Posts Tagged Diverse MG Lit

LOVE SUGAR MAGIC with Anna Meriano

LOVE SUGAR MAGIC Mixture of Mischief

LOVE SUGAR MAGIC

LOVE SUGAR MAGIC – just those three words conjure deliciousness enough to make any day feel warm and happy. Which is why I’m so excited that this week marks the third installation of the Anna Meriano’s wonderful LOVE, SUGAR, MAGIC trilogy: A Mischief of Magic (HarpersChildren/Walden Pond Press, February 2020)

LOVE SUGAR MAGIC Mixture of Mischief

About the Series

Leo Logroño and her sisters and mother are brujas–witches of Mexican ancestry–and have been keeping the residents of Rose Hill, Texas, well-stocked with both sweet treats from their panadería and problem-solving magic.  In her previous adventures, Leo learns of her own magical powers, tied to her birth order,  but has a couple of missteps along the way.

A Mixture of Mischief

In her latest adventure, Leo still hasn’t discovered exactly what her magical abilities are, but she’s excited to at least be learning the baking and spice magic secrets she needs to become a full-fledged bruja. Then, her family’s heirlooms start disappearing, and a new bakery opens up across town threatening her family’s livelihood. Around that time, Leo’s long-lost Abuelo pays her a visit and promises to teach her about her power. But something about him seems wrong, including his dire warnings about a world full of threats that only she can control (with his help, of course,) and the fact that his appearance seems to be tied to the disappearance of everything that holds her family safe and secure.

Interview with Anna Meriano

It was a whirlwind week for Anna as she marked the release of her book on Tuesday, but she kindly took the time to talk to us at Mixed-Up Files to share some of her thoughts about her latest book and what’s next.

HMC: I absolutely love the imagery and smells in this book. I was hungry so often while I read it! Do you bake like Leo – is that where her inspiration comes from?

AM: Actually, no! It’s always so gratifying when people ask this because I’m constantly worried that my lack of baking experience is going to come through in my writing, but so far I seem to be fooling everyone by doing plenty of research (eating lots and lots of delicious baked goods)! The imagery (and especially the smells) come from the wealth of fantastic bakeries in Houston, plus a few years rooming with a baker in college.

HMC: AND THE SPICES….oh, the spices and the molcajete … please give us a tidbit about how you learned the art of spice blending. (AND ALSO – my mother had a black stone bowl with a grinder like that, and no one knows where it is anymore, but now I want it baaaaaack.)

AM: Again, I have to laugh because while I theoretically know that some people grow, dry, and grind their own spices, that is all so far above my culinary ability that I’ve never even considered doing it myself. Leo’s spice magic came about mostly because we needed her to interact with more family heirlooms (for plot reasons) and we wanted things that you would find in the kitchen. Plus, I thought it would be really hard to bake specific magic into a recipe if the herb you wanted to use didn’t taste good with the rest of the recipe! 

Good luck finding your own family heirloom!

Dark Magic

HMC: (Thank you!!) In this third book, you mix in a darker magic theme—was this always what you planned for this series, or did it bubble up as you were writing the first two?

AM: It was definitely something I was thinking about toward the end of book two (hence that cliffhanger ending), but it wasn’t planned from the beginning of the series. Part of the reason things got darker has to do with the world feeling darker now than it did in 2014. I also wanted Leo to grow after each book, so it made sense for her problems to grow along with her. 

HMC: Among the many things children get to do (besides have delicious chills and protect their toes from duendes!) when they read books with conflict or scary people is work out for themselves how to process fear and discomfort. What kind of darkness in the world does your dark magic Abuelo represent?

AM: Thank you for this question! Abuelo Logroño represents a whole host of attitudes and people that I find scary, and it’s always tricky to boil fictional characters down to their exact real-life influences, but I would say that he embodies the toxic result of power combined with fear. This is especially dangerous because he thinks of himself as a hero, and tries to convince Leo that he is too. 

HMC: Abuelo is both comical and scary – how did you craft that perfect blend of laughter and goosebumps?

AM: Unfortunately, I think I pulled straight from real life here! We’ve seen a lot of powerful figures lately that are, simply put, kind of ridiculous, so it didn’t seem at all unrealistic to make Abuelo Logroño a ridiculous figure who still represented a real threat. I do hope that readers find him less scary because of his silliness, and I hope they recognize that the bullies they meet in real life have some of the same weaknesses.

Bruja Power

HMC: If you were a bruja, what would your power be?

AM: Well, if I follow the rules of Leo’s family magic, I would have the second-born power of making objects appear from thin air, which is a pretty cool power to have! But I like to consider that my bruja power is the thing I already love doing, which is telling stories and putting ideas into people’s heads. That’s a bit more along the lines of Isabel’s power, and I’m happy with it.

HMC: Will there be more in the LOVE SUGAR MAGIC series?

AM: This is the end of the trilogy! It makes me tear up every time I say it, though, so please don’t make me say it anymore!

HMC: What’s next for you?

AM: I have a Young Adult novel coming out this year about teens who play quidditch, which is something I do in real life, so I’m very excited for that! 

 


Author Anna MerianoAnna Meriano
is the author of the LOVE SUGAR MAGIC series, which has received starred reviews from Kirkus, School Library Journal, and Shelf Awareness. She grew up in Houston, graduated from Rice University with a degree in English, and earned her MFA in writing for children from the New School. Anna works as a tutor and part-time teacher with Writers in the Schools, a Houston nonprofit that brings creative writing instruction into public schools. In her free time, she likes to knit, study American Sign Language, and play full-contact quidditch. Her YA debut, Brooms Up, hits shelves in the fall of 2020.

You can find the trilogy here:

Buy it here: Amazon | BN.com | Kobo | Powell’s | Indiebound

Toni Morrison’s Middle-Grade Legacy

Honoring a Middle-Grade Legacy

Toni Morrison (1931-2019) left an essential legacy for middle-grade readers, even though she didn’t write directly for them. You won’t find her books in the MG section of the bookstore, nor are they on the reading lists for the 4th-8th grade set, as are the novels we talk about here on this blog. And yet, many of her characters were middle-grade children, and most of her themes had to do with the formative experiences of those years, experiences that ground and shape us as adults. So, when she died on August 6th, I gave myself permission, based on those reasons, to pay homage to her here.

Doors and Mirrors

I wanted to honor her brilliant and groundbreaking work as a Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning author and her crucial role in bringing forward many of the threads of the African-American narrative to the larger American conversation. But even more than that, I wanted to talk about how she opened doors for a new generation of passionate, creative authors who write a wider, more diverse world for young readers. By doing that, she lifted up mirrors for children to see themselves in a rainbow world. She painted a world in which we could all be beautiful. As a writer and a woman of color, I am deeply grateful to her for the path she forged.

We could all have beauty

It’s Personal

The truth is, my gratitude is both professional and personal.

When I was in college in the mid-eighties, I read  THE BLUEST EYE (Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. 1970), and I cried over Pecola and her desire for blue eyes.

The Bluest Eye book cover

My deep sadness wasn’t just for Pecola though–it was also for me and my own secret childhood desire: I too wished I had blue eyes. Like Pecola, I bought into the standard of White beauty that didn’t include my mixed-race identity, and certainly not my brown eyes, hair, or skin. I actually wished away my Black heritage.

And because, like any self-respecting young teenager, I vigorously rejected everything my parents told me, I didn’t believe them when they told me I was pretty. I knew I wasn’t. To be pretty, I needed to have not just blue eyes, but also straight, blonde or at least light brown hair. Hair that did what Farrah Fawcett’s or Jaclyn Smith’s did. Not curly, unmanageable, humidity-challenged like my own. Fawcett and Smith were my version of Pecola’s and Frieda’s admiration of Shirly Temple.

 

Definitions of Beauty

Fortunately, finally, I evolved and learned to identify and reject my own racism. I lived in Africa for a few years and discovered a treasure trove of literature that celebrated dark skin and curly hair. I reexamined THE BLUEST EYE and saw more clearly what Morrison was saying about what beauty is, and what it isn’t.

Morrison clarified even further when she said, in an Afterword published in 1993, “…the novel pecks away at the gaze that condemned her (a friend who, like Pecola, wanted blue eyes)…The assertion of racial beauty was not a reaction to the self-mocking, humorous critique of cultural/racial foibles common on all groups, but against the damaging internalization of assumptions of immutable inferiority originating in an outside gaze. I focused, therefore, on how something as grotesque as the demonization of an entire race could take root inside the most delicate member of society: a child; the most vulnerable member: a female.”

Attitudes about beauty can be destructive.

I wasn’t necessarily “cured” of my own internalized assumptions, but that’s a whole different story. I did, however, continue to grow, and as I did, other writers of color were adding their voices to the joyful noise: Ntozake Shange, Amy Tan, Isabel Allende, bel hooks, Octavia Butler, Alice Walker.

Middle-Grade Genre Growth

Over the glacial timeline that is publishing, the middle-grade genre has exploded as a viable commodity, as has the demand for diverse books and #ownvoices authors. Today, it’s delightfully harder to assume the “white default” with many fictional characters because they’re not the only ones on the tableau. I’m not saying the characters-of-color have reached parity – not by a long shot. But their numbers increase every year, and I’m thrilled to witness and be a part of that growth.

Thank You

I believe we owe that in large part to Toni Morrison, and so for that, I say, THANK YOU. Thank you, Ms. Morrison, for being the light, the creative force, the energy, passion, and intellect that will continue to shine long past the years you were here with us.

“And so here I am now. Here we all are. Toni Morrison as light, as way, as ancestor. And the many writers she has left in her wake, and the many writers coming after, and those after them, will hopefully always know this: that because of her, we are.” – Jacquelyn Woodson, from her tribute essay in the Washington Post,  August 11, 2019

And because here at the Mixed-Up Files … of Middle-Grade Authors, we do booklists, here’s one for Toni:

Book List in Honor of Toni Morrison

brown girl dreaming book cover

BROWN GIRL DREAMING, by Jacqueline Woodson

Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world.

 

Moon Within Book Cover

THE MOON WITHIN, by Aida Salazar.

Celi Rivera’s life swirls with questions. About her changing body. Her first attraction to a boy. And her best friend’s exploration of what it means to be genderfluid.But most of all, her mother’s insistence she have a moon ceremony when her first period arrives. It’s an ancestral Mexica ritual that Mima and her community have reclaimed, but Celi promises she will NOT be participating. Can she find the power within herself to take a stand for who she wants to be?

Genesis Begins Again book cover

GENESIS BEGINS AGAIN, by Alicia D. Williams

There are ninety-six things Genesis hates about herself. She knows the exact number because she keeps a list. Like #95: Because her skin is so dark, people call her charcoal and eggplant—even her own family. And #61: Because her family is always being put out of their house, belongings laid out on the sidewalk for the world to see. When your dad is a gambling addict and loses the rent money every month, eviction is a regular occurrence.

shadowshaper book cover

SHADOWSHAPER, by Daniel Jose Older (Actually YA, but appropriate for older MG readers)

With the help of a fellow artist named Robbie, Sierra discovers shadowshaping, a magic that infuses ancestral spirits into paintings, music, and stories. But someone is killing the shadowshapers one by one. Now Sierra must unravel her family’s past, take down the killer in the present, and save the future of shadowshaping for generations to come.

A Good Kind of Trouble book cover

A GOOD KIND OF TROUBLE, by Lisa Moore Ramée

twelve-year-old Shayla is allergic to trouble. All she wants to do is to follow the rules. (Oh, and she’d also like to make it through seventh grade with her best friendships intact, learn to run track, and have a cute boy see past her giant forehead.)But in junior high, it’s like all the rules have changed. Now she’s suddenly questioning who her best friends are and some people at school are saying she’s not black enough. Wait, what?

One Crazy Summer book cover

ONE CRAZY SUMMER by Rita Williams-Garcia

Eleven-year-old Delphine is like a mother to her two younger sisters, Vonetta and Fern. She’s had to be, ever since their mother, Cecile, left them seven years ago for a radical new life in California. But when the sisters arrive from Brooklyn to spend the summer with their mother, Cecile is nothing like they imagined.

Karma Khullar's Mustache Book cover

KARMA KHULLAR’S MUSTACHE, by Kristi Wientge

Karma Khullar is about to start middle school, and she is super nervous. Not just because it seems like her best friend has found a newer, blonder best friend. Or the fact that her home life is shaken up by the death of her dadima. Or even that her dad is the new stay-at-home parent, leading her mother to spend most of her time at work. But because she’s realized that she has seventeen hairs that have formed a mustache on her upper lip. Read author Kristi Wientge’s interview here on this blog.

Mexican Whiteboy Book Cover

MEXICAN WHITEBOY, by Matt De La Peña

Danny is brown. Half-Mexican brown. And growing up in San Diego that close to the border means everyone else knows exactly who he is before he even opens his mouth. Before they find out he can’t speak Spanish, and before they realize his mom has blond hair and blue eyes, they’ve got him pegged. But it works the other way too. And Danny’s convinced it’s his whiteness that sent his father back to Mexico.
That’s why he’s spending the summer with his dad’s family. But to find himself, he may just have to face the demons he refuses to see–the demons that are right in front of his face. And open up to a friendship he never saw coming.

 

Editor Spotlight: Hannah Allaman, Disney-Hyperion

What do we mean by Middle Grade?

Hi Hannah, thanks for joining us to talk about your editorial work at Disney-Hyperion. To jump right in: My friends and I have an ongoing debate about what makes a book middle grade. It gets complicated when MG books in the US sell as adult in the UK, or books written as adult get slotted as MG (I know two debuts this year that fit that bill), or when very well received MG books don’t really read as typical MG. I think of novels like Wolf Hollow, which breaks the MG “rules” when the grown-up narrator appears to be telling a story about her distant 12-year-old self. Or a book like Quicksand Pond, where a good bit of the story is narrated from the perspective of a very old woman. So what makes middle grade middle grade?

To me, middle grade is all about that coming of age moment where you’re discovering your own autonomy and independence in complicated ways—those moments when you start taking ownership, making new friendships and exploring new interests, even discovering that your loved ones are flawed and that life isn’t always fair.

Positioning a book a certain way and for a certain audience can be rather subjective, but when I think about my overall list of middle grade titles, I tend to think about hope and humor. Even if it’s not a “funny” book, I think there’s often a sense of levity or lightness in the middle grade space that balances out darker themes kids may be interested in exploring, as well as an ultimate note of hope to buoy the story for younger audiences.

One of my middle grade titles, THE BONE SPARROW by Zana Fraillon, is a novel that sits on the cusp of middle grade and adult because of the heartbreaking topics it explores, but its central thread of hope and friendship feels just right for a middle grade audience.

And related to this, what ever happened to that hot “tween” category we used to hear about? There’s been a lot of convo on social media about the need for “younger YA” that might ride close to the line of “upper MG.” What’s your take on that nebulous readership? Are their needs being addressed?

I’m always, always looking for titles that reach those hinge readers who are moving between categories, because I do think there are gaps where we have greater likelihood of losing readers. We’re publishing more and more into that upper middle grade space with characters who are 13-14, but I think there’s still so much room for younger middle grade that captures readers transitioning out of chapter books (particularly stories with an emphasis on play and imagination), as well as in that younger YA space (especially stories that focus on friendship in those late middle school/early high school years). Those in-between audiences can be hard to capture, but I’m always on the hunt for stories that fill those gaps and meet readers’ needs at all stages.

Hannah’s Middle Grade Wish List

Every genre has trends. Are there any trends now that excite you? Are there any possible trends in MG that you dearly wish will soon have their moment?

I’m really hoping middle grade horror has its moment! There are some incredible new horror selections on shelves—I just finished THE DARKDEEP, by Allie Condie and Brendan Reichs, and I just got my hands on the audiobook of SMALL SPACES, by Katherine Arden. I grew up on a steady diet of R.L. Stine and would love for that type of accessible horror to make a comeback. For me, I think it’s all about that nailing that creepy commercial hook while still delivering a story that’s super voice-driven. I would love to find a horror story that uses a childhood game as a device, like truth or dare—so chilling and creepy and fun!

I also think witches are having a major moment—anyone who knows me knows I’m obsessed with witches. I like to say that I’m acquiring my own literary coven. But I honestly think they’re cropping up in so many different iterations, from seriously dark to sweet and bubbly. I’m absolutely looking for a charming, whimsical witchy chapter book or young middle grade novel!

I adore this recent crop of voicey, character-driven contemporary middle grade novels with a focus on sports—I loved ROLLER GIRL, by Victoria Jamieson, THE CROSSOVER, by Kwame Alexander, and SO DONE, by Paula Chase, and I can’t wait to get my hands on NIKKI ON THE LINE, by Barbara Carroll Roberts. (Give me a MG cheerleading book that engages with the sport on a similar level as E.K. Johnston’s YA novel, EXIT PURSUED BY A BEAR!) Also on the contemporary MG side, I think aspirational, high concept music stories are having a moment. From country to K-pop, stories about kids breaking into the music industry seem to be—oh no, I’m going to do it, I’m going to make a pun—hitting all the right notes.

Hook + Voice = Love

What’s the biggest factor that decides you to give a thumbs up on a book. Is it voice? Concept? What do you consider “fixable” and what isn’t?

I look for that perfect marriage of voice and concept—I want a big, fresh, stand-out hook to reel me in, but it’s really the strong voice and complex family relationships and friendships at the heart of a story that make me want to champion it. Sense of place is also something that can tip the scales of a story for me—I adore immersive, specific settings that become their own character (like in THE VANDERBEEKERS OF 141ST STREET, by Karina Yan Glaser). And particularly in middle grade, I want stakes, both emotional and larger-scale, that take the reader seriously.

To me, if a story has an unforgettable voice, anything else is potentially fixable. That doesn’t always mean that it’s ready for our acquisitions process; in fact, most of my R&R requests come from stories with exceptional voices/prose that need structural and pacing work. As an editor, I can help develop and shape so much about a story, but it’s gotta have that intangible, special, authentic voice at its heart.

How intensive is the editorial work you do with authors? Would you sign a book that was a long way away from being “ready to go”?

My authors will tell you I’ve been known to write some ridiculously long editorial letters. J Once I’ve acquired a project, I love taking a deep dive into developmental edits; I usually send an initial 10-15 page letter, followed by a shorter round focusing on pacing and any final character development notes, and then line edits. My style is super conversational, though, and I love the collaborative nature of revisions; I often come up with a lot of specific ideas to get our conversations going, but to me it’s all about finding the solutions that feel right for the story together.

Our acquisitions process is pretty rigorous; both the editorial team and the larger acquisitions group, including sales, marketing, and publicity, have to be excited about a project in order to move forward with it. (This is great in the long run, because our titles have a built in fan base when we bring them to our launch and sales conferences!) Because of that process, though, it’s hard for me to sign up something that’s a long way from being ready.

That said, I’m a huge fan of R&Rs—I have two that I ended up acquiring and are now on my upcoming 2020 slate! Especially because I’m a young editor who’s still building my list, I’m always looking for those exciting seeds of potential that I can help shape, and it’s thrilling to find an author who’s a skilled reviser and eager to partner with me on our shared vision for the manuscript.

What’s the toughest thing you have to do as an editor?

Honestly, R&Rs that ultimately don’t work out are heartbreaking for everyone, including me. It’s tough to fall in love with something that still needs more time to bake before it’s ready, so to speak, or just isn’t right for my overall list, even though I see its potential. But I cheer for them extra-loud when they do find their perfect homes!

Hannah’s 2019+ Middle Grade List

Can you introduce some of the MG titles you’re publishing this year, including my terrific 2019 debut mate Shauna Barnes Holyoak? What drew you to these titles?

I have such an amazing group of MG titles this year! Here are my highlights (but be warned, I could talk about these books for ages):

The Secrets of Topsea series, by Kir Fox and M. Shelley Coats: In January, we published the second book in the Secrets of Topsea series (THE EXTREMELY HIGH TIDE!), which follows a zany group of fifth graders in a fictional, topsy-turvy coastal town. These books are SO weird (think Wayside School meets the Nightvale podcast) and so full of heart, and I adore their original formats, including narrative/character-driven chapters, newspaper articles, journal entries, and more.

The Click’d series, by Tamara Ireland Stone: We also published the second book in the Click’d series (SWAP’D) in February. Crushes and coding—what more could you want in a MG novel?! Most of all, I love the complex, authentic friendships at the heart of these stories. And the covers, illustrated by Jameela Wahlgren, are seriously the CUTEST.

KAZU JONES AND THE DENVER DOGNAPPERS, by Shauna Holyoak: Okay, you already know this MG mystery stole my heart! Not only are there tons of cute pups (I cannot get enough of Genki and his doggy nests!), but there’s also an amazing mother-daughter relationship, seriously high stakes that had me on the edge of my seat, and an incredible ensemble cast of fifth graders who have all the spunk and persistence of the Scooby Gang.

MIDNIGHT ON STRANGE STREET, by K. E. Ormsbee: I’m cheating a little bit, because this one comes out January 2020, but I love it so much that I have to talk about it. J Imagine if all the kids in STRANGER THINGS had Eleven’s powers—that’s MIDNIGHT ON STRANGE STREET. I love the way the author uses these strange new powers to encapsulate both the extraordinary and extraordinarily tough aspects of being a middle schooler. Also, the kids are on a glowboarding team, which is the coolest sport that doesn’t (yet) exist—think sci-fi roller derby!

How long have you been tap dancing and what got you into it? I just met another MG editor who’s a tap dancer, and one of the characters in my WIP is too. Is something in the air?

Ooh, I hope so! I’ve been tap dancing since I was two. My mom put me in a combination class in hopes that I’d become a ballerina, but it didn’t take. I did competition tap in elementary/middle school and was obsessed with being on stage. One of my favorite tap solos was “I’m Getting Good at Being Bad” from the 102 Dalmatians soundtrack (the one with Glenn Close). My mom made my costume, which was held together with black & white sequins and hot glue.

I mostly stopped tapping in high school but picked it back up in college, in that way you sort of rediscover things you did as a kid that were actually really cool when you’re in college. I ended up taking classes with Margaret Morrison (including tap history courses, which were the absolute coolest for a tap nerd like me) and joining an on-campus tap group. Now I still occasionally take classes at the American Tap Dance Foundation!

All of which is to say, I’m desperate to find a book with a character who tap dances! (Honestly, dance of any kind, but bring on the tap!) We actually published an adorable tap picture book by Tim Federle called TOMMY CAN’T STOP! in 2015, which I highly recommend, but I’m hungry for a MG tap novel.

Many thanks for sharing your thoughts with us Hannah! Best of luck to you and all your middle grade books this year!

Follow Hannah on Twitter @hallaman13,  and look for her on Manuscript Wish List @ManuscriptWList and Manuscriptwishlist.com.