For Writers

Strong Girl vs Rock Head Boy

“Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art. Very often in our art, the art of words.”   – Ursula Le Guin

We have the words; we have the power.
We have the power; we can transform.
The artist produces the idea, the idea is consumed, and then the idea seeps into our reality.
They can make a difference.

Girl Power vs. Rock Head Boy
Last month, we hosted a youth baseball clinic as a fundraiser for our high school baseball program. It was a beautiful Saturday morning and there were around twenty 5-8 year-old-boys on the green grass of the outfield warming up with a little catch. Out of the check-in table in the first base dugout, ran a first-grade girl, her glove in one hand, her ponytail bouncing in the morning sun, and wearing a pink T-shirt with a big flower emblem on the front.

Baseballs hit the ground in mass. The boys all stared at the newest kid to join the clinic until the inevitable occurred and a half-dozen boys yelled, “She’s a girl. She can’t play baseball.”

Now, a younger version of me would have probably agreed with these young boys. But the evolved me said, “Girls can play baseball. Girls can do just about anything they want to.”

Not another word. The young lady played as hard and had as much fun as any of the boys on the field. After the initial incident, no boy said another word or even raised an eyebrow. It was wonderful.

I was not only impressed with the effort of the girl, but also impressed with the almost immediate acceptance of a girl baseball player by the other kids.

Where does this come from?

When I was a kid, we would rather have not played and spent the summer afternoon in the library rather than let girls play. What has changed the attitudes and why? I thought of Ursula Le Guin’s quote from the National Book Award last fall.

Art and words make a difference.

These modern kids have been exposed to more equality and empowerment in their literature than we were. Their attitudes have shifted for the positive. No, things aren’t perfect, but things are getting better.

Art and words change minds.

Take Wonder Woman for example.

Wonder Woman was created to show young girls in the 1940’s that women could be strong and empowered while still being women. Strong Girl, huh? Changing the perception of women and girls as the “fairer” or “weaker” sex.

“Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, and power. Not wanting to be girls, they don’t want to be tender, submissive, peace-loving as good women are. Women’s strong qualities have become despised because of their weakness. The obvious remedy is to create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman.” – Dr. William Marston, Psychologist, and co-creator, with his wife Elizabeth, of Wonder Woman (1943)

Literature and art showing what is possible.

Girls were alien to me growing up. I grew up kid #4 in a house of six kids and only one of the six was female. My only sister is still known as “that poor Hays girl” even after all these years. Our neighborhood was also young male dominant.

Needless to say, a girl POV was sorely lacking in my young life.

So I turned to books. And in the climate of 1970’s Kansas City parochial school life, this may not be the best resource for an academic study on the sociology and behavioral patterns of girls. The “Boy Meets Girl” romantic book section? What could be learned from googly-eyed, pink, monogrammed sweater-wearing, paper doll characters? The take home message seemed to say that girls were indeed the “fairer” or “weaker” sex. Nothing worth learning.

So, I was clueless. I gave up trying to define what girls were all about. I put my male head in the sand and stayed safely in the dark.

LITTLE HOUSE IN THE BIG WOODS was very good. But, why did they have to move to the Kansas prairie? I liked the woods. I lived in Kansas; I didn’t dream about living on the prairie, I dreamed about living in the Big Woods and building log cabins. Sorry Laura, Mary and bulldog Jack. You were strong, but I abandoned you on the dry, arid flatlands before you had a chance to transform my way of thinking.

LITTLE WOMEN. Nope. Couldn’t relate, refused to read … almost flunked 8th grade English. My mother threw a fit and still gets a twitch in her eye at even the mention of LITTLE WOMEN. Enough said?

What I failed to realize was strong girls were all around me. In real life, I only needed to observe the strong girls in my life. My sister, mother, classmates, and even the athlete girl, the cheerleader girl, the artist girl, the intellectual girl who were all examples of strong girls right there in front of my nose my whole life. Strong girls were in books I didn’t take the time or the effort to invest in reading.


But, this is not a sad story; it’s a happy story of enlightenment and redemption. No matter how much of a chauvinist, male-centered, and close minded an individual can be, there is always hope. I am lucky enough to have the gifts of a wonderful wife and amazing daughters to help redeem me. These Strong Girls opened my eyes to the world of strong girls in life and in literature.

There is so much good art out there now. Words to change minds. Words I wish I would have had back in the day. Here are some of the Strong Girl characters which have helped bring me out of the dark ages.

  • Hermione (The Harry Potter series is chock-full of strong girls!)
  • Penny, Turtle, Ellie or any female character written by Jennifer Holm
  • Coraline Jones
  • Stargirl
  • May B
  • Tabitha-Ruth “Alice” ‘Turtle’ Wexler

I invite you to leave a comment on what “Strong Girl” books or characters influenced you growing up. Also please suggest books representing strong female characters to help enlighten today’s young rock head boys. Help us out … we need all the help we can get.

And never forget that words have power.

Wield your words wisely.

Make the world a better place.


Woods to Words – A Summer Adventure

Next month is July, when we’ll be deep in that magical, lazy time of summer. I can just picture it. Watermelon juice dripping down my chin as I sit, feet kicked up on the deck rail, tall glass of iced tea at my side, and the grid map and binoculars in my lap. Wait. What?

It’s okay, stay with me here! I’m still talking about that magical summer, and some of it might be lazy, I promise! Let me share with you my kind of summer fun this year.

It’s Woods to Words, a science and poetry summer camp. Though it’s offered for a range of ages, I dreamed it up to delight middle grade students in particular.

The school’s camp description is pretty spot-on:

Join our literary nature-lover Mrs. Stein for a week of scientifically-inspired creative writing!  Develop an appreciation for nature as you map the woods, watch wildlife through binoculars, and hunt through the forest with a magnifying glass in hand. Hear the world like never before as you use onomatopoeia to produce nature soundscapes. Writers will have an opportunity to share their hand-crafted books at the end-of-week author celebration.

Yes, that’s right – our lazy days of summer will be spent in the school’s forest making scientific observations – and making poetry! On day one, we’ll create a site map and a shape poem. An “onomatopoetical” exercise and an art project for our book covers will stem from the sound maps we’ll create. I’m excited to build a team word bank from our square-foot observation exercise, which we’ll continue to use for inspiration as we write each day.

Young people are natural observers and I can’t wait to harness their innate curiosity in a camp setting, tapping into their drive to learn new things. Add nature read-alouds and fun games like “Whose Dinner Am I?” and we’ll have a well-rounded camp experience. Anyone know any fun science songs?

My own writing and art are driven by the observations I make, and its a natural leap to blend one passion for another. I’m excited by the opportunity to incorporate these passions into an informative, fun and relaxed camp setting.

So how about you? Will you kick back this summer and gaze at a site map while sipping your iced drink and writing poetry? I can’t wait to start.

For further reading:

What Schools can Learn from Summer Camps

What is STEAM?

Cornell Lab of Ornithology Education

In fourth grade, Valerie Stein touched an ancient artifact from an archaeological dig. Though she never got to travel the world in search of buried treasure, she ended up journeying to new and exciting places between the pages of books. Now she spends her time researching history, in museums and libraries, which is like archaeology but without the dirt. Valerie’s book, The Best of It: A Journal of Life, Love and Dying, was published in 2009.  Both her current work and an upcoming middle grade series are historical fiction set in Washington State. Valerie is proprietor of Homeostasis Press and blogs at The Best of It.

You’re Invited: A Giveaway and Interview with Jen Malone and Gail Nall

The Mixed-Up Files is very excited to introduce Jen Malone and Gail Nall and their new series about four girls who run an event planning business. The first book in the series, You’re Invited, was released just last month.


The authors recently stopped by to answer some questions about themselves and their books.

MUF: I see that the two of you live pretty far from each other. How did you meet? And what made you decide to collaborate on a book?

Gail: In summer 2012, we were both querying and doing blog writing contests. We “met” on one of those blogs where we each had an entry (spoiler alert: my entry was my upcoming YA debut, Exit Stage Left, which was MG back then!). We each read the other’s entry, and then I think we left simultaneous comments to the effect of, “Hi! You write like me. Let’s exchange manuscripts!” So we did, and quickly became critique partners. Not long after that, Jen snagged an agent, and then about four months later, I also got an agent. Then Jen’s book, At Your Service, sold to Aladdin, and a few months later, my book, Breaking the Ice, also sold to the same editor at Aladdin. So, collaborating on a story was almost meant to be the next step! We write MG with comparable voices, were already with the same editor at the same house, and we knew we could get along! It was a nice surprise to find out that we both drafted chronologically, and that neither of us was particularly skilled in plotting before writing. (We had to fix that last one, quick!)

MUF: What sparked your idea of a group of friends becoming event planners?

Jen: I love to write wish-fulfillment books (At Your Service is about a girl who lives in a fancy hotel) and I also love books about girl entrepreneurs, so I basically just asked myself, “What business would I have loved to do with my friends when I was twelve?” Party planning was something tween girls could kick butt and allowed for lots of creativity on their part, but also offered plenty of potential for drama and hilarious mishaps, which Gail is a master at devising! I was rereading Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants around the same time and loved the four best friends each writing from her own perspective. We always knew the tight-knit friendship would be the real story in You’re Invited, and we pitched the book as a cross between Babysitter’s Club and Sisterhood, which became a touch point for us as we wrote.

MUF: Have either of you had any of your own event planning disasters?

Gail: Okay, so back in high school, my BFF and I decided to throw a party at her house. It was very last-minute, and it was really more of a way to invite the guy she liked over without specifically inviting him, if that makes any sense. So it’s 7:00, and no one’s there. 8:00, no one. About 9, the guy’s friend calls and says they’re coming over. So rather than look like the girls who threw a party no one came to, we raced around filling up plastic cups with various levels of Coke, crumbling food onto paper plates, and generally making the place look like there’d just been some amazing party these guys had missed out on. The funny thing is, I think they bought it.

Jen: I used to work as a Hollywood publicist and a big part of my job was planning premieres and special screenings, so I’ve had my share. One of the most memorable was when I had to spend a weekend hiding the boyfriend of an A-list movie star from the press… and from his wife (it actually forms the basis for my YA out this summer, called Map to the Stars). And then there was the time a movie star ground her stiletto heel into the foot of a fan who just wouldn’t give her space on the red carpet at a film festival, and I had to distract the press so they wouldn’t notice the commotion that caused. Good times! I will say, that job taught me to be a little too hyper-organized in order to avoid any potential for disaster- when it was time to plan my own wedding everyone in the bridal party got three-inch thick binders of instructions. I cringe every time I think about those, and I’m sincerely lucky to still have them as friends today!

MUF: What was your process when you wrote? Did each of you take two characters? Or did you each have a hand in writing from the point of view of all the girls?

Gail: The book is a rotating, four-person POV, so each chapter is narrated by one of the girls. We each claimed two characters and wrote “our” girls’ chapters, but there was a lot of input and revision based on the other person’s comments. The other person also had carte blanche to go through and fix her characters’ dialogue and quirks in the chapters she didn’t write. There was a lot of “blah blah [insert Becca-speak here] blah blah”-type notes throughout the first draft. If it was something more than that, we usually wrote long margin comments to each other, suggesting changes to the scene that would better fit the characters and their motivations. Co-writing is sort of like working with a built-in critique partner!

We actually wrote a three-part blog series about the whole process (from idea to publication), which you can find the first installment of here:

MUF: I love how each girl’s chapter starts with something that relates to her, e.g., Sadie’s chapters always start with To-Do Lists; Lauren’s start with definitions; Vi’s start with recipes; and Becca’s start with horoscopes. If you were characters in your own book, how would your chapters start?

Gail: A list of the books in my to-be-read stack. Wait, that would take about fifty pages to list . . . So maybe I’d be a Sadie and have my endless to-do list that lives on my phone. I have reminders to “buy groceries” and “clean cat litter boxes,” because seriously, who has time to remember stuff like that? 😉

Jen: This is a great question! Mine would probably start with a quirky or inspiring quote because I’m a total sucker for them (even if I never remember them later!) 365 Days of Wonder: Mr. Brown’s Book of Precepts by R.J. Palacio is basically my nirvana. It would definitely not be a recipe, like Vi’s chapters have, because I can only cook pizza bagels and oatmeal.

MUF: I see that You’re Invited Too is already in the works. When will that be out? And do you expect to do more books together?

Gail  and Jen: You’re Invited Too will be out on February 2nd, 2016! It was so much fun to write about the girls’ continuing adventures as they take on their first huge event (a wedding with a Bridezilla). We’d love to write more books for the RSVP girls, so fingers crossed!

Thanks for such great answers! Congratulations to both of you and thanks for stopping by!

Gail and Jen are giving away a signed copy of You’re Invited. To be eligible, just leave a comment below. A winner will be announced on Tuesday, June 9. (You must live in the United States or Canada to enter the giveaway.)

Read more about the authors here:

official%20author%20photoJen Malone writes books for tweens and teens. Her debut At Your Service published with Simon & Schuster/Aladdin MIX in 2014, and her new series, You’re Invited (Simon & Schuster), co-written with Gail Nall, launched with Book #1 in 2015. She has three young adult titles forthcoming with HarperCollins, beginning with Map to the Stars in Summer 2015. Jen lives outside Boston with her husband and three children, teaches at Boston University, loves school visits, and has a “thing” for cute hedgehog pictures. You can learn more about her and her books at

Gail%20NallGail Nall lives in Louisville, Kentucky with her family and more cats than necessary. She once drove a Zamboni, has camped in the snow in June, and almost got trampled in Paris. Gail is the author of the middle grade novel Breaking the Ice, and is the co-author of You’re Invited (both Aladdin/S&S, 2015). Her upcoming young adult debut is Exit Stage Left (EpicReads Impulse/HarperCollins, 9/8/15), and two more middle grade novels, You’re Invited Too and Out of Tune, will follow from S&S in 2016. You can find her online at and on Twitter as @gailecn.


Dorian Cirrone has written several books for children and teens. Her middle-grade novel, The First Last Day, which takes place on the Jersey Shore, will be out in May 2016 from (Aladdin/S&S). You can find her on Facebook and on Twitter as @DorianCirrone. She gives writing tips and does occasional giveaways on her blog at: