Monday, July 22, 2013


As the resident Brit Middle Grade Lucky, Independence day is a particularly poignant holiday for me, with its raison d’etre being…well, not unlike mine when I moved to the States. Cut loose from the old country, celebrate a new start. So around July 4th, when I realized that the ball for this month’s Meanwhile, Middle Grade post was in my court (not that the imagery there was affected by Wimbledon finals or anything), I thought, Now wouldn't Freedom and Independence be an apt subject? 

So I emailed this question to the other MG Luckies: In what ways do our main characters break free from a difficult situation, or find independence? Or....maybe some don't. 

Here are our answers.

Tara Sullivan, GOLDEN BOY (Putnam Juvenile)

These are great questions for Habo! Because of his albinism, Habo experiences many difficult situations: rejection, an inability to do "real" work in the sun, and having to run from those who want to kill him. By the end of Golden Boy, not only does Habo find friendship, independence in a new skill, and safety, but most importantly, he learns his true worth: not as a commodity, but as a person.

Elisabeth Dahl, GENIE WISHES (Amulet)

In Genie Wishes, fifth-grade class blogger Genie Haddock Kunkle must decide which aspects of growing up she's ready to embrace (like shaving her legs and wearing deodorant) and which (like wearing makeup and having crushes) don't yet feel right for her. Genie quietly believes in—and later comes to advocate for, through her blog—having the freedom to grow up at a pace that feels right for you. More broadly, the book's about the pursuit of homemade Halloween costumes, Japanese hamster erasers, and other varieties of happiness.
Polly Holyoke, THE NEPTUNE PROJECT (Disney-Hyperion)

Nere Hanson, the heroine of my undersea adventure story The Neptune Project, and her companions find a remarkable degree of independence after their Neptune transformation. For the greater part of the book they have to make decisions and fight to survive in the sea without any help from grown ups. They also are escaping from the repression of a totalitarian government back on land. I think many middle grade readers love stories where kids take charge and learn to survive on their own.

Shy Nere, who was discounted both by her family and classmates, becomes the leader of her group during their long journey north to a new colony. Along the way, Nere comes to realize she is both brave and capable, something more girls need to learn about themselves.

Peggy Eddleman: SKY JUMPERS (Coming 9/24/13, Random House Children's Books)

My book takes place 40 years after green bombs wiped out nearly everything in the world, leaving the few remaining people to gather themselves into towns. To regain some of what they lost, Hope’s town focuses on inventing. Its importance is seen everywhere— in their school classes, at their festivals, in how they judge a person’s worth. So to Hope, the person in town who’s worst at inventing, it’s makes her feel incapable and powerless. When her town gets attacked, Hope realizes that she’s been using her biggest weakness to make a difference, just because that’s what was important to everyone else. But she figures out that she’s got some pretty powerful strengths, too, and maybe it was time she started using them. Not only could relying on her strengths free her, but it just might free her town, too. 

Nancy J. Cavanaugh, THIS JOURNAL BELONGS TO RATCHET (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky)

My character Ratchet finds her independence by learning to appreciate who she is. She changes by accepting herself instead of wishing things were different. This empowers her to become who she is really supposed to be. Ratchet's life lesson is one that even some adults are never able to embrace. 


A. B. Westrick, BROTHERHOOD (Viking, coming 9/12/13) 

In Brotherhood, the main character, Shad, has pledged allegiance to the Ku Klux Klan. And once a brother, always a brother. Though questions his circumstances, and attempts to find his moral compass, and takes action to try to help a friend whom the Klan has threatened, will he manage to break free? By the end, he's not as ignorant as he once was. There's a glimmer of hope. But actual independence...that might be another matter.

Ari Goelman, THE PATH OF NAMES (Arthur A. Levine)

Dahlia, the main character in The Path of Names, is fiercely independent from the very beginning.  She's challenged both by the mystifying circumstances in which she finds herself (seeing ghosts, possible spiritual possession, a creepy caretaker) and by the mundane circumstances of summer camp (mean girls, cold showers, a creepy caretaker). She overcomes these circumstances by being true to her essential curiosity despite the peer pressure and out-and-out threats she encounters.

Barbara Brauner and James Iver Mattson. OH MY GODMOTHER: THE GLITTER TRAP (Disney-Hyperion)

Although the situations in Oh My Godmother: The Glitter Trap are very light hearted, Lacey, our main character, is actually battling karma: because she prevented another girl’s dream from coming true by injuring her fairy godmother, none of her own dreams are going to come true, ever. At first Lacey thinks there’s nothing she can do about it. (Karma sucks, after all.) But she finally realizes that she can fix her own life if she can fix the other girl’s life by stepping in as her fairy godmother. Lacey’s stint as an amateur godmother gives her confidence in herself; she realizes she has the freedom to make her own rules and choose her own destiny. And she would tell you that if your karma sucks, don’t just sit there –  do something about it! 
Jennifer Ann Mann, SUNNY SWEET IS SO NOT SORRY (Bloomsbury, coming 10/2/13)

One morning Masha (my main character) wakes up with plastic flowers glued into her hair by her little sister, Sunny. To make matters worse, Sunny isn't even sorry for doing it! Masha believes that if only Sunny were sorry for what she did, Masha would be able to forgive her and move on. What can a day with plastic flowers glued into your hair teach you? Friends are found in unlikely places. Sometimes the people closest to you are the ones you understand the least. There are plenty of things worse than having plastic flowers glued into your hair. A little more understanding and a lot less anger finally free Masha to discover that she can forgive Sunny independent of Sunny actually being sorry.

Kit Grindstaff, THE FLAME IN THE MIST (Delacorte Press/Random House)

Early in The Flame in the Mist, my main character Jemma discovers she was abducted as a baby by the Agromond family, the cruel rulers of Anglavia. She has to escape to prevent them from stealing her powers—her very identity. But as soon as she wins her personal freedom, she discovers she has a prophesied destiny to liberate the whole country from the Agromonds’ tyranny and the oppressive Mist they create. Only by stepping into her true identity as the Fire One, the bringer of Light, can she defeat the darkness of her own past as well as her country’s, and live the life of freedom she’s always dreamed.

Luckily, Jemma has some staunch liberty-loving allies in the form of two rats, as well as human and otherworldly freedom fighters...

 Kit Grindstaff was born near London and grew up in the rolling countryside of England, which bears a strange resemblance to the setting of The Flame in the Mist. After a brief brush with pop stardom, Kit moved to New York City and embarked on her successful career as a song writer. She now lives with her husband in the rolling countryside of Pennsylvania. 

You can talk to her on Facebook or Twitter, and find her bookas well as the others listed hereat Amazon, or Indiebound.


  1. What a great range of independence-seekers! It's good to see such variety within a year of debut middle grade books.

  2. Thanks, Vonna! It's true, our books really do run the gamut. And that's by no means all of them - even within middle grade.

  3. Middle grade always has the best covers!! What a great collection :D

    1. Hey Maureen, only just saw your comment! (Doh...) It is a pretty array, isn't it :) Though I have to say some of the YA covers are fabuous.