Posts Tagged mystery

Author Spotlight: Summer Rachel Short… plus a Giveaway!

Today, let’s give a warm Mixed-Up welcome to Summer Rachel Short, author of the debut middle-grade novel, The Mutant Mushroom Takeover.

Described by Kirkus as “Packed to the gills with fun,” and by School Library Journal as “A fun debut novel with an action-packed climax that will leave readers eager to scope out the weirder side of nature,” the book is out now from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

About The Mutant Mushroom Takeover

Ever since Magnolia Stone’s scientist dad left Shady Pines to find a new job, Maggie’s been stuck in her gramma’s mobile home with her grumpy older brother, Ezra. Now she’s on a mission to put her family back together by winning the Vitaccino Junior Naturalist Merit Award.

When Maggie and her best friend, Nate, a wannabe YouTube star and alien conspiracy theorist, scout out a rare bioluminescent fungus, Maggie is certain she’s a shoo-in to win. But after animals around town start sprouting unusual growths and Ezra develops a bluish glow and hacking cough, Maggie wonders what they’ve really stumbled onto.

As things in Shady Pines become stranger and more dangerous, and conversations with her dad get complicated, Maggie must use her scientific smarts and Nate’s impressive knowledge of all things supernatural to put things back in order and prevent these peculiar glowing mushrooms from taking over their home.

Q&A with Summer Rachel Short

MR: So glad to have you with us, Summer. Welcome to the Mixed-Up Files!

SRS: Thanks so much for having me! I’m so glad to be here!

MR: So, I stayed up late into the night reading The Mutant Mushroom Takeover and it really gave me the heebie-jeebies! It also made me rethink my love of mushrooms. 🙂 What inspired you to write about bioluminescent fungus–and the “weird” side of nature–in the first place?

SRS: Thank you! I do hope you’ll be able to resume your love of mushrooms–once you’ve given your produce a solid once over, of course!

Things that are a little weird have always fascinated me, because they spark my curiosity and make me ask “how” and “why.” One of my first inspirations for this book was an old documentary on fungi that I stumbled upon on YouTube. There was an ominous voiceover, creepy soundtrack, and time-lapse video of fungi unfurling and spewing their spores on unsuspecting hosts. It was all so bizarre, and such an unknown world to me, that I wanted to know more. I kept researching, and eventually the bits and pieces coalesced into a story idea.

Maggie and Nate: The Dynamic Duo

MR: The novel’s protagonist, Magnolia “Maggie” Stone, is a STEM-savvy eleven-year-old aspiring naturalist. She’s brave, smart, and committed to discovering the truth about the mutant fungus. Her best friend, Nate, a wannabe YouTube star and alien conspiracist, is loyal to Maggie’s cause and hysterically funny. What allowed you to create such nuanced—and incredibly realistic—characters as Maggie and Nate? Also, do you have a favorite?

SRS: Thank you for saying that, Melissa. I love all my characters, particularly the main pair, Maggie and Nate. But in terms of who was the most fun to write, it’s probably some of the side characters, like Nate, and my villain. One thing I focus on when creating characters is paying attention to their dialogue. I read it out loud and then play it back to myself using the text-to-speech function on my computer. It gives me a feel for how the characters may sound to others.

MR: In the novel, Maggie’s older brother, Ezra, displays weird symptoms after coming into contact with the bioluminescent fungus. When Maggie and Nate go into the forest to investigate, they wear hazmat suits made from garbage bags, and wear protective goggles, to keep themselves safe. This sounds eerily similar to precautions taken during the coronavirus. Am I reading too much into this?

SRS: I didn’t know about coronavirus at the time I wrote those scenes, but there are some similarities in how the problem is tackled. Since the kids don’t have access to fancy hazmat suits, they improvise and create their own makeshift suits using household items. It was fun to brainstorm what a couple of kids without a lot of money could come up with on the fly to protect themselves from mutant spores.

Extra, Extra! Read All About It!

MR: Before writing The Mutant Mushroom Takeover, you were a science reporter for a newspaper, covering such diverse topics as nanotech tweezers, poultry farm pollution, and the nighttime habits of spiders and snakes. What was the strangest story you ever covered?

SRS: The nanotech tweezers is still one of my favorites. The professor I interviewed was working on a project at NASA at the time and was very excited about all the possibilities in the field of nanotechnology. The project focused on the creation of laser tweezers that would allow scientists to manipulate things like atoms and molecules without damaging them. It’s been a number of years, so I’m sure the science has continued to grow. It would be interesting to find out what can be done with nano-particles in 2020. Perhaps something that could end up in a middle-grade mystery?

MR: Can you tell Mixed-Up Files readers a bit about your path to publication? Smooth sailing or bumpy terrain? Or something in between?

SRS: It’s probably somewhere in between. I started writing fiction many years ago, in college, with hopes to one day write a novel. But then I started my professional life, had kids, and life got busy. I put the dream on the back burner for a long time. Then, about five years ago, it was like a switch flipped and I started writing again; this time with more intention and focus. I felt determined to see things through, and approached the goal with more drive than I’d previously had.

It took about two years of writing–including finishing and querying a different manuscript–before I got the idea for The Mutant Mushroom Takeover. I entered an early draft of the manuscript into a writing contest called Pitch Wars, and selected to be a mentee in the fall of 2018. Boosted by the advice from my mentors, I spent that winter revising the book. In early 2019, I landed my agent, Alyssa Eisner Henkin, and that summer we sold the book to Simon & Schuster. Now, about a year later, The Mutant Mushroom Takeover is out in the world!

Tips for Multitaskers

MR: I read that you have three kids. How do you balance your parenting responsibilities with your writing? It must be a herculean feat, especially in these difficult days of Covid. Any tips to share with other multitasking writers? 

SRS: It can be challenging at times. When I’m on deadline, I try to squeeze writing in whenever I can–early mornings, afternoons, late at night. Otherwise, when I’m drafting or working at a more usual pace, I carve out a window of a couple of hours most days and head to a quiet room in the house to work. Thankfully, my kids aren’t tiny anymore so they’re able to be independent for a bit.

The process isn’t always picture perfect. My house gets messy and sometimes our meals aren’t as great as I’d like. But the busyness comes and goes in waves, so I try to have grace with myself and not feel too guilty about dusty furniture or laundry in need of folding.

MR: What’s next on your writing agenda, Summer? Care to share a bit about your latest project?

SRS:  I’m currently revising the sequel to The Mutant Mushroom Takeover, which is set in Yellowstone National Park and features a brand new mystery for Maggie and Nate to solve. I won’t say too much, but there are large reptiles involved! The book is slated to release Fall 2021, and I hope to do a cover reveal in the next few months. (I’ve seen a sneak peek and it’s gorgeous!)

MR: Oh! Last thing. No MUF interview is complete without a…

Lightning Round!

Preferred writing snack? Dark chocolate.

Coffee or tea? Coffee with cream and cinnamon.

Favorite mushroom? Shiitake.

Favorite song? “West Coast” by Imagine Dragons.

Zombie apocalypse: Yea or nay? Nay, unless they’re the really slow kind.

Superpower? Snap my fingers and the house cleans itself.

Favorite place on earth? The Redwood Forest.

You’re stranded on a desert island, with only three items in your possession. What are they? Well, my husband is building a boat in our garage, so if I can take that then I’ll just make it a relaxing day trip to the island and have my other two items be a book and a snack.

MR: Thank you for chatting with me, Summer—and congratulations on the publication of The Mutant Mushroom Takeover. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I know MUF readers will too!

SRS: Thanks so much for having me!

And now…

A GIVEAWAY!!!

For a copy of The Mutant Mushroom Takeover, comment on the blog–and, if you’re on Twitter, on the Mixed-Up Files’ Twitter account–for a chance to win! A winner will be chosen at midnight EST, 10/30. Good luck… and may the best mushroom win!

SUMMER RACHEL SHORT Summer lives in North Texas with her charming husband, three hilarious kids, a fluffy kitty, and a big yellow dog. Before spinning tales about mutant mushrooms, she once worked as a science reporter for her university’s newspaper, where she wrote on topics like nanotech tweezers, poultry farm pollution, and the nighttime habits of spiders and snakes. For fun, she enjoys exploring new places with the family, playing tennis, and dreaming up ideas for her next book. Learn more about Summer on her website and follow her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Diversity in MG lit #19 August 2020 Mysteries

If there’s one thing I get asked for constantly in the bookstore it’s mysteries for MG readers. Grandparents have warm memories of The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew and they want something just as fun for their grandchildren. A satisfying mystery is hard to write though so, I’m thrilled when I find any MG mystery to recommend. I’m especially happy to have found these mysteries with a cast of diverse characters.
Ikenga by Nnedi OkoroforIkenga by Nnedi Okorafor
This one is set in contemporary Nigeria follows Nnamdi, the son of a murdered police chief as he searches for the people responsible for his father’s death. It has a supernatural element based in Nigerian mythology which served the story well without making it seem cartoonish. What a terrific way to introduce young writers to a writer with such strong body of work for adults. It goes on sale Aug 18th.
The Gemini Mysteries by Kat Shepherd
Twin Black detectives Evie and Zach Mamuya are seventh grade sleuths who along with their friends, affable Vishal and wealthy Sophia, solve crimes, inspired in part by their single mom, a crime reporter in an unspecified American city. Each chapter has an illustration at the end which contains clues to the mystery. The first book in the series  The North Star is already in paperback and the next, The Cat’s Paw, will go on sale in December or January.
Kudo Kids: The Mystery of the masked medalist by Maia & Alex Shibutani with Michelle Schusterman
Here’s another pair of sibling detectives, 11 and 12 year old Mika and Andy who travel to the Summer Olympics in Tokyo with their parents, one a sports writer and the other a food critic. The puzzle loving Kudos are keen to play a Pokemon Go type game which has them finding clues and learning about Japanese culture all over town. Their game leads to a deeper mystery. The book is illustrated and if the authors names sound familiar its because they are Olympic bronze medalists in Ice Dancing. This book, on sale last May, was obviously meant to coincide with the postponed Tokyo Olympics, but it’s a quick and fun read, even in a non-olympic year.
Muse Squad The Cassandra Curse by Chantel Acevedo
Here’s a mystery that will appeal to fans of Rick Riorden. Cuban American girl Clio discovers she’s actually a muse, a legacy in her family handed down from the ancient Greeks to the present. Her mission is to inspire others who will go on to do great things for humanity. I liked the concept and the core of the story which holds inspiration as a superpower. So refreshing. This one is not illustrated and it’s a bit longer than the other books I’ve reviewed here. The Cassandra Curse came out in July and a second title will follow.
Goldie Vance The Hotel Whodunit by Lilliam Rivera
Also featuring a Cuban American main character, this book is a novelization of a comic book, it’s set in Florida of the 1950s and features 16 year old Goldie Vance who dreams of becoming a hotel detective in a family immersed in the hospitality industry. When a movie shoot comes to her family’s hotel and jewels go missing, Goldie’s mother is suspect number one. This one is a little more leisurely in pace than the others but it evokes an era well and portrays Florida vacation culture with warmth and wit. There is a graphic novel insert in full color but it was not in the ARC that I reviewed.
ATTY At Law by Tim Lockette
And finally here’s a book that celebrates speaking up for those without a voice. It features multi-racial family in the contemporary south and is a legal thriller in the vain of the Theodore Boone series by Grisham, but with considerably more heart. Our advocate Atticus Peale who goes by Atty is an animal lover and uses the law to save a shelter dog. She then tries to advocate for a considerably less sympathetic animal and her efforts intersect with her father’s. He is an attorney defending an illiterate man facing a murder charges.
If you have a favorite mystery, either a stand alone or a series. please mention it in the comments.

A Novel Approach to Readers’ Advisory

Normally when a middle-grader comes into the library looking for a book, librarians will focus on a title’s genre and subject matter. They’ll try to match these up to the reader’s interests, such as mysteries, sports books, or science fiction. But it can be tough to pin down the exact type of experience that our readers are looking for. Dominique McCafferty, the Childrens’ Collection Management Librarian at Library System & Services, recommends using a different method of finding the right read, using the super genres developed by Neal Wyatt and Joyce Saricks in their book,The Reader’s Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction (3rd ed).

The super genres that Wyatt and Saricks use focus more on the experience of reading. Their genres are: Adrenaline, Intellect, Landscape, and Emotion. Each of these can contain a number of different subjects and interests. In this post, we’ll show you how the traditional genre of mysteries can translate into all of these different super genres. We’ll also give examples of how to broaden your reader’s interests using these same categories.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgBooks in the adrenaline genre are the ones that readers will finish in one-sitting. Adrenaline books are all about speed. Tightly plotted, and fast paced, Thrillers, suspense, and adventure are among the traditional genre types in the adrenaline category. Mysteries like The 39 Clues are a great example of mysteries that fall into the adrenaline genre. They Cahills race around the globe to beat their greedy relatives to the clues. They’re adventurous because the Cahills often face danger from not only their relatives but also the environment and other enemies. Ultimately, The 39 Clues are mysteries because the Cahills work to figure out the clues that were left behind by their grandmother and solve the mystery of their family. But because of their fast pace and the thrilling adventure, the series also fits well within the adrenaline genre.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgMysteries would normally be found in the intellect genre. This is the genre of books that challenge the mind with language, puzzles, and science. The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin would be a classic example of mystery in this genre with it’s puzzles and wordplay.  Books in the intellect genre can also have lyrical language. Science fiction also tends to fall into this genre because of the science and technology involved. In The Westing Game, a wealthy businessman leaves his fortune to the tenants of a neighboring apartment complex. But first, they need to solve the mystery that he’s left them. It’s a similar plot to The 39 Clues, but the focus in The Westing Game is not on adventure. In fact, most of the story takes place at the apartment complex. Instead, The Westing Game focuses on the puzzles left to each pair of heirs, making it an ideal selection for the intellect genre.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgIf mysteries are normally at home in the intellect genre, then the world-building genre would be the realm of fantasy. But not always. Books in the landscape genre transport readers to a wholly different realm. For example Kate Milford’s Greenglass House is the rich, spooky setting for her mystery of the same name. Sitting on the edge of a cliff, Greenglass House is an inn that welcomes smugglers. Mysterious guests pour into the inn during the winter months when it is normally quiet, and each has a story. When guests belongings start to go missing, it’s up to Milo, the son of the inns’s owners, and Meddy, the cook’s daughter to figure out the mystery of Greenglass House.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgFinally, the emotion genre brings out strong emotions in its readers. Swoony stories of first crushes, touching family stories, and even horror stories all fall into this genre. Thornhill by Pam Smy is just such a horror story. Part graphic novel, Thornhill is a spine-tingling mystery about the last days of Thornhill Institute, and the new girl in town who is intrigued by its tragedy. In dual narratives, Thornhill tells the story of Mary, one of the last residents of the Institute who is bullied by the other girls, and much later, Ella, a lonely girl who becomes fascinated with Thornhill and the girl she sometimes sees still inside. Mary’s story is told through her diary entries, while Ella’s is told through black and white illustrations. It’s a spooky, atmospheric read, but it’s also a mystery, as Ella discovers the truth about the girl in Thornhill.

These titles would all appeal to mystery lovers, and the super genres help librarians narrow down the type of mystery a reader is looking for. But these categories help readers expand their horizons. For example, a reader interested in the fast-paced adrenaline genre might enjoy the I Survived series by Lauren Tarshis. These historical fiction adventures place kids at the center of real life disasters. Or  they might like Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia. In this fantasy, a seventh-grader plunges into a conflict between gods, heroes, and monsters.

In the intellect genre, readers can be as intrigued by novels in verse like Aida Salazar’s The Moon Within. But they may also enjoy the STEM thriller, Charlie Thorne and the Last Equation by Stuart Gibbs.

These all-encompassing genres are a great tool for librarians to help readers narrow down exactly what they’re looking for. And they also help readers to find new books that might interest them.

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