This bonus newsletter features UP FOR AIR by Laurie Morrison!
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Hello, friends! We're a group of middle grade authors who are passionate about great middle grade reads. Each month, we share a variety of fun content to complement our chosen read, including recipes, activities, discussion questions, and even sometimes author interviews! This month, in addition to our usual end-of-the-month newsletter, which will be about The Moon Within by Aida Salazar, we're sharing this *bonus* newsletter featuring our contributor Laurie Morrison's new book Up for Air! Some of this bonus content is adapted from a longer guide that will be available soon via Amulet Books. Enjoy!

Cindy Baldwin
Amanda Rawson Hill
Julie Artz
Laurie Morrison
Ashley Martin
Remy Lai
Reese Eschmann
Karen S. Chow

(Click on the image to go to the book's official page!)

Thirteen-year-old Annabelle struggles in school, no matter how hard she tries. But as soon as she dives into the pool, she’s unstoppable. She’s the fastest girl on the middle school swim team, and when she’s asked to join the high school team over the summer, everything changes. Suddenly, she’s got new friends, and a high school boy starts treating her like she’s somebody special—and Annabelle thinks she’ll finally stand out in a good way. She’ll do anything to fit in and help the team make it to the Labor Day Invitational, even if it means blowing off her old friends. But after a prank goes wrong, Annabelle is abandoned by the older boy and can’t swim. Who is she without the one thing she’s good at? Heartwarming and relatable, Up for Air is a story about where we find our self-worth.

Click on her picture to get to Laurie Morrison's website!
1. Where did the inspiration for Up for Air come from?

Several years ago, I wrote a YA novel that featured Annabelle as a secondary character—she was the younger stepsister of the protagonist. I signed with my agent for that YA manuscript, and it came close to selling but never did. Around the time when I was giving up hope that it would sell, one of my then-seventh-grade students read the book and said, “I love Annabelle! I want her story next.” I was immediately inspired because I loved Annabelle, too, and I was really interested in how she excelled as a swimmer and struggled in school; I wanted to explore how those two pieces of her identity fit together. I had also taught some students who were standout athletes and ended up on sports teams with older teens, and I thought that made for a compelling dynamic since they could keep up with their teammates as athletes but were in a bit of a different place socially. So I thought getting invited to “swim up” on the older team would be a good way to get Annabelle’s story going. It took me a while after that initial inspiration to commit to writing the book, though, because I feared the story I had in mind might be seen as too "quiet" or might fall into the unmarketable gray area between MG and YA. But I couldn't let the idea go!

2. Up for Air is marketed as a book for 10-14 year olds. What makes you want to write for these upper-middle-grade readers?

I taught 6th, 7th, and 8th graders for ten years, and it was hard to find contemporary realistic books that truly felt geared toward them. There were so many absolutely wonderful middle grade and young adult novels out there...but most of the MG books felt a bit young to my students, and most of the YA books were about teens who were much older. Many of my students “read up,” preferring YA novels to MG, and there was nothing wrong with that at all! But I also wanted to be able to hand them books about 13 or 14 year olds who were dealing with some of the same issues and social pressures I saw them confronting. So I want to write books that are geared toward middle school readers like the ones I taught, and I am passionate about writing stories that help bridge that gap that can exist between MG and YA.

3. Can you swim? Did you play competitive sports as a kid?

I can swim...but I was never a competitive swimmer. Soccer was my big sport as a kid. So I understand what it’s like to take a sport seriously and be part of a team, but I had to do a lot of research and rely on a few expert swimmers, including two more of my former students, to help me get the swimming aspects of Annabelle's story right. (I actually attempted at one point to make her a soccer player instead of a swimmer, but it just didn't work. She insisted on being a swimmer!)

4. This book is written in third person and your first book, Every Shiny Thing, is in first. Why did you decide to write Up for Air from this point of view?

I began drafting Up for Air before Cordelia Jensen and I had finished drafting Every Shiny Thing, and I was looking for a way to differentiate the narrators’ voices so that Annabelle didn't start sounding like Lauren from Every Shiny Thing. Then I remembered that when I was getting my MFA and working on that YA novel about Annabelle’s stepsister, one of my advisors had suggested I try writing a chapter in third person instead of first as an exercise. I had really liked that third-person chapter, but somehow the tone had felt a bit young for YA. But now that I was trying a MG version of that story, I decided to experiment with a third person voice again, and it stuck. I loved the way it let me infuse a lot of compassion into Annabelle’s story. As I wrote, it was as if I was Annabelle and I was also myself watching Annabelle and loving her and rooting her on.

5. Up for Air takes place on a fictional island called Gray Island. Why did you choose this setting? What was fun about writing a made up place? What was hard?

When I first started writing about Gray Island, I was picturing Nantucket, an island off the coast of Massachusetts where I went on vacation with my family when I was a kid. I hadn’t been there since I was ten, though, and when I went back to check it out as an adult, I found that it was pretty different from what I had remembered. So I chose to make up my own island that has some things in common with the Nantucket of my memory (the ice cream place in the book is based on the ice cream place we went to, for instance, and I used a lot of my memories of the bike path and houses and ferry). That was really fun because I got to use all the vivid details that had stuck with me without worrying about things like how far the harbor really is from a certain neighborhood. I did make it clear in the book that Gray Island is off the coast of Massachusetts, though, so I had to learn about the habitat and research things like what types of rocks are most common there. 

6. What are you working on now?

My next book, currently titled Saint Ivy, is scheduled to come out from Abrams in spring of 2021. It’s the first book I’ve sold on proposal (with sample pages and an outline), so I’m now writing the rest of a first draft of that book. It’s another story about family, friendship, and complicated emotions, except this one includes an anonymous emailer, and the mystery of that person’s identity drives the plot. That mystery element is definitely a new challenge for me, but a fun one. Drafting is HARD, though, and I can't wait to finish a draft so I can revise!

  1. Throughout the novel, Annabelle wants to stand out, but she also wants to fit in. Pinpoint some moments when she stands out in a positive way and some moments when she stands out in a negative way. How does she feel in those moments? Which other characters in the book are also balancing a desire to stand out with a desire to fit in?

  2. The tagline on the front of the book says, “Annabelle can’t admit she’s in over her head.” What does it mean to be in over your head? At what points in the book is Annabelle in over her head in her social interactions with older teens? Have you ever been in situations with older friends or family members that don’t feel quite right to you? How did you handle those situations?

  3. A few times in the novel, Annabelle’s mom says that she is proud of Annabelle, but Annabelle doesn’t think she’s done anything that’s worthy of pride. Why does Annabelle’s mom feels proud of her, and why is it hard for Annabelle to believe that she has earned that pride? What are some things that other people seem to feel proud of you for, and what makes you feel proud of yourself?

  4. Annabelle recognizes that, often, people bond with each other by making fun of someone else. Have you ever noticed people connecting with each other by saying something mean about another person? Why do you think that happens? How does it make you feel if you witness that kind of bonding or participate in it?

  5. How would you describe Annabelle’s relationship with her stepdad, Mitch? Why is it so devastating to her when she feels like she has disappointed him? Do you have anyone in your life who you would hate to disappoint?

  6. Annabelle has a complicated relationship with Connor that is sometimes thrilling for her and sometimes devastating. Are there moments in the novel when Annabelle interprets Connor’s attention in one way and you as a reader interpret it another way? By the end of the book, what has the situation with Connor taught Annabelle about herself and other people?

  7. Annabelle eventually begins to understand her own unique intelligence and to appreciate her own strength. Looking back on the book as a whole, what are some things that Annabelle does, says, or notices that show her being smart and strong in her own way? What unique things make you smart and strong?

Recipe: Two kinds of pizza!

Make two pizzas, the way Annabelle does with her friends Kayla and Elisa: one with tomato sauce, cheese, and any typical pizza toppings you like, and one “pantry pizza” topped with interesting things you find in the cupboard or refrigerator. Pesto, roasted peppers, nuts, canned fruits…these can all make tasty toppings, though not all together, so make sure someone pays attention to which flavors would blend well, as Kayla does in the book. Use store-bought dough and follow the baking instructions on the package, or try out this recipe for homemade pizza dough from Sally's Baking Addiction, where you can also find a video tutorial for kneading. 

1 and 1/3 cups warm water 
2 and 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast 
1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
2 Tablespoons olive oil
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for hands and surface
sprinkle of cornmeal for dusting the pan

1. Whisk the warm water, yeast, and sugar together in the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with a dough hook or paddle attachment. Cover and allow to rest for 5 minutes.

2. Add the olive oil, salt, and flour. Beat on low speed for 2 minutes. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. With lightly floured hands, knead the dough for 3-4 minutes. If it slowly bounces back when you poke it, the dough is ready to rise. If not, keep kneading.

3. Lightly grease a large bowl with oil or nonstick spray. Place the dough in the bowl, turning it to coat all sides in the oil. Cover the bowl and allow the dough to rise at room temperature for 60-90 minutes or until double in size. 

4. Preheat oven to 475°F. Allow it to heat for at least 15-20 minutes as you shape the pizza. Lightly grease baking sheet or pizza pan with nonstick spray or olive oil and sprinkle lightly with cornmeal.

5. Divide the dough in half and stretch and flatten half the dough to form a 12-inch circle.

6. Add desired sauce and toppings and bake for 12-15 minutes.

Shell and Sand Picture Frame

Shells are an important symbol in Annabelle's story. Pick up some sand and shells next time you're at the beach and use them to turn a simple wooden picture frame into something special! This craft is adapted from this fabulous craft post: check out The Handy Homemaker's site for more details!

1. Remove the frame from the glass and back parts.
2. Using a small brush, spread modge podge or white craft glue all over the surface of the wooden frame.
3. Sprinkle the sand over the glue (you can use a mesh sieve and shake it over the frame), and give it 30 minutes to dry. Then tap to remove excess sand and do another layer of glue and sand. Again, let the glue dry before tapping the frame to get rid of extra sand.
4. Use a glue gun on a low temperature to glue on shells in any pattern you like.
5. Use the frame to display a photo of you with a person who makes you feel like the strongest, bravest version of yourself!

Be sure to snap a pic and share it with us on Twitter or Instagram @mgatheart!

Enjoy this coloring page created by Remy Lai. Who is your favorite character from Up for Air? Tweet us @MGatHeart and let us know!

(Click on the image to download a high-res printable version.)
We hope you've enjoyed this bonus newsletter! Stay tuned for our regular May newsletter about The Moon Within, which will go out on Monday, 5/20, and mark your calendars for our Twitter chat about The Moon Within on Tuesday, 5/28 at 8pm EST, using the hashtag #mgbookclub!

As always, don't forget to add our books to Goodreads:
The Three Rules of Everyday Magic
Where The Watermelons Grow
Every Shiny Thing
Up for Air
Pie in the Sky

Order Where the Watermelons Grow
Amazon, B&NIndieBound

Order Every Shiny Thing
Amazon, B&N, IndieBound

Order The Three Rules of Everyday Magic
Amazon, B&N, IndieBound

Order Up for Air
Amazon, B&N, IndieBound

Pre-order Pie in the Sky
IndieBound, MacmillanB&N, Amazon,
Copyright © 2019 Amanda Rawson Hill, All rights reserved.

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