MUF Contributor Books

Book Gratitude: 18 MG Authors Share Their Favorites

I was eight, or maybe nine, when I discovered a mysterious blue box in my parents’ medicine cabinet. The box was labeled “Tampax,” and I had no idea what it was. Curious, I asked my mom.

“I’ll tell you when you’re older,” she said, moving the box to a higher shelf. “You don’t need to worry about this now.”

I wasn’t worried… just intrigued. So as soon my mom left to make dinner, I peeked inside the Tampax box and discovered an army of tubular, paper-wrapped soldiers. What on earth were these things? And how was I going to find out?

Luckily Judy Blume had the answer. Okay, not Judy Blume herself, but her classic MG novel, Are you There God? It’s Me, Margaret, which explores puberty and periods, with candor and care. The book wasn’t a replacement for a much-needed talk with my mom (that would come later), but for the moment, Margaret was the next best thing. I was grateful for this honest, informative, and true-to-life novel. I still am.

So, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, and giving thanks to great books, I asked 18 middle-grade authors to share a book they’re most grateful for. Here’s what they had to say…

SUPRIYA KELKAR, author of Ahimsa, The Many Colors of Harpreet Singh, and the upcoming American as Paneer Pie (5/12/20).

“The one book I’m most thankful for is Hot, Hot, Roti for Dada-Ji (Lee and Low Books) by F. Zia, illustrated by Ken Min because it was the first time my kids saw themselves in a book.”

CHRIS BARON, author of the MG debut novel in verse, All of Me.

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Patterson taught me that it was completely okay for me to be friends with a girl, something so important for the environment I was in. Even more deeply, it helped make a little more sense of the complex and difficult world I experienced at that age. It taught me that grief and hope are not enemies; that challenges are an important part of life, and that we are never alone.”

JANAE MARKS, author of the soon-to-be-released MG debut, From the Desk of Zoe Washington (1/14/20).

“I loved The Baby-Sitters Club series by Ann M. Martin as a kid, and in elementary school wrote Ann M. Martin a letter! I got a very nice form reply back, which made me so happy. What I loved most about these books was the friendships. I’m an only child, so friendships were really important to me. Reading about the books’ characters and their close relationships with each other was both entertaining and comforting. One of my best friends at the time was also into the books, and we bonded over our love for them.”

DEBBI MICHIKO FLORENCE, author of the Jasmine Toguchi chapter book series and the upcoming Keep It Together, Keiko Carter (5/5/20).

Millicent Min, Girl Genius by Lisa Yee was one of the first books my daughter and I read together that had a contemporary Asian-American character. I had craved books like that when I was in middle school, and  it gave me hope that the stories I wanted to write might find a publishing home some day. And my dreams came true!”

RONALD L. SMITH, author of HoodooThe Mesmerist, and Black Panther: The Young Prince.

“The book I’m thankful for is The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet by British writer Eleanor Cameron. I think I discovered it in middle school, and it swept me away to Mars, with two kids who build a spaceship in their basement. When I do school visits, I like to show a slide of the cover and point out how old I am by the price being only fifty cents. I have a vague memory of being home from school one day, perhaps I was sick or just feigning. Rain was pattering on the window. The book put me in a state of mind I had never experienced before. I now know that experience as “falling into the page,” something I try to do today with my own writing. Over the years, I have found readers of a certain age who still have fond memories of the book. It’s a timeless classic!”

SANDY STARK-McGINNIS author of Extraordinary Birds and the The Space Between Lost and Found (4/28/20).

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros was the first book I read where I said to myself, ‘I want to write like that.’ For me, it’s the perfect balance of accessible but layered, lyrical prose. When I need a reminder of why I love to write, I always come back to this book.”

JONATHAN ROSEN, author of Night of the Cuddle Bunnies and From Sunset Till Sunrise.

“I devoured the Choose Your Own Adventure series as a kid, because the hero was always me. The books were written in second person: “You did this,” and “You thought that,” making it easier for me to picture myself in the various situations. Plus, my dad would always buy me the next one in the series whenever we went to the bookstore, so it makes me think of him and that time in my life.”

CELIA C. PEREZ, author of  The First Rule of Punk and Strange Birds.

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton came into my life when I was a seventh grader. Friendships were changing, and I was beginning to think about myself on a deeper level, to think about identity, about how others saw me and how I saw myself. Pony Boy was the first fictional character I remember identifying with. Like him, I felt that the world labeled me and made decisions about who I was without knowing me. I was a dreamer and lived in my head, like Pony Boy did. And like Pony Boy, I appreciated the power of writing; of the stories I read and of the stories I could someday write. I’ve read the book many times since I first read it decades ago, most recently to my eighth grader. The story is timeless, and I’m grateful for its lasting impact on my life as a reader and writer.”

HENRY LIEN, author of Peasprout Chen: Future Legend of Skate and Sword and Peasprout Chen: A Battle of Champions.

“There are few books that make me feel true joy, wonder, and peace like Shaun Tan’s The Arrival. It’s a wordless, illustrated book done in beautiful, sepia-toned drawings and paintings that echo vintage photographs. It starts out looking like it’s going to be a historical piece, and that the main character is leaving some European country in the early twentieth century and emigrating to a new country. But when he arrives in the new country, you realize this place is like nothing you’ve seen before.  It’s like stepping into Oz, except Oz stays gloriously sepia-toned.

What Tan has done is given every reader the experience of being an immigrant, because everyone feels bewildered and lost. But it’s also a bright, warm immigration story because for every intimidating or strange encounter, there is an act of kindness and gentleness to remind the viewer that they might not be from here, but that they are welcome here. And here’s my greatest testament to the book’s power: I gave it to my father who came to America by himself, before the rest of our family followed. When he finished the book, he simply said, ‘This is exactly how it was for me.'”

SALLY J. PLA, author of The Someday Birds and Stanley Will Probably Be Fine.

“My elementary school library had this biography series, sort of a prehistoric version of today’s “Who Was” books (I was a kid in the 60s/70s, so yes, prehistoric). Marie Curie. Eleanor Roosevelt. Rosa Parks. Helen Keller. Thomas Alva Edison. I lived for these books. Not because of the fame of the people, but because they were people, explained. Their struggles laid open, thoughts, actions and experiences illuminated. Their stories gave me hope, because I felt as if I were struggling all the time. When I found them on the shelf in room 5B, I felt like I’d stumbled on this treasure trove of field guides into the mystery of how humans worked (or should work). I know that sounds weird, like I was some kind of robot alien child. Maybe I sort of was!”

ALICIA D. WILLIAMS, author of the MG debut, Genesis Begins Again.

Blubber by Judy Blume was one of my favorite childhood books. Not only is Ms. Blume’s writing very funny, but that book spoke to me simply because I was Blubber. I was rather chunky, and horribly teased, and reading that story made me know that I wasn’t alone. I so identified with the characters and how bullying affects friendships. You can say that I’m both Linda and Jill.”

WENDY McLEOD MacKNIGHT, author of It’s a Mystery, Pig-FaceThe Frame-Up and The Copy Cat (3/10/20).

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery entered my life when I was nine years old, and sick with a nasty cold. My mother, anxious to get me away from the clutches of Midday Matinee, a local program that aired exquisitely bad movies, passed me a green hardbound book that would forever change my life.

Why am I thankful for Anne? Anne gave me permission to let my spunk flag fly. She was eccentric, romantic, brilliant, all the things that I either was or desired to be. She loved her friends and family unabashedly. She loved her community. She loved her books. She made mistakes and owned up to them, even if they weren’t hers (hello, amethyst brooch). She wasn’t beautiful, but she was better than beautiful: she was interesting and clever, a beacon for every interesting and clever girl.

A confession: I wasn’t sick the next day, but I faked sick, because I couldn’t bear not to know what happened. As I sobbed uncontrollably during that awful scene toward the end, Anne taught how important it is to love and be loved, whatever the cost. So thank you, Anne. You continue to be my north star, the literary light that reminds me that being different is a pretty swell thing to be.”

MELISSA SARNO, author of Just Under the Clouds and A Swirl of Ocean.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett taught me that there is magic in the natural world and magic within myself. Its message is one I take with me every day: we can help one another grow.”

GREG HOWARD, author of The Whispers and the upcoming Middle School’s a Drag, You Better Werk! (2/11/20).

“I’m grateful to have discovered Sounder by William H. Armstrong at a young age. It taught me empathy, and helped me better understand a culture I was completely unfamiliar with. Not only that of a different race, but of a level of poverty for which I had no concept because of my privileged upbringing.”

MELANIE SUMROW, author of The Prophet Calls and The Inside Battle (3/3/20).

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen is probably the first example of a middle-grade book that felt edgy to me in the best way possible. A true coming of age story, Brian is forced to cross the precipice from childhood to adulthood in order to survive. I adore Brian’s story because, in spite of his fear, self-pity and doubt, he discovers his own resilience—an important lesson for all of us.”

RYAN CALEJO, author of Charlie Hernandez and the League of Shadows and Charle Hernandez and the Castle of Bones.

Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White is the first book I remember reading in school, and the first book I fell in love with. It’s a story about friendship, compassion, and accepting one another. I can’t think of a book more in the spirit of Thanksgiving than this gem.”

ROB VLOCK, author of Sven Carter & the Trashmouth Effect and Sven Carter & the Android Army.

“Having just lost my dad, who taught me to love reading and books, I’d say I’m grateful for every single book he read to me at bedtime. These were those magical moments that made me realize how amazing the experience of reading books could be. Among the hundreds of titles we loved together: The Wind in the Willows, Watership Down, Treasure IslandThe HobbitAlice in WonderlandWar of the Worlds20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and David Copperfield. Without these experiences, I wouldn’t be an author today. Thanks, Dad! I’m more grateful than I can express.”

JESSICA KIM, author of the upcoming MG debut, Stand Up, Yumi Chung! (3/17/20).

“I am also so thankful for Lisa Yee’s Millicent Min, Girl Genius because it was the first middle-grade book cover I ever saw that featured a contemporary Asian-American character! I also appreciated that it was a hilarious, heartwarming story about friendship, and the plot did not have to revolve around her “other” identity.”

19 Back-to-School Themed Books

As summer winds down, kids are thinking about heading back to school. After you load them up with all the no. 2 pencils they need, get them in the school spirit with a middle-grade book about those first days back in the hallways.

The First Rule of Punk Cover
The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Pérez
First day at a new school and twelve-year-old Malú makes her school’s queen bee, mad, shows up in punk rock attire that is not dress-code approved, and gets in trouble with her mom. Is there a harder age than this? We don’t think so!

Ghosts CoverGhosts by Raina Telgemeier
Catrina is upset that her family relocated to Bahía de la Luna, California, but her younger sister Maya has cystic fibrosis and the sea air in their new coastal town will help her. Exploring, they find out their town is full of ghosts–and it sends Catrina on a journey of her own.

Goodbye Stranger Cover

Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead
Growing up together vs. growing apart is the theme of Stead’s novel about three best friends who find that everything changes at the start of seventh grade.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
No BTS list is complete without a mention of “the boy who lived” and his first eventful year at Hogwarts.

The Homework Machine by Dan Gutman
When a group of fifth graders team up as the D Squad to create a homework machine named Belch, everything goes smoothly… at first, but before long, Belch becomes more powerful than they ever imagined, and the kids wind up in major trouble.

Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling
Aven may make up stories like that she lost her arms in an alligator wrestling match, but she was born without them. She fears that moving across the country and starting over at a new school means she’ll have to explain her physical differences over and over again to new people. But the move allows her to meet a new friend, solve a mystery, and face her fears.

Karma Khullar’s Mustache by Kristi Wientge
In this relatable story, Karma is super nervous about starting middle school–for all sorts of reasons, including tricky friend reasons and changes in her family reasons–and most of all, because of the seventeen hairs that suddenly showed up on her upper lip.

Kat Greene Comes Clean by Melissa Roske
Fifth grade Kat lives in New York where she attends a new age New York City private school. In addition to coping with all sorts of fifth grade stuff (like a boy crazy best friend) she has a mother with worsening obsessive-compulsive disorder.

The Last Last-Day-of-Summer Cover

The Last Last-Day-of-Summer by Lamar Giles
Buddies Otto and Sheed are junior detectives in their wacky town where all sorts of crazy stuff happens. As summer nears its end, they’ve got one final mystery to solve before school starts.

Lost and Found by Andrew Clements
Twelve-year-old identical twins Ray and Jay are tired of being known as part of a pair. But when they start at a new school, and Ray stays home sick on the first day, Jay discovers the school has no record of his brother. Cue crazy schemes and shenanigans as the twins trick their new classmates and teachers into thinking there is just one of them.

 

Middle School Is Worse Than Meatloaf: A Year Told Through Stuff by Jennifer L. Holm
Ginny starts seventh grade with a to-do list of impressive action items but her school year so does not go as planned. Told through Ginny’s stuff (like notes and report cards) this is a fun and unusual way to tell a story.

My Year of Epic Rock by Andrea Pyros
I so remember those back-to-school jitters I wrote a whole book about it. My Year of Epic Rock is my debut novel about Nina, who, on the first day of seventh grade, finds out her best friend has ditched her for a cooler girl. Ouch! Now Nina’s banished to the peanut allergy table in the cafeteria at lunchtime, where she and the other food-allergic kids come together how to have a rocking year.

New Kid by Jerry Craft
This funny, relatable graphic novel follows Jordan as he starts seventh grade at a fancy new private school where he’s one of only a few boys of color. Suddenly he feels adrift, not at home with the friends he left behind nor the new kids at school he feels he has little in common with.

Real Friends by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham (illustrator)
This graphic memoir explores the pain and challenges of shifting friendships. Shannon thinks Adrienne is her best friend forever, but then Adrienne starts hanging out with Jen and “The Group,” leaving Shannon painfully behind.

A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd
This whimsical novel is about a town called Midnight Gulch that used to be full of magic, before a curse ended that. Now twelve-year-old Felicity has moved there with her always-on-the-move mother, and Felicity wants nothing more than to heal the town and finally find a home they can stay in forever.

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda (Origami Yoda Books) Cover

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda (Origami Yoda series Book 1) by Tom Angleberger
In the first book in the beloved, hilarious Origami Yoda series, sixth grader Dwight creates a finger puppet paper Yoda, who turns out to be as wise and helpful as the Yoda we all know and love.

The True History of Lyndie B. Hawkins by Gail Shepherd
Set in 1985 Tennessee , Lyndie B. Hawkins is the daughter of a veteran. Her love of history, especially family history, puts her in direct opposition to her fusspot grandmother who’d rather keep secrets than expose them.

Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes
Dèja starts fifth grade at a new school with a secret — she and her family are homeless and live in a Brooklyn shetler. But an inspiring teacher leads to new friendships for Dèja, as well as an understanding about the tragic events of 9/11, fifteen years prior, and their lingering impact on her family and community.

Wonder

Wonder by R. J. Palacio
Starting at a brand-new school in fifth grade is hard enough, but for Auggie, born with facial differences that make him stand out, it’s even harder. This lovely and moving novel guides readers to “Choose Kind.”

 

 

 

Pink Hair and Other Terrible Ideas + Giveaway

Today is World Cancer Day, devoted to raising awareness of the disease and supporting those individuals and their families who are facing it head on. And that’s exactly what MUF contributor, Andrea Pyros, has done with her newly released novel, Pink Hair and Other Terrible Ideas. We’re pleased to interview Andrea and to shine a light on this heartfelt and important book, especially today:

 

ABOUT THE BOOK:

Twelve-year-old Josephine has a lot on her plate―best friend issues, first crush issues, divorced parent issues, twin brother issues . . . and then her mom hits her with news that shakes her to her core: a breast cancer diagnosis. Josephine doesn’t want anyone to know―not even her best friend. Sharing the news means it’s actually real, and that’s something she’s not ready to face. Plus it would mean dealing with the stares―and pity―of her classmates. She got enough of that when her parents split up. Unfortunately for Josephine, her twin brother, Chance, doesn’t feel the same way. And when Chance dyes his hair pink to support his mom, the cat is out of the bag. Suddenly Josephine has to rethink her priorities. Does getting an invite to the party of the year matter when your mom is sick? And what if it does matter? Does that make her a monster?

 

ABOUT ANDREA:

Andrea Pyros is the author My Year of Epic Rock, which was called “a perfect read for anyone who feels BFF-challenged” by Booklist and “a charming addition to upper elementary and middle school collections” by School Library Journal. Andrea has written extensively for young adults, starting with her stint as co-founder of the pop culture website Girls on Film and then as a senior-level editor at a variety of teen magazines. A native of New York City, Andrea now lives in New York’s Hudson Valley with her husband and their two children. For more information, visit her at www.andreapyros.com.

 

Read the interview and scroll down to enter the Rafflecopter widget below for a chance to win a signed copy of Pink Hair and Other Terrible Ideas. Good luck! (This giveaway is only available in the United States.)

Why was it so important to you to write a book about cancer?

When I was in sixth grade, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. On top of feeling worried for her and scared about what might happen to me if something happened to her, I also felt guilty, because I still had regular middle school kid concerns, like about friends and crushes and school. That seemed wrong, somehow. I wrote Pink Hair… because I wanted kids like me to know it’s totally normal to still think about themselves when a loved one is sick. Life keeps going!

Aside from your own experiences in middle school, was there anything else that sparked the idea for Pink Hair and Other Terrible Ideas?

The idea was born when I saw an article about a student who’d dyed his hair pink in honor of his mother’s breast cancer diagnosis and his school suspended him. I was shocked. Like, here’s someone coping with a parent’s illness and trying to do something positive and he was being punished for it. I was nowhere as brave as this kid. When my mother got sick I was embarrassed to talk about it and didn’t want people to know. That’s why I gave Josephine a twin brother who copes in a vastly different way than she does to their mother’s news—none of us deal in the exact same way when facing a hard time.

What kind of research did you have to do for the book?

I drew quite a bit on my own experience as a child and my memories of my mother’s surgery, and how scary that time was for her and for me. I also spoke with a breast cancer surgeon to learn more about how breast cancer is treated today, compared to back in the 80s. Things have changed quite a bit in how we speak about and understand cancer.

What was your greatest challenge in writing this story of Josephine?

Josephine is a confusing and messy person. She loves her mom and twin brother, but she’s also mad at them and frustrated, and doesn’t always behave the “right” way with them. I wanted to make her real and human, but it’s hard when your main character sometimes does things you don’t approve of.

Have you ever dyed your hair pink?

I WISH! I’ve been thinking about it, but I’m intimated by the upkeep. 🙂

Can you tell us a little bit about your writing process with this book?

Sure! I had a writing group, which is a fantastic motivator. We’d meet every other week and share pages and give each other feedback on our projects. Their notes really helped, as did the enforced deadlines, because otherwise it’s too easy for my fiction writing to get pushed to the side by other job projects, time with my family, or just goofing off. I worked on the first draft with them, and then wrote the first revision with my writing group, as well.

What are some of your favorite writing tips?

My writing tips that work for me (but may not work for you, so take these with a grain of salt): 1) When I’m writing, I block social media on my computer so I’m not distracted quite so easily. 2) I remind myself that a first draft is going to sound clunky and stilted. Don’t panic, it’s going to take shape over time! 3) People write in all sorts of ways—between work and family obligations, or they write during lunch breaks or just on weekends or for thirty minutes in the morning. Whatever it is you’re doing to get words onto paper, you do you. There’s no wrong way to write.

Thanks so much, Andrea, for taking the time out to share a bit about Pink Hair and Other Terrible Ideas!

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