Posts Tagged weneeddiversebooks

Reasons to be Cheerful

Whatever your political leaning, you probably agree that it’s been a bruising couple of weeks. So for my last post on this blog, I’d like to share a few things that have made me happy lately.

truth-or-dare_final1- A book club for girls at Forgan Middle School in Forgan, Oklahoma chose to read my latest middle grade novel, TRUTH OR DARE. For the club’s seventh and eighth grade girls, as well as their teachers, to be able to buy their own copies, they needed a sponsor. And you know who sponsored their purchase of 23 hardcover copies? Delbert, the school custodian. The idea that this lovely man stepped up to buy all those copies of TRUTH OR DARE for a group discussing girls’ body issues, self-esteem, and related topics–well, it makes my heart burst.

A lot of folks want to keep kids reading–and they’re not just teachers, librarians, and publishing world insiders. Let’s be sure to celebrate the Delberts of the world. They’re definitely out there.

star-crossed-jpeg-516kb2-My next middle grade novel, STAR-CROSSED, will be published by Aladdin/S&S in March 2017. It’s about a middle school production of Romeo & Juliet in which the girl playing Romeo realizes she has a crush on the girl playing Juliet. This book is very much a middle grade novel–positive, gentle, and, unlike Shakespeare’s play, a comedy. Despite its lightness and wholesomeness, STAR-CROSSED would surely have been deemed too edgy for mainstream publication just a few years ago. But when I proposed STAR-CROSSED to my publisher, Simon & Schuster, they embraced it immediately–in fact, they recently highlighted it in their Spring 2017 Library/Education newsletter as a book promoting diversity. I’m also delighted to report that Scholastic has just licensed STAR-CROSSED (with a specially designed cover) for sale through book fairs and book clubs.   

So yes: #weneeddiversebooks on middle grade shelves. And you know what? We’re getting them. Joining STAR-CROSSED, LILY AND DUNKIN, GRACEFULLY GRAYSON, DRAMA, GEORGE,  LUMBERJANES and others, there’s Jen Petro-Roy’s PS, I MISS YOU coming Fall, 2017.  For more middle grade titles with LGBTQ characters, click here.

3-A related development in middle grade fiction: tough topics explored with special sensitivity for the age of the reader–for example, Nora Raleigh Baskin’s NINE, TEN, A September 11 Story



and Kate Messner’s THE SEVENTH WISH.

 My other book launching next year, HALFWAY NORMAL (Aladdin/S&S Dec 2017), deals with a different sort of tough topic. It’s about a girl who, upon returning to middle school after two years away for pediatric cancer treatment, feels as if she can’t communicate her story–until the class begins its study of Greek mythology. Not once did my publisher fret about the subject matter being too dark for middle grade readers; they trusted me to write something age-appropriate and even (yes, really, I promise!!) fun.

Ultimately, what I think HALFWAY NORMAL and STAR-CROSSED are both about is how books give kids a language to express themselves, and connect to others. I’m truly encouraged by the way publishers have embraced stories like these, which promote empathy, inclusiveness, self-expression and self-esteem. We’re expanding the notion of what middle grade books should be–reaching more kids, touching more hearts, and opening more minds. We’re also making kids smile. As we give thanks this week, let’s remember that middle grade books are better, and more important, than ever. Cheers!        

BARBARA DEE is the author of six middle grade novels published by Aladdin/Simon & Schuster, including TRUTH OR DARE, which was published in September.  Next year Aladdin/S&S will publish STAR-CROSSED (March 2017) and HALFWAY NORMAL (December 2017). 

Interview & Giveaway – The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse

The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse by Brian FarreyToday I’m thrilled to introduce Brian Farrey’s new middle grade fantasy, The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse. I’m particularly excited about this story it turns the fairy tale trope on it’s head: there is no handsome prince here, and the princess is both curious and capable. I chatted with Brian about everything from what’s on his bookshelf to writing tough topics.

Don’t forget to read to the end for your chance to win a copy of Brian’s gorgeous book!

JA: Which do you prefer, writing MG or writing YA?

BF: I don’t know that I prefer one to the other. I think my approach to writing each is fairly similar. The challenge is to always write in a way that is mindful of the targeted age range—more so with Middle Grade than anything else—but doesn’t talk down to the readers. With Middle Grade, you avoid some of the….saltier word choices that are available for YA. With either, I try to focus on ideas the various age ranges can relate to. I think that’s really important: writing in a way that’s relatable.

JA: The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse is told from two very different points of view–Princess Jeniah and her soon-to-be-friend, commoner Aon Greenlaw. Can you talk a little bit about the challenge of creating two such different voices in one story? 

BF: This is something I was conscious of in almost every draft. I wanted both girls to be drawing from their own pools of strength but I worried that would make them sound alike. It became important to temper that strength with their insecurities. For me, that’s where the characters began to sound and behave differently. Jeniah comes from a place of fear and Aon from a place of despair. So, I really tried to focus on making their voices come through in their vulnerabilities.

JA: Can you talk about which fairytales you enjoyed as a child and which ones might have inspired you to create the world where this story takes place?

BF: I grew up with the sanitized fairytales, not the original Grimm or Perrault texts which were much more gruesome and violent. So if there were stories I liked, it was because I was probably drawn to whatever humorous elements were added to make it more palatable. As I got older and explored the origins of the fairy tales and subsequently learned how dark they could be, I felt lied to. More than anything, I think writing this book came from a desire not to emulate the fairytales I knew growing up. Maybe I was rebelling against those sanitized lies? I dunno. But it was definitely a conscious choice to not be like the sugary versions and create the world of the Monarchy.

JA: You wear more than one hat, working both as a writer and as an editor. Putting on your editor hat for a moment, what trends do you see that might be of interest to our readers?

BF: I’m the acquiring editor for Free Spirit where I primarily acquire educational books for kids and teachers. It’s a whole new world in terms of the books I’m going after but I still keep a close eye on fiction for kids (even though I don’t acquire it anymore.) I’m really happy to see some fairly deep and complex themes showing in fiction of late, both for YA and MG. There’s still plenty of escapist books out there—lighter in tone and feel—and that’s great because people are always going to need that. But I’m enjoying seeing more books that will challenge readers with their complexity and subject matter. I enjoy picking up a beach read every so often and getting lost. But it’s important that I also keep my brain properly maintained with books that invite me to see other perspectives. I’m glad the selection of these books is widening.

JA: You’ve never shied away from tough subjects in your work. Can you talk about what inspires you tackle these subjects?

BF: Most often, I tackle these kinds of subjects because I’m trying to figure out how I feel about them. I’m not out to shove my opinions down others’ throats and I try really, really hard not to tell readers that THIS is how they should feel about a certain matter (but trying isn’t always succeeding….). Every book I’ve ever written is almost like a conversation I’m having with myself where I bring up points and counterpoints on a particular idea. A character in my book reaching a certain conclusion doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a conclusion that I, personally, have reached. If you take debate in school, one of the first things they teach you is how to argue a side you don’t believe in. It’s a step toward empathy. I think that’s what all writers are working toward. The most important thing about any story is that it’s going to (hopefully) expose young readers to new ideas and viewpoints. That’s so, so important and it’s why diversity has become such an important discussion point today. I firmly believe that we, as a society, need to make a better effort at not just understanding but also empathizing with one another. I’d like to think that books are a large part of that effort.

JA: What advice would you give to aspiring middle grade authors? 

BF: Write what you love. Really, that’s so important. When I work with beginning novelists, I find so many of them are writing what they think will make them bajillionaires or beloved by the masses. They’re looking at the market, pointing to books that are popular, and trying too hard to emulate that. Thing is: somebody already did that. Writers should always be trying to do something new. I think imitating other artists is a great way to get started when you’re new. It can help you grasp the basics: syntax, style, pacing, etc. But at some point, you have to be present in your own work. Figure out what you love and write that.

JA: What are you working on next?

BF: I just turned in a new book to my editor. It’s still sort of formative so I don’t want to say too much about it. I will say that it springboards off some of the ideas in Dreadwillow Carse but it isn’t a sequel. Like I said before, my books are often about me trying to figure out how I feel about certain ideas. Dreadwillow Carse raised more questions for me than I had room to answer in one book. So this next book is me exploring some of the spillover questions. But the new book is set in the real world (although there’s an element of magical realism in it.)

JA: I love magical realism! Can’t wait to see what you come up with next. What’s on your bookshelf right now?

Right now, I’m on a nostalgia tour. I’m tracking down books I read as a kid (some of which, sadly, are out of print and hard to find but yay for the internet and used books…). I’m falling in love with these books all over again. I’m reading Veronica Ganz by Marilyn Sachs, Banana Twist by Florence Parry Heide, The House with a Clock in Its Walls by John Bellairs, and Alvin Fernald, Mayor for a Day by Clifford B. Hicks. And, as always, at some point this summer I’ll re-read The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin because I re-read it every year.

The Vengekeep Prophecies by Brian FarreyJA: Tell us a little bit about your cat, Meowzebub. Does he live up to his devilish name?

BF: It would be disingenuous to call a cat Meowzebub and have him be perfectly boring. When he was a kitten, he faked his own death just so he could catch me by surprise and pounce on me. That’s pretty devilish, right? Now, he’s seventeen and not interested in pouncing but he’s no less sly.

Thanks so much for having me! This was a lot of fun.

You’re very welcome, Brian! Thanks for joining us and best of luck with The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse.

Brian Farrey is the author of the Vengekeep Prophecies series and the Stonewall Honor Book With or Without You. He knows more than he probably should about Doctor Who. He lives in St. Paul, Minnesota, with his husband and their cat, Meowzebub. 

Don’t forget enter the Rafflecopter below for your chance to win a copy of The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse. (US & Canada residents only)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

A Second Life for the Hannah West books by Linda Johns (And a Giveaway)

Have you ever searched for a well-loved book, only to find that it was out of print? Several years ago, former librarian and bookseller Nancy Pearl decided to do something about that by giving a few of her favorite books a second life.

The former Executive Director of the Washington Center for the Book, regular commentator on NPR’s “Morning Edition,” and author of Book Lust to Go, Book Crush, and more, created Book Lust Rediscoveries, a series of reprints for adults. Out of that program, grew Book Crush Rediscoveries, specifically for kids.

This month we’re celebrating the rediscovery of books by our own MUF contributor, Linda Johns: Hannah West: Sleuth in Training and Hannah West: Sleuth on the Trail.












First, here’s a little bit about Nancy Pearl’s Book Crush Rediscoveries:

MUF: Why did you feel there was a need for such a series of reprints?

NP: I’ve always felt that there were so many wonderful books (both for adults and children) that have gone out of print and I wanted new generations of readers to discover them and enjoy them as much as I had.

MUF: How many books have been given a second life through Book Crush Rediscoveries?

NP: There will be eleven books total. The last one, coming out this September, is Bonny Becker’s The Christmas Crocodile, which is wonderfully illustrated by David Small.

MUF: How many books do you do per year?

NP: Unfortunately, the publication of Bonny’s book brings the project to an end. It’s a bigger job than you might think to do reprints of older titles, because first you have to find who owns the copyright and then track them down. It takes the skills of a detective to do this, involving reading everything from obituaries to Facebook posts. One of my former students at the University of Michigan tracked down eleven of the twelve authors for the adult series—he was terrific at it. I ended up doing most of the searching for the children’s series. I remember trying to find the heirs of Carol Ryrie Brink (author of Caddie Woodlawn as well as the three books I wanted to reprint). This involved calling a county museum in Idaho in the hope that they happened to have some contact information for her heirs. And then you have to hope that they’re interested in having the book reprinted—the authors of at least two of the books I wanted to reprint didn’t want to be part of the project for various reasons.

MUF: What made you decide that a book needed to be back in print?

NP: Really, my only criteria for what books to include were how much I loved them—how much I loved reading them to my own daughters and granddaughters (using my own, well-read copies) and, years ago, recommending them to children when I was a children’s librarian.

Thank you so much, Nancy, for dropping by and for your contribution to literature for adults and children.

Click here to find the eleven titles in the Nancy Pearl Book Crush Rediscoveries series.

Now let’s hear from Linda Johns on the rediscovery of Hannah West:

MUF: First, congratulations that your Hannah West books are back in print. How long had they been out of print?

LJ: Thank you! There were four books in the series, first published by Penguin’s Puffin/Sleuth imprint. They’ve been out of print for three to four years. Nancy Pearl’s Book Crush Rediscoveries program (Two Lions Publishing) bundled two titles into one book (there are now two books, rather than four) and gave them new titles and cover art to differentiate them from the originals.

MUF: Your books are about a girl detective. What were your influences when writing them?

LJ: I’m a big mystery lover (my all-time favorite is The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin), and I’m also completely in love with my town (Seattle) and its many distinct neighborhoods. I wanted to find a plot structure that would allow my character, Hannah, to explore new neighborhoods and solve a mystery or two along the way. Combining those two elements led to making Hannah and her mom professional house sitters.

MUF: Was the character of Hannah based on anyone in particular?

LJ: I based the character of Hannah on one of my favorite girls, who happens to have been born in China and adopted by an American family. I didn’t know of any books at that time with a main character who was Chinese-born and adopted as a baby and brought to the US. In fact, there were very few books that represented the people I know and see every day. We have obviously been in need of more diversity in children’s books, and I’m happy to see that the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign is bringing that message to a large audience.

MUF: Did you have to make any changes in the novels to reflect modern day technology or anything else?

LJ: We left the novels as they were, with another round of copy editing and proofreading. They were published pre-iPhone era, but Hannah does have a cell phone for emergencies since she’s a latch-key kid, and she moves so often. Lack of technology in a story makes crime solving a bit more difficult for the detective—and a lot more fun for the writer.

MUF: What has Nancy Pearl’s Book Crush Rediscoveries publishing program meant to you as a writer and a librarian?

LJ: This is just one more way—a quite substantial way—that the wonderful Nancy Pearl advocates for readers. It isn’t a gimmick or bestseller status that will connect a reader with a book; it’s getting the right book at the right time. A book needs to be in print and available for that book match to occur.

Thanks so much , Linda, for taking the time out to tell us about your books. Readers can learn more about Linda, her books, and her book recommendations here.


Linda is offering one lucky reader, who leaves a comment, a chance to win signed paperbacks of Hannah West: Sleuth in Training and Hannah West: Sleuth on the Trail. Comment before Tuesday, January 26, 2016, at midnight to be eligible for the raffle.

Dorian Cirrone has written several books for children and teens. Her middle-grade novel, The First Last Day, which takes place on the New Jersey Shore, will be published in June 2016 by S&S/Aladdin. You can find her on Facebook and on Twitter as @DorianCirrone. She gives writing tips and does occasional giveaways on her blog at: