New Releases

May New Releases!

This May there are lots of great new middle-grade releases to read. Here are a few coming out this month. Let us know which ones you’re excited to read in the comments!

Metropolis Grove by Drew Brockington

The big city is full of Superman sightings, but here in Metropolis Grove? Every kid in this suburb knows that he’s not real…except newcomer Sonia Patel, who convinces her friends Duncan and Alex to believe! When the trio discover a mysterious cave full of Super-memorabilia, they can’t keep it to themselves, and that sets off a school year full of drama and adventure and more than a few opportunities for a newfound friendship to test its limits. And when they finally figure out the resident of the cave is Bizarro, things get even more out of control!

Hazel Bly and the Deep Blue Sea by Ashley Herring Blake

Hazel Bly used to live in the perfect house with the perfect family in sunny California. But when a kayaking trip goes horribly wrong, Mum is suddenly gone forever and Hazel is left with crippling anxiety and a jagged scar on her face. After Mum’s death, Hazel, her other mother, Mama, and her little sister, Peach, needed a fresh start. So for the last two years, the Bly girls have lived all over the country, never settling anywhere for more than a few months.

When the family arrives in Rose Harbor, Maine, there’s a wildness to the small town that feels like magic. But when Mama runs into an old childhood friend—Claire—suddenly Hazel’s tight-knit world is infiltrated. To make it worse, she has a daughter Hazel’s age, Lemon, who can’t stop rambling on and on about the Rose Maid, a local 150-year-old mermaid myth.

Soon, Hazel finds herself just as obsessed with the Rose Maid as Lemon is—because what if magic were real? What if grief really could change you so much, you weren’t even yourself anymore? And what if instead you emerged from the darkness stronger than before?

Thanks a Lot, Universe by Chad Lucas

Brian has always been anxious, whether at home, or in class, or on the basketball court. His dad tries to get him to stand up for himself and his mom helps as much as she can, but after he and his brother are placed in foster care, Brian starts having panic attacks. And he doesn’t know if things will ever be normal again . . . Ezra’s always been popular. He’s friends with most of the kids on his basketball team–even Brian, who usually keeps to himself. But now, some of his friends have been acting differently, and Brian seems to be pulling away. Ezra wants to help, but he worries if he’s too nice to Brian, his friends will realize that he has a crush on him . . .

But when Brian and his brother run away, Ezra has no choice but to take the leap and reach out. Both boys have to decide if they’re willing to risk sharing parts of themselves they’d rather hide. But if they can be brave, they might just find the best in themselves–and each other.

Da Vinci’s Cat by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Federico doesn’t mind being a political hostage in the Pope’s palace, especially now that he has a cat as a friend. But he must admit that a kitten walking into a wardrobe and returning full-grown a moment later is quite odd. Even stranger is Herbert, apparently an art collector from the future, who emerges from the wardrobe the next night. Herbert barters with Federico to get a sketch signed by the famous painter Raphael, but his plans take a dangerous turn when he hurries back to his era, desperate to save a dying girl.

Bee never wanted to move to New Jersey. When a neighbor shows Bee a sketch that perfectly resembles her, Bee, freaked out, solidifies her resolve to keep to herself. But then she meets a friendly cat and discovers a mysterious cabinet in her neighbor’s attic—a cabinet that leads her to Renaissance Rome. Bee, who has learned about Raphael and Michelangelo in school, never expected she’d get to meet them and see them paint their masterpieces.

Shark Summer by Ira Marcks

When a Hollywood film crew arrives on Martha’s Vineyard with a mechanical shark and a youth film contest boasting a huge cash prize, disgraced pitcher Gayle “Blue Streak” Briar sees a chance to turn a bad season into the best summer ever.

After recruiting aspiring cinematographer Elijah Jones and moody director Maddie Grey, Gayle and her crew set out to uncover the truth of the island’s own phantom shark and win the prize money. But these unlikely friends are about to discover what happens when you turn your camera toward the bad things lurking below the surface.

The Wild World Handbook: Habitats by Andrea Debbink

The wonder of the natural world surrounds us—from the Amazon rainforest to the snowy peaks of Mount Everest to the green spaces in big cities. And as the threat of climate change grows, it’s more important than ever to show appreciation for our planet by taking action.

The first book in a middle grade series for young environmental activists and nature lovers, The Wild World Handbook offers a roadmap for change and an invitation to explore the outdoors, alongside surprising facts and hands-on STEAM activities. Featuring nine habitats from around the globe, each section includes diverse biographies of outdoor adventurers, scientists, and artists who used their passion and skills to become bold allies for Earth’s natural diversity and resiliency.

Sister of the Bollywood Bride by Nandini Bajpai

Mini’s big sister, Vinnie, is getting married. Their mom passed away seven years ago and between Dad’s new start-up and Vinnie’s medical residency, there’s no one but Mini to plan the wedding. Dad raised her to know more about computers, calculus, and cars than desi weddings but from the moment Mini held the jewelry Mom left them, she wanted her sister to have the wedding Mom would’ve planned.

Now Mini has only two months to get it done and she’s not going to let anything distract her, not even the persistent, mysterious, and smoking-hot Vir Mirchandani. Flower garlands, decorations, music, even a white wedding horse—everything is in place.

That is, until a monster hurricane heads for Boston that could ruin everything. Will Mini come through as sister of the bride and save the day?

How to Become a Planet by Nicole Melleby

For Pluto, summer has always started with a trip to the planetarium. It’s the launch to her favorite season, which also includes visits to the boardwalk arcade, working in her mom’s pizzeria, and her best friend Meredith’s birthday party. But this summer, none of that feels possible.

A month before the end of the school year, Pluto’s frightened mom broke down Pluto’s bedroom door. What came next were doctor’s appointments, a diagnosis of depression, and a big black hole that still sits on Pluto’s chest, making it too hard to do anything.
Pluto can’t explain to her mom why she can’t do the things she used to love. And it isn’t until Pluto’s dad threatens to make her move with him to the city—where he believes his money, in particular, could help—that Pluto becomes desperate enough to do whatever it takes to be the old Pluto again.

She develops a plan and a checklist: If she takes her medication, if she goes to the planetarium with her mom for her birthday, if she successfully finishes her summer school work with her tutor, if she goes to Meredith’s birthday party . . . if she does all the things that “normal” Pluto would do, she can stay with her mom in Jersey. But it takes a new therapist, a new tutor, and a new (and cute) friend with a checklist and plan of her own for Pluto to learn that there is no old and new Pluto. There’s just her.

Strong Like the Sea by Wendy S. Swore

Twelve-year-old Alexis was born in Hawaii and loves exploring her island paradise, but she’s afraid of the ocean, actually afraid of the various creatures who live in it. She still remembers the day a viper moray eel, looking like a monster, startled her when it popped out of a coral reef. When she tried to swim away, she got caught in a riptide until her dad rescued her. Now, even when her friends are surfing and swimming in the ocean, Alex watches from the beach. Alex’s mom works as a civilian contractor for the Navy. Alex thinks it’s cool that her mom works in intelligence on a submarine, but her job requires her to be away from home a lot. When she’s gone, she leaves codes and puzzles for her daughter and friends to solve, including a small prize.

A special birthday puzzle has a new twist―it leads Alex to visit their grumpy older neighbor whom everyone calls Uncle Tanaka, a retired marine biologist. Knowing her mom is away on an assignment, Uncle Tanaka reluctantly allows Alex to tag along as he and his enormous dog, Sarge, collect marine samples. Sarge isn’t the only creature devoted to Uncle Tanaka. A deformed sea turtle that Uncle Tanaka rescued returns to his beach each day, but Alex is leery of it and any other creature hiding beneath the waves. Uncle Tanaka assures her that sea turtles are gentle animals and are ancient symbols of wisdom and good luck.

When Uncle Tanaka’s Parkinson’s disease acts up, making it hard for him to put the stoppers in his specimen vials, Alex is a pair of steady hands ready to assist. She’s starting to believe that maybe old Uncle Tanaka isn’t as grumpy as everyone says. Alex’s courage is put to the test when Uncle Tanaka has a medical emergency and she finds him stranded in his small boat. Alex knows there’s no one else around to help but her. To crack her mom’s codes, she had to be smart and use her problem-solving skills. But now she’ll need to be strong like the sea and overcome her very real fear of the ocean to help save her new friend.

Spells Trouble: Sisters of Salem by P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast

Hunter and Mercy Goode are twin witches, direct descendants of the founder of their town of Goodeville. As their ancestors have done before them, it is now time for the twins to learn what it means to be Gatekeepers–the protectors of the Gates to different underworlds, ancient portals between their world and realms where mythology rules and nightmares come to life.

When their mother becomes the first victim in a string of murders, the devastated sisters vow to avenge her death. But it will take more than magic to rein in the ancient mythological monsters who’ve infected their peaceful town. Now Hunter and Mercy must come together and accept their destiny or risk being separated for good

 

Interview with Lisa Fipps, Debut Author of Starfish

People are buzzing about Lisa Fipps and her debut novel, STARFISH! For good reason, it’s bound to be a classic. This poignant novel in free verse has already earned numerous starred reviews and a Junior Library Guild Gold Selection. Wow! And she is just getting started.

I met Lisa via Twitter and immediately fell in love with her kind spirit and sensitive soul. Also, we share a love of all things British and pugs!

My kind of gal.

Please grab a cup of tea and join us for a bit of chitchat.

          About the Author

Lisa Fipps is a graduate of Ball State University, award-winning former journalist, current director of marketing for a public library (where she won the Sara Laughlin marketing award), and an author of middle-grade books. Starfish is her debut novel. She’s working on her next novel and several others. She currently lives in Indiana and lived in Texas. 

  1. Tell us about Starfish. 

Starfish is a middle-grade novel in free verse about a fat girl named Ellie. Ever since Ellie wore a whale swimsuit and made a big splash at her fifth birthday party, she’s been bullied about her weight. To cope, she tries to live by the Fat Girl Rules—like “no making waves,” “avoid eating in public,” and “don’t move so fast that your body jiggles.”

She’s found her safe space—her swimming pool—where she feels weightless in a fat-obsessed world. At the bottom of the pool, she starfishes. Stretches out. Takes up all the room she wants, instead of living by the fat girl rules society taught her.  The pool is also where she can get away from her pushy mom, who thinks criticizing Ellie’s weight will motivate her to diet. Fortunately, Ellie has allies in her dad, her therapist, and her new neighbor, Catalina, who love Ellie for who she is. With this support buoying her, Ellie is able to cast aside the Fat Girl Rules and starfish in real life—by unapologetically being her own fabulous self.

 

  1. How did you come up with the idea?

Starfish is the book I wish I had when I was a fat kid trying to cope with the bullying. I never told anyone what I was going through. I never reached out for help with the emotions: sadness, anger, shame. I never stood up for myself. I thought I deserved to be treated badly because society teaches us that if we’re fat, it’s our fault. If we truly hated being bullied, we’d just lose the weight.

 

  1. Do you base your characters on people you know? If yes, spill the beans!

Starfish is not based on people I know, but it’s based on experiences I had. The names of characters are based on people I know. For example, Sonya, Catalina’s mom, is named after author Sonya Sones, a mentor and friend. The school librarian is named after my elementary-school librarian, Mrs. Pochon. She was the best!

 

4. How much of your real-life experiences play a role in the stories you tell? 

Not everything that happens to Ellie happened to me, but a version of everything that happens to Ellie happened to me. So, yes, real-life experiences play a huge role in Starfish. As far as future works, I think there’s a bit of every author in every story they tell. Sometimes authors draw on real-life experiences. Other times they dip into their emotional wells when characters need to authentically express feelings. a

 

5. What books did you like to read when you were a kid? Do those books influence your writing? 

I read anything and everything I could get my hands on. I grew up poor. So that meant reading cereal boxes, recipe books, newspapers, magazines, my mom’s books – hence my love for Erma Bombeck when I was a kid – the entire World Book Encyclopedia, and library books. Authors have influenced my writing more than specific books. Once I like a book by an author, I read all their books. Authors who influenced me the most when I was a kid and teen include DuBose Heyward (because of The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes), E.B. White, Norman Bridwell, Beverly Cleary, and Ernest Hemingway.

 

   6. What are you working on now? 

I’m always working on something. Well, actually, several somethings. Sometimes a scene or a character trait for a novel comes to me when I’m writing my work in progress. So, I stop, write it, and go back to my WIP.

 

  1. What is your writing process? Are you a plotter or a pantser?

I see what I call video clips in my head of scenes, things that help reveal a character’s personality, etc. I watch them and make note of them. It’s kind of odd. I’m a total pantser. I think that’s because I was a journalist for years. But I do plan the overall book. I just don’t do detailed outlines. That totally zaps me of my creative energy. I like to let the story tell itself through me rather than control it so much.

 

  1. Loaded question: How long was your road to publishing and what happened along the way?

Starfish took a while because of personal commitments. I started it while working six part-time jobs for three years as I transitioned from journalism to marketing. Then I got a full-time marketing job – right before my mother almost died in a car accident and needed a lot of care, which is right after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. I was working full-time, being a full-time caregiver, and writing Starfish. I’m not a patient person by any stretch of the imagination. So, I was frustrated that I couldn’t just devote all my time to Starfish. But the process taught me that you make the time and find a way to focus on what’s important to you.

 

  1. What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

I give aspiring authors the same advice Norman Bridwell gave me. He’s from my hometown. I interviewed him several times when I was journalist. I mentioned to him that I was writing a book. He told me to keep going, even if I got rejections along the way. He wrote me the sweetest letter on Clifford the Big Red Dog stationery. I still have it. If you want it – really want it – don’t stop. Just keep going.

 

  1. Do you have a favorite middle-grade book?

Hmm. There are far too many favorites for me to name them all. But some of my favorite middle-grade authors include Lynda Mullaly Hunt, Linda Sue Park, Karen Hesse, Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, Jerry Spinelli, Gary Schmidt, and Andrew Clements. I could go on. And on. And on.

For more information about Lisa, please visit her website.

 

 

 

 

 

New Release Unicorn Island: Interview with Donna Galanti (S&S) + Book Giveaway!

Movement caught Sam’s eye. Farther down the beach, a shadowy figure walked along the dock that jutted out from the shore. A small boat rocked on the water. The figure climbed in, untied the boat, and rowed away, disappearing into the fog.”

Goose bumps courtesy of Samantha Sea Wells and Donna Galanti! Donna’s new book, Unicorn Island, takes readers on a mystery adventure that blends vivid settings, cool characters, rich sensory detail, and mythological magic. What’s not to love?

I had a chance to catch up with Mixed Up Files member and accomplished MG writer Donna G. to talk about Unicorn Island, learn how it came to be, and discover the author’s fave creature from the realms of myth! Check out Donna’s giveaway at the bottom where she is giving away one copy of the illustrated hardcover of Unicorn Island by Andrews McMeel Publishing (Simon & Schuster). Enter by Feb. 16th. U.S./Canada only.

Sean McCollum: Hi Donna! I loved Unicorn Island and it hit all my feels … the displaced young heroine, the budding friendship, the brooding uncle, the mystery to be solved. (And the illustrations are fantastic!) Most stories have a seed, that moment when the idea first sprouted. Do you remember when that happened with this book? And how long did it take to grow?

Donna Galanti: I’m so glad it hit the feels for you, Sean!  The idea actually came over lunch with my publisher! He threw out there that he’d like me to write a book “about a girl who has to take care of a unicorn.” From that, we spent six months bashing around the concept and then my amazing editor helped me polish it more. We wanted to write a story with a strong girl character but one that appealed to all genders. I love stories that are magical but also set in the real world—and that’s what guided me.

SM: The setting plays a big part in this story. Why did you set it in this coastal community—Foggy Harbor, South Carolina? Is it based in any places that are near and dear to you?

DG: I actually had first conceived it being off the coast of Maine (one of my favorite places to visit!) but with other potential seasonal book ideas in mind for the series, I didn’t think that would work so much with the cold season up north. The characters definitely couldn’t cross the sea to an island in a freezing November wind! My dad lives in North Carolina not far from the border of South Carolina, a similar setting, and so that’s what changed it. I loved the idea of placing the story in a sultry climate with mysterious live oak trees added in (they always remind me of ancient wizards with their dripping beards and gnarled branches).

SM: Sam has got some serious spunk and a sense of adventure. How much of Donna G. is in her fearless nature and love of the outdoors?

DG: Oh, so much of Donna G. in Sam! I am an avid outdoors person. Biking, kayaking, hiking. I find peace and inspiration in nature. I’m lucky to have an old growth forest nearby and miles of trails through meadows, woods, and along creeks. As an only child growing up on a mountain in Upstate New York, my playground was the forest. I spent my days roaming along old rock walls with my dogs, gazing up at the sky from secret spots, and writing my poems and stories in the nooks of old oaks. I also used to sing songs to the woods. I still walk in the woods nearly every day alone for hours with my Irish blackthorn walking stick, but listen to the trees sing now.

Hiking with my blackthorn walking stick at The Highlights Foundation!

SM: Hope it’s not a spoiler, but there be unicorns in this book. Why do you think we’re fascinated by mythical creatures and their realms? And what do they mean to you? (Oh, and if you could be a mythical character or creature, what would you choose and why?)

DG: I love mythology! Whether it’s unicorns or Greek mythology, which plays a bit part in my Lightning Road series. I think stories that are grounded in mythology and folklore resonate so much with younger readers because they are ageless. They deal with universal truths that tweens are experiencing themselves in both painful and wonderful ways: conflict, love, loss, and friendship. Kids can totally relate to these topics!

I also think, authors can turn to folklore and mythology to write with diversity in mind. I turn to mythic story structure and archetypes to help shape my characters’ journey. I’m especially drawn to the Hero, the Sage, the Warrior, and the Destroyer. Quest stories with these characters are among my favorites, like with King Arthur and Beowulf but also in modern times, like with Luke Skywalker in Star Wars. I love reading and writing about the archetypal hero on a quest, to follow them through a transformative journey that tests them and witness them re-emerge changed on the other side.

As far as being a mythical creature, I would choose to be a phoenix from Greek folklore. How amazing it would be to obtain new life and arise from the ashes once more!

SM: I often find I learn something about myself or the process of writing when I write. Did Unicorn Island reveal anything new to you about yourself or your work?

DG: Absolutely! It taught me that I can write a story fast when I need to under deadline—and still be immersed in the story and fall in love with the characters. To write it quickly I escaped on retreat for a week to do it. In doing this, I returned to the time when I first fell in love with writing and had no distractions. It brought back that time when I wasn’t part of a greater writing world—I just wanted to be a storyteller. I didn’t know much about craft then, and it was just me and the page. A special place. 😊

SM: Tell us about your journey as a writer. Why did you gravitate toward writing for young readers, and what inspires you now?

DG: I wanted to be a writer ever since I fell in love with the world of Narnia at seven with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. My hero in it was Aslan, and I even got a lion ring to honor him. I think because of this, I mostly turned to writing fantasy. My first short story was about a flying ship, a Dodo bird, and a wizard. I still have all my childhood stories today. But funny enough when it came to writing books, I started out writing thrillers for adults. I had a young voice in my first thriller and my editor at the time told me that I had a wonderful young voice—so I decided to explore this. I took a class on writing a children’s book in seven months, and did just that! This book, Joshua and the Lightning Road, got me my first agent and book deal. I quickly fell back in love with middle grade and that’s where I’ve been ever since! And actually, I’ve applied what I learned to write thrillers for adults to write thrilling adventures for kids.

Me wearing my lion ring as a tribute to Narnia!

SM: I remember so many of the MG books I loved as a kid and the worlds and ideas they opened to me. Is there something special about this age group that appeals to you as a writer? And do you have a favorite MG book or author that you return too for inspiration?

DG: Middle grade readers tend to live life more in the moment than other readers and that appeals to me. It can seem vivid and intense when you experience life this way. I love that kids read to make strong, lasting bonds with characters and stories, which is why series are so popular. I still re-read my favorite childhood books that are on my shelf like the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder (my mom made me a prairie dress outfit!) and Danny The Champion of the World by Roald Dahl. A favorite book I re-read every Christmas is The Children of Green Knowe by L.M Boston. It has all things I love: a castle, ghosts, adventure, medieval flavor. Plus, it appeals to me as the main character is an only child seeking adventure on his own—which was me growing up.

Here I am wearing my Laura Ingalls outfit.

SM: I need to know—will there be more books in the Unicorn Island series?

DG: Yes! The next book, Unicorn Island: Secret Beneath the Sand, comes out digitally in a 5-part serial this May on the Epic! platform with the hardcover compilation to follow in winter 2022. I won’t give anything away, but it’s full of new mysteries, characters, and creatures. It was so fun to write!

SM: Can’t wait to see where your imagination takes us, Donna. Thanks so much for sharing, and good luck to you … and Sam … and the creatures of Unicorn Island!

DG: Thanks for chatting with me about Unicorn Island!

SUMMARY OF UNICORN ISLAND:
Beyond the mist lies a magical secret waiting to be discovered. Unicorn Island is a middle-grade illustrated novel series about a young girl who discovers a mysterious island full of mythical beasts and darker dangers!  When Sam arrives in Foggy Harbor, population 3,230, all she can see is a small, boring town that’s way too far from home. And knowing that she’s stuck there all summer with her grumpy Uncle Mitch only makes things worse. But when Sam discovers a hidden trapdoor leading to a room full of strange artifacts, she realizes Foggy Harbor isn’t as sleepy as it seems. With the help of a new friend, Sam discovers an extraordinary secret beyond the fog: an island of unicorns whose fates are intertwined with hers.

“An accessible and fast-paced magical adventure.” – Kirkus Reviews

“An all-too-human, enchanting middle grade fantasy novel.” – Forward Reviews

“What begins as realistic fiction turns to a fantastical tale of magical rescue. Fans of unicorns and magic in the real world will enjoy this adventure.” – School Library Journal

Book information:
Grade Level: 4 – 6
Hardcover: 224 pages
Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing (Simon & Schuster)
Available through booksellers here

Donna Galanti is the author of the fantasy adventure Joshua and The Lightning Road, which the Midwest Book Review called, “A heart-pounding thrill ride full of unexpected twists and turns from start to finish”. She’s also the author of the follow up, Joshua and the Arrow Realm, and writes the popular Unicorn Island series for Epic, the leading digital platform for kids 12 and under. Donna loves to present as a guest author at schools and teach writers at conferences and through her online courses. Donna has lived in England, her family-owned campground in New Hampshire, and Hawaii as a U.S. Navy photographer. Visit her here: Twitter Instagram Facebook donnagalanti.com

 

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