New Releases

Interview with Helen Rutter, author of the MG debut, THE BOY WHO MADE EVERYONE LAUGH + a giveaway!

Let’s give a hearty Mixed-Up Files welcome to Helen Rutter, author the MG debut, The Boy Who Made Everyone Laugh. Praised by children’s author Jacqueline Wilson as “Very funny, very touching, and very truthful”—and featured as a Waterstones Book of the Month—the novel was released in the U.K. by Scholastic on February 4, 2021. It will be available in the U.S. on August 3.

Here’s a summary:

Billy Plimpton has a big dream: to become a famous comedian when he grows up. He already knows a lot of jokes, but thinks he has one big problem standing in his way: his stutter.

At first, Billy thinks the best way to deal with this is to . . . never say a word. That way, the kids in his new school won’t hear him stammer. But soon he finds out this is not the best way to deal with things. (For one thing, it’s very hard to tell a joke without getting a word out.)

As Billy makes his way toward the spotlight, a lot of funny things (and some less funny things) happen to him. In the end, the whole school will know—

If you think you can hold Billy Plimpton back, be warned: The joke will soon be on you!

Q&A with Helen Rutter

MR: So glad to have you with us, Helen. Welcome to the Mixed-Up Files! Huge congratulations on having published your first novel.

HR: Thanks so much for having me! It’s so exciting that the book is coming out in the U.S. The whole publication process has been a wonderful series of lovely moments, and this really is a big one!

Struggling with Stuttering

MR: Billy Plimpton, the protagonist of the book, struggles with stuttering. I can relate, because I too have a speech disorder—spasmodic dysphonia. Although my voice problem is different from Billy’s, I connected deeply to the character’s challenges and frustrations. As a non-stutterer, how were you able to capture Billy’s story with such authenticity? Was there research involved?

HR: The research came through raising my son, who is a stutterer. Over the years, we have been to speech therapy together, and I’ve witnessed all the ups and downs that come with growing up with a stutter. As most parents would attest, watching your child struggle and then learn how to deal with challenges is a pretty powerful thing. It’s no wonder he inspired me to write my first novel!

Inspiration for Billy

MR: As above, the idea for The Boy Who Made Everyone Laugh came from your son, Lenny, who has a stutter. I’m guessing that Lenny was instrumental in the formulation of Billy’s character. Did he have any specific thoughts and suggestions? Any objections? What did Lenny think of the final product? 

HR: He was a HUGE part of the process. I read him each chapter when I’d finished it, and he would let me know when I had really hit the mark. It was such a lovely experience, and offered opportunities for us to talk about things that had happened to him. Also, he told me when things did not work, usually when I used words that “kids just don’t say anymore, Mum!” He really enjoyed hearing the drafts of the story as they developed, and he was an excellent proofreader as his grasp of punctuation and grammar is far better than mine!

When we found out that it was actually going to be published, Lenny was thrilled. He has been involved in TV interviews here in the U.K. and has loved every second of it! He’s much older now, and his stammer has changed a lot. He no longer struggles with it in the same way, and it doesn’t define him like it once did. Because of that, his stutter is not as apparent as it used to be, which gives him more confidence. When it does come back, he realizes that it’s just a tiny part of who his is. I think the story is a great reminder of that.

Creating a Nuanced Antagonist

MR: At school, Billy is bullied mercilessly by a classmate, William Blakemore. I’ve never experienced deliberate cruelty because of my speech disorder, but I could empathize with Billy’s pain and humiliation. As a writer, how do you humanize a bully? What advice would you give to other writers who want to create a nuanced antagonist?

HR: Blakemore’s character grew a lot over the editing process. It took time to get enough of his backstory into the book, in order to give his character depth, without apologizing for his behavior. I didn’t want to hold back on the bullying, to show how brutal and heartbreaking it can be, but I also had to show glimpses of where Blakemore’s bullying behavior came from. For every character, you need to show that their life and personality are complicated, contradictory and nuanced, and to do that they have to do things that are not always expected.

The Joke’s on You

MR: Despite his stutter, Billy dreams about being a comedian when he grows up. His biggest fan is his beloved grandmother, Granny Bread. What is it about comedy—and about the act of telling jokes—that appeals to Billy? For someone who is reluctant to speak in class, telling jokes onstage seems like a herculean task.

HR: The size of the task is what made it so appealing to write. I love an against-all-odds story! Sometimes we are drawn to something that seems beyond our reach for that very reason. I also wanted to show that just because Billy stammers, he still has a lot to say. It’s easy to assume that people who stammer are nervous or shy, and that certainly is not the case with Lenny. He is incredibly confident. He never stopped talking, raising his hand in class, or making his voice heard, however hard it seemed.

Many kids who stammer do withdraw, so I wanted to show in Billy that even though he was tempted to retreat and stay silent, the need to tell jokes and make people respond to him in a positive way had more power. Lenny definitely doesn’t want to be a comedian in real life (he would prefer to be a drummer), but I do know a comedian with a very strong stammer, so when I had the idea of using comedy, I knew it was rooted in reality.

How to Respond to a Stutterer

MR: As a stutterer, Billy is hyperaware of how people react to him when he speaks. He’s even created four categories of listeners: The Encouragers; The Mind Readers; The Jokers; and The Waiters. How did you come up with these categories? Can you tell us a bit about each? Also, what advice would you give to people who interact with a stutterer? What should—and shouldn’t—they do?

HR: This section of the book was Lenny’s favorite. It came from how I had witnessed people responding to him, and he said that it felt like I had climbed inside his head!

The Encouragers do just that; they try and help by telling him to “keep going” or “slow down.” Generally, very kind people, but  encouraging is not that far from interrupting and, as it says in the book, “Telling someone to relax when they are clearly struggling is like shouting, ‘Run faster!’ at someone being chased by a tiger.” They would if they could.

Mind Readers finish the sentence, trying to guess what a stammerer is going to say (and often getting it wrong, as far as Billy is concerned).

Jokers mimic the stammerer. I’ve seen this done to Lenny so many times. You may think that it’s just kids who would do this, but  I’ve seen more adults do it. I think it’s an attempt to be playful, and I think it happens when a person doesn’t know that it’s a stutter they’re hearing. This is definitely the most shocking response I have witnessed.

Waiters are the best category as far as Billy (and Lenny) are concerned. This is what I would always try to do. It’s harder than you may think. People aren’t the most patient, but it’s a useful skill to practice and I’m grateful to Lenny’s stammer for reminding me to be more patient!

An Actor’s Life Is (not) for Me

MR: Before writing your first novel, you were an actor and stand-up comic. What prompted you to make the switch from acting to writing? Also, can you tell Mixed-Up Files readers about your path to publication?

HR: I loved acting, but after having kids the reality of auditioning and touring lost its appeal. In fact, I started to dread the calls from my agent instead of hoping for them, so I knew it was time for a change. After I had Lenny, I began to write and perform comedy as well as write plays and theater shows. I completely fell in love with writing–more so than any performing I was doing, so when I had the idea for this story, I knew that it was not a theatre show, but a book. It was an exciting moment!

A very quick draft followed, and I realized it was all character and no plot–and so the editing began! I found my wonderful agent and then things went super fast when she sent it out to publishers. After an auction, I was pleased to sign a two-book deal with Scholastic. It felt like I had just the right amount of luck and serendipity, as well as a pretty thick skin!

Writing Rituals

MR: What your writing process like, Helen? Do you have a specific routine or word-count goals? Any writing rituals?

HR: No word count goals; I think that would stress me out! I go and sit in my writing shed in the garden most days after school drop-off, and when the procrastination is out of the way, some writing usually happens.

MR: Finally, what’s next on your writing agenda? 

HR: I’m working on book two, which is about a boy called Archie Crumb. He and his mum are really struggling, and just when he thinks things can’t get any worse, he bangs his head and his wishes start coming true! He has no idea if it’s all for real or just a huge set of strange coincidences. I guess, ultimately, the book is about hope, and how we can put positivity out into the universe.

Lightning Round!

MR: Oh! One last thing. No MUF interview is complete without a lightning round, so…

Preferred writing snack? Chocolate, of course!

Coffee or tea? Decaf tea for me. I don’t need to make my brain any busier!

Favorite joke? What did the drummer name his two daughters? Anna One Anna Two.

Zombie apocalypse: Yea or nay? Nay.

Superpower? Flight. No, invisibility. No, flight. No… How about decisiveness?!

Favorite place on earth? My home.

You’re stranded on a desert island, with only three items in your possession. What are they? I am assuming I’m not allowed to say my family or dogs? I’m also assuming that sensible items such as a lighter, water and a boat are not what you’re after either. In which case, I will say suncream, a snorkel/mask, one of those notepads with an attached pencil.

MR: Thank you for chatting with me, Helen—and congratulations on the upcoming publication of The Boy Who Made Everyone Laugh. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I know MUF readers will too.

HR: Thanks so much. I am thrilled that you enjoyed the book. Fingers crossed at some point that I can come over to the US and see it in the shops!

And now…

A GIVEAWAY!!!

For a chance to win a copy of The Boy Who Made Everyone Laugh, comment on the blog–and, if you’re on Twitter, on the Mixed-Up Files’ Twitter account–for a chance to win! 

All About Helen

Helen Rutter lives in the English countryside, just outside Sheffield, with her comedian husband, two children, and two lovely dogs, Ronnie and Billy Whizz. When she is not tapping away in her writing room, she loves walking the dogs, playing board games, and reading. Before writing her first novel, Helen wrote and performed her work on the stage. She has even done some stand-up comedy, and before that she was a jobbing actress. She now much prefers to write the stories than be in them. Learn more about Helen on her website and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

June New Releases

Summer is here! Finally. And so is a bookshelf full of new middle grade books to fill up your time. Kick back and enjoy this month’s new reads. There’s something for everyone.

 

 

Trillium Sisters 1: The Triplets Get Charmed by Laura Brown and Elly Kramer (Authors) Sarah Mensinga (Illustrator)

Three sisters discover that they and their pets have superpowers they can use to protect the world around them in the first book in a fantastical new chapter book series about family, friendship, and environmental responsibility perfect for fans of Mia Mayhem and The Wish Fairy.
Nothing can stop this triple team!
Eight-year-old triplets Emmy, Clare, and Giselle are excited to celebrate Founding Day, the day their dad found them and they became a family. The girls want this year’s celebration to be extra special. And Dad has a big sur¬prise–trillium petal charms that he found with the girls.

But when the girls’ little brother, Zee, slips into the river while helping them plan a special surprise, something magical happens: The charms are drawn together, forming a glowing flower, and the girls suddenly have super¬powers! Channeling their new abilities, they work together to try to save Zee, but will they be able to figure out how to help in time?

 

TRILLIUM SISTERS 2:  BESTIE DAY by Laura Brown and Elly Kramer (Authors) Sarah Mensinga (Illustrator)

When the ecosystem of their mountain home is threatened, the triplets join forces and channel their super powers into saving the day in the second book in the Trillium Sisters chapter book series, perfect for fans of Mia Mayhem and The Wish Fairy.

The Trillium Triplets are flying into action!

Wondering if their powers will return, Clare, Emmy, and Giselle throw themselves into preparations for Bestie Day, when everyone in Trillsville celebrates the special people in their lives. The girls are planning to make presents for one another from fallen flower petals. That way, they can enjoy the beauty around them without causing harm.

But at the flower field, instead of finding beautiful blooms, the Trills find a big problem. Two girls from town are cutting so many flowers for their Bestie Day bouquets that the bees can’t get enough nectar. And without the bees, the entire mountain ecosystem could fall apart! When their Trillium powers activate, will the sisters be able to buzz to the rescue?

 

An original middle-grade graphic novel from Graphix starring Brooklyn’s Spider-Man, Miles Morales, by bestselling author Justin A. Reynolds and Eisner nominee Pablo Leon

Miles Morales is a normal kid who happens to juggle school at Brooklyn Visions Academy while swinging through the streets of Brooklyn as Spider-Man. After a disastrous earthquake strikes his mother’s birthplace of Puerto Rico, Miles springs into action to help set up a fundraiser for the devastated island. But when a new student’s father goes missing, Miles begins to make connections between the disappearance and a giant corporation sponsoring Miles’ fundraiser. Who is behind the disappearance, and how does that relate to Spider-Man?A true middle grade graphic novel starring one of Marvel’s most popular characters, bestselling author Justin A. Reynolds (Opposite of Always) and Eisner award-nominated artist Pablo Leon (Refugees) create a riveting story that will connect with new and well-versed comics readers alike.

 

Much ADO about Baseball by Rajani Larocca

In this companion novel to Midsummer’s Mayhem, math and baseball combine with savory snacks to cause confusion and calamity in the town of Comity.

Twelve-year-old Trish can solve tough math problems and throw a mean fastball. But because of her mom’s new job, she’s now facing a summer trying to make friends all over again in a new town. That isn’t an easy thing to do, and her mom is too busy to notice how miserable she is.

But at her first baseball practice, Trish realizes one of her teammates is Ben, the sixth-grade math prodigy she beat in the spring Math Puzzler Championships. Everyone around them seems to think that with their math talent and love of baseball, it’s only logical that Trish and Ben become friends, but Ben makes it clear he still hasn’t gotten over that loss and can’t stand her. To make matters worse, their team can’t win a single game. But then they meet Rob, an older kid who smacks home runs without breaking a sweat. Rob tells them about his family’s store, which sells unusual snacks that will make them better ballplayers. Trish is dubious, but she’s willing to try almost anything to help the team.

When a mysterious booklet of math puzzles claiming to reveal the “ultimate answer” arrives in her mailbox, Trish and Ben start to get closer and solve the puzzles together. Ben starts getting hits, and their team becomes unstoppable. Trish is happy to keep riding the wave of good luck . . . until they get to a puzzle they can’t solve, with tragic consequences. Can they find the answer to this ultimate puzzle, or will they strike out when it counts the most?

 

Sisters of the Neversea by Cynthia L. Smith

In this beautifully reimagined story by NSK Neustadt Laureate and New York Times bestselling author Cynthia Leitich Smith (Muscogee Creek), Native American Lily and English Wendy embark on a high-flying journey of magic, adventure, and courage to a fairy-tale island known as Neverland…

Lily and Wendy have been best friends since they became stepsisters. But with their feuding parents planning to spend the summer apart, what will become of their family–and their friendship?

Little do they know that a mysterious boy has been watching them from the oak tree outside their window. A boy who intends to take them away from home for good, to an island of wild animals, Merfolk, Fairies, and kidnapped children, to a sea of merfolk, pirates, and a giant crocodile.

A boy who calls himself Peter Pan.

In partnership with We Need Diverse Books

 

Everywhere Blue by Joanne Rossmassler Fritz

When twelve-year-old Maddie’s older brother vanishes from his college campus, her carefully ordered world falls apart. Nothing will fill the void of her beloved oldest sibling. Meanwhile Maddie’s older sister reacts by staying out late, and her parents are always distracted by the search for Strum. Drowning in grief and confusion, the family’s musical household falls silent.

Though Maddie is the youngest, she knows Strum better than anyone. He used to confide in her, sharing his fears about the climate crisis and their planet’s future. So, Maddie starts looking for clues: Was Strum unhappy? Were the arguments with their dad getting worse? Or could his disappearance have something to do with those endangered butterflies he loved . . .

Scared and on her own, Maddie picks up the pieces of her family’s fractured lives. Maybe her parents aren’t who she thought they were. Maybe her nervous thoughts and compulsive counting mean she needs help. And maybe finding Strum won’t solve everything–but she knows he’s out there, and she has to try.

This powerful debut novel in verse addresses the climate crisis, intergenerational discourse, and mental illness in an accessible, hopeful way. With a gorgeous narrative voice, Everywhere Blue is perfect for fans of Eventown and OCDaniel.

 

The Hidden Knife by Melissa Marr

New York Times bestselling author Melissa Marr invites readers into a magical world where stone gargoyles live among humans, ferocious water horses infiltrate the sea, and school hallways are riddled with magic wards–and where a group of young heroes seeking justice discovers those very creatures are the best of allies.

Twenty years ago, a door opened between the world of humans and the Netherwhere, allowing all kinds of otherworldly creatures entry. Some, like the kelpies and fairies, who like to bite, are best avoided. But the gargoyles are wise and wonderful, and show a special affection for humans.

Vicky has grown up under the watchful eye of a gargoyle named Rupert, and excels at sword-fighting and magic. But there’s so much she doesn’t know–like why her mother, once one of the queen’s elite Ravens, keeps Vicky hidden away and won’t let Vicky train at the elite Corvus school where girls with her gifts perfect their skills. But when a horrific tragedy occurs, Vicky knows it’s finally time to use her gifts, and that the only place she should be to avenge the crime against her family is at Corvus. There she bands together with a former street thief and an alchemy student to figure out whom they can trust in a place that’s rife with intrigue and secrets. And all the while, the gargoyles watch and nudge. Time’s not linear to them, so they know change comes in ripples. With their steadying influence, Vicky and her friends just might be the generation to expose the court’s secrets and ensure a better future for both worlds.

 

The Ship of Stolen Words by Fran Wilde

A group of goblins steal a boy’s ability to apologize in this lively middle-grade fantasy from Nebula Award-winning author Fran Wilde

No matter how much trouble Sam gets in, he knows that he can always rely on his magic word, “sorry,” to get him out of a pinch. Teasing his little sister too much? Sorry! Hurt someone’s feelings in class? Sorry! Forgot to do his chores? So sorry! But when goblins come and steal his “sorry,” he can’t apologize for anything anymore. To get his “sorry” back and stop the goblins from stealing anyone else’s words, Sam will have to enter the goblins’ world and try and find the depository of stolen words.
There, he meets Tolver, a young goblin who’s always dreamed of adventure. Tolver longs to use the goblin technology–which can turn words into fuel to power ships–to set off and explore, but his grandma warns him that the goblin prospectors will only bring trouble.
Together, Tolver and Sam will have to outsmart the cruel prospectors and save the day before Sam’s parents ground him forever!

 

Marcus Makes a Movie by Kevin Hart,  Geoff Rodkey (Author)  David Cooper (Illustrator)

Marcus is NOT happy to be stuck in after-school film class . . . until he realizes he can turn the story of the cartoon superhero he’s been drawing for years into an actual MOVIE! There’s just one problem: he has no idea what he’s doing. So he’ll need help, from his friends, his teachers, Sierra, the strong-willed classmate with creative dreams of her own, even Tyrell, the local bully who’d be a perfect movie villain if he weren’t too terrifying to talk to.

Making this movie won’t be easy. But as Marcus discovers, nothing great ever is–and if you want your dream to come true, you’ve got to put in the hustle to make it happen.

Comedy superstar Kevin Hart teams up with award-winning author Geoff Rodkey and lauded illustrator David Cooper for a hilarious, illustrated, and inspiring story about bringing your creative goals to life and never giving up, even when nothing’s going your way.

 

Clique Here: A Wish Novel by Anna Staniszewski

From middle-grade darling Anna Staniszewski comes the story of a girl who might just have being popular down to a science.

Lily loves science and hanging out with her best friend, Katie. But after a really embarrassing incident, she jumps at the chance to switch schools. She’s ready to start over. With the scientific process, anything is possible!

After a summer spent coming up with theories and prepping for the switch, Lily starts her new school as Blake, a popular girl with a cool name, ready to climb the social ladder.

But every hypothesis has its flaws, and Blake will have to adjust her experiment as she adjusts to her new classmates. And when Katie suddenly shows up in Blake’s world, things get messy. Who’s got the winning formula: Blake or Lily?

 

The Most Perfect Thing in the Universe by Tricia Springstubb

Eleven-year-old Loah Londonderry is definitely a homebody. While her mother, a noted ornithologist, works to save the endangered birds of the shrinking Arctic tundra, Loah anxiously counts the days till her return home. But then, to Loah’s surprise and dismay, Dr. Londonderry decides to set off on a perilous solo quest to find the Loah bird, long believed extinct. Does her mother care more deeply about Loah the bird than Loah her daughter?

Things get worse yet when Loah’s elderly caretakers fall ill and she finds herself all alone except for her friend Ellis. Ellis has big problems of her own, but she believes in Loah. She’s certain Loah has strengths that are hidden yet wonderful, like the golden feather tucked away on her namesake bird’s wing. When Dr. Londonderry’s expedition goes terribly wrong, Loah needs to discover for herself whether she has the courage and heart to find help for her mother, lost at the top of the world.

Beautifully written, The Most Perfect Thing in the Universe is about expeditions big and small, about creatures who defy gravity and those of us who are bound by it.

 

Almost Flying by Jake Maia Arlow

In this unabashedly queer middle grade debut, a week-long amusement park road trip becomes a true roller coaster of emotion when Dalia realizes she has more-than-friend feelings for her new bestie.

Dalia’s journey to self-discovery is refreshingly honest, and this entire cast of characters will steal your heart.” – Maulik Pancholy, actor and Stonewall Honor-winning author of The Best At It

Would-be amusement park aficionado Dalia only has two items on her summer bucket list: (1) finally ride a roller coaster and (2) figure out how to make a new best friend. But when her dad suddenly announces that he’s engaged, Dalia’s schemes come to a screeching halt. With Dalia’s future stepsister Alexa heading back to college soon, the grown-ups want the girls to spend the last weeks of summer bonding–meaning Alexa has to cancel the amusement park road trip she’s been planning for months. Luckily Dalia comes up with a new plan: If she joins Alexa on her trip and brings Rani, the new girl from her swim team, along maybe she can have the perfect summer after all. But what starts out as a week of funnel cakes and Lazy River rides goes off the rails when Dalia discovers that Alexa’s girlfriend is joining the trip. And keeping Alexa’s secret makes Dalia realize one of her own: She might have more-than-friend feelings for Rani.

 

Samira Surfs by Rukhsanna Guidroz (Author) Fahmida Azim (Illustrator)

A middle grade novel in verse about Samira, an eleven-year-old Rohingya refugee living in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, who finds peace and empowerment in a local surf club for girls.

Samira thinks of her life as before and after: before the burning and violence in her village in Burma, when she and her best friend would play in the fields, and after, when her family was forced to flee. There’s before the uncertain journey to Bangladesh by river, and after, when the river swallowed her nana and nani whole. And now, months after rebuilding a life in Bangladesh with her mama, baba, and brother, there’s before Samira saw the Bengali surfer girls of Cox’s Bazar, and after, when she decides she’ll become one.

Samira Surfs, written by Rukhsanna Guidroz with illustrations by Fahmida Azim, is a tender novel in verse about a young Rohingya girl’s journey from isolation and persecution to sisterhood, and from fear to power.

 

To Tell You the Truth by Beth Vrabel

An utterly charming Southern-voiced middle grade novel about a young girl and the adventure she embarks upon to prove her Gran’s stories were true. Perfect for fans of The Unforgettable Guinevere St. Clair and Three Times Lucky.

Trixy needs a story, fast, or she’s going to fail the fourth grade–that’s a fact. But every time she sits down to write, her mind is a blank. The only stories she can think of are Gran’s, the ones no one else ever believed but Trixy gulped down like sweet tea. Gran is gone now, buried under the lilac bush in the family plot, so it’s not like Trixy’s hurting anybody to claim one of those stories as her own, is she?

That stolen story turns out to be a huge success, and soon everybody in town wants Trixy to tell them a tale. Before long, the only one left is the story she vowed never to share, the one that made Gran’s face cloud up with sadness. Trying to find a way out of this tangled mess, Trixy and her friend Raymond hit the road to follow the twists and turns of Gran’s past. Maybe then Trixy can write a story that’s all her own, one that’s the straight-up truth.

 

It All Begins with Jelly Beans by Nova Weetman

Two girls form an unlikely friendship during their shared time in the school nurse’s office in this heartfelt middle grade novel for fans of Save Me a Seat and Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus.

Meg spends her days hoping no one thinks too hard about why she wears the same t-shirt and slippers to school every day. Luckily, the nurse’s office provides a welcome escape from classmates who don’t understand…and snacks when food runs out at home.

Riley knows fitting in at her new school would be a lot easier if her friends were more understanding of her type 1 diabetes. So she keeps her testing under wraps…and an emergency bag of jellybeans on hand.

When Meg and Riley end up together in the nurse’s office one day, both girls think they’ve worked each other out, but what if they’ve got it all wrong? On the brink of moving on to junior high, Riley and Meg must find the courage to discover who they really want to be. And maybe a bag of shared jellybeans will provide all the help they need.

 

Goblin by Eric Grissom (Author) Will Perkins (Illustrator)

Goblin is a fantasy story like no other about overcoming great odds and about finding light in even the darkest of places.

A young, headstrong goblin embarks on a wild journey of danger, loss, self-discovery, and sacrifice in this new graphic novel adventure.

One fateful night a sinister human warrior raids the home of the young goblin Rikt and leaves him orphaned. Angry and alone, Rikt vows to avenge the death of his parents and seeks a way to destroy the man who did this. He finds aid from unlikely allies throughout his journey and learns of a secret power hidden in the heart of the First Tree. Will Rikt survive the trials that await him on his perilous journey to the First Tree? And is Rikt truly prepared for what he may find there?

 

The Best Worst Summer by Elizabeth Eulberg

From the acclaimed author of The Great Shelby Holmes comes a new middle grade story about two summers-three decades apart-and the box of secrets linking them together.

This is going to be the worst summer ever for Peyton. Her family just moved, and she had to leave her best friend behind. She’s lonely. She’s bored. Until . . . she comes across a box buried in her backyard, with a message: I’m so sorry. Please forgive me. Things are about to get interesting.

Back in 1989, it’s going to be the best summer ever for Melissa and Jessica. They have two whole months to goof around and explore, and they’re even going to bury a time capsule! But when one girl’s family secret starts to unravel, it’s clear things may not go exactly as planned.

In alternating chapters, from Peyton in present day to Melissa three decades earlier (a time with no cell phones, no social media, and camera film that took days to develop, but also a whole lot of freedom), beloved author Elizabeth Eulberg tells the story of a mystery that two sets of memorable characters will never forget.

 

The Legend of Auntie Po by Shing Yin Khor

Part historical fiction, part magical realism, and 100 percent adventure. Thirteen-year-old Mei reimagines the myths of Paul Bunyan as starring a Chinese heroine while she works in a Sierra Nevada logging camp in 1885.

Aware of the racial tumult in the years after the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act, Mei tries to remain blissfully focused on her job, her close friendship with the camp foreman’s daughter, and telling stories about Paul Bunyan–reinvented as Po Pan Yin (Auntie Po), an elderly Chinese matriarch.

Anchoring herself with stories of Auntie Po, Mei navigates the difficulty and politics of lumber camp work and her growing romantic feelings for her friend Bee. The Legend of Auntie Po is about who gets to own a myth, and about immigrant families and communities holding on to rituals and traditions while staking out their own place in America.

 

The Magical Imperfect by Chris Baron

For fans of Wonder, Chris Baron’s The Magical Imperfect is an affecting middle grade story of two outcasts who become friends…

Etan has stopped speaking since his mother left. His father and grandfather don’t know how to help him. His friends have given up on him.

When Etan is asked to deliver a grocery order to the outskirts of town, he realizes he’s at the home of Malia Agbayani, also known as the Creature. Malia stopped going to school when her acute eczema spread to her face, and the bullying became too much.

As the two become friends, other kids tease Etan for knowing the Creature. But he believes he might have a cure for Malia’s condition, if only he can convince his family and hers to believe it too. Even if it works, will these two outcasts find where they fit in?

 

The Stars of Whistling Ridge by Cindy Baldwin

This enchanting story about magic, family, and the meaning of home from the award-winning author of Where the Watermelons Grow is perfect for fans of Corey Ann Haydu and Natalie Lloyd.

Ivy Mae Bloom is almost thirteen years old, her name is almost a complete sentence, and her family’s RV is almost a home. That’s one too many “almosts” for Ivy. She desperately wants a place to put down roots, but it’s her mama’s job as a fallen star to tend the magic underpinning the world–a job that’s kept Ivy’s family living on the road since before Ivy was born.

After Ivy steals Mama’s entire supply of wish jars in the hopes of finding a place to call home, disaster strands her family in Whistling Ridge, North Carolina, with Mama’s star sisters. Ivy falls for Whistling Ridge immediately–she just needs to convince her parents to stay.

But something is draining the magic from the town, and the star sisters can’t pinpoint it. Ivy and her new friends find a clue in Whistling Ridge’s history that might explain the mysterious threat…but if Whistling Ridge’s magic is fixed, Mama will need to move on. Ivy is faced with an impossible decision: How can she help the star sisters lift the curse if it means losing her best chance at a forever home?

 

The Double Life of Danny Day by Mike Thayer

A boy who lives every day twice uses his ability to bring down bullies at his new school in Mike Thayer’s humor-filled middle grade novel, The Double Life of Danny Day.

My name is Danny Day, and I live every day twice.

The first time, it’s a “discard day.” It’s kind of like a practice run. At the end of the day, I go to bed, wake up, and poof everything gets reset, everything except my memory, that is.

The second time, everything is normal, just like it is for everyone else. That’s when everything counts and my actions stick. As you could probably guess, “Sticky Day” Danny is very different from “Discard Day” Danny.

When Danny’s family moves across the country, he suddenly has to use his ability for more than just slacking off and playing video games. Now he’s making new friends, fending off jerks, exposing a ring of cheaters in the lunchtime video game tournament, and taking down bullies one day at a time … or is it two days at a time?

 

Chunky by Yehudi Mercado

In this full-color middle grade graphic memoir for fans of Raina Telgemeier and Jerry Craft, Yehudi Mercado draws inspiration from his childhood struggle with his weight while finding friendship with his imaginary mascot, Chunky, as he navigates growing up in a working class Mexican-Jewish family.

Hudi needs to lose weight, according to his doctors. Concerned about the serious medical issue Hudi had when he was younger, his parents push him to try out for sports. Hudi would rather do anything else, but then he meets Chunky, his imaginary friend and mascot. Together, they decide to give baseball a shot.

As the only Mexican and Jewish kid in his neighborhood, Hudi has found the cheerleader he never had. Baseball doesn’t go well (unless getting hit by the ball counts), but the two friends have a great time drawing and making jokes. While Hudi’s parents keep trying to find the right sport for Hudi, Chunky encourages him to pursue his true love–comedy.

But when Hudi’s dad loses his job, it gets harder for Hudi to chart his own course, even with Chunky’s guidance. Can Chunky help Hudi stay true to himself or will this friendship strike out?

 

Ahmed Aziz’s Epic Year by Nina Hamza

This hilarious and poignant #ownvoices tween debut about dealing with bullies, making friends, and the power of good books is a great next read for fans of Merci Suárez Changes Gears and John David Anderson.

Ahmed Aziz is having an epic year–epically bad.

After his dad gets sick, the family moves from Hawaii to Minnesota for his dad’s treatment. Even though his dad grew up there, Ahmed can’t imagine a worse place to live. He’s one of the only brown kids in his school. And as a proud slacker, Ahmed doesn’t want to deal with expectations from his new teachers.

Ahmed surprises himself by actually reading the assigned books for his English class: Holes, Bridge to Terabithia, and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Shockingly, he doesn’t hate them. Ahmed also starts learning about his uncle, who died before Ahmed was born. Getting bits and pieces of his family’s history might be the one upside of the move, as his dad’s health hangs in the balance and the school bully refuses to leave him alone. Will Ahmed ever warm to Minnesota?

 

Generation Misfits by Akemi Dawn Bowman

Generation Misfits by Akemi Dawn Bowman is a heartwarming, fish-out-of-water own voices story about an eleven-year-old Japanese-American girl who finds her true friendsthrough the power of J-Pop!

Millie is attending a real school for the first time and dreams of finally having friends and a little bit of freedom. So when she joins an imitation band of her favorite J-Pop group, she’s thrilled to meet a group of misfits who quickly become like family. But Millie realizes that one of them is dealing with problems bigger than what notes to hit when it comes time for their performance. Can Millie help her friend, even when their problem feels too big to say out loud?

 

Long Distance by Whitney Gardner

From the creator of Fake Blood comes another exceptionally charming middle grade graphic novel about friendships both near and far, far away.

Vega’s summer vacation is not going well.

When her parents decide it’s time to pack up and leave her hometown of Portland, Oregon, behind for boring Seattle, Washington, Vega is more than upset–she’s downright miserable. Forced to leave her one and only best friend, Halley, behind, Vega is convinced she’ll never make another friend again.

To help her settle into her new life in Seattle, her parents send Vega off to summer camp to make new friends. Except Vega is determined to get her old life back. But when her cellphone unexpectedly calls it quits and things at camp start getting stranger and stranger, Vega has no choice but to team up with her bunkmates to figure out what’s going on!

 

The Mystery of the Meanest Teacher: A Johnny Constantine Graphic Novel by Ryan North (Author) Derek Charm (Illustrator)

THE MYSTERY OF THE MEANEST TEACHER: A JOHNNY CONSTANTINE GRAPHIC NOVEL is a comedic middle grade graphic novel about two kids with developing magical powers trying to figure out if their schoolteacher is really, secretly, a witch.

After angering a number of hostile spirits in England, 13-year-old magician Johnny Constantine has to find a way out of the country. Persuading his parents to send him to America, John arrives at the Junior Success Boarding School in Salem, Massachusetts. But once there, he finds himself to be something of an outcast. And he is also convinced that his homeroom teacher really has it in for him. Worse, he’s convinced that’s she’s really a witch.

Fortunately, John is able to find one kindred spirit at school with whom he’s able to form an alliance–another misfit named Anna, who also happens to have her own developing magical powers. John recruits Anna in his efforts to uncover the truth about Ms. Kayla and expose the Meanest Teacher’s real identity to the world.

Joined by a friendly demon named Etrigan, these two amateur sleuths will uncover clues and stumble upon forces beyond their control in a humorous series of misadventures.

 

See anything you can’t wait to read? Let us know if the comments below. Happy Reading!

Author Ali Standish discusses The Mending Summer, the power of healing and writing honestly about addiction

 I’m jumping up and down because I get to interview Ali Standish for the launch of her sixth book, The Mending Summer. Ali is also the author of the critically acclaimed The Ethan I Was Before, How to Disappear Completely, August Isle, The Climbers and Bad Bella. She grew up in North Carolina and spent several years as an educator in the Washington, DC, public school system. Ali has an MFA in children’s writing from Hollins University and an MPhil in children’s literature from the University of Cambridge. You can visit her online at www.alistandish.com

Before our discussion officially gets underway, I want to make one thing clear. I’m not an unbiased interviewer. I had the great honor to serve as Ali’s  MFA thesis advisor at Hollins University Summer Graduate Program in Children’s Literature & Writing. It gives me great joy to speak with her now about new middle grade, The Mending Summer.

  • Water plays a central role as a healer and teacher in The Mending Summer. Why did you choose a lake as a setting? How did lakes figure into your own childhood?

 What a great question, Hillary! And thank you so much for having me. I am no unbiased interviewee either.

I think you’re absolutely right that the lake both heals and teaches. That was my experience attending camp each summer on the shores of Lake Wylie, SC. Being around a body of water, be it a lake, a river or an ocean, has always been both uplifting and humbling for me. Water reminds us of how beautiful and wonderous life can be—what’s more majestic than watching the sun set over the sea?—but it’s also something we can’t control or tame, or really even fully understand. It forces us to let go of the idea that we have total agency over our own lives. In children’s literature, we tend to want to emphasize the power of agency, but for children like Georgia whose lives have spun out of control, it’s important to show that there are things, like another person’s addiction, that we don’t have power over. When we relinquish that idea, we can start to focus on what we can control, which is how we treat ourselves.

  • Georgia’s father is an alcoholic, whose drinking increasingly interferes with his ability to be a reliable parent. You don’t shirk from showing us scenes when he becomes “the Shadow Man,” weaving to the front door or even passed out. And yet, you offer the reader many moments, often in flashback, of magical father/daughter engagement. When someone is suffering from alcoholism it’s easy to fall into the trap of defining them only by their disease. You carefully weave in Daddy’s interests from his passion for music to his love of stories. How did you balance this portrait so carefully?

I was very intentional about wanting to show the essence of Daddy’s character—funny, loving, creative—instead of making him into a caricature of an alcoholic or a simple villain. Because my own family members have struggled with alcoholism, and I’ve had many years to process that, I had a lot of empathy for Georgia’s daddy. I think anyone who has loved an alcoholic or an addict has that empathy, even if it is buried under feelings of betrayal, anger, or loss. We know the person underneath the disease, and it’s important to continue to honor, celebrate, and love that individual, even if it needs to be from a distance. Equally, though, it was important to me not to shy away from the more painful scenes where we see how much alcoholism has changed Daddy, or minimize the impact it has on Georgia.

I hope that in showing him from both those angles, readers who may be impacted by addictions in their own family might feel some comfort. If alcoholism can turn a man like Daddy into the Shadow Man, then maybe they will feel less shame and confusion about why it’s happening to their loved ones. Alcoholism can affect anyone.

  • The Mending Summer braids together elements of mystery, adventure, and fantasy, while still giving quite a bit of weight to Georgia’s shifting feelings. She’s quite emotionally intelligent and sensitive. When you were Georgia’s age, were you aware of your own conflicting feelings? How did you figure out how much time to give to Georgia’s interior life versus the exterior action?

 Kids of alcoholics often develop that kind of emotional intelligence early on as a defense mechanism. It’s important to be able to read the room, the situation, the person sitting across from you, so that you can anticipate what’s coming next. I think it took me longer than Georgia to turn that sensitivity inward. It wasn’t until after my family members had been in recovery for a while and our family had stabilized that I was able to understand my own feelings around things. And what I found was that I had swung between healthy ways of dealing with things (focusing on my own achievements, hobbies, relationships with friends) and unhealthy ways (not reaching out for support or sharing what was going on, but instead turning my turbulent emotions inward). In The Mending Summer, that tug-of-war becomes concrete in the form of the wishing lake, and the two children Georgia meets there. Externalizing the struggle in that way meant that there was plenty of room for action and adventure, so that the story (I hope!) didn’t become too weighed down by Georgia’s internal conflict.

  • Aunt Marigold, with whom Georgia stays with in the country during her mending summer, is a potter. Not only does pottery work as a powerful metaphor but eventually Georgia learns how to shape her own clay pieces. How did you come to weave this element into the book?

At first, I actually experimented with Aunt Marigold teaching Georgia piano, but that didn’t feel quite right. With pottery, you are creating a physical object out of a lump of mud (okay not exactly but you get the gist!). That power to create something whole becomes an important counterbalance to Georgia’s home life, which is fracturing into pieces. I experimented with pottery a few summers at camp and always wished I had been able to do more with it. Pottery also has a long history in North Carolina, where I live and where the book is set. Seagrove, NC, is the largest community of active potters in the country!

  • Aunt Marigold, who is actually a great aunt, is one of my favorite characters. She “walked barefoot through the garden and read William Faulkner at the table and wore overalls like a man.” Did you base Aunt Marigold on a real person? If so, I want to meet her!

Me too! Alas, she is not based on a real person, though I did have an image of Sissy Spacek in my mind when I was writing her… I do like to think that I have my own version of Aunt Marigold inside of me—a strong woman who is unapologetic about who she is, and who can be both surprisingly tender and fiercely protective. We all deserve an Aunt Marigold to give us the resolve to keep going when times get tough.

  • A lonely looking gravestone, a mystery room, odd sounds, and eerie characters all figure into this story. There were places I found myself turning on the reading lamp a little brighter. How did you feel about scary stories as a kid? How did you manage to weave in some many spooky moments and yet have the overall story feel uplifting?

I LOVED spooky stories as a kid. Still do! I remember how devastated I was when I first realized that I was too old to really enjoy Goosebumps anymore. I had no idea how to fill the void! I think many young readers are drawn to these kinds of mysteries that carry a hint of danger. My stories are usually about a kid who is struggling with something tough, but they always have room for a few southern gothic tropes. But those locked doors and spooky gravestones always have a human story behind them which, once uncovered, usually have something in them to support the protagonist on their journey to healing. So…come for the scares, stay for the character development—hah!

  • The story includes quite a bit of adventure and some thrilling moments. Did you know in advance that this story would go there? Or did it take you by surprise?

 I did know that it would go there. What happens at the lake mirrors what is happening in Georgia’s psyche. Since she went to some dark places, it was only natural that the lake would, too. Of course, the adventures start out as quite exciting and fun, and that was one of the ways that I tried to keep balance in the book between exploring the tough stuff but threading it through with the kind of mystery and adventure I loved reading as a middle grader.

  • Nature is a both fearsome and healing. In many ways, I was getting some Bridge to Terabithia I’m assuming Katherine Patterson is an influence. I’d be curious to learn a little bit about some of your favorite middle grade books and why you love them.

 I will happily take that comparison, thank you very much! (No take-backsies.) Bridge to Terabithia was a hugely influential book for me. You know how sometimes you see a tree that grows around a large stone, or some man-made object? I feel like my soul kind of grew around that book. It even inspired an entire fantasy world in my backyard—Narbithia (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was also a favorite!). That book gave me a blueprint for how to exercise my imagination, while also showing me the supreme power of story to make readers feel.

More recent favorites include Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me(okay, not that recent, but a perfectly plotted book, in my humble opinion, and one that any aspiring writer can learn so much from) and this year’s Newbery winner, Tae Keller’s When You Trap a Tiger. In fact, I had the honor of blurbing the latter (and will continue to mention this for the rest of my life when given the most minuscule opportunity). When You Trap a Tiger is also a book that blurs the lines between magic and a child’s inner-turmoil. It weaves together Korean folklore with a universal story of family history, love and loss in a beautiful, haunting way.

  • Are you an outliner, panster or a hybrid writer?

 I write books like Boomers drive cars. (At least the Boomers in my family!) I know where I want to start and where I want to go, and I’m pretty sure I know how to do it, but I’m sure as heck not going to bother with a GPS. So there will inevitably be some wrong cars (and some choice language) but eventually, I usually find my way.

  • Anything else you’d like readers to know about The Mending Summer?

Importantly, the cast includes a grumpy cow named Ruby. Why does no one mention her?!

Just kidding, mostly I just want educators, librarians, and young readers to know that there are stories out there for kids who are impacted by alcoholism and addiction. Hopeful, engaging stories that might make them feel less alone and that might help guide them toward making healthy choices, rather than self-destructive ones. And while they deal with serious issues, these stories are necessary to keep on classroom and library bookshelves, because you never know which child might be walking into school each morning with this weighing on their shoulders.

Hillary Homzie is the author of the Ellie May chapter book series (Charlesbridge, 2018), Apple Pie Promises (Sky Pony/Swirl, 2018), Pumpkin Spice Secrets (Sky Pony/Swirl, 2017), Queen of Likes (Simon & Schuster MIX 2016), The Hot List (Simon & Schuster MIX 2011) and Things Are Gonna Be Ugly (Simon & Schuster, 2009) as well as the Alien Clones From Outer Space (Simon & Schuster Aladdin 2002) chapter book series. She’s also a contributor to the  Kate the Chemist middle grade series (Philomel Books/Penguin Random House). During the year, Hillary teaches at Sonoma State University and in the summer she teaches in the graduate program in childrens’ literature, writing and illustration at Hollins University. She also is an instructor for the Children’s Book Academy. She can be found at hillaryhomzie.com and on her Facebook page as well as on Twitter.