Friday, March 20, 2020

The Boogeyman: A Great Read During Perilous Times

Looking for something to keep your kiddos occupied during the Coronavirus scare? And to keep their brains from turning to mush while the days tick by without school?

The Boogeyman: A Monstrous Fairytale by Shane Berryhill will take their minds off COVID-19 and creep them out in a safe, fun way. In times like these, fiction can be a lot more fun than reality and can help us find the courage to face our real-life troubles.

In The Boogeyman, readers will find spine tingling thrills when thirteen-year-old Puck discovers a shady character emerging from his closet then apparently engaging in nefarious activities in the Mortal world. Puck doesn't know what to do.

But he can't just pretend he didn't see what he saw. He can't just close his eyes to a dangerous creature preying on his neighbors. No, Puck must take things into his own hands and save his family and the neighborhood. Except...the boogeyman is not what he seems.

In a fast-paced exciting tale, Puck and the boogeyman find themselves uniting to protect both the Mortal and Fairy Realms from terrible threats. This book is chock full of humor and plot twists that will tickle readers. It also shows that hope can come in unexpected ways and we can find courage even when we feel small.


About the Author

Shane Berryhill is a novelist and comic book writer. His work has been praised by Publishers Weekly, NPR, NBC, Wired magazine, Horror World and others.

He's been a guest speaker at events ranging from the national Council of English Teachers conference to San Diego Comic Con. Find Shane online at amazonGoodreads, and Facebook.

Monday, March 16, 2020

15 Ideas, Activities, and Resources to Explore during School Closures

These are strange times. Many of us are juggling concerns about our own physical or mental health, the health of our loved ones who may be high-risk, and the well-being of our communities and countries in general. Meanwhile, our days are filled with challenges to our routines, work life, social life, and more.

Personally I’ve found it tough to stay focused on creative work, with news of the public health situation changing constantly. But, we must adapt—and we will. We’ll get through these days, supporting one another in appropriately socially-distant ways!

Already I’m seeing loads of support being offered in the form of free resources for those of you self-isolating or being “socially distant” at home with school-age kids. Today I’m sharing a collection of these links, ideas, and activities that I hope you’ll find useful.
  1. Bonus reading time! Free reading—whatever you want, as much as you want. Can’t get to a library? Perfect time to try e-books and audiobooks.
  2. Check out the Middle Grade at Heart book club archives for author interviews, discussion questions, and activities for their monthly picks.
  3. Write to an Author – we’ll write back! Check out the #writetoanauthor hashtag on twitter (initiated by Laura Shovan) to find mailing addresses for participating authors.
  4. Poetry activities from author and poet Laura Shovan 
  5. Sharing Our Notebooks – new notebooking video each weekday with author Amy Ludwig VanDerwater
  6. Read-alouds and interviews with Canadian authors, from Canadian Children’s Book Centre 
  7. Read-alouds and resources, collected by Kate Messner 
  8. Read-alouds, activities, and more from KidLit TV
  9. Imagination-boosting activities from author/illustrator Jarrett Lerner 
  10. Daily sketch diary with author/illustrator Remy Lai on instagram
  11. Free online cartooning classes 
  12. Virtual museum tours 
  13. Educational videos on YouTube, such as Crash Course Kids 
  14. Video games such as Minecraft that promote creativity, collaboration, and problem-solving
  15. Hands-on brain-boosting activities such as Lego and play-dough
The list could go on and on, of course. Got a good idea? Please share in the comments!

However you spend the challenging weeks ahead, may you discover unexpected joys as you experience community in new ways. Stay well, my friends.

Monday, March 9, 2020

First Look Interview: Whispering Pines by Heidi Lang and Kati Bartkowski

Today, I'm thrilled to give readers a first look at the new middle grade novel by the writing team of Heidi Lang and Kati Bartkowski, Whispering Pines!!! Welcome Heidi and Kati! We'll show off that beautiful cover soon, but first can you pitch your new book to us Twitter-style, in 280 characters or less?

X-Files meets Stranger Things in this contemporary horror MG about a UFO-obsessed girl determined to find her missing father, and a ghost hunting boy now being hunted by a ghost of his own—that of his older brother—who team up to save their town from supernatural forces.

Yes!!! I love everything from that pitch! Aliens, ghosts, mysterious supernatural forces. Why do I feel like this book was written specifically for me? Next, I challenged Heidi and Kati to finish these sentences about the book:

The one thing Rae Carter wants is to...
KATI: Find her missing father.
HEIDI: Couldn’t have said it better myself. ;) In the meantime, she also wants to learn how to fit into Whispering Pines.

Caden Price knows more than most about the mysterious town of Whispering Pines, including…
HEIDI: …the fact that there is a world hidden beneath their own, and his town serves as the gateway.
KATI: Unfortunately for Caden, he’s not the only one who knows this. Just as he’s not the only one who’s figured out that the Price family holds the key to unlocking that world.

My first thought when I saw the cover was…
HEIDI: Wow! So delightfully creepy!
KATI: Same. I loved it immediately. Diana Novich is such a talented illustrator.

And, without further ado, let's take a look at that gorgeous cover:

So beautiful and mysterious! I love the lighting, and did you catch that ghost hand?

Can readers expect more adventures set in Whispering Pines? 
KATI: We are currently working on an as-yet-unnamed sequel.
HEIDI: Yes, lots more planned for Whispering Pines!

Yay!!! Looking forward to it! WHISPERING PINES releases September 1st, 2020 through Aladdin/Simon & Schuster. To read a longer interview with Heidi and Kati, head over to the full post at


Heidi Lang and Kati Bartkowski are a writing team of two sisters. Heidi is afraid of all things that go bump in the night, but watches shows like the X-Files and Stranger Things anyhow. Kati enjoys reading about serial killers and the apocalypse, but secretly sleeps with a nightlight. They believe that the best way to conquer fear is to share it with as many people as possible, so between the two of them, they love creating stories full of all the things that scare them most. They are the co-authors of the Mystic Cooking Chronicles trilogy.

Find Heidi on twitter and instagram: @hidlang
Find Kati on twitter and instagram: @ktbartkowski
Or visit their website:

Monday, March 2, 2020


I am a sucker for a time travel story. 

And if you send the main characters back to ancient Egypt, you will for sure grab my attention.

So when MG Minded was offered the opportunity to read and review THE ORDER OF TIME by Scott P. Southall, I was all in.

The Premise:

Anastasia and Edward Upton are eleven years old twins who are different in almost every way. Despite this they are inseparable and the best of friends. They tackle the highs and lows of sixth grade together whether they are fending off bullies at the elite Blake Academy or examining rare antiquities as the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. Then: life gets complicated.

They discover that their friend and mentor, Dr. Gregorian, is part of a secret society called the Order of Time. It turns out that time is not fixed, it’s a fluid continuum where changes to the past can create ripples all the way through to the present. It unwittingly falls to the twins to travel back through time to ancient Egypt where they must overcome deadly assassins, evil high priests and vengeful gods in order to prevent disaster. Together Anastasia and Edward must navigate all obstacles to preserve the past and find their way back home.

The Review:

This book is filled with adventure: time-travelling, danger, famous characters from history.

Southall does an excellent job of world-building and paints a vivid picture of ancient Egypt.

The main characters, Anastasia and Edward, are likeable, and Southall does a wonderful job with the personalities of the other characters, including Dr. Gregorian and the Egyptians.

The story moves at a good pace and is filled with plenty of cliffhangers to keep the reader engaged. 

It is reminiscent of Rick Riordan's Kane Chronicles, and while this book doesn't flow quite so well and is clunky here and there (but then who can write a page turner as well as Riordan?), I think fans of Riordan and other adventure books may like this adventure very much.

You can read more about author Scott Southall here

Friday, February 28, 2020

Book Review, Q&A and a GIVEAWAY: A Trifecta of MG Goodness for Wendy McLeod MacKnight's, The Copycat!

What would you do if you could literally look like any living thing you wanted whenever you wanted…

I gravitate towards books with humor, heart and a bit of magic, so I was thrilled to have the opportunity to read The Copycat by Middle Grade Minded’s very own, Wendy McLeod MacKnight! (Make sure you enter our GIVEAWAY at the end of this post!)

Here’s what the publisher (Greenwillow Books) had to say:

A funny, unpredictable and heartfelt new novel from Wendy McLeod MacKinght, the author of The Frame-Up. Ali has always acted like a copycat to make friends, but when she unexpectedly inherits the ability to change her appearance at will, fitting in seems impossible! Luckily, with the help of her family, new friends, and touch of magic, Ali might just survive middle school after all. A great pick for fans of Dan Gemeinhart, Erin Entrada Kelly, and Diana Wynne Jones.

A Little Book Review...

Ali Sloane's family moves around. A lot! They've never had a lot of money, and now are living with great-grandma Gigi who's about to turn 100 in a place so shrouded in fog that it seems to shout out to the world, "We have secrets!" And Ali's family definitely has some of those. Ali's also starting 7th grade at her 10th school, which would be hard enough without having to worry about her family's special Copycat powers, a mysterious family feud, reuniting with estranged cousin Alfie, and making (and then saving) new friendships all while following the RULES. Because creating and following the rules for any situation is how Ali has survived her family's vagabond life. 

Ali's wise and often funny directives are interspersed throughout The Copycat, as are excerpts from a book Ali's Uncle Percy wrote about the fog in Fundy. These additions were welcome and original writerly devices that added depth, mystery and hilarity to the story. Still, Ali learns that sometimes the rules can backfire. Sometimes the rules can change. And sometimes the rules just don't apply.

This was a rich and satisfying story, filled with wonderful characters and so many layers that it kept you wondering and waiting until the very end. The Copycat is about all those things that middle grade readers care about; family, friends and navigating life...with a nice layer of magical possibility thrown in for good measure. I truly loved this book and can see MG readers finding a friend in Ali and her imperfect but loving crew. (Teachers and'll want to get this for your kids!)

A Little Author Q&A...

Q: Where did you get the idea for this story?

A: I moved around a lot as a kid and sometimes, I really struggled to fit in. On top of that, I often went through a few friends until I found 'my people'. My main character, Ali, is so stressed from having to do this once or twice a year that she actually has no idea who she really is. 

I've always loved books with shapeshifter characters, but I didn't want to write a typical one. Then it hit me: what if Ali, who copies other kids' behaviours and likes/dislikes in order to fit in, actually starts to change into other people? The family feud idea followed shortly thereafter, because it made sense to me that not everyone would be happy to have that kind of power.

Q: The setting of the book, Saint John and the Bay of Fundy, are so important to plot...which came first - the idea or the setting?

A: I wanted there to be some kind of device that set the shapeshifting off, and I’ve always loved fog, so it seemed natural to set it in a city not far from where I live, Saint John, New Brunswick, which is often socked in by fog. It’s also where my mom was born and a place I visited all the time when I was a kid. I even made my grandparents’ old house the house where Ali’s great-grandmother, Gigi, lives! It is truly a magical place and well worth a visit! And the high tides in the Bay of Fundy are amazing!!!!

Q: There are so many interesting characters in this book at all different age ranges (I'm thinking of great-grandma Gigi down to Ali and her group of friends). Do you have a favorite? Is there a character you are most like?

A: I like to have different ages in my stories, because that’s what real life is like! And I also like showing parents’ vulnerabilities. Even when we parents try our best, we don’t always succeed!

As for a favourite character, that is hard! I love Gigi, because she reminds me of my grandmother, but I have a soft spot for Murray [a new friend of Ali's], who steals every scene he is in!

Q: Can you give a timeline of your writing process with this book from idea to acceptance? 

A: This was the second book of a two book deal with Greenwillow Books and it gave me SO much trouble. Even though it is technically my third book, it felt like a sophomore experience! I’d say it took about 10 months to get it from first draft to acceptance by my editor.

Q: Is there anything you WISH someone would ask you about the The Copycat or your writing process?

A: I don’t know about other authors, but I seem to forget how to write a book every time I start a new project. That’s a bit of a gross exaggeration, but only slightly! I think every book teaches you how to write better, and every book has a way it wants to be written. For example, Uncle Percy’s Book about Fog in the Bay of Fundy wasn’t in draft one, but Uncle Percy insisted it be included!

In other words: we are always learning as writers!

And p.s. Who would I want to turn into if I was a Copycat? Either of my two childhood heroes: Wonder Woman and Batgirl!

You can find a list of places to pre-order The Copycat here!

Wendy McLeod MacKnight lives in New Brunswick, Canada and loves to read, write, cook, root for the underdog, watch movies and sometimes pretend she's living in the South of France. 

You can find her on Twitter, her website, and Goodreads. And, of course, blogging here on Middle Grade Minded!

And, a Little Giveaway... 

Be sure to enter below for your chance to win a signed copy of The Copycat! (And, we'd love to hear in the comments who YOU would turn into if you could be a Copycat for a day.) Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, February 14, 2020

4 Essential Tips for Developing Character Backstory

Know Your Characters, Know Their History

We often know our characters' personality traits, darkest secrets, and greatest hopes. But do we know the why behind it all? Do we know what shaped them to become the characters we are now going to torment through a novel, and maybe entire series, until they grow and develop into the shining people we all hope we can become? 

Or devolve into something we sincerely hope we will never meet. It's up to you. They're your characters, after all. Either way, knowing their background as you write will enrich the story you produce and make it real for readers.

Recently I was asked to write a history for the women's group of my local church. Just a 1-year history, highlighting important events and changes among our group. At first, I dreaded the job. But once I got started, sorting through old facebook posts and digging into the depths of my memory -  (Did anything happen last April??) - I found the process a blast.

What's more, it got me thinking. This could be a fun and extremely useful way to develop characters for novels. 

1. Break Your Characters' History into Meaningful Chunks.

Depending on the age of the character you are focusing on, this could be months, years, or decades. Honestly, it could even be days or weeks. The reason for this is that we are not simply splitting the character's life into equal chunks of time. Instead, we want to develop a history of life experiences that matter. Several could occur within one day. More often, they are spread over larger periods.

Once you've split your character's life into useful spans of time, dig into them. Each period is like a micro-story. If you decide to go deep in exploring backstory, be sure to also write a short one or two sentence summary of what happened and how it influenced your character. That way you can do a quick and easy review without needing to reread all the thousands of words you may write!

2. Ask Questions 

What significant events shaped this character's life? Which of these events is most relevant to their character arc in this novel? How would your character be different if one of the events didn't happen? What choices might this character make based on knowledge they gained through specific experiences? 

Have they lived in regions or cultures that are different from where they are in the current story? How does that affect their interactions with other characters?

What kind of baggage or damage does this characters carry due to things they've done or gone through? What exactly caused the dysfunctional thought processes or behaviors your character now struggles with? How did they deal with problems in the past? How are they different now? Who did they lean on? Who created difficulties for them? 

As you get started with exploring your character's history, other meaningful question specific to your novel will arise. This is a very useful exercise, especially if you are stuck on a plot point.

3. Import Pics

We all know a picture is worth a thousand words, right? Not only that, but photos can prompt ideas and storylines. So it's extremely useful to add photos to your character's history. Easier said than done, you may think. 

But honestly, there are endless sources for pics to spur your imagination. Keep in mind that unless you plan to publish, pin or blog the history you're creating, you don't need to worry about whether the images you choose are copyrighted. They are for your eyes only, sitting quietly in your notes, inspiring you. Search google images. There are tons. 

If you think you might want to share this history someday, choose photos from pixabay, Pablo, or Wikimedia Commons. Another useful approach is to create a pinterest page (here's mine!) where you pin images that remind you of your character, their life experiences, or the environments where they have lived. 

4. Organize Your History

You can create your history in a simple word document, evernote, or my favorite for storytelling - scrivener. If you use scrivener for writing, you can also have instant access to the history you create for each character. 

I love to keep my research, character details, plot organization, and backstory writing handy while I'm writing my novels. Scrivener provides a great way to have easy access to this information. However, if you use scrivener, be sure to compress your pics or the app will bog down. Another option is to import links to webpages.

Whatever format you choose, you can organize each character's history by breaking it up into the time periods you've chosen, exploring meaningful questions, and adding photos for the character at different times in their life as well as photos for significant life experiences.

What are some of your favorite strategies for developing character backstory?

Monday, February 3, 2020

STEM for the Middle Grade Minded - Review and Giveaway!

Cars, motors, and crash test dummies - Jennifer Swanson's latest book has it all! I had the privilege of reading SAVE THE CRASH-TEST DUMMIES and I've got to say it was one sweet ride.

This book does a great job of explaining the science and mechanics of car safety and relating it to kids and their families. From the days of the cow catcher and first roller bumpers to the high tech world of self-driving cars, Swanson keeps up a lively dialogue with the reader. She explains the evolution of safety features like seat belts, airbags, and side view mirrors, and how they impacted car design. The illustrations add a whole extra dimension with diagrams of motors, braking systems, and crash test camera layouts. Plus you get to meet a whole family of crash test dummies!

This is one book librarians are going to want to add to their collection for their STEM minded students. It's going to be a hit!
And if you would like it add it to your library...follow the Middle Grade Minded blog! I'll announce a winner next week!