Category: Oz: Middle Grade

Celebrate the 65th anniversary of ‘Charlotte’s Web’ with these books

Maybe there was a time before, when I loved books and loved stories. charlotte's webBut I like to think of my life as before and after. Before Charlotte’s Web, I listened to stories. After Charlotte’s Web, I read them.

For every bibliophile, there is a book, or a story, that turned the tables. So, living my life in a post-reading Charlotte’s Web world, I am always drawn to stories that remind me of the friendship between Wilbur and Charlotte, strong girl-characters like Fern, and comedic entertainment in Templeton the Rat.

And as Charlotte’s Web turns 65 this year, here are two recent stories that will take you back to the wonder of “some pig.”

The Unlikely Story of a Pig in the City

unlikely story of a pig in the cityThis story by Jodi Kendall opens on Thanksgiving Day at the dinner table. Josie Shillings’ college-aged older brother Tom brings home a baby pig he has named Hamlet who was the runt of the litter. Josie’s father is adamant: “Not a chance,” Dad said, pointing at Tom with a silver fork. “Pigs don’t belong in the city.”

It is Josie who comes to the rescue, convincing her father to let her keep the pig, on the condition that she finds a home for it by New Year’s. Josie must juggle her upcoming gymnastics competition, surviving close-quarters living in a large family, a grumpy next-door neighbor, and buying pig-food for Hamlet, who is rapidly growing into quite the porker.

You’ll fall in love with Josie’s determination, Hamlet’s antics, and the Shilling family. As Josie’s favorite book is Charlotte’s Web, there are references to E.B. White’s classic as well.

A Boy, A Mouse, and a Spider: The Story of E.B. White

Have you ever wondered what ‘E.B.’ stood for in this children’s author’s name? Turns out, his full name is Elwyn Brooks White.

boy a mouse and a spiderIn this beautiful picture-biography by Barbara Herkert and illustrated by Lauren Castillo, the story of White’s childhood, from his life-long love of animals, to his fear of public speaking in school, is truly a one-of-a-kind story for young children who want to know more about White.

Castillo, who won a Caldecott Honor for her book, Nana in the City, truly captures the essence of New England summer nights, Elwyn’s shyness and the beauty of his surroundings, and his friendship with animals.

Whether it was a mouse in his pocket, who turned into the inspiration for Stuart Little, or a spider’s web in the eaves of his barn with a certain Charlotte A. Cavatica at its center, White’s story shows us that his every-day surroundings, while simple, were filled with moments of wonder that he translated into timeless classics for children.

Interview with Jimmy Cajoleas, author of GOLDELINE and Jackson, Mississippi Native!

author photo (1)A little girl with shining hair helping rogue bandits in the dark forest of the Hinterlands, discovering her magic while escaping the evil Townies who killed her mother for being a witch, Jimmy Cajoleas’ book GOLDELINE is a richly told story that is perfect for fans of David Almond, J.A. White’s The Thickety, and anyone who loves a story that might be scary to tell in the dark. Jimmy Cajoleas is a native from Jackson, Mississippi and he currently lives in Brooklyn, New York. He received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Mississippi. Here, Jimmy Cajoleas answers some questions regarding GOLDELINE, his new novel for kids ages 10 and up.

What are you currently reading?

Oh man, so much good stuff. Last week I read Jesmyn Ward’s new book, and I thought it was great. I’ve been slowly reading Raids on the Unspeakable by Thomas Merton a little at a time, and that rules. And yesterday I finished My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix, which is the rare horror novel that actually made me cry.

When did you start writing? How did growing up in the South affect your storytelling and the kinds of stories you are drawn to?

I started writing not long after I learned to read. I remember making scary picture books when I was a kid, with monsters and skeletons in them. They usually ended with my friends coming to my house and us all eating pizza.

To be honest, I spent most of my childhood imagining I was somewhere else. A jungle, an old haunted castle, Gotham City, a primeval forest…anywhere except where I was. Also, in the South you learn that things are never simple, and never easy, least of all people. All that complication is where stories come from.

Did you ever expect to write a book for children?

I never did! GOLDELINE was my MFA thesis, and it was originally a novel for adults. It became a kids’ book after my agent Jess Regel told me to let the story be what it wanted to be.

In your own words, tell me a little bit about what GOLDELINE is about & when and how you started writing it.

Goldeline is a book about an orphan girl who lives as a bandit in the woods. I don’t really want to say too much more than that, if it’s okay with you. I hate when I know what a book is about before I read it! I won’t even read the backs of books for that reason.

Goldeline herself came from a freewriting exercise. I used to work at a vintage clothing store in Oxford, MS, and there would be long stretches of time when no one came in. So I would sit down with a blank notebook and just write, for hours and hours, with no plan and no agenda. One day I sat down and started writing, and this funny little voice came out. I kept going for an hour in this voice, just yapping on the page. Eventually I figured out it was the voice of an eleven year old girl hiding in the woods. The rest of the story kind of told itself from there.

Of course, that was just a twenty-page short story for adults that no one would publish, which is how Goldeline sat for six or seven years. I never stopped thinking about her—worrying about her, really—though I didn’t quite know what to do about it. Goldeline didn’t become a novel until I was in graduate school. I’d just finished a mostly-realistic novel that I absolutely hated, and I wanted to try and write something better. I told the story to my teacher, the writer Megan Abbott, and she encouraged me to make it a novel.  

Who is Goldeline? Where does she come from? The name, it seems, combines Goldilocks and Coraline, (but I may be off!) Those are both female characters from completely different stories, and do either of those protagonists relate to your own?

The name “Goldeline” actually comes from this Neutral Milk Hotel song called “Oh Comely.”  In the song it’s “Goldaline” (pronounced Gold-a-leen) but I misspelled it by accident and liked it better my way, so now it’s Goldeline (rhymes with Coraline). Mistakes are a key component in my writing!  

The Goldilocks thing is a good call though, since so much of this book happens in threes, same as that fairy-tale. I love Coraline too. Actually all of Neil Gaiman’s stuff (especially The Sandman).

What was your favorite scene to write in GOLDELINE?

My favorite scene to write was the dinner scene at Bobba’s house. It took me a thousand tries to get it right. I remember when I finally nailed it, sitting out on the balcony at Square Books. I think I stood up and yelled, which is something you’re not supposed to do at a book store.

The way I can describe this book is a Southern-Gothic-Fairy tale. The first question is whether you agree with that assessment, and if you do, then the second question is why are you drawn to themes of magical-realism, and fairy-tales?

Sounds good to me! Though I should make it clear that the story isn’t set in the American South: it’s not supposed to be in the “real world.”

I like fairy-tales and magic stories because I feel like they tell certain kinds of truths better than so-called realism ever can. Sometimes big emotions need a ghost behind them, or a magic house, or a generational curse. Strict realism can’t always account for what happens out there. It’s a convention, a compromise, same as anything else.

What is your favorite folk/fairy tale?

So many! My favorite one now is a Russian fairytale called “Vasalisa the Beautiful.” It’s about a girl who has a talking wooden doll that teaches her how to steal a skull-lantern from Baba Yaga so her family’s house won’t be dark anymore. I’d never heard of it until I saw this terrific Annie Baker play called THE ANTIPODES, which makes a small (and thrilling!) reference to it.

What were your favorite books as a kid?

How do I even start? I think my very favorite book was The Mummy, the Will, and the Crypt by John Bellairs. I loved the Lord of the Rings and R.L. Stine and Madeleine L’Engle as well.

Will you be writing more books for kids? What do you hope people who read your book take away from it?

Yes! Lord willing, I’ve got a Young Adult book coming out next year, and another Middle Grade book after that.

Honestly, I just hope people like the book okay. It was really fun to write!

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Author Jimmy Cajoleas will be signing and reading GOLDELINE at Lemuria Books on Saturday, November 25, at 11:00 A.M.

Call 601-366-7619 or visit www.lemuriabooks.com to reserve a signed copy today.

 

Author of ‘The Doldrums’ to visit Lemuria for second installment

The Doldrums: The Helmsley Curse is a stand-alone sequel to The Doldrums, published in 2015. doldrums 2In Nicholas Gannon’s first novel for kids ages 8 to 12, the reader meets Archer Helmsley, grandson to two of the most famous explorers, but who lives a very sheltered, unadventurous life himself. The book also features Oliver Glub, Archer’s best friend and next-door neighbor. Then there’s Adelaide, a girl with a wooden leg. Her leg, it was rumored, was bitten off by a crocodile. Now their second adventure begins following “the tiger incident,” an escapade that convinced Archer’s parents to send their son packing to boarding school, where he will be safely away from trouble.

But the city of Rosewood is getting colder by the minute, and the only explanation is the Helmsley Curse: as the Helmsleys approach Rosewood on their iceberg, everything gets colder. When Archer’s grandparents sent him a piece of the iceberg they were rumored to have vanished on, Archer is sure they are soon to return home. However, with more rumors swirling in the air with the snow, will anyone welcome the Hemsleys–or will they think they are cursed?

For children who are fans of The Mysterious Benedict Society and A Series of Unfortunate Events, Nicholas Gannon’s books are wholly original, featuring a new cast of characters, secrets, and mysteries to uncover in The Doldrums: The Helmsley Curse. Gannon, in addition to being the author, graduated from the Parsons School for Design, and he also illustrates his books.

Meet the author of The Doldrums on Monday, November 6 at 5 p.m. at Lemuria Books. The Doldrums: The Helmsley Curse is the Oz First Editions Signed Book for the month of November.

Come ‘explore’ the possibilities with Katherine Rundell!

Katherine Rundell

Katherine Rundell

Lemuria is excited to welcome Katherine Rundell to Jackson, Mississippi on Friday, September 29th. Rundell’s books are modern classics: the moment you begin reading them, you are transported into the story she is telling.

Her first novel, Rooftoppers, is the story of a girl who is rescued from a sinking ship, and she is found floating in a cello case. Many years later (with her adopted father), they set out on a search for her mother that leads them to the rooftops of Paris where a community of children run free during the night. Fans of Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret will enjoy Rooftoppers.

Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms is a Boston Globe Horn Book Award Winner, and is a modern day retelling of A Little Princess. When Wilhelmina Silver is left an orphan, she is sent away from the wild African savanna she’s grown up loving to a cold boarding school in London where she is mercilessly teased by the other girls. She runs away, and must find a way to live on the streets of London.

Rundell’s third novel, a snowy tale with hints of Little Red Riding Hood folklore, is Wolf Wilder. Wolf Wilder is about a girl named Feo and her mother who are “wolf wilders.” That is, they train wolves to survive the wild after they are no longer wanted as pets by the nobles in St. Petersburg, Russia. When Feo’s mother is taken captive by the Tsar, it is up to Feo (and her wolves) to save her. Each of Rundell’s stories is unique, heartwarming, and exciting. Her characters are larger than life, and she truly understands the way children interact with the world.

explorerIn her newest novel, THE EXPLORER, four children ride a small plane to Manaus, Brazil. When the plane goes down in flames, the four children, Fred, Con, Lila, and Max survive the crash, but they must survive the Amazon Jungle as well. Between poisonous plants, giant bugs, and biting fish, will they make it to civilization again?

Rundell, who is a Fellow at All Souls College, Oxford, grew up in Zimbabwe, Brussels, and Belgium. Her love of travel is infused within the places she writes about in her books. After visiting the Amazon Jungle, Rundell was compelled to write THE EXPLORER. She says that her inspiration to write THE EXPLORER was to write a story “about children performing acts of extraordinary courage against all odds” and that she wants “to encourage children to be an explorer, no matter where [they] are.”

Meet Katherine Rundell, all the way from England, on Friday, September 29th, from 5:00 – 6:00 p.m. at Lemuria Bookstore. Call to reserve a signed copy of THE EXPLORER today! 601.366.7619

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Newberry-winner Victoria Jamieson offers a delightful book

Navigating middle school is tricky terrain, even under normal circumstances.

Imogene, who goes by Impy, is entering middle school for the first time after growing up living in the Florida Renaissance Faire with her annoying little brother and her parents as cast members at the faire.

Now that she is old enough to train as a squire, she can’t wait to participate in the jousting, human chess match, and other knightly duties. But first, she has to enter a place more dangerous than a dragon’s lair: middle school.

It is not the idyllic pace she imagines it to be. It’s filled with mean older kids, locker combinations that are hard to remember, and the ordeal of making new friends. As Impy balances her “at home” identity as a squire in the Florida Renaissance Faire, filled with period costumes and speaking Olde English, she is embarrassed to share this part of her life with her new friends from school.

Where does she belong?

This graphic novel is filled with a great cast of characters, familiar middle school anxiety, and, of course, all the merry fun of a Renaissance Faire!

victoria jamiesonSo, lords and ladies of the land, we welcometh you to a night with the creator of All’s Faire in Middle School, Victoria Jamieson. Jamieson won a Newberry Honor in 2016 for her first graphic novel, Roller Girl.

For fans of Raina Telgemeier’s Smile and The Baby-Sitters Club graphic novels, All’s Faire in Middle School will be a delight.

The Tuesday event starts at 5 p.m. with a reading in Lemuria’s DotCom building in Jackson. A ticketed signing will follow.

In the Middle at the Mississippi Book Festival

In two short Saturdays, I will be moderating a panel filled with some of the most talented names in children’s literature for readers ages 8 to 12. With the third annual Mississippi Book Festivalcoming up on Saturday, August 19th, you won’t want to miss hearing (and meeting!) these authors of middle grade fiction from 9:30 AM – 10:30 AM in the State Capitol Room A in the State Capitol. I know I’m excited, and I hope to see a lot of parents and their young readers there too!

The line-up for the books at the In the Middle Panel!

Tumble & Blue

Cassie Beasley, Tumble & Blue: Cassie visited Mississippi for her first book, CIRCUS MIRANDUS, which went on to become a New York Times Best Seller! She comes back to the Mississippi Book Festival with a second book under her belt called TUMBLE & BLUE. Meet Tumble Wilson. She’s putting the “tumble” in “rough and tumble,” following in her idol’s steps, Maximal Star. She wants to prove she can be a hero. Meet Blue Montgomery, who comes from an eccentric family full of strange talents. The only talent Blue has is to lose. At everything. Meet Munch. He’s a golden alligator in the Okefenokee Swamp who has the power to grant good luck to the fools who face him. A centuries long curse, two fool-hardy children, and a hungry, magic alligator? What could possibly go wrong?

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Kristin L. GrayVilonia Beebe Takes Charge: “The day I was born I was four times smaller than the trophy largemouth bass hanging in my daddy’s shop…Boy, have times changed.” Can you say hello to my new favorite fourth grader? Vilonia Beebe (pronounced Bee-bee), like a lot of children her age, wants a dog. But she’s got to prove herself responsible enough to take care of one, including keeping a goldfish alive over spring break, catch some chickens, and do all this before the Catfish Festival. So begins Vi’s mission to take charge. It’s been 43 days since Vilonia’s Nana died, and Vi’s mother, who normally writes obituaries in the paper, can’t bring herself to write another one—including her own mother’s. Vilonia is on a mission to cheer up her mother, and what better way to do that than with a dog. Full of spunk, charm, and a lot of heart, you won’t want to miss meeting Vilonia.

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Kimberly Willis Holt, Blooming at the Texas Sunrise Motel: This is also Kimberly’s second time to the Mississippi Book Festival following her visit with Dear Hank Williams. In Blooming at the Texas Sunrise Hotel, Stevie Grace (named after Stevie Nicks) finds herself an orphan following a tragic car-crash. She also discovers that she has a grandfather who lives in East Texas and runs the Texas Sunrise Motel. This grandfather is also less than happy to find out he has a long-lost granddaughter. With a great cast of funny and heart-warming characters, Stevie Grace navigates life at the motel, living with her grandfather, and also uncovers secrets in her mother’s past along the way. I cannot recommend ALL of Kimberly Willis Holt’s books enough. She is a phenomenal writer!

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Alison McGhee, Pablo and Birdy: When Pablo was a baby, he washed up on the shores of Isla in an inflatable plastic swimming pool with a lavender parrot clinging to the boy. It’s been 10 years since that day, and Birdy, the parrot, hasn’t said a word. Now, strong winds are blowing once more, the same kind of winds that brought Pablo and Birdy to Isla in the first place. In Isla, there are many stories, but the one with the most mystery is the Legend of the Seafaring Parrot. This particular parrot is said to remember every sound, every whisper, cry, laugh ever uttered in the world. Could Birdy be the Seafaring Parrot? She doesn’t talk, so how can she hear every sound in the world? But if she is the Seafaring Parrot…she may be the answer to Pablo discovering who he really is, and where he really belongs. Accompanied by beautiful pencil illustrations by Ana Juan, Alison McGhee’s Pablo and Birdy is amazing and I want to recommend this to every almost-ten-year-old reader out there!

Author Q & A with Corabel Shofner (Bel Alexander)

Interview by Jana Hoops. Special to the Clarion-Ledger Sunday print edition (July 30).

Native Jacksonian Corabel Shofner (known as a child in Jackson as Bel with one L Alexander) has, with “great success, taken the long way when it came to navigating several important milestones in [her] life–but things have always, eventually, seemed to fall into place.”

At age 17, she decided to “interrupt” her education at Murrah High School–so she left, and hitchhiked around the world, landing in New York City. She eventually enrolled in Columbia University and graduated magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa after studying English literature and Arabic. She and husband Martin Shofner now live in Nashville, where she received a degree from Vanderbilt University School of Law. They have three grown children.

almost paradiseNow in her mid-60s, Shofner is officially beginning her new career as a writer, releasing her debut book, Almost Paradise(Farrar Straus Giroux)–a story about love, self-sacrifice, and a family’s second chance at redemption.

Her shorter works have appeared or are forthcoming in Word RiotWillow ReviewHabersham ReviewHawai’i ReviewSou’westerSouth Carolina ReviewSouth Dakota Review, and Xavier Review.

Tell me about growing up in Jackson.

We lived in Lakeland and Old Canton Road. My first school was Duling, where I was fascinated by the principal, Mrs. or Miss Boutwell, because she had a mysterious medical crisis called a blood clot.

There were pine woods behind my house which I would walk through to see Ophelia, who was the housekeeper/caregiver for Mrs. Brown in Woodland Hills. Mrs. Brown is the first person I know who died. Ophelia’s lovely stone cottage was right out of a fairy tale. If someone left ashes in her ashtray she kept them because she loved the smell. I think of her every time I see or smell ashes.

We moved our house from Lakeland to Lelia Drive, down by what is now River Hills Country Club. Anybody who was alive at that time will remember the house that was stuck on the bridge for weeks. That would be mine. For year, when I would be drive home by a friend’s mother, she would pull up and gasp, “Wasn’t that the house…?”

I was a terrible student and not a reader at all, except when I crawled into the attic to read Black Beauty with my plastic horses. I did write. The first book was titled The Monsters Under My Bed. I dropped out of Murrah High School and hitchhiked away, but I go to all the 1971 class reunions.

I still have farm land in the Delta and we come home often. My children are all grown, now ages 24-31, and they are all very imaginative and artistic.

You are, or were, an attorney. When did you start writing, and are you giving up your legal career for writing at this time?

I love researching and writing law, but as a career, it is over. It was a great job, but I’m a bit conflict averse, which I should have thought about ahead of time. And I didn’t like measuring my life in billable hours. My family has a long history in law. My grandfather–Julian Power Alexander, who married Corabel Roberts–wrote a dissenting opinion when he was on the Mississippi Supreme Court that said that the constitution does not exact wisdom from its citizens, but ensures their right to folly. I love that so much.

He died at the Sugar Bowl (in New Orleans, in January 1953, two months before I was born. They took his body to Bultman’s funeral home and then on the train home. Bultman’s is now a Fresh Market Grocery Store. Pat Stevens told me that when I visited her in New Orleans recently. My father was a dear friend of her husband Phineaus.

Julian and Corabel had a Dutch Colonial house on Poplar Street in Belhaven, and I remember toddling up to the front door. My cousin (author Tom Sancton of New Orleans and Paris) tells me we are at least fifth-generation Mississippians-and 13th-generation Mayflower descendants–but, as he says, “that’s another story.”

In your debut novel, Almost Paradise, the main character, Ruby Clyde Henderson, had an unpredictable life for whom things eventually worked out in an unexpected way. She is a complicated character who deserves more than she often got during the first 12 years of her life. How did you conceive of this character and this story-line for your first book?

I had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and was heavily medicated, very worried about my children and our future. Ruby Clyde marched into my room and bounced on my bed, telling me about herself, in 2001. This book has been in and our of “the drawer” for years. Ruby Clyde is a healer and I believe that writing her story is why my prognosis is now quite strong.

It’s difficult to tell the time period in which the book is set, until we read that her aunt was digitizing document on her computer–but there are no mentions of cell phones, tablets, social media, or “devices.” Why is there no evidence of these modern distractions?

I wanted my story to be modern, but somewhat timeless, hence the computer in the backroom and a television that is rolled out of the closet. Sister Eleanor doesn’t have a phone–cell or land line. Phones were not necessary to Ruby Clyde and her mother socially or financially. Cell phones are certainly ubiquitous today, but once they are in a story it seems like tech takes over and clutters the relationships. So, even though mine is a contemporary story, I wanted Ruby Clyde and her mother to be connected by other means, and I wanted Paradise Ranch to be a very peaceful, nurturing, and healing place.

Some of the characters, maybe Joe Brewer and Lady Frank, might well have owned cell phones, but didn’t use them in my scenes. The Catfish probably had one somewhere. I thought of dropping in a mention of cell phones, but then that would bring more attention to cell phones and before you know it, everybody would be calling everybody.

By the way, you are not the first person to question the time period. I think there are several places where it is a bit more dreamy than realistic.

The relationship between Ruby Clyde and her mother is, for the most part, reversed. Explain the importance of their roles.

Ruby Clyde is competent and self-reliant by necessity because her mother has withdrawn. I have often seen that when a parent falls short, the child will step forward and take on the adult role. They lose their childhood. It is a tragedy that is overlooked because people are prone to praise the child for stepping in. That is hwy I call this a reverse coming-of-age story. Ruby is able to find adults she can trust and to reclaim her childhood. Of course, she has no entire clue this is what’s happening.

Tell me about the Christian references in the story…Ruby Clyde has an aunt who is a nun, she believes in the power of prayer, and she makes deals with God and lives up to them.

I am a Christian. Biblical imagery is some of the powerful stuff on earth. Much of it can be quite baffling. I have an odd way of seeing everything, religion included. Ruby Clyde believes and questions all at the same time. Also, self-sacrifice is important to me, as it is so difficult to do and keeps getting pushed down the list of virtues. Hence, the Tale of Two Cities thread. I was worried that I might offend people of faith, but I was relieved when a very conservative religious reviewer said that she “would definitely have no qualms about recommending the book to Christian families.”

What is your bigger message to readers who join Ruby Clyde on her journey in this story?

“Message” is a loaded word. It is difficult to write plain words and have them understood at face value. “Message” is in the ear of the reader. I certainly hope that Ruby Clyde’s bravery and compassion are contagious. Ruby Clyde likes to say that you have to love pieces of people because if you wait around for perfect, you will end up with nothing. Maybe that is a message from Ruby Clyde of her own self.

Corabel Shofner

Corabel Shofner

Tell me about your other publications.

Stuff. Short stories, essays, legal writing. I wrote a brief for the U.S. Supreme Court.

Why were you drawn to writing a children’s book as your debut novel?

I just wrote my story. (My publisher) Farrar, Straus, And Giroux told me it was for 10-year-olds. That said, I couldn’t be more enchanted with the people dedicated to children’s literature.

Do you plan to continue writing children’s (or middle years) books?

Yes. I will continue to write my stories and then be told what they are. That said, whatever I write I will always support teachers and librarians and all people who work in children’s books. They are my people.

Corabel Shofner will sign copies of Almost Paradise at Lemuria Books at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, August 1. She will also serve as a panelist on the Middle Grade Reader’s discussion at the Mississippi Book Festival on Saturday, August 19 at 12 p.m. at the State Capitol in Room H.

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