Interview: Kristin L. Gray

Hello, Kristin! Thank you for stopping by the MG Book Village to talk about your new novel, THE AMELIA SIX! But before we get to that, would you care to introduce yourself to our readers?

Hi, thanks for having me!

I’m Kristin, I live in Arkansas with my family, two dogs, cat, and bearded dragon. I used to be a pediatric nurse, but now I write full time, working in children’s novels and picture books.

Okay, now: Can you tell us what THE AMELIA SIX is all about?


Six STEAM-savvy girls spend the night at the Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum in Atchison, Kansas, when her historic flight goggles mysteriously disappear.

A bit of trivia, this particular pair actually vanished during Amelia’s lifetime. More on that in the book.

Have you always been interested in Amelia Earhart? How did you decide to write a book in which her story takes a central role?

Yes, Amelia, and the mystery surrounding her and her co-pilot Fred’s disappearance, has always been fascinating to me. But a family road trip to the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum the summer before I entered fourth grade cemented my interest. I remember checking out biographies of Amelia at school. I’ve always loved looking at maps, too, so tracking her flight around the globe is thrilling and heartbreaking.

Writing a mystery about a mystery (or mysterious figure) sounded intriguing, challenging, and fun! In short, I have always been obsessed with CLUE and all things Nancy Drew. Cozy mysteries are my absolute favorite books to read. I knew wanted to try to write one myself . . . it was just a matter of finding the right setting and believing that I could pull the story off.

And I had plenty of setbacks. I actually set the story in a different famous house first! But those key figures weren’t nearly as inspiring to me, and the story fizzled. Then when my family took a detour to visit Amelia’s historic house in Kansas, everything clicked. It should have been Amelia all along.

You could’ve written a more straightforward historical novel, or written a story about a contemporary kid learning about that history, but you chose to use the subject matter to build a mystery. Was that always the plan? Do you think the mystery genre in particular is a beneficial one with which to explore the past?

I set out to write a mystery from the start, and I do think in this case it works well. Bringing contemporary kids (characters) into a historic house, namely Amelia’s, was a fun way to expose them to lots of aviation history. Time travel and historical novels are wonderful and offer immersive worlds, but I write contemporary stories best. I never thought to write this story any other way. I love mysteries and old things, and this book let me explore both simultaneously.

To answer your last question, in a way, all mysteries explore the past. Some pasts are just more recent than others.

One of the things I love about this book, as well as your first novel, VILONIA BEEBE TAKES CHARGE, is the voice. All it takes is a single sentence, and suddenly you feel like you can hear – actually hear – your narrators talking. Can you discuss your creation and development of voice in your work?

Aww. Thank you. I don’t have a clear answer, other than I live with a bunch of kids – having five myself. I hear a lot of conversations, ha. I also read a lot of books – I tell students in my Skype and school visits that books are our best teachers! I never took a single writing class when I was in school, so I learn by reading and studying others—Rita Williams-Garcia, Sheila Turnage, Karina Yan Glaser—to name a few. And I try to remember what it felt like to be a kid myself. Sometimes, when the writing is especially daunting, I pretend I’m telling a story to one of my friends.

What do you hope your readers – especially the young ones – take away from THE AMELIA SIX?

There’s one line in the book that I love: “You can be quiet and brave.”

Bravery isn’t always loud. It isn’t always shocking, stunt-worthy, or brash. We don’t have to have some grand adventure like Amelia, or like my main character Millie, in order to be brave. Bravery can be found every day, in a small act of kindness or in an unseen advocacy. Quiet, everyday bravery is courageous.

Many of our site’s readers are teachers and librarians of Middle Grade-aged kids. Is there anything you’d like to say to them – in particular those planning to add THE AMELIA SIX to their classrooms and libraries?

Thank you for adding The Amelia Six to your collection!

There’s an author’s note at the end of the book describing the top five theories of Amelia’s disappearance plus a reading list for those extra-curious students. On my website, I have links to downloadable maps of her around-the-world flight. Plus, links to for more information on how to Rubik’s speedcube like Millie.

Did you know Rubik’s loans cubes to schools as STEAM tools and for their popular mosaic projects? Check out Amelia Earhart!

When can readers get their hands on THE AMELIA SIX?

Today, June 30th, wherever books are sold!

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

Find me at and @kristinlgray on all social media channels. Thanks again, Jarrett, for having me to the MG Book Village.

KRISTIN L. GRAY is the author of Vilonia Beebe Takes Charge, a Bank Street Best Children’s Book, and the all new The Amelia Six: an Amelia Earhart Mystery, as well as the picture books Koala is Not a Bear and Rover Throws a Party: Inspired by NASA’s Curiosity on Mars. Kristin lives in Arkansas with her five children, two dogs, bearded dragon, and carb-loving cat. She loves connecting with classrooms in person and via Skype.

Cover Reveal for THE ENGINERDS STRIKE BACK, by Jarrett Lerner

Hi Jarrett! It’s a HUGE honor for me to be part of the cover reveal for the third book in the EngiNerds series, THE ENGINERDS STRIKE BACK. I can’t wait to hear what Ken and the gang have going on in this story. Can you give us a synopsis?

Do you know that I’ve never done an official cover reveal? I’ve probably arranged and/or hosted nearly a hundred for other authors, but have yet to do one for myself. I always just post my covers on social media, typically accompanied by a whole bunch of exclamation points and emojis. Anyway, I can’t think of anyone I’d rather do my first *official* cover reveal with. So THANK YOU for being a part of it!

Okay — to the book! I don’t want to give any spoilers, but even if someone hasn’t the read the first two books in the series, the sight of the cover will give some stuff away. Most notably: ALIENS. Plural. They’re here, on Planet Earth — and they may potentially be here to do some less-than-awesome things. It all involves beans, billboards, and a shiny little object called a “zap cannon.” And for various reasons explored in the book, it’s the EngiNerds — and ONLY the EngiNerds — who can save the day.

Do you find it difficult to come up with new adventures for the EngiNerds, or do they find you, so to speak?

Writing sequels is definitely a bit different than writing a first book in a series. In a first book, you make all sorts of explicit and implicit rules — about the world, about the characters — and you find, in working on follow-ups and sequels, that you have to obey those rules. Sometimes it’s nice to have all those rules in place, sort of like settling into a cozy, familiar nook… and sometimes it’s highly frustrating, sort of like being trapped in a super confining box. 

In terms of the EngiNerds’ adventures, it’s been a bit (just a bit) more of the former. Most of the big pieces of the plots of Revenge of the EngiNerds and The EngiNerds Strike Back have sort of “unspooled” from things that took place in EngiNerds. But that’s not to say that it was simple or easy to do that unspooling, or that I didn’t have to do a lot of additional creating in order to make these books as good as they could be — and make sure they could stand on their own as worthy.

I also think that any (relative) ease I experienced in creating the EngiNerds’ subsequent adventures is a result of all the work I did on the characters while writing the first book. I did a lot of unseen, off-the-page exploring of each of the kids, even those that didn’t end up having a huge role in the first book. They, of course, help drive a lot of the story, and all that time I spent figuring them out means that, while the adventures don’t exactly “find me,” I can find them a little more easily.

Was there something interesting you learned about your characters while writing this story that you didn’t know about them before?

Always. Revisiting characters, filling up more pages with their thoughts and feelings and actions — it’s like spending more and more quality time with somebody. You learn more about them. You “see” them a little more fully.

It’s such a fascinating process. The characters are, obviously, MY creation. Yet they really do take on a life of their own. Those rules about them that you make up, they almost start to work like equations — you combine this aspect of them and that aspect of them, and you get something new, something that you couldn’t have foreseen at the outset, when you first created them. Does that make sense? I hope so.

And lest it sound like authors just sit back and, more and more, their characters do the heavy lifting, that is NOT the case. Just like you can’t learn more about someone else if you don’t actively listen to them, if you don’t pay attention to their actions and behavior, your characters only “take on a life of their own” if you are doing WORK. Writing. Thinking. Rewriting. Rethinking.

I know many authors have found it challenging to write over the past few months. What is one technique you use to help you keep the words flowing?

Well, the pressure of a deadline is always helpful! And I’ve had a lot of those these past few months.

Also, I always try to be as in tune as possible with my creativity, and to try to appreciate and embrace when I need to alter my habits in order to make sure I can continue to use it. I believe one’s creativity is constantly shifting, evolving, stretching and expanding in new directions and ways. Sometimes, you’ve got to do new things to accommodate that. For me, something as simple as using a different kind of notebook or a different tool (a pencil instead of a pen, a crayon instead of a marker, etc.) can help me keep creating in a time, place, or circumstance in which I otherwise might find myself stuck or distracted.

OK, let’s not keep everyone in suspense, let’s show them the new cover!

I have to say, this might be my favorite EngiNerds cover yet! I’d love to know how much input you have, what you share with the illustrator for their inspiration?

I’m so glad you like it! And I’m so glad to get a chance to chat about the illustrator for these books. Since I’m also an illustrator, many people assume that I illustrate all my books. That’s not the case. Books are team efforts. I always tell kids that it’s crazy to me that I get my name on the front of my books, all alone. If you check out the acknowledgements page of my books (or ANY book), you’ll see just how many people it takes to make a book as good as it can be. It takes LOTS.

I fully embrace the “team effort” aspect of book-making, because (a) I know that I’m a human being with limitations, (b) I’m fortunate to have an INCREDIBLE team at Simon & Schuster/Aladdin, and (c) I know that everything my team does, says, suggests, etc., is in an effort to make the book as awesome as possible.

In terms of illustration, I’ve also got a particular style. My illustration style may not always be the best choice for one of my books. In these cases, working with another illustrator will benefit the book. It also gives me more time to work on other projects. Which is helpful, as I’m someone who is constantly juggling a number of projects.

All of which is to say (finally), that yes, Serge Seidlitz — who has done all my EngiNerds covers — has once again knocked it out of the park and into another galaxy! In terms of my involvement in the creation of the cover art: I’m involved, as is my editor and art director, but I’m there as a member of the team, and the LAST thing I’d ever want to do is step on Serge’s toes, or put him in a box that will limit his own unique (and glorious!) creativity. So, I share what he needs to know about the story, throw out some very general ideas for consideration — as do the other members of my team — and then he runs wild. We typically then go back and forth a few times, fine-tuning things, making any necessary (usually relatively minor) adjustments. Seeing someone else create in a world you’ve built — it’s so fun and exciting. It reminds me of building skateboard ramps as a kid, and watching my friends go flying off of them.

What aspect of being a writer do you most enjoy?

The people. Especially the kids. It’s interesting — I sit at home, doing this really pretty solitary thing, and because of it, I get the opportunity to travel around and meet and connect with thousands of other people. That’s something I didn’t really think about, or even realize was a possibility, when I first began to really strive to do all this professionally. But it’s without a doubt one of the greatest joys. I’ve made so many friends. I’ve learned so much. And I’ve been so inspired by it all! And I don’t think I’ll ever tire of talking with, learning from, and working with kids. Seeing their creativity in action — it’s something else. It fills me with so much joy and hope.

Where can people go to find out more about you and your writing?

They can find me — and lots of my art and (free!) activities — at, as well as on Twitter and Instagram @Jarrett_Lerner.

Thank you for the honor of letting me be part of this reveal with you, my friend. I love watching your publishing career blossom.

Working with you on this site, working with you to help continue to build and bolster and better the Middle Grade community — it’s been so, so wonderful. I’m proud of what we’ve done, and excited to continue doing it in the future. I feel lucky to call you a friend. And it just makes sense — and makes me very happy! — to have you host my very first *official* cover reveal. Thank YOU, Kathie!

Jarrett Lerner is the author of EngiNerds and its sequel, Revenge of the EngiNerds, as well as the author-illustrator of the upcoming activity book, Give This Book a Title. Jarrett is also the author of the forthcoming Geeger the Robot early chapter book series, the forthcoming third book in the EngiNerds series (The EngiNerds Strike Back), and the author-illustrator of the forthcoming Hunger Heroes graphic novel series (all published by Simon & Schuster/Aladdin). He cofounded and helps run the MG Book Village, an online hub for all things Middle Grade, and is the co-organizer of the #KidsNeedBooks and #KidsNeedMentors projects. He can be found at and on Twitter and Instragram at @Jarrett_Lerner. He lives in Medford, Massachusetts, with his wife, his daughter, and a cat.

Interview and Cover Reveal with Laura Stegman re: SUMMER OF L.U.C.K.

Welcome to our Fast Forward Friday feature, Laura! I look forward to learning more about you and revealing the cover for your upcoming release SUMMER OF L.U.C.K. Could you tell our readers a little bit about yourself, please?

Hi Kathie! I’m honored to be featured. Your site is one of my favorites!

When I was a kid growing up in Southern California, writing a novel wasn’t my life’s ambition. I was determined to be an actress. Instead, life sent me in a completely different direction, and for many years I’ve owned a successful public relations firm specializing in arts publicity.

And even though I passed on acting a long time ago, I ended up with the role of a lifetime today: AUTHOR. But that came about slowly. Publicity work sharpened my storytelling skills, which led to some free-lance non-fiction writing assignments for newspapers and magazines. And one day, inspired by the childhood kidlit I still loved, I began writing a middle grade fantasy, which eventually became Summer of L.U.C.K.

SUMMER OF L.U.C.K., is your debut novel, and it comes out with INtense Publications on September 15th. Will you give us a brief synopsis of it, please?

Yes! Summer of L.U.C.K. is about three kids who long to believe in themselves.

Stuttering Darby is never perfect enough for her mother. Justin’s been silent since his dad died. Naz is struggling to learn English. But after they meet at summer camp, mysterious calliope music from an abandoned warehouse grants them power to communicate without words. When they sneak inside, the dark, empty space bursts into a magical carnival. They’re greeted by the ghost of Leroy Usher, who asks for their help convincing his family to restore the carnival to its former glory. In return, he promises to teach the kids how to find their voices.

As Darby, Justin, and Naz are swept off on a series of midnight adventures via Mr. Usher’s carnival rides, they discover they’re capable of more than they ever imagined. With each challenge, their confidence in communicating – and in themselves – grows. Meanwhile, they scheme to persuade the Usher family to revive the carnival. But when Darby’s bunkmates trick her into starring in the camp talent show, her budding confidence falters. Can she risk being less than perfect by performing in the show and speaking up to Mr. Usher’s resistant son? If not, she’ll put the carnival in danger and sabotage her most important quest: to believe in herself, stutter and all.

What aspect of this story came to you first, and how did the rest of the writing unfold? Is there some part of your own story that you wanted to share with young readers?

When I was a kid, my favorite book, The Diamond in the Window, was about an 11 year-old – my age at the time – with freckles – just like me. She hated her freckles – just like I did. And I’ve never forgotten that this character learned to accept not only her freckles but also herself. Her journey spoke to me so powerfully that, decades later, I decided to write a middle grade story that I hoped would mean as much to readers today as that story meant to me.

With self-acceptance and overcoming self-doubt as my starting points, Summer of L.U.C.K.‘s themes grew to include friendship, courage, and perseverance. I have to admit that the plot unfolded as I went along. And, it changed and expanded with each revision over the many years it took to bring L.U.C.K. up to standards that attracted a publisher. Like so many other writers, my files are full of discarded scenes and characters, with much kicking and screaming involved in letting them go.

Although I don’t share Darby’s, Naz’s, and Justin’s specific situations, I absolutely relate to their efforts to find their voices. As a kid, I lived with what felt like constant criticism, like Darby. I never lost a parent like Justin, but I’ve felt his loneliness. And then there’s Naz, whose endearing personality makes me laugh. Honestly, I have no idea where his antics come from, but I do share his sunny disposition, love of food, and tenacity.

I spent a couple of summers at sleep-away camp when I was the characters’ ages, so I had a bunch of real-life memories to draw on for that. Horseback riding, archery, and canoeing, for example. But Summer of L.U.C.K.‘s magical carnival came straight from my imagination. Each revision required that I dig deeper to envision the fantasy adventures and weave them into the characters’ arcs. Successfully, I hope!

What has the journey to publication been like for you?

Long and winding! I’m not a born writer, nor have I formally studied creative writing, but as an avid reader, especially of middle grade fiction, I’ve learned by doing. And re-doing. About halfway through the journey to signing a publishing contract, I worked with a development editor who helped me bring the story to life. Then I found a treasure chest of information online, such as web sites like this one, from which I learned about writing resources and opportunities to get input from agents. I entered Twitter contests to have my work evaluated and mentored by more experienced writers. I learned how to connect with critique partners. And I even linked up with a classroom of kids in a literacy program who Beta read and gave me helpful feedback. I’m so grateful for everyone who helped me along the way.

Because I fell in love with Darby, Naz, Justin, Mr. Usher, and their world, that was the story I wanted to tell. If I couldn’t share it, I wasn’t sure I had anything else in me to write. So I queried for years. And years. And years. I had crushingly disappointing moments along the way, especially full manuscript rejections by more agents than I care to remember. Sometimes other writers would suggest I let Summer of L.U.C.K. go. “Write something else,” they encouraged.

But I had faith in Summer of L.U.C.K., and I believed in myself. With every rejection, I worked harder on improving the narrative and the writing. It’s hard to put into words just how much it means to me to have this book published. It’s really a dream come true.

What do you hope that young readers will take away from your story?

I hope they’ll enjoy meeting my characters and sharing their adventures. I’d like them to finish the book knowing that whatever they’re struggling with, others kids struggle too, and they are not alone.

My contract with INtense Publications calls for two sequels, and I’m about halfway through writing the second book. The sequel’s first chapter is included at the end of Summer of L.U.C.K., so I also hope folks who read it will be drawn to find out what comes when the story continues “next summer.”

How do you balance writing other aspects of your life?

I wish I had an answer that lived up to this interesting question, but here goes. After signing my contract for L.U.C.K. and two sequels, I’ve devoted four to six evenings a week to writing the second book, which has been a joy. During the week, I spend time on my business, socializing, and other tasks, leaving L.U.C.K.‘s marketing/promotional work and R&R for the weekends. With no Major League Baseball, concerts and gatherings since the pandemic, I’ve had much more time to devote to writing and promotional work. That’s helpful as my deadlines approach! Still, I make time just about every evening for an hour or so of reading crime fiction, mysteries, and middle grade fiction, my favorite genres, and quality time with my husband.

Can you tell me who designed your cover, and if you were involved in the process?

My cover, which I just love, was designed by Kaylee Grissom, and she was great to work with. She absolutely incorporated my input, but the concept and the execution were all hers.

OK, it’s time for the cover reveal!

Wow, that looks great! Is there anything I haven’t asked you yet that you’d like to share with us?

In recent years, Lady Gaga’s speech when she won an Oscar has sustained me through the ups and downs of my writing career, and I love passing it on. She said, in part, “It’s not about how many times you get rejected or you fall down or you’re beaten up. It’s about how many times you stand up and are brave and you keep going.”

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

Summer of L.U.C.K. will be released in September by INtense Publications

I’d love MG Book Village readers to visit my web site or reach out on my social platforms:

Twitter:  @LauraStegman 

Instagram:  laura_stegman


Thank you so much for chatting with me today, Laura, and good luck with your debut’s release.

Many thanks to you for this opportunity!

Laura Segal Stegman is a Los Angeles-based arts publicist and author whose middle grade debut novel, Summer of L.U.C.K., will be published in September 2020 by INtense Publications, followed by a sequel in 2021. Having grown up in Southern California with parents who valued reading, she remains spellbound by kidlit. Some of her favorite middle grade novels, then and now, are The Diamond in the Window, Ellen Tebbits, All of A Kind Family, Wonder, A Patron Saint for Junior Bridesmaids, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and The Miraculous. Laura’s non-fiction credits include collaboration on the travel book Only in New York, and her feature stories have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Magazine, Westways Magazine and Christian Science Monitor, among others. A long-time publicity consultant, she owns Laura Segal Stegman Public Relations, LLC, which has represented a wide-ranging client list of businesses, arts organizations and non-profit events over the years. She is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of UC Irvine with a B.A. in Drama and lives with her husband in West L.A. and part-time in New York City. She loves reading, L.A. Dodgers baseball, classical music and theater.


I could spend this whole review listing all the people to whom I would recommend Girls Garage: How to Use Any Tool, Tackle Any Project, and Build the World You Want to See written by Emily Pilloton and illustrated by Kate Bingaman-Burt, because there are so many who would love this book. Pilloton is the founder of Girls Garage, which is a brick-and-mortar building in California where she helps girls “come together to do audacious, brave things as young builders.”  Since we cannot all be in California, Pilloton has gifted us with this book that is not only inspirational, but is also gives concrete steps for any girl who aspires to design and/or build. This informational book is arranged in a specific order to help the reader learn a few different things.

First there’s the “Safety and Gear” section, which is naturally where any girl will want to start reading. Then the bulk of the book, sections titled “Toolbox” and “Essential Skills” explore just about everything you need to know about the variety of materials one could use to build, including the different types of lumber (who knew there were three different types of manufactured wood?), and how to do many basic building skills, like painting a wall. The last section, called “Building Projects” is exactly that, a list of different projects, with all materials and step-by-step directions included. The best part? Sprinkled throughout the whole book are mini stories told about and by women who have been on this builder journey, that the reader can make connections to or be inspired by. 

Although one could, Girls Garage is not the type of book I imagine most girls will read from cover to cover, and I don’t think its meant to be that way.  However, the way that it is written, with Pilloton’s personal stories and advice throughout, I could see how one might read it cover to cover. Personally, I cannot say enough that I feel like this is an awesome reference guide that needs to be on many girls’ bookshelves, not just for when they want to put that frame on the wall, but for when they may need some inspiration to follow their dreams. As Pilloton says, “Our goal shouldn’t be to live without fear, but to acknowledge that fear is unavoidable and to act bravely in spite of those fears. Bravery is something you can practice, something you can choose.”

This book was released in June 2020, and I would like to thank the publisher for sharing an ARC for me to review!

Deana Metzke, in addition to being a wife and mother of two, spent many years as a Literacy Coach, and is now an Elementary Teacher Instructional Leader for Literacy and Social Studies for her school district. In addition to occasionally sharing her thoughts here at MG Book Village, you can read more of her thoughts about kid lit and trying to raise children who are readers at or follow her on Twitter @DMetzke. She is also a member of #bookexcursion.


It’s summer! YAY! That means it’s time to get out and have some fun. Hang on a minute, for many of us, depending on where you live, it is still a time to be somewhat cautious.. As tough as it is, considering how and where you will venture out is still something to keep in mind. What if I told you that you could find some amazing ways to use your imagination and explore things right from your window or in your own backyard.

For a kid, summer is a time of exciting exploration—at least that’s what it should be. No classes. No tests. Just a time for you to let your imagination run wild. (this applies to kids of ALL ages, too. After all, everyone needs a chance to let their imagination take over.)

I have wonderful memories of my summers as a child. Aside from eating lunch, I spent all day outside. My favorite place to be was exploring the creek in our backyard. Frogs, toads, minnows, and tiny water bugs kept me entranced for hours. I would watch them swim, jump, or swim through the shallow moving water and wonder what it would be like to be one of them.

Animals are amazing creatures! We humans can learn so much from them. I guess that’s why when I discovered the science of biomimicry, I got SO excited! Biomimicry studies how animals and nature work and then mimics it or takes inspiration from these designs and processes to solve human problems.

That means watching how a bird flies might inspire you to build an airplane, or maybe it will give you ideas of how to quiet a loud fan in your house. Sound intriguing? I think so!

My love of science, animals, and nature inspired my new book BEASTLY BIONICS: Rad Robots, Brilliant Biomimicry, and Incredible Inventions Inspired by Nature  (NGKids Books)

This book is chock full of tons of new biomimetic inventions. Did you know that scientists have developed a bionic tool shaped like an elephant’s trunk that helps lift heavy objects? Or that the needle-like pointed beak of the kingfisher bird encouraged engineers in Japan to change the design of the Shinkansen “bullet trains” to reduce noise? How about that  studying the poison dart frog helped engineers create a liquid mixture to keep plane wings free of ice? And even that examining slugs contributed to the invention of a surgical bandage that could one day be helpful in open-heart surgery? COOL, right?

Many of the inventions in this book are still in the prototype stage. That means that these scientists and engineers are still working to perfect them. Science takes time. It involves a lot of trial and error and re-tooling to get things right.

But above all, science and engineering takes IMAGINATION!

You there. Are you bored with sitting in your house? Take a look out your window outside. What kind of animals do you see there? Birds? Bugs? Spiders? Frogs? Snakes? Start to look at these animals in a different way. What kinds of things do they do that might be used to help humans? Do they have a unique way of moving? Do they carry things that are really heavy easily? Maybe they glide through the air effortlessly. Think about how you could translate that into something that you can use.

Grab a pencil or pen. Draw your design. Imagine how you would use robotic parts to build it. Then either go get some parts or build it out of your building blocks at home. Test your idea (safely). And make changes if necessary.

Here are a few ideas to get you started (from my Beastly Bioinics book)

© image from Beastly Bionics NGKids Books

Think about biomimicry the next time you go to the zoo. As you walk in front of the animals, watch them carefully. Notice how they move, eat, sleep. Do they use their arms or legs in unusual ways? Are they able to be silent when they walk? Ask yourself: how can these traits be helpful to humans?

© image from Beastly Bionics NGKids Books

What are you waiting for? Innovation and Exploration are right out your window, or in your own backyard, or at the zoo, or in the ocean…it’s EVERYWHERE! What kind of biomimetic creation will YOU invent?

For more information about Beastly Bionics, look at these links below

Starred Review from School Library Journal

Top 6 Picks for June from School Library Connection


Jennifer Swanson is the award-winning author of over 40 books for children, mostly about STEM. Her books have received many accolades including the Green Earth Book Honor Award, a Florida Book Award, a Parent’s Choice GOLD award, and multiple California Reading Association awards, and National Science Teaching BEST STEM awards. Jennifer is also the founder of STEM Tuesday and STEAMTeam2020.

An accomplished and exciting speaker, Jennifer has presented at National NSTA conferences, the Highlights Foundation, the Atlanta Science Festival, the World Science Festival in NYC and the Library of Congress’ National Book Festival. You can learn more about her and book her for speaking engagements and in-person and virtual school visits at

Interview with Nicole Melleby

Hello, Nicole, and thank you for joining us at MG Book Village today! Your new MG novel, IN THE ROLE OF BRIE HUTCHINS…, comes out on June 16th with Algonquin Young Readers. Can you please tell us about it?

I keep calling IN THE ROLE OF BRIE HUTCHENS… a middle grade Love, Simon meets Lady Bird. Brie is a soap opera loving Catholic school girl who has a complicated relationship with her mom, which is only further complicated by her mom’s strong faith and Brie’s first crush on another girl. Brie knows she’s gay, and is well aware of the Catholic church’s stance on that, so she doesn’t share her mom’s faith, nor does she really understand it. What Brie really wants is to get into the performing arts high school next year, but with her working-class family’s financial struggles (and the fact that Brie’s grades thus far are mediocre at best) she has to prove to her parents that she can—and should—be allowed to apply. Nothing seems to really go Brie’s way, however, when her mom walks in on Brie googling inappropriate photos of Brie’s favorite soap opera actress, and to divert her mom’s attention, Brie lies and says she’s been chosen to play the big role in her 8th grades religious May Crowning ceremony.

So, to make that actually happen, and to successfully attain her dreams (and to get her mom to really see her) Brie’s got a lot of work to do. 

How different was the process of writing your second book from your debut MG novel, HURRICANE SEASON?

I was lucky enough to have written a draft of my second book before I even sold my first, but still, there’s a reason everyone says book 2 is the hardest. You’re in the middle of getting reviews from readers on your first book, trying to block all that out to focus on the writing of your second without anything going to your head. You’re way more aware of the audience, because they’re already in contact with you in different ways while reading the first book. I had to get myself to focus on the book while blocking out the rest. 

How much of your own experience did you write into your story, or did you get your inspiration from other places?

Nicole: It’s actually funny–I said earlier that In the Role of Brie Hutchens could be comped to the movie Lady Bird. I actually walked out of the theater after seeing Lady Bird and said, “I want to write about a coming of age queer middle grade story based on my experience in Catholic school.” Only, when I sat down to write that story, I realized that the experiences of middle grade readers now are much different than when I was that age. In big part thanks to the internet (I sound about a thousand years old right now), today’s middle grade readers have access to and an understanding of queer identities and vocabulary that I had no idea existed until I was in my twenties. I had to find a way to tell the story I wanted to tell, but for today’s audience. Brie is exactly like I was: dramatic, confused, a little self-centered, questioning the idea of faith and religion. But Brie knows that she has feelings for girls and doesn’t really struggle with understanding what that means–just what to do about it. 

What 3 pieces of advice would you give to Brie if she was your younger cousin?

1. You have nothing to be ashamed of.

2. The longer you let a lie go, the worse the outcome is going to be when it inevitably comes to light.

3. If your mom refuses to see who you are, there are plenty of people who happily will; you’re not alone. 

What one thing did you learn in the process of writing this book that might surprise your readers?

As confident in myself and my writing as I’d like to think I am, I still sometimes hold back. Before I came out, I was writing queer stories, but because I was still so afraid and uncomfortable with my own identity, I couldn’t fully tell those stories. I realized while writing this book that I was holding back in another way: I grew up going to Catholic school, as a Catholic, and I no longer consider myself religious at all. There were many times when my editor would give me feedback where she’d say, “Explore these feelings of faith and religion with Brie and her mom more.” I had to push myself, because I was holding back from actually opening that door and letting myself go there. But once I did, once I went there…the story was stronger for it. 

What do you hope young readers will take away from your story?

I wanted to show that “coming out” isn’t one moment. It’s a lifetime of moments. And it sucks, it does. It’s frustrating for Brie as much as it is freeing. But I wanted to show that, despite the struggle and the pain, there is good, there is hope. The soap opera scene that Brie consistently goes back to, the one where the character Bianca comes out to her mom, Erica Kane, is this sweet, heartbreaking scene where Bianca begs her mom to see her. “Can’t you see who I am? I want you to see who I am.” That’s exactly what Brie wants throughout her whole process, too. She wants to be seen, she wants her mom to see her. I want my young readers to get from this story (and every story I write) is that *I* see them, regardless of the rest. 

I know many writers are finding it challenging to write these days. How does your writing routine today differ from what it was 6 months ago?

Nicole: I try to keep my routine the same, just with added anxiety! It’s hard, and I have to be forgiving with myself if I just can’t be creative as often or as well as I’m used to, but I’ve always treated writing like the job I consider it to be, and I still put in the time just as I do my dayjob. It’s not always great writing–sometimes I’ll try and fail miserably to write anything worthwhile. But, resilience is key, in almost everything right now. I have to keep giving it my best, and allowing my best to sometimes just be mediocre, if that’s what I need. 

Are you working on a new writing project right now, and where can we go to keep up-to-date about you and your writing?

I am currently working on my third book, which will come out Spring 2021, called HOW TO BECOME A PLANET. The story starts off with an 11-year-old girl named Pluto having just gotten a depression and anxiety diagnosis. Pluto and her mom are struggling to understand and deal with Pluto’s diagnosis and what that means for Pluto moving forward. 

My friend Josh Levy (who wrote a wonderful sci-fi MG book called SEVENTH GRADE VS. THE GALAXY) actually told me that he called the Hayden Planetarium Question and Answer Hotline to ask them questions about traveling in space while writing his book. When he told me this, I had already written a first draft of Pluto’s story—and her mom’s love of outer space and how she gave that love to Pluto—and I knew immediately I wanted to write that into my story. So Pluto, while wondering why astronauts decided that Pluto (the dwarf planet) wasn’t a planet anymore, and wondering why she has depression and why her life is changing because of it, calls up the Hotline to ask all of the big questions that are on her mind. Even if they can’t exactly help her. 

I’m also co-editing a queer middle grade anthology with Katherine Locke called THIS IS OUR RAINBOW: SIXTEEN STORIES OF HER, HIM, THEM, AND US that has an absolutely WONDERFUL lineup of authors. You can keep up with me and my work either at my website or on Twitter, where you can find me @LadyNeeko (which, for the record, is a play off of Lady Gaga and the nickname Nico.) 

Thanks again for joining me today, and all the best with your book’s release.

Nicole Melleby is a born-and-bred Jersey girl with a passion for storytelling. She studied creative writing at Fairleigh Dickinson University and currently teaches creative writing and literature courses with a handful of local universities. Her debut novel, HURRICANE SEASON was a Lambda Literary Award Finalist, and was awarded the Skipping Stones Honor Award for exceptional contribution to multicultural and ecological awareness in children’s literature. Her second novel, IN THE ROLE OF BRIE HUTCHENS… will be released April 21, 2020. When shes not writing, Nicole can be found browsing the shelves at her local comic shop or watching soap operas with a cup of tea.

Interview: Supriya Kelkar

Hi, Supriya! Thank you for stopping by the MG Book Village to talk about your latest novel, AMERICAN AS PANEER PIE!

Thank you so much for having me! I love MG Book Village and am thrilled to be here.

Can you tell us a bit about AMERICAN AS PANEER PIE?

AMERICAN AS PANEER PIE is about Lekha, the only Indian American kid in her small town in Michigan. Lekha feels like she has two versions of herself: Home Lekha, who loves watching Bollywood movies and eating Indian food, and School Lekha, who pins her hair over her bindi birthmark and avoids confrontation at all costs, especially when someone teases her for being Indian.

When a girl Lekha’s age moves in across the street, Lekha is excited to hear that her name is Avantika and she’s Desi, too. Finally, there will be someone else around who gets it. But as soon as Avantika speaks, Lekha realizes she has an accent. She’s new to this country, and not at all like Lekha.

To Lekha’s surprise, Avantika does not feel the same way as Lekha about having two separate lives or about the bullying at school. Avantika doesn’t take the bullying quietly. And she proudly displays her culture no matter where she is: at home or at school.

When a racist incident rocks Lekha’s community, Lekha realizes she must make a choice: continue to remain silent or find her voice before it’s too late.

Food is present throughout the book, and is often carefully, even lovingly described. There’s even a recipe section in the back! Would you care to discuss why you chose to weave it throughout the novel (even including it in the title)?

Food plays such an important role in Lekha’s life because she often feels she has to hide her culture’s food because of the looks and comments she got when she did bring it to school when she was younger. A lot of those feelings came from my childhood, when classmates would make fun of the Indian food I brought to school. I finally stopped bringing it and would only eat it at home or in cultural spaces. I wanted to take the time to describe the food with love and show how much it means to Lekha at home so that the readers would feel this sense of loss when she doesn’t bring it to school and feels ashamed of it.

AMERICAN AS PANEER PIE tackles some of the toughest, most timely and important topics. Can you talk about the development of Lekha’s story? What drove you to write and share this story now?   

I got the idea for AMERICAN AS PANEER PIE in 2017. Anyone who has experienced hate knows it hasn’t ever gone away but something about that year felt different to me. I felt hate was being emboldened and encouraged by people with a lot of power and suddenly found myself terrified that my young kids were going to face the same things I did when they went to school, and that nothing had changed despite decades passing since I was their age. I got the idea for the book and began to dig deep and uncover these memories and experiences of othering, microaggressions, and hate from my childhood that I had buried over the years. The words in the racist incident in the book are words that have been shouted at me before. The othering and microaggressions Lekha experiences are from my childhood as one of the few Indian American kids in a small town in Michigan. It became obvious to me how deeply I felt this story when I was able to churn the first draft out in five weeks and everything was just clicking into place. I hope readers really connect to the story and recognize that the issues that are taking place in the book are real life issues that they can make a difference in.

The novel is balanced by numerous moments of warmth, lightness, humor, and beauty – particularly when it comes to the home life and family scenes. It was wonderful to see so much of the adults in Lekha’s life, and to understand them as complex characters in their own right. Were the adult characters always so present in the book? Was it important to you to make sure to include them as you did and as much as you did?

Thank you! The adults were always this present from the very first draft. It was important for me to include them at this level for several reasons. I remember when I was in middle school I didn’t really think of my parents as individuals. They were just my parents. I didn’t really stop to think they had their own goals and wants and fears. So I wanted to make the parents in this book really fleshed out and involved so readers could see that even though they were parents, they all had their own fears, needs, wants, and were all motivated by different things at different times. Since the book is also about empathy, I wanted readers to see that these adults could be flawed, they could make mistakes when it came to really big issues, but they could also grow and learn and change the same way the kids do. 

What do you hope your readers – especially the young ones – take away from AMERICAN AS PANEER PIE?

I hope the book provides hope to those who need it and empowers readers to stand up for what they believe in, speak out against hate, and be allies. I know when I was Lekha’s age, I wasn’t able to speak up for myself or against racial bullying. I hope the book encourages readers to find a way to express themselves through whatever means is best for them. Some people use poetry, or art, or music, or dance, and some, in my case, write. The possibilities are endless and I hope young readers are inspired to find the method best suited for them from this book and realize just how powerful they are.

Many of our site’s readers are teachers and librarians of Middle Grade-aged kids. Is there anything you’d like to say to them – in particular those planning to add AMERICAN AS PANEER PIE to their classrooms and libraries?

I’d like to start with a huge thank you! Thank you for everything you’re doing for our kids right now. You are heroes. And thank you for planning to add AMERICAN AS PANEER PIE to your classrooms and libraries. It is a story about a Marathi-American, Hindu girl in a small town in Michigan in an election year, and it is also a timely, universal story about belonging and hope that can empower kids and grow empathy. Also, there are puns. Who doesn’t love a good (bad) pun? Thank you for considering it for your classrooms and libraries and I hope you enjoy it!

When can readers get their hands on AMERICAN AS PANEER PIE?

AMERICAN AS PANEER PIE will be out on June 9th!  

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

You can find me online at, on Twitter @supriyakelkar_, and on Instagram @supriya.kelkar 

Supriya grew up in the Midwest, where she learned Hindi as a child by watching three Hindi movies a week. Winner of the New Visions Award for her middle grade novel AHIMSA, (Tu Books, 2017), Supriya is a screenwriter who has worked on the writing teams for several Hindi films and one Hollywood feature. Supriya’s books include AHIMSA, THE MANY COLORS OF HARPREET SINGH (Sterling, 2019), AMERICAN AS PANEER PIE (Aladdin/Simon & Schuster, 2020) STRONG AS FIRE, FIERCE AS FLAME (Tu Books, 2020), BINDU’S BINDIS (Sterling, 2021), and THAT THING ABOUT BOLLYWOOD (Aladdin/Simon and Schuster, 2021).  


The first book about the pandemic is already here! Below you can find more information about the brand new release, Don’t Stand So Close To Me by Eric Walters (published by Orca Books).

Written, published and released during a pandemic: Eric Walters defies traditional publishing norms to create a book for young people living through the COVID-19 era. Don’t Stand So Close to Me, a middle-grade novel by multi-award-winning author Eric Walters about a group of preteens forced into isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic, will be released June 3, 2020, from Orca Book Publishers.

Don’t Stand So Close to Me reflects the current life experience of many young people around the world who, due to COVID-19, are unable to attend school in person or see their friends. It offers lessons about understanding the pandemic and concepts such as “exponential growth” and “flattening the curve.” It also instills hope and optimism about the ways our communities have come together to support one another, from a safe distance.

Walters had hundreds of emails from teachers and parents asking if he was going to write about these unprecedented times. He explains, “there was a need to educate and inspire, to lead with optimism, while trying to make sense of the chaos swirling around us.”

Walters came up with the idea on April 22, which went from conception to publication in less than seven weeks. “It’s been an amazing collaborative process from the start,” he says of working with his editor and publisher at Orca Book Publishers. In addition, Walters reached out to teachers, librarians and students across North America to create a team of beta readers for the manuscript on a tight timeline. Their feedback—which included everything from identifying the concepts coming out of the pandemic that are challenging for preteens to understand to tweaking the dialogue and song references to improve the authenticity—has ensured that the story accurately portrays current experiences of distance learning.

Don’t Stand So Close to Me will be released in PDF and EPUB formats and will be available at and all major ebook retailers. A print version will be released this fall. Eric has also written a free teacher’s guide to assist teachers in adapting the book into their distance learning plans before the end of the school year, which is available at “This has certainly been a challenging time for the Canadian publishing and bookselling industry, and we’ve been considering novel ways to reach readers,” says Andrew Wooldridge, publisher of Victoria’s Orca Book Publishers. “As print sales have largely collapsed, we have seen renewed interest in ebooks and digital content.”

Walters is the author of more than 115 novels and picture books and has won over 100 awards. He also has a master of social work degree and was employed in a hospital emergency department for 18 years, which included working in mask, gloves and scrubs during the SARS outbreak. Walters conceived of the “I Read Canadian” initiative launched earlier this year to promote Canadian children’s books. He co-founded and co-runs The Creation of Hope, a children’s program for orphans in rural Kenya. A portion of the proceeds from Don’t Stand So Close to Me will be donated to Lakeside Hope House in Guelph, Ontario, where Walters lives. Lakeside Hope House offers services and programs that challenge the stigmas surrounding poverty and advocates on the belief that poverty, food insecurity, health and community are all interconnected.