Posts Tagged mg mystery

Middle Grade Author Michele Weber Hurwitz tackles an environmental mystery in her latest book, Hello from Renn Lake

I’m so thrilled to interview MUF contributor Michele Weber Hurwitz about her newest middle grade book, Hello from Renn Lake (Wendy Lamb Books/Random House Children’s, May 26 2020). The book centers on 12-year old Annalise Oliver whose family owns and runs a lakeside cabins in Renn Lake, Wisconsin. As a young child Annalise discovered she could communicate with the lake. However, when an algal bloom threatens the lake, she can no longer hear Renn. Annalise and her friends desperately search for a way to save their beloved lake and their community.

Michele, I just love how you alternate between 12-year-old Annalise Oliver, and centuries old Renn, the lake. And then Renn’s cousin, Tru, the river, also has a voice. How did you come up with making the lake and river actual characters in the book? (Also, I was so happy you included Violet, a small quiet lake.)

In my first draft, I didn’t have the lake and river narrating. In fact, it was a quite different story early on, but there still was a main character who had been abandoned as an infant. I had such a strong visual scene in my mind. One moonless night, a baby girl was left near the back garden of a store in a small Wisconsin town, and across the street, an ancient lake that had been part of people’s lives for eons, was the only witness. Because of the unique and mystical bond that develops between the girl and the lake, I realized at some point the only way to fully tell this story was to include the lake’s perspective. I loved that Ivan narrated his own story in The One and Only Ivan, but I wasn’t sure if an element of nature could do the same. But the idea took hold and wouldn’t let go, so I took a leap of faith. Once I gave Renn a voice, the story flowed (pun intended) from there. Tru’s point of view and Violet’s experience are vital pieces of the narrative as well. Also, I decided that all of the nature elements would not have a gender.

When did you discover that Annalise can communicate with the lake?

I always knew there would be a magical realism aspect where Annalise is able to sense what Renn is thinking and feeling, partially due to events that occurred the night she was abandoned. There’s a poignant backstory scene when she’s three years old and first discovers her connection with the lake. To her, it’s the most natural thing, and she’s surprised to later learn that not everyone can “hear” a lake. When I was writing, I kept thinking about the phrase “body of water” – that lakes, rivers, and oceans are living beings as much as plants and animals. Throughout history, people have lived near water – it’s an essential ingredient of life. Even our bodies are made up of mostly water – more than sixty percent.

I wasn’t that familiar with the potential toxicity of algal blooms in lakes. How did you first get interested in them? What sort of research did you do?

A crisis with the lake was going to be a cornerstone of the plot, I just wasn’t sure what the problem would be. But around the same time I was drafting, I read about harmful algal blooms (HABs) and how they’ve been increasing in all bodies of water in recent years. It’s another effect of climate change, and also polluted stormwater runoff that causes algae to grow out of control. HABs steal precious oxygen and also produce toxins that can kill fish, mammals, birds, and even dogs. Three dogs died last summer after swimming in a lake with a toxic bloom. This unsettled me so much that I knew I had to write about this issue. I did a ton of research online and also worked with amazingly helpful people at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the Wisconsin Division of Public Health to make sure the info was accurate, even though this is fiction.

In your book, you have a Thought Wall, where anyone can write anything with sharpies. I truly appreciate the idea of encouraging free expression. Is something you have done yourself?

One of my favorite pizza places growing up allowed and encouraged patrons to scribble on the wood tables. I also heard about a coffee shop where people could put Post-it notes on a bulletin board. I think that’s such a fun idea. Of course, because I love words, but also that it’s so random – you can read someone’s silly, humorous, or thought-provoking message, and they can read yours. I also love that it’s not online but something more tangible and present. That the office for the cabins along Renn Lake would have a Thought Wall for guests just delighted me, and this goes along with the plot because the messages change when the lake is in trouble.

I love that Annalise’s friend Maya is trying to bring back Yiddish. Is Yiddish a language that you know?

My grandparents, two of whom were immigrants from Poland and Lithuania, spoke Yiddish. It’s interesting to me that the language was spoken by Jews in many linked geographical areas, unlike a language that’s a country’s official dialect. I fondly remember my grandparents uttering words like “chutzpah” and “mishegas” that didn’t have an exact English translation. As I’m getting older, I find myself using several Yiddish words, and now my kids are too! Maya starts saying some Yiddish words because her aunt is trying to bring back the language. The phrases aptly describe several situations in the story and might encourage readers to look up their meanings!

There are several mysteries going on this book. Annalise is a foundling and we also don’t know exactly how the bloom got started and what will happen. How did you come up with this idea of Annalise’s abandonment and tying that into the themes of the novel?

In my initial draft, Annalise focused on searching for her origins, but that direction didn’t feel fresh or original. That story had been told before. But I started thinking, what if you choose not to or can’t find the answer to your most troubling question? How do you come to terms with that and move forward? That shift led to a much stronger theme of roots. Instead of searching for where she came from, Annalise decides to put down roots in the place she was found. Roots also tie into the theme as Annalise and her friend Zach discover a possible way to help Renn. So Annalise’s abandonment and the crisis with the lake are woven together, and the river, Tru, plays an essential role in orchestrating this.

I really enjoyed Zach’s science knowledge (his magnifying glass) and the fact that his father is a novelist who isn’t always getting to his work. I have to ask you—who did you base that dad on?

Ha! The frustrated writer part is absolutely based on me! I’ve never sequestered myself in a lakeside cabin in order to write like Zach’s dad does, but I’ve definitely experienced many a time when I couldn’t concentrate and displayed hermit-like behavior – staying in pajamas all day, forgetting to brush my teeth, not leaving the house, talking to the walls. 😊

This novel does end up supplying reasons for the bloom—how it all starts on land—fertilizers, detergent, cleaning products, and pesticides that all end up in our waterways. In addition to the environmental devastation, you don’t shrink from the economic consequences of the toxicity. Is this something you have first-hand knowledge of?

While this is fiction, I referred to my research constantly during the writing process. My editor also asked me numerous questions, as we both wanted to be as factual as possible and offer accurate details that helped shape the narrative. I met with a technician who cleans up polluted lakes and when he said the problem starts on land, not the water, it really struck me how everything we do – pouring something down the sink or washing our car in the driveway – can negatively affect a nearby body of water.

In this text, you play with who has a voice and who is voiceless. Can you talk a little bit about that?

It makes me incredibly sad to see the harm people have done and are doing to nature. Our actions are tipping everything on this planet out of balance. I have this weird sense that nature is reacting, almost lashing out in a way, with the climate disruptions we’re seeing – fires and floods and hurricanes. But water, trees, land – they’re silent. I think it really deepened this story to know how a lake would feel if it was covered with a toxic algal bloom and couldn’t breathe. There are a few chilling last sentences from Zach that make me tear up every time I read them.

Annalise’s younger sister JessiKa (her creative spelling) is such an intriguing character. At times, she’s pretty annoying to her older sister, yet you can’t help but admire her determination to become an actress. At times, she reminded me of Amy in Little Women. I’d love to know a little bit about your process for creating her?

My younger daughter inspired Jess’s character. As a kid, my daughter always had something on her agenda and pursued it doggedly, like ten-year old Jess does with her desire to become an actress. At one point my daughter wanted our family to move to L.A. (we live in Chicago) so she could get on a TV show. 😊 While Jess’s relentless nagging tries her parents’ patience and certainly annoys Annalise, her tenacity proves to be worthwhile in the end, of course!

I love Jess’ line— “Just because something’s small doesn’t mean it can’t do big things.”

Definitely! Jess is small but tough as nails. I was the shortest kid in my kindergarten class. When we were doing a production of Jack and the Beanstalk, I was cast as the giant! I learned to speak up when I needed to, and so does spunky Jess.

Without giving anything away, did you know that it would be kids and specifically Annalise and her friends who would try to save the lake?

Absolutely. I knew the kids wouldn’t be satisfied when the town authorities take a “wait and see” approach with the algal bloom issue. Kids possess an urgency and passion that adults sometimes lack. I am in awe of the kids who have been marching, protesting, and speaking out on the climate crisis. There are some amazing things that happen in this story because of the kids’ determination.

In a post script to the novel, I truly loved how the information about lakes, rivers and algal blooms was from Zach’s point of view!

I find that sometimes the informational back matter of a book can be dull and boring, and I didn’t want it to be! Zach, adorable science nerd that he is, was the perfect character to share info for readers who are interested in learning more about lakes, rivers, and algal blooms. All the links are also on my website.

Did you learn something from this novel that was new in terms of writing?

I learned to trust my instincts more. Deep down, I knew Renn was an essential narrator but I was hesitant to try writing in the voice of a lake. I kept coming up with reasons why it wouldn’t work or readers might not get it. Finally, I just tuned out those negative thoughts and dove in.

Is there anything else you would like readers to know about the book?

I hope readers will feel inspired to do something in their community – no matter how big or small. The climate crisis is such an overwhelming and seemingly insurmountable issue. If we stop using plastic water bottles or recycle every scrap of paper, will these actions really make a difference? And I just want to answer, yes! All of my books end on a hopeful note. I believe in humanity and our inventiveness and adaptability to solve crises. We will find a way forward, and nature can help us come up with solutions.

Hillary Homzie is the author of the Ellie May chapter book series (Charlesbridge, 2018), Apple Pie Promises (Sky Pony/Swirl, 2018), Pumpkin Spice Secrets (Sky Pony/Swirl, 2017), Queen of Likes (Simon & Schuster MIX 2016), The Hot List (Simon & Schuster MIX 2011) and Things Are Gonna Be Ugly (Simon & Schuster, 2009) as well as the Alien Clones From Outer Space (Simon & Schuster Aladdin 2002) chapter book series. She’s also a contributor to the forthcoming Kate the Chemist middle grade series (Philomel Books/Penguin Random House). During the year, Hillary teaches at Sonoma State University and in the summer she teaches in the graduate program in childrens’ literature, writing and illustration at Hollins University. She also is an instructor for the Children’s Book Academy. She can be found at hillaryhomzie.com and on her Facebook page as well as on Twitter.

National Geographic Welcomes MG Explorers Back for Another Thrilling Adventure

Join Cruz Coronado and his friends at The Explorer Academy as they travel around the globe training to be the next generation of explorers and uncovering Cruz’s family’s dangerous past. This is the second adventure in which Cruz and his teammates use real-world science and technology to solve mysteries and outwit their enemies. The first in the series is The Nebula Secret.

 

Welcome Back to the Explorer Academy!

Welcome to Day #5 of the Explorer Academy: The Falcon’s Feather Blog Tour!

To celebrate the release of Explorer Academy: The Falcon’s Feather by Trudi Trueit on March 19th, blogs across the web are featuring special content from Trudi and the Explorer Academy team, as well as 5 chances to win an Explorer Academy DRONE Prize Pack!

Ten Terrible Titles for Explorer Academy Book 3

The rules of the game are: “Scroll through the manuscript and stop on a random place. Whatever you land on becomes one of ten terrible titles.”

1. Guess It Wasn’t Such a Brilliant Idea After All

2. Is the Spot in the Corner a Pit or Not?

3. The Eye of the Birsh!

4. Photo 51: It’s Only the Most Important Photograph Ever Taken

5. It Could Be a Temple, or a Tomb

6. A Drawer! It Had to Be a Secret Drawer!

7. Nature Was Random

8. Most Certainly the Mummy Inside

9. After All, We Are Trespassing

10. Your Life is…Complicated

Of course, the real title for Explorer Academy #3, the sequel to The Falcon’s Feather, is…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Available September 3rd, 2019!

Blog Tour Schedule:

March 18th – BookTrib

March 19th – Big Shiny Robot

March 20th – Always in the Middle

March 21st Novel Novice

March 22ndFrom the Mixed Up Files

A fun, exciting and action-packed ride that kids will love.”

J.J. Abrams, director of Star Trek, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Lost and Alias

Explorer Academy is sure to awaken readers’ inner adventurer and curiosity about the world around them.”

LeVar Burton, host of “Reading Rainbow”and “LeVar Burton Reads”

 

Buy: National Geographic | Amazon | Indiebound

Add on Goodreads

Visit the Explorer Academy Official Site

Educator Guide

 

 

 

 

Follow Trudi: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Youtube

Follow National Geographic Kids: Website | Twitter | Books Twitter | Facebook | Youtube

It’s an adventure of a lifetime when Cruz Coronado sets sail for the shores of Iceland and Norway aboard the Explorer Academy ship to continue his studies at sea. But, things take a turn while exploring the icy north, when he embarks on a dangerous mission to uncover the first piece of an important puzzle his mother left behind.

In the exciting follow-up to The Nebula Secret in the 7-book Explorer Academy series, Cruz, Sailor, and Emmett, along with their new ally Bryndis, embark on their first globe-trotting mission aboard the ship Orion. Cruz jumps right back into school and starts using the latest technology in submersible underwater dives, but is soon reminded of the dangers of exploration when his equipment fails and he almost drowns. Determined to keep his eyes on the prize, Cruz sneaks away to try to find answers, but unknowingly lures his friends into bigger trouble. When a friend of Cruz’s mom meets an untimely end, Cruz’s luck really seems about to run out and the questions multiply. What does the message mean? Where will it lead? Who is following him? And why?

This captivating book is the sequel every Explorer Academy fan is waiting to read!

About the Author: Author Trudi Trueit is a gifted storyteller for middle-grade audiences. She has written more than 100 books for young readers, both fiction and nonfiction, including The Sister Solution, Stealing Popular and the Secrets of a Lab Rat series. Trueit lives in Everett, Washington.

GIVEAWAY

 

  • One (1) winner will receive SIGNED copies of Explorer Academy books 1 and 2, an ADVANCE copy of Explorer Academy Codebreaking Activity Adventure (not otherwise available to the public until May!), an Explorer Academy pin, baseball cap, t-shirt, and bag, and a Quadcopter DRONE!
  • US/Canada only
  • Ends 3/31 at midnight ET

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Plus! Enter to win a once-in-a-lifetime trip!

One lucky family of four will embark on a spectacular ship-based adventure, just like the students at Explorer Academy. Experience the remarkable beauty of Alaska’s famed Inside Passage on this thrilling 8-day voyage, courtesy of National Geographic Expeditions. Get up close to icebergs and calving glaciers. See orcas and humpback whales, then listen to them with the ship’s hydrophone. Visit Glacier Bay National Park, learn about Alaska’s rich Native American heritage, and pass islands teeming with wildlife, including brown bears, sea lions, sea otters, and perhaps the world’s highest density of nesting bald eagles. Visit natgeoexpeditions.com to see a detailed itinerary for Alaska’s Inside Passage Cruise. Enter here!

Explorer Academy: The Falcon’s Feather Author Tour

Friday, March 22, 2019

Kepler’s Books

1010 El Camino Real

Menlo Park, CA

Event details:

6 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.— Public event with talk by author Trudi Trueit and National Geographic Explorer Erika Bergman, followed by book signing. Purchase tickets in advance.

 

 

 

Interview with Wendy McLeod MacKnight, Author of The Frame-Up

I’m so excited to chat with Wendy McLeod MacKnight about her latest middle grade mystery, THE FRAME-UP.

MUF Interview Wendy McLeod MacKnight The Frame-UpWhen Sargent Singer discovers that the paintings in his father’s gallery are alive, he is pulled into a captivating world behind the frame that he never knew existed.

Filled with shady characters, devious plots, and a grand art heist, this inventive mystery-adventure celebrates art and artists and is perfect for fans of Night at the Museum and Blue Balliett’s Chasing Vermeer.

There’s one important rule at the Beaverbrook Gallery—don’t let anyone know the paintings are alive. Mona Dunn, forever frozen at thirteen when her portrait was painted by William Orpen, has just broken that rule. Luckily twelve-year-old Sargent Singer, an aspiring artist himself, is more interested in learning about the vast and intriguing world behind the frame than he is in sharing her secret.

And when Mona and Sargent suspect shady dealings are happening behind the scenes at the gallery, they set out to find the culprit. They must find a way to save the gallery—and each other—before they are lost forever.  

With an imaginative setting, lots of intrigue, and a thoroughly engaging cast of characters, The Frame-Up will captivate readers of Jacqueline West’s The Books of Elsewhere.

What inspired this art gallery mystery?

I have always loved art — and wished I painted or drew better! — and I always wanted to figure out a way to make the world of art come alive to kids and adults. Certainly, the book has nods to Harry Potter and Night at the Museum, but I wanted to do something different; I wanted to show two worlds co-existing and not intersecting and how the hidden world would organize itself to protect itself, and I wanted to have readers think about how creativity brings things to life. Theoretically, a painting is simply a flat image on a wall. But depending upon the person viewing it, it can be so much more than that. I wanted to give kids (and the adults in their lives) ways to think and look at art that made it fun and thought-provoking and I hope I succeeded!

Please, tell us about the paintings featured in the book and/or about the real-life Beaverbrook Art Gallery.

Oh gosh, where to begin? The Beaverbrook Art Gallery is a magical place, set on the banks of the St. John River in Fredericton, New Brunswick. It was a gift to the province by Lord Beaverbrook, a native New Brunswicker who found fame in fortune in the U.K. during the first half of the twentieth century and is a towering figure in World War II history and the history of the London press. He filled the gallery with priceless masterpieces, as fine as any collection, in my opinion.

The hardest thing for me was choosing which paintings would be characters. I knew I had to include at least one Dalì, plus the massive Gainsborough, and the portrait of Mona Dunn. I chose paintings I’ve always loved and which included great characters for my story, like the portrait of Helena Rubinstein, Madame Juliette dans le Jardin, and Lucian Freud’s Hotel Bedroom.

But really, the star is Mona Dunn. I have been besotted with her portrait since I first laid eyes on it, and my affection for her has never waned. There was never any doubt that this would be the girl who would live her life behind the frame, and yet long to still be connected to the outer world. It’s as if her artist, William Orpen, knew she was destined to be in a book, the way he captured her. In the novel, I describe her as #TheOtherMona, but really, I think she is a more glorious portrait than the Mona Lisa!!!

Mona Dunn | Interview with Wendy McLeod MacKnight | Th Frame Up

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What I didn’t realize was that it was MY responsibility to procure the rights to reproduce the images in the book, though I had no idea at the time I procured them that the book would actually be published! But Greenwillow Books has made a gorgeous book, and the fact that they’ve included a sixteen-page full-color insert of all of the paintings who are characters in the book is amazing to me! I can just imagine kids flipping back and forth as they read!

I loved your first novel, It’s a Mystery, Pig Face! And, as a little sister, really resonated with the sibling relationship. So, tell me, who is your favorite character – either from Pig Face or The Frame-Up – and why do you love them more than anyone else?

Oh my! I adore Lester (AKA Pig Face), because he is loosely based on my younger brother, although with my quirks, but if I had to pick one character that I absolutely adore, I’m going with Sir Charles Cotterell in The Frame-Up, because he just makes me sooo happy. He has a small role, but good one!

Will you tell us a little bit about your writing process? In particular how do you go about tackling a mystery story?

First of all, I do a VERY ROUGH outline, and then I write. I’m trying to do a better job of pre-plotting, but I think I may be the writer who really needs to get to know their character through writing, and however much I think I know but doing character sketches, it’s only when I put them in the scenarios that their true colors come out! And the mystery, went through several iterations, and honestly, the mad scramble at the end required LOTS of re-writing so it actually made sense. In The Frame-Up, there are several mysteries: what’s going to happen now that someone from outside the frame knows about the world behind the frame; will Sargent and his father actually come together; and is someone up to something nefarious at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, and if so, who? I have to map it all out and try to find a way to weave it all together in a logical, straight forward way. But I’ll be honest: sometimes I trap myself in my own maze and have to ask for help to get myself out!

What would you like readers to take away from this book?

My greatest wish is that kids (and adults!) are inspired to go to their local art gallery or museum and “visit” the paintings. So often, we shuffle from one painting to the next, not knowing how we should be approaching it. Many galleries do an amazing job of talking about the creation of the art, but for some of us, the only way we can connect is by imagining the day it was painted, thinking about what the artist saw and was thinking, and depending on the kind of art, what the subject was also experiencing. My greatest compliment was when, after he’d finished the book, my husband said he’d never look at art the same way again!

In your book, Mona is eternally 13 years old. Is there a certain age that most feels like you? If so, what about being that age sticks with you?

Truthfully, I think I will always be fourteen years old. I’ll be on my deathbed at a hundred and five (!) and still be as excited and hopeful and curious to see how it all turns out as I was when I was that age. I was fourteen when I had to move away from my hometown, which was absolutely heartbreaking, but it was also the year I had an amazing English teacher, had my first date, and tramped about in the woods with my best friends, just like Tracy and Pig Face do. You know things, but you don’t know things, which I think is a delicious way to live your life!

Thank you so much for chatting with us, Wendy. I can’t wait to grab a copy of THE FRAME- UP for myself. I’m sure our readers feel the same way.

Wendy McLeod MacKnight || MUF Interview with Wendy McLeod MacKnight | The Frame UpWendy lives in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada, and wrote her first novel at age nine. During her first career, she worked for the Government of New Brunswick, ending her career as the Deputy Minister of Education. She has been know to wander art galleries and have spirited conversations with the paintings – mostly in her head, though sometimes not. Her debut middle grade novel, It’s a Mystery, Pig Face! was published by Sky Pony Press in 2017. She can’t wait for The Frame-Up to come out so she can share her love of art and her love for the world-class  Beaverbrook Art Gallery. She hopes readers will be inspired to create their own masterpieces and visit their own local art gallery. And even better, she hopes they’ll come to Fredericton and visit the  Beaverbrook Art Gallery and meet Mona and the rest of the characters in the book (and maybe Wendy, too!)


THE FRAME-UP comes out June 5, 2018. You can pick up a copy at your favorite independent bookstore or anywhere else books are sold.

In the meantime, feel free to keep the conversation going by commenting below. I’d love to talk more about Wendy’s books, art, mystery novels, or even your eternal age. 🙂