Posts Tagged Anne Ursu

THE LOST GIRL by Anne Ursu & New Information

There’s much to love about Anne Ursu’s latest middle grade book, THE LOST GIRL. The shifting relationship of twin sisters, Lark and Iris, who are reluctantly being pushed toward independence. How the separation upsets the balance in both their lives. The odd new shop in town with its mysterious secrets. Lark and Iris finding new connections through activities and friends. All these things combine to make a beautiful and fantastical contemporary middle grade novel…with ravens!!! MG fans, read this book!

As a parent of fraternal twins, this book appeals to me on many levels. All that wonderful stuff pales in comparison, though, to what hit me on a two-and-a-half page stretch of THE LOST GIRL. The monumental turn which stuck in my craw and won’t go away starts on page 150.  Iris asks her mother a question as her life spirals beyond her comfortable and normal level of control.

(Iris) “I have another question.”

(Mom) “Shoot.”

(Iris) “Is there stuff you learned at school that you found out later wasn’t true? Like everybody believed one thing and they were wrong?”

There it is. The monumental question in this wonderful book I can’t get out of my head. How do we react when the knowledge previously learned and the things considered truths are no longer true? When new information upsets our apple cart of truths, what’s the next step?

The question made me think of the shifting truths in nutrition, the environment, climate change, food security, health, education, and politics, to name a few. In science, we deal with changing information daily. New discovery and fresh inquiry push science forward. New knowledge replaces old knowledge. But this is not always universally accepted. As in other walks of life, the birth of new knowledge and its acceptance is not a smooth process. It’s sometimes hard for the “old guard” to accept the new knowledge and move forward. They often don’t have the desire, the energy, or the resources to shift thinking and move from the mapped and paved superhighway of their past knowledge base onto the bumpy and shifting ground of new discovery.

The mother in THE LOST GIRL answers that there were things she learned which are now considered wrong.

  • Pluto as a planet
  • Brontosaurus
  • Pterodactyls
  • How margarine was so much better than butter but one day became “…basically death on a stick.”

Iris is confused by this revelation as her whole world seems to be knocked off balance and laments to herself, “It would just be nice to be able to believe in the things she did know.”

The new information problem in my head drifted to art, reading, and writing, especially the endeavors aimed at children. New information about past and present children’s literature may lie at the core of the biggest kidlit issues of our generation. Representation. Diversity. Criticism/Backlash. Misinformation.

Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop proposed the idea of “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Doors” in her classic 1990 paper. Dr.Bishop presented the need to increase diverse choices and voices in our children’s literature universe to give children from diverse and marginalized backgrounds a mirror to see themselves represented and provide a window for others to see into their existence.

How many times in the past several years have we heard about problematic children’s literature and/or problematic creators? At least a few times, right? Hopefully, we are paying attention to these conversations and criticisms happening all around us. The struggle with new information is real and presents challenges almost daily in this information age. We must learn to analyze, accept, and adapt to new and different information.

With apologies to Dr. Bishop, I would like to add another function to the mirror. A mirror for us to analyze ourselves as adult creators and gatekeepers. We need to study our own beliefs toward new children’s literature information. Do we hold onto problematic children’s literature with clenched fists because it is dear to our heart? Do we study the facts and make informed decisions about problematic books and/or problematic creators? Do we ignore the issues because a book or a creator holds such a revered place in our own formation?

Honestly, I do not know the answers. These are individual questions we must ask ourselves. We have to decide whether to accept the new information or turn a blind eye. We have to decide how new knowledge affects our view of the problematic content as we move forward. We need to do the best we can and when new information arises, be willing to adjust.

The goal is to try and get things right in a constantly changing world by making informed decisions via a willingness to keep learning and relearning. Nothing is ever truly written in stone. Knowledge changes. Process information with an open mind.

As I’ve soapboxed before, the single greatest skill our young people will need in the digital age is the ability to sift through the mountains of data and the wave of available information to determine the truths. (Or the truths at that particular time?)

Perhaps Iris’ mom has the best advice about dealing with an ever-evolving knowledge base:

(Iris) So what do you do?”

(Mom) I guess… we just do the best we can with the information we have, you know? And stay open to the idea that there’s a lot we don’t know.”

Do the best with the information we have. I like that.

Wield knowledge wisely and to great benefit. It’s okay to be wrong IF you learn to be right.

Knowledge is powerful, not power.

Thank you, Anne Ursu, for THE LOST GIRL. It is a very good book. Also, a debt of gratitude for those two-and-a-half pages. They raised a deep question that wormed its way into my brain and won’t let go. THE LOST GIRL made me think and that’s one of the greatest gifts a story can give.


Note: Below is a link to the replay of the 2019 May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture presented on April 13, 2019 by Dr. Debbie Reese, host of the  American Indians in Children’s Literature web site and blog. It was an exceptional presentation about diversity, representation, and the #DiversityJedi in children’s literature. 

An Indigenous Critique of Whiteness in Children’s Literature replay from Wisconsin Public Television.



Dealing with Mental Health Issues in Middle Grade Literature

Mental Health in Middle Grade Literature

Mental Health in Middle Grade Literature

(EDITED TO ADD: Responsibility in these kinds of topics is of the utmost importance. There are many books that do NOT handle issues like these appropriately–and some that increase stigmas rather than assuage them–so please make certain that books are informed whenever they assert any kind of mental illness. Familiarize yourself with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, build relationships with professionals, and be careful that books you recommend are supportive and empowering rather than detrimental. 

It is important to represent these children in the fiction they read, but it is essential that they be represented well.)

So I’ve been thinking a lot lately about mental health and neurodivergence in children’s literature.

As a bit of background, I’ve worked with teens and tweens in various capacities for most of my adult life, providing mentorship and guidance to kids from all sorts of backgrounds. And I’ve seen all types; enough to know that neurodiversity—that idea that everyone’s brain works differently—is the order of the day. Every child is different.

But in those differences, I’ve also seen a lot of hurt. Social structures come easy for some kids, but not for others. Some excel at math, while others look at numbers and see Greek. Many, many struggle with deep insecurities when they see the difference between themselves and those kids who are celebrated by the culture at large. And sometimes those differences in cognitive function provide enough pain and disruption to a kid’s life that they leave any sense of normalcy behind.

Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand (image by Sean Easley)

Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand (image by Sean Easley)

That’s a painful place to be. Students who find themselves on the margins of what we call “mental health” often experience an overwhelming sense of confusion and sadness as a result. They feel lost, adrift, and often, alone.

It’s part of our nature, I think, to believe that when hard times come, we are the only ones facing them. And when a child’s daily experience consists of a consistent string of hard times and marginalization—of any type—that sense of loneliness and hopelessness can grow even greater. As those feelings grow, so too does the gulf that these kids experience between them and the world at large.

This isn’t just something to only consider once a kid gets older and their “brain has developed,” as some might say. Statistics from the National Alliance on Mental Illness say that half of all mental health conditions begin by the time a child turns fourteen. Half. That means half of all people with these mental health issues are first experiencing these issues when they are readers of middle grade literature.

And yet, when I start seeking out books for this age group that feature these kinds of kids, the pickings are often slim. This is the time in these kids’ lives when they’re discovering what their life is going to be like—what they are going to be like—and they (and the adults in their lives) have to work hard to find examples of other kids coping with these experiences.

Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling (image by Sean Easley)

Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling (image by Sean Easley)

I’ve overheard parents say that they don’t want their kids reading “books like that,”—referring to those books that address mental health issues—because they don’t want their kids “exposed to that sort of thing.” This is exactly the problem, though. The kids whose parents want to shelter them from neurodiversity and neurodivergence often end up with distorted understanding of kids in their own schools who experience life differently from them. And a child who’s experiencing these feelings of differentness and otherness needs to know that their experience isn’t something to just discount. Their life has infinite value, even if they don’t realize or believe it yet.

That’s where the educators, librarians, and authors of middle grade come in. It’s our responsibility to give these kids access to books they can see themselves and learn that they fit in the world, just like anyone else. They need to know that it’s okay to claim a spot on the map and make it their own.

And I have been grateful to find more books and authors doing this lately. Books like the Alvin Ho series by Lenore Look and Kenneth Oppel’s psychological horror The Nest give us a look at kids exhibiting some OCD tendencies. Dusti Bowling’s Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus centers on a girl with physical challenges, but her close friend deals with his Tourette’s throughout the book in a very positive way. Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls, Anne Ursu’s Breadcrumbs, and Claire Legrand’s Some Kind of Happiness all give heartfelt portrayals of depression. Donna Gephart’s Lily and Dunkin provides a deep rendition of a boy dealing with bipolar disorder. And Anne Ursu’s The Real Boy puts a beautiful fantasy twist on neurodiversity.

The Nest by Kenneth Oppel (image by Sean Easley)

The Nest by Kenneth Oppel (image by Sean Easley)

These are still only the tip of the iceberg. It’s important that kids with cognitive differences be normalized because—in reality—the existence of these kinds of differences IS normal. These kids are all around us. They are us. Librarians and teachers know how common those differences are, and often do a wonderful job of celebrating those books that will reach these kids where they’re at. And putting those books in the hands of kids who don’t have those cognitive “differences” will go a long way to building compassion, understanding, and acceptance of kids who feel unloved, confused, and unaccepted.

What books have you loved or recommended because they gave honest, normalizing portrayals of neurodivergence? Add your suggestions in the comments below!

A Valentine to Our Favorite Books

In honor of Valentine’s Day, the Mixed-Up Files team shares the middle grade books they love the most. Share your loves in the comments section! 

“As an adult I really enjoyed Larger-Than-Life Lara by Dandi Mackall. Truly heartwarming story about loving yourself, having a positive outlook, and being kind. I cry just thinking about it!”
Amie Borst



The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. How can you not love a book about a gorilla who paints?”
—Natalie Rompella 

The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages is a perfect blend of emotional journey, immersive history and science on both a large (nuclear physics) and small (inquisitive kid) scale.”
—Jacqueline Jaeger Houtman


Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume sparked my love of reading and writing. It was one of my favorite books as a child, became even more special when I saw it through the eyes of my own children, and will remain one of the most beloved books for the rest of my life.”
—Mindy Alyse Weiss  

“I love Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan for its messages of hope, recovering from a tragedy, and learning to rely on your inner strength.”
Michele Weber Hurwitz  

“I loved Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin for Rose’s indomitable spirit, despite the challenges she faces.”
Beth Von Ancken McMullen

“I love the Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel series by Michael Scott. I have read it several times, and in fact, am now re-reading it again. It is filled with mystery, fantasy, and tons of historical figures. The way he weaves history, science, magic and fantasy together is just stupendous. Makes me lose myself in his world every time I read it.”
Jen Swanson

“Two of my favorite books are perfect for Valentine’s Day because they are both love letters in story form. My childhood favorite, Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl is the world’s best love letter to dads. More recently, Ms. Bixby’s Last Day by John David Anderson is a heartfelt love-letter to teachers.”
—Julie Artz








“I’ve got to give two as well… one to an old love, and another to a new one! Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising is probably THE book that made me want to become an author. Seeing Will grow and become capable of surviving meant so much to me at the time. And more recently, Anne Ursu’s The Real Boy tugged at my heart in a way few books can. Seeing a kid who thinks he’s broken discover that people can love him for who he is… that’s love.”
—Sean Easley








I’ve got to give two too!! Also, like Sean, I’ve got old and new.  A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle will always always hold a special place in my heart because tesseracts are fascinating science and Meg Murray. I always want to read about a brave and smart girl. And A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd because magic, mystery, family, and finding your home are themes I will read again and again. Plus the language is so so beautiful!!”
Heather Murphy Capps








“To choose just one is hard, but I’ll go with Bridget Hodder’s The Rat Prince. I just adored how she used the rat’s POV to share the familiar tale, and there’s even a teeny bit of romance in there.”
Sheri Larsen

Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary! And more recently, Waiting for Normal by Leslie Connor. Lovable Ramona doesn’t always behave, which is very refreshing in a character. Connor’s character Addie has a way of being upbeat in the face of terrible odds. She’s resourceful in the most heartbreaking way.
Phyllis Shalant

Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt, a deep and sensitive dive into the heart of a boy. I love everything about this book and the spare language Schmidt uses to communicate so much.”
Amber J. Keyser

“Amber stole mine. But I refuse to change my answer, so put me down for Okay for Now, as well. It made me laugh. It made me cry. And sometimes it did both within the span of a single page.”
TP Jagger

“I have to second Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan.”
Dori Hillestad Butler

“My latest favorite is Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan for its use of POV switches and voice.”
—Jenn Skovira Brisendine







“Now? If I have to choose just one I’d say Crossover, by Kwame Alexander. SO powerful – feelings like a punch to the chest – but real and hopeful and so true to how kids feel things.”
Valerie Stein

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. Why? Because it’s a beautifully written, Jungle Book-inspired tale with ghosts and ghouls and creatures of the night fighting the man Jack who means to harm the orphan Bod. All in an ancient burial ground/cemetery. And it starts with the multiple homicide of Bod’s family by Jack. An exceptional book at all turns and it landed perfectly in my literature sweet spot.”
Michael Hays








“My favorite that I discovered as an adult is Skellig by David Almond. I really think it’s the perfect book–spare, lovely, magical, and with so much heart. As a kid, my favorite was Anne of Green Gables, which I am loving all over again now that I’m reading it aloud to my 8-year-old redhead.”Kate Manning










“On the fantasy side, I still love the Harry Potter books and on the historical fiction side, Blood on the River James Town, 1607 by Elisa Carbone. It’s a story about the founding of James Town. It kept my 5th grade class riveted in their seats.”
—Robyn Oleson Gioia


The Naked Mole-Rat Letters by Mary Amato has stolen hearts in my family. My daughter has read it more times than I can count. And she cries every time.”
Louise Galveston  




Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume is THE book of my tween years–Blume gets kids of a certain age so perfectly right. What a gift!”
—Andrea Pyros









Andrea Pyros is the author of My Year of Epic Rock, a middle grade novel about friends, crushes, food allergies, and a rock band named The EpiPens.