Interview and giveaway with Jamie Sumner, author of Roll with It

This week, author Jamie Sumner stopped by MUF to talk about her brand-new middle-grade title from Simon & Schuster, ROLL WITH IT (giveaway below!).  Here’s what Jamie had to say about writing for middle-grade readers, why stories about being the new kid are so appealing, and what’s on her TBR (to be read) list.

Roll with It by Jamie Sumner

Mixed-Up Files: Tell us a little bit about ROLL WITH IT (& CONGRATS!!!), as well as your background as a writer.

Jamie Sumner: I woke up at 2:30 a.m. one late night/early morning with the idea for ROLL WITH IT rattling around in my head. My son has cerebral palsy and the notion of writing a story that he could relate to had been percolating for a while. But I knew I couldn’t tell Charlie’s story. I needed more distance from real life to let my imagination go where it would.

What woke me up at 2:30 a.m. was this vision of someone in a wheelchair trying to navigate my grandparent’s old trailer in Oklahoma. It would be impossible! It would be insane to even try! But maybe, just maybe, if you’re determined enough and young enough to brave it, it could be awesome. And so the idea of ROLL WITH IT was born.

The story follows Ellie, a 12-year-old girl with cerebral palsy, who moves with her mom into a trailer park in Oklahoma to help take caring of her grandpa who has dementia. It’s a tight fit, but there is so much love in that small space and that small town. She finds freedom in this most unexpected place and she makes friends and pursues her dream of becoming a famous chef. She comes into herself here.

As for my background as a writer, it’s all over the place. I’ve written essays, both personal and reported, for The New York Times and The Washington Post. And I’ve also written a faith-based parenting book, Unbound, which came out last year and I have another faith-based parenting book, this time for parents of children with special needs, called Eat, Sleep, Save the World, that comes out with Lifeway March of 2020! I am also the reviews editor at Literary Mama so not only do I get to write, but I get to read great stuff as well.

MUF: You’ve written personal essays about your son, Charlie. Had you always wanted to write or was being a mom to Charlie what sparked that interest? 

JS: I still remember the first story that caused someone to call me “a writer”. It was fourth grade and the story was seven pages longer than the requirement and it followed the perilous journey of an elephant in India trying to escape from the zoo. My teacher loved it and I felt so important when the words I wrote made someone else feel things. I’ve written off  and on ever since, but began to pursue it full time after Charlie and my twins got a little older. And writing about Charlie is how I first jumped back in. There were so many things I wanted to tell other parents who might be in the same boat as me. And then later, there were so many things I wanted to share with kids who are like Charlie!

Jamie Sumner, author, Roll With It

MUF: What made you turn to fiction, and then specifically, middle grade fiction? What is it about MG readers that made you want to write for them?

JS: I love middle schoolers! I think this is the hardest age for a reason. When you’re in it, you have no idea what’s going on with yourself or anybody else. You’re confused and maybe a little scared. But all that makes you curious. And curious readers are the best kind! Kids this age are looking for answers and for stories that reflect what they are experiencing. They read with an appetite for comfort or understanding or simply distraction and when they find it they are loyal readers for life. I still remember reading Bridge to Terabithia as an 11-year-old and wondering how anyone could understand me so completely without having met me.

As for why I decided to write fiction—it was just too much fun to let the characters lead me wherever they wanted to go. I couldn’t imagine not telling Ellie’s story of friendship with Bert and Coralee and the wonderful things they get into. They are as real to me as my own family now.

MUF: I was interested in seeing that you’d made your main character, Ellie, “the new girl.” That’s a popular theme in MG — what is it about being the new kid that you think is such an appealing topic for readers? 

JS: Being the new kid is like stepping up to a precipice and peering waaaaay down and then waaaaay up and wondering where to go from here. It makes you stop and think about the kind of person you want to be. You get to reinvent yourself, or more to the point, dig deeper to find the person you know you are. The “new kid” is just a metaphor for how we all feel when we encounter something for the first time – new house, new friends, new family dynamic – it’s a chance to see yourself in a different light. If a story is about character development, what better way to do that than having them starting fresh?

MUF: What’s next for you?

JS: So many things! I’m excited to get rolling (pun intended) on school visits for ROLL WITH IT. And as I mentioned earlier, EAT, SLEEP, SAVE THE WORLD comes out in March so I’ll be traveling quite a bit and speaking about that.

But also…I have two more middle grade books coming out with Atheneum/Simon & Schuster! Next up for fall of 2020 is THE SURVIVAL PLAYLIST, the story of 12-year-old Lou Montgomery, a talented singer with a flighty, fame-hungry mother and an undiagnosed sensory processing disorder that makes performing nearly unbearable. I just saw the cover for that one and I was blown away by how wonderful it is.

MUF: Finally, what is on your bedside table/massive book pile by your bed now?

JS: Oh, this is  my favorite question. Ready?
Heretics Anonymous by Katie Henry
Sweep by Jonathan Auxier
The Lost Husband by Katherine Center
Beverly, Right Here by Kate DiCamillo (so excited for this one!)
After the Flood by Kassandra Montag
Akin by Emma Donoghue
The Distance Between Me and the Cherry Tree by Paola Peretti
The Green Children of Woolpit by J. Anderson Coats

Find out more about Jamie and subscribe to her newsletter here.  

Want to win your own copy of ROLL WITH IT? Enter below!

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Double Helix Book Blast Tour!

Welcome Back to the Explorer Academy!

Welcome to the Explorer Academy: The Double Helix Book Blast!


To celebrate the release of Explorer Academy: The Double Helix by Trudi Trueit on September 24th, blogs across the web are featuring special content from the world of the Explorer Academy, as well as 5 chances to win an Explorer Academy Prize Pack!

Decoding Yourself

In Explorer Academy: The Double Helix, Cruz and his friends not only learn about the world around them, but discover new things about themselves as well — and it can help readers do the same. Use the questions below to help kids relate the adventures of Team Cousteau to their own lives, and find more in the freely available readers’ and educators’ guides!


1. Cruz learns that the ancient city of Petra was one of many cities known as the “rose city.” Why might this be such a common name for a city? What nicknames does your city, town, or county have?

2. This is an image of DNA that 20th-century scientists used to determine the structure of DNA, the building blocks of all living organisms. Dr. Rosalind Franklin, whose team made the image, wasn’t credited with the achievement because two other scientists — Watson and Crick — published the findings as their own. Why might it have taken so long for Franklin’s original finding to become public after the other scientists took credit? Why do some histories still fail to give her credit for the discovery? In terms of recognizing achievements, when might gender matter?

3. While taking a break in a shop, Cruz happens to notice a postcard of the mosaic artwork in the Byzantine church and compares it to the birthmark on his wrist. He realizes the shapes resemble the double helix pattern of DNA. How much does luck versus skill influence Cruz’s eventual success? When was the last time you achieved something through a combination of luck and skill?



Blog Tour Schedule:
September 23rd – YA and Kids Books Central
September 24th – Java John Z’s
September 25th – Always in the Middle
September 26th – From the Mixed Up Files
September 27th – BookhoundsYA

“A fun, exciting and action-packed ride that kids will love.”  
—J.J. Abrams, director of Star Trek, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Lost and Alias
Explorer  Academy  is  sure  to  awaken  readers’  inner  adventurer  and  curiosity  about  the  world  around  them.”
—LeVar  Burton,  host  of  “Reading  Rainbow”and “LeVar  Burton  Reads”

: National GeographicAmazon | Indiebound

Follow TrudiWebsite | Twitter | Facebook | Youtube

Follow National Geographic Kids: Website | Twitter | Books Twitter | Facebook | Youtube

The mystery deepens and the action intensifies for 12-year-old Cruz Coronado and friends in the exciting third book in the Explorer Academy series.The adventure continues for Cruz, Emmett, Sailor, and Bryndis as they continue their studies at sea and travel to exotic locations around the world. A mysterious person alerts Cruz to impending danger while he and a few trusted pals explore ancient ruins in Petra, Jordan, and search for another piece of the puzzle his mother left behind. Worst of all, now his father has gone missing, which prompts Aunt Marisol, his number one protector, to leave the ship in search of him. Who is the new professor who takes her place? How does the new technology he introduces help or hurt Cruz’s quest? Why is Nebula determined to stop Cruz before he turns 13? The clock is ticking as his first teen birthday draws near … a milestone that will change his life forever, one way or another.

About the Author: Author Trudi Trueit is a gifted storyteller for middle-grade audiences. She has written more than 100 books for young readers, both fiction and nonfiction, including The Sister Solution, Stealing Popular and the Secrets of a Lab Rat series. Trueit lives in Everett, Washington.

  • One (1) winner will receive SIGNED copies of Explorer Academy books 1-3, Explorer Academy Codebreaking Activity Adventure, an ADVANCE copy of Explorer Academy Ultimate Activity Challenge (not otherwise available to the public until November!), an Explorer Academy pin, baseball cap, bag, digital watch, bookmark, and a $50 Visa Gift Card!
  • US/Canada only
  • Ends 10/4 at midnight ET

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Explorer Academy Recruitment Day — October 10, 2019

October 10th, 2019 is Explorer Academy Recruitment Day. From New York to Vancouver, Ohio to Texas, and all points in between, real-life National Geographic Explorers will be talking to thousands of kids across North America, sharing their experiences and revealing how the Explorers themselves inspired the coolest school on the planet: The Explorer Academy. Explorer Academy author Trudi Trueit will also be in her hometown of Seattle, talking to local schools (if only we could make more Trudi’s to go around but, alas, she is one-of-a-kind). Thanks to the series’ publication in a dozen countries, Explorer Academy Recruitment Day has turned into a GLOBAL phenomenon, with students all over the world participating in events similar to the ones happening in North America.

10/10, 6:30 – 7:30 pm
PUBLIC EVENT with Nat Geo Explorer Rae Wynn Grant
1555 KIng Street
Alexandria, VA 22314
Event details:  Presentation, Q&A, and signing of posters

10/10, 7:00 pm
PUBLIC EVENT with Nat Geo Explorer Jennifer W. Lopez
17 Haverford Station Road
Haverford, PA  19041
Event details:  Presentation, Q&A, and signing of posters

10/12, 2:00 pm – 3:00 pm
PUBLIC EVENT with Explorer Academy author Trudi Trueit
7430 164th Ave NE
Redmond, WA 98052
Event details:  Presentation, Q&A, and signing

OWL’S OUTSTANDING DONUTS: Interview with Robin Yardi

We’ve got a real treat for all our loyal MUF subscribers today: a peek into a brand new book: OWL’S OUTSTANDING DONUTS. And just because we’re so cool, we got special access–an interview with author Robin Yardi, a sneak preview of her fabulous book trailer for OWL’S OUTSTANDING DONUTS, and …. a 5-ARC giveaway! We must be doing something right! We can’t wait to see the video … but before that, we wanted to introduce you to Robin.

MUF: Congratulations on Owl’s Outstanding Donuts! Like you, I’m passionate about the environment, animals, and writing. I totally identified with your main character, Mattie. As a kid, I was always waiting for birds to speak to me when no one else was around. And having an owl’s perspective on human behavior was delightful!

Did you have a mission when you started out writing this book?

RY: Yes, but maybe not exactly in the way that you mean! My first mission when writing a book is always to create a story that I think a kid will enjoy reading.

  • Will they think it’s funny?
  • Will it be exciting?

And since this is a mystery, I wondered will my story stump kid readers in a satisfying way?

Not Just a Mystery

But the deeper things that are important to me, my internal missions, always show up in my stories too. I don’t have to consciously work to make that happen. So I’m always writing about the dynamics of friendships and siblings in ways that I think will help kid readers. I feed my characters delicious food, whether it’s tamales or donuts, and surround them with helpful grownups, because that’s what I craved as a kid reader. And I’m always writing about the natural world in ways that foster wonder and engagement, because it’s been one of the greatest joys of my life!

While drafting this book about an environmental crime committed near the Big Sur River, I was teaching school groups at our local natural history museum in what we call The Backyard. Kids would come and learn about the creek that runs through the museum property, test the water quality, meet our resident snakes, all while listening to our orphaned great horned owl hoot in the background.

It would make sense if I had set out to write OWL’S OUTSTANDING DONUTS seeing the connections between my budding story and my everyday mission of teaching kids about the environment and the natural world, but I honestly didn’t! A good story comes first and the mission just sneaks in.

Protecting the Environment

MUF: What can middle graders do to help protect the environment?

RY: An easy way for kids to be engaged environmentalists is by taking command of household recycling. Rinse it, sort it, and take it out! I also notice (in my house and in others) that kids can be an important voice of conscience. A new generation means new habits and new awareness. Mom, did you remember the tote bags? Dad, let’s use the water bottle instead! Um, should that go down the drain? Kids can and will speak up!

MUF: Can you tell us about an unusual wildlife encounter you’ve had?

RY: Well, my family recently lived with a bat for about a month! We sleep with the upstairs windows open and it was coming into the house, flying downstairs, and roosting on a grate in a powder room (the closest thing to a cave in our home). Finally, we called our local wildlife rescue organization and they sent someone to remove the bat. Apparently it’s not a good idea for humans to live with bats. At all. BUT IT WAS SO CUTE.

This summer I’ve also been enjoying watching a local mule deer tiptoe into our backyard to drink from our fountain… with three little fawns coming along with her. I’m not sure if they are all hers—that would be triplets—but I’ve loved watching them grow out of their spots over the summer.

Coping With Loss in Middle-Grade

MUF: Your main character, Mattie, is grieving over her mother’s death. You’ve included several elements in your book that might help with loss. What do you hope young readers who might be hurting will take away from this book?

I’ve given Mattie room to grieve and struggle and I think that gives readers the same opportunity. The book starts in a place where Mattie isn’t up to doing all the things she wants to do and that’s okay. It’s okay for things to feel hard.

Young readers need to read stories that acknowledge the parts of their lives that are hard—all the way from new school anxieties, to fighting with your best friend, to losing a family member—and those stories can show the reader a way to move forward. In OWL’S, Mattie learns to move forward in life surrounded by loving and helpful adults, great food, good friends, and the beauty of the natural world.

Young readers may not have all of those things all of the time. Not everyone can have a friendly mystery-solving owl in their backyard, but any kid can have Alfred and Big Sur and the redwoods and donuts when they read my book!

MUF: Thank you so much, Robin.

And Now …. the Video Reveal!

And now, without further ado, let’s take a sneak peek into your video trailer, a behind-the-scenes tour of one of Robin’s favorite places:


But that’s not all.. Robin is also offering a giveaway. FIVE lucky winners will receive an ARC of OWL’S OUTSTANDING DONUTS … so don’t delay …. enter the Rafflecopter below, and good luck!


Kirkus Reviews told readers, “Doughn’t miss this earnest tale.” Booklist called the book “quiet but quirky story about friendship, family, and of course, donuts.”

Rafflecopter Giveaway – 5-ARCS of OWLS OUTSTANDING DONUTS

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