Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Fourteen-year-old Max Murphy is looking forward to a family vacation. But his parents, both archaeologists and Maya experts, announce a change in plan. They must leave immediately for a dig in the tiny Central American country of San Xavier. Max will go to summer camp. Max is furious. When he's mysteriously summoned to San Xavier, he thinks they've had a change of heart.

Upon his arrival, Max's wild adventure in the tropical rainforests of San Xavier begins. During his journey, he will unlock ancient secrets and meet strangers who are connected to him in ways he could never have imagined. For fate has delivered a challenge of epic proportions to this pampered teenager. Can Max rescue his parents from the Maya Underworld and save the world from the Lords of Death, who now control the power of the Jaguar Stones in their villainous hands? The scene is set for a roller-coaster ride of suspense and terror, as the good guys and the bad guys face off against a background of haunted temples, zombie armies, and even human sacrifice!

MiddleWord was written by a husband and wife team, the Voekel's. Jon Voelkel grew up in Peru, Costa Rica, and Colombia. He was not a natural-born adventurer and found life in the jungle difficult, to say the least. After college and business school in Barcelona, he worked in advertising agencies in Spain, Holland, and England, ultimately starting his own agency with four other partners - one of whom would be his future wife. In 2001, The Financial Times named him one of the top fifty creative minds in Britain.

Pamela Craik Voelkel graduated from Leeds University in English Language and Literature. After stints reviewing books, writing catalogs, and penning speech bubbles for photo-romances, she become an advertising copywriter. As Creative Director of Craik Jones Watson Mitchell Voelkel, she helped the agency win hundreds of creative awards.

The Voelkels' collaboration continues in Vermont, where they live with their three children.

The questions below were answered for Boys Read by Jon Voelkel - the male half of the J&P Voelkel writing team!

1. Why will Middleworld appeal to boys?

It’s the kind of book I loved when I was a kid. Lots of action and cliffhangers and nailbiting scenarios to keep you turning the pages – and you don’t have to wade through pages of description to get to the next big surprise! It’s a funny, fast paced roller-coaster ride of adventure as 14 year-old Max Murphy - a pizza loving, video gamer from Boston - faces off against the ancient Maya lords of death. There are secret passageways, haunted temples, raging underground rivers, ancient Maya kings, ruthless smugglers, zombie armies and, most important of all, a beautiful, jungle-savvy Maya girl.

2. What was the hardest part of writing your novel?

Getting started. I was supposed to be writing a marketing book. Our advertising agency in London had produced some groundbreaking campaigns and I’d been asked to write a book about our approach. But when I sat down to write it, I realized that my heart wasn’t in it. It was quite a difficult moment to tell Pamela that I thought we should write a children’s novel instead. And the next hardest thing was giving a draft to the owners of our local Norwich Bookstore and waiting on tenterhooks for their verdict.

3. Who is your favorite character and why?

My favorite characters were the Maya lords of death. It’s not often that you get to write characters that are pure evil and insanely fun as the same time. Their mix of outrageous humor, practical jokes and sheer villainy is not something we made up - it’s straight out of Maya mythology. Our favorite scene is in the Black Pyramid where Ah Pukuh, the god of Violent and Unnatural Death, throws a party and Max has a string of misadventures. It was so much fun to write - I was giggling the whole way through it.

4. Who are your favorite middle-grade authors?

There are so many great middle-grade authors, but my son and I particularly enjoyed Philip Reeve’s Mortal Engines series and the Monster Blood Tattoo Series by D.M. Cornish.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Morgan’s Pasture

Child psychologist Will Border retreats to the summer of his thirteenth year after a traumatic event forces him to reexamine childhood events and the choices he made in becoming a man. A period piece set in 1950s rural America, Morgan’s Pasture guides young adult readers in examining their own roles in life as they develop into loners, followers, or even reluctant leaders like Will. With one eye on child psychology and the other on plain common sense, Morgan’s Pasture offers a unique perspective on the growth of a boy and the longing of a man for a mythic peaceful pasture, not as a place to live, but as a reason to.

This unique book is by Wallace J. Swenson, an award-winning poet, novelist, and short-story writer. To order Morgan's Pasture, click here.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Bull Rider and Suzanne Morgan Williams' take on books and boys

So I spent four days selling books, and particularly my book, Bull Rider, with a local indie bookstore at the Reno Rodeo at the end of June. We had a great view of team roping and cutting events and the people watching was to die for. I learned more about readers there than I do at a lot of other places. Mostly because people don’t come to the rodeo to buy books – even if the books are about rodeo and the West. When I go on a school visit, kids know what they are supposed to do, and at libraries and book stores the audiences are self selected book lovers, or children of book lovers. The rodeo is different. Here’s what I observed about the boys.

Most of them won’t look at books. Those that do are often accompanied by a parent and after a little coaxing they may admit that they love to read. I think it’s a status thing. Books are academic. They are often written for girls. They aren’t necessarily cool. Many of those boys at the rodeo, if they are young teens, are sure to tell me they read “adult” books or that they follow the big fantasy series. Some of the rodeo type kids like old time adventure Westerns like Louis L’Amour’s. I don’t think a lot of those boys have read much contemporary adventure – which if they do, many of them love.

So first, hats off and a standing ovation to the librarians out there, who when an active boy appears at your desks, find them something great to read, whatever their taste – fantasy, adventure, sci-fi, nonfiction. And here’s a double cheer to those of you who will stretch those boys and offer them something new to read that you believe will suit them. You provide sustenance for their minds and support for writers like me who love writing for boys but aren’t so much into sci-fi or fantasy.

The publishing market has tightened during the recession and many of the big publishers are looking to produce big hits and that often means creating more of the same. And here’s what you already know – most block buster books aren’t written with boys in mind. It is girls who generally peruse bookstores looking for a new book to read. Boys will read, but they may need an excuse to do it. So here are some of the books I’ve read this year that I think boys would get into. Feel free to give them a gentle nudge.

About war – these are YA books and certainly suitable for any junior high or high school kid:

The Ghosts of War; the true story of a 19-year-old-GI, by Ryan Smithson, Collins, 2009

Purple Heart, by Patricia McCormick, Balzer and Bray, 2009

About military family life – these are sweeter and will appeal to boys and girls from 3rd through 6th grade

Heart of a Shepherd, by Rosanne Parry, Random House, 2009

Operation Yes, by Sara Lewis Holmes, Scholastic, 2009

Contemporary issues

Freeze Frame, by Heidi Ayarbe, Laura Geringer Books, Harper Teen, 2008 (fallout when teen accidentally shoots and kills his best friend.) YA

Home of the Brave, Kathryn Applegate, Feiwel and Friends, 2007 (African refuge boy adjusts to a new life in Minnesota, in part because of a connection with a cow and its owner.) MG

I Am Jack by Susanne Gervay, Tricycle Press, 2009 (addresses bullying in school) for young MG readers


When the Whistle Blows by Fran Cannon Slayton – (Jimmy Cannon celebrates six Halloweens between his 12th and 18th birthdays learning about the changes that life brings to his small town and his family.)

My novel Bull Rider (Margaret K. McElderry/Simon and Schuster, 2009)fits all these categories –

It’s the story of a 14 year old Nevada ranch kid whose life is turned upside down when the older brother he idealizes returns from Iraq with a traumatic brain injury and having lost an arm, Cam struggles to find a way to help. a good read for anyone ten or eleven and up, I’d say, and Bull Rider has appeared on both intermediate/junior high and high school state reading lists.

To learn more about Suzanne, click here.