Behind the Book Cover: THE MAGIC OF MELWICK ORCHARD — A Conversation between author Rebecca Caprara and illustrator Laura Diehl

Hello MG Book Village!

First, a confession: I judge books by their covers. It’s true.

I came to writing from a career in architecture, so I am visually hard-wired. Composition, texture, color, scale—all these things matter, whether you’re designing a building or a book. So you can image how excited (but also slightly anxious) I was about the cover art for my debut middle grade novel, THE MAGIC OF MELWICK ORCHARD, coming Sept 1, 2018 with Carolrhoda/Lerner.

The design process can vary widely from publisher to publisher, and sometimes authors have little, if any, input when it comes to cover art. So when my editor invited me to send her early inspiration boards for Melwick, I was thrilled. My editor then brought the files to the Lerner team, and a few months later they selected an artist named Laura Diehl to illustrate the cover.

When I went online to look at Laura’s portfolio, I was blown away! Her luminous work perfectly captured the whimsy and magic of the book. I knew my story was in the best hands, and I couldn’t wait to see what she would dream up.

And guess what? Laura was kind enough to let me interview her for this post—and here she is now!

Rebecca: Hi Laura! Thank you so much for joining us at MG Book Village.

Laura: Thank you, Rebecca! I’m so pleased to be here.

Let’s dive right in. I’m curious—did you draw as a child?

Ever since I could hold a pencil, I’ve been drawing. I used to paper my parent’s dining room walls with my crayon renderings of unicorns, dragons, and fairies. In 2nd grade, our school principal read Chris Van Allsburg’s The Polar Express to my class. It was a lightning bolt moment for me. I became obsessed with the idea of creating magical stories with my art just as Mr. Allsburg had. Many years later, I’ve found my niche in children’s fantasy illustration—with a passion for book covers.

The Polar Express was special for me as well. I still have my childhood copy and I love to read it with my daughters.

Can you share a little about your creative process? How do you connect with the muse?

Much of my inspiration comes from mashing up fantasy with the ordinary world. I also love taking my dogs on a walk around the neighborhood or listening to Studio Ghibli soundtracks.

What is your preferred medium? Do you sketch by hand or digitally? Are there specific tools or programs that you use?

Photoshop! I got my first digital graphics tablet in 1998 when I was in high school. I fell in love with the way I could color, layer, and use light effects digitally. Despite studying acrylics, oils, etc. in college, I prefer using the latest version of Photoshop and a giant XL Wacom Intuos tablet to draw on my computer.

Laura’s studio.

Some of my favorite pieces in your portfolio include Aegean Princess, Golden Fish, and Dragon Blossom. Which of your paintings are you most proud of and why?

This is a hard question because my favorite tends to be whatever I am currently working on. That said, Aegean Princess has been a fairly recent breakout piece for me. It was a piece that came together very smoothly with a clear vision from the start and I am quite happy with the final effect. Golden Antler is another of my more current favorites, as I feel I really captured that mystical wintery mood I was going for. For a third I would pick Prairie Sea as it is such a personal piece, featuring a fictional version of my siblings on a wild fantasy adventure.

What was your reaction when Lerner asked you to do the cover art for The Magic of Melwick Orchard?

I was quite excited, especially upon learning about the special nature of Melwick’s subject matter and story.

Aww, thank you! What role do you think book covers play in attracting readers? What message should they convey?

Book covers are a tricky beast. Ideally they should convey the soul of a book without giving away the secret. They should entice a reader on a promise that the book can keep.

Can you briefly describe the process of working with the Lerner team to develop the Melwick cover?

My work with Lerner was very collaborative. I was happy that I got to start by reading the manuscript. (Surprisingly, this is not always the case!) From there, I pitched a number of cover concepts to the Art Team, who responded with their own ideas and suggestions. Once we had winnowed our list down to a couple of possible scenes, I sketched a page of small grayscale thumbnail compositions (9 in total). From there, the Art Team and I selected 3 choices that we felt were the strongest. And finally, Lerner chose the final direction for the cover.




Seeing your designs evolve was fascinating, and I’m so grateful that Lerner allowed me to have some input during the various stages. I did fall in love with one of your earlier concepts—the one with Isa sitting in the chance seedling at night, embraced by the branches, with the moon peeking through. When I learned that wasn’t going to be the final layout, I was bummed. But as soon as I saw the current and final cover, I knew the team had made the right choice. What are your feelings about the final design?

I, too, was attached to the direction with Isa sitting in the loving embrace of the branch and gazing at the moon, as I felt an evocative quantity to the mood in that one (and I love to paint glowing things). Though I would have loved to explore that direction, it was not to be. I do ultimately see the wisdom in going for a brighter, daylit scene, as it provides the bolder qualities needed to catch a reader’s eye at a distance.

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Agreed. And of course, the daytime scene includes that wily squirrel—he’s a fan favorite! One thing I really appreciate about your work is the level of detail you render in each painting. Looking carefully at the Melwick cover, I noticed you perfectly illustrated the glowing blue roots, prismatic light in the canopy, Isa’s wild hair, and even the notch in the squirrel’s left ear. As an author, seeing my words come to life like this is amazing. How did you choose which details to include?

My digital medium allows me to work at very high resolutions and to zoom in to details as close as I wish. Consequently, I have to be careful not to get lost in details that will ultimately be tiny in the final artwork. I would have had a lot of fun painting elements of the ‘come to life’ orchard—but this was a no-no for obvious plot spoiler reasons.

Did you select the fonts for the cover art?

I did not. The text design was the work of Lerner’s talented Designers.



The Magic of Melwick Orchard_Cover.jpg

Let’s spread some book-love, shall we? What are some of your favorite book covers and/or artists?

I read a lot of fantasy, especially middle grade fantasy. I love the elements of wonder that these books capture. A few of my favorite cover artists include Antonio Caparo, Jason Chan, and Erwin Madrid for their detailed yet smartly-composed illustrations.

Yes! I also love Antonio Caparo’s work. I’m a huge fan of MG covers by Vivienne To, Hari & Deepti, Beth White, Gilbert Ford, Lisa Perrin, and well, I could go on and on…

Before we bid our lovely readers adieu, is there anything else you’d like to share?

If folks would like see more of what I’m up to, look for ‘LauraDiehl’ or ‘LauraDiehlArt’ on your favorite social media platform. If you’d like to see my art collected in one place, is the spot.

THE MAGIC OF MELWICK ORCHARD is available for pre-order now at Porter Square Books, IndieBound, Barnes & Noble, Amazon & more!

Thanks for reading!

~Rebecca & Laura

Interested in learning more about how books get their covers? Head over to the Lerner Blog to read the following posts:



Caprara_Headshot_2.JPGRebecca Caprara is the author of THE MAGIC OF MELWICK ORCHARD, releasing September 1, 2018 with Carolrhoda Books, an imprint of the Lerner Publishing Group. She graduated from Cornell University and practiced architecture for several years, before shifting her focus from bricks to books. An avid globetrotter, she has traveled to over 50 countries, and has lived in Italy, Singapore, and Canada. She is now growing roots in Massachusetts with her family. 

You can visit her website: and find her on Twitter & Instagram @RebeccaCaprara.

lauradiehl_head shot.jpgLaura Diehl is a freelance fantasy illustrator and visual storyteller who specializes in children’s and middle grade fantasy art. Laura has been an illustrator since 2003, working with clients such as: Routledge, Continuum New York, Pearson Education, David Fulton, and Mattel. Her artwork has appeared on numerous books covers, in magazines, and even an iPad game. Additionally, her artwork has been juried into Spectrum, New Master of Fantasy, won the Illustrators of the Future Grand Prize, and was nominated for a Chesley.

She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Painting from James Madison University. Laura currently lives in the Washington DC metro area with her spiffy techie husband, and their adorable Sheltie puppies named Zelda and Link.

When Laura is not illustrating, she likes to devour fantasy books, travel the world collecting owls, watch Miyazaki animated films, bake ultimate-double chocolate cookies, and play old-school JRPGs. She’s always looking for new and interesting projects! You can reach her via e-mail at:

ProjectLIT w/ Jarred Amato: Books Between, Episode 54

Episode Outline:

Listen to the episode here!


Hi everyone and welcome to the Books Between Podcast! I believe in the power of books to help spark deep conversations and help us think through the big ideas in life. My goal is to help you connect kids between 8-12 with those amazing books and share inspiring conversations with the authors and educators who make that magic happen.

I’m your host, Corrina Allen – a mom of two, a 5th grade teacher, and still a bit tired from our trip to the beach yesterday!

This is Episode #54 and today I’m sharing a conversation with Jarred Amato – a high school English teacher and founder of the ProjectLIT Community.

Perhaps like you, I kept hearing about this thing called ProjectLIT and I kept bumping into conversations on Twitter about it. And I since I had questions and definitely wanted to know more – I figured you might as well.  Some disclosure – after chatting with Jarred and after learning more from a wonderful session at NerdCamp last week ( a big thank you to Kimiko, Ashleigh, and Lindsey) , I have decided to start a ProjectLIT Book Club at my school this year for 4th and 5th graders. And promptly bought a shirt and a tank and cup and a hat… because, well – like I told Jarred – I have no chill!

Alright – take a listen!

Jarred Amato – Interview Outline

Welcome to the podcast! Can you take a minute to introduce yourself to our listeners?amato.jpg


What is ProjectLIT and how did it get started?

What does a chapter do?

How are the books selected?

What are the books for the 2018-19 school year?

If someone wanted to start a ProjectLit Chapter in their own community, what would they need to know? And what would they need to do?


One of the things that makes ProjectLITstand out as more than just a book club, is the focus on service projects to increase book access in the school and community.   What are some examples of projects that chapters have been doing?

Did I see you also have a Twitter Chat?  

Tell me about the ProjectLIT Summit!

What are your plans for the future of ProjectLIT?


Your Reading Life

One of the goals of this podcast is to help educators and librarians and parents inspire kids to read more and connect them with amazing books.  Did you have a special teacher or librarian who helped foster your reading life as a child?

What were some of your most influential reads growing up?

What have you been reading lately that you’ve liked?

Jarred’s website –

Jarred on Twitter

ProjectLIT on Twitter

ProjectLIT Chapter Leader Application

#ProjectLITChat Twitter Chat

ProjectLIT swag:

David’s ending to Long Way Down

Dollar General Grant Programs

Donors Choose


Books & Authors We Chatted About:


Goosebumps Series

Matt Christopher books

The Color of Water (James McBride)

Darius the Great is Not Okay (Adib Khorram)

Hope Nation (Rose Brock)



2018-19 ProjectLIT Middle Grade Book Club Selections

Ghost Boys (Jewell Parker Rhodes)

Sunny (Jason Reynolds)

I am Alfonso Jones (Tony Medina)

Amal Unbound (Aisha Saeed)

Rebound (Kwame Alexander)

Like Vanessa (Tami Charles)

The Stars Beneath Our Feet (David Barclay Moore)

Time Bomb (Joelle Charbonneau)

Wishtree (Katherine Applegate)

Amina’s Voice (Hena Khan)

The First Rule of Punk (Celia C. Perez)

The Parker Inheritance (Varian Johnson)


2018-19 ProjectLIT Young Adult Book Club Selections

The Poet X (Elizabeth Acevedo)

When I Was the Greatest (Jason Reynolds)

Born a Crime (Trevor Noah)

Speak (Laurie Halse Anderson)

Tradition (Brenden Kiely)

The 57 Bus (Dashka Slater)

Allegedly (Tiffany Jackson)

Odd One Out (Nic Stone)

Pride (Ibi Zoboi)

Children of Blood and Bone (Tomi Adeyemi)

I am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter (Erika L. Sanchez)

Dread Nation (Justina Ireland)

On the Come Up (Angie Thomas)


Alright, that wraps up our show this week!

If you have a question about how to connect kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love or a suggestion about a topic we should cover, I would love to hear from you. You can email me at or message me on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.

Books Between is a proud member of the Education Podcast Network. This network EPN_badgefeatures podcasts for educators, created by educators. For more great content visit

Thank you so much for joining me this week. You can get an outline of interviews and a full transcript of all the other parts of our show at And, if you are liking the show, please leave us some love on iTunes or Stitcher so others can discover us as well.

Thanks and see you soon!  Bye!


Corrina Allen is a 5th grade teacher in Central New York and mom of two energetic tween girls. She is passionate about helping kids discover who they are as readers.

Corrina is the host of Books Between – a podcast to help teachers, parents, and librarians connect children between 8 and 12 to books they’ll love.

Find her on Twitter at @corrinaaallen or Instagram at @Corrina_Allen.



How I Became a Published Author

I didn’t start writing until I was 35, in one of those ‘kismet’ moments when an idea for a story plopped into my head. I was living NYC making my way as an actor, but wasn’t getting a lot of gigs and felt creatively stuck. So I began writing as a way to find artistic fulfillment – and because it was more fun than sitting at home waiting for the phone to ring!

My first book was an adventure novel about drunk hobbit people (did I mention the idea came to me while hiking through New Zealand on a ‘Lord of the Rings’ tour?). Not surprisingly, my attempts at getting an agent weren’t successful. So I wrote another book, this one about a Delta Force soldier hunting legendary creatures. I thought the book was fabulous, but the agents I queried disagreed with my humble assessment. Inconceivable! I felt like someone must want a book about Rambo chasing unicorns! Lo and behold, Jason Anthony of Massie and McQuilkin picked my query letter from his slush pile and reached out. He said he enjoyed the first few chapters but that the story was for young adults, and would I consider re-writing it for teenagers? I did, and it became a story about a 17 year-old boy hunting dragons while daydreaming about sex. Yes, it was absolutely terrible. So I tried again, this time turning the story into a middle grade novel about a boy’s search for cryptids like Bigfoot and The Loch Ness Monster. The story and genre felt like the right fit for my writing style and I was offered a deal with FSG, an imprint of Macmillan.

I’m so happy my agent was patient with me while we figured out my voice. And I’m thrilled that I landed in the middle grade genre where kids can join me on secret searches for hidden animals. It was how I spent my time as a kid, wandering around the Rocky Mountains looking for signs of trolls and other beasts, and I’m so excited to share these adventures with others!



Lija Fisher is the author of THE CRYPTID CATCHER, a middle grade humorous adventure novel coming August 2018 with Farrar, Straus & Giroux, and THE CRYPTID KEEPER coming out in 2019. Yes, she believes in Bigfoot! She was the Writer in Residence in 2017 with Aspen Words. You can find her on Twitter @LijaFisher, or at

Co-writing with Your Sister: A Conversation between Heidi Lang and Kati Bartkowski

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KATI: First of all, thank you to MG Book Village for hosting us on our book birthday! Today, Heidi and I are celebrating the release of our second book, A HINT OF HYDRA! In this sequel to A DASH OF DRAGON, our brave and grumpy chef is trying to run a restaurant while also attempting to solve a murder mystery in order to stop a war between the elven mafia and a group of steampunk scientists.

HEIDI: The whole story takes place during the Week of Masks, which is basically like Halloween. But for an entire week. It might not surprise any of you to learn that Halloween is Kati’s absolute favorite holiday. And she managed to trick me into agreeing on using that as the setting when she used the “m” word.

KATI: Murder?

HEIDI: That too. But I was thinking “masquerade.”

KATI: Oh. Well, I remembered how obsessed you were with Phantom of the Opera. So I figured anything that included a masked ball would be an easy sell with you.

HEIDI: This is the problem when your co-writer is also your sister. She will use your weaknesses against you.

KATI: Speaking of being sisters who co-write, we get a lot of questions from people asking us what our system is like, and how we manage it without killing each other. Which are both very valid questions. Especially the second. 😉 So in honor of our book birthday, we thought it would be fun to answer both of them here.

HEIDI: I actually think the fact that we are sisters has made it easier to co-write, manipulation aside. I know I can be completely honest with Kati about her writing, and vice versa, and even if we argue over plot points or fictional recipes—

KATI: Like your salamander stew?

HEIDI: For some reason, Kati does not believe salamander stew is an appropriate meal for a high-end establishment like our main character’s restaurant, Mystic Cooking.

KATI: Stew is not high end. Also it sounds disgusting.

HEIDI: When we disagree on things like this, we’ll have a little…discussion. And, okay, sometimes I’ll add in salamander stew whenever it’s my turn to write a cooking scene, just so Kati’s forced to change it. But I know ultimately, our relationship will survive these things.

KATI: Before we started writing A DASH OF DRAGON, and then A HINT OF HYDRA, we spent a lot of time brainstorming together, figuring out the world and the main characters, as well as the overall plot. Which is good, because I like to outline, and Heidi is a total pantser, so it was my only way to keep her somewhat on track.

HEIDI: Kati might not admit it, but she loves when I veer way off outline and add spontaneous characters and situations. Just like I’ll never admit it, either, but I appreciate the way Kati gets us back on track again.

KATI: For the actual writing itself, we have a pretty loose method. I’ll write a section, usually a couple of pages, and then send it to Heidi. She’ll go through my section and revise it, making any changes she wants, before writing her own section. I’ll read through her revisions, make my own, and then write my next section. And repeat.

HEIDI: We’ll call each other before making any major changes. And sometimes I’ll come across a line that I can just tell Kati really enjoyed writing – those lines I leave alone. She’s good about doing the same for me. Anything else, though, and we’ve each given the other free reign to change whatever we want. If one of us changes something and the other really doesn’t like it, then we’ll discuss, but that rarely happens.

KATI: When we finish a draft, we’ll both go through the entire manuscript and make a list of everything that needs to be fixed, and then we’ll divide up that list. I’m better at logistics and settings, and Heidi’s better at dialogue and character interactions, so when we decide who is fixing what, we keep our strengths in mind.

HEIDI: Kati will do another sweep through the whole manuscript after we’ve fixed everything to make sure it all flows, and then I’ll do a final sweep to tighten up the writing. This way, by the end, our writing is all mixed up together—

KATI: I know what you’re thinking. Don’t do it.

HEIDI: —much like a good salamander stew! ;D

KATI: Ugh. You see what I have to work with here?

HEIDI: Heh heh. You love it. You know you do.

KATI: I can’t believe I’ve agreed to write yet another book with you.

HEIDI: Spoilers, Kati. Spoilers.

KATI: It’s alright. We can tell everyone here the good news…which is that we will be writing a third book in this series! We’re really excited to get to finish up this trilogy and can’t wait to talk more about that book in a few months.

HEIDI: It’s going to be epic! Our series also has a spiffy new name: The Mystic Cooking Chronicles. When we first started writing A DASH OF DRAGON way back in the day, it was titled “Mystic Cooking,” so I’m really happy we get to work that original title back in as part of the series title.

KATI: Heidi is very sentimental about things like that. Another weakness…

HEIDI: Uh-oh.

KATI: Sure would be a shame if anything were to happen to the ole Mystic Cooking…

HEIDI: What are you planning? Kati? Kati!

KATI: And look at that, we’re out of time. ;D Thank you everyone for joining us today! And if there are any other co-writers out there, we’d love to hear your methods of writing together.

HEIDI: You can find us on twitter: @ktbartkowski and @hidlang. We’ll be celebrating our book all day with a series of giveaways, so please stop by and say hello.

Kati and Heidi_author photo_PositiveVistaPhotographyHeidi Lang and Kati Bartkowski are a writing team of two sisters with twenty years of experience in Judo. Heidi likes to fling food across her stove while attempting to cook new dishes, and Kati enjoys trying new cuisine at fancy restaurants. Between the two of them, they love creating characters that kick butt both inside and outside the kitchen.

Cover Reveal: THE GEMINI MYSTERIES: THE NORTH STAR, by Kat Shepherd, w/ Special Guest Interviewer Elly Swartz


Elly: As we are celebrating the cover of your new series, The Gemini Mysteries, can you share your thoughts when you first saw your cover?

Kat: Before we even talked about cover design, they showed me work from the artist they had chosen, Kevin Hong, and I could not believe I had gotten so lucky. His work is beautiful and evocative, and having his art on my book felt like hitting the jackpot. When my editor sent me those initial drafts it was love at first sight, and it just got better from there. I love how moody it is; you can really feel the mystery, and then there’s that necklace. I’ve read this story at least a hundred times, and every time I see the cover I’m like, “Ooh, I really want to read that book!”

I remember that when you showed me the Smart Cookie cover, we were both thrilled with how it felt both perfectly Scholastic and perfectly Elly Swartz. It felt very distinct from Finding Perfect, which was published by FSG, but it also felt like it lived in the same world. When your readers talk to you about your books, do they talk about the covers?

Yes. Students are super curious and excited about both covers. With Smart Cookie, they love the cookies and the dog. And ask if it’s my beagle Lucy on the cover. (Spoiler alert – it’s not! But I love that they ask.) With Finding Perfect, they love how so many creative elements in the story found their way onto the cover. It’s like a story scavenger hunt. I am so grateful to the creative teams at Scholastic and FSG for creating such engaging covers that share the heart of the stories.

Have you always loved mysteries? If so, was that what prompted you to write in this genre?

When my editor, Sonali Fry, approached me about writing an interactive mystery series, I knew exactly what she wanted to do, because I had loved that type of book so much as a kid. I had always wanted to write a mystery, so this project was kind of a dream come true for me.

I have been a huge mystery fan for as long as I can remember; so much so, in fact, that I have a mystery-themed tattoo sleeve that continues to evolve as I add more favorites to it. One of the things I loved most about mysteries is the interactive experience of reading one. You’re constantly taking in information, evaluating, predicting, and then re-evaluating based on a changing landscape of clues. So much fun as a reader, and such a great tool as a teacher!

You know how thrilled I was when I read an early draft of Smart Cookie and discovered it was also a mystery! I love that you’ve woven a ghostly mystery in with Frankie’s hilarious and heartfelt search for the perfect family. Which came first, and how did you find those threads that tied the story together so perfectly?

For me, the character and the heart of the story always come first. But then this really interesting thing happened. Frankie’s search for her herd took me to a B&B in a small town in Vermont. And there the mystery came to life.

Do you have tips and strategies for writing a mystery?

Basically, I start by planning the crime first: the type of crime, the list of suspects, and the perpetrator. Then I begin to construct the rough plot structure. I like to break my books into three acts, and for mysteries I call it the Howdonit, the Whodonit, and the Whydonit. First the detectives have to figure out how the crime was committed, then they have to figure out who did it, and the last part is the denouement, where everything gets explained and revealed.

Writing the Babysitting Nightmares series got me into the habit of always outlining before I write. However, when I started working on Gemini, I quickly realized that I needed to approach plotting in a completely different way for this type of story, because there were things that I needed to know that I didn’t want my readers to know. So in addition to my usual outline I made a second, super-secret timeline just for me that was color-coded by suspect. It included what each suspect was doing several months before the crime, just before the crime, during the crime, and after the crime. This helped me make sure I didn’t accidentally provide any alibis, and it also gave me plenty of folks with means, motive, and opportunity. Because good criminals plan their crimes carefully, I had to do the same!

I know that your writing process often starts with voice and character. Was that the same for Smart Cookie, or did the mystery element change your process for this book?

My process remained the same for Smart Cookie. The story began with Frankie’s heart and spunk. Then slowly the mystery unravelled one crumb at a time. While this required a lot of revising and plotting as the story unfolded, it also allowed me, as the writer, to discover along with my reader. However, next time I decide to write a mystery, I’m going to try your Howdonit, Whodonit, Whydonit approach! I love that!

Gemini Mysteries has such a unique way of storytelling. I love how the reader can discover clues in the both the text and illustrations. It’s like you left a trail of breadcrumbs for the reader. Can you talk about this style of storytelling?

Once I had my crime planned and my suspects in place, I started brainstorming what clues related to the crime could also be shown visually. Some clues needed to implicate characters, and others needed to exonerate them. And because there is a clue at the end of every chapter, I then had to figure out how to turn that brainstormed list into a series of sequential links that logically led the detectives forward to each new clue.  It required me to plan exactly how every single scene would begin and end. While that level of structure added an extra layer of challenge in the planning and plotting, it made things so much easier when I got to the writing, because I didn’t have to think about what was going to happen next. Instead I just got to enjoy letting the characters play out the scenes in my head.

I know that you have often described writing as your “happy place”, which is this beautiful idea that I absolutely envy! There are so many writing days when hitting my word count can feel like every single one of those words was pulled out of me like a tooth. But writing this book didn’t feel like that at all. It was really fun from start to finish, like solving the world’s most interesting logic puzzle.

Maybe you found your happy place in writing mysteries!

Sophia, one of the main characters in the story, creates a fundraiser to support gibbons at the zoo. Do you have a connection to zoos or gibbons, in particular?

Sophia’s dedication to protecting apes was inspired by a former student of mine, Emmie, who taught me about palm oil back when she was in fourth grade. I had literally never heard of it before, and this kid was already fighting hard to stop the terrible habitat destruction that comes from palm oil plantations. She gave me tools to change my own consumer habits and make more sustainable choices, and she also showed me how to be a better environmental advocate. I was very lucky to learn from her.

I have spent most of my own life working with animals in some capacity. I always loved caring for my pets as a kid, and when I got older I started volunteering in animal sanctuaries and zoos.

I am a passionate advocate for good zoos and responsible animal stewardship, and I love sharing the incredible work that’s being done to support animal care and conservation around the world. When I lived in Los Angeles I was a docent and major donor to the LA Zoo, and I also volunteered a bit at the Gibbon Conservation Center in Santa Clarita. Gibbons are rare and magnificent little apes, and their songs are some of the most haunting, thrilling, and truly joy-inspiring sounds you could ever hope to hear. I hope every one of my readers someday has the opportunity to sing with the gibbons!

And now . . . the cover!



Kat ShepherdKat Shepherd is thrilled to write fast-paced series that are likely to engage reluctant readers because as an educator, she believes that reading should be a joyful experience for every kid. A former classroom teacher, Kat has also spent various points in her life working as a deli waitress, a Hollywood script reader, and a dog trainer for film and TV. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband, two dogs, and a rotating series of foster dogs. She is the author of the BABYSITTING NIGHTMARES series (Macmillan/Imprint, 2018), a spooky series that follows the supernatural babysitting adventures of a group of four tween girls. Her second series, THE GEMINI MYSTERIES (Bonnier/Yellow Jacket) is an interactive mystery series that debuts in March, 2019.

IMG_9578Elly Swartz loves writing for kids, Twizzlers, and anything with her family. Her debut novel, FINDING PERFECT (FSG 2016) is about twelve-year-old Molly, friendship, family, OCD, and a slam poetry competition that will determine everything. In her second book, SMART COOKIE (Scholastic, 2018), you meet the spunky and big-hearted Frankie. Frankie’s all about family with a dash of mischief and mystery! And then in 2019, say hello to Maggie in GIVE AND TAKE (FSG). Elly lives in Massachusetts with her family and beagle named Lucy. If you want to connect with Elly, you can find her at, on Twitter @ellyswartz, Instagram @ellyswartzbooks or on her webseries #BooksintheKitchen with Victoria J. Coe.

More Fab Nonfiction & a Conversation w/ Diane Magras: Books Between, Episode 53

Episode Outline:

Listen to the episode here!


Hi everyone and welcome to the Books Between Podcast! I believe in the power of books to help us see our world more clearly and to see each other more clearly.  My goal is to help you connect kids between 8-12 with those amazing books and share inspiring conversations with the authors and educators who make that magic happen.

I’m your host, Corrina Allen – a mom of a 9 and 11 year old, a 5th grade teacher and currently in a battle with Japanese beetles!  Argh! My hollyhock has finally bloomed after three years and those buggers and destroying it! A green thumb, I do not have.

This is Episode #53 and today I’m discussing more fabulous nonfiction and sharing a conversation with Diane Magras, author of The Mad Wolf’s Daughter!  

A couple quick announcements for you!  The July Middle Grade at Heart Book Club pick is Just Under the Clouds . Where the Watermelons Grow is the read for August and the September pick is The House That Lou Built.

And don’t forget that Monday nights are our #MGBookChat Twitter chats with upcoming topics like graphic novels, ending gendered labels of MG books, and the importance of refugee stories. So set a reminder for Mondays at 9pm EST and check out #MGBookChat for conversations and collaboration between educators, librarians, and authors.  I’ll warn you though – if you think your TBR stack is bad now… it only gets WORSE after one of those chats! (There are worse vices to have, right?)

Alright – take a listen…

Book Talk – More Fabulous Nonfiction

A couple weeks ago, on episode #51, I started a list of fantastic nonfiction reads with the promise that I would continue the list in the next episode. Well, the conversation with special guest Nikki Mancini was so good that I didn’t want to cut any more and so I bumped this nonfiction book talk to today.  So here are more fabulous nonfiction books that you and your middle grade students will love this year!

First up is a brand new book called Squidtoons: Exploring Ocean Science with Comics by Garfield Kwan and Dana Song. I love this book for its bright, bold comics that are easy to read and with just the right amount of humor to keep a smile on your face as you learn about cool creatures like the moon jelly, and the narwhal, and seadragons! It reminds me a lot of the Science Comics series (which I mentioned in that last episode) but this one is a tad easier to read with bigger font. So I think the readability on this one could hit a younger audience. I’m really excited to share this one with my class in the fall.


Another nonfiction book that bubbled up into my awareness late last school year is Discovering Black America: from the Age of Exploration to the Twenty-first Century by Linda Tarrant-Reid. This books offers 200+ pages of in-depth history from the black sailor who traveled with Columbus to the indentured servants of the colonial era and tragedies of enslaved Africans to the Harlem Renaissance and up to the presidency of Barack Obama.  And those stories are set in a greater context of the entire history of the United States. This is a book that is great to read cover to cover but also a helpful resources to have on hand to offer a perspective about a historical topic that might not be covered completely in a traditional history text. For example, there is an entire section on black patriots who fought for independence and the black women in the Women’s Army Corps in the 1940s. Definitely check this one out.


Another couple of books that were really popular with my 5th graders – and frankly, with me too, since they were my personal books that I brought in – were the Star Wars Visual Dictionaries. The two I have (so far) are the ones for The Last Jedi and The Force Awakens. These books are must-haves for any Star Wars fans because they let you see in detail all the little things go by so quickly in a movie.  Like, everything that’s in Rey’s salvage kit. The names of the Resistance pilots and their backstory. And little surprises like Ben Solo’s calligraphy set. Visual Dictionaries are really fun to explore and DK Publishers does a really incredible job with them. So have a few on hand that appeal to the interests of your kids.

Also – if you and your kids have not yet read any of Sarah Albee’s nonfiction books – you all are in for a treat!  My daughters and I just read Bugged: How Insects Changed History and were simultaneously enthralled and appalled! From the disturbing fact of where that brilliant red dye comes from to how bugs were a factor in the Louisiana Purchase. It’s a COOL book and can either be read cover to cover or just read the textbox features.  Sarah Albee is also the author of the incredible Why’d They Wear That – a gorgeous, glossy book all about fashion through the ages with an introduction by the amazing Tim Gunn.  

Note: I mistakenly say on the podcast that How They Croaked (about the awful deaths of famous people) and How They Choked (all about the epic fails of the super famous) are by Sarah Albee. They are both, in fact, by Georgia Bragg and Kevin O’Malley.

Albee’s latest book is called Dog Days of History: The Incredible Story of Our Best Friends – featuring, well – stories of dogs through history!

A really interesting book that blend forensics with history is Written in Bone: Buried Lives of Jamestown and Colonial Maryland. By Sally M. Walker. It’s a gorgeous full color book showcasing new insights gained about this era based on information scientists have gathered by examined the newly excavated bones of Europeans and Africans from colonial sites in Virginia and Maryland. And again even if kids don’t read this one cover to cover, I think reading and discussing a chapter would really help children understand how our knowledge of history changes over time as we make new discoveries and have better tools to analyze.


Another nonfiction book that I keep bumping into online – and was FINALLY able to get at my public library – is Two Truths and Lie by Ammi-Joan Paquette and Laurie Ann Thompson.  It’s a clever book that is just begging to be read with a friend – or out loud in the car! Essentially, each chapter is about a topic. Like, Chapter 1 is Crazy Plants and Chapter 6 is Large Animals. And within each chapter are three stories: A, B, and C.  Each story is about 3-5 pages long with lots of bold colors and cool fonts and photos. And the reader has to decide which of those three stories is false. The answer key is in the back and it gives a paragraph or so of explanation. This book is called Two Truths and a Lie: It’s Alive so I’m kind of hoping there are more in the series.


A book that has recently intrigued my daughters and me is called Survivors: Extraordinary Tales from the Wild and Beyond by David Long with illustrations by Kerry Hyndman.  It is a collection of extreme survival stories from all over the world. Some you may have heard of – like Aron Ralston – the climber in Colorado who cut off his own arm to survive. It was made into the movie 127 Hours with James Franco. But others may be unfamiliar – like the story of Poon Lim – the sailor who survived a shipwreck by sucking the blood from a shark.  This is definitely not a book for the faint of heart, but for those kids who like shocking stories of people overcoming the most dangerous situations this is the book for them!


Another beautiful new nonfiction book is Grand Canyon by Jason Chin. It’s a large format book about the size of a picture book with such detailed and multi-layered artwork. It’s written in a unique way. It’s written in the 2nd person where the narrator takes you on a tour of the canyon as it gives you information. For example, here is a line: “After climbing out of the Inner Gorge, you’ll find yourself on a broad, sun-baked slope.”  And as the narrator gives you information about the Grand Canyon, you see in a center spread, illustrations of a father and daughter exploring the canyon and doing what the narrator just said. And around the edges of the main illustration, kind of in a Jan Brett format, are small drawings of the animals and plants found in the canyon, or a cross section of the layers, sketches of the weathering process… it’s really cool!  And some of the pages have holes in them to show the fossils and when you turn the page – you just have to see it for yourself! This book is amazing!


Okay – I hope this has given you some ideas for new nonfiction books to freshen up your informational section of your library. And if you have a suggestion about a great nonfiction book we should all know about, email me at or connect on Twitter at @Books_Between.

Diane Magras – Interview Outline

Joining me this month for our Middle Grade at Heart interview with Diane Magras is engineer by day and middle grade author by night, Karen Chow. We got an opportunity to sit down together last month to chat about The Mad Wolf’s Daughter.

Take a listen…Diane-Magras_ABOUT-DIANE.jpg

CA: For our listeners who haven’t yet read The Mad Wolf’s Daughter, what is this story about?

CA: Love the mix of swashbuckling medieval adventure mixed with humor – at times it reminded me a bit of The Princess Bride. What were your inspirations?

CA: There seem like there might be elements of fantasy in this book. What genre do you see this book falling in?

KC: Drest is very brave throughout the book. Did you take some of her bravery from a historical figure?

KC: Drest is mistaken for a boy several times. Is that because of the way she is dressed? Her short hair? Why did you decide to have Drest this way?

KC: Did real warriors have a code of ethics?

**BONUS SPOILER SECTION: Diane and Karen and I discuss the ending of the novel, and if you’d like to hear that conversation, I moved that part of the recording to after the end credits of today’s episode at the 38:13 mark.

CA: What are you working on now? And will there be a sequel for Drest?

CA: One of the goals of this podcast is to help educators and librarians inspire kids to read more and connect them with amazing books.  Did you have a special teacher or librarian in your life who helped you grow into a reader?

KC: Do you have book recommendations for people who liked your book?

CA: What are you reading now?



Diane’s website –

Diane on Twitter and Instagram

Karen’s website –

Karen on Twitter

Books & Authors We Chatted About:

The Dark is Rising (Susan Cooper)

Here Lies Arthur (Philip Reeve)

The Hunt for the Mad Wolf’s Daughter (Diane Magras)

The Shadow Hunt (Katherine Langrish)

The Serpent’s Secret (Sayantani DasGupta)

The Jumbies (Tracey Baptiste)

Bounders Series (Monica Tesler)

The Parker Inheritance (Varian Johnson)

Where the World Ends (Geraldine McCaughrean)


Alright, that wraps up our show this week!

If you have a question about how to connect kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love or a suggestion about a topic we should cover, I would love to hear from you. You can email me at or message me on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.

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Thank you so much for joining me this week. You can get an outline of interviews and a full transcript of all the other parts of our show at And, if you are liking the show, please leave us some love on iTunes or Stitcher so others can discover us as well.

Thanks and see you soon!  Bye!


Corrina Allen is a 5th grade teacher in Central New York and mom of two energetic tween girls. She is passionate about helping kids discover who they are as readers.

Corrina is the host of Books Between – a podcast to help teachers, parents, and librarians connect children between 8 and 12 to books they’ll love.

Find her on Twitter at @corrinaaallen or Instagram at @Corrina_Allen.