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In the Middle with Dana Alison Levy

Oh hi, faithful readers! Wondering where I’ve been? Well, I’ve been hard at work on Hook’s Revenge: The Pirate Code, with little time to check in here. I’ll put together a new post with updates on me and Hook’s Revenge and perhaps even my chickens very soon.

In the meantime, please get to know the lovely Dana Alison Levy, author of The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher, joining us in the middle today.

Levy_Front_final

 

Meet the Fletchers: four boys, two dads, and one new neighbor who just might ruin everything.

Sam, age 12

Mostly interested in soccer. And food. And his phone.

Jax, age 10

Psyched for fourth grade. Thinks the new neighbor stinks, and not just because of the skunk.

Eli, age 10 (but younger than Jax)

Delighted to be starting this year at the Pinnacle School, where everyone’s “the smart kid.”

Frog (not his real name), age 6

Wants his new friends at kindergarten to save a seat for his invisible cheetah. 

The start of the school year is not going as hoped for the Fletcher brothers. Their miserable new neighbor, Mr. Nelson, complains about everything. Even worse, each boy finds his plans for school success veering off in unexpected directions. As the year continues, the boys learn the hard and often hilarious lesson that sometimes what you least expect is what you come to care about the most.

From camping trips to scary tales told in the dark, from new schools to old friends, from imaginary cheetahs to very real skunks, the Fletchers’ school year—as always—is anything but boring.

THE MISADVENTURES OF THE FAMILY FLETCHER is available online or in stores now! Ask your local bookseller or check out these links: Indiebound | Barnes&Noble | Amazon

Q&A with Dana

What draws you into writing for a middle grade audience?

I have always loved kidlit, from the time I was reading these books myself; through college, when I took several children’s literature classes; to adulthood and parenthood, when I began to share them with my own kids. My first few attempts at novels were for adults, and I don’t think I made it more than fifty pages in any of them. But the first time I started writing a book for kids…well, I couldn’t type fast enough to get the words out! Middle grade books — books for nine to twelve-year-olds — are amazing, because they encompass such a magical and difficult time of life. So much is changing at that point: friendships, families, and the awareness of the wider world. There is a lot to play with as a writer, from the hilarious to the heartbreaking.

If you had a time machine and could visit middle-grade you, what would you tell her?

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Keep writing. I kept journals from the time I was seven or eight, and I always wanted to be a writer. But after college I filed that away under “ridiculous” and tried to get a real job. Spoiler alert: in most of my “real jobs” I spent a lot of time writing, because it’s what I do best and enjoy the most. So I’d tell myself not to prevaricate* so much! Also, I’d tell myself not to believe the hairdresser who said I’d look like Pat Benatar with short hair. He was wrong. I didn’t look like a sexy 1980s rock star. I looked like a boy.

Choose your own adventure: Is there an interview question you’d love to answer, but haven’t been asked?

Questions that I haven’t been asked include but are not limited to:

  • Why are you so tall?
  • Wow! How did you sell a book when you were so very young?
  • What are you going to do with all that money?
  • You never seem to waste time! How do you you stay so laser- focused?

However, one that deserves an answer might be: What are five books that pop into your head (without going to look at your bookshelves) that all kids should read?

  • The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
  • My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell
  • One Crazy Summer by Rita Garcia-Williams
  • The Four-Story Mistake by Elizabeth Enright
  • Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool

Whew, those are random! But I stand my them — they are all worth a read!

*Prevaricate is a pretty good word. Look it up if you don’t know it!

The photo of you and that llama is my favorite photo of this whole series. Every successful childhood should include a portrait with a llama. Thanks for dropping in and congratulations on your debut!

Dana Alison Levy was raised by pirates but escaped at a young age and went on to earn a degree in aeronautics and puppetry. Actually, that’s not true—she just likes to make things up. That’s why she always wanted to write books. She was born and raised in New England and studied English literature before going to graduate school for business. While there is value in all learning, had she known she would end up writing for a living, she might not have struggled through all those statistics and finance classes.You can find Dana online at www.danaalisonlevy.com or on Twitter and Facebook.

In the Middle with Tara Dairman

Warning: This week’s In the Middle just might make you drool. Cover your keyboards.

Today, we are chatting with Tara Dairman, author of All Four Stars (Putnam/Penguin).

All Four Stars by Tara Dairman Cover

“A scrumptious gem of a story!”—Jennifer A. Nielsen, New York Times bestselling author of The False Prince

Meet Gladys Gatsby: New York’s toughest restaurant critic. (Just don’t tell anyone that she’s in sixth grade.)

Gladys Gatsby has been cooking gourmet dishes since the age of seven, only her fast-food-loving parents have no idea! Now she’s eleven, and after a crème brûlée accident (just a small fire), Gladys is cut off from the kitchen (and her allowance). She’s devastated but soon finds just the right opportunity to pay her parents back when she’s mistakenly contacted to write a restaurant review for one of the largest newspapers in the world.
 
But in order to meet her deadline and keep her dream job, Gladys must cook her way into the heart of her sixth-grade archenemy and sneak into New York City—all while keeping her identity a secret! Easy as pie, right?

All Four Stars is available on all of the following websites, and bookstores near you.

Indiebound * Penguin * B&N * Amazon * BAM * Powell’s * Walmart * Indigo * Book Depository  

Q&A with Tara

What draws you into writing for a middle grade audience?

Middle graders are the perfect mix of curious and capable—just starting to show hints of their adult potential, but not so far removed from the world of play that they’re all jaded about things yet. Plus, most of my favorite books are middle-grade ones, so I guess it’s no surprise that I ended up writing it myself!

If you had a time machine and could visit middle grade you, what would you tell him/her? (If you have a photo of yourself at this age, I’d love to post it.)

Sixth grade was a pretty tough year for me. There was some bullying. Most days I wouldn’t have anyone to play with during recess, so I carried a notebook out onto the playground and worked on a (never-completed) science fiction novel.

If I could go back in time, I guess I would tell myself that one day, far in the future, my dreams of completing and publishing a novel would come true, and that they’d draw on that tough year more than sixth-grade me could probably ever imagine.

Or maybe I’d just sign sixth-grade me out for lunch, so she could go eat something tasty for a change and not have to worry about how to get through recess. :)

Choose your own adventure: Is there an interview question you’d love to answer, but haven’t been asked?

bluebarb pie

No one has asked me yet which of the desserts featured in ALL FOUR STARS is my favorite! While I love a lot of them, I’d have to go with the “bluebarb crumble,” which has a special significance for me. Instead of a cake, my  husband and I had “wedding pies” at our wedding, a different flavor on each table. But for our own special pie, we weren’t sure what flavor to choose. My favorite kind of pie is rhubarb, and his is blueberry. So we asked the baker if she could put them together, and voila: bluebarb pie was born. And it was so good that I decided to immortalize it in my novel.

Thanks for having me, Heidi!

The pleasure was all mine. Seriously. You brought pie! I might not ever let you leave.

Tara Dairman is a novelist, playwright, and recovering world traveler (2 years, 74 countries)! Her first middle-grade novel, All Four Stars, will be published on July 10, 2014 by Putnam/Penguin. Tara has a B.A. in Creative Writing from Dartmouth College, and currently teaches writing to students aged 6-13. Connect with Tara on TaraDairman.com, Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads.

In the Middle with Adriana Brad Schanen

This week we are In the Middle with Adriana Brad Schanen, author of the adorable Quinny & Hopper.

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Quinny has a lot to say. Hopper gets to the point.

Quinny has one speed: very, very, extra-very fast. Hopper proceeds with caution.

Quinny has big ideas. Hopper has smart solutions.

Quinny and Hopper couldn’t be more different. They’re an unstoppable team. But when summer ends, things suddenly aren’t the same. Can Quinny and Hopper stick together in the face of stylish bullies, a killer chicken, and those new Third Grade Rules – especially the one that says they’re not allowed to be friends anymore?

Combining emotional realism and adventure-driven plotting, this young MG alternates between the comically-different perspectives of a boy and a girl whose close summer friendship runs smack-dab into the uncertainties of a new school year that could change everything…maybe even for the better.

Quinny & Hopper is available on IndieBound, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and in bookstores near you.

Q&A with Adriana

What draws you into writing for an MG audience?

I was a restless, reluctant reader as a kid. Picture books were fun, but I stalled after that. I remember sitting there in 3rd grade, staring out the window as the teacher droned on from a giant language arts textbook. And those numbered reading comprehension questions at the end of each section were just the pits. It all felt like an obligatory blur.

Today there’s often more choice and creativity in early elementary language arts curriculums, but I still think we lose a lot of kids in between picture books and middle grade. I want to grab hold of that 8 and 9 year old and keep it interesting for them, keep them in the game. If kids aren’t having that special relationship with a book and a flashlight under the covers at ages 8, 9, 10, they may not hang on with books at all.

I’m particularly drawn to writing contemporary/realistic early MG because that’s what reached me at that age. I could have used more Ramona, and older Ramona, and foreign Ramona, and Ramona in a wheelchair. Like millions of other kids, I loved Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume’s books, but that kind of flesh & blood reading felt separate and somehow less legitimate than the textbook reading we did in school.

The author, when she was about Quinny & Hopper's age, posing with her childhood neighbor and bff, Kirsten

The author, when she was about Quinny & Hopper’s age, posing with her childhood neighbor and bff, Kirsten

If you had a time machine and could visit middle-grade you, what would you tell her?

Can I bring stuff, too? If so, I‘d go back and hand 2nd grade me The Year of Billy Miller and Anna Hibiscus. Then I’d zoom ahead to 4th grade me and offer her One for the Murphys and So B. It and The Penderwicks.

Lastly, I’d find 7th grade me and tell her to take her creativity seriously. Pursue it, indulge it, develop it. Don’t think of it as goofing off. It’s currency, lifeblood. It’s how you’ll try to make the world a more beautiful place.

Or maybe I’d just give her a copy of Miss Rumphius. No one needs picture books more than people who think they’ve outgrown them.

Is there an interview question you’d love to answer but haven’t been asked?

Well…I’d love to be asked how I manage to keep my home so clean and my children so well-mannered and my complexion so radiant, all the while producing profound, witty, world-changing books. Alas, it has not happened yet.

For the time being, life is filled with dust bunnies, tweeny bickering and insomnia-induced pallor — not to mention a meandering second manuscript in need of merciless revision. And the gratitude I feel for every crazy, beautiful moment of it all is bone deep.

Dust bunnies are part of the creative process, right? Thanks for dropping in, Adriana, and congratulations on your debut!

Adriana Brad Schanen was born in Romania, raised in Chicago, and now lives in the vibrant, diverse town of Montclair, NJ with her husband, two daughters and a shaggy 60-pound lap dog named Oliver. She can often be found in her attic study, writing books for kids and teens or the occasional screenplay. Her first early MG novel, QUINNY & HOPPER, releases June 10, 2014 from Disney-Hyperion.
Connect with Adriana on her website, AdrianaBradBchanen.com, Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads.
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