Thursday, May 28, 2020

GUEST POST: "I Never Went to School in My Pajamas: The Story of a Homeschooled Author" by Kristiana Sfirlea

Hi, everyone! My name is Kristiana Sfirlea, and I am the author of Legend of the Storm Sneezer, a middle grade fantasy involving time travel and things that go bump in the night. Oh, and I was homeschooled.

Once upon a time, that statement would’ve drawn out the usual reactions: 1) The dubious, “How did you socialize?” 2) The horror-struck, “Did you go crazy spending that much time with your family?” and—my personal favorite—3) The secretly wistful, “Did you get to do school in your jammies?”

Reactions such as these were once pinnacles of the homeschooling experience. Amazing what a world-wide pandemic can do to even the longest-standing traditions. What was originally thought of as a peculiar subgroup of students across the U.S. is now, for the moment, the majority. (That maniacal laughter you hear in the background? That isn’t the sound of a thousand vindicated homeschoolers. Honest!) But in all seriousness, homeschooling is no walk in the park.

Actually, I take that back. My mom took us on many walks in the park to explore science lessons with our own hands, and it was the best!

My point is, homeschooling is hard work and a big responsibility. So, to all the homeschoolers out there—parents and kids—who are experiencing this form of teaching for the first time, I’d like to encourage you. I’d like to share how homeschooling helped make me the author that I am.

The Guidance of Personal Attention

My siblings and I have very different interests. My sister is a hairdresser and a mom of three. My brother manages a storage facility and has crazy good—and much sought after—skills in tech support. I’m a full-time writer. We’re all proud of what we do, and we knew early on what we wanted to be when we grew up. How? Because our amazing mom (and incredibly supportive dad) worked with us daily, paid attention to our strengths and growing interests, and helped us focus and excel in those areas.

No, that doesn’t mean my mom let me skip Math lessons just because I liked English ten zillion times better. It means she made sure I learned the basics of all my subjects but encouraged me specially in my writing.

The power of a parent’s personal attention cannot be overstated. By helping me discover my passions and talents, my homeschooling mom helped shape the course of my life at an age where most kids aren’t thinking any further than what’s for lunch that day.

Love of Reading

Reading changes lives. It wakes up the brain to imagination and creativity. It enables you to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and see things from another perspective. It opens the door to compassion and empathy. It challenges you to form opinions and support them with a sound mind.

Reading. Is. Important.

And reading is often forgotten about.

But not by my mom. She read books out loud to us during lunch every day. We read books out loud at night as a family. We checked out so many books at the library that we had our own dedicated box in the back. She made reading fun.

But more than that, she made reading essential. And in doing so, she armed her kids with one of life’s greatest weapons: the ability to pursue knowledge.

My love of reading, which grew its roots during my homeschooling years, has blossomed into a love for creating books aimed at reminding readers why reading is so important. And it’s a calling I thank God for every day.

Thinking Outside the Box

Homeschoolers are oddballs.

You can say it. We really don’t mind! The truth is, homeschoolers do come across as different. We’re known for branching out from mainstream ideas and accepted structures. Independent thinking comes more easily when you aren’t part of a system or lunchroom clique or the expectations of stereotypes.

I think deep down every person wants the world to know that they are their own unique self with their own unique thoughts and their own unique gifts to benefit the lives of those around them. But not everyone grows up in an environment that encourages such thinking. I was blessed to grow up in such an environment through homeschooling.

As a writer, this independent mindset gave me the joy and freedom to spill my imagination across the page as wildly and as passionately as I could without fear of rejection because I had always been encouraged to be myself and nothing less. Of course, the reality of an adult is that I was rejected many times while querying my manuscript on the very basis of my story’s imagination (“too quirky” was a phrase that came up all too often during my years in the query trenches). But because as a child, my mother—my teacher—embraced my imagination, nurturing and encouraging it, teaching me through her faith in the God who gave it to me that it was something good, I was able to persevere through every rejection. My confidence shook and my heart broke over and over, but I kept going.

And the amazing agent and amazing publisher I found along the way were worth every blow to my ego. With their support, I hope to produce all sorts of quirky, imaginative stories that will help kids unlock their own imaginations and dare to think differently.

Self-motivation and Discipline

I never went to school in my pajamas.

Disclaimer: There is nothing wrong with homeschooling in your pajamas. But for me, personally, whenever someone who went to “regular” school asked me if I did school in my jammies, the righteous indignation that flared inside me made me feel like a ten-foot bonfire. What did they think homeschooling was? An excuse to laze around the house in our PJs, watching TV and doing our schoolwork whenever we “felt” like it? Like weekdays were one big extension of Saturday mornings? “We have structure!” I wanted to scream. “My mom gives us chores and schedules and goals everyday—that’s how you get stuff done!” I was furious that my friends thought my schooling experience was inferior…and madder still that they seemed to want this “pajama schooling” lifestyle themselves.

Yes, I learned all the basics of Math, Science, English, Social Studies, History, and Geography through homeschooling. But my mom didn’t just teach us school skills. She taught us life skills. She taught us all about self-motivation, discipline, and setting goals. Her dream as a homeschooling mom wasn’t to simply build our minds. She wanted to build our character and our faith so that her well-loved and well-taught children could step into the world as thoughtful, purpose-driven adults.

Her lessons led to me receiving my first offer of publication for Legend of the Storm Sneezer at age 17. Those same lessons helped me see that it wasn’t the right fit for me, that there was something even better if I had patience and the perseverance to work for it. And many years later, what my mom taught me during homeschool would help me recognize the right offer of publication when it came along.

So, if you’re out there trying homeschooling for the first time and you feel overwhelmed, don’t quit! Keep at it. If I could redo my schooling experience a hundred times, I would choose homeschooling every time. And remember, it isn’t about keeping a perfect schedule. It’s about learning—and learning to love learning in every moment.

And if you love learning in your pajamas, go for it! No judgement here. ;)

Teacher Guide

Some of my best memories from being homeschooled are of the teacher guides and Unit Studies my mom put together for the books we were reading. So of course I had to construct one for my MG fantasy novel,Legend of the Storm Sneezer!My sincerest hope is that this guide will be a tool in helping families experience the same joy of homeschooling that I had all my school years with my own family.

Legend Seeker. Part-time Ghost Hunter. Time Traveler.

Thirteen-year-old Rose Skylar sneezed a magical storm cloud at birth, and it’s followed her around ever since. But when "Stormy" causes one too many public disasters, Rose is taken to Heartstone, an asylum for unstable magic. Its location? The heart of a haunted forest whose trees have mysteriously turned to stone.

They say the ghosts are bound to the woods … then why does Rose see them drifting outside the windows at night? And why is there a graveyard on the grounds filled with empty graves? Guided by her future selves via time traveling letters, Rose and Marek—best friend and potential figment of her imagination—must solve the mystery of the specters and the stone trees before the ghosts unleash a legendary enemy that will make their own spooks look like a couple of holey bed sheets and destroy Heartstone Asylum.

Letters from the future are piling up. Rose can’t save Heartstone herself. However, five of herselves, a magical storm cloud, and a guardian angel who might very well be imaginary? Now that’s a silver lining.

But will they find what killed the ghosts before what killed the ghosts finds them? -

Barnes & Noble -

As an author, Kristiana Sfirlea knows what it means to get in character. She spent five years volunteering as a historical reenactor and trying her best not to catch her skirts on fire as a colonial girl from the 1700s (leading cause of death at the time next to childbirth). Working at a haunted house attraction, she played a jumping werewolf statue, a goblin in a two-way mirror, and a wall-scratcher—so if she’s standing very still, growling, checking her reflection, or filing her nails on your wall, be alarmed. Those are hard habits to break.

Kristiana's speculative flash fiction has been published by Havok, and her debut novel Legend of the Storm Sneezer is a whimsical Middle Grade fantasy involving time travel and things that go bump in the night. She dreams of the day she can run her own mobile bookstore. Or haunted house attraction. Or both. Look out, world—here comes a haunted bookmobile! (And this is precisely why writers should never become Uber drivers.) She loves Jesus, her family, and imaginary life with her characters.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 74: Authors Josh Berk and Saundra Mitchell

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Authors Josh Berk and Saundra Mitchell tell the terrifying tale of how they collaborated to write CAMP MURDERFACE. We talk about how they met, tips for working on a project with another author, the importance of being dumpster rat-y, finding time to write (even while sleeping), being a phone psychic, launching a book during the quarantine for COVID-19, an actual ghost story, and so much more.

Saundra Mitchell has been a phone psychic, a car salesperson, a denture-deliverer and a layout waxer. She’s dodged trains, endured basic training, and hitchhiked from Montana to California. The author of nearly twenty books for tweens and teens, Mitchell’s work includes SHADOWED SUMMER, THE VESPERTINE series, ALL THE THINGS WE DO IN THE DARK, a novel forthcoming from HarperTEEN and the forthcoming CAMP MURDERFACE series with Josh Berk. She is the editor of three anthologies for teens, DEFY THE DARK, ALL OUT and OUT NOW. She always picks truth; dares are too easy.

Josh Berk is the author of the teen novels THE DARK DAYS OF HAMBURGER HALPIN (named a best book for teens of 2010 by Kirkus Reviews and and GUY LANGMAN: CRIME SCENE PROSCRASTINATOR (2012) as well as the middle grade mysteries STRIKE THREE YOU'RE DEAD and SAY IT AIN'T SO.

Summer camp turns sinister in Camp Murderface, a spooky middle grade read perfect for fans of scare masters like R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike.

The year: 1983. The place: Ohio. The camp: Scary as heck.

Camp Sweetwater is finally reopening, three decades after it mysteriously shut down. Campers Corryn Quinn and Tez Jones have each had more than enough of their regular lives—they’re so ready to take their summer at Sweetwater by storm.

But before they can so much as toast one marshmallow, strange happenings start…happening. Can they survive the summer? Or will Camp Sweetwater shut down for good this time—with them inside?

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 73: Author Claire Swinarski

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Claire Swinarski and I discuss Wisconsin badgers, Nancy Drew, Star Wars, and parking lot brawls. We also make time to chat about her new book, WHAT HAPPENS NEXT, her amazing podcast MAKING A MIDDLE GRADE, her success as a freelance writer, time management, advocating for your author career, the importance of her spiritual faith in her writing, and so much more.

Claire Swinarski is the author of multiple books, including What Happens Next (coming in 2020 from HarperCollins) and Girl, Arise: A Catholic Feminist’s Invitation to Live Boldly, Love Your Faith, and Change the World. She’s also the founder of the Catholic Feminist Podcast, a top-ranked spirituality podcast with half a million downloads that discusses the intersection between faith and women’s issues. She has degrees in journalism and political science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and her writing has been featured in The Washington Post, Seventeen, Milwaukee Magazine, and many other publications. She lives just outside of Milwaukee, WI with her husband and two kids.

In this heartfelt and accessible middle grade novel perfect for fans of The Thing About Jellyfish, a young girl throws herself into solving a local mystery to keep from missing her older sister, who has been sent to an eating disorder treatment facility.
Astronomy-obsessed Abby McCourt should be thrilled about the solar eclipse her small town of Moose Junction is about to witness, but she’s not. After her older sister Blair was sent away for an eating disorder, Abby has been in a funk.
Desperate to dull the pain her sister’s absence has left, she teams up with a visiting astronomer to help track down his long-lost telescope. Though this is supposed to take Abby’s mind off the distance between her and Blair, what she finds may bring her closer to her sister than she ever thought possible.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 72: Editor Sarah LaPolla

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Sarah LaPola shares her thoughts on editing, writing, and publishing based on more than a decade of experience as a literary agent. We discuss her freelance editorial services and query consultations, as well as the business of being an author in the time of COVID-19. And we do a deep dive on perfecting a novel’s opening, how to fix its lagging middle, writing proactive characters with a life beyond the page, avoiding stereotypes and clichés, enhancing a story’s theme without becoming preachy, and so much more.

Click here to read Sarah LaPolla's original 7 Question interview.

Sarah LaPolla is a former literary agent with over a decade of experience in the publishing industry. Starting in the foreign rights department at Curtis Brown, Ltd. in 2008, she became an agent there in 2010. Most recently, she was a literary agent at Bradford Literary Agency, where she continued to work with talented MG, YA, and Adult fiction writers.

Sarah received her MFA in Creative Writing (Nonfiction) from The New School in 2008, and has a BA in Creative Writing from Ithaca College. In 2020, she started Next Chapter Editorial and Consulting, and regularly teaches writing workshops and offers consulting services through Inked Voices, Manuscript Academy, and various writing programs and conferences.

Editorial areas of expertise include the following markets/genres: Young Adult fiction (all genres); Middle Grade fiction (all genres); Adult (Literary Fiction; Science Fiction; Low/Contemporary Fantasy; Paranormal/Supernatural; Horror; Upmarket/Contemporary fiction; Mystery/Suspense; Memoir/Essay.

Sarah *would not* be the best match for non-fiction (with the exception of memoir), category romance or erotica, children's books (younger than MG), high/epic fantasy, or religious/spiritual books.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 71: Author Carlie Sorosiak

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Could mankind one day communicate directly with prairie dogs? If so, what will we talk about and will they appreciate their depiction in INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL? Carlie Sorosiak and I discuss this and many other issues, including keeping academia and writing in perspective, imagining the perspective of animals, dystopian fiction in the time of COVID-19, the importance of not making assumptions about people based on appearance, her book, I, COSMO, and so much more.

Carlie Sorosiak grew up in North Carolina and holds two master's degrees: one in English from the University of Oxford and another in creative writing and publishing from City, University of London. Her life goals include traveling to all seven continents and fostering many polydactyl cats. She currently splits her time between the United States and the United Kingdom, hoping to gain an accent like Madonna's. Visit her online at

The story of one dog's attempt to save his family, become a star, and eat a lot of bacon. Cosmo's family is falling apart. And it's up to Cosmo to keep them together. He knows exactly what to do. There's only one problem. Cosmo is a Golden Retriever. Wise, funny, and filled with warmth and heart, this is Charlotte's Web meets Little Miss Sunshine - a moving, beautiful story, with a wonderfully unique hero, from an incredible new voice in middle grade fiction - perfect for fans of Rebecca Stead and Kate DiCamillo.

"I adored this, a genuine feel-good delight with the most lovable animal narrator I've read in ages." - Fiona Noble, The Bookseller

"Like any good dog, Cosmo is so funny, friendly, and loyal that he quickly became a dear friend, so much so that when I finished reading the book, I missed hearing his voice and picturing his shaggy face. Come back, Cosmo!" - Jim Gorant, author of The New York Times bestseller The Lost Dogs

"This gem has all the warmth and joy of Homeward Bound and is making me want to get a Golden Retriever immediately." Catherine Doyle, author of The Storm Keeper's Island

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 70: Author Mitali Perkins

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Mitali Perkins and I chat about her classic novel, RICKSHAW GIRL, its uncertain and difficult path to publication, its steady rise to prominence, and the new film based upon it. We also talk about the ups and downs of her career writing for children, cultural differences and code switching, the benefits of rereading favorite books, the benefits of arranged marriages, my discomfort with Nicholas Spark’s emotionality, flying saucers, Pennywise the Dancing Clown, and more. Note: This was recorded before the quarantine for COVID-19, so we don’t discuss it.

Mitali Perkins has written many novels for young readers, including You Bring the Distant Near (nominated for the National Book Award) Rickshaw Girl (a NYPL best 100 Book for children in the past 100 years, film adaptation coming in 2020), Bamboo People (an ALA Top 10 YA novel), and Tiger Boy, which won the South Asia Book Award for Younger Readers. She currently writes and resides in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Daring and determined, teenaged girl Naima longs to earn money for her poor Bangladeshi family, but her unrivaled artistic talent is of little use. When her father grows gravely ill, Naima feels she has no choice but to leave her small village for the bright lights of Dhaka.

In the big city, Naima finds the same the economic, societal, and gender pressures faced by most young girls in Bangladesh. She cleverly disguises herself as a boy and takes the difficult job of a rickshaw puller.  When her gender is revealed and her livelihood vanishes, Naima finds an unconventional – and transcendental - solution to her problems. Based on the acclaimed novel by Mitali Perkins.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 69: Literary Agent Kristy Hunter

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Kristy Hunter and I discuss her career thus far from her education at the Columbia Publishing Course to her time as an editorial intern as well as a publicist to being mentored by Deidre Knight and becoming a successful literary agent with The Knight Agency. We talk about how she evaluates queries and submissions and her approach to working with her clients. She offers excellent advice on author voice, creating atmospheric settings, strengthening characterization, and so much more. And we can’t help chatting a little about quarantine for COVID-19 and its potential impact on publishing.

As a graduate of Vanderbilt University and The Columbia Publishing Course, Kristy Hunter began her publishing career in New York City—first as an editorial intern at Bloomsbury Children’s Books and then as a book publicist at Grove/Atlantic and Random House Children’s Books. When she moved to the agenting side of the industry, she was closely mentored by Deidre Knight, president and founder of The Knight Agency, and her first co-agented project sold at auction soon after. As an associate agent, Kristy enjoys being able to bring a unique perspective to her clients thanks to her diverse publishing background. When she’s not curled up with a fantastic book or manuscript, she can be found kickboxing or hiking with her dog and is an active member of SCBWI.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

The Book of David: Chapter One read by Robert Kent

WARNING: This recording is for ADULT LISTENERS and packs profuse profanity:) 

Quarantine for COVID-19 has given me the unexpected gift of perspective and free time. I always wanted to record at least one audiobook, and I always figured I'd read THE BOOK OF DAVID... someday... when I have time. To keep from crawling the walls (for now), I've checked off this bucket list item.

I may yet record the entire serial novel in a studio and have it professionally produced, but I'd for sure charge for that. Me reading only the first of five installments in this tale of terror in my office while birds chirp outside my window and the bell on my cat's collar occasionally jingles as I do terrible accents... that, I'll give you for free. But I'd encourage you to also seek out my actual audiobooks narrated by professionals.

If you'd prefer just to enjoy the story without my voice (understandable), the ebook of Chapter One of THE BOOK OF DAVID is always free to download (you could read along to spot errors I made while performing my own book).

This might be a crazy thing to do, but it was also a very fun thing to do, and it's a crazy time. I hope you're taking care of yourself, Esteemed Audience, and I hope you dig this amateur audiobook of mine. Here's some more info about THE BOOK OF DAVID:

The Walters family has just purchased the perfect home if only it weren't located in the small hick town of Harrington, Indiana, and if only it weren't haunted. David Walters is an atheist now, but his minister father taught him from a young age that Satan would one day deceive all mankind by pretending his demons were extraterrestrials. The day the Walters family moves in, they spot a flying saucer outside their new home. Things only get stranger from there. David Walters is about to learn what it means to be truly haunted, forcing him to confront his past, fight for his family, his soul, and his sanity.

This is the first of five chapters in THE BOOK OF DAVID, a serialized tale of terror from Robert Kent, author of ALL TOGETHER NOW: A ZOMBIE STORY and PIZZA DELIVERY.

This horror story is intended for a mature audience. It's filled with adult language, situations, and themes. It's in no way appropriate for the easily offended or younger readers of BANNEKER BONES AND THE GIANT ROBOT BEES.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 68: Author Joy McCullough

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Joy McCullough and I talk about her transition from playwright to young adult author and how she kept focus on her long journey to publication, as well as her new middle grade novel, A FIELD GUIDE TO GETTING LOST. She shares the story of how she met her second literary agent, some advice on tending to your mental health, some tips for effectively using social media without over sharing, some tales from her time as a Pitch Wars mentor, and so much more.

Joy McCullough’s debut young adult novel Blood Water Paint (Penguin) won the Washington State and Pacific Northwest books awards, as well as honors such as the National Book Award longlist, finalist for the ALA Morris Award, a Publishers Weekly Flying Start and four starred reviews. Her debut middle grade novel, A Field Guide to Getting Lost (Simon and Schuster) releases on April 14, 2020, and is a Junior Library Guild Selection.

She writes books and plays from her home in the Seattle area, where she lives with her husband and two children. She studied theater at Northwestern University, fell in love with her husband atop a Guatemalan volcano, and now spends her days surrounded by books and kids and chocolate.

Sutton is having robot problems. Her mini-bot is supposed to be able to get through a maze in under a minute, but she must have gotten something wrong in the coding. Which is frustrating for a science-minded girl like Sutton—almost as frustrating as the fact that her mother probably won’t be home in time for Sutton’s tenth birthday.

Luis spends his days writing thrilling stories about brave kids, but there’s only so much inspiration you can find when you’re stuck inside all day. He’s allergic to bees, afraid of dogs, and has an overprotective mom to boot. So Luis can only dream of daring adventures in the wild.

Sutton and Luis couldn’t be more different from each other. Except now that their parents are dating, these two have to find some common ground. Will they be able to navigate their way down a path they never planned on exploring?

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 67: Author Rob Harrell

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Rob Harrell and I discuss how the launch of his newest novel, WINK, has been impacted by the quarantine for COVID-19 along with most other aspects of writing life. He shares how he met his literary agent and how they work together on his novels. We talk about his becoming a professional cartoonist with multiple syndicated strips, the upcoming movie RUMBLE based on his novel MONSTER ON THE HILL, the qualities of Hoosier men named Rob, and so much more.

Rob Harrell wrote and drew the syndicated daily comic strip Big Top through 2007 and currently creates the long-running strip Adam@Home.

Harrell wrote and illustrated the graphic novel Monster on the Hill, published by Top Shelf. The story of a town with a down-on-his-luck monster, Monster was the inspiration for the animated movie Rumble (2021) from Paramount Pictures.

Next, Harrell wrote the Life of Zarf trilogy of hybrid novels. Published by Dial Books for Young Readers, they tell the story of Zarf Belford, a troll attending middle school in a fairy tale world.

Harrell’s next book is Wink, the funny but heartfelt story of Ross Maloy, a seventh-grader dealing with a horrible diagnosis and cancer treatments – all while trying to just blend in and survive middle school.

As an illustrator, Harrell has worked with clients including Mad, Simon and Schuster, American Greetings, Time, Inc. and Volkswagen. His figurative paintings have been shown in solo shows in San Francisco, Austin and Indianapolis.

Rob lives in Zionsville, Indiana with his wife Amber and their two dogs, Cooper and Kasey.

A hilarious and heartwrenching story about surviving middle school--and an unthinkable diagnosis--while embracing life's weirdness.

Ross Maloy just wants to be a normal seventh grader. He doesn't want to lose his hair, or wear a weird hat, or deal with the disappearing friends who don't know what to say to "the cancer kid." But with his recent diagnosis of a rare eye cancer, blending in is off the table.

Based on Rob Harrell's real life experience, and packed with comic panels and spot art, this incredibly personal and poignant novel is an unforgettable, heartbreaking, hilarious, and uplifting story of survival and finding the music, magic, and laughter in life's weirdness.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 66: Author Anne Bustard

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Anne Bustard and I discuss her newest book, BLUE SKIES, and its 20-year journey from a picture book to a middle grade novel. She tells me about her life as a perpetual student, earning a BS, MLIS, PHD, and an MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts, as well as devising her own learning program utilizing WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL by Donald Maass. We talk about her time as an elementary school teacher and a bookstore owner, how attending a writing workshop taught by previous guest Kathi Appelt changed her life, and so much more.

Born in Hawaii, author Anne Bustard is still a beach girl at heart. If she could, she would walk by the ocean every day, wear flip-flops, and eat nothing but fresh pineapple, macadamia nuts and chocolate. Growing up, Anne took years of hula lessons and spent many happy hours wearing a facemask and breathing through a snorkel. Her small sea glass collection from childhood is one of her most treasured possessions.

Anne loves school. And she has a lot of degrees to prove it. Three came from the University of Texas at Austin (BS, MLIS, PhD). Her most recent one, and she believes her last, is an MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults.

Children’s books have always been central to her life. When she taught in elementary schools and universities, she always used literature. Anne co-owned Toad Hall Children’s Bookstore in Austin, Texas, too. As a bookseller, she loved opening up new boxes of books, telling others about them and running a summer writing program for children.

Anne is the author of several works for young readers including award-winners Buddy: The Story of Buddy Holly (Paula Wiseman Books/Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers) and Anywhere but Paradise (Lerner).

In Spring 2020, her next middle grade novel, Blue Skies (Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers) and RAD! her first fiction picture book, illustrated by Daniel Wiseman (Abrams Books for Young Readers) will be published.

Anne recently married her college sweetheart and divides her time between Ontario and Texas.

Ten-year old Glory Bea Bennett believes in miracles. After all, her grandmother—the best matchmaker in the whole county—is responsible for thirty-nine of them so far.

Now, Glory Bea wants a miracle of her own—her daddy’s return.

The war ended three years ago, but Glory Bea’s father never returned from the front in France. Though he was lost on Omaha Beach, deep down in her heart, she believes Daddy is still out there.

When reports that the Texas boxcar from the Merci Train (the “thank you” train)—a train filled with gifts of gratitude from the people of France—will be stopping in Gladiola, Glory Bea just knows daddy will be its surprise cargo.

But miracles, like people, are always changing, until at last they find their way home.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 65: Author Anna Meriano

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Anna Meriano thrills with tales of full contact quidditch, including the time she broke her pelvis, and teases her upcoming book on the subject. We primarily discuss her series LOVE SUGAR MAGIC and the release of its third installment, A MIXTURE OF MISCHIEF. She talks about eating the right cheese at the right time, which introduced her to Cake Literary. She walks me through her interview process and securing a book deal. We also chat about creating rules of magic, keeping track of a large group of characters over a series, inserting joy in diverse stories, parallel universes, and so much more.

Anna Meriano grew up in Houston, Texas, with an older brother and a younger brother but (tragically) no sisters. She graduated from Rice University with a degree in English and earned her MFA in creative writing with an emphasis in writing for children from the New School in New York. She has taught creative writing and high school English and works as a writing tutor. Anna likes reading, knitting, playing full-contact quidditch, and translating English song lyrics into Spanish and vice-versa. Her favorite baked goods are the kind that don’t fly away before you eat them.

Anna Meriano’s unforgettable family of brujas returns for one more serving of amor, azúcar, and magia, in this breakout series that's been called "charming and delectably sweet." (Zoraida Córdova, award-winning author of the Brooklyn Brujas series)

It’s spring break in Rose Hill, Texas, but Leo Logroño has a lot of work to do if she's going to become a full-fledged bruja like the rest of her family.

She still hasn't discovered the true nature of her magical abilities, and that isn’t the only bit of trouble in her life: Her family’s baking heirlooms have begun to go missing, and a new bakery called Honeybees has opened across town, threatening to run Amor y Azúcar right out of business.

What's more, everyone around her seems to have secrets, and none of them want to tell Leo what's going on.

But the biggest secret of all comes when Leo is paid a very surprising visit—by her long-lost Abuelo Logroño. Abuelo promises answers to her most pressing questions and tells Leo he can teach her about her power, about what it takes to survive in a world where threats lurk in the shadows. But can she trust him?

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 64: Author Avi

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Avi and I discuss his career publishing more than 80 books since 1970, winning more awards than I can list, including the Newberry AND two Newberry honors. He tries to convince me writing is just a job and walks me through his process of writing intuitively. He talks candidly about his dysgraphia and gives excellent advice for writing historical fiction, including specifics about language and layering research in narrative. He even reads part of a brand new book he’s currently writing, premiering the passage for the first time anywhere exclusively on the Middle Grade Ninja podcast. Oh, and he tells me about the time he saw a ghost.

Avi is part of a family of writers extending back into the 19th century. Born in 1937 and raised in New York City, Avi was educated in local schools, before going to the Midwest and then back to NYC to complete his education. Starting out as a playwright--while working for many years as a librarian--he began writing books for young people when the first of his kids came along.

His first book was Things That Sometimes Happen, published in 1970, and recently reissued. Since then he has published seventy books. Winner of many awards, including the 2003 Newbery award for Crispin: the Cross of Lead (Hyperion), two Newbery Honors, two Horn Book awards, and an O'Dell award, as well as many children's choice awards, he frequently travels to schools around the country to talk to his readers.

Among his most popular books are Crispin: The Cross of Lead, The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, Nothing but the Truth, the Poppy books, Midnight Magic, and The Fighting Ground.

In 2008 he published The Seer of Shadows (HarperCollins), A Beginning a Muddle and an End (Harcourt), Hard Gold (Hyperion) and Not Seeing is Believing, a one-act play in the collection, Acting Out (Simon and Schuster). Crispin: the End of Time, the third in the Newbery Award-winning series, was published in 2010. City of Orphans was released in 2011, receiving a number of starred reviews. Learn more at Follow Avi on Facebook,, where he shares an inside look at his writing process.

Avi lives in Denver, Colorado, with his wife and family.

Newbery Medalist Avi brings us mud-caked, tent-filled San Francisco in 1848 with a willful heroine who goes on an unintended — and perilous — adventure to save her brother.

Victoria Blaisdell longs for independence and adventure, and she yearns to accompany her father as he sails west in search of real gold! But it is 1848, and Tory isn’t even allowed to go to school, much less travel all the way from Rhode Island to California. Determined to take control of her own destiny, Tory stows away on the ship. Though San Francisco is frenzied and full of wild and dangerous men, Tory finds freedom and friendship there. Until one day, when Father is in the gold fields, her younger brother, Jacob, is kidnapped. And so Tory is spurred on a treacherous search for him in Rotten Row, a part of San Francisco Bay crowded with hundreds of abandoned ships. Beloved storyteller Avi is at the top of his form as he ushers us back to an extraordinary time of hope and risk, brought to life by a heroine readers will cheer for. Spot-on details and high suspense make this a vivid, absorbing historical adventure.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 63: Author Sayantani DasGupta

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Sayantani DasGupta and I discuss her series, KIRANMALA AND THE KINGDOM BEYOND, celebrating the release of its third installment, THE CHAOS CURSE. She shares information about being involved with WE NEED DIVERSE BOOKS. We discuss the importance of representation and how a lack of mirrors can give the misguided impression of a monster, not unlike a vampire. We chat about narrating her own audiobooks, using humor and absurdity to make observations about the world in middle grade fiction, plotting vs pantsing, writing while cooking, in-depth editing, the qualities of a great writers critique group, the glory of knowledge, and so much more.

Sayantani DasGupta is the New York Times bestselling author of the critically acclaimed, Bengali folktale and string theory-inspired Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond books, the first of which—The Serpent’s Secret—was a Bank Street Best Book of the Year, a Booklist Best Middle Grade Novel of the 21st Century, and an EB White Read Aloud Honor Book. Sayantani is a pediatrician by training, but now teaches at Columbia University. When she’s not writing or reading, Sayantani spends time watching cooking shows with her trilingual children and protecting her black Labrador retriever Khushi from the many things that scare him, including plastic bags. She is a team member of We Need Diverse Books, and can be found online at and on Twitter at @sayantani16.

Creating order out of chaos has frightening consequences in this New York Times bestselling series!

Kiranmala must leave the Kingdom Beyond and travel to her hometown of Parsippany to save Prince Lal, who has been spirited to the unlikeliest of places — a tree in the yard of her best-enemy-for-life. She also faces evil serpents (of course!), plus a frightening prophecy about her role in the coming conflict between good and evil. Most troubling of all, though, is the way reality all around her seems to waver and flicker at odd moments. Could it be that the Anti-Chaos Committee’s efforts are causing a dangerous disruption in the multiverse?

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 62: Author Kaela Noel

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Kaela Noel and I discuss in detail how she trained to become an author, found a literary agent, rewrote her book until it was salable, and is now celebrating the release of her debut novel. We talk about worldbuilding and the pigeon research required to add authenticity to COO, as well as creating compelling characters in the story and the surety of being age 10. I ask her thrilling questions about the design and print layout of her book. We agree that both libraries and flying saucers are important and awesome.

Kaela Noel was born in San Francisco and raised in New Jersey. She now lives in Brooklyn, New York where she works as a proofreader and editor. Coo is her first novel.

In this exceptional debut, one young girl’s determination to save the flock she calls family creates a lasting impact on her community and in her heart. Gorgeous and literary, this is an unforgettable animal story about friendship, family, home, and belonging. For readers who love books by Kate DiCamillo and Katherine Applegate.

Ten years ago, an impossible thing happened: a flock of pigeons picked up a human baby who had been abandoned in an empty lot and carried her, bundled in blankets, to their roof. Coo has lived her entire life on the rooftop with the pigeons who saved her. It’s the only home she’s ever known. But then a hungry hawk nearly kills Burr, the pigeon she loves most, and leaves him gravely hurt.

Coo must make a perilous trip to the ground for the first time to find Tully, a retired postal worker who occasionally feeds Coo’s flock, and who can heal injured birds. Tully mends Burr’s broken wing and coaxes Coo from her isolated life. Living with Tully, Coo experiences warmth, safety, and human relationships for the first time. But just as Coo is beginning to blossom, she learns the human world is infinitely more complex—and cruel—than she could have imagined.

This remarkable debut novel will captivate readers from the very first line. Coo examines the bonds that make us family, the possibilities of love, and the importance of being true to yourself. Fans of Katherine Applegate, Kate DiCamillo, and Barbara O’Connor will devour this extraordinary story.