Hi Christina! Thank you so much for joining me on Fast Forward Friday. I was so happy to have a chance to read an eARC of your upcoming debut novel, CLUES TO THE UNIVERSE. Your story has such rich characters; I can’t wait for everyone to meet Ro and Benji. Can you tell our readers about it, please?

Hi Kathie! Thank you so much for having me here! So the book is set in Sacramento, California in 1983, and the main characters are Ro Geraghty, an ambitious scientist grieving the unexpected death of her space-loving father and determined to finish the model rocket they started building together. Benji Burns is a shy, introverted artist who loves reading comic books, and whose favorite comic book series is none other than Spacebound, the comic book series his dad wrote after walking out on his family years ago. When the two characters meet after a folder mix-up in seventh grade science class, Benji helps Ro finish her rocket for the science fair, and Ro helps Benji search through the comic books and across the country for his long-absent father. 

Ro and Benji, in a sense, are two characters who are really different but come to find heartfelt connections between them. Ro is someone who has a plan for everything, and always tries to follow logical steps to solve any problem. However, she’s dealing with what seems to be insurmountable grief from losing her father the previous year, and after moving to a new school to start her seventh grade year, as a biracial Chinese-American kid, she’s also having a hard time adjusting and fitting in, and she is at a loss for how to navigate these issues. Benji, on the other hand, is painfully shy, and likes to keep to himself and his comics, something that gives him a sense of escapism from his school bully, living in the shadow of his baseball star brother, and a mother who worries far too much. Though Ro and Benji are vastly different characters, they are both coping with the loss and absence of their fathers, and through forming their unlikely friendship, Ro and Benji learn from each other, challenge each other, support each other through their tumultuous seventh grade year and help each other cope with their loss, and eventually, become each others’ found family. 

One of the things I most enjoyed is how the story is told in Ro and Benji’s alternating voices. Did you write this story in that format from the beginning, or did it develop in the course of edits?

CLUES TO THE UNIVERSE was dual-POV from the start! It was a wonderful surprise to me, too, as I’d only ever written in one first-person POV for my main characters, and now there were two of them. Coming up with both of their voices was one of the most challenging and fun things to explore throughout the course of writing my manuscript, and I loved putting in both Ro and Benji’s different personalities, characteristics, and quirks–Ro with her straightforward, grounded, and logical voice, and Benji with his flair for exaggeration and his love of the fantastical. 

My favorite character is Ro because I could relate to her tenacity, her unwillingness to give up when something isn’t working, and her need for things to work the way they’re supposed to. Did you have a character you most enjoyed writing, or who is most like you?

I’m so very glad you relate to Ro! Ro was actually the first voice that came to my mind, and she is so very dear to me. The way Ro interacts with her mother, her family’s Chinese culture, and her sense of not belonging were things that were very much a part of my experience growing up, and it was so incredibly validating and vivid to include those details in the book–everything from the way Ro’s mother calls her baobao (an affectionate Chinese word for children that stems from the word baobei, which means “treasure”) to the pastries that are included in one of the scenes. However, I would say the core of my personality leans more toward Benji. All his jokes aside, he’s just someone who is shy and trying to find his voice and scared of standing up for himself and going after what he really wants, and as a painfully shy kid growing up, a lot of my fears were the same as Benji’s. 

Your story touches on so many different topics, including grief, loss, family, friendship, STEAM, culture, art…it feels like I need to read it again to soak it all in. Could you share three things you hope a reader will take away from it?

Of course! I once heard a quote at an author event that “science and art are the same in that they both draw patterns out of chaos”, and that quote has very much stuck with me since then. CLUES TO THE UNIVERSE does touch on so many things, but ultimately, I hope the book evokes the wonder of those unexpected and profound connections between different people. Ro and Benji meet as characters who want nothing to do with each other, but at the end of the book, they discover parallels between rocket science and space comics, between their families, and in the loss and grief they face. I hope that readers come away from the book with warm hearts, thinking about the unexpected connections between things in the world, and thinking about the families they discover, born and found.

Is there anything about your publishing journey that has surprised you?

I’ve been so pleasantly surprised and blown away by just how supportive and loving the book community is! From debut authors cheering each other on to librarians taking time out of their busy days to shout out books on Twitter, everyone I’ve met (or virtually met!) has just so much love for books and it truly makes me so happy to get to be a part of this community. 

Can you tell us where to find out more about you and your writing, please?

My website is, and I’m on Twitter @CLiwrites and on Instagram @christinaliwrites! Come drop by and say hi! 

Thanks again for talking with me today, and I look forward to seeing your book in the hands of readers in January.

Christina Li is a student at Stanford University studying Economics. In her spare time, when she is not stressing over her latest stats problem set, she is dreaming up characters and stories for children and young adults. Her debut, Clues to the Universe, is coming out from Quill Tree Books on January 12, 2021.

FAST FORWARD FRIDAY – Caroline Gertler

Hi, Caroline, and welcome to MG Book Village! Your middle grade debut, MANY POINTS OF ME, is one of the first books I’ve read to be released in 2021, and I fell in love with Georgia and her journey to discover who she is after her dad’s death.  Can you share the synopsis with the readers, please?

I’m excited to be here today, Kathie, and I’m glad you loved the book!

MANY POINTS OF ME is about Georgia Rosenbloom, who’s grieving the loss of her father, a famous artist. She feels like she shared so much of him with the world, especially with her best friend, Theo, who’s also an aspiring artist. When Georgia finds a sketch that Dad made of her before he died, she sets out to prove that he intended to paint her for his last, great unfinished painting. Set in New York City, this is a story of creativity, grief, friendship, and finding the many different points of yourself.

One of my favorite things about this story is how clearly the reader feels Georgia’s longing to know that she mattered to her father. Did this story find its inspiration in a character, or was there something else that drove you to write it?

I actually set out to write more of a caper, an art mystery. But as I got to know Georgia and her world better, it became a deeper emotional story of self-discovery. I’m lucky not to have experienced the kind of loss that Georgia has, but when I started writing this book, my family was going through a challenging time, and I dug in to those feelings.

Your passion for art definitely comes through in your writing, and not only do you have a background in art history, but you also give tours at The Met! Is there an aspect of the art world that it was important for you to incorporate into the story?

I love how stories like FROM THE MIXED-UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER and UNDER THE EGG and MASTERPIECE give children a magical connection to the Met. I wanted to write my own ode to the Met, which is an institution close to my heart. I wanted to capture the magic of being intimately acquainted with its art and spaces.

I was also intrigued by stories of artists like Mark Rothko and the lesser-known Paul Feeley, who died young, leaving children behind. I wondered what it would be like to grow up in the light (or shadow) of an artist’s legacy.

Lastly, statistics show that women’s artwork comprises a low percentage of the total art market and museum acquisitions and exhibitions. So I made sure to spotlight women artists in the book.

What do you hope a young reader might say after they read your book?

I hope that readers might find empathy for how Georgia treats Theo; some readers might find her unlikable at first. I was particularly interested in writing from the perspective of the friend who’s doing the changing and growing apart, rather than from the perspective of the one being pushed away. Georgia realizes she has many different “points” of herself that can all exist together; I hope understanding that concept helps readers accept their own many points. Life is a process of growth and change and acceptance.

Are you working on another writing project at the moment?

Yes! I’m grateful to have gotten a two-book contract, and my editor is currently reading a draft of my second novel for middle grade readers.

Oh, that’s great news! Where can our readers go to find out more about you and your writing?

Check out my website, It includes a virtual tour of Georgia’s New York City world and the Met. I’m also active at instagram, @carolinegertler, and on twitter, @cmgertler.

Thank you so much for joining me today, and I wish you all the best with your book’s release in January!

Thanks to you, Kathie, for these thoughtful questions. MG Book Village is an incredible resource, and you’re so generous and enthusiastic in your support of middle grade authors!

Caroline Gertler has an MA in art history, and gives tours of Old Master paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She is a former children’s book editor, and Many Points of Me is her first novel. Caroline Gertler lives with her family in New York City.


Hi Chrystal, and welcome to Fast Forward Friday! I recently had the chance to read your debut MG book, TAKE BACK THE BLOCK (releases January 26, 2021), and I thought it was such a great read. Can you tell our readers a little bit about it, please?

Hi Kathie, thanks so much for having me! And thank you for reading TAKE BACK THE BLOCK, I am so glad you enjoyed it. It is my debut middle-grade novel about an eleven-year-old boy named Wes who makes activism personal when his neighborhood is targeted by a powerful developer. Readers will follow Wes on a journey of trying to save his home and navigate his changing friendships.

Your story takes place in a place called Kensington Oaks, which is a predominantly Black neighborhood. I love how you bring it to life with details like the slideshow with pictures of special memories from events held there. Is it based on a real place, and if not, how do you make it feel so real?

I am so glad the Oaks came alive for you! The Oaks is not a real neighborhood and I can not say it is directly based on a real neighborhood. It is however based on a combination of neighborhoods in my hometown of Charlotte, NC. I really wanted readers to be enveloped by Wes’s surroundings. For the Oaks to resonate it needed to feel real, almost like a character itself–so that was my goal, to introduce the Oaks and have readers get to know it, little by little. I slowly revealed small components of the neighborhood throughout the story just like I did with the other side characters.

This is such an important time in kid’s lives because of changing friendship dynamics, and Wes has not only emotional but physical distance from his tight-knit group. Which relationship was the most challenging for you to write? 

I love this question. I’m tempted to say Kari and Wes’s relationship was the most challenging to write, but I will go with the relationship between Wes and Brent. In the opening of the story, Wes and Brent were very close (best best friends) and then transitioned into a bit of a back-and-forth before things took a turn for the worse. Creating those small cracks in their relationship was challenging for sure. We know that friendships don’t always go through change on a consistent path, so highlighting the ebbs and flows was difficult at times (and fun too).

There’s a very strong theme of social activism that runs throughout this story, which I found very inspiring. What do you hope your young readers will take away from your story?

In short, I hope readers walk away with the knowledge that their voice matters! I would say directly to readers: “You can create change. YES YOU! It doesn’t take a huge cause or a large group–it takes one person, one voice. Speak up, speak out, take action!”

I really loved that your book is a great length, with short chapters, and it has an appeal to a wide audience range. Is that something you purposely tried to do, or did the story just take shape that way?

I’d love to say I had a master plan, but I didn’t. I like to read shorter middle-grade novels so I naturally wrote a shorter novel. My earlier drafts were even shorter than the version that will be published; it was beefed up a bit during each edit. After listening to educators, I have learned that books under 250 pages with shorter chapters are a need in the middle grade space and I am happy TAKE BACK THE BLOCK can help to fill that need.

OK, what is one question that I haven’t asked you but that you would like to answer?

I’d like to talk a little about how fun this book is. TAKE BACK THE BLOCK will inevitably be coined as timely and important, which is true but I would like to emphasize the humor and everyday realness of the characters. I tried really hard to balance the tough topics with levity. Wes and crew have moments of just hanging out, playing video games, and super funny banter–I hope readers will remember those moments too.

Are you working on another writing project right now, and where can our readers go to connect with you?

Yes, I have another stand-alone middle-grade novel that will be published in 2022 by Random House. Readers can find me on Twitter @creativelychrys, on Instagram @chrystaldgiles, and at my website,

I’m so glad we had a chance to chat today, Chrystal, and thanks for taking the time to answer my questions.

Thank you again, Kathie, for having me and for asking incredibly thoughtful questions!

Chrystal D. Giles is a children’s book author and champion for diversity and representation in children’s literature. She is making her middle-grade debut with, Take Back the Block, a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection. Chrystal was a 2018 We Need Diverse Books mentee, and her poem “Dimples” appears in the poetry anthology Thanku: Poems of Gratitude (Millbrook). Chrystal lives outside Charlotte, North Carolina, with her husband and son.

Interview: Charise Mericle Harper

Hi Charise! Thank you so much for stopping by the MG Book Village to share about your recent release, SO EMBARRASSING: AWKWARD MOMENTS AND HOW TO GET THROUGH THEM! Before we get to the book, would you care to introduce yourself to our site’s readers?

Hello Readers!  This is always hard for me, I’m not super comfortable with listing off accomplishments.  When I do school visits, I have a sidekick character to help me explain things.  He’s an animated book, and we give the presentation together.  I guess he’s not going to be much help today.  Okay, so I’m on my own, here it goes. I like to make things. I make picture books, graphic novels, and chapter books.  I the draw pictures and I the write words.  Sometimes I to do both together and that is always my favorite.  I love making comics!

You did great! 🙂 Okay, so: SO EMBARRASSING. Where did the idea for such a book come from?

Well, it really was a collaborative project with my editor, Chris Duffy at Workman.  I wanted to make a book filled with comics and factual information, and wanted the content to be helpful to kids.  This is an unusual book, so it took some work to figure out how all the pieces were going to fit together.  There isn’t a big central story, but reappearing characters and two dedicated narrators helped give it a framework.  Then the fun started – I got to make comics!

Were you easily embarrassed as a kid? Did you ever want to stick a paper bag over your head?

Absolutely!  And I am a blusher!  While I’m not an expert on embarrassment, I feel like I have a pretty good understanding of that moment when it happens and the horror of it all.  How you just want to disappear. It’s awful. On the other hand, I’m always predisposed to look for humor in a situation, and this topic has a lot of opportunities for humor. 

Do you think, as we grow up, that we stop doing so many embarrassing things, or do we just stop getting embarrassed as easily?

Wait!  Are you saying that adults don’t get embarrassed? No one told me! I’m still operating at full kid level.  Let me take a second to let that sink in.

I’m pretty sure that no one likes the feeling of being embarrassed, so I suppose that adults might be good at avoiding potentially embarrassing situations. They have years and years of practice. So they know to say, No thanks, I won’t get on that electric scooter while you have a camera pointing at me. Also, perhaps the adult brain can understand that embarrassment isn’t such a big deal, that if you can laugh it off – you win.

Were there any issues or anecdotes that didn’t make the cut — that were removed from the book, say, during revisions?

I don’t think there were any big cuts to the book, but it was good that that we had a limited number of dedicated pages per chapter.  I could have easily made more comics with additional time and pages.  I didn’t include any of my own big embarrassment stories in the book, but inspired by the book, I made some comics about them and added them to my website.  The time my car caught on fire was pretty embarrassing, as was the time I fell in the middle of the street while walking my dogs.  That last one happened only last year. Yikes!

What do you hope your readers will take away from the book?

Well, first off, I hope they will smile and laugh.  There are some facts in the book, so I’m hoping those might be interesting and helpful. Also, knowing that you are not alone is a big help when facing an uncomfortable situation.  No one talks about embarrassment, what to do when it happens, and why it happens, yet it is something that we’ve all experienced.  When I was just starting this book, I was at a school visit with about sixty fifth graders. I told them about the new book I was working on, shared my own embarrassment story, and then asked if anyone wanted to share a story of their own.  I thought two or three brave students might put a hand up, but I was wrong.  More than half the class wanted to talk about something embarrassing that had happened to them. I couldn’t believe it.  It was fun, it was high energy, and it gave me confidence in my subject matter.  Embarrassment equals a good story.

SO EMBARRASSING is a marvelous mishmash — there are comics, lists, charts, facts, and at different points, the book reads like a self-help survival guide, a confession-filled memoir, an illustrated informational text, and a handful of other things besides! How did you come to use this approach? Are there any other topics that you could see making a book about in such a fashion?

You use the word mishmash and that was the exact recipe I used.  I put all the things I like to do together, mixed them up, and then made them fit.  A fair amount of it was not pre-planned, but just appeared as I kept working through the pages.  I’m really thankful to my editor for letting me play around with the format.  Not every publisher is going to be so comfortable with that.  I am looking for new topic right now.  I’m not sure if it’s going to be exactly like So Embarrassing. I might have to invent something new.  I felt very comfortable making this book. I’d love to make more.

Where can readers find out more about you and your work?

My website holds more information than anyone could want.  There’s information about all my books, free comics to read, and free crafts to make.  You can find all this at  Come on by!

Charise Mericle Harper is the author and illustrator of many children’s books, including the Just Grace series, the Fashion Kitty series, and the Next Best Junior Chef series. She lives in Oregon. She can be found at