Posts Tagged kidlit

Author Spotlight: Christine Kendall… plus a GIVEAWAY!

Let’s give a warm Mixed-Up welcome to Christine Kendall, the NAACP Image Award–nominated author of the MG debut, Riding Chance (Scholastic, 2016). Christine’s sophomore novel, also published by Scholastic, The True Definition of Neva Beane, came out in September and was lauded by Lesa Cline-Ransome as “an inter-generational story written with humor, heart, hope—and the power of self-discovery.

Here is a summary of Neva Beane:

Being twelve isn’t easy, especially when you’re Neva Beane. She knows she’s beautiful and smart, but there are so many confusing signals in everyday life about, well… everything, including the changes taking place in her preadolescent body; her relationship with her best friend, Jamila; and her admiration for the social activist on the block, Michelle.

Mom and Dad are on tour in Europe and Neva and her brother, Clay, are left at home with their traditional grandparents. The household descends into inter-generational turmoil and Neva is left with what comforts her most—words and their meanings. While the pages of her beloved dictionary reveal truths about what’s happening around her, Neva discovers the best way to define herself.

And here’s a summary of Riding Chance:

Troy is a kid with a passion. And dreams. And wanting to do the right thing. But after taking a wrong turn, he’s forced to endure something that’s worse than any juvenile detention: He’s “sentenced” to the local city stables, where he’s required to take care of horses. The greatest punishment has been trying to make sense of things since his mom died, but through his work with the horses he discovers a sport totally unknown to him—polo. Troy’s has to figure out which friends have his back, which kids to cut loose, and whether he and Alisha have a true connection.

Q&A with Christine Kendall

MR: So glad to have you with us, Christine. Welcome to the Mixed-Up Files!

CK: Thanks so much for inviting me. It’s a pleasure to be here.

MR: I can’t tell you which of your novels I enjoyed more, Riding Chance or The True Definition of Neva Beane. They are both wonderful in such different ways. I know you wrote Riding Chance because you were inspired by a story on NPR (more on that later), but what prompted you to tell Neva’s story? Were you like Neva growing up? 

CK: It warms my heart to hear you enjoyed both books as I consider them companion novels. They’re both coming of age stories that take place in current-day Philadelphia. The True Definition of Neva Beane isn’t memoir but, like Neva, I paid a lot of attention to words as I was growing up, and I came to understand their power pretty early on.

One of the things that prompted me to write the book is my fascination with how young girls are seen, and how those notions about who they are may or may not align with how they define themselves. This is important because the period in a girl’s life when she moves from early childhood into adolescence is magical, but it can also be very confusing. People read girls differently as their bodies develop and often make judgments about them based purely on their physical selves. I wanted to explore those issues. Once I had the Neva Beane character I thought about other issues she may be confronted with in today’s world. That led me to think about her political awakening and various ways a person can make a positive contribution to their community.

Body Positivity in MG Fiction

MR: Speaking of Neva, it’s clear from page one that she has a strong sense of self, particularly when it comes to her changing body. She feels beautiful in her first bra, a “glorious white cotton status symbol,” and admires herself in front of the mirror until she’s “dizzy.” I love this scene because it’s such a gorgeous display of girl power and body positivity. Was that your intention when you wrote the scene—to encourage tween girls to take pride in their changing bodies? If so, what role does body positivity play, or should play, in MG fiction?

CK: I’ll confess that I wrote Neva Beane’s “mirror scene” based on memory. I was eleven years old and, unbeknownst to me, I was seen admiring myself in front of a mirror by one of my brothers. Well, of course, my brother almost died laughing and I was humiliated. I spent hours trying to figure out why I felt that way before I realized there’s no shame in acknowledging your own beauty. I just hadn’t expected to be seen in that moment by anyone else. I think many young teens have experienced moments like that and I wanted them to know that I see them and their beauty. Body positivity is an issue for boys as well as girls and MG fiction is a good place to explore it.

What’s the Good Word?

MR: As above, Neva Beane is obsessed with words and finds great comfort in them. In fact, her most beloved possession is a Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. What is it about words that fascinates and comforts Neva—and maybe you, too?

CK: Words have power. Neva Beane is fascinated by them because she sees how they can be used to elevate or to wound. I share that fascination and wanted to show how Neva’s ability to analyze words brings her comfort especially when she is in the midst of confusing situations. I also wanted to provide a concrete example of how a person can use words to elevate. Neva chooses that path at the end of the book.

Work to Ride Program

MR: Turning our attention to Riding Chance, I know you wrote the book because you were inspired by a story on NPR about a program called Work to Ride, where inner-city kids work with horses and learn how to play polo in exchange for stable chores. Can you tell MUF readers a bit about the program and how it inspired you? Also, what kind of research did you do in order to make the polo-playing scenes realistic? I’m guessing you weren’t a horseperson prior to writing the novel…?

 CK: You’re right about my not being a horseperson before I wrote Riding Chance. I hadn’t planned on writing a novel. I was simply inspired when I heard the wonderful story about how kids in a mentoring program in Philly won a polo national championship in 2011. It was such an incredible story about what can happen when young people are given opportunities to explore and develop themselves in new ways.

I had to do a lot of research including taking horseback riding lessons, studying the game of polo, going to polo matches, and learning about the powerful bonds between humans and animals. I was fortunate in that there were a couple of horsepeople in the critique group I was a member of who were more than happy to offer constructive criticism. I learned quite a bit and really enjoyed the process.

Themes in Christine’s Books

MR: I noticed that loss and abandonment is a theme in both of your novels. In Riding Chance, Troy is grieving the death of his beloved mom; in Neva Beane, Neva feels as if she’s been cast aside by her best friend, Jamila. Neva also misses her musician parents while they’re on tour in Europe. What is the message you’re trying to convey? Resiliency? Grit? Something else?

CK: You hit the nail right on the head with resilience. I think it is such an important skill for young people to develop. Life can be difficult at times and we need to believe we can work our way through tough situations. One of the ways people develop resilience is by not being afraid to take reasonable risks. We will not always succeed at everything we try but even our failures provide opportunities to learn and to become more confident.

Ch Ch Changes…

MR: Before writing Riding Chance, you were in the legal profession. What prompted you to make the switch from the law to writing? Can you tell Mixed-Up Files readers about your path to publication? Was it a steady canter or a wild Headless Horseman-style gallop? (I know… 🙂)

CK: I like the visual of a Headless Horseman-style gallop especially since my path to publication was somewhat unusual. As you mentioned, I had a career before I became a writer. I worked with large law firms in the areas of  attorney recruitment, associate relations, and diversity and inclusion. I enjoyed my legal career but I got to the point where I wanted to do something more creative. I had always loved books and reading so I took a big step, talk about taking a risk, and left my job to focus on writing.

After about a year of sitting at home by myself struggling with picture book manuscripts I took a writing workshop with an editor from Scholastic, the amazing Andrea Davis Pinkney. She saw my fascination with Philly kids playing polo and encouraged me to use that as inspiration for a novel. It took me three years to research and write and revise but, in the end, she wanted the book.

This Writer’s Life

MR: What your writing process like, Christine? Do you have a specific routine? Writing rituals?

CK: I don’t have a specific writing routine, but I often need something like music to move me from real life into the fictive world. I love jazz so I may listen to that while I’m working. I also read my work aloud as I go along and I write with my whole body. What I mean is I get up and sometimes act out what my characters are doing so I can describe their actions accurately. Needless to say, I write at home. I don’t think people would put up with me in other places.

MR: Finally, what’s next on your writing agenda, Christine? Care to share a bit about your latest project?

CK: I’m working on another MG novel. I wrote a short story a few years ago that doesn’t feel like it’s finished even though it’s been published. I’m expanding that story into a longer work.

MR: Oh! Last thing…

No MUF interview is complete without a LIGHTNING ROUND!

Preferred writing snack? Popcorn.

Coffee or tea? Tea.

Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary or Oxford English Dictionary? Merriam-Webster.

Favorite word? Milieu, although I don’t think I used that word in Neva Beane.

Mister Ed or Mister Rogers? Mister Rogers.

Zombie apocalypse: Yea or nay? Nay.

Superpower? Ability to find humor in most any situation.

Favorite place on earth? Mashomack Nature Preserve on Shelter Island, New York.

You’re stranded on a desert island, with only three items in your possession. What are they? A book, my eyeglasses, and a flashlight.

MR: Thank you for chatting with me, Christine—and congratulations on the publication of The True Definition of Neva Beane. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I know MUF readers will too.

And now…

A GIVEAWAY!!!

For a copy of The True Definition of Neva Beane, comment on the blog–and, if you’re on Twitter, on the Mixed-Up Files’ Twitter account–for a chance to win! 

CHRISTINE KENDALL grew up in a family of artists, the fourth of six children, where everyone studied the piano along with one other instrument. She still feels sorry for the neighbors. They woke up one morning and found themselves living next door to a flute, two clarinets, a French horn, a cello, a set of drums, and always, always somebody on the piano. Christine wasn’t any good on the piano or the clarinet, but she loved writing. Her short fiction has appeared in numerous literary journals and her debut novel, Riding Chance, was nominated for a NAACP Image Award in the category of Outstanding Literary Work for Youth/Teens. The True Definition of Neva Beane is her second novel. Christine lives in Philadelphia where she co-curates and hosts the award-winning reading series, Creative at the Cannery. Learn more about Christine on her website and follow her on Twitter.

STEM Tuesday — Sustainable Living — Interview with Authors Sue Heavenrich & Chris Mihaly

Welcome to STEM Tuesday: Author Interview & Book Giveaway, a repeating feature for the fourth Tuesday of every month. Go Science-Tech-Engineering-Math!

Today we’ve the pleasure of interviewing Christy Mihaly and Sue Heavenrich, co-authors of Diet for a Changing Climate: Food for Thought. Kirkus called it an “optimistic introduction for those who want to ‘take a bite out of climate change'” by eating bugs, weeds, and invasive species!

Mary Kay Carson: What is Diet for a Changing Climate about? 

Chips topped with roasted Japanese beetles are the perfect snack while reading Diet for a Changing Climate.

Sue Heavenrich: Between climate chaos, habitat loss, poverty, and hunger, we’re facing a bunch of environmental and societal challenges. It can feel overwhelming, so we wanted to provide some tools for kids and their families to help meet these challenges.

Christy (Chris) Mihaly: We humans sit at the top of the food chain. So we wanted to discuss rethinking what we consider food. What if we ate “invasive” species, like periwinkles and lionfish?

Sue: What if we substituted crickets and other insect protein for meat? Or, instead of spraying dandelions with poison, we ate them?

Chris: The fact is, if enough of us changed what and how we eat, we can improve the health of our communities and our planet.

MKC: How did the two of you come to write it?

Sue: I started thinking about eating insects many years ago while in my garden. I was knocking Japanese beetles off my bean plants and into a bucket of soapy water. When I looked at the thick layer of beetle bodies bound for the compost pile, I bemoaned the waste of all that insect protein. My next thought was: I wonder if they are edible. Soon I discovered that not only are many insects edible, but people all over the world eat them. I began scribbling ideas for a children’s “field guide to eating insects.”

Chris: Around that same time I was interviewing a local environmental activist for a magazine article. This young woman was an entomophagy (insect-eating) advocate who hosted public bug-munching dinners at which she emphasized the environmental and nutritional benefits, as well as the tastiness, of eating insects. I began researching the topic and learned about the UN’s longstanding advocacy of entomophagy – and I was hooked. We’ve been critique partners for many years. The summer of 2014 we both attended a nonfiction conference. I told Sue about a proposal I’d submitted to one of the conference editors: “Entomophagy ABC’s.”

Sue: I’m like, “No way! I’m working on an entomophagy book.” We decided to collaborate.

MKC: I have to ask, how many of the critters in the book have you personally eaten?

Chris: We begin the book by presenting more traditionally palatable food items: dandelions and other weeds, lionfish filets and other tasty invasive animals. As for eating insects, I’m a more recent (though willing) convert. I’ve done the crickets and the beetles, and a few others.

Sue: I remember picking chokecherries and elderberries with my mom in Utah. When I was in high school I discovered Euell Gibbons (Stalking the Wild Asparagus) and field guides on edible plants. I experimented, cooking up dandelion greens and mashing – and leaching – acorns for pancakes. Now I gather wild greens for quiche and purslane and edible flowers for salads. Eating insects happened by accident, and usually while camping. While working on the book, I began integrating bugs into my diet. Those little green caterpillars on the broccoli? Extra protein for the stir fry. A carpenter ant invasion became an opportunity to experiment with frittata recipes. Hint: they are sweeter than I expected! And those Japanese beetles? A friend taught me how to roast them and sent me a good recipe for marinade.

Chris: Sue dedicates the book to her husband, who, she notes “does not know about the ants in the frittata yet.” Hah.

MKC: What challenged or most surprised you both while researching the book?

Chris: We were surprised by how many people already eat invasive species and insects. We hadn’t realized the extent of entomophagy and invasivore Facebook groups, websites, associations, restaurants, courses, conventions, cooking events, and more. We also were struck by the grave environmental and economic problems presented by invasive plant and animal species—as well as by industrial farming.

Sue: A major challenge was the recipes. Dandelions and weeds weren’t a big deal, but eating crickets and Japanese beetles took a leap of faith. So we reached out to more experienced folks who shared their recipes, and then we tested a few. The other thing was an ethical conundrum. I love insects, so we spent a lot of time discussing and researching humane ways to catch and kill bugs. Freezing turns out to be the best, and easiest, way.

MKC: To whom did you imagine yourself writing to while drafting the book?

Sue: As we worked on this book I thought about what 6th-grade me would have wanted to know. We also wanted to include hands-on activities to get readers engaged.

Chris: We wanted to counteract the feelings that so many kids (and adults) have of being powerless in the face of climate change. So we show that changing what you eat can make a difference.

MKC: How does co-authoring a book work, exactly?

Sue and Chris practice what they write about!         • CHRISTY MIHALY (at right) studied law and environmental policy, and practiced environmental law for twenty-plus years. She writes for kids about science, history, government, nature, technology, and other stuff. Her most recent release is Free for You and Me: What Our First Amendment Means. www.christymihaly.com                                                            • SUE HEAVENRICH (left) has a master’s degree in biology. She has studied ants and cockroaches, and now collects data on pollinators as a citizen scientist. Sue writes about nature and books at ArchimedesNotebook.blogspot.com and her picture book, 13 Ways to Eat a Fly comes out in February.

Sue: From the beginning, we viewed this book as a joint project. I think the most important thing is that each of us was willing to put our ego aside and focus on creating the best work we could. It helps that both of us are familiar with collaboration, me as a biologist and Chris as an environmental lawyer.

Chris: When you think about writing with a colleague, at least before covid-19, there’s a good chance you imagine meetings at the local café. Since we live 345 miles apart, we used email and phone. We scheduled regular conversations to go over plans, set goals and deadlines, and keep the lines of communication clear.

Sue: We made lists and divvied up tasks. We wrote alternating chapters, and then shared first drafts of chapter sections via email. Then each of us revised what the other wrote. This helped us develop a consistent voice for the entire book. I remember thinking that by collaborating we could each do half the work.

Chris: Ha! I figure that doing it together required twice the work that writing solo would have required. But we feel our book is all the better for it.

Sue: All those phone calls played another important role, too. They gave us a chance to get to know each other on a more personal level. Drinking coffee and talking about the dog, the dishes, the kids… and then the BOOK. We did some of our best brainstorming over phone lines.

MKC: Why do you choose to write STEM books?

Sue: I write about STEM for kids and their families to encourage them to go outside and explore the world. To solve a problem, to try something and, if it doesn’t work, figure out what happened and how to fix it. STEM, for me, is just an excuse to play. I was lucky to have parents who supported my curiosity. They sent me to science camp, took us to national parks, rock hunting, star-gazing … and tolerated the skeleton collection I had in the garage. In fourth grade I begged for a microscope for Christmas – and got one!

Chris: I have always loved nature. One reason I write STEM is to share that love with kids. My background is in environmental science and policy – I tend to want to jump to that next step, taking action to help the earth. That’s what Sue and I did with this book—exploring concrete ways that kids who care about the environment can act on their concern.

Win a FREE copy of DIET FOR A CHANGING CLIMATE

Enter the giveaway by leaving a comment below. The randomly-chosen winner will be contacted via email and asked to provide a mailing address (within the U.S. only) to receive the book.

Good luck!

Your host is Mary Kay Carson, author of Wildlife Ranger Action Guide, The Tornado Scientist, Alexander Graham Bell for Kids, Mission to Pluto, and other nonfiction books for kids. @marykaycarson

THE SILVER BOX ~ An Enchantment Lake Mystery: Interview with Award-Winning Author Margi Preus

Welcome to my interview with Award-Winning Author, Speaker, and Educator Margi Preus! We’ll explore her latest release THE SILVER BOX: An Enchantment Lake Mystery – book 3 in the series. Margi’s stories hold breathtaking and bold journeys such as found in her books Heart Of A Samurai and Village Of Scoundrels.

The Book📚

THE SILVER BOX: An Enchantment Lake Mystery

The Silver Box ~ An Enchantment Lake Mystery

by Margi Preus

In the final Enchantment Lake mystery, Francie’s search for the truth about her mother—and herself—plunges her into danger during a North Woods winter.

Everything depends on a small, engraved silver box. If only Francie can follow its cryptic clues to the whereabouts of her missing mother she may finally understand the truth about who she really is. But one ominous clue after another reveal that Francie possesses something so rare and so valuable that some people are willing to do anything to get it. When her pursuit leads her into the snowy north woods, It is only to find out that she, herself, is being pursued.

BOOK 1 & BOOK 2

 

The Interview🎙️

It’s wonderful to have you join us here on the Mixed-Up Files, Margi. Let’s begin with your young self. What was she like? Did she enjoy reading? Writing? Was she adventurous?

Young Margi had the independence of Francie (the protagonist of The Silver Box) if not the bravery. As the last of six kids who spent summers at a lake cabin along with dozens of cousins, I had a prodigious amount of freedom and independence. I roamed around like a stray (mostly wet) dog all summer. So, yes, adventure was a big part of life. There was plenty of reading. I like to think I wrote, but I recently found my childhood diary, which is 99%empty, so probably not. However, I used to make up plays with my friends which we would perform for unsuspecting relatives.

Sounds like a wonderful childhood. It also gave you lots of material to write about, I’m sure. (Flannery O’Conner from your answer below😊)

Readers have watched Francie, your main character/modern-day sleuth, grow over the course of the previous two books in THE SILVER BOX Series. Why will young readers be drawn to her?

I imagine that Francie’s life of independence—kind of a more grown up, somewhat more serious Pippi Longstocking—would be appealing to kids. She lives on her own and makes her own decisions—not all of them good ones. She also gets herself into some hair-raising adventures. As a kid I would have been drawn to all of those things.

What do you hope readers learn from Francie’s journey?

I don’t presume to know what, if anything, readers will learn or gain from any of my books. I would be thrilled even if it is simply to have an enjoyable reading experience—one that makes them want to read more!

That would be a wonderful takeaway!

This series has been described as a great read for fans of Nancy Drew and those who enjoy cozy mysteries. What makes this series and THE SILVER BOX: An Enchantment Lake Mystery as its final book, unique? Were you sad to finish it?

I think the setting is one of the unique things about these stories, and it’s been fun to write a book set in a place I know so well, which is northern Minnesota lake country. And it’s been fun to live vicariously through Francie’s dangerous adventures. (Especially when you know she’s going to make it out somehow or other).

Haha! Yes, I’m sure.

It is always sad to leave a character you have grown to know and love. But she is graduating from high school now and it’s a little like sending a kid off to college.

A More Personal View🦋

Your books all have a sense of timelessness about them. How do you believe you accomplish this?

Thank you! And I have no idea! I do try to avoid slang for the most part, mainly because it’s impossible to stay current, but also because it does have a tendency to date a piece of writing. Our constantly changing technology is also a challenge. If you’re writing a story set in contemporary times, you have to acknowledge our ever-present phones, laptops, tablets, and other devices, but fortunately, there are plenty of places in the Enchantment Lake area where cell service is spotty—and of course the cold weather drains batteries rather quickly, so our heroes often have to solve their problems the old fashioned way: resourcefulness, bravery, quick-wittedness.

On your website, you mention being inspired by family members and their stories. Who have you used specifics of their stories and turned them into something unique for your characters and the world they live in?

I suppose most characters have some elements of people we know. None of my characters are direct one-to-one matches to anyone in particular, most are built of a combination of various traits and characteristics of people I know or imagine. I used to say that the somewhat loopy great aunts in the story were based on my own aunts and my mother—I have recently realized that, actually, maybe I am one of those dotty old aunts myself!

I’m sure you’re a wonderful aunt!

You had a lot of ‘odd’ jobs before you began writing for young readers. How have those experiences helped you become a writer and how can aspiring writers look to their current circumstances or situations and turn them into writing fuel and material?

Wasn’t Hemingway a big proponent of having a lot of experiences so you had something to write about? But then there was the genius Emily Dickinson who never went anywhere. And Flannery O’Connor famously said, “Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days.”

So, far be it from me to offer advice about whether to live large or stay home and write, but I personally am glad for all my experiences and my many very “odd” jobs. Although I don’t know that I have written specifically about any of my oddball work experiences, they have given me a wealth of experience, introduced me to a wide swath of humanity, and no doubt broadened my horizons.

This is such a wise and insightful answer. It’s really making me think.💡 Thank you!

What have been your biggest obstacles when a story idea came upon you and what have you found helped you the most in overcoming them?

The obstacles are familiar to all writers:  doubt that your idea, that what you’ve written, and that what you’re about to write has any merit. That challenge rears its head pretty much on a daily basis. The way forward is, as Robert Leckie advised, to “go up and shoot that old bear under the desk between the eyes.”

For Our Teachers and Authors🍎🏫🎒

What is your favorite aspect of in-person or virtual school visits and how can authors be more accessible to students? Do you have any favorite online platforms or activities you use during your visits?

Thanks for asking about virtual visits, which I have done through Skype and more recently Zoom and Crowdcast, but would use whatever platform the school or group is using. Of course I love the energy of being with a whole room or auditorium full of kids, but I am looking forward to doing more virtual—and interactive—visits. Some things I’ve done lately include creating a story together, and a virtual treasure hunt.

Ooh . . . creating a virtual story with students for your visit. Now that sounds like something students would love!

I am currently working on developing a game to accompany The Littlest Voyageur (Holiday House 2020) which would be great for any group reading that book or studying the fur trade. (Read-aloud chapters of The Littlest Voyageur are available on my YouTube channel.)  I am also planning a Zoom conversation with some of the people I interviewed for Village of Scoundrels (Amulet/Abrams, 2020) which I will record and make available as a resource to accompany that book or for holocaust studies. As for The Silver Box or any of the mysteries, I think it would be very fun to construct a mystery with students, which would give us a lot of opportunity to talk about story construction, building suspense, developing characters, and all kinds of other good stuff.  Of course, I am also available to talk about writing and my books in general

In this world that seems so upside-down, what reading and writing advice can you share with our teachers and librarians?

All I really want to say to teachers, librarians, and parents is thank you. Thank you for hanging in there and for taking care of the kids. Please take care of yourselves, too! We appreciate you. And if you really want some reading/writing advice, email me with your specific questions. Seriously.

💚💚💚

Inquiring minds are super excited to hear what they can expect next from you. Please share!

Thanks for asking! I have a couple of picture books in the pipeline. They won’t be out any time soon—but 2020, the pandemic year, was my year for books—I have three out this year: Village of Scoundrels, The Littlest Voyageur, and The Silver Box— thank you anyone for noticing!!

And thanks for taking this time to check in with me, Mixed Up Files!

Picture books . . . Yay! You have so much work releasing soon. So exciting! Thank you for sharing your wisdom and writing self with us. You are inspiring.

The Author

Margi Preus is a New York Times bestselling author of books for young readers, including the Newbery Honor–winning Heart of a Samurai.Author Margi Preus Among her other novels are Village of Scoundrels, Shadow on the Mountain, West of the Moon, and The Bamboo Sword, as well as the previous two books in the Enchantment Lake series, Enchantment Lake and The Clue in the Trees, which were published by the University of Minnesota Press and received the Midwest Book Award and the Midwest Booksellers Choice Award. She lives in Duluth.

Find Margi: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

Love learning about authors? Here’s a recent author interview in our MUF archive.

The Giveaway

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