Today's "Middle Grade Blowout" panel welcomes these authors: Rachel Renée Russell, creator, along with her daughters, of the Misadventures of Max Crumbly series and the Dork Diaries series; screenwriter John August, who made his middle grade debut this year with Arlo Finch in the Valley of Fire; YA author Daniel José Older, whose middle grade novel, Dactyl Hill Squad, releases this summer; and Vine star Zach King, author of Zach King: My Magical Life and its sequel, Zach King: The Magical Mix-Up. The panelists will discuss the ever-broadening middle grade category with moderator Soman Chainani, author of the School for Good and Evil series.

Russell, whose Dork Diaries 13: Tales from a Not-So-Happy Birthday (Aladdin) will be released this summer, reports seeing exciting recent growth in the middle grade realm. "It has been wonderful to see an array of diverse voices getting more attention," Russell says. In terms of creating characters from diverse backgrounds, Russell is personally "compelled to be a catalyst for change by doing more and saying more; our children deserve it," she adds. A couple of Russell's recent middle grade favorites include Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes and Marley Dias Gets It Done and So Can You by 13-year-old literacy activist Dias, whose work Russell calls "amazing and inspirational."

For Russell, one of the keys to connecting with middle grade readers is creating characters who face the same dilemmas readers see in their own lives: "At some point, we can all probably recall an awkward period in our lives when we just didn't fit in, when we had our first crush, or we felt insecure—I want my readers to see themselves in my books and identify with the characters by way of experiences, race, gender, ethnicities, culture, and religion," she says.

Russell adds that stories featuring characters who represent different kinds of readers often serve as gateway books: reluctant readers often become avid ones after seeing themselves for the first time in a book. Russell believes that making readers laugh is important, too: "I make sure there's lots of drama and humor to keep fans entertained, laughing, and wanting to read more."

As a seasoned middle grade author, Russell could not be more enthusiastic about the middle grade landscape today, with many inspiring stories on the horizon: "It is a wonderful time to be a middle grade author!" she says.

Today, 10:45–11:45 a.m. Rachel Renée Russell, John August, Daniel José Older, Zach King, and Soman Chainani will appear on the "Middle Grade Blowout" panel, in Room 1E14.