Monday, September 25, 2017

Three Questions For Kat Yeh

Not only did author Kat Yeh send me an ARC of her latest middle grade novel, THE WAY TO BEA, but she personalized my copy with the quote, “Always Be You.” This captures the theme of her latest novel, which came out September 19 from Little, Brown and Company. In the book, everything is changing for seventh grader Bea. She used to have friends, but now she doesn’t. She used to be an only child, and soon she won’t be. Bea finds solace in writing poems in invisible ink. She hides the poems in a secret spot, but one day, someone writes back. Is it her ex-best friend, the librarian who passes books to Bea, or the boy whose obsession with labyrinths is as intense as Bea’s love for words? Solving the mystery might help Bea discover where she belongs. Kat Yeh, also the author of the critically acclaimed novel The Truth About Twinkie Pie, kindly answered the following three questions about writing THE WAY TO BEA:

1. Is Bea based on you in any way? (Her love of words and phrases and the way they inspired poems definitely felt like it came from a deep place within your heart!)
Actually, it's funny that you say that because my editor, Lisa Yoskowitz, made almost that identical comment to me about a scene where Bea is writing a very important haiku to someone she wants to keep in her life.      

I take a breath. Words should never be wasted or rushed. I want everything I write to be real and true and special.

I think that most of the stories we write or feel connected to come from very true and real and deep places in the heart. The best writing we do – the writing that feels the most connected —the writing that people will relate to comes when we are vulnerable enough to allow parts of ourselves to be revealed on the page. I am certainly not Bea, but there are so many parts of her that feel like me. That express my feelings.

Whenever I used to discuss The Truth About Twinkie Pie, I would talk about how people ask me if it is autobiographical. And I'm starting to hear the same questions with Bea too. While the question about GiGi from Twinkie Pie always made me laugh (since she is a young white southern girl), I can see how people would ask that of Bea, a Taiwanese American girl born to creative parents (my mom is a composer and pianist and my father was an inventor and painter).

Neither of the stories are autobiographical, but they both have my truths throughout. No matter what the story is about, if it contains emotional truth, it will be real for the reader.

2. One of my favorite characters in THE WAY TO BEA is Will, a wonderful friend to Bea who is growing up with Asperger’s. In the acknowledgments, you mention that you are “determined to continue working toward sensitivity and understanding of all the complex and wonderful humans we share this planet with.” What do you hope readers can take away from Bea and Will’s friendship?

I believe that readers will take from books whatever they need to take and I have little control over that, but if I had to choose something, I think I would say I'd like them to take this:

Friendship is friendship is friendship.

Love is love is love. 

When we look past labels and understand that under every possible label we could slap on someone—whether it's On the Spectrum, Artist, Mean Girl, Teacher or Friend—beneath any of them lies a endless range of what belongs there. Every individual on the planet is so completely different, we should never make decisions about them before we get to know them.

I mean think about why people like to label. It makes things easier. You know where things belong. We label the contents of our pantry or the boxes in our attic. Labeling for the most part has made our lives better. So then we extend the idea of labels to the people we interact with (or, more commonly and even worse, the people we never interact with!)

We want to label them. 

To make ourselves comfortable.

So we know where they go.

Now imagine a world where we don't label someone right away. And we don't put them up on some hard-to-reach shelf where we think they belong. 

Imagine that we get to know them first. 

We talk.

We listen. 

We might actually end up keeping them on a shelf right by our side.

That was a big reason why I didn't want Will to be labeled. Because Bea is so sensory in all her experiences, I knew she'd be a perfect person to just meet someone and figure them out the way an artist or writer would. By how she experienced being around him, how her emotions responded to his friendship.

The takeaway I'd wish for?

Leave the labels for organizing the pantry. 

3. One of my favorite lines from the novel is when Bea is listening to the song “Brave” by Sara Bareilles. Bea says, “I wanted to tell her she doesn’t have to stand there so still and afraid and hand-twisty, because it’s not worth it to be with people who make you feel like you can’t say what you want to say.” Bea draws inspiration from music. What was the importance of including music in a story that already has poetry and art in it? And of all the songs listed in the back, you never list Bea's personal theme song...

Bea has grown up around creative expression her whole life, she knows there are many ways to communicate feelings. Along with poetry and art, she uses music. I knew I wanted her to be this fully formed, three dimensional, ultra-technicolor human, bursting to express herself every way possible. And then explore what to do when she finds herself locked up inside. Realizing that there are people (best friends!) who are disparaging of all her very personal expressions is devastating to her.

 All these ways of expressing herself are like messages to the universe. Something that Bea talks about throughout the novel is how important messages are. There are so many messages in her life. 

The ones she sends out to her secret correspondent. 

The theme songs S's mom say are like messages to yourself to remind you who you are. 

Bea's mom's art. Which she says tells everyone what she feels on the inside.

And especially Bea's Playlist, which she names I Hope You Listen. It's a compilation of songs that she created for her former best friend, S. A message to let her know that she can be whoever she wants to be. 

Just who ends up receiving this message, though, is not who Bea planned.

As for the song list in back. I chose NOT to include Bea's personal theme song. I had put it in and taken it out so many times. But ultimately I liked the idea of the reader maybe coming up with their own choice for her theme song along with their own theme song. I know what I'd make it. Though I'm dying to know what readers will think of.

Kat Yeh is the award-winning author of middle grade novels, THE WAY TO BEA (Sept, 2017) and THE TRUTH ABOUT TWINKIE PIE (an NPR Best Book of 2015) from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, as well as picture book, THE FRIEND SHIP, from Disney-Hyperion. Kat and her family live in one of those crooked little nooks along the north shore of Long Island with secret beaches and lots of hidden paths. Learn more about Kat at


Friday, September 22, 2017

Sowing Seeds of Greatness

We all long for a simple recipe for the perfect story. Unfortunately, creativity doesn’t usually work that way. Writing is a messy, exciting, mind-blowing adventure, which is exactly why we love it and why it sometimes kicks our trash. 


The seeds for a great tale can be found just about anywhere—floating on the wind like dandelion clocks, at the breakfast table sprinkled on a bagel, spinning through a movie like maple tree helicopters, or in a squishy pile in your very own backyard. 

The problem is these seeds often sprout stories far different from what we’d expect. This is one instance where the apple really might fall far from the tree. It might even roll down the hill and morph into a carriage. But that is part of the joy of writing. 

If you’re prepping for a new story, seek inspiration in real life. Take a walk. Watch a movie. Just don’t zone out. Keep your notebook handy and jot down ideas, however commonplace or strange. You never know where they’ll take you once you start writing.


Here’s a couple prompts to get those creative juices flowing.
Pick whatever color first comes to mind. Think of an emotion. Then look around the room (or alternatively, out the window), noticing the first item/person/animal you see that has your chosen color on it. 
Spend ten second visualizing that person or object. How is the emotion you considered connected to that person or object? Are they feeling that way? Did they provoke that emotion in someone else? Why? How? Now take what you’ve got and develop it into a 500-word piece answering the question—“What happens next?” 

Remember, keep it active!

Now, take this piece or another short piece you’ve written and twist it. For instance, you could change an element of the story, rewriting it with a fantasy or sci-fi overlay. 
Or add a new character who is vastly different from the others you’ve included and see how things play out. Change the POV or gender of the main characters. Choose a minor character and rewrite the scene from their perspective. 
There are tons of ways to do this. Whatever you do, you will find your story becomes something else altogether. Sometimes it will spawn several stories. You may stumble upon a compelling theme and really make it shine.

For more prompts, try


As always, write in genius mode. You know what I mean. Write in a frenzy of brilliance, not worrying too much about perfect wording or stellar spelling. Just let the story spill out in all its ugly glory. 

Once you’re done (and the story has rested for awhile, days even), go back and see what you’ve got. This is when you put on your ruthless editing hat, rip out your blood-red pen and scribble away. 

Better yet, try a strategic approach. Go through your piece with a critical eye, searching for the true story hiding within. Sometimes the skeleton of an intriguing tale is already there, waiting to be fleshed out with similes, metaphors, powerful themes, and enhancing detail. 
Sometimes the skeleton is too jumbled up to put together into anything meaningful. But in that case, there’s almost always some glimmer of inspiration there, some new seed to plant and nurture into something beautiful (or scary, whatever your preference).

The point is, the seed is just the beginning, just a way to get your creative juices flowing. Don’t feel constrained by the start of the story or even its inspiration. In the end, you are the artist. You determine where the story takes us. Unless, of course, you happen upon a really headstrong character, who has a mind of their own and takes you on an adventure you’d never dreamed could come from your own mind.

Either way, you’re writing, you’re loving it, and at the same time, sowing seeds of greatness in your readers. In any genre, this is important, but especially in middle grade fiction. 
Our readers are clamoring for entertainment and encouragement, they’re on the cusp of defining themselves and are hungry for inspiration. They need to witness characters wrestle with problems and rise above themselves. As do we all.

What are some of your recent sources of creativity?

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Review : Gamer Squad by Kim Harrington

Titles : Gamer Squad : Attack of the Not-So-Virtual Monsters  (book 1) + Close Encounters of the Nerd Kind (book 2)

Author : Kim Harrington
Twitter : @Kim_Harrington

Release Date : August 1, 2017

Publisher : Sterling Children's Books

Descriptions :


What happens when your cool virtual reality game....becomes REAL?!

Monsters Unleashed - where you catch virtual-reality monsters on your cellphone - is one of the hottest mobile games around, and Bex and Charlie just can't stop playing. They even check out an old map in Charlie's grandfather's attic in hopes of discovering some forgotten places in town where the rarest monsters might hide. But they find a strange machine up there too, and after Charlie switches it on, the WiFi goes down...and Bex's entire catalog of monsters vanishes! And that's not the worst of it: all of the creatures she's collected on her phone escape into the real world. Can the friends nab the beasts before they become monster lunch!?


First they took on monsters. Now they have to face ALIENS.

Come join Bex and Charlie on their second thrilling adventure in the GAMER SQUAD series!

After their scary adventure, Bex and Charlie have sworn never to play Monsters Unleashed again. Then Veratrum Games Corp releases a new augmented reality game featuring aliens instead of monsters, and the best friends can't resist. After all, everyone loves it, even their science teacher, because it includes real star charts. But when they go to an observatory on a class trip, and open the game near a radio telescope, they get more than they bargained for: REAL aliens! One is sweet and kind; the other...not so much! Can Bex and Charlie capture the bad ET before it destroys their town?!


It's not often that I'm asked to review books, but sometimes a a book fits me like a missing puzzle piece that you've basically searched the entire house for about three weeks until it drives you absolutely mad because you've been working on the puzzle for like a MONTH. Okay, that doesn't make bout the book just calls out to me because I'm the perfect match.

That's what happened here with Kim Harrington's Gamer Squad series.

If you know me, you know that I am practically obsessed with video games, so I would be HIGHLY critical of a book that is tapping into my passion. I'm like the judge of judges when it comes to over-analyzing video game books (especially when you think about the fact that the book that got me an agent was a video game based book lol)

As soon as I received my copies of ATTACK OF THE NOT-SO-VIRTUAL MONSTERS and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE NERD KIND I was immediately attracted to the cover art. Sure, you can say don't judge a book by it's cover, but if I'm a kid in a book store, I'm doing just that. If I were a kid, I would have had massive grabby hands just off the artwork alone, but enough about covers we're talking about the book itself.

Three Words -




Let's dive into Attack of the Not-So-Virtual Monsters first. We're introduced to our main characters of the series, Bex and Charlie, who are quite possibly some of the most entertaining middle-grade characters I've encountered in quite a long time. Their sense of humor is brilliant (who doesn't love bad dad jokes about science), and their friendship is unbreakable. Both of these characters, including all the side characters we encounter in the story from Marcus to Willa and even the crazy old cook who lives in town all come to life on the page with different personalities and an amazing middle grade voice.

Talking about voice, it's not even the characters and their dialogue that are convincing, but the descriptions throughout the novel. When you're talking about pokemon-esque monsters, you've got to have a crazy imagination and describing them is key. But I felt as if I were staring them down myself when they would encounter a new one. From vampire wolves, to half cat / half pig monsters...and spiders. COME ON..SPIDERS? REALLY? WHY?! (I hate spiders). Trust me, if you're a fan of pokemon, and who isn't, you'll fall in love immediately with the Monster capture game that is the focus point of the book.

It's non stop action from beginning to end, and you'll be hard pressed not to read this book in one sitting. Especially with the twists in the action, and character development up until the very end, it's a page turner.

And yes, this made me want to play pokemon go again lol. Overall, this book is a PERFECT introduction to our main cast (The Gamer Squad), and a stellar start to the series where gaming is brought to life.

As soon as I finished the first book, I basically jumped right into CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE NERD KIND - props right off the bat for the reference to one of my favorite sci-fi flicks.

Now this book is basically a direct continuation from book 1 with more of the same great fast paced action and hilarious humor. While it's similar in a way since we are dealing with another "monster" invasion, this time our kids are tasked with a bit more than just capturing the monsters, and it turns into more of a battle of wits. The characters are growing and changing, the conflicts are growing and changing, and even the twists are changing. It's great how Kim was able to create a similar story with a completely different feel allowing for another super fast read.

No joke - I managed to tackle both of these books so incredibly fast that it left me thirsty for more. I was actually upset that I only got to review the first two, and was able to get my hands on the third part to the Gamer Squad series, APP OF THE LIVING DEAD, coming out October 3rd. Zombies? Sign me up....

Makes me wish there is going to be part 4 to the series, and this time with Dinos a la Jurassic Park. MAKE IT HAPPEN!!

Anyway, if you're a kid, ages 8-12 with any sort of passion toward gaming...heck just action paced good times in general - do yourself a favor and pick up these two books and immerse yourself in an awesome world where friends are key to surviving the most bizarre adventures you'll ever have.

I give both Attack of the Not-So-Virtual Monsters and Close Encounters of the Nerd Kind a whopping 4.5 out of 5 video game controllers.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Kim Ventrella's SKELETON TREE

We’ve got some exciting news on the blog today! One of our contributors, Kim Ventrella, is days away from celebrating the release of her debut MG novel, SKELETON TREE. If you’ve been keeping up with Kim’s posts here, you’re probably anxious for the chance to read her work — I know I am! In preparation for the release, Kim answered a few questions about the book, her writing, and what she's learned about publishing.

First of all, tell us about the book.

Skeleton Tree is the story of 12-year-old Stanly and his little sister, Miren. One day, Stanly discovers a finger bone growing in his backyard. He plans to enter a picture of his discovery in an archaeology contest, but the bones have other ideas. They start to grow. First into a bony arm reaching up into the sky, and then into a full-sized skeleton that only children can see. There’s just one person who doesn’t find any of this weird—Stanly’s little sister. Mischievous Miren adopts the skeleton as a friend, and soon, the two become inseparable playmates. When Miren starts to grow sick, Stanly suspects that the skeleton is responsible, and does everything in his power to drive the creature away. However, Miren is desperate not to lose her friend, forcing Stanly to question everything he’s ever believed about life, love, and the mysterious forces that connect us.

Where did the story come from?

I started by asking myself, “What would happen if a boy discovered a finger bone growing in his backyard?” I didn’t plot the story out ahead of time, so I was surprised by all of the twists and turns along the way. Drafting is awesome like that. Even if you do plot your story out ahead of time, there are always unexpected details and quirks that make the writing process exciting. Kind of like being an archaeologist and uncovering a full skeleton from what started as a single bone.  

How long had you been working on this book before you felt it was "ready?"

I had actually been querying another novel at the time, but while I was waiting to hear back, I decided to write Skeleton Tree. Thank goodness I did. Since it was a quick turnaround, I really only did one big revision before sending it off, and the agent in question signed me on that book!

Describe your process. Do you write each day? Do you have word count goals to keep you going?

When I’m writing, my word-count goal is 2,000 words a day. I have to finish drafts super-fast, just so I don’t lose the magic of the moment. Then, as is probably always the case, the revision process is much slower.

What has surprised you most about the publication process? How did all of it compare to what you had expected / anticipated?

I’ve been really lucky. My agent, editor and the whole team at Scholastic are amazing! It’s so much fun to hear from people online who have read the book and loved it. I’m blown away by the whole experience, and I can’t wait to see what else my journey has in store.

Have you learned anything about publishing that will influence how you'll approach your next project?

Getting a book deal has changed the way I write in one big way. I used to be a total discovery writer, but now I have to submit proposals before really getting started on a project, so that means I’ve had to learn how to plan and outline. I think it’s actually a good thing. I still discovery write to some extent, but now I have a more balanced approach.

Any special plans for the book birthday? How does it feel being so close to the release date?

Yes! I’ll be celebrating at Barnes & Noble (6100 North May Ave, Oklahoma City) on the release day, September 26, 2017 at 6:30pm. I will do a short talk followed by signing all the books! There will be skeleton desserts, a photo booth, crafts and so much swag!!!

Be sure to CLICK HERE to view the SKELETON TREE book trailer.

Friday, September 15, 2017

No Place Like Home Book Review

Top Five Reasons You Should Read No Place Like Home, 
by Dee Romito:
1. Kenzie, the spunky main character who auditions for the school musical, runs for vice-president of her class, and organizes a school ice skating party.

 2. Kenzie’s dad, a VIP who scores the best hotel rooms, room service, and travel adventures a girl could ask for.

3. The Wizard of Oz—the best musical ever, and an awesome metaphor for what Kenzie needs—a place to call home.

4. A cute boy, a not-so-nice drama diva, and a middle school cafeteria where vocal performances are a regular thing.

5. Tons of heart, true friendships, and the feeling that home means a little bit more than just a place on a map.

No Place Like Home is fast-paced, full of adventure, and heartwarming. Middle grade readers, especially girls, will relate to Kenzie’s need to fit in and belong.  Here’s the full synopsis:

Kenzie Rhines doesn’t have a home—she has too many. Her dad’s job keeps the two of them flying around the country, which means “home” is whatever fancy hotel they’re currently staying in and “school” takes place 30,000 miles in the air. Kenzie loves the constant adventures, but she wouldn’t mind planting her feet in one place for longer than two seconds. When Kenzie’s dad surprises her with the news that they’ll be in Las Vegas for an extended business trip, she’s thrilled he wants to enroll her in a local middle school. For the first time in her life, Kenzie decides to take some risks: tell a cute boy she likes him, audition for the school musical, The Wizard of Oz, and run for vice-president of her class. But what Kenzie doesn’t tell her new friends or teachers is that she’ll only be in school for six weeks. When Kenzie starts to get what she’s always wanted, things get complicated. How can she play a part in the musical or serve as a class officer if she’s leaving—forever?

No Place Like Home hits shelves 9/19/17.

About the Author:

Dee Romito is an author and former elementary teacher. Her middle-grade debut, The BFF Bucket List, is available from Simon & Schuster/Aladdin with Best. Night. Ever., No Place Like Home, and The Italy List to follow in 2017 and 2018. She blogs about writing at I Write for Apples, where she and her team share tips to help fellow writers. Dee is also co-advisor of the Buffalo-Niagara Children’s Writers and Illustrators. You can visit her website at





Thursday, September 14, 2017


We love a good cover reveal here on Middle Grade Minded!

So we are thrilled to host the cover reveal of Alexandra Ott's upcoming middle grade novel THE SHADOW THIEVES, the sequel to her wonderful RULES FOR THIEVES!

What you need to know about THE SHADOW THIEVES:

Alli Rosco, former orphan, is free after her disastrous Thieves Guild trial, which left an innocent woman dead while Alli’s partner-in-crime, Beck, fled.

Now Alli is getting more than just a fresh start: Her long-lost brother, Ronan, has come forward to claim responsibility for her and let her live with him on a trial basis. They try to mend the rift that started when Alli was dropped off at the orphanage while Ronan became a lawyer in Ruhia. But as determined as she is to make things work, Alli can’t seem to stay out of trouble.

To make matters worse, Alli finds a surprise guest on her doorstep one night: Beck. He’s on the run and brings news of the Shadow Guild, a rogue organization that is trying to overthrow the current king of the Thieves Guild. Their friends are in real danger, and Beck needs Alli’s help one more time to bring the Shadows down. Once again, Alli is forced to make a hard choice: save her friends, or lose her last chance to have a true family.

About Alexandra Ott:

Alexandra Ott holds a B.A. in English from the University of Tulsa. She currently lives in Oklahoma with her tiny canine overlord. Rules for Thieves is her debut novel. Visit her online at and on Twitter @Alexandra_Ott.


Publisher: Aladdin (Simon and Schuster)
Release Date: Summer 2018
ISBN: 978-1-4814-7277-7
Author Website:
The Shadow Thieves on Goodreads:

And now, the cover reveal!!!!

scroll down........

And here is it! I love the cover - it's so intriguing!

Thanks for letting us share your beautiful cover, Alexandra!!!!