In the Middle with Adriana Brad Schanen

This week we are In the Middle with Adriana Brad Schanen, author of the adorable Quinny & Hopper.


Quinny has a lot to say. Hopper gets to the point.

Quinny has one speed: very, very, extra-very fast. Hopper proceeds with caution.

Quinny has big ideas. Hopper has smart solutions.

Quinny and Hopper couldn’t be more different. They’re an unstoppable team. But when summer ends, things suddenly aren’t the same. Can Quinny and Hopper stick together in the face of stylish bullies, a killer chicken, and those new Third Grade Rules – especially the one that says they’re not allowed to be friends anymore?

Combining emotional realism and adventure-driven plotting, this young MG alternates between the comically-different perspectives of a boy and a girl whose close summer friendship runs smack-dab into the uncertainties of a new school year that could change everything…maybe even for the better.

Quinny & Hopper is available on IndieBound, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and in bookstores near you.

Q&A with Adriana

What draws you into writing for an MG audience?

I was a restless, reluctant reader as a kid. Picture books were fun, but I stalled after that. I remember sitting there in 3rd grade, staring out the window as the teacher droned on from a giant language arts textbook. And those numbered reading comprehension questions at the end of each section were just the pits. It all felt like an obligatory blur.

Today there’s often more choice and creativity in early elementary language arts curriculums, but I still think we lose a lot of kids in between picture books and middle grade. I want to grab hold of that 8 and 9 year old and keep it interesting for them, keep them in the game. If kids aren’t having that special relationship with a book and a flashlight under the covers at ages 8, 9, 10, they may not hang on with books at all.

I’m particularly drawn to writing contemporary/realistic early MG because that’s what reached me at that age. I could have used more Ramona, and older Ramona, and foreign Ramona, and Ramona in a wheelchair. Like millions of other kids, I loved Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume’s books, but that kind of flesh & blood reading felt separate and somehow less legitimate than the textbook reading we did in school.

The author, when she was about Quinny & Hopper's age, posing with her childhood neighbor and bff, Kirsten

The author, when she was about Quinny & Hopper’s age, posing with her childhood neighbor and bff, Kirsten

If you had a time machine and could visit middle-grade you, what would you tell her?

Can I bring stuff, too? If so, I‘d go back and hand 2nd grade me The Year of Billy Miller and Anna Hibiscus. Then I’d zoom ahead to 4th grade me and offer her One for the Murphys and So B. It and The Penderwicks.

Lastly, I’d find 7th grade me and tell her to take her creativity seriously. Pursue it, indulge it, develop it. Don’t think of it as goofing off. It’s currency, lifeblood. It’s how you’ll try to make the world a more beautiful place.

Or maybe I’d just give her a copy of Miss Rumphius. No one needs picture books more than people who think they’ve outgrown them.

Is there an interview question you’d love to answer but haven’t been asked?

Well…I’d love to be asked how I manage to keep my home so clean and my children so well-mannered and my complexion so radiant, all the while producing profound, witty, world-changing books. Alas, it has not happened yet.

For the time being, life is filled with dust bunnies, tweeny bickering and insomnia-induced pallor — not to mention a meandering second manuscript in need of merciless revision. And the gratitude I feel for every crazy, beautiful moment of it all is bone deep.

Dust bunnies are part of the creative process, right? Thanks for dropping in, Adriana, and congratulations on your debut!

Adriana Brad Schanen was born in Romania, raised in Chicago, and now lives in the vibrant, diverse town of Montclair, NJ with her husband, two daughters and a shaggy 60-pound lap dog named Oliver. She can often be found in her attic study, writing books for kids and teens or the occasional screenplay. Her first early MG novel, QUINNY & HOPPER, releases June 10, 2014 from Disney-Hyperion.
Connect with Adriana on her website,, Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads.
In the Middle with Kate Hannigan

In the Middle with Kate Hannigan

Prepare yourself for adorableness in this week’s In the Middle. Not only is Kate Hannigan’s Cupcake Cousins an adorable book, her childhood photo (in the interview below) is one of the cutest ever.

Cupcake Cousins Cover medium file

Baking a fluffy pink cupcake is awesome, but wearing a dress that looks like one? No, thank you! Cousins Willow and Delia can’t wait to spend a week vacationing together with their families. Their aunt is getting married, and Willow and Delia are hoping their tasty baked goods will be enough to get them out of being flower girls in the wedding.

But with a mischievous little brother, a bacon-loving dog, and a misbehaving blender in the mix, their treats don’t exactly turn out as planned. When a real emergency threatens to ruin the wedding, will their baking skills be enough to save the day?

Join Willow and Delia in the kitchen by following their scrumptious recipes for whoopee pies, peach pancakes, and other tasty treats!

Cupcake Cousins is available on IndieBound, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and in bookstores near you.

Q&A with Kate

What draws you into writing for a middle grade audience?

I don’t feel all that removed from the 10- or 12-year-old I once was. My kids find that hard to understand, of course. But I feel like that time in my life is still crystal clear. And I believe middle-grade is where the truths are, where the essence of what you are is present, and the promise of what’s to come is a just glimmer on the horizon. And good middle-grade books make older readers remember what it all was like, and they help younger readers see what’s possible.

fourth gradeIf you had a time machine and could visit middle-grade you, what would you tell her?

First I’d tell myself to stop fighting the curly hair and just embrace it already! No more hot rollers to try and calm it!

I was and still am a World-Class Worrier. Give me 20 minutes and any topic you want, and I’ll find a variety of things to get into knots about. Back when I was in grade school, it was the Africanized killer bees. (Look! They’re still coming!) So if I could hang out one day with my younger self, I would say not to worry. It all works out in the end, for the most part.

Oh, and I’d tell my younger self that Mom and Dad are really close to caving on the dog question, so keep begging!

Choose your own adventure: Is there an interview question you’d love to answer, but haven’t been asked?

What one piece of advice would you give to an aspiring author?

Don’t get discouraged. Sometimes a “no” just means “revise it.” There are so many people involved in bringing a story to life, and each of them brings her vision to the work. While you have to stay true to yourself and your project, realize that other eyes and opinions can help improve it. So when you hear, “It’s not right for me” from an agent or an editor, take that as an opportunity to make the manuscript stronger.

I was terrified of killer bees too! Those things are scary! Thanks for dropping in, Kate, and congratulations on your debut!

Kate Hannigan stepped up her domestic skills after her daughter read LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE and started asking to make Johnny Cakes and candles. A former newspaper journalist, Kate is now an active blogger and dangerous home cook. When summer rolls around, she does everything she can to get to Northern Michigan for fruit picking, bike riding, and hunting for Petoskey stones. CUPCAKE COUSINS is her debut novel. Her historical fiction for middle-graders, THE DETECTIVE’S ASSISTANT, comes out with Little, Brown Books for Young Readers in 2015. Connect with Kate on her websites, and, Facebook and Twitter.

In the Middle with Rebecca Petruck

Today, we are in the middle with Rebecca Petruck, chatting about her middle grade debut, Steering Toward Normal.


Eighth grade is set to be a good year for Diggy Lawson: he’s chosen a great calf to compete at the Minnesota State Fair, he’ll see a lot of the girl he secretly likes at 4-H, and he and his dad Pop have big plans for April Fool’s Day. But everything changes when classmate Wayne Graf’s mother dies, which brings to light that Pop is Wayne’s father, too. Suddenly, Diggy has a half-brother who moves in and messes up his life. Wayne threatens Diggy’s chances to win Grand Champion, horns in on his girl, and rattles his easy relationship with Pop.

Despite his high hopes, eighth grade quickly turns into Diggy’s worst year ever, filled with jealousy, fighting, and several incidents involving cow poop. But as the boys care for their calves, pull pranks, and watch too many B movies, they learn what it means to be brothers and how weird the concept of family can be as they slowly steer toward a new kind of normal.

Steering Toward Normal is available on Indiebound, B&N, Amazon, Books-A-Million, Indigo, the Abrams/Amulet website, and in bookstores near you.

Q&A with Rebecca

What draws you into writing for a middle grade audience?

I love how willing middle grade readers are to suspend their disbelief and go with a story that catches their attention no matter how outrageous the idea—even if the “outrageous” idea is only that they might ever live on a farm and raise cattle. I think middle grade readers don’t have a lot of filters yet so they seem more willing to let themselves experience a wide range of possibilities through story—which gives me a lot of room to play.

Also, middle grade years are when decisions begin to have more impact with greater repercussions. Good role models are vital, and books have always been a source of positive role models for me.

If you had a time machine and could visit middle-grade you, what would you tell her?

Middle grade self, choose Erica’s side! She is fun, smart, and could be a great friend if you are brave. Sure, it’s cool to be picked by Wendy because she’s popular. But you know you choose her because saying no means getting on her bad side, and that means being treated the way she treats Erica. The thing is, by choosing Wendy, it means she expects you to be mean to Erica, too. And you do it. Just the once, but it’s enough. Erica is never your friend again, and this time when you move away, you are glad. It doesn’t help, though. You become a teen, an adult, a middle-aged lady, and you often think of Erica and write letters of apology she’ll never receive. Losing her friendship is one of the biggest regrets of your life. So: Be kind. Be strong. Choose wisely. And don’t back down. You will never, ever regret it.

Leaving for a week-long 4-H summer camp. Crying when I say goodbye is something I inherited from my grandma.

Leaving for a week-long 4-H summer camp. Crying when I say goodbye is something I inherited from my grandma.

Choose your own adventure: Is there an interview question you’d love to answer, but haven’t been asked?

Why, WHY did you pick ENTOMOPHAGY for your next book project? Why?! You’re going to have to EAT BUGS. Did you think of that AT ALL before you committed to the idea?

Entomophagy has interested me since I first read about it in National Geographic a few years ago. It’s the eating of insects for nutrition, and will likely be how we successfully make long space voyages in the future. For those of us still on Earth, entomophagy is common in most cultures—Americans and Europeans are the weirdos who still don’t eat insects regularly. Which is problematic because what we do eat requires a ton of resources that we are running out of. Raising bugs is highly resource-efficient, and the insects are both nutritious and are supposed to be quite tasty. Logically speaking, I <3 entomophagy.

But no, I didn’t really think through the fact that I would have to eat bugs. Trying bug treats was going to be my winter project, but uff da, this was a bad winter, wasn’t it? And spring isn’t a good time because it’s so pretty outside! Must take advantage of it before the North Carolina summer heat and humidity sets in. So testing bug dishes will be my summer project, and no, I haven’t been procrastinating at all!

The things we do for our art, right? Good luck with the bug eating and congratulations on your debut!

Rebecca Petruck is a Minnesota girl, though she also has lived in Louisiana, Mississippi, New York, England, Connecticut and, currently, North Carolina. A former member of 4-H, she was also a Girl Scout, a cheerleader, and competed in MathCounts. She reads National Geographic cover to cover. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing, Fiction, from UNC Wilmington, and is represented by Kate Testerman of kt literary. Her first novel, STEERING TOWARD NORMAL, is an American Booksellers Association Indies Introduce New Voices selection and a Spring 2014 Kids’ Indie Next List title. Vanity Fair’s Hollywood dubbed it a “book we’d like to see made into a film.” STEERING TOWARD NORMAL will be released by Abrams/Amulet May 13, 2014. You may visit her online at or connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

In the Middle with Tracy Holczer

Today, on In the Middle, we have something special. Tracy Holczer is stopping in as part of her official blog tour for her debut, The Secret Hum of a Daisy.


Other tour stops:

May 6: Writer, Writer, Pants on Fire
May 7: Leandra Wallace
May 8: Heidi Schulz
May 9: AuthorOf
May 10: Read Now, Sleep Later
May 11: Kidlit Frenzy
May 12: Literary Rambles
May 14: Smack Dab in the Middle

Please be sure to check out the rafflecopter at the end of this post for your chance to win a hardcover of The Secret Hum of a Daisy, a bag of treasure, and a $20 Amazon gift card.


After the sudden death of her mother, twelve-year-old Grace is forced to live with a grandmother she’s never met in a small town she’s never heard of. A town Mama left years before–with Grace in her belly and a bus ticket in her pocket–and never looked back. It doesn’t take long before Grace desperately wants to leave, too.

Until she finds the first crane.

A mysterious treasure hunt, just like the ones her mother used to send her on, , takes Grace on a journey to find home. And it might just be closer than she thinks.

The Secret Hum of a Daisy is available on IndieBound and Amazon. Or, for an autographed copy, please purchase from the Once Upon A Time Bookstore (note desire for an autographed copy in comments).

Q&A with Tracy

What draws you into writing for a middle grade audience?

They are still so pliable at this age. They listen and observe so intently, and are in the throes of figuring out who they are and what the world means. Not that teens aren’t like this, too. But rigidity sets in once they hit a certain age. A necessary rigidity, I think, one that keeps them safe as they try and negotiate the information coming into their expanding brains at the speed of light. Also, teens are so wanting to become individuals, which, in my experience as a parent, rarely includes you and what you might think. But middle grade? They are 100% sponge. Also, on a personal note, I have no interest in reliving those teenage years, thank you very much. Once was enough!

20140412_174503If you had a time machine and could visit middle-grade you, what would you tell her?

I would tell her not to worry so much about things she can’t control and focus on those things she can, like building friendships and digging into school. I would tell her that worry and being scared is like rocking in a rocking chair, it keeps you busy, but doesn’t get you anywhere. Mostly, I’d like to go back, give her a big hug, and tell her that although she will have mountains to climb, alone, it will make her a writer. And that those mountains will also bring her great love and a happy life.


Choose your own adventure: Is there an interview question you’d love to answer, but haven’t been asked?

I think an interesting idea to peruse is whether or not we as writers are writing for ourselves or our audience. Initially, I wrote THE SECRET HUM OF A DAISY as a bit of closure to my eight-year-old self. There was no audience for it but me. It wasn’t until I went into revisions that I looked at it from a reader’s perspective, which helped shape it into the book it has become. Primarily, though, I am my audience, with readers coming in a close second. I am curious how other writers come to writing and would love to find out!

I just can’t stop myself from commenting on that photo of you as a child. Your freckles were adorable! Thanks for dropping in and congrats on your debut.

And now, for you, dear reader, a chance at treasure! (I hope you win. You’re my favorite.) Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tracy Holczer lives in Southern California with her husband, three daughters, and two rather fluffy dogs named Buster and Molly. She has a deep love for the mountains where she grew up so she writes them into her stories. A 2014 ABA Indies Introduce New Voices pick, her debut middle grade, The Secret Hum of a Daisy, was written in praise of both nature and family, and all that can be found if you’re willing to hunt for treasure. It will be also be published by Konigskinder/Carlsen in Germany, fall 2015.
Connect with Tracy on, Goodreads, Facebook, and Twitter. She also blogs at Smack Dab in the Middle on the 30th of each month.

In the Middle with Ryan Gebhart

ROAR! Today we are in the middle with Ryan Gebhart and his wonderful debut There Will Be Bears:


Thirteen-year-old Tyson loves spending time with his roughneck grandpa Gene, who’s a lot more friend than Tyson’s ex-best friend, Bright. These days, Bright just wants to hang with the cool kids, who make fun of Tyson’s Taylor Swift obsession and dorky ways. When Gene moves to a nursing home that can manage his kindey disease, Tyson feels he is losing his only friend. So, defying his parents’ strict instructions, Tyson sneaks off with Gene on his first elk hunt, despite reports of a stalking man-eating grizzly.

There will be action–like shooting elk. Is Tyson tough enough?

There will be suspense–is Grandpa Gene too sick to handle the hunt?

And yes, there will be bears.

There Will Be Bears is available on IndieBound, B&N, Amazon, and in bookstores near you.

What draws you into writing for a middle grade audience?

Middle school kids are awkward and bizarre from an adult perspective, but they’re just desperate to fit into their own skin, to fit in with their friends, and to discover their own identity. Being able to speak to MG’ers and to represent them in this coming-of-age time is a complete honor, because I remember just how much the things I loved stuck with me at that age.

If you had a time machine and could visit middle-grade you, what would you tell him?

You’re gonna do it, kid. You think you’ll be an author at fifteen but you won’t even be close. But you won’t give up because this is what you want, and you’ll only know when you’re thirty one just how much work it will take to get published.

Choose your own adventure: Is there an interview question you’d love to answer, but haven’t been asked?

Q: Do you really think you’re going to score a date with Taylor Swift?

A: I bear swear it’s going to happen.

I believe you. Thanks for dropping in, Ryan, and congrats on your debut!

Ryan Gebhart was born and raised in Maumee, Ohio, and graduated from Ohio University with a master’s degree in Spanish. Having held twenty-one jobs in his life, he can do lots of unexpected things, from wiring a house to painting portraits to quartering large game to making a fierce smoothie. There Will Be Bears was inspired by a gig working at a hunting ranch in western Wyoming. Ryan Gebhart lives in Ohio.
Connect with him on Goodreads and Twitter.

In the Middle with Jen Swann Downey

Hey, hey, hey! Today we are In the Middle with the hilarious Jen Swann Downey, debut author of The Ninja Librarians: The Accidental Keyhand. Take a look:


When Dorrie and her brother Marcus chase Moe – an unusually foul-tempered mongoose–into the janitor’s closet of their local library, they make an astonishing discovery: the headquarters of a secret society of ninja librarians. Their mission: protect those whose words get them itno trouble, anywhere in the world and at any time in history. Petrarch’s Library is an amazing, jumbled time-traveling base that can dock anywhere there’s trouble — in the middle of the Spanish Inquisition, Socrates’ Greece, or…Passaic, New Jersey. Dorrie would love nothing more than to join the society, fighting injustice with a real sword! But when a traitor surfaces, she and Marcus are prime suspects. Can they clear their names before the only passage back to the twenty-first century closes forever?

Available at Indiebound, B&N, Amazon, and bookstores near you.

Q&A with Jen

What draws you into writing for a middle grade audience?

I feel like I’m at least 71% MADE of middle grade fiction. That, toffee, hyperactivity, and water. I read so much of it as a kid. In fact, I never really stopped reading it. I didn’t set it aside for YA even during my teenage years. Honestly, I think I actively avoided so-called YA books, especially problem novels and contemporaries. I added adult books in along the way, but I never left Middle Grade behind. Perhaps because I think the best ones speak to kids and the kids in adults. And of course, the very best ones speak fluently to the adults in adults as well.

So there’s that appreciation for and familiarity with MG, but beyond that, I heartily agree with Madeline L’Engle’s well known advice, that “…if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.” I think lots of kids care deeply about bigger things, and take in quite a bit from the news and adult conversations about what is going on in the world, in the broad strokes, if not the details. I remember as a kid feeling as though most adults were quite unaware of how much we kids were noticing and thinking about. I love talking to those kids.

If you had a time machine and could visit middle-grade you, what would you tell him/her?

Oh, gosh. Well I could go back and tell 11 year old Jen that she really could start taking the school bus again because after a week, young Beth Pasquilichio has most definitely forgotten about her promise to give young Jen a black eye, but I’m not going to since it’s because of the many more months to come of NOT taking the school in order to continue avoiding Beth Pesquillichio that young Jen developed her lifelong love of walking, and got in the habit of making up stories in her head while she walked even if she never wrote them down until, um, recently.

Choose your own adventure: Is there an interview question you’d love to answer, but haven’t been asked?

Who does your hair? My pillow, the wind, and my six year old. Not necessarily in that order.

I could use a six year old to come do mine. Does your child take walk-ins? Thanks for being here today, Jen, and congrats on your debut!

Jen Swann Downey’s non-fiction pieces have appeared in New York Magazine, the Washington Post, Women’s Day, and other publications. Her debut novel, The Ninja Librarians, will leap onto bookstore shelves in Spring 2014. Jen has never visited a library in which she didn’t want to spend the night. She lives in Charlottesville, Virginia with her husband and three children and feels very lucky they have not yet fired her.

Connect with Jen at, on Twitter, and on Facebook.

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