Middle Grade Magic 2021

Get a behind-the-scenes glimpse at some of the most anticipated new titles for kids and tweens, from modern coming-of-age tales to eye-popping graphic novels to immersive fantasy. Attendees will also have the opportunity to check out the virtual exhibit hall, chat directly with authors, download educational resources, and enter to win prizes and giveaways.

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Opening Keynote Conversation
Bestselling authors Samira Ahmed (Love, Hate, & Other Filters and Internment) and Jasmine Warga (Other Words for Home) discuss the importance of honest storytelling and enduring hope. (HarperCollins & LBYR)

Eco-Activism and Environmental Adventures
As climate change and tween activism remain ever-relevant, this panel will discuss books that center middle graders fighting for the world around them.
Kim DwinellSurfside Girls (IDW)
Cylita GuyChasing Rats and Catching BatsUrban EcologyCommunity Science, and How We Share Our Cities (Annick)
Kate Reed PettyThe Leak (Macmillan)
Mary Alice MonroeThe Islanders (S. & S.)
Moderator: Caitlin McMahan, Youth Services Coordinator, Fern Ridge Public Library, OR

Pre-tween: Early Middle Grade
Chapter books, perfect for readers new to middle grade.
Salima AlikhanSoraya and the Dragon (Reycraft)
Annie Barrows & Sophie BlackallIvy & Bean Get to Work (Chronicle)
Liz and Lucy Lareau, Geeky Fab Five Series (Papercutz)
Moderator: Emily Beasley, Library Media Specialist, Franklin Elementary, Omaha, NE

Just the Facts?: Nonfiction and Factual Fiction
Authors talk about the importance of facts and nonfiction for tween readers.
Juno DawsonThis Book is Gay (Sourcebooks)
Trudi Trueit, Explorer Academy (Nat Geo)
Juliet Menéndez, Latinitas (Macmillan)
Moderator: Marybeth Kozikowski, Sachem Public Library, Holbrook, NY

The Power of SEL in Literature
The illustrious author trio discuss writing about social-emotional learning, grief, and empathy for young readers, in the pandemic and beyond
Ann BradenFlight of the Puffin (Nancy Paulsen Books)
Joseph BruchacRez Dogs (Dial)
Ann HoodJude Banks, Superhero (Penguin Workshop)
Moderator: Monisha Blair, School Librarian and SLJ Reviewer

Afternoon Keynote Conversation
Coauthors Renée Watson and Ellen Hagan (Watch Us Rise) discuss how encouraging young students to write can empower ALL kids and ensure their voices have value and are heard. (Bloomsbury)

Between Real and Fantasy: Tales with Magical Elements
How do creators infuse magic into the everyday in their upcoming fantasy titles?
Sangu MandannaKiki Kallira Breaks a Kingdom (Penguin)
Meaghan Carter & Lilah SturgesGirl Haven (Lion Forge/Oni)
Mariah Marsden, The Secret Garden (Andrews McMeel)
Shakirah Bourne, Josephine Against the Sea (Scholastic)
Moderator: Myiesha Speight, Resident Librarian, Towson University, MD

Author Spotlight: Debut Middle Grade Creators
A conversation with debut creators about the excitement and challenges of breaking into the realm of middle grade.
Kate Albus, A Place to Hang the Moon (Holiday House)
Marie Arnold, The Year I Flew Away (HMH)
Chrystal GilesTake Back the Block (RHCB)
Luke X. CunninghamLeo: Inventor Extraordinaire (Zonderkidz)
Pauline Vaeluaga SmithDawn Raid (Levine Querido)  
Moderator: Kristin Brynsvold, Media Specialist, Tuckahoe Elementary School, V

Middle Grade Mental Health: Embracing Neurodiversity
Join this panel to hear authors discuss the role mental health and neurodiversity play in their powerful middle grade titles. 
Carol Cujec & Peyton GoddardReal (Shadow Mountain Publishing)
Rebecca CapraraWorst-Case Collin (Charlesbridge)
Amy Noelle ParksSummer of Brave (Whitman)
Rosena FungLiving with Viola (Annick)
Moderator: Taylor Worley, Youth Services Librarian, Springfield Public Library, OR

Closing Keynote Conversation
Dynamic duo Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver ("Alien Superstar" and "Hank Zipzer" series) discuss the benefits of using humor in children’s literature to explore self-identity and respect individual differences. (Abrams).

Keynote Speakers


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Samira Ahmed is the New York Times bestselling author of Love, Hate, & Other Filters and Internment. She was born in Bombay, India, and has lived in New York, Chicago, and Kauai, where she spent a year searching for the perfect mango, and she currently resides in the Midwest. Find her online at samiraahmed.com and on Twitter and Instagram @sam_aye_ahm.

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Ellen Hagan is a writer, performer, and educator. She is the co-author with Renée Watson of Watch Us Rise. Her poetry collections include Hemisphere and Crowned. Her work can be found in ESPN Magazine, She Walks in Beauty, and Southern Sin. Ellen is the Director of the Poetry & Theatre Departments at the DreamYard Project and directs their International Poetry Exchange Program with Japan, South Korea and the Philippines. She co-leads the Alice Hoffman Young Writer's Retreat at Adelphi University. Raised in Kentucky, she now lives in New York City with her family. Visit Ellen online at ellenhagan.com and @ellenhagan.

Jasmine Warga is also the author of the New York Times bestseller Other Words for Home, a Newbery Honor Book and Walter Honor Book for Younger Readers. Her teen books, Here We Are Now and My Heart and Other Black Holes, have been translated into over twenty-five languages. She lives in the Chicago-area with her family. You can visit Jasmine online at www.jasminewarga.com and follow her on Twitter at @jasminewarga.

Renée Watson is a New York Times bestselling author. Her novel, Piecing Me Together, received a Newbery Honor and Coretta Scott King Award. Her books include Ways to Make Sunshine, Some Places More Than Others, This Side of Home, What Momma Left Me, Betty Before X, co-written with Ilyasah Shabazz, and Watch Us Rise, co-written with Ellen Hagan, as well as two acclaimed picture books: A Place Where Hurricanes Happen and Harlem’s Little Blackbird, which was nominated for an NAACP Image Award. Her upcoming novel, Ways to Make Sunshine has received three starred reviews from Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, and Publishers Weekly. Renée lives in New York City. Visit Renée online at www.reneewatson.net and @reneewauthor.

Henry Winkler is an Emmy Award–winning actor, writer, director, and producer who has created some of the most iconic TV roles, including Arthur “the Fonz” Fonzarelli on Happy Days and Gene Cousineau on Barry. Lin Oliver is a children’s book writer and a writer and producer for both TV and film. She is currently the executive director of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).



Kate Albus grew up in New York and now lives with her family in rural Maryland. The already-dangerous pile of reading material on her nightstand grows daily. A Place to Hang the Moon is her first book. Visit her at katealbus.com.

Salima Alikhan considers herself very lucky that she gets to write and illustrate for children. Her latest book, Soraya and the Mermaid, published in November 2020, and is followed by Soraya and the Dragon, publishing this Spring/Summer. This is the beginning of a chapter book series featuring comic book-loving, fourth-grader Soraya, who has unlikely (and magical) adventures each time her class goes on a field trip.

Marie Arnold was born in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti and came to America at the age of seven. She grew up in Brooklyn, New York alongside her extended family. Marie enjoys creating stories full of adventure, and wonder, which center on girls of color. The Year I Flew Away is her debut middle grade novel. She lives in Los Angeles, CA.

Shakirah Bourne is a Bajan author and filmmaker born and based in Barbados. She once shot a movie scene in a cave with bats during an earthquake, but is too scared to watch horror movies. She enjoys exploring old graveyards, daydreaming, and eating mangoes. Learn more at shakirahbourne.com.

In addition to The Flight of the Puffin, Ann Braden is also the author of The Benefits of Being an Octopus, which was an NPR Best Book of 2018 and is currently on 10 state lists. She founded GunSenseVT, and the Local Love Brigade, the latter of which has chapters all over the country sending love postcards to those who are facing hate. A former middle school teacher, Ann lives in southern Vermont with her husband, two children, and two insatiable cats.

Joseph Bruchac is an award-winning Abenaki poet, novelist, storyteller, and scholar of indigenous culture. His work has appeared in hundreds of publications from Akwesasne Notes and American Poetry Review to National Geographic and Parabola. He has written more than 160 books for adults and children, including Code Talker: A Novel About the Navajo Marines of World War Two, Talking Leaves, Two Roads, and the forthcoming Rez Dogs.

Rebecca Caprara graduated from Cornell University and practiced architecture for several years, before shifting her focus from bricks to books. She is the recipient of the 2017 Marguerite W. Davol Picture Book Manuscript Scholarship, as well as the Jane Yolen Scholarship from the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators. Her debut middle grade novel, The Magic of Melwick Orchard, was selected as a 2019 "Must Read" by the Massachusetts Book Awards.

Meaghan Carter is an illustrator with a love for shonen fighting spirit and aggressive female leads. Since graduating in 2010, she’s honed her work with anthologies and webcomics. She lives with her husband and 3 cats in Toronto.

Carol Cujec, PhD, has worked as a writer and educator for two decades. Her own teaching and parenting experiences have given her welcomed insights into celebrating neurodiversity.

Luke X. Cunningham is an Emmy-nominated writer from Philadelphia. Previously, he spent three years as a writer for The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon as well as doing stand-up comedy. He developed a passion for the Renaissance while earning a history degree from Brown University. He currently lives in Los Angeles, CA, with his wife and their son, Finn, while working in film development. LEO: Inventor Extraordinaire is his first novel.

Juno Dawson is the international bestselling author of fiction and nonfiction for young adults. She is a columnist at Glamour UK, Attitude Magazine, a key LGBTQ activist with Stonewall, and had a role in HBO's I May Destroy You. A former teacher specializing in behavior studies, Juno now writes full time and lives in South London.

Kim Dwinell likes stories more than the beach. Almost. Maybe it's a tie. She first had a career as a beach lifeguard, and then a career in animation, and now combines her two loves in her first graphic novel series, Surfside Girls. She also teaches Animation at CSU Long Beach. When she's not in the classroom or at her desk, she might be running a 10K or out on the ocean in her boat or on her board. She lives on a tree-lined street in sunny Southern California with her husband, son and Springer Spaniel.

Rosena Fung is an illustrator and comic artist from Toronto, Ontario. Her work has appeared in newspapers, magazines, giant murals, and on TV. Her favorite things are reading, cats, and eating snacks. LIVING WITH VIOLA is her first graphic novel.

Chrystal Giles is an own voices writer, with a strong focus on creating stories that bring the hopes and hurdles of African American children to the mainstream children's book market. She is a member of SCBWI and was selected as a 2018 We Need Diverse Books Mentee. She lives with her family in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Peyton Goddard is an advocate for inclusion and has written about and made many presentations on living with autism. Her message centers on “changing this worrisome world” through compassionate understanding and support for all. Peyton lives with support in her own apartment, adjacent to her parents’ home in San Diego.

Cylita Guy, PhD, is a Toronto-based ecologist, data scientist, and science communicator who studies bats. In her downtime, you can find your friendly neighborhood batgirl chasing her next big outdoor adventure.

In addition to Jude Banks, Superhero, Ann Hood is the author of the best-selling adult novels The Book That Matters Most, The Obituary Writer, Somewhere Off the Coast of Maine, The Red Thread, and The Knitting Circle, as well as the memoir Comfort: A Journey Through Grief, which was a New York Times Editor's Choice and chosen as one of the top ten nonfiction books of 2008 by Entertainment Weekly. A regular contributor to the New York Times, Hood's short stories and essays have appeared in many publications, including Ploughshares, Tin House, Traveler, Bon Appetit, O, More, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Paris Review, and others. She lives in Providence, Rhode Island, and New York City, and is married to the writer Michael Ruhlman.

Liz Lareau, M.A., co-authors the GEEKY FAB FIVE series with her daughter, Lucy, to inspire all girls to realize their potential and work together for a better world. Liz has been telling stories as a mom, public relations executive, and former TV news reporter and anchor for more than 30 years. Lucy Lareau co-created the GEEKY FAB FIVE STEM girls series with her mom based on her own real-life experiences in elementary school, where students learn to make a difference. Now in middle school, Lucy lives in Illinois with her parents, brothers, and sister, along with three cats, including Tom, who's inspired Hubble.

A former children's librarian, Mariah Marsden is currently a PhD Candidate at Ohio State University, where she writes about folklore and the Ozark region of Missouri. She is the co-author of Anne of Green Gables: A Graphic Novel as well as the upcoming graphic adaptation of The Secret Garden.

Juliet Menéndez is a Guatemalan American author and illustrator living between Guatemala City, Paris, and New York. While working as a bilingual teacher in New York City’s public schools, Juliet noted the need for more books that depicted children like the ones in her classrooms. She studied design and illustration in Paris and now spends her days with her watercolors and notebook. Latinitas is her first children's book.

Mary Alice Monroe is the New York Times bestselling author of more than twenty books, including the Beach House series: The Beach House, Beach House Memories, Swimming Lessons, Beach House for Rent, and Beach House Reunion. She is a 2018 Inductee into the South Carolina Academy of Authors’ Hall of Fame, and her books have received numerous awards, including the 2008 South Carolina Center for the Book Award for Writing, the 2014 South Carolina Award for Literary Excellence, the 2015 SW Florida Author of Distinction Award, the RT Lifetime Achievement Award, the International Book Award for Green Fiction, and the 2017 Southern Book Prize for Fiction. Her bestselling novel The Beach House is also a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie. She is the cocreator and cohost of the weekly web show and podcast Friends & Fiction. An active conservationist, she lives in the lowcountry of South Carolina.

Amy Noelle Parks is a former elementary teacher and currently an associate professor in the College of Education at Michigan State University. She is the author of Summer of Brave, as well as The Quantum Weirdness of the Almost-Kiss. Amy lives in Michigan with her husband and daughters.

Kate Reed Petty lives in Baltimore. Her fiction has appeared in Electric Literature, American Short Fiction, and more, and her short films have appeared in Narrative magazine and at the Maryland Film Festival. She is also the author of the novel True Story, published by Viking in 2020.

Pauline Vaeluaga Smith is from Aotearoa-New Zealand and lives in a small seaside town with her husband and cat. She has 2 grown daughters and 5 grandchildren. Pauline likes to write things for children and young people that can make them think and laugh.

Lilah Sturges is the author of many comic books. She lives in Austin, Texas with two daughters and two cats.


Author Trudi Trueit is a gifted storyteller for middle grade audiences. She has written more than 100 books for young readers, both fiction and nonfiction, including The Sister Solution, Stealing Popular, and the Secrets of a Lab Rat series. Trueit lives in Everett, Washington.



Emily Beasley is an elementary school librarian and technology teacher with a passion for children's books. She loves connecting people with a book they love, especially kids, and  deeply enjoys being paid to purchase books. When she is not reading, she can be found running, exploring, cooking, watering my inumerable plants, and spending time with her husband Josh.

Monisha Blair earned a Masters of Information in Library Sciences from Rutgers University in December 2020, with a concentration in School Library Media. She received a B.A. in Journalism from the George Washington University in 2005. She was the president of the Friends of the Boonton Holmes Public Library, an organization she established in March 2018. From October 2016 until she moved from the area, Monisha volunteered at the Boonton Holmes Public Library, where she did the weekly baby storytime program. Monisha lives in Burke, Virginia with her husband and two children.


Kristin Brynsvold is an elementary school librarian in the Washington, DC area, whose teaching focuses on research skills, illustration study, and engaging with the natural world through literacy.

Marybeth Kozikowski is a librarian at Sachem Public Library, Holbrook, NY.

Caitlin McMahan has worked in the public library world since 2016. As a Youth Services Coordinator, Caitlin works with community members from the ages of birth-18 and loves every moment! She’ll read almost anything, but fantasy and mystery books are her favorite.

Myiesha Speight holds a Bachelor’s of Arts Degree in English with a minor in History from Winston-Salem State University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. In 2019, she received her Master's of Library and Information Science with a specialization in Diversity and Inclusion from the University of Maryland College Park’s iSchool located in College Park, Maryland. Myiesha Speight is currently the Resident Librarian at Towson University where she is doing what she loves and gaining valuable experience.

Taylor Worley (she/her) is a Youth Librarian at Springfield Public Library in Oregon. When she isn't reading, she can be found drinking tea while stuck in a video game, making art, or exploring. She loves middle grade fiction and graphic novels, as well as general fantasy, sci-fi, horror, and graphic novels.

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