Cover Reveal: STRONG AS FIRE, FIERCE AS FLAME, by Supriya Kelkar

Hi, Supriya! Thank you so much for coming back to the MG Book Village to reveal the cover of your new novel, STRONG AS FIRE, FIERCE AS FLAME!

Thank you so much for having me here! I’m so glad to be back.

Before we get to the cover, can you share what the book is about?

STRONG AS FIRE, FIERCE AS FLAME is the story of Meera, a young girl in British East India Company-controlled India in 1857. Meera is a child bride who escapes the life she has no say in only to end up a servant to a British officer in the East India Company. When the Indian rebellion spreads, Meera must choose between a life where she still doesn’t have a say in what happens to her, and fighting against the colonists. 

I got the idea for this book when I thought back to the only time I saw even the tiniest bit of representation in a book as a child. It was in THE SECRET GARDEN, and I remember feeling very uncomfortable knowing the Indians in the story were in the backdrop of the main character’s story in their own land. I wanted to challenge who we center in stories and so-called classics from this time period and make readers think about who is being left out. 

I know that, originally, the novel had a different title. Can you tell us how and why it changed, and how you felt about the change?

Because the original title had the word “pyre” in it, there was some concern not everyone would recognize what that word meant at the middle grade level. When we finally came to the title STRONG AS FIRE, FIERCE AS FLAME, I loved how empowering it was and how it captured the theme and a simile in the book. 

Your debut novel, AHIMSA, was also a work of historical fiction. Your most recent novel, AMERICAN AS PANEER PIE, was contemporary. Now, with STRONG AS FIRE, FIERCE AS FLAME,  you are back to historical fiction — and a bit further back in time than AHIMSA. Can you discuss your process, and how it differs, if at all, when you’re writing about the past or the present?

I think the biggest challenge for me when writing historical fiction is all the research it takes to make sure it not only works from a plot standpoint but that it is also historically accurate. With AHIMSA, I was able to ask my relatives who lived through that time period in 1942 in India. But STRONG AS FIRE, FIERCE AS FLAME takes place almost 100 years earlier, in 1857, when the sepoy mutiny against the British East India Company began in South Asia. Because I didn’t have the luxury of asking relatives to confirm details, I had to rely on a lot of historical texts. A family friend is a professor who gave me several old books written by East India Company officials from the 1600s through the 1800s. I found old writings by British Memsahibs, the wives of officers living there. All of those texts were at times really difficult to read because of the racism and because they were documenting all the looting that was done through colonization but they were valuable in describing how colonists felt and what they thought about the people whose land they were draining of its resources. There were smaller details, like what would someone from this part of India wear in the 1850s or whether it would be henna or alta on a bride’s hand in this part of India back then, that I just couldn’t confirm from books so I found a professor of fashion history in India who was really kind and helpful and filled in the details I needed. So I guess that was a long way of saying, historical fiction takes me a lot more time to write because it has to be historically accurate while also being an entertaining, moving story whose plot makes sense.

Why do you think it’s important for young people to read about the past? Is there anything that, when exploring history, fiction is particularly adept at doing?

I think it is so important for young people to read about the past to understand how we are where we are today. The industrial revolution didn’t happen the way we were taught in a short chapter in history class in school. The industrial revolution and many of the advances that happened in part because trillions of dollars were being stolen from colonized countries and sent over to the west. We can see the effects of colonization in so many countries, including our own. And we can also see how much has changed by reading about the past and how much hasn’t. For instance, child marriage, one of the topics covered in STRONG AS FIRE, FIERCE AS FLAME, still takes place around the world. Child marriage still takes place in America. The racism covered in the book, the centering of certain stories and the erasure of others still takes place today. I love how fiction can make readers really connect to someone’s experiences, even if they took place almost 200 years ago, and get a reader to care about the issues they dealt with, all of which are still around in today’s world, in the reader’s real world.

All right — let’s get to the cover! Who did the art? And how did you react when you first saw it?

The cover was designed by Sheila Smallwood, and the art is by Kate Forrester, who also did the cover art for AHIMSA. I was so thrilled to hear she was doing the cover for STRONG AS FIRE, FIERCE AS FLAME and couldn’t stop staring at that stunning cover when I saw it. I still stop to stare at it. I love the palette and how powerful the cover is with the flames behind Meera and the strength in her face. It shows the devastation of colonization in the background and has some of the metaphors for freedom from the book on it, like the kite and the birds. And I adore the lotuses and the plants showing Meera’s growth. It is a piece of art and I can’t wait to hold the finished book with this gorgeous cover on it.

Okay, let’s take a look!

WOW! It is remarkable! When can readers get their hands on STRONG AS FIRE, FIERCE AS FLAME, and where can they go to learn more about you and your work?

STRONG AS FIRE, FIERCE AS FLAME releases on February 24, 2021 and is available for pre-order today! Readers can learn more at my website,

Here are preorder links for STRONG AS FIRE, FIERCE AS FLAME:


And check out the book trailer for STRONG AS FIRE, FIERCE AS FLAME below!

Interview with Jennifer Gennari re: MUFFLED

We’re happy to have you visit MG Book Village today, Jennifer. Your second middle grade novel, MUFFLED, is scheduled for release on October 27th with Simon & Schuster. Can you tell us a bit about it, please?

Thank you for having me! I am excited for readers to meet Amelia, reluctant trombonist and earmuff wearer! Fifth grader Amelia is sensitive to sound yet has to learn to play an instrument, or, as she sees it, make noise on purpose. It’s a story about navigating school, making friends, and stepping out of her comfort zone on her own terms. Plus, a pet fish and the Boston Public Library!

I’m curious to know how the idea for this book came to you. What compelled you to tell this story?

Snow is the seed of MUFFLED! When I was young, a blizzard in my Boston suburb stopped all traffic for a few days, and I loved the silence. Later, I wondered, what if quiet was a need, not a want? Then I met my husband, who is a highly sensitive person. He has taught me to listen more and provide those breaks of sound and space around him. Many of his traits I borrowed for Amelia, but ultimately this is her story. Plus, I love trombones, although I played clarinet in elementary school (and quickly switched to choir!).

Is there a character that you most enjoyed writing, and which character is most like you?

It’s hard to choose one! Madge was fun — she is kind and loud and it takes a lot to make her upset. Amelia is a little like me, although I do not have a sensitivity to sound. I was the kid alone on the playground, reading and avoiding sports. And the biggest treat was to create Mr. Skerritt, the school counselor, who wheezes when he speaks (which irritates Amelia) but ultimately she realizes he is a friend.

Do you like to have a book planned out before you write, or does it develop as the writing happens?

I am a planner, and I often begin with an idea and a setting. Then, the characters develop through many, many revisions. I am a huge fan of revising! I read aloud and use index cards to rearrange scenes until I have a satisfying arc. MUFFLED is interesting, too, because it started as a novel-in-verse. A big shout-out to my editor, Catherine Laudone, who asked if I’d be willing to write it in prose. Her suggestions helped me deepen the secondary characters and add in fun people like Mr. Skerritt!

What’s one thing that’s different about publishing this book (besides a pandemic, of course!) from your debut book, MY MIXED-UP BERRY BLUE SUMMER.

Nothing compares to the thrill of a debut! The main difference is that I know what to expect with a second book, from marketing to promotion to sales. It’s hard to connect with readers during a pandemic but it was also hard to find an audience for MY MIXED-UP BERRY BLUE SUMMER, which takes place in Vermont in 2000 during the backlash against the nation’s first civil union law. Unfortunately, many schools and states weren’t ready yet for a middle grade novel about a girl with two moms. I am hoping that MUFFLED finds many more readers, especially as it is a Junior Library Guild selection.

The other big difference is that it was eight years ago! Now I know so many more authors and book-loving people. It really does take a village (like MG Book Village!) to make and share books, and I’m grateful to everyone, from agents, editors, and designers to booksellers, bloggers, and librarians. 

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

I hope everyone finds MUFFLED a fun read, with a holiday concert that goes wrong, multiplication tricks, and Boston T subway rides. Ultimately, compassion is an undercurrent that runs through my work — I believe we should be kind to one another and accept our different ways of experiencing the world. 

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?

You can follow me on twitter @jengenn and learn more at I am excited about my next middle grade, which is the story of a girl who wants to stop the sea from flooding the only home she’s ever known.

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

Jennifer Gennari is the author of MUFFLED (Simon & Schuster, 2020), a Junior Library Guild selection, and MY MIXED-UP BERRY BLUE SUMMER (Houghton Mifflin, 2012), a Bank Street Best Children’s Books of the Year selection, and an American Library Association Rainbow List title. An engaging speaker and teacher, she has presented at schools, SCBWI workshops, and Highlights Foundation. She serves as Marin County Co-Coordinator for the SF North and East Bay Region of SCBWI. A graduate of Vermont College of Fine Arts, she lives on the water in the San Francisco Bay Area. 

Five Things You Should Know About A THOUSAND QUESTIONS by Saadia Faruqi


Set against the backdrop of Karachi, Pakistan, Saadia Faruqi’s tender and honest middle grade novel tells the story of two girls navigating a summer of change and family upheaval with kind hearts, big dreams, and all the right questions. A Thousand Questions (Quill Tree Books, Oct 6). Preorder here.  

When I started writing A Thousand Questions, I wondered if anyone in the U.S. would be interested in reading about my birth country of Pakistan. Add to that the fact that this book isn’t about some big tragedy or major injustice, but rather a story about everyday life in another country. I’ve decided that the answer to this question is yes. Our young readers today are smart and curious. They look forward to books in unusual settings because they want to learn and be entertained.

So here are five important (and fun) things a reader will take away from A Thousand Questions:

  1. Life in other countries is very similar to ours.

Often, we tend to exoticize life in other countries. How many times have you heard a British accent and thought it sounded just the coolest? And how many times have you met someone from the Middle East and wondered how much freedom they had? A Thousand Questions showcases the everyday, mundane tasks of life in Pakistan through two perspectives: Mimi’s new, wondering perspective as an outsider, and Sakina’s weary, old perspective of someone who’s lived there all her life. From the streets of Karachi to the delicious foods cooked in Nani’s kitchen, there is so much American readers will find familiar and comforting.

2. Speaking of food, Pakistani cuisine is delicious.

Sakina’s father is the cook in Mimi’s grandparents’ house, and he takes pride in cooking the most delicious and mouthwatering food. Interestingly this isn’t the food you’d find in a south Asian restaurant (tikka or biryani for example) but ordinary household foods I grew up eating, such as aaloo gosht or pulao. What’s especially relevant is that Mimi, the American grandchild, finds the food too spicy in the beginning of the story. But as time goes by, she learns to appreciate what’s on the table. I think readers are like that as well: they may find a book like A Thousand Questions unusual at first, but they’ll hopefully love it as they continue to read.

3. Karachi is an amazing destination for tourists.

Like any other big city, Karachi (the financial center of Pakistan) has its fair share of problems. Overcrowding, poverty, bad roads, etc. But it’s also an incredibly diverse city and a premier destination for tourists to South Asia. I was born in Karachi and grew up there, so I know all the best places to visit, from British-era buildings and open-air vegetable markets, to multi-storied indoor amusement parks and big malls housing the latest international items. Mimi rides a camel on the beach, sits in a noisy rickshaw, and visits a mausoleum – all things I did in my youth. Aaliya Jaleel was the fantastic illustrator who created the cover of A Thousand Questions with Karachi’s beautiful – and to me, beloved – skyline.

4. Friendships can jump across language and cultural barriers.

At its heart, A Thousand Questions is a friendship story. Mimi arrives from America at her grandmother’s house, yearning for the father who’s left her. Sakina is the cook’s daughter, too busy trying to get admission into school while keeping it a secret from her family to be interested in the new guest. They hardly speak each other’s languages, and the way they’ve both grown up is worlds apart. Yet they find something in common: they both have big, impossible dreams. And they’re both determined to accomplish those dreams. If there’s a lesson in this book, it is that friendship takes courage and patience, but is always worth it.

5. Democracy is something to be grateful for.

During the course of the summer, while Mimi and Sakina are slowly becoming friends, there is also something bigger than them happening: a national election. Just like we’re counting down the days to the 2020 elections in the U.S. the characters in the book are counting down the days to elect their leaders. There is a lot of election drama, including violence and corruption. All this is important for American readers, both young and old, to read about. Only then can we truly understand the value of true democracy, and how fragile it can be.

I wrote A Thousand Questions to share my childhood memories with my readers. I wanted to show you my heritage: where I came from, and what made me who I am today. Preorder now by clicking here.

Saadia Faruqi is a Pakistani American author, essayist and interfaith activist. She writes the children’s early reader series “Yasmin” published by Capstone and other books for children, including middle grade novels “A Place At The Table” (HMH/Clarion 2020) co-written with Laura Shovan, and “A Thousand Questions” (Harper Collins 2020). She has also written “Brick Walls: Tales of Hope & Courage from Pakistan” a short story collection for adults and teens. Saadia is editor-in-chief of Blue Minaret, a magazine for Muslim art, poetry and prose, and was featured in Oprah Magazine in 2017 as a woman making a difference in her community. She resides in Houston, TX with her husband and children. 

Interview with Summer Rachel Short about THE MUTANT MUSHROOM TAKEOVER

Welcome to MG Book Village, Summer! I look forward to learning more about you and your writing. Could you tell our readers a little bit about yourself, please?

Thanks so much for having me here, Kathie! I’m a middle grade writer living in North Texas. I have a degree in journalism and have worked as a writer in some capacity pretty much all of my professional life. Though it wasn’t until about five years ago that I really got serious about writing fiction. Before that I’d written a few short stories here and there and drafted novel ideas that got tucked away in desk drawers. Then in the end of 2015, it was like a switch flipped and all of sudden writing a novel went from something on the backburner to a driving passion.

Your upcoming book, THE MUTANT MUSHROOM TAKEOVER, comes out on September 22nd. Can you give us a brief synopsis of it?

The book is a lightly spooky STEM novel that features eleven-year-old aspiring naturalist, Maggie, and her conspiracy theorist/YouTuber best friend, Nate, who must solve the mystery surrounding a strange glow-in-the-dark fungus that’s spreading through their small town. At the same time, Maggie is trying to put her family back together as her dad has recently taken a job across country. For now, she’s stuck in her gramma’s mobile home with her grumpy older brother, Ezra, who develops odd symptoms after their run-in with the fungus. All around town people and animals start sprouting unusual growths and exhibiting alarming behavior. Things get more dangerous as Maggie’s brother develops a bluish glow and a nagging cough. Maggie must use her scientific know-how and Nate’s impressive knowledge of all things spooky to save their town from the odd glowing mushrooms.

What’s one thing about this story that compelled you to write it?

Several years ago, my kids and I watched an old documentary called Fungi: The Rotten World About Us on YouTube. We were all so fascinated by fungi’s strange properties that I kept reading more until I stumbled upon an especially creepy kind of fungus with some very bizarre abilities. This real-life fungus features prominently in my book (I can’t say the name of it just yet as it’s a spoiler!). Another inspiration was my son, who was ten at the time, who wanted me to write a story about a character named Root Beard who possesses a beard made of living tree roots. That nugget became the impetus for an important character in the book. 

Is there a character in this book that you would have liked as a friend?

I have to say my main character’s best friend, Nate. He’s a conspiracy theorist/wanna-be YouTube star. He’s on the hunt for aliens, Bigfoot, and anything else spooky and sensational. He keeps Maggie on her toes and has a zest for adventure that I admire. He’s all about fun and doesn’t really give much thought to what people will think of all his wild ideas.

Did this story change a lot during the editing process?

The story changed a fair amount over the couple years I worked on it. In the earliest drafts, Maggie’s best friend, Nate, was actually an antagonist, but the more I wrote, the more he kept zinging out one liners and eventually I rewrote his character completely. Also, I was a PitchWars mentee in 2018 and The Mutant Mushroom Takeover was the manuscript I submitted. During that period, I got great feedback from my mentors on ways to strengthen the story, including reducing its length quite a bit. Originally, it was around 70,000 words and the final version is closer to 50,000. The book’s title has also changed a few times throughout its life. But the main characters’ opposites-attract friendship and the mystery of the strange fungus taking over their small town always remained at the heart.

How have you adapted your book’s release due to COVID?

More of my author activities are definitely moving online because of COVID. I’ve done a couple of virtual author panels so far and will also be doing my book launch party virtually with a local independent bookstore. While I’d love to see friends and family in person and sign all their books for my release, the virtual launch does let me connect with people who otherwise probably wouldn’t be able to attend.

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

My website is I’m also on Twitter at @Summer_Rachel_ and Instagram @summerrachelwrites.

Thank you so much for chatting with me today, Summer, and best of luck with your book’s release.

Summer lives in North Texas with her charming husband, three hilarious kids, a fluffy kitty, and a big yellow dog. Before spinning tales about mutant mushrooms, she once worked as a science reporter for her university’s newspaper, where she wrote on topics like nanotech tweezers, poultry farm pollution, and the nighttime habits of spiders and snakes. She enjoys
exploring new places with the family, playing tennis, and dreaming up ideas for her next book.

Interview: Amy Timberlake

Hi there, Amy! Thanks so much for stopping by the MG Book Village to chat about your new book, Skunk and Badger!

Hi Jarrett! Thanks for having me. Yay!

First off, can you tell us what the book is about?

Skunk and Badger is about two animals who are forced to become roommates. This does not go well. The badger — an Important Rock Scientist — has moved into the brownstone first. How will he do his Important Rock Work with a roommate? How will he find his focus, focus, focus? Difficulties abound. There are too many chickens.  

Can you share where these characters came from? Did the idea for the story come first, or did Badger and Skunk?

Skunk and Badger came first? I think? A long time ago, I tried to write a story in the style of Marjorie Sharmat’s “Nate the Great,” with a skunk as the main character. Also, as I was packing up in a recent move, I came across this story about a badger who collected stamps. Anyway, neither of these tries amounted to anything. Then years went by, and I was re-reading A. A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh stories and I thought, What if I wrote something like this but in my own style? What would that be like? That’s when I was able to start writing “Skunk and Badger.” 

In addition to the themes woven throughout the story, there are two topics delved into relatively deeply: rocks and chickens! Did you have an interest in these topics before sitting down to write Skunk and Badger? Did you do any research to learn more about them?

I find chickens funny. I like the way they peer and scrutinize and then, peck-peck-PECK! Also, all those tufts and booties and wattles! And why all the varieties? Look up ‘Transylvania Naked Neck chicken!’ What do you think of that? 

And rocks run in the family. My uncle is a geologist and my grandfather worked in the copper industry. My grandmother landscaped her front lawn with old mining equipment and tumbles of big rocks. In the home I grew up in, books were held upright with geode bookends. Still, none of this meant I was interested in rocks or geology. But then Badger walked into my story with his magnifying glass and his quartzite and I had to learn about rocks and geology. I’m doing the best I can to keep up with him. Badger knows far more about rocks than I do. 

Geology — whew! — it’s mind-bending! Or mind-stretching? Anyway, you have to conceptualize a huge span of time. I’ve got this Earth Science textbook. I’ve read histories, and geology written for non-scientists. I took a beginner geology course up at the North House Folk School in Grand Marais, Minnesota because I had to find a way in. Badger needed to see like a geologist, and that’s tough. Geologists don’t look at the landscape in the same way that everyone else does. Geologists read history and time in the rocks around them. That rolling hill? Those sharp-edged mountains? They look completely different to a geologist. You may see something still and lovely; a geologist sees action and violence. 

Skunk and Badger features both spot and full page illustrations by Jon Klassen (plus one absolutely stunning spread!). What was it like working with Jon? What did you think when you first saw his art for the book?

I’ve loved the process of working with Jon. I trust him! 

That said, we each did our work separately and so, when the first illustration arrived it felt as if it came out of the blue. Elise Howard, my editor at Algonquin Young Readers, emailed it. I opened that email and yelled. In front of me was Badger. He sat at his rock table. He was in his rock room. Then I said, “There he is. That’s Badger. He’s in his rock room.” I said this to myself, to Phil (my husband), and to Elise Howard (when she called later). Seeing that image felt both right and eerie. I mean, I recognized Badger, as if yeah, there was the badger who lived in my head, focus-focus-focusing on his Important Rock Work. How was that possible? I’d only just opened the email! Also, at that point, Jon and I had not spoken. I’m still shook by this. I don’t know how Jon did that — but wow.

Skunk and Badger couldn’t be more timely, but there are qualities of the writing, illustration, and general presentation that make it feel classic. While reading, I especially couldn’t help but think of The Wind and the Willows and the Frog and Toad books. Was this intentional? Did these books, or any other older children’s books, play a role in the process of Skunk and Badger‘s creation?

The writing was inspired by A.A. Milne in particular, so that sort of storytelling (the style of it, the shape and size of it, the craftsmanship) was in my head from the beginning. Jon wanted to illustrate the text using full-color spreads printed on thicker, glossy paper that are tucked into the book and bound with the rest of the pages. This is something done in traditional book publishing. Algonquin Young Readers and Jon took these ideas and ran with them. The design of this book is something very special. As a ‘book object’ I consider it a work of art. Honestly, it’s been dreamy to have any part in something like this!   

What do you hope your readers — especially the young ones — take away from Skunk and Badger?

I am hoping for discussion! Maybe about getting along? Or about apologies? Or how disparate creatures — feathered, scaled, or furred — come together in community? Or perhaps they’ll decide to take a day and see the world through Skunk’s eyes. I love how Skunk sees the world! 

Skunk and Badger is listed as the first book in a series. Can you tell us anything about what’s in store for this pair?

In the second book, it’s summer. Skunk and Badger leave the brownstone on an adventure that goes, well, alarmingly astray…  

Are you doing anything else — interviews, events, etc. — to celebrate the release of Skunk and Badger? If so, where can readers find out about that, as well as more about you and your work?

Everything is at

Is there a celebration of Skunk and Badger? YES! (See “Events” on Throughout September and October, there’ll be a virtual book tour where I’ll be live and in conversation with various folks including Jon Klassen, Lisa Yee, Betsy Bird, and Jim Higgins of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. There’s also a blog tour going on September 13-19th.

 I hope to see and meet you there!    

Thanks Jarret and MG Book Village for having me! I loved being here!

Amy Timberlake’s work has received a Newbery Honor, an Edgar, and a Golden Kite Award. One book was chosen to be a Book Sense Pick, another was reviewed in The New York Times Book Review. Her books have made several “best books of the year” lists, and she loves it whenever her books are chosen to be part of a state reading list. Chicago’s Lifeline Theatre has adapted both One Came Home and The Dirty Cowboy for the stage. She’s received residency fellowships from Hedgebrook, and The Anderson Center. She was recently awarded The Sterling North Legacy Award for Excellence in Children’s Literature. She is represented by Steven Malk at Writers House. Amy grew up in Hudson, Wisconsin. She attended Mount Holyoke College and majored in History. She also holds an M.A. in English/Creative Writing. Most of the time, she can be found in Chicago, where she lives with her husband. But on especially good days she can be found walking on a long, long trail.


I have a confession to make—I speak for my dogs. They have different voices, of course. Rosie’s is higher and more refined, while Rocky’s is deep and confused. She blames me for making her an older sister at six, and he talks about the joys of biting things. Yeah, I’m one of those people, and, yeah, it’s silly, but I do it because I’m certain they have rich inner lives. All animals do. That certainty is why I write animal POV. Well, that, and it’s a blast.

To me there are three keys to writing it successfully—research, responsibility, and relatability.


Researching animals isn’t all Dodo stories and YouTube videos. Although, those are great sources for inspiration. No, sometimes it’s asking google which animals have paws like hands and then looking at images of chickens wearing fake arms for two hours. It’s a real thing, I promise. Personally, I do a LOT of secondary research. There’s a lot of great information online and, of course, the library has much to offer. Where possible I try to do primary research There’s nothing as helpful as spending time with the animals I’m writing about and the people who care for them.

When I was writing Horace & Bunwinkle I had the opportunity to visit with Better Piggies Rescue based in Phoenix. I learned so much from them that my online research hadn’t provided. The most important thing I learned is there’s no such thing as teacup pigs or micro mini pigs or a pig that stays under 25 lbs. The only way to keep a pig small is to underfeed it. Which leads me to my next point.


Writing for young readers carries a lot of weight. They aren’t as familiar with the suspension of disbelief so they tend to accept what you write in the story. That makes it all the more important to be accurate or at least acknowledge where you varied from fact.

Because it’s a series, none of the characters age in Horace & Bunwinkle, but I don’t want readers to misunderstand, so I wrote a note at the end of the book. The last thing I want is for people to buy a piglet thinking it won’t grow up. It’s not fair to the pig or the family. And I can only imagine the angry letter I’d get from the parents.

I also think seeing through an animal’s eyes strengthens kids’ connection to that animal and the world it lives in. They become more invested in protecting the environment and preserving habitats.


I always hope readers identify with my characters, even if they’re a dog or a pig. Horace struggles with a move from the suburbs to a farm, and for most of the book he refuses to adapt to his new home. Bunwinkle is the younger sister who always feels like she has to prove she can do everything her older sibling is doing. I think a lot of kids can relate to those feelings, and they enjoy the story more because of it.

Great animal characters combine both animal behaviors and human emotions. They create a connection with the natural world and inspire us to protect it. And they are a lot of fun to write.

When PJ Gardner was a little girl growing up in Colorado she dreamt of being an actress or a dental hygienist or even Mrs. John Travolta. It didn’t occur to her that she could be a writer until she was a grown up. Now her debut middle grade novel, Horace & Bunwinkle, is being published by Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins, and she’s thrilled.

PJ lives in the scorching heat of the Arizona desert with her husband, sons, and Boston Terriers, Rosie and Rocky. She doesn’t own a pig because her husband says she’s not allowed to.

Interview with Alisha Sevigny re: THE DESERT PRINCE

Hi Alisha, and thank you so much for joining me at MG Book Village today. What a crazy year this has been for debuting a new series, so let’s tell our readers a little bit about Secrets of the Sands. The first book, THE LOST SCROLL OF THE PHYSICIAN, came out in January, and the sequel, THE DESERT PRINCE, comes out on September 19th. Can you tell us a bit more about the series, please?

The series centers around the adventures of a young scribe and healer named Sesha, her brother Ky, and her friends. In the first book, Sesha searches for a mysterious scroll her father was transcribing for the Pharaoh before his death. The Pharaoh needs the medical document to reduce the casualties of potential war with the rival Hyksos from the North and Sesha wants it because she believes there is a procedure in it that can save her brother’s life. The scroll in the book is based on a real-life artifact called The Edwin Smith Papyrus. The second book follows Sesha – who must leave her brother behind in Thebes – and her friends into the desert, in search of a hidden oasis. There, she ends up training as a spy, and learns that the very same scroll is at the center of a prophecy, which has far-reaching implications for the kingdoms and her world.

Ancient Egypt is such fascinating topic to so many kids. What is it about this time period that you think is such a draw, and what compelled you to write about it?

I think it’s such a fascinating period because of all the incredible things the Egyptians did and accomplished, so many thousands of years ago – many of which we can still see today! I’ve always loved the era and was compelled to write this story, particularly when I learned about the real papyrus and the time it is believed to have been written in: the Second Intermediate Period. It was long thought that Egypt fell into “disarray,” during this era, its power diminished as it was ruled by the Hyksos, “Rulers of Foreign Lands.” The Hyksos were originally thought to be invaders that took the land by force, when in reality, it’s been shown through recent excavations these people settled in the land over time and slowly gained prominence through marriage, trade and immigration. This whole series centers around the Hyksos enigma and is this author’s imagining of how things might have been back then, during this mysterious pocket of time which eventually led into the New Kingdom, Egypt’s most prosperous and well-known period (which in part, the Egyptians have the Hyksos to thank for!).

How much research goes into writing a historical fiction series like this one.

Several pyramids worth! (Sorry, couldn’t resist ;). Happily, I am an avid fan of Ancient Egypt and ancient civilizations in general, so I enjoy it, but it can be challenging at times, because compared to more recent past, there’s very little material to go on. I read a lot of academic papers and am always fact-checking as best I can, but research is one of those things that is in flux, as the more we discover, the greater chance our theories and assumptions might change. Overall, it’s worth it because I feel like these details make the story so much richer and the setting becomes a character in itself, which is an important aspect of my YA novels as well. One example of my nit-picky fact-checking is that I fully expected there would be camels in THE DESERT PRINCE, but it turns out (at that time) donkeys were more commonly used in caravan treks and so we have Nefer, the donkey instead of Nefer, the camel. 

Can you share with us three things about your upcoming book that you think will appeal to young readers?

Sesha and her friends free a Hyksos spy so he can help them escape into the desert and embark on a harrowing trek in search of a hidden oasis. There, she convinces the Hyksos to train her as a spy. Third, she finds out about an earth-shattering prophecy that could change the course of history, which also has enormous implications for her personally. So there’s plenty of non-stop action, intrigue and kick-butt characters! (That might be more than three 😉 

Our friend, Paul Coccia, created a wonderful video for your book. Let’s share it with everyone now.

What part of the writing process do you most enjoy? Is it the research, drafting, editing, or something else?

Each aspect of the writing process has its charms and frustrations. I definitely enjoy the research and the writing, but the editing is where I fine-tune each word so that the whole manuscript sings (hopefully) as one song. Definitely the most challenging part is after the book is written: the marketing and publicity, and trying to make your voice heard amongst all the other equally amazing voices out there. I have faith that this series will find its audience though, because there’s something in it for everyone! And come on, Ancient Egypt!

Are you working on another book at the moment?

I’m working on writing the third installment in the series, THE ORACLE OF AVARIS, which sees Sesha and her friends arriving in the capital city of the Hyksos. There, they try to find a mysterious oracle, learn more about the aforementioned earth-shaking prophecies, and try to save the land from all-out war. 

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

I love hearing from readers on Social Media, such as Instagram and Facebook, and also have my author website at 

Thank you so much for chatting with me today, Alisha, and best of luck with your book’s release. I certainly look forward to reading it.

Thank you so much Kathie, it’s been a pleasure and I hope you and your readers enjoy the series!

Alisha Sevigny is the author of the SECRETS OF THE SANDS adventure series. featuring THE LOST SCROLL OF THE PHYSICIAN and THE DESERT PRINCE. She also has two published Young Adult novels, KISSING FROGS, an eco-retelling of The Frog Prince fairy-tale, and SUMMER CONSTELLATIONS, a CCBCs Best Book for Kids and Teens pick and NERFA 2019 finalist for North America. Originally from Kitimat, BC in the Pacific Northwest, she makes her home in Toronto with her family. 

Book Review: ALONE, by Megan E. Freeman

Set in Colorado, twelve year old Maddie and her friends hatch a scheme for a secret sleepover, but her friends suddenly have to cancel. Maddie decides to go ahead with her plans and enjoy an evening of snacks and solitude. But when she wakes up the next morning, she discovers she’s mysteriously all alone, left behind after her town’s been completely evacuated and abandoned due to an imminent threat.

Her only companion is the neighbor’s Rottweiler, George. Maddie must learn to survive with no power, no internet, and no way to communicate with the family that’s (unknowingly) left her behind. Facing natural disasters, looters, and wild animals, Maddie grapples with intense loneliness as the seasons pass and the thought of being rescued grows dimmer each day.

As a MG teacher, my readers love novels in verse. And they enjoy rereading them, piecing the storylines, characters, and words together that they might have overlooked on a first read. Maddie’s journey of strength and perseverance is one I think they’ll love.

The 4 star review was tough for me. I longed to give it a 5, but not knowing exactly what caused the massive evacuation left me yearning for more answers. While I know that’s not the purpose of the book, and realizing Maddie’s storyline did have closure, I wonder if middle grade readers will feel the same. (It made me think of the ending of Lisa Graff’s Lost in the Sun or Laurel Snyder’s Orphan Island in the same way).

Publishing in January of 2021, and I’ll definitely purchase to add to my MG classroom library.

*Thank you to Simon & Schuster/Aladdin for providing Middle Grade Book Village with an early copy of this novel in verse to read and review.*

Katie Reilley is a fourth and fifth grade ELA teacher from Elburn, Illinois, and a proud mom to two amazing daughters, ages 14 and 10 who has been married to a wonderful husband for 18 years. She’s a member of #bookexpedition, a group of teachers, librarians and authors who read and review ARCs and newly released middle grade books. She’s also happy to be part of the #classroombookaday community, and loves to learn alongside her students and fellow educators. She has been teaching for twenty-two years, and her passion is getting books into the hands of her students. You can find her on Twitter at @KReilley5.

Book Trailer Release with Jackie Yeager for POP THE BRONZE BALLOON

Hi Jackie! Thank you so much for allowing MG Book Village to host your book trailer release.

Hi Kathie! I’m so happy to be here. I should be thanking you, though. I’m thrilled and excited to have the book trailer released here today!  

POP THE BRONZE BALLOON comes out on November 10th from Amberjack Publishing, and it’s the third book in The Crimson Five series. Can you give us a brief synopsis of this story?

Yes, it’s coming so soon… now just two months away! 

Without giving away any spoilers of the first two books, here’s a short teaser: Pop the Bronze Balloon tells the story of Kia Krumpet and her teammates as they travel (literally!) through the final stage of the Piedmont Challenge… a year long, world-wide creativity tour! But the tour isn’t what Kia, Ander, Mare, Jax & Jillian are expecting. Besides inspiring kids around the world with their latest inventions and building a brand new invention, their team is challenged to work with two other international teams in an unexpected way. While traveling the globe, they discover that all their futures are at stake and risking everything they’ve worked so hard for may be the only way to finally make their dreams come true.  

It was such a fun story to write because it’s not just the futuristic inventions that are showcased in this third book, the incredible settings, notable places, and foods of eleven countries are as well. I’m really excited to take readers on this journey with the team.

If you could describe this book in five words, what would they be?

I guess I’ll use the tagline: 

Wonder. Question. Imagine… and Soar!

Who created the book trailer, and were you involved in the process?

I did! I created the book trailers for the first two books, Spin the Golden Light Bulb and Flip the Silver Switch as well. It was a fun process and a chance to be creative in a different way. 

Wow, good for you! OK, let’s share it with everyone!

Are there more books to come in this series?

Pop the Bronze Balloon is the final book. So, the Crimson Five books are soon to become a trilogy! It’s been amazing to write this series but at this point, I’m thrilled with the ending and happy to share this last story with readers. I hope they like how Kia’s journey wraps up and how she and her teammates end their quest to gain spots at the Piedmont Inventor’s Prep School. Never say never, but at this point, this is the last book.  

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

My website is the best place to learn more about me, my writing, all book information, links to my social media handles, and to watch the other book trailers too! http://

Thanks again for chatting with me today, Jackie, and best of luck with the book’s launch.

Thanks, Kathie. It was great talking with you too. And thank you so much to MG Book Village for hosting the Pop the Bronze Balloon book trailer release!  

Jackie Yeager is the author of the Crimson Five books, a middle grade series that inspires children to think more, work hard, and dream big. She holds a master’s degree in Education and spent several years coaching Odyssey of the Mind, where her team once-upon-a-time competed at the World Finals. She lives in Rochester, NY with her husband and two kids. When she’s not writing, she can be found conducting creative problem-solving workshops for kids, spending time with her family, and blogging at You can connect with Jackie there, or on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Cover Release for ONE LIGHT with Anne O’Brien Carelli

Hi Anne, and welcome to MG Book Village. Congratulations on the upcoming release of your new MG historical fiction book, ONE LIGHT. Can you tell a bit about it, please?

Thank you! In One Light, twelve-year-old Eleanor, a descendant of Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, joins the WWII French Resistance. She is responsible for a group of Jewish children hiding in a monastery cellar, and befriends feisty Shoshana, one of the fugitive children. When Shoshana is kidnapped by the Germans, Eleanor sets out on a dangerous quest to rescue her new friend. One Light is an action-packed story of friendship based on actual contributions of children to the Resistance.

I’m  curious to know the inspiration behind your story?

After the publication of my novel Skylark and Wallcreeper I had many requests from readers of all ages for another story about the French Resistance. I find the topic fascinating and have researched it for many years. I have piles of information! There was so much more to write about, so I happily wrote another book that can either stand alone or be a companion to Skylark. 

You went a different route with publishing this book. What were your thoughts?

I think that current events have really impacted the way people think about their goals in life. I had four books either with my agent or on submission, including One Light. The publishing process is very slow and became even more sluggish when the pandemic arrived. After considerable deliberation and consultation with my wonderful agent, I decided to release One Light instead of waiting a year or two for it to be published. I am not a spring chicken and entered the children’s publishing world at a later age than most writers, so I decided I couldn’t wait for the publication of books to be stretched out over a lengthy timeline. It was a scary decision but I’m excited about getting One Light out into the universe!

How do you fit writing into your daily life?

I would love to say that I block off a set amount of time and pump out a certain number of words every day. That’s never been my style, although I do tend to start writing a book and just keep on writing until it’s done. It may be a chapter at 3 a.m. or research at 10 p.m., grabbing chunks of time whenever possible in between. I have piles of post-its, notebook pages and backs of receipts with ideas and paragraphs scribbled in haste. The revision part is not the fun part for me, but as I tell students when I do Skype sessions, “Good writing is actually revising, revising, revising.”

OK, let’s talk about your cover. Did you have any input on it, and if so, what was the experience like for you?

When I reached out to the amazingly talented illustrator, Roberta Collier-Morales, to see if she would be interested in doing the cover for One Light, I was thrilled when she read the story and produced this cover. I had a couple of requests such as the Resistance flag, but I knew to leave her alone and let her do her magic. Roberta’s about to start working on the cover of my next middle grade novel, Beneath the Heart, which takes place during the Revolutionary War.

Let’s show everyone what it looks like!

I love the suspense with the wire cutters! Can you tell us about the illustrator, and what you thought when you first saw the cover?

I am happy to sing Roberta’s praises. She is not only a brilliant artist, but very perceptive about conveying a mood. I first met her when I was doing a project for teachers of refugee children called Welcome to Our Schools, and I needed posters. She then illustrated my picture book Amina’s New Friends, a story about a Somalian refugee girl’s first day at an American school. I knew that she would capture the intrigue and suspense of One Light and I think she did that with the wire cutters and the car heading toward the village. By the way, I am also a quilter and have used fabric that Roberta has designed.

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

I remember so many times as a child when I looked up from a book and realized the real world had been going on around me and I was lost in a story. It’s always my primary goal to replicate that feeling. In addition, One Light has many messages, not only because it’s a story about bravery and friendship, but it’s meant to encourage thinking (and hopefully discussions) about secrecy and resistance. That’s why I added Discussion Questions at the end of the novel.

What is the release date for ONE LIGHT, and where can readers go to find out more about you and your writing?

Anne: One Light is now available now on Amazon Kindle at I decided to do an introductory rate of $2.99 and will move to the e-book price of $7.99 when it is released on October 6, 2020. Information about me and my books can be found on I just added a free story for students called Not Right Now, Grace: The True Story of Susan B. Anthony’s Picture. Grace was a friend of Susan B. Anthony and was my ancestor!

Thank you for allowing us to be part of your cover reveal, and all the best with your book’s release?

Thank you so much and stay tuned for more books!

Anne O’Brien Carelli is the author of adult nonfiction, the Middle Grade books Skylark and Wallcreeper and One Light, and the picture book Amina’s New Friends. She has always been fascinated by the French Resistance, and studied history at Case Western Reserve University. For her PhD, Anne researched psychology of the gifted. Originally from Ann Arbor, Michigan, Anne lives in the Hudson River Valley in upstate New York and spends any free time quilting and reading, reading, reading. 



Twitter: @aobc

Instagram: @anne.o.carelli