New Releases

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.

Summer Reading is Almost Here!

Memorial Day!  Summer is starting! I know! How did this happen?

But before you panic (good panic, bad panic, whatever), let’s get the important preparation out of the way –  a short summer reading list for the middle grade readers in your life, be they students, children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, other. So many good books appear during the next few months (June-September) and these are just a few I’m looking forward to.

Kids often have more flexibility during summer vacation to read for pleasure. And while summer reading is fun, it’s also critical to a child’s ability to retain information from the previous school year and also prepare for the challenges of the next one.

That’s a win-win in my book!

(Descriptions from Amazon)

A Pinch of Phoenix, by Kati Bartkowski & Heidi Lang (Aladdin) (July)

The Mystic Cooking Chronicles is one of my favorite middle grade series and I cannot wait to read the thrilling conclusion. Why not catch up with the first two, A Dash of Dragon and A Hint of Hydra, before diving into this one?

Description: Lailu is in hot water. After the events of the Week of Masks, Wren keeps sending insect-like automatons to attack Lailu. However, they’re more irritating than dangerous, and Lailu is more worried about the elves, who have been quiet so far. Too quiet.

When Lailu heads out of the city on a hunt with Greg, the elves finally strike. They put up a magical shield separating the Velvet Forest from the rest of the city. Now no human can enter…and unfortunately for Lailu and Greg, no human can leave, either. Ryon shows up to save them both, claiming they were caught unintentionally, but Lailu isn’t sure she believes him.

Tensions between the elves and the scientists are reaching a boiling point, and the question is which side will snap first. And in the middle of it all is Lailu. Trusted by both sides, she’s selected to deliver messages and help negotiate a truce between the parties before war becomes inevitable.

Easy as pie, right? Not so much. Lailu’s new role as mediator may be one recipe that’s headed for disaster!

 

Momentous Events in the Life of a Cactus, by Dusti Bowling (September)

I adored the first one in this series – Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus. The characters linger in your thoughts long after you finish the last chapter. Why not pick up the first one and have yourself a double header of awesome reading?

Description: Just as Aven starts to feel comfortable in Stagecoach Pass, with her friends and schoolmates accustomed to her lack of “armage,” everything changes once again. She’s about to begin high school . . . with 3,000 new kids to stare at her. And no matter how much Aven tries to play it cool, nothing prepares her for the reality. In a year filled with confusion, humiliation, and just maybe love, can Aven manage to stay true to herself?

 

Ollie Oxley and the Ghost, by Lisa Schmid (June)

I love a good ghost story but give me one that also makes me laugh and I’m sold! Author Schmid packs her story with secondary characters that are so real it feels like you might actually run into them down at the ice cream shop. Perfect summer fun.

Description: Twelve-year-old Ollie Oxley is moving-again. His mom is starting another new job, this time at the Bingham Theater in Granite City, California. Moving all the time means Ollie has struggled in the making friends department, but he quickly connects with a boy named Teddy. To Ollie’s surprise, though, his first friend in town is a little more . . . unique than those he’s made in the past. Teddy is a ghost.

Befriending someone who lived during the famous California Gold Rush sure does make things interesting for Ollie. But when the school bully, Aubrey, targets Ollie and it looks like the Bingham Theater might close, the stakes couldn’t be higher. Can Teddy and Ollie work together to take down Aubrey, save his mom’s job, and solve a mystery years in the making?

 

It’s the End of the World as I Know It, by Matt Landis (September)

Anxiety, stress and fear are real at every age and I applaud authors who take up the subject in their work. I really liked Matt Landis’s last book, The Not So Boring Letters of a Private Nobody so I’m especially looking forward to this one.

Description: Ever since his mother was killed in the line of duty in Iraq, Derrick has been absolutely certain that the apocalypse is coming. And he’s prepared: he’s got plenty of canned goods, he’s fully outfitted with HAZMAT suits, and he’s building himself a sturdy fallout shelter. When his neighbor Misty insists on helping with the shelter, Derrick doesn’t think it’s such a good idea. Misty’s just had a kidney transplant, and her reaction to her brush with death is the opposite of Derrick’s: where Derrick wants to hide, Misty wants to see and do everything. But as confident as Misty is, Derrick’s doomsday fears just keep getting worse. And Derrick’s promised apocalypse day begins with a very strange disaster, Derrick and Misty have to figure out a way to survive–especially when the end of the world as they know it looks nothing like they expected.

 

Saving Fable, by Scott Reintgen (September)

I’m the kind of person that sometimes feels like the characters in books I’m reading are more alive than actual people I actually meet out on the street or in the coffee shop or wherever. So this first in the Talespinners series sounds right up my alley. I’m already looking forward to book two!

Description: Indira has been a character-in-waiting her entire life. So she can’t believe her luck when she’s finally chosen to travel to Fable and study at the renowned Protagonist Preparatory, a school known for producing the best heroes.

But Indira’s dreams of achieving hero status don’t exactly go as planned. A failed audition lands her in the school’s side-character track, and her best efforts to prove advisors–famous characters like Alice from Wonderland and Professor Darcy–wrong are constantly sabotaged. Indira is starting to feel like an evil antagonist might be to blame.

As the danger spreads, Indira discovers all of Fable is under siege. With her friends Maxi and Phoenix by her side, she pieces together clues that will reveal who is behind the dark magic threatening them all. But the more Indira uncovers, the more doubt she feels about her place in this world of stories. After all, can a side character really save the day?

 

The Vanderbeekers to the Rescue, by Karina Yan Glaser (September)

I adore this series. I just want to hang out with this family and go on all their adventures. To me, this is perfect summer reading. Don’t miss books one and two, The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street and The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden.

Description: For the Vanderbeeker kids of Harlem’s 141st Street, spring break couldn’t be off to a better start. Isa’s back from band camp, Oliver’s building his first-ever treehouse in the backyard of the brownstone, and Laney, Jess, and Hyacinth are excited to help their mother when she gets the once-in-a-lifetime chance to star in a cooking magazine.
But the Vanderbeekers’ plans go off the rails when an unexpected visit from city officials puts their mother’s bakery in jeopardy. Now they’ll have to band together to save the day before they’re out of business. Perfect for fans of The Penderwicks and Front Desk.

 

 

 

May New Releases!

What’s sprouting up in MG lit this May? Some weather and nature-themed
middle-grade books! Here are a few to fill your rainy, cloudy, and sun-sprinkled May days.

 

Shouting at the Rain by Lynda Mullaly Hunt  
(Nancy Paulsen Books) May 7, 2019

From the author of the New York Times bestseller Fish in a Tree comes a compelling story about perspective and learning to love the family you have.

Delsie loves tracking the weather–lately, though, it seems the squalls are in her own life. She’s always lived with her kindhearted Grammy, but now she’s looking at their life with new eyes and wishing she could have a “regular family.” Delsie observes other changes in the air, too–the most painful being a friend who’s outgrown her. Luckily, she has neighbors with strong shoulders to support her, and Ronan, a new friend who is caring and courageous but also troubled by the losses he’s endured. As Ronan and Delsie traipse around Cape Cod on their adventures, they both learn what it means to be angry versus sad, broken versus whole, and abandoned versus loved. And that, together, they can weather any storm.

 

 

Hurricane Season by Nicole Melleby (Algonquin Young Readers) May 7, 2019

Fig, a sixth grader, loves her dad and the home they share in a beachside town. She does not love the long months of hurricane season. Her father, a once-renowned piano player, sometimes goes looking for the music in the middle of a storm. Hurricane months bring unpredictable good and bad days. More than anything, Fig wants to see the world through her father’s eyes, so she takes an art class to experience life as an artist does. Then Fig’s dad shows up at school, confused and looking for her. Not only does the class not bring Fig closer to understanding him, it brings social services to their door. As the walls start to fall around her, Fig is sure it’s up to her alone to solve her father’s problems and protect her family’s privacy. But with the help of her best friend, a cute girl at the library, and a surprisingly kind new neighbor, Fig learns she isn’t as alone as she once thought . . . and begins to compose her own definition of family.

Nicole Melleby’s Hurricane Season is a radiant and tender novel about taking risks and facing danger, about friendship and art, and about growing up and coming out. And more than anything else, it is a story about love—both its limits and its incredible healing power.

 

Exploring Nature Activity Book for Kids by Kim Andrews (Rockridge Press) May 28, 2019

Nature books for kids should get them excited about heading out into the great outdoors. This one encourages them to track, explore, discover and create. Unlike some nature books for kids, the Exploring Nature Activity Book for Kids, is filled with hands-on educational outdoor activities―like crafting bird feeders out of fruit, pressing flowers, creating sundials and so much more.

 

 

Flying to the Moon: An Astronaut’s Story by Michael Collins (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) May 28, 2019

In time for the 50th anniversary of man’s first landing on the moon, this re-release of Michael Collins’s autobiography is a bold, sparkling testament to exploration and perseverance. In this captivating account, space traveler Collins recalls his early days as an Air Force test pilot, his training at NASA, and his unparalleled experiences in orbit, including the Apollo 11 mission, the first manned lunar landing. The final chapter to this autobiography is an exciting and convincing argument in favor of mankind’s continued exploration of our universe. Originally published in 1976 and updated for this new edition, including an introduction from astronaut Scott Kelly, Collins’s voice and message are sure to resonate with a new generation of readers.