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!

Six Books You Don’t Want to Miss

Here’s a roundup of some delightful titles that we don’t want you to miss!

Poo Bum

Interest Level: Preschool – Grade 1
Once there was a little rabbit who could only say one thing . . . In the morning his mother would say, “Time to get up, my little rabbit!” He’d reply: “Poo bum!” At lunchtime his father would say, “Eat your spinach, my little rabbit!” He’d reply: “Poo bum!” One day, he meets a hungry wolf. Will the little rabbit learn his lesson once and for all?

The Big Bang Book

Interest Level: Preschool – Grade 3
The Big Bang presents the mystery of how the universe began in a way we can all understand. Written by an astrophysicist, the pages describe what we know—and what we don’t—in a compelling, accessible way.
Moving out into the farthest reaches of space, then back home on Earth again, this is a picture book Carl Sagan would love, introducing the wonder of our pale blue dot to the youngest readers.

A Bear Named Bjorn: Six Bear Stories

Interest Level: Kindergarten – Grade 3
Bjorn lives in a cave. The walls are soft, the ground is comfortable, and just in front there is new grass and a rough tree, perfect for back-scratching.
A Bear Named Bjorn takes us into the forest with Bjorn the bear and his friends. One day the animals have their eye exams and try on the humans’ lost glasses. Another, they just sit, watching the leaves and playing cards on a tree stump. And on party night the animals borrow clothes hanging on the camping ground line—and return everything carefully in the morning, only a little bit used.
Bjorn’s thoughtful bear logic and small eccentricities are the heart of these mischievous chapters that are by turns contemplative and comical, odes to both nature and “human” nature.

Beautiful Shades of Brown: The Art of Laura Wheeler Waring

Interest Level: Grade 1 – Grade 4
Growing up in the late 19th century, Laura Wheeler Waring didn’t see any artists who looked like her. She didn’t see any paintings of people who looked like her, either. As a young woman studying art in Paris, she found inspiration in the works of Matisse and Gaugin to paint the people she knew best. Back in Philadelphia, the Harmon Foundation commissioned her to paint portraits of accomplished African-Americans. Her portraits still hang in Washington DC’s National Portrait Gallery, where children of all races can admire the beautiful shades of brown she captured.

Hattie

Interest Level: Grade 2 – Grade 5
Hattie is a street-smart country girl in her first year of school. She lives just outside of nowhere, right next to no one at all. Luckily she’s starting school and that brings new adventures.
Hattie gets her first swimming badge, falls madly in love with a hermit crab, and meets a best friend. Sometimes things go wrong—like when the hairdresser cuts her hair into stumps just in time for school photos.
Hattie is funny, lively and sympathetic chapter book, perfect for reading aloud and for newly independent readers.

No Steps Behind: Beate Sirota Gordon’s Battle for Women’s Rights in Japan

Interest Level: Grade 3 – Grade 6
Discover the unlikely story of Beate Sirota Gordon, a young woman who grew up in Japan and returned as a translator working for the American military after WWII. Fluent in Japanese language and culture, she was assigned to work with the delegation writing the new post-war constitution. Thanks to her bravery in speaking up for the women of Japan, the new constitution ended up including equal rights for all women.

Looking for more books? Check out more lists!

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.

Read More

Some of Our Most Talked-About Titles in 2018: Part 1

Talked About Books 2018

Greg Hunter, the Associate Editorial Director for Graphic Universe, and Amy Fitzgerald, the Associate Editorial Director for Carolrhoda Novels, have stopped by the blog to share a few notes about some of their most talked-about titles for this year. So, without further ado, here they are! Read More