We have a treat today on the blog. Four middle grade authors are releasing their stunning debuts on April 12th. We’ve asked each of them a few fun questions (learn all about Bunnicula, a debut author slumber party, and the power of brightly colored socks). At the end of this post, you’ll find a link to a Rafflecopter giveaway where you can win all four books! Here are the books and authors:
Brooks Benjamin, My Seventh-Grade Life in Tights
All Dillon wants is to be a real dancer. And if he wins a summer scholarship at Dance-Splosion, he’s on his way. The problem? His dad wants him to play football. And Dillon’s freestyle crew, the Dizzee Freekz, says that dance studios are for sellouts. His friends want Dillon to kill it at the audition—so he can turn around and tell the studio just how wrong their rules and creativity-strangling ways are.
At first, Dillon’s willing to go along with his crew’s plan, even convincing one of the snobbiest girls at school to work with him on his technique. But as Dillon’s dancing improves, he wonders: what if studios aren’t the enemy? And what if he actually has a shot at winning the scholarship?
Dillon’s life is about to get crazy . . . on and off the dance floor.
About Brooks: In sixth grade, Brooks Benjamin formed a New Kids on the Block tribute dance crew called the New Kidz. He wasn’t that good at dancing back then. But now he’s got a new crew—his wife and their dog. They live in Tennessee, where he teaches reading and writing and occasionally busts out a few dance moves. He’s still not that good at it. His first novel, MY SEVENTH-GRADE LIFE IN TIGHTS will be released by Delacorte/Random House (April 12, 2016).
Melanie Conklin, Counting Thyme
When eleven-year-old Thyme Owens’ little brother, Val, is accepted into a new cancer drug trial, it’s just the second chance that he needs. But it also means the Owens family has to move to New York, thousands of miles away from Thyme’s best friend and everything she knows and loves. The island of Manhattan doesn’t exactly inspire new beginnings, but Thyme tries to embrace the change for what it is: temporary.
After Val’s treatment shows real promise and Mr. Owens accepts a full-time position in the city, Thyme has to face the frightening possibility that the move to New York is permanent. Thyme loves her brother, and knows the trial could save his life—she’d give anything for him to be well—but she still wants to go home, although the guilt of not wanting to stay is agonizing. She finds herself even more mixed up when her heart feels the tug of new friends, a first crush, and even a crotchety neighbor and his sweet whistling bird. All Thyme can do is count the minutes, the hours, and days, and hope time can bring both a miracle for Val and a way back home.
About Mel: Melanie Conklin is a writer, reader, and life-long lover of books and those who create them. She lives in South Orange, New Jersey with her husband and two small maniacs, who are thankfully booklovers, too. Melanie spent a decade as a product designer and approaches her writing with the same three-dimensional thinking and fastidious attention to detail. Counting Thyme is her debut middle grade novel, coming from G.P. Putnam’s Sons on April 12, 2016.
Shari Schwarz, Treasure at Lure Lake
An epic adventure—that’s all Bryce wants this summer. So when he stumbles upon a treasure map connected to an old family secret, Bryce is determined to follow the clues to unearth both, even it means hiking in the wilderness in the middle of nowhere. Bryce must work with his bickering brother, Jack, or they may never see the light of day again!
About Shari: Shari Schwarz is a mom of four boys–three preteen/teenagers and one preschooler. (Yes, they are alike in many ways!) and the author of the upcoming, TREASURE AT LURE LAKE, out April 12, 2016 by Cedar Fort.
Shari is a simple person (her husband would totally disagree!) and a homebody, but she does love long chats with friends over a latte, dreaming of going to the beach, and writing adventure stories for children. If she’s not writing, she’s reading, whether it be a manuscript for the literary agent she interns for or working on an editing project. In the quiet spaces of life, she might find time for her other loves: gardening, weight-lifting, hiking, and a bit of photography. Shari has had a lifelong faith in God and tries to leave it ALL in his hands.
Shari has degrees in Cross-Cultural Studies and Elementary Education with an emphasis in Literacy. She worked as an elementary school librarian before her little guy came on the scene. Now she stays home with him and writes.
Laura Shovan, The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary
Laura Shovan’s engaging novel is a time capsule of one class’s poems during a transformative school year. The students grow up and move on in this big-hearted debut about finding your voice and making sure others hear it.
About Laura: Laura Shovan is former editor for Little Patuxent Review and editor of two poetry anthologies. Her chapbook, Mountain, Log, Salt and Stone, won the inaugural Harriss Poetry Prize. Laura works with children as a poet-in-the-schools. The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary, her novel-in-verse for children, will be published in 2016 (Wendy Lamb Books/Random House).
What is your favorite quote on reading or writing?
Brooks: I’d have to go with one from Ray Bradbury. “I don’t need an alarm clock. My ideas wake me.”
Shari: There are so many! Here’s one I love by Robert Frost, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”
Mel: This is not quite a writing quote, but it is my favorite. “Only the soul that knows the mighty grief can know the mighty rapture. Sorrows come to stretch out spaces in the heart for joy.” — Edwin Markham
Laura: Neil Gamain’s epigraph for the novel Coraline is “Fairy tales are more than true – not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.” It’s a paraphrase of a longer quote from author G. K. Chesterton.
Do you have any writing rituals or superstitions?
Brooks: Yes! When I’m writing in the morning, I always have to have coffee in a particular mug. I also have to have something to listen to while I write. For the longest time this was music, but I’ve recently discovered Noisli and I’m falling in love with it.
Shari: None that I know of. I write wherever and whenever I can. As a busy mom of four active boys, I’m usually going in several directions at once, so I take any moment I get to write.
Mel: I like to wear brightly colored socks while I write. I also like to sit on my couch and bed and other soggy sitting spots that are terrible for my back!
Laura: When I’m struggling with my writing, I like to wear a giant plum-colored corduroy jacket that belonged to my grandmother.
What was your favorite middle grade book as a kid?
Brooks: As a kid it was probably Bunnicula. I loved Halloween (still do) and haunted houses and monsters (still do) so it’s no surprise that I fell in love (and still am) with a book that combined humor and horror.
Shari: I was sort of raised on the classics, so a couple of my favorites when I was young were The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett and Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery.
Mel: The Secret Garden.
Laura: So many! My fifth grade class was obsessed with the Narnia books. But I still remember when we read, and then watched a movie of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. I wanted to be Claudia in the worst way.
Any middle grade book that you missed the first time around, but have come to love as an adult?
Brooks: Bridge to Terabithia. I never read it as a kid. But when I finally did, I couldn’t believe what I’d missed. It’s such an incredible book and I read it every single year.
Shari: Before I was a teenager, I don’t think I ever read Madeleine L’Engle’s work, namely A Wrinkle in Time, but when I discovered her writing as an adult, I loved several of her books.
Mel: I did not read The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros until I was in college, but it is one of my favorites now.
Laura: Elizabeth Enright’s Gone Away Lake. My children and I listened to the audio book in the car one summer. It’s funny, quirky, and filled with mystery and adventure. It’s a perfect summer read.
What inspired you to write your book?
Brooks: What inspired me to write my very first book was actually my eighth-grade reading teacher. The whole class had to come up with an idea which could be a single short story, a collection of poems, an essay, anything. So I wrote a fully illustrated 61-page story loosely based on my favorite video game at the time, Golden Axe 2. It went on to win an award and it convinced me that maybe there were some other stories that might be worthy to have a life on paper.
Shari: My preteen/teenage sons inspired me. Two of them are reluctant readers and I wanted to write something that would be fun, exciting and a fast read for them. They both read my book in record time when we received the first copies the other day! The look of wonder and contentment on my 14-year-old’s face when he finished Treasure at Lure Lake made the hard work and rejections along the way worth every second.
Mel: One day, after reading several modern contemporary stories about children facing tough circumstances, I asked myself what it would be like to be the sibling of such a child? That in combination with my connection to pediatric cancer through volunteer work with Cookies for Kids’ Cancer led me to the core story of Counting Thyme: a girl facing life in a new city as her brother faces cancer treatment.
Laura: In my work as a poet-in-the-schools, I love seeing how each classroom forms its own sense of community. That’s something I wanted to capture in my book — how a group of students with different personalities and backgrounds works together as a group. I was interested in exploring the things the students in a class know, and the things they don’t know about one another. It was a lot of fun to create those layers in my fictional fifth grade class.
As you’re on the eve of your debut, what has been the biggest surprise in the past year?
Brooks: I expected a few of my debut siblings to be supportive, but every single one of them has been the absolute best cheerleader for each of our books. Also, I figured the debut authors from 2015 might be cool with helping us new authors out a little, but they’ve been so willing to talk, to email, to allow us to vent, to point us in the right directions. Finally, I assumed I wouldn’t have a single second to write as I got closer to my release day, but I’ve still been able to dedicate an hour or two every single morning to it. There are as many downs as there are ups, but I’ve been so pleasantly surprised every single day. And I owe a great deal of that to the people around me.
Shari: I totally agree with Brooks. The other debut authors have been essential to the process of getting our books out into the world. I am also constantly surprised by the kindness and support shown to me by family and friends and others I am only now meeting through my book.
Mel: For me, the biggest surprise of the last year has been the wonderful friendships I’ve formed with other writers and readers. I love books because they bring us together.
Laura: I agree with Brooks, Shari, and Mel. One of the highlights of my past year was when three of my fellow debut authors spent the night at our house. I may have gotten a little teary eyed as we sat around the dinner table with my husband and daughter, talking about writing. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was in middle school, but it was a surprise to me that sharing a meal at my house with other writers was my “I did it” moment.
I’m sure you, like me, are now dying to get your hands on these books. Want a chance to win them all? Click here: a Rafflecopter giveaway
Katharine Manning’s towering To Be Read pile just got a little higher. You can see her middle grade book recommendations at Kid Book List. You can also find her at www.katharinemanning.com and on Twitter.