Saturday, February 20, 2021

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 104: Author Donna Galanti

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Donna Galanti and I discuss how she started her writing career at age 40 and exploded into it with discipline and passion. She shares what she’s learned about being productive and prolific while successfully managing social media. Also, a ghost story. We discuss her newest novel, UNICORN ISLAND, her time in the Navy, how she left her literary agent for a better fit, and a full 10-step course for writing scary stories for children.

Check out Donna's guest posts:

Donna Galanti decided she was a grown up for far too long. She luckily gave that up to write children’s books. Donna Galanti is the author of the middle grade adventure Joshua and The Lightning Road, which the Midwest Book Review called, “A heart-pounding thrill ride full of unexpected twists and turns from start to finish”. She’s also the author of the follow up, Joshua and the Arrow Realm, and writes the popular Unicorn Island series for Epic!, the leading digital platform for kids 12 and under (hardcover, February 2021, Andrews McMeel).

Donna is a writing contest judge at, a member of From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors blog, and regularly presents as a guest author at schools. She also teaches writers on marketing and craft at writing conferences and through her online courses. When she’s not writing you can find her on Twitter or Facebook where she loves to share all things about outdoor adventures and children’s books. Donna has lived from England as a child, to Hawaii as a U.S. Navy photographer where she served with Fleet Intelligence Pacific, and has had a long career in corporate marketing. Visit her at She is represented by Liza Fleissig with the Liza Royce Agency in NYC.

“An accessible and fast-paced magical adventure.” -Kirkus Reviews (full review)

“An all-too-human, enchanting middle grade fantasy novel.” – Forward Reviews (full review)

“What begins as realistic fiction turns to a fantastical tale of magical rescue. Fans of unicorns and magic in the real world will enjoy this adventure.” – School Library Journal

Beyond the mist lies a magical secret waiting to be discovered . . .
From Epic! Originals, Unicorn Island is a middle-grade illustrated novel series about a young girl who discovers a mysterious island full of mythical beasts and darker dangers!

When Sam arrives in Foggy Harbor, population 3,230, all she can see is a small, boring town that’s way too far from home. And knowing that she’s stuck there all summer with her grumpy Uncle Mitch only makes things worse.

But when Sam discovers a hidden trapdoor leading to a room full of strange artifacts, she realizes Foggy Harbor isn’t as sleepy as it seems. With the help of a new friend, Sam discovers an extraordinary secret beyond the fog: an island of unicorns whose fates are intertwined with hers.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 103: Authors Rucker Moses and Theo Gangi

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Theo Gangi and Rucker Moses, the pen name for authors Craig S. Phillips and Harold Hayes Jr., discuss their collaboration for their novel, KINGSTON AND THE MAGICIAN’S LOST AND FOUND. We talk about their writing for television, subverting the author ego, increasing suspense with a ticking clock, planning a series one book at a time, ghosts and flying saucers, why you should hold your baseball bat like an egg, how to distill one narrative voice from three authors, book marketing during a pandemic, and so much more.

Rucker Moses is the pen name of Craig S. Phillips and Harold Hayes Jr.

They both hail from Atlanta and started telling stories together at the University of Georgia. Together, they've been nominated for three Emmys for writing in a children's program and have written for TV shows based on books by R. L. Stine and Christopher Pike.
They also make virtual reality experiences and own a production company named SunnyBoy Entertainment. In no particular order, their favorite things to write about are ninjas, magic, space, and abandoned amusement parks. When not doing all that, they are hanging with their wonderful families at home in Los Angeles.

Theo Gangi is the author of A New Day in America and the breakout crime thriller Bang Bang. His stories have been anthologized in First Thrills, edited by Lee Child, The Greensboro Review, The Columbia Spectator and the Kratz Sampler. His articles and reviews have appeared in, The San Francisco Chronicle, Mystery Scene Magazine, Inked Magazine and Crimespree Magazine. A graduate of Columbia University’s School of the Arts, he has taught writing at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, is the Director of the Writing Program at St. Francis College and lives in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn.

Magic has all but disappeared in Brooklyn, but one tenacious young magician is determined to bring it back in this exciting middle grade mystery.

Kingston has just moved from the suburbs back to Echo City, Brooklyn--the last place his father was seen alive. Kingston's father was King Preston, one of the world's greatest magicians. Until one trick went wrong and he disappeared. Now that Kingston is back in Echo City, he's determined to find his father.

Somehow, though, when his father disappeared, he took all of Echo City's magic with him. Now Echo City--a ghost of its past--is living up to its name. With no magic left, the magicians have packed up and left town and those who've stayed behind don't look too kindly on any who reminds them of what they once had.

When Kingston finds a magic box his father left behind as a clue, Kingston knows there's more to his father's disappearance than meets the eye. He'll have to keep it a secret--that is, until he can restore magic to Echo City. With his cousin Veronica and childhood friend Too Tall Eddie, Kingston works to solve the clues, but one wrong move and his father might not be the only one who goes missing.

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 102: Author Caroline Gertler

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Author and former children’s book editor Caroline Gertler and I discuss her debut novel, MANY POINTS OF ME. We also chat about her studies of art history, her time working for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, how she chose her literary agent, how she made the mental transition from editor to author, how she writes intuitively for children while gaining character insights from children, her distinct prose style, and so much more more.

Caroline Gertler is the author of the middle grade novel MANY POINTS OF ME (Greenwillow/HC, January 2021). A former children’s book editor, Caroline has an MA in art history, and gives tours of Old Master paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Caroline grew up in New York City and lives on the Upper West Side with her husband, two daughters, and dog, Dash—which happens to be one of her favorite forms of punctuation!

Georgia Rosenbloom’s father was a famous artist. His most-well-known paintings were a series of asterisms—patterns of stars—that he created. One represented a bird; one, himself; and one, Georgia’s mother. There was supposed to be a fourth, but Georgia’s father died before he could paint it. Georgia’s mother and her best friend, Theo, are certain that the last asterism would’ve been of Georgia, but Georgia isn’t so sure. She isn’t sure about anything anymore—including whether Theo is still her best friend. Then Georgia finds a sketch her father made of her. One with pencil points marked on the back—just like those in the asterism paintings. Could this finally be the proof that the last painting would have been of her? Georgia’s quest to prove her theory takes her around her Upper West Side neighborhood in New York City and to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which was almost a second home to Georgia, since she had visited favorite artists and paintings there constantly with her father. But the sketch leads right back to where she’s always belonged—with the people who love her, no matter what.

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 101: Author Christina Li

To watch new episodes as they air, go to YouTube and subscribe.

Middle Grade Ninja is available on SoundcloudStitcheritunesPodbeanPodblasterRadioPublicblubrryListen NotesGoogle Play, and many other fine locations.

Christina Li and I discuss how she began writing seriously at age 12, secured a literary agent before graduating high school, and is celebrating the publication of her debut novel, CLUES TO THE UNIVERSE, before graduating college. We also talk about researching the eighties, an author’s responsibility when writing about grief for younger readers, how joy is an act of resistance, social economics as a way of understanding people and fictional characters, the importance of Asian stories not being a monolith, and so much more.

Christina Li is a student studying Economics at Stanford University. When she is not puzzling over her stats problem set, she is daydreaming about characters and drinking too much jasmine green tea. She grew up in the Midwest but now calls California home. You can find her online at 
Clues to the Universe is her debut novel.

On the surface, Rosalind Ling Geraghty and Benjamin Burns are completely different. Aspiring rocket scientist Ro normally has a plan for everything. Yet she’s reeling from her dad’s unexpected death, and all she has left of him is a half-built model rocket and a crater-sized grief that she doesn’t know how to cope with. Artist Benji loves superheroes and comic books. In fact, he’s convinced his long-lost dad, who walked out on his family years ago, created his favorite comic book series, Spacebound–but has no way to reach him.

Ro and Benji were only supposed to be science class partners. But when a mix-up turns the unlikely pair into friends, Benji helps Ro build her rocket, and Ro helps Benji search through his comics—and across the country—to find out where his dad truly could be.

As the two face bullying, loss, and their own differences, Benji and Ro try to piece together clues to some of the biggest questions in the universe.

Friday, January 1, 2021

NINJA STUFF: Author, Year Seven (2020)

Esteemed Reader, 2020... was a year.

Before I write one more word, I feel compelled to acknowledge right up front that I am blessed in ways it hasn't even occurred to me I'm blessed. I survived the year in relative comfort, considering the horrifying alternatives all around me. As of this posting, my family is healthy, our financial situation actually improved, and I got to chat with a bunch of amazing people on the podcast who even I couldn't believe agreed to come on the show:) If ever there was a year for me to have lived with gratitude, it was this one.

If I hadn't committed to writing these posts every New Years, I'd probably just be quiet this year. I'm not really writing this for those of you that lived through 2020. You know what it was like and many of you had a far worse year than I did. This is a post for future me, the me who may try to remember this year as an idyllic time as parts of it were indeed the best of times. But as a famous writer fellow once wrote, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."

This year has profoundly and forever changed me in ways I haven't fully processed yet. A few months back, I was trying to turn left on a busy street, cars rushing by too close on my right. A truck coming the opposite direction very, VERY nearly hit me. The panicked look on the driver's face assured me he also thought this was it. After I made my turn, I parked and took deep breaths, trying to will myself to keep driving.

That's where I'm at in terms of processing 2020.


Let's ease into this post by first discussing the many wonderful videogames I played this year. When last we left our hero at the end of 2019, he was excited to have secured an excellent deal on a used Nintendo Switch Lite and hopeful about the year ahead. Well, I was right about the Nintendo:) That turned out to be a pretty prescient purchase as my childhood friends Mario and Link helped me maintain some calm through a lot of sleepless nights.

And God bless the good people at Ubisoft for Assassin's Creed Black Flag, and, later, Assassin's Creed Odyssey (3rd time through!) and, later still, Assassin's Creed Vahalla (I'm still stunned by its beauty). Special shoutout to the unofficial Assassin's Creed games I also loved, Ghost of Tsushima and Immortals: Fenyx Rising. I actually finished none of these games, but I played long stretches of them. You're doing the Lord's work, video game companies, and I couldn't have survived this year without you.

To the makers of my favorite video game of 2020,  Maneater: I love you and I wish for a million sequels. 

Before I tell you anything more about my 2020, know that it ends with me receiving a Play Station 5 shipped to my home on November 12th, the first brand-new console I have ever owned on launch day in my life. I've always bought them used a year or two after release. I played Spider-Man: Miles Morales the day it launched like a member of the 1% and it was amazing (but sooo short). 

And should you think I left out The Last of Us Part II, I had some feelings on that breathtaking game. I enjoyed it, but I really hate Abby, and it wasn't nearly as fun as those Mario Remasters:

Usually, I include my favorite movies of the year in these posts, but since those mostly got canceled and I never list my favorite books, I'll just say I loved the movies I actually got to see: Borat Subsequent Moviefilm and The Witches were lovely and brightened an otherwise dark year. I loved the trailer for The Batman and Hans Zimmer's score for Wonder Woman 1984:)

I found TV mostly difficult to watch as storytelling in which I didn't partially control the pace left too much time for me to start thinking about all my 2020 existential dread. Still, I particularly enjoyed The Outsider, The Boys, and The Mandalorian. Better Call Saul remains the best thing on television.


2020 was a year spent mostly apart from the rest of the population, so it was a good year to be a reader and a gamer. If ever I doubt the trajectory of humanity is onward and upward toward greater excellence, let my slack-jawed expression as I played that sweetest of all Spider-man games with haptic feedback webs after thinking a mere Play Station 4 was the best human beings had to offer serve as proof: The future continues to arrive daily and it is glorious, despite being unevenly distributed.

It's important for me to remember that since events of 2020 dramatically lowered my estimation of my fellow humans. I once thought most people were inherently good and when educated and presented with facts to lift them from their ignorance, they would alter their behavior accordingly.

2020 has recalibrated my idealism.

When I was still going inside grocery stores, every new aisle was a potential episode of terror as people routinely got too close, either not wearing masks, or wearing them improperly, and often glaring at me with malice that was absolutely intended. You scared, Snowflake? Dear Leader said the virus is a hoax and we believe him just as we believe in blond-haired, blue-eyed white Jesus. And you've decided to raise a brown child amongst us when "all lives matter" and "reverse racism is the real racism."

His mother and I got engaged in 2007, the year before Barack Obama was elected. This country seemed a much, much better place for us to live then. Imperfect, but hopefully improving.

I've a greater respect now for the madness of history. Future generations will hopefully not fully relate to the relentless assault of life under the flaming cross in the United States' front lawn that was Donald J. Trump. 73+ million of my fellow Americans cast votes for Donald "fine-people-on-many-sides" Trump, agreeing that four more years of continued inject-yourself-with-disinfectant-ha-ha-but-also-I-told-Bob-Woodward-I-knew-the-truth-all-along-and-I've-been-knowingly-INTENTIONALLY-infecting-the-country madness was somehow desirable.

I don't know how to process that information.

Let historians take note that the trauma of the Covid-19 pandemic wasn't just the disruption of our lives or the loss of family and friends or the economic turmoil, but living with the horrific knowledge that our government wanted to spread the disease among the population. We had to watch the United States crumble without any assurance it wouldn't collapse (knock on wood as we're a long way from solid).

I engaged in a series of ill-advised emails with some Trump supporters. I put thought and effort into those emails I might've better poured into a new novel. I appealed to logic, I presented facts, I got angry, sad, full-on belligerently enraged, and then I despaired. I came to understand we're not reading the same news or living in the same world. 

They have no problem contorting their minds to accept obvious lies from an authority figure, a practice for which religious upbringing makes an excellent primer. There's no way to bridge that gap as they've chosen willful ignorance and pledged loyalty to a death cult.

We can't agree to disagree when what's being disputed is reality. Yet somehow we have to live together or accept the inevitability of civil war. So that's where we are.


Despite my deep reservoirs of righteous rage, do I actually believe Republicans will answer for their crimes and their sedition? Do I believe there will ever be any real accountability for those at the top? How many bankers went to jail after the financial crises of 2007-2008 again? How many months in prison did Aunt Becky serve?

Something became immediately clear to me on election night 2020 as my home state of Indiana flipped bright hateful red during the first hour of ballot counting despite all my Tweets and Facebook posts and crushing anxiety because I was compelled to think about Trump at least once a day every day for four long years. That red state surrounding my brown child felt personal.

On that night, I learned my speaking directly to politics appears to make no difference in the world, or at least, not enough. 

Is this where I tell you I'm done with politics forever? Of course not, and if I did, you shouldn't believe me. Is this where I tell you there is no hope because people are trash? Nah. There's always hope and I know plenty of wonderful Hoosiers who wear their masks and practice empathy and are appropriately horrified by the right's embrace of racism and authoritarianism. 

What I've lost faith in is methodology, not the cause. If an angry Facebook post made the world better, it would've happened by now, and it would've been penned by an author far more capable than me:) If pointing out facts and logic was a winning strategy, our celebrities would be scientists and philosophers instead of beautiful people who speak witty dialogue others wrote (this line would probably have greater resonance if it didn't follow a gif of Ben Affleck). 

I still believe there are ways to make the world gradually better and that more of us doing them makes a better world. I just want to adopt more of a be-about-it-don't-talk-about-it motto.  Although, fun fact, I included similar sentiments in last year's post

Hopefully, if Trump really goes away, I can actually make good on this resolution in 2021: not to be apolitical (I'll still be me and occasionally unable to help myself), but to indirectly approach politics. 


This little blog of mine turned a decade old this year (time, you wicked thing, you move too fast). I might be hopelessly romantic, but I remain convinced that reading fiction increases empathy and intelligence. Doing my part to increase literacy and the celebration of the written word is very political indeed and an act of optimism.

In March, during the late start of quarantine, I considered pulling the plug on the podcast as I didn't know if it would still be appropriate or feasible. Also, I wasn't sure I wanted to leave a record of myself during this time. I can hear the fear and despair in my voice in a few episodes and my interesting 2020 hairstyles and weights will be forever preserved on YouTube, but I'm so grateful for the opportunity to have chatted with so many admirable folks. 

Those conversations gave me something to look forward to and enjoy in a year when there wasn't much of that. I started both this blog and its podcast with no real plan in mind and so it remains. I've improved as I went and proceeded with the principal that an imperfect something is better than a perfect nothing.

The most recent episode of the podcast officially marked 100 shows. I don't know how long the show will continue. It's a fair amount of work and 2020 has made it clear life can change dramatically at any time. But these long conversations with amazing writers and publishing professionals have taught me more about writing than anything else I've ever done. I hope Esteemed Audience feels as though they're learning as well.

I may go on to record another 900 episodes or  more. I might be forced to put the show on hiatus or quit it altogether depending on life circumstances. Should that happen, it won't erase the joy I've felt in each of those conversations. I'm as proud of the 100 episodes that exist as I am of my novels. I'm thrilled people all around the world are tuning in because my guests said a whole lot of brilliant things worth hearing.


It's good that 2020 was my best podcasting year as it was far from my best writing year. If you're wondering what I did with my time instead, just check out my long list of favorite videogames at the top of this post. I also reread a bunch of favorite books and the entire run of The Walking Dead (God bless you, Robert Kirkman) in addition to keeping up with reading for the podcast.

And I sat and stared at my computer for long stretches. And I doom scrolled. And I redid my YouTube videos, which was very time consuming and a really excellent way to avoid to writing. YouTube is part of my author platform, so that's like, writing adjacent, right?

I had planned to release Banneker Bones and the Cyborg Conspiracy over the summer, but I received enough brilliant suggestions from early readers in the spring, that I decided to do a major rewrite instead. That's not unheard of for me and I would've hit all my deadlines, but 2020 happened.

I enrolled in virtual first grade with my son and we kept him home all year. Mrs. Ninja also stopped leaving the house, forcing me to be creative in finding times to be creative. And even when I found that time, I had to force myself to put aside my constant dread that police sure do seem to be shooting a lot of boys who look like mine and saying they should stop is somehow a volatile political statement!?!?! and another massive super spreader event held by morons who hate science is killing a bunch of us and somehow Moscow Mitch McConnell mandates life for an entire country and no one stops him even though he's just one frail old man who could easily be stopped if the sort of Americans who fought King George were still around and oh my God, who amongst this vile, ignorant Trump-loving populace would even appreciate the majestic novel I would definitely craft if I could stop checking Twitter for 30 minutes?

(Gollum never looked this greedy for power)

I keep up with enough writers and other creatives to know I wasn't alone. Some writers I've known for years gave up writing completely in 2020. Others simply put their writing on hold. I heard a lot of bad news from a lot of writers. Some good news as well, of course, but while 2020 was a bad year for everyone, it was a particularly bad year for those relying on already unsteady income streams.

I did the rewrite of Banneker 3 and another and I worked on a new project, but writing just didn't seem to be the most important thing this year. Part of that might be that now that Banneker's story has a possible ending (though I've an idea for a fourth book), I feel like I've written the stories I most wanted to write. At least, for now. 

But part of it is because writing has never been the most important thing. I just occasionally thought it was.


I've been amazed at my luck from the day I realized my wife was into me (her friend helpfully called me and said, "she's into you"), but I've never been more keenly aware of my good fortune than I was this year. I've joked that every marriage that survived 2020 should get credit for extra years added to their total.

Sure, we got snippy with each other and went just a little Jack Torrance-y on occasion, but we've spent as much time together in 2020 as we did when we were first dating, We cooked for each other, she told me of drag race competitions and reality-show housewives I didn't care about, I told her Batman and videogame news she didn't care to hear, but we also comforted one another through the worst parts of cutting off contact with the outside world. And she did some very impressive things this year career-wise, which is why I played those video games on our fancy new TV.

But a PS5 wasn't my favorite new possession of 2020. That honor goes to a beautiful gently used cast-iron patio set where I could set up my computer and sneak in some work here and there while my son bounced around on his favorite new possession: a giant trampoline a neighbor gave us for free. No haptic feedback webslinging ever gave me as much joy as jumping on that thing gave him, and his laughter gave me joy.

Because I was enrolled in Little Ninja's classes virtually, I knew what materials for us to use and what topics to focus on, allowing us to work together throughout the day and never in a continuous block. The result was Little Ninja made some significant improvements this year and I'm far more proud of that than I would've been a new story. 

And on the occasions when I heard that old voice in my head lecturing me for spending too much time with my kid when my daily wordcount was lagging or nonexistent, it occurred to me just how messed up my value system has been for a very long while. Late-stage capitalism warps everything, including an artist's perspective of their own worth and of the value of life itself.

On a long enough timeline, I'll probably write some more books or at least a few more epic blog posts. And if I don't, that's a shame, but I'm proud of the books already available. If I died tomorrow, a possibility Covid-19 brings into stark focus every day, my greatest regret wouldn't be that I never wrote All Together Now 3. I've got this one period in time when I can focus completely on my child, hopefully without messing him up too badly, and my books can wait:)

In 2021, I'm going to promote Banneker Bones and the Cyborg Conspiracy and hopefully have more conversations with interesting people you can watch or listen to, which has the effect of assuring me the world will have plenty of excellent literature even if I don't write it. I'm going to read, and not just books by guests on the show, but scary stories and mysteries and comics and stuff I like. And God willing and I'm alive, I'll play Horizon Forbidden West the very second it releases.

And should a new story, better than the half drafts I have presently, draw me in, I'm sure I'll write it. But if I find some other things I enjoy doing more than writing, I'm going to do those things instead, and I'm going to be okay with it. My dream came true: I'm an author and people like the things I wrote. Anything else I write will be because not writing it will make me less happy than writing it.

Life is short and can change on a dime. If 2020 has taught us anything, it should be that life is not static. I'm going to do the best I can with the time I have and I wish the same for you, Esteemed Reader. I hope 2021 is better for all of us.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

3rd Middle Grade Ninja Clip Show

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Middle Grade Ninja is available on SoundcloudStitcheritunesPodbeanPodblasterRadioPublicblubrryListen NotesGoogle Play, and many other fine locations.

It’s the third ever, ridiculously long mega-sized Middle Grade Ninja clips show, featuring snippets from episodes 60 through 100.

New episodes are scheduled to return January 30th.

Until then, enjoy this compilation of clips from conversations with AUTHORS Catherine Linka, Barbara Shoup, Kaela Noel, Sayantani DasGupta, Avi, Anna Meriano, Anne Bustard, Rob Harrell, Joy McCullough, Mitali Perkins, Carlie Sorosiak, Claire Swinarski, Josh Berk, Saundra Mitchell,  Hugh Howey, Anne Nesbet, Tracy Wolff, Dorothy A. Winsor, Lillie Evans, Tony Perona, C.L. Shore, Janet E. Williams, Paula Chase, Preeti Chhibber, Annie Sullivan, MarcyKate Connolly, Laura Stegman, Daniel Kraus, Patrick Huellery, Margi Preus, Hayley Chewins, Marcella Pixley, Tonya Duncan Ellis, Victoria Bond, John Gallagher, Hena Kahn, Melissa de la Cruz, G. Neri, LITERARY AGENTS Kristy Hunter, Kiana Nguyen, Jim McCarthy, EDITORS Sarah LaPolla, Sara-Jayne Slack, Mari Kesselring, Elizabeth Law, Cheryl Klein, and PUBLIC RELATIONS EXPERT Sarah Miniaci.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 100: Editor Cheryl Klein

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Middle Grade Ninja is available on SoundcloudStitcheritunesPodbeanPodblasterRadioPublicblubrryListen NotesGoogle Play, and many other fine locations.

Cheryl Klein and I talk about writing and publishing and everything good in this 100th episode extravaganza. She shares her journey from growing up in a small Missouri town to becoming the continuity editor for the last three HARRY POTTER novels and the enormity of that experience. We discuss her newest book, A YEAR OF EVERYDAY WONDERS, and her advice for structuring picture books and trusting your illustrator. We also chat about Lee and Low Books, maintaining a healthy level of writer ego, why most editors don’t develop unhealthy egos, the “cheerful privilege of the white reader,” and so much more.

Cheryl Klein is the editorial director at Lee and Low Books. She is also the author of
two adult books, The Magic Words: Writing Great Books for Children and Young Adults and Second Sight: An Editor's Talks on Writing, Revising, and Publishing Books for Children and Young Adults, and three picture books, Wings, Thunder Trucks, and A Year of Magical Thinking. Prior to her work at Lee and Low, she spent sixteen years at Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic, where she published a wide array of acclaimed titles and served as the continuity editor for the last two books of the Harry Potter series. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, and can be found online as @chavelaque.

From first haircut to first ice-cream cone, each year brings a new cycle of experiences

With each new year come countless little wonders. From the highs—first snowfall, first new
umbrella, first beach trip—to the lows—first missed bus, first lost umbrella, first sunburn—
every year older means another cycle of everyday experiences.

In their clever, playful, observant picture book, acclaimed author Cheryl B. Klein and illustrator Qin Leng explore many truths of childhood through a calendar year of small moments that, all together, comprise what it is to be a kid.

Saturday, December 5, 2020

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 99: Author G. Neri

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G. Neri and I discuss CONCRETE COWBOY, the upcoming Netflix film based on his novel GHETTO COWBOY. He explains how he creates character voices, how stories chose him, and how he translates scientists’ studies into fiction. We also talk about writing during a pandemic, looking for alligators, surviving Antarctica, renting videos from a pre-Reservoir Dogs Quentin Tarantino, working with Chick Corea, meeting Ray Bradbury, the advantage of flying under the radar, and so much more.

G. Neri is the Coretta Scott King honor-winning author of Yummy: the Last Days of a Southside Shorty and the recipient of the Lee Bennett Hopkins Promising Poet Award for his free-verse novella, Chess Rumble. His books have been translated into multiple languages in over 25 countries. They include Tru & Nelle, Grand Theft Horse, Hello, I'm Johnny Cash, and Ghetto Cowboy, which was made into the upcoming movie, Concrete Cowboy, starring Idris Elba. In 2017, he was awarded the first of two National Science Foundation grants that sent him to Antarctica. Prior to becoming a writer, Neri was a filmmaker, an animator/illustrator, a digital media producer, and one of the creators of The Truth anti-smoking campaign. He is currently co-chair of the Antarctic Artists and Writers Collective and writes full-time while living on the Gulf Coast of Florida with his wife and daughter. 

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 98 Author Melissa de la Cruz

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Melissa de la Cruz and I discuss the differences between writing original stories such as her newest, NEVER AFTER: THE THIRTEENTH FAIRY, and her best-selling series THE NEW BLUE BLOODS COVEN, and writing for established intellectual property, such as THE DESCENDANTS and GOTHAM HIGH. She also shares how she built her author career by first writing for magazines, how she keeps continuity in her many series, how being married to a writer influences her writing life, how to manage a writer’s ego, how to market a book in the time of COVID-19, and so much more.

Melissa de la Cruz is the #1 New York Times, #1 Publishers Weekly and #1 IndieBound bestselling author of Isle of the Lost and Return to the Isle of the Lost as well as many critically acclaimed and award-winning novels for readers of all ages. Her books have also topped the USA TODAY, Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times bestseller lists and have been published in more than twenty countries.

A former fashion and beauty editor, Melissa has written for the New York Times, Marie Claire, Harper's Bazaar, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Allure, the San Francisco Chronicle, McSweeney's, Teen Vogue, CosmoGirl! and Seventeen. She has also appeared as an expert on fashion, trends and fame for CNN, E! and Fox News.

Melissa grew up in Manila and moved to San Francisco with her family, where she graduated high school salutatorian from the Convent of the Sacred Heart. At Columbia University, she majored in art history and English. Today she lives in Los Angeles and Palm Springs with her husband and daughter.

Real life and fairy tales collide in Never After: The Thirteenth Fairy, book one in the new middle-grade Never After series from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Descendants series, Melissa de la Cruz.

Nothing ever happens in Filomena Jefferson-Cho’s sleepy little suburban town of North Pasadena. The sun shines every day, the grass is always a perfect green, and while her progressive school swears there’s no such thing as bullying, she still feels bummed out. But one day, when Filomena is walking home on her own, something strange happens.

Filomena is being followed by Jack Stalker, one of the heroes in the Thirteenth Fairy, a series of books she loves about a brave girl and her ragtag group of friends who save their world from an evil enchantress. She must be dreaming, or still reading a book. But Jack is insistent―he’s real, the stories are real, and Filomena must come with him at once!

Soon, Filomena is thrust into the world of evil fairies and beautiful princesses, sorcerers and slayers, where an evil queen drives her ruthless armies to destroy what is left of the Fairy tribes. To save herself and the kingdom of Westphalia, Filomena must find the truth behind the fairytales and set the world back to rights before the cycle of sleep and destruction begins once more.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 97: Author Hena Khan

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Middle Grade Ninja is available on SoundcloudStitcheritunesPodbeanPodblasterRadioPublicblubrryListen NotesGoogle Play, and many other fine locations.

Hena Khan and I discuss her career thus far in children’s publishing and her wide range of books from IT’S RAMADAN, CURIOUS GEORGE to ZAYD SALEEM, CHASING THE DREAM to her most recent MORE TO THE STORY and the upcoming AMINA’S SONG. We discuss how she strives to create the representation in children’s literature that was lacking when she was a young reader and the importance of writing stories about Muslims rather than stories solely about being Muslim. All this and so much more await Esteemed Audience.

Hena Khan is a Pakistani-American who was born and raised in Maryland, where she still lives. She enjoys writing about her culture as well as all sorts of other subjects, from spies to space travel. She is the author of the middle grade novels Amina’s Voice, Amina’s Song, and More to the Story and picture books Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns, Under My Hijab, and It’s Ramadan, Curious George, among others.

From the critically acclaimed author of Amina’s Voice comes a new story inspired by Louisa May Alcott’s beloved classic, Little Women, featuring four sisters from a modern American Muslim family living in Georgia.

When Jameela Mirza is picked to be feature editor of her middle school newspaper, she’s one step closer to being an award-winning journalist like her late grandfather. The problem is her editor-in-chief keeps shooting down her article ideas. Jameela’s assigned to write about the new boy in school, who has a cool British accent but doesn’t share much, and wonders how she’ll make his story gripping enough to enter into a national media contest.

Jameela, along with her three sisters, is devastated when their father needs to take a job overseas, away from their cozy Georgia home for six months. Missing him makes Jameela determined to write an epic article—one to make her dad extra proud. But when her younger sister gets seriously ill, Jameela’s world turns upside down. And as her hunger for fame looks like it might cost her a blossoming friendship, Jameela questions what matters most, and whether she’s cut out to be a journalist at all…