FAST FORWARD FRIDAY – Great New Funny Stories by Joanne O’Connell

Joanne O’Connell’s debut book, BEAUTY AND THE BIN, comes out on February 18/21. Today, she’s sharing more great new funny stories with our readers.

Most of us could use a laugh right now (it’s the best medicine, right?) and that’s doubly true for children. Funny books are the perfect way to cheer readers up in troubled times. So, here’s a roundup of some great new stories to make you LOL even during lockdown. You’re welcome!  

Pizazz vs the New Kid: The super awesome new superhero series! 

By Sophy Henn. (out 7 January 2021, Simon & Schuster) 

HELLO! My name is PIZAZZ and I’m a superhero . . . You probably think that’s really AWESOME, and while it can be, it’s also REEEEEEEAAALLLLY annoying. 

So goes the latest fun, energetic read by illustrator and author Sophy Penn (she wrote the Pom Pom series, and the Bad Nana books). This is the second in the series about Pizazz, a child superhero who really wishes they could be normal.  

Mort the Meek and the Ravens’ Revenge 

By Rachel Delahaye (out 4 March 2021, Stripes Publishing). 

On Brutalia violence is a way of life. Ravenous ravens circle overhead, monstrous grot bears cause chaos, and the streets are bulging with brawls. But Mort isn’t like the other islanders – he’s determined to live peacefully… 

Mort is a boy who is determined to be a pacifist despite his gruesome upbringing – and the book is an adventure full of lots of ridiculous characters and predicaments.  

The Accidental Diary of B.U.G 

By Jen Carney. (Out 15 April 2021, Penguin Books) 

There is a new girl at Billie’s school, and Billie takes it upon herself to show her around, teach her the Biscuit Laws, and remind her that yes, two women can get married (after all, Billie’s mums’ wedding is the event of the year). But then suspicion sets in… The new girl seems very close to Billie’s best friend Layla. And doesn’t she know a little too much about the latest big school heist? 

Contemporary and funny, the diary of B.U.G is about friendship, (modern) families and dismantling biscuits. And the great news is that the second book in the series is also out in 2021. Not we’ve not got long to wait!  

Sam Wu is Not Afraid of Space 

By Katie Tsang, Kevin Tsang and illustrated by Nathan Reed (6 August 2020) 

Sam Wu is not afraid of many things. Definitely not ghosts, sharks, the dark, spiders or EVEN zombies! But space, well … 

In this brilliantly funny book, Sam gets the chance to go to Space Camp with his friends for the summer. All eyes are on winning the Space Camp Challenge trophy but it’s tricky being away from home and not everyone is a team player. 

You could read it as a standalone but it’s even better if you read the full Sam Wu series. 

Orphans of St Halibuts  

By Sophie Wills, illustrated by David Tazzyman. 

After the accidental demise and hasty burial of their beastly matron, life has been pretty perfect for the pupils of St. Halibuts. But they still have to put on a facade of normality for the postmistress and visiting inspectors. They don’t want anyone finding out they’re in the orphanage alone… 

This one’s a real page turner, full of stolen cakes, grumpy goats and some pretty major explosions. The pages are packed with fun. 

The Boy Who Made Everyone Laugh  

By Helen Rutter. (Out 4 February, Scholastic). 

Billy Plimpton is an eleven-year-old boy with a big dream. He wants to be a stand-up comedian when he grows up. A tough career for anyone, but surely impossible for Billy, who has a stammer. How will he find his voice, if his voice won’t let him speak? 

This is an against all odds, laugh-out-loud story, with an inspiring, heartfelt message for all readers.   

The Incredible Record Smashers 

By Jenny Pearson 

Lucy is a fixer of broken things. But there’s one thing she can’t fix and that’s her unhappy mum. Until she comes up with an INCREDIBLE plan. Along with her best friend, Sandesh, Lucy is going to SMASH a world record. But breaking a world RECORD when watermelons, kumquats, two baddies and a 30cm shatter-resistant school ruler are involved isn’t quite as easy as Lucy thought… 

Laugh-out-loud, while also dealing with difficult situations (Lucy’s mum suffers from depression) this is the brilliant next read from the author of The Super Miraculous Journey of Freddie Yates. 

Joanne O’Connell is a journalist, and author of Beauty and the Bin (‘a fresh and funny debut about friends, family, school and being a young eco-warrior’) which is out with Pan Macmillan on 18 February 2021. When she’s not writing for national newspapers and glossy magazines, Joanne whips up #noplastic homemade beauty recipes, from strawberry bath slushies to minty chocolate lip balm. She lives with her family in the English countryside. You can find her on Twitter @byesupermarkets or on Beautyandthebin.com 

FAST FORWARD FRIDAY – Tamzin Merchant

Hi Tamzin! Thank you so much for joining me today at MG Book Village! Your debut MG novel, THE HATMAKERS, is being released February 2nd, by Norton Young Readers. I was delighted to have a chance to read an eARC of it, and it’s filled with magic, adventure, rivalry, and a desperate quest. Can you give us a synopsis of it, please?

Hi Kathie! I’m so glad you enjoyed the book. A little synopsis of the book… The hero of the story is Cordelia Hatmaker, the youngest member of the Hatmaker family, who weave their handmade hats with magical ingredients.

Though the story begins with Cordelia’s father going missing in a shipwreck, it becomes a race against time as she discovers a plot to start a war with France. Cordelia and her friends must make the most magical hat they can and get it on the right royal head before all is lost!

I understand that the idea for this book was inspired by a dream you had after working on a television series where you were surrounded by many lovely hats. Can you tell us how you turned that dream into the start of a new book series?

The dream I had was so vivid – a family of magical Hatmakers who are rivals with a family of magical Bootmakers – that I woke up feeling really excited to tell it to people! My boyfriend – the first person to hear it, 10 seconds after I’d woken up – wisely advised that I write it down (dreams have a way of slipping away in the morning light, don’t they?). So I wrote down everything I could remember from the dream and found I didn’t want the story to stop! It took seven drafts and a lot of input from wise and brilliant people to turn the dream into an actual book, but all the elements from the dream remain. The dream was like a window into a world, which I climbed through.

There are many likeable (and unlikeable!) characters in this book, but I think Goose was one of my favorite supporting characters. I loved his relationship with Cordelia, and the risk they took to be friends when they knew their families would disapprove. Which character was most enjoyable for you to write?

I love that you love Goose! The friendship between Hatmaker and Bootmaker was so much fun to write. From a sheer chaotically joyful perspective, I especially enjoyed writing Sir Hugo’s scenes. He’s inspired by one or two actors I’ve come across in my career… writing his actorly antics was very silly fun. I also loved writing Great Aunt Petronella. She kept surprising me with the things she came out with!

This book is set in London in the 1700s. Did you have to do a lot of research about the time period?

I think acting in period dramas has made me familiar in some ways with the “everydayness” of the past, so I didn’t feel I wanted to do too much research into the time period itself other than what I knew from reading books set in the 1700s. But I did visit the Victoria and Albert museum archives and saw an ancient bicorn from the period, which felt magical in itself – thinking of the person who had worn it so long ago.

It was most important to me that the magic in the story felt authentic, so I researched Alchemists to try to make sure the magical system was based on something ancient and real. I also learned how to make a hat using a very old hatblock and a flatiron, the way the Hatmakers in the story do!

I loved the magical ingredients added to the Hatmaker creations to inspire certain qualities in the person who wore them. If you could design a writing hat, what sort of items would you include, and why?

That’s a great question! Writing is such a wonderful, challenging, adventuresome thing to do I would need a few things on a Writing Hat to make sure I was well-equipped for the task…

I think the whole hat would be woven out of paper straw and dyed inky blue – starting with paper and ink is always a good way to begin telling a story.

I’d add a Fabula Flower for inventiveness and tie it onto the hat with a good yarn. A Daedalian ribbon would help weave a complicated plot together nicely. I’d tuck a tailfeather from an Upstart Crow into the ribbon, to help me think of entertaining characters!

Lastly, I’d finish off the hat with a sprinkle of stardust. Every story should have a bit of stardust.

The cover of this book is beautiful; were you involved at all in the design of it, and who was the illustrator? What were your thoughts when you first saw it?

Isn’t it beautiful? I am very much hoping that people judge this book by its cover! Paola Escobar is the illustrator and she’s also created the most beautiful interior art for the book. I suggested the front of Hatmaker House for the cover and when I saw what Paola had come up with, it was completely beyond what I had imagined – I was utterly enchanted.

There are several surprising reveals in the course of reading this book, including the ending. Can you tell us when to expect the next book in the series, and is there anything about it you can share at this time?

Oooh I’m not quite sure what I’m allowed to share at the moment, other than the title – THE MAPMAKERS! It will be out in Spring 2022…

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

I’m on Twitter at @tamzinmerchant and Instagram @tamzinmerchant

Something I think is especially magical about books is that, once a reader has read a book, it becomes their story as much as it is the writers’. So I would LOVE to hear your reader’s ideas for magical hats!

Thank you very much for talking with me today, Tamzin, and all the best with your book’s release.

Thank you so much, it’s been lovely answering your questions! And I would like to end the interview by asking YOU a question… If YOU could make a magical hat for yourself, what would it be for and what magical things would you make it with?

Oh, thank you, this is the first time I’ve ever been asked a question! I would start with a red cowboy hat, like the one I used as a child when I went on adventures. I’d be sure to add a shimmering silver hatband like the swords carried by brave knights, a very elegant peacock feather so I was dressed appropriately for any occasion, a touch of Slips jelly to get me out of any sticky situation, and a sailor’s gold compass to tap so I could find my way back home.

Tamzin Merchant is a British-born actress best known for her roles in Pride & Prejudice, The Tudors, Salem, and Carnival Row. The Hatmakers is her debut novel. She lives in England.

Interview with Anita Yasuda re: MOTO MAKI’S GHOSTLY MYSTERIES series

Hi Anita, and welcome to MG Book Village! I’m so glad that we have a chance to talk about your upcoming series, Moto Maki’s Ghostly Mysteries, which releases in Summer 2021. Can you tell us about the first books being released in the series, and are there more books coming in this series?

I’m happy to be here, Kathie! I am so excited to chat with the MB Book Village community about my Hi-Lo middle-grade series. Currently, there are four books in Moto Maki’s Ghostly Mysteries. They are The Haunted Umbrella, The Cursed Cat, The Tiger Eye, and The Dream Eater. Each book highlights one ghost or yurei from Japanese folklore. Young readers will meet the harmless umbrella ghost or kasa obake that usually jumps around on one leg and enjoys surprising people. I’ve given the umbrella ghost a twist in this book to give readers chills. Other ghosts in the series are less suspenseful and scarier, such as the dream eater. I suggest readers turn on the lights before diving into this story.

I became fascinated with spooky Japanese tales as a student in Japan some thirty-plus years ago.

On away trips from school, we often stayed in old Japanese inns. My friends and I would try to scare each other. We imagined all sorts of creatures based on the sights, smells, and bumps in the night. It’s a wonder we got any sleep at all on those trips.

Can you give us four words to describe your main character?

Moto is a curious, capable, kind, and relatable kid whose love of treasure hunting accidentally leads him to ghosts.

The M stands for the mysteries that Moto and his best friend, Vijay, become entangled in.

The O stands for the odd supernatural creatures that follow Moto home.

The T stands for the terrific adventures Moto has while figuring out what each ghost wants.

The last O stands for the Japanese word obake that refers to ghosts, monsters, and other supernatural creatures in Japanese stories.

What is it about this series that you think will most appeal to young readers?

The series is action-packed with just enough adventure, suspense, and spook to keep readers hooked and pages turning. I think it will be the perfect series for children who like mysteries and ghosts. Because Moto Maki’s Ghostly Mysteries is a Hi-Lo, it will also appeal to reluctant readers in search of fast-moving text and those on the younger side of middle grade.

How did writing this book series differ from other series that you’ve written?

I have been fortunate to work on several early graphic novels and readers for children, but all of those were developed within their respective publishing houses. This series was different in that I pitched it directly to ABDO and was fortunate enough for an editor at ABDO to say yes. For the Moto Maki series, I dived deep into my past experiences living and working in Asia. I wanted the series to explore traditional ghosts but with two modern protagonists during the Festival of the Dead. The festival goes by other names. In Japan, it is called O-bon, and it usually begins in late July. In other parts of Asia, the English term for the festival is the Hungry Ghost Festival. During this time, ghosts, including those of ancestors, are said to return to the realm of the living. People leave out food and other offerings for the spirits.

How have you found time to incorporate writing into your daily life with the challenges of the pandemic?

I am an early riser. I wake at four am daily. After making a cup of tea, I begin my day with a meditation to center myself. Then, I might check correspondence or post something positive on my social media, but I limit my time spent on platforms to five minutes tops. Then, I plunge into my writing. Usually, I have several projects on the go. I find keeping a written agenda of all my assignments and due dates, edits, and correspondence essential for keeping on track and motivated. When the clock strikes seven, I get ready for a busy morning in the classroom, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Though the world is occupied by the pandemic, the best I can do is keep moving forward. I do this by following my routine and putting one foot or one letter in front of the other. I also think it’s important to take time away from work. So, after teaching, you will find me walking in the woods with my dog. It’s a time to clear my mind and connect with nature.

Can you give us one interesting tidbit about yourself that no one may think to ask you?

From the age of five, my family would spend each March break exploring independent bookstores all over Toronto. Some people might not think this a riveting holiday, but it began a lifelong love of books and inspired me to write.

Are you working on another writing project, and if so, is there any information you can share with us?

I have several projects that my agent is currently sending off into the world. These projects are dear to my heart. They celebrate my South Asian heritage and are rooted in my childhood experiences growing up the daughter of immigrants in North America.

I look forward to the day when readers will be able to hold these books in their hands.

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

Thank you for this opportunity to speak with MG Book Village community.

The best place for readers to connect with me is on my website www.anitayasuda.com. If teachers are looking to book Zoom or Skype visits, this is also where they can contact me.

I am also on Twitter @anita_yasuda and Instagram @anitayasudabooks.

I really appreciate you taking some time to talk to me today, Anita, and best of luck with your new series.

Anita Yasuda is the author of many books for young readers. Her middle-grade Hi-Lo chapter book series, Moto Maki’s Ghostly Mysteries, releases in 2021. The books published by Magic Wagon, ABDO Publishing, are illustrated by Francesca Ficorilli. Anita graduated from Victoria College, University of Toronto. She then began working in early childhood education and educational publishing. After living all over the world, she now lives in Ontario, Canada. You can follow Anita on Twitter @anita_yasuda, Instagram @anitayasudabooks, or visit her at www.anitayasuda.com.

Cover Reveal for EVERYWHERE BLUE, by Joanne Rossmassler Fritz

Hi Joanne, and thank you for joining me at MG Book Village today. We’re happy to share the cover of your upcoming debut novel, EVERYWHERE BLUE, set to be released in June 2021 with Holiday House. It must be such a thrill for you to finally see your hard work pay off in a finished book! Did you always want to be a writer?

Hi, Kathie, and it’s a pleasure to be here. Thank you for hosting my cover reveal. Yes, I’ve been writing for many decades so this is definitely a thrill for me! I’ve wanted to be a writer since I discovered the magic of books in elementary school. But I didn’t start writing until high school. In high school and college, I wrote a lot of angsty poetry. Then I let too many years go by while I worked and married and raised a family, and only occasionally dipped into writing, mostly picture books, since I had young children. My first brain aneurysm rupture in 2005 was the catalyst I needed to get motivated to take writing seriously!

Can you tell us a bit about this story, and why it was important for you to tell it?

EVERYWHERE BLUE is a novel in verse. Twelve-year-old Maddie (short for Madrigal) loves music, math, and everything in its place. When her beloved older brother, Strum, vanishes from his college campus, her well-ordered world is plunged into chaos. This story was important for me to tell because Maddie has an undiagnosed anxiety disorder and I’ve suffered from anxiety most of my life. I also played the oboe in school, as Maddie does. But that’s where the similarity ends. Maddie took on a life of her own as I revised (and revised and revised). For one thing, she’s a math genius. I am definitely not! The other reason it was important for me to tell this story is that I know a family whose son vanished and has never been found. So, I guess in a way I wanted closure for them (but to protect their privacy, I’ve changed all the details).

What three things would you say to a young reader you met in a bookstore, holding your book in their hands, to try and pique their interest?

I would say, “It’s about a shy, anxious girl who loves to read and loves music. It’s about family, and how siblings get along — and sometimes don’t get along! It’s about standing up for what you believe in.”

What have you learned in the process of getting this book published that’s been valuable to you?

Oh, I’ve learned so much! Especially patience! Many of my non-writer friends express surprise at how long the process takes. Another thing I’ve learned is how often I use the same words over and over in a manuscript. Apparently, I used the word “still” at least 50 times, and my editor suggested I delete most of them. So that was an eye-opener. Sally Morgridge has been a fantastic editor, encouraging me to go deeper and add more details, more poems to help readers “see” Strum, who is only seen in the memories and dialog of the other characters, and more poems to show the shifting relationships among the three siblings.

OK, let’s talk about your cover. Who was the illustration/designer, and were you involved in the process?

Elena Megalos created this gorgeous cover. My editor sent me samples of her work, early on. I liked her blue patterns. But I didn’t suggest anything. It’s my first book, and I figured I’d let the experts (editorial and marketing) work it out.

What was your first reaction when you saw it, and is there any particular detail that really stands out for you?

I was stunned! I mean, the details are fantastic! I love the oboe. It’s so realistic! But I’m also impressed by the tiny figure of Strum hiking along, with the symbolism of the glacier/iceberg. When you read the book, you’ll understand why.

Let’s share the cover with everyone!

Oh, wow, I love the mood that the blue gives to this cover, and as a former oboe player, I’m a HUGE fan of seeing that on the cover!

Thank you, Kathie. I hope people like it and I hope people buy the book!

Are you currently working on another writing project?

Yes! It’s another novel in verse. I don’t want to say too much about it yet, but I am finally writing about brain aneurysms, since I have survived two of them. Though it’s loosely based on my own experiences, it’s still fiction.

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

I have a website!  https://www.joannerossmasslerfritz.com/  You can also visit Holiday House’s website: https://holidayhouse.com/

All the best to you, Joanne, in your debut year, and I look forward to reading your book.

Thank you, Kathie!

Joanne Rossmassler Fritz is a poet and a member of SCBWI. She developed her love of children’s books by working at a school library, the independent bookstore Chester County Book and Music Company, and at a publishing company. She and her husband live outside West Chester, Pennsylvania. This is her debut novel.