Posts Tagged #mgkidlit

Mixed-Up Files interview with Dan Abdo and Jason Patterson, authors of, Barb the Last Berzerker!

Hello Mixed-Up Filers,

Wow, you have me three times this month! How I envy you! Well, we are in for a treat today! We have the authors of the new graphic novel series from Simon & Schuster, Barb the Last Berzerker, by Dan Abdo and Jason Patterson.

JR: Thanks for joining us over at Mixed-Up Files!

Dan: Thank you so much for having us! It’s an honor!

Jason: Thank you so much!

JR: I was fortunate enough to have a chance to read Barb the Last Berzerker already, and found it to be so much fun! For those who don’t know, can you tell us a little bit about the book and where the idea for Barb came from?

Dan : Sure. Jason and I are writers, cartoonists, and animators. We were bouncing ideas off each other over sandwiches in Manhattan. We are huge fans of orcs, dragons, magic swords, and all things dorky. We knew we wanted to come up with an adventure story and we also knew we wanted to design a hero that our kids could look at and see themselves in. A real hero who did the right thing, even when doing the right thing is hard. Especially when it’s hard.

Jason: I think we were both in a place in our lives where we were creatively a bit frustrated. We hear the word no a lot! And so Barb is kind of this champion who never takes no for an answer. She never gives up! She really inspired us. It’s funny to say but we really do think of her as a real person.  The more we got to know her, the world of Balliwick just kept unfolding in front of us in a really exciting and organic way. It felt more like a place we discovered rather than a place we created. Side note: Are italics kind of annoying? I can’t tell.

JR: They don’t bother me at all! There is a lot of humor in the book, as well as some more touching moments. How difficult is it to strike the right balance?

Jason: I think in all fiction, but especially  fantasy, you have to really ground the reader. Action is a blast, but unless there is a real emotional story underneath, things can start to feel flat. Barb’s backstory was a really important element to get right.

Dan : Barb’s backstory and her relationship with her mom is one of things that makes Barb real. The comedy just flows out of these characters and the crazy predicaments that Barb and her pal Porkchop find themselves in. I grew up in a household with a single mom, and had never really seen an honest and fun relationship between a kid and a single parent portrayed in a fantasy adventure story. Barb’s relationship with her mom is rich and complex and gives us lots of places to go as writers and cartoonists.

JR: When reading the book, I doubt that this was in your minds, but I got a kind of Groo by Sergio Aragones vibe from it. Were you fans? Who were some of your influences?

Dan : We LOVE Groo! Sergio Aragonés is a genius cartoonist and we’re huge fans. I have always loved comics and cartoons that can really mix adventure and comedy. Teenage mutant Ninja Turtles has been a huge influence on me my whole life. The Scrooge McDuck comics and the Ducktales cartoon are also reference points I always go back too. Jason and I are always chatting about film and TV too. I think we’ve learned a lot about story telling by deconstructing some of our favorite films, like

Jason: Totally! Groo meets Conan!  I think that could be the elevator pitch. Going over to Dan’s house after school and reading comics together was always such a blast. We would both just sit on the floor and get lost for hours. I remember one time in particular when Dan was super excited about a TMNT storyline where there was a dinosaur from the future. It was such a wacky idea but still totally worked in the world. It was so rad!

Dan : Triceratons rule!

 JR: I could write a thesis about how much I love Duck Tales! The two of you have been friends since high school. What’s it like to work with your friend?

Dan : It’s a never ending nightmare I can’t wake up from.

Jason: Ha! I think Dan is joking. (God what if he’s not. This would be an amazing place to find that out. ) The best part is that we are in this together. It’s hard to make a comic. (probably not quite as hard as Barb defeating Witch Head, but close) What makes it easier is that as I sweat over my pages I know Dan is sweating over his pages too. When one of us starts taking this too seriously (usually me) the other one (usually Dan) can offer some perspective, we get to make comics everyday!

JR: Funny, I also like to tell my friends what I think that they’re doing wrong. What is your process like, and are there ever any disagreements over your projects?

Dan: We write and draw and do everything together. In all honesty, I feel super lucky to have a creative partner who is so talented and so fun to work with. I feel like I’m always running to keep up with Jason’s drawings and writing  which makes me a better artist. Jason has one of the funniest and most twisted senses of humor I’ve ever encountered and I am constantly in stitches. We never really have huge disagreements.

Jason: That’s not true Dan, we do argue about stuff.

Dan: No we don’t!

Jason: Yes we do! Side note: Dan is an amazing story teller and artist, I have to run to keep up with him! I think his brain never stops.


JR: You’ve been responsible for projects in TV, movies, comics, and now graphic novels. What are the differences/pros and cons in each of these formats, and which do you prefer?

Dan: Right now we are all in on comics. It’s so great to be able to make something start to finish, with just a few people. One of the most frustrating parts of television and film development is that you can work for years on a project, and then in the blink of an eye it can go away. You can be left with literally nothing to show for it. Where in graphic novels there will always be a book, a physical thing, that you can hold. And the experience of reading a book is so exciting, so laugh inducing, and often more intimate and personal than watching something. We love film and TV, but dang comics are just so rad I can’t praise the art form enough.

Jason: Totally. It’s such a fun medium. Literally every part about making comics is fun. The writing, the first pass of thumbs, adding color, even answering questions about making comics is fun!

JR: When you do projects for TV/movies, how much autonomy do you have, as opposed to when you work on your graphic novels and can decide everything for yourselves?

Dan : Every project is a little different, but generally you have much less autonomy in TV/film. TV/Film is such a collaborative process, which is part of what’s amazing about it, but also there can be  so many cooks in the kitchen  that often all the edges get rounded off, and things become homogenized. Lots of metaphors there, but you get the idea.

Jason: With comics you can make changes up until the last second, which is so great. It gives the story a much more spontaneous and I think natural feeling. Like Improv Jazz . Animation has its own set of wonderful attributes, but you really can’t make changes once you lock picture. It’s just a much bigger boat and takes so much longer to change direction. Oops, switched metaphors there… I mean animation is more like a thirty piece orchestra.


JR: What are you working on next, and also, what’s next for Barb?

Dan : We have a graphic novel series called Blue, Barry, & Pancakes out with First Second books. It’s very different from Barb — these are super fun, surreal, stories of friendship between Blue a worm, Barry a frog, and Pancakes, a big fuzzy rabbit. They are aimed at a younger reader and are chock full of comedy, adventure, and heart!

Jason: Barb is definitely going to three books. We just wrapped the second book this week called “Barb and the legend of the Ghost Blade.”  We will take a few minutes off…then it’s onto MORE COMICS!

JR: Thank you so much for joining us, and best of luck to Barb the Last Berzerker!

Dan and Jason: Thank you so much for hosting us and posing such thoughtful questions. We can’t wait to chat with you again! Cheers!

Well, that’s it for this time, Mixed-Up Filers! Hope you enjoyed, and make sure you go out and get Barb the Last Berzerker!

WNDMG: Jewish-American Heritage Month – Jewish Stories in MG

We Need Diverse MG

Hello Mixed-Up Readers!

Hope you are all well!

If you haven’t been paying attention, and I don’t know why you wouldn’t have, but our own Heather Murphy Capps and Aixa Perez-Praido have brought a great new monthly feature to Mixed-Up Files, called WNDMG, which of course means, We Need Diverse Middle Grade. I know Heather, in particular, has been passionate about amplifying diverse voices, and hopefully, this year, she’ll have good news about her own book to share with everyone. She deserves it, especially since she has put in so much time to promote others.

Honestly, it’s an important item to feature, because every kid should be able to see themselves in books. Every child should be able to read about others just like them, and show those kids being the heroes of stories. Diversity is important, not just in real life, but also in books for kids. So, with all that being said, I was thrilled and honored when Heather asked me to write this month’s post for WNDMG, since May is Jewish-American Heritage Month.

I was even more thrilled, because, unfortunately, I haven’t always felt that warm and fuzzy feeling when it comes to including Jewish stories in kidlt. As a matter of fact, many years ago, when I first started trying to become a children’s book writer, I was told by a decision-maker in kidlit, to make a story less Jewish, so it would appeal to a broader audience. Oh, it happened to be a story based on Jewish mythology. From what I discovered later, I was not alone in that. Many other Jewish authors have told me of similar experiences, where agents or editors told them that their work wouldn’t sell because it was “Too Jewish”. While I do think that things are a little better now than then, I still see some pushback against including Jewish stories. And not just from decision-makers. Even see it from some who are dedicated to promoting diversity in kidlit. It’s not a great feeling when you’re told, we want to be inclusive, but just not to your group.

I’m not sure why that is, but it really needs to stop. Groups should all be trying to amplify each other instead of finding reasons why to exclude someone. Especially, if you’re a part of another group calling for more representation. And if you’re actively trying to exclude Jewish books, maybe ask yourself, why? On that topic, here are a few facts. You know, those pesky little things that get in the way of certain narratives. Jews make up only 2.4% of the population, yet account for an incredibly high percentage of hate crimes being perpetrated against them. Over the last ten years, antisemitism has steadily risen, and it’s not just coming from one political “side”. So, when you’re then told that you don’t qualify for inclusion in talk of books pushing diversity, that you’re not welcome in that club, it’s really mind-boggling, and incredibly hurtful. I’d use other words, but this is a site dedicated to kidlit, so will refrain.

With antisemitism being what it is, it is more important than ever for kids, all kids, not just Jewish ones, to see Jews represented in children’s books. We bridge gaps by not just letting Jewish kids see themselves, but also by letting other kids see Jews and realize that maybe the differences aren’t so great. And whatever differences there are, are to be embraced and learned from. It starts with children, and it’s also what any group would want for themselves.

To my shame, those many years ago, I changed my book to make it “Less Jewish”. Would never do that again. I’m older and wiser. Well, all right, just older. But, I now decided to put a Jewish character into anything that I write. Either the main character or at least, a supporting one. I think with things being the way they are around the world, it’s too important not to. Not going to lie, it’s gonna be tough when I write that sci/fi, alien race invading other dimensions story, but I’m sure going to try and figure out a way.

Maybe Klaatu Cohen? Hmmm, I’ll try and think of something better.

Anyway, with this being Jewish-American Heritage Month, I’m going to do my part to amplify Jewish voices. Jewish stories. Jewish authors. Not just Holocaust books, which are still important, but also books showing Jewish kids just being kids. So, if you’re a teacher, librarian, parent, caregiver, or anyone who helps make reading choices for kids, please seek out some Jewish-themed stories or even stories with Jewish characters to share with the children in your lives. It’d be a mitzvah!

If you need any recs, drop me a line. I’ll make time to answer anyone who writes. Honestly.

And next year, you can pick up a Bnai-Mitzvah-themed anthology that I helped put together called, Coming of Age. It has thirteen stories from twelve great Jewish authors and also one from me! Hey, I had to get some shameless self-promotion in here somewhere!

That’s all for now Mixed-Up Readers. Thank you all for reading, and until my next post, I bid each and every one of you, Shalom!


We Need Diverse MG

Artwork by Aixa Perez-Prado

Celebrating Spring with Outdoor and Reading Activities

Spring is officially here, the days are getting longer, and there’s no better time than now to start spending more time outdoors. The Child Mind Institute has compiled a list of benefits to children of getting outside. These include an increase in confidence and creativity and a decrease in stress. Below are five easy ways for you and the students in your life to get in more sunshine time. In addition, below you can find some books to explore while you’re outdoors.



Five Easy Ways to Spend More Time Outdoors

  • Create an outdoor reading space. This can be as simple or elaborate as you’d like. You can use anything from a quilt or pillow laid out on the grass to a vine-covered arbor with a comfortable bench.
  • Invite students to take homework outdoors. has five easy steps to start studying outdoors. Leaving electronic devices indoors while working on homework outdoors also helps to increase focus.
  • Jot observations in a nature journal. Writing in a nature journal during a break from reading or schoolwork helps students to tune into the details around them. What animals and plants do they notice?  What questions do they have? Students can use some of the books below to help find answers.
  • Take up birdwatching. As students read, study or explore outdoors, they will most likely see and hear plenty of birds. Why not learn more about them? Students can track sightings in their nature journal. At, you and the students in your life can learn more about birds in your area and connect with local birders. In addition, you can find a field guide specific to your region to help identify the birds you find.
  • Plan a visit to a park. Visit a local, state or national park. There you can explore how the history of your area has been shaped by the availability of water, dirt for growing crops, and other natural resources.

Books to Help Explore Your Natural World

The students in your life and you can use the books below to learn more about your natural world:

Book Beastly Bionics


Beastly Bionics: Rad Robots, Brilliant Biomimicry, and Incredible Inventions Inspired by Nature Paperback by Jennifer Swanson. This book takes readers on a journey to explore how the natural world inspires innovation in science and technology. The inspiration for the next great discovery just might be in your own backyard.




Cover of Beastly Brains: Exploring How Animals Think, Talk, and Feel


Beastly Brains: Exploring How Animals Think, Talk and Feel by Nancy Castaldo. This book provides insight into animal intelligence. Readers can explore how animals communicate, show empathy, use tools, and interact in social societies.





Insects and Spiders


Insects and Spiders by Christine Taylor-Butler. This book provides readers with an up-close look at insects and spiders including their habitats and unique abilities. In addition, the book provides insight into dangers facing these creatures and how humans can help keep these species alive.





butterfly guide


National Audubon Society Pocket Guide: Familiar Butterflies of North America by the National Audubon Society. This guide is small enough to carry almost everywhere, but it is packed full of information to help readers identify 80 of the most common butterflies .




are ants like plants



Super Science: Are Ants Like Plants?  by Sue Heavenrich. This book takes readers deeper into the world of ants and plants and introduces students to fascinating facts about how these living things access food, grow, and communicate with their friends.





kid's Guide to Exploring nature


The Kid’s Guide to Exploring Nature (BBG Guides for a Greener Planet) by Brooklyn Botanic Garden Educators (Author) and László Veres (Illustrator). This guide provides readers with information on how to observe their natural world as a naturalist does. In addition, it leads them on 24 adventures to explore the complex ecosystems of plants and animals in the woods, at the beach, and in a city park.





Rocking Book of Rocks



The Rocking Book of Rocks: An Illustrated Guide to Everything Rocks, Gems, and Minerals by Florence Bullough (Author), Amy Ball (Author) and Anna Alanko (Illustrator). This book helps students explore the diverse world of rocks, gems and minerals. As a result, they just might become budding geologists.





trees leaves flowers and seeds



Trees, Leaves, Flowers and Seeds: A Visual Encyclopedia of the Plant Kingdom by DK with contribution by the Smithsonian Institution. This book helps readers explore the diverse and intriguing world of plants. It features more than 1,000 images and interesting facts to take readers into the botanical world, from tiny seeds to giant trees.




ultimate bug-opedia



Ultimate Bugopedia: The Most Complete Bug Reference Ever by Nancy Honovich and Darlyne A. Murawski. This book invites readers to explore the hidden world of the most popular bugs on the planet.





who gives a poop



Who Gives a Poop?: Surprising Science from One End to the Other by Heather L. Montgomery (Author) and Iris Gottlieb (Illustrator). This book  invites readers to explore the interesting science behind poop and to discover how poop has a purpose. In addition, readers will learn about the role that poop has played in history.





wildlife ranger action guide



Wildlife Ranger Action Guide: Track, Spot & Provide Healthy Habitat for Creatures Close to Home by Mary Kay Carson. This book helps students become citizen-scientists with dozens of hands-on activities and habitat-creation projects.





For more information to help explore the natural world of the students in your life and you, please check out our STEM Tuesday section.