Discussion: The Power of Middle Grade Novels

Hi guys! I haven’t posted a discussion post written by myself in such a long time, but I finally have one ready for you all! As the blog is rapidly expanding these past few months, I have become acquainted with so many amazing MG authors that have inspired me to become more involved in the MG community. Yes, I am a primarily YA-based author, but there’s so much power in MG novels! I want to give a big shout out to Jarrett Lerner, author of Enginerds, for inspiring me to finally post this discussion. It’s been way overdue, and I hope you enjoy it!


MG Novels

When you think of middle grade novels, what do you think of? Series such as Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, and The Diary of a Wimpy Kid come into mind. As an elementary school student growing up, I didn’t read those series, honestly–except Harry Potter, which I read all seven books in either fourth or fifth grade. I had the mindset that I did not want to read anything that had a low reading level (what caused it? AR!), and because of that, I ended up reading only classics and Encyclopedia Brown books. This is what caused me to not read at all in middle school–I felt so constrained to classics that I just did not want to read more of them anymore. I focused my free time on Lego’s and video games instead.

As a kid, I always had the misconception that middle grade books had little literary value and were “taboo” since I had a higher reading level than many kids. In seventh grade, I read only ten books. There was a special party for those who read and wrote about ten books, and I crammed A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in a weekend (which was too much for me as a non-reader) as the tenth book under my belt. (I completed 91 books in 2017, which I never would have foreseen back then!)

When I became a blogger, I slowly transitioned into being primarily YA/MG-based. Since the moment I first read Prisoner B-3087 by Alan Gratz and Just Like Me by Nancy J. Cavanaugh, I realized the power middle grade novels have not just to the high school student but to adults, too. Middle grade is NOT just for kids–in fact, anyone can learn from its lessons.

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Review: 14 Hollow Road by Jenn Bishop

Hi guys! I’m so backed up with reviews lately since I’ve read more books and written more reviews than I can post! I’m so glad that I’m able to have the opportunity to post them! Today’s book review is on 14 Hollow Road by Jenn Bishop. I had Jenn on the blog a few months ago, in which you can find the link here, and she sent me a copy of her latest book to review, also. I’m so glad she did because I loved it, and you can see why below!


About the Book32319718

The night of the sixth-grade dance is supposed to be perfect for Maddie; she’ll wear her beautiful new dress, she’ll hit the dance floor with her friends, and her crush, Avery, will ask her to dance. Most importantly, she’ll finally leave her tiny elementary school behind for junior high. But as the first slow song starts to play, her plans crumble. Avery asks someone else to dance instead–and then the power goes out. Huddled in the gym, Maddie and her friends are stunned to hear that a tornado has ripped through the other side of town, destroying both Maddie’s and Avery’s homes.

Kind neighbors open up their home to Maddie’s and Avery’s families, which both excites and horrifies Maddie. Sharing the same house . . . with Avery? For the entire summer? While it buys her some time to prove that Avery made the wrong choice at the dance, it also means he’ll be there to witness her morning breath and her annoying little brother. Meanwhile, she must search for her beloved dog, who went missing during the tornado. At the dance, all she wanted was to be more grown-up. Now that she has no choice, is she ready for it?

Goodreads


5 Stars

Disclaimer: I received a free signed copy of this book  (and some extra swag) in exchange for an honest review. This will not affect my review at all.

I did not expect 14 Hollow Road to be this amazing of a book. You normally think with MG books that they should be light and fluffy, like a YA summer contemporary novel, but not in this case. This book defies all those stereotypes, and it will stand out as one of my favorite, if not my favorite, middle grade read of 2017. I just couldn’t put it down, and it was so beautiful. I mean it, it was amazingly beautiful. *cue single teardrop* If I had to create a lesson for elementary school students (like in 4th to 8th grade), I would get them to read this book. This is a book that adults, young adults, and children should read because it truly has the potential to change your view on disasters and those affected.

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Summer of Authors #2: Exclusive Interview with Jenn Bishop

Hi guys! Tomorrow I’m taking the ACT, so today’ll be more focused on getting my mind and self ready for big test! But for today… We’re continuing our Summer of Authors with Jenn Barnes, author of 14 Hollow Road, which releases in 4 days! Go check it out, and I hope you enjoy this review!


About 14 Hollow Road14 Hollow Road_jkt_3p.indd

The night of the sixth-grade dance is supposed to be perfect for Maddie: she’ll wear her perfect new dress, hit the dance floor with her friends, and her crush, Avery, will ask her to dance. But as the first slow song starts to play, her plans crumble. Avery asks someone else to dance instead—and then the power goes out.

Huddled in the gym, Maddie and her friends are stunned to hear that a tornado has ripped through the other side of town, destroying both Maddie’s and Avery’s homes.

Kind neighbors open up their home to Maddie’s and Avery’s families, which both excites and horrifies Maddie. Sharing the same house . . . with Avery? For the entire summer? While it buys her some time to prove that Avery made the wrong choice at the dance, it also means he’ll be there to witness her morning breath and her annoying little brother.

At the dance, all she wanted was to be more grown-up. Now that she has no choice, is she really ready for it?


 

Jenn Bishop

1. Why do you love writing? When did you first have a love for writing, and how was it formed?

I love writing for many of the same reasons that I love reading—that experience of stepping into someone else’s shoes and experiencing things alongside them. I can also appreciate now the escape that it provides. There’s nothing like the experience of time disappearing as you write. That total immersion is rare, but amazing! As a kid, I was fortunate to have many opportunities for creative writing in school—especially elementary. My stories might have been a little derivative then, but there was so much joy in their creation.

2. What are your favorite books, genres, and authors? Which ones have impacted you and your writing style the most?

I tend to read mostly contemporary books. It’s tricky to pin down a favorite book—it’s a real moving target, as I read about 150 books each year and I’m always finding new favorites—but some of the authors whose work I most admire include Rebecca Stead, Rita Williams-Garcia, Hanya Yanagihara, Jason Reynolds, and Junot Diaz. It’s hard to say who has impacted my writing style—I feel, if anything, my voice is something I’ve honed and developed over years of sending long emails, talking, and picking up certain modes of speech from friends and family.

3. What do you do when you’re not writing? Is writing a part-time or full-time job?

I’m fortunate right now to be able to write full-time, not that I actually am “writing” for 40 hours a week. A lot of the time I would devote to a traditional job is also used for reading, Skyping with classrooms, and tending to the business side of writing. In my truly free time, I love long distance running, film, and being outside.

Continue reading “Summer of Authors #2: Exclusive Interview with Jenn Bishop”

Exclusive Interview + Giveaway with Kym Brunner!

To all you Star Wars fans, May the Fourth be with you! Today is also National Bird Day, which brings us to today’s special guest: Kym Brunner! Kym wrote a book called Flip the Bird (yes, there is a secret pun… please see question 5 for that answer… the bird is named Flip), and to celebrate the upcoming “Be Kind to Animals” week and International Bird Migratory Day on May 14th, she is giving away a copy of Flip the Bird! Woo hoo! Here’s a special interview I conducted with her after I saw her at SE-YA (I’ve made a lot of author friends there).


Kym Brunner

1. Why do you love writing? When did you first have a love for writing, and how was it formed?FlipTheBirdCover

I’ve always loved reading, but it wasn’t until my thirties that I thought, “Hmm…maybe I could write a book.” I bought a book called “How to Write a Book For Dummies,” and that was all the permission I needed to go ahead and try writing a book too. Found out I absolutely loved it and an obsession was born.

2. What are your favorite books, genres, and authors? Which ones have impacted you and your writing style the most?

I love reading––PB through adult novels––but mostly I read YA and New York Times bestsellers. Growing up I was really into Stephen King because there wasn’t a true young adult category. I suppose that’s why I love suspenseful books so much. As far as writing style, I can only say that I write the way I think and talk, so I don’t model myself after any particular author. But when I first started writing, I was reading a lot of Meg Cabot, Carolyn Mackler, Laurie Halse Anderson, and John Green. Fingers crossed that I picked up a few tips vicariously through reading their books.

3. What do you do when you’re not writing? Is writing a part-time or full-time job?KymBrunnerAuthorPhoto

I always tell my husband that I have two full-time jobs… teaching 7th graders and writing novels. When I’m not teaching or grading papers, I’m writing or thinking about writing. I get up early and write before school, and then work for several hours after school on my novels. On weekends, I still get up early and write, sometimes all the way until dinner. Writing consumes me and I don’t even notice the time.

4. Your latest book Flip the Bird is targeted especially for middle grade to teenage boys. Why did you choose to write for this audience, and how would you respond to that “teenage boys don’t read”?

I didn’t choose the audience; the book chose me, so to speak. I took a falconry class at a raptor rehabilitation center after attending the Medieval Times dinner show, and the sport captivated me. I could easily have made the story a female apprentice, but having brothers myself, I could easily picture this being a dad-son sort of activity. As far as teen boys not reading, I can only shrug. I do think there are a lot of teen boys reading out there, but as a group, their interests might stray toward video games, girls, and sports for awhile. But I’m hoping they eventually come back to reading, and that they continue to make time to read when given a chance to relax. Reading novels not only expands your mind and gets you to consider other aspects of issues, but it’s very relaxing. Everyone needs down time without the noise and violence of a video game to collect their thoughts and think about what kind of person they want to be. Reading gives you lots of opportunities to explore who you are and who you will become as an adult.

5. What was the inspiration for the title of Flip the Bird? Is there a reason why Mercer chose to name his hawk “Flip”? (Is there a secret pun in the title?)

Definitely a secret pun in the title! The original title was (get ready to cringe)  “A Falcon’s Feather.” Yeah, so that is what we call “a working title,” something to put down at the top as a placeholder, but you can see it didn’t work at all. One day, we were laughing about someone flipping the bird to me in traffic, and I was like, “Bam! That’s it! He’ll name his hawk Flip!” Thus, it should probably be titled, “Flip, the Bird” with a comma. 🙂

6. Would you want to be a master falconer? Would you like to have a bird as a pet, and if so which one?

Maybe one day I’ll pursue being a falconer myself, but it is a huge time commitment and can be somewhat of a big expense if you do it correctly. I have had birds as pets before (cockatiels, umbrella cockatoo, green cheeked conure) and have loved them all. I also have several bird feeders right outside the window where I sit and write.WANTED - DEAD OR IN LOVE cover(3)

7. In one of your previous novels Wanted: Dead or In Love, the souls of the infamous Bonnie and Clyde start to take over the bodies of high school students Monroe and Jack. Did you have to do any research on the deadly duo to write this book? If so, what are some of the most interesting or surprising things you learned?

Boy, did I ever have to do research! Hours upon hours of reading books and watching documentaries. The thing that surprised me the most was that Clyde Barrow lived in the poorest part of Dallas during the Depression, so much of the stealing he did in the beginning was to survive and to help his family. I think his first arrest was for stealing a turkey, and another was for failing to return a rental car on time, both in his teens. Not making any excuses for him, but his first murder was a prison guard who had raped him daily during his year incarceration when he was only 17. After Clyde was released from prison, he followed the guard home and killed him.

8. You are currently serving as a 7th grade teacher along with your writing career. How would you instill a new love for books in a student who does not like reading at all?

I talk about how much I love books and have librarians come in and book talk the newest books a couple of times a year. No one likes to be told what to do, so I hope that my enthusiasm for certain books makes them curious enough to want to read it too.

9. Could you tell me some of the reasons why you think that Chicago is the “best city in the world”? If I were to go there (which I already have!), what are some activities or attractions you would recommend to a visitor?

Chicago is beautiful and filled with diverse, smart, talented people. It’s got every type of food you can imagine with a ton of pro sports teams and there’s just a cool vibe when you walk along the lakefront. I’d recommend trying foods from around the world at all of the ethnic restaurants we have, take a bike ride through Grant Park and Buckingham Fountain, visit the Art Institute, and catch a free symphony on Wednesday afternoons in the summer near the Bean! Of course you should go have a snack and a drink on the Signature Room on the 95th and 96th floors in the John Hancock (and you don’t have to pay to go to the 98th floor observation deck).

10. I am so glad I got to see you at the Southeastern Young Adult Book Festival in Murfreesboro, TN! What do you like most about being an author at book festivals? How was your experience at SE-YA?

SE-YA Fest was amaaaazing! I loved how many teens were bussed in for the day to attend the event! So fun to talk to a room full of eager readers that had the most hilarious questions for the authors. It was so well run and the campus where it was held was stunning. What I like most is being able to talk with teens about books, and especially happy when they’ve read my book and want to take a picture with me. Makes me feel so happy and proud.

11. Have you written any other works? What can we expect from you in the future?SmartCookie_Cover(1)

Always writing, always hoping the next book is picked up by an editor who loves it too. I’ve written a humorous MG sci-fi novel that my agent will be sending out to editors soon. My “WIP” (work-in-progress) has some “eco-fiction” elements in it the way Flip the Bird did, but this one also has a futuristic world and a suspense plot filled with lots of twists. Fingers crossed that all my books eventually land in the hands of readers.

12. Do you have any tips to any aspiring authors or writers?

Read, read, read…and write, write, write. Everything takes practice so you’ll have to write for awhile before you can critically read your own work. Join a critique group and have others read your stories and tell you what is working and what isn’t is the most valuable tip I can give you. Writing a book is hard work, but anyone can do it if they dedicate the time to making the pages sing. Best of luck and thanks for interviewing


About Flip the BirdFlipTheBirdCover

Mercer Buddie wants two things in this world: a girlfriend and the chance to prove to his master falconer father that he’s not a flake. With hunting season fast approaching, fourteen-year-old Mercer has only a short time to work with Flip, a red-tailed hawk he irreverently named to show his dad that falconers don’t have to be so serious all the time.


When Mercer meets Lucy, he falls hard for her gorgeous looks and bubbly personality. He thinks his love life is about to take flight, until he discovers that Lucy and her family belong to a fanatical animal-rights organization called HALT—a group that believes imposing any sort of restrictions on animals is a form of cruelty. Mercer soon realizes that if he wants to keep seeing Lucy, he’ll need to keep his love of falconry and his family’s raptor rehabilitation center a secret from her, and Lucy’s involvement with HALT from his family.


With humor and honesty, Mercer’s story shows how growing up means making diff
icult choices…and sometimes, being rewarded in unexpected ways.


About the Author

Kym Brunner dreams entire novels in her head, but needs about a year to write it all down.  She wishes there was an app for this. She’s addicted to chai tea, going to the movies, and reality TV. When she’s not reading or writing, Kym teaches 7th grade full time. Her article, Cracking Down on Multiple POVs:  Surrender and Nobody Gets Hurt, appeared in Writer’s Digest online (July, 2014). She is the author of the three YA novels listed below. She lives in the Chicago area with her family and her two trusty writing companions, a pair of Shih Tzus named Sophie and Kahlua. Keep in touch by following her on Facebook (Author Kym Brunner), Twitter (@KymBrunner), or at her website, http://www.kymbrunner.com.

Wanted: Dead or in Love, Merit Press, June, 2014
One Smart Cookie, Omnific Publishing, July, 2014
Flip the Bird, HMH Books for Young Readers (coming Nov. 1, 2016)

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Now onto the giveaway!
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Hope you enjoyed this interview! Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.
~ Kester