Saturday, October 9, 2021

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 137: Author Gayle Forman

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Gayle Forman and I discuss her career from a journalist for SEVENTEEN to a celebrated YA novelist and the launch of her first MG book, FRANKIE AND BUG. She describes the experience of having IF I STAY adapted into a film and tells an excellent ghost story. We chat about WE ARE INEVITABLE, writing to get out of poverty, how there is no promised land for writers, playlists created for her novels, her writing process, life during the pandemic, dealing with anxiety, and more. Oh, and she mentions living within a five-block radius of authors Libba Bray, R.J. Palacio, E. Lockhart, and Jacqueline Woodson.

Award-winning author and journalist Gayle Forman has written several bestselling novels for young adults, including the
Just One Series, I Was HereWhere She Went and the #1 New York Times bestseller If I Stay, which has been translated into more than 40 languages and in 2014 was adapted into a major motion picture. Gayle published Leave Me, her first novel starring adults, in 2016 and her latest novel I Have Lost My Way was released in March of 2018. Gayle’s essays and nonfiction work has appeared in publications like The New York TimesElleThe Nation and Time. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband and daughters.

Gayle Forman’s middle-grade debut!

It’s summer, and all ten-year-old Bug wants to do is go to the beach with her older brother and hang out with the locals—just like they have for the last two years. But now Danny wants his space, and Bug is stuck hanging out with their neighbor Phillip’s nephew Frankie, who has come for a visit. After a bumpy start, Frankie and Bug join forces to find the Midnight Marauder—a criminal on the loose in the L.A. area. It makes for a fun summer until but violence strikes close to home after Uncle Phillip is attacked. As Frankie and Bug turn their attention to solving this mystery, what they learn about themselves is far more important—family can be whatever you make it, love is stronger than blood, and it’s up to all of us to hurry toward justice.

Saturday, October 2, 2021

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 136: Author Katherine Paterson

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Two-time Newberry Award winner and one of my childhood heroes, Katherine Patterson, and I discuss how she transformed from a “mediocre writer” to a Living Legend (so designated by the Library of Congress in 2000). We chat about her newest novel, BIRDIE’S BARGAIN, how Hollywood demanded a sequel to BRIDGE TO TERABETHIA, the time she kissed Robert Patrick, the importance of maintaining the feeling of childhood injustice, writing sparse descriptions, the mysteries of inspiration, the influence of THE YEARLING, the nature of God, and so, so much more, and we have a whole lot of fun doing it.

Katherine Paterson is the author of more than 30 books, including 17 novels for children and young people. She has won the Newbery Medal twice, for 
Bridge to Terabithia in 1978 and Jacob Have I Loved in 1981. Her book The Master Puppeteer won the National Book Award in 1977; The Great Gilly Hopkins won the National Book Award in 1979 and was also a Newbery Honor Book. For the body of her work she received the Hans Christian Anderson Medal in 1998, the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award in 2006, the NSK Neustadt Award in 2007, the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award (Children's Literature Legacy Award) in 2013, and the E. B. White Award in 2019. In 2000 she was named a Living Legend by the Library of Congress. Paterson is a vice-president of the National Children's Book and Literary Alliance and is a member of the board of trustees for Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives in Montpelier, Vermont with her dog, Pixie.

In a poignant and unflinching new realistic novel from the Newbery Medal–winning author of Bridge to Terabithia, a ten-year-old girl makes a deal with God for her father's safe return from the Iraq War.

Birdie has questions for God. For starters, why couldn’t God roll history back to September 10, 2001, and fix things—so the next day was an ordinary sunny day and not the devastating lead-in to two wars? Daddy has already been to Iraq twice. Now he’s going again, and Birdie is sure he’ll die. At the very least, she won’t see him again for a year, and everything will not be OK. (Why do grown-ups lie?) To save money, she, Mom, and baby Billy have moved to Gran’s, where shy Birdie must attend a new school, and no one but bossy Alicia Marie Suggs welcomes her. Doesn’t God remember how hard it was for Birdie to make friends at Bible Camp? Counselor Ron taught about Judgment there—and the right way to believe. Has Birdie been praying wrong? Why else would God break their bargain? Readers of all faiths and backgrounds, especially children of military families, will identify with and root for the unforgettable Birdie, given inimitable voice by a master storyteller.

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 135: Author Rajani LaRocca

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Rajani LaRocca and I discuss the importance of finding a community of writers and how that led her to publication, as well as her newest novel, MUCH ADO ABOUT BASEBALL. We talk about the “slight fairytale” that led her to finding her literary agent, her time as a pitch wars mentor, plantsing, coordinating publicity and school visits (even during a pandemic), her Stem Women in KidLit podcast, the value of an author’s time, how doctoring makes her a better writer, and so much more.

Rajani LaRocca was born in India, raised in Kentucky, and now lives in the Boston area with her wonderful family and impossibly cute dog. A graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Medical School, she spends her time writing novels and picture books, practicing medicine, and baking too many sweet treats. She is also the cohost of the STEM Women in KidLit Podcast. Her middle grade debut, Midsummer’s Mayhem (Yellow Jacket/Little Bee Books), an Indian-American mashup of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and competitive baking, was an Indies Introduce selection, an Indie Next pick, a Kirkus Best Middle Grade Book of 2019, and a 2020 Massachusetts Book Award Honor title. Her middle grade novel-in-verse, Red, White, and Whole (Quill Tree Books/HarperCollins, 2/201), has received multiple starred reviews and is a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection and a Spring 2021 Indie Next Top Ten Title. Her third middle grade novel, Much Ado About Baseball (Yellow Jacket/Little Bee Books) will publish in June 2021 and is Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection. Her debut picture book, Seven Golden Rings: A Tale of Music and Math (Lee & Low, 2020) is set in ancient India and introduces the basics of binary numbers. It received multiple starred reviews and is the winner of the 2021 Mathical Book Prize for grades 3-5. She is also the author of the forthcoming picture books Bracelets For Brothers (Charlesbridge, April 2021), Where Three Oceans Meet (Abrams, 2021), The Secret Code Inside You (Little Bee Books, September 2021), I’ll Go and Come Back (Candlewick, 2022), Masala Chai, Fast and Slow (Candlewick, 2023), and more. Learn more about her at and on Twitter and Instagram @rajanilarocca.

Twelve-year-old Trish can solve tough math problems and throw a mean fastball. But because of her mom’s new job, she’s now facing a summer trying to make friends in a new town. That isn’t easy, and her mom is too busy to notice how miserable Trish is. At her first baseball practice, Trish realizes one of her teammates is Ben, the sixth-grade math prodigy she beat in the spring Math Puzzler Championships. Everyone around them thinks that with their shared love of math and baseball, it’s only logical that they’ll become friends, but Ben makes it clear he still hasn’t gotten over losing and can’t stand her.
Ben hasn’t played baseball in two years, and he doesn’t want to play now—but he has to, thanks to losing a bet with his best friend. Once Ben realizes Trish is on the team, he knows he can’t quit and be embarrassed by her again. To make matters worse, their team is terrible. 
Then both kids meet Rob, an older kid who smacks home runs without breaking a sweat. Rob tells them about his family’s store, which sells unusual snacks that’ll make them better ballplayers. They’re dubious, but willing to try almost anything to help their team. 
When booklets of mysterious math puzzles claiming to reveal the “ultimate answer” arrive in Trish and Ben’s mailboxes, they each start solving the puzzles, first on their own and then together, and find themselves becoming closer. And suddenly, their baseball team becomes unstoppable. Trish and Ben are happy to keep riding the wave of good luck . . . until they get to a puzzle they can’t solve, with tragic consequences. Can they find the “ultimate answer,” or will they strike out when it counts the most?
Told in alternating voices, this companion to Midsummer’s Mayhem is a fresh take on Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing.

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 134: Author Jessica Vitalis

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Jessica Vitalis and I chat about her debut novel, THE WOLF’S CURSE. And we have a detailed discussion about the six-figure, two-book deal her agent, Sara Crowe, negotiated for her. We also talk about how Erin Entrada Kelley fell in love with Jessica’s book and helped her secure that vital representation. And we chat about the time Jessica was visited by a ghost, how to write an omniscient narrator, researching to help with fantasy worldbuilding, and a lot of other great stuff you’re going to love hearing about.

Jessica Vitalis is a Columbia MBA-wielding writer specializing in middle grade literature. An American expat, she now lives in Canada with her husband and two precocious daughters. She loves traveling, sailing, and scuba diving, but when she's at home she can usually be found recording book talks for Magic in the Middle and changing the batteries in her heated socks. Her debut novel, The Wolf's Curse, will be published September 21, 2021 by Greenwillow/HarperCollins with a second book to follow.

Shunned by his fearful village, a twelve-year-old apprentice embarks on a surprising quest to clear his name with a mythic—and dangerous—wolf following closely at his heels. Jessica Vitalis’s debut is a gorgeous, voice-driven literary fantasy about family, fate, and long-held traditions. The Wolf’s Curse will engross readers of The Girl Who Drank the Moon and A Wish in the Dark. Gauge’s life has been cursed since the day he cried Wolf. The superstitious villagers believe the invisible Great White Wolf brings death. If Gauge can see the Wolf, then he must be in league with it. So instead of playing with friends in the streets or becoming his grandpapa’s partner in the carpentry shop, Gauge must go into hiding. He helps his grandpapa in secret and is allowed out of the house only under the cover of night. Then the Wolf comes for his grandpapa, and for the first time, Gauge is left all alone, with a bounty on his head and the Wolf at his heels. When a young feather collector named Roux offers Gauge assistance, he is eager for the help. But soon, the two orphans are forced to question everything they have ever believed about their town, about the Wolf, and about death itself. Narrated by the sly, crafty Wolf, Jessica Vitalis’s debut novel is a vivid and literary tale about family, friendship, belonging, and grief. The Wolf’s Curse will captivate readers of Laurel Snyder’s Orphan Island and Molly Knox Ostertag’s The Witch Boy. “I am obsessed with this story!” ~Newbery Medalist Erin Entrada Kelly

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 133: Literary Agent Becky LeJeune

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Becky LeJeune and I chat about how she went from being a criminal justice major while working in a Walden Books to an editor and now a literary agent with the Bond Literary Agency. We talk about how she evaluates manuscripts, why you don’t want to convince an agent to represent a genre they’re not currently selling in, advice about finding comp titles, asking why the author is the best person to tell a particular story, our mutual love for horror and haunted houses, the type of writer behavior that might scare an agent, and so, so much more in a far-ranging discussion stuffed with valuable information.

Becky LeJeune met Sandra Bond at the Denver Publishing Institute when she was a student there in 2007. After DPI, she spent 2 years working as the managing editor for a cookbook imprint, and then 5 years as an acquisitions editor at The History Press before joining Sandra at BLA in 2014.

She is interested in adult and teen general fiction, horror, mystery/thriller, historical fiction, science fiction and fantasy,  and cookbooks.

Becky is open to queries through:

Saturday, September 4, 2021

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 132: Author Sara Pennypacker

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Sara Pennypacker and I discuss tips for writing from the perspective of a fox in her long-anticipated sequel to the classic novel PAX, PAX: JOURNEY HOME. We chat about how she interviews animals and how she addresses darker subjects such as the full cost of war in children’s literature. We also talk about the novelization of SHARK TALE, how focusing on an injustice often leads to discovering a story’s theme, the critical role an author for children must play, the principal of oneness, the importance of remembering the story is boss, and so much more.

Sara Pennypacker was a painter before becoming a writer, and has two absolutely fabulous children who are now grown. She has written over twenty children's books including Pax (illustrated by Jon Klassen), Here In The Real World, the Clementine and Waylan series (both illustrated by Marla Frazee); Stuart's Cape and Stuart Goes to School (both illustrated by Martin Matje), Meet the Dullards, and others. Sara splits her time between Cape Cod, Massachusetts and Florida
 She divides her time between Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and Florida. You can visit her online at

From bestselling and award-winning author Sara Pennypacker comes the long-awaited sequel to Pax; this is a gorgeously crafted, utterly compelling novel about chosen families and the healing power of love.

It’s been a year since Peter and his pet fox, Pax, have seen each other. Once inseparable, they now lead very different lives.

Pax and his mate, Bristle, have welcomed a litter of kits they must protect in a dangerous world. Meanwhile Peter—newly orphaned after the war, racked with guilt and loneliness—leaves his adopted home with Vola to join the Water Warriors, a group of people determined to heal the land from the scars of the war.

When one of Pax's kits falls desperately ill, he turns to the one human he knows he can trust. And no matter how hard Peter tries to harden his broken heart, love keeps finding a way in. Now both boy and fox find themselves on journeys toward home, healing—and each other, once again.

As he did for Pax, Jon Klassen, New York Times bestseller, Caldecott medalist, and two-time Caldecott Honoree, has created stunning jacket and interior illustrations.

Thursday, September 2, 2021

GUEST POST: "Help! My Novel Falls Between Genres" by Lisa Williams Kline

Maybe you’ve written a novel about a thirteen or fourteen-year-old and you’ve been sending it out and getting responses from editors that your story “falls between genres.” What does that mean, and what can you do?

That happened to me, and here’s that story.

I enjoy writing for tweens, or thirteen or fourteen-year-olds, because this is the age when we wear our hearts on our sleeves, when every emotion feels so vivid. It’s a time when many young people are first navigating experiences on their own without the watchful eyes of their parents. Because of the intensity of the emotions, I’ve always loved writing about this age.


In marketing my books, though, I’ve found that this age is a tricky one in the publishing world. Middle grade books, aimed at 8- to 12-year-olds, can focus on the family and might feature friendships. YA books, aimed at fifteen-to-eighteen-year-olds, focus more on friendships, the world outside the family, and may include romances. Plus, characters can drive. What happens to the thirteen and fourteen-year-olds? What do they read?


Well, my books, I say. 

But not so fast. I had received some interest in one of my manuscripts, about an eighth grader’s first crush, but received no offers. One editor at a Big 4 publisher really liked it and asked for an R and R (revise and resubmit), but asked me to age up my character. One of the reasons she gave was that that Lizzy, my main character, dissected a fetal pig in eighth grade and she thought of that as high school curriculum. Other editors had some similar kinds of comments. I had the feeling that I was getting close but something was missing and I didn’t know what it was. I tried my hand at the R and R, but in the end, she still rejected the manuscript.

I finally figured out that there are pretty definitive divisions in the publishing world between “upper middle-grade” or “tween” and “YA,” and that my book was in a no-man’s-land between them. My book had some pretty mature themes, such as serious pranks played by some of the students during April Fool’s week, and themes around carrying flour babies, which was a unit in health class to encourage students to think hard about sexual exploration. Even though young people (in my opinion) are thinking about crushes and other more adult things at that time, the gatekeepers – the parents, librarians, and teachers – don’t want those topics in books for an upper middle-grade or tween audience that an eight or nine-year old (in the eight to twelve-year-old category for middle-grade) might be reading.

I get that.

Eventually, I did sell that book and it became One Week of You. I thought, “Aha! I’ve beaten the ‘falling between genres’ problem.” But no, I hadn’t.  One of the first things my editors asked me to do was to make Lizzy, my main character, older. In their offer letter, they said, “We’d like her to be sixteen.”  The reason they gave was simple – YA books sell better than tween books.

I was overwhelmed. I was quite tied to reality–Lizzy has to carry a flour baby for her health class and the model for my story had been my daughters’ eighth grade health classes. Both daughters had to carry five-pound bags of flour everywhere they went for a week during their health classes, to simulate what it might be like to have to care for a baby, and they had been thirteen and in middle school at the time. (The guys had to carry them, too, just in case you think the curriculum was sexist in addition to being kind of silly). At first I didn’t think I could do this. I felt that the maturity level of a sixteen-year-old is quite different from the maturity level of a thirteen-year-old.

But I agreed to try it. So, to do this revision, what did I do?

I had a pretty long talk with my editors. I compromised with them and we decided Lizzy would be fifteen, turning sixteen over the summer. (The book takes place in April). I found out this age is what’s called “young YA.” We decided she would be in ninth grade, but that she was fifteen because she had been held back before kindergarten because she had been a preemie and was very small for her age. I knew two girls who had been friends of my daughters who were a year older than their peers, so this felt authentic. And Lizzy feels self-conscious about this, about being small and being a preemie and being thought to be immature by many of her peers.

I left the science and health class scenes as they were, because they were now both believable curriculum for the ninth grade, freshman year of high school.

Transportation was an issue. In the original draft, I had Lizzy’s big brother taking her to school, picking her up and generally driving her around. Those driving scenes were key to their relationship and my story. I had to figure out a reason he’d still be doing this, if she was fifteen and should at least have taken drivers’ ed, so decided that she had been so busy with cheerleading and other extracurricular activities that she hadn’t had time to take it. I have a friend who corroborated that this has happened to quite a few of her daughter’s busy friends these days, so this felt authentic as well.

Then I went over the entire manuscript, page by page, mentally thinking of Lizzy as fifteen rather than thirteen. Sometimes I read the scenes out loud. A fifteen-year old would interact with her parents differently than a younger character, and also her friends. She would have more independence to use a cell phone, post on social media, and to go places with just her friends. Maturity levels run the gamut in high school, and, because Lizzy was small for her age, it felt all right to me for her to be on the “immature” side of fifteen.

In the end, over a period of several months, I transformed my manuscript from tween to YA. Because of the fairly mature subject matter in my book, it wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be.

And so now Lizzy is fifteen, a freshman in high school, rather than an eighth grader. But she’s still Lizzy, the anxious and forgetful goody-two-shoes character I had originally imagined.  I think of her as a “young” freshman, fairly protected by her family life.

And the truth is, the thirteen and fourteen-year-olds often “read up.” Thirteen and fourteen-year-olds will still see themselves in the reading experience and get to imagine themselves as somewhere slightly further along their journey than they are. So Lizzy’s story is still one that they will enjoy, and my editors are happy that the audience for the book has been expanded.

(To learn more about the differences between genres, read this comprehensive article by an agent I respect named Marie Lamba called “The Key Differences Between Middle Grade and Young Adult.”

Lisa Williams Kline wanted to become a writer ever since second grade, when she wrote and illustrated "The Adventures of Little Horse and Little Lamb," on large-lined paper. A graduate of Duke University, she is now the author of ten books for young people, including Eleanor Hill, winner of the North Carolina Juvenile Literature Award, Princesses of Atlantis, Write Before Your Eyes, One Week of You, the novella One Week of the Heart, and the five-book Sisters in All Seasons series. Lisa lives with her veterinarian husband and a spoiled dog and a talented cat who can open doors (but doesn't close them behind him). Their daughters visit frequently with their dogs and as can be imagined they have a howling good time.

Lizzy has an unforgettable week during the summer before her freshman year of high school in this lighthearted prequel to Lisa Williams Kline’s One Week of You.

For fifteen-year-old Lizzy Winston, summer is the time to do what she loves most: hang with the people who know her best. But this year, summer science camp with her best friend Kelly turns out to bring more drama than she bargained for.

Kelly and Lizzy made a pact years before: they will never act like fools because of boys. They want to become doctors after all, and they don't have time to flirt. But this summer, Lizzy has her first crush and learns that your brain can’t always control your heart—and sometimes choosing one love means losing another.

Old friendships are put to the test as new ones bloom in this sweet novella that reminds us of how much one heart can grow in only a week.

“In One Week of You, Lisa Williams Kline perfectly channels the inner workings of the young adult mind, complete with every quivering ounce of angst, fear, and self-doubt.” -Frank Morelli, author of No Sad Songs

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 131: Author Chris Negron

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Chris Negron and I discuss how he became an author, how his Parkinson’s disease makes him a better writer, and his newest book, THE LAST SUPER CHEF. We wonder if writers ever actually retire and how learning alternate titles of great works might forever change them. We chat about choosing an audiobook narrator, the Atlanta writers club, UFO disclosure, episodic storytelling, politics in fiction, the importance of trusting your reader, and so much more.

Chris Negron is the author of Dan Unmasked, his debut novel released in July, 2020, and The Last Super Chef, coming July, 2021. Both contemporary middle grade novels are published by HarperCollins. says Dan Unmasked “broke my heart” and “needs to be on every library shelf.” Chris grew up outside Buffalo, New York and attended Yale University. His short fiction has appeared in numerous literary journals, with one piece longlisted for the Top (Very) Short Fictions of 2016 by If you spot him in the wild, it’s probably in a comic book shop, which also explains a large portion of Dan Unmasked‘s plot. He lives in Atlanta with his wife, and his writing is represented by Alyssa Jennette at Stonesong.

Family and food take center stage in this heartfelt middle grade story perfect for fans of John David Anderson and Antony John.

For as long as he can remember, Curtis Pith has been obsessed with becoming a chef like Lucas Taylor, host of Super Chef. And Curtis has a secret: Taylor is actually his long-absent father.

So when Taylor announces a kids-only season of Super Chef, Curtis finally sees his chance to meet his dad. But after Curtis wins a spot in the competition and arrives in New York to film the show, nothing goes as smoothly as he expected.

It’s all riding on the last challenge. If Curtis cooks his heart out like he knows he can, he just might go home with the top prize—and the truth.

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 130: Literary Agent Marie Lamba

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Marie Lamba and I discuss her terrible experience with her own novel that led her to become an agent with the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency for the past decade. We talk about the advantages and disadvantages of self-publishing, each of us sharing our tales. We also chat about the pandemic’s effect on publishing (and its future effects), an agent’s average workday, a ghost-adjacent story, the importance of not allowing anything to kill your joy of writing, and so much more.

Marie Lamba ( is author of the young adult novels What I Meant… (Random House), Over My Head and Drawnand of the picture books Green Green: A Community Gardening Story (Farrar Straus Giroux), and A Day So Gray (Clarion). Her articles appear in more than 100 publications, and she's a frequent contributor to Writer’s Digest.  Marie has worked as an editor, an award-winning public relations writer, a book publicist, and has taught classes on novel writing and on author promotion. 

Once you start to notice, colors and reasons for gratitude are everywhere, and that changes everything! Celebrate the hues and comforts of a cozy winter day as a discontented girl at first notices only dull grays and browns in a snowy landscape but is coaxed by her friend to look more closely. Soon she finds orange berries, blue water, purple shadows, and more. Warm friendship and a fresh way of seeing things transform a snow-covered landscape from bleak to beautiful!

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 129: Author John David Anderson

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John David Anderson and I talk about a little bit of everything in this far-ranging conversation between two Hoosier authors who like STAR WARS and Kurt Vonnegut. We chat about Anderson’s newest novel, STOWAWAY, as well as his classic, MS. BIXBY’S LAST DAY. Also discussed: writing two novels a year, leaving your heart on the page, space pirates, communicating messages to young readers, the Grateful Dead, flying saucer disclosure potentially messing with our science fiction, the value of writing during a pandemic, mythological action figures, cloning authors in the future, and so much more.

John David Anderson is hardly ever called John David Anderson. He is called Dave by most people who know him, John by the IRS, and Mr. Anderson whenever he's inside the Matrix. He wishes he could go by J.D., but Salinger beat him to it. If he was a Star Wars character he would want to be a Jedi named Raith Starglider, but knows he would more likely be a used Bantha salesman named Bobba Twinklebeans.

A graduate of Indiana University and the University of Illinois where he majored in reading Moby Dick over and over, Dave "Twinklebeans" Anderson is now the author of several books for middle grade audiences, including Sidekicked, The Dungeoneers, Ms. Bixby's Last Day and Posted. The backs of his novels claim that he is "critically acclaimed." His son thinks he is the best writer that ever lived. His daughter thinks he's just alright. His Mom always seems to think he needs to eat more. This last bit is definitely not true.  

Dave believes in the power of books to enrich young people's lives and help them to ask (and answer) deep questions while simultaneously laughing so hard they snarf soda through their noses. When he eventually grows up he wants to be Indiana Jones. Till then, he wants to be a root beer connoisseur. He lives with his wife, two kids, and vast Lego collection in Indianapolis, Indiana.

When scientists discover a rare and mysterious mineral buried in the Earth’s crust, they have no idea that it just happens to be the most valuable substance in the entire universe. It’s not long before aliens show up to our little corner of the galaxy offering a promise of protection, some fabulous new technology, and entry into their intergalactic coalition—all in exchange for this precious resource. A material so precious that other alien forces are willing to start a war over it. A war that soon makes its way to Earth.

Leo knows this all too well. His mother was killed in one such attack, and soon after, his father, a Coalition scientist, decides it would be best for them to leave Earth behind. It’s on this expedition that their ship is attacked, Leo’s father is kidnapped, and Leo and his brother are stranded in the middle of space. The only chance they have is for Leo to stow away on a strange ship of mercenary space pirates bound for who knows where and beg the captain to help him find his father.

But the road is dangerous, and pirates, of course, only look out for themselves. Leo must decide who to trust as he tries to stay alive and save his family, even as he comes to understand that there aren’t many people—human or alien—that he can count on in this brave new universe.


Stowaway marks a new genre for Middle Grade mainstay John David Anderson, whose trademark sense of humor and strong talent for adventure, mixed with poignant emotion and strong character relationships, shine throughout this read. Dave has proven himself a beloved choice with middle graders and gatekeepers alike over the years, with realistic contemporary novels like Ms. Bixby’s Last Day and critically acclaimed, heartfelt, and imaginative fantasies like Granted.