Posts Tagged middle-grade readers

Banned Books Week 2023

Middle Grade Authors

Black background Let Freedom Read

October 1-7 is Banned Books Week! For over 40 years, this annual event has amplified the voices of librarians, readers, writers, publishers, and booksellers who fight to uphold the freedom to read. The theme for Banned Books Week 2023 is “Let Freedom Read,” and the honorary chair is actor and longtime champion of books LaVar Burton

LaVar Burton


If you would like to join this call to action and defend the freedom to read, there are many ways you can be an active part of Banned Books Week 2023. 

Find Ways to Get Involved

Learn all about the history of book banning, advocacy groups that actively fight censorship, and ways to start your own grass roots efforts to promote the freedom to read on the Public Policy and Advocacy page of the Banned Books Week website.

Participate in “Let Freedom Read Day.” 

October 7 is designated as “Let Freedom Read Day.” On this day, the Banned Books Coalition is asking everyone to take at least one action “to help defend books from censorship and to stand up for the library staff, educators, writers, publishers, and booksellers who make them available!”

Ideas for ways to take action – from calling decision makers to buying a banned book – are listed on the Banned Books website. Post your actions on social media and use the hashtags #LetFreedomReadDay and #BannedBooksWeek.

Show Your Support

Access free posters, banners, bookmarks, and logos to add to your social media accounts at the Banned Books Week Promotional Tools page. If you’d like to order promotional items like t-shirts and tote bags, visit the Let Freedom Read Gift Shop. And if you’re ready to promote “Let Freedom Read Day” in your community, there’s a great infographic poster you can download for free

Red book cover by yellow tape, text "Banned Books Week"


Banned Books Week began in 1982, but the need for advocacy is more urgent now than at any time during its history. Among the founders of Banned Book Week is the American Library Association (ALA), whose “mission is to promote the highest quality library and information services and public access to information.” Join ALA and numerous other sponsors in celebrating this year’s “Let Freedom Read” campaign and in defending the right to read throughout the year.

Editor/Agent Spotlight: Agent Ali Herring of Spencerhill Associates

Hi Ali, I’m so excited to welcome you to our Editor/Agent Spotlight here on the Mixed Up Files, thanks so much for joining us!

Ali Herring of Spencerhill Associates Literary Agency

Thank you for having me on the Mixed Up Files blog! I’m excited to have a chat with you and your readers.

What was your path to becoming an agent? Did you always represent children’s books?

My path to becoming an agent started when I won a writing contest in first grade, which gave me that write-and-read bug that sometimes bites us early. I confess to many nights spent reading with a flashlight under my covers where my mom would enter and slowly tiptoe her retreat. After all, if the most terrible thing I was doing was defying bedtime for Little Women, things were going alright. This led me to a journalism degree in college and a job in communications for a small non-profit in Atlanta where I served as a trade magazine editor, among other in-house communications roles. Fast forward to a move to New York, then Connecticut, a set of twins and a third baby later, and I found myself a stay-at-home mom for ten years who read voraciously in her free time and fell in love with a book called The Lightening Thief. This led me to an attempt at writing a book, where I realized I was a better editor than writer. Landing an internship at an agency in CT was the key that opened my door to agenting when I decided to go back to work. And, yes, Rick Riordan’s voicey, funny adventurous worlds made me fall in love with kidlit, so children’s books have always been my passion.


What were some of your favourite middle grade books to read when you were growing up? Would you say that has influenced what you look for in terms of representing MG books?

My favorite middle grade books were Hatchet and Box Car Children. I loved the adventure and seeing kids surviving on their own.
Reading these books made me feel a sense of safety, that even in dire circumstances with enough willpower and ingenuity, you could overcome something bad, even young. I also loved Charlotte’s Web and Bridge to Terabithia. Charlotte’s Web, in particular, was the book that taught me that not every story has to end happily or how you want it to for it to mean something. That sometimes the ones that hurt are the ones that stay with you, and mean something more.  Last one, The City of Ember was my descent into dystopian fiction.


Would you say there is any common denominator among all the authors and books you represent? Either within children’s books or across all the genres you represent?

I think most of my books are what I’d call “upmarket” though I do have some very commercial or very literary (on the adult side) titles on my list too. Upmarket to me means a very commercial concept, a fairly fast-moving plot, but an emotional heart with something to say. For instance, my client Lora Senf’s The Clackity is a middle grade book in which a pre-teen living in a haunted town with mostly friendly ghosts goes to an otherworld haunted by an evil ghost to save the last adult left in her life, her aunt. But she suffers from anxiety because of the loss of her parents, so the book is a lot about overcoming and finding hope in darkness. I love that horror teaches kids how to be brave! Another client title, is an upcoming YA “toxic friendship” novel called Dead Girls Don’t Say Sorry by Alex Ritany that asks the question, “What does it mean when your best friend dies and your reaction is relief?” It’s told in alternating timelines, unfolding a tale of layered deceptions culminating in her best friend’s death. On first read, it feels a bit like a thriller, but it’s ultimately about finding yourself and loving yourself and others after being subjected to an unhealthy friendship.


Do you ever ask authors for a revise and resubmit? If you do, what is the difference for you between offering representation knowing that you’ll want to make editorial changes before going on submission, and asking for a revise and resubmit?

I have offered Revise and Resubmits, though fairly rarely. R&R’s typically require a far more in-depth revision than what would happen editorially before one of my signed authors go on submission. There’s usually something more major wrong, and I need to see if the author can pull off a good solution.


Have you seen a difference in what kind of queries and material you are getting since Covid—whether that’s topic, theme, volume, polish…?

I just see a lot more queries flying into my inbox in huge batches as soon as I reopen. I think I had 644 after three weeks this time. Maybe it’s that agents are closing and opening more frequently, and people are waiting and ready when we reopen so it’s an influx. I typically see people following hot trends, so I’m getting way more middle grade horror in my inbox than I used to and far less YA fantasy. As to level of polish across the board, that’s fairly similar to year’s past.


How important is the query for you? Is there anything in a query that makes it an automatic “no” for you? Do you generally look at sample pages regardless of the query?

The query is initially far less important to me than the sample pages. Your writing is the most important! If your writing isn’t up to par, then the concept, even a brilliant concept, won’t get you a request. I used to read part of the sample first, and if that was engaging, I’d go back to the query to read. These days, on my Query Manager form, I ask for a high-concept pitch of a few sentences. I read that first now because it’s time-saving for me and it shows me if you understand what a good concept, hook, quick plot summary and stakes are. I’m also better oriented after reading it, so then I read the sample. I’ll go back to the query if the sample is good. You might get an automatic no if you send me something I don’t represent or if your word count is so far outside genre conventions, it will never work.


What are some of your current favourite MG novels, either from clients or non-clients?

Client books, you say? I mean, I’m super, super biased, but I think The Clackity is brilliant; it’s Bram-Stoker nominated. But I also happen to have read book two of that series, The Nighthouse Keeper, which comes out in October, and Lora’s pulled some sort of magic move, because her sophomore novel might even be better. We’ll see what the readers think, but I’m just amazed at how much hope she packs into middle grade horror! Also, I’ve got a MG novel called Henry Higgs and the Tangle-Hedge on sub, and that’s more speculative fantasy with an autistic hero, and it’s both hilarious and darkly beautiful and so real, and I can’t wait for that one to find a home. Kurt Kirchmeier’s MG debut The Absence of Sparrows is beautiful and is my Charlotte’s Web in that it stays with you because of how real the ending is. And I’d be remiss not to mention Ally Malinenko’s middle grade horror work as well; Ally’s repped by Rena Rossner.


What are some of your current as well as all-time culture faves—TV shows, movies, music etc—that might give querying authors a sense of your overall aesthetic?

Oh gosh! Dateline NBC, The 100, Twilight, Hunger Games, Divergent, Virgin River, Castle, The Rookie. These sort of speak to some of the things I rep – thrillers and suspense, speculative fantasy, scifi, dystopian, romance, women’s fiction, stuff with humor or adventure. Stuff with high stakes. For books, I read a lot of SFF in my downtime. Recent favorites are Project Hail Mary and my most favorite this year, the Murderbot series. I’d love to rep something like Murderbot, humorous, smart scifi that deals with what it means to be human. I love Mainak Dhar’s SFF work. Tau Zero is awesome. Seveneves challenged me but was expansive and fantastic. Erin Craig’s work in YA horror is next-level and ignited something in me. In music, I’m a big fan of Imagine Dragons, REM, Evanescense and the Cranberries. And I have to add Big Bang Theory to the list of TV shows. That’s so random but it does say A LOT about me…



What are you loving about representing children’s book authors these days?

I love the idea that I might contribute to the canon of literature that touches and changes kid’s lives like those early books did for me.

And finally, where can people find out about what kind of projects you’re looking for and how to query you?

There’s a couple places to try: my agency’s website Look at my bio and the submissions page for wish list items. And of the submission page, you’ll find the link to my Query Manager page. This is the only way to query me, no emails please. On my personal website, I post a wish list under the #MSWL tab, and my deal announcements under the Deals tab, so authors can see what I’m placing: And I post a lot of #MSWLs on twitter. My handle is @HerringAli, where I remain active and uber chatty, so come say hi.

Ali, it’s been an absolute pleasure doing this spotlight with you and I can’t wait to check out some of the books you mention.

Thanks again for having me!

Author Spotlight: Ciera Burch

Today, we welcome author Ciera Burch to shine in the Author Spotlight. Her MG debut novel, Finch House, is out September 5th from Margaret K. McElderry Books. But first…

A Summary 

Eleven-year-old Micah has no interest in moving out of her grandfather’s house. She loves living with Poppop and their shared hobby of driving around rich neighborhoods to find treasures in others’ trash. To avoid packing, Micah goes for a bike ride and ends up at Finch House, the decrepit Victorian that Poppop says is Off Limits. Except when she gets there, it’s all fixed up and there’s a boy named Theo in the front yard. Surely that means Finch House isn’t Off Limits anymore? But when Poppop finds her there, Micah is only met with his disappointment.

By the next day, Poppop is nowhere to be found. After searching everywhere, Micah’s instincts lead her back to Finch House. But once Theo invites her inside, Micah realizes she can’t leave. And that, with its strange whispers and deep-dark shadows, Finch House isn’t just a house…it’s alive. Can Micah find a way to convince the house to let her go? Or will she be forced to stay in Finch House forever?

Interview with Ciera Burch

MR: Welcome to the Mixed-Up Files, Ciera. It’s always exciting to have a debut author on our blog!

CB: Thank you for having me!

MR: Could you tell Mixed-Up Files readers about Finch House?

CB: Of course! Finch House is a horror middle-grade novel about a young girl, Micah, whose curiosity draws her to an old Victorian house that she’s been forbidden by her poppop, her grandfather, to go near. When he goes missing, she’s drawn back to the house to search for him, and she discovers mysteries about the house, the people who used to live there, and even things about her own family’s past.

Victorian Inspiration

MR: What was your inspiration behind the novel?

There are so many inspirations behind Finch House—my own poppop’s basement, my attitude on change, my love of horror as a genre despite being easily frightened. One of my biggest inspirations, however, was my love of Victorian houses. There was a neighborhood near mine growing up that was full of them, and every time we drove past my eyes would be glued to the window. I loved imagining what the houses looked like on the inside and who used to live in them and, for some of the scarier ones, what ghosts or witches might exist inside. That curiosity never left and eventually manifested into Micah, who’s even more curious than I was as a child.

A Dark Room, Creaky Floorboards…BOO!

MR: What is it about the genre of spooky MG that appeals to you most? Were you into ghosts, haunted houses, and the supernatural as a child?

CB: Oooh, what a great question. I think it’s probably the courage that the characters possess. I was, and still am, a bit easily spooked but getting to read about characters who are brave in the face of scary things is always fun to me. Plus, I love the atmosphere. A dark room, creaky floorboards… it always gets my heart racing in the best ways.

I wasn’t quite as into them as a child as I am today, but I did enjoy the Goosebumps books. I always tried to pick the ones I thought might be less scary based on the cover. Those, and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark always had me up reading until way too late…and then burying my head under the covers to hide from all the monsters.

Breaking the Rules

MR: Micah, the main character of your novel, knows that Finch House is strictly off-limits—but she dares to go inside anyway. What is it about rule-breaking that is often so enticing? And what does this say about Micah’s character that she ignores Poppop’s instructions?

CB: I think it’s the sense of self that it allows you. After all, it’s typically someone else who has set the rules—Poppop in this case. In choosing to break a rule, you’re making your own decisions. Your own rules, even! There’s something thrilling about that, especially as a kid, the aspect of being in charge of yourself and doing what you want to do regardless of what anyone else has said or told you to do.

As for Micah personally, I think it shows a good portion of her stubbornness—she wants answers and she’s going to get them whether or not she’s been told otherwise. I think she craves the knowledge that her usually very open Poppop won’t give her in this particular instance. And honestly, she also just thinks it’s fun. At first, anyway.

(For more spooky fun from the Mixed-Up Files archives, click here.)

Poppop: Fact versus Fiction

MR: Speaking of Poppop, I’m guessing this character is based on your own grandfather. Can you tell us about him? How is he similar to the fictional Poppop? How is he different?

CB: He is! Oh, man, I love talking about my Poppop. He’s great. He’s the most adorable man in his 70s that you’ve ever seen. He has a single gold tooth, forever wears his Navy hat, and chuckles in answer to just about anything. In terms of similarities, he and the fictional Poppop look pretty much alike and they both go networking! I also think they share a sense of comforting quiet. Unless he’s telling a story, my Poppop isn’t a huge talker but he’ll listen to you and I think both Poppops do that well. They also both spoil their granddaughters! In terms of how he’s different, my Poppop can probably be a little grumpier sometimes.

Writing for Different Readers

MR: In addition to being a writer of middle-grade fiction, you write YA (Something Kindred, out Winter 2024 from Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers) as well as short stories. What is the secret sauce for writing with different readerships in mind? The biggest challenge? The greatest reward?

CB: Honestly, I just try to stay true to the story and to the characters. They are usually about the age of the general readership—kids or teens or adults, etc—but I don’t tend to think too much about that when I’m writing. I’m focused on what my characters’ lives are and whether they are coming across as genuine and if the situation they’re in fits them—or doesn’t fit them.

I think the focus on readership is important, of course. If I’m discussing grief in MG versus YA, I’m going to go about handling things differently, but I don’t ever really censor myself based on who’s reading because that feels limiting for both me and my readers. I try to tell the best story I can for my characters first and foremost to do them the justice they deserve. That’s where both the biggest reward and biggest challenge comes into play for me: creating authentic, fully fleshed-out characters who people can relate to in any age range or format or genre.

One City One Story

MR: As a follow-up, your short story, “Yvonne,” about a queer woman of color who reconnects with her biological grandmother, was selected as the 2019 One City One Story read for the Boston Book Festival. Can you tell us about that? What was it like to be chosen for this prestigious opportunity at such a young age? (You were only 23!)

CB: I’d honestly forgotten about it after I submitted the story at first! I was in grad school for my MFA at the time and working two jobs, so I was very busy and I had a spreadsheet of what story I’d sent to which contest or magazine and when. So I didn’t stress about them all, once I marked a short story down, I tried my best to forget about it. When I got the email, I was at work, at the indie bookstore, and tried super hard not to freak out at the register! I took a quick break to call my mom in the stairwell and from there…everything got real.

Being chosen for that was more than a dream come true, it was something I hadn’t even dared to imagine for myself. So, it was really amazing to have my very diverse, queer story be celebrated by the entire city from the newspaper to the radio to all the languages that it was lovingly translated into. It was such a wonderful experience that I’ll never forget, especially because it just reaffirmed my goals in life: I can write professionally while telling diverse stories and be successful at it.

Path to Publication

MR: Can you tell us about your path to publication? Was it smooth sailing or bumpy seas?

CB: It was pretty smooth. I waited until my manuscript, which was also my master’s thesis, was ready and then I started by querying an agent who had reached out to me during the One City One Story whirlwind and a few other agents on my spreadsheet. I was signed pretty quickly and I was lucky enough that I was talking to editors and was offered a book deal for my YA very shortly after that.

Ciera’s Writing Routine

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

CB: I’m such a big type-A person that it’s really shocking that I don’t have a routine! It used to be whenever I could find the time; on my lunch break, after a closing shift, on my phone on the metro, etc. Typically, at night since I’m a big night owl. But these days, I like to take a few hours a day or two a week to write at a café or library during the day and the rest of the week it’s me typing away on my couch or at my desk.

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

CB: I’m currently working on my second middle grade! I don’t know how much I can say but it involves a summer camp, missing campers, and a particular cryptid native to my home state.

 We All Scream for Ice Cream

MR: Before I let you go, I must share that we have something in common: We’re both ice cream lovers. What’s your favorite flavor? (I know… it’s like being asked to pick your favorite child.) Also, you have a favorite ice cream haunt? (sorry!).

CB: Yay ice cream! My absolute favorite food group. Hmmm…a favorite flavor is so hard! I’m going to have to go with a good old classic and say Mint Chocolate Chip. Perfect blend of mintiness with just a hint of chocolate. Favorite ice cream haunt in Boston was probably J.P Licks (or the Scoop N Scootery for late night writing cravings!) and now in D.C I’d probably go with Larry’s Homemade Ice Cream.

Lightning Round

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

Preferred writing snack? (besides ice cream) Dark chocolate peanut butter cups from Trader Joe’s!

Coffee or tea? Neither, actually! Strictly a hot chocolate girl.

Zombie apocalypse: Yea or nay? No way!

Superpower? Flying!

Favorite place on earth? Scotland!

If you were stranded on a desert island with only three things, what would they be? A copy of Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor, my stuffed bunny, and a hair tie!

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

CB: Thank you so much for having me! These were such fun questions to answer.


Ciera Burch is a lifelong writer and ice cream aficionado. She has a BA from American University and an MFA from Emerson College. Her fiction has appeared in The American Literary MagazineUnderground, the art and literary journal of Georgia State University, Stork, and Blackbird. Her work was also chosen as the 2019 One City One Story read for the Boston Book Festival. While she is originally from New Jersey, she currently resides in Washington, DC, with her stuffed animals, plants, and far too many books. Learn more about Ciera on her website and follow her on Instagram and Twitter.