Posts Tagged Kelly Barnhill

And Baby Makes…

The age-old adage is, of course, “And Baby makes three.”

But in middle grade fiction, the addition of a baby often makes for more. Much more.

Full disclosure here: I’ve got babies on my brain. And for the first time in decades, I’ve got diapers in my shopping cart and onesies in my closet, and a portable crib in my guestroom. As I write this, I’m days (maybe hours???) away from becoming a first-time grandmamma, and I’m just a little way, way too excited about it.

So, when I saw my next Mixed-Up Files post was due at the same time as our next family member, I knew right away what my topic would be. Babies. Babies. MIDDLE GRADE BABIES!

There are loads of middle-grade characters dealing with the addition of a new sibling. Some handle it better than others, but one common thread weaves throughout: Babies change everything!

Alvin Ho, Allergic to Babies, Burglars, and Other Bumps in the Night by Lenore Look, illustrated by LeUyen Pham

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In this, the fifth installment in the Alvin Ho series, Lenore Look and LeUyen Pham deliver (ha,ha!) with great hilarity a story that many older brothers can relate to – what if that thing in mom’s belly is a …. girl?!  Alvin’s always-entertaining tales are great for younger middle-graders and middle-graders struggling with reading.

Ramona Forever by Beverly Cleary

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By the time this book came out in 1984, Beverly Cleary had already won two Newbery Honors and a National Book Award, and Romona had already faced challenges both big and small. When her mother announces she’s pregnant, Ramona realizes she’ll be taking on a role she’s never played before-BIG sister.

Clementine and the Family Meeting by Sara Pennypacker, illustrated by Marla Frazee

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Third-grade Clementine is surrounded by changes. When a family meeting is called to announce the pending arrival of a new baby, Clementine isn’t sure what to expect. At school, changes are happening as well. Her best friend is acting differently, and Clementine has to face the fact that nothing stays exactly the same.

The Key that Swallowed Joey Pigza by Jack Gantos

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In a way that only Jack Gantos can, this final book in the Joey Pigza saga blends humor and wackiness with the very serious reality of postpartum depression. When Joey’s mother decides she should enter the hospital, Joey has to step up and care for his newborn baby brother.

Sometimes, babies appear in middle grade tales and they grow up to be the main character. Think of how Harry Potter began. A dark street, streetlights go out, and figure is seen leaving something on a doorstep. Number 4, Privet Drive.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhillgirl-who-drank-the-moon

This new book, from the author of The Witch’s Boy, centers around a community who believes they must sacrifice a baby each year to appease the evil witch who resides in the forest. But the witch isn’t evil at all, and she cares for the babies until she can place them in a deserving home far away. When an unfortunate mishap forces her to keep one of the babies as her own, everything changes. This one is being called a “new classic.”

And sometimes, it’s the middle-grade main character who finds an abandoned baby…

Baby by Patricia MacLachlan

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Sophie is a baby left by her mother and found by twelve-year-old Larkin. Larkin’s family has lost a newborn boy and finds healing and hope in the arrival of Sophie. But the note left by Sophie’s mother promises she’ll return someday. How can they love if they know they’ll have to let go? Touching and timeless. True MacLachlan.

And finally, sometimes the middle grade main character is not the finder, but the seeker…

Winterfrost by Michelle Houts

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Yes, this one’s my own, and I hesitated to mention it, because we writers are great at singing others’ praises, but it always feel a little uncomfortable to shout about our own work. But, Winterfrost fits the criteria for this post, so I’ll go ahead and share it. When twelve-year-old Bettina is left home alone to care for her not-quite-one-year-old baby sister, the unthinkable happens. Baby Pia disappears into the white wilderness, and Bettina is forced to  enter a magical world she’d only heard about from her grandfather. Based on Danish folklore.

So, what can you add?  Comment below with a middle-grade story featuring a baby. And stay tuned for more baby news! I promise to update this blog post when my first grandbaby is here!

** UPDATE** Baby Jack arrived promptly on his due date. Mom, Dad, and baby are all doing well. Grandma Michelle has fallen head over heels in love.

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Michelle Houts is the author of five books for young readers. She lives on a farm where babies of the animal kind are a common occurrence. She absolutely cannot wait to hold her first grandbaby in a few days. That’s all she can think to write about, baby. She just signed a book to her first grandchild and is looking forward to sharing books of every kind with him.

An #iLoveMG Tour & a Giveaway!

I Love Middle GradeYou know we love all things Middle Grade, so of course we were excited to learn that some of Algonquin Young Readers’ MG stars are touring the country the fall as part of its #iLoveMG Author Tour. Tell us why you love MG in the comments below to be entered to win a copy of Kelly Barnhill’s amazing new MG, The Girl Who Drank the Moon.

If you enjoyed the Mixed-Up Files interviews with authors Tracey Baptiste, Kelly Barnhill and Brian Farrey, don’t miss an opportunity to see them in person during the tour. And watch for upcoming interviews with some of the other authors participating in the #iLoveMG tour.

Wednesday, September 21st
Wild Rumpus
Minneapolis, MN
Authors: Kelly Barnhill, Brian Farrey

Saturday, September 24th
Odyssey Books
South Hadley, MA
Authors: Adam Shaughnessy, Tania Unsworth

Sunday, September 25th
Clinton Book Shop
Clinton, NJ
Author: Kelly Barnhill

Sunday, September 25th
An Unlikely Story
Plainville, MA
Authors: Adam Shaughnessy, Tania Unsworth

Monday, September 26th
WORD
Jersey City, NJ
Authors: Kelly Barnhill, Tracey Baptiste, Adam Shaughnessy

Tuesday September 27th
Community Bookstore
Brooklyn, NY
Author: Kelly Barnhill

Wednesday, September 28th
Blue Bunny Books
Dedham, MA
Authors: Adam Shaughnessy, Tania Unsworth

Wednesday, September 28th
Darien Public Library
Darien, MA
Author: Kelly Barnhill

Tuesday, October 4th
Watermark Books
Wichita, KS
Authors: Kelly Barnhill, Brian Farrey

Thursday, October 6th
Novel Neighbor
St. Louis, MO
Author: Kelly Barnhill

Sunday, October 30th
Brookline Book Smith
Brookline, MA
Author: Tania Unsworth

Wednesday, November 9th
RJ Julia
Madison, CT
Authors: Adam Shaughnessy, Tania Unsworth

Even if your home town isn’t on the list above, tell us us why you love MG in the comments below and you could win a copy of Kelly Barnhill’s amazing new MG, The Girl Who Drank the Moon.

A Chat With Author Kelly Barnhill

Book jacket for The Girl Who Drank the Moon. Some books grab you from the first moment you see their gorgeous cover. Such was the case the first time I saw Kelly Barnhill’s beautiful middle-grade fantasy, The Girl Who Drank the Moon.

Anticipation grew even more when Barnhill and her publisher released two prequels to the story last month on Entertainment Weekly (read Part 1 and Part 2 for a taste of Barnhill’s storytelling). So I was delighted to have the opportunity to chat with Kelly and to help her celebrate the release of The Girl Who Drank the Moon.

Hello Kelly, welcome to From the Mixed-Up Files! Which middle-grade books did you love when you were younger?

A: I wasn’t much of a reader before fifth grade. Like at all. I knew that one should read, and I was very good at pretending to read, but the ability to sink into a page just wasn’t there for me. What I did love was listening. My parents read to us all the time, and I can remember listening to Grimm’s fairy tales, and later C.S. Lewis, and later Tolkien, and later Dickens. I also —thanks to a garage sale purchase of a Fisher Price orange plastic record player — loved checking out books on records from the library. Because, once upon a time, that was a thing. I listened to Treasure Island and Kidnapped and Just So Stories and both Jungle Books. Later, when I started seeking books out on my own, I loved weird things. L. Frank Baum, particularly. And Roald Dahl. And Daniel Pinkwater. And Diana Wynne Jones. And Ursula K. LeGuin. And Andre Norton. You don’t have to scratch my skin very deeply to find the undercurrent of those writers, pulsing in my veins.

Q: Which came first, the story itself or the prequel?

A: Oh, the story. For sure. But one thing that I didn’t realize when I started writing the story was how much Xan’s unremembered history would come to play in the way the action unfolded. There is much that I couldn’t include in the story itself, simply because Xan had chosen not to remember it — because memory is dangerous, as is sorrow. Or so Xan thinks. Anyway, the idea of her as a child in the company of a bunch of irascible magicians and scholars — many of whom do not have her best interests at heart — intrigued me. And so some of the cut pages and a bunch of the notes started swirling around until a story emerged.

Q: Last year, you wrote a novella for adults called The Unlicensed Magician. Can you talk a little bit about the differences between writing for adults and for children? Which do you prefer? Should we expect more adult stories from you in the future?

Writing a novella, I feel, is a bit like the Spanish Inquisition — no one expects it. I have written and published quite a few short stories for grown-ups that have appeared in a variety of journals. I like writing short stories; I like the muscle of it and the precision needed. It’s an entirely different skill set from what is required for a novel. And while I’ve written a few short stories for kids, the vast majority of them have been for adults. I’m not entirely sure why this is. Maybe my “adult fiction voice” is just more narrow than my “children’s fiction voice.” Or something.

When I started “The Unlicensed Magician,” I assumed I was writing a short story. And then 30,000 words poured out over the course of a couple days — just like that. This was a muscle that I didn’t know I had, and when I finished, I was tired and sore and had no idea what to do with the thing. I’m glad it’s found an audience, and that people seem to like it. As far as the intended audience goes — man. I don’t know. I will think and think and think about a story — just the story — and have no idea if it is a kid’s story or an adult’s story or just a weird story that only I would like. I don’t really know that until I’m done. Really, all I think about is the story itself — what the experience is, what the language feels like, what the big ideas are underpinning the whole thing. I don’t think about audience until the very end.

Author Kelly Barnhill

Author Kelly Barnhill

Q: Like you, I attended my first nErDcamp this year. Can you talk a little bit about the experience and what it meant to you as a writer and former teacher?

A: nErDcamp is magic, plain and simple. I have been fighting for so long — first as a teacher and then as a parent — for reading instruction in schools that is humane and empathetic and inspiring and challenging and ultimately joyful. Reading instruction and encouragement that helps young minds to be more than they are through the power of radical empathy in books. And I have found myself thwarted and frustrated at every turn. Coming to nErDcamp felt like coming home. So many joyful teachers! So many joyful book pushers! So many joyful writers and readers and kids! It was one of the most wonderful experiences of my life.

Q: You teach writing to adults and children and you mentioned on your web site that a big part of that involves “un-teach(ing) what they have already learned.” Can you elaborate on that?

A: When we learn to write, we learn there are rules, and when we actually write, we throw those rules away. So often, my students come to me already stuck in particular boxes of what they think “good” writing is, and is not, and what kind of writer they think they are, and are not. And primarily, I think a lot of kids and adults have learned over the years that their ideas just aren’t good enough. That they don’t have a story to tell. That an idea for a story is something that happens to other people — special people. This is balderdash. All of us are built out of stories. I have to un-teach them the lie in order to teach them the truth.

Q: What books are on your nightstand right now?
A: A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC, by V E Schwab. And after that, I have some marvelous Murakami waiting for me. There is something about summer that simply begs for Murakami. After that, I plan to read MR. FOX, by Helen Oyeyemi and a few Diana Wynne Jones books that are due for a re-read.

***

Oh, how I loved A Darker Shade of Magic and so did both of my children (readers, please note that it is technically adult, although I let my 10 & 11 year old read it!). Thanks so much for your time, Kelly, and best of luck with your new book.

THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON releases today from Algonquin Young Readers.