Middle grade authors and editors will have a chance to shine today at the Meet Middle Grade Buzz Authors and the Middle Grade Editors’ Buzz panels, both moderated by Emily Hall of Main Street Books in St. Charles, Mo.

Rex Ogle, author of Free Lunch (Norton Young Readers, Sept.), and publishing director Simon Boughton

Rex: Free Lunch is my personal story about attending middle school, navigating violence at home, and experiencing poverty in nearly every aspect of my life. I don’t know that I was inspired, so much as compelled by my younger self, to write it. As a boy, I desperately needed a book that spoke to my experience, but was hard-pressed to find one. As an adult, and a writer, I was too ashamed to tell my story, still haunted by old insecurities. Eventually, I came around, and I’m glad I did.

Simon: What I love most about Rex’s book is the voice: it’s authentically the voice and point of view of a sixth grader—worldly in some ways, naïve in others, yearning for care and affection, optimistic and hopeful despite the worst of circumstances. Rex is a wonderful storyteller, and I want to shine a light on this book that’s valuable, unusual, and a compelling read.

Amy McCulloch, author of Jinxed (Sourcebooks Young Readers, Jan. 2020), and senior editor Annie Berger

Amy: Jinxed is the story of aspiring engineer Lacey Chu, who fixes a broken cat robot who unlocks for her a place at an elite STEM-focused academy. This is the first book I’ve written for actual middle school me—the science fair competitor who taught herself how to code. I’m looking forward to talking about how important I feel it is for young women interested in STEM fields to see themselves centered in fun and action-packed fiction.

Annie: As soon as I started reading Jinxed, I knew I had something special. I loved that the heroine was incredibly smart and brave. I loved the idea of electronic companions. And I loved the competitive school Lacey found herself in, challenging herself, making friends, and competing in STEM-focused activities.

Ibi Zoboi, author of My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich (Dutton, Aug.), and executive editor Andrew Karre

Ibi: In my novel, 12-year-old Ebony-Grace leaves her Alabama home to stay with her father in Harlem during the summer of 1984. She is obsessed with all things space travel and science fiction, fueled by her NASA engineer grandfather’s stories. She finds fresh fodder for her space adventures in all the otherworldliness that Harlem has to offer. But when her worlds of sci-fi adventures, her granddaddy’s legacy, and the fledgling hip-hop scene all collide, she’s left to pick up the pieces.

I wanted to share my experiences of growing up in a time and place that was very broken and disenfranchised, but brimming with innovation and creativity.

Andrew: It was Ibi and her passion for the idea that grabbed my attention. She had a vision for placing a very special, very vivid character in a fascinating place and time in America. Ibi is a special talent and an important voice in children’s lit. This is her first middle grade novel and it’s the very first middle grade novel I bought at Penguin. We’ve worked on this book for a long time, and we’re thrilled to talk about it.

Bridget Farr, author of Pavi Sharma’s Guide to Going Home (Little, Brown, Sept.), and editor Nikki Garcia

Bridget: My novel follows foster kid Pavi Sharma as she sets off on an important mission to save a fellow foster kid from the home that still haunts her nightmares. Pavi was inspired by my partner, who also spent time in foster care. He’s been on his own since he was Pavi’s age, went to college at 16, and created a great life for himself. I wanted to write a book where being a foster kid was part of the protagonist’s identity, but not the focus of the story. Pavi’s history with foster care saturates her experience, but her mission now is to help other foster kids.

Nikki: Bridget’s novel won me over with Pavi’s spot-on voice that made me fall in love from the very first page. I happily stayed up late to find out what happened to Pavi and her ragtag group of friends. Although Bridget has created a novel about a topic as specific as foster care, I know that all readers, no matter their background, will find something to relate to in this one-of-a-kind novel.

Carolyn Crimi, author of Weird Little Robots, illus. by Corinna Luyken (Candlewick, Oct.), and executive editor Katie Cunningham

Carolyn: Penny Rose creates robots out of old phones, dentures, and meat thermometers to keep her company, but still dreams of having a best friend. She then meets Lark, a fellow tink­erer. When the two of them discover that the robots are alive, Penny Rose doesn’t think her life can get much better. But then she’s asked to join the Secret Science Society and is forced to choose between Lark and the cool society members, who are a little too curious about her robots. When I was young, I owned robot toys and often daydreamed about them coming to life.

Katie: Weird Little Robots sang to the eight-year-old inside of me. I couldn’t stop reading to see what would happen to Penny Rose and Lark and their merry, wacky band of sentient robots. Carolyn delivers so much in such a compact package—the tension between believing in science and believing in magic, the hunger for friendship and popularity, and how it is never too late to do the right thing.

Today, 11–11:50 a.m. The Middle Grade Editors’ Buzz panel will take place in Room 1E12/E13/E14.

Today, 1:35–2:05 p.m. The Meet the Middle Grade Buzz Authors panel will be held on the Downtown Stage.