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: https://kimventrella.com/school-visits/
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 https://kimventrella.com/ 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.