Do! Judge A Book By Its Cover Issue 105: Middle Grade (Part 30)

Do! Judge A Book By Its Cover is a regular feature on Pop! Goes The Reader in which I pay tribute to some of the best and brightest the publishing world has to offer in the way of book cover design. This feature is inspired by Katie’s feature Cover Love on her blog One Page At A Time. The idea is being used with her gracious permission.

Please Note: I’ve done my best to credit the designers and artists responsible for the beautiful covers below, but was unable to find this information for a number of those listed. If you know of an uncredited designer responsible for any of these book covers, please let me know and I would be happy to include proper attribution in this post. Their work is lovely and deserves to be credited.

01. Twinchantment by Elise Allen (Cover art by Maike Plenzke)
02. The Dragonling: Dragon Trouble by Jackie French Koller

03. Frost Fire by Jamie Smith (Cover art by Geneva Bowers)
04. Rose Coffin by M.P. Kozlowsky (Cover design by Baily Crawford, Cover art by Julian Callos)

05. Time Castaways: The Obsidian Compass by Liesl Shurtliff
06. The Memory Keeper by Jennifer Camiccia (Cover design by Heather Palisi, Cover art by Aveline Stokart)

07. The Explorers: The Quest For The Kid by Adrienne Kress
08. Right As Rain by Lindsey Stoddard (Cover art by Alexandra Neonakis)

09. Stand On The Sky by Erin Bow (Cover art by Ji-Hyuk Kim)
10. Some Places More Than Others by Renée Watson (Cover art by Shadra Strickland)

11. The Mystwick School of Musicraft by Jessica Khoury
12. Taming of the Shoe by Sarah Darer Littman

13. The Year I Didn’t Eat by Samuel Pollen
14. Sal and Gabi Break The Universe by Carlos Hernandez (Cover design by Andrea Galecio, Hand lettering by Saskia Bueno)

15. All The Colors of Magic by Valija Zinck
16. Other Words For Home by Jasmine Warga (Cover art by Anoosha Syed, Hand lettering by Jenna Stempel-Lobell)

17. My Fate According To The Butterfly by Gail D. Villanueva (Cover art by Oriol Vidal)
18. Out of Place by Jennifer Blecher (Cover art by Merrilee Liddiard)

Now it’s your turn! What are some of your favourite Middle Grade covers? Did I list one of your favourites here or is there one I forgot that just has to be included? Let me know in the comments!

Child’s Play Review: The Becket List by Adele Griffin

Child’s Play is a regular feature on Pop! Goes The Reader in which I review picture books, chapter books, and middle grade books for the young and the young at heart.

Title The Becket List: A Blackberry Farm Story
Author Adele Griffin
Publication Date April 2nd 2019 by Algonquin Young Readers
Pages 208 Pages
Intended Target Audience Middle Grade
Genre & Keywords Contemporary, Realistic Fiction
Part of a Series? No
Source & Format Received an ARC from the publisher for review (Thanks, Algonquin Young Readers!), Paperback
Find It On GoodreadsAmazon.comChaptersThe Book Depository

Adventure and discover with the bold and intrepid Becket Branch when her family’s move from city to a country farm means big changes!

Everything is changing for Becket Branch. From subways to sidewalks to safety rules, Becket is a city kid born and raised. Now the Branch family is trading urban bustle for big green fields and moving to Gran’s farm, where Becket has to make sense of new routines from feeding animals to baling hay. And as much as Becket loves to yell “Beautiful Alert!” there’s a lot about the countryside that is just plain odd.

But Becket is ready to put her own spin on country life. Whether selling her mouth-puckering lemonade, feeding hostile hens, or trying to make a best friend of her new neighbor Frieda Franca, Becket is determined to use her city smarts to get a grip on farm living. Laugh and learn with Becket as she mucks through the messy, exuberant human experience of change she didn’t ask for, in a story that sparkles with quirky characters and lasting connections.

“That’s life,” says Gran. “Most reliable thing about it are the twists and turns.”

When Rebecca ‘Becket’ Branch learns that her family will be leaving their old life in the city behind to begin anew on Blackberry Farm, her father’s childhood home in the country, Becket is excited about the family’s new adventure and makes an ever-growing “Becket List” of all the things she wants to do to become a true ‘Country Kid’. From being called by her new “cool country nickname”, Becket (Having determined ‘Rebecca’ no longer suits her or feels right), to making a new friend and learning how to care for the farm’s animals to prove she’s responsible enough to own the “real country dog” she’s always dreamed of, Becket is determined to focus on the positive, while her twin brother, Nicholas, and older sister, Caroline, struggle with this big transition. The Becket List is an infectiously fun, upbeat, heartwarming story about looking on the bright side and embracing change rather than fearing it.

Becket is a wildly enthusiastic, energetic heroine who’s always ready to jump into a new challenge with both feet. While it was a little disheartening to see other characters attempt to dampen her spirit by admonishing her to be a little less loud or rambunctious at times, Becket thankfully disregards this advice. Her regular declarations of “Beautiful Alert!” to honour moments or objects of beauty around her and her attempts to help others with her ever-present safety sayings are enough to make any reader smile. All of the characters, in fact, from Becket’s loving, supportive grandmother and warm, compassionate new friend, Frieda Franca, to Laying Godiva, the beloved, ornery hen and Mr. Fancypants, the Branch family’s arthritic senior dog, are vibrant, colourful, and thoroughly lovable. The only exception to this may be Becket’s twin brother, Nicholas.

Because he has such a hard time with the family’s move, Nicholas tends to monopolize their parent’s attention and Becket often feels she has to compensate by minimizing her own insecurities and any difficulties she encounters along the way, like her sadness over no longer being able to share a room with her sister, Caroline. (“…I keep my face a secret. I want to see how bad Nicholas reacts first. Nicholas is a “squeaky wheel,” which means that if he gets really unhappy, then my parents will try to give him special extras to put him in the right mood. Squeaky-wheeling has been working a lot for Nicholas lately.”) This can be frustrating because, however unintentionally, the book gives precedence to Nicholas’ feelings and therefore creates the impression that Nicholas’ feelings are somehow more valid or important than Becket’s. Because Becket is such a good sport and is determined to remain positive, Nicholas’ behaviour and Becket’s response to it isn’t necessarily treated as seriously as it should. While this will likely be considered a minor issue by many, throughout history women have been taught to be kind and accommodating, even to their own detriment, and I was disappointed to see this troubling message perpetuated in this story.

The Becket List is a gentle, optimistic story appropriate for younger readers complete with adorable illustrations by LeUyen Pham, straightforward life lessons and clear, uncomplicated prose I think even reluctant readers will find easy to follow. While change can be a difficult and intimidating prospect for many, The Becket List acts as a wonderful reminder that it’s all about perspective, and that a positive attitude can go a long way toward finding the silver lining in what others might simply see as a dark cloud.

Content Warning: The Branch family’s elderly dog, Mr. Fancypants, dies of old age at the end of the story. No matter the context, animal death can be understandably upsetting for some and I wanted readers to be prepared beforehand in case they found this triggering or a subject they would otherwise choose to avoid.

Cover Reveal: Naked Mole Rat Saves The World by Karen Rivers

About Karen Rivers

Karen Rivers is the author of twenty-one novels for adults, young adults and middle-grade readers. Her books have been nominated for numerous awards. She lives in Victoria, BC, with two kids, two dogs, two birds, one fish, and an assortment of forest creatures who have boundary issues.

Author Links: WebsiteTwitterGoodreads

I honestly can’t remember when I first became fascinated by naked mole rats, but beyond their so-ugly-they-are-cute appearance, it turns out that they are also unsung superheroes of the animal kingdom. When I sat down to write this book, my growing fascination with naked mole rats met up in my imagination with my experiences with anxiety/agoraphobia, and it made perfect sense to me that these two things, together, could form the foundation for a middle grade novel as unique as, well, a naked mole rat.

Much in the same way as there is a mysterious alchemy to an idea spawning characters and morphing into a fully-fledged novel, there is another strange alchemy in pairing a cover to book. As an author, seeing what a cover artist does with the characters that I’ve carved out of myself to put on the page is one of my favorite parts of the process. On this cover, Billy Yong beautifully captures kit’s open joy and Clem’s burgeoning teen persona in a way that is as quirky and delightful as any I could have imagined. I hope his inviting, colorful and unique art invites the imaginations of many young readers into this story so they can share kit’s and Clem’s stories.

Thank you!

Cover design by Carla Weise, Cover art by Billy Yong

Title Naked Mole Rat Saves The World
Author Karen Rivers
Pages 288 Pages
Intended Target Audience Middle Grade
Publication Date October 15th 2019 by Algonquin Young Readers
Find It On GoodreadsAmazonChaptersThe Book Depository

Can Kit’s super-weird superpower save her world?

Kit-with-a-small-k is navigating middle school with a really big, really strange secret: When she’s stressed, she turns into a naked mole rat.

It first happened after kit watched her best friend, Clem, fall and get hurt during an acrobatic performance on TV. Since then, the transformations keep happening — whether kit wants them to or not. Kit can’t tell Clem about it, because after the fall, Clem just hasn’t been herself. She’s sad and mad and gloomy, and keeping a secret of her own: the real reason she fell.

A year after the accident, kit and Clem still haven’t figured out how to deal with all the ways they have transformed — both inside and out. When their secrets come between them, the best friends get into a big fight. Somehow, kit has to save the day, but she doesn’t believe she can be that kind of hero. Turning into a naked mole rat isn’t really a superpower. Or is it?

New Kids On The Block 2019 with Gillian McDunn

New Kids On The Block is a year-long series on Pop! Goes The Reader meant to welcome and celebrate new voices and debut authors in the literary community.

Are you a debut author whose book is being published in 2019? It’s not too late to sign-up! If you want to participate in New Kids On The Block this year, please don’t hesitate to get in touch! You can send a tweet or DM on Twitter to @Pop_Reader or email me at I would love to collaborate with you!

About Gillian McDunn

Gillian McDunn has lived in California, Missouri, and North Carolina, and is a fan of both the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans. She lives near Raleigh, North Carolina, with her family. Like Cat, Gillian grew up as the big sister to a younger brother with special needs. Caterpillar Summer (Bloomsbury) will be released April 2, 2019.

Author Links: WebsiteTwitterInstagramGoodreads

Caterpillar Summer is the story of the girl, her brother, and the summer they will never forget. Since her father’s death, Cat has taken care of her brother, Chicken, for their hardworking mother — but on an unexpected island trip to visit grandparents they never knew, Cat has the chance to be a child again.

For this interview, Cat and Chicken sat down with author Gillian McDunn to ask a few questions about her debut book.

Cat: Today I am going to interview Gillian McDunn. She has a brand new book coming out called Caterpillar Summer. It is for kids ages 8-13 and it comes out April 2, 2019.

Chicken: Is it a book about caterpillars?

Gillian McDunn: It is about a girl who is nicknamed Caterpillar and a summer where a lot of changes happen.

Cat: Oh, Caterpillar is my nickname, too!

Chicken: I have a question for you, Gillian McDunn.

Cat (Sighing): Chicken, this is my interview.

Chicken: Just one question?

Cat: Okay. Go ahead.

Chicken: Gillian McDunn, what is your favorite shark and why?

Gillian: I like whale sharks. They are enormous and look so peaceful when they glide through the water. I also like their polka dots. What about you?

Chicken: It is hard to pick just one. But today I like cookiecutter sharks. They take a bite out of their prey in a circle shape that looks just like a cookie cutter was there!

Cat: Back to the interview. You wrote a book about summer. What is your favorite season?

Gillian: I love the way summer feels. It’s a time when regular routines get shaken up, whether that means vacation, camp, or the joy of having lots of unstructured time. When I think of summer I think of trying new things, visiting different places, and maybe learning something new about myself.

Cat: I can’t wait for this summer. We are going to visit our friend Rishi in Atlanta.

Chicken: Do you know what? Our mom writes books, too. Picture books. Lots of them.

Cat: That’s true. They are based on me and Chicken. But in the books, I’m a caterpillar and Chicken is a real chicken.

Chicken: Chicken is the funniest! He is very silly. Caterpillar is serious. She is maybe a little bit boring.

Cat: Caterpillar is not boring.

Chicken (Whispering): Yes, she is.

Cat: I know this story is fiction, which means that you made it up. But was the story based on anything real in your life?

Gillian: Even though it’s fiction, there are lots of little parts that are still true. I had a little brother named Andy who had multiple disabilities. I loved him very much and felt like it was my job to help keep him safe. I also love the beach – it’s my very favorite place to be!

Cat: I understand there are important grandparent relationships in the book. What happens there?

Gillian: The kids end up spending a few weeks with grandparents they’ve never met before. The grandma seems okay, but the grandfather is grumpy and always disappearing. The girl in the story tries to figure out why.

Cat: That’s interesting. We’ve only met our daddy’s parents, never our mom’s.

Gillian: Hey guys, I have a question for you. What do you think it would it be like to live on an island?

Chicken: I would love it. There would be ocean everywhere. I would go swimming and play with the sharks.

Cat: That sounds dangerous. No one plays with sharks!

Chicken: I would play with them every day.

Cat: I think being on an island would be okay. It would depend on what the island was like. I would have to watch Chicken carefully because he sometimes likes to take off running, and that scares me.

Chicken: I don’t mean to scare you.

Cat: I know you don’t mean to, Chicken. But it scares me anyway.

Chicken: I’m sorry. I’ll try not to.

Cat hugs Chicken and he leans against her.

Cat: Okay. Gillian, before we finish, is there anything else you’d like to say about Caterpillar Summer?

Gillian: I’d like readers to know that there are serious things and fun things that happen in this book. There’s a lot about families and a kid who takes on a lot of responsibility. There’s also a fishing contest, bike rides, miniature golfing, kite flying, and delicious ice cream. The kids search for sea glass and shark teeth. It’s an unforgettable summer.

Chicken (Eyes widening): Did you say shark teeth?

Gillian: I did! The island in my story is based on a real North Carolina island, where you can find fossilized shark teeth if you know where to look.

Chicken: I want to know more about this. Right now.

Cat: Maybe we can talk more about it after the interview is over. For now let’s say goodbye to Gillian and good luck with your book!

Gillian: Thanks, you guys, I loved talking to you!

Chicken: Now, about those shark teeth…

Title Caterpillar Summer
Author Gillian McDunn
Pages 304 Pages
Intended Target Audience Middle Grade
Genre Contemporary, Realistic Fiction
Publication Date April 2nd 2019 by Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Find It On GoodreadsAmazon.comChaptersThe Book Depository

This beautifully written, emotional debut perfect for fans of Lynda Mullaly Hunt or Ali Benjamin tells the story a girl, her special needs brother, and the summer they will never forget.

Cat and her brother Chicken have always had a very special bond–Cat is one of the few people who can keep Chicken happy. When he has a “meltdown” she’s the one who scratches his back and reads his favorite story. She’s the one who knows what Chicken needs. Since their mom has had to work double-hard to keep their family afloat after their father passed away, Cat has been the glue holding her family together.

But even the strongest glue sometimes struggles to hold. When a summer trip doesn’t go according to plan, Cat and Chicken end up spending three weeks with grandparents they never knew. For the first time in years, Cat has the opportunity to be a kid again, and the journey she takes shows that even the most broken or strained relationships can be healed if people take the time to walk in one another’s shoes.

New Kids On The Block 2019 with Kip Wilson

New Kids On The Block is a year-long series on Pop! Goes The Reader meant to welcome and celebrate new voices and debut authors in the literary community.

Are you a debut author whose book is being published in 2019? It’s not too late to sign-up! If you want to participate in New Kids On The Block this year, please don’t hesitate to get in touch! You can send a tweet or DM on Twitter to @Pop_Reader or email me at I would love to collaborate with you!

About Kip Wilson

Kip Wilson is the author of White Rose, a YA novel-in-verse about anti-Nazi political activist Sophie Scholl. Kip holds a Ph.D. in German Literature, is the poetry editor at YARN (Young Adult Review Network), and wrote her doctoral dissertation about the poet Rainer Maria Rilke. She’s lived in Germany, Austria, and Spain, and currently calls Boston home.

Author Links: WebsiteTwitterInstagramGoodreads

The Devil’s in the Details
(Or, digging for and maximizing historical details to bring a story to life)

I’m thrilled to be sharing Sophie Scholl’s story in White Rose, a novel-in-verse based on the true story of the non-violent resistance group Sophie led with her brother Hans and their friends in Nazi Germany. Sophie has been a heroine of mine since my own teen years, and I consider it an immense privilege to be able to tell her story.

At the same time, actually writing and revising the story was a bit terrifying.

After doing mountains of research, choosing the right one percent of information to present that would resonate with readers was daunting to say the least. And of course, on top of that, each bit of information led to additional questions. However, those specific details at the end of a research trail are exactly the kinds of things that bring a story to life, so they’re very much needed in historical fiction. In fact, digging for them is a bit like mining for nuggets of gold.

The Hunt
Some details are of course easier to uncover than others. For instance, a quick Google search will tell you what day of the week February 18, 1943 was, and you can often use online newspaper archives to discover the weather on a certain day. Details like these really help cement a reader in a specific time and place. Something else I ran into that was a bit more difficult was figuring out street names during the Nazi era, when many cities renamed major thoroughfares after Adolf Hitler. To confirm those names, I relied on maps dated from the period and on references to specific street names in letters or interviews.

A Wealth of Details
As already mentioned, a plethora of available information meant that I had to pick and choose which details to include. One example I felt I had to include was the music played during the German Armed Services report when the German loss at Stalingrad was announced. I found inconsistencies across sources reporting which composer it was (Beethoven, Bruckner etc.), but when I found the actual recording of the announcement, my dad was able to correctly identify that music as Les Préludes by Liszt. Because Sophie and her family loved music, this detail was something they easily might have discussed, so it made a lot of sense to include.

Conflicting Information
One of the biggest difficulties for me in researching Sophie, Hans, and their friends was digging for the truth. Under the Nazi regime, resistance was punishable by death, when meant the White Rose was a secret group out of necessity. Even family members and close friends didn’t know about the group members’ resistance activities. Those who took part were arrested, prosecuted, and executed. No one in the innermost circle lived to tell the full story. Though records of the Gestapo interrogations exist, everyone lied to at least some extent during those interrogations to protect others. What’s left is a raggedy quilt patched together with these lies, probable truths, and secondhand stories. Letters and diary entries give us some idea of the stress the group was under, but those didn’t spell out incriminating details in case of capture. Needless to say, some of the available information conflicts, which meant that I sometimes had to choose what best fit the story — for example, the likelihood that group members sometimes used drugs to help them stay awake to complete their work.

Le Mot Juste
Novels-in-verse have much shorter word counts than comparable novels in prose and my source material was in German, so my process for creating poems based on real documents included choosing the most applicable snippets, translating them into English, and then versifying them by transforming them into poetry that matched the voice. I agonized over some of the word choices, particularly in poems based on letters.

An Active Imagination
During the course of my research, I got to know Sophie Scholl. I based most of my first draft on documents, facts, and her own words. Yet this wasn’t powerful enough for historical fiction. One of my beta readers commented that my allegiance to the facts was holding me back from telling a compelling story, and this feedback really resonated with me. I realized that in my first draft, I’d neglected the fiction part of historical fiction.

Sophie Scholl was a teenager who loved her boyfriend, her family, and her country — and who was determined to follow her conscience in spite of the danger — so I needed to bring that passion to the page. In my next revision, I slipped in imagined details, weaving in what I hope are believable observations, thoughts, and emotions to fully paint Sophie as the very real person she was. Overall, the devil is definitely in the details, so I hope the ones I chose to highlight in White Rose add up to tell a story where Sophie comes off close to as true on the page as she was in real life.

Title White Rose
Author Kip Wilson
Pages 368 Pages
Intended Target Audience Young Adult
Genre Historical Fiction, Novel-In-Verse
Publication Date April 2nd 2019 by HMH Versify
Find It On GoodreadsAmazonChaptersThe Book Depository

Under the Nazi dictatorship, speaking out was treason, punishable by death. Yet in spite of the danger, someone had to make a start. Winner of the 2017 PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Children’s Book Discovery Award, White Rose is a YA novel-in-verse about anti-Nazi political activist Sophie Scholl, one of the founders of the White Rose nonviolent resistance group.