Another day, another middle grade spotlight! Today I’m spotlighting The Gilded Girl by Alyssa Colman. This is one that I’m really looking forward to and hope to read this month!Continue reading “The Gilded Girl by Alyssa Colman | Book Spotlight | Middle Grade May”
I’m continuing on with my middle grade May book spotlights and today I’m spotlighting Kiki Kallira Breaks a Kingdom by Sangu Mandanna! This one sounds really interesting and is definitely being put on my to buy list!Continue reading “Kiki Kallira Breaks a Kingdom | Book Spotlight | Middle Grade May”
During May, I plan to read quite a bit of middle grade books and in doing so I also want to spotlight as many middle grade books as I can along with my other planned posts. I’m kicking this off with one of the books on my most anticipated middle grade of 2021 list and one that’s on my TBR for May!Continue reading “Amari and the Night Brothers | Book Spotlight | Middle Grade May”
At the beginning of January I made a post about the 21 books I’m most anticipating for 2021. While that was the majority of what I’m very excited for, there are still some more that I can’t wait for. Middle grade books are something I always keep on my radar and this post is going to be about the 10 middle grade books I’m most anticipating for 2021. Like my original most anticipated post, these will be listed in the order of their release date.Continue reading “Most Anticipated Middle Grade”
I’m so excited to be a part of the tour for A Wolf for a Spell by Karah Sutton that is being hosted by TBR and Beyond Tours! A Wolf for a Spell sounds absolutely amazing and I’m so excited to share my interview with the author!
The Girl Who Drank the Moon meets Pax in this fantastical tale of a wolf who forms an unlikely alliance with Baba Yaga to save the forest from a wicked tsar.
Since she was a pup, Zima has been taught to fear humans—especially witches—but when her family is threatened, she has no choice but to seek help from the witch Baba Yaga.
Baba Yaga never does magic for free, but it just so happens that she needs a wolf’s keen nose for a secret plan she’s brewing… Before Zima knows what’s happening, the witch has cast a switching spell and run off into the woods, while Zima is left behind in Baba Yaga’s hut—and Baba Yaga’s body!
Meanwhile, a young village girl named Nadya is also seeking the witch’s help, and when she meets Zima (in Baba Yaga’s form), they discover that they face a common enemy. With danger closing in, Zima must unite the wolves, the witches and the villagers against an evil that threatens them all.
Congratulations on the publication of A Wolf for a Spell! This year was very different for many authors, but especially for debut authors. How has publishing been compared to how you thought it would go?
The biggest hurdle for me personally has been forcing myself to push my book and get people’s attention when I know that there are so many other big things happening in the world. I try to remind myself that people are stressed and anxious, and that a cozy book might be a welcome comfort in a year like this one. Overall though, I’ve been amazed at how well people have come together to support debut authors this year, and moving everything digital has had some benefits, in that I’m now able to do a lot more events and panels and school visits than I would have been able to do before.
How would you describe A Wolf for a Spell in just one sentence?
A wolf in the Russian forest is cursed to trade places with the witch Baba Yaga, but they must work together to save their home from a wicked tsar.
What initially inspired A Wolf for a Spell?
It started with “what if the wolf was the hero of the fairytale?” I felt like it had the potential to combine animal fantasy with fairytale fantasy in a way I didn’t think I’d seen before in middle grade. Early drafts were inspired by the wolf from Little Red Riding Hood, and the characters were a lot more trope-aware. The main wolf knew that wolves were the villains in stories and wanted to avoid that path. That felt too much like something that had been done well already, so I tinkered with a lot of different approaches for about six months until I finally thought to combine this concept with my love for Russian fairytales. That was when things became much more interesting, because the Gray Wolf in Russian fairytales is quite morally gray, which gave me room to play with wolves in the world being both good and bad.
Your book is rooted in Russian folklore; did you always know you wanted to write a book that integrated this?
Looking back on it, I feel like retelling Russian fairytales was inevitable, but it took me a long time to realize that, as I mentioned. My first several book attempts were all contemporary fantasies, which is a style of writing that doesn’t come as naturally to me, I think. But books like The Tale of Despereuax by Kate DiCamillo and Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin reminded me of how much I’ve always loved fairytales, and from there I connected that with my love of Russian fairytales specifically.
A Wolf for a Spell is told from multiple perspectives. Did you find it at all challenging to balance them? Was one perspective easier to write from than the others?
Originally the entire book was written from Zima the wolf’s point of view. But because there are several moving plot threads, it became apparent that the story needed to show where other characters were at different times. I feel like this was the final big change that really tied the whole book together, because by digging into these different points of view I found a lot more depth and heart to the story. It became more about how each of these people are connected by the forest, and have to work together to protect it.
Do you have a favorite scene from A Wolf for a Spell?
I have scenes that are my favorite to read, and also scenes that were my favorites to write, where the process felt immersive and emotional. One that really fits both of those is at the very beginning of the book, when Zima sees a human in the forest and has to decide whether or not she should follow the rules of her pack, which require her to kill a human on sight. I remember my heart racing while writing that scene, like I didn’t know whether Zima was going to go through with it or not and I was discovering what would happen next as I wrote each word. I still get that feeling when I reread it too.
Did you always know how your book would end or was it a surprise?
The ending took me more rewrites than any other part of the book! I seem to struggle with endings. By the time I get to them, I’m always a bit exhausted from the process of writing the rest of the book, and I’m eager to finish so that I can start editing (which I prefer to drafting). So there were some drafts with really atrocious endings. Once I edited a lot more, and I understood the characters better, then the ending started to take shape.
If you could switch bodies with anyone, would you want to and if so, who would you ideally like to switch with?
I like the idea of being able to change into an animal, so long as I knew I’d be able to change back. I’d probably want to swap with some sort of bird, so I could experience flying.
If you could write a book based on or inspired by any fairy tale, which fairy tale would you love to write about?
If I’m fortunate enough to have the opportunity to write more books, I have a list of fairytales I’d like to explore. One is another Russian fairytale called “The Feather of Finist the Falcon”, about a prince who can turn into a falcon, and another is a Hans Christian Andersen story called “The Travelling Companion”. They’re both pretty perfect as is, though, so it’s hard to imagine how I could expand on them.
What’s next for you? Is there anything you can share?
I have a second book that I’m working on with Knopf Books for Young Readers. This one focuses on swans. You’ll have to guess which story it is!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Karah Sutton has loved Baba Yaga, ballet, and blini ever since she had to do a research project on her Russian heritage in the third grade. Her hunger for adventure inspired her to move from Kentucky to New Zealand, where it was rumored she would find talking trees and the occasional wood elf. Karah spent four years as a bookseller before she turned to writing her own fiction. A Wolf For a A Spell is her first novel.
What story do you think Karah is writing about next?
I come to really enjoy middle grade over the years and when I heard about this one, I was so excited about it. This tour is hosted by TBR and Beyond Tours and I’m very excited to be a part of it!
TITLE: The Boy, the Wolf, and the Stars
AUTHOR: Shivaun Plozza
GENRE: Middle Grade Fantasy
PUBLICATION DATE: November 17, 2020
A boy and his pet fox go on a quest to find a wolf who has eaten all the stars in the sky before the Shadow Witch destroys the stars and removes good magic from the world forever.
Long ago, the land of Ulv was filled with magic. But that was before a wolf ate all the Stars in the night sky, ridding the world of magic and allowing Shadow Creatures, beasts made of shadow and evil, to flourish. Twelve-year-old Bo knows the stories but thinks the Stars and the wolf who ate them are nothing more than myths—until the day Bo’s guardian, Mads, is attacked by a giant wolf straight from the legends. With his dying breath, Mads tells Bo that Ulv is in danger and the only way to prevent the Shadow Creatures from taking over is to return the Stars to the sky.
And so Bo—accompanied by his best friend, a fox called Nix, a girl named Selene who’s magic is tied to the return of the Stars, and Tam, a bird-woman who has vowed to protect Bo at all costs—sets off on a quest to find the three magical keys that will release the Stars. But Bo isn’t the only one who wants the Stars, and the friends soon find themselves fleeing angry villagers, greedy merchants, and a vengeful wolf. And all the while, an evil witch lurks in the shadows and time is running out.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Shivaun Plozza is an award-winning author of books for children and young adults. Her debut novel, Frankie, was a CBCA Notable Book and won a number of awards, including the Davitt Awards and a commendation from the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award. Her second novel, Tin Heart, sold in three foreign territories, received two starred reviews, and was nominated to ALA’S Best Fiction for Young Adults list. Her debut middle-grade novel, The Boy, the Wolf, and the Stars, is forthcoming in 2020 from HMH Books for Young Readers and Penguin Random House Australia. She is a frequent contributor to anthologies, and when she is not writing she works as an editor and manuscript assessor.
Congratulations on the publication of your new book! How has the publication experience been this year compared to your previous books?
It’s been so strange! It feels eerily anti-climactic. Publication is always a strange feeling—you work so hard for so long but there’s no distinct moment where it feels like it’s over, you’ve done it and you can celebrate. It’s an ongoing process and if you’re not careful you can forget to stop and take stock of what you’ve achieved. But releasing a book during the pandemic has been even more anti-climactic because you can’t head instore to see your book on the shelf and you can’t gather with your friends and family to celebrate and the marketing and publicity opportunities have all but dried up. It’s odd and sad but I’ve still achieved something to be proud of and there are far worse disappointments in the world, especially right now. Did anything inspire The Boy, the Wolf, and the Stars?
Did anything inspire The Boy, the Wolf, and the Stars?
It began as a short story written twenty years ago that was steeped in Scandinavian folklore. When I eventually sat down to turn it into a novel it slowly moved away from that initial inspiration as I began to focus on themes likes fear and anxiety and family. The book is about facing fears—both individual fears and community fears—and overcoming them.
What made you choose a fox as Bo’s sidekick?
I’ve always been fond of foxes but they often get lumped into negative roles in books—sneaky, sly, evil etc. One of the things I was interested in exploring in the book was characters who act against expectation, who burst free of archetypes. I’ve also always been engaged by animal and human relationships in stories and wanted to explore that bond.
How would you describe The Boy, the Wolf, and the Stars in just one sentence?
A boy and his pet fox embark on a quest to return the stars to the sky after a magical wolf ate them.
Do you have a favorite scene or quote from The Boy, the Wolf, and the Stars?
The scene I most enjoyed writing was where Bo meets the Un-King. I wanted that scene to be fun, humorous and weird so I had a lot of joy in writing it. It also wasn’t a scene I had planned for—it appeared out of nowhere, a tiny spark of inspiration I followed for the fun of it but which ended up being integral to the plot.
Was anything cut from it that you were sad to see go?
No, I’m pretty good at cutting what needs to be cut and letting it go. I think working as an editor has trained me to be pretty objective about it. I’m quite ruthless with the red pen, actually!
If Bo could go on another adventure, what do you think that adventure would be?
I purposely left a few elements of his story unresolved because I have ideas for how his next adventure could unfold but I also like endings that aren’t neat bows—I enjoy leaving room for the reader to imagine what happens next. Generally speaking, I think Bo’s next adventure would be about him striking out into the world more, now that he knows how big it is and that he doesn’t have to be defined by anyone’s ideas of him.
Did you always know how the book would end or was it a surprise?
I almost always have a clear idea of how my stories will end and it’s rare that something changes and I’m surprised. In this case, I knew how the story would end from the beginning of the writing process. There are always surprises along the way as you write—this book held more surprises than most—but the ending was not one of those surprises.
Thank you so much to Shivaun Plozza for doing an interview with me!
I try to stay in the loop about middle grade releases, but sometimes I find it’s harder to know about them than young adult or adult releases. That’s not the case with this one for me. I’ve been looking forward to this one for awhile and can’t wait to read it! Today I’m teaming up with TBR and Beyond Tours to spotlight this amazing sounding middle grade book!
ABOUT THE BOOK
TITLE: Maya and the Rising Dark
AUTHOR: Rena Barron
GENRE: Middle Grade Fantasy
PUBLICATION DATE: September 22, 2020
In this highly anticipated contemporary fantasy, twelve-year-old Maya’s search for her missing father puts her at the center of a battle between our world, the Orishas, and the mysterious andsinister Dark world. Perfect for fans of Aru Shah and the End ofTime and The Serpent’s Secret.
Twelve-year-old Maya is the only one in her South Side Chicago neighborhood who witnesses weird occurrences like were hyenas stalking the streets at night and a scary man made of shadows plaguing her dreams.
When Papa goes missing, Maya is thrust into a world both strange and familiar as she uncovers the truth. Her father is the guardian of the veil between our world and the Dark—where an army led by the Lord of Shadows, the man from Maya’s nightmares, awaits. Now that the veil is failing, the Lord of Shadows is determined to destroy the human world and it’s up to Maya to stop him. She just hopes she can do it in time to attend Comic-Con before summer’s over.
WHERE TO BUY:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rena Barron grew up in small-town Alabama where stories of magic and adventure sparked her imagination. After penning her first awful poem in middle school, she graduated to writing short stories and novels by high school.
From a very young age she loved reading stories where kids saved the world, tamed dragons, wielded magic, flew spaceships, became the chosen one. She desperately searched for characters in books who looked like her and was always disappointed to find none, which fueled her early interest in writing.
Before HarperTeen acquired her Young Adult Epic Fantasy, Kingdom of Souls, Rena spent 10 years in the query trends–writing across multiple genres and age groups in the pursuit of publication. In 2017, she entered Pitch Wars, a popular and highly sought-after online mentorship program that included an agent showcase round. Rena’s entry (then titled “The Last Witchdoctor”) received multiple offers of representation. She signed with Suzie Townsend at New Leaf Literary shortly after, and the manuscript went on to sell in a heated auction.
In addition to the Kingdom of Souls series, Rena also has written a middle grade epic fantasy titled Maya and The Rising Dark debuting in Spring 2020, pitched as Stranger Things meets Percy Jackson, that sold in a pre-empt to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
On a personal note, Rena loves all things science fiction and fantasy, ghosts, and superheroes. When she’s not writing, she can be found reading or brushing up on her French.
Have you read Maya and the Rising Dark yet? If so, what did you think of it? I definitely can’t wait to get my hands on it soon!
I’m very excited to be a part of the tour for The Wild Path by Sarah R. Baughman that is being hosted by TBR and Beyond Tours! I’m always on the lookout for new middle grade books to add to my personal library for when my kids are older and this is one that I was definitely excited for.
ABOUT THE BOOK
TITLE: The Wild Path
AUTHOR: Sarah R. Baughman
GENRE: Middle Grade Contemporary/Mystery
PUBLICATION DATE: September 1, 2020
RATING: 4/5 stars
The Line Tender meets The Secret Horses of Briar Hill in this hopeful, heartfelt story about one girl’s search for legendary horses and her quest to piece her family back together.
Twelve-year-old Claire Barton doesn’t like the “flutter feeling” that fills her chest when she worries about the future, but she knows what she loves: the land that’s been in her family for three generations; her best friend Maya; her family’s horses, Sunny and Sam; and her older brother Andy. That’s why, with Andy recently sent to rehab after a DUI, and her parents planning to sell the horses, Claire’s world feels like it might flutter to pieces.
When Claire learns about equine therapy, she imagines a less lonely future that keeps her family together, brother and horses included. But, when she finds mysterious wild horses in the woods behind her house, she realizes she has a bit more company than she bargained for. With this new secret-and a little bit of luck-Claire will discover the beauty of change, the power of family, and the strength within herself.
I received my copy of the book as an advanced copy and it came with a letter from the author as well. I really appreciated this as it gave a little insight on why she wrote the book and how The Wild Path contains traces of her own experiences. This was my first exposure to some of the topics that The Wild Path would contain. I definitely appreciated this as some of the topics are some that are battles of family members and as a result, things that affect my life in some ways.
I don’t typically think of trigger or content warnings for middle grade books, but in this case I do want to mention that The Wild Path deals with addiction and also anxiety.
I was very excited for this book from the beginning and I’m so glad I got the chance to read it. If you’ve read some of my reviews in the past, you know that I typically like to go into a book without knowing much about it. The same goes for this one. I skimmed the synopsis one time and then didn’t look more into it after that. Like I previously mentioned, I’m always on the hunt for new middle grade to add to my personal library for my children to have access to when they’re older. While at five and seven, they may not be ready for it now, they will be in the near future and I always hope to have options for them when it comes to books.
“I do like the idea of a way out. A path I could find, made just for me.”
I was definitely intrigued about this one from the beginning. From the note from the author I knew the book was going to deal with anxiety and addiction, but I didn’t know what the person was addicted to and things like that. I was curious how far it would delve into these topics with being a middle grade and that’s definitely what kept me reading for the first little bit. Once I got more into it, I fell in love with the writing style and was so curious about the little mystery that started becoming prevalent throughout the book.
I thought The Wild Path dealt with these “tough” topics so well! Unfortunately many kids in this age range know someone who is battling some form of addiction. It’s personally been something I’ve heard about since I was in the middle grade age range because of family members who were addicted to something. I definitely don’t think I grasped it like Claire did in any sort of way, but I also wasn’t actively seeking out books at that time that dealt with those topics. I really appreciated that this didn’t show a family going back to “normal” and instead showed them grasping at finding their new normal and how they all handle the situation.
Another aspect of this story that was a pretty big part of it was Claire’s anxiety. While not out right stated throughout the book, it is mention that Claire has these fluttery feelings. These moments are referred to as sparrows and I thought this was an interesting way to explain this feeling to younger readers. The book also takes the time to showcase the different ways Claire tries to cope with these feelings.
“I hear the sparrows’ fluttering wings above me before I feel them swoop inside. But I close my eyes and breathe. Filling my lungs with air seems to push the sparrows away.”
Along with the tough topics and the mystery, there’s a great plot line of Claire learning about equine therapy. While I knew a little about horses, it was very interesting to learn a little more about them and how they can help people.
There is a great cast of side characters in here as well. Not only do we have Claire’s family, but we also have her friend Maya, the support group that Claire goes to, and Mr. Hamilton, who ends up being a really amazing character that I was always excited to have in a chapter. The support group portions were really great as well! I’m really glad they were included and that it makes it clear that addiction isn’t their fault and that they can’t change anything. Such an important lesson and I definitely think the book would have been lacking if it wasn’t included.
I definitely think this is an amazing story and will be one I share with my kids when they’re older. It does a great job of showing how a family deals with addiction and how animals help us. I can’t wait to read more from this author in the future as well!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sarah R. Baughman is an author whose debut middle grade novel, THE LIGHT IN THE LAKE, is forthcoming from Little, Brown Books For Young Readers in 2019. A former middle and high school English teacher currently working as an educational consultant, Sarah graduated from Grinnell College and the University of Michigan, where she studied English, German, and Education. Sarah is represented by Katie Grimm at Don Congdon Associates. When she’s not writing, she’s probably reading, running, or getting outdoors with her family.
Giveaway (US Only)
During this tour there’s a chance for US readers to win a finished copy of The Wild Path. The giveaway is open until September 22nd. Click here to enter.