Posts Tagged siblings

THE LOST GIRL by Anne Ursu & New Information

There’s much to love about Anne Ursu’s latest middle grade book, THE LOST GIRL. The shifting relationship of twin sisters, Lark and Iris, who are reluctantly being pushed toward independence. How the separation upsets the balance in both their lives. The odd new shop in town with its mysterious secrets. Lark and Iris finding new connections through activities and friends. All these things combine to make a beautiful and fantastical contemporary middle grade novel…with ravens!!! MG fans, read this book!

As a parent of fraternal twins, this book appeals to me on many levels. All that wonderful stuff pales in comparison, though, to what hit me on a two-and-a-half page stretch of THE LOST GIRL. The monumental turn which stuck in my craw and won’t go away starts on page 150.  Iris asks her mother a question as her life spirals beyond her comfortable and normal level of control.

(Iris) “I have another question.”

(Mom) “Shoot.”

(Iris) “Is there stuff you learned at school that you found out later wasn’t true? Like everybody believed one thing and they were wrong?”

There it is. The monumental question in this wonderful book I can’t get out of my head. How do we react when the knowledge previously learned and the things considered truths are no longer true? When new information upsets our apple cart of truths, what’s the next step?

The question made me think of the shifting truths in nutrition, the environment, climate change, food security, health, education, and politics, to name a few. In science, we deal with changing information daily. New discovery and fresh inquiry push science forward. New knowledge replaces old knowledge. But this is not always universally accepted. As in other walks of life, the birth of new knowledge and its acceptance is not a smooth process. It’s sometimes hard for the “old guard” to accept the new knowledge and move forward. They often don’t have the desire, the energy, or the resources to shift thinking and move from the mapped and paved superhighway of their past knowledge base onto the bumpy and shifting ground of new discovery.

The mother in THE LOST GIRL answers that there were things she learned which are now considered wrong.

  • Pluto as a planet
  • Brontosaurus
  • Pterodactyls
  • How margarine was so much better than butter but one day became “…basically death on a stick.”

Iris is confused by this revelation as her whole world seems to be knocked off balance and laments to herself, “It would just be nice to be able to believe in the things she did know.”

The new information problem in my head drifted to art, reading, and writing, especially the endeavors aimed at children. New information about past and present children’s literature may lie at the core of the biggest kidlit issues of our generation. Representation. Diversity. Criticism/Backlash. Misinformation.

Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop proposed the idea of “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Doors” in her classic 1990 paper. Dr.Bishop presented the need to increase diverse choices and voices in our children’s literature universe to give children from diverse and marginalized backgrounds a mirror to see themselves represented and provide a window for others to see into their existence.

How many times in the past several years have we heard about problematic children’s literature and/or problematic creators? At least a few times, right? Hopefully, we are paying attention to these conversations and criticisms happening all around us. The struggle with new information is real and presents challenges almost daily in this information age. We must learn to analyze, accept, and adapt to new and different information.

With apologies to Dr. Bishop, I would like to add another function to the mirror. A mirror for us to analyze ourselves as adult creators and gatekeepers. We need to study our own beliefs toward new children’s literature information. Do we hold onto problematic children’s literature with clenched fists because it is dear to our heart? Do we study the facts and make informed decisions about problematic books and/or problematic creators? Do we ignore the issues because a book or a creator holds such a revered place in our own formation?

Honestly, I do not know the answers. These are individual questions we must ask ourselves. We have to decide whether to accept the new information or turn a blind eye. We have to decide how new knowledge affects our view of the problematic content as we move forward. We need to do the best we can and when new information arises, be willing to adjust.

The goal is to try and get things right in a constantly changing world by making informed decisions via a willingness to keep learning and relearning. Nothing is ever truly written in stone. Knowledge changes. Process information with an open mind.

As I’ve soapboxed before, the single greatest skill our young people will need in the digital age is the ability to sift through the mountains of data and the wave of available information to determine the truths. (Or the truths at that particular time?)

Perhaps Iris’ mom has the best advice about dealing with an ever-evolving knowledge base:

(Iris) So what do you do?”

(Mom) I guess… we just do the best we can with the information we have, you know? And stay open to the idea that there’s a lot we don’t know.”

Do the best with the information we have. I like that.

Wield knowledge wisely and to great benefit. It’s okay to be wrong IF you learn to be right.

Knowledge is powerful, not power.

Thank you, Anne Ursu, for THE LOST GIRL. It is a very good book. Also, a debt of gratitude for those two-and-a-half pages. They raised a deep question that wormed its way into my brain and won’t let go. THE LOST GIRL made me think and that’s one of the greatest gifts a story can give.


Note: Below is a link to the replay of the 2019 May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture presented on April 13, 2019 by Dr. Debbie Reese, host of the  American Indians in Children’s Literature web site and blog. It was an exceptional presentation about diversity, representation, and the #DiversityJedi in children’s literature. 

An Indigenous Critique of Whiteness in Children’s Literature replay from Wisconsin Public Television.



And Baby Makes…

The age-old adage is, of course, “And Baby makes three.”

But in middle grade fiction, the addition of a baby often makes for more. Much more.

Full disclosure here: I’ve got babies on my brain. And for the first time in decades, I’ve got diapers in my shopping cart and onesies in my closet, and a portable crib in my guestroom. As I write this, I’m days (maybe hours???) away from becoming a first-time grandmamma, and I’m just a little way, way too excited about it.

So, when I saw my next Mixed-Up Files post was due at the same time as our next family member, I knew right away what my topic would be. Babies. Babies. MIDDLE GRADE BABIES!

There are loads of middle-grade characters dealing with the addition of a new sibling. Some handle it better than others, but one common thread weaves throughout: Babies change everything!

Alvin Ho, Allergic to Babies, Burglars, and Other Bumps in the Night by Lenore Look, illustrated by LeUyen Pham


In this, the fifth installment in the Alvin Ho series, Lenore Look and LeUyen Pham deliver (ha,ha!) with great hilarity a story that many older brothers can relate to – what if that thing in mom’s belly is a …. girl?!  Alvin’s always-entertaining tales are great for younger middle-graders and middle-graders struggling with reading.

Ramona Forever by Beverly Cleary


By the time this book came out in 1984, Beverly Cleary had already won two Newbery Honors and a National Book Award, and Romona had already faced challenges both big and small. When her mother announces she’s pregnant, Ramona realizes she’ll be taking on a role she’s never played before-BIG sister.

Clementine and the Family Meeting by Sara Pennypacker, illustrated by Marla Frazee


Third-grade Clementine is surrounded by changes. When a family meeting is called to announce the pending arrival of a new baby, Clementine isn’t sure what to expect. At school, changes are happening as well. Her best friend is acting differently, and Clementine has to face the fact that nothing stays exactly the same.

The Key that Swallowed Joey Pigza by Jack Gantos


In a way that only Jack Gantos can, this final book in the Joey Pigza saga blends humor and wackiness with the very serious reality of postpartum depression. When Joey’s mother decides she should enter the hospital, Joey has to step up and care for his newborn baby brother.

Sometimes, babies appear in middle grade tales and they grow up to be the main character. Think of how Harry Potter began. A dark street, streetlights go out, and figure is seen leaving something on a doorstep. Number 4, Privet Drive.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhillgirl-who-drank-the-moon

This new book, from the author of The Witch’s Boy, centers around a community who believes they must sacrifice a baby each year to appease the evil witch who resides in the forest. But the witch isn’t evil at all, and she cares for the babies until she can place them in a deserving home far away. When an unfortunate mishap forces her to keep one of the babies as her own, everything changes. This one is being called a “new classic.”

And sometimes, it’s the middle-grade main character who finds an abandoned baby…

Baby by Patricia MacLachlan


Sophie is a baby left by her mother and found by twelve-year-old Larkin. Larkin’s family has lost a newborn boy and finds healing and hope in the arrival of Sophie. But the note left by Sophie’s mother promises she’ll return someday. How can they love if they know they’ll have to let go? Touching and timeless. True MacLachlan.

And finally, sometimes the middle grade main character is not the finder, but the seeker…

Winterfrost by Michelle Houts


Yes, this one’s my own, and I hesitated to mention it, because we writers are great at singing others’ praises, but it always feel a little uncomfortable to shout about our own work. But, Winterfrost fits the criteria for this post, so I’ll go ahead and share it. When twelve-year-old Bettina is left home alone to care for her not-quite-one-year-old baby sister, the unthinkable happens. Baby Pia disappears into the white wilderness, and Bettina is forced to  enter a magical world she’d only heard about from her grandfather. Based on Danish folklore.

So, what can you add?  Comment below with a middle-grade story featuring a baby. And stay tuned for more baby news! I promise to update this blog post when my first grandbaby is here!

** UPDATE** Baby Jack arrived promptly on his due date. Mom, Dad, and baby are all doing well. Grandma Michelle has fallen head over heels in love.


Michelle Houts is the author of five books for young readers. She lives on a farm where babies of the animal kind are a common occurrence. She absolutely cannot wait to hold her first grandbaby in a few days. That’s all she can think to write about, baby. She just signed a book to her first grandchild and is looking forward to sharing books of every kind with him.

The Sister Solution Blog Tour Author Interview: Trudi Trueit

Thanks so much to Trudi Trueit for joining us on The Mixed Up Files today!


We’re thrilled about Trudi’s new release, The Sister Solution.


Just so our readers are aware, Trudi and I have known each other for awhile now. I’m so honored to be the one to conduct this interview as part of The Sister Solution Blog Tour!


Let’s get right to the interview, shall we?

MUF: Trudi, we met when you did a book fair event for our school. It was obvious to me from the start that you love to work with kids. Can you please share with us what you most enjoy about connecting with your readers?

TT: From a young age, I found comfort and power in books and, in particular, writing. I was a shy girl, but through my stories I could be all of the things I thought I wasn’t in real life. I could be brave. I could be strong. I could even be magical! And the more I wrote, the more I started to realize that maybe I wasn’t just those things on the page. Maybe I had little tiny bit of them within me. Writing gave me the confidence to come out of my shell and try new things. It became my passion to write stories, both fiction and nonfiction (I was a journalist before I wrote books for children). So when I get to connect with young readers and writers, the thing that thrills me most is seeing that same light turn on in them. When they have read something that makes them see the world from a different point of view or when they have written something they didn’t even know they had in them, it’s pure joy. I know that, like me, they are forever changed. They are finding all of that potential within themselves. They are brave. They are strong. They are magical.

MUF: Wow, thanks for that answer! As a kid who grew up feeling much the same as you, I deeply appreciate the way you’ve been able to tap into that magic and share it with kids. I’ve seen the lights turn on with kids and your books, and it’s pure joy.

As a school librarian, I know your books well. You write your nonfiction in particular for many ages, but I’d say that your fiction is all for middle grade readers (though Scab appeals to younger kids, too, he is very much loved by 3rd and even 4th graders!). What led to your focus on books for this age group?

TT: Fourth grade was when I found my own voice through writing, so I think that’s why this age group appeals to me. There is something inherently special about being nine or ten years old. You are just beginning to discover who you truly are, what your values are, what you want out of life, and where you want to go. All of these possibilities intrigue me and I find it to be rich with material. To me, it’s the ‘golden age.’

MUF: What a great answer. I find that the Middle Grade age range challenges and feeds me at the same time, as a writer and as a librarian, too. Of course, I’m not sure I’ve ever grown beyond 10 years old myself!

The Sister Solution, like Stealing Popular, is about facing the pressures of school and relationships head on. Where did the idea for this book get its start? Was it an “aha!” moment, or a slow development of an idea?

TT: I do love writing about relationships! I find it fascinating to deconstruct them. It is the journey we all take together. We are all trying to figure out what makes the people around us tick. I’ve known for quite a while I wanted to write about two sisters, who were polar opposites, that had to figure out how to navigate their differences to save their relationship. I started writing the book from the elder sister’s point of view but I wasn’t more than a few chapters in when I knew something was wrong. It was one-sided. I realized that if I truly wanted to explore what each sister was thinking and feeling I had to do it in her words. I switched to alternating points of view and that seemed to do the trick!

MUF: I love this, thanks for sharing your journey to find the right voice for this book. Can you please tell us a little more about your writing process? I happen to know that cats are involved, but beyond that, what does a typical workday look like for you?

TT: As I type this my cat, Pippin, is demanding I play with him so I’ll make it quick, because I am, after all, his servant. My routine is not too exciting. I am usually at my desk by 7:30 a.m. to answer emails and do a few promotional tasks (PR is an essential part of a writer’s job). I will write from 8:30 to about 4:00 p.m., with a few breaks to play with Pippin, check emails, and return phone calls. I might also have a Skype visit with a class. When I have a new book coming out – like now – I will go ride my bike or do a work-out, have dinner and then return to my desk for a few hours to handle some of the tasks that go along with marketing, like updating my website, blog tour interviews, promotional mailings, etc.

MUF: I wonder if we should tell our readers that Pippin has his own Facebook page…

Before you go, the librarian in me always has to ask:

Is there a favorite book you’d like to share from your own middle grade years? We’d love to hear about a book that stuck with you from your childhood.

TT: My favorite book, the one I read again and again, was Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth, by E.L. Konigsburg (also, of course, the author of From the Mixed Up Files – another one of my favorites). Elizabeth, the main character, was the first character from a book that I could completely relate to. She got me. And I got her. I wanted to have more friends, and so did she. I wanted to be extraordinary, and so did she. This book is why I love writing realistic fiction so much, because while I could always find pieces of myself in a fantasy realm, I could find ALL of myself in a real one.

MUF: You’ve expressed so well how a book can reach a reader, and why the books you chose reached you – thank you! I want to remember these words when I share my favorites with young readers. It’s so helpful for kids if we don’t assume that favorites are the same for everyone.

Thanks again for visiting with us today, Trudi. We’re very excited for Sister Solution, and we hope you have all kinds of success with it!

We’re so grateful that Trudi could stop by today. You can visit her webpage to find information about the rest of the blog tour and her other books, author visits and more.

You can also download the reader’s guide for The Sister Solution.

Follow Trudi on Twitter, and  keep up with the latest with the hashtag #SisterSolutionBlogTour.

Trudi’s Facebook page .

Thanks to