MEET. YASMIN!by Saadia Faruqi, art by Hatem Aly, published by Picture Window Books and available in August 2018.
For the youngest MG readers, Pakistani-American Yasmin is going to be a real treat. She is a spunky, curious second grader with a fairly typical round of family and school-centric adventures. Her mother and grandmother are hijabis. She is not—as is common (but not universal) among Pakistani girls of this age. I appreciated the inclusion of live-in grandparents, including a grandfather in a wheelchair. The text of the story never mentions Yasmin’s ethnicity as an obstacle. The end notes contain some information about Pakistan, a short glossary of words in Urdu, a recipe for lassi and a craft suggestion. Large text, generous leading, and lively illustrations on every page make this a great choice for new readers. Saadia Faruqi has written short stories and essays for adults. This is her debut children’s book. Hatem Aly is the illustrator of the Newbery Honor winning Inquisitor’s Tale
RUNNING ON THE ROOF OF THE WORLD by Jess Butterworth, published by Algonquin Young Readers and available May 2018.
Here is a refugee story, an adventure story, a survival story and a mystery all in one. Most MG readers will have at least heard of the Dalai Lama but they are probably less familiar with the migration of thousands of Tibetan Buddhists over the Himalayas to India. Sam and Tash are two such refugees who flee to India when Tash’s parents are arrested for participating in the resistance to Chinese rule. They bring yaks on their journey. Twelve year old me would have read it just for the yaks. This one is on the easier end of the reading scale and it handles the brutality of the political situation in Tibet with a light touch—neither denying the violence nor giving it undue detail. I wish there was a map but otherwise this is a gem of book. It’s Jess Butterwoth’s debut novel.
Contemporary indentured servitude is far more common world wide than any government is willing to admit. It is hardly ever a topic of fiction even for adults, but Aisha Saeed has done a nice job of taking a topic full of brutality and monstrous injustice and fashioned it into a story that will arouse a readers conscience and compassion on the topic of slavery without crushing their spirit with to much brutal detail. Amal is a book-loving girl with dreams of higher education who is swept up by a local man who has the power of a feudal lord and made to serve as a maid in his home—an arrangement from which typically no-one returns. Amal is clever enough to get away and readers will rejoice in her escape.
THE NIGHT DIARY by Veera Hiranandani published by Dial Books for Young Readers and available in March of 2018.
Set in 1947 and told in diary entries addressed to her mother who died long ago, Nisha tells the story of how her half-Hindu and half-Muslim family decided to leave their home in response to the partition of India. Nisha is shy and her social circle is quite limited which, along with the diary format, makes this a more cerebral book than the others on this list. It’s an interesting slice of recent history that will likely be new to readers.
ARU SHA AND THE END OF TIME,by Roshani Chokshi published by Rick Riorden Presents and available in May of 2018.
Here’s a story in the Rick Riorden tradition of mythology come to life. Spunky middle school girl takes a dare she shouldn’t have while touring her friends through a museum of Indian-American artifacts. Monsters are unleashed, pluck and cultural savvy are employed, the world is saved. It’s a romp any reader of the Percy Jackson books will love.
THE SERPANT’S SECRET: KIRANMALA & THE KINGDOM BEYOND by Sayantani Dasgupta published by Scholastic and available June of 2018
This is probably my favorite book cover of the year. Love the colors and the girl with her bow and arrows facing down an army of snakes to save New Jersey. I feel like New Jersey is going to be okay. This is another fantasy based in Indian mythology with a sprinkle of romance and dollop of sass. I have some avid mythology readers at the shop and this was their favorite read of the summer
We’re told (often metaphorically) not to judge a book by its cover. But what about judging a book by its title? One of the most important and anxiety inducing things a writer must do is what some authors call “naming the baby.”
With my most recent novel, I went through seven titles. Six of them contained the word, summer. Because my publisher had a plethora of books with summer in the title that season, several needed to be changed. Lucky for me, my editor and her group got together and brainstormed. They came up with the title The First Last Day, which alluded to the Groundhog Day premise of the story—much better than the titles I had come up with.
Subsequently I’ve been agonizing over the title of a work in progress. This has made me think about titles I love and why I love them. It turns out some of my favorites are inspired by Bible stories, poetry, song lyrics, and other art forms. Not only are these titles catchy and meaningful, but they can also be a way to teach students how to identify allusions in what they read and how to use allusion in their own writing. Below are just a few titles I love that call to mind other works:
This novel, which won the 1977 Newbery Medal, is about racism during the Great Depression. The title is directly from the first line of a spiritual sung by slaves. Such songs were often used to inspire rebelliousness. The song is alluded to at the beginning of Chapter 11. It has been written that the thunder referred to in the title is a metaphor for all the hate the Logan family must put up with from whites like the Wallaces, a racist family in town. The second part of the title has been seen as a call to action against the injustices toward African Americans. I can’t think of a more perfect title for this novel.
The title of this novel, which won the 1981 Newbery Medal, came straight from the Bible and refers to the sibling rivalry of twin brothers Jacob and Esau. The quote reads: “As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” The allusion to the quote has significance because the novel is about twins Sara Louise and Caroline. Louise, like Esau, is the child who lives in the shadow of the other twin. The novel follows her search for self and how she can find a place in the world apart from her sister.
The second half of this title is taken from a poem by Emily Dickinson. The novel is about a girl, who in the wake of a tornado that has destroyed her home, is developing feelings for another girl. The following quote from Dickinson appears in an epigraph and is repeated during a scene in the novel: “This is my letter to the world, that never wrote to me …” The quote has symbolic meaning for the main character who, like Dickinson’s narrator, entrusts an invisible audience with her inner thoughts. At the end of Dickinson’s poem, the speaker asks not to be judged for what she has written. This would seem to have significant meaning for Ivy who is on a journey of self-discovery and wonder.
Lowry’s novel about the Holocaust won the 1990 Newbery Medal. The title is from Psalm 147:4 in the Old Testament, which talks about God numbering the stars and naming each one of them. The quote alludes to the fact that if God can count the stars, He can see the persecution of the Jews. Although at one point, Annemarie, who is watching so much suffering, wonders how anyone could number the stars one by one. “There were too many. The sky was too big.”
Beatles fans will recognize the line from the beginning of the hit song, “She Loves You.” The title is perfect for Hood’s novel about a girl growing up in the sixties during the Vietnam War and the Beatles era. In the novel, the main character, whose social status has diminished, is determined to see the band perform in Boston during its final world tour and to meet her beloved Paul McCartney.
If you have any favorite middle-grade titles that allude to a previous work of art, I’d love to hear about them in the comments section. Also, if you have any great titles kicking around in your brain that you don’t want, send them my way. Just kidding. Sort of.
I’m thrilled to interview Mixed-Up Files member Jonathan Rosen and celebrate the release of his middle grade novel, From Sunset Till Sunrise. Huge congratulations, Jonathan! I’d love to know how you came up with the idea for From Sunset Till Sunrise and some of the changes your story went through before publication.
The idea for From Sunset Till Sunrise, was actually just a continuation of the ending of Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies. When I wrote Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies, I did so with the intent/hope that it might become a series. At least, I left open the possibility, by ending it by mentioning there might be a vampire moving in. I just loved working in this genre of horror/humor and hoped to continue. It’s a lot of fun taking horror tropes and twisting them. When Sky Pony talked about a sequel, it was before Cuddle Bunnies even came out. So, there was some discussion about what to make the next book about, but since the ending already had vampires, and they liked it, we just went with it.
Cuddle Bunnies played with movies like Gremlins and Fright Night, and From Sunset Till Sunrise also uses Fright Night, but there’s a lot of From Dusk Till Dawn and other vampire movies in there, as well.
As far as changes, there really weren’t too many, though I did go back and forth on who the main villain would be. But, there weren’t many others.
I read and loved the first book in this series, Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies, and will never look at stuffed animals the same way again. I plunged into From Sunset Till Sunrise, excited to see Devin, Tommy, and Abby again, and noticed that you gave just enough information for new readers to quickly catch up on what’s been happening in Gravesend. Can you share some tips for writing a series?
I think series are fun, but challenging. In From Sunset Till Sunrise, I alluded to what happened in Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies, but never specified. That way, the sequel could stand on its own for new readers. They didn’t have to read the first one. But, if you did read the first one, there was still enough of a continuation for you to get references that new readers wouldn’t. When references are mentioned, the series reader can just smile and know exactly what is meant, but the newbie still has an idea.
It’s definitely tricky. Because, now we have established characters. Even though I did reintroduce them, and you get an idea of their personalities, it’s extra fun if you’ve already gone on the ride before. You amp up what they did the first time around, which for me, I loved pushing Tommy even further.
Tommy had so many zany ideas in the first book, I didn’t think it was possible to push him even further—but you definitely did that! You also let us see a lot more of spunky Abby in this book, which was awesome.
Your books are so funny—and you often make me laugh on Facebook and Twitter, too. When did you realize you had a great sense of humor, and how has it helped you?
Does it sound immodest to come here and say, “I always knew I was funny”? Well, I did! ? But, kidding aside, humor was/is a huge part of my life. Most of my family had good senses of humor. My immediate family and my uncle, as well. And, those are the types of movies and books that I gravitated to. As a kid, I watched so many old comedies with my dad, and they really were a great way to learn things like timing, and set-ups. Humor has always been a part of my life, and as you said, it has helped me, since I was very shy, quiet, and nerdy. And, like a lot of people with the same traits, humor was a self-defense mechanism. You’re not getting picked on, if you’re making people laugh. Well, that is if you’re not making a flippant remark that gets someone angry. ? As you get older, your humor starts standing out for different reasons. You start getting noticed for it, in good ways.
You not only have humor, you have a lot of heart, too. Thank you so much for giving us a glimpse of your childhood and why humor is such a big part of your life.
Between your humor and the surprising spooky elements, your books are awesome for everyone, including reluctant readers. They’re fast-paced fun reads! Do you have any advice for anyone who is trying to encourage kids to read?
Thanks for saying! First, I always let kids read what they want. I wasn’t a reluctant reader, but I read everything. Books, comics, magazines, etc. As long as someone is reading, I think that’s great. I have a reluctant reader at home, and quick chapters, with funny, fast-paced action, seems to work.
I love the creative ways Devin and Tommy protect themselves in your books—including bubble wrap, water balloons, and Super Soakers. This could definitely inspire teachers, media specialists, and parents to ask kids to write the creations they’d come up with if they were sucked into an adventure with Devin and Tommy. Any suggestions for a writing exercise they can use?
Writing for Devin and Tommy is one of the most fun things about this series. As I said earlier, it’s fun to take the regular tropes and twist them in a fun way. I made a list of so many things, and I wound up using only a small portion them. The key is to look up all the tropes for a particular monster or myth and see what you can do to substitute or replace any of them. In From Sunset Till Sunrise, Devin and Tommy are facing vampires without Holy Water around, so they had to improvise. A little garlic powder mixed into water balloons did the trick there, but look at the tropes and play with them. See what you can come up with.
That sounds like a fun writing exercise! I’d love to see the inventions kids come up with.
What type of research have you had to do when writing middle grade novels?
I am sooooo big on research. Names, myths, lore, everything. In my books, a lot of the characters also have names which mean things. Including the vampires. But, I do like to research everything I can while writing. Geography, history, etc. I researched all the ways to be able to defeat certain monsters. The characteristics of monsters. I want to take the familiar and mix them up.
What are you working on now?
My agent is starting to take something else out on sub, while I’m in the middle of another two humorous, middle grade books.
Ooh, I can’t wait to hear more about them when you can share. We need more of your amazing humorous middle grade books! Is there anything else you’d like your readers to know?
I just want them to know that I’m grateful for them. Seriously. I get such a rush out of knowing that someone is enjoying my book. It means everything to me. Also, please feel free to reach out. I have usually answered most messages.
Hopefully, I’ll have some news to share soon about other works of mine!
Thanks again, Mindy!
You’re welcome, Jonathan. I loved reading your books and interviewing you.
Enter the Rafflecopter widget below for a chance to win a signed copy of both Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies and From Sunset Till Sunrise. Thank you so much for this generous giveaway, Jonathan!
Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies
Twelve-year-old Devin Dexter has a problem. Well, actually, many of them. His cousin, Tommy, sees conspiracies behind every corner. And Tommy thinks Devin’s new neighbor, Herb, is a warlock . . . but nobody believes him. Even Devin’s skeptical. But soon strange things start happening. Things like the hot new Christmas toy, the Cuddle Bunny, coming to life.
That would be great, because, after all, who doesn’t love a cute bunny? But these aren’t the kind of bunnies you can cuddle with. These bunnies are dangerous. Devin and Tommy set out to prove Herb is a warlock and to stop the mob of bunnies, but will they have enough time before the whole town of Gravesend is overrun by the cutest little monsters ever? This is a very funny “scary” book for kids, in the same vein as the My Teacher books or Goosebumps.
From Sunset Till Sunrise
Devin Dexter and his cousin Tommy just saved the city of Gravesend from the menace of magical, malicious Cuddle Bunnies brought to life by the warlock, Herb. But there’s no rest for the wicked, as a new mysterious neighbor moves in across the street. At night. With a coffin. Tommy immediately jumps to conclusions as he thinks this can only mean one thing: Vampires.
Devin isn’t so quick to believe, as he is struck by the neighbor’s daughter, a girl his age. Even though Tommy points out that they have never seen her during the day. Yet when she invites him to a dance at her school–the Nosfer Academy of Talented Understudies–how can Devin say no? Tommy, though, realizes that this is an opportunity. After tackling a wizard last winter, surely they can protect Gravesend from some measly vampires, right?
The winner will be announced on Sunday, August 26. This giveaway is open to anyone in the U.S. Good luck, everyone. 🙂