Friday, October 1, 2021

5 Spooky Books for Middle Grade Readers!

Halloween is just around the corner. Okay, I know it's only Oct 1, but the countdown to spook night, candied apples, and carved pumpkins has officially begun. What better way to launch the Halloween season than to curl up with a frightful book? Here's a few to get you (and your middle grade readers) started!

The Girl in the Locked Room - a Ghost Story

When Jules and her family move into an old, abandoned house, she discovers a locked room and sees a pale, ghostly face peering from its windows. 

Jules embarks on a mysterious quest to open the locked door and change the fate of the family who lived in the house a century before.

"This gentle paranormal mystery is perfect for young readers."-Booklist

A World Full of Spooky Stories: Tales to Make Your Spine Tingle

This spine-chilling anthology gathers spooky stories from all over the world. Read about the bewitching Queen of the Faeries, the terrifying Baba Yaga, Father Death, and more.

Amazon Review: "My 2 elementary age kids love this book. The stories are spooky and I think that's exactly what keeps their attention. It's also very nice to have a variety of new stories from different cultures that were lessen known. Some of the stories can be a bit scary, so I would not recommend it for 6 yrs old or younger." 

The Mystery of Black Hollow Lane

When twelve-year-old Emmy is shipped off to a prestigious British boarding school, she encounters a lot more than tea and crumpets. She discovers a box of mysterious medallions, strange symbols etched into walls, and a secret society: The Order of Black Hollow Lane.

And all of it seems linked to the disappearance of Emmy's long-lost Dad.

Amazon Review: "By cleverly intertwining history into the narrative, Julia Nobel has crafted a page-turning mystery in which a charming cast whose true-to-life interactions make them feel real investigates a secret society whose menace is made worse because it could rationally exist."

Greystone Secrets #1: The Strangers

In this thrilling series opener, the three Greystone children learn of a kidnapping. The only thing is, the children kidnapped have their same first and middle names and birthdates, and other strange similarities. 

When the Greystones try to investigate their world is turned upside down. 

"A secret-stacked, thrilling series opener about perception, personal memories, and the idiosyncrasies that form individual identities." - Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Bestselling Haddix launches a new middle-grade series that blends adventure and sf elements into an engrossing mystery. The kidnapping alone could have made a compelling mystery, but Haddix throws in secret rooms, alternate realities, and a cliff-hanger ending to raise the stakes and delight fans new and old.” - Booklist

The Ghost Collector

This tender story, steeped in Cree folklore, features Shelly, who has a special role with ghosts, like all the women in her family. She helps those who are stuck transition on to the next life. 

But when her mother dies, she starts hoarding ghosts in her room instead. But no matter how many she hoards, she still hasn't found the one that matters most to her.

“Perfectly balances suspense and the supernatural . . . [A] powerful and moving story about coming to terms with the death of a loved one. It’s an auspicious debut that is sure to delight middle-grade readers.” - The Globe and Mail, 08/25/19

“Poignantly haunting.” - The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, 09/19

These books will be a treat as we move into the cozy days and longer nights of fall! 

Friday, July 23, 2021

5 Middle Grade Summer Reads You Don't Want to Miss!

Summer is in full swing, with afternoons spent in backyard hammocks or whiled away on road trips. Whatever the choice of your summer time, be sure to tuck a few of these great middle grade reads into your kid's backpack - or even your own!

Protagonist Kiki Kallira is sure to thrill fans of adventure, art, and mythology in this action-packed novel. Readers will be drawn into this entertaining story within moments...and may even find themselves reaching for their own sketchbooks. This book is a great springboard for imagination! Buy Kiki Kallira Breaks a Kingdom by Sangu Mandanna here!

Tae Keller weaves an enchanting story in When You Trap a Tiger, incorporating the wonder of Korean folk tales. When a tiger from one of the tales comes to life, her main character, Lily must unravel a secret family history and discover if she has the courage to face the tiger. Winner of the 2021 Newbery Medal. Available here!

Looking for a complex, riveting tale? The Kate in Between by Claire Swinarski may just fit the bill. Kate finds herself torn between her best friend, Haddie, and her newfound acceptance in the popular group. This book tackles issues of friendship, bullying, honesty, and guilt. Available here!

In this heartwarming novel, an unlikely friendship is forged when Ro and Benji become science partners in school. They unite to seek his missing comic-book-writing Dad and to finish the rocket her Dad was building when he died. Together, they deal with grief and tackle some of the deepest questions of the cosmos. Find Clues to the Universe by Christina Li at amazon!

Barclay the mushroom apprentice accidentally bonds with a magical beast, setting off a rollicking adventure sure to keep readers turning pages. Buy Wilderlore: The Accidental Apprentice by Amanda Foody here!

Happy Reading!

Monday, July 5, 2021

An Interview with Author Alyson Gerber

I'm a HUGE Alyson Gerber fan, so I knew that when TAKING UP SPACE was recently released, I definitely wanted to talk to her about this stunning novel that is going to speak to so many kids!


About the Book:

Sarah loves basketball more than anything. Crushing it on the court makes her feel like she matters. And it's the only thing that helps her ignore how much it hurts when her mom forgets to feed her.

But lately Sarah can't even play basketball right. She's slower now and missing shots she should be able to make. Her body doesn't feel like it's her own anymore. She's worried that changing herself back to how she used to be is the only way she can take control over what's happening.

When Sarah's crush asks her to be partners in a cooking competition, she feels pulled in a million directions. She'll have to dig deep to stand up for what she needs at home, be honest with her best friends, and accept that she doesn't need to change to feel good about herself.

The Interview:

Hi Aly!

Thanks so much for answering some questions!

Thank you so much for having me! 

Q1: You're so open in your books about issues you've had in your life. Do you find it cathartic or is it still uncomfortable at times?

It’s definitely uncomfortable to confront what I’ve been through in my writing, but I’ve found that digging into my experience and facing my feelings is the only way I know how to heal and move forward. In the process of publishing BRACED, FOCUSED, and TAKING UP SPACE, I've also had the chance to help a lot of kids and adults, and I'm really grateful for that opportunity. It's changed me for the better.

Q2: One of the things I love so much about this book is that it deals with the onset of puberty head on and how hard that can be for girls, not just psychologically, but physically, and yet we so rarely see it discussed in books. Can you talk about your conscious decision to talk about the feeling young girls have that their body is somehow betraying them specifically, and not solely related to disordered eating?

Absolutely. I wanted TAKING UP SPACE to address puberty in an honest way. Puberty is the first time kids experience their body changing. The way they look and feel and appear to other people is new and completely out of their control. It's confusing and weird and also really lonely, because this monumental thing is happening (or not happening), and yet no one is talking about it. Everyone is just pretending that things are the same, when everything is different. I really hope TAKING UP SPACE helps readers to feel less alone in this experience.

Q3: Sarah and her mother have a very strained relationship, one that in many ways isn’t helped at all by her father. There is so much shame ricocheting in that house, in addition to love. Was it difficult to find the balance between these characters?

When I started writing TAKING UP SPACE, I knew that to some readers Sarah's family would feel unfamiliar. This type of dynamic where the culture of dieting has trickled down through generations is actually very common, but it's rarely shown or discussed, because there is so much shame. I stayed focused on making sure that Sarah's parents felt like real people. I wanted readers to feel how much Sarah's parents love her, even as they struggle to provide her with a sense of security and enough food. The balance was definitely tricky, but I'm really proud of how these characters turned out in the story. And I'm so excited by the reviews from readers who can relate to what Sarah is going through and also encouraged by the incredible response from readers who have never been inside this type of dynamic.

Q4: Sarah’s best friend, Ryan, is steadfast, but she doesn’t sugarcoat things for Sarah, which makes me really love her! How important is it to you to accurately portray young girls’ friendships?

I feel very obligated to show my readers honest versions of what friendship really looks like, not what I wish it looked like. The truth is that friendships are special and also complicated. There isn’t a right or wrong way to be a friend. There is only what's right and wrong for you. This is particularly hard when you're young, because most people are trying to figure out who they are and what they need. And just when they have some sense of that, everything about their body and brain changes, so what they need from friends changes too. 

Q5: The most moving part of the book, and most important in my opinion, is when Sarah tells her truth and asks for help. So many kids are afraid to do this and the way it goes down is SO well done. How hard was that to write?

Thank you. That means a lot to me. Writing the build up to that moment when Sarah is finally able to see what's really happening and ask for help was the hardest part of writing this book. It had to ring true and feel earned. And it didn't work, until it did.

Q6: Finally, for all the Alyson Gerber fans out there, what’s next?

I love this question so much! And I hate to be mysterious, but I can't say what's coming next just yet. I promise it will be worth the wait. It's going to be amazing!

And how do you like this adorable picture of Alyson on her first day of middle school? SO cute!

Want to know about Alyson and find out more about her other amazing novels? 

Visit her website!

Monday, June 28, 2021

Review Lola Benko Treasure Hunter by Beth McMullen


Lola Benko travels the world with her archeologist dad. She's used to hopping around the globe with no place to call home. But when her dad mysteriously sends her to live with her great-aunt Irma and is thought to have died trying to recover his next artifact, Lola swears he's still alive. She will stop at nothing to find her father even if it means getting caught stealing expensive art from a rich mansion. But if she's to uncover the truth she'll have to trust kids her own age and she's used to doing things on her own.

Lola is a fantastic character, she's into STEM and likes to invent things and dives in head first often without a plan which makes her lovable even in her mistakes. Unfortunately Lola Benko didn't have the world travels and Indiana Jones style treasure hunts I expected but it did have a lot of heart and some fun and sometimes unexpected middle of the night adventures that often went sideways before the characters were able to get themselves out of the mess created. Lola's friends Hannah and Jin are believable and help level and challenge Lola as a character. And the ending had a nice wrap up while also opening the door for the sequel.

I recommend to all middle grade readers looking for a little adventure with a side of mischief and fun that doesn't always go according to plan.

ARC generously provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, June 18, 2021

Jacking Up the Excitement in your Middle Grade Novel

I'm writing from Puerto Vallarta today. Taking out a little time to blog during my family vacation. Don't worry, I won't bore you with candid shots of my kids learning to surf or grisly descriptions of what happens when you jump off a board onto spiny sea urchins. It's not pretty. We'll leave it at that.

Instead, let's take a bite out of jackfruit. 

What does jackfruit have to do with writing riveting novels? Well, let me explain. 

Jackfruit is a huge warty green fruit. It's kind of melon looking, if your melons were aliens or perhaps were exposed to some sort of virus. It's not melon-y at all inside. I've never seen one before yesterday. Honestly, I was super excited to try it. I'm a bit of a foodie and I love adventure, so why not try eating something that looks like a science experiment gone wrong? The guides loved it. What did I have to lose?

A few bucks, apparently. But I gained oh, so much in experience, right?

Not only does the jackfruit look strange but the rubbery pit-filled flesh (promised to be a tantalizing blend of banana, cantaloupe, and pineapple) turned out to be........bland. I could only manage a bite. 

Back at the hotel, I tried blending it into a smoothie. I was greeted with a less-than-enthusiastic shrug from the family and something that sounded a little like "Mmph." Mmmmm was more what I was hoping for.

This brings me back to the point of this post - jacking up the excitement.

Anything you write needs to have a unique, intriguing presentation. No doubt the jackfruit did. I haven't seen that many warts since Halloween. And the chartreuse hue definitely grabbed my attention. 

But as with the fruit, presentation isn't enough. Even if some locals (family and friends) love your novel, you probably want to extend your appeal a little farther than that. And let's face it, no one really wants something bland. 

So here's some tips for writing a compelling novel that lives up to its hype.

Craft a Tight Plot

Include the basic elements of plot in your story. Free write all you want to get the juices going. But it's useful to have some idea of where you are in terms of plot. Some writers do this through structured planning such as outlining. Others prefer to "pants it," writing by the seat of the their pants, or on the fly, with little or no planning at all. Whatever your process, be sure to include these vital elements of plot.
  1. Exposition - this is the basic setup, where you develop enough character and world building to grab the readers attention and introduce them to the world of your novel. This is the period prior to the inciting incident.
  2. Inciting incident - this is the event that sets the novel in motion, the life-changing thing that happens that propels your character on their journey. 
  3. Rising Action - this is when your main character attempts to solve problems and overcome obstacles. This is where twists and turns should happen.
  4. Climax/Turning Point - This is the darkest moment, often referred to as the all-is-lost moment. Your character must confront the dragon and face their own weaknesses at the same time. This is when the most intense character transformation occurs.
  5. Resolution - The problem resolves and the character and their world return to normal, but it is a new normal, incorporating changes to the main character and their world. This often includes personal growth and new understanding of life and the world around them.

Create Relatable Characters

In order to be relatable each main character needs backstory, hobbies, interests, even conflicting opinions. I'm not talking about conflict between characters here, but conflict within a single character, much like we experience ourselves. 

Of course, conflict between characters is vital as well, even between allies. No one gets along perfectly all the time, not even the best of friends. Check your novel to make sure there's enough conflict and tension or your readers will find the relationships unrealistic and, dare I say it, bland.

Characters also need to have weaknesses. There's nothing more relatable than weakness and vulnerability, because we all experiences that, too.

Layer in Imagery and Metaphor

Once you finish your first draft, take a blazing fast read through of your novel. Look for imagery and themes you have included, whether on purpose or by accident. Then intensify these themes. Look for opportunities to add meaning through imagery and metaphor. This will add interest and depth to your novel.

Edit Out Fluff

It's tempting to include flowery adverbs or adjectives. But these actually detract from compelling writing. So does too much information. Consider the following sentences:

Jack clumsily walked too close to a really huge rocky ledge then fell off, screaming and hollering all the way down.


Jack stumbled off a cliff.

Which one makes your heart jump? Which one makes you want to turn the page to find out what happened next?

DISCLAIMER: This post is not anti-Jack or anti-jackfruit. The author acknowledges that while jackfruit may not be to her taste, there are likely people around the world who find it delicious, and quite possibly even riveting. Just like with books....taste varies :)

Happy Reading and Happy Writing!

Friday, May 14, 2021

12 Great Resources for Writing (and Selling!) Middle Grade Fiction

Today's post features a blogroll of fabulous resources for middle grade writers. I've included a few notes, but be sure to click on those you links you want to dig into a little deeper!

Basics of Middle Grade

Middle Grade Novel Structure - Identifying the middle grade target audience and more!
Developing a compelling Middle Grade Fiction Premise - Remember what it was like to be 12 :)
3 Key Components of Middle Grade Novels - Characters on a mission, facing challenges, and growing!

Middle Grade Character Development

21 Characteristics of a Perfect Middle Grade Protagonist - Evokes sympathy, has a strong motivation, is complex....the list goes on!
Tropes & Tips for Middle Grade Fiction Writers: Great resource for ideas and for avoiding cliches.

Marketing Middle Grade Books

How to Learn the Market for Middle Grade Fiction - Read relevant middle grade literature, engage in complexity, make room for diversity, and remember what kids are reading for.

Darn Good Writing Advice

Dramatic Arc Archives from Kidlit - This website is chock-full of information, useful for any writer, but specifically targeting middle grade authors.

Happy Writing!

Monday, March 22, 2021

Author Interview: Riel Nason

One of my favourite authors is Riel Nason, who is also from New Brunswick, Canada.





2020 was a big year for Riel: she had both a picture book - THE LITTLE GHOST WHO WAS A QUILT and a middle grade novel  - WAITING UNDER WATER - published!





The Interview!

First of all, you had two books come out last year — a picture book called The Little Ghost Who Was a Quilt and a middle grade novel called Waiting Under Water — so congratulations! What was it like having two books come out in 2020?

Well, had I known what 2020 had in store for us all … but, trying to stay on the positive side of things, reading is something that you can do at home alone, so although it was less than an ideal time to release books as far as having events, the stories did reach readers.  


Although this blog is about middle grade fiction, I can’t help but ask a couple of questions about your wonderful picture book. What inspired your delightful ghost, Scrappy?

I love Halloween and I love quilting.  I had wanted to write a children’s picture book for quite a while – I just had to come up with what I thought was a really good idea.  The idea of a quilt ghost struck me as something really fun and more importantly, so different, to work with, so then it was a matter of what his story would be.


As someone who is just dipping their toes into writing a picture book herself, what is the drafting process like compared with writing YA or MG?

I am not someone who makes formal drafts, but I absolutely jot down many, many snippets of ideas and major plot points.  For a novel, I think about the main plot, what may be subplots, different scenes, etc.  But for a picture book, there is one story, one plot.  It has to be clear and short while still being fun and clever – AND still leaving little bits of the story for the illustrator to tell.  When writing and editing any piece obviously every word counts, but with a picture book every word REALLY counts.


Will we ever see Scrappy again?

I would be thrilled if The Little Ghost Who Was a Quilt could have more adventures …


Waiting Under Water is one of my favourite middle grade books of 2020! What inspired the story?

I am terrible at remembering what things all align in my head to come up with a story, but I am committed to writing stories set in New Brunswick and writing about small town-life.  


And quilts appear in this book, too! I love that Hope quilts and that quilting is presented as something wonderfully creative, not something reserved for little old ladies in church halls (not that there’s anything wrong with that!). Did you quilt when you were Hope’s age?

I didn’t quilt when I was Hope’s age, but I did crochet and make many kinds of crafts.  I only started quilting about 10 or 12 years ago.


Hope is about to be snatched out of the magical village of St. David’s and moved to a big city far away. Did you experience anything similar as a kid? 

Kind of.  I did live in Toronto for a year when I was Hope’s age.  My Dad was on sabbatical for a year and went to U of T.  So our family went from Hawkshaw, NB (Population 25ish) to Toronto for a year and then back to Hawkshaw, NB again.


As the reader, I thought that you dealt with Hope’s anxieties and tics perfectly; they’re an issue, but they aren’t the heart of the story. How difficult was it to find that balance?

I’m not sure that it was something I thought about.  I think for me, once I know what a character is like, what personality traits I have decided for them to have, what challenges, etc. are established then I work with those as the character goes through each scene and situation in the book.  It’s never a matter of like, oh yeah, time to mention the tics again, but more, wow this thing happening in the book would really stress Hope out, she likely will have anxiety here.


Friendship is a huge theme in the novel, not just for the kids, but we see the adults grappling with leaving friends, too. Hope and her best friend, Willa, have their own friendship challenge, as well as with the ‘mean girls’ who tease them, and all of the relationships evolve. How do you work on your characters to make them so vivid?

Hmm, not sure other than every time someone does something in the book I think about whether it is reasonable for that character to do. If I realise that something has to happen to advance the plot or get some information out to the reader, I think through how it make it happen naturally.  I also try to imagine myself in different scenes, thinking about what I may do or say.


I’m pretty sure I know the village that inspired St. David’s is — I spent a lot of time there as a kid — and you captured it perfectly! What do you think living in a small place gives a kid?

I likely know where you are referring to.  Because only one small village in NB has “sea caves” that are popular for visiting, some people have assumed that St. David’s is inspired by this single place.  But that’s not the case.  It’s a fictional version inspired by many, many tiny villages I’ve visited often in New Brunswick and Maine. I think spending a summer in a small seaside village as a kid is a wonderful thing.


I’m not going to give the ending away, but it is so SATISFYING. Did you plan the ending that way from the very beginning or is there an alternate Hope universe out in the ether?

So glad you like the ending.  It was always that way right from the first draft.


What are you working on next?

I am writing a new middle grade novel.  I am just starting.  I also have a couple of picture books in the works.  My next picture book comes out in July. It’s called Disaster at the Highland Games.


And finally, do you really make a wish when someone gives you a quilt? Because I’ve got a couple that I’m pretty sure no one has ever made a wish on and I’m wondering if I’m too late…

Hmm, it’s supposed to be wished on the first night by the first person who sleeps under it, but it’s not an exact science, so maybe ?  Thanks Wendy!

Thanks Riel!


Want to learn more about Riel? 



Monday, March 15, 2021

Review: Mrs. Smith's Spy School for Girls Double Cross


Abby and her friends have entered into a prestigious Challenge to compete against other teams at Briar Academy. The winning team brings glory to their school and stakes claim as the best and the brightest. While there, they discover some mysterious activities that lead them on another spy filled adventure. In order to uncover the nefarious plans that lead back to their nemesis the Ghost, Abby and her friends will have to decide if they want to sacrifice the competition and all its glory to stop the notorious Ghost once and for all.

Reading this final installment of the Mrs. Smith's Spy School for Girls was like visiting with old friends. Toby, Izumi, Charolette, and Abby are at it again, and they reluctantly join forces with Poppy and Owen Elliot the other team from Smith to solve the mystery. Much like the previous two, Double Cross is a lot of fun filled with sarcasm, adventure, gadgets, and mischief. It's a blast to watch these characters get into trouble and figure out how they are going to get out of it. Even when the odds are stacked against them, they manage to work together and power through. I will miss this world and hanging with these characters and their fully formed personalities. Overall a great final wrap up to the series.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Guest post by Jen Petro-Roy, author of Life in the Balance AND GIVEAWAY!

We’re all Real People 

When I was in kindergarten, I thought my teacher lived at school. It made sense, didn’t it? That was the only place I saw her—when I got there in the morning, she was there, setting up the classroom, putting out the toys, and greeting me with a smile on her face. When I left, she was still at school. So she obviously lived there….right?

I don’t remember all the details, but I apparently was utterly in shock after running in to my teacher at the grocery store. Why was she…away from the school? Did she…have her own home? Was she…her own person?

It’s not just kindergartners who struggle with this fact. Growing up, it was often hard to reconcile the reality that adults weren’t just there to discipline and take care of me. I wasn’t selfish, but I was self-centered in that little kid way, where my reality was central to my mind. I didn’t always understand that the authority figures around me—my parents—were their own people, too. They had their own history, their own problems and struggles. 

In my new book, Life in the Balance, Veronica is confronted with the reality that her mother has a problem. Veronica’s mother is an alcoholic, and after struggling for a long time with her addiction, she’s decided to enter a treatment center. 

Sadly, there are so many kids dealing with this same reality. Veronica is lucky in that her mother doesn’t protest toohard—she doesn’t fight back against the truth that she needs additional help—but Veronica is still affected by the turn her family has taken. After dealing with her mom’s addiction, the missed softball games, the late nights “out for drinks” with colleagues, and the lying, Veronica now has to come to terms with the fact that her mother will be leaving for an extended period of time.

That her mother has to take care of herself before she can take care of Veronica.

Adults are people, too, and I think the middle grade fiction is such a wonderful place to explore this reality. I love writing for middle schoolers because of where they are in life—that beautiful, confusing middle zone where they’re still so reliant on family members but also starting to define their life outside of the home. Where they’re clinging more tightly to friends and trying to establish their identity but still want that closeness with their parents.

In Life in the Balance, Veronica isn’t sure exactly what that identity is yet—she’s always played softball but is now starting to fall in love with singing. She wants to be close to her family but her mom is drifting away. And her best friend doesn’t understand the depth of Veronica’s anger at what is going on.

Kids get angry. Kids feel.

Because just like adults are humans, kids are, too. We all interact with each in a complicated dance. And that’s what the best books show—the difficulties of being human and of being in relationships. The way we all affect each other, in good and bad ways.



Jen Petro-Roy writes "honest books with heart," about kids who are strong, determined, unsure, struggling to fit in, bubbly, shy, and everything in between. She is the author of P.S. I MISS YOU, GOOD ENOUGH, YOU ARE ENOUGH, and LIFE IN THE BALANCE (out February 2021), all from Macmillan/Feiwel & Friends.

When she isn't writing, Jen can be found reading, playing board games, belting out songs in the car to embarrass her two daughters, and working as an eating disorder awareness advocate.


Twitter: @jpetroroy

Instagram: @jpetroroy



Leave a comment below between February 15th and February 20th and you'll be entered to win your own copy of Jen's wonderful new book!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Saturday, January 30, 2021

How (and Why!) to Dress Your Characters

As your characters wend their way through their novel, bravely facing the obstacles you throw at them, you may ask yourself - what should they wear? And does it really matter?

Well, yes, it does. And here's why. You can pack a ton of information into your characters' wardrobe, from backstory to mood to carefully placed plots elements. Plus, in real life, people wear clothes. Don't neglect this important part of setting and characterization.

Setting, you may ask? How in the world can clothes influence the setting of a book? J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series is an excellent example of this. Without the wizard robes and pointed hats, Hogwarts would be a very different place indeed. 

Uniforms with Purpose

Uniforms serve several functions in story writing. They provide the reader immediate clues about what type of story and world they've entered. A book packed with characters in army clothes will be quite different from one featuring ball gowns.

Uniforms can create unity among characters and highlight differences between groups. This is also clear in the Harry Potter books where Muggles dress very much like you and I but wizards cannot seem to figure out the intricacies of normal Muggle attire. Rowling also uses the standard wizarding world uniform to accentuate the times Harry and the other characters are away from the magical setting. 

Uniforms can also provide simplicity for both the reader and the writer, who won't need to rack their brains for distinctive, character-consistent outfits. Instead, small differences between similarly dressed characters can reveal their traits and mood. A rumpled outfit vs. a sleek, well-maintained one. 

Again in Harry Potter, Lupin's shabby robes reveal a great deal about his backstory, while Professor Lockhart's garish ones accentuate his narcissism. Ron Weasley's ancient dress robes contrast with Harry's new ones, highlighting Ron's poverty and providing an opportunity to show how each boy feels about it. Even Parvati Patil's butterfly hair clip - not the standard dress code - gives us information about who she is in contrast to those around her.

Dressing for the Weather

Casting characters in big bulky coats versus shorts or swimsuits establishes the type of weather and climate they are in. If they are missing a much-needed coat or sunhat, that creates potential problems for the character to work through. Similarly, when a character chooses a bright yellow raincoat, are they shaking their fist at mother nature, expressing a need for attention, or simply choosing from their limited options? The clothing begs the question. As the author, you decide how much to answer.

When dressing your character, consider how the weather changes throughout the day in your setting. Consider changes across weeks or months and adapt your characters' wardrobes accordingly. 

Clothing Sets the Mood

Perhaps you've heard the phrase, "Let me slip into something more comfortable," often given with a wink and a sly grin. There's no doubt that clothes set the mood for a given situation. Clothing choices often indicate characters' hopes or their anticipation of how the day may progress. They can also reflect characters' moods or their attempts to disguise how they really feel. Clothing can indicate the general mood of a place, like the gray clothes often featured in stories about orphanages.

Time and Fashion

Here's a few examples:
The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis features girls wearing dresses, typical of 1940s England.

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card features characters wearing futuristic battle gear.

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan dresses its characters in modern clothes.

Clothing Reveals Character

We've all heard it before, you can't judge a book by it's cover. This is meant to prevent hasty, ill-informed opinion making. However, as an author, you can use clothing to reveal a lot about your character. Or lack of clothing - consider The Emperor's New Clothes. 

Cassandra Clare, author of The Mortal Instruments series and its many spinoffs, uses fashion to great effect. Her descriptions of clothing and accessories is so seamlessly woven into the story (pun intended!)
that it doesn't slow the momentum. Instead, it becomes part of what the reader looks forward to enjoying. In the list below, note the contrasting traits that are revealed by the clothing of each character.
Isabel - long dresses, tight clothes, high heels, and an electrum whip wound around her arm
Clary - jeans and tennis shoes, T-shirts or tank tops, a backpack
Alec - dark clothes, including old sweaters
Magnus - flashy clothes with sequins, leather, and plenty of glitter

Whatever your story, put some thought and effort into dressing your characters. Your readers will thank you!

Monday, January 18, 2021

Amari and the Night Brothers Review

When Amari gets kicked out of school for fighting with a kid who teased her about her missing brother, her mom has no idea what she will do for Amari's education. While Quinton’s disappearance is mysterious, most people think he got involved in something illegal and is probably long dead. Amari knows her brother was too smart to do anything like that but no one believes her. Until a magical briefcase shows up and has a message for Amari, from her brother.


The cryptic message leads her to the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, a secret organization that trained Quinton and hired him to investigate supernatural happenings including chasing down evil magicians. Amari is eager to join the Bureau with the sole purpose of using her time to investigate her brother's disappearance and find him. But when her initial evaluation yields an unexpected result, she is thrust into another situation that makes her painfully aware of how hard it is to be different, and from a background that isn't appreciated. Amari struggles to prove herself, so she can continue to look for clues to save Quinton while navigating an unknown environment with an evil magician bent on punishing the supernatural world. But if she can't solve the mystery of Quinton's disappearance before her training runs out, she'll be back home with her memory erased and no closer to rescuing her brother.


Amari and the Night Brothers contains a magical and imaginative world with a wonderfully diverse cast that you want to dive right into and never stop turning pages. Amari is a strong main character who has been brought up in a world where the system is stacked against her. She is painfully aware of the hurdles in front of her because she is poor and black. Despite the constant roadblocks, Amari rises to the occasion and even when she wants to quit she reminds herself what her brother would do in that situation. She continues to push ahead even when tempted by a seemingly easy road that would sacrifice her internal moral compass and lead to terrible path. Ultimately nothing stops her from standing up for what she believes in. And it’s wrapped up in a story filled with surprises and intrigue at every step along the journey. The themes are so beautifully woven into the adventure and mystery and the story demonstrates the importance of having role models and allies along the way.


This is the first book I’ve read in a while that was hard to put down. I can’t think of anything that I didn’t like about the story other than it ended far too soon. Amari and the Night Brothers is the next big thing. It will be a HUGE series for young and not-so-young readers alike. Make sure you get your hands on it ASAP, because everyone will be talking about this book. I can’t believe I have to wait a whole year for the next installment because I’m ready to dive into this world all over again.



B. B. Alston started writing in middle school, entertaining his classmates with horror stories starring the whole class where not everyone survived! After several years of trying to break into publishing, he had just been accepted into a biomedical graduate program when a chance entry into a twitter pitch contest led to his signing with TBA, 20+ book deals worldwide, and even a film deal. When not writing, he can be found eating too many sweets and exploring country roads to see where they lead.


B. B. was inspired to write AMARI AND THE NIGHT BROTHERS because he couldn’t find any fantasy stories featuring Black kids when he was growing up. He hopes to show kids that though you might look different, or feel different, whatever the reason, your uniqueness needn’t only be a source of fear and insecurity. There is great strength and joy to be found in simply accepting yourself for who you are. Because once you do so, you’ll be unstoppable.