It is fourth grade. A big year for you—new house, new school, new friends. Or at least new kids who mostly will be mean to you but eventually will be your friends. But don’t worry about all that right now. In fourth grade, you’ll be asked to learn lots of things. But only two of them will stick with you forever.
The first is how to dip yarn in glue and wrap it around a balloon. Let it dry. Pop the balloon. Boom. You have an ornament. This is not really helpful information to learn and you’ll never actually do it again, but you’ll always remember how. So there’s that.
The second is that your teacher will insist sneezing down your shirt is way less germ-spreading than sneezing into your elbow or your hand. This is actually helpful information and one day dozens of kids (your students, your own children) will learn the same thing from you. So thank you, Mrs. Bilbrey.
The rest of fourth grade is kind of boring frankly. Even though you’ll try to make it interesting by constantly switching BFFs each week and driving your teacher crazy with all the desk rearranging.
But then—one day—you’ll discover something that makes it interesting. A book. The Diary of Anne Frank.
You’ll discover this book in a public library because it has the word diary in the title and you love diaries and the idea that someone could publish their own book of secrets and ponderings intrigues you. And then, you’ll take it up to the check-out desk and the lady there will try to dissuade you from the book. She’ll tell you it’s a little too grown-up for you. She’ll look at your mother and they’ll have one of those conversations grown-ups have about kids in front of them like the kids can’t hear. So annoying.
But that clinches it. You have to read the book now. (This will be a pattern your whole life, really. Doing the thing people tell you not to do.)
And so, you bring it with you to school and you read it at your desk while you’re waiting on everyone else to finish their spelling or their cursive. And once you will go up to the teacher’s desk to ask her what a word in the book means but that’s bogus really. You’ve never had a problem with context clues. You only want her to see what you’re reading and be impressed. You won’t remember if she is. But you will remember that book. That girl. It will change something inside of you, shatter some bit of childhood that made you think the world was basically a kind place.
You’ll learn this year that kids have bigger problems than being teased or dodgeball or even poverty. You’ll never stop thinking about Anne Frank and kids like her. Ever. You’ll grow up and write stories about kids who survive really tough things because you just can’t get those kids out of your head, no matter how hard you try.
But that’s a long way off. It’s fourth grade for you now. So go back to it. You have some books to read. I’m not talking about those Sweet Valley High books. Just put those aside. Really. Read the other stuff, the stuff that makes you think more and tastes less like marshmallow cream.
Because that’s the stuff that will shape you into who you become to be.
“The gravity of the cannibalism, now synonymous with the Donner Party, is treated deftly, conveying Mary Ann’s visceral reactions without becoming steeped in grisly detail. As loss compounds loss, brevity and repetition…intensify key moments in a harrowing, exhausting trek.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review
The journey west by wagon train promises to be long and arduous for nineteen-year-old Mary Ann Graves and her parents and eight siblings. But she is hopeful about their new life in California, and the possibility of freedom from family demands that she aches for.
But when winter comes early to the Sierra Nevada, the Graves family, traveling alongside the Donner and Reed families, experiences one of the most harrowing, tragic, and storied journeys in American history.
Amid the pain of loss and the constant threats of freezing temperatures and meager supplies, Mary Ann learns what it means to be part of a family, to make sacrifices for those we love, and, above all, to persevere. To Stay Alive is a moving narrative told from the viewpoint of one of the survivors of the ill-fated Donner Party of 1846.
Find To Stay Alive on IndieBound, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble or ask for it in libraries and bookstores near you.
Find more Hey Kid! letters here.
|Skila Brown is the author of verse novels Caminar and To Stay Alive, as well as the picture book Slickety Quick: Poems About Sharks, all with Candlewick Press. She received an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She grew up in Kentucky and Tennessee and now lives in Indiana where she writes books for readers of all ages.
Connect with Skila on skilabrown.com.
I haven’t done a lot of cover reveals here, but when my friends Kiersi Burkhart and Amber Keyser contacted me to see if I would like to host a reveal for one of the titles in their Quartz Creek Ranch series, I nearly broke my capslock emailing back an emphatic YESSSSS. These are just the books middle-grade me would have loved: awesome girl main characters and horses. But don’t just take eleven-year-old me’s word for it. Find out for yourself, early, by winning an advance copy! Details at the end of this post.
Quartz Creek Ranch: Shy Girl & Shy Guy
For every kid, there’s a horse that can help. At least, that’s the idea at Quartz Creek Ranch. But Hanna doubts it will be true for her. Going to Quartz Creek was her mother’s idea; Hanna’s too terrified of horses to even go near them.
Then Hanna meets Shy Guy, a gray gelding who’s just as afraid of people as she is of horses. Of all people, Hanna is the one Shy Guy begins to trust, revealing his grace and skill in the arena. But when Shy Guy’s mysterious past comes to light, everything they’ve worked for starts slipping away. Can Shy Guy’s confidence in Hanna give her the self-confidence she needs to save him?
Preorder Shy Girl & Shy Guy, as well as any of the other Quartz Creek Ranch novels, on B&N and Amazon, or at your local indie thorough IndieBound.
Add Shy Girl & Shy Guy to your Goodreads shelf.
Here’s what Kiersi Burkhart has to say about this wonderful book and its cover:
Last week, we unveiled the cover for ONE BRAVE SUMMER, one of the other four Quartz Creek Ranch novels, over at Pop! Goes the Reader. Go take a look if you haven’t seen it yet—we are so pleased with the design of all these books!
Before Quartz Creek Ranch, I had never tried “co-writing” with someone before. It’s been such a privilege and a pleasure working with Amber! We’ve become more than just writers-in-arms; we’re close friends, sisters, partners in crime, and sometimes we even mom each other a little.
We both rode horses in our childhood, so most of our story ideas grew out of that shared history. But each book in the Quartz Creek Ranch series started with a seed of an idea that was unique and special to one of us.
Shy Girl & Shy Guy, in particular, is one of those very personal stories for me.
Shy Guy is a beautiful dapple grey who was abandoned by his owner, and finds his way to Quartz Creek Ranch. His fearful behavior leads the knowledgeable horse people at the ranch to believe he’s been abused. The main character, Hanna, is tasked with his rehabilitation.
This isn’t far from an experience I had when I was about Hanna’s age—probably eleven or twelve. I was volunteering at a neighborhood barn when I met Spring.
Her owner had grazed her on the barn’s property, then disappeared. I’m sure that abandonment was a big part of her dislike and fear of humans. Deep down, Spring was a gentle soul. Her people meant a lot to her.
Nobody else at the barn had the time to work with a horse who had spent years left out in a field. Her hooves had become long and curly, and her disposition had grown less and less inclined toward people.
I cared for her every day—brushing her, feeding her, socializing her to barn life so we could trim her long hooves back and work off the massive belly she’d gained from grazing all day. It wasn’t long before she warmed up to me and I could start exercising her again.
Spring was the best trail horse a girl could ask for. Calm, sweet, and mild-mannered, she still knew how to run when I wanted to run. Spring taught me an incredible amount about horsemanship, about compassion, and about the way that hurt leaves its mark on all of us. Especially, though, how hurt can be healed with love and patience.
Once I had rehabilitated Spring enough that any intermediate rider could take her out on the trail, the barn owner waited until I was gone for a few days… and sold her.
I had no opportunity to say goodbye.
Shy Girl & Shy Guy is the book I wrote for Spring. Our story wasn’t nearly so dramatic as Shy Guy and Hanna’s story, of course. But Spring was the horse that taught me I could accomplish the things I set out to do; who taught me that no horse was ever a “lost cause.” In the years following, I acquired another horse that had been neglected and misunderstood—a horse who eventually became the best barrel racer I’ve ever met.
Though Hanna and I don’t have a lot in common in terms of our personality or life story, when I look at the girl on the cover of this book, I feel an intense pang of understanding. I know what the look on her face means. It’s the look you give a horse who has changed your life. Darby Creek did such an incredible job with this cover that I cried when I saw it for the first time.
I hope you like it just as much as I do.
GIVEAWAY: Enter to win an ARC of Shy Girl & Shy Guy by commenting on this post. I’ll choose a winner on Tuesday, October 18 at 8am Pacific. (U.S. only, please.)
|Kiersi Burkhart grew up riding horses on the Colorado Front Range. At sixteen, she attended Lewis & Clark College in Portland and spent her young adult years in beautiful Oregon — until she discovered her sense of adventure was calling her elsewhere. Now she travels around with her best friend, a mutt named Baby, writing fiction for children of all ages.
Connect with Kiersi on kiersi.com, @kiersi on Twitter, and on Facebook.
|Amber J. Keyser is happiest when she is in the wilderness with her family. Lucky for her, the rivers and forests of Central Oregon let her paddle, hike, ski, and ride horses right outside her front door. When she isn’t adventuring, Amber writes fiction and nonfiction for young readers and goes running with her dog, Gilda
Connect with Amber on amberjkeyser.com, @amberjkeyser on Twitter, and on Facebook.
You know all that reading you love to do? Exploring the shelves of the library on your own and randomly choosing things that appeal? Keep doing it.
Also, those stories you like writing, and that diary you’re putting all your thoughts and feelings into are very good uses of your time.
Both will really pay off for you, though I don’t want to spoil the surprise.
In fact, you’re about to get into an even more productive writing phase once you find that poetry book on mom’s shelf. I don’t have a lot of advice there, because you do a good job with it. Mainly I want to thank you for what you’re doing. Thanks for keeping it all up. For experimenting and showing people what you write. For taking it all very seriously.
Middle school is actually a pretty great time for you, kiddo, so I don’t have a ton to say in that department, either. Only that maybe you can spend a little less mental energy focused on boys. And assure you that the major friend heartbreak you’re about to suffer will turn out to be a very good thing. It’s gonna hurt like hell, but trust me; it takes a long time to straighten out, but when it does it’s fantastic. In general you’ll have wonderful friends—keep having a blast with them—and terrific fun with clothes. I still wish we had some of the stuff you picked out then.
I know there’s a lot of pressure on you right now at home. You’re shouldering a lot, and will have shoulder even more, I’m afraid. It isn’t fair. It will cause us some problems later in our grownup life, I hate to say. But it’s also part of who we become and that has turned out, so far, pretty awesome in spite of hardship, so I don’t really know what to tell you about it. Only that I, and lots of other grownups around me now all know (including Dad) that you never should have been put in that position.
Whatever bad decisions the grownups around you made—they aren’t your fault. Okay? I know you don’t even feel that right now in a conscious way, so this may seem a little heavy, but keep that sentiment in your heart for when you need it.
Meanwhile, keep dancing your bootie off at every opportunity, keep laughing wildly in the halls, and coordinating all your friends for parties and hangouts. Keep babysitting (though maybe save that money instead of immediately spending it on clothes). Keep reading, and above all keep writing it down.
Just keep being you, kid, and we’re gonna turn out fine.
Future Terra Elan
In this heartwarming companion to Drive Me Crazy, twelve-year-old Fiona Coppleton is living a middle schooler’s worst nightmare: her diary was made public and her best friend is partly to blame.
Fiona and Cassie are supposed to be best friends forever. No one else listens or makes Fiona laugh like Cassie, and that meant everything when Fiona’s parents were divorcing. They love each other in spite of their (many) differences, and even though Cassie cares a little too much about being popular, Fiona can’t imagine life without her.
Until Fiona’s diary is stolen by the most popular girls at school, and her most secret thoughts are read out loud on the bus. Even worse: Cassie was there, and she didn’t do anything to stop it. Now, for some reason, she’s ignoring Fiona. Suddenly the whole world has shifted.
Life without a best friend is confusing, scary, maybe impossible. But as Fiona navigates a summer of big changes, she learns more about herself—and friendship—than she ever thought possible.
Find This is All Your Fault, Cassie Parker at all the usual online places, including IndieBound and B&N, or ask for it at libraries and bookstores near you!
Find more Hey Kid! letters here.
|Terra Elan McVoy is a MG and YA author, an independent bookseller, a Fluevog shoe collector, and a banana cream pie maker. Not always in that order. She lives in Atlanta, GA with a guy who plays theremin on a regular basis.
Connect with Terra on TerraElan.com Facebook, Twitter: @TerraMcVoy, and Instagram.
Dear Ten-Year-Old Tricia,
A letter from the next century! Shock-er-oo, right? Before you read this, here’s what you need to do. Tiptoe into your bedroom, lock the door and pray that the barbarians (those four younger siblings) don’t start banging on it. Privacy! I remember how impossible it was to get any in that crowded little house. I remember daydreaming about living on a houseboat, or a ranch out west, or in a peaceful convent.
Next, clear a space on your bed among the books, stuffed animals, books, homework, and books. Lie down. This letter bears astonishing news. Tricia, you’re not going to grow up to be a sailor, rancher or nun. You’re going to be a writer.
It’s too weird, right? Much as you love stories (another way to escape into a private world), you could not care less who wrote them. For you, a good book is like one of those crazy-beautiful mushrooms that pops up after a rainy night. Where did it come from? Who cares? The story itself is all that matters—the characters and what happens to them. You turn the pages as quick as you can, never stopping to reflect that someone, somewhere, made this all up. That thought’s almost insulting. Books feel true and real as life itself, only better. If you thought at all about the writer, you’d have to put Her or Him on a par with God.
But wait. This year your teacher is Mrs. Minot. She has dandruff and coffee-breath and always looks tired, like most teachers, but she seems to trust kids, which is different. At the end of the day, when she actually gives you free time, you usually read, but one day you decide to try to something. You’ve just read Ballet for Julia, where a messy, clumsy girl goes to live with her crotchety old aunt. Julia discovers she’s really a graceful, beautiful ballerina. For some reason, you start to write Ballet for Adelaide, more or less the same exact story with a few name changes. What makes you do that, Tricia? All these years later, I have no answer. But I still remember my heart thrumming as the words spilled out onto the paper. “What are you doing?” Mrs. Minot asked, breathing her coffee breath upon me. And when I told her, “Maybe you’ll be a writer someday”, she said.
Guess what? More than fifty (!!) years later, when you have forgotten many, many other things, you will still remember that.
An archeologist. A teacher. A Russian translator. A gardener on an English estate. You’re going to have a gazillion ideas about who you might be. A professional dog walker. A librarian. Oh Tricia, the world is so full of a number of things, we should all be as happy as kings! And mostly you will be. Mostly, your life is going to be so lucky. Those brutish barbarians who will soon be banging on the bedroom door? They’re going to become your best friends—it’s true, I swear. You’ll have other teachers as kind and perceptive as Mrs. Minot. You’ll travel a little bit for real, and a lot in your imagination, and you’ll fall in disastrous love a few times till at last you get it right and marry—a teacher! Who will, one morning, lean close and breathe his toothpaste breath upon you, saying, “I think you should write. Seriously.”
And this time, you will think, Yes.
That everything happening to you now, all the books you’re reading, wishes you’re wishing, prayers you’re praying, bonds you’re forming and breaking, fears you’re facing and dreams you’re chasing—that all those things will one day turn into stories, don’t think about it. Not now. That writing is as much craft as art, and you will need to work crazy hard before you succeed—don’t worry about it now.
For now, just be ten. Lie on that bed, cuddle your stuffed poodle, watch the breeze lift the pink rosebud curtains. Wiggle your toes, and pick up one of the books strewn all over your room. Don’t think about who wrote that book. Just step inside it and make it yours, as only a lucky ten-year-old can.
Unsinkable Cody and deep-thinker best friend Spencer are back in this sequel to last year’s “Cody and the Fountain of Happiness”. The adventures continue as they tangle with the Meen Family next door. Cody puzzles over friendship, how to be patient, the baton of love, and other mysteries in this funny, cozy story set in a lively, diverse neighborhood. School Library Connection says, “Readers of all ages will readily relate to Cody and the characters around her. This book is perfect for young readers ready to move on from beginning books and early readers.” Once again illustrated by that genius, Eliza Wheeler!
Find Cody and the Mysteries of the Universe on IndieBound and B&N, get personalized copies on triciaspringstubb.com, or ask for it in bookstores and libraries near you.
Find more Hey Kid! letters here.
|Tricia Springstubb is the author of books for kids of all ages, including the award-winning middle grade novels What Happened on Fox Street and Moonpenny Island. Her other new book this year is Every Single Second, coming in June from HarperCollins. Yes, she continues to be very lucky and very grateful!
Connect with Tricia on triciaspringstubb.com, Twitter: @springstubb, and Pinterest.
Dear twelve-year-old Alison,
When I look back at you from the distant future, I see you playing with your two best friends at recess. Two years ago, you made up an amazing, complicated game, “All News Channel,” in which the three of you are investigative reporters who run around solving mysteries. You play the news anchors. You play the interviewees. You play the sports reporters and the weather forecasters and even the commercial actors, who sell all kinds of silly, useless things that make you laugh. It’s an all-consuming game, and it never gets boring or repetitive, because you and Lauren and Emi have an endless capacity for imagination. You kind of feel like it could go on forever.
Unfortunately, it won’t. Because pretty soon, people are going to start thinking you’re too old to play.
In a few months, you’ll overhear your parents saying your imaginary games are childish, that you act younger than your age. They don’t feel childish to you, but the comment will sting, and it’ll plant seeds of doubt in your mind. Soon after that, Lauren will start spending recess at the picnic table with the new girl in your class, who wears ripped flannel and lots of eyeliner, and the guy who inexplicably has hundreds of safety pins attached to his weather-inappropriate trench coat. Emi will get really into popular music, and you’ll feign interest when she rambles on and on about the lead singer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. You’ll let “All News Channel” go, and you’ll start playing Four Square at recess with the other girls in your class instead.
You’ll still have fun, but it won’t be the same. You’ll miss your game, and you’ll wish you still had an excuse to use your imagination every day. But you won’t say anything, because you don’t want to be seen as childish.
But here’s something nobody will tell you for a long time, little Alison: there’s a big difference between being childish and being childlike. Having an imagination and a capacity for wonder will serve you very well throughout your life, and you should hang onto those qualities with everything you have. They’ll make you an interesting, fun grown-up who delights in things that are different, absurd, and unexpected. They’ll ensure that you keep an open mind. And they’ll give you the skills you need to be an author who writes for kids like you.
And guess what? When you start writing books, you’ll find tons of other adults who hung onto those childlike qualities, too. They’ll become your best friends, and you’ll stay up late into the night having conversations full of “what if” questions. You’ll even get to write collaborative books with some of them, which will mean spending all day every day making up stories about the people who live inside your collective brains. It’ll be like an endless game of All News Channel, and people will pay you for it.
So it’s okay to grieve when your game ends. But you don’t need to worry that you’ll never get to play again. You’re only taking a break.
P.S. Curly hair looks better if you don’t brush it.
Twelve-year-old AJ dreads spending an entire month living with her strict Grandma Jo. Not only does her grandmother dictate how she walks, what she eats, and which rooms she can enter, she fills all AJ’s free time with boring sewing lessons. Grandma Jo wants nothing more than to transform her adventurous, fun-loving granddaughter into a prim and proper lady.
But AJ’s dull summer takes a sharp turn when she discovers that her grandmother’s “bridge group” is actually a heist club. When Grandma Jo offers to let AJ learn lock-picking instead of embroidery in exchange for help with a few capers, AJ is happy to join her grandmother’s madcap band of thieves, who claim to steal only for ethical reasons. But even the most respectable ladies can hide truly surprising secrets, and AJ finds she must decide for herself what it means to be one of the good guys.
Find The Classy Crooks Club on Indiebound, B&N, and Amazon, or ask for it in bookstores and libraries near you.
Read more Hey Kid! letters here.
|Alison Cherry is the author of the young adult novels Red, For Real, and the upcoming Look Both Ways. She is a professional photographer and spent many years working as a lighting designer for theater, opera, and dance. She lives in Brooklyn, NY.
Connect with Alison on AlisonCherryBooks.com, Twitter and Instagram (@alison_cherry), and Goodreads.
Yeah, you. The one coming out of the library with that…eclectic stack of books. I know the high school girl who checked those books out to you is now running around to all her co-workers, showing them what you checked out, laughing at you.
So what? Why do you care what anyone thinks of your choice of reading material?
Let’s see what you’ve got there:
-Two Nancy Drew books. Yes, you’re still a huge fan at age 12. You’re a little embarrassed by that because no one else your age reads Nancy Drew, but why shouldn’t you read what you love?
–Foster Child by Marion Dane Bauer. You’ve already read that (and Shelter From the Wind), but you want to read it again. You know that Marion Dane Bauer lives in Minnesota just like you! You fantasize about meeting her (or any author). She gives you hope that a girl from southern Minnesota can grow up to become an author.
–Forever by Judy Blume. The girls at school are passing a copy of that book around, but you’re too shy to ask for a turn. So you checked out your own copy.
–Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. You like the title. And the cover. You know it’s a classic and you feel like you should read the classics because that’s what people who want to be authors read.
– The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty. You aren’t sure about that book, but your best friend is reading it, so you want to read it, too.
How do I know all that? Because I’m you! Thirty eight years from now!
I want to talk to you about just happened. I know this feels like a Big Deal. You just got laughed at in the library, your favorite place in the whole world, and you don’t know if you’ll ever get over it. (You will.)
Let me tell you a couple other things that might help you feel better:
- You’re not only going to meet Marion Dane Bauer, you’re going take a class from her when you grow up! She’ll read part of your second novel and offer you feedback. That book won’t ever get published, but that’s okay. You’ll learn a lot from writing it and you’ll apply what you learn to every book you write after that.
- You’re going to have that high school girl’s job one day. Yes, really. She’ll graduate and move away and you’ll never see her again. And the other people who work here are never going to remember laughing at you today. Pay attention to what it feels like to work for someone else because that may be the only time in your life that you’ll ever do that.
- You WILL become an author! I won’t lie—it’ll take a while to sell that first book. Eight years, to be exact. And even after you’ve sold five books, you’ll still feel like you’re not where you want to be…because those books won’t be novels. You’ll think seriously about quitting and becoming a midwife or a librarian instead. The idea of giving up your writing career will make you feel sick. Which is good because less than a year after you seriously consider this, you’re going to sell not one, but two novels! You’ll sell them to two different publishers within days of one another.
- I know the library doesn’t feel like a safe place to you now. You’ll return that stack of books and then you won’t come back for a while. You’ll go your school library instead, even though the librarian, Miss Kindstrom (don’t ever call her Blanche!), yells! And she knows your mother.
But you’ll come back. When you’re working here in high school, you’ll stay in the library by yourself after its closed and you’ll write. Yes, you’ll get caught. (Don’t worry, that won’t turn out as bad as you think it will.)
There’s something about the library that’s in your soul. You walk into a library and you feel things that other people don’t. That won’t ever go away. When you grow up, you’ll check out the library before you move to a new community. That will tell you everything you need to know about whether or not you want to live there. Some of your best friends will be librarians. You’ll be proud to know them because you’ll see what an impact they have on your community. You’ll join the Friends of the Library and eventually, the library board.
And one day, when one of your own books is among the most challenged books in the country, you’ll appreciate the library on a whole new level.
By the way, you’re NEVER going read the Exorcist. It’s not your kind of book. Why not put it in the book drop right now rather than haul it all the way home?
Oh, and get your mom to take some pictures of you reading. You don’t like it when your mom takes pictures, but one day, it’ll bug you that this is the only picture anyone ever took of you reading a book when you were a kid:
Okay, I’ve got to run. See you in the library! The Haunted Library, that is. I know you have no idea what I’m talking about. But you will…
The Haunted Library is about a ghost boy and a solid girl who work together to solve ghostly mysteries and find the ghost’s missing family. #7: The Ghost in the Tree House (Grosset & Dunlap) just came out on March 29, 2016.
A group of girls in Claire’s town have noticed strange sights and sounds coming from the tree house where their club meets. Is it a rival boys’ club trying to scare them away? Or is it a ghost? The girls ask Claire to tackle the mystery—and Kaz hopes to finally find the rest of his missing family members!
Look for The Ghost in the Tree House, and all The Haunted Library books on Indiebound, Amazon, B&N, and Seattle Mystery or ask for it in bookstores and libraries near you.
Find more Hey Kid! letters here.
Photo by Cheryl Fusco Johnson
Dori Hillestad Butler is an award-winning author of more than 50 books for young readers, including the Haunted Library series. Her Buddy Files #1: Case of the Lost Boy won the 2011 Edgar Award for best juvenile mystery. She’s been an active library volunteer, therapy dog partner, and mentor to many young writers. She grew up in southern Minnesota, spent 19 years in Iowa, and now lives in the Seattle area.
Connect with Dori at kidswriter.com, on Facebook, and on Twitter.