Interview with Joy McCullough

I’m so happy to have the chance to chat with you, Joy! I really enjoyed your upcoming middle grade book, A FIELD GUIDE TO GETTING LOST, which will be released by Atheneum Books on April 14th. Can you tell us a little bit about it, please?

Sure! Field Guide is a contemporary story set in Seattle, where I live, about two kids whose parents are dating each other. Sutton is into coding and science, and Luis is into stories imagination. They are both MUCH happier indoors than outdoors. But then their parents take them on a hike…

How did writing a middle grade book differ from other writing you’ve done in the past?

My debut novel was YA, but before that, I had written nine previous manuscript that did not sell, eight of which were middle grade. So it’s actually the place I feel most comfortable. The YA I write is on the darker side, so I really enjoy having middle grade stories with much more light and humor as a sort of counterbalance. The writing process is not really different from YA to MG for me, but more the emotional experience of the tone shift.

Do you tend to plot out a story ahead of time, or let it develop on its own?

I fall somewhere in between. I love the E.L. Doctorow quote about writing being like driving at night. You need to have a destination in mind, but you only need to be able to see as far as the headlights in front of you. Something like that. I never write out a full outline, but neither do I wing it completely. I tend to sort of outline (sometimes just bullet points) the first chunk of a story – maybe 50 pages. I’ll draft those, and then with what I’ve learned about the characters and the story I’ll know how to plan out the next chunk of the story. More important than planning the plot is doing pre-writing and pre-thinking about the characters—their flaws and wants and obstacles and stakes. I always do a bunch of work on that before beginning to write.

What did you find most challenging about writing this story, and what came easiest for you?

Honestly, the process on this story was incredibly smooth and such a delight. That is not to say it’s always like that! But Sutton and Luis were pretty immediately characters I knew really well; there’s a lot of myself and my kids in them. I’ve set it firmly in the town where I live.

There were no experimental things happening in the structure (a thing I tend to get myself into in YA). This is such a tiny thing, but I remember my editor gently pointing out my wild overuse of exclamation points in the early drafts. I think I was just so happy to be writing something happy!

As a mom of a child with a food allergy, it was really refreshing to see it addressed in a middle grade fiction story. Where did you find the inspiration for your characters?

I have a serious gluten allergy, and am also allergic to bees. My own kids don’t have food allergies, but I have seen through birthday parties and Halloween and playdates the struggles of some of their friends who do, and how isolating it can be to be a kid who can’t eat what most of the kids are eating.

If you could say one thing to a young reader picking up your book, what would it be?

I hope you love it! But if you don’t, let’s find you something else to read. There’s a book for every reader!

Do you have another writing project on the go at the moment?

Oh goodness, yes. In spring of 2021, I have two new books coming, including my second MG from Atheneum, which is called Across the Pond. It’s about an American girl whose family inherits a Scottish castle. The other is my second YA from Dutton, and we’re still circling the title, but it’s partially verse historical and partially prose contemporary. (There’s that challenging structure thing I mentioned before!)

Can you please tell us where we can go to find out more about you and your writing?

My website is and I am going to get right on top of updating it so it doesn’t only list my debut novel! I am also on Twitter and Instagram as @jmcwrites.

Thanks for chatting with me today, Joy, and best of luck with your book’s launch!

Thank you so much for having me! For anyone in the Seattle area, the launch party will be at Secret Garden Books on April 18th at 3:00!

Joy McCullough is not outdoorsy and she has a terrible sense of direction. She did climb a Guatemalan volcano one time, and she has hiked through Discovery Park. But she much prefers to stay inside, writing books and plays from her home in the Seattle area, where she lives with her husband and two children. Her debut novel Blood Water Paint was longlisted for the National Book Award and was a William C. Morris Debut Award Finalist. Visit her at


Hi Doug! Thank you for stopping by MG Book Village to talk about your upcoming debut novel, FINALLY, SOMETHING MYSTERIOUS, which comes out on April 14th. Can you give us a brief synopsis of it, please?

Sure! Three 11 year old friends, Paul, Shanks, and Peephole, are desperate to solve real mysteries. They even have an official name for their detective team: The One and Onlys (because they’re all only children). But there aren’t really any good mysteries in their small town of Bellwood, until one day a crowd of rubber duckies appears out of nowhere on a neighbor’s lawn. The three friends launch their investigation, but as they track down clues about who is responsible for the duckies, the longer their suspect list becomes. Meanwhile, the biggest event of the year, the Bellwood Bratwurst Bonanza, is right around the corner, and the arrival of a new megastore promises to shake things up for Paul’s parents’ little hardware store. To make things more unsettling, a forest fire on the edge of the town is growing, threatening to change their little town forever. 

I love a good mystery, and who can resist one that involves rubber duckies! Can you tell us how you came up with the idea for it?

Back in the 90s, an ocean liner spilled 28,000 rubber bath toys into the Pacific. The bath toys, many of them rubber duckies, started washing up on shores around the world, and people were perplexed. I read an article about this and was completely captivated with the image of a whole bunch of rubber duckies randomly appearing on somebody’s yard. I started with that image, and then built a town, characters, and ultimately a mystery around it. 

Which character in your book is most like you, and why?

I am definitely most like Paul, the main character. He’s usually even-keeled and quiet, but he goes nuts for mysteries. I also grew up in a small town much like Bellwood, and I remember making up mysterious backstories for neighbors and acquaintances. I always suspected as a kid (and still do) that there is a lot of wonderful weirdness hidden just below the surface of the seemingly mundane world. Paul reacts to the duckies in the same way that I would have as a kid: with a sense of adventure and intrigue. 

Can you tell us 3 things you’d like readers to know about this book?

First, it’s a lot of fun! I wanted to make sure that the town of Bellwood was filled with wonderfully strange people, so I think there’s a lot of humor in the book. Who says mysteries can’t be funny? Second, I’d like readers to know that it’s a mystery that they can actually solve if they’re paying close enough attention. My favorite mysteries are the ones that I can sleuth out along with the characters. And finally, I want the readers to know that, in addition to rubber duckies, there is bratwurst in this book. Lots and lots of bratwurst. 

What’s one thing about your debut journey that has surprised you?

Writing a novel can feel like a solitary effort at times, because you’ll spend an awful lot of time living in your head and typing things onto a screen (or writing them into a notebook). I was surprised at how much this book became a collaborative effort. My agent, my editor, my publishing team, the cover artist…So many people were involved and lent their creative spirit and efforts to this book. It became so much more than just my manuscript!

So many writers have to balance writing with other parts of their lives. How do you fit writing into your daily life?

I wish I were able to say something like “I have a strict 5am writing routine that I adhere to everyday without deviation,” but that wouldn’t be honest. The truth is, with two kids under three and a full time high school teaching job, finding time to write is sometimes a difficult task. I nudge and scrap for moments here and there, and I’m always jotting down ideas for dialogue or for plot twists. I’ve learned that everybody writes differently, and that goes for routines too. 

Where can our readers go to find out more information about you and your writing?

They can go to my website, Or, follow me on social media: 

Twitter: @MrDougCornett

Instagram: @dougcornettwrites

Thanks for spending time with us today, Doug, and I look forward to seeing your book in the hands of young readers very soon!

Thank you so much for having me!!

When he was a kid, Doug Cornett aspired to be an all-star point guard in the NBA. When he realized that probably wasn’t going to happen, he turned his attention to writing and never looked back. Now, in addition to writing middle grade mystery novels, he likes playing ping-pong, noodling on the guitar, and rooting for the Portland Trail Blazers and Cleveland Cavaliers. He also teaches high school English and History at Northwest Academy. Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, he lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife and two children. Finally, Something Mysterious is his debut novel.


First, let me say that parents and teachers are, of course, the most important and influential people in a child’s life, but I believe authors deserve a place in the triumvirate that serves to significantly impact our children on their path to adulthood. I felt this way long before I became an author myself, so this isn’t meant as a fluff piece. It is meant to recognize and sow respect for the significant and impactful role that books, and by extension the authors that write them, play in our child’s lives.

I have two boys who are currently ages twelve and nine. They are both happy readers who enjoy a plethora of styles and subjects from The Giver to Wings of Fire to Weird But True facts and a thousand others. Mostly, as I did when I was their age, they enjoy stories of the fantastical—books that spark their imagination and carry them beyond the boundaries of their own world, their own perceptions and suppositions into the possibilities of their mind’s eye. I mean, isn’t that one fun reason that we all read? Even when reading nonfiction, we’re looking for that kick to the imagination, right?

But an MG author’s job is not merely to tickle those neurons in an exciting way. Sure, some escapism can be a nice respite from the world—we all love that about books. But for MG’s, reading quite literally packs their brains more than any other period of cognitive development. It is a unique and important opportunity.

Explosive growth in neuronal connections occurs during the middle grade years. The gray matter of the brain thickens, branches reaching out and tying things together at a pace like never before, with almost no bounds at what sticks. This “process of thickening of the gray matter peaks at about age 11 in girls and age 12 in boys, roughly about the same time as puberty.”[1] And after that, during the teen years, the gray matter thins and branches are pruned as the teen focuses in on what they enjoy, or more relevantly what they spend their time doing.

And this is exactly why middle grade books (and the authors who write them!) are so important. We supply the fodder upon which the mind grows, while having the advantage of working with a brain for which the possibilities of belief are endless. And, I might add, this is why writing for this age group is so FUN. We have no boundaries of how things “should” be. I’d argue our primary job is to instill a sense of wonder at how things “could” be. As Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.”[2]

To boot, when a child explores a new book, they have an unmatched capacity for understanding, respect, and tolerance. It is during this period in the child’s life when they’re soaking up everything without pre-conceived judgement. This provides a critical developmental opportunity for encouraging empathy and kindness, as well as ambition and motivation.

It is during this time in our lives that we begin considering abstract concepts like love and justice and the duality of life — we can be two things at once. For example, in The Eye of Ra (my middle grade novel), the main character John can be skittish while at other times brave depending on the circumstance. And his sister Sarah shows a selfish disregard for others at some times, while she’s courageously selfless in key moments. The idea that people can contain multitudes, as Walt Whitman said, is a concept best introduced to the middle grade audience.

Additionally, and this one can get loopy but it strikes at the heart of the middle grade experience, children in this stage of development can engage in metacognition — to think about thinking — as well as problem solving and deductive reasoning.[3] They’re more aware of themselves, which is a part of decentration, the “gradual progression of a child away from egocentrism toward a reality shared with others.”[4]

A reality shared with others—what an honorable and important realization to be a part of, as an author.

Speaking personally, I remember third grade almost like it is when my life started. I have a few memories prior to that, but third through fifth grade is much more filled in, more alive. I remember doing a Read Around the World challenge in third grade and I remember reading Tuck Everlasting and James and the Giant Peach and Journey to the Center of the Earth as key pieces of the mobile that is my life.

I still approach books with that same excitement of possibility. I mean, is there anything as thrilling as opening a new book? For middle graders, that thrill is the brain stretching to make connections and consider concepts it has never considered before. That thrill is growth. As educators and authors, our job is to feed that growth responsibly.

  2. “Einstein on Cosmic Religion and Other Opinions and Aphorisms” by Albert Einstein, Quote Page 97, Dover Publication, Mineola, New York. (This Dover edition is an unabridged republication of “Cosmic Religion and Other Opinions and Aphorisms”, originally published in 1931 by Covici-Friede, Inc., New York)

Ben Gartner is the author of adventure books for middle graders and thrillers for adults. His writing for both audiences shares an ability to grab readers by their neurons for a thrilling ride, maybe even teaching them something in the meantime. Ben can be found living and writing near the mountains with his wife and two boys. He can be found at the following places:

You can purchase The Eye of Ra at: IndieBound:
Everywhere else:

Interview with Anne Bustard

We’re happy to have you visit MG Book Village today, Anne! Can you please tell us a little bit about yourself?

Thank you for having me, Kathie! I’m thrilled to be here today! My mother named me for Anne of Green Gables, and after living in Hawaii, California, and Texas, I recently married my college sweetheart, and now live in Canada (though not on Prince Edward Island). I’ve been an educator of children and adults, and a co-owner of a children’s only bookstore. Books, especially middle grade novels, have always held a special place in my heart.  

Congratulations on the release of BLUE SKIES, which came out March 17th. What was your writing process like for this book? Are you a pantser or a plotter, and do you prefer to work in short bursts of writing or longer stretches of time?

BLUE SKIES began as a picture book. A couple of years later, a generous editor offered feedback and suggested I revise it as a middle grade. Years after that, I enrolled in VCFA and graduated with a completed manuscript. I received lovely rejections. More years passed, and because I couldn’t get the “train story” out of my mind, I decided to rework it one more time. That revision led to others, and eventually the manuscript that went on submission. Throughout the fifteen plus years process, I benefited from my mentors, critique partners, agent, editor, librarians, and friends. I am thankful for each one.

I am a first draft panster, though I research in broad stokes before I put my fingers on the keyboard. Somehow I always know how I want the story to end.

My preference is to write for two-plus hours at a time, but that isn’t always possible. So if my window is fifteen minutes or more, I’ll try to jump in: journaling, brainstorming, and research count.

Where did the inspiration for this story come from?

I love sharing this part of the book’s journey! It falls into the category of—you never know where an idea will come from. An image of a train (representing an archived exhibit) on a staff member’s computer at the Texas Memorial Museum caught my eye. That night I read about the Merci Train. In 1949, 49 boxcars from France, filled with gifts from the heart were sent to U.S. in thanks for our support before, during, and after WWII. I knew then and there that I wanted to incorporate that expression of generosity into a story.

Is there a character in your book that’s most like you?

Yes! That would be Glory Bea, because like her, I was a Daddy’s girl. My dad has been gone over fifteen years now, and I miss him everyday.

What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned on your publishing journey?

I’m learning to slow down and find joy in each part of the writing and publishing process. In turn, this enables me to focus on the now and not worry about what’s next.

Where can our readers go to find out more about you and your writing, and do you have another writing project on which you’re currently working?

Thanks for asking! My website is I’m Anne Bustard on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

I’m dipping back into a middle grade manuscript that’s been resting. It’s a story set in Texas, sparked by an unusual historical event.

Thanks again for inviting me to MG Book Village, Kathie! I’ve loved connecting! Happy reading and writing to all!

We wish you all the best with your book’s launch, Anne!

Anne Bustard is the former co-owner of Toad Hall Children’s Bookstore and MFA graduate from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She is the author of the middle grade novels Anywhere But Paradise and Blue Skies, as well as two picture books: Rad! and Buddy: The Story of Buddy Holly, which was an IRA Children’s Book Award Notable and a Bank Street Book of the Year.

Interview with Kenneth Oppel

Welcome to MG Book Village, Kenneth! I’m so glad that you could join us today. I’d like everyone to know about your new book, BLOOM, which just came out on February 11th with Harper Collins. Can you give us a brief synopsis of it?  

After a heavy rainfall on Salt Spring Island, strange, spiky black grass takes over farmers’ fields. Next, black vines grow into houses, and up the nostrils of sleeping people. Then giant pod-like plants wait underground to swallow up prey, small and large. These are very mean plants we’re talking about here. Nobody knows where they’ve come from, or how to kill them. Very quickly the plants spread worldwide and bloom, producing a highly allergenic pollen. The only people immune to these plants are my three teenaged heroes from Salt Spring Island: Anaya, Petra, and Seth. They’re flung together to save the world. 

This is the first book in The Overthrow series. I know the second book, HATCH, is scheduled for release on September 15th, and I believe there’s still one more book after that?

Oh yes! The third and final book THRIVE is scheduled for Spring 2021!

This is not the first time you’ve written a book that would be described as “creepy”; so many students adore THE NEST. Where did the inspiration for BLOOM come from?

Well, two places. The first was a “first line” I had banging around in my head for a while: “There was a dead patch in the garden where nothing grew.” I liked that line an awful lot, and it took my imagination in all sorts of dark and deep directions. But mainly the idea came from a nightmare my daughter had. She was good enough to share it with me and I knew it was the seed of an entire novel — or three! I won’t tell you the nightmare, but if you read the second book HATCH, you’ll encounter it very quickly!

Did you have the whole series planned out before you started to write, or did the story develop on its own?

This was really the only time I knew the overall concept of each book before I got started. With Silverwing I wrote a book at a time, whenever I had a good idea. Same with Airborn. And really, I prefer to write this way: when you write a preconceived trilogy it’s like writing three books every time you write one, because you have to make sure it fits together perfectly with its companions. The first book BLOOM in particular took a lot of planning and revising. 

I’m thrilled to see even more readers outside of Canada become familiar with your books. What are your thoughts about how to promote Canadian authors and their writing?

Well, I’m very fortunate in that I have separate publishers in the US, as well as countries around the world, so I rely on their promotional efforts which sometimes include me doing book tours, and attending conferences or trade shows. My main concern at the moment is promoting Canadian writers in their *own* country, given the 50% drop in domestic sales of Canadian books over the last decade or so. Many good initiatives have been proposed to counter this. I’ve been pondering the value of a 35% quota on display space for Canadian books in bookstores — based on the CRTC’s regulation of 35% Canadian songs on our radio stations. It’s a very simple idea. Our books have to be seen before they can be bought.

I know many readers, myself included, are turning to fiction that is dark or dystopian right now. What do you think it is about these types of books that we’re drawn to in times of turmoil?

We’ve always loved a good disaster story. Ironically they’re rather comforting because typically order is restored and people prevail. As well there’s always the “well at least things aren’t THAT bad” feeling, which can spur  reader gratitude and a sense of comparative wellbeing. Had I been prescient, I wouldn’t have chosen to launch BLOOM during a pandemic, but there it is! Mainly I look at it as a gripping adventure story that, I hope, will offer some enjoyable escapism for my readers. 

I love your writing (THE BOUNDLESS is my personal favorite) and you have a number of books published for kids from picture books up to young adult novels. Where can people go to find out more about you and your writing?

I am active on Twitter @kennethoppel and much less active on Facebook @KennethOppelFan and not at all active on Instagram. I also have a YouTube channel where, at present, you can watch me do daily readings from my body of work!

Thanks for taking time to talk with me today, Kenneth, and all the best to you and your family over the next challenging weeks.

 Thanks for having me. Everyone, please stay healthy!

Kenneth Oppel is the bestselling author of numerous books for young readers, including Airborn, which won the Governor General’s Award for children’s literature, and the Silverwing trilogy, which has sold over a million copies worldwide. Some of his other books include The BoundlessThe NestEvery Hidden Thing and Half Brother, winner of the Canadian  Library Association’s Book of the Year for Children. His latest novel is Bloom. Visit him online at or twitter @kennethoppel


Thank you so much for participating in Fast Forward Friday, Loriel. It’s a pleasure to have you here today!

Hi Kathie. It’s a pleasure to be able to participate in this interview series. Thank you for having me.

I’m grateful that I had a chance to read an ARC of  INTO THE TALL, TALL GRASS, and I thought it was SO well done. I wonder if you could give our readers a description of what it’s about?

INTO THE TALL, TALL GRASS is a coming of age story about twelve-year-old STEM-loving, semi-cranky protagonist Yolanda who must embark on a magical journey through the desert to save her grandmother’s life. Set in the New Mexico desert, it has elements of fabulism and explores topics on grief and loss, sister relationships, family connections, misunderstandings and growing up.

Can you tell us about your experience writing this book?

This book started with a memory from my childhood. I was very young, maybe 4 years old, and we would leave town for the summer and stay with my grandparents in south Texas while my dad was serving in the military. I remember when we came home after being gone and opening the blinds of the sliding glass door and seeing the grass had grown as tall the house. I stood there in awe, wondering how it was possible, and that image has always stuck with me. I remember my grandad saying “Don’t go out there, there’s snakes out there!” and him going to cut it down by hand. That was the first snippet of what I had to start writing this book. I also have a love of genetics and wanted to write about a magical familial trait where one sister has the trait and it appears the other sister doesn’t. After that, the story just kept flowing and I had no idea where it was going to take me.

What role has your Las Hermanas mentorship played in it?

My mentor, Angela Cervantes, has been so wonderful during this debut year. I was looking for a mentor to help me navigate my debut year and ask all those questions, and the Las Hermanas mentorship through Las Musasa has proved to be so helpful. Some pairings in the mentorship are working on manuscripts, but I was looking more for someone who could help me navigate the debut year.  How do I talk to bookstore owners? How do I design a school visit? When should I make bookmarks? What should I put on them? Becoming an author is like nothing I’ve ever done, and she has been a vital resource and person that I can turn to. 

Yolanda was one of my favorite characters, and I loved watching her bloom over the course of the novel as she discovers more about herself and her family. Where did the inspiration for your characters come from?

All of my characters have a little bit of me in them (it would be impossible if they didn’t!), and my family will definitely say I was a bit cranky as a kid…so that part of Yolanda is me, 100%. As for my other characters, they are a mix of relationships I’ve had with people in my life. Yolanda’s relationship with Welo is much like the relationships I had with both of my grandfathers. 

Yolanda learns many new things on her journey to the pecan tree. Can you share one thing with us that you’ve learned from your publishing experience?

Publishing has been a whirlwind of an experience, fast then slow, no news then tons of news. I have learned to try not to stress too much over the small things and be patient. I was never a patient kid, but as I’ve become a mother and my other job as a nurse has taught me more patience. Those roles have laid the foundation for the unpredictability of publishing. In publishing you never really know where things are going to go. But I love it and I’m enjoying the ride. 

This is a story about family, friendship, relationships, misunderstandings, growing up…there are so many wonderful topics to discuss. What do you hope young readers will take away from your book?

I hope that readers enjoy the magical nature of the book and come away with an understanding about grief and loss and how someone can change, including themselves. For this age group, kids on the cusp of adolescence, they are just starting to figure out who they are and what defines them. I hope through Yolanda, they can see that there is always a capacity to be open and change from who you thought you were.

Where can readers go to find out more about you and your writing, and do you have another project on which you’re working at the moment?

You can find me on twitter and instagram. My handle is @Lorielryon. I am also on facebook at that handle, though not as active. My website is

I am always working on something, I have a few projects in the works, but nothing I get to talk about right now. 

I really appreciate you joining us today. I wish you many magical moments in your debut year.

Thank you so much for having me, it was a pleasure.

Loriel Ryon is an author of middle grade fiction. She spent her childhood with her nose in a book, reading in restaurants, on the school bus, and during every family vacation. Her upbringing in a mixed-heritage military family inspires much of her writing about that wonderfully complicated time between childhood and adulthood. Also a nurse, she lives in the magical New Mexico desert with her husband and two daughters.

Cover Reveal: THE DARE SISTERS, by Jess Rinker

Hi Jess, and welcome to MG Book Village! We’re so happy that you chose to do your cover reveal with us. Congratulations on your debut MG novel, THE DARE SISTERS, which will be released on September 8th. Can you tell everyone a bit about it, please?

Thank YOU Kathie, and MG Book Village! I’ve been following you guys for a while now and love what you’re doing, so it’s an honor to be here. I call The Dare Sisters “Goonies meets Little Women”. It’s an adventure story with a ton of heart, deals with loss and friendship, and most importantly sisters and family. The story takes place on Ocracoke Island in North Carolina where Savannah Dare and her sisters are searching for Blackbeard’s treasure using a map their grandfather left them before he died. Most people, including their parents, believe the treasure is just a legend, but the girls know Grandpa wouldn’t have made this up. 

Plus, they’re not the only ones searching…

Can you share three interesting facts with us about this story or its road to publication?

1. In 2015, my husband and I were vacationing in the Florida keys and as we were driving through we passed three tanned, sun-streaked blond little girls skateboarding down the shoulder of the highway. They looked like carbon copies of each other. The oldest held the rope and did all the work, the second was sitting on her board and the third was on her belly, and down the road they went tied together. It was quite an unbelievable sight! I announced right then that I was writing a story about those sisters. I didn’t actually do it until about 2 years later, however.

2. There is a lot of real historical tid-bits about pirates and Ocracoke in this book, (and book 2 which comes out next year) so much so that in early drafts I had to decide if I was writing historical fiction or an adventure story! I decided on the latter and am glad I did because I can take many more liberties. Learning about Blackbeard and the Golden Age of Pirates was a tremendous amount of fun. And Ocracoke is one of my most favorite places, so I don’t consider the research a waste of time at all. 

3. The loss of Savannah’s close relationship with her late Grandpa is the driving force behind her determination to find the treasure. When he was alive, he and Savvy bonded over games, puzzles, codes, and riddles and now that he’s gone that part of her life is also gone. Savvy doesn’t love school but loved the challenges these kinds of puzzles gave her, so when she receives the map and then later some special codes, it’s not only the fun of the hunt but the feeling that Grandpa is near her again that’s so important to her. She doesn’t want to lose that connection. I hope that in some small way kids see that even in loss–no matter how big or small–there are ways to keep those special connections. A lot of times we grownups don’t want to talk about loss–death, divorce, moving, and many other small losses that we have over a lifetime. We think if we don’t talk about the hard stuff, it spares our kids’ hearts. But the reality is kids are much more open to conversation than we give them credit for. And they need it. 

Did you have any input on the cover, and if so, what was that experience like for you?

I did! First my editor asked for more description on the girls, because I don’t give a ton of physical description about my characters, I keep it pretty general. I like for readers to imagine what they want about the characters. Then after the initial sketches, there were three cover options and they asked for my input again. I felt they valued my opinion, which I really appreciated. It wasn’t too difficult either because my editor, agent and I all pretty much agreed on small changes and final choices. 

Here’s the big moment, let’s show everyone the cover!!!!

Oh wow! I love the kid appeal to this cover, it looks like so much fun! Can you tell us about it?

Christine Almeda–who also did How to Make Friends with the Sea, which MGBV also revealed!–did such a fantastic job with this. My first thought was how cute the girls were! I could instantly picture this as an animated movie or show. (Are you listening, TV gods!?)  I loved Christine’s color choices and the layout so much–it’s a fun, cheery cover, and yet there’s the shadow lurking in the back which gives it a little bit of creepiness. It’s pretty perfect.

If you could in time two years and give yourself one piece of advice you’ve learned on your publishing journey, what would it be?

Two years ago, I’d have said, Keep Hustling!  But now, actually my advice to myself is, it’s okay to slow down. You did it. You’re here. Now take a break and enjoy it. Keep writing the best books you can…it’s all you can control and it’s what you love anyway. Two years from now, I think the advice is the same. 

Can you tell us where we can go to find out more about you and your writing?

Absolutely! My website is Although shortly that’s going to change to I’m in the process right now of getting a new site and redirecting the old. Either way, shouldn’t be too hard to find me just by googling. I’m on Twitter: @jm_rinker as well. 

Thanks again for letting us be part of your cover release, Jess; I can’t wait to read it!

You’re so welcome. Thanks for having me. 🙂 

Jess Rinker is the author of Gloria Takes a Stand, a picture book biography about Gloria Steinem, and the chapter book Out of Time: Lost on the Titanic. Her forthcoming titles include: Send a Girl: The Brenda Berkman Story, and her first middle grade novels, The Dare Sisters duology.

Jess has a BA in Social Welfare and received her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She has won many awards for her work including short story, creative nonfiction, and most recently an honorable mention for the Katherine Paterson Prize from Hunger Mountain for her middle grade manuscript, The Young Traveler’s Club. 

In addition to writing, Jess also teaches in the MFA program at Sierra Nevada University and undergrad English at Eastern West Virginia Community and Technical College, as well as in collaboration with the Highlights Foundation.

She lives with her husband, Joe McGee, who is also a children’s author, and was recently inspired to buy a metal detector and start hunting for treasure just like the girls in Dare Sisters

Interview with Karla Manternach

Hi, Karla! Thank you so much for joining in today to tell us a little bit about your upcoming book, NEVER FEAR, MEENA’S HERE! (March 24, 2020 from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers). Before we talk about your new book, can you tell us about your debut book, MEENA MEETS HER MATCH, that came out in January 2019?

Sure! Meena Zee is a scrappy, imaginative third grader who wants to make the best Valentine box in her class. She especially wants to beat Sofía, who was her best friend until Sofía inexplicably stopped playing with her at recess. Meena starts scavenging in the neighborhood recycling bins for supplies, but when an unexpected seizure sends her to the ER, her parents and teacher won’t leave her alone long enough to work on her big idea. The scarier Meena’s diagnosis looks, the more frantically she works to create the winning box. But she can’t see how her trash-picked project can compete–or how she’ll ever outshine Sofía if her own body is a mess.

Did you know you were going to be writing a sequel at that time?

I wrote the first book as a stand-alone, but when Krista Vitola at Simon & Schuster made an offer on the book, she asked for a second one, too. I was thrilled for a chance to follow Meena on a new adventure and see what she got up to next!

I just had the opportunity to read NEVER FEAR, MEENA’S HERE!, and I truly enjoyed it. I love that Meena is so headstrong and spirited, and yet there is some truly important subject matter covered as Meena accepts what it means to have epilepsy. How would you describe this book in your own words?

In the new story, Meena finds an unusual object that seems to give her superpowers. She spends a lot of time trying to figure out what her powers are and how to use them. She’s also starting treatment for epilepsy, and she sees that as a weakness. I’d say it’s a story about Meena confronting her sense of grandiosity. On the one hand, that’s a quality I love about her. She is single-minded and fearless in going after what she wants. On the other hand, she needs to learn to learn to think about how her actions affect other people and to consider her friends’ feelings instead of bulldozing over them. She also needs to learn that her medical condition won’t stop her from doing great things–but that sometimes small acts of kindness and solidarity have the biggest impact of all.

I love the cover of this book. Can you tell me a bit about the design team?

Tom Daly at Simon & Schuster designed both books. I love the playfulness and exuberance of his vision! Rayner Alencar illustrated the first book. He has a very eye-catching, anime-inspired look that was the perfect way to introduce readers to Meena as a character. Mina Price illustrated the new book. She did an amazing job of creating something that is faithful to the original yet still very much in her own style–and in a way that hints at the story to come. I feel very fortunate to have hit the illustrator jackpot twice!

I know the subject matter of the book is close to home for you. Can you tell us about the inspiration behind this series?

My daughter Amelia started having seizures when she was nine years old. It was a scary time for our whole family, especially at the beginning while she was being tested for a possible brain tumor. Amelia taught me a lot during that time about how young children deal with fear and uncertainty. They feel and think about it deeply, but they also find ways to cling to their “kid-ness.” I really wanted to explore that in the first book.

In the second book, I wanted to develop the sibling relationships, especially between Meena and her little sister, Rosie. I’m a middle child myself. I have an older sister, and I am an older sister, so I feel like I have insight into both experiences. My daughter Mara is the little sister in our home. I wrote the second book for her. Even though Rosie isn’t the title character, I wanted to give her a chance to shine and to help Meena grow and learn something about herself. Completely by coincidence, the book comes out on Mara’s birthday. I couldn’t have planned that, but to me it’s perfect.

If there’s one thing you’d like our readers to know, what would it be?

I’d like them to know that the new book expands and develops Meena’s whole web of relationships. We get to know all the other characters better, especially Sofía, Rosie, and cousin Eli. I’d also like to keep reminding everyone that books about girls are not just for girls. I think that might be an adult hang-up even more than it is for kids. When I go to book signings, most adults bring their daughters and granddaughters and nieces along. I love that they do. I’m grateful they think the girls in their lives will connect with the book. But I want them to know that boys do, too. When I go to schools, the boys I meet are every bit as enthusiastic about Meena’s story as their female classmates.

Are there more Meena stories on the way, or do you have another project on which you’re working right now?

I don’t have plans for another Meena story right now, but I’d love to revisit her world some day. I spent the last year working on a new middle grade novel. It’s a middle-school friendship story and deals with some tough themes related to real life versus virtual life and our need for connection versus the importance of standing on our own two feet. It is very much the book of my heart. I can picture the cover so clearly that it almost hurts. I hope I get to see it in print some day!

Some helpful links: media handle: @mskarlam (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram)

Thank you so much for joining us today, Karla!

Karla Manternach grew up in small-town Iowa, a grubby kid in tube socks who once stopped a parade by running in front of a fire truck for candy. When she was older, Karla detasseled corn, read Star Trek novels, and studied languages nobody speaks anymore. Today, Karla lives with her family in small-town Wisconsin where she creates books for young readers and works as a freelance writer. She is currently at work on a new middle grade novel.


Thank you so much for participating in Fast Forward Friday, Stacy. I’m so glad you could stop by the Village and talk to us today.

Kathie, I’m so happy to be here! MG Book Village has long been a place I go to for book reviews and to learn more about upcoming releases. It’s a thrill to be interviewed for the site! 

FOREVER GLIMMER CREEK is scheduled for release on April 7th. Can you tell us what it’s about?

Sure! FOREVER GLIMMER CREEK is set in a town where a Miracle happens every year. 12-year-old Rosie Flynn decides to make a documentary about the Miracles in the hopes of proving they’re real and connecting with her absent father. Along the way, she faces obstacles in her filming, navigates changing relationships with her friends and Mama, and faces doubts about her own beliefs. In the end, she discovers the true meaning of Glimmer Creek’s Miracles and learns a great deal about herself in the process.

Glimmer Creek is a delightful town with a touch of magic that runs through it. How did you come up with the idea for this book?

The town of Glimmer Creek is based on the small towns along the water in the Northern Neck of Virginia where my family has a cottage. I’ve always believed there was something special about this area. One night, I witnessed neon green bioluminescent plankton streaking through the river. They looked eerie and fantastical and otherworldly. That very event got me dreaming about a town with small doses of magic and thinking about which kinds of people would believe in the miracles associated with that magic. From there, the idea for Rosie and Glimmer Creek were born! 

I loved Rosie; her determination to film scenes for her movie despite the obstacles before her (including silly things like laws!) made me laugh but also admire her. Did you have a favorite character to write?

Well, I love all my characters, especially Rosie! But I think I may have loved writing Mama the most. I lost my mom when I was a young adult, and writing that character and her relationship with Rosie really brought back wonderful memories with my own mom. It was such a gift to write those scenes. 

Rosie learns some important lessons in this story about relationships, both with her family and with her friends. Can you share one lesson you learned while writing this book?

This story got me thinking about kindness in its many forms and how small acts of generosity and compassion can make an enormous difference in someone’s day, even their life! I’m sure this will sound a bit sappy, but I think that theme made me want to show more kindness in my own life. 

If you could choose any of the Glimmer Creek miracles for you own, which would it be and why?

There’s a lot of Glimmer Creek Miracles I’d like to have including always staying warm and finding money wherever I went! But if I absolutely had to choose, I suppose I’d wish for a Miracle that would make me an exceptional singer like Miss Lily. I used to dream of being on Broadway when I was younger so a Miracle that made that dream come true would be wonderful!   

If readers want to know more about your book and your writing, where can they go to follow you?

They can go to my website –

I’m also on twitter: @hackney_stacy

And instagram: @stacyhackneybooks 

Thanks again for chatting with us today, Stacy!

Thank you for having me, Kathie! 

Stacy Hackney grew up in Virginia where she spent her early years reading everything she could get her hands on, and singing in the school choir. She graduated from Wake Forest University with a BA in English and received a JD from the University of Virginia School of Law. She currently lives in Richmond, Virginia, with her husband, four sons, and their rescue dog named Albert. Forever Glimmer Creek is her first novel. Learn more at

Cover Reveal: THE SECRET LIFE OF SAM, by Kim Ventrella

Hello, Kim! Thank you so much for stopping by the MG Book Village to reveal the cover of one of your upcoming releases, THE SECRET LIFE OF SAM!

Thanks so much for having me!

What’s THE SECRET LIFE OF SAM all about?

How far would you go to be with the people you love—even after they’re gone?

After Sam’s dad dies in a car accident, he’s shuttled off to the dusty town of Holler, Oklahoma to live with a long-lost aunt. He misses everything about his old life—fishing in the swamps, drinking warm cans of Orange Crush and, especially, listening to Pa weave his famous tall tales.

He hates everything about Holler, with its empty fields and dead grass, until he encounters a strangely familiar cat who leads him to a mysterious tree—a tree that turns out to be a portal, letting him return to his old life for a few minutes a day, and be with Pa once more.

Sam’s visits to the bayou become stranger and stranger. Pa’s old stories unfold around him in beautiful but sinister detail, and Pa is not quite himself. Still, Sam is desperate to find a way for them to stay together—until he learns the bittersweet lesson that sometimes loving someone means having to say goodbye.

Certain themes or motifs seem to pop up in all of your work. Most notably (to me, at least): magic, darkness, and nature. Can you tell us a bit about your tendency to approach tough, dark topics and situations with magic or fantastical elements? And is there a reason why that magic is, in your work, so often combined or rooted in the natural world?

I like to think that I tackle difficult topics with big doses of whimsy, humor and hope. It’s true that from a very young age, I’ve always been drawn to dark stories. I had a tough childhood, and I always found myself yearning for stories that reflected my experience, preferably in the guise of a fantasy. Rather than make me sad, these stories made me feel accepted and understood. They validated my experience and gave me courage. That’s not to say that SAM is a sad story. It’s not! More than anything, it’s about the healing power of friendship and family.

As for my stories melding nature and magic, I’ve never really thought about that before, but you’re right! Notably, both my first book, SKELETON TREE, and SAM involve trees with magical properties. In retrospect, I think this connection totally makes sense, because what’s more magical than nature? Not only is nature full of mind-blowing plants and animals, but it’s full of mystery! There’s so much we have yet to discover.

What do you hope your readers – especially the young ones – take away from THE SECRET LIFE OF SAM?

SAM is about so many things: new friendships, reconciling with family, losing someone you love and, ultimately, hope. I want readers to come away inspired to tell their own stories. I see this book encouraging readers to be more understanding, to focus on friendships and, of course, to look at the world in a more magical way.

Many of our site’s readers are teachers of Middle Grade-aged kids. Is there anything you’d like to say to them – in particular those planning to add THE SECRET LIFE OF SAM to their classroom libraries?

I always love to connect with classrooms, either digitally or through in-person school visits! If your class is reading one of my books, or would just like to chat with an author, let me know. You can find more info at:

Okay, on to the cover! Were you at all involved in the process?

I created a Pinterest board with some ideas for aesthetics and gave feedback on the initial sketch. The illustrator, Brandon Dorman, did an amazing job capturing the essence of the novel in a single image. He has also done some super impressive MG series, like LAND OF STORIES and FABLEHAVEN, so I knew I’d be in good hands.

Let’s check it out. Here it is!

It’s FABULOUS! Full of mystery and movement! Wow. What was it like for you seeing the cover art for the first time?

It’s always a little nerve-wracking, but also fun. Thankfully, Brandon Dorman is awesome! The image inside the alligator is so perfect and sweet and teeming with nostalgia. It’s really fantastic how he incorporated so many story elements seamlessly into this single scene.

When can readers get their hands on THE SECRET LIFE OF SAM?

It comes out 9.29.2020 with HarperCollins!

Where can readers find you online, and how can they learn more about you and your work?

Readers can visit me online at or follow me on Twitter or Instagram @kimventrella.

KIM VENTRELLA is the author of the middle grade novels Bone Hollow and Skeleton Tree (out now), as well as Hello, Future Me and The Secret Life of Sam (coming soon). She is also a contributor to the anthology, Don’t Turn Out the Lights: A Tribute to Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (9.1.2020). Her works explore difficult topics with big doses of humor, whimsy and hope. Kim has held a variety of interesting jobs, including children’s librarian, scare actor, Peace Corps volunteer and French instructor, but her favorite job title is author. She lives in Oklahoma City with her dog and co-writer, Hera.