Posts Tagged Adventure Books for Middle Grade

Interview with Alex London for BATTLE DRAGONS, Plus Giveaway

Alex London is joining us on From the Mixed Up Files today to talk about the first book in his brand new middle-grade fantasy series BATTLE DRAGONS. Alex is the author of more than 25 books for children, teens and adults, including the middle-grade series DOG TAGS, TIDES OF WAR, WILD ONES, and ACCIDENTAL ADVENTURES. His latest series launches on Sept. 21 with BATTLE DRAGONS: CITY OF THIEVES, which is a super fun adventure. Here’s the description:

Cover of Battle Dragons: City of Thieves by Alex LondonIn a modern mega-city built around dragons, one boy gets caught up in the world of illegal dragon battles and a high-stakes gang war that could tear his family apart.

Once, dragons nearly drove themselves to extinction. But in the city of Drakopolis, humans domesticated them centuries ago. Now dragons haul the city’s cargo, taxi its bustling people between skyscrapers, and advertise its wares in bright, neon displays. Most famously of all, the dragons battle. Different breeds take to the skies in nighttime bouts between the infamous kins―criminal gangs who rule through violence and intimidation.

Abel has always loved dragons, but after a disastrous showing in his dragon rider’s exam, he’s destined never to fly one himself. All that changes the night his sister appears at his window, entrusting him with a secret…and a stolen dragon.

Turns out, his big sister is a dragon thief! Too bad his older brother is a rising star in Drakopolis law enforcement…

To protect his friends and his family, Abel must partner with the stolen beast, riding in kin battles and keeping more secrets than a dragon has scales.

When everyone wants him fighting on their side, can Abel figure out what’s worth fighting for?

Doesn’t it sound awesome? Until you can get your dragon paws on your own copy, let’s go behind the scenes of the book’s creation. And make sure you read to the end to enter the giveaway.

Samantha: Hi Alex! Welcome to From the Mixed Up Files. I loved BATTLE DRAGONS: CITY OF THIEVES. Tell us where you got the idea from?

Headshot of Alex London | Photo by Gina Clyne Photography

Alex London | Photo by Gina Clyne Photography

Alex: Thanks so much!  The short pitch is that it’s The Fast and The Furious meets How to Train Your Dragon, except that I hadn’t actually seen those movies or read those books when I began this project. Of course, I’ve corrected that oversight now (and am kind of obsessed with the gleeful story-telling chaos of the Fast and The Furious franchise.

As to my inspirations, there are endless sparks that ignite the ideas in any novel, but this one combined so many influences that fueled my imagination when I was a middle schooler. It combines my love of cyberpunk like Akira and Blade Runner with my love of fantasy, of dragon lore, and ultimately of stories set in that middle school time, when young people start to come into their own and realize how much bigger, complicated, and wonderful the world is than they ever dreamed. I wanted to write a story that would have appealed to me in middle school, but that would’ve also expanded my imagination for what kind of a world was possible.

There are sibling rivalries and new friends and high stakes souped-up dragon riding action. There are also, I hope, a lot of laughs!

Samantha: You’ve incorporated a lot of dragon story lore (with the dragons keeping a hoard, for example), but you’ve also expanded on the roles of dragons, like having them be taxis, school buses and cleaners. How did you decide what to keep and what to add for this story?

Alex: Writing a mash-up of genres gave me the freedom to pick and choose what dragon lore was useful or interesting to me. What of my main concerns was using the lore that would make the dragons feel familiar and recognizable, without being derivative or boxing me in to any narrative corners. So, flying and hoarding and breath weapons were a must, but speaking English to humans, as they do in some wonderful dragon tales, was not something I wanted.

Samantha: I love all the different types of dragons you’ve come up with for the story. What inspired each one?

Alex: I couldn’t possibly go into detail on each one here, but I did develop a basic dragon taxonomy when I began, essentially dividing them into Short-Wing, Medium-Wing, and Long-Wing dragons, each more suited to different jobs for humans, and within each category a wide variety of species, from Infernal Long wings whose fire their hot breath from high in the clouds, the short winged Blue Foot, which are like the Honda Accords of the Drakopolis. Then there are the different Reapers, medium winged dragons who make the best battlers with their wide variety of breath weapons and skills, and the related Wyvers, pulled straight from mythology, but in my story, used mostly by the secret police. It’s a lot of fun researching and inventing dragons and their abilities! I spend a lot of time thinking of it like a card game, Pokemon or Magic: The Gathering. In fact, I even invented a game just like that for the story!

Samantha: Abel and his brother Silas and sister Lina are all very different. Are you closest to one of them or do they all have similarities to you in different ways?

Alex: I’m probably most like Abel, with my ADHD and tendency to catastrophize, though, like Lina, I’m idealist who broke more than a few rules as a teenager, but like Silas, I can slip into an inflated sense of self-righteousness if I’m not careful. This is the first series I’ve written since becoming a parent, however, so I do find myself identifying a lot more with their parents than anyone else! I hope I could stand up the gangsters and the secret police as well his Abel’s parents do!

Samantha: If you were one of your dragons from Drakopolis, which one would it be and what would be your favorite thing to hoard?

Alex: Oh, I would want to be Karak, the Sunrise Reaper, because describing him was just so cool! The scene where he meets Abel and Roa was the first I thought of, even before I starting writing.  And I think I would probably hoard books…because I kind of do already!

Samantha: You’ve written both contemporary and fantasy books, but you said in an interview that the fantasy book Redwall helped you become an avid reader. As a writer, do you enjoy writing one genre more than another?

Alex: I like writing everything! As this fantasy-sci-fi mashup with real themes of middle school probably demonstrates, I can’t confine myself to just one genre. The world is so full of stories, I’d hate to limit myself to just one kind.

Samantha: Do you have any tips for teachers and librarians who are trying to encourage reluctant readers to read more?

Alex: Choice! Letting readers choose their own reading—even if it doesn’t seem like great literature to us—matters. I read far more Calvin and Hobbes as a kid than I did prose novels, and far more illustrated nonfiction magazines than ‘literature’ and far more “trashy novels’ than ‘great books’ and now I’m an avid and critical reader and a fairly prolific writer. People come to it in their own time and in their own ways, and I think we need to model following our interests and knowing when to put books down if they aren’t working for us. Life is too short and there are too many good books to force ourselves to read ones we hate. For every “reluctant reader’ out there, there are books that will feel like their were written just for them. They just need the chance to find them.

Aside from choice, I think removing the stigma from not loving to read could help. We put a lot of moral weight on reading, but I know brilliant people who don’t read much of anything and total monsters who are bookworms. I think reading is a source of great joy, insight, and inspiration, and I want to invite kids into it, but I don’t see any use for shaming them when they aren’t.

Samantha: Finally, can you give us a sneak peek at book 2 in the series? When is it coming out?

Alex: It will be called BATTLE DRAGONS: CITY OF SPEED. I don’t know the publication date, but I do know that there will be high stakes dragon races, new and wonderful breeds of dragons, and new friends and enemies for Abel and his crew. It’s gonna be a high stakes, high speed, high flying romp, that I hope readers love!

Samantha: I can’t wait!

Enter the giveaway below by July 30 for your chance to get one of three copies of BATTLE DRAGONS: CITY OF THIEVES plus a signed bookplate.

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AN OCCASIONALLY HAPPY FAMILY: Interview with Author Cliff Burke & #Giveaway!

Welcome to my interview with author Cliff Burke and his heart-warming story AN OCCASIONALLY HAPPY FAMILY!

This title spoke to me from the moment I read it. I’m sure it can stir all sorts of family memories and thoughts; I know, it did in me. Let’s have an introduction to the book and then we’ll move on to the author’s thoughts on his adventure writing it. Don’t forget to scroll to the bottom to enter for your chance to win a copy of this #mglit book!



by Cliff Burke

Gordon Korman meets The Great Outdoors in this funny and moving debut about a boy who goes on a disastrous family vacation (sweltering heat! bear chases!) that ends with a terrible surprise: his dad’s new girlfriend.

There are zero reasons for Theo Ripley to look forward to his family vacation. Not only are he, sister Laura, and nature-obsessed Dad going to Big Bend, the least popular National Park, but once there, the family will be camping. And Theo is an indoor animal. It doesn’t help that this will be the first vacation they’re taking since Mom passed away.

Once there, the family contends with 110 degree days, wild bears, and an annoying amateur ornithologist and his awful teenage vlogger son. Then, Theo’s dad hits him with a whopper of a surprise: the whole trip is just a trick to introduce his secret new girlfriend.

Theo tries to squash down the pain in his chest. But when it becomes clear that this is an auditioning-to-be-his-stepmom girlfriend, Theo must find a way to face his grief and talk to his dad before his family is forever changed.


Hi Cliff! It’s wonderful to have you stop by. Tell us: when did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Like most writers, I’m first and foremost a reader and grew up believing that ‘real writers’ were a special, untouchable group of people. Even though I majored in English in college and did some creative writing then, it wasn’t until more recently that I thought I might have the ability to write a full-length book that could be published. Specifically, I was inspired by my students’ creative energy and how involved they got during our writing units. I began writing short stories to serve as mentor texts for assignments, mostly just trying to get laughs (while still teaching the fundamentals of building characters, dialogue punctuation, setting the scene, etc.), and went from writing short sketches for my classes to drafting a book that is soon for sale!

Fantastic! Love that your writing evolution included your students’ fervor for their writing assignments. Very inspiring!

Tell the readers a bit about your main character Theo.

Theo is a thirteen-year-old budding comic book artist whose first graphic novel, The Aliens who Eat People But Never Get Full, was a big hit with his three friends. He is a Pisces who mostly goes with the flow and often serves as the peace-keeper between his bickering older sister and Dad. Something hinted at but not explicitly detailed in the book is Theo’s desire for, but difficulty with, connecting to other people.

Theo’s first comic book title is so great! Oh, the visuals.

Why did you want to tell Theo’s story?

I wanted to tell Theo’s story because I think it is a fairly common one. Many middle grade main characters take action, or are brash, or have strong personalities that lead them to a big change. But just as common (and just as interesting) are kids who are more reserved, and whose unique characteristics only become apparent once you get to know them better. The difference between what Theo communicates directly to the reader and what he outwardly communicates to the people in his life make him different from chattier or more outward-facing main characters.


The quote by Tolstoy that opens the book ‘Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way’, screams volumes of what is to come on the pages of this story.

  • What defines this family’s happiness and unhappiness?

Without giving away too much of the story, I’d say the family’s unhappiness comes from the truly difficult experiences the family has gone through in the years before the book starts, and their inability to communicate openly about their feelings. Their happiness comes from the core of genuine care they have for each other despite their challenges in expressing this directly.

  • How do you think young readers will see their own families within this?

I am trying to reflect the reality of my own experiences growing up, and hope that even if readers don’t identify with the specific ways in which this family is imperfect, they can appreciate the importance of all imperfect families.

Grief, life changes, and acceptance are underlying themes throughout Theo’s story. What was one of your hardest scenes to write, which incorporated these? Which was your favorite?

The final scene, without giving it away, was one of the hardest to write because I wanted to strike the balance between writing a scene that was hopeful and satisfying to the reader, but still honest in showing that people (and families) do not change overnight.

My favorite scene that incorporates these themes also takes place towards the end of the book, when the family is sitting under the stars of the Terlingua desert and speaking to each other honestly for the first time.


Why will young readers relate to Theo?

In a general sense, readers can relate to Theo as someone who is shy in public but inwardly bursting with creativity, as a younger sibling, as someone torn between allegiances to his sister and his Dad, as someone who loves his friends but also wishes they were a little different sometimes, or as someone forced into a car on a family vacation to a place he has little interest in visiting.

More specifically, I also hope he is relatable as someone who has gone through a major event in his life (the death of his mother) without understanding how to really talk about his response to it. He outwardly projects that he is doing fine and has everything under control but would like to let his true feelings to someone who would listen without judgement.

As we’ve pointed out, the book does deal with serious life emotions and events, it does also have a very humorous side. Care to share an example?

Thank you for pointing this out! One of my favorite parts of writing is finding ways to incorporate humor into the story. A scene that was particularly fun to write was Theo and his family’s encounter with French nudists in a public hot springs who reject the Dad’s insistence that they follow the “bathing suits recommended” park policy.


What would you like young readers (and their parents) to leave Theo’s story with?

I hope readers will take whatever they would like from the book. There is a lot of info about Big Bend National Park and the history of Texas, observations on older sisters,

bumbling fathers, overzealous young influencers, amateur birders, and bear attacks. There is hopefully something in that list that will linger with readers, along with the above-mentioned message that expressing even the most difficult emotions can be very healing.


For our writing readers, share a piece of writing advice that you’ve found valuable throughout your writing journey.

I’ll offer this, from George Saunders’s recent A Swim in a Pond in the Rain – “doing what you please (i.e. what pleases you), with energy, will lead you to everything – to your particular obsessions, your particular challenges, and the forms in which they’ll convert into beauty…We can’t know what our writing problems will be until we write our way into them, and then we can only write our way out.”

I’m very guilty of trying to construct the perfect story in my head and flagging every possible problem rather than sitting down and starting to put words together. I’ve also talked to many people who have the best idea for a story but still need to write it. So my advice is just to start writing and see what happens.


Cliff Burke grew up in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio. He worked as a house painter, a parking lot attendant, and a sign-twirling dancing banana before graduating from the College of William and Mary. He currently teaches English in Austin, Texas.

Can’t thank you enough for joining us and for sharing your new book with us, Cliff! Best wishes from the entire Mixed-Up family.

Interested in more books about spending time with family? Check out this POST!

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This giveaway runs from today until May 27th. (US only) Good luck!🍀🍀🍀

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

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.


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