Giveaways

Author Spotlight: Christine Kendall… plus a GIVEAWAY!

Let’s give a warm Mixed-Up welcome to Christine Kendall, the NAACP Image Award–nominated author of the MG debut, Riding Chance (Scholastic, 2016). Christine’s sophomore novel, also published by Scholastic, The True Definition of Neva Beane, came out in September and was lauded by Lesa Cline-Ransome as “an inter-generational story written with humor, heart, hope—and the power of self-discovery.

Here is a summary of Neva Beane:

Being twelve isn’t easy, especially when you’re Neva Beane. She knows she’s beautiful and smart, but there are so many confusing signals in everyday life about, well… everything, including the changes taking place in her preadolescent body; her relationship with her best friend, Jamila; and her admiration for the social activist on the block, Michelle.

Mom and Dad are on tour in Europe and Neva and her brother, Clay, are left at home with their traditional grandparents. The household descends into inter-generational turmoil and Neva is left with what comforts her most—words and their meanings. While the pages of her beloved dictionary reveal truths about what’s happening around her, Neva discovers the best way to define herself.

And here’s a summary of Riding Chance:

Troy is a kid with a passion. And dreams. And wanting to do the right thing. But after taking a wrong turn, he’s forced to endure something that’s worse than any juvenile detention: He’s “sentenced” to the local city stables, where he’s required to take care of horses. The greatest punishment has been trying to make sense of things since his mom died, but through his work with the horses he discovers a sport totally unknown to him—polo. Troy’s has to figure out which friends have his back, which kids to cut loose, and whether he and Alisha have a true connection.

Q&A with Christine Kendall

MR: So glad to have you with us, Christine. Welcome to the Mixed-Up Files!

CK: Thanks so much for inviting me. It’s a pleasure to be here.

MR: I can’t tell you which of your novels I enjoyed more, Riding Chance or The True Definition of Neva Beane. They are both wonderful in such different ways. I know you wrote Riding Chance because you were inspired by a story on NPR (more on that later), but what prompted you to tell Neva’s story? Were you like Neva growing up? 

CK: It warms my heart to hear you enjoyed both books as I consider them companion novels. They’re both coming of age stories that take place in current-day Philadelphia. The True Definition of Neva Beane isn’t memoir but, like Neva, I paid a lot of attention to words as I was growing up, and I came to understand their power pretty early on.

One of the things that prompted me to write the book is my fascination with how young girls are seen, and how those notions about who they are may or may not align with how they define themselves. This is important because the period in a girl’s life when she moves from early childhood into adolescence is magical, but it can also be very confusing. People read girls differently as their bodies develop and often make judgments about them based purely on their physical selves. I wanted to explore those issues. Once I had the Neva Beane character I thought about other issues she may be confronted with in today’s world. That led me to think about her political awakening and various ways a person can make a positive contribution to their community.

Body Positivity in MG Fiction

MR: Speaking of Neva, it’s clear from page one that she has a strong sense of self, particularly when it comes to her changing body. She feels beautiful in her first bra, a “glorious white cotton status symbol,” and admires herself in front of the mirror until she’s “dizzy.” I love this scene because it’s such a gorgeous display of girl power and body positivity. Was that your intention when you wrote the scene—to encourage tween girls to take pride in their changing bodies? If so, what role does body positivity play, or should play, in MG fiction?

CK: I’ll confess that I wrote Neva Beane’s “mirror scene” based on memory. I was eleven years old and, unbeknownst to me, I was seen admiring myself in front of a mirror by one of my brothers. Well, of course, my brother almost died laughing and I was humiliated. I spent hours trying to figure out why I felt that way before I realized there’s no shame in acknowledging your own beauty. I just hadn’t expected to be seen in that moment by anyone else. I think many young teens have experienced moments like that and I wanted them to know that I see them and their beauty. Body positivity is an issue for boys as well as girls and MG fiction is a good place to explore it.

What’s the Good Word?

MR: As above, Neva Beane is obsessed with words and finds great comfort in them. In fact, her most beloved possession is a Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. What is it about words that fascinates and comforts Neva—and maybe you, too?

CK: Words have power. Neva Beane is fascinated by them because she sees how they can be used to elevate or to wound. I share that fascination and wanted to show how Neva’s ability to analyze words brings her comfort especially when she is in the midst of confusing situations. I also wanted to provide a concrete example of how a person can use words to elevate. Neva chooses that path at the end of the book.

Work to Ride Program

MR: Turning our attention to Riding Chance, I know you wrote the book because you were inspired by a story on NPR about a program called Work to Ride, where inner-city kids work with horses and learn how to play polo in exchange for stable chores. Can you tell MUF readers a bit about the program and how it inspired you? Also, what kind of research did you do in order to make the polo-playing scenes realistic? I’m guessing you weren’t a horseperson prior to writing the novel…?

 CK: You’re right about my not being a horseperson before I wrote Riding Chance. I hadn’t planned on writing a novel. I was simply inspired when I heard the wonderful story about how kids in a mentoring program in Philly won a polo national championship in 2011. It was such an incredible story about what can happen when young people are given opportunities to explore and develop themselves in new ways.

I had to do a lot of research including taking horseback riding lessons, studying the game of polo, going to polo matches, and learning about the powerful bonds between humans and animals. I was fortunate in that there were a couple of horsepeople in the critique group I was a member of who were more than happy to offer constructive criticism. I learned quite a bit and really enjoyed the process.

Themes in Christine’s Books

MR: I noticed that loss and abandonment is a theme in both of your novels. In Riding Chance, Troy is grieving the death of his beloved mom; in Neva Beane, Neva feels as if she’s been cast aside by her best friend, Jamila. Neva also misses her musician parents while they’re on tour in Europe. What is the message you’re trying to convey? Resiliency? Grit? Something else?

CK: You hit the nail right on the head with resilience. I think it is such an important skill for young people to develop. Life can be difficult at times and we need to believe we can work our way through tough situations. One of the ways people develop resilience is by not being afraid to take reasonable risks. We will not always succeed at everything we try but even our failures provide opportunities to learn and to become more confident.

Ch Ch Changes…

MR: Before writing Riding Chance, you were in the legal profession. What prompted you to make the switch from the law to writing? Can you tell Mixed-Up Files readers about your path to publication? Was it a steady canter or a wild Headless Horseman-style gallop? (I know… 🙂)

CK: I like the visual of a Headless Horseman-style gallop especially since my path to publication was somewhat unusual. As you mentioned, I had a career before I became a writer. I worked with large law firms in the areas of  attorney recruitment, associate relations, and diversity and inclusion. I enjoyed my legal career but I got to the point where I wanted to do something more creative. I had always loved books and reading so I took a big step, talk about taking a risk, and left my job to focus on writing.

After about a year of sitting at home by myself struggling with picture book manuscripts I took a writing workshop with an editor from Scholastic, the amazing Andrea Davis Pinkney. She saw my fascination with Philly kids playing polo and encouraged me to use that as inspiration for a novel. It took me three years to research and write and revise but, in the end, she wanted the book.

This Writer’s Life

MR: What your writing process like, Christine? Do you have a specific routine? Writing rituals?

CK: I don’t have a specific writing routine, but I often need something like music to move me from real life into the fictive world. I love jazz so I may listen to that while I’m working. I also read my work aloud as I go along and I write with my whole body. What I mean is I get up and sometimes act out what my characters are doing so I can describe their actions accurately. Needless to say, I write at home. I don’t think people would put up with me in other places.

MR: Finally, what’s next on your writing agenda, Christine? Care to share a bit about your latest project?

CK: I’m working on another MG novel. I wrote a short story a few years ago that doesn’t feel like it’s finished even though it’s been published. I’m expanding that story into a longer work.

MR: Oh! Last thing…

No MUF interview is complete without a LIGHTNING ROUND!

Preferred writing snack? Popcorn.

Coffee or tea? Tea.

Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary or Oxford English Dictionary? Merriam-Webster.

Favorite word? Milieu, although I don’t think I used that word in Neva Beane.

Mister Ed or Mister Rogers? Mister Rogers.

Zombie apocalypse: Yea or nay? Nay.

Superpower? Ability to find humor in most any situation.

Favorite place on earth? Mashomack Nature Preserve on Shelter Island, New York.

You’re stranded on a desert island, with only three items in your possession. What are they? A book, my eyeglasses, and a flashlight.

MR: Thank you for chatting with me, Christine—and congratulations on the publication of The True Definition of Neva Beane. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I know MUF readers will too.

And now…

A GIVEAWAY!!!

For a copy of The True Definition of Neva Beane, comment on the blog–and, if you’re on Twitter, on the Mixed-Up Files’ Twitter account–for a chance to win! 

CHRISTINE KENDALL grew up in a family of artists, the fourth of six children, where everyone studied the piano along with one other instrument. She still feels sorry for the neighbors. They woke up one morning and found themselves living next door to a flute, two clarinets, a French horn, a cello, a set of drums, and always, always somebody on the piano. Christine wasn’t any good on the piano or the clarinet, but she loved writing. Her short fiction has appeared in numerous literary journals and her debut novel, Riding Chance, was nominated for a NAACP Image Award in the category of Outstanding Literary Work for Youth/Teens. The True Definition of Neva Beane is her second novel. Christine lives in Philadelphia where she co-curates and hosts the award-winning reading series, Creative at the Cannery. Learn more about Christine on her website and follow her on Twitter.

Winners of the STEM Tuesday 3rd Anniversary Giveaway!!

THANK YOU to everyone who participated in our STEM Tuesday 3rd Anniversary Giveaway! We were thrilled to here how you all use our blog resources in your classrooms. So happy to know that you are sharing your love of all things STEM/STEAM with your students and children.

CONGRATULATIONS TO the WINNERS! You will be receiving emails from your respective authors soon.

 

WINNER: Amy Baker

From Author Jennifer Swanson

TWO free books– Beastly Bionics and Save the Crash-test Dummies

 

WINNER: Johannah Brookwell

From Author Kirsten W. Larson  

— Do one of my FlipGrids and invite me to join. I’ll record a FlipGrid for your students and comment on their videos.

 

Paper Airplane Creations: https://flipgrid.com/6f3beaf2


 
WINNER: Dan Adler

From Mike Hays

“Catch a Wave!” STEM Tuesday Prize Pack

For the budding young physicist, here’s an electromagnetic wave prize package inspired by the “Catch a Wave” STEM Tuesday Spin-Off post at MG Book Village. (link: https://mgbookvillage.org/2020/02/13/stem-tuesday-spin-off-catch-a-wave-edition/ )

3’ Horseshoe Magnet, Compass, Bar Magnet Set, Prism, Folding Pocket Magnifying Glass

AND two 30-min. classroom Skype visits

 

WINNER: Cassandra Darens

From Author Mary Kay Carson

TWO activity-filled books as giveaways–Wildlife Ranger Action Guide & Alexander Graham Bell for Kids

 

WINNER: Kayla Marie Blevins

From Author Karen Latchana Kenney 

TWO books for  giveaway: TV Brings Battle into the Home with the Vietnam War and Exploring Auroras

WINNER: Jessica Nelson

From Author Carla Mooney 

TWO books  for giveaway – Inside the Human Body & The Human Genome: Mapping the Blueprint of Human Life

 

WINNER: Danielle Hammelef

From Author Janet Slingerland

One book Atoms and Molecules AND a FREE 15-minute Skype Q & A

WINNER: Sheryl Edwards

 

From Author Heather L. Montgomery,

Whose books include:  Who Gives a Poop? Surprising Science from One End to the Other and Something Rotten: A Fresh Look at Roadkill.

One FREE 15-20 minute Skype Visit 

 

 

WINNER: Jeanne Campbell 

 

From Author Nancy Castaldo

Whose books include:  The Farm that Feeds Us and Back from the Brink: Saving Animals from Extinction

One FREE 20 minute Skype Visit 

Sean McCollum New Release + 3-Book Giveaway

Prolific author Sean McCollum is here today to talk about his newest book, 1 For All. Sean has been in the educational and youth publishing business for nearly 30 years and is the author of more than 50 commercially published books and more than 300 articles for kids and teens. He is also an avid traveler and has journeyed to 65 countries so far! In 1 For All, he travels closer to home inside the world of 8th grade competitive basketball.

In 1 For All, J.J. Pickett, captain of the Traverse Middle School Musketeers, thinks this is the year he will lead his eighth-grade team to the conference title. But bad breaks, a new coach, and a long-standing grudge sabotage his hopes and leave him struggling on and off the court. Can J.J. and his teammates salvage a lost season?

Don’t miss your chance to win a copy of Sean’s new book! And as if that wasn’t enough of a goodie, Sean is also giving away two more of his books that are great companions to 1 For All. This includes, Pro Basketball’s All-Time Greatest Comebacks and Basketball’s Best and Worst: A Guide to the Game’s Good, Bad, and Ugly.

Check out the Rafflecopter contest below to enter this 3-book bundle!

Q&A with Sean:

  1. How did the idea for 1 For All come to you and would you say you are a basketball fan … and if so what team(s) do you root for?

Hi Donna!

This story has long-ago roots from my own days as a back-up guard for the Oconomowoc Junior High School Bulldogs in Wisconsin. I’ve been a Milwaukee Bucks and Marquette Warriors/Golden Eagles fan as long as I can remember … which happily includes the Bucks one and only NBA championship so far.

But at the heart of the story was a question I’ve had for a while: Why do people keep playing and competing when they’re no longer the best or are out of running for a championship or gold medal or whatever? I wanted to follow J.J. Pickett and his teammates as they try to figure out an answer for themselves.

  1. Team spirit, a love of the game, and self-restraint are integral to your story. How did you balance all of these within the 8th grade age and landscape of your characters?

Great question. Those themes really grew out of J.J.’s journey and his friendship and affection for his teammates. In my mind, to be a good teammate or partner of any kind requires the element of self-regulation to balance out one’s ego and passions. Middle school is where that struggle is joined for so many of us, though as I’ve learned the learning curve lasts a lifetime.

  1. Midwest Book Review notes in a glowing review that 1 for All “captures the strategies, challenges, and dilemmas of players, managers, and those involved in building basketball dreams”. With such deep layering of the game throughout the story, did it require a lot of basketball research?

I spent so much time watching and playing hoops and other sports growing up that the ebb and flow of a game is second nature. However, I did have to update my knowledge of what 13-year-old basketball players can do. Today’s young players bring a skill level and court awareness that makes my jaw drop.

  1. What was your process for writing this book and did it differ from other books you’ve written?

Nonfiction has been my career, so creating a work of fiction was both a challenge and an opportunity to let my imagination take the wheel. As a rule, nonfiction has a certain formula that I know in my bones at this point. Writing a middle grade novel required me to bring learner’s mind to the writing and revising process. My friends at Brattle Publishing, Rich Lena and Carol Karton, were fantastic at pointing out the weak points in the manuscript and encouraging me not to tweak but to re-vision them. My best friend and fellow writer Tod Olson was instrumental, too, in pushing me to connect the on-court and off-court plot points. At a certain point, every book becomes a collaborative process, but I leaned heavy on the framework of a three-act structure to build a strong story arc.

  1. Do you envision writing more athletic-related stories in the near future and if so, what other sports might you dive into?

Funny you should ask! I’m in the process of revising a group of four short sports stories—one for the sports of basketball, baseball, and football, and one about skating (skateboards). I want to call it something like 4 Sports Shorts, and I originally conceived it as a series for reluctant readers. People keep telling me there’s no market for MG short stories, but oh well, that’s how these came out. I find that a story tells me what it wants to be.

  1. You’ve lived all over the world in some amazing places! What places have you written about in your books and what other locations do you see yourself writing about in the future?

I’ve written magazine articles for Boys’ Life, Junior Scholastic, and others based on travels in West Africa (Mali and Niger), Papua New Guinea, and parts of Alaska. But for some reason I’ve never put much energy into turning those personal adventures into stories. I guess I’ve never thought of my experiences as that interesting! Or maybe I just like to keep those adventures, many of them quite embarrassing, to myself.

  1. What project is on your writing plate at the moment that you’d like to share with us?

A picture book of mine, We CAN’T Go Outside!, recently won the Katherine Paterson prize for PBs from Hunger Mountain, the journal of Vermont College of Fine Arts (https://hungermtn.org/we-cant-go-outside-sean-mccollum/). So, I’m looking for an agent or publisher for that. I’m also revising a chapter book adventure called Daisy & May about a plucky prairie dog and a girl who tries to help her save her prairie dog town. Oh, and on deck is a YA novel called Lucky Boots about a disillusioned high school senior who attempts to hike the 2,600 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, which I did in 2012. (I still can’t feel my toes.) I’ve got more ideas in my notebooks than I’ll ever be able to write, but I love it when a new character or plot shows up in my imagination.

  1. Let us know how we can connect with you!
    (post social media/website links here)

People can follow me on Twitter @seandmccollum and seandmccollum on Instagram. My seedy little website is www.kidfreelance.com … I really must get around to upgrading that. :-/ Goodreads is a good place to see a listing of my nonfiction titles. (https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/27640.Sean_McCollum)

Thank you, Donna, for giving me a chance to share!

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