more than anything else. It’s when no one gives her “that look” about the half mask she has to wear while healing from a disfiguring car accident. It’s also the perfect time to sit outside and draw what she sees. Like the boy and girl from the new family next door…zipping out of the window in a zeppelin and up to the stars.

At first she thinks she’s dreaming. But one night they catch her watching. Now Luna spends her nights on adventures with them, as they clean full moons, arrange constellations, and catch jars of stardust. She even gets to make a wish on a shooting star they catch. But Luna learns that no wish is strong enough to erase the past–as much as she may hope to.

 

Count Me In by by Varsha Bajaj

Karina Chopra would have never imagined becoming friends with the boy next door–after all, they’ve avoided each other for years and she assumes Chris is just like the boys he hangs out with, who she labels a pack of hyenas. Then Karina’s grandfather starts tutoring Chris, and she discovers he’s actually a nice, funny kid. But one afternoon something unimaginable happens–the three of them are assaulted by a stranger who targets Indian-American Karina and her grandfather because of how they look. Her grandfather is gravely injured and Karina and Chris vow not to let hate win. When Karina posts a few photos related to the attack on social media, they quickly attract attention, and before long her #CountMeIn post–“What does an American look like? #immigrants #WeBelong #IamAmerican #HateHasNoHomeHere”–goes viral and a diverse population begin to add their own photos. Then, when Papa is finally on the road to recovery, Karina uses her newfound social media reach to help celebrate both his homecoming and a community coming together.

 

The Other Half of Happy by Rebecca Balcarcel

Quijana is a girl in pieces. One-half Guatemalan, one-half American: When Quijana’s Guatemalan cousins move to town, her dad seems ashamed that she doesn’t know more about her family’s heritage. One-half crush, one-half buddy: When Quijana meets Zuri and Jayden, she knows she’s found true friends. But she can’t help the growing feelings she has for Jayden. One-half kid, one-half grown-up: Quijana spends her nights Skyping with her ailing grandma and trying to figure out what’s going on with her increasingly hard-to-reach brother. In the course of this immersive and beautifully written novel, Quijana must figure out which parts of herself are most important, and which pieces come together to make her whole. This lyrical debut from Rebecca Balcárcel is a heartfelt poetic portrayal of a girl growing up, fitting in, and learning what it means to belong.

 

Four years after the events of The Gauntlet, the evil game Architect is back with a new partner-in-crime–The MasterMind–and the pair aim to get revenge on the Mirza clan. Together, they’ve rebuilt Paheli into a slick, mind-bending world with floating skyscrapers, flying rickshaws run by robots, and a digital funicular rail that doesn’t always take you exactly where you want to go.

Twelve-year-old Ahmad Mirza struggles to make friends at his new middle school, but when he’s paired with his classmate Winnie for a project, he is determined to impress her and make his very first friend. At home while they’re hard at work, a gift from big sister Farah–who is away at her first year in college–arrives. It’s a high-tech game called The Battle of Blood and Iron, a cross between a video game and board game, complete with virtual reality goggles. He thinks his sister has solved his friend problem–all kids love games. He convinces Winnie to play, but as soon as they unbox the game, time freezes all over New York City. With time standing still and people frozen, all of humankind is at stake as Ahmad and Winnie face off with the MasterMind and the Architect, hoping to beat them at their own game before the evil plotters expand Paheli and take over the entire world.

 

Cora Davis’s life is garbage. Literally. Her professor parents study what happens to trash after it gets thrown away, and Cora knows exactly how it feels–to be thrown away. Between her mom and dad separating and a fallout with her best friend, fifth grade for Cora has been a year of feeling like being tossed into the dumpster. But Cora has learned a couple of things from her parents’ trash-tracking studies: Things don’t always go where they’re supposed to, and sometimes the things you thought you got rid of come back. And occasionally, one person’s trash is another’s treasure, which Cora and Sybella learn when they come across a diary detailing best-friendship problems. Told in two intertwining points of view, comes a warm, wry story of friendship, growing up, and being true to yourself. Written by Rebecca Donnelly, author of How to Stage a Catastrophe (an Indies Introduce and Indie Next List honoree), The Friendship Lie will speak to any reader who has struggled with what to hold on to and what to throw away.

 

Rise of the Dragon Moon by Gabrielle Byrne

Princess Toli may be heir to the throne, but she longs to be a fierce hunter and warrior. Alone in a frozen world, her queendom is at the mercy of the dragons that killed her father, and Toli is certain it’s only a matter of time before they come back to destroy what’s left of her family.

When the dragons rise and seize her mother, Toli will do anything to save her—even trust a young dragon who may be the only key to the Queen’s release.

With her sister and best friend at her side, Toli makes the treacherous journey across the vast ice barrens to Dragon Mountain, where long-held secrets await. Bear-cats are on their trail, and dragons stalk them, but the greatest danger might be a mystery buried in Toli’s past.

 

The Bone Garden by Heather Kassner, illus. by Matt Saunders

Irréelle fears she’s not quite real. Only the finest magical thread tethers her to life—and to Miss Vesper. But for all her efforts to please her cruel creator, the thread is unraveling. Irréelle is forgetful as she gathers bone dust. She is slow returning from the dark passages beneath the cemetery. Worst of all, she is unmindful of her crooked bones.

When Irréelle makes one final, unforgivable mistake by destroying a frightful creature just brought to life, Miss Vesper threatens to imagine her away once and for all. Defying her creator for the very first time, Irréelle flees to the underside of the graveyard and embarks on an adventure to unearth the mysterious magic that breathes bones to life, even if it means she will return to dust and be no more.

 

Each Tiny Spark by Pablo Cartaya

Emilia Torres has a wandering mind. It’s hard for her to follow along at school, and sometimes she forgets to do what her mom or abuela asks. But she remembers what matters: a time when her family was whole and home made sense. When Dad returns from deployment, Emilia expects that her life will get back to normal. Instead, it unravels.

Dad shuts himself in the back stall of their family’s auto shop to work on an old car. Emilia peeks in on him daily, mesmerized by his welder. One day, Dad calls Emilia over. Then, he teaches her how to weld. And over time, flickers of her old dad reappear. But as Emilia finds a way to repair the relationship with her father at home, her community ruptures with some of her classmates, like her best friend, Gus, at the center of the conflict.

 

A Swirl of Ocean by Melissa Sarno

Twelve-year-old Summer loves the ocean. The smell, the immensity, the feeling she gets when she dives beneath the surface. She has lived in Barnes Bluff Bay since she was two years old, when Lindy found her on the beach. It’s been the two of them ever since. But now, ten years later, Summer feels uncertainty about her place with Lindy and starts to wonder about where she came from. One night, Summer goes for a swim and gets caught in a riptide, swallowing mouthfuls of seawater. And that night, she dreams of a girl. A girl her age living in the same town, but not in the same time. Summer’s not persuaded that this girl is real, but something about her feels familiar.

Summer dreams again and again about this girl, Tink, and becomes convinced that she is connected to her past. As she sees Tink struggle with her sister growing away from her and her friends starting to pair off, Summer must come to terms with her own evolving home life and discover how the bonds that make us family can help heal the wounds of the past.

 

Dog Man: For Whom the Ball Rolls by Dav Pilkey

The Supa Buddies have been working hard to help Dog Man overcome his bad habits. But when his obsessions turn to fears, Dog Man finds himself the target of an all-new supervillain! Meanwhile, Petey the Cat has been released from jail and starts a new life with Li’l Petey. But when Petey’s own father arrives, Petey must face his past to understand the difference between being good and doing good.

Dav Pilkey’s wildly popular Dog Man series appeals to readers of all ages and explores universally positive themes, including empathy, kindness, persistence, and the importance of being true to one’s self.

 

The Cryptid Keeper by Lija Fisher

Life has gotten complicated for thirteen-year-old Clivo Wren. After taking up his deceased father’s mission to find the extraordinary creature whose blood grants everlasting life, Clivo is spending his summer not at camp or hanging out with his friends, but jetting all over the world tracking cryptids—while keeping his aunt Pearl in the dark about his dangerous adventures. At the same time, a shocking development unveils the truth about Clivo’s enemies, and the cryptids themselves are posing trouble at every turn. With the help of his crew of Myth Blasters, Clivo is going to need all of the tools, gadgets, and training he has to prevent the immortal cryptid from falling into the wrong hands—and to keep Aunt Pearl off the case.

 

 

The Twilight Curse by Kat Shepherd, illus. by Rayanne Vieira

Bad dreams take center stage in the third book of this spooky middle grade series, Babysitting Nightmares: The Twilight Curse. When the town’s old movie palace is converted into a theater, Maggie is thrilled to get a job helping with the first stage production. Even though she’s just babysitting an actor’s daughter, Maggie is determined to learn everything she can about acting.

But a devilish ghoul seems to have other plans for the performance! It’s up to Maggie, Clio, Rebecca and Tanya to investigate. Can they vanquish the threat in time for opening night?

 

 

 

The Spinner of Dreams by K.A. Reynolds

Annalise Meriwether–though kind, smart, and curious–is terribly lonely. Cursed at birth by the devious Fate Spinner, Annalise has always lived a solitary life with her loving parents. She does her best to ignore the cruel townsfolk of her desolate town–but the black mark on her hand won’t be ignored.

Not when the monster living within it, which seems to have an agenda of its own, grows more unpredictable each day. There’s only one way for Annalise to rid herself of her curse: to enter the Labyrinth of Fate and Dreams and defeat the Fate Spinner. So despite her anxiety, Annalise sets out to undo the curse that’s defined her–and to show the world, and herself, exactly who she is inside.

 

Dough Boys by Paula Chase

Deontae “Simp” Wright has big plans for his future. Plans that involve basketball, his best friend, Rollie, and making enough money to get his mom and four younger brothers out of the Cove, their low-income housing project. Long term, this means the NBA. Short term, it means being a dough boy–getting paid to play lookout and eventually moving up the rungs of the neighborhood drug operation with Rollie as his partner.

Roland “Rollie” Matthews used to love playing basketball. He loved the rhythm of the game, how he came up with his best drumbeats after running up and down the court. But playing with the elite team comes with extra, illegal responsibilities, and Rollie isn’t sure he’s down for that life. The new talented-and-gifted program, where Rollie has a chance to audition for a real-life go-go band, seems like the perfect excuse to stop being a dough boy. But how can he abandon his best friend?

 

 

Dear Louie,
You’ve been asking and asking about what middle school is like, but I just thought they were annoying-younger-sister questions. Even though I am almost done with my first year, I can still remember when I thought middle school was a mystery, so I’ll try to give you a leg up. I know middle school is a lot to figure out. But since I still haven’t worked it all out yet, I’m happy to help as much as I can. That’s what big sisters are for.
Love, Gus
Discover the ins and outs of middle school in this guide from an older sister to her younger sister. From tackling a new building to meeting new people like the assistant principal, the class pet, the Huggers, the renegade, the tomato kid, your old best friend’s new best friend, this is a must-read for everyone starting middle school. With wit and warmth, Kristin Mahoney, author of Annie’s Life in Lists, delivers heartwarming, pitch-perfect advice, ideal for anyone nervously approaching middle school.

 

Interview with Stephanie Lurie, Editorial Director of the Rick Riordan Presents imprint at Disney-Hyperion!

Hello Mixed-Up Filers!

Are we in for a treat! A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to meet Stephanie Lurie at a Florida SCBWI conference, as well as take a workshop she was giving. Besides being extremely informative, she couldn’t have been nicer.

If you don’t know her, she’s the Editorial Director of the Rick Riordan Presents imprint at Disney-Hyperion, and I’m thrilled to feature her in the Editor Spotlight!

Hi Stephanie, thanks for joining us today!

JR: You’ve had a long, successful career in publishing. Could you tell us a little bit about your path to becoming an editor, and eventually working for Disney-Hyperion?

SL: Being a children’s book editor was a career choice I made very early on. When I was fifteen, a local bookstore owner asked me to review a book a townsperson had written for young adults. As I read the book, I thought, “Too bad this woman doesn’t know how kids really think.” It was an “aha!” moment for me: I could help authors make their books stronger. I’m not even sure how I knew such a job existed. . . .

I went on to be a creative writing major at Oberlin College, and during the first semester of my senior year, I had an internship for college credit at Dodd, Mead and Company in New York (a publishing house that was ultimately acquired by Thomas Nelson Books). My experience working for a children’s book editor at Dodd, Mead proved to me that I had found my calling. Dodd, Mead offered me a job after college–for a whopping $8,000 a year!–in sales promotion and customer service. I learned a lot, but I wanted to get back to children’s editorial. I jumped over to Little, Brown, where I grew up from editorial assistant to senior editor over twelve years. After that I ran the imprint Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers for six years. My next stint was as president and publisher of Dutton Children’s books at Penguin. In my ninth year there, a friend of mine who was working at Disney Hyperion talked me into applying for an editorial director job by saying, “How would you like to do what you are doing at Dutton but not have any other imprints competing for marketing and publicity attention?” That sounded pretty good to me, and over the past decade there I have enjoyed being part of a boutique publisher within a huge entertainment company.

 

JR: That’s some exciting journey! What was the first book you worked on?

SL: I had a generous boss at Little, Brown who allowed me to “cut my teeth” on manuscripts by their top authors at the time, such as Lois Duncan, Ellen Conford, and Matt Christopher. One of the first authors I acquired was Neal Shusterman, who has gone on to be a New York Times bestseller and a National Book Award winner with other editors.

JR: When you first saw The Lightning Thief, what about it appealed to you so much?

SL: Rick Riordan’s first middle grade novel, The Lightning Thief, was acquired at auction before my time at Disney. Rick chose to go with Miramax Books, which eventually became part of Disney-Hyperion. Jennifer Besser (now at Macmillan) edited the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. I took over as Rick’s editor after she left, picking up on the Kane Chronicles trilogy. I was amazed by how he made ancient Egyptian mythology relevant to modern readers with exciting adventure, relatable characters, a healthy dose of humor, and a breakneck pace. He makes it look easy.

JR: What’s changed in publishing between the time you started and now?

SL: What hasn’t? I’m so old (How old are you?), I pre-date office computers! Yes, we had to type on Selectrics, using carbon paper. The biggest changes have come from: corporate buy-outs of family-owned companies, which necessitated more attention to the bottom line; the rise of chain bookstores; the Harry Potter phenomenon, which brought hardcover fiction back from the brink of death; the importance of social media in author promotion; Amazon’s dominance; and today, more focus on diversity.

JR: I grew up doing all my reports on typewriters. Slightly easier now. And by the way, I could’ve sworn I heard Gene Rayburn say the “I’m so old” part before you answered (How old are you?) But back to the interview. Disney has recently acquired a lot of new properties. Does that mean anything for the publishing division?

SL: Disney now encompasses several premiere brands, such as Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, and Fox Entertainment. We can publish against all of these brands, from straight movie tie-ins to extension books that tell new stories based on the characters from the movies. It also means that there is more opportunity for intercompany synergy for authors writing their own IP (intellectual property).

JR: What do you enjoy the most about your job?

SL: I’m having a blast helping Rick curate the Rick Riordan Presents line of middle grade fiction by under-represented authors who want to write stories about their own cultures’ folklore and mythology. I send him submissions to consider, acquire the projects we agree on, edit the manuscripts, and collaborate with my colleagues on book design and promotion.

JR: All that sounds like a tremendous amount of fun. What sort of books do you look for?

SL: For Rick Riordan Presents, we want the same qualities that make Rick’s own books so popular, because the imprint was created to satisfy his fans’ craving for adventure based on mythology. We look for a funny, snarky teenage voice; a fast pace; an exciting, high-stakes plot; and a likeable but flawed protagonist who grows over the course of the story.

JR: The kinds of books I love! Are you very hands-on with your authors?

SL: I’ve always enjoyed helping writers bring out their story by asking pointed questions and making suggestions to improve logic, flow, and clarity. For the Rick Riordan Presents authors, my guidance may be a bit more involved, because there is a certain flavor we are trying to achieve while retaining the author’s own voice. It’s a delicate balance.

JR: What’s the state of publishing right now, in particular, Middle Grade? 

SL: It can be difficult for a book—any book—to break out in this time when there is so much entertainment content for consumers to choose from and there are fewer retail outlets for print. Amazon is grabbing more and more market share, but the online site doesn’t encourage browsing. Buyers who shop there usually go already knowing what they want. This is part of the reason best-selling authors remain best-selling authors and new authors have trouble competing. Authors need to partner more with their publisher on promotion as a result.

JR: Probably more important than ever for authors to get involved in the promotion process. What advice can you give to authors?

SL: The best way to learn to write is to read, read, read, and write, write, write.

Remember that you are communicating with an audience and not just writing to satisfy your own ego.

A good concept isn’t enough by itself. Write the entire manuscript.

You may have to land a literary agent before you can land a publishing deal.

Choosing an agent and editor/publisher is like choosing any partner. Make sure there is good chemistry between you.

Be open to feedback but stand up for what is important to you.

Don’t expect the publication of your book to satisfy all your desires or change your life.

Writing the book is only 50% of the work; promotion after publication is the other 50%.

School visits are still one of the best ways to build word-of-mouth.

Support other authors on your way up, and they will (should) do the same for you.

 

JR: All of that is outstanding advice. In my experience, many authors have been extremely supportive of each other. I think strong relationships are extremely important in that regard. I read that Harriet the Spy was one of your favorite childhood books. I have a few friends who wholeheartedly agree with you. What did you love about it and what other books were among your favorites?

SL: I loved how honest Harriet the Spy was about a kid’s real life—I believe it was one of the first contemporary middle grade novels ever published. To this day I enjoy books in which a well-meaning main character makes a big mistake that causes them humiliation, e.g. The Truth About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin. As a kid I also enjoyed animal-based fantasies such as Stuart Little and The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White, and The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary. High fantasies such as The Chronicles of Narnia and Lord of the Rings stood out, too.

JR: The Narnia books were also among my favorites as a child. Speaking of childhood, what’s one thing from your childhood that you wish could come back?

SL: My fun-loving dad. He taught me to always remain a kid at heart.

JR: Okay, that answer hit me. If there’s one thing I could wish for from then, it would also be to see my dad. How can people follow you on social media?

SL: For publishing news and comments, Twitter is probably the best bet: @SOLurie.

JR: Before we go, is there anything else that you’d like to add?

SL: Thank you for inviting me to answer these questions. I greatly admire authors—both aspiring and published—and wish everyone a fulfilling journey. Your book could be the one that makes a reluctant reader a forever reader, changes a kid’s perspective, and inspires someone else to be a writer.

JR: Extremely true. Thank you again for taking the time to speak with us today!

 

Well, that’s it for now, Mixed-Up Filers. I’d like to once again thank Stephanie Lurie for joining us! And if you ever see her listed to speak at a conference, I strongly suggest you go listen!

Until next time . . .