Posts Tagged children’s fiction

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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Writing and Illustrating Muslim characters in children’s literature: Interview and Giveaway with Author Saadia Faruqi and Illustrator Hatem Aly

I am thrilled to interview Author Saadia Faruqi and Illustrator Hatem Aly and discuss their new book – Meet Yasmin!  Saadia and Hatem talk about their experience developing a story with a Muslim main character and why diversity in children’s books matters.

 

Saadia, Yasmin is a brave girl who has a big imagination and loves adventure. Why is it important for you to write/illustrate the story of an empowering ethnic minority character?

 Saadia: So far we’ve seen brown characters mostly in issues books. They typically face a problem – or issue – that directly relates to their identity. For instance a Muslim main character facing Islamophobia, or an African American main character experiencing racism. Although I do believe that those sorts of books are helpful to our understanding of critical social and political issues, it also means that minority groups are otherized further, they’re seen as different, or only viewed in the context of that issue. Yasmin is the antidote to this problem: a Muslim girl in America, a brown first generation American, who is perfectly normal and average, facing all the issues every child her age faces, and having the same happy disposition we expect to see from all our children. It was really important to me not to make Yasmin or her family “the other” – someone different because of their skin color or their religion or ethnic background. There is a sort of empowerment in that normalization that only minority groups can truly understand.

 

Hatem, was it important for you to take the author’s background into consideration while creating the illustrations in the book?

Hatem: It is important, However, I didn’t have to work so hard on being familiar with Saadia’s background since I can relate to many elements of her background already being brought up in Egypt and Yasmin’s family seems so familiar to me in a broader sense. I did work on bringing up some Pakistani visual elements but illustrating Yasmin went organically harmonized with the author’s experience and my own as well.

 

In the recent times, literary agents and publishing houses for children and young adult books have made an open call for submissions from Muslim authors and illustrators. Can you explain why it matters to include diverse characters in children’s and young adult literature?

 Saadia: It’s really crucial to have as much diversity in all sorts of literature, not just in terms of characters but also stories. I actually come from an adult literary background, and I see the same calls for diversity in that age group as well, and it warms my heart to witness these changes in publishing. The reason this matters so much is two-fold (and something we in kidlit talk about constantly): mirrors and windows. My children need a mirror. They need to see themselves reflected in the pages of the books they read. Growing up in Pakistan I didn’t have that. I read exclusively white stories, by white authors, and my worldview was shaped with an extreme inferiority complex because of that. I don’t want my children to have the same, and I know nobody else does either. Also, other children need windows. They should be able to read and enjoy books that show a different sort of family than theirs, a different culture than theirs. This is the only way we can have a younger generation that’s more empathetic and understanding and aware than our previous generations were.

Hatem: It is critically necessary to show diversity in literature of all ages and to express a wider range of life elements in people’s lives. In my work I sometimes pay attention to some things that bothered me as a child but also that I found intriguing. For example, I remember almost all comics and story books took place in a sort of a suburban –house per family- neighborhood and I felt strange finding nobody living in an apartment like myself and most of the millions of people in Cairo alone or at least everyone I know. So I felt alienated but amused from a distance longing for something I can’t define. It seemed to me there was a generic way of living that needs to be challenged and I couldn’t put my finger on the issue exactly until I was older. It’s important for children to see themselves and to see others as well in books.

 

How can parents, librarians, and readers help support books like Meet Yasmin?

 Saadia: The key is not only to read the book but to discuss it. You could use the back matter which has some really good discussion guides for students, and there is also an educator’s guide for teachers. Finally, and for me most excitingly, Capstone has some very cool downloadable activities based on Yasmin, which kids are going to love. I encourage parents, librarians and teachers to take advantage of those as much as possible.

Hatem: The best thing is to read the book, and share it with others! Personally I feel that the most powerful way is to read it to students or story time at public libraries as well as parents to their younger children. I find that helps building bonds between children and books.  I love libraries, so I ask everyone to walk into their local public library and suggest that they buy a few copies for their shelves. Most libraries have book suggestion tools for their patrons, either online or in person. The same goes for your child’s school library.

 

Who are your personal author/illustrator idols?

 Hatem: It’s more of an emergence of inspiration fueled by a mix of interesting people. Many names come to mind, and many I will forget. Some whose work I enjoy and admire are Bill Watterson, Tove Jansson, Maurice Sendak, Jon Klassen, Luke Pearson, Marc Boutavant, Sempé, Zep, Jillian Tamaki, Lynda Barry, Vera Brosgol, Hayao Miyazaki, Naoki Urasawa, Edward Gorey, Kate Beaton, Carson Ellis, Oliver Jeffers and many more.

Saadia: Some of my favorite writers are my own peers, because I believe writing is best done as part of a community. In early reader and picture books I admire Hena Khan who’s been a trailblazer as far as Muslim representation in kidlit is concerned, and really carved a space not only for herself but for others as well. In terms of illustrators, I’m actually a big fan of Hatem Aly, haha! I feel very blessed that he’s part of Team Yasmin because it’s so important for me to have a person doing the art who really understands what it means to be Muslim, and first generation, and sometimes “the other”. He really gets my stories in a way that I think another illustrator wouldn’t have, and I’m very grateful for that.

 

What can readers take away from Meet Yasmin?

Saadia: Readers will enjoy seeing themselves in Meet Yasmin, even if they are very different in superficial ways to Yasmin and her family. Yasmin is literally the every-girl, and her family is the same as every other family. With everything that’s going on politically in our country at the moment, I hope that Yasmin can help readers understand that Americans come in all colors, and that there’s beauty and worth in diversity, despite what they may hear in the news sometimes.

Hatem: I believe that readers will have fun with Yasmin and recognize similarities despite some superficial differences. They will be inspired to be curious, creative, and believing in themselves all the way even if things go wrong sometimes. There are a lot of lessons a child can learn, but there’s also a lot of entertainment which is so important to develop in this age group of readers.

 

For more about Saadia and her work, visit her website. You can also connect with her on Twitter.

For more about Hatem and his work, visit his website. You can also connect with him on Twitter.

Thanks, Saadia and Hatem!

 

Want to own your very own copy of Meet Yasmin? Enter our giveaway by leaving a comment below! 

You may earn extra entries by blogging/tweeting/facebooking the interview and letting us know. The winner will be announced here on Wednesday, August 15, 2018 and will be contacted via email and asked to provide a mailing address (US/Canada only) to receive the book.

 

Indie Spotlight: TreeHouse Books, Ashland OR

Sue Cowing for Mixed-Up Files: It’s always a pleasure to feature a true children’s book shop! We are talking today with Jane Almquist and Cynthia Salbato, shopkeepers and creators of the Secret Book Club at TreeHouse Books(www.TreeHouseAshland.com).

 MUF: Treehouse Books has made the Best Bookstores in Oregon list, and Ann Patchett recently named it in her list of 26 bookstore favorites nationally. Brag a little. What do you think has made your shop so successful?
Jane & Cynthia: We have a 39 year old history and deep connection to our community. TreeHouse was founded by teachers and then nurtured through a lineage of owners passionate about children’s literature. The secret to our success? We excel at filling up a very tiny bookstore with a wide selection of carefully curated books, we have strong relationships with the area schools and Oregon Shakespeare patrons, and we have our own line of story themed Art Kits and community events.

Jane & Cynthia, aka Owl and Raven

MUF: Visitors to Treehouse Books describe it as unique, magical, and full of color.What atmosphere have you tried to create and what do you want customers to experience?
Jane & Cynthia:
We are a bridge between the world of the imagination and ordinary reality.  Both Jane and Cynthia grew up in the backyard of Disneyland, and Disney’s ‘lands’ were hugely impactful. Instead of Fantasyland, we have the Wizard Apothecary. Instead of Tomorrowland, we have the Secret World Vault. It helps that so many authors have created such vivid worlds for us to borrow from. Our Wizard Supplies section owes much to JK Rowling, as does our Book Vault for Young Adult readers. The mythic and faery realms are also well represented. Each genre or reading level is the entrance into a different ‘land’.
We love to encourage our guests to be their most magical selves while they are in Ashland, and to take some of that enchantment with them into their everyday lives. We ourselves love to be in our personas of LadyJane Owl and Cynthia Ravenwich when we are at the shop!
MUF: A number of independent bookstores have book clubs for kids, but your Secret Book Club for middle readers has developed into something wonderful called the Wizard Academy that includes monthly story games and involves the community. Tell us about that. What games are planned for this spring? What are your plans to expand the program?
Jane & Cynthia:
Merging story genres with community games, we have created a story-based calendar of events featuring 12 themed story games, a game for each month of the year.   The year starts with Time Travel, our science fiction game that also doubles as a goal setting game. In February we read animal stories and play Care of Creatures, a community kindness game.  March is our Wizard Academy. April is mystery, May is fairy tales and so forth. We are working with Matthew Beers, a software developer to take these games online and to other communities.

MUF: Please tell us about your story-themed art kits.
Jane & Cynthia:
 TreeHouse celebrates reading, writing and creating. The Art Kits are the hands-on creating part of our mission. Reading is a wonderful pastime, expanding our hearts and minds. The kits take that expanded heart and mind and put it into action and activate a kid’s own creativity. As kids we loved to “create somethings out of nothings” as LadyJane likes to say.  We put together fun supplies and offer some possibilities with a story theme, and then leave it up to each creator to come up with their own personal creations.

MUF: You describe your collection as “curated.” How do you choose the books to carry in your shop?
Jane & Cynthia
:We read A LOT. We also research a lot (not as fun as reading but essential.) Our customers and community are also big readers and are always recommending titles. It takes a village to build a good bookstore! A lot of great books get missed… possibly a boring cover, or not enough publicity. There’s nothing more satisfying than discovering an undiscovered book and sharing it with readers!  We also have great book publisher reps that help us discover new gems.

MUF: As middle-grade authors, we’d love to know what titles, new or old, fiction or nonfiction, do you find yourself recommending these days to ages eight through twelve ?
Jane & Cynthia:It does depend on what the reader likes… it’s very fun to match up a reader with their next favorite book! But here are the books that we have found to have universal appeal this past year:  Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman, My Diary from the Edge of the World by Jody Lynn Anderson. When the Sea Turns to Silver, by Grace Lin, The Wild Robot by Peter Brown, and Winterfrost by Michelle Houts. Then there are those authors that we know will excite readers: Brandon Mull, Maile Meloy, Colin Meloy, Kelly Barnhill (yay! She won the Newbery award!), Kate DiCamillo, and of course JK Rowling.
One of the fun things with our book club is that we get to recommend books in different genres each month. In January it was science fiction to complement our Time Travel storygame. This month we switch to animal stories to complement our Care of Creatures Kindness storygame. And in March, when we go to Wizard School, we’ll be reading Fantasy.

MUF: If a family visits Treehouse from out of town, are there family friendly places nearby where they could get a snack or meal after shopping? And if they can stay longer, are there some sights and activities they shouldn’t miss?
Jane & Sylvia
:  Ashland is tiny but the Oregon Shakespeare Festival assures we have lots of visitors so good restaurants are easy to find. Standing Stone and Granite Tap House are two pubs that cater to families. Granite Tap House has just installed a game room and we may be collaborating with them in the future for story themed parties. Martolli’s is a family owned business that sells the best handmade pizza. There is always a big group of students in there and they offer ‘by the slice’ or full pies.
Just half a block from our store is the entrance to Lithia Park, one of our favorite places in Ashland.   The park features a couple of miles of trails along Ashland Creek which runs through the middle of the park.  There is also a playground, the Japanese Garden, some tennis courts, a bandshell, duck ponds, and ice skating in the winter months. For longer stays, OSF is actually very family friendly and student focused. At least one play every season is a rollicking comedy, and one is a big broadway style musical production. Last year we saw a family friendly production of The Wiz, and we’re looking forward to Beauty and the Beast this year. TreeHouse is right across the street from the theaters! Science Works Hands On Museum is a great family place. Don’t miss the Bubble Room!And Southern Oregon is famous for its outdoor activities. World class rafting  in summer and skiing and ice skating in winter are just a few of the outdoor activities for families. Emigrant Lake has a water slide and our neighboring town of Medford has a family fun center with mini golf, go carts, bumper boats and arcade.  The world famous Crater Lake is a great day trip which should include a stop at the Rogue River Gorge in Union Creek.

MUF:  Sounds like a great town for kids growing up, especially with such a dynamic bookstore at its heart!  Thanks for sharing some of the details.  Readers, have you visited this shop?

Sue Cowing is  author of the puppet-and-boy novel; You Will Call Me Drog (Carolrhoda 2011, Osborne UK 2012)