New Releases

STEM Tuesday Wild and Wacky Science — Interview with Sarah Albee

Welcome to STEM Tuesday: Author Interview & Book Giveaway, a repeating feature for the fourth Tuesday of every month. Go Science-Tech-Engineering-Math!

Today we’re interviewing Sarah Albee who wrote this month’s featured wild and wacky science book, POISON: Deadly Deeds, Perilous Professions, and Murderous Medicines.

Sarah Albee is the New York Times bestselling author of more than 100 books for kids, ranging from preschool through middle grade. Recent nonfiction titles have been Bank Street College of Education Best Books selections, Notable Social Studies Trade Books, and winners of Eureka! Nonfiction Children’s Book Awards. She loves to meet her readers and visits K-8 schools all over the country.

Mary Kay Carson: Tell us about Poison and how you came to write it.

Sarah Albee: It’s the history of how humans have poisoned one another, from ancient times to the present. For kids who want to delve deeper into the chemistry of a particular poison, there are “tox boxes” throughout the book that describe how a particular poison can be delivered, where it comes from or how it is manufactured, and what the symptoms are when a person is poisoned. I’ve been obsessed with poison and how it works ever since I was a little kid and first read Snow White. I wanted to know what sort of poison was in that apple. How could it cause a reversible paralysis and a heartbeat that is so slow, you might not find a pulse and conclude that the victim is dead? And because I know you are wondering, too, I’ll tell you my theory: atropine. It’s a plant-based alkaloid found in belladonna and mandrake, and used to be known as sleeping nightshade. Back in 1597 a botanist wrote that a small amount of belladonna leads to madness, while a moderate amount causes “dead sleepe” and a lot of it can kill you.

MKC: You undertook a phenomenal amount of research to write this book. 

SA: I uncovered so many cool stories, I didn’t have room to include them all in the book. So I released a series of short videos called The Poison Files, mostly “whodunit” poison cases from history, and starring some great kid-actors. You can find them on YouTube and on my website.

MKC: This book, as well as others you’ve authored, are a mix of both history and science. Do you have a STEM background? 

SA: Many of my books are a mash-up of history and science. I am more of a historian than a scientist. In fact, to refresh my scientific knowledge, I took two online college courses as part of my research for this book (chemistry and forensics). But the division of human knowledge into separate disciplines is a relatively recent phenomenon, and in my mind, somewhat of an artificial construct. Enlightenment era thinkers considered all human knowledge seamless. What I find fascinating to explore and to write about are the in-between areas—the science behind historical events, the history of science, the real lives of painters and musicians and how their experiences informed their art, and the real-life events that might have inspired novels and poems.

MKC: For readers who loved POSION, what other middle-grade books would you suggest—nonfiction and/or fiction?

SA: I’m a big fan of How They Croaked/How They Choked by Georgia Bragg (and, fun fact, we share the same editor!). Also books by Carlyn Beccia (she has a new one coming out in April that I can’t wait to read, called They Lost Their Heads!). Another science writer with a great sense of humor is Jess Keating. Love her books!

MKC: What’s next for Sarah Albee?

SA: I am hard at work right now on a book that has yet to be announced, so I can’t talk too specifically about it. But it will be a combination of (true) stories that include a bit of history, science, biography, art, and sports, all rolled into one. As for how I’m tackling it…let’s just say one must tiptoe gently through my office to avoid setting off an avalanche and being crushed beneath a tumbling pile of books.

More about Sarah Albee and her book POISON:

  • Read reviews from KirkusSchool Library JournalBooklist, and Bulletin for the Center for Children’s Books here.
  • Buy the book!
  • See the book trailer!
  • Watch six videos from Sarah Albee’s “Poison Files.”

Win a FREE copy of POISON!

* Enter the giveaway by leaving a comment below.*  The randomly-chosen winner will be contacted via email and asked to provide a mailing address (within the U.S. only) to receive the book.

Good luck!

Your host this week is Mary Kay Carson, fellow space geek, science nerd, and author of Mission to Pluto and other nonfiction books for kids.


The Art of the Swap Interview and Giveaway

Freaky Friday meets Downton Abbey in this middle grade mystery that features a modern day twelve-year-old switching bodies with a Gilded Age heiress in order to solve a famous art heist.

We are thrilled to have with us today Kristine Asselin and Jen Malone, authors of THE ART OF THE SWAP, which comes out tomorrow. I am gobsmacked to be able to report that Kris, Jen, and Simon & Schuster are giving to one reader of our blog an ENTIRE CLASSROOM OF HARD COVERS of this book! Can you believe that? It’s for classes in the U.S. only, and up to 25 books. To enter, leave a comment with your email address below by 5pm Eastern on Thursday. You can get an additional entry if you tweet about the giveaway (just leave a link to the tweet in your comment). If you aren’t a teacher, you can designate any school for the donation, or Jen and Kristine can suggest a worthy recipient.

What a fun story! Can you share with us the inspiration?

Kris: Thanks so much for having us here at the Mixed Up Files. We are so excited to have this book out in the world. We can’t wait for kids to read it!

The origin story: About four years ago, I was visiting Newport, Rhode Island, with my family. My daughter and my husband and I have always really enjoyed historical properties, and we tour them as often as we can. On this particular trip, we were on a guided tour and the tour guide pointed to a mysterious door as we walked by and said, “that’s the caretaker’s apartment.”

I turned to my daughter. “Wouldn’t it be cool to live here and take care of all of this?”

She replied, “That would be a great story, mom. You should write that.”

When I got home, I did a bit of research and found out that The Elms (the house in our story) had a real life caretaker who raised his daughter in the house. He’s still there, in fact. His name is Harold Matthews. I was immediately intrigued.

About a year later, Jen and I were carpooling to SCBWI New Jersey and got to talking about our works-in-progress. When I mentioned this middle grade idea of a caretaker’s daughter, we began to brainstorm. Through the course of our drive, it became this amazing dual voice, Freaky Friday, time travel story that we absolutely had to write together.

I love getting to see what it is like for girls from two different centuries, living in the same house. What kind of research did you do for the book? 

Jen: Kristine had a lot more experience doing research since she also writes nonfiction titles for the school/library market, but my fiction research to date had been more along the lines of “Where are all the penny press machines in NYC?” and “How much paper mache would it take to build a 50-foot hedgehog float,” so this was a new and welcome challenge for me. The best was our in-person research—we made visits to The Elms together and solo, and spent an amazing day trailing the caretaker, Harold Mathews, into spots not normally accessible to the public and listening to him speak about his adventures as a single dad raising his young daughter in the converted servant quarters-turned-caretaker apartment. That was magical insight we couldn’t have gotten from any textbook (though we relied on those plenty as well). Most fascinating to me was a mysterious opening ¾ of the way up a wall between the furnace rooms and the coal tunnel (pictured here). Harold told us they once filmed a Victoria’s Secret commercial in this space, but that in the 30-plus years he’s managed the property he’d never once investigated that space. Kris and I were dying to pull a ladder right up to it! Alas… he didn’t offer.

Kris: The Elms was a private home until the early 1960s when the Newport Preservation Society saved it from the wrecking ball and turned it into a museum. It’s still hard for me to believe that someone actually lived in the house, it’s so huge. It truly has its own story! It was one of the first properties saved from destruction by the Preservation Society—and today it looks a lot like it did in the early 1900s.

You can visit The Elms and tour it–so if you’re ever in Newport, you can actually see the places in the house where Hannah and Maggie live!

You two have created a fabulous Educators’ Guide for Art of the Swap that is Common Core-aligned for grades 4-7 and includes special activities for Women’s History Month. Can you tell us some about what you’ve included?

Jen: Thank you! Maggie’s character arc was always focused on the differences between how girls are treated in her time (1905) versus in Hannah’s modern day, but after participating in the Women’s March last year, we revised the manuscript to make some big changes to Hannah’s character arc that allow her to realize there are still many strides to be made in the fight for true equality. We’re hopeful the book can be a springboard to classroom conversation about this! Our Educator’s Guide offers several discussion points on this topic, as well as focused activities, such as a timeline of events in the women’s rights movement between the two time periods highlighted in the story. 

My daughter and I are in a book club together, and so I was thrilled to see the Activities Guide for Troops, Book Clubs, and Organizations, as well. What are some of those activities, and why did you decide to create that guide?

Jen: Both Kristine and I are moms to young girls (my daughter is eleven and Kristine’s is fifteen). As we took a deeper dive into feminism with this book, we were also doing the same in our personal lives. We wanted SWAP to be a starting point for discussions on equality, but we also hoped those discussions would lead to action. We created this Activities Guide for Young Activists to offer a script for ways tweens and teens could turn awareness into activism. We have a series of experiments kids can conduct to see where imbalances still present. For example, one has them watching commercials and tallying lines of dialogue and examining the roles in which women were cast. Did you know the average girl has seen 77,546 ads by the time she turns twelve and only 5% of those ads feature women without a man present? Men speak seven times as often as women in commercials and are 62% more likely to be shown in an intelligent role, such as doctor or scientist. From this awareness-building, we offer suggestions for concrete action steps to bring about change—with the idea that girls (and any boy allies who want to join in!) can do most of them in a fun group setting and benefit from that bonding time too. I think every author wants their stories to put more good into the world, even if that’s by simply offering a few hours of escape to our readers, but this book’s subject matter, coupled with our passion for the topic, really made us want to go bigger here! We’re including a sample exercise from the guide below, and it’s available for download on our author sites and on We’d love to contribute to the movement!

Can you describe the process of writing collaboratively? How did you share ideas and writing?

Kris: First and foremost, we were (and are!) both super excited about this story. Our love for our characters and the themes in the book really drove the process. Once we realized we were actually going to do this, we started by brainstorming most of the plot in one sitting back in August of 2015. We created a very detailed outline which included almost every detail of the plot. This was important because each of us were writing a different voice and character arc, so we needed to have an outline to keep us on track. Can you tell which girl each of us wrote?

As far as nuts and bolts, we had a shared Google Doc in which we wrote the whole story. We would meet (or talk on the phone) periodically to share ideas, but we each wrote our own parts.

Once we had the words in the Doc we could critique each other’s work and then revise. It worked out really well, I think!

We agree! Thanks, Kristine and Jen, for the interview. Now, dear reader, go enter to win all those awesome books!

Kate Hillyer wants to move to an old mansion in Newport, R.I. In the meantime, you can find her in our nation’s capitol, where she reads and writes middle grade, wrangles three kids, and is sure she’s going to start training for that 10k she signed up for any second now. She blogs here and at The Winged Pen, and is a Cybils judge for Poetry. She’s online at and on Twitter as @SuperKate. 









New releases for perfect Valentine’s gifts for children!

Here are some great ideas for Valentine’s gifts for middle-grade children. Hot off the press and ready for the special readers in your life!

The first two were actually released in January, and since ghost-written by one of our contributing members, we wanted to highlight them!

Taking Chances by Kelsey Abrams, illustrated by Jomike Tejido, (Jolly Fish Press)

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Grace has always rushed headlong into things often landing her in trouble. Her elderly neighbor (and close friend), Miz Ida, reminds her to think before she acts. Grace tries to be thoughtful and responsible when helping with Miz Ida s prize-winning cat, Chances, but it isn’t easy. Can Grace slow down enough to keep the people (and animals) she cares for safe? Or are there times when taking chances can be a good thing? At Second Chance Ranch, the Ramirez family cares and works to find homes for all kinds of animals on their 200-acre ranch in Texas. Sisters Natalie (12), Abby (10), and twins Emily and Grace (9) all do their part to help out and give each animal the second chance it deserves.

Wild Midnight by Kelsey Abrams, illustrated by Jomike Tejido

(Jolly Fish Press)

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Emily has her heart set on rescuing a wild mustang, but her family gets outbid at an auction. Instead she settles for helping a nearby ranch muck out stalls where some of the mustangs now reside. She quickly earns a reputation as a horse whisperer for her ability to calm Midnight, a horse that others cannot control. But even Emily cant help when a tornado blows through the area and Midnight gets loose. Or can she? At Second Chance Ranch, the Ramirez family cares and works to find homes for all kinds of animals on their 200-acre ranch in Texas. Sisters Natalie (12), Abby (10), and twins Emily and Grace (9) all do their part to help out and give each animal the second chance it deserves.

Lucy’s Lab: The Colossal Fossil Fiasco by Michelle Houts, illustrated by Elizebeth Zechel, (Sky Pony Press)

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In this third book in the series, Lucy accidentally overhears her parents talking about the family getting a second pet. But what pet should they get?

At school, Lucy’s class is learning about fossils and the plants and animals that left them behind.

One afternoon, Lucy finds a special rock, and Miss Flippo gets very excited! But when Lucy’s precious fossil goes missing, everyone in Room 2C is a suspect. . . .

My Hero Academia, by Kohei Horikoshi, (Viz Media)

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Midoriya inherits the superpower of the world’s greatest hero, but greatness won’t come easy.

What would the world be like if 80 percent of the population manifested superpowers called “Quirks”? Heroes and villains would be battling it out everywhere! Being a hero would mean learning to use your power, but where would you go to study? The Hero Academy of course! But what would you do if you were one of the 20 percent who were born Quirkless?

I Survived the Children’s Blizzard, 1888, by Lauren Tarshis, (Scholastic)

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Eleven-year-old John Hale has already survived one brutal Dakota winter, and now he’s about to experience one of the deadliest blizzards in American history. The storm of 1888 was a monster, a frozen hurricane that slammed into America’s midwest without warning. Within hours, America’s prairie would be buried under ten feet of snow. Hundreds would be dead, thousands terrified and lost and freezing.

John never wanted to move to the wide-open prairie. He’s a city kid, not a tough pioneer! But his inner strength is seriously tested when he finds himself trapped in the blinding snow, the wind like a giant crushing hammer, pounding him over and over again. Will John ever find his way home?

Bravelands #2 Code of Honor, by Erin Hunter, (HarperCollins)

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Set in the African savannah and told from three different animals’ points of view, Bravelands will thrill readers who love Spirit Animals and Wings of Fire, as well as the legion of dedicated fans who’ve made Erin Hunter a bestselling phenomenon.

A baboon who has uncovered an act of treachery.

An elephant uncertain of her fate.

A lion poised to strike.

The code of the wild has been broken. The elephant leader known as Great Mother has been murdered. And Bravelands is on the edge of chaos. Now a young baboon, elephant, and lion must come together to discover the truth—before the fragile balance of Bravelands is destroyed forever.

Dragon Bones (The Unwanted Quests) by Lisa McMann, (Aladdin)

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Ten years after Alex and Aaron Stowe brought peace to Quill and Artimé, their younger twin sisters journey beyond Artimé in the second novel in the New York Times bestselling sequel series to The Unwanteds, which Kirkus Reviews called “The Hunger Games meets Harry Potter.”

The Artiméans have suffered some devastating blows.

After years of peace, the recent daring adventure of twins Thisbe and Fifer Stowe have brought about dire consequences. Thisbe has been captured, Fifer is injured, and Sky is lost at sea. The twins’ older brother Alex, head mage of Artimé, is paralyzed with fear of losing anyone else he loves. Fifer must convince him to finally trust her to help in the battle ahead now that their true enemy has been revealed.

Meanwhile Thisbe is trapped underground in the catacombs, where the ancient dragon rulers are buried. Along with fellow prisoners, Thisbe’s job is to transport dragon bones from her crypt to the extracting room, where others extract the magical properties dormant in the bones. When it appears no one is coming back to rescue her, Thisbe must train in secret, trying to learn how to control her fiery magic and use it to escape. As her situation becomes more grave, she might even have to align herself with the ultimate evil.

Unfortunately it’s a risk she has to take.

Arlo Finch in the Valley of Fire by John August, (Roaring Book Press)
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Arlo Finch in the Valley of Fire is the first book in a spellbinding fantasy adventure series by screenwriter John August.

Some trails lead to magic. Some lead to danger.

As Arlo looked around, the walls of his room began to vanish, revealing a moonlit forest. Only his bed remained, and the frame of his window, through which he saw the girl. The world on her side of the glass was sparkling with silver and gold, like a palace made of autumn leaves. 
She looked off to her right. Someone was coming. Her words came in an urgent whisper: “If I can see you, they can see you . . . Be careful, Arlo Finch.

Arlo Finch is a newcomer to Pine Mountain, Colorado, a tiny town of mystery and magic, but he’s already attracted the attention of dark and ancient forces. At first he thinks these increasingly strange and frightening occurrences are just part of being in Rangers, the mountain scouting troop where he learns how to harness the wild magic seeping in from the mysterious Long Woods.

But he soon Arlo finds himself at the center of a dangerous adventure, where he faces obstacles that test the foundations of the Ranger’s Vow: Loyalty, Bravery, Kindness, and Truth.