“You can’t say that in MG” panel
Middle grade fiction covers a wide variety of complex and weighty topics, that in previous years might have pushed books up onto the Young Adult shelves. How do authors cover such topics while keeping their books “middle grade?” What are examples of books where this is done well, and how can gatekeepers (librarians, teachers, booksellers, publishers, parents) both identify these books and justify curating them? The importance of addressing tough issues, and what issues and topics might still be considered “taboo”, will also be discussed.
Paula Chase, MG/YA author and Inclusion Jedi, is the co-founder of The Brown Bookshelf, a website dedicated to showcasing under-the-radar authors of color. Since her 2007 debut, Chase’s mission has been to ensure books by and featuring people of color are consistently curated and promoted, as well as give readers a peek into the many facets of Black culture. Her Del Rio Bay Clique series was part of Kensington Book’s inaugural young adult line. Chase’s middle grade debut, So Done, ushers in an era of MG fiction that focuses on topics formerly considered taboo for younger readers.
Jo Knowles is the author of Still a Work In Progress, Read Between The Lines, Living With Jackie Chan, See You At Harry’s, Pearl, Jumping Off Swings, and Lessons from a Dead Girl. Her newest middle-grade novel, Where The Heart Is, will be published in April. Jo’s awards include a New York Times Editor’s Choice and Notable Book, the PEN New England Children’s Book Discovery Award, an American Library Association Notable, Bank Street College’s Best Books for Children (Outstanding Merit), and YALSA’s Best Fiction for Young Adults. Jo’s books have also appeared on numerous state award lists. Jo lives in Vermont with her husband and son.
Ann Braden writes books about kids struggling to find their voice amidst the realities of life. Ann’s debut middle grade novel The Benefits of Being an Octopus received a starred review from School Library Journal and was described by Newbery award-winner Karen Hesse as “a compassionate look at poverty, hard choices, and defending one’s right to be treated humanely.” Ann founded both GunSenseVT, a grassroots group focused on championing the common ground on the issue of guns in Vermont, and the Local Love Brigade, which now has chapters all over the country sending love postcards to those who are facing hate. Ann is a former middle school teacher, the co-host of the children’s book podcast, “Lifelines: Books that Bridge the Divide,” along with Pakistani American author Saadia Faruqi, and one of the co-organizers of #KidsNeedMentors. Ann lives in southern Vermont with her husband, two children, and two insatiable cats named Boomer and Justice.
Barbara Dee is the author of nine middle grade novels, all published by Aladdin/S&S. Everything I Know About You has been called “poignant and often hilarious” by Kirkus Reviews, “a strong addition to library collections” by School Library Journal, “honest and engaging,” by PW, and is a Junior Library Guild selection. Barbara’s two 2017 releases have received much attention. Halfway Normal, which earned starred reviews from Kirkus and SLJ, is a 2018 ILA Young Adult Choice Reading List pick, a 2018 CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People, a Dorothy Canfield Fisher Vermont State list pick, a 2018-19 Pennsylvania Keystone to Reading Award finalist, an ALA Booklist pick (“Surviving Middle School”), and a Junior Library Guild selection. Star-Crossed is a 2018 ALA Rainbow List Top Ten, a 2018 CCBC Choice for Fiction, a 2018 CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People, a 2018 Goodreads Choice finalist, and listed on several Best of 2017 lists, including those by the Chicago Public Library, King County (Washington State) Library and Cleveland Heights (Ohio) Library. Maybe He Just Likes You, a “middle school MeToo,” will be published by Aladdin/S&S Fall 2019. Barbara is one of the founders of the Chappaqua Children’s Book Festival. She lives in Westchester County, New York.
Varian Johnson is the author of nine novels, including The Parker Inheritance, which received four starred reviews and was named a 2018 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award Honor Book, a Junior Library Guild selection and a Spring 2018 Kids’ Indie Next List pick among other accolades. His middle grade caper novel, The Great Greene Heist, has been named to over twenty-five state reading and best-of lists. In addition, Varian has written numerous novels and short stories for YA audiences. He was born in Florence, South Carolina, and attended the University of Oklahoma, where he received a BS in Civil Engineering. He later received an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts, where he now serves as a member of the faculty. Varian lives outside of Austin, TX with his family. To learn more, visit his website.
Katy Kramp (moderator)
Katy Kramp has been a public librarian since 2002, currently at the Plymouth District Library in Michigan, and a book blogger since 2004. She has been a Round 1 panelist for the Cybils Awards five times, serves on the board of the Plymouth-Canton Community Literacy Council and is a proud Girl Scout leader. She has presented on Diversity in Youth Literature with friend and colleague Nakenya Lewis-Yarbrough at the Allied Media Conference in Detroit and the Michigan Library Association’s Spring Institute. She holds an MSI from the University of Michigan and lives in Ypsilanti with her love and their two children. You can find her book reviews on line at http://alibrarymama.com.
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