Posts Tagged #WNDMG

From the Mixed-Up Files Gets Recognized for Dedication to Diverse Books

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Are you looking for some good news to cheer about? Well, here you go: From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Authors is receiving some love!

What’s this about?

We all know that there are many reasons to love the Mixed-Up Files, and one big reason is our effort to put a spotlight on diverse books. Just check out our WNDMG Wednesday blog posts!

Well, it turns out a lot of people have been noticing our dedication to diverse books, and our blog is getting some love from Feedspot. Feedspot chose Mixed-Up Files as one of the 80 Best Diverse Book Blogs and Websites for 2024! That’s something to celebrate!

Here’s what Feedspot has to say about us: “Read special intros, summaries, and extracts from books and novels that revolve around the theme of Diversity and Inclusion. From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors is a team of writers and readers of middle-grade books, and their goal is to celebrate and generate enthusiasm about books for 8-12-year-olds.”


So, what is Feedspot, you might ask?

Feedspot is a content reader that can help you keep up with multiple websites all in one place. That way, you don’t have to visit each website separately to find out what’s new. With this recognition, Feedspot acknowledges the contribution of websites and blogs that recognize the importance of putting more books with diverse characters in the hands of children.  

The goal of this list is to recognize and bring more traffic to websites and blogs that are dedicated to the promotion and growth of inclusive literature. In addition to From the Mixed-Up Files, their list of 80 websites and blogs includes standouts like the Lee and Low Books blog, Multicultural Kid Blogs, and KidLit TV.


Why is this important?

You know the saying: Energy flows where attention goes. Publishers Weekly recently reported findings from the University of Wisconsin’s Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) regarding diversity in children’s books. The good new is that “the number of books received by the CCBC that have BIPOC authors, illustrators, or compilers has tripled since 2015.” They expect this trend to continue with BIPOC representation and to expand to a broader range identities, including differing abilities, LGBTQ+, and religious diversity.

 As you’ll find on our WNDMG page, our mission is to “celebrate and promote diversity in middle-grade books, and we examine the issues preventing better equity and inclusion on the middle-grade bookshelf. We intend to amplify and honor all diverse voices.” If you’re like us, and you have a passion for making sure that all children see themselves represented in books, check out Feedspot’s 80 Best Diverse Book Blogs and Websites and make sure to follow From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Authors!

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.

WNDMG Wednesday: Author Interview with Maleeha Siddiqui


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WNDMG Wednesday: Author Interview with Maleeha Siddiqui

I’m so excited to be able to introduce you to accomplished middle grade author Maleeha Siddiqui today. Maleeha’s newest book is ANY WAY YOU LOOK (Scholastic) and it launches on May 7, 2024.

This book is a must have and a wonderful read, as I had the pleasure of reading an ARC, and Maleeha’s other novels are also favorites. Maleeha has a beautiful way of writing that is full of emotion and heart and craft!

Everyone should buy a copy for themselves and their classrooms and libraries.

Cover creds:
Cover illustration: Sara Alfageeh
Cover designer: Omou Barry
Art director: Elizabeth Parisi


Description taken from online:

When boys from her community start harassing her, Ainy needs to figure out how to get them to stop—while still staying true to herself.

Dress Coded meets Amina’s Voice in this new middle grade novel by Maleeha Siddiqui.

Ainy is excited for summer! She plans on working at her mom’s clothing boutique, having adventures with her best friend, and maybe even starting to wear the hijab—just like her big sister. But when certain boys from Ainy’s Muslim community keep showing up at the store to give her unwanted attention, she goes from possibly wanting to wear the hijab someday to feeling like she needs to wear it to get the boys to leave her alone.

But wearing the hijab doesn’t do what she’d hoped: It doesn’t deflect the boys’ attention at all! If anything, they’ve found something new to harass her about. With the help of her best friend and her older sister, Ainy must channel her inner creative strength and find the confidence to stand her ground and get the respect she deserves.

This is a compulsively readable, feminist, and thought-provoking book about staying true to yourself by acclaimed author Maleeha Siddiqui.

Interview with Maleeha Siddiqui

I loved getting to talk to Maleeha about her new book and I think you will enjoy meeting her and Ainy as well.


SSS: What a compelling synopsis! I truthfully was so intrigued right away to read just based on the important topic alone.

What is the inspiration behind AWYL?

MS: First, thank you for having me! I’m thrilled to be bringing this important, thought-provoking story to readers. ANY WAY YOU LOOK is many things, but it’s primarily a story about sisterhood and finding the confidence to stand your ground and get the respect you deserve.

Unfortunately, the inspiration behind AWYL comes from many concerning stories that I’ve heard over the years from women and girls in my life – both Muslim and non-Muslim – about behaviors and comments they are subjected to that are too often ignored.

In 2020, I read Barbara Dee’s Maybe He Just Likes you. It was the first book I read that addressed the issue of sexual harassment for young kids and it made me realize that these themes can be in a book for young readers, and I had a lot to say on the topic. The day I started writing Ainy’s story, I had just come home from an event, and I was furious about a comment I had heard made to a young girl there. Female rage really drove this whole book for me.

SSS: That makes total sense and I know exactly what you mean!

As a Muslim American, reading this story resonated with me. It really feels authentic and honest, and yet very raw and hard to read as well! How was that experience for you writing it? Did you worry about the balance of marginalized representation with also the responsibility of calling out injustice, even in our own communities.

MS: I think I’m honest about how much I love the Muslim community, but I’m also not afraid to call out its flaws. Writing about certain topics in the book did make me nervous, and yes, balancing the marginalized representation with the responsibility of calling out injustice did stress me out at times. However, I constantly reminded myself who I was writing the book for and that no one’s experiences, or journey is one-size-fits-all. I try to show balanced opinions and characters in my books, because that’s the composition of the real world.

SSS: I love that!

How is Ainy as a character similar to you? How is she different?

MS: Ainy is not a lot like me, honestly. She’s a fashionista, and I’m not (at least, not anymore). She’s kind of messy, and I’m a neat freak. One thing Ainy and I do have in common is our passion for doing what we love. In my case, it’s writing and sharing my love for reading. For Ainy, it’s designing clothes and helping people feel beautiful.


SSS: The subject of hijab and dressing modestly is important in the book—can you talk more about how Ainy struggles to decide whether hijab is for her or not?


MS: Bodily autonomy is a big theme in AWYL. I will say this. If you’re the type of person that believes hijab, like the five daily prayers, should be done no matter how you feel or where you are in your spiritual journey, then this book is not for you. I always knew that I wanted to write a book about a young girl debating on whether she’s ready to observe hijab or not.

A large part of it stemmed from my frustration with global conversations surrounding hijab. How are enforcements and bans being imposed with little to no regard of the opinion of Muslim women who simply want their freedom? Don’t we get a say? Ainy’s struggle to decide whether hijab is for her or not closely mirrors my own from when I was young.

I don’t want to spoil the book, but I am the confident hijabi that I am today because I was given the time, space, and grace to explore my relationship with Allah (SWT) and connect with my faith on a deeper level before making the commitment. I wanted Ainy’s character arc to show all the different external and internal influences that can get in the way of that.

SSS: That definitely resonates!

Muslim books are so important (and a passion of mine!). How does having faith/deen play a role in your book?

MS: Having faith/deen plays a role in all my books, Alhumdulillah! Some more than others, but at the end of the day, my main characters are all Muslim and I like to show them existing on the page at different points in their spirituality. After all, I’ve been in all their shoes at one point or another!

The central Islamic message in AWYL is the importance of one’s relationship with their Creator and how, as Muslims, that – not the opinion of others – should be the driving force behind our choices. And Ainy’s got some big choices to make in this book!

SSS: Will there be more Ainy (or other middle grade) in the future?

MS: AWYL is it for Ainy, but I do have more middle grade books in the works for the future!

Stay tuned!

Link to preorder here.

Writing Process

 SSS: When did you start writing AWYL and was the process a long one?

MS: I conceived the initial idea for AWYL in 2020, but I started writing it–slowly–in May 2022. I finished 90% of the book from September 2022 – January 2023. Four months might sound like a long time to draft a 45K MG novel, but AWYL is by far the easiest book I have written so far.

It’s my most intentionally crafted book. I paid close attention to every plot beat, character arc, pacing, etc. I heard every character’s voice, especially Ainy’s, so clearly in my head. As a result, the story poured out of me effortlessly. I truly think it’s my best work to date, and I’m very proud of it.

SSS: As a fellow middle grade novel, I LOVE plotting, but I also feel like the characters have a mind of their own at times. Do you plot or pants your novels?

MS: I’m a hardcore plotter! I hate first drafts, so having a detailed synopsis makes it a little less painful. I do pants 5-10% of the story, though. Like you said, sometimes the characters have a mind of their own.

SSS: Any advice for fellow middle-grade authors?

MS: Read, read, read! Read middle grade books published in the last five years and explore different genres! I love reading horror and fantasy in addition to realistic fiction. And remember middle grade should be representative of today’s kids, not back when we were kids, though much of the pre-adolescent emotional experience remains universally the same!


SSS: Bonus question! Is there anything I haven’t asked that you’d like to share with us?

MS: ANY WAY YOU LOOK is my third MG cotemporary and a culmination of a lot of things I’ve learned about writing craft over the years. That’s not to say I am not proud of my previous two books, BARAKAH BEATS and BHAI FOR NOW. Both are very dear to me, and it warms my heart when readers tell me reading one led them to pick up the other. Now I hear from readers that they are excited for my next book. So, while this interview is about ANY WAY YOU LOOK, I’d like to give a shoutout to BARAKAH BEATS and BHAI FOR NOW. I hope readers love Ainy as much as they’ve come to love Nimra, Ashar, and Shaheer.


Thank you so much Maleeha for answering my questions! I hope everyone picks up a copy of your beautiful book.

For more Muslim Middle Grade, Check out this Walter Dean Myers Honor Book here!!!


About Maleeha Siddiqui:

MALEEHA SIDDIQUI is an American writer of Pakistani descent who loves to tell stories for all ages about the American Muslim experience. She can’t live without caffeine, rainy days, and books with a whole lot of heart. Her previous novels, Barakah Beats and Bhai for Now, were both Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selections. Barakah Beats was also an ABA Indies Introduce pick. By day, Maleeha works in the biotech industry. She grew up and continues to reside with her family in Virginia. Find her at and on Instagram at @malsidink.


Instagram: @malsidink