Q&A with Author Ginger Garrett

We spoke with Ginger Garrett about the inspiration for her new middle-grade novel, Name Tags and Other Sixth-Grade Disasters, which follows twelve-year-old Lizbeth’s quest to make friends, thwart nemeses, and figure out how to express herself through art in time to participate in a mandatory school talent show.

Were you stuck with labels you hated when you were a kid?

I had such a horrible overbite I couldn’t close my mouth all the way. Add that to my freckles and flat reddish hair, and I was a nerd of epic proportions. But that’s not what the kids called me. I would have liked Nerd, actually. They called me Monster. I felt such shame.

As you mentor kids, what have you noticed about the power of labels?

I’ve noticed that in middle school, every kid wants to identify with a group. They want to belong, so it’s natural to accept a label as part of belonging to that group.

I don’t want to discourage the kids I mentor from exploring their identities, but I’ve encouraged them to “leave room on their name tag.” Their whole identity cannot be wrapped up and expressed in one word. For example, they are more than a Jock. Or a Brain.

And most important, no one should ever get to write on their name tag except them. No one gets to decide who we are, except for us.

Art—and a special art teacher—plays such a redemptive role in this story. Are you an artist?

I can’t even draw a straight line. My mom once sent my brother and me to an art camp. He was very talented. We each made clay mice, and his turned out much better than mine. My mom put his mouse on display over her kitchen sink; somehow mine got thrown out. I seethed with jealousy for days until one night, I sneaked out of bed, grabbed his mouse, and snapped its little limbs right off. I only told my mom the truth about it a couple of years ago.

If you were to fill out a name tag right now, what would you write on it?

Goofball. Mom. Dogmom. Yournewbestfriend!! Writer.

Truthfully, there’s a little bit of Lizbeth in me. I really like people and think if we could just get rid of the rotten ones, the planet would be one big party. And then the Universe gently reminds me that on any given day, I might be one of the rotten ones!

Escapist Middle-Grade Reads

by Amy Fitzgerald, Editorial Director, Carolrhoda Books

I always tell people that my mission is to publish stories that reflect the real world honestly for young readers, and that’s true. But sometimes, leaving the world as we know it has its upsides. Here are a few books that offer readers alternate universes to explore.

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Fly Back, Agnes and the Gift of an Imperfect Protagonist

by Amy Fitzgerald, Editorial Director, Carolrhoda Books

I still see it all the time:

What an unlikeable protagonist.

The main character is so selfish.

This girl makes terrible decisions!

I’ve invented these particular statements, but they’re composites of opinions I frequently come across in discussions about books. I find them particularly amusing when they’re applied to middle-grade and YA novels.

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