Posts Tagged middle grade books

A Reading Journey Across the United States with Read Across America

Happy National Reading Month!  

In celebration of National Reading Month, The Week Junior collaborated with Read Across America (RAA) to create a list of middle-grade titles with one book set in each state. There are some familiar names on that list. (see below)

The National Education Association’s Read Across America project is a year-round celebration of reading that introduces readers to diverse books with characters to whom they can relate and to worlds that are different from their own. I was thrilled to see my book Smack Dab in the Middle of Maybe named as the Mississippi selection and The Turn of the Tide, by fellow Mixed Up Files contributor Rosanne Parry, named as the Oregon selection. The list is full of amazing books and equally amazing authors and interviews with many of the authors can be found in our Mixed Up Files (see below for links).  

Below are ten activities to help celebrate reading across America all year long. These activities can help readers connect with diverse characters and dive into stories set across our nation. 

Visiting the Setting  

Invite readers to create a visitors’ guide to the book’s setting. Before they begin, discuss the setting’s geography, climate, culture, economy, history, landmarks, attractions, and other unique features. Encourage readers to research elements about which they are curious. Next, identify points of interest and significant places within the story. Readers can use this information to create their visitor’s guide with detailed descriptions and interesting facts about each location. For bonus points, invite readers to illustrate their visitors’ guides with artwork and photos.  

Charting the Course  

Invite readers to create a map based on the book’s setting that highlights the impact that the setting has on the book’s main character(s). Which locations are important? Why? What landmarks or features define these locations? How has the history of the setting shaped the main character(s)? Readers can use symbols, labels, and colors to create a map key to represent different elements.  

Creating News  

Invite readers to create a “hometown newspaper” from the perspective of leaders in a community that serves as a significant setting in the book. What would the community’s slogan be? Challenge readers to write at least three articles describing the story’s action and include illustrations of significant events in the book. Invite readers to consider where the main character(s) fit in the overall societal structure of that community. Would the main character(s) agree or disagree with the newspaper’s version of events? If the answer is “no,” challenge readers to write a “letter to the editor” providing the perspective of the main character(s).  

Creating a Character Scrapbook 

Invite readers to choose a character from the story and create a scrapbook for that character describing their daily life and story adventures. The scrapbook can include drawings, quotes, receipts, tickets, and other items that the character would have encountered along their journey. For bonus points, invite readers to write a reflection about the things they have in common with the character they chose, and to create a list of three things from the main character’s culture about which they would like to learn more. 

Sell It!  

Invite readers to create a persuasive sales pitch for the book. To begin, readers can identify themes, characters, and plot elements to highlight. Invite readers to brainstorm ideas and plan their pitch, being sure to include features they think will most appeal to other readers. Readers can then present their pitch to an audience in any form they choose, including an article, podcast, or video. 

Nature Scavenger Hunt 

Go on a nature scavenger hunt. Invite readers to search for at least five items from the natural world of the RAA book selection. Readers can search until they find all the items or for an allotted amount of time. When they’re finished, invite readers to share their items. For bonus points, use non-fiction resources to look up at least three interesting facts about each item.  

Create a Nature Journal from the Point of View of the Main Character(s) in the RAA book  

Readers can create their own journals using art supplies. When their journals are ready, invite them to research the natural world in which the story is set, including the geography, plant and animal life in the area, and the time(s) of the year in which the action takes place. Readers can use this research as inspiration for the nature journal from the perspective of the book’s main character(s). Invite readers to make notes in their journals of the details that would be important to the story’s character(s) on each day of the story’s action. Each entry should include the time, date, place, natural elements, including flora and fauna, and weather, plus any additional information the reader believes is important. Journals can include a narration about what the character(s) did while outside and drawings of things the character(s) saw, heard, smelled, touched, or tasted. The journal also can include nature-inspired poems, quotes, questions to research later, pressed leaves or flowers, or all of the above. For bonus points, invite readers outside to observe their own natural setting. Are there any elements in the reader’s own world that are also found in the natural setting of the book they are reading? If so, list and illustrate them. 

Vibing with Verses 

Host a poetry slam for your class or group of friends. Invite readers to create their own original poems from the point of view of the book’s main character(s). Invite readers to recite their poems in poetry-slam fashion for the rest of the group. Readers will learn about poetry, performance, and how to be a supportive audience member. 

Taste Across America  

Invite the readers in your life to pick out at least one food mentioned in the RAA title they are reading. Invite them to create a tasting menu including that food, with additional items inspired by the culture of the book’s main character(s). Need ideas? You can check out a sample Southern tasting menu here. 

Listen Across America 

Divide the readers in your life into groups. Invite each group to research the music of the state and the time period in which a RAA title is set. Invite them to create a playlist featuring artists and songs from that setting and time period. The playlist may be chapter-by-chapter or section-by-section (beginning, middle, and end). Either way, it should reflect the story’s action and the mood of the main character(s) in response to what is happening in the story. Need ideas? You can check out a sample playlist here. 


Below are links (listed alphabetically by the state represented) to some recent Mixed Up Files interviews with RAA authors.  

  • James Ponti’s book City Spies: Golden Gate was chosen as the California title. You can read Patricia Bailey’s interview with him here. 
  • Avi’s The Secret Sisters was chosen as the Colorado pick. You can read Amber Keyser’s interview with him here. 
  • Caroline Starr Rose’s book May B. is the Kansas pick. You can read Kate Hillyer’s interview with her here. 
  • The Minnesota selection is Erin Soderberg Downing’s Just Keep Walking. You can read her interview with Natalie Rompella here.  
  • The Nevada selection is Julie Buxbaum’s The Area 51 Files (illustrated by Lavanya Naidu). You can read her interview with Ines Lozano here.  
  • Dan Gutman’s Dorks in New York! is the (you guessed it!) New York selection. For writing tips from Dan, read his Mixed Up Files interview here. 
  • The North Carolina selection is Sheila Turnage’s most recent release, Island of Spies. You can learn more about the book and Sheila here. 
  • Roll With It by Jamie Sumner is the Oklahoma pick. To learn more about Jamie and Roll With It, check out her interview with Andrea Pyros here.  
  • Varian Johnson’s historical fiction novel The Parker Inheritance is the South Carolina selection. You can find Jacqueline Houtman’s interview with him here 


I hope you’ll pick up some of these RAA titles for yourself and the young readers in your life. For the full list, follow this link. I’m wishing you many fun reading adventures exploring diverse settings and characters as you read across America.  

Author Spotlight: Chris Lynch

Best known for his critically acclaimed, award-winning YA novels, including Freewill, a Printz Honor Book, and Iceman, Gypsy Davey, Shadow Boxer—all ALA Best Books for Young Adults—as well as Killing Time in Crystal City, Little Blue Lies, Pieces, Kill Switch, Angry Young Man, and Inexcusable, which was a National Book Award finalist, author Chris Lynch has ventured into the brave world of middle grade! His new middle grade novel, Walkin’ the Dog (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers), bounds into the world on March 12. So, SIT back, relax… and STAY for this treat-worthy interview!

But first…

A Summary

In a family of strong personalities with very strong points of view, Louis is what his mother lovingly calls “The Inactivist”–someone who’d rather kick back than stand out. He only hopes he can stay under the radar when he starts high school in the fall, his first experience with public school after years of homeschooling. But when a favor for a neighbor and his stinky canine companion unexpectedly turns into a bustling dog-walking business, Louis finds himself meeting an unprecedented number of new friends–both human and canine. But is Louis ready to learn the lesson he needs most: how to stop being a lone wolf and become part of a pack?

Interview with Chris Lynch

MR: Welcome to the Mixed-Up Files, Chris—and huge congratulations on your first middle-grade novel!

CL: Thank you very much. I should probably clarify, some of my earliest young adult titles from the 90s might be considered MG by today’s standards as well. But fair enough, I think YA would rightly be considered my wheelhouse for much of my career. As I tell my own students, I generally have one of two protagonists in my head when a story occurs to me. One is 13, and the other is 17. I mostly let those two fight it out for ownership of the story.

Walkin’ the Dog: Inspiration

MR: Could you tell MUF readers a bit about Walkin’ the Dog as well as the inspiration behind it?

CL: Walkin’ The Dog went through countless transformations since I signed the book up way back in 2015. At one point I shifted to wanting to tell the story of a kid who was merely a bystander in life, wanting to keep to himself. Obviously, that would make for a fairly dull storyline. My editor, Kendra Levin, was rather insistent that the book also have a vehicle for delivering my ideas and the character’s journey to eventually being a citizen of the world. As it happens, I have long held the notion that dog walkers make the world go round (“…the dead body/crime scene/burning vehicle/stranded swimmer etc was found by dog walkers early this morning…”) and thought I might build a narrative on that. So, what better way to get a guy out of the house, interacting with people and society and adventures and canines, than that?

Meet The Inactivist

MR: Louis, the main character of your novel, is a risk-averse, self-described bystander. Because of this, his mom—an advocate at a women’s shelter—has nicknamed him “The Inactivist.” At first glance, this would make Louis an unlikable protagonist—but he’s not. How did you pull this off?

CL: Did I pull it off? Thanks. I suppose it has to do with the fact that I recognize Louis’ approach to life, having never been much of an activist type myself. But also, I think he is more broadly identifiable than that. He knows his flaws and weaknesses, acknowledges them to other characters and readers, and even tries to rationalize them as much as he can before we see the tide of human existence (and dogs) drawing him irresistibly outward. We can see that his resistance and isolationism are doomed.

MR: Louis has a lot going on in his life, including worries about his mom. When we first meet her, she’s receiving in-patient treatment for an addiction to pain pills, brought on by an injury she sustained during an altercation at her workplace. This would be disturbing for any child, but it’s particularly hard on Louis. Can you tell us more about that?

CL: While Louis has largely been in retreat from the world and his mother has been much the opposite (she is the one who gave him the nickname, The Inactivist), he has always admired and counted on her activism. Her getting knocked down, and knocked back by events is deeply unsettling to his own sense of security and confidence.

Understanding Addiction

MR: As a follow-up, what kind of research did you do to better understand the impact of addiction on children and families?

CL: Even casual students of the human condition cannot help to see the variety and intensity of addictions tormenting our kind. I feel as if I have been writing about this in various forms for much of my professional life. I find it hard to imagine any novelist not being pulled right in by this topic. Murder stories have their obvious fascination, but for me they don’t have the same power as the drive of addiction, the need for us to get outside of ourselves, get away from ourselves somehow, by any means necessary. Gambling, cigarettes, opioids, all have that same skeleton inside them.

Sibling Rivalry

MR: Louis has two siblings with whom he often butts heads: his younger-but-acts-middle-aged sister, Faye, and his tough-guy older brother, Ike. Like Louis, both characters are flawed but endearing. What were you trying to say about the nature of sibling relationships in general—and this one in particular?

CL: I loved Faye from the start. Just felt I knew her, her hard outer shell and soft inside, her humor most of all. Ike was a tougher sell, to myself. I think it’s a mistake to attempt to write a character you completely dislike, and with Ike I came dangerously close. But in revision I looked for more of Ike’s humanity, of his own frailty, and of Louis’ appreciation of that. That is reality. That is the nuance of human relationships, and a novelist must never lose that. Also, I am one of seven siblings.

Doggy Love

MR: Let’s turn our attention to the co-stars of this novel… dogs! Clearly, you have a strong affection for our four-legged (and in one case, three-legged) friends. What is it about dogs that makes the human heart go mushy? And what prompted you to explore the theme of human-canine attachment? Are you a dog parent yourself?

CL: This one is hard. I am a dog parent. Dexter, my close pal of 13-plus years, who is in the book’s author photo with me, had to be put down a week ago. I feel like I can remember every minute of his whole life. So this human heart is pretty mushy. I have a theory that the reason, generally, why we are such saps for them is that they utterly convince us that they adore and need us unconditionally. They are brilliant at it. Even if the reality is that it’s a wholly treats-and-comforts based relationship on their part, they are geniuses at making us believe in this entirely. And you know, it’s my theory, after all, and I still fall for it over and over and over, every day.

MR: I’m so sorry about Dexter, Chris. Would you indulge me another dog-related question?According to Louis’s sister, Faye, “All dogs are guide dogs in the end.” What did she (okay, you) mean by this?

CL: Dexter and his main predecessor, Chunk, guided us on an almost unbroken twenty-eight-year journey through these lives. Chunk was originally acquired to help my kids with the transition from one country to another. She shepherded us from the kids’ first weeks in Irish primary school, all the way through to Scottish university, the empty nest, the first grandchild. One month into the new reality for all of us, Chunk slipped away, mission accomplished.

Three months later I shocked myself—and everybody else—by concluding that I needed a dog beside me through the days. I needed the rhythm of the walks, the warmth, goofiness, fun of it all. So Dexter signed on and saw me through everything the next decade plus brought—car accidents, eye operations, heart failure, and what might be considered a professional period in the wilderness. Whenever I reached, I found Dex. He earned that spot in the author photo, on the book with all the dogs in it. I’m not going to say that it’s a shame he died a month too early to see it. He was far too modest to have cared about all that. And he didn’t much like dogs the last few years, either.

Middle Grade: The Journey

MR: As stated in the intro, you are best known for your critically acclaimed, award-winning YA novels. With that in mind, what made you decide to try your hand at middle grade? What’s biggest challenge when writing for a younger readership? The greatest reward?

 CL: I suppose I have been doing both all along—such is the fluid nature of categories, I suppose. As I tell my students, the greatest challenge with MG is to be able to touch and move young readers just as deeply as adults, while working with a much more limited linguistic palette. Otherwise, you’re cheating. The greatest reward is that the young readers who are willing to come along on the journey care so much about your story. It is a great motivator, not wanting to let them down.

Write this Way

MR: What does your writing routine look like? Do you have any particular rituals?

CL: I lost the most structured of my rituals when I became an empty nester. I used to write strictly around the kids’ school days. That was seriously helpful to my mental discipline. I drifted for a solid two years trying to adjust after that. My wife is a teacher, so I can sort of simulate that, still. But I’m onto my tricks. Even so, I have a lot of time and space to structure things to my liking, with dog walks and gym trips vital to keeping things ticking over. The early part of the day (my former strength) can be meandering now. But the odd nap is quite the tonic, after which I am newly charged. Between lunch and dinner hours are far and away my best these days.

Next Up…

MR: What are you working on now, Chris? Enquiring Mixed-Up Files readers want to know…

 CL: Working on an adult novel which I cannot discuss too much because if it’s too early I tend to feel talking it out is the same as writing it out.

But I can talk about my next middle grade, since that’s more advanced. It’s called Badges, and it’s with Kendra Levin and Simon & Schuster again. It’s about a wild tearaway kid who finds himself in front of a judge who offers him an alternative sentence that requires him to achieve a certain number of Scout badges, directly related to the many offenses he has piled up.

Lightning Round!

And finally, no MUF interview is complete without a lightning round, so…

Preferred writing snack?

Corn cakes and hot salsa.

Favorite breed of dog?

So many, honestly. I’m all over the place on that, because so many breeds appeal in so many different ways. But since my remaining pal, Selkie, is a Lurcher (Greyhound/Saluki cross), and she’s always looking over my shoulder, I’m going to say, Lurcher.


Depends on whether you mean, 1) superpower I possess, or 2) superpower I would opt for if given the choice.

  1. I’m a good listener.
  2. Every writer would benefit from invisibility.

Favorite place on earth?

Anyplace with a dog and a deserted seashore. Also, Edinburgh.

 Zombie apocalypse: Yea or nay?

Yea, bring it on. Humanity needs a start-over.

If you were stranded on a desert island with only three things, what would they be?

A solar powered radio with satellite or longwave or whatever I’d need for decent reception; a loaded eReader, likewise solar; a pizza.

MR: Thank you for chatting with us, Chris. It was a pleasure, and I’m sure MUF readers will agree!

 CL: And thank you. It was tougher going than most of these things, but no less rewarding for that.


Chris Lynch (pictured here with his dearly missed pal, Dexter) is the award–winning author of highly acclaimed young adult novels, including Printz Honor Book FreewillIcemanGypsy Davey, and Shadow Boxer—all ALA Best Books for Young Adults—as well as Killing Time in Crystal CityLittle Blue LiesPiecesKill SwitchAngry Young Man, and Inexcusable, which was a National Book Award finalist and the recipient of six starred reviews. Walkin’ the Dog is his new middle-grade novel. Chris holds an MA from the writing program at Emerson College and teaches in the creative writing MFA program at Lesley University. He lives in Boston and in Scotland.


Melissa Roske is a writer of middle-grade fiction. Before spending her days with imaginary people, she interviewed real ones as a journalist in Europe. In London she landed a job as an advice columnist for Just Seventeen magazine. Upon returning to her native New York, Melissa contributed to several books and magazines, selected jokes for Reader’s Digest (just the funny ones), and received certification as a life coach from NYU. In addition to her debut novel Kat Greene Comes Clean (Charlesbridge), Melissa’s short story “Grandma Merle’s Last Wish” appears in the Jewish middle-grade anthology, Coming of Age: 13 B’Nai Mitzvah Stories (Albert Whitman). Learn more about Melissa on her Website and follow her on  TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

Interview with author Linda Williams Jackson

As a huge fan of Linda Williams Jackson’s previous middle-grade novels (The Lucky Ones, Midnight without a Moon, A Sky Full of Stars), her latest book, Saving Jimmy, met—and exceeded—my expectations. With a flawed-but-endearing protagonist and a cast of memorable characters, both living and dead, the story won my heart from page one.

But before we chat with Linda, first…

Saving Jimmy: A Summary

Life isn’t easy for 12-year-old Jimmy Lee Easton. People are constantly mistaking her for a boy, and her mama hovers over her like the Secret Service. Her great-aunt Millie constantly hounds her to “get it right with Jesus before it’s everlastingly and eternally too late,” and Jimmy’s not sure whether her best friend really likes her or simply lets her tag along out of pity. But when Jimmy Lee suddenly finds herself facing eternity with a life-or-death choice to make, she questions whether her life on earth was so bad after all.

MR: Welcome back to the Mixed-Up Files, Linda. I’m so glad you could join us again!

LWJ: Thanks, Melissa! It’s always a pleasure!

The Story Behind the Story

MR: As stated above, Saving Jimmy is about a young girl’s journey to the afterlife. What was the inspiration behind the book?

LWJ:  In 2012, I had a friend die from cancer. She was a mother of three. One of her children was in elementary school, and another was in preschool. We prayed diligently that she would be healed from her cancer, and when she wasn’t, I was devastated. I remember having a conversation with her one very cold winter day, and she said that she thought about how much easier it would be to just go outside in the cold and freeze to death rather than keep fighting to live.

Then, right after she seemed to be getting better, she took a turn for the worse. After she died, I couldn’t help but wonder whether she had gotten an early glimpse of an afterlife and chosen that life instead of the one she was living: “What if” people on the brink of life or death get to choose which way to go? And “what if” if they choose the afterlife rather than the current life regardless of how much they know their loved ones will miss them? I know it’s farfetched, but isn’t that what fiction is all about—imagining the “what ifs”?

All About Jimmy Lee

MR: Can you tell us about the protagonist, Jimmy Lee Easton?

LWJ: I love writing (and reading) fiction from the perspective of middle-grade children, so I chose a 12-year-old girl as the storyteller. I also chose to give her a name that was a little offbeat because I have a friend with an offbeat name, and people often get her name wrong. In Jimmy Lee’s case, people assume she’s a boy, which doesn’t really bother her since she is named after her daddy—a fact that she is quite proud of—until she isn’t (no spoilers).

MR: A related question: What drives Jimmy Lee to make the choices she makes?

LWJ: For starters, Jimmy Lee wants so badly to be like her friend Danielle; to have a cool mama who lets her wear makeup, go to movies, and hang out with friends. In general, just be a kid. But she can’t because her mama is ruled by their aunt Millie, a religious zealot. Her mama is also ruled by fear that Jimmy Lee will make the same “mistake” she made and ruin her life. So, in the opening pages, Jimmy Lee is thrilled to finally have the chance to go on a school field trip without her mama tagging along. Of course, things don’t go as smoothly as she hoped, and Jimmy Lee finds herself in a predicament that she has to grapple with throughout the story.

Character Creation

MR: Speaking of Jimmy Lee, at the beginning of the story she’s not particularly likeable; she thinks her classmate A.J. is as ugly as a “twenty-year-old bulldog,” and refers to another classmate as “Poop Boy,” due to his rancid breath. As the novel progresses, though, Jimmy Lee transforms into a kinder, gentler person. How did you accomplish this writerly feat? 

LWJ: What? You didn’t like Jimmy Lee??? Fair enough. I didn’t like Gilly Hopkins either, but I loved the story told about her. Nor did I like Katniss Everdeen, but I read all three of The Hunger Games books. But I digress. About Jimmy Lee…

Hurt people hurt people. Although Jimmy Lee thinks that A. J. looks like a twenty-year-old bulldog, she never actually says it. A. J., on the other hand, doesn’t hold back her contempt for Jimmy Lee, and she insults her figure, which is a bit on the round side. So, Jimmy Lee is only responding to the antagonism directed toward her, and in her thoughts only.

The story of Poop Boy

As for Poop Boy, well, she could have been nicer. I’ll let you in on a little secret. Poop Boy was actually supposed to smell like bacon. One day I left my laptop open while I went to take a break from writing (I don’t usually do that), and my daughter began reading what was on the page and decided to change “bacon” to “poop.” When I saw it, I burst out laughing and said, “I can’t have her say that!” Then I thought, “Why not?” So that’s why Leonard is Poop Boy instead of Bacon Boy. Besides, I doubt someone smelling like bacon would have the same impact on the reader as someone smelling like poop. Sorry!

Going back to the saying, “Hurt people hurt people,” Jimmy Lee is frustrated by the close relationship that her best friend Danielle has with A. J. Plus, A. J. had tricked her. So how did she respond to being hurt? She dished out pain to someone else. This is not a good response, unfortunately, but she does learn her lesson. I am constantly around children of this age group. Some of them wear a permanent frown and are not friendly toward anyone. My first thought about these children is, “Who (or what) is hurting them?”

Imperfect but Lovable

MR: As a follow-up, is there a secret to creating flawed-but-lovable characters?

LWJ: How do you make a flawed character lovable? Why do we like Gilly Hopkins even though she’s meaner than a rattlesnake? Because Gilly Hopkins has been hurt. Why do we like Katniss Everdeen even though she treats her own mom with contempt? Because Katniss has been hurt. A flawed character has to have a reason for the flaws, and that reason is usually that they’ve been hurt by someone close to them, or by society as a whole.

MR: A central character in the book is Aunt Evangeline, Jimmy Lee’s flamboyant, Shakespeare-quoting guide in Paradise. Can you tell us about the significance of this character? What purpose does Aunt Evangeline serve in Jimmy Lee’s journey?

LWJ: Aunt Evangeline is the antithesis of Aunt Millie. Her purpose—besides ushering Jimmy Lee to Eternity—is to show Jimmy Lee that not every woman in her family is a lost cause. Aunt Evangeline had lived a fabulous life—unlike Aunt Millie and Jimmy Lee’s mama, Darlynn—and she gives Jimmy Lee hope that she can have a fabulous life too, if she chooses.

Shakespeare in Love

MR: In addition to Aunt Evangeline’s penchant for quoting Shakespeare, each chapter in the book begins with a Shakespeare quote from such plays as Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, As You Like It, King Lear, and more. What was your thinking behind this? Why Shakespeare? And why these particular plays?

LWJ: The story opens with Jimmy Lee telling the reader how she got her name. The “What’s in a name?” quote suddenly popped in my head as I was writing the chapter, and from there the idea formulated and stuck. After I knew what each chapter would entail, I searched for a Shakespeare quote to match. And, of course, Jimmy Lee’s parents almost have a Romeo and Juliet kind of thing going on. I wasn’t really choosing particular plays. I chose quotes to match the story. I found it interesting that there was a Shakespeare quote to match every situation each chapter presented. It was also a lot of fun, especially when the characters themselves began quoting Shakespeare.

Matters of Life and Death

MR: Let’s talk about the main theme of the book: life versus death. Death is a heavy topic for most adults, and perhaps more so for children. What was your approach when handling the subject with a young audience in mind? Also, what were you trying to say about death? About life?

LWJ: To quote Rick Warren in The Purpose Driven Life, “You may feel it’s morbid to think about death, but actually it’s unhealthy to live in denial of death and not consider what is inevitable.” I’m not saying you, in particular, Melissa; I’m speaking generally. We don’t like to talk about, nor think about, death. And we are especially shaken when someone dies suddenly. But children seem to be more resilient.

From a very young age I thought about death often. I remember at age five or six when I received the news that my grandfather had died. It didn’t bother me much because he was old, and it seemed natural that old people should die. But when I told my brother (who is two years older than I), he began to cry. I didn’t understand why he cried. To me it felt normal. Papa was old. Papa died. The end.

Live, Laugh, Love

Then a few years later, my neighbor—a young mother in her twenties—died suddenly. I bawled, because that was a death that wasn’t supposed to happen. I was also about the age my brother was when our grandfather died. I now understood death a bit more. But I also come from an environment where people believe strongly in an afterlife, and they claim to have been visited by deceased relatives. So belief in an afterlife feels as natural to me as death. It also feels hopeful. In fact, I have had my own experiences with deceased loved ones, which definitely gives me hope that life goes on and that what’s on the other side of death is a beautiful place. I want readers of Saving Jimmy to have that same hope. But I also want readers to take responsibility for their own happiness while living. Live, laugh, and love!

Indie Inspiration

MR: Turning our attention to the publishing side of things, unlike your previous MG novels, Saving Jimmy was published independently. What was the impetus behind going indie?

LWJ: Saving Jimmy is not my first self-published novel. I got into the self-publishing game twenty-two years ago, so I already knew the ups and downs of going that route. The choice to self-publish Saving Jimmy was for multiple reasons. One, I honestly wanted to create a book from start to finish—writing, formatting, and publishing it myself (minus printing and distribution, of course). Two, I was between literary agents, so I felt like I had the freedom to try something different after having been traditionally published for nearly seven years. I considered my completed manuscripts and chose this one because I felt like it didn’t fit neatly into a kidlit publishing box.

Surprisingly, I’ve been getting feedback from readers who, even though they own my other books, have never read them—and yet here they are, having conversations with me about this one. Also, I did it to supplement my meager author income. It’s my side gig, so to speak. 😊

MR: As a follow-up, what advice would you give to authors—established and newbies alike—who are thinking about going indie? What did you do right? And what do you wish you had done differently?

LWJ: To go indie, you need a thick skin. Since you will have to do your own marketing and publicity, you will have to be a shameless self-promoter. You’ll have to knock on doors and ask for reviews and support. Also, some of the doors that were open to you as a traditionally published author will be closed to you as a self-published author. To that I say, “Grin and bear it.” That’s just how the ball bounces. But there are still a few doors open to self-publishers. Walk through those doors instead of lamenting the ones that are closed. If you plan to go indie, go indie proudly or you won’t have the guts to promote your book.

It’s All in the Research

As far as doing it right or “wrong,” I say do your research and find indie authors (like Darcy Pattison) who are blogging about it and take their advice. I jumped back into the waters after more than twenty years, so I might not be the best person to take advice from. 😊

MR: What are you working on now, Linda? Enquiring Mixed-Up Files readers want to know!

LWJ: I don’t want to jinx myself, so I’ll keep quiet about that for now. Whenever I speak publicly about what I’m currently working on, I always seem to switch gears and work on something else. ☹

Lightning Round!

MR: No MUF interview is complete without a lightning round, so…

Coffee or tea?

Coffee, but occasionally tea

Heaven or Earth?

Heaven, when it’s time 😊

Zombie apocalypse: Yea or nay?

Yea. Haven’t you noticed? We’re already in it.


X-ray vision. I can see right through most people. 😊

Favorite place on earth?

My house.

If you were stranded on a desert island with only three things, what would they be?

A magic coffee maker, an endless supply of coffee, and a cup

MR: Thank you for chatting with us, Linda—and congratulations on the publication of Saving Jimmy. I absolutely loved it, and I know MUF readers will too!

LWJ: You’re welcome, Melissa! And thank you for reading Saving Jimmy!

Bio: Linda Williams Jackson

Linda Williams Jackson is the author of award-winning middle grade novels centered around some of Mississippi’s most important historical moments. Her first book, Midnight Without a Moon, which is centered around the Emmett Till murder, was an American Library Association Notable Children’s Book, a Jane Addams Honor Book for Peace and Social Justice, and a Washington Post Summer Book Club Selection. Her second book, A Sky Full of Stars, the sequel to Midnight Without a Moon, received a Malka Penn Honor for an outstanding children’s book addressing human rights issues and was a Bank Street College Best Book of the Year.

Linda’s most recent novel, The Lucky Ones, was inspired by Robert Kennedy’s 1967 Poverty Tour of the Mississippi Delta and is loosely based on her own family’s experiences. The Lucky Ones was recently recognized by Good Housekeeping magazine as one of the best 50 kids’ books of all time. Additional accolades for The Lucky Ones include Mississippi Institute of Arts & Letters Youth Book Award Winner, Foreword Reviews Indies Award Winner, New-York Historical Society Children’s History Book Prize Finalist, Common Sense Media’s Best Six Kids’ Books of 2022, Week Junior Magazine Best Seven Kids’ Books of 2022, Cooperative Children’s Book Center Best Books of the Year, and a Bank Street College Best Books of the Year. Linda Williams Jackson is proud to still call Mississippi home. To connect with her online, visit her website at

(For more on Linda Williams Jackson, check out my previous Mixed-Up Files interview here.)

Melissa Roske is a writer of middle-grade fiction. Before spending her days with imaginary people, she interviewed real ones as a journalist in Europe. In London she landed a job as an advice columnist for Just Seventeen magazine. Upon returning to her native New York, Melissa contributed to several books and magazines, selected jokes for Reader’s Digest (just the funny ones), and received certification as a life coach from NYU. In addition to her debut novel Kat Greene Comes Clean (Charlesbridge), Melissa’s short story “Grandma Merle’s Last Wish” appears in the Jewish middle-grade anthology, Coming of Age: 13 B’Nai Mitzvah Stories (Albert Whitman). Learn more about Melissa on her Website and follow her on  TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.