New Releases

Just in time for the holidays! December New Releases!

Check out these awesome new titles for the middle-grade readers in your life. Purchase or pre-order through the links to Bookshop.org, or visit your local bookseller!

Ben Yokoyama and the Cookie of Perfection by Matthew Swanson and Robbi Behr, Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers Release Date: December 7

Practice makes perfect, and Ben Yokoyama will settle for nothing less than perfection! A hilarious new Cookie Chronicles adventure that fans of Wimpy Kid or Dog Man will gobble up with gusto.

When Ben’s fortune cookie tells him that practice makes perfect, he refuses to settle for anything less. He demands better parents, superior hobbies, and a brand-new best friend, who might technically be a superhero.

The pursuit of perfection is thrilling until Ben is forced to give up the things he loves most–including baseball, personal integrity, and his dog’s enthusiastic kisses. Life lessons from a goldfish and a spine-tingling near-death experience help Ben realize that his flaws are also the keys to his greatest strengths–and that the people and things that make him happiest will always be perfectly imperfect.

Girl Giant and the Jade War by Van Hoang Published by Roaring Book Press Release Date December 7

In this sequel to Girl Giant and the Monkey King, Thom and her friends set off on a far-flung adventure to save the Heavens and the Jade Emperor from certain destruction.

Thom Ngoh thought the Monkey King was her friend―he taught her to control her super strength and to stand up for herself. But really he was just using her. He tricked her into stealing from the Heavens and releasing him from his 500-year prison. Now the Monkey King is waging a war against the Heavens and Thom must do everything in her power to fix the mess she made.

Determined to prevent a war, Thom and her dragon friend Kha set off on an adventure across the Heavens to search for allies. But with the stakes higher than ever, the price for help may be more than Thom is willing to pay. . .

This richly woven middle-grade fantasy series is full of humor, magic, and heart, and will appeal to readers who love Roshani Chokshi and Sayantani DasGupta.

Unikorn by Don Handfield and Joshua J. Malkin Published by Scoot Comics Release Date: December 7

Unikorn

Soon to be a major motion picture starring Chloe Coleman (MY SPY).

A middle schooler inherits an old horse from her long-lost mother she believes is a unicorn with a broken horn in this heartfelt coming-of-age story of hope, faith and magic.

Young Mae lost her mother in a tragic accident a few years back, although her mother’s body was never recovered from the raging river into which their car crashed. Mae is devastated because her father, now that enough time has elapsed for proof of death, must sell off his wife’s farm, along with her wild stallion Percy, who seems dangerous to anyone who comes near him. However, when Mae realizes that Percy is really a unicorn with amazing powers, she teams with a group of her young friends to save the creature from an age-old billionaire who sustains his life through unicorn blood — and who is now determined to get Percy in his clutches. But unless Mae can find Percy’s missing unicorn horn, and restore the full extent of his magical powers, it appears that he is doomed — unless Mae can pull off a last-minute miracle to save Percy from a terrible fate…

Katt Loves Dogg by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein, published by jimmy patterson Release Date: December 13

In this funny and paw-some story, lifelong rivals Molly and Oscar are forced to team up and brave the great outdoors and help their families before it’s too late.

Wilderness adventurers and expert trackers Molly the katt and Oscar the dogg go camping with their families: parents, siblings, cousins, aunts, and uncles. One big reunion! It would be fun if there weren’t so many rules to follow at the campsite. ATTENTION KATTS AND DOGGS: No crossing the border, or you’ll be asked to leave the Eastern Wilderness Reserve. If you’re still alive.

Molly and Oscar must outsmart the rule-makers when they discover that their katt and dogg cousins have run away together–for reasons only Molly and Oscar will understand. Now the clever pair must find and warn their cousins before all four of them are in need of a serious rescue mission.

Escape from Atlantis by Kate O’Hearn Published by Aladdin, December 14

From the author of the Pegasus series comes a spellbinding first book in a new fantasy series for fans of Rick Riordan and Shannon Messenger following two cousins whose summer vacation gets swept away by a storm that lands them on the lost island of Atlantis.

The last way that Riley Evans wanted to spend spring break was studying whales on the family sailboat in the middle of the Bermuda Triangle. With only her dad, aunt, and annoying cousin Alfie for company, she is so bored staring at the waves that she’s starting to see mermaids between them. But when their boat is capsized during a sudden storm, Riley finds more excitement than she bargained for as she and Alfie are washed ashore with neither of their parents in sight. Where they’ve been shipwrecked is no deserted island, though.

Atlantis is a place beyond imagination, inhabited by both people and incredible creatures ranging from unicorns and gargoyles to talking animals. But not everyone welcomes the cousins’ arrival, and beneath the wonder of this mythical land lurk dangerous secrets—something strange is happening to the inhabitants. What Riley wants more than anything is to find her father and go home. But the closer she gets to this goal, the more the islanders seem determined to keep her from reaching it.

As Riley and Alfie unravel the mystery of Atlantis and its most terrifying part, the Forbidden Zone, they realize that the clock is ticking. If they can’t learn what happened to their parents and find a way off the island soon, it may be too late to leave.

 

Pages & Co.: The Book Smugglers by Anna James, illustrated by Marco Guadalupi Published by Philomel Books Release Date: December 14

The fourth magical adventure in the nationally bestselling Pages & Co. series, starring Milo, the book smuggler. Perfect for fans of Inkheart and The Land of Stories.

Since he was six years old, Milo has lived on board the Sesquipedalian, or “Quip,” a magical train that uses the power of imagination to travel through both stories and the real world. Aboard the Quip, Milo lives and works with his uncle, Horatio, a book smuggler who trades in rare books.

When Horatio takes on a dangerous new job, he needs the help of Tilly Pages, a uniquely gifted book wanderer. But when Tilly’s grandfather and Horatio are poisoned by a mysterious copy of The Wizard of Oz and fall into a deep sleep, Milo and Tilly find themselves racing against time to save them. The friends must journey to the Emerald City with Dorothy, and eventually to Venice, Italy, to find out who is behind these strange poisonings.

Segregated Skies: David Harris’s Trailblazing Journey to Rise Above Racial Barriers by Michael H. Cottman Published by National Geographic Kids Release Date December 21

It was 1964 and black men didn’t fly commercial jets. But David Harris was about to change that …

After years of flying B-52 bombers in the United States Air Force, David Harris applied to be a pilot for commercial airliners, an opportunity no other African American before him—not even the famed Tuskegee Airmen—had ever been afforded. After receiving rejection after rejection, he finally signed on with American Airlines in 1964. But this success was just the beginning of another uphill battle for equal treatment.

It was the height of the civil rights movement, a time of massive protests as people struggled to end racial segregation and give Black people equal rights. As a light-skinned, light-eyed Black man, David was told by many people he could have passed for white. But he didn’t do that. Instead, he made the bold decision to disclose his race to his employers and fellow airmen. He had experienced discrimination throughout his life, but this was different. He now carried the pride of his family and the hopes of future Black aviators on his shoulders.

This gripping narrative, perfect for middle-grade readers and Black History Month, follows Harris’s turbulent path to become the first African-American commercial airline pilot in the U.S., presented against the backdrop of racial tensions, protests, and the landmark civil rights legislation of the 1960s. It’s the story of a man who fought social injustice the only way he knew how—by succeeding.

 

Honest June by Tina Wells, illustrated by Brittney Bond Published by Random House Books for Young Readers Release Date: December 28

Middle school is hard—but it’s way harder when a fairy godmother puts you under a truth-telling spell!

June has always been a people-pleaser, telling harmless little lies to make her friends and family happy. She’s convinced being honest about her feelings will only hurt the people she loves!

Until out of nowhere, a secret fairy godmother appears to “bless” her with the ability to only tell the truth! Seriously?! As if June didn’t have enough to worry about!

Now, June has no choice but to be honest about how she feels. And the truth is: what June feels is stressed out. Middle school is no joke—between field hockey, friend drama, and her parents’ high expectations, June feels so overwhelmed that sometimes it’s hard to breathe.

When everything spirals out of control, will June find freedom in telling the whole truth and nothing but—or is she destined to battle the curse for the rest of her life?

Cover Reveal: THE TILTERSMITH by Amy Herrick

Drumroll please…

I am so excited for this chance to present a cover reveal and preview of Amy Herrick’s upcoming book, The Tiltersmith, which promises supernatural overtones that allude to the works of Susan Cooper and Madeleine L’Engle.

Spring is late coming to Brooklyn, NY, and while climate change might have something to do with the chaotic weather patterns bringing late snow and even a tornado to the city, there may be supernatural elements at work, too. A curious character named the Tiltersmith —Superintendent Tiltersmith, he claims — shows up at the kids’ school, in search of the tools that will bring Spring to life. But the Tiltersmith is trying to collect them himself and use them to keep the Lady of spring underground and in his power. Unbeknownst to Edward, Feenix, Danton, and Brigit, the tools have been entrusted to them, but competing forces are working to lead and mis-lead them. If the quartet can protect and use the tools properly, spring will arrive. But if the Tiltersmith has his way, as the underworld teems with life, our world will be trapped in an eternal winter.

The cover features a tight grouping of four young heroes surrounded by a maelstrom of colors. Lightning bolts strike leaves from the trees, hinting at the story’s chaotic weather themes. The kids are layered in brightly colored outerwear, arms akimbo, with hair and jewelry chains flying as if we’ve caught them in the middle of a dance.

And you’ll see it soon.

But first, an excerpt…

Edward Finds a Cocoon

Edward was dreaming. He was trying to pick something up with a spoon. The thing, which was going to lead him to a brilliant scientific discovery, kept sliding away like a piece of spaghetti. Then, just as he thought he’d finally got it, there was a tremendous kaboooooom! and he woke up.

He found himself in the deep middle of the night. A thunderbolt lit the sky outside his window, and in its brief flash of light, he saw that it was snowing again. Seriously? It was March 21. Enough already with the snow.

He lay there counting. Ten seconds and kaboooooom! This meant, he knew, that the storm was about two miles away. He waited for the next flash of lightning, which came quickly. It tore out of the clouds and shot down behind the houses beyond Ninth Street. Snow swirled madly through the air. This time the kaboooooom! came only five seconds later.

The storm was headed right this way.

Edward forced himself out of bed with his blanket around his shoulders. He stood in front of the window, scanning the sky. He wanted to see another bolt up close.

Perhaps thirty seconds later, the next strike happened, right up the street. This time the lightning appeared to burst out of the ground like an enormous electrified finger. It was met almost simultaneously by a bolt from the sky, followed by an enormous concussive baaadoooooom! The whole house shook, and the windows rattled. Peering into the darkness and the snow, Edward saw a round metal disk go flying through the air. It landed with a great crumpling noise on top of a nearby car. The roof of the car folded upward like a piece of origami paper. The disk then slid off the car and came to a stop balanced against its side.

A manhole cover! That was what it had to be. He’d read all about how these things happened. Between the flammable gases that could build up underground and the old and frayed electrical wiring down there, sometimes all it took was a little spark to cause an explosion and—boooom!—a manhole cover would go flying off.

His theory was confirmed when a long tongue of fire shot up from what he could see was an open hole in the middle of the street. All the streetlamps went out like the candles on a birthday cake as the tongue of flame reached higher and higher and slowly died back. He was surprised at what a short time it took before the fire department and then Con Edison began to arrive.

A few minutes later, Edward’s aunt Kit knocked on the door and came in without waiting for an invitation. She was barefoot and wearing her flannel pajamas. The storm had already begun to move slowly off. She joined him at the window. “Well, did you see it?” she asked.

“Did I see what? Could you be a little more specific?” Her vagueness often drove him crazy.

“The part where the lightning shot up out of the ground.”

“Well, yes, I did. That was pretty cool. But it’s common, you know. There’s a positive electrical charge on the ground, and it shoots upward to meet the negative electrical charge coming from the clouds. Happens all the time.”

“Does it, now? Well, that’s an interesting explanation.” “Isn’t it?” he said and hoped she wasn’t going to give him one of her crazy alternative theories.

She didn’t. Instead, she said, “Well, in any case, the timing is amazing, isn’t it?”

He didn’t like to encourage her, but he couldn’t help asking her what this meant.

“I mean with tomorrow being what it is.” “What’s tomorrow?”

“Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten. Well, you’ll remember in the morning. We’d better get to bed. We’re going to need our sleep.”


Science and supernatural weirdness in a middle-grade novel that starts on a dark and stormy night… If you liked A Wrinkle in Time, this book will hook you for sure.

And now, the big reveal


The Tiltersmith by Amy Herrick

The Tiltersmith releases on April 5, 2022 from Algonquin Young Readers.

About Amy Herrick:

Amy Herrick grew up in Queens, New York, and attended SUNY Binghamton and the University of Iowa. She lives in Brooklyn, where she has raised two sons, taught pre-K and grade school, written books, and kept company with her husband and numerous pets. A retired teacher, she loves traveling, learning Spanish, and above all reducing her carbon footprint.

Interview with Author Karen Pokras, author of THE BACKYARD SECRETS OF DANNY WEXLER, and BOOK GIVEAWAY!

I’m so thrilled to have Karen Pokras on today talking about her newest book, THE BACKYARD SECRETS OF DANNY WEXLER! Karen and I met at a writer’s conference many years ago and have since been part of a super cool writer’s group that meets once a week at a café to write alongside each other. It’s been a while since we’ve met up, of course, but even better for readers at From The Mixed Up-Files—we get Karen here today to talk about her new fun, adventurous, and heartfelt story! PLUS you could win a hardcover copy of THE BACKYARD SECRETS OF DANNY WEXLER. Just enter the contest at the end of this post. U.S. residents only please.

What’s THE BACKYARD SECRETS OF DANNY WEXLER all about? …

Eleven-year-old Danny Wexler, the only Jewish boy in his town during the late 1970s, is obsessed with the Bermuda Triangle. When a local child goes missing, Danny’s convinced it’s connected to an old Bermuda Triangle theory involving UFOs. With his two best friends and their Spacetron telescope, Danny heads to his backyard to investigate. But hunting for extraterrestrials is complicated, and it doesn’t help that his friend Nicholas’s mom doesn’t want her son hanging out with a Jewish boy. Equipped with his super-secret spy notebook, Danny sets out to fight both the aliens and the growing antisemitism in the town, in hopes of mending his divided community.

Interview with Karen

Donna: The story is rich with family bonds, community connections, and 1970s nostalgia that adds a fun and deeper layer to the story. How much research was involved in writing a story set in this time period and how much of the 1970s references were inspired from your own childhood?

Karen: First, thank you so much for having me on From The Mixed-Up Files today!

In 1978, the year the story takes place, I was ten years old, so there is definitely a lot that is taken straight from my own childhood. At the same time, that was many years ago and I wanted to make sure I was capturing the time accurately. That’s mostly where the research came in, looking up things like what movies were the biggest box office hits (Grease), whether or not nurses wore caps on their heads (yes and no), and what pizza toppings were the most popular (pepperoni.) A couple of other fun facts I learned: the video game Space Invaders came out in 1978 and movie prices were only $2.00. I also put out a crowdsource call on Facebook asking friends to share some of their own favorite 1970s memories. The responses were so fun to sort through.

Donna: Danny is a sweet and endearing character who struggles at times and fumbles a bit in his choices and beliefs, making him very relatable to readers. Is his character based on anyone you know?

Karen: Like most of the characters I write, Danny is a combination of many people I know. I love to mingle real life observations and memories when creating characters. Part of the fun in writing a character like Danny is exploring his fumbles and watching him figure his way through, even if messy. The goal is for young readers to say yeah, I get it, I’ve been there, or I’m going through that, or this is something I want to remember because it’s important and it can help others.

Donna: The story is full of zany adventures for Danny and his friends such as investigating The Bermuda Triangle, aliens, werewolves, and urban myths that young readers will be sure to enjoy. How did you create the idea to blend all these things together in a story?

Karen: As a child, I remember being so curious about the Bermuda Triangle and UFOs. Those were always big topics in my house and among my neighborhood friends. I also had a completely irrational fear of a white van kidnapper. I honestly have no idea where it came from, but to me it was very real. I’m sure my older brother put it my head. (P.S. I’m not at all sure he did, but when I was 10, I blamed everything on him, so we’ll go with that.) When sitting down to write a story that took place in 1978, I knew I wanted all of these elements that were a big part of my own childhood. As for the werewolf, I have no explanation, other than: welcome to my ten-year-old writing brain.

Donna: While a fun adventure, the story also has more meaningful threads of cultural divides, multi-generational relationships, anti-Semitism, and strength of community bonds. What prompted you to combine light-hearted high jinks with these rich and heartfelt threads?

Karen: In 2017, when I’d first started thinking about writing a new story and began brainstorming with memories from my childhood, I knew I wanted to write about a small town in the 1970s with a strong community bond. I also knew the story would have humor and high jinks as that’s where my middle grade voice always tends to land. At the same time, however, I’d been watching acts of antisemitism nationally and locally month after month: Charlottesville, Jewish cemeteries being vandalized just miles away, people finding KKK fliers on their cars in my community. While it all terrified me, I also felt compelled to write about it, and so my focus shifted to make room in the story’s underlying themes, adding in the multi-generational relationship to help facilitate the discussion.

Donna: Unfortunately, anti-Semitism and bullying in many forms are just as relevant today as they were in the 1970s—and often go hand-in-hand. Were there any experiences of both from your own childhood that helped drive your writing?

Karen: There definitely were. It’s funny how we keep certain memories buried. The deeper I got into Danny’s story, the more I would remember specific incidents from my childhood, through college and graduate school, straight into adulthood, all of which helped to drive the story. There’s no doubt this was a difficult book to write, particularly the ending, because there is no neat “tie it in a bow” resolution-type ending for antisemitism and other forms of bullying on a wide-scale.

Donna: There are many “what if?” scenarios throughout Danny’s story that add to the mystery and mayhem and will appeal to young reader’s imaginations. Do you use your own “what-if?” process to write books and if so, how does that work?

Karen: I’m pretty sure my brain is on a constant loop of “what-if.”  When it comes to writing books, I absolutely gravitate toward a “what-if” approach. For this book in particular, I spent a good deal of time journaling and exploring my own personal memories and feelings. I had a very, very loose picture with a few random scenes, but really no idea of how to get there or even how these scenes would fit together. I remember early in the process sending chapters to my critique partner with the message “here’s another chapter to the story without a story.” Slowly though things started coming together. So yes, there were a lot of “what ifs” and my critique partner is basically a saint for letting me run them all by her.

Donna: I love Danny’s Super Secret Spy Notebook. Where did this idea come from—and did you have your own secret notebook as a child to record secrets in?

Karen: I wish I had a really cool answer for this one, but I don’t. It’s one of those things that popped into my head at some point during one of those “what if” moments. While I did keep diaries as a child, they were very different from Danny’s Super Secret Spy Notebook. They were the kind with a lock and silver-edged paper, and I was always losing the key. I have no idea what became of them, and occasionally wonder if they wound up in the trash, or if someone has all my secrets stashed away somewhere.

Donna: Can you share what current story you’re working on, and does it explore similar themes in The Backyard Secrets of Danny Wexler or new ones?

Karen: I have a couple of manuscripts in the works and while both are very different than Danny Wexler, they both have multi-generational relationships, quirky/funny characters, and meaningful underlying themes. The first, about a science-loving girl who moves into a house that’s rumored to be haunted, is on submission, and the other, about to head out on submission, is about ballet and also examines antisemitism, but under very different circumstances. I’m hoping to share more information about both of these stories soon! Thank You, Donna!

About Karen:

Karen Pokras is a daisy lover, cat wrangler, and occasional baker. She has been writing for children for over ten years, winning several indie literary awards for her middle grade works. Always an avid reader, Karen found her passion for writing later in life and now runs all of her stories past the furry ears of her two feline editorial assistants before anyone else. A numbers geek at heart, she enjoys a good spreadsheet almost as much as she loves storytelling. A native of Connecticut, Karen is the proud mom to three brilliant children who still provide an endless stream of great book material. She lives with her family outside of Philadelphia. ​For more information, visit karenpokras.com.

Karen’s social media links:

Website: www.karenpokras.com

Instagram: @karenpokras_author

Facebook:  www.facebook.com/karenptoz

Twitter: @karentoz

 

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