You may have seen #MGGetsReal floating around the Internet this past month. And you may know that it involves five dynamite middle grade authors: Shannon Wiersbitzky, Shannon Hitchcock, Joyce Moyer Hostetter, Kathleen Burkinshaw, and Kerry O'Malley Cerra.
But do you know how it came about? In this exclusive interview with Joyce, you're going to see how this marketing effort was formulated and how this team carried it out.
How did you all decide to form the #MGGetsReal group? Who was behind it? How did you choose the title?
Let’s blame this on Shannon Wiersbitzky. I think she’d participated in joint marketing initiatives before. But anyway, I received an email inquiring if I’d be interested in joining a few authors in a concentrated promotional campaign for one month. Of course, I said, YES even though it was going to jolt me out of my comfortable blogging lethargy.
We five authors brainstormed via emails. Shannon envisioned a hashtag that could be used via social media. We tried out a few, keeping in mind what we wanted to communicate, how visually clear we could make it in a hashtag, and what would be punchy and memorable. #MGGetsReal emerged. Of course we did other brainstorming too, to establish the criteria for this effort.
Are you particularly targeting middle grade teachers? If so, how? Have you had any response to this?
We hope to reach Middle Grade teachers and school librarians, although we adore readers of all ages and professions! We chose the month of August because educators would be gearing up for a new school year. We wrote articles and blog posts and offered to guest blog for a variety of teacher and librarian groups that we have connections with.
Shannon W. assembled images of our books covers that we all could use and I (with help from my daughter) developed a video that introduced our books.
Kathy landed a blogging slot at Literacy and NCTE and Shannon H. introduced our video at Mr. Schu’s blog, Watch. Connect. Read.
Shannon also cranked out terrific blog posts and articles that inspired the rest of us to get to work.
Kerry compiled an astounding list of Middle Grade Books About Tough Topics.
I used our Talking Story platform to create a newsletter to send to educators.
We all blogged more than usual and reviewed each other books. And we’re Facebooking and Tweeting a lot too!
I would love to tell you that our book sales spiked as a result and that teachers across America are choosing to use our books in their classroom. But of course, we have no idea just yet how the campaign will play itself out. However, we believe the awareness of our titles is spreading and we’ve certainly fallen in love with each other’s books. Perhaps, best of all, we’ve built a small community of cooperation among ourselves as authors. That’s worth a whole lot. We also know that this is likely the beginning of a movement that other authors will pick up and continue. Our effort is simply the first wave.
Please share the common threads between the books and tell us how COMFORT fits into the mix?
Tough topics—that’s the common thread. Hard things happen in life and we want middle graders to discover characters who face difficulties with courage and creativity.
In WHAT FLOWERS REMEMBER by Shannon Wiersbitzky, Delia is especially resourceful when her surrogate grandfather develops Alzheimer’s, finding a way to help him remember his life experiences. She does this by drawing the whole town into retelling stories of his life. It’s such a beautiful novel with themes of legacy and flowers and memory and love. How is that similar to COMFORT? An adult family member has mental struggles and the protagonist helps him to connect with community.
In THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM, Kathleen Hilliker Burkinshaw tells the story of Yuriko who lives in Hiroshima during World War II. And yes, it describes the bombing and its aftermath. This is such a profound story and I think Ann Fay feels the profundity of that devastation in COMFORT when her family hears the announcement of the Hiroshima bombing on the radio. This is the moment when Daddy’s post war trauma really begins to manifest itself. Both are books about war and how it changes a character’s world.
JUST A DROP OF WATER by Kerry O’Malley Cerra is a story about the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Two boys, one Christian and one Muslim find their world and their friendship grinds to a halt in the aftermath of the attacks. Jake the protagonist may be misguided in the ways he sticks up for his friend but his loyalty is always there. He is persistent too and those characteristics remind me of Ann Fay in COMFORT.
In Shannon Hitchcock’s RUBY LEE AND ME, Sara Beth Mills lives in racially segregated North Carolina. Ann Fay in COMFORT, does too. The difference is that Sara Beth has an African-American friendship that is actually threatened by school integration. Ann Fay has experienced a brief friendship with a black girl at an integrated hospital but is now separated from her. She is unable to reestablish that friendship. Both girls have family members they desperately want to be well.
Each of these books is about character and the human spirit and how it responds during really tough times. We trust that our protagonists will give readers the confidence that they can face real life challenges.
To enter the giveaway of all five books (open to teachers and librarians), please visit our #MGGetsReal website and scroll to the bottom of the page.