New Releases

Exploring THE PLACES WE SLEEP with Author Caroline DuBois

I have a new guest for you, today! She’s written a tender, moving tale in verse that journeys a young girl through everyday details while living during a time of national crisis. The first words of this story made me pause and take notice. And the rest, poked me right in the heart to the end. The writing is beautiful and real, the story is important, and the growth of the main character is hopeful. I’m very excited to share The Places We Sleep with you and welcome Author Caroline DuBois to share her thoughts about the book.

Hi Caroline! It’s wonderful to have you visit our Mixed-Up Files family. Let’s share your beautiful cover and story with readers first.

THE PLACES WE SLEEP

by Caroline DuBois

A family divided, a country going to war, and a girl desperate to feel at home converge in this stunning novel in verse.

It’s early September 2001, and twelve-year-old Abbey is the new kid at school. Again.

I worry about people speaking to me / and worry just the same / when they don’t.

Tennessee is her family’s latest stop in a series of moves due to her dad’s work in the Army, but this one might be different. Her school is far from Base, and for the first time, Abbey has found a real friend: loyal, courageous, athletic Camille.

And then it’s September 11. The country is under attack, and Abbey’s “home” looks like it might fall apart. America has changed overnight.

How are we supposed / to keep this up / with the world / crumbling / around us?

Abbey’s body changes, too, while her classmates argue and her family falters. Like everyone around her, she tries to make sense of her own experience as a part of the country’s collective pain. With her mother grieving and her father prepping for active duty, Abbey must learn to cope on her own.

Written in gorgeous narrative verse, Abbey’s coming-of-age story accessibly portrays the military family experience during a tumultuous period in our history. At once personal and universal, it’s a perfect read for fans of sensitive, tender-hearted books like The Thing About Jellyfish.

If you would, share with our readers one book from your childhood that has stayed with you, and how can children’s authors in today’s unsettled world achieve this same unforgettable feel?

Mary Norton’s The Borrowers sparked my imagination as a child. My librarian mom introduced it to me. Norton’s world-building of tiny people living in the walls and borrowing from the people with whom they lived was pure escape for me from the big complicated world.

Children’s authors in today’s uncertain world can achieve this same unforgettable feel by either delivering children to a rich land of imagination, or by providing children a story in which they can see themselves. Then they can envision and dream of ways they can be and all the things they can achieve.

What made you decide to write “The Places We Sleep” in verse?

Abbey’s story came to me naturally in poetry, perhaps as a lyrical way to process 9/11 and my brothers’ deployment, but also likely because I’d recently completed my MFA in poetry. It began as more of a character sketch through poems and eventually turned into a story. I wanted to write about how world events have rippling effects on individuals and familial relationships in unexpected ways. The snapshots or scenes that poems allow you to write provided me with the perfect medium.

Your description of poems being scenes is fascinating and also beautiful. It definitely worked. How much of the novel is inspired by your own experience growing up in the South in a military family?

Although I did not grow up in a military family, both of my grandfathers served in the military, as well as both of my brothers, my brother-in-law, and my sister-in-law. Abbey’s story is about being a military child, but it’s also about many other things—identity, loss and grief, creating art in the face of tragedy, tolerance and acceptance, and friendship. It’s about how world events can touch individuals in large and small ways.

That they do. ♥ This couldn’t have been an easy story to write. What was the most difficult part?

I faced two specific challenges in writing this story. One was creating full, round characters through poems. And the other was making decisions about how to approach a national tragedy age-appropriately and sensitively. Having a great editor at Holiday House and a sensitivity reader helped with both.

Why do you think this story is important for the middle-grade audience?

Middle grade students I’ve taught often have had only a fuzzy understanding of the events of 9/11, and the nonfiction texts they’ve typically enjoyed the most in my classroom were almost always couched in a narrative story. I hope Abbey’s story will spark curiosity in young readers about 9/11 and the monumental lessons we learned and are still learning from that tragedy. I hope the book will leave readers with a memorable story about a girl who may not be all that different from themselves. Furthermore, I hope student readers are gently nudged to learn the names of others with whom they share classes and hallways and to act with kindness and dignity to those they may not know or understand. Maybe it will even inspire some young reader to choose to deal with life’s challenges through art or poetry or other forms of creativity.

Inspiring young readers to engage in conversation about the events of 9/11 is a wonderful.

How much research did you do for the story?

I lived through 9/11 and began writing and reading about it immediately thereafter. Additionally, I’ve had various family members in the military as well as taught students who experienced and still experience islamophobia. I conducted research as I was writing the story, as well as mined the living resources around me to create as authentic a portrayal of the historical backdrop to the story as I could.

What can young readers expect from your main character Abbey?

I hope that young readers can see themselves in Abbey as she navigates challenging world events along with the struggles of middle school and adolescence. Currently, teens and children are facing their own difficult world events. I hope readers see how Abbey perseveres and strives to be a good friend, to be kind, and to express empathy and tolerance to others.

All extremely important traits, especially in today’s world. Do you have any advice for librarians and teachers on how to encourage middle schoolers to give in verse books a try?

Books in verse make great shared read-aloud opportunities. You’re never too old to be read to or to enjoy reading aloud to someone else. Another way to inspire and hook a child on the joy of reading is by giving a book talk. Where an educator may not have time to read an entire chapter, there’s always time for a poem or two. And once one student starts reading it, the likelihood is that his or her friends will pick it up too. Books in verse create more white space between scenes as well as playful or dramatic visual messages with syntax, punctuation, and form, which can motivate adolescent readers.

Circling back to my first question, what do you hope stays with your readers after they read this story?

Perhaps The Places We Sleep will spark curiosity in young readers about 9/11 and the monumental lessons we learned and are still learning from that tragedy. I hope student readers are gently nudged to learn the names of others with whom they share classes and hallways and to act with kindness and dignity to those they may not know or understand. Maybe it will inspire some young reader to choose to deal with life’s challenges through art or poetry or other forms of creativity.

Here’s a little bit more about Caroline:

Caroline Brooks DuBois found her poetic voice in the halls of the English Department at Converse College and the University of Bucknell’s Seminar for Young Poets. She received a Master of Fine Arts degree in poetry at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, under the scholarship of Pulitzer Prize winning poet James Tate, among other greats in the poetry world.
DuBois’s writing infuses poetry and prose and has been published by outlets as varied as Highlights High Five, Southern Poetry Review, and The Journal of the American Medical Association and has been twice honored by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Her debut middle-grade novel-in-verse, The Places We Sleep, is published by Holiday House and to be released August 2020.
DuBois has taught poetry workshops, writing classes, and English at the middle school, high school, and college levels. In May 2016, she was recognized as a Nashville Blue Ribbon Teacher for her dedication to her students and excellence in teaching adolescents.
DuBois currently lives in Nashville, Tennessee, where she works as an English instructional coach and sometimes co-writes songs for fun with her singer-songwriter husband. She has two teenage children and a dog, Lilli, and she enjoys coaching soccer and generally being outside.
WEBSITE | TWITTER | INSTAGRAM

Thank you for sharing some of your writing journey with us, Caroline! All the best with The Places We Sleep.

Interview with Author Patti Kim + Giveaway

I was introduced to Patti Kim’s books when we were on a panel together at the ALA Summer conference in 2018 and immediately fell in love. From just reading the opening paragraphs of her debut middle-grade novel, I’M OK, I knew I’d love the book and I was right. Patti blends laugh out loud humor with such deep heart. So when I heard Patti had a new MG novel out, I wanted to know more about it.

Here’s more about Patti:

Patti Kim

Patti Kim

Born in Busan, South Korea, Patti Kim immigrated to the United States on Christmas Day, 1974. Convinced at the age of five that she was a writer, she scribbled gibberish all over the pages of her mother’s Korean-English dictionary and got in big trouble for it. But that didn’t stop her from writing. She is the author of A CAB CALLED RELIABLE, HERE I AM, I’M OK, an APALA Literary Honor Book, and IT’S GIRLS LIKE YOU, MICKEY. Patti lives in University Park, Maryland with her husband, two daughters, and a ferocious terrier.

And onto our interview:

Patti, welcome to From The Mixed Up Files. Thank you for being here. Tell us about your new middle-grade novel, IT’S GIRLS LIKE YOU, MICKEY.

IT’S GIRLS LIKE YOU, MICKEY is about Mickey McDonald first seen in my previous book, I’M OK as Ok Lee’s unforgettable friend. Bursting with personality, she urged me to take a deeper look into her life and character. This book begins with the first day of 7th grade, and the bold Mickey we know is not feeling so great. Ok has moved. Her dad has left. Back-to-school shopping didn’t happen. Her mom is in a mood. With such a precarious home life, Mickey is all nerves and not so sure about herself. And turning 13 is no stroll in the park. What she really wants is a best friend, and she finds one in the new girl, Sun Joo. The two girls truly hit it off, but other forces soon interject, leaving Mickey with first major friend breakup.

It's Girls Like You. Mickey by Patti KimThis is a companion book to your debut MG novel, I’M OK. Tell us about that book too and how the books are connected.

The two books are connected by Mickey and Ok’s friendship. In I’M OK, Mickey forces a friendship with Ok which ends up playing a pivotal part in helping Ok open up about the death of his father as well as helping his mother find him when he runs away. She becomes his first real friend.

What made you want to write this companion book following Mickey’s character instead of a sequel with Ok?

Mickey loves the spotlight. It truly felt like she wanted her story to be told. So many intriguing details about Mickey’s life kept emerging in Ok’s book like her many animals, her little brother, her irritable mother, her often absent truck-driving father, her past pageant life, and the sheer force of her positivity. Her need and love for attention called to me.

What were the biggest challenges to writing this second book in the same world?

The biggest challenge was keeping echoes of Ok in Mickey’s story without him taking center stage. I had him move out of the neighborhood which made perfect sense since his mother remarried. I kept them connected as pen pals through postcards and letters. This ended up working quite well since the writing process plays a significant part in Mickey developing an introspective and reflective voice. It’s challenging to strike that balance of keeping a previous protagonist in the picture in a meaningful way, while not diverting the story. I also wanted to see these kids do all right without each other. So much of growing up is being able to say goodbye.

I'm Ok by Patti KimWhat are some things that surprised you about writing IT’S GIRLS LIKE YOU, MICKEY, compared to writing I’M OK?

It was surprising how much I actually enjoyed the revision process. This is a big deal because I used to absolutely hate revising. After my first draft returned with my editor’s notes, I couldn’t wait to get back into that world and revise. The sensation felt like a blurry image gradually coming into focus. It was incredibly fun.

You write about some issues that haven’t been in MG novels for a while, like dealing with getting a period. Why do think it’s important to have characters going through these issues in MG novels?

Yes, the period scene. If these taboo topics aren’t covered in books, then where? Getting my period was shrouded in secrecy and shame, and that attitude informed the relationship I ended up having with my body. No body confidence whatsoever for me at that age. I really wanted Mickey to be Mickey about her period and to be an inspiration and encouragement, demonstrating a more positive narrative around getting your period. I couldn’t imagine writing a book about a girl, especially a girl like Mickey, turning 13 without making a big deal about it. Come on, we’re talking about Mickey.

I love the title, even if it does have me singing for the rest of the day. What gave you the idea of naming the book after an ‘80s song?

Since the original song is about a guy who breaks hearts, don’t you just love the idea of re-purposing the title to elevate a girl? And it’s so catchy. I couldn’t resist.

Agreed! What can we look forward to next from you?

I’ve been thinking a lot about Sun Joo Moon. I think she’s asking for stage time. Unlike Mickey, she’s quiet about it, but there’s a real depth to her that feels worth exploring.

Can’t wait to read that one!

Thank you, Patti, for being on From The Mixed Up Files today.

Check out IT’S GIRLS LIKE YOU, MICKEY on Bookshop.org, and enter the giveaway below for your chance to win an advanced reader copy (ARC).

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Interview with Kristin Gray, Author of The Amelia Six

Hello Mixed-Up Filers!

Today, I am pleased to welcome to our site, someone who I have known virtually for a while, as well as a fellow member of Middle Grade debut year of 2017, and the author of the upcoming The Amelia Six, coming from Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books next week, on June 30th.

JR: Hi, Kristin and thanks for joining us today!

JR: First off, I really enjoyed The Amelia Six. I was fortunate enough to get an advanced copy, and it was such a fun mystery. For those who don’t know about the book, can you tell us a little bit about it and where the idea for this story came from?

KG: Hi, Jonathan. Thanks for having me and thank you for the kind words about The Amelia Six.

In the story, six STEM-savvy girls spend the night at the Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum in Atchison, Kansas, and get swept up in a mysterious robbery. They settle in, expecting a night of scavenger hunts and sweet treats when Amelia’s historic flight goggles disappear.

I don’t know about you, but I have always loved CLUE, both the movie and the game. I knew one day I’d like to attempt my own cozy mystery, but the whole idea seemed daunting. The first task alone—choosing a setting—was nearly impossible. I wanted a real place kids could visit, and there are just so many cool sites! But when my family took a road trip to Amelia Earhart’s birthplace, everything clicked.

JR: Yes, I LOVE Clue. Could watch the movie over and over and over. You have six characters who all take center stage at one point. How difficult was it to veer back and forth between them during plotting?

KG: Very! Each of the girls has her own hobby or connection to aviation. Millie, the protagonist, is a Rubik’s speedcuber, vintage Nancy Drew collector, and daughter of a pilot. The story is told in her POV throughout, so I used her life lens to filter the mysterious happenings and understand the cast. My editor pushed me to make the girls distinct, and I’ll be the first to admit juggling that many middle-school voices was not easy. But I am proud of the end result. And of the floor plan I drew to keep track of where everyone was in the home and when!

JR: I love that you made a map to keep track of everyone! The book has Amelia Earhart as a central figure. How much research did you have to do about her, and what is it about her that fascinated you?

KG: Quite a bit of research, including two trips to the home, reading tons of biographies and articles, hours spent browsing the online archives at Purdue University, where Amelia taught as adjunct faculty. She really was ahead of her time and took on many roles from truck driver to social worker to columnist at Cosmopolitan magazine. But digging up interesting facts is one of my most favorite parts of the writing process. I felt like a treasure hunter!

 

JR: You’ve done both MG and Picture Books, do you have a preference, and what appeals to you about both formats?

KG: I was talking to a writer friend about this recently. I enjoy both, but each format presents its own challenges. Writing picture books is deceptively difficult. It can take years to distill a story into the best few hundred words. Drafting and editing (or rewriting) a novel can take years of work, too, but gives the writer more freedom . . . I tend to work on picture books when I’m stuck on a longer project or waiting to hear back from my editor. I’m always tinkering with a story. But it’s been a blast to have books available for a pre-K as well as middle schoolers.

JR: That is great. Picture Books are so daunting Can you tell us a little bit about your writing journey getting to this point? 

KG: Sure. I wrote picture books for several years (back in the days of snail mail!) before one editor suggested I try writing something longer. My first middle-grade novel didn’t go anywhere, but my second novel’s opening garnered editor interest at a local SCBWI meeting. Encouraged, I took those same pages to another conference—Big Sur Writer’s Workshop—where I met and signed with my agent. That book went on to sell to Simon Kids/Paula Wiseman Books and became my debut novel, Vilonia Beebe Takes Charge.

JR: I read on your website, https://kristinlgray.com/ , that you’re an expert cookie dough taster. Is that more of an honorary title, or something that you had to be certified in?

KG: Haha. I love cookie dough, especially if I’m on deadline or you know, quarantined! Tried-and-true chocolate chip is my favorite, though peanut butter is also good. I would love to be certified, if that’s a real thing. Is that a thing? Can we find this out, Jonathan? Maybe this needs to go in a book!

JR: Okay, more importantly, I also read that you love peanut butter cups. Aren’t Reese’s Cups the equivalent of manna from heaven?

KG: Absolutely! And weirdly, I think the mini Halloween-size ones taste better than the regular-size two packs. It’s all about the perfect ratio of chocolate to peanut butter.

JR: What’s your writing process like?

KG: Sporadic at best. Especially now with my children home. I don’t write every day unless I’m on deadline. Some days are reading days, or research days, or thinking days, or responding-to-email days, like today. I’m grateful for all of it.

JR: I’m glad this was part of your diversion! What’s your favorite book from childhood?

KG: Charlotte’s Web

JR: What’s your favorite childhood movie?

KG: The Goonies

JR: That’s a popular answer here! Something people would be surprised to learn about you?

KG: I’m a twin! (We didn’t get a picture of Kristin with her twin, so just make a copy of her picture above and hold them next to each other)

 

JR: What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve received and is there any advice you can give to writers looking to break in?

KG: Best piece of advice: Pay attention to the world around you and write it as only you can.

To those looking to break in: Keep going. Find a few trusted writer friends. And always keep a stash of ice cream.

 

JR: That is great advice, and hopefully you mean pistachio ice cream. What are you working on next?

KG: I’m pages into what I hope will be my next middle-grade novel. Stay tuned!

 

JR: How can people follow you on social media?

KG: I’m @KristinLGray on all formats.

 

JR: Okay, lastly, as I mentioned, we were in the same debut year, so when you’re done with this, can you please send me a quick 20,000 word essay explaining how I was your favorite member of that debut group, and especially more than Melissa Roske?

KG: Haha! You know I’m a big fan of you and your books, Jonathan. Though I will say Melissa did buy me pancakes . . . 🙂

JR: That sounds like she was just kissing up.

 

JR: Thanks again to Kristin Gray, and make sure you go out and get The Amelia Six!