Posts Tagged fantasy

WNDMG Wednesday: A Celebration of Jewish American Heritage Month

In commemoration of Jewish American Heritage Month–and recognizing the importance of diversity in middle-grade literature–please enjoy this carefully curated collection of 26 middle-grade books that feature Jewish themes and characters, including contemporary and historical fiction, fantasy and magic realism, graphic novels, and anthologies.

Plus…

A GIVEAWAY!

Don’t miss a chance to win not one but TWO books on this oh-so fabulous list: Coming of Age: 13 B’nai Mitzvah Stories, edited by Henry Herz and Jonathan Rosen, and Kat Greene Comes Clean by Melissa Roske. Scroll down for details!

MG BOOKS WITH JEWISH THEMES & CHARACTERS

Contemporary Fiction

Not So Shy

Noa Nimrodi

Shai, 12, hates everything about moving to America from Israel. Determined to get back home, she starts weighing her options, including living with her grandparents or winning a drawing competition that offers a plane ticket to anywhere in the world as the grand prize. Meanwhile, Shai is forced to navigate seventh grade in an unfamiliar language. She also faces antisemitism but gains support from unexpected sources.

The Dubious Pranks of Shaindy Goodman

Mari Lowe

Twelve-year-old Shaindy, an Orthodox Jewish girl who struggles academically and has few friends at school, is jealous of Gayil, a popular classmate who lives next door. Shaindy and Gayil have little to do with each other, until one evening when Shaindy looks out her window and sees Gayil holding up a sign that reads: “Want to know a secret?” It turns out that Gayil has a key fob that allows after-hours access to their school. Before long, the girls are scheming harmless pranks. But under Gayil’s leadership, the mischief turns malicious, with the pranks targeted at specific girls. Shaindy is desperate to stop Gayil from terrorizing their classmates, but if she does, could she be the next target?

Honey and Me

Meira Drazin

Honey and Milla, who live in close-knit Jewish community, have been best friends for as long as Milla can remember. The girls do everything together, including delivering meals to their elderly neighbor, shopping at a local thrift store, celebrating the holidays, and going to their first Bat Mitzvahs while studying for their own. But when Honey enrolls in Milla’s school for sixth grade, it’s not as great as Milla expected. Not only does Milla feel overshadowed by her charismatic friend, she’s also worried that their friendship won’t be able to survive the ups and downs the year has in store for them. Will Milla find the courage to step out of Honey’s shadow and into her own spotlight—or will jealousy and fear get the better of her?

Repairing the World

Linda Epstein

Twelve-year-old Daisy’s life is shattered when her best friend, Ruby, is killed in a tragic accident. Now Daisy finds herself having to face the major challenges in her life, like starting middle school and becoming a big sister, without Ruby by her side. Despite her sadness—and thanks to new friends, new insights, and supportive family members—Daisy is able to see what life after Ruby can look like, and that friendship is eternal.

Ellen Outside the Lines

A.J. Sass

Thirteen-year-old Ellen Katz is neurodivergent and feels most comfortable when her life is well planned out. She attends temple with her parents every Friday and Saturday, and relies on her best friend, Laurel, to help her navigate social situations at school. Laurel has always made Ellen feel like being autistic, and liking girls, is no big deal, but lately Laurel has started making new friends and cancelling weekend plans with Ellen. A school trip to Barcelona seems like the perfect opportunity for Ellen to reconnect with Laurel, but it doesn’t—especially when a nonbinary classmate makes Ellen question her own, very binary way of seeing the world.

The Magical Imperfect

Chris Baron

Etan stopped speaking when his mother went away, and his father and grandfather don’t know how to help him. Neither do his friends, who have given up on him. And then Etan meets Malia Agbayani, known as “The Creature,” due to her acute eczema. Malia stopped going to school when the bullying became too much. As the pair become friends, Etan believes he might have a cure for Malia’s condition—if only he can convince his family, and hers, to believe it, too.

Sorry for Your Loss

Joanne Levy

Twelve-year-old Evie Walman’s family runs a Jewish funeral home, and she knows she’ll be a funeral director when she grows up. She loves dusting caskets, polishing pews, and offering her condolences to mourners. Evie doesn’t deal with the grieving families directly, until one day when her parents ask her to help with Oren, a boy who was in a car accident that killed both his parents. Although Oren refuses to speak and Evie, who is dealing her own private grief, Evie is determined to find a way to help her new friend deal with his loss.

Going Rogue (at Hebrew School)

Casey Breton

Ten-year-old Avery Green loves science, football, and Star Wars, which he’s seen 400 times. What he’s not so crazy about? Hebrew school. He’s asked his parents a million times why he has to go, but they haven’t managed to convince him. (“It’s tradition” just doesn’t cut it.) And then one day, Rabbi Bob shows up. Piecing together some unusual clues, Avery begins to suspect that this new rabbi might be a Jedi master.

Kat Greene Comes Clean

Melissa Roske

Eleven-year-old Kat Greene attends fifth grade at the Village Humanity school, a hippie-dippy progressive school in New York’s Greenwich Village. At the moment, Kat has three major problems: dealing with her boy-crazy best friend, Halle; partnering with the overzealous Sam in the class production of Harriet the Spy; and coping with her mother’s preoccupation with cleanliness, a symptom of her worsening OCD. With nowhere to turn–and hesitant to tell her dad, who’s busy with his new family uptown–Kat reaches out to Olympia Rabinowitz, the free-spirited psychologist at her school. Later, after many  soul-searching sessions with Olympia, Kat realizes that asking for help is the best way to clean up life’s messes.

Fantasy and Magic Realsm

Finn and Ezra’s Bar Mitzvah Time Loop

Joshua S. Levy

Finn and Ezra are trapped in a bar mitzvah time loop, reliving their celebrations in the same New Jersey hotel, over and over (and over) again. Ezra comes from a big family, with four siblings who seem to get all the attention, and Finn is an only child who’s tired of his parents’ constant focus, particularly on his bar mitzvah weekend. Teaming up, the boys try to break the loop, but nothing works. As their frustrations mount, real-life problems start to seep through the cracks. With all the time in the world, can Finn and Ezra figure out how to finally move forward?

The Color of Sound

Emily Barth Isler

Rosie Solomon, 12, is a musical prodigy whose synesthesia allows her to see music in colors. Her mom has always pushed her to become a concert violinist, but this summer Rosie wants a “normal” life and is sent to stay with her grandparents. While there, Rosie meets another girl her age–a girl who seems awfully familiar. Rosie quickly pieces it together and realizes that somehow, this girl is her mother, when she was twelve. Thanks to this glitch in time–plus her grandparents’ love, an improv group, and a new instrument–Rosie comes to understand her mother, herself, and her love of music.

Rebecca Reznik Reboots The Universe

Samara Shanker

Rebecca Reznik, 13, is knee deep in family drama. Her dad lost his job, her parents are fighting all the time, and her annoying brother, Jake, is acting out more than usual. Then, when a goblin turns her bedroom upside down—literally—Becca realizes that the bad juju in her house is more sinister, and more complicated, than she had first imagined. With her best friends, Naomi and Eitan, by her side—and armed with the lessons she learned from her last tussle with mythological creatures from Jewish lore in the 2022 sequel, Naomi Teitelbaum Ends the World—Becca will do whatever it takes to defend her family and save the Hanukkah.

Shira and Esther’s Double Dream Debut

Anna E. Jordan

Shira and Esther are shocked when they first meet: It’s like looking in a mirror! Despite the girls’ identical appearance, they couldn’t be more different. Shira dreams of singing and dancing onstage, but her father, a stern and pious rabbi, wants Shira to focus on her religious studies. Esther, on the other hand, dreams of studying Torah, but her glamorous, stage-performer mom, frowns on Esther’s studious ways. Then, thanks to Benny, a 14-year-old bellhop at Scheinfeld’s Resort and Cottages, the girls plan a Parent Trap-style switcheroo, to help the Shira and Esther make their dreams come true. Or sort of true…

Don’t Want to Be Your Monster

Deke Moulton

Adam and Victor are your average tweens… who happen to be vampires. Although Adam, 10, knows he has a higher purpose in life than drinking blood, his 14-year-old brother, Victor, enthusiastically accepts his vampirism. This is all well and good until bodies start appearing all over town, and the brothers realize that a vampire hunter may be on the lookout for their family. Can Adam and Victor work together to stop the killer before it’s too late—or will their differences get in the way?

The Witch of Woodland

Laurel Snyder

Life used to be simple for Zipporah “Zippy” Chava McConnell, a 13-year-old witch—that is, before her best friend, Bea, started acting funny and everyone at school thought she was weird. And to make matters worse, Zippy’s mom is making her prepare for a bat mitzvah, even though Zippy’s family barely goes to synagogue. But then one day Zippy finds a strange red book at the library and conjures a girl—a beautiful girl named Miriam, with no memory, and wings like an angel. Now it’s up to Zippy to help Miriam figure out what she is, and where she came from. And if can do that, maybe everything else in her life will make sense, too.

Black Bird, Blue Road

Sofiya Pasternack

Pesah has lived with leprosy for years, and he and his twin sister, Ziva, have spent most of that time working on a cure. Then Pesah has a vision: The Angel of Death will come for him on Rosh Hashanah, just one month away. So Ziva takes her brother and runs away to find doctors who can cure him. But when the twins meet and accidentally free a half-demon boy, he suggests paying his debt by leading them to the fabled city of Luz, where no one ever dies. It’s the one place Pesah will be safe. But can the twins run faster than The Angel of Death can fly?

The Button Box

Bridget Hodder and Fawzia Gilani-Williams; Harshad Marathe (illustrator)

In the aftermath of a bullying incident at school, where Jewish fifth-grader Ava and her cousin Nadeem, are called hateful names, the cousins’ Granny Buena shares with them a glittering crystal button box, packed with buttons that generations of Ava’s Sephardic ancestors have cherished. With the help of Granny’s mysterious cat, Sheba, the cousins discover that a button from the button box will take them back in time. Suddenly, they are in ancient Morocco, where Nadeem’s ancestor, Prince Abdur Rahman, is running for his life. Can the cousins help the prince escape to Spain and fulfill his destiny, creating a Golden Age for Muslims, Jews and Christians?

Historical Fiction

Code Name Kingfisher

Liz Kessler

When Liv finds a box hidden in her grandmother’s attic, saved from her childhood in Nazi-occupied Holland, circa 1943, she unearths a trove of family secrets—including the extraordinary story of her great-aunt Hannie, a Jewish undercover agent in the Dutch resistance. It’s a tale of bravery, betrayal, and daring defiance, and Liv wants to know more—starting with why her grandmother has kept Hannie a secret for so many years. (For more on Code Name KingFisher, check out Melissa Roske’s interview with Liz Kessler here.)

A Sky Full of Song

Susan Lynn Meyer

Eleven-year-old Shoshana and her family, Jewish immigrants who have fled persecution in the Russian Empire, start a new life on the North Dakota prairie. Shoshana is thrilled to forge a new American identity and hides her Jewish identity in the face of prejudice—unlike her older sister, Libke, who misses their Ukrainian village and insists they preserve their heritage. For the first time, Shoshana is at odds with her sister. But by listening to the music that lives in her heart, she finds new meaning in the Jewish expression, All beginnings are difficult.

The Summer We Found the Baby 

Amy Hest

In Belle Beach, Long Island, during World War Two, eleven-year-old Julie Sweet and her six-year-old sister, Martha, find a baby in a basket on the library steps. Meanwhile, Julie’s friend Bruno Ben-Eli, 12, is heading to the train station to catch a train to New York City, to carry out an important errand for his brother who is a soldier stationed overseas. When Bruno spies Julie leaving the library with a baby in her arms, he assumes she’s a kidnapper. But the truth is more complicated than what Bruno, Julie, or Martha know.

Anthologies

On All Other Nights: A Passover Celebration in 14 Stories

Edited by Chris Baron, Joshua S. Levy, and Naomi Milliner, with stories by Chris Baron, Ruth Behar, Adam Gidwitz, Veera Hiranandani, Amy Ignatow, Sarah Kapit, Joshua S. Levy, Mari Lowe, Naomi Milliner, Soifya Pasternack, R. M. Romero, A. J. Sass Laura Shovan, and Laurel Snyder

Passover, a Jewish holiday that has been celebrated for thousands of years, features the seder; a meal filled with rituals, special foods, and songs, where celebrants gather together to retell the story of the Exodus, when the Jewish people achieved freedom from Egypt. Yet the seder is about more than the ancient past. Its themes of freedom, joy, and tradition are timeless and universal. In this collection of short stories, 14 award-winning authors each reimagine a different step of the seder through historical and contemporary fiction, verse and prose, fiction and nonfiction.

Coming of Age: 13 B’Nai Mitzvah Stories

Edited by Jonathan Rosen & Henry Herz, with stories by Sarah Aronsohn, Nora Raleigh Baskin, Barbara Bottner, Stacia Deutsch, Debbie Reed Fischer, Debra Green, Henry Herz, Alan Katz, Nancy Krulik, Stacie Ramey, Jonathan Rosen, Melissa Roske, Laura Shovan, and a poem by Jane Yolen

Join thirteen diverse characters as they experience anxiety, doubt, and self-discovery while preparing for their B’nai Mitzvah, the ceremony in which they become adults in their faith. whether celebrating with a lavish party or in a rabbi’s study, the Jewish rite of passage remains the same. Filled with humor, hope, and history, there’s something in this anthology for every reader.

Graphic Novels and Adaptations

Two Tribes

Emily Bowen Cohen

Mia is still adjusting to life with her mom and stepfather, whose Jewish identity plays a strong role in their home. She’s also struggling to adjust at her Jewish day school, where she feels like she doesn’t fit in. Meanwhile, Mia yearns for a deeper connection with her Muscogee father, who lives with his new family in Oklahoma. Her mom doesn’t want to talk about him, but Mia can’t help but feel like she’s missing a part of herself without him. Because of this, Mia uses her Bat Mitzvah money to take a bus to Oklahoma—without telling her mom—to visit her dad and find the connection to her Muscogee side, which she knows is just as important as her Jewish side.

The Unfinished Corner

Dani Colman (author); Whitney Cogar (colorist); Rachel Tuna Petrovicz (illustrator); Jim Campbell (letterer)

In Jewish mythology, God created the universe and left one corner unfinished. It’s unclear why, but the Unfinished Corner is dangerous, and filled with monsters. Twelve-year-old Miriam doesn’t know about the Unfinished Corner—she’s too busy preparing for her Bat Mitzvah and wrestling with whether she even wants to be Jewish–until an angel appears, whisking Miriam, her two best friends, and her worst frenemy off to this monstrous land, with one mission: finish the Unfinished Corner.

Lauren Tarshis; Alvaro Sarraseca (illustrator)

When the Nazis invaded Max Rosen’s home country of Poland, all the Jewish people–including Max, his sister, Zena, and their papa–were forced to live in a ghetto. But two months ago, the Nazis took Pap away and now Max and Zena are on their own, with barely enough food to survive. Out of desperation, the siblings escape from Nazi soldiers into the nearby forest, where they are taken to a safe camp by Jewish resistance fighters. Soon, grenades are falling all around them. Can Max and Zena survive the fallout of the Nazi invasion?

Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation

Anne Frank; adapted by Ari Folman; illustrated by David Polonsky

Authorized by the Anne Frank Foundation in Basel, Anne Frank’s Diary captures the remarkable spirit of Anne Frank, who for a time survived the worst horror the modern world has seen yet remained heartbreakingly human, and remarkably optimistic, throughout her ordeal. Includes extensive quotations directly from the definitive edition.

GIVEAWAY!

 

For a chance to win Coming of Age: 13 B’Nai Mitzvah Stories, edited by Jonathan Rosen & Henry Herz, PLUS a copy of Melissa Roske’s Kat Greene Comes Clean, comment on the blog–and, if you’re on X, on the Mixed-Up Files X account for an extra chance to win! (Giveaway ends May 28, 2024, at midnight. U.S. only, please.)

Melissa Roske is a writer of middle-grade fiction. Before spending her days with imaginary people, she interviewed real ones as a journalist in Europe. In London she landed a job as an advice columnist for Just Seventeen magazine. Upon returning to her native New York, Melissa contributed to several books and magazines, selected jokes for Reader’s Digest (just the funny ones), and received certification as a life coach. In addition to her debut novel Kat Greene Comes Clean (Charlesbridge), Melissa’s short story “Grandma Merle’s Last Wish” appears in the Jewish middle-grade anthology, Coming of Age: 13 B’Nai Mitzvah Stories (Albert Whitman). Learn more about Melissa on her Website and follow her on  TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

Painting with an Allegorical Brush

The messages we convey through our storytelling are important and lasting, and those that are evident but not directly stated offer readers plenty to think about. One way to get those deeper-meaning messages across while offering middle graders real opportunities to engage with stories is through allegory.

What an allegory can do (and how it’s different from symbolism and metaphor)

It’s easy to confuse allegory with metaphor and symbolism—they are closely related literary devices with some overlap between them.

Metaphor – A comparison of two unlike things that points out how they, in fact, are alike: That girl is a night owl. The sun was a golden coin.

Symbol – Usually an object, character, event, or idea that has its own literal role in the story but also represents some important idea on a figurative level: The green light on Daisy’s dock, the raven perching on a statue of Athena.

Allegory – A little more didactic, allegories point the reader in a particular direction of thought or behavior with more comprehensive lessons about or inspired by life, morals, politics, religion, history, myth, or other big ideas. An allegorical character or situation might extend through the whole work, or a whole work can be an allegory with multiple meaningful elements.

You’ll recall allegories from studying adult lit. In the allegorical medieval morality play Everyman, for example, main character Everyman (that’s his name) doesn’t want to go on a journey of reckoning with Death (someone Everyman meets), and he is surprised that his buddies Fellowship, Kindred, and Goods won’t go along with him to the afterlife. He discovers, though, that Good Deeds will follow him on his journey, though he’s been remiss in attending to them and must turn to Knowledge and Confession to help Good Deeds along. (Medieval audiences got the allegorical message, loud and clear.) Other allegories you’ve probably studied convey political or societal messages, such as Animal Farm, Metamorphosis, and The Crucible.

It may be helpful, as a writer, to think about these devices’ comparative size and scope: In a story, metaphors are typically brief expressions for a passing effect on a reader (with extended metaphors really driving the point home with additional references). The scale of importance grows with a symbol, as it carries the weight of some important takeaway that enriches the reader’s comprehension of plot and character. An allegory uses symbols and metaphors and intends even more sweeping effect on the reader, with a message or meaning about life the reader can effectively employ for their betterment and/or the betterment of everyone.

Allegories seem heavy: Too much for MG?

You might wonder so, but remember, fairy tales and fables have been serving up allegorical lessons for young audiences since once upon a time. And think about some classic children’s stories widely accepted as allegories: The Chronicles of Narnia, The Golden Compass, The Giving Tree, The Phantom Tollbooth, The Little Prince. There are modern examples of MG fiction with allegorical elements we can turn to for cues as well:

The Ogress and the Orphans by Kelly Barnhill — This allegorical fantasy reveals what happens to a community when its members are swayed by suspicion and start rejecting those unlike themselves.

When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller – In this Newbery Medal winner, tales told by the characters are allegories for family love and for the power stories have to inspire.

The Puppets of Spelhorst by Kate DiCamillo – This story’s allegorical plot and character actions represent big ideas about being called to one’s true purpose and following the heart.

The Language of Spells – Garret Weyr – This adventure reveals the power of perception when considering what makes us special and points to what we tragically lose during times of conflict.

How might you employ the allegorical brush in your writing?

Experimenting with allegory in your writing? Some ideas to chart your course:

  1. What’s the big-picture message you want to send to readers?
  2. What are the most important elements of that message, and what’s the best way to convey them? Symbolic characters? Objects that recur? A quest, a battle, something else?
  3. Imply your message clearly but inconspicuously. Trust the reader: They will get the takeaway if the individual parallels are there.
  4. Keep the story strong and interesting…and prioritize it. The allegorical message flows from a story that is substantive and fulfilling all on its own.

I hope these ideas on allegory are helpful in your current projects, and thanks for reading!

Editor/Agent Spotlight: Editor Rachel Stark of Disney-Hyperion

I’m so excited to welcome Rachel Stark, editor at Disney-Hyperion, to the Mixed-Up Files!

Rachel (they/them) is an editor, marketer, and activist with almost a decade of experience in children’s and young adult publishing at houses including Disney-Hyperion, Macmillan, Scholastic, Simon & Schuster, Bloomsbury, and Sky Pony Press. The award-winning and bestselling authors they’ve edited include Alexandra Bracken, Erin Bow, Jason June, Pablo Cartaya, Jen Wang, Rainbow Rowell, Faith Erin Hicks, Ben Hatke, John Patrick Green, Zach Weinersmith, and more. Books they have edited have been #1 New York Times, Washington Post, and Publishers Weekly bestsellers; been longlisted for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature; won the Goodreads Choice Award, Asian/Pacific American Award for Children’s Literature, and Christopher Medal; been shortlisted for the Schneider Family Book Award; received multiple starred reviews; appeared on the Kids’ Indie Next List and myriad state award lists, and been listed as best books of the year by NPRKirkus ReviewsSchool Library Journal, and more. Not only that, but (unbeknownst to me when I first reached out to them) they were the editor for our very own MUF member Natalie Rompella’s novel Cookie Cutters & Sled Runners!
MMD: Hi Rachel, thanks so much for coming onto the Mixed-Up Files. 

RS: Thanks so much for having me! I’ve been reading this blog for so long, it’s kind of wild to actually be featured. 

MMD: What was your path to becoming an editor? Did you always represent children’s books? 

RS: I was a big reader as a kid, and I always knew I wanted to work with books—I just didn’t realize that there were ways to work with books other than writing them. As a freshman in high school I picked up Betsy Lerner’s The Forest for the Trees, which is an editor’s advice to writers. Reading about what Betsy herself did as an editor was a lightbulb moment, and in the way of a fourteen-year-old gifted kid who’s pretty sure they know everything and can do anything, I set my sights on editing then and there.

My actual path to the role I’m in now was, of course, far more complicated than my fourteen-year-old self imagined. After several internships I worked in textbook editorial and then children’s book marketing, and by the time I started editing full time I’d been in the industry five years already. 

And no, my path wasn’t always aimed at kids’ publishing! At fourteen I wanted to edit adult literary fiction, but one of my first internships was at Scholastic’s former Arthur A. Levine Books imprint, and after I moved on to the next thing I found I couldn’t stop thinking about the books I’d read and the community of optimistic, brilliant creators I’d discovered there. I dove into kidlit and never looked back.

MMD: What were some of your favourite middle grade books to read when you were growing up? Would you say that has influenced what you look for in terms of representing MG books?

RS: This is always a fun and slightly embarrassing question to answer, because though I was a huge reader as a kid, what I liked to read then is only a fraction of what I love to edit now. As a kid I read almost exclusively books with unicorns, horses, or wolves on the cover. I loved Jean Craighead George—I still want to train a falcon like Frightful in My Side of the Mountain, and if I could trade everything to go back and be raised by wolves, I would. Joanna Campbell’s Thoroughbred series made me dream of being a jockey until I grew way too tall for it. And I treasured Bruce Coville’s Into the Land of the Unicorns and Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher; if I branched out from horses and wolves, it was usually to fantasy.

I had to go back as an adult and read a lot of the classics that came out when I was younger, but I’ve since fallen in love with a much wider array of genres, and my list reflects that. I do think my childhood reading influences me; my taste leans literary and layered, and quote-unquote animal books sometimes get excluded from that category—but I still have a soft spot for the stories I know I would have loved. Cookie Cutters & Sled Runners is a great example of a book I’d have picked up for the dog on its cover, and then fallen in love with for its wonderful characters and impeccable representation of neurodivergence. And if you keep your eye on PW you’ll someday hear about a series I just acquired that perfectly marries the kind of story I loved as a kid with the kind of empowering narrative I want the kids of today to have.

MMD: What are some favorite middle grade books you’ve worked on in the past? And what are some you’ve worked on recently that our readers should look out for?

RS: Cookie Cutters & Sled Runners is the first book I ever acquired and will always hold a special place in my heart. I recommend Jen Wang’s Stargazing constantly—it’s such an empathetic, sweet, and funny story with wonderful characters. Ben Hatke’s Mighty Jack & Zita the Spacegirl and John Patrick Green’s InvestiGators were both so much fun to work on, and I love cheering for those creators and series as they keep finding more fans. The middle grade I’m most proud of by far is Simon Sort of Says by Erin Bow, which came out in January and has gathered a host of award nominations and fabulous reviews. It’s a wildly ambitious, laugh-out-loud funny and heart-wrenchingly timely novel about a kid finding himself, his friends, and his voice again after surviving gun violence at school. It sounds like a downer but it’s full of heart and levity thanks to Erin’s genius for finding light in darkness and using it to keep on going. I could talk about it forever.

MMD: What is your top advice for writers?

RS: I’m struggling to come up with one single piece of advice because that’s so dependent on each writer’s strengths and needs. But I’ll share something small that goes a long way toward building goodwill at your publisher: When writing your acknowledgments, ask your editor to send you a list of the people in house who worked hard on your book but who you may not have known were involved. It takes a village to make a book, and you likely don’t realize how many people have poured their energy into yours. Editors and publicists are often the people whose work is most visible to authors and so they’re used to being thanked, but for the sales assistant who really rallied behind you, the marketer who handsold your book at every con, or the managing editor who saved everyone’s butt when it came to making printer deadlines, it means so much to have their work seen and valued.

MMD: What advice would you give to a debut author? Both in terms of working with their editor and in general?

RS: Broadly, I think my biggest advice is to focus on the things you can control. There’s so much that’s out of your hands, that’s out of even your publisher’s hands. You can write an award-worthy book that happens to publish in the same year as many award-worthy books, or in a year where the award committees are interested in something other than what you’re doing. Market conditions and buying practices can change in a heartbeat, budgets can be slashed or imprints consolidated, key cheerleaders could move to other jobs, delays or paper shortages or pandemics or any number of unpredicted obstacles can suddenly topple the best-laid plans. . . . 

You’ve likely been dreaming for years about what your debut experience will be like, and now that it’s here you’ll want all the stars to align just right. But remember that you can’t control the stars. 

What you can control is writing the best book you can write, and then writing the next one, and the next one. That first book is just the start of what for most writers is a long and winding career, where the models for success are as many and varied as the books on your shelf. If it doesn’t go the way you hoped? Get to work on the next one.

MMD: After the high of having sold a book to a publisher, many authors I know, myself included, have a big cry when they receive their editorial letter. I think that as much as authors know that however many drafts they’ve done on their book it kind of gets set back to zero once they begin the editorial process, seeing that letter can be demoralising no matter how gently it’s written. Whether it’s a debut author or an author working with you for the first time, do you find that the relationship requires managing expectations and building trust?

RS: The editor-author relationship requires a huge amount of trust! It’s intensely vulnerable to receive critique, and I find that the process of digging deep into a story to make it the best it can be often demands that the author and I dig deep into ourselves. It takes both trust and care to create a space where we can do that. 

With regards to that initial shock you feel on receiving feedback—it’s incredibly hard to write a novel and incredibly hard to revise one, and of course cresting one mountain to realize there’s another ahead is going to be daunting! Whatever you feel in that moment, it’s understandable. But remember that your editor chose to work with you on this project, and feedback is a show of our investment in your work reaching readers and being well received. We wouldn’t be putting so much time and emotional energy into your work if we weren’t wildly in love with your writing and excited about the story you’re working to tell.

MMD: That is really helpful advice, thank you.

I loved this interview with you at Kirkus. https://www.kirkusreviews.com/news-and-features/articles/rachel-stark-freelance-editor/. What are some pros and cons for being a freelance editor vs being in-house?

RS: An interesting question, and my pros and cons are pretty specific to me. For context, I didn’t initially choose to go freelance; I mysteriously found myself lacking a job after supporting a union drive 😊. But it was exactly what I needed after that experience. Being able to choose my projects and clients, working with people who enthusiastically wanted to work with me, and having enough flexibility to reinvest in other hobbies and give myself breaks from thinking about work were all wonderful. I was lucky to have a lot of opportunities to use my freelance work to get firsthand experience in genres and formats I’d always been interested in but not yet exposed to—the expertise I gained in graphic novels has proven invaluable in my job at Disney-Hyperion—and to work with editors and authors I’d always admired. The down side, beyond the obvious stuff like lack of benefits and the potential for the work to dry up, was that I wasn’t getting the opportunity to build a list and a reputation of my own. By the time Disney-Hyperion offered me a role, I was ready to take what I’d learned and start building a reputation for the books I acquired and ushered successfully to market. 

MMD: What kind of projects did you/do you work on as a freelance editor—for example are they projects where an author is trying to get their book to the level needed to get an agent, or are they at other stages? What are some reasons someone might be interested in a freelance editor?

RS: Because of the connections I had, I actually found myself in the position of working mostly on books that had already been signed up for publication, but that needed an extra perspective, someone to keep them moving while an editor was out, or just someone who could give that individual book more time and attention than the full-time staff who were torn between millions of priorities. So mostly I was being hired by publishers rather than by writers. I did take on a couple of projects from authors looking for an agent or a book deal, and I found that often they’d taken their manuscript as far as they could take it and still weren’t getting the responses they wanted, so they were looking for an outsider’s perspective on how they could keep developing their craft. Some writers reached out to me before even going on submission, just to have the benefit of feedback from a fresh set of eyes. The writing process is so solitary, it can be immensely helpful to have someone to bounce ideas around with and to help you see your strengths and areas to improve in.s

MMD: I know that in your long time in publishing you have also worked on the marketing side, including high profile campaigns for New York Times–bestselling books and series, as well as winners of the Caldecott Medal, Newbery Honor Medals, the Coretta Scott King Award, the Stonewall Book Award, the Walters Award, and more. Do you find that your experience in marketing influences your editorial work and style?

RS: For a lot of the time I spent in marketing I was dying to become an editor, and it was frustrating to not be there already—but in retrospect that experience was so valuable. It changed how I think about what I acquire and what I hope success to look like for each book. And having worked outside of editorial I have an even greater sense of empathy and appreciation for how hard everyone is working in all departments to make books shine. Something folks don’t realize about editors’ role is that a lot rests on the relationships we have with colleagues, and how and when we’re able to get them excited about what we’re working on, our ability to brainstorm and build alongside each other, and what we can learn from them—so the added camaraderie I get from knowing what it’s like to be in their position is invaluable. I think the effects of my marketing experience are more visible on the publisher’s side than in my relationships with authors and agents, but it has brought me great books! Simon Sort of Says actually came to me because I had marketed one of Erin Bow’s books and we had a mutual admiration from that time.

MMD: What genres, themes etc are you looking for at Disney and where can people find out more details about this?

RS: I acquire original novels and graphic novels for middle grade and adult readers, and I have a wishlist I update regularly here: https://rachelstark7.wixsite.com/home/general-1. Unfortunately Disney’s policy is that I can’t accept unagented queries, unless I’ve specifically requested them at a conference or convention. But I do find that sometimes after writers find an agent they remember that I seemed like a fit and point their new agent in my direction—I hope Mixed-Up Files readers who liked what I’ve had to say and write in these categories will do that!

MMD: What are your socials and/or the best way for people to keep up to date with you?

RS: The best places to connect with me are Bluesky (syntactics.bsky.social) and Facebook (@EditorStark, https://www.facebook.com/EditorStark/)/. I’m also (regrettably and half-heartedly) on the Website Formerly Known as Twitter as @syntactics. 

MMD: Rachel, it’s been such an honor and education speaking with you, and I know our readers will get so much out of your responses. Thank you so much for joining us!