Posts Tagged contemporary realistic middle-grade fiction

A Possibility of Whales with Author Karen Rivers

Are you up for a pre-book birthday celebration?

Great! Because I have the amazing Karen Rivers here to chat about her upcoming release A POSSIBILITY OF WHALES. Her book birthday is in six days.

Here’s a peek into Karen’s book.

The heartfelt story of a girl who–thanks to her friends, her famous single dad, and an unexpected encounter with a whale–learns the true meaning of family.

Twelve-year-old Natalia Rose Baleine Gallagher loves possibilities: the possibility that she’ll see whales on the beach near her new home, the possibility that the trans-gender boy she just met will become her new best friend, the possibility that the paparazzi hounding her celebrity father won’t force them to move again. Most of all, Nat dreams of the possibility that her faraway mother misses her, loves her, and is just waiting for Nat to find her.

But how can Nat find her mother if she doesn’t even know who she is? She abandoned Nat as a baby, and Nat’s dad refuses to talk about it. Nat knows she shouldn’t need a mom, but she still feels like something is missing, and her questions lead her on a journey of self-discovery that will change her life forever.

In her unique, poignant narrative voice, Karen Rivers tells a heartwarming story about family, friendship, and growing up, perfect for readers of Katherine Applegate and Rebecca Stead.


Hi Karen! It’s wonderful to have you visit us. Did you always want to be a children’s author and what’s been your biggest surprise from doing so?

No, absolutely not. I honestly don’t think I would have thought it was possible. I didn’t even entertain the idea, although I was always writing. (It’s a bit of a mystery to me now, why I thought of authors as some realm of human beings so far above me that I didn’t even consider it.) I wanted to be a vet.  At certain points, I thought about acting, about law, about medicine, but I didn’t really consider writing as a possibility until after I’d written a book and sold it (it was an adult book that I don’t think I started believing it would ever be anything) and only THEN did it occur to me that I could go back to my first love, which was the books that mattered the most to me in my life, which were the books that I read when I was in middle school and in high school.

The mere blurb of A Possibility of Whales made my heart flutter. What was it like writing this poignant story?

I loved writing every word of this book. I had wanted to write a book that was a nod to ARE YOU THERE GOD, IT’S ME, MARGARET, a book that was about puberty and that transitional feeling of being in-between childhood and adulthood, being uncertain and even afraid of what the physical changes mean. That was my starting point. But when I dug deeper, I thought about my own kids, and how hard it has been for my son to be the boy-child of a single mother as he navigates puberty, so I wanted to give my character a single dad. I love Nat’s dad, who was loosely inspired by The Rock (with a touch of Matthew McConaughey thrown in). I love their relationship, their tiny family, the way they are a unit, but also the way that he can’t be a mother to her, he can’t be everything she needs. I loved exploring the ways that she found what she needed with her friendship with Harry and with The Bird. I loved bringing Harry to life, giving him a voice to be himself and not just a token character. His story is also rich and full and he has so much to say. And of course, I love the whales, both literally and symbolically. It all came together in my head in this complete piece and every day I got to spend with these characters was a joy.

I love the family aspect of this story!

Nat is a hopeful soul, but she has a lot going on. How did you use her sense of hope, yet spotlight her internal conflicts without dousing her positive outlook? And what can your young readers learn from this?

At certain points, Nat has a choice where she could allow the rejection and loneliness to take over, and she always manages to reach the lifeboat before she sinks. I think that kids instinctively do this, certainly not consciously, especially if they do – like Nat – have an adult who is 100% on their side. I think it’s harder for kids who don’t have a parent like Nat’s dad, who are not getting that kind of love and support from at least one person. My son’s therapist is always reassuring me that it just takes one. Kids need ONE person who is an anchor in their life, who creates the scaffolding for them to safely be themselves. I hate to think of teaching young readers a lesson, it somehow becomes didactic if I’m conscious of it, but what I’m always trying to do in my books (all of them) is to take a character who may, on the surface, seem like they are not OK or they are not going to be OK, and at the end have them realize – not from something external, but from something internal – that they ARE OK. I feel like readers at this age are all struggling with that question, “Am I OK? Am I going to be OK?” And I want to speak directly to all of them and to say through my books, through my characters, “YES. You are OK. You will be OK. You’ve got this.”

What aspect of Nat’s story do you think children of this age will relate to most?

I think the idea of feeling like you want to pump the brakes as puberty starts to loom is pretty widespread. In ARE YOU THERE GOD, the kids all seemed to want to rush towards puberty, to be the first. But amongst my kids and their friends, I see something different. I think life moves so fast now that kids are in less of a hurry to get to adulthood. Maybe we aren’t selling it well. But I think the mixed feelings about physical changes are top of mind to a lot of kids. I also think that kids will love Nat’s dad. I wrote him as a kind of idealized dad, a dream dad. 

Any advice to parents who read this book with their children on how to start a heartfelt discussion about some of the issues Nat deals with?

My best and only advice to parents is always to just create space where you can truly listen to what your kids are trying to tell you. So many times, we go into these conversations armed with what we think are the right things to say because we want to get it right, and we forget to really listen, to truly hear what they are saying. Make space! Don’t assume anything.

So, what do you see and what can your fans expect next on your horizon?

I have so many books in various stages of production right now! My next middle grade with Algonquin is called NAKED MOLE RAT SAVES THE WORLD and it’s about a kid who has a really unusual “superpower” and has to use it to, well, save the world (in the small picture, that is). It’s another book with a single parent, a kid who feels ‘different’ and about the way we seek and find our people and our place in a world that doesn’t always seem to understand us; it’s about expectations and figuring out how to be who you are.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us, Karen! Wishing the all the best in the future.


Karen Rivers grew up in British Columbia, where she takes loads of photos, goes on lots of walks, and writes books. She believes that stories are all secret passages to alternate worlds where we can be safe to explore the unsafe, the unsettling or the unfair hands some people have been dealt.  She also believes in you. Find Karen on her Website and Twitter.

Want to own your very own copy of A Possibility of Whales? Enter our giveaway! (*Winner will be announced via Twitter on March 14th.)

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New releases for perfect Valentine’s gifts for children!

Here are some great ideas for Valentine’s gifts for middle-grade children. Hot off the press and ready for the special readers in your life!

The first two were actually released in January, and since ghost-written by one of our contributing members, we wanted to highlight them!

Taking Chances by Kelsey Abrams, illustrated by Jomike Tejido, (Jolly Fish Press)

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Grace has always rushed headlong into things often landing her in trouble. Her elderly neighbor (and close friend), Miz Ida, reminds her to think before she acts. Grace tries to be thoughtful and responsible when helping with Miz Ida s prize-winning cat, Chances, but it isn’t easy. Can Grace slow down enough to keep the people (and animals) she cares for safe? Or are there times when taking chances can be a good thing? At Second Chance Ranch, the Ramirez family cares and works to find homes for all kinds of animals on their 200-acre ranch in Texas. Sisters Natalie (12), Abby (10), and twins Emily and Grace (9) all do their part to help out and give each animal the second chance it deserves.

Wild Midnight by Kelsey Abrams, illustrated by Jomike Tejido

(Jolly Fish Press)

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Emily has her heart set on rescuing a wild mustang, but her family gets outbid at an auction. Instead she settles for helping a nearby ranch muck out stalls where some of the mustangs now reside. She quickly earns a reputation as a horse whisperer for her ability to calm Midnight, a horse that others cannot control. But even Emily cant help when a tornado blows through the area and Midnight gets loose. Or can she? At Second Chance Ranch, the Ramirez family cares and works to find homes for all kinds of animals on their 200-acre ranch in Texas. Sisters Natalie (12), Abby (10), and twins Emily and Grace (9) all do their part to help out and give each animal the second chance it deserves.

Lucy’s Lab: The Colossal Fossil Fiasco by Michelle Houts, illustrated by Elizebeth Zechel, (Sky Pony Press)

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In this third book in the series, Lucy accidentally overhears her parents talking about the family getting a second pet. But what pet should they get?

At school, Lucy’s class is learning about fossils and the plants and animals that left them behind.

One afternoon, Lucy finds a special rock, and Miss Flippo gets very excited! But when Lucy’s precious fossil goes missing, everyone in Room 2C is a suspect. . . .

My Hero Academia, by Kohei Horikoshi, (Viz Media)

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Midoriya inherits the superpower of the world’s greatest hero, but greatness won’t come easy.

What would the world be like if 80 percent of the population manifested superpowers called “Quirks”? Heroes and villains would be battling it out everywhere! Being a hero would mean learning to use your power, but where would you go to study? The Hero Academy of course! But what would you do if you were one of the 20 percent who were born Quirkless?

I Survived the Children’s Blizzard, 1888, by Lauren Tarshis, (Scholastic)

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Eleven-year-old John Hale has already survived one brutal Dakota winter, and now he’s about to experience one of the deadliest blizzards in American history. The storm of 1888 was a monster, a frozen hurricane that slammed into America’s midwest without warning. Within hours, America’s prairie would be buried under ten feet of snow. Hundreds would be dead, thousands terrified and lost and freezing.

John never wanted to move to the wide-open prairie. He’s a city kid, not a tough pioneer! But his inner strength is seriously tested when he finds himself trapped in the blinding snow, the wind like a giant crushing hammer, pounding him over and over again. Will John ever find his way home?

Bravelands #2 Code of Honor, by Erin Hunter, (HarperCollins)

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Set in the African savannah and told from three different animals’ points of view, Bravelands will thrill readers who love Spirit Animals and Wings of Fire, as well as the legion of dedicated fans who’ve made Erin Hunter a bestselling phenomenon.

A baboon who has uncovered an act of treachery.

An elephant uncertain of her fate.

A lion poised to strike.

The code of the wild has been broken. The elephant leader known as Great Mother has been murdered. And Bravelands is on the edge of chaos. Now a young baboon, elephant, and lion must come together to discover the truth—before the fragile balance of Bravelands is destroyed forever.

Dragon Bones (The Unwanted Quests) by Lisa McMann, (Aladdin)

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Ten years after Alex and Aaron Stowe brought peace to Quill and Artimé, their younger twin sisters journey beyond Artimé in the second novel in the New York Times bestselling sequel series to The Unwanteds, which Kirkus Reviews called “The Hunger Games meets Harry Potter.”

The Artiméans have suffered some devastating blows.

After years of peace, the recent daring adventure of twins Thisbe and Fifer Stowe have brought about dire consequences. Thisbe has been captured, Fifer is injured, and Sky is lost at sea. The twins’ older brother Alex, head mage of Artimé, is paralyzed with fear of losing anyone else he loves. Fifer must convince him to finally trust her to help in the battle ahead now that their true enemy has been revealed.

Meanwhile Thisbe is trapped underground in the catacombs, where the ancient dragon rulers are buried. Along with fellow prisoners, Thisbe’s job is to transport dragon bones from her crypt to the extracting room, where others extract the magical properties dormant in the bones. When it appears no one is coming back to rescue her, Thisbe must train in secret, trying to learn how to control her fiery magic and use it to escape. As her situation becomes more grave, she might even have to align herself with the ultimate evil.

Unfortunately it’s a risk she has to take.

Arlo Finch in the Valley of Fire by John August, (Roaring Book Press)
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Arlo Finch in the Valley of Fire is the first book in a spellbinding fantasy adventure series by screenwriter John August.

Some trails lead to magic. Some lead to danger.

As Arlo looked around, the walls of his room began to vanish, revealing a moonlit forest. Only his bed remained, and the frame of his window, through which he saw the girl. The world on her side of the glass was sparkling with silver and gold, like a palace made of autumn leaves. 
She looked off to her right. Someone was coming. Her words came in an urgent whisper: “If I can see you, they can see you . . . Be careful, Arlo Finch.

Arlo Finch is a newcomer to Pine Mountain, Colorado, a tiny town of mystery and magic, but he’s already attracted the attention of dark and ancient forces. At first he thinks these increasingly strange and frightening occurrences are just part of being in Rangers, the mountain scouting troop where he learns how to harness the wild magic seeping in from the mysterious Long Woods.

But he soon Arlo finds himself at the center of a dangerous adventure, where he faces obstacles that test the foundations of the Ranger’s Vow: Loyalty, Bravery, Kindness, and Truth.

The Hard Stuff

Have you ever read a book that haunts you? Follows you around like an eager puppy, sticks to you like a cobweb? Do you find yourself thinking about the story while you work or drive or do laundry? Do you see the characters in the grocery store, on the street, at the gas station?

I love books like that, the ones that weave themselves into the fabric of my life and force me to turn the words over in my head until I’ve looked at them from every possible angle.

Wendelin Van Draanen’s latest book, Wild Bird, is my current sticky cobweb.

The main character, Wren, has experienced the trauma of moving to a new city and finding her life and family utterly unfamiliar. What happens next is a spiral brought on by bad decisions and desperation, right to rock bottom. Whisked away to eight weeks of desert survivalist camp, Wren must decide who she wants to be and how she wants to live. Her journey is both heart breaking and inspiring and I held my breath for her until the very last page.

Van Draanen takes the difficult topic of drug addiction and presents it without preaching or passing moral judgments. She simply and beautifully givers us a story of struggle.

Which got me thinking.

With empathy and fearlessness, middle grade authors regularly wade into the troubling issues kids face in today’s complex world. These authors reflect the challenges a child might be experiencing or offer a window into the struggles of classmates and friends, all while telling a compelling story. This is no small feat.

I can’t possibly cover them all but here are some of my current favorites:


The Seventh Wish, by Kate Messner

While this novel has some fantastical elements (wish granting fish, for example), it deals with the heroin crisis currently all too familiar in many parts of the country





Pax, by Sara Pennypacker

This poetic story, told from the perspective of a boy and his pet fox, illustrates the ravages of war to human and animal kind with a subtle and deft hand.





OCDaniel, by Wesley King

Edgar Award winning author King offers the story of an ‘eccentric thirteen-year-old social oddity’ who desperately wants to fit in. When Daniel gets caught up in solving a mystery, he illustrates just how he might learn to survive and thrive with behavior seen as outside of ‘normal’.




Kat Greene Comes Clean, by Melissa Roske

Kat Greene struggles to manage her mother’s worsening OCD, a job well above the pay grade of a child. This novel deftly illustrates the importance and courage of asking for help when a situation goes too far.





George, by Alex Gino

This transgender narrative, written for and about kids, shows a child’s journey from despair to courage. It is at once funny and inspiring.