New Releases

Review of Fleur Bradley’s DAYBREAK ON RAVEN ISLAND and BOOK GIVEAWAY!

I’m so thrilled to post a review of Fleur Bradley’s newest middle grade book, DAYBREAK ON RAVEN ISLAND! Plus, you could win a hardcover copy of this spooky, adventurous story. Just enter the contest at the end of this post. U.S. residents only please. Contest ends September 5th. 

About Daybreak on Raven Island by Fleur Bradley:

From the critically acclaimed author of Midnight at the Barclay Hotel comes a thrilling new middle grade mystery novel inspired by Alcatraz Prison.

Tori, Marvin, and Noah would rather be anywhere else than on the seventh-grade class field trip to Raven Island prison. Tori would rather be on the soccer field, but her bad grades have benched her until further notice; Marvin would rather be at the first day of a film festival with his best friend, Kevin; and Noah isn’t looking forward to having to make small talk with his classmates at this new school.

But when the three of them stumble upon a dead body in the woods, miss the last ferry back home, and then have to spend the night on Raven Island, they find that they need each other now more than ever. They must work together to uncover a killer, outrun a motley ghost-hunting crew, and expose the age-old secrets of the island all before daybreak.

My review:

Daybreak on Raven Island sucks you in from the very first chapter infused with mystery, intrigue, and foreboding. This dark tale begins with three unlikely friends thrown together on a fieldtrip to Raven Island—home of tragedy, misery, and an abandoned prison with gloomy tales to tell.

Tori, Marvin, and Noah are soon trapped in a sinister puzzle they must unravel before the next day using all their knowledge, wits, and uncovered resources. This field trip quickly becomes more than just a day off from school when we discover Tori, Marvin, and Noah each have a secret connection to this haunted island. The suspense intensifies as these kids begin to experience unexplained phenomenon that shakes up their sense of self and what they thought they knew—and leads to darker dangers they could never have anticipated.

If you love ominous, atmospheric stories, then you’ll love Daybreak on Raven Island. The suspense quickly grows with this diverse set of characters who all carry woeful baggage. They work well in contrast to each other to unravel the secrets of Raven Island—and soon discover not all is as it seems.

7 things to love about Daybreak on Raven Island:

  1. A haunted island with an abandoned prison, lighthouse, mansion, and spooky forest (my fave combo!).
  2. Ravens who watch over the island … and follow you (think Hitchcock’s The Birds but in a good way!).
  3. History comes alive—literally before your eyes.
  4. Gobs of spooky foreshadowing to give you creepy chills.
  5. Ghosts galore (of course!).
  6. A dark and tragic history to be uncovered.
  7. New friendships forged under tough circumstances.

Fleur does a wonderful job of creating not only a unique set of characters but a unique setting that comes alive. The landscape and wildlife are eerie characters themselves that at times hinder and aid our three young investigators.

With each scene the situation worsens, leaving us to wonder if Tori, Marvin, and Noah will indeed survive their night on Raven Island to see daybreak. Throw in a ticking clock, ghostly help, tragic mystery to solve, and a terrifying world to navigate in the dark and you’ve got a chilling mix for a compelling story.

I’m a big lover of touring historical prisons, imagining them in their heyday and the people who lived there—and died there. I checked off a bucket list item to tour Alcatraz several years back, and would have given anything to stay overnight on that island with an abandoned prison! This book happily fulfilled that yearning 😊. Be sure to check out Fleur’s new, Alcatraz-inspired story. It’s scary, has a murder mystery, and tons of real history folklore as its inspiration. And don’t forget the very Hitchcock-y ravens…

About Fleur:

Fleur Bradley is the author of the (scary) middle-grade mystery Daybreak on Raven Island, and award-winning mystery Midnight at the Barclay Hotel (Viking/Penguin Random House). Her story The Perfect Alibi appeared in Mystery Writers of America’s middle-grade anthology Super Puzzletastic Mysteries, edited by Chris Grabenstein (HarperCollins). Fleur regularly does school and Skype visits, as well as librarian and educator conference talks on reaching reluctant readers. Originally from the Netherlands, she now lives in Colorado Springs with her husband and two daughters, and entirely too many rescue animals.

Connect with Fleur:

Website: Fleur Bradley (ftbradley.com)

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/fleurbradley/

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/FTBradleyAuthor

Twitter: https://twitter.com/FTBradleyAuthor

 

Enter to win a copy of Daybreak on Raven Island below or purchase a copy here!

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How To Write Chapter Books with 8 Chapter Book Authors

From the Mixed Up Files writer Samantha M Clark here, and a couple weeks ago, my debut chapter book series, the GEMSTONE DRAGONS, was released by Bloomsbury. Moving from writing my middle-grade to writing chapter books has been a lot of fun but also had some challenges. So for this post, I chatted with some other chapter book authors about their experiences writing for this category and want to share what we said.

Before I get to our chat, a few quick notes about chapter books, in case you don’t know what they are:

  • While the sweet spot for MG readers is 8 and up, chapter books are generally appropriate for ages 6 and up.
  • They’re shorter than middle-grade too. My shortest MG, AMERICAN HORSE TALES: HOLLYWOOD, is 20,000 words. Chapter books, however, are usually between 8,000 to 12,000 words. My GEMSTONE DRAGONS are each around 10,000 words, laid out in the book with lots of spacing between the lines and a bigger font size.
  • Also, although MGs sometimes have interior illustrations, chapter books always have them. For example, the first GEMSTONE DRAGONS book has 16 illustrations sprinkled throughout the 111-page story.
  • And finally, chapter books are nearly always designed to be series; quick, multiple-read books that hook young readers into becoming lifelong readers.

So, how do you write them? In this post, you’ll hear from the following authors:

Marya Khan and the Incredible Henna Party by Saadia FaruqiSaadia Faruqi, whose brand new MARYA KHAN AND THE INCREDIBLE HENNA PARTY launches from Abrams Kids on October 18, with a second book, MARYA KHAN AND THE FABULOUS JASMINE GARDEN coming out March 28

Kelly Starling Lyons, whose first two books in the MILES LEWIS series, KING OF THE ICE and WHIZ KID, came out from Penguin Workshop in July

Kathryn Holmes, whose CLASS CRITTERS series from Abrams/Amulet added the third book, MADISON MORRIS IS NOT A MOUSE!, on August 16

Jennifer Torres, whose CATALINA INCOGNITO series published by Aladdin, is adding its fourth book, SKATEBOARD STAR, on November 22

Debbi Michiko Florence, whose fifth JASMINE TOGUCHI book, BRAVE EXPLORER, comes out from FSGBYR/Macmillan on October 18

Rie Neal, whose third and fourth books in her ASTRID THE ASTRONAUT series, published by Aladdin, are coming soon: HYDROPONIC HIJINKS on October 11 and ROBOT REBELLION on February 28

Lyla Lee, whose eighth book in her MINDY KIM series, MINDY KIM MAKES A SPLASH, came out this past July from Aladdin/Simon and Schuster

(And by the way, all these authors and two others are offering books in a giant giveaway right now here. Ends Aug. 20.)

Samantha: What did chapter books mean to you as a kid and what were your favorites?

Rie: I loved chapter books as a kid! I think I especially enjoyed the predictability of the setting and characters, the fact that I could read them so quickly, and … they had pictures!! I kept reading chapter books even when I was older, sometimes, when I wanted a quick dose of comfort. My favorites were the Polk Street School Kids and Babysitter’s Little Sister.

Samantha: Same here on the comfort. I loved the illustrations in chapter books and would scour them for every detail that had been in the text. When I saw the illustrations for my GEMSTONE DRAGONS books, I did the same.

Mindy Kim Makes a Splash by Lyla LeeLyla: As an immigrant and child of immigrants who came to the US at a young age, chapter books in English were my first exposure to “American culture.” In order to understand the new country I lived in and also catch up on the stories (fantasy or contemporary) my new friends in the US liked to read, I read a lot and even taught myself English through these books. I had quite a few favorites but I especially loved the Ramona Quimby books and The Magic Tree House series.

Samantha: I love that, Lyla! Why did you all want to write a chapter book series?

Saadia: I have a very popular early reader series called YASMIN, perfect for kids upto second grade. Once those readers grow a little older, they want something more advanced and complicated, but they’re not ready yet for middle grade novels. After several requests from parents and teachers about this gap, I decided to write a series for YASMIN fans who are older now.

Miles Lewis: King of the Ice by Kelly Starling LyonsKelly: Growing up, I loved to read, but I didn’t see chapter book series with Black kids as the stars. That invisibility sent a message that our stories didn’t matter. I knew that they did. My mom wrote and acted in Black theater. Our home was filled with books about heroes like Mary McLeod Bethune and Malcolm X. I didn’t realize it then, but a seed was being planted that I could help make a difference through writing books that centered Black children.

It was like coming full circle when my debut, NEATE: EDDIE’S ORDEAL, a chapter book in a series created by Just Us Books was published. I enjoyed coming up with a plot for their wonderful characters and dreamed of one day having a series of my own. A decade later, a Penguin Workshop editor invited me to write an early chapter book. Here was my chance to create the characters I longed to see. At every school and library I visit, there are children who are unsung. They need to know that they’re seen and loved. Toni Morrison famously said, “If there is a book you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, you must be the one to write it.” My MILES LEWIS and JADA JONES series are tributes to kids who dare to shine by being who they are.

Catalina Incognito: Skateboard Star by Jennifer TorresJennifer: Chapter books meet kids when they are beginning to see themselves as readers. To me, there’s something so special about that moment. Like Kelly, I want children, especially children who are newly devouring words, to see themselves and their stories in books. To be able to picture themselves having magical adventures like Catalina, who reflects my own Mexican-American background and experience.

Samantha: Such great answers. Chapters really are a great bridge between early readers and MG, and as the sweet spot — I think — for helping kids become life-long readers, it is SO important that all children are represented. When you first set out to write a chapter book, what did you do to prepare?

Kelly: My best advice is to read mentor texts. That’s where I started. When I was writing for Just Us Books’ NEATE series, they sent me the first three titles to study. That helped me understand how to draw readers in, the way chapter books are put together, what elements help establish characters and aid in their growth and development through the story. I did the same when writing my JADA JONES and MILES LEWIS series. I read other chapter books to see what styles resonated with me, what innovations I could bring and learn some structural tips. Read the mentor texts for the joy of the story and then take them apart and figure out how the writer made them sing.

Class Critters: Madison Morris Is Not A Mouse by Kathryn HolmesKathryn: Like Kelly, I did a lot of reading of the chapter books that were already on shelves. I’d previously published YA (and had written MG, though my first published MG will not release until 2024), so I needed to get a sense of both the younger voice and the rhythm of a story of this length. Additionally, my daughter was a toddler when I started working on the CLASS CRITTERS series, and when I took her to the playground, I found myself observing young elementary schoolers. How were they interacting with one another? What kinds of conversations were they having? What issues were they dealing with that I could potentially tackle in a story? Being a fly on the wall, so to speak, gave me a lot of inspiration and insight.

Rie: ASTRID isn’t my first chapter book series (I did a write-for-hire series for Little Bee Books before this), but I wanted to put my two cents in for this one! Yes to mentor texts for sure! And in terms of getting into the language level for chapter books, one tool I’ve found really helpful is to use a service that will scan your draft and give you a Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level score (or any other similar metric). My tendency is to write my first drafts at more of a middle-grade reading level, which is too complex for chapter books. So, after I go through developmental edits, I use the Flesch-Kincaid (it’s available through MS Word in Editor–Document Stats–Insights), and I go through sentence by sentence until I’ve simplified the language down to between a 1.0 and 2.0 grade level rating. It sounds super tedious, I know, but it has really helped me!

Samantha: I analyzed mentor texts too! I bought some and borrowed a bunch more from the library, then I looked at everything from chapter breaks, number of chapters, sentence structures, voice… I broke down some of the stories into outlines so I could see how they were different of the same to my MG. And I did have the problem of making some of my language too MG when I was working on books 3 and 4, which come out on Dec. 27. I’ll have to remember the Flesch-Kincaid tip, Rie! It seems like a lot of us also write MG. Outside of language, how is writing chapter books different from writing MG?

Saadia: In some ways, it’s the same. You still have to write the best possible story, develop your characters, and take care of your craft. But in other ways, writing a chapter book is very different from middle grade novels. The plot has to be much simpler, and the main character takes center stage in a very obvious way. I think it’s so much fun writing chapter books!

Jasmine Toguchi: Brave Explorer by Debbi Michiko FlorenceDebbi: I agree with Saadia! As a writer, you still need to know and develop the characters just as deeply in chapter books as in novels for older readers. But because chapter books are for newly independent readers, it helps to create characters that have memorable personalities, quirks, and phrases so that the reader can anticipate some things and feel successful. Like how Jasmine Toguchi always says “Wowee zowee” when she’s excited and “Walnuts” when she’s disappointed. And also, chapter books are often part of a series, so it helps to be able to carry those things through all the books.

Samantha: Great tips! Speaking of series, how did you approach that aspect of chapter books, ie. creating characters and a world that would continue?

Kathryn: Because each book in the CLASS CRITTERS series has a different protagonist, I spent a lot of time world-building their classroom. I knew as I wrote book one, TALLY TUTTLE TURNS INTO A TURTLE, that every kid Tally interacted with was a potential protagonist down the line. I took the time to name every child and come up with an animal that they could transform into, as well as a possible reason for the transformation. I made a spreadsheet! With 24 kids in the class, I also had to think about how to introduce them in a way that would make them (and their idiosyncrasies) feel familiar in subsequent books without the number of characters ever becoming overwhelming. David Dixon (narrator of book 2) and Madison Morris (narrator of book 3) both appear in Tally Tuttle’s story, and Tally features in their books—but David and Madison’s stories also introduce kids that aren’t in Tally’s story. So, with each book, the classroom feels a little more fleshed out. No kid is just a side character; they all have the potential to be the hero of their own story one day.

Jennifer: While each of the books stands alone, I knew I wanted the main character, Catalina, to grow and change over the course of the series. So I kept track of the skills she develops from book-to-book and spent a lot of time thinking through how her relationships with others would shift as she learns and responds to challenges. I also had some threads I wanted to pull through all four books: Cat’s Stitch and Share lessons at the library, her best friend’s latest telenovela obsession, a magical disguise. I think that helped create a consistent and familiar world.

Astrid the Astronaut by Rie NealRie: For Astrid, I wanted to use the breadth of the series to especially show how she’s growing as a team player and as a friend. Teamwork is SO important for astronauts (and for so many other professions, and just for life in general! Ha!), and it’s something that Astrid doesn’t really factor into her plan in the beginning–she’s too focused on doing things her way. So while each book has its own plot and character arc for Astrid, the greater arc of the series also shows her friend circle slowly expanding with each book–often with characters only mentioned briefly in previous books later becoming Astrid’s friends (instead of just acquaintances–or in the case of Pearl, enemies!).

Lyla: With MINDY KIM, I wrote books about topics that I myself cared about/found interesting when I was a chapter book reader myself. Getting a puppy for the first time (and proving to my parents that I am responsible enough for one), feeling singled out and sometimes like a downright outcast when I was the new kid at school that packed food from my culture for lunch, trying to find ways to preserve ties to my family and culture as a child from an immigrant household (but still have fun, too!), or even something as seemingly simple as learning how to swim. Even though the series isn’t strictly autobiographical (Mindy’s family and mine are very different, for example), putting myself back into Kid Me’s shoes really helped me develop the series and the world of the books.

Samantha: Wonderful! What’s the biggest thing you have learned from writing this chapter book series so far?

Debbi: Chapter book readers are the best! These are newly independent readers, and there’s nothing like the feeling of pride, success, and joy of reading an entire book yourself, alone, for the first time. And because of this, these readers are extremely loyal and enthusiastic. I get the best reader mail from readers who fall in love with Jasmine Toguchi and I love recommending other chapter book series to them.

Lyla: For me, the biggest lesson I learned was definitely that the most seemingly random and specific experiences in life can actually resonate with a lot of people. For example, when I first wrote the first MINDY KIM book, MINDY KIM AND THE YUMMY SEAWEED BUSINESS, I thought: “Okay, so I had this not-so-good experience in third grade where I was the new kid and the other students made fun of the lunch I brought from home” and for the third book, MINDY KIM AND THE BIRTHDAY PUPPY, I thought: “Well, in third grade I was so obsessed with dogs that getting a dog was all I could think about/was my ultimate goal in life.” These (and other plot points that I didn’t mention here) are seemingly arbitrary things that I pulled from my own life, but I still get emails today from both adults and children telling me they could relate with these parts of the stories.

Samantha: What was the biggest challenge creating this chapter book series?

Kathryn: Writing a series with different protagonists means coming up with a new, distinct voice for each book. It was a challenge to make each protagonist sound like themself—rather than a third-person omniscient narrator telling everyone’s stories. But it’s a challenge I’ve loved! For instance, David Dixon was my first time ever writing a boy narrator, and it was a delight to get inside his head. (I channeled my five nephews…) One of the most satisfying moments in each book’s process has been when I can fully hear the character in my head, speaking in their own unique voice as they experience their adventure.

Gemstone Dragons: Opal's Time To Shine by Samantha M ClarkSamantha: Different voices would be a challenge! For the GEMSTONE DRAGONS, I used third person because it had the classic feel of the chapter books I had grown up with, so that has been easier. But I’d say the biggest challenge has been separating myself from the MG mindset when I’m working on chapter books. As Saadia said earlier, there are a lot of similarities. I plot the stories the same way as my MG, just with fewer subplots. But I have to keep the readers’ age in my head much more when I’m writing and revising for both the language and story. For example, book 3 in the series has spooky elements and it was challenging to find just the right level of spookiness for this age group. What’s your best tip for writers who want to get into chapter books?

Saadia: Read a ton of chapter books! There is a lot of variety in the books already out there, in terms of word count and reading level. You want to make sure you absorb all that variety before making up your mind about where your book will fit.

Jennifer: I agree with Saadia! In developing the CATALINA INCOGNITO series, what most helped me get a feel for the voice, pacing, and plot structure of chapter books, was reading lots of chapter books. Luckily, there are so many good examples (many of my favorites are represented here!) and studying them is a joy. I also think it’s good to spend some time understanding chapter book readers, and who they are developmentally. Many of them are exploring new kinds of independence, discovering strengths and interests, and navigating their roles in friend groups and teams. They’re kind and inquisitive and often hilarious. All of that can inform and enrich your writing.

Samantha: Yes! Great advice. This has been such a fun conversation. Thank you to everyone! And readers, good luck in creating your own chapter books.

Interview with Anika Fajardo, Author of MEET ME HALFWAY


I’m excited to welcome Anika Fajardo back to  the blog today to talk about her new MG novel Meet Me Halfway, which releases on September 13 from Simon & Schuster. Anika was born in Colombia and
raised in Minnesota and is the author of a book about that experience: Magical Realism for Non-Believers: A Memoir of Finding Family. Her books for middle-grade readers include the award-winning What If a Fish, Meet Me Halfway, and the Disney tie-in novel Encanto: A Tale of Three Sisters.

Karen: Thanks for joining us today, Anika! Can you tell us about your new book?
Anika: Meet Me Halfway is the story of seventh-graders Mattie Gomez and Mercedes Miller. Despite looking alike, they have nothing in common, and finding out that they’re half-sisters, doesn’t help them get along. But when they discover that their Colombian father—whom neither has met—is a visiting professor at a nearby college, they have to figure out how to work together as they embark on a road trip/adventure to find him.

Karen: What was your inspiration for this story?
Anika: I’m endlessly fascinated by non-traditional families and the search for identity, but I also wanted to write a book for kids that had fun, adventure, and hijinks. I loved From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler when I was a kid, and I wanted to write a story that took readers someplace unexpected. I spent many years as an academic librarian at a liberal arts college, so setting the adventure at a college was really fun. During my years as a librarian, I also saw many first-generation college students, and I wanted to write a story that inspired kids to pursue higher education—especially for kids whose families might not be familiar with college life.

Karen: Oh, that book was the inspiration for this blog! How interesting! So, many of your stories seem to center around being displaced, with characters separated from their original culture or family. Can you tell me what drives you to write about this theme?
Anika: I first wrote about this in my memoir, Magical Realism for Non-Believers: A Memoir of Finding Family (University of Minnesota Press, 2019). That book is about my own experience as the only child of a Colombian father and American mother. When my parents got divorced when I was a toddler, I was separated from my birthplace in Colombia and my father, and we didn’t meet again until I was a young adult. Although not everyone has such a dramatic family background, I think the theme of lost and found family resonates with many readers.

Karen: What pieces of the characters are reflections of yourself?
Anika: Both Mattie and Mercedes have quirks that reflect my experience. Like me, Mattie struggles with anxiety, and Mercedes has a quick temper like I did when I was a child.

Karen: What message or idea do you hope readers will take away from Meet Me Halfway?
Anika: First, I really hope readers have fun reading about the girls’ adventure! I also hope readers see how families—and friendships—can look different and still be positive. Last, I hope that kids get a picture of what college might be like and that the story inspires kids who might not have been thinking about college to explore that option in the future.

Karen: We all know it can be a long path to becoming a published author. Can you tell us about your path to publication?
Anika: I always wanted to be a writer, but I took a few detours, first as an elementary teacher and then as a librarian. I started writing seriously about 15 years ago, taking classes and joining writing groups. My first full manuscript was a chick lit novel that luckily no one will ever read. But the exercise of writing a book length work helped when I was writing my memoir. My first publications were essays in literary magazines. Thanks to some awards and grant funding, I was able to stretch and learn. I published my first book, my memoir, almost a decade after I wrote the first pages. The manuscript of my middle-grade debut, What If a Fish, was chosen for #PitchWars (an online mentoring program) and helped me land my agent.

Karen: What are your top three pieces of writing advice for our Mixed-Up Files readers who’d like become published someday?
Anika: 1) Write like crazy. Write the best book you can and then work on it some more! 2) Be part of the writing community. Whether that means going to in-person readings or volunteering in your community or meeting other writers online, be open to connecting with people. 3) Persevere. Publishing is not in the writer’s control, so you have to be patient. If you’ve worked hard and written the best book you can, sometimes you just have to work and wait until it’s your turn.

Karen: Great advice, Anika. Can you tell us about the books Mixed-Up Files readers can expect to see from you in the future?
Anika: I’m currently working on both a middle-grade novel and a novel for adult readers.

Karen: How can we learn more about you?
Check out my website anikafajardo.com and follow me on social media @anikwriter

 

Thanks so much for joining us today, Anika! Be sure to check out Anika’s new book, Meet Me Halfway, which launches next month!