Posts Tagged Adventure Books for Middle Grade

Interview and Giveaway with P. J. Hoover

I’m delighted to welcome author P. J. Hoover to the Mixed Up Files. Her upcoming middle-grade book, HOMER’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE, comes out on April 7, and I couldn’t be more excited to read it. P. J. first told me about this story when she was writing the first draft, and as soon as she said it was a cross between THE ODYSSEY and the movie Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, I was in!

Now, this fun story is finally almost out in the world, and P.J.’s here to tell us all about the book and her plans for it. Welcome, P. J.!

P.J. Hoover

P.J. Hoover

P. J. Hoover is the award-winning author of The Hidden Code, a Da Vinci Code-style young adult adventure with a kick-butt heroine, and Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life, featuring a fourteen-year-old King Tut who’s stuck in middle school. When not writing, P. J. spends time practicing kung fu, fixing things around the house, and solving Rubik’s cubes. For more information about P. J. (Tricia) Hoover, please visit her website www.pjhoover.com.

Give us your new book’s elevator pitch. What’s it about?

Thanks for asking! And thanks so much for inviting me to be a part of your blog today!

Here’s the best description I can come up with . . .

Homer is about to fail out of school unless he can come up with a story. An epic story. Oh, and it needs to be written in Dactylic Hexameter. No big deal . . . except Homer has no idea what that is. Also Homer is horrible at writing, so he’s pretty much out of luck.

But the Greek god Hermes has a story that needs a storyteller, and with a trick of immortal magic, he sends Homer and his best friend Dory back to the end of the Trojan War. They meet up with the Greek hero Odysseus along with an entire crew of smelly sailors and set off on a journey filled with scary monsters, angry gods, and a very hungry cyclops.

It sounds so fun! You love writing books based on myths, and have others, right? Tell us about those.

Yes! I have always adored mythology, and when I’m writing, it’s my first go-to when it comes to story ideas. Since there are a handful, I’ll keep it short and sweet for each one.

Solstice – A super-hot twist on the Hades and Persephone myth, set half in future Austin, Texas, and half in the Greek underworld. Piper’s best friend almost dies, and Piper has to travel to the underworld to save her. Oh, and there are lots of Greek gods. Young Adult fantasy with some satisfying romance.

The Curse of Hera – The last thing Logan wants to do with his entire summer is go to some fake mythology-themed camp, but that’s exactly what he’s stuck doing. Turns out everything isn’t fake after all, and unless he and his friends break a curse Hera has placed on the camp, they’re going to be fighting the Hydra forever.

Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life (and the sequel Tut: My Epic Battle to Save the World) – King Tut is 14 years old, immortal, and stuck in middle school forever! His crazy uncle shows up and is out for revenge (because he’s been locked in a tomb for 3000 years and is a little upset about that). Fun, middle school humor!

The Emerald Tablet (and the rest of The Forgotten World Trilogy) – A fun blend of mythology, time travel, and hidden continents around the world. Benjamin Holt thinks summer will be normal. Next thing he knows, he’s being sent to summer school at a continent under the Pacific Ocean and finds out he needs to save the world.

What gave you the idea for this Homer story?

I have adored the story of the Odyssey since I first read it in high school. In my 30s, my interest in it became renewed as I started talking more about the Hero’s Journey in writing and in life. Then, when I rewatched Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, the spark of an idea ignited. Homer could be just like Bill and Ted. And he too could go on an excellent adventure!

Were you like Homer when you were a kid, having problems writing the perfect story in school?

I was exactly like Homer! I never liked writing because I didn’t think I was very good at it. And because I didn’t think I was very good at it, I never worked to get better. But much like Homer, when I did start writing, I discovered that writing is just like anything else. If you work hard at it, you will get better.

What’s your process when you write a story that’s based on a myth? Which is the chicken? Which is the egg? And which comes first?

Fun question. I guess the egg is the original myth. This is where the story starts. And the great thing is that this egg gives us the overall skeleton of a story. But when the egg hatches, well, that’s where the story starts to take on a life of its own.

One thing I love doing when I’m working with myths is thinking outside the box. Our mind automatically goes to the first idea we think of. Well, toss that idea aside and think of another. Then toss that idea aside. When you get to the third idea, you start to make the myth your own.

HOMER’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE seems like the perfect book to teach kids about The Odyssey, the hero’s journey and myths. Do you think this is true? Can you give us any specifics?

I have an entire presentation for school visits that is structured around the Hero’s Journey, and I love talking to kids about it. The funniest thing is that for the last seven or eight years, as I’ve been giving this presentation, I’ve been using the Odyssey as my example story. And now, with Homer as a 12-year-old kid who doesn’t like to write, just like so many of the kids I visit in schools, it becomes the PERFECT book to use for exactly that: the Odyssey, the hero’s journey, the writing process, and myths.

Tell us about the wonderful cover? Who illustrated it and are there any details we should look out for on the cover and in the whole book’s design?

Thank you! I love the cover, too! I was so lucky to have video game artist Erik McKenney do the art for the cover of Homer’s Excellent Adventure. He read the book and really captured the elements of the story that I wanted to shine through. He drew an amazing cyclops front and center. And best of all, there are hidden Easter eggs on the cover, but I think that will make its own great blog post in the future!

For your other books, you’ve done really fun supporting materials, like games and more. Do you have any fun plans for HOMER?

I do have some fun (and educational) tie-ins already, and I am definitely planning on creating more. First off, there is a map! I absolutely love this map!

Homer's Excellent Adventure Map

The map in HOMER’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE, created by Erik McKenney! Pre-order the book at IndieBound.

Second, there is an amazing curriculum guide created by a librarian and aligned to state and national standards. It has some amazing ideas like a HOMER’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE Character Museum and Make Your Own Lotus Flower.

Third, I have some just for fun tie-ins, like a recipe for the tastiest hardtack in the (ancient) world and a guide to Dactylic Hexameter.

And finally, I have a comprehensive glossary filled with humor.

Are there any myths that you’ve got your eye on to tackle next or in the future? And if so, which ones and why?

All of them because I love them! But also none specifically. I’m currently working on a non-mythology story, but after that, the world is my oyster. I love that with mythology there is so much source material to pull from.

Any advice for writers who are interpreting legendary tales like myths into modern stories, like you’ve been doing?

Knowing your source material is so important, because people who love mythology are serious about mythology and will call you out if you get the tiniest detail wrong. If you make an artistic choice or interpretation, try to make it clear somewhere (maybe in an author’s note at the end of the book or a clever aside in the text) what it is.

Wonderful! Let us know when we can get our hands on HOMER and where.

The release date is APRIL 7, 2020! You can look for it wherever you normally buy books, and if for some reason your school, library, or bookstore does not have it, please ask them to order it! This is such a great favor to give an author.

Thank you so much for inviting me to be a part of your blog today! It’s been a ton of fun!

Thank you, P. J.!

Don’t miss the giveaway for a signed Advanced Reader Copy below. It ends at midnight Feb. 21 and is open to U.S. residents only.

And pre-order HOMER’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE here.

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Meet Jess Butterworth, Author of Running on the Roof of the World

Our next middle grade spotlight is directed on a book brimming with adventure, intrigue, and culture. And it’s written by an incredibly sweet author! Let’s meet her now.

Jess Butterworth – As a child Jess wanted to be many things, including a vet and even David Attenborough, but throughout all of those ideas, she always wanted to write. She studied creative writing as a BA(hons) at Bath Spa University, where she won the Writing for Young People Prize in 2011. She then completed a Master’s in Writing for Young People, also at Bath Spa University, and graduated in 2015. Her first two novels, RUNNING ON THE ROOF OF THE WORLD and WHEN THE MOUNTAINS ROARED are set in the Himalayas. Find her on Twitter & her Website.

Welcome to our Mixed-Up site, Jess! So glad you stopped by.

Thanks for having me here.

Let’s begin with when you were a child. Did you have a special someone read to you? And was reading a big part of your life as a middle grader?
As a young child, my grandmothers and parents would read to me often, which I adored. Apparently I refused to go to bed without having several stories read to me beforehand. My absolute favorite books were The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Dear Zoo and Where the Wild Things Are.
When I was a middle grader, it was Matilda by Roald Dahl that accelerated my love of reading. Just like in Matilda, books transported me to different worlds and countries from the comfort of my own home and you’d often find me in the library in search of adventure stories.

You chose great reads as a child!

What motivated you to write this story? Where did you find your inspiration?
As a child, I grew up between India where my dad’s family lived, and the UK, where my mum’s family lived. In India, our home was in Dharamsala in the Himalayas, where the Dalai Lama and a Tibetan community in exile live. Growing up I had lots of friends who were Tibetan and whose family had made the journey over the mountains from Tibet into the safety of India. Writing has always been my way of making sense of the world around me and when I was visiting my dad in the Himalayas in 2013, I learnt about the current abuse of human rights within Tibet. Tashi’s voice soon appeared in my head and I started writing.

Wow, what an intriguing childhood environment to grow up in. It’s very touching how Tashi’s voice came to be.

Speaking of Tashi, there’s a violent act that plunges her into a new story and completely changes her world. How did you decide to use this act and the oppression of her people, and did the violence of it give you concerns for your readers?
I try not to avoid the difficult situations within the world in my writing, but rather make sure that there’s a sense of hope in the story. I aim to show that it’s possible to go on, even after a terrible thing has occurred, by focusing on universal aspects such as friendship, kindness and love. Running on the Roof of the World is grounded in real events and settings which made me feel it’s important to keep that moment in. I also included moments of lightness and laughter and even though there are political undercurrents throughout, it’s very much a middle grade adventure story too.

I really love this answer. 

This story gives vivid insight into the Tibetan daily life and culture. How much research did you do and how much of that research made it into the book?
When I realized I wanted to write this book, I returned to Dharamsala and did six months of research. During that time, I studied Tibetan Buddhism, attended Dalai Lama teachings, trekked into the Himalayas and went in search of yaks. I also interviewed many Tibetan people. There was definitely a lot of research that got cut along the way, but I think it still helped to have that knowledge in the back of my mind, especially with writing in a first person viewpoint. My favorite research moment was spending time with the yaks!

Very cool! And your efforts in research definitely show throughout this book. What do you hope readers take away from this story?
A small insight into a part of the world they not have been aware of before, and a sense of hope and wonder.

Are you working on anything new? What can your readers expect from you next?
My second book is another middle grade adventure called When the Mountains Roared and is inspired by my Grandma, who in the 1960s rescued a baby kangaroo joey as she was leaving Australia, and took it with her by boat to India. The story is set in the present and follows Ruby, who’s devastated when her dad uproots her from Australia to set up a hotel in the mountains of India. Not only are they living in a run-down building in the middle of the wilderness surrounded by scorpions, bears and leopards, but Ruby is sure that India will never truly feel like home—not without her mum there. Ever since her mum died, Ruby has been afraid. Of cars. Of the dark. Of going to sleep and never waking up. But then the last remaining leopards of the mountain are threatened and everything changes.

Your family has lived such interesting lives! I love that you’re touching upon that to share them with the world through your books. It’s been such a pleasure having you visit. Thank you!

RUNNING ON THE ROOF OF THE WORLD

There are two words that are banned in Tibet. Two words that can get you locked in prison without a second thought. I watch the soldiers tramping away and call the words after them. ‘Dalai Lama.’

Tash has to follow many rules to survive in Tibet, a country occupied by Chinese soldiers. But when a man sets himself on fire in protest and soldiers seize Tash’s parents, she and her best friend Sam must break the rules. They are determined to escape Tibet – and seek the help of the Dalai Lama himself in India.

And so, with a backpack of Tash’s father’s mysterious papers and two trusty yaks by their side, their extraordinary journey across the mountains begins.

Join 12-year-old Tash and her best friend Sam in a story of adventure, survival and hope, set in the vivid Himalayan landscape of Tibet and India. Filled with friendship, love and courage, this young girl’s thrilling journey to save her parents is an ideal read for children aged 9-12.

Readers, do you know any fun facts about Tibetan life? Have you read any other stories about it?

The Heart of Middle Grade Adventure

The Heart of Middle Grade Adventure

The Heart of Middle Grade Adventure with Sean EasleyI recently went on an impromptu trip to Colorado that changed the way I think of the word “adventure.”

You’d think I would already have learned all I need to know about adventure. After all, middle grade adventures make up the core of my writing. But that’s the thing about this journey of life, and about story itself: it’s often surprising. It takes you to new places where you don’t know what’s coming. It leads you to lands where you can explore who you are and see your life, even your identity, in a different light. And it often does so through the people you encounter, and the bonds you build.

A buddy of mine has had a rough summer full of the kind of life that starts to get to you after a while, and really wanted to head out to the mountains and spend a few days recuperating in the great outdoors. So we packed up a couple tents, a few sleeping bags, and headed out. And while we were out there hiking backwoods and swinging in hammocks and sitting around campfires, I started thinking about the whole genre of middle grade adventure. How it’s like that unplanned, unexpected trip into the unknown, and what makes that special. Why the books I remember so fondly from my youth books contained stories of expansive journeys and daring-dos, and why, after all these years, I came back to take kids on similar adventures.

Adventures Are Born of the Unexpected

We all know the tropes of this kind of fiction. Sometimes new threat is dropped in a character’s lap. Something out of the ordinary shakes the protagonist’s life, and whisks our hero away to a new and unfamiliar world. A friend calls and says, “Hey, wanna go on a trip?”

In the writing business we often call this the “inciting incident”—the inception of events that are beyond the protagonist’s everyday experience. This is where adventures begin.

In other genres, the call that sets the events of the story in motion can be emotional or close to home—the interest of a potential relationship, the solving of a mystery, the thwarting of a villain—but a call to adventure takes the hero away from home in a literal sense, setting them on a path they haven’t trod before. Our protagonist must actually leave home to find their destination. They leave to find themselves.

Adventures Contain Uncertainty

As I gathered my camping gear (what little I own) and climbed into the car we’d take on our journey, none of us knew where it would take us. We had an general idea—a trajectory—but anything could have happened to derail our plans. And it did.

At one point on our journey, we ended up at a mall, where I regaled my friend with stories of the mythical corn dog place I loved growing up. As I’m about to name the place—a chain I haven’t seen anywhere in ages and thought had gone completely out of business—we rounded the corner to find that exact restaurant. The angels sang the Hallelujah Chorus. Light shone down from heaven, and I was able to share a deep-fried goodness I haven’t had in years with my buddy.

It seems that uncertainty is an essential component in any adventure. If the stories we read were all laid out from the beginning and our protagonist never strayed from the plan, what would be the point? The characters would be simply going through the motions, and the reader would end up just flipping pages out of boredom.

Adventure requires those little uncertainties, because that’s what breathes life into the experience.

Adventures Are Personal

Stories matter to readers because they matter to the characters taking us with them. Those journeys aren’t just from one geographical location to another—they have to move from one emotional place to another, as well.

As readers, our brains are always working, always struggling to reconcile what we know with what we see in the world around us. This is especially true of young readers, who haven’t settled on which lenses they’ll use to look at the world when they grow up. Stories offer new lenses, new perspectives.

On our little excursion, I too had some things niggling at the back of my mind, coloring the world around me. Questions about how to handle things of life, worries about what to do in situations that were waiting for me back home. But it was the color of those lenses that affected my thinking, my experience. This was true of my friend, as well. The new experiences of our short adventure—though far more limited in scope than the stories of, say, Fablehaven, Keeper of the Lost Cities, or Peasprout Chen—helped me process and make decisions I was avoiding. It was clarifying, and made our trip all the sweeter.

We didn’t leave who we were behind when we went on the trip. We carried it all with us. Just like the characters in a book see their world through the lens of how it’s changing them, specifically. And that gives meaning to the journey.

Adventures Are Relational

None of that would have happened, however, without people to go on the journey with. Few of us go through life fully alone. It’s the relationships we make—the people we meet along the way, the side characters and opposing forces and allies—who take a hike in the woods and turn it into a true adventure.

If you think about your favorite sprawling stories, I’m sure you’ll come to the same conclusion. The journey is better with friends. Harry Potter’s story is nothing without Hermione, and Fred and George, Neville and Luna. What would Howl’s Moving Castle have been without Calcifer, or the scarecrow, or even Howl himself?

Characters—people—populate the words on our pages, and they can’t be neglected. It’s those characters who provide the unexpected. They set us on our paths and share wise truths and give us the input we need to become better people.

Sean Easley looking out over mountainsThis is the power of fiction: to take us on an unexpected, uncertain journey, to change our hearts and introduce us to new friends. Kids need those adventures. And middle grade fiction is specially positioned to impact who those kids are going to be in the long run. To teach them who to be. To empower them to grow, and envision the mountains beyond what they can see.

It’s a unique gift, and a unique responsibility.

For examples of some middle grade adventure stories that do a great job of incorporating these elements, you can check out another post I wrote, Upper-MG Authors to Adventure With.

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