New Releases

Diversity in MG Lit #10 Growing the next Generation of Writers

Many writers felt the spark of story in them when they were very young. But many never found the support they needed to develop and hone their skills at a young age.
When I visit schools for my books I often encounter one or two children out of hundreds who are hungry for more interaction than a school visit is designed to offer. Nine years ago I formed the League of Exceptional Writers a free mentoring workshop for young readers ages 8-18.
Because I’m a member of the SCBWI in Oregon, I approached them about providing a small honorarium for the authors and illustrators who were mentors to the League each month. I approached Powells Bookstore about hosting the events and providing promotional materials. Here’s an example of what they made for the last. year. Every month from October to May eager young writers pull up chairs at the bookshop and dig into the nitty gritty of making books with published authors, professional illustrators and other folks who work in the book industry, designers, editors, agents, audio book producers, etc. The League has seen its members grow from shy beginners in 3rd or 4th grade to active writers at their high school newspaper to editors of college literary journals. One has even gone on to work as a designer at a publishing house in Boston.
I mention this not to self-congratulate but rather to offer a model that could be easily replicated elsewhere. The SCBWI is a gently aging organization. Their survival depends on drawing in new young members year after year. What better way to promote the organization than to start mentoring young writers now. Most independent bookstores would be receptive to the idea of hosting a writing club for kids. So please consider starting a League of your own in your home town.
Many cities and states have writing enrichment programs in place such as the Writers in the Schools program sponsored by Oregon Literary Arts. Consider volunteering or donating money to these programs.
And finally if you have a young writer in your life, here’s a book they might enjoy. BRAVE THE PAGE: a young writer’s guide to telling epic stories by Rebecca Stern and Grant Faulkner is a kid friendly guide to writing a boo,k taking the NANOWRIMO model. The tone is peppy and practical. The text answers most of the questions even an adult writer has about the process of writing and the focus is solidly on the writing process rather than selling a manuscript. I think it will work well for avid writers as young as 9 and as old as 14 or 15. Brave the Page is on sale in August of 2019 and is available in audio.

Exciting new releases for June!

Mom, I’m bored!

School is barely out for most districts, but perhaps you’ve already heard this from your tween.

Have no fear, the library and your local independent book store are here!

Check out the latest releases for your middle-grade readers. A bit of nonfiction, a dash of fiction and their boredom will be relieved!

Hector: A Boy, A Protest, and the Photograph that Changed Apartheid, written by Adrienne Wright

Page Street Kids, June 4 release
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On June 16, 1976, Hector Pieterson, an ordinary boy, lost his life after getting caught up in what was supposed to be a peaceful protest. Black South African students were marching against a new law requiring that they be taught half of their subjects in Afrikaans, the language of the White government. The story’s events unfold from the perspectives of Hector, his sister, and the photographer who captured their photo in the chaos. This book can serve as a pertinent tool for adults discussing global history and race relations with children. Its graphic novel style and mixed media art portray the vibrancy and grit of Hector’s daily life and untimely death.

Heartbreaking yet relevant, this powerful story gives voice to an ordinary boy and sheds light on events that helped lead to the end of apartheid.

Escape from the Isle of the Lost: A Descendants Novel (The Descendants), written by Melissa de la Cruz

Disney-Hyperion, June 4 release

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Mal, Evie, Jay, and Carlos may have once been the baddest of the bad, but their wicked ways are (mostly) behind them-and now graduation is almost here! But before the seniors can don their custom-designed caps and gowns, courtesy of Evie, they’ve got an epic plan to put into action. There are tons of villain kids on the Isle of the Lost who are eager for their chance to come to Auradon Prep-even Celia, Dr. Facilier’s trickster daughter, wants in on the deal!-and Mal’s crew is using their upcoming visit to the Isle to help make it happen. But Auradon’s biggest threat is still at large?
Trapped on the other side of the barrier, Uma is more desperate than ever to get her long-awaited revenge against Mal. When she discovers an underground lair belonging to Hades, god of the underworld, Uma realizes she’s found the perfect partner in crime. Together, they can defeat Mal, bring down the barrier, and escape the Isle for good.
Mal and Uma have a score to settle, and they’ll come face to face in an explosive underwater battle that could determine the fates of Auradon and the Isle of the Lost once and for all.

All the Greys on Greene Street written by Laura Tucker

Viking Books for Young Readers, June 4 release
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SoHo, 1981. Twelve-year-old Olympia is an artist–and in her neighborhood, that’s normal. Her dad and his business partner Apollo bring antique paintings back to life, while her mother makes intricate sculptures in a corner of their loft, leaving Ollie to roam the streets of New York with her best friends Richard and Alex, drawing everything that catches her eye.

Then everything falls apart. Ollie’s dad disappears in the middle of the night, leaving her only a cryptic note and instructions to destroy it. Her mom has gone to bed, and she’s not getting up. Apollo is hiding something, Alex is acting strange, and Richard has questions about the mysterious stranger he saw outside. And someone keeps calling, looking for a missing piece of art. . . .

Olympia knows her dad is the key–but first, she has to find him, and time is running out.

Sea Sirens (A Trot & Cap’n Bill Adventure) written by Amy Chu, illustrated by Janet K. Lee

Viking Books for Young Readers, June 11 release
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Trot, a Vietnamese American surfer girl, and Cap’n Bill, her cranky one-eyed cat, catch too big a wave and wipe out, sucked down into a magical underwater kingdom where an ancient deep-sea battle rages. The beautiful Sea Siren mermaids are under attack from the Serpent King and his slithery minions–and Trot and her feline become dangerously entangled in this war of tails and fins.

This beautiful graphic novel was inspired by The Sea Fairies, L. Frank Baum’s “underwater Wizard of Oz.” It weaves Vietnamese mythology, fantastical ocean creatures, a deep-sea setting, quirky but sympathetic main characters, and fast-paced adventure into an imaginative, world-building story.

Maximillian Fly written by Angie Sage

Katherine Tegen Books, June 11 release
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Maximillian Fly wants no trouble. Yet because he stands at six feet two, with beautiful indigo wings, long antennae, and more arms than you or me, many are frightened of him.

He is a gentle creature who looks like a giant cockroach. This extraordinary human wants to prove his goodness, so he opens his door to two SilverSeed children in search of a place to hide.

Instantly, Maximillian’s quiet, solitary life changes. There are dangerous powers after them and they have eyes everywhere. But in this gray city of Hope trapped under the Orb, is escape even possible?

Maximillian Fly is a masterful story brimming with suspense, plot twists, and phenomenal world building. This compelling novel delves into family dynamics and themes of prejudice, making the case for tolerance, empathy, and understanding.

Midsummer’s Mayhem Hardcover  written by Rajani LaRocca  

Yellow Jacket, June 11 release
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Eleven-year-old Mimi Mackson comes from a big Indian American family: Dad’s a renowned food writer, Mom’s a successful businesswoman, and her three older siblings all have their own respective accomplishments. It’s easy to feel invisible in such an impressive family, but Mimi’s dream of proving she’s not the least-talented member of her family seems possible when she discovers a contest at the new bakery in town. Plus, it’ll start her on the path to becoming a celebrity chef like her culinary idol, Puffy Fay.

But when Mimi’s dad returns from a business trip, he’s mysteriously lost his highly honed sense of taste. Without his help, Mimi will never be able to bake something impressive enough to propel her to gastronomic fame.

Drawn into the woods behind her house by a strangely familiar song, Mimi meets Vik, a boy who brings her to parts of the forest she’s never seen. Who knew there were banyan trees and wild boars in Massachusetts? Together they discover exotic ingredients and bake them into delectable and enchanting treats.

But as her dad acts stranger every day, and her siblings’ romantic entanglements cause trouble in their town, Mimi begins to wonder whether the ingredients she and Vik found are somehow the cause of it all. She needs to use her skills, deductive and epicurean, to uncover what’s happened. In the process, she learns that in life, as in baking, not everything is sweet.

This Was Our Pact written by Ryan Andrews

First Second, June 11 release
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It’s the night of the annual Autumn Equinox Festival, whenthe town gathers to float paper lanterns down the river. Legend has itthat after drifting out of sight, they’ll soar off to the Milky Way andturn into brilliant stars, but could that actually be true? This year,Ben and his classmates are determined to find out where those lanternsreally go, and to ensure success in their mission, they’ve made a pactwith two simple rules: No one turns for home. No one looks back.

The plan is to follow the river on their bikes for as long as it takes tolearn the truth, but it isn’t long before the pact is broken by allexcept for Ben, and (much to Ben’s disappointment) Nathaniel, the onekid who just doesn’t seem to fit in.

Together,Nathaniel and Ben will travel farther than anyone has ever gone, down awinding road full of magic, wonder, and unexpected friendship*.

*And a talking bear.

The Girl Who Sailed the Stars written by Matilda Woods,  illustrated by Anuska Allepuz 

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When Oona Britt was born in the magical town of Nordlor, where all of the homes are built from wrecked ships, her parents never expected her to be a girl. Having listened to a faulty prediction from a washed-up soothsayer, they were promised a “bold and brave son,” so as the youngest of seven sisters, Oona’s birth became a disappointment — especially to her sea captain father, who doesn’t believe there’s a place for girls aboard ships.

But Oona is different from the rest of her family. She longs for adventure and knowledge. So she steals aboard her father’s ship just as he’s about to set sail for his annual winter whale hunt, and suddenly finds herself in the midst of a grand adventure! The ship has its own sea cat, Barnacles, and a navigator named Haroyld, who show Oona how to follow the stars. But for all that, Oona’s father is furious. Can she prove to him that she’s worth his love and pride, even though she’s not the bold and brave son he was promised?

The Boy, the Boat and the Beast written by Samantha M. Clark

Paula Wiseman Books/Simon and Schuster, Paperback release June 25
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A shout out to one of our contributors, Samantha M. Clark, as her middle-grade novel is released in paperback this month!

A boy washes up on a mysterious, seemingly uninhabited beach. Who is he? How did he get there? The boy can’t remember. When he sees a light shining over the foreboding wall of trees that surrounds the shore, he decides to follow it, in the hopes that it will lead him to answers. The boy’s journey is a struggle for survival and a search for the truth—a terrifying truth that once uncovered, will force him to face his greatest fear of all if he is to go home.

 

Summer Sweet Treats

Are you looking for great summer reads? Do you like sweet treats and delicious desserts? Then, check out Pie in the Sky and Midsummer’s Mayhem, two summer mg debuts that feature kids who make delectable treats. Pie in the Sky by Remy Lai came out on May 14. It’s the story of two brothers, Jingwen and Yanghao, who secretly bake cakes that their father had dreamed up when their family moves to Australia following his death.  Midsummer’s Mayhem by Rajani LaRocca is retelling of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Nights Dream about an aspiring baker whose attempts at wining a local baking competition cook up some magical consequences. It comes out on June 11th. We sat down with the authors and asked them some of our most burning questions.

Pie in the Sky CoverMUF: What was the inspiration behind your stories?

Remy: For a long time, I had an image of two boys, brothers, secretly baking. When I finally figured out that they couldn’t speak English, the story that would become PIE IN THE SKY clicked into place. From there, I borrowed things from my childhood, of immigrating and having to learn English.

Rajani: Although there are fantastical characters in my story, it’s really about 11-year-old Mimi struggling to understand her place in her super-talented family and in the world. I tried to channel the humor and whimsy of Shakespeare’s play while centering it on a real-world kid with familiar real-world problems…that then get even more complicated when magic gets mixed in!

MUF: This question is for Rajani. Why A Midsummer Night’s Dream?

Rajani: I first read A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 6th grade, and it remains one of my favorite Shakespeare plays of all time. At its heart is conflict and competition between people who love each other – a daughter and father; two friends who used to be as close as sisters; the royalty of Athens; and the king and queen of fairies. It’s about who we love, and why; what loyalty means, and what it costs. But it’s all wrapped up in a confection of an adventure told in gorgeous language with magic, mischief, and mayhem in the woods, where people emerge transformed.  My novel is a riff on that tale of mortals caught up in a fairy feud.

MUF: Can you talk about your writing journey? How did these books come to be?

Remy: I’ve been writing, with the goal of being published, for a loooooooong time. I first wrote PIE IN THE SKY as a graphic novel, but I felt that the format wasn’t the best for this particular story, so I changed it into prose, at which point I realized it needed the pictures, too, hence the hybrid format.

Rajani: I’ve loved books forever, but my first ambition was to be a doctor. I wrote creatively quite a bit during high school and college, but then the demands of medical school and motherhood meant that writing took a back seat for a while. Several years ago, when my medical practice was going well and my kids were in school, I started taking some writing classes to foster my creativity again. In 2014 I drafted Midsummer’s Mayhem. I spent 2015-2017 revising it and working on many picture books. In 2017, I was chosen for Pitch Wars, and I revised my novel with the help of my marvelous mentor, Joy McCullough. I signed with my amazing agent Brent Taylor in late November 2017, and in 2018 we sold Midsummer’s Mayhem and several picture books that will be coming in 2020-2022!

MUF: Remy, that’s a good point. Your novel is a unique mix of prose and illustration. How did you decide what scenes and ideas needed to be illustrated? What were your favorite scenes to draw, and what were the hardest?

Remy: In early drafts, I “chose” mainly by intuition. But in later drafts, with the help of my editor, I started to analyze things deeper and realised that I made my decisions mainly for pacing, for how effective a scene would be in words or pictures, and how much fun a scene would be to draw.

The hardest thing to draw was all the scenes with Jingwen’s dad, because I’ve lost mine. My favorite scene to draw was the one of the brothers fighting.

MUF: In a similar vein, this question is for both of you. Can you describe your writing process?

Remy: It’s different with all stories. PIE IN THE SKY came to me as a single scene of two brother secretly baking. Other stories came to me in the form a particular character appearing in my head over and over again. Sometimes the premise comes before the characters.

Rajani: I would describe my writing process as iterative. I usually write a terrible first draft, and that’s what takes me the longest. I do go back and revise pieces even before a whole draft is finished, and that helps me refine the voice and weave in elements as I go. When I’m really stuck, I love to talk out loud – either to myself or to a friend.

To me, revision is my happy place. I love stepping back and thinking about how to make each scene lead naturally to the next, to tighten plot and dialogue, and to write toward theme. One interesting note: I often know the last line of my book when I first start writing (I did for Midsummer’s Mayhem!), but the first line doesn’t usually emerge until a lot of revision has happened.

MUF: What is the best piece of writing advice that you’ve ever received? What writing advice would you give young writers?

Remy: Stephen King said, “Writing is about getting happy.” I’d advise young writers to have fun while writing.

Rajani: During a talk at a writing retreat, a brilliant editor said to “lean into your weird.” That brought into focus what I’ve been doing in my writing: taking things I love, things that fascinate me, even things that hurt me, and putting them into my writing so that even fiction has emotional truth at its heart.

My advice for young writers? None of us write because it’s easy; we write despite its challenges. But there’s a lot of joy in writing and in connecting to the writing community, especially in kidlit. My advice is to find that joy, to revel in it during good times, and hold onto it like a talisman during difficult times.

MUF: What do you hope that young readers will take away from your stories?Midsummer's Mayhem Cover

Remy: That if you’re ever in Jingwen’s position, of being in a new place where you feel like you don’t belong, that things will get better. You will be okay.

Rajani: First, I hope readers have fun reading about Mimi’s wild summer adventures with some rather unusual visitors to her town.

I hope Midsummer’s Mayhem shows readers that Shakespeare doesn’t have to be stuffy, boring or confusing. I fell in love with Shakespeare’s beautiful words when I was a kid, and I hope my novel sparks young readers’ interest in The Bard’s work.

I hope readers see themselves in Mimi’s struggles. In many ways, Mimi’s story parallels my story about getting started in publishing. Mimi has big goals that she’s not sure she’ll ever reach, and she worries she’ll never be talented enough to achieve her heart’s desire. I hope kids who read Mimi’s story recognize that although setbacks are part of the journey, they each have something special to give the world, and they should keep striving for their dreams.

I hope readers finish Midsummer’s Mayhem feeling that anything is possible, and that magic can be found all around us, especially in those we love.

MUF: This is a question that I always ask writers, but what is one question that no one has asked you that you’d like to get asked?

Remy: I get asked this by readers, but not in interviews (yet): why do I love the word “booger” so much? One of the reasons this word is used multiple times in PIE IN THE SKY was because when I was a kid learning English, I was often fascinated by particular words and would try to use them in any occasions I could. Sometimes these words fascinated me because they were used the same in way in different languages, or maybe how the same word would be used in a different way in different words. Sometimes those words just felt nice rolling off my tongue.

Rajani: I rarely get asked about the challenges and advantages of writing both long form (novels) and short form (picture books). I love writing both and having multiple projects going at once. In particular, picture book writing forces me to boil a story down to its essence and to make every single word count. Novel writing allows me to delve deeply into character development and nuanced plots. When I get sick of one, I can work on the other, and that way my brain gets a break but I’m also moving forward on something.

MUF: And, finally, the question that is on everyone’s mind. There are SO MANY delicious descriptions of sweet treats in these books. Have you made any of these desserts? If so, which are your favorites?

Remy: I have made all the cakes at least once. The chiffon cake is probably the one I can eat the most of. I tend to prefer light, fluffy cakes, though I wouldn’t say no to the richer cakes either.

Rajani: I have made all the desserts mentioned in the book! It was very difficult research, but someone had to do it! My favorite changes from day to day, but I have to say that the chocolate-chunk thyme cookies with citrus zest are mighty scrumptious…and the recipe’s in the book!

MUF: Thank you for you, ladies.

Remy Lai Author PhotoRemy Lai writes and draws stories for kids.She lives in Brisbane, Australia, where she can often be found exploring the woods near her home with her two dogs, Poop-Roller

and Bossy Boots. More information about Remy and her books can be found here.

 

 

Rajani LaRocca Author PhotoRajani LaRocca was born in India, raised in Kentucky, and now lives in the Boston area with her wonderful family and impossibly cute dog. After graduating from Harvard College and Harvard Medical School, she spends her time writing novels and picture books, practicing medicine, and baking too many sweet treats. Her debut middle grade novel, MIDSUMMER’S MAYHEM, is an Indian-American mashup of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and competitive baking. She is also the author of several forthcoming picture books. More information about Rajani and her books can be found here.