Congratulations to Darby Karchut!

Gideon'sSPearfinalcoverflat (2)Congratulations to our author Darby Karchut!

Her novel, Gideon’s Spear, sequel to Finn Finnegan, just took home a 2014 International Readers’ Favorite Bronze Medal Award  in the Children-Preteen category. We are so proud of you!

To check out Darby’s story behind the story of Finn and his adventures click here.

And don’t forget to check out the third book in the series, The Hound at the Gate.houndatthegate-web



The Story behind the Story: Our author Darby Karchut and the inspiration behind the Adventures of Finn MacCullen

Authors are thieves. We pinch ideas from whatever source we can, and certainly, without remorse. Except we call it inspiration. Influenced by. A variation on a theme. Sure. Okay. I’ll go with that. For, in truth, there really is nothing new under the sun. (I totally pilfered that.)


While it is quite obvious that the Adventures of Finn MacCullen series is based on Celtic mythology, some readers may also notice how much of the hero’s journey is reflected in the books as well. Like so many writers, especially writers of fantasy, I have been influenced by Joseph Campbell’s pivotal work, The Hero’s Journey. It was the part where the hero meets up with his mentor, and who travels alongside, teaching and instructing his young protégé, that has always fired my imagination. Obi-Wan Kenobi and young Luke Skywalker; Professor Dumbledore and Harry Potter; Ranger Halt and Will; Gandalf and just about everyone in the Fellowship are all great examples.



I decided in my Adventures of Finn MacCullen series to focus on young Finn’s apprenticeship under the tutelage of the Knight, Gideon Lir. You see, I have often thought that this was such an important phase in the hero’s journey; the relationship that will shape so much of the protagonist’s personality. Which was a blast to write, as I could explore not only Finn’s coming-of-age, but also the developing “father/son” relationship between the two.


Taking the basic concept of the hero’s journey, I overlaid some of the characters and stories from Celtic mythology, a culture I have long been fascinated with. That fascination was fueled by a trip to Ireland in 2011. What follows is a brief listing that I have included in the Author’s Notes in the back of each book:


Finnegan MacCullen: My protagonist is based loosely on the Irish legend of Finn McCool or Fionn mac Cumhail. This story cycle, called The Boyhood Deeds of Fionn mac Cumhail, follows the adventures of Finn as he grows from boy to legendary warrior.


Lir: The warrior-father from The Children of Lir story cycle. All I really took from that cycle was the name Lir. However, Gideon’s name is a nod to the legendary Welsh figure Gwydion. That character was a warrior, but also a bit of a trickster. I took that trait and gave Gideon a sarcastic bent.


Mac Roth: A friend and strong right arm to one of the early kings of Ireland. A fitting name for Gideon’s old friend and avuncular figure to Finn.


Scáthach: A formidable warrior and instructor of the young heroes. She trained many a famous figure from Celtic mythology, including the legendary warrior, Cúchulainne. “Cu-Chulainne,” by the way, means “The Hound of Culain.” He is often referred to as the Achilles of Celtic mythology.


Rath: A fortified ringfort. Ruins of raths can still be found scattered throughout Ireland. And, yes, is another word for Ruler or King.


warp spasm: This, too is a part of Celtic lore. This battle frenzy gave warriors extra strength and speed and helped them ignore injuries until after the conflict.


torc: A neck ring made from strands of metal twisted together. Most are open-ended at the front and were worn as a sign of nobility and high social status. Many examples of these have been found in European Bronze Age graves and burial sites.


deadnettle: A plant used as a curative tea amongst various peoples in northern Europe and the British isles.


Amandán: Mythical Irish and Scottish figures which are said to reside in fairy mounds. They are feared because it is believed their touch (called the fairy stroke or poc sidhe) is said to cause paralysis or death.


The Song of the Tuatha De Danaan: The words that open all the books, and that are recited throughout, are a portion of the famous early Irish “Song of Amergin.” This translation is from the article “Echoes of Antiquity in the Early Irish ‘Song of Amergin’” by Lloyd D. Graham, 2010.

Learn more about Darby by visiting her author page.



The Story behind the Story: Our author Kell Andrews and the inspiration behind Deadwood

Deadwood by Kell Andrews

Deadwood by Kell Andrews

The Story I Found in the Woods: The Inspiration Behind Deadwood

When I’m brainstorming stories, my favorite thing to do is go for a walk in the woods. That’s how I came across the inspiration for Deadwood. I was looking for ideas, and I found a tree.



I had just read Well Witched by Frances Hardinge and Enchanted Glass by Diana Wynne Jones, and I wanted to write a book like that – about ordinary kids who stumble upon magic and danger in the real world and have to figure out how to set things right.

All I needed was a unique kind of magic that I hadn’t seen before.

On other days, I had already noticed that just about every beech tree I ever saw was carved with messages, and I always wondered about the people who put them there. Were they still alive? Did the messages of love stay true? Did KT still love JB? At the same time, carving a tree is harming a living thing. I couldn’t help feeling sorry for the trees.

But on that particular idea-hunting expedition, when I saw one of my favorite carved trees, I was already thinking about magic. What if the carvings on the tree were a kind of spell or curse? And if the tree could talk, what would it say?

I looked for a scientific underpinning that would make sense in a contemporary novel with kids that seemed like real people.

My reference manual was the 1973 alternative science bestseller, The Secret Life of Plants by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird, which explores the idea of plant sentience. This was the book popularized the 1970s idea that you should talk to your plants to keep them healthy. Most of the serious-sounding evidence in the book is not real science, but the David Attenborough 1995 BBC/Turner Broadcasting mini The Private Life of Plants is more scientifically rigorous and covers related territory about plant survival mechanisms.

I love stories with magic in them, and when I’m writing, I like to find an explanation that’s somewhat plausible – I want readers to feel like the events in the story could really happen. People all over the world have believed that plants have spirits, but if a real kid came face to face with a talking tree, they wouldn’t just accept it and talk back right away. It wouldn’t make sense. I wanted it to make sense in the book that became Deadwood. The story and characters emerged as I wove together logic, wonder, skepticism, faith, and yes, a little bit of magic.

For more pictures and information about tree carvings (and a bunch of pictures of trees that I think look like people!) visit my tree blog,. For more about Deadwood and me, visit

Happy Book Birthday, Hapenny Magick!

Happy Book Birthday!

Happy Book Birthday!

Happy Book birthday to Hapenny Magick! You can find this wonderful adventure available on book store shelves today!

Hapenny Magick

ISBN: 978-1937053918

Jennifer Carson

Available April 15, 2014

paperback, ebook, audio

As the tiniest Hapenny, a race of little people, Maewyn Bridgepost spends her days from breakfast to midnight nibble scrubbing the hearth, slopping the pigs and cooking for her guardian, Gelbane. As if life as a servant isn’t bad enough, Maewyn learns that Gelbane is a troll– and Hapennies are a troll delicacy!

Years ago, a spell trapped Gelbane in Mae’s village. Ever since, Gelbane has been chiseling away the magic protections, and now Mae’s home is destined to become a smorgasbord for half-starved trolls.

It will take all of Mae’s courage to protect her village. When pitchforks, sewing needles, pots, brooms, and a little magick are the only weapons at hand, Mae finds out that great victories can be accomplished no matter what size you are, but only if you stick together.


“Carson has created a delightful story of joy and wonder and courage. I’m looking forward to sharing this one with my children.” Jim Hines, author of the  Goblin Hero  series.

“Jennifer Carson’s book is full of whimsy and a gentle humor, but it also includes peril and a satisfying adventure.” Kate Coombs, author of Runaway Dragon

Get to know the author by visiting her author page.

Order the book at: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, BAM

Stuck in the Middle: Why We Need Middle Grade Books

Recently there was a blog post on the Horn Book Blog by Jeanne Birdsall, author of the beloved Penderwicks series. In the post, Jeanne has this to say about middle grade books:

“…all children have to work out the role of creativity, fantasy, and learning in their lives, often at the same age I was when books saved me — nine to twelve, the years for reading middle grade books. This is when children are moving toward an identity apart from their families but haven’t yet submerged themselves in peer groups. For these brief and wondrous years, they are individuals open to and ripe for the very best we can give them, including those books written just for them, books that invite them into the world outside their families, their schoolrooms, their own lives.”

You can find the whole blog post here.

The beauty of middle grade fiction is that a child is free to explore his/her imagination, no permission required. Once a child hits eight years of age, she/he is under pressure from parents, peers, school–maybe even herself/himself–to become a grown-up, and to leave the elements of “babyhood” behind. While there’s nothing wrong with getting older and taking on more mature responsibilities, imagination and creativity are often sacrificed along the way.

So the child that loved Sesame Street is no longer allowed to watch her favorite characters, either because she’s in school or because her parents want to stimulate her with more mature material. Time that used to be spent playing make-believe is now used to master arithmetic and grammar, two arcane practices in and of themselves. Then, the child discovers a book; perhaps she/he receives it as a gift, perhaps a librarian recommends it, or maybe it was assigned reading. It could be any title, from the Island of the Blue Dolphins to Ramona Quimby, Age Eight to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and she/he not only gets to use her/his imagination all over again, she/he realizes that she/he doesn’t have to be a grown-up all the time.

Many children are pushed to grow up too quickly, in their life choices as well as their reading choices. How many kids do you know have the free time to just play outside with their neighborhood cronies? Most of the kids you know probably have a tight schedule of school, extracurricular lessons like dance or martial arts, and sports team practice. Gone are the days where kids have streetlight rules (you know, the rule where your mom doesn’t want to see your face inside the house in the summer until the streetlights come on). And many kids are also encouraged to skip ahead in their reading choices because they need more of a “challenge”.

But kids encouraged to skip ahead are missing out on important emotional and cognitive development steps. They miss out on the working through of issues kids their age face in a safe place–through a fictional character found in books. Instead they are being confronted with more “adult” problems found in the books written for young adults (kids age 13-16). Every teacher I know would tell you that there is a huge difference in maturity between a 6th grader (11/12-year-old children who haven’t hit their growth spurts yet) and 8th graders (where the girls could pass for 19 and the boys have deep voices and are sprouting facial hair).

Now, we are not saying that some 12-year-old children aren’t ready to face the YA challenge–some definitely are. And we’re not saying that some 14-year-old children should automatically get pushed into the next category. Most children will move up when they are ready; we just have to trust them.

But having that middle step–that middle grade level book–helps each child reach their full potential. Appropriate books are their life-saver, their escape pod, their secret garden, as they transition from being a child to being a young adult. It’s a big jump! Giving them books meant for them makes that jump a little less scary and makes them a little more powerful.

See all of our middle grade books by following this link.