Posts Tagged #blacklivesmatter

Author Spotlight: Heather Murphy Capps + a GIVEAWAY

Today, I’m bubbling over with excitement to chat with Mixed-Up Files contributor Heather Murphy Capps about her middle-grade debut, Indigo & Ida. Hailed by Kirkus as “… A satisfying story that demonstrates how the past can shed light on the present,” and by author Chad Lucas as “brimming with passion on every page,” the novel–which earned a star from Booklist–is out now from Carolrhoda Books/Lerner. Want a chance to win a copy? Details below! 👇

But first…

A Summary of Indigo & Ida

When eighth grader and aspiring journalist Indigo breaks an important story, exposing an unfair school policy, she’s suddenly popular for the first time. 

The friends who’ve recently drifted away from her want to hang out again. Then Indigo notices that the school’s disciplinary policies seem to be enforced especially harshly with students of color, like her. She wants to keep investigating, but her friends insist she’s imagining things.

Meanwhile, Indigo stumbles upon a book by Black journalist and activist Ida B. Wells―with private letters written by Ida tucked inside. As she reads about Ida’s lifelong battle against racism, Indigo realizes she must choose between keeping quiet and fighting for justice.

Interview with Heather Murphy Capps

MR: Before we start Heather, I’m beyond thrilled to welcome you to the Mixed-Up Files as a published author! Woohoo!

HMC: Thank you so much! Those words … “published author” … will never get old and positively send delicious thrills down my back!

Inspiration: Ida B. Wells

MR: First, I have to tell you how much I enjoyed Indigo & Ida. What was your inspiration behind this wonderful book?

HMC: I’m so excited and grateful you like Indigo and Ida … thank you! My inspiration came from several different places, but this book truly began as an exploration of the themes of friendship and finding the courage to speak your truth.

First, I wanted to investigate friendship from the perspective of a girl who’s seeing for the first time that sometimes friends you thought you’d keep for a lifetime turn out to be friends you keep for just a season.

The grounding in history came from a story I learned about Ida B. Wells: that she helped Alice Paul and her team organize and prepare for the Woman’s Suffrage Parade in 1913. But when the big day arrived, Paul told Wells that she would have to march in the back of the parade with the other Black women, because to march up front alongside the white women would anger Southerners. Paul didn’t want to risk losing the strong political power of the Southern women.

When I learned this story, I was overwhelmed. I felt so deeply, so viscerally, a sorrowful connection to Ida in that moment when she realized her friend wasn’t the person she thought she was. We’ve all been there, and even when the stakes aren’t as high as these, it still hurts, and the betrayal is still very real. I couldn’t stop thinking about Ida and about other questions that percolated up in the next few days: Why had I never learned this particular fact before, when I learned about the Woman’s Suffrage Parade? Why was this story omitted from the teaching of that important milestone for women’s suffrage?

That was when Indigo—a journalist like Ida—was born, along with the idea that I wanted to write a story that would connect the two across the centuries.

Speak Your Truth

I also wanted to carve out my own space within the Black American literary tradition that illustrates the concept of the two voices—public and private. (W. E. B. DuBois’s “double consciousness.”) For me, that idea is similar to “code switching.” There’s the outward voice, the public-facing personality that covers up the parts of us that don’t fit in a default white society, and then there’s the private personality and voice, which is the one where we feel safe being ourselves within our own community. Indigo has two voices—the one she uses at school where she’s trying to fit in and where she’s shushed when she tries to speak out about the injustice she finds, and her private voice, which is empowered by Ida’s voice urging her to speak her truth.

Crusade for Justice

MR: Indigo discovers a copy of Crusade for Justice, the autobiography of Black journalist and civil-rights activist Ida B. Wells, during a stint in school detention. What is it about Wells’ autobiography that inspires Indigo to investigate the injustice experienced by Black and brown kids at her school? Also, can you tell readers what impact Wells’ autobiography has had on you personally?

HMC:  Wells’s autobiography is wonderful reading. She’s fearless and dogged in her investigations—as one of the first investigative journalists in this country, she set the bar high. I’m in awe of her work and want to honor her by doing my best to follow in her footsteps, even though I am no longer a reporter.

One key word in her autobiography that stands out to Indigo–and to me too—is the word “outrage.” Ida is outraged by rampant injustice and by all who willfully ignored or perpetrated these injustices. That word galvanizes Indigo’s desire to push for the truth. I don’t necessarily want to live a life of constant outrage, but I do want to be vigilant about speaking up and fighting injustice.

Letters from Ida

MR: Indigo finds letters written by Ida B. Wells tucked inside the pages of Wells’ autobiography. What made you choose this device to tell Ida’s story—and, as an extension, Indigo’s?

HMC: The sheaf of letters Indigo discovers inside the autobiography are from Ida B. Wells to an unidentified recipient. In these letters, Ida tells the story of her life and narrates some of the challenges she faces—and it’s these stories that empower Indigo to use her voice like Ida did, to shine a light of truth on the injustices of the world.

Key moments in Indigo’s story develop as she reads about the pivotal moments in Ida’s life, and we see many parallels between these two characters who live in completely different times but are connected by a desire for justice as well as by evidence of this country’s ongoing struggle with bias and racism.

Originally, I wanted to show Ida’s life story through quotes from her own body of work, including her autobiography. But even though Ida was a gifted writer, her style is from another century. I needed to ensure her story was accessible to a 21st century audience, so I wrote the letters myself, doing my best to reflect Ida’s distinctive voice.

Fact Versus Fiction

MR: I loved how you wove in real-life events from Wells’ life—including an incident in which, at age 20, Wells bit a white train conductor who forcibly removed her from her seat in a “whites only” car. (She later sued the railroad for violating equal accommodation statutes and won $500 in damages.) This letter, among others, is fictionalized but sounds incredibly authentic. How did you achieve this feat?

HMC: Isn’t that an amazing story? It’s one of my favorites, even though it doesn’t end well. The $500 in damages was later clawed back, and Wells was accused of harassment for pursuing the lawsuit.

To find Wells’ voice, I read her work as deeply as I could to educate myself. To articulate her voice, I talked out loud to myself. (If anyone were to observe me, they’d seriously have a good laugh–ha!) So, I walked around my living room, talking out loud, and listening for Ida’s voice. I tried to live various moments through her eyes, and play out how she must have felt. I then translated those reactions, along with her own observations, into her letter.

The Source of the Matter

MR: What did your research process look like? I know you used Wells’ autobiography as a starting point, but what other sources did you find useful? (For more on the life of Ida B. Wells, check out Heather’s Mixed-Up Files post here.)

HMC: I read as much of her work as I could lay my hands on! I researched during Covid, which meant I wasn’t able to research beyond what I could access online and in physical copies of her books and pamphlets. That said, we are extremely fortunate in that so much of her work does still exist, and I was able to read her seminal investigative reports: Southern Horrors and The Red Record (both on the lynching crisis in America). I also read collections of her newspaper columns and her Memphis diary.

The “Double Consciousness”

MR: In addition to Indigo’s quest for the equal treatment of Black and brown students, the theme of popularity looms large. How does Indigo’s need for popularity bump up against her quest for social justice?

HMC: This internal struggle she faces is part of my exploration of the “double consciousness.” Indigo—like so many of us—just wants to be liked and to hang onto dear friends she thought she’d have for a lifetime. This quest for popularity is her public voice, the one that craves acceptance and assimilation. Her private voice is the one she usually hides because it’s not the one she thinks will serve her quest for popularity. But it’s the one that deeply feels outrage at the unfairness of her school’s discipline policy, and ultimately, it’s the one she feels empowered to use because of Ida’s letters.

MR: Indigo is a strong, resourceful, and highly relatable character. How were you like Indigo as a child? How were you different?

HMC: I wish I’d been as brave as Indigo! I definitely struggled with the desire to be popular. I wasn’t one of the popular kids, not by a long shot. I often felt like I was hiding large parts of myself just to fit in with the rest of the students at my school, and Indigo feels that way too.

Heather Murphy Capps Reporting

brown skinned female tv reporter on a US Navy carrier

MR: You were a television news journalist for almost two decades. How did your career in journalism prepare you to be a novelist? Also, what was the most exciting (or weirdest!) story you ever reported?

HMC: I loved being a reporter; it was so interesting and edifying to get such a close view of the major events that tell the stories of our times. An invaluable skill I honed over the years was being able to research deeply and narrate nuanced concepts for a general audience. I draw on that when I write.

The weirdest or most exciting story I ever reported… WOW. Great question. There are a few I can’t mention in a middle-grade blog (!!), but I’d have to say the greatest opportunity I had to tell important stories came when I was embedded on three different Navy ships in the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom. On the opening night of the war, I was flown to the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, which launched the first F-14’s and F-18’s of the conflict. While I personally opposed our country’s involvement, I was committed to honoring the work and sacrifice of our service members.

Path to Publication

MR: As a follow-up, can you tell us about your path to publication? Was it smooth sailing or bumpy seas?

HMC: Aaahhh I love being able to be transparent about the fact that Indigo and Ida is my FIFTH book. Not smooth sailing! I faced a lot of rejection, but I kept working hard to improve my craft, and I am still working hard.

I often joke about the fact that I must have something karmic I am trying to learn in that my two primary life occupations—news reporting and novel writing—are both notoriously hard to break into and full of rejection!

Writing Rituals

MR: What does your writing routine look like, Heather? Do you have any particular writing rituals?

HMC: I like to light a candle and, if it’s cold out, light a fire. In the summertime, I write on my sunporch and take breaks to watch the birds outside (and walk around my backyard talking to myself, ha!) It’s a wonderful view, truly my happy place. Sometimes when the timing works out, I also check in with some of my writing friends and we sprint together. On days when I am pressed for time (kids! Day job!) I just jump in at odd moments and do as much as I can, even if it’s not perfect.

#WNDMG: The Backstory

MR: You curate the popular Mixed-Up Files series, “We Need Diverse Middle Grade” (#WNDMG). What was the impetus for this series? How can interested MG authors contribute?

HMC: I started the series because I felt that, while we have a team of truly inclusive, equity-minded contributors who value and work toward diversity in publishing, we needed to do more. We needed a dedicated space on the blog that centered diverse voices and spaces—and in the days following George Floyd, that need felt crucial to me. So, our admin team collaborated on ways to best make this happen, and here we are—WNDMG is about to celebrate its third anniversary and now has a dedicated team of four contributing authors! We do accept guest posts from diverse authors but rely mostly on the diverse voices from our WNDMG and MUF teams.

Next Up: Magical Realism

MR: Your next MG novel, The Rule of Three (out Fall 2024 from Carolrhoda/Lerner), features a biracial seventh-grade boy who conjures smoke in stressful moments. Can you tell us a bit more about the novel? Also, what is it about magical realism that sparks your imagination?

HMC: The novel follows Wyatt and his father as they navigate the discovery of and healing from a unique genetic expression of generational trauma—they literally create smoke. It’s a tough subject, and I tried to honor all its inherent complexity but also tried to embed moments of lightness. Talking about generational trauma is painful and if you’re Wyatt, you can only take so much before you have to just throw a baseball or crack a joke.

What I love about magical realism is that this literary style is historically unique—used only by storytellers coming from marginalized communities with the intent to use everyday magic as a way to cope with the tragedy of oppression.

MR: What are you working on now? Can you give us a hint?

HMC:  I am working on TWO things right now, believe it or not! One is an exciting adventure, and the other is not middle grade … but that’s all I can tell you. 🙂

Lightning Round!

MR: And finally, no MUF interview is complete without a lightning round, so…

Preferred writing snack?  

Tea with almonds or Twizzlers or jellybeans or cookies. I have a HUGE sweet tooth!!

Coffee or tea?


Cat or dog?

I have two cats, so I guess cat. But I love dogs too!

Zombie apocalypse: Yea or nay?

Sure, why not? Lots to write about, but honestly I’d personally become a vampire or a witch instead. I like the idea of being able to run fast and have super-attuned senses.



Favorite place on earth?

In front of a fireplace or a lake with all my people.

If you were stranded on a desert island with only three things, what would they be?

My laptop, a grape vine I could cultivate to start a vineyard, and a pair of running shoes.

MR: Thank you for chatting with us, Heather—and congratulations on the publication of Indigo & Ida. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I know MUF readers will too!

HMC: Thank you so much, Melissa—what a fun interview! I so appreciate the chance to chat! I hope our readers will consider buying Indigo and Ida or recommending it to their local public and school libraries!


Heather Murphy Capps writes about history, social justice, science, and magic. She is a mother of two, an Army wife, and an education equity activist. As a biracial author, Heather is passionate about creating diversity in publishing. Learn more about Heather on her website and follow her on Instagram and Twitter. To join Heather’s mailing list, click here.

An interview with New York Times Editor Veronica Chambers on Call and Response: The Story of Black Lives Matters

Today, on the Mixed Up Files, we welcome Veronica Chambers, who is the lead author of Call and Response: The Story of Black Lives Matters.

Chambers is the editor for Narrative Projects at the New York Times. As an author, she is best known for the New York Times-bestseller Finish the Fight!, which was named a best book of the year by the Washington Post and the New York Public Library. Her other works include the critically acclaimed memoir Mama’s Girl, Shirley Chisholm Is a Verb, and the anthologies The Meaning of Michelle—a collection of writers celebrating former first lady Michelle Obama—and Queen Bey: A Celebration of the Power and Creativity of Beyoncé Knowles-Carter. Born in Panama and raised in Brooklyn, she writes often about her Afro-Latino heritage. You can find her online at or on Twitter and Instagram @vvchambers

Congratulations to you and your team at the New York Times on the release of Call and Response: The Story of Black Lives Matters.

I can’t wait to virtually sit down with you and ask you some questions about this essential history of the Black Lives Matter movement for young people. I’m especially excited since I share certain New York City experiences with you, having been a journalist there (features writer for New York Newsday) and living for awhile in Brooklyn. I love that you’re bridging a career as an editor/journalist with being an author.

In the book, readers are introduced to the concept that “the power of the people is greater than the people in power.” Can you elaborate a little bit about that?

 Sure. Experts believe that up to 26 million Americans participated in some sort of Black Lives Matters protest, which would make it one of the largest protests in the nation’s history.

Peaceful protest is the most effective form of protest in the world. A study conducted by researchers Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan compared the outcomes of hundreds of violent insurgencies with those of major nonviolent resistance campaigns from 1900 to 2006; they found that over 50 percent of the nonviolent movements succeeded, compared with about 25 percent of the violent insurgencies.

The text addresses some universal questions, such as how does a movement become a movement? You spend time looking at contemporary events and leaders as well as historical antecedents and galvanizing moments. Was it hard for you and your team to figure out how you wanted to balance all of these elements?

 There’s a famous phrase that “journalism is the first draft of history.” The Black Lives Matter protests of 2020 were still ongoing when we started working on the book. There was a real challenge in trying to figure out what to immortalize in a book when the story was changing and growing every day.

That’s why the decision to lean in on the incredible photography of the New York Times was so meaningful to us. This is what the great photojournalists who contribute to the daily report saw and while we wrote text that put the movement in a broad historical context, each of the photos tells a deep and powerful story of its own, without any need for us to editorialize or comment on the images.

You make a point that the protest is larger than the people gathering in the street (although is certainly part of it). Protest can mean “making art with a message” or “calling elected officials.” How would you define protest for children?

Protest is anything we do to say we want things to be different. I think a lot about the kid I was when I’m working on these books. When I was growing up, and reading about the modern civil rights movement, I thought those are stories about heroes whose bravery and wisdom I could never match. I’ll never make a difference in those ways.

I understood as I got older that we all have a role to play in shaping the world we live in. Coretta Scott King once said, “Struggle is a never-ending process. Freedom is never really won. You earn it and win it in every generation.” I think that’s some of the truest words ever uttered.

The book makes a point to say that children are never too young to lead. In the text, you offer many examples of young leaders from teen environmentalist Greta Thunberg to eight-year-old Mari Copeny, who protested the water conditions in Flint Michigan. How might younger children participate in standing up for what they believe in?

One of the highlights of my year was this piece I did about Paola Velez and Bakers Against Racism. Bake sales associated with that group have raised more than two million dollars in a single year towards social justice causes.

Paola is not just an incredible culinary talent but also one of the most eloquent, thoughtful people I’ve ever interviewed. One of the things she said was this: “When we speak about issues that we care about, we do it with a pie in hand. And so sometimes it’s a little more graceful and a little more palatable because there’s something sweet at the end of this, like, very charged, very truth-forward statement that we have to make.”

The piece is here.

The founders of Black Lives Matters are three women: Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi and Patrisse Cullors. They were all in their late twenties or early thirties when they started BLM. However, I was intrigued to learn that Garza began her activism at the age of 12, focusing on reproductive rights. And it was in high school that Tometi became aware of the need to stand up for the rights of immigrants, particularly the undocumented. And Cullors learned first-hand about systemic racism as a kid when her family would go hungry. Veronica, did you have any powerful experiences as a child that also led you to career as an author, journalist and editor?

I think being a chronic outsider really helped me become a reader and then a writer. My family is from Panama, I’m Afro-Latina. I came to the country when I was 5, just becoming a reader and  one of the things I was looking at books to do was teach me how to be an American.  So many of the books published today remind me of the curiosity I felt at that moment – how do things work or don’t work here?

Black Lives Matter is the story of collaboration. It was Garza who wrote on Facebook in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin; it was Cullors who created the hashtag “blacklivesmatter,” and it was Tometti who created the initial Facebook, Twitter and other social media accounts for the movement. In your career as an editor and writer, why is the collaborative experience so important?

Collaboration is one of my super powers. But when I was a kid, it was something I really railed against. I hated having to do projects or presentations as a team. I think it was because I was shy and I felt like I never got the credit for all my hard work.

But I’m also a huge fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and in some ways, I think that oeuvre really mimics the creative journey.  Turns out you need more than one superhero to save the world. Similarly, you need lots of great minds to make extraordinary journalism.

You write that the book is “built upon the work of incredible photographers and photo editors.” How did you work with Photo Editor Anika Burgess to select the images? There must have been so many to choose from.

Anika Burgess, the photo editor on the project, as well as Jennifer Harlan, my co-author, had all worked on a history based project at the Times called Past Tense. We had a years long history of sifting through hundreds of photos and really sitting back together and discussing what moves us.  What’s incredible was that 90% of the time, the photos we loved the most, we all had the same reaction to. Viewing a powerful photo is like hearing a truly great pop song, it just grabs you. What was hard was winnowing it down. There are more than 100 photos in the book. I would love to have run 200 photos. Making those cuts was brutal.

In an interview with National Geographic in 2020, Garza said, “In the midst of the all the grief and rage and pain, there’s hopefulness.” Can you speak to that and elaborate on hopefulness?

I’m incredibly hopeful. As a first generation American, what I’ve always gotten from black history is that, despite all of the challenges, African-Americans are in the business of Hope. Every decade, every chapter of the history of black people in this country is infused with countless moments of hope, resilience and creativity. I think that at this particular moment in the nation, black history and its masterclass in hope and possibility, can be useful to Americans of all backgrounds.


Hillary Homzie is the author of the Ellie May chapter book series (Charlesbridge, 2018), Apple Pie Promises (Sky Pony/Swirl, 2018), Pumpkin Spice Secrets (Sky Pony/Swirl, 2017), Queen of Likes (Simon & Schuster MIX 2016), The Hot List (Simon & Schuster MIX 2011) and Things Are Gonna Get Ugly (Simon & Schuster, 2009) as well as the Alien Clones From Outer Space (Simon & Schuster Aladdin 2002) chapter book series. She’s also a contributor to the Kate the Chemist middle grade series (Philomel Books/Penguin Random House). Her forthcoming nonfiction picture book, If You Were a Princess: True Stories of Brave Leaders From Around the World is a look at historical and current princesses from many diverse lands who have made their mark (Simon & Schuster in August 2022). During the year, Hillary teaches at Sonoma State University and, in the summers, she teaches in the graduate program in children’s literature, writing and illustration at Hollins University. She also is an instructor for the Children’s Book Academy.

She can be found at and on her Facebook page as well as on Twitter.



Black MG Magic

I firmly believe that it’s important to stand together against racism, and I’ve been making an effort to feature more black characters in my book talks and displays. Many of the book lists that I’ve come across featuring black protagonists have been full of great contemporary, realistic stories that deal with the experience of growing up black in America but haven’t had a lot of fantasy, sci-fi, or horror. So, here is a list of some of my favorite fantastical, magical, and spooky middle-grade stories featuring black heroes and heroines.

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky Cover

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia- This upper middle grade follows seventh-grader Tristan Strong who accidentally rips a hole into a parallel world where West African gods and African American folk heroes battle iron monsters. To return home, Tristan must help the heroes find Anansi, who can heal the rift that he’s created between the worlds.


The Jumbies Cober

The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste- Eleven year old Corrine doesn’t believe in jumbies, evil shape-shifting creatures that are said to live in the woods near her home, but when her father begins acting strangely following the arrival of the beautiful lady Severine, Corrine begins to suspect that Severine might actually be a jumbie and that she and her father are in danger.


Gloom Town Cover

Gloom Town by Ronald L. Smith- To help his struggling single mom, twelve-year-old Rory gets a job as a valet for the mysterious Lord Foxglove, but he soon discovers that the eerie goings-on at Foxglove Manor will put the whole town in danger, and it’s up to Rory and his best friend Izzy to stop them.



Bayou Magic Cover

Bayou Magic by Jewell Parker Rhodes- When ten-year-old Maddy visits her grandmother in Bon Temps, LA, she discovers that she can summon fireflies and see mermaids, and when disaster rocks Maddy’s family, her magical gifts are the only things that can save her beloved bayou.



Dragons in a Bag coverDragons in a Bag by Zetta Elliott- Nine-year-old Jaxon discovers a package of dragons when staying with a relative for the afternoon. “Ma”, the mean old lady, who raised his mother tries to return the dragons to their magical realm, but a transporter accident strands her, leaving the dragons in Zaxon’s care.



Forgotten Girl Cover

The Forgotten Girl by India Hill Brown- Iris and her best friend Daniel are playing in the woods behind her house when they discover the abandoned grave of a girl named Avery who died when she was near Iris’s age. Shortly after the discovery, Iris begins having nightmares about a ghost girl in the woods.


The Last Last-Day-of-Summer cover

The Last Last-Day-of-Summer by Lamar Giles- On the last day of summer vacation, Otto and Sheed Alston accidentally freeze time in their small Virginia town. Now, they’ll need all their bravery and smarts to defeat the villainous Mr. Flux and save the day.



Shadows of Sherwood cover

Shadows of Sherwood by Kekla Magoon- In this futuristic Rbin Hood retelling, twelve-year-old Robyn Loxley flees to the forest following the disappearance of her parents. She bands together with a ragtag group of orphans and embarks on a mission to find her parents and stop the tyrannical Governor Crown.