Mad For Middle Grade: Behind the Scenes

Welcome to MAD FOR MIDDLE GRADE!  We’re here the first Monday of every month, discussing middle grade writing, chatting about from our favorite middle grade books, introducing our own middle grade titles, sharing middle grade writing advice, and generally obsess over everything middle grade! And if there’s any middle grade topic you’re interested in, we’d love to hear it in the comments!

Looking for a summer beach read? Then look no further than our adorable, delicious, delightful July releases:

by Tara Dairman
Release date: July 10

by Dana Alison Levy
Release date: July 22

Hooray for Tara and Dana’s spectacular debuts! If you haven’t read them yet, then RUN–don’t walk–to your nearest bookstore or library! Trust me.

Ever wonder why authors choose particular names, include certain scenes, or write about specific topics? Want to learn some little-known facts about the writing of our books? Allow us to give you a sneak peek into some behind the scenes moments!

Question: Tell a behind the scenes story about your book!

Skila Brown
Candlewick Presscaminar

Caminar is based on actual events, but since the story is fiction, I decided not to use real place names. Instead, I made up names, offering a nod to significant words and places. The name of the camp that the rebels are travelling towards, for example, is Ixchandé, which is inspired by Iximché, a place that was once the capital base of the Kaqchikel Maya around the time that the Spaniards invaded. And during the time of Carlos’s story, Iximché held an important meeting where many Guatemalans declared that they would organize and rise up against the militant government. 


Robin Herrera
Amulet BooksHopeIs

I don’t usually name my characters after people I know. USUALLY. But when I was writing the book that would become HOPE IS A FERRIS WHEEL, I was also working at an elementary school. One of my favorite students was a kindergartner named Gloria. I worked one-on-one with her a lot and loved how silly and sweet she was. So when I needed a name for Star’s bubbly, sugar-obsessed pseudo-godmother (who is actually based on ME), I borrowed Gloria’s name. I don’t know if Gloria will ever read the book or make the connection, but it’s there because she always brightened my day.


Kate Hannigan

51nY5kdGT2L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_I knew I wanted my book to be very Midwestern, so set my story in Saugatuck, Michigan, which is this wonderful beach town along the Lake Michigan shoreline in Western Michigan. For Chicagoans who want to make a quick escape in the summertime, it’s an easy trip – no hassles of air travel, lots of fruit picking along the way. It’s a wonderful place to shed the big-city woes and just run around barefoot and enjoy the sand and the sun. I feel like with today’s plugged-in generation, kids don’t experience summertime the same way as generations before them. For too many kids, it’s a time to sit around in air-conditioning playing video games. I wanted to create a place where the characters shed all that and key into the beauty of the area – catching the sunsets, discovering hummingbirds, looking up at the stars as they light up a night sky. Old school joys of being out of school.


Jen Malone
Aladdin/Simon & Schuster

For most of my childhood, my dad INSISTED he was the missing crown prince of Lithuania. The reason for the fake royal blood? My table manners. Every time he spotted my elbows on the table, I’d hear, “When I return to my birthright, you’re not going to be able to attend royal events at the castle with manners like that.” At a certain point, I learned to place my napkin in my lap (confession: I still sometimes sneak a book under it during dinner!) and I realized my father was, well, full of it. But I also knew exactly who to name the King of Somerstein after when it came time to write my book. You’re welcome for the promotion, Dad!


Edith Cohn

The “key” in SPIRIT’S KEY was inspired by a handmade ring I’d made from some Alice in Wonderland fabric. The fabric had all these cute little images on it: a key, a mirror, a rabbit, a cake. I’d isolated the key and made a ring with it that was sitting on my dresser when I was contemplating Spirit’s story. I knew already that Spirit’s Dad was a psychic—one who specifically had the ability to see the future. But I didn’t know how. I saw the key ring, and thought: Yes! People’s house keys! That’s how Dad will know their future. And Spirit’s Key was born.


Rebecca Petruck

Researching Steering Toward Normal was so much fun because I visited farms, state fairs, interviewed amazing 4-H’ers, and witnessed a ton of moments that I basically reported verbatim. Like the toddler at the Minnesota State Fair who moo’ed his guts out at a steer’s butt for five minutes, just pleased as heck he knew what sound a cow makes and very determined to get this particular animal to make it back to him. The little guy was hoarse by the time his mom led him away. The scene almost didn’t make the cut, but how could I not shoehorn in such cuteness?


Dana Alison Levy
Delacorte/Random House


THE MISADVENTURES OF THE FAMILY FLETCHER is filled with true happenings (both good and bad) and inside jokes. But one fun secret: their name didn’t start out as Fletcher. They were the family Furnival, until I got some editorial feedback that “some people” thought “Furnival sounded like “funeral.” I know, I don’t really hear it either. Anyway, off I went on a wild search for a new name! Then my editor said, “well, wasn’t the dog in your aunt’s (author Elizabeth Levy) books named Fletcher? What if you named the family after that dog?” So the family Fletcher was born, and only a few people knew that they were named for a basset hound in my aunt’s books! (If you want to see the original Fletcher dog, check here: !)


Tara Dairman

As you may have noticed, Gladys Gatsby shares a last name with a certain other character from literature. Some people assume that this is a reference to “The Great Gatsby,” and it is–but not in the way they think. I’ve never been a fan of that book, so it’s always rankled me that Jay Gatsby is probably the most famous fictional literary character to live on Long Island (where I grew up, and where Gladys lives). So I guess I paid a tiny bit of homage by borrowing the name…but mostly, I just wanted to reclaim and reimagine it. My apologies to Fitzgerald!


Louise Galveston
Razorbill/PenguinBytheGraceofTodd_slsconf copy

In By the Grace of Todd, Persephone, the spunky Toddlian, is sold as a slave to one of evil Max’s bully buddies. At his house she watches an hombre named John Wayne on TV and so admires his toughness that she becomes a self-styled cowgirl.
Her character is a tribute to my cowboy father, who is my hero and a huge fan of the Duke. I also love the work of Louis L’Amour, and his lingo definitely influenced my writing. Persephone gets a lot more page time in the upcoming In Todd We Trust, as do the rest of the Toddlians. “GERONIMOOOO!!!”


Heidi Schulz

Jocelyn’s pirate crew in HOOK’S REVENGE are so desperate to look experienced that they pretend to have battle wounds. There is One-Armed Jack (who keeps an arm tucked inside his shirt), Jim McCraig with a Wooden Leg (who only has a giant sliver in his toe), Blind Bart (who could see fine if he would remove at least one of his eye patches), and Nubbins. Nubbins lost a thumb in a cooking mishap, but claimed a giant squid bit it off. Since he is the only one with the glory of a real injury, I let him keep his given name. He would have felt less need to embellish. 


Lauren Magaziner

Here’s a quick glance at how I found some of my characters’ names:

Fairfoul WitchFairfoul was a name I stole off a gravestone in St. Andrews, Scotland.

Rupert: When trying to think of a perfect name for the protagonist, Rupert and Rufus were the first things that popped into my head. I went with Rupert because “Rufus” always makes me think of the (awesome) naked mole rat on Kim Possible.

Allison: One of my best friends once complained to me that there were never any nice, decent book characters named Allison. Challenge accepted!

Bruno: My nod to Roald Dahl’s THE WITCHES.

Rupert’s mom: Her name–Joanne–is only mentioned once in the whole book, but I named her after my favorite author, J.K. Rowling.

Mrs. Frabbleknacker: OK, this one just came from my brain. Fully formed. And weird.


Jennifer Downey

51qfkCHJ1QL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_THE NINJA LIBRARIANS is rife with real people, speeches, books, songs, and gadgets, summoned from history to help tell would-be sword-fighter Dorrie Barnes’ story. In it, the time-traveling warrior lybrarians call their headquarters “Petrarch’s Library”. I had never heard the phrase when I came across it scrawled cross-ways, loose, and all by itself on a piece of paper in a spiral notebook during a rare deepish house cleaning. I hadn’t written it, nor had anyone else in the family. The suggestive phrase wouldn’t leave me alone, and conjured the first images for me of a sprawling library connecting ancient and modern times. Petrarch the 14th c. humanist, it tickled me to learn, was a book fiend and restless traveler who often hit the roads leading a short train of donkeys laden with his personal library.


Rebecca Behrens

When Audrey Met Alice final coverI wanted to write about a fictional First Daughter, and I also wanted to write about the very real and awesome Alice Roosevelt. But I didn’t know which story idea to pick, or how to put those two together—at least without time travel.

I was waiting to cross the street at 62nd and Madison when suddenly the concept for not AUDREY or ALICE but WHEN AUDREY MET ALICE popped into my head. A presidential tween could find Alice’s diary and get ideas for running riot in the 21st century! I went home and outlined the whole book.

Later, while researching, I found out that the very intersection where inspiration struck was where young Alice lived with her Auntie Bye. Coincidence?


Ryan Gebhart
Candlewick Press

There’s a scene in THERE WILL BE BEARS where Tyson threatens his friend Brighton that if he doesn’t confess to liking Taylor Swift, he’ll hack up a wad of snot and spit it into his mouth. Most people would like to believe something this disgusting is entirely fictitious, however, yeah… no. I have five older brothers. I’ve been pinned down by my brother Jacob, a wad of snot dangling from his lips. It fell into my screaming mouth that pleaded for mercy.


What other behind the scenes info do you want to know about any of our books? Have any questions for particular authors? We’ll answer questions in the comments section!

After that cold winter, please enjoy that hot summer sun! And be sure to return for another segment of Mad For Middle Grade on Monday August 4th.

Lauren Magaziner is a 4th grader at heart, watches way too much TV, and loves to steal people’s toes to make Toecorn, which tastes like chewy, meaty popcorn. Only one of those is true. (Okay… you caught me. They’re all true.) Her MG debut THE ONLY THING WORSE THAN WITCHES—about a boy who becomes a witchling’s apprentice in a town full of dangerous, Toecorn-loving witches—is forth-coming from Dial/Penguin on August 14, 2014.

2 thoughts on “Mad For Middle Grade: Behind the Scenes

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s