Author Spotlight: Alyssa Milano

 

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Photo credit: © Dirk Franke

Actress, activist and author Alyssa Milano is hoping to inspire kids to find their own voice through her new middle grade series, Hope. Illustrated by The Simpsons illustrator Eric S. Keyes, the first book in the series, Project Middle School (Scholastic, October 2019), introduces readers to Hope Roberts, a spunky 11-year-old girl who seeks to create positive social change while surviving middle school at the same time. In our August issue of Growing Minds, we interviewed Milano about her new series.

 

How did Hope come to be? Where does she come from?

Part of the inspiration was my own kids — I see how good they are, and how curious about the world, and how they want to help people. So I wanted to write about a character who was motivated to help and do good. But I also really wanted to make sure Hope resonates with kids, that she’s someone they can relate to. Hope Roberts is bright and smart and funny and wants to change the world, but she also makes mistakes … she’s not perfect. She gets mad at her older sister and she has disagreements with her best friend, just like every sixth grader does. This idea came to me in late 2017–early 2018, partly because of the difficult times we’re living through. There’s a lot of intolerance and indifference in the world. I wanted to give kids a character they could relate to, someone who might inspire them to find their own voice and teach them how to use it.

Share some of your creative process. How did you, your co-author and the illustrator work together when creating the book?

Well, when we started out there was so much we wanted to pack into the first story. But when my co-author, Debbie Rigaud, and I began writing, we realized we had to scale back a bit and save some of our ideas for future books. We also realized humor had to be a big part of the story, and that’s one of our favorite things about the way Hope has developed. She’s very funny and she finds herself in these silly, relatable situations. Those were really fun to write about, and for Eric to illustrate. Working with Eric has been amazing. We make suggestions to him about which moments we want to highlight in each chapter, and then when he shows us his illustrations, we’re blown away by the feeling he brings out in these characters. He really captures their warmth and depth and brings it to the next level.

What would you like readers to be thinking about after they read the book?

This first book is really about Hope finding the courage to share her ideas, to find her voice and believe in herself. I hope that readers come away feeling inspired and energized about speaking up and speaking out.

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Why write for the middle grade students? What attracts you to this audience?

Kids at this age level are like sponges, soaking up everything in the world around them. They are growing up and learning about the world around them — and discovering that they can have a voice in their communities. And that’s what I want Hope to do — to send them a message that they can make a difference the way that she does.

What would you like readers to be thinking about after they finish the book?

Well, kids are the future! They’re born into a world where they’re often taught their voices don’t count for anything, that the damage has already been done by the grown-ups. Pete’s whole mission was to teach everyone, young and old, that they have a voice, that they have power and authority and can harness that for the good of humanity. The earlier kids are introduced to this, the better! My greatest dream would be that this book is a kid’s first introduction to the power of organization and fighting for beliefs; that this book would somehow be a building block in creating a kid who would follow in Pete Seeger’s very esteemed footsteps.

Interviewed by Kerry Singe
Interview originally appeared in Growing Mind’s August issue.

View the latest issue of Growing Minds for more interviews with esteemed authors.

Author Spotlight: Nina LaCour

Nina LaCour

Author Nina LaCour says her novel We Are Okay is in ways the most personal book she has written. The winner of the 2018 Michael L. Printz Award, We Are Okay (Dutton Books for Young Readers (Penguin Young Readers), February 2017) follows Marin, who has left her San Francisco home behind and moved to New York where she enrolls as a freshman in college after the sudden death of her grandfather. Her best friend Mabel comes to visit and Marin must confront her deep loneliness, grief and the secrets she’s been keeping. We talked with LaCour about her award winning novel.

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Author Spotlight: Chelsea Clinton

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Soon after writing her New York Times best-seller, She Persisted, a picture book about 13 inspirational women, Chelsea Clinton began thinking about the remarkable women from around the world who had inspired her. Friends also chimed in with stories about remarkable women, and that lead to the companion book, She Persisted Around the World: 13 Women Who Changed History (Philomel Books, Penguin Random House, March 2018). The book features women including Viola Desmond, who helped start Canada’s civil rights movement, and “Sissi” Lima do Amor, who insisted on playing soccer despite girls being outlawed from the sport. We talked with Clinton about her sequel.

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Celebrate Earth Day with Julian Lennon

Author, musician, filmmaker and photographer Julian Lennon has been raising money for environmental and humanitarian causes for two decades through his foundation, The White Feather Foundation. His work, however, primarily was focused on adults, until one day friend and fellow author Bart Davis made a comment about children.

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From that conversation, an interactive trilogy was born featuring the White Feather Flier, a magical plane that children can take wherever they want as they travel and save the world. A lyrical and inspiring picture book, Lennon’s second book in the Heal the Earth series (Skyhorse Publishing, April 2018), lets its young readers bring medicine to people in need and dive into the ocean to see bleached coral reefs, among other adventures. The book also includes a new poem written by Lennon, son of the late musician John Lennon and his first wife, Cynthia.

Growing Minds, Baker & Taylor’s catalog dedicated to children’s and teen titles, talked with Lennon to commemorate Earth Day. Read the interview below:

Where did your vision come from for this interactive children’s series?

The interactive element of the book just harkens back to the days when my mother or grandmother used to read bedtime stories to me, and how we would go on these journeys together — using our imaginations to go where we wanted to, fly to where the sky was open, to anything our hearts desired. It was a time of bonding between family members, an important time in a child’s life.

Could you share what parts of your writing process look like?

It was very much a question of, ‘What do we want to talk about and teach here? What are our goals?’ From the moment Bart and I had a starting point, it was just a question of going with the flow and suggesting ideas back and forth until we had something that made sense. Ideas that would start a conversation between a child and elder family member, to discuss what they were reading about, and to find answers themselves. The storyline and words are written in my voice.

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What’s a key ingredient for reaching children in print?

The key ingredients are the issues we face every day as a society in general. It’s about bringing awareness to those who don’t know of the plights we face and a reminder for those who have forgotten.

Why is it important to share the lessons and teachings of the White Feather Foundation to this age group? What is the appetite for this type of material?

If you can change things for the betterment of all life on earth, the better we all are. It starts from the ground and oceans up… Again, what we try to do is raise awareness and help financially where we can, when we can, and when donations allow.

How is the message being received?

The message by sales alone has been loud and clear: We’re doing the right thing. We’re on the right track, and there’s only one way to go — onward and upward.

I’ve always admired Julian Lennon’s singing, because for all he has seen of the world, his melodies contain such childlike wonder… his words, too. Buy this book, and his words turn into actions.” — Bono

What are you hoping your readers think or feel when they take part in this adventure?

That they feel part of this world, part of a caring community… A community that cares, not only for each other, but also for the world around them. We are all one. What we do to others, we do to ourselves.

 

Celebrate Earth Day on April 22 with Lennon’s new book!

A portion of the proceeds from all book sales will go to support the environmental and humanitarian efforts of the White Feather Foundation.

Author Spotlight: Jeffrey Brown (plus a giveaway!)

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Jeffrey Brown returns with his popular sister-brother Neanderthal duo with book number two in his newest series for young readers, Lucy & Andy Neanderthal, which combines science with a modern-day take on prehistoric life.

In The Stone Cold Age, the siblings’ cave has become crowded as they’ve welcomed into their home an extended, racially diverse group of humans. Modern-day fictional commentators explain the science behind the comic strip adventures. In addition to laughing at sarcastic one-liners, young readers will also learn about what life was like 40,000 years ago.

Our catalog for children’s and teen titles, Growing Minds, talked with Brown about the latest addition to his humorous series. Read the interview below and don’t forget to enter the Jeffrey Brown Summer Reading Sweepstakes!

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Author Spotlight: Kim Purcell

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One evening, Jesse’s popular and good-looking boyfriend, Chris, disappears after a jog. Police think he has run away. Jesse worries about how Chris, one of the few black kids in the mill town, disappeared near an area where he’d been previously beaten up. Chris also vanished shortly after Jesse had said they should take a break from one another. Written in the form of a letter from Jesse to Chris, This is Not a Love Letter (Disney-Hyperion, January 2018) by Kim Purcell addresses racial tensions, class issues and how people can hide pain behind a smile. The storyline also is personal for Purcell, as she explained in our January issue of Growing Minds with this Q+A…

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Publisher Spotlight – Jennifer Feldman

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Dover Publications is launching its first new imprint in 10 years as it looks to tap into the growing self-help market. Named after a South African flower that represents “happiness,” Ixia Press is launching this fall and will publish approximately 10 original titles and 15 backlist reprints per year. With the exception of graphic novels, which Dover began releasing last year, Ixia is Dover’s first move into original frontlist books. Our digital catalog, Forecast spoke with Dover’s Publisher, Jennifer Feldman, about the new effort.

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