Monday, April 30, 2018

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: RIDERS OF THE REALM: ACROSS THE DARK WATER by Jennifer Lynn Alvarez

So thrilled to be able to talk about this book today. We unveiled the book trailer a couple of weeks ago on Project Mayhem, and will reveal the winner of a signed copy at the end of this post!

What It's About (from HarperCollins website):
Deep in the jungles of the Realm, the Sandwen clan live amongst deadly spit dragons and hordes of warring giants. But with their winged battle horses, they manage to keep their people safe.

Twelve-year-old Rahkki is a stable groom for the Riders in the Sandwen army, taking care of his brother’s winged stallion. The Sandwens believe they have tamed all the wild pegasi in their land, and turned them into flying warhorses. But when a herd of wild steeds flies over their village, Rahkki and his clanmates are stunned.

Meanwhile, a small herd of pegasi have journeyed across a treacherous ocean to settle in a new and free land. Led by Echofrost and Hazelwind, the Storm Herd steeds are unaware of the Sandwens. But when the unthinkable happens, Echofrost and the rest of Storm Herd will have to come to trust the Sandwens, or both may not survive.

Opening Lines:
"Every Sandwen child dreamed of riding a winged horse, though most never would, and one would rather not."

What I Loved About It:
Jennifer Lynn Alvarez is one of the most talented and most professional middle grade writers around. Her Guardian Herd books have a devoted following, and now she has a new series that I think will be equally popular: Riders of the Realm.

In this first book, subtitled Across the Dark Water, a band of Pegasi have escaped the terrors of Anok and crossed the Dark Water to the land of the Sandwen clans. First off, I have to say that Alvarez's world-building is exquisite. She has created a matriarchal culture, with warriors, tame Pegasi, dragons, giants, and now the herd of wild Pegasi which has arrived.

There is action aplenty, with fights, chases, and some super pegasus aerial derring do. I kid you not, I think this would be an excellent movie (so come on, Hollywood producers!)

I was moved by the relationship between young Rahkki and his older brother, Brauk--and the losses they have endured. The main point-of-view Pegasus character, Echofrost, has similar losses, and this really ties the narrative together. At the end of my reading, I was left yearning for more of this story (Jennifer Lynn Alvarez sets up some tantalizing story questions for a sequel). Oh, and did I mention there's also some great humor within the pages too? (Let's hear it for Lutegar, the swamp buffalo.)

In writing terms, Alvarez goes a great job of alternating the third person narrative between Echofrost and Rahkki's point of view. Also, she's a master of the chapter cliffhanger. Writers, she is definitely worthy of study.

About the Author: Jennifer Lynn Alvarez draws on her lifelong love of horses  when writing her books. She lives in Northern California with her husband, children, and more than her fair share of pets. She's pictured here with her beloved mare, Maddie.

Visit the official website to play games, take quizzes, meet the pegasi, chat on the fan forum, enter to win prizes, subscribe to the newsletter!



(Taylor, please get in touch with me at my email,, and I'll get your information to Jennifer's publisher so you can receive a signed copy. Congratulations!!!)

Thursday, April 26, 2018

A Day in the Life of a School Librarian by Kristen Zayon

As the sole librarian amongst Team Mayhem, I have a unique perspective on the world of middle grade books. I read them, I teach about them, I champion them, and I buy hundreds of them every school year. I’m able to develop an insight into what kids like, based on their reactions when I read to them and on what they check out. That’s not to say I have the finger on the pulse of middle-graders everywhere. What’s popular in Fairbanks, Alaska is not necessarily what’s going to be popular in Des Moines or Birmingham or Spokane. But it does give me a good general idea about what interests your average 8-12 year old.

I’m not a librarian with a capital “L”; I don’t have a Masters of Library or Information Science. I grew up in a reading family, and both of my sisters are also librarians, so you might say library work is in the blood. I came to this job with a degree in business, extra classes in library science and children’s literature, and a deep and abiding love for children and books. They are what my whole life revolves around Here’s a glimpse into my world:

The absolute hardest part of my day occurs from 6:30-7:45 a.m. This is the magical hour in which I awake my four children who currently live at home. I then must spur, wheedle and cajole them to “get ready, for the love of God and don’t make me late for work.” Prior to that time of chaos, I’ve usually enjoyed a couple quiet cups of coffee, and God willing, managed to get a little writing in.

 My husband rises and joins me in the kid rodeo before zooming our oldest son off to the high school, while I wrangle the other three into my gas-guzzling old Suburban and on the short drive up into the birch-covered hills where my school is nestled. The two youngest attend there, while the third catches the bus from there to the middle school.

The first hour of my day at work often involves tidying up from the night before, and always there is the checking of emails and other daily prep work. Three mornings a week I have curb duty – I stand on the sidewalk in front of the school with a radio and a nifty safety-yellow vest and greet students as they arrive while also trying to keep the adults in the cars civil, and moving along in an orderly fashion.

And then it’s on to the students. Each day I see between three and six classes of students, depending on that day’s schedule. The days with three classes are a breeze, with plentiful time for the never-ending tasks of library maintenance. The days with six classes are so busy, I’ve barely got time to refill my water bottle or hit the bathroom between groups. Over the course of the week, approximately 500 students pass through my door as part of scheduled library classes. But I have an open-door policy, so there are also the students who come in throughout the day; to grab another graphic novel to tide them over, to find out if I’ve got the latest book they are looking for, to find a quiet corner to finish a paper, or to pull a pile of books for their ancient civilizations research project. Teachers drop in regularly too. They borrow books, videos and equipment, let me know about upcoming projects, and look for book recommendations. I end my day with more tidying, tying up loose ends, and preparing my heart and mind for the next day. Then the final bell rings, my two youngest show up in the library, and I put my Mom hat back on. Go home, feed people, work out, clean, supervise homework, drop-off/pick-up for ballet/soccer/math tutor, then get up and repeat the next day.

Regular maintenance of the library and its collection takes up the majority of my non-instructional time. The books must be weeded constantly. When they become damaged, irrelevant, outdated, or just aren’t moving anymore, out they go.

What to do with the books that have been weeded is a constant problem. Believe me, I do all that I can to keep them from ending up in the landfill. Next, research must be done on newer, better items to take their places. All the books I want to purchase go on to a list. Currently, the value of that list is about $6000; my budget for this school year is already gone and next year’s budget won’t begin to cover that amount. So, I start looking harder at each book, checking reviews, thinking of my patrons, narrowing my list. And in the meantime, more wonderful, attractive, tempting titles are published. Over time, I’ve learned (and am still learning!) what my school population wants. Here’s a hint; it’s not always what I want.

I’m tasked with teaching students all they need to know about our school libraries. How to access and search the catalog, how to utilize features on the catalog to organize and improve their research. I teach them how libraries are organized and how to find what they’re looking for. We talk about categories, genres and sub-genres. I do a big unit on Newbery and Caldecott books. Currently, I am running a poetry contest in conjunction with National Poetry Month. And, of course, I introduce them to the latest titles with book talks.

But mostly, I read to them. That is the heart of what I do. I believe that my core function and my mission are to help every child who passes through my door discover a love of reading. Sometimes it’s easy. Some kids are born book lovers. They’ve got parents who read, and who have read to them from birth. They gobble up everything I put in front of them. For some it’s harder. For kids who struggle with reading, it’s about finding a book within their abilities that also interests them. And in this distracted age, there are kids who simply would rather be doing other things. A book seems boring in comparison with Minecraft or Netflix. For these kids, it’s about putting the right book in their hand at the right time. Show me a kid who says “I don’t like reading,” and I will do everything within my power to change that statement. I’ve discovered that even those kids still enjoy a well-told story, even if they don’t want to bother reading it themselves.

As with any avid reader, I have certain book tastes. Fantasy is delicious; romance is required. But these tastes must be set aside. Perhaps the Wimpy Kid books and Captain Underpants aren’t my thing, but they may be just the ticket for one student. While not my first choice to read, I have developed a certain enjoyment for graphic novels.  Graphic novels are pure magic in pulling reluctant readers into the realm of books. It doesn’t matter if I like it. It matters if they like it. A statement that I live by comes from the always quotable Neil Gaiman: “The simplest way to make sure that we raise literate children is to show them that reading is a pleasurable activity. And that means finding books that they enjoy, giving them access to those books, and letting them read them.”

Kristen Zayon

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Welcoming New Project Mayhemmer: Kristen Zayon

We are thrilled to announce a new team member, Kristen Zayon. Now we can truly say we've got you covered from A (Kell Andrews) to Z!!!

Without further ado, here's Kristen's bio in her own words. Her first post will be tomorrow.

Kristen Zayon took the long and winding road that led to writing and librarianship as a life choice. Raised in the tiny Alaskan town of Delta Junction, she received a degree in business (which she had no intention of really using) at the University of Alaska. Then she married this guy with a dazzling smile, and proceeded to have five kids. After emerging from the self-imposed haze caused by a decade of diapers and breastfeeding, she thought, “Hey, I should get a job.” Her children’s school seemed a logical choice, and she started out as a math and reading tutor. But as a self-described book nerd, she soon ended up in the library, where the librarian told her, “Girl, this is what you were meant to be.” Fast-forward several years and she was working as an elementary school librarian where she got to indulge her love of books and an affinity for children. She wrote her first book, “The Crystal Quest,” in sixth grade. It was published by her mom on a dot matrix printer. She has continued writing over the years, especially poems, because they are short and she doesn’t have much time. Recently though, she buckled down and wrote her first novel, which she is currently shopping to agents. She’s still married to that guy with the dazzling smile, and the kids are growing up much too fast for her liking.

Leave a comment and welcome Kristen to Project Mayhem!

Monday, April 23, 2018

Cover Reveal: The Wild Lands by Paul Greci

I know this is a blog about all things middle grade but I’ve got my first young adult novel coming out and am really excited to share the cover!! The Wild Lands hits the shelves on January 29, 2019 but you can pre-order it now.

Book Information:
Publisher: Imprint (Macmillan)
Publication Date: 01/29/2019
ISBN: 9781250183583
384 Pages, Ages 14 and up

Here’s the blurb from the cover:

When a collapsing U.S. government abandoned an Alaska ravaged by earthquakes and wildfires, Travis’s family chose not to evacuate. But now they realize their mistake—as food stores collapse and the few people who stayed turn on each other.

Travis and his younger sister Jess now must cross hundreds of miles in search of what remains of civilization. The wilderness they’re crossing is filled with ravenous animals, strangers competing for dwindling resources, and petty dictators fighting for control.

They’ll make a few friends and a lot of enemies on their terrifying journey across the ruins of today’s world. Travis and his fellow travelers will fight for what they believe in as they see how far people will go to survive.

This pulse-pounding thriller, full of shocking plot twists, is the ultimate survival tale of humanity’s fight against society’s collapse.

Thanks for stopping by. I hope to be sharing some information about the Sequel to Surviving Bear Island in the near future.

Paul Greci is the author of Surviving Bear Island, a 2015 Junior Library Guild Selection and a 2016 Scholastic Reading Club Selection. Forthcoming in October 2018 is Follow the River, a sequel to Surviving Bear Island published by Move Books. In January 2019, Paul's first young adult novel, The Wild Lands will be published by Macmillan.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Writers' Conferences!

Conference season is upon us! In fact, it already started. Last week I had the privilege of attending Kweli, The Color of Children’s Literature Conference in New York City. I was thrilled to attend a master class by THE Angela Johnson, and multiple workshops, panels, and presentations that renewed my creative energy.
I’m getting ready to attend three of my favorite author gatherings in the next few weeks and throughout the summer months (Storymakersin May,WIFYRin June, and the SCBWI National conferencein LA in August). I’ll be part of the faculty at two of them and a participant in the third one, and I wanted to share the things that have helped me in the past to make my time at conferences the most productive, enjoyable, and inspiring experience to keep me going through the rest of the year as I work by myself. 
I belong to vibrant writing communities, but there’s nothing like the energy of attending an event just for MY people. A bunch of people obsessed with reading, writing, and illustrating books for children that truly change the world. People that are usually (not always) a bunch of introverts who’ve only met online and try not to act awkwardly meeting in person for the first time (or after a long time of digital conversations). 
These are the things I can prepare ahead of time to help me cope with the amazingness of conferences:
·     Business cards or another form of sharing my info: Right before I left for Kweli, I dug out my author business cards that I’ve been using for a couple of years now. My contact information hasn’t changed, but my agent switched agencies, and to my horror of horrors, I realized that I’ve been giving out a card with the wrong email address for the last two years. Thankfully I had included several ways people could get in touch with me. Besides email, I included my website info, and my social media handles. For the rest of the summer, and because it’s the first time I’ll attend a conference after signing a book deal, I’ll have postcards with my book info so people can know it’s coming out soon (ish… 2019). Business cards aren’t a must, but they’re great ways to gather contact info of the people we click with when we sit together for lunch, at classes, or outside in a green area taking a break. I’ve met a lot of my friends at writerly events!
·     Getting submission materials ready on time. If I’m part of a workshop (either as faculty or attendee), I like to read my workshop materials ahead of time so that I may be the best help to my fellow workshop attendants. Talking about submissions, make sure you format your materials properly. By this I mean, make sure there’s identifying information such as name, title, page numbers on a cover letter, and every page. Also, when you save your piece, make sure you labeled it in an appropriate way. Remember every person will be able to see the file name and root. Go simple. Your last name and title will suffice (Name.Title.doc) instead of something generic or inappropriate like: firstchapter.doc, workshop.doc, thefreakinglastdraftb*tches.doc. 
·     Going over the schedule and giving myself time to recharge: I love planning my classes, and most times my plans change. Sometimes if I’m meeting friends, I’ll change my mind on what class I’m attending. Sometimes I take longer to arrive to my first choice and when I finally arrive I realize the class is full. Sometimes I need a break. But I like being prepared and knowing ahead of time what my options are. 
·     Remembering to be yourself and keeping in mind why you attend these kind of events: dress comfortably but professionally. Wear comfortable foot-ware. Enjoy the moment. Don’t compare yourself to others. Remember this time is for you to improve your craft, to make connections that will invigorate your writing and your personal life. If you have a pitch session with an agent or editor, remember that they’ve been looking forward to meeting a project to fall in love with, but most of all, they want to help you improve yourcraft. However, meeting and agent or editor shouldn’t be the main purpose of conference attendance. Save every moment, so when you’re at your desk, pounding words on your latest WIP or that tenth revision, you’ll be able to draw from the magical energy of being surrounded by wordsmiths and storytellers. 

What conferences or events will you be attending this year? What are your best tips for newbies and old-timers? Please share in the comments, and if you attend any of the same events I’ll be at, seek me out and say hi! 

Monday, April 16, 2018

Book Trailer Premiere: RIDERS OF THE REALM by Jennifer Lynn Alvarez

Guys, this is so exciting. We're on the red carpet, with Jennifer Lynn Alvarez, author of the amazing GUARDIAN HERD quartet. Jennifer is one of the most gracious and professional authors I know, and so I'm fanboying and pretty much swooning that she chose Project Mayhem to be the space for the book trailer premiere of her new RIDERS OF THE REALM  trilogy. The first book in the series, Across the Dark Water, releases on May 1st, 2018. (Swoon again!)

Even more exciting, Jennifer will be giving away a signed copy of the finished book for ONE lucky reader chosen from comments on this post. (US readers only.)

Without further ado, let's settle in our seats, grab the popcorn, and turn down the lights. I present to you the book trailer for RIDERS OF THE REALM:


I love the illustrations, the music, the drama: basically everything about this! (For future consumption: I'll be reviewing Across the Dark Water on Project Mayhem in a couple of weeks!!!)

Jennifer Lynn Alvarez
Thank you, Jennifer, for honoring Project Mayhem with this premiere. We're big fans of yours!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Cover Reveal: THE LIGHTHOUSE BETWEEN THE WORLDS by Melanie Crowder

In the fall of 2016, Melanie Crowder and I met for the first time. We'd known each other on line (I reviewed her first novel, PARCHED, right here on Project Mayhem!) and finally got to meet in person on our way to the Virginia Library Association's annual meeting (where our books were both awarded the Jefferson Cup for Historical Fiction).

On that drive, we talked about the work we were doing. Melanie mentioned a new project that involved a lighthouse.

Now that book, The Lighthouse Between the Worlds, will meet the world this fall.

I asked Melanie what first drew her to this story. Here's what she had to say:
I grew up in Oregon, and the lighthouse that inspired the book, Heceta Head, is just down the coast highway from where my family went camping for our summer vacations. I go home to Oregon every year—I'm still a west coast girl at heart.  
I thought of the story when I was out in the wilderness, and wondering what it must have been like when the telegraph, or AC currents, or the Fresnel lens came to the West. It must have seemed like magic. And I thought—what if it was? I had no idea at the time that a portal fantasy, with characters jumping between worlds would be the result, but isn’t that the fun of writing—finding those surprises in the process? 
Here's a description of the story:

Griffin and his father tend to their lighthouse on the craggy coast of Oregon with the same careful routine each day. There are hardly ever any visitors, but they like it that way. Which is why, when a group of oddly dressed strangers suddenly appears, Griffin begins to see just how many secrets his father has been keeping. He never imagined that his lighthouse contains a portal to strange and dangerous worlds, or that a Society of Lighthouse Keepers exists to protect the Earth from a fearsome enemy invasion.

But then Griffin’s dad is pulled through the lens of the lighthouse into one of those other worlds. With his father gone, nobody from the Society is giving Griffin any answers, so he’s on his own. Armed only with a book of mysterious notes from his parents, Griffin is determined to find his dad, no matter what dangers lurk on the other side of the portal.

And here's the gorgeous cover!

You can find out more about Melanie and all her books at her website,

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Happy Birthday to THE ORPHAN BAND OF SPRINGDALE! by Anne Nesbet

I thought  that to celebrate the birth of my new book, The Orphan Band of Springdale, I would share a special, ILLUSTRATED edition of the Author's Note! 

But first I must thank two people in particular: Josie Portillo, for creating the beautiful, heartfelt cover, and Kaylan Adair, my wonderful editor, for her faith in the story--and in the power of revision.

"Oh, this reminds me of Maine!"
--my mother, in front of any beautiful landscape anywhere

            There are stories that come from the heart, and others that come also from the very bones that give us shape. THE ORPHAN BAND OF SPRINGDALE is one of those bone marrow tales. It is my echo of a story that I wish my mother had been able to finish telling me--the story of her childhood, which was so hardscrabble and tough that she could only bear to give us scraps and pieces of it when we were little.
            We knew that she had to go to a new school in a new town every single year, because they could never afford to pay the rent.
            We knew that her father was mostly not around.
            We knew that during particularly hard times she would be sent to live in the orphan home run by her grandmother up in Maine--an orphan home that had been started in order to keep a family secret.

            And we knew that somehow out of all this trouble, our mother emerged with some enduring and fine things: how to tell a good story, how to bring extended family together around a table, and how to play the French horn.
When summer came, she would take us back to the farming country of southern Maine, and we camped on a hill that had been allowed to go back to woods, and from the top of which all the grown-ups insisted that with a good telescope you might be able to see sails off the Portland coast, maybe.

            This was not the Maine of fishermen and saltwater. Instead of the ocean, we had occasional treks to Square Pond.  The mosquitoes kept us on our toes.
            The cousins would gather at the end of the day, and over long afternoons my mother and grandmother and aunts and uncles and cousins would share epic stories in few words, while we kids ran around creating small kingdoms in the woods.
(I'm the awkward one on the right.)
            I would have eavesdropped better if I had known I would lose my mother early. But of course I didn't know.
            But it happened: my mother died too young, and years passed, and all the stories about Maine kept wriggling and whispering inside me, and eventually I realized I was going to have to give some voice to them. I couldn't ever know the whole truth about my mother's childhood, true--but that just meant I would have to write it anyway, as fiction.
            To make that fiction as true as possible, I went back to Maine and spent some time at the Sanford-Springvale Historical Society, reading through old issues of the excellent local paper, the Sanford Tribune.

The flavor of 1941 comes through those newspaper pages: anxieties about drought and the war in Europe, "alien registration" drives,

Union elections in the local mills, a "7-Point Health Certificate" school campaign waged with vigor against bad eyes, crooked teeth, and malnutrition, all garnished with competing hyperbolic ads from the local dairies . . . .

So the seeds of this story are true, but the resulting crop is fiction. I changed the identities and biographies of my characters and even tweaked the names of the local towns, out of respect for the difference between Gusta's fictional world and the real childhood places of my real mother.
           My mother did love a good story, and I hope she would have been tickled by this one. In the heart-and-marrow of my dreams, sometimes she even looks up from the pages and smiles her wonderful, crooked grin and says, "Oh, Anne, this reminds me of Maine!"

Thursday, April 5, 2018


Have you been having a hard time writing recently?  Don’t worry.  Instead, feel honored.  Your imagination was temporarily removed from your body by aliens. 

The half hour operation was performed while you were fast asleep.  Your imagination is located in the center of your heart.  Western science has yet to discover this obvious fact.  The aliens do not intend to dissect or destroy your imagination.  Far from it.  They revere your creativity and are hoping to harness its awesome power in the name of cosmic love. 

Your imagination has been taken to a planet whose inhabitants have lost the capacity to dream of a better life.  All fun and creativity have come to a grinding halt.  Depression and despair reign.  On this planet there are two hundred wells, from which the inhabitants draw all their drinking water.  Your imagination will be placed in a golden bucket and lowered for five minutes into each well.  Your creativity will seep into every molecule of water.  When the inhabitants take a sip, there imaginations will instantly be reactivated and the great shadow will be lifted from their civilization.  At that point, your imagination will be placed back in your body and your writer’s block will come to an end.  I hope this clears things up.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Doing It for the Kids by Linda Williams Jackson

I live with marathon runners. As a result, I get to witness the grueling task of training for and successfully finishing a race. I also know, without a doubt, that a marathon is something that I will NEVER complete. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why anyone would want to run for 26.2 miles, especially when they have to spend months in advance of the race, training for it by going on long runs up to 20+ miles. That’s like running a marathon multiple times before you actually run the real deal. Yet, every year, thousands of people run these races. My husband and daughter are two of those people.
During this last marathon, as I waited at the finish line, I actually began to get a little angry at some of the runners. Many of them were limping more than they were running, and some were even crying. Yes, literal tears! These were grown folks, not children, dragging themselves towards a finish line, knowing that they probably wouldn’t be able to even walk the next day.
“Why in the world are they doing this?” I asked myself. “Why are they torturing themselves like this? Surely running a marathon is not that important.”
When my husband and daughter crossed the finish line, I asked them the same question regarding the “criers.” They both stared at me as if I had suddenly turned green.
“They’re doing it for the kids, Mom,” my daughter said. “We’re all doing it for the kids. Yeah, it’s hard. I even cried a little toward the end, but this is for the kids at Saint Jude’s.”
“Didn’t you see the wrist bands?” my husband asked. “Some people are running for specific kids.”
“We ran for Zoey,” my daughter added. “At first we were just running because we wanted to run the marathon, but then we thought about Zoey and ran it for her.”
Not only did I feel remorseful regarding my attitude towards the runners, but I also had a lightbulb moment. I thought about all those years I spent writing and pursuing traditional publishing. I thought about all the sacrifices I made, all the tears I shed. I thought about my figurative limping toward the finish line. I also thought about how, when I first started on this race, I did it because I wanted to be a published author. Yet, once I really got deeper into my journey, I began doing it for the kids. Now, more than ever, I do it for the kids. If it were simply up to me and the pursuit of a dream, I would walk away. I would no longer put myself through this “marathon” training of trying to publish a book.
But I can’t quit. I must finish the race because I know that there are stories in me that I need to share with kids—kids who, metaphorically, like the kids at Saint Jude Children’s Research Hospital, need hope and healing. 

What about you? Why are YOU doing this? Why are you continuing to run the race of children's book publishing?