The Mushy Stuff: Love and Friendship in Middle Grade Fiction

Love is in the air! In homes and classrooms across the country—and beyond—paper hearts are being cut and pasted, cookies are being baked, parents are rushing to the store because they forgot to buy soy-free, gluten-free, dye-free hypoallergenic, candy for this afternoon’s class party, glitter is everywhere. EVERYWHERE.

Yes, my friends, Valentine’s Day is imminent.

Whether you are celebrating romance or friendship, I have just the book for you. Here are a few, available now and upcoming, on my list:


SWITCHED AT FIRST KISS series by Anna Staniszewski (Sourcebooks)

Marcus is a Cupid. Lena is a Reaper. Opposites attract in the exciting new Switched At First Kiss series by the acclaimed author of The Dirt Diary. 

When she’s dared to kiss the adorkable Marcus Torelli at a party, Lena thinks it’s the perfect opportunity to cross First Kiss off her list of “Things to Accomplish Before I Turn Fourteen.”

It’s only when she gets sent on an assignment the next day that she realizes something went horribly wrong. That ZING she felt wasn’t the thrill of her first kiss–she and Marcus have swapped powers! Lena is not your average eighth grader; she’s a soul collector with a serious job to do. And Marcus turns out to be a supernatural matchmaker (like Cupid, but without the diaper).

Now logical Lena finds herself with the love touch, and sweet, sentimental Marcus has death at his fingertips. The truth is that Lena should never have taken that dare…because one little kiss has Lena and Marcus in a whole lotta trouble.



GEEKS, GIRLS, AND SECRET IDENTITIES by Mike Jung (Arthur A. Levine Books)

Vincent Wu is Captain Stupendous’s No. 1 Fan, but even he has to admit that Captain Stupendous has been a little off lately. During Professor Mayhem’s latest attack, Captain Stupendous barely made it out alive – although he did manage to save Vincent from a giant monster robot. It’s Vincent’s dream come true… until he finds out Captain Stupendous’s secret identity: It’s Polly Winnicott-Lee, the girl Vincent happens to have a crush on.

Captain Stupendous’s powers were recently transferred to Polly in a fluke accident, and so while she has all of his super strength and super speed, she doesn’t know how to use them, and she definitely doesn’t know all the strengths and weaknesses of his many nemeses. But Vincent and his friends are just the right fan club to train up their favorite superhero before he (she?) has to face Professor Mayhem again. And if they make it through this battle for the safety of Copperplate City, Vincent might just get up the courage to ask Polly on a date.



THE FIREFLY CODE by Megan Frazer Blakemore (Bloomsbury, coming in May)

Mori and her friends live a normal life on Firefly Lane in their utopian community, Old Harmonie. In a world this safe and perfect, they’ve never had to question anything . . . never had to wonder about how their lives came to be. Until a new girl named Ilana moves in. She’s so perfect that Mori and her friends are curious . . . Where exactly did Ilana come from, and why does she act so strange sometimes? When Ilana’s secret is revealed, the kids on Firefly Lane must decide: is it finally time to start questioning the only world they’ve ever known?

In a stunningly imaginative story, critically acclaimed author Megan Frazer Blakemore takes readers on a journey with f
ive friends–new and old–that will have everyone talking about not just what makes people human, but what makes them true friends.



THE QUESTION OF MIRACLES by Elana K. Arnold (HMH Books for Young Readers)

Sixth-grader Iris Abernathy hates life in Corvallis, Oregon, where her family just moved. It’s always raining, and everything is so wet. Besides, nothing has felt right since Iris’s best friend, Sarah, died.
When Iris meets Boris, an awkward mouth-breather with a know-it-all personality, she’s not looking to make a new friend, but it beats eating lunch alone. Then she learns that Boris’s very existence is a medical mystery, maybe even a miracle, and Iris starts to wonder why some people get miracles and others don’t. And if one miracle is possible, can another one be too? Can she possibly communicate with Sarah again?



The CHARMED LIFE series by Lisa Schroeder, (Scholastic)

Caitlin would stay at summer camp forever if she could. Her new best friends in the world, Hannah, Mia, and Libby are there. And at home? Everything’s different: Her dad is worried he might be losing his job; her mom is repainting the whole house and making the kids volunteer at a soup kitchen; and Caitlin is starting sixth grade at a new school, where none of the girls are as fun or friendly as her Cabin 7 BFFs. But Caitlin has a good-luck charm — or a good-luck charm bracelet anyway. The Cabin 7 girls bought it together, and Caitlin is taking the first turn wearing it. She’s sure it will help turn her luck around . . . but when?


THE WIG IN THE WINDOW and THE TIARA ON THE TERRACE by Kristen Kittscher (Harper Children’s)

In this funny, clever novel, perfect for fans of Pseudonymous Bosch and Gordon Korman and a companion to The Wig in the Window, tween sleuths Sophie Young and Grace Yang go undercover at Luna Vista’s Winter Sun Festival to catch a murderer before he—or she—strikes again.

Sophie Young and Grace Yang have been taking it easy ever since they solved the biggest crime Luna Vista had ever seen. But things might get interesting again now that everyone is gearing up for the 125th annual Winter Sun Festival—a town tradition that involves floats, a parade, and a Royal Court made up of local high school girls.

When Festival president Jim Steptoe turns up dead on the first day of parade preparations, the police blame a malfunctioning giant s’more feature on the campfire-themed float. But the two sleuths are convinced the mysterious death wasn’t an accident.

Young and Yang must trade their high tops for high heels and infiltrate the Royal Court to solve the case. But if they fail, they might just be the next victims.




For her thirteenth nameday all Princess Juniper wants is a country of her own. So when rumblings of unrest start in his kingdom, Juniper’s father decides to grant his daughter’s wish and sends her to a small, idyllic corner of the Hourglass Mountains until trouble blows over. Once there, Juniper discovers that ruling a small country–even just for the summer–is a bit harder than she’d expected, especially when cousin Cyril challenges her rule. Still, the most difficult part is to come. Juniper and her friends discover that her father’s kingdom is at war. The only way to stay safe is to remain in the Hourglass Mountains much longer than planned. Juniper may have her own country after all . . . but what will that mean for the kingdom of Torr?



The JACKSON GREENE Series by Varian Johnson (Arthur A. Levine Books)

A heist series may not sound very Valentiney, but this one delivers action and romance awkward crushes.

Jackson Greene swears he’s given up scheming. Then school bully Keith Sinclair announces he’s running for Student Council president, against Jackson’s former friend Gaby de la Cruz. Gaby wants Jackson to stay out of it — but he knows Keith has “connections” to the principal, which could win him the presidency no matter the vote count.

So Jackson assembles a crack team: Hashemi Larijani, tech genius. Victor Cho, bankroll. Megan Feldman, science goddess. Charlie de la Cruz, reporter. Together they devise a plan that will take down Keith, win Gaby’s respect, and make sure the election is done right. If they can pull it off, it will be remembered as the school’s greatest con ever — one worthy of the name THE GREAT GREENE HEIST.


What books are on your Valentine’s weekend list?


Hey Kid! with Ryan Dalton (THE YEAR OF LIGHTNING)

hey kid

Dear Kid Ryan,

Hey there, you little geek, I’ve got good news! At 34 you’re just as big a geek–maybe even bigger–and you were ahead of the curve because it’s totally the “in” thing now. So, keep loving the things you love.

Definitely keep doing your whole mad scientist thing, too. All those experiments you dream up (most of which fail spectacularly, but are fun anyway)? Those totally off-the-wall stories you imagine? They’re teaching you to think creatively. Sure, they make you kind of weird now, but someday you’re going to get paid to be professional geek/mad scientist/weirdo storyteller. Yes, that’s right, you’re going to be a real live author! I’m looking at one of your future books right now, and it’s just as big a thrill as you’re imagining it will be. Stay strong, be confident in your writing, don’t let discouragement take you down, and eventually you’ll be published.

Kid RyanNow, be warned, in your late teens you’ll go through what I call your “extremely punchable” phase. That means you’ll become a pretentious know-it-all, take yourself and everything else way too seriously, and many people will want to punch you. Those people will be correct, but you won’t realize it until a few years later. But don’t worry, eventually you’ll wise up and start being fun again. You’ll discover that you were right about one thing, though. Adults are totally making up life as they go along. No one has it all worked out, no matter what age they are. At times, though, that’s kind of awesome. It means you’ll get to blaze your own trail.

Also, you know how awesome it seems to be an adult, but every adult tells you it’s not? Well, you were right all along! Sure, there’s responsibility and doing things you’d rather not, but you already have to do stuff you don’t like. Now, though, I can pretty much do what I want without asking permission. I could drive to the Grand Canyon right now, or maybe just go get tacos. And now I want tacos . . . which I’ll totally get because I have a car and my own money. The best part, though? You’ll still be able to do the things you love now, plus awesome new grown-up stuff that you’ll love just as much.

I’m running low on space, so here are a few pointers to keep in mind over the next twenty years. Not all of them will make sense right now, but trust me, eventually you’ll understand.

  • Buy stock in Apple. No, I’m not kidding.
  • Don’t bother seeing the prequels. They’ll only hurt you.
  • Sometimes you should follow your heart. Other times, your heart is being an idiot. Be ready for either possibility.
  • Tell Mom you were right–you’ll always hate asparagus. It’s evil.

One last thing. Don’t ever stop playing. Don’t ever stop having fun. Life will throw enough stress at you without you helping it along. Stay bright. It’ll sustain you through the bad stuff and make the great stuff even better.

Okay, now. Ready? Good! Then get out there and be awesome.

~Adult Ryan

Cover - TYoLWhen 15-year-old twins Malcolm and Valentine Gilbert moved to a new town, they never imagined that the old house across the street could bring them so much trouble. A secret machine has reawakened inside, with the power to pierce time itself.

Meanwhile, lightning storms are breaking out all over town. They’re getting worse every week, and seem to enjoy striking kids who just want to pass science class and mind their own business. When Malcolm and Valentine discover a connection between the house and the storms, their situation goes from mysterious to crazy stupid dangerous. Someone is controlling the great machine, and their purpose is nearly complete.

In a race against time, the twins must uncover the chilling plan, the mastermind behind it, and the force that’s driving the deadly storms. They’ll hunt a powerful enemy that threatens their town’s existence, and the only clues are written in the sky.

Find The Year of Lightning on Barnes & NobleIndieBoundChanging Hands Bookstore, and Amazon, or ask for it in bookstores and libraries near you.

See a trailer for The Year of Lightning here.

Find more Hey Kid! letters here.

Ryan Dalton is author of the young adult Time Shift Trilogy. His debut novel THE YEAR OF LIGHTNING released on January 12th, 2016. Ryan splits his time between writing books during the day, fighting crime at night, and hanging out in his awesome underground lair. Please do not tell anyone he’s Batman. It’s a secret.
Connect with Ryan on, Facebook, and Goodreads.

Giraffes Ruin Cover Reveals

It’s Tuesday already?

It can’t be.

I’m certain because I had planned to share the cover for my picture book debut, GIRAFFES RUIN EVERYTHING, yesterday. On Monday. Not Tuesday.

I’m sure a giraffe had something to do with this…

As many of you know, giraffes and I have a history that goes way back to my preschool years. If you would like to read up on the incident that started it all, click here, but then come right back because you don’t want to miss the cover reveal.

Anyway, one day a few years ago, I decided to express my feelings about those long-necked villains. Those musings became a picture book manuscript which sold shortly thereafter to Bloomsbury Kids.

But unless one is B. J. Novak one’s picture book needs, well… pictures.

Cue Chris Robertson, illustrator extraordinair! Chris’s illustrations conspired with my text to warn the world about the nefarious (or at least annoying) nature of everyone’s favorite animal.

Want to see?



Giraffes Ruin Everything by Heidi Schulz and Chris Robertson
ISBN: 1619634759 (ISBN13: 9781619634756)
Available August 16, 2016.

It seems that giraffes will misbehave whether attending a birthday party, going to the movies, playing in the park, or just about anything else. Add Giraffes Ruin Everything to your Goodreads shelves.

It is up already on Indiebound, Powell’s, and Amazon, should you like to preorder. Other booksellers will have it up soon. Ask about it at your local indie!

I know August is a long time to wait. While you do, you can amuse yourself by perusing my Giraffes Ruin Pinterest board, or send me submissions. email

or tweet me your original ruinous giraffe photos and I’ll add them.

And this holiday season, while you are gathered round the table counting your blessings, be grateful you didn’t invite a giraffe.



On My Mind: November 17, 2015

I feel like I just barely set my last book loose upon the world, and here I am gearing up to unleash another. Giraffes Ruin Everything is on deck! I’ll be revealing the cover in my newsletter tomorrow, if you’d like to take a peek! Sign up here.

I had pie for breakfast and pie for lunch. ‘Tis the season!
1 - 8GypPfU

Upcoming events!
I’ll be at NCTE (the National Council of Teachers of English conference) in Minneapolis this weekend, talking about ladies writing hilarious books and how teachers can model the editor/author relationship for student writing. I’ll be signing books, too! Details and full schedule here.

Next weekend, I’ll be participating in Indie Next Day. I’ll be on hand at my local bookseller, The Book Bin, chatting books, giving recommendations, and signing copies of both Hook’s Revenge and The Pirate Code! Look for me Saturday, November 28, at the downtown location from 2 – 4. Details here.

Can’t make it? Call the store at 503-361-1235 to order personalized copies of my books. They make great holiday gifts!

On Friday, December 5, from 7 – 7:30, I’ll be participating in the Willamette Writers Children’s Author Night at the Clackamas Mall Barnes & Noble. Come in for Q&A and a book signing. Details.

I just got home from a great trip to Boise, Idaho where I visited with students from Longfellow and Roosevelt Elementary schools, and had a lovely event at one of my favorite bookstores, Rediscovered Bookshop. If you are in the area, stop in and tell them I said hello!

@heidischulzbooks is here talking about how #HooksRevenge came to be! (Check out her helpful First Mate’s hat!)

A photo posted by Rediscovered Books (@rediscoveredbooks) on

I also ate at Cracker Barrel so I’d say it was just about the best trip ever.

My anniversary.
Next month, Mr. Schulz and I will celebrate 20 years of marriage. He has booked us a celebratory Las Vegas spa vacation. I think I’ll renew his contract for another five years, at least.

Does Vegas have a Cracker Barrel?

What’s on your mind today?


Hey Kid! with Anne Nesbet (THE WRINKLED CROWN)

hey kid

Dear 7th-grade Me,

I am writing from the distant future–from way past the year 2000, even!–to let you know that I have just found the photo album you started keeping this year, in 7th grade, and it really reminds me of you, who are also me. So I thought I would write and say hello. Don’t look at me that way. You LIKE science fiction! And magic! Just think of this letter as a lovely mix of both: brought to you by a slightly magical time machine.


Anyway, I am you, and I can more or less prove that to you, I think, because I know some of your secrets, although I’m sure I’ve forgotten a few of them, too, time being what it is.

I know why you wanted your photo album to be that lovely shade of green, for instance. You are still quietly hoping that a door will open, a balloon will descend, a plastic ring will flash with secret magic, and you will finally find yourself in Oz, which you secretly believe is your true home. This album will not look out of place on your future Emerald City bookshelf, and you know what? I’m glad you want to take it along. I’m glad that despite all the misery of the real world, you want to take along pictures of the people and places you love.

(By the way, I still think about my–our–room in the Emerald City. It looks out onto the garden now. If we finally get there for real, we’re going to have to share.)

I’m looking through the album now, and it’s like stepping into a pool of feelings. Everything was so intense! About 83% sadness and 17% fun, I’d say, at that point. Those ratios are going to evolve over time, Younger Me. Hang in there, hang in there, because oddly enough, although sad things will keep happening in life, you are going to become a lot more resilient, I promise. And “resilient” doesn’t mean merely not being squashed by sorrow: it means feeling joy. There is a lot of joy waiting for you, up ahead.

HeyKidNesbet7thGradePhotoAlbumMost of the pictures in your album, I notice, are not of you. But you do show up in the corners, from time to time. Oh, seventh grade! That was the year when you wore Osh Kosh B’Gosh overalls to school every single day. And had braids. AND braces. I’m so glad you stuck this picture in the photo album, because the overalls deserve to be documented. You took a lot of ribbing in 7th grade for the way you looked. I know how much it hurt to stand out–even though you also couldn’t imagine fitting in. I know your most secret secret: that you felt even more like an unlovable monstrous alien inside than you looked like (you thought) on the outside. But keep in mind the counter-evidence, Younger Me: you weren’t even alone in your dedication to overalls! You had some friends who wore overalls pretty frequently, too, and ate lunch with you in the orchestra room and talked about books. Some of you played a Haydn quartet together! That was amazing.

Here’s some more good news: you will keep being lucky in your friends. In the album is a card from one of them that came to you in 7th grade: “Dear Whomever this may concern–This is an invitation to come to my house & pick out 3 Danish stamps, of which I have an abundance.–Sharon–” You haven’t picked up those stamps yet, Younger Me, but you know what? You still could, because Sharon is still a beloved friend. Isn’t it amazing, that some things do NOT disappear and fade? Forty years from your seventh-grade Now, you will still have friends whom you knew in elementary school. And you will have friends you made this year! And you will have all sorts of people you love dearly: new family members–some very closely related to you (yep, that’s a hint I’m sneaking in there).

You will feel grateful for every day, by the time you are me. I bet you find this hard to believe, but hey, since I already proved I was once you by telling you all those secrets, BELIEVE IT! It is very good news.

And yes, I know you pretty well, so I know you have been skimming through this letter looking for any really useful tips from the future. But listen: time travel is a tricky business, even when it’s just a letter that’s traveling, so I’m not going to pound you over the head with advice. Most of the hard things in your future life (up to this point, at least) could not have been avoided by simply deciding earlier to do “B” instead of “A.” And you’re actually doing the work already that will lay the foundation for the good things up ahead, so I don’t want to get in your way. You just keep writing those odd stories, Younger Me. Keep writing, keep writing. Keep feeling the world deeply. And eventually, dear Younger Me, a miracle of sorts will have taken place, and you will find you love your seventh-grade self much more than you did at the time.

love (yes! love!),

wrinkledCrown_cvr Up in the magical, wrinkled hills, Linny breaks an ancient law. No matter how musical a girl may be, she must not so much as touch a string of a lourka before she turns twelve, or she’ll be spirited off to Away. But Linny, born nimble-fingered and tune-filled, can’t resist: she makes a lourka of her very own. When the curse meant for her strikes her best friend instead, Linny must leave her home behind to try to set things right. With her father’s young apprentice, Elias, she travels down into the Plain, where science may have found a cure for magic. Linny and Elias soon find themselves caught up in the age-old battle between the wrinkled places and the Plain. Can Linny keep the fractured land from falling apart—and save her best friend?

The Wrinkled Crown is available on IndieBound, HarperCollins, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble or ask for it in bookstores and libraries near you.

Find more Hey Kid! letters here.

Anne Nesbet is the author of The Cabinet of Earths and A Box of
Gargoyles, and she lives near San Francisco with her husband, three daughters, and one irrepressible dog.

Connect with Anne on, @annenesbet on Twitter, or on Facebook.

Hey Kid! with Ronni Arno (RUBY REINVENTED)

hey kid

Dear middle-grade Ronni,

middle school RonniThe bad news? Things are kind of crappy right now. Your parents are on the verge of divorce, your best friend has a new best friend, and your hair is a disaster.

The good news? Things will drastically improve.

But you do have to get through the next few years, and that’s why I’m here. I’d like to give you some advice that I think might help. Ready?

  1. Tapping light switches and counting in your head doesn’t mean you’re crazy. It does mean that you have a mild form of OCD, but that term hasn’t been developed yet. The truth is, your parents are going to get divorced whether you tap the light switches four-hundred times or not at all.

2. It will be okay when your parents get divorced. Not only will you survive, you’ll actually be happier. Your parents will be happier. You’ll love your new step-parents even though it will be weird at first. Just hang in there, okay? And maybe stop with the light-switch tapping. It’s exhausting.

3. You don’t need one best friend. I know you think you do, because that’s what everyone thinks in middle school, but during the course of your life you’ll have many different friends. Some will be the friends you have deep conversations with, some will be the friends you have fun with, and the best kind will be a combination of both. Just because your BFF is bonded with someone else doesn’t mean you’re not worthy of being a friend. You happen to be a really, really good friend, and even as an adult, your friendships will be priceless to you.

4. You feel like you’ll have braces FOREVER, but it’s only three years. And when you get older, it will have been worth all those awful orthodontist appointments!

5. Lock your diary. Soon everyone will know you’re in love with Lee Sale, even Lee Sale. Crushes are good, but you might want to keep them to yourself. Not everyone is as good as keeping secrets as you think they are.

6. Yeah, Lee Sale is cute. But it’s never gonna happen, girlfriend. Even though you’ll have boyfriends in the very-near future (all as cute as Lee Sale), maybe it would be better if you didn’t focus on them so much. You know, pay attention to yourself a bit more. Boys are great, but at the end of the day, you’re the person you really have to have a relationship with.

7. Keep writing stories. Someday that passion will pay off.

8. Your hair. I know. It’s so big it needs its own zip code. But guess what?! In about 5 years or so big hair will be in! Isn’t that awesome?! Your friends will spend their allowance on hair spray and perms and you will just wake up and look that way! Best. Decade. Ever. But alas, that decade will end and flat, straight hair will once again be back in style. That’s okay, because soon enough they will invent flat irons and Brazilian blowouts. Just sit tight.

Middle school is tough. You’re confused. You’re lonely. And sometimes you don’t know where you belong. But look around. Every single one of the kids you’re surrounded by feels the exact same way… some are just better at faking it.

You’ve got this. You will (eventually) grow into a happy, well-adjusted adult. Believe in yourself, because I believe in you.

Adult Ronni

Ruby Reinvented cover designWhen twelve-year-old Ruby learns that her supposed BFFs are only friends with her because her of her famous parents, she finds a place as far from fake and phony Hollywood as she can get: a Maine boarding school.

In her panic to distance herself from her star-studded folks, Ruby tells her new friends that she’s an orphan. She feels awful lying to her weird but wonderful roommate Summer (the first real friend Ruby has ever had), but not awful enough. In fact, now that nobody’s comparing her to her perfect parents, Ruby can finally let her own talents as a dress designer take center stage.

But when Ruby finds herself connecting with a boy who really did lose his parents, she’s torn between who she is and who she’s pretending to be. And with Parent’s Weekend approaching, she must find a way to keep her secret… without losing her new best friend, the trust of her first crush, and the chance to shine as the designer of her own fashion show.

Find Ruby Reinvented on Indiebound, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Simon & Schuster, or ask for at at bookstores and libraries near you.

Find more Hey Kid! letters here.

Ronni Arno lives on the coast of Maine with her husband, 2 daughters, and a dog named Hazel. Her debut middle-grade novel, RUBY REINVENTED, published with Simon & Schuster/Aladdin on November 3, 2015. To learn more, visit or connect with Ronnie on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Instagram.

Hey Kid! with Vanessa Barger (SUPER FREAK)

hey kid

Dear Vanessa,

I know you think I’m just telling you this, but things get better after middle school. You started off in 6th grade with high hopes, and that’s a good thing. Don’t let Mr. Olds get you down. He sucks as a math teacher, but you are better at it than you think you are. Someday, though you probably would die laughing, you’re going to teach a subject that’s mostly math. No, seriously. And you’ll like it.

Hey Kid! - Vanessa Barger photo

Stop rolling on the floor. It’s the truth.

Don’t sweat the bowties in Panther Elite. No one notices them anyway when you’re singing. Plus, everyone else is wearing them too. Someday, you’ll watch Doctor Who and realize that bowties are cool. Fezzes though, are still pretty out there. Luckily, you know that.

Keep writing. You’ll save all those notebooks and look back on them and realize that was the beginning of becoming a “real” writer. Writing a 200 page book in middle school is a big deal, and you’re allowed to be proud of yourself. Don’t let anyone tell you any different! Read as many books as you can, and ignore everyone who tells you they aren’t appropriate for you or they are too old. Mom lets you do it, you like them, that means you’re good. Also, don’t get rid of so many books. I KNOW Mom tells you to clean things up, but you’ll wish you’d kept some of them someday.

Also, those middle school librarians probably weren’t as scary as we thought, but there’s still the public library, so it all evens out in the end.

Also, you’re a nerd. Embrace it. It only gets worse (or better, depending on how you look at it) from here on out. You’ll eventually realize that being a nerd is pretty much the best thing ever. You are already halfway there, so just keep swimming. Big Bang Theory is coming, and you want to be prepared, after all.

The last thing I want to remind you of, is to have fun. You try hard to pretend you don’t care. Eventually you’ll be comfortable in your skin and you really won’t care (much), but for now, just try to remember that its middle school and they are just as awkward and uncomfortable as you are, if not more. Have fun anyway. Hang out with Ashley, Kirstin, and the group as much as you can. You’ll all go to separate high schools, and you’ll only kind of keep track of each other through the years. It will be a LONG time before you reconnect with any of them. Take advantage of them while you’re there.

And no matter what anyone tells you, keep on being a Halloweenie. It will pay you well in your writing future. I’m proof of that.

Keep writing. Have adventures. Middle school is only three years!

Future You

Super FreakThirteen-year-old Caroline is a freak. Her parents have uprooted her to a town full of Supernaturals. You’d think she’d be thrilled. But, with someone without a magical bone in her body, this daughter of tree sprites feels like even more of an outcast than she has ever before.

To make matters worse, her new home is cursed. But when Caroline takes to investigating the mysterious and strange happenings of Harridan House, her BFF goes missing. Seems someone doesn’t want Caroline sticking her non-magical nose where it most certainly does not belong. Determined to prove herself, Caroline uncovers a plot to destroy her new hometown.

Undeterred, Caroline can’t give up. But what’s a human without magical powers to do? Caroline better figure it out fast, before she loses everything she has ever loved and the whispers she’s heard all her life prove true: Caroline is a useless superfreak.

Super Freak is available on Books-A-Million, B&N, Amazon, Month9Books, or ask for it in bookstores and libraries near you.

Find more Hey Kid! letters here.

Vanessa Barger is a middle grade and young adult author, represented by Jennifer Mishler and Frances Black of Literary Counsel. She teaches high school technology education in rural Virginia. She spends all her free time writing. She’s a member of the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). When not writing, Vanessa is reading, and is an avid movie fan. She also loves long walks on the beach discussing Shakespeare while sipping large fruity drinks with little umbrellas.
Connect with Vanessa on, Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.

Hey Kid! with Corey Ann Haydu (RULES FOR STEALING STARS)

hey kid

Dear Twelve-Year-Old Corey:

Hi from twenty years in the future!

I want you to know I get sad when I think about you. Not because you don’t have a great life ahead—you do!—but because you are confused and lonely and it takes time for things to iron themselves out, for the world to start making more sense, for the things that are painful to become the very same things that you are proud to have survived.

Right now you are probably writing in your journal about a boy you like (Jerry? Justin? Jon? You had a thing for J-names I guess) and wondering if you are pretty enough for them to like you back. Your bedroom door is closed and luckily you have a whole universe in your bedroom—magazine cutouts on the wall and a perfect selection of showtunes and sad music and oldies to choose from with your brand-new stereo, and two bookshelves stacked with books and a stuffed animal named Tammy and a fish named Windy who is beautiful but won’t live very long (I’m sorry. Fish often don’t).

You are uncomfortable and sad, but you don’t know why.
You have a sinking feeling in your chest.
You are scared.
You should be happier than you are, you’ve been told.

I want to tell you that these things—these feelings that are deep and wild and thick and impossible—are okay. You can have them. You don’t have to work so hard to not have them. It won’t work anyway, and trying to not have feelings only makes the bad feelings worse.

I want to tell you that worrying about being pretty enough is a thing you’re going to fight for a long time. You will fret and wonder and ask over and over in your head, every time you see yourself in a mirror or catch sight of a photograph taken of you, am I pretty? Am I pretty ENOUGH?

There is no real answer, aside from the answer that is the opposite of an answer–to stop asking the question. Pretty is a word that doesn’t mean much of anything, actually, and what I can tell you for sure is that you are smart enough and kind enough and funny enough and a good enough writer and friend and daughter and person.

Actually, you are all those enoughs even on days when you are sulky or snarky or accidentally mean or a little on-purpose mean or failing a test or getting a pimple or being awkward in a group or making a gigantic or super tiny mistake.

You are enough. There’s nothing to fight for, there’s nothing to try to make better in yourself. It’s already there.

Listen: You are not perfect.
That is the answer to the question you keep asking.
You are not perfect because no one’s perfect and no one’s expecting you to be perfect except that mean voice inside of you that you will learn how to quiet.

I want to tell you that the things you love matter, and that being alone in a closed-door room for hours on end doesn’t make you lazy or boring or selfish or uncaring. It doesn’t make you friendless or strange or pathetic or bad.

You are good at knowing what makes you happy and what you like to do. Do those things; find that happiness. Don’t listen to people who tell you to do things differently.

I want to tell you that you can trust yourself.

I want to tell you that every day for the next six years, until you leave home and move to New York, and I want to tell you that for the next fourteen years after that as you build your life there and make friends who are family and discover passions that are careers and meet boys who will become boyfriends and a boyfriend who will become a fiancé and have an apartment will become a home.

You can trust yourself.

You can trust yourself.

You can trust yourself to know when something is wrong or strange or not right or not your fault.
You can trust yourself to know what’s good and safe and right for you.
You can trust yourself to do the right thing as much of the time as an imperfect person is capable of doing and you can trust yourself to recover from the times when you don’t do the right thing.
You can trust yourself to take care of yourself.
You can trust yourself to stand up for what you believe in.
You can trust your feelings and your dreams and that little spark of strength that you think is maybe there.

You can trust yourself, because you are not just a sad girl sitting in a room wishing things were different. You are a girl who is living in a moment that doesn’t make much sense and is doing her very best to survive it.

And you can trust yourself, because, guess what? You do survive it. You really, really do.


PS: You think you are a cat person. You are not. You are a dog person.

PPS: No, you aren’t really going to grow too much taller. Sorry.

Rules For Stealing_comp covers_REV 2.inddRules for Stealing Stars can be found on IndieBound, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, or ask for it in bookstores and libraries near you.

In the tradition of Sharon Creech and Wendy Mass, Corey Ann Haydu’s sparkling middle grade debut is a sister story with a twist of magic, a swirl of darkness, and a whole lot of hope.

Silly is used to feeling left out. Her three older sisters think she’s too little for most things—especially when it comes to dealing with their mother’s unpredictable moods and outbursts. This summer, Silly feels more alone than ever when her sisters keep whispering and sneaking away to their rooms together, returning with signs that something mysterious is afoot: sporting sunburned cheeks smudged with glitter and gold hair that looks like tinsel.

When Silly is brought into her sisters’ world, the truth is more exciting than she ever imagined. The sisters have discovered a magical place that gives them what they truly need: an escape from the complications of their home life. But there are dark truths there, too. Silly hopes the magic will be the secret to saving their family, but she’s soon forced to wonder if it could tear them apart.

Find more Hey Kid! letters here.

Corey Ann Haydu is the author of OCD LOVE STORY, LIFE BY COMMITTEE, MAKING PRETTY and her middle grade debut, RULES FOR STEALING STARS. A graduate of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and The New School’s Writing for Children MFA program, Corey has been working in children’s publishing since 2009.
In 2013, Corey was chosen as one of Publisher Weekly’s Flying Starts. Her books have been Junior Library Guild Selections, Indie Next Selections, and BCCB Blue Ribbon Selections.
Corey also teaches YA Novel Writing with Mediabistro and is adapting her debut novel, OCD LOVE STORY into a high school play, which will have its first run in Fall 2015.
Corey lives in Brooklyn with her dog, her fiance, and a wide selection of cheese.

Connect with Corey on twitter at @CoreyAnnHaydu.

On My Mind: September 30, 2015

Parties! Two weeks ago, The Pirate Code was released, which was a great excuse for a party or two! I had two swashbucklingly awesome events in Oregon, at Powell’s Books in Beaverton and at The Book Bin in Salem. Candy treasure was consumed, sea shanties were sang, the book cover was recreated, and a good time was had by all (or I would have made them walk the plank). See photos here and here.
Thank you so much to everyone who attended and celebrated this new book with me.

Big News! Last week, Hook’s Revenge hit the New York Times Bestsellers list! (WHAT?) It was listed as number five in middle grade ebooks.

Jeans. I bought a new pair and I love them so much I want to wear them every day. This is a cause to celebrate and I wanted to share it with you.

Water on Mars! That’s big news too! So awesome. Though knowing that might have made things a lot easier for Matt Damon. Speaking of which…

The Martian. I read the book last week and couldn’t put it down. I’m really hoping the movie does it justice. Are any of you planning on seeing it this weekend?

What’s on your mind today, friends?



**Contest is now closed. Congrats to Jason A. and thanks to everyone who entered!**

Today is the day, friends. Hook’s Revenge: The Pirate Code is now unleashed on the world!

Pirate Code_Final Cover_PUBS

I’m very proud of this book. I hope you will enjoy reading Jocelyn’s new adventures and misadventures.

Now, how about a giveaway, hmm? I’ll send one lucky winner, anywhere in the world, signed hardcovers of both books, and the audiobook for the UK version of Hook’s Revenge, Hook’s Daughter (same book, just more British).

All you have to do is translate this word. Screenshot 2015-09-15 08.23.46

(Hint: Either look in the back of The Pirate Code, or search my website—any page, not just the blog—for the hidden key. Click anything that looks interesting.) Once you have decoded the word, send me an email telling me what it says.

I’ll pick a winner at the end of the month, September 30.

Good luck, matey!



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