MUF Contributor Books

Our 2021 Reading and Writing Resolutions

The year 2020 has finally come to a close and, like everyone else, MUF Members are looking forward to a new year and new resolutions. After reading some of these, I’m thinking about revising my own list. Maybe you will, too. Feel free to leave us your reading/writing resolutions in the comments section. Happy Reading and Writing in 2021!

 

 

Click on the authors’ names to learn more about them and their work. Click on the titles to support independent bookstores by purchasing a book.

 


Andrea Pyros 
is the author of Pink Hair and Other Terrible Ideas and My Year of Epic Rock.

Writing Resolution: “A gentle reminder to myself and anyone else who needs to hear this: Don’t stress over the messiness of a first draft! They’re not supposed to be perfect, but a framework to build upon during multiple revises.”

Reading Resolution: “To leave reviews for books I’ve enjoyed reading. Authors really benefit from positive online reviews, so this is a simple way to boost other writers.”

 

 


Beth McMullen
 is the author of the Mrs. Smith’s Spy School for Girls series and the Lola Benko, Treasure Hunter series–next up, Lola Benko and the Midnight Market, summer 2021.

Resolution: “2020 was the year of ‘no’ so I’m determined to make 2021 the year of ‘yes’! First up on the list, I’m giving myself permission to write what I want, not what I think I should be writing or what others would like for me to write. We will see how that goes!”

 

 

 

S.A. Larsen is the award-winning author of Motley Education and other middle grade and young adult books, who loves to chase her characters around a graveyard or antagonize them with the wonders of young love.

Resolution: “I intend to loosen the reins of my creativity by committing to two sessions of free-writing every month. Feel free to join me!”

 

 

 

Melissa Roske is the author of Kat Green Comes Clean and other contemporary middle-grade fiction.

Resolution: “Before the pandemic, I had a (relatively) consistent writing schedule. I’d write in the mornings, take a break for lunch, do more writing, and then head to the gym. Now that the world has changed, I lack the focus and discipline to stick to my previous schedule. Therefore, my resolution for 2021 is to create a new, less restrictive schedule that accommodates my ‘new normal.’ For instance, I can’t go to the gym anymore, but I can take an online fitness class before or after a writing session. And I can be kinder to myself when I have a less-than-productive day. Sometimes, getting out of bed in the morning is enough.”

 

 

Rosanne Parry, the author of A Whale of the Wild  and more, writes books in her treehouse, sells books at Annie Blooms Bookstore, and reads books everywhere.

Writing Resolution: “I have a year of intensive research coming up. I hope to read another 50 books, websites, archive materials and maps, view documentaries and meet with at least a dozen experts in the field. ”

Reading Resolution: “I hope to take greater advantage of audio books this year. I also want to find and nominate at least 2 new titles for the Indie Next list. ”

 

 

Jennifer Swanson is an award-winning author of Beastly Bionics, Rad Robots, Brilliant Biomimicry, and Incredible Inventions Inspired by Nature as well as 40+ STEM books for kids. Science ROCKS!

Resolution: “Be Healthy. Be Happy. Stay Curious.”

 

 

 

 

Donna Galanti writes middle grade where heart and hope meet adventure! She is the author of the Joshua and The Lightning Road series and the upcoming Unicorn Island, which begins a new series.

Resolution: “I had 2 new books to write on deadline this year, but that meant I neglected my numerous own projects! In 2021, I intend to finish drafting and revising 3 books in various stages and outline a new idea. My day will continue to include mediation, walks in the woods, and working on one project at a time each day—but also adding yoga to get flexible! Until recently, my critique partner and I met each month for a writing day but have changed that up this month to Zoom “accountable” days. I aim to do a few of these each month with her if I can in 2021. We set goals, a day, and a time, like between 9am and 5pm, and then Zoom every 2 hours to check in and hold each other accountable. It’s a great way to boost productivity when you have to check in with someone!

 

Natalie Rompella is the author of Cookie Cutters & Sled Runners as well as more than sixty materials for kids, including books on topics such as insects and sled dog racing.

Resolution: “To write something that requires little or no research.”

 

 

 

Aixa Perez-Prado is a writer and illustrator of quirky, own voices stories with heart and humor.

Resolution: “I will approach my writing and drawing with the same confidence and spirit as I did as a child, full of joy, wonder and hope.”

 

 

 

 

Sean McCollum, the author of 1 For All, is a nomad from the Midwest who’s been fortunate enough to build a career writing nonfiction books, stories, and articles for kids, tweens, and teens.

Resolution: “Read more, write more, and give more young people more reasons to read.” 🙂

 

 

 

 

Meira Drazin, who loves to read widely, voraciously and across genres, is the author of the Sydney Taylor Manuscript Award-winning middle grade novel Honey and Me, forthcoming from Scholastic.

Resolution: “I’m always so jealous when I see people post on social media roundups of what they’ve read in the last calendar year. This year I resolve to be one of those people! I’ll admit that this isn’t the first time I’ve had this resolution: in the past I have tried jotting down in the back of my journal each book as I finish it, only to get as far as January. Or to decide to do it in April and unsuccessfully try to backtrack by scanning the pile of books next to my bed, bath, couch, office, etc. I think this year the key will be to do it in Notes on my phone so that it’s in a central location and generally something I have at hand. How wonderful to be able to see the breadth of what you’ve read over twelve months, and remember what moved you, what irritated you, what made you laugh or cry, what was interesting or even what was boring, what did not deserve the hype and what deserved all its hype and then some.”

 


Samantha M Clark
 is the award-winning author of The Boy, the Boat, and the Beast.

Resolution: “I’m really excited to have two new books coming out: Arrow  published by Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster on June 22 and American Horse Tales: Hollywood, coming from Penguin Workshop/Penguin Random House on June 29. While I’ll be busy with those as well as other upcoming projects, my 2021 resolution is to find peace wherever I can and make lots of time to read all the wonderful middle-grade books that have come out since COVID-19 started.”

 

 

Heather Murphy Capps is an #ownvoices middle grade author who writes contemporary, science, and magical themes.

Resolution: “To tackle two projects: 1) draft a new book I’m noodling on but haven’t yet outlined; 2) revise a book I trunked a while ago but have a real itch to resurrect. Peace out, 2020, bring it on, 2021!”

 


Michelle Houts
, the author of Winterfrost, writes fiction and nonfiction for readers of all ages from a restored one-room schoolhouse.
Resolution: “This year, I want to write for practice: morning pages, a poem a day, free-writing … anything that exercises my writer’s brain.”

 

 

 

 


Jonathan Rosen
is the beloved and highly controversial author of Spooky MG books such as Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies and From Sunset to Sunrise.

Resolution: “Total Global Conquest and also to write more.”

 

 

 

 

Mimi Powell is a writer, librarian, and avid video-gamer.

Resolution: “From Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, where she talks about writing as a meditative practice: write for twenty minutes a day, doesn’t matter if it is good or not. Just write.”

 

Greg R. Fishbone is the founding member of the Mythoversal Project and the author of speculative fiction and mythology in verse.

Resolution: “To release at least one installment of mythology stories per week through 2021.”

 

 

 

 

Dorian Cirrone is the author of the middle-grade novel, The First Last Day, and other books for kids and teens.

Writing resolution: “To write with abandon, using the Pomodoro Technique of setting a timer for twenty-five minutes at a time and knocking that inner editor off my shoulder while I write. Also, to finish the novel I started a couple of years ago that I’ve been thinking about for more years than I can count.”

Reading resolution: “To read widely and to try new genres.”

 

The Month of Best Book Lists!

It’s nearing the end of 2020 (finally!), and that means the best book lists are starting to roll out. Here are some great lists of middle grade books published this year (including some from our very own MUF bloggers)!

National Science Teaching Association
Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12

https://www.nsta.org/ostb-2021

NSTA’s winners of the Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12: 2021 includes some fantastic, award-winning books about science, engineering, and design. Here are a few:

Changing the Equation: 50+ US Black Women in STEM

Tonya Bolden
ABRAMS / Abrams Books for Young Readers

This book is filled with the profiles of notable, inspiring, and pioneering black women in STEM. Their accomplishments and contributions throughout American history are an inspiration to all women of color.

 

Wildlife Ranger Action Guide: Track, Spot & Provide Healthy Habitat for Creatures Close to Home

Mary Kay Carson
Storey Publishing

Learn about the importance of lizard lodges and bee boxes. Using everyday materials, this field guide suggests activities to turn backyards into personal learning and conservation zones.

 

The Children’s Book Council
2021 Best STEM Books

https://www.cbcbooks.org/cbc-book-lists/2021-bsb/

Book recommendations for educators, librarians, parents, and guardians of the best children’s books with STEM content in 2020. Here are a few:

Beastly Bionics

Jennifer Swanson
National Geographic Kids

Discover how the natural world inspires innovation in science and technology to create the latest and greatest breakthroughs and discoveries in this exciting book.

 

 

All Thirteen

Christina Soontornvat
Candlewick

A unique account of the amazing Thai cave rescue told in a heart-racing, you-are-there style that blends suspense, science, and cultural insight.

 

 

Wood, Wire, Wings

Kirsten W. Larson
Tracy Subisak
Boyds Mills & Kane

This riveting nonfiction picture book biography explores both the failures and successes of self-taught engineer Emma Lilian Todd as she tackles one of the greatest challenges of the early 1900s: designing an airplane.

 

New York Public Library
Best Books for Kids  2020

https://www.nypl.org/books-more/recommendations/best-books/kids

NYPL’s expert librarians choose their favorite books for  kids in 2020. Here are a few from their long list:

Fighting Words

Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Dial Books

A candid and fierce middle grade novel about sisterhood and sexual abuse.

 

 

Woke: A Young Poet’s Call to Justice

Mahogany L. Browne, Elizabeth Acevedo, Olivia Gatwood, Theodore Taylor, III, (Illustrator) Jason Reynolds
Roaring Brook Press

Historically poets have been on the forefront of social movements. Woke is a collection of poems by women that reflects the joy and passion in the fight for social justice, tackling topics from discrimination to empathy, and acceptance to speaking out.

Kirkus
Best Middle Grade Books of 2020

https://www.kirkusreviews.com/best-of/2020/middle-grade/

Kirkus has a whole list of “best of 2020” lists of middle grade books. There are plenty of books to check out–from graphic novels to books about immigration and refugees. Here are a few:

Class Act

Jerry Craft
Quill Tree Books/HarperCollins

New York Times bestselling author Jerry Craft returns with a companion book to New Kid, winner of the 2020 Newbery Medal, the Coretta Scott King Author Award, and the Kirkus Prize. This time, it’s Jordan’s friend Drew who takes center stage in another laugh-out-loud funny, powerful, and important story about being one of the few kids of color in a prestigious private school.

The Land of the Cranes

Aida Salazar
Scholastic Press

From the prolific author of The Moon Within comes the heart-wrenchingly beautiful story in verse of a young Latinx girl who learns to hold on to hope and love even in the darkest of places: a family detention center for migrants and refugees.

 

This is just a sneak peek into all of the amazing middle grade books published this year, and the beginning of the best of lists. Be sure to check out the links to see many more middle grade books that came out in 2020!

Editor Spotlight: Meet Carol Hinz of Millbrook Press and Carolrhoda Books at Lerner Publishing

Carol Hinz is Editorial Director of Millbrook Press and Carolrhoda Books, divisions of Lerner Publishing Group in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She acquires and edits picture books, poetry, and nonfiction. Books she’s edited include Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Storyby Caren Stelson; A Map into the World by Kao Kalia Yang, illustrated by Seo Kim; Can I Touch Your Hair? Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship by Irene Latham and Charles Waters, illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko; and Tracking Pythons: The Quest to Catch an Invasive Predator and Save an Ecosystem by Kate Messner

Hello Mixed-up Filers, today we’re featuring Editorial Director Carol Hinz for our Editor Spotlight. I was fortunate enough to meet and work alongside Carol at Lerner Publishing and saw the many wonderful books she publishes for Millbrook Press and Carolrhoda Books. Thanks for joining us on the blog today, Carol!

Thank you so much for inviting me here, Karen. I’m excited to talk about all things middle grade!

Can you tell me a bit about how you ended up in your role at Lerner? And what you love about it?

Sure—as you’ll see, it evolved over time. Way back in 2003, I began working at Lerner as an editor, focusing primarily on series nonfiction for the school and library market. Lerner acquired Millbrook Press in 2004, and after Millbrook cofounder Jean Reynolds decided to scale back her role, I got the opportunity to become editorial director for the imprint, which I began late in 2007. And I added Carolrhoda’s picture books and nonfiction to my job duties a decade later.

I love that I get to be involved with such a variety of books and that I get to work closely with so many immensely talented authors, illustrators, and photographers! I also feel fortunate that since I’ve started as editorial director, there’s been increased interest in high-quality nonfiction for young people and a great deal of innovation in how authors are approaching nonfiction topics. It’s truly a fascinating time to be making nonfiction!

What was the first middle-grade book you edited? Did you have any challenges with it?

Oh, wow! If I recall correctly, it was Ghana in Pictures by Yvette La Pierre, which was part of the Visual Geography Series. Because I was so new to editing nonfiction at the time, my big challenge was figuring out how it was supposed to be done! We had to make sure the text was at the correct reading level while also conveying important information about Ghana’s landforms, history, government, and people.

Editing that book really taught me just how challenging it is to create engaging nonfiction for young people. Authors need to present complex information while being mindful of vocabulary, sentence structure, sentence length, and what sort of background information a reader might need to fully understand the topic.

Can you tell us about your editorial process now, from acquisition to print?

Um . . . do you have all day? As a book geek, I also love the creation process, but I’ll try to keep this brief. Most of the time with MG nonfiction, I acquire based on a proposal. So once the acquisition is approved, the author needs to go off and write the full book.

After the author has written the manuscript and sends it over to me, I read through it and then ideally will set it aside for a month or more. One of the reasons for this is that I find I do my best editing after I’ve had a chance to percolate on the manuscript. The process from there always involves certain key steps, but there’s also a lot of individual variation depending on the book and the author.

For some books, my feedback will include requesting that the author write new chapters or reorganize information. Once the structure is solid, I’ll focus in on the flow of information within paragraphs as well as phrasing and word choice. I’ll also look for places where I think the author needs to fill in a little background information or context for our readership. I’m all about the track changes feature—I try to ask lots of questions and throw out lots of suggestions as I go. My goal is not for an author to simply agree with everything I say; instead, I want them to engage with my comments. I love when an author understands where I’m coming from and then responds with with an even better idea than what I suggested.

While the author and I are finalizing the text, someone in our photo research department will be searching for just the right photos. If the book needs diagrams, either our in-house illustrator or a freelance illustrator will start working on those elements. My fabulous colleagues in the art department start working on cover designs, and and after the final (well, mostly final) text is typeset, they’ll start putting the layout together. The author sees the layout at several points along the way to give input on photos and any diagrams, write captions, and just generally ensure that everything is coming together well. I really enjoy the collaborative nature of book making—both working closely with authors and working with my Lerner colleagues.

No manuscript is perfect, so what qualities make it feel right for fixing to you? What do you think can be fixed? What makes it unfixable?

Oooh, that’s a good question! No matter what, I think the premise of the manuscript needs to be solid—both what the manuscript is about and how the author wants to present that topic. And I can’t fix insufficient research or a lack of interest/enthusiasm on the author’s part. But as long as the author is up for it, I can work with them on structure, reading level, and plenty of line editing. So much really comes down to having a shared vision for the book. As long as the author and I have that shared vision—and the time to really dig deep and work together—we can create a great book!

 

What have been some of your favorite MG books you’ve worked on and why?

Gah, this is such a hard question!

Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Story by Caren Stelson: Making this book was a powerful emotional journey that took me all the way to Japan. (Read about it here: https://lernerbooks.blog/2017/01/dispatch-from-nagasaki-visiting-sachiko-yasui.html)

 

 

Sea Otter Heroes: The Predators That Saved an Ecosystem by Patricia Newman (one of our STEM Tuesday contributors!): This book is a fascinating story of scientific discovery that taught me the phrase trophic cascade and makes me feel smarter every time I read it.

 


Monstrous: The Lore, Gore, and Science behind Your Favorite Monsters by Carlyn Beccia: Edited by my colleague Shaina Olmanson, this book offers a unique and compelling look at famous monsters and the history and science behind them—and has awesome illustrations and infographics to boot!

 

 

Tracking Pythons: The Quest to Catch an Invasive Predator and Save an Ecosystem by Kate Messner: earlier this year, my younger son became obsessed with this book. It was magical to see a book I’d edited spark such curiosity in him! (I talk about it here: https://lernerbooks.blog/2020/03/tracking-pythons-science-up-close.html)

 

Journey into the Deep: Discovering New Ocean Creatures by Rebecca L. Johnson: I learned a lot about making an ambitious MG book from this book—it’s a 64-page look at recently discovered ocean creatures scientists found during the ten-year Census of Marine Life, and it’s packed with fantastic photos as well as rich text that takes readers from the ocean’s surface down to its depths. The book came out in 2010, and it’s the first book I ever edited to receive a starred review. I still remember the thrill I felt the day that review came through. (CHeck out the review here: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/rebecca-l-johnson/journey-deep/)

 

Having been at the epicenter of the George Floyd protests, how has the Black Lives Matter movement affected Lerner? And children’s publishing in general? Do you think children’s publishing has changed or is changing in response?

Lerner’s downtown Minneapolis offices were boarded up for about a week at the height of the protests, but in a lot of ways, that’s the least of it. While this is not the first time we’ve had internal conversations about publishing diverse voices and what we’re doing to make our workplace more inclusive, in the aftermath of the protests these conversations took on new urgency. And I believe that’s true across the industry as well.

In children’s publishing, the creation of We Need Diverse Books in 2014 spurred a number of important changes, but it’s clear right now that we still have more to do to make this industry more equitable.

While a lot of the conversation about diversity in children’s books has focused on picture books and fiction, I think we in the nonfiction community need to take a very serious look at just how few BIPOC authors are writing nonfiction (especially MG and YA) and find ways to bring in new authors from more diverse backgrounds. To this end, I am working on an idea that includes an open call for MG nonfiction, but I’m not ready to share specifics just yet. (Check back in the fall!)

Another outcome of the protests is that we’ve seen a surge of interest in books such as Ruth and the Green Book by Calvin Alexander Ramsey and Gwen Strauss, illustrated by Floyd Cooper; Can I Touch Your Hair? Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship by Irene Latham and Charles Waters, illustrated by Selina Alko and Sean Qualls; The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth & Harlem’s Greatest Bookstore by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie; and Dictionary for a Better World: Poems, Quotes, and Anecdotes from A to Z by Irene Latham and Charles Waters, illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini.

            

What are some under-represented MG topics you’d like to see more of?

Books about areas of science other than biology! As much as I adore animals, I’d love to see some smart authors write about chemistry, physics, engineering, and all manner of other science topics in ways that engage MG readers.

I would also like to see books that highlight the work of BIPOC scientists. We’ve published some great narrative nonfiction about individual scientists—including Sea Otter Heroes: The Predators That Saved an Ecosystem by Patricia Newman—and I’d love to see something along those lines focusing on the work of a scientist of color.

What advice can you give authors?

If you want to write truly ambitious nonfiction for kids, don’t think about your book as existing in isolation. Rather, imagine your book as being in conversation with other books that are in the same space as your book.

As an example, when I was editing Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Story by Caren Stelson, I thought a lot about the book Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin. Sheinkin’s book wraps up pretty quickly once the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan, whereas Stelson’s book covers fifty years of aftermath, as it plays out in Sachiko Yasui’s life. Reading the two books together will enrich a reader’s understanding of them both.

Do you have any upcoming middle-grade books that you’d like to tell our readers about?

I’m really excited about a book coming out this October, Bionic Beasts: Saving Animal Lives with Artificial Flippers, Legs, and Beaks by Jolene Gutiérrez. It’s a STEM-themed book that brings together biology and engineering through the stories of five different animals from around the globe that are thriving thanks to their prosthetic body parts. There’s Lola, a Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, Mosha, an Asian elephant, Cassidy, a German shepherd, Vitória, a greylag goose, and Pirate, a Berkshire-Tamworth pig. Each of these animals was at risk of dying due to their circumstances, but humans intervened, and using a variety of techniques and technologies including surgery, 3D printing, and more, they were able to create prosthetics that enabled these animals to survive. The book also includes hands-on activities in each chapter so readers can better understand the engineering concepts involved.

Is there anything else you’d like to add

To support excellent MG nonfiction for kids, please be sure to buy these books! You can also request them from the library, review them, and share them with others.

Well, thank you for taking the time to speak with us today, Carol!

Find Carol on Twitter: @CarolCHinz.