Festival Visiting Middle Grade Authors


The Benefits of Being an Octopus: Seventh-grader Zoey has her hands full as she takes care of her much younger siblings after school every day while her mom works her shift at the pizza parlor. Not that her mom seems to appreciate it. At least there's Lenny, her mom's boyfriend—they all get to live in his nice, clean trailer.
At school, Zoey tries to stay under the radar. Her only friend Fuchsia has her own issues, & since they're in an entirely different world than the rich kids, it's best if no one notices them.
Zoey thinks how much easier everything would be if she were an octopus: eight arms to do eight things at once. Incredible camouflage ability & steady, unblinking vision. Powerful protective defenses.
Unfortunately, she's not totally invisible, & one of her teachers forces her to join the debate club. Even though Zoey resists participating, debate ultimately leads her to see things in a new way: her mom’s relationship with Lenny, Fuchsia's situation, & her own place in this town of people who think they're better than her. Can Zoey find the courage to speak up, even if it means risking the most stable home she's ever had?

Why pick it up: Braden has written a tender & honest book that vividly captures childhood poverty. Readers will appreciate her characters’ strong perspectives & the hope that runs throughout the story.

First line: I settle onto the couch with the chocolate pudding I saved from Friday’s school lunch.


Just South Of Home: Twelve-year-old Sarah is finally in charge. At last, she can spend her summer months reading her favorite science books & bossing around her younger brother, Ellis, instead of being worked to the bone by their overly strict grandmother, Mrs. Greene. But when their cousin, Janie arrives for a visit, Sarah’s plans are completely squashed.
Janie has a knack for getting into trouble & asks Sarah to take her to Creek Church: a landmark of their small town that she heard was haunted. It’s also off-limits. Janie’s sticky fingers lead Sarah, Ellis & his best friend, Jasper, to uncover a deep-seated part of the town’s past. With a bit of luck, this foursome will heal the place they call home & the people within it they call family.

Why pick it up: Karen Strong has created a playful-yet-gripping story about the ghosts that haunt the South. Her characters encounter traditional spirits, but also the echoes of a dark past that can still be felt today. This is a story of place & of heart.

First line: It wasn’t a mirage but a miracle.

Hope in the Holler: The poignant—and funny— story of a girl trying to be brave & find her place in the world after she’s sent to live with scheming relatives.
Right before Wavie’s mother died, she gave Wavie a list of instructions to help her find her way in life, including this one: Be brave, Wavie B! You got as much right to a good life as anybody, so find it! But little did Wavie’s mom know that events would conspire to bring Wavie back to Conley Hollow, the Appalachian hometown her mother tried to leave behind. Now Wavie’s back in the Holler—& in the clutches of her Aunt Samantha Rose. Life with the devilish Samantha Rose & her revolting cousin Hoyt is no picnic, but there’s real pleasure in sleeping in her own mother’s old bed, & making friends with the funny, easygoing kids her aunt calls the “neighborhood-no-accounts.” With their help, Wavie just might be able to prevent her aunt from becoming her legal guardian, & find her courage & place in the world.

Why pick it up: This book is nothing short of glowing. Wavie’s story immerses the reader in Appalachia—both its magic & its poverty. Fans of precise & powerful writing & captivating storytelling will fall hard for this one.

First line: An actual clown conducted my mama’s funeral.


The Splintered Light: Ever since his brother Luc's disappearance & his father's tragic death, Ishmael has lived a monotonous existence helping his mother on their meager farm where everything is colorless. Until one morning a ray of light fragments Ishmael's gray world into something extraordinary: a spectrum of color he never knew existed. Emboldened, Ishmael sets out to find answers hoping his long lost brother might hold the key.

He finds Luc in the Hall of Hue, one of the seven creative workshops at The Commons, the seat of all new creation. Luc is completing the final days of his training as a Color Keeper, adding the finishing touches of color to a brand new world designed & built by a team of young artisans. Although his heart calls him to a future as a Color Keeper, Ishmael feels too guilty to leave the duties of his old life behind. But when a catastrophe destroys nearly all of the color & light at the Hall of Hue, Ishmael & Luc are suddenly at severe odds. Torn between his family & his destiny, Ishmael must learn when to let go of the past, when to trust the path ahead, & when to believe in himself.

Why pick it up: This book is perfect for those who love unique world building. Johnson’s characters are full of intriguing & deliberate conflict & readers will appreciate her ability to craft powerful images.

First line: Ishmael’s first memory was rolling down Commons Hill, its massive stone wall behind him and the open market square before him.

Festival Visiting Picture Book Authors


Gabrielle Balkan: Balkan’s playful and fun nonfiction style will keep young readers engaged while also teaching them incredible facts they won’t forget!

Also by Gabrielle: 50 Cities of the USA, Book of Bones, Book of Flight (forthcoming), The 50 States Fun Facts, The 50 States Activity Book

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Jonathan D. Voss: Jonathan’s lovable characters are full of whimsy and imagination. His books are perfect for lovers of friendship and adventure.

Also by Jonathan: Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh, Imagine That: A Hoot & Olive Story (forthcoming).

LK James: An illustrator & designer, LK’s debut picture book is sneakily reflective in a whimsical package. The colorful but muted tones set the stage for a thoughtful story time.


Jessie Sima: Most recent winner of the GA Picture Book Award! Her books are cheerful, colorful, and hilarious.

Also by Jessie: Harriet Gets Carried Away; Love, Z

Illustrated by Jessie: Snow Pony & the Seven Miniature Ponies

Shelli R. Johannes: The Cece books encourage curiosity and determination. Perfect for tiny scientists!

Also by Shelli: Cece Loves Science & Adventure (forthcoming)


Shanda McCloskey: Shanda’s writing is adorable and hilarious. Robots, missions, and dogs, oh my! Perfect for children of the technological age.

Also by Shanda: T-Bone the Drone (forthcoming)

Crystal Swain-Bates: Crystal’s books are confident and bold! Perfect for young ones with big personalities or those in need of encouragement.

Also by Crystal: I’m a Pretty Princess; Big Hair, Don’t Care


Bart King & Jacob Wenzka: This author & illustrator team knows how to engage their audience, whether it’s a sneaky sleepy-time book or encouraging the power of imagination.

Also by Bart & Jacob: Juniper Gets Wet, The Girl Who Kept Night in Her Closet

Join Us for the First Annual Monroe Children's Book Festival

The Monroe Children’s Book Festival is a city-wide celebration of stories, imagination, and the community that blooms out of both.

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This FREE EVENT will take place on Saturday, May 11 from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.. We’ll have family-friendly activities and events for bookworms of all ages.

The Lineup

Authors and Illustrators Ann Braden, Bo Burnette, Gabrielle Balkan, Jessie Sima, Joanna Ruth Meyer, Jonathan D. Voss, Karen Strong, Laura Weymouth, LK James, Lisa Lewis Tyre, Rebecca Ross, Shanda McCloskey, Ginger Johnson, Crystal Swain-Bates, Bart King, Jacob Wenzka, and Shelli R. Johannes will be joining us for this year’s festival.

Authors and Illustrators Ann Braden, Bo Burnette, Gabrielle Balkan, Jessie Sima, Joanna Ruth Meyer, Jonathan D. Voss, Karen Strong, Laura Weymouth, LK James, Lisa Lewis Tyre, Rebecca Ross, Shanda McCloskey, Ginger Johnson, Crystal Swain-Bates, Bart King, Jacob Wenzka, and Shelli R. Johannes will be joining us for this year’s festival.




  • Guests will get the opportunity to meet the authors in the Celebration Room or the Wardrobe at The Story Shop.

  • We will have the authors’ books on sale in the room at the time of the signing, as well as in our online shop.

  • In order to reserve a space in the signing line, guests must purchase the author’s book(s) from The Story Shop.

  • Pre-orders encouraged to guarantee a spot in the signing line. Pre-orders also get a privileged spot in line.


  • Many of our authors will give fun, interactive presentations at the Wayfarer Music Hall.

  • Author panels will be in the Wayfarer Sunroom, where authors will discuss their books and their writing process.

  • We will have two additional community panels involving the students of the Georgia Writer’s Project, as well as local teachers and librarians!

  • Story times will be in the Wardrobe at The Story Shop,

Don’t miss Indie Author Alley near the Monroe-Walton Center for the Arts. Many great indie authors will be set up there - stop by and meet them!

At noon, the Storybook 5K & fun run will begin at Childers Park followed by a costume contest at 2pm at the Historic Courthouse.

There will be plenty more fun events, such as puppet story time at the library at 11am, the Monroe-Walton Center for the Arts writing contest participants on display, photo ops with On Stage’s Peter Pan characters at the MWCA from 10am-12pm, opening day for the farmer’s market, the cow train, food trucks, bouncy houses, and more!

We can’t wait to see you there!

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Celebrations at The Story Shop

What do we love almost as much as reading?



Celebrations at The Story Shop are whimsical, bookish, and so much fun. We celebrate everything - birthdays, baby showers, bridal showers, retirement parties, ladies’ tea, and so much more. We provide beautiful decorations, place settings, entertainment, and cleanup, so all you have to do is enjoy!

Kids’ Celebrations

Pin the rose on Belle

Pin the rose on Belle

Coloring and temporary tattoos

Coloring and temporary tattoos


Our children’s celebration packages cover a variety of ages and themes. We provide fun activities like “party name” name tags, pin-the-tail games, a scavenger hunt, temporary tattoos, and story time through the Narnia wardrobe. It’s the perfect place for your child’s celebration, no matter the occasion!

Naming ceremony

Naming ceremony

Peter Pan

Peter Pan


Adult Celebrations

Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland

Once Upon a Time

Once Upon a Time


Our adult packages are classy and versatile. In addition to the place settings, decor, and cleanup, we provide mini clipboards that hold several social games for the guests to fill out at their own pace. The setting is perfect for a sit-down affair or casual mingling.

Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast

Woodland Fairy

Woodland Fairy


Here’s a sneak peek at some of our other lovely themes, as well as more details on how to book your celebration today. (We’ll even tell you how to get beautiful and theme-coordinated invitations from the geniuses at Gratuity Paper Co.!)

Woodland Fairy

Woodland Fairy

Harry Potter

Harry Potter

Construction Trucks

Construction Trucks



Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast

Peter Rabbit

Peter Rabbit

Where the Wild Things Are

Where the Wild Things Are

Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland

There’s one more thing you should know before you book: we have partnered with Doyle Wallace Photography to offer a photography package for your party!

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The photos are sure to be elegant and fun, so you can take the celebration with you when you leave. To add a photography package to your celebration, simply click “Photographer” in the add-ons section when booking.

We hope The Story Shop inspires you to find something to celebrate (and come see us when you do)!

Book Review: Song for a Whale

Lynne Kelly’s newest release is a masterpiece that offers a glimpse of the world from a perspective we hope to see more of in kid lit!

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Here’s the publisher’s summary:

From fixing the class computer to repairing old radios, twelve-year-old Iris is a tech genius. But she’s the only deaf person in her school, so people often treat her like she’s not very smart. If you’ve ever felt like no one was listening to you, then you know how hard that can be.

When she learns about Blue 55, a real whale who is unable to speak to other whales, Iris understands how he must feel. Then she has an idea: she should invent a way to “sing” to him! But he’s three thousand miles away. How will she play her song for him?

Adventure, loneliness, discovery, friendship: Song for a Whale holds so much between its pages.

Iris is an amazing protagonist. I love seeing the world through her eyes and seeing how she solves the problems she faces in ways that would never occur to me as a hearing person. The way that Iris’ empathy for Blue 55 moves her to action is an excellent display of her ingenuity. Sound is something many of us hear, but for Iris, it’s something she feels. She shows the reader how we, too, can feel sound, and all that is communicated through it, on a whole new level.

Her experiences of being deaf at a hearing school open the reader to a different perspective. How do we show respect to those we communicate with? Kelly shows the difficulties in communication barriers though conflicts with Nina, who is sure she has mastered sign language, and with one of Iris’ teachers, who refuses to see past Iris’ difference. How often do we think we’ve mastered a complex topic, like a language and a culture, from reading a single book instead of learning from those embedded in them, as Nina does? Or how often do we limit our view of another and belittle their abilities, like Iris’ teacher?

Iris’ family dynamics are another intriguing element. Kelly links Iris’ relationship with her grandparents to poetry. The sign poems, poems rhyming not with words but with sign shapes, that Iris and her grandfather create are beautiful and a realm of poetry that I’d not experienced before. And the shared but distancing gulf of grief between her and her grandmother after the death of her grandfather draws the reader into the narrative in relatable ways.

Song for a Whale is excellent for those who love fixing things, for those who love adventure, for those who feel they are often misunderstood, for those who long for that special connection between kindred spirits.

Book Review: What Is Given from the Heart

Patricia C. McKissack’s final book is a harmony of thoughtfulness and feeling that speaks to the resilience of children.

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Here is the publisher’s summary:

This final, magnificent picture book from three-time Coretta Scott King Award winner and Newbery Honor author Patricia McKissack is a poignant and uplifting celebration of the joy of giving. 

“Misery loves company,” Mama says to James Otis. It’s been a rough couple of months for them, but Mama says as long as they have their health and strength, they’re blessed. One Sunday before Valentine’s Day, Reverend Dennis makes an announcement during the service– the Temples have lost everything in a fire, and the church is collecting anything that might be useful to them. James thinks hard about what he can add to the Temple’s “love box,” but what does he have worth giving? With her extraordinary gift for storytelling, McKissack–with stunning illustrations by Harrison–delivers a touching, powerful tale of compassion and reminds us all that what is given from the heart, reaches the heart.

I was first struck by the illustrations of this book. Harrison’s use of collage works brilliantly. Each page is filled with bittersweet texture that not only appeals to kids, but also nods to nostalgia. Fabrics, papers, and photograph snippets all serve as vehicles back in time for older readers and sources of wonder for younger readers. Harrison’s colors and patterns beg us to turn the page, if only to see what the next visual will convey. The diversity of media used in the illustrations also serves McKissack’s story - give to those in a variety of situations, with a variety of backgrounds. Give to those who are trying to piece together a world from scraps.

McKissack is unflinching from the first page. A note to parents: this book contains some heavy material, but McKissack handles it with grace and nuance while maintaining accessibility. While this is a story about some pretty painful things that happen in the life of a child, this isn’t one of those books that are about-kids-but-for-adults. No, this is a story for children, and James Otis’s intelligent, matter-of-fact voice allows it to move seamlessly from childlike curiosity to tough truths of life and back again.

The story also breaks down what it means to give “from the heart,” a phrase adults often present to children and then leave floating in their brains as a complete abstraction. The reader follows James Otis as he tries to think of anything he might give to a girl who lost her home in a fire. We see his careful choosing process and his doubling back, his excitement and his second guessing. We see him learn from Mama’s actions and explanations that to give from the heart is to give thoughtfully and sincerely.

What is Given from the Heart is a story that trusts its child readers to accompany James Otis on his quest for a heartfelt gift. It trusts kids to match its intelligence. How fantastic, to teach children that both emotion and logic exist side by side in the act of giving!

As always, happy reading!

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