The Power of Food in Family and Fiction: An Interview with Tanya Guerrero

I’m so excited to chat today with Tanya Guerrero, author of How to Make Friends with the Sea and All You Knead is Love, which is out today!

Let’s dive in!

What role does cooking and baking play in your connection to your family and culture?

Because I grew up in the Philippines, Spain and the US, cooking, and food culture has been ever present in my memories—whether it was fighting for the lone red chili in the can of sardines I’d share with my sister for breakfast, or learning to cook my Lola’s croquetas in her country house kitchen, or eating cinnamon raisin bagels with melted Muenster cheese for lunch every day with my elementary school friends in New York City. I suppose being surrounded by a multicultural family and environment always made me aware of the connection we have to food, and how the process of making it brings us together not only as a culture, as family, as a community, but also brings us together with the land. My Spanish grandparents loved foraging, and some of my most precious childhood moments were spent searching for wild mushrooms, asparagus, strawberries, herbs and even snails, which my Lola Francisca would cook with loads of garlic and parsley.

Tanya with Lolo Ernesto and Lola Francisca

In All You Knead is Love, Alba finds healing from the turmoil in her life through baking. Have you experienced a similar connection in your own baking?

I didn’t do much baking when I was a kid. Rather, I would cook with my grandmother and my mom, oftentimes, three or four course meals, which consisted mostly of Spanish dishes, sometimes Filipino and French dishes as well. The process of foraging and shopping for ingredients, prepping them in the kitchen with my family, and then sitting around the table and eating the dishes that took us hours to prepare, is something I remember fondly, despite any chaos that may have been going on in my life. When my sister and I moved to Barcelona to live with our grandparents while our parents were dealing with their divorce, I found a lot of solace during those years living with my lolo and lola. And that’s something I wanted to give to my main character, Alba. I wanted her to reconnect with her grandmother like I did, I wanted her to reconnect with a culture she barely knew like I did, I wanted her to find love through food like I did. And although, I didn’t learn how to bake sourdough bread until I was in my forties, I also wanted Alba to experience the meditative kind of healing that can come from baking something as basic as bread. 

Tanya’s walnut rosemary sourdough loaf and sourdough bagels

What importance does food play in your stories? 

I think food will always play an important role in all my stories. Because for me, food was always something that connected me to my culture, the family and friends that I love dearly, and the places I’ve lived and travelled. The Filipino and Spanish people have such a huge food culture and history, and because of that, food is always front and center at all our family gatherings.

Snacking on churros con chocolate with Lola in Barcelona

What is a memorable baking or cooking mishap that you have had? What did you learn from it?

Gosh, I’ve had SO many kitchen mishaps over the years! But, I will admit that when I was first learning how to make sourdough bread, I had so many failures—flat, pancake-ish loaves, dense loaves, burned loaves, undercooked loaves, too-sour loaves. But with lots of perseverance and patience, I was able to get past those failures and now I’m able to make all sorts of loaves, although I do still fail from time to time. 

I also have one specific memory that has really stuck in my mind as an epic failure, and the reason I remember it so clearly, is because of the humiliation I felt for myself and for my mom. In the summer after freshman year in college, I went to stay with my mom in Long Island, NY where she lived with her husband and my younger brother. At the time, she was freelancing as a one-woman caterer for some of the wealthy people who summered in the Hamptons. So I spent my break helping her with catering jobs. There was this one particular job, where we were supposed to make a passionfruit tart with mango sorbet for dessert. Well, all the courses turned out perfectly, except for the mango sorbet. For whatever reason, my mom’s ice cream machine wasn’t working properly, so the sorbet wouldn’t solidify. And since we didn’t have time to make any changes to the menu, my mom sent me to the nearest grocery to buy some Haagen Dazs mango sorbet to go with our homemade passionfruit tart. After the luncheon, where all the guests seemingly loved the food, the hostess came into the kitchen as we were packing up, and confronted my mom about the mango sorbet. “I didn’t pay you to serve Haagen Dazs,” she said to us with an accusatory glare. As my mom explained and apologized profusely, I could feel my cheeks getting hotter and hotter, and redder and redder, and it was the first time in my life I experienced something truly belittling. 

Tanya’s “failure bread”

If you could travel to any country to learn how to make their cuisine, which country would you choose and why?

Hmmm… This is such a tough question! I am obsessed with Indian, Chinese, Thai, Mexican, Cuban and generally any Latin American food, so any of these would be great. But if I really had to choose, I’d probably travel through central and south America and do a gastronomic tour, not only for the food, but also so I can also brush up on my Spanish and visit family and friends along the way. I’ve only ever been to Mexico and a couple of islands in the Caribbean, so I know there is just so much for me to explore and learn from this part of the world!

Thank you, Tayna for your wonderful answers! I think we’re all hungry now!

Get your copy of All You Knead is Love today!



Barnes and Noble

About All You Knead is Love

Twelve-year-old Alba doesn’t want to live with her estranged grandmother in Barcelona.

But her mother needs her to be far, far away from their home in New York City. Because this is the year that her mother is going to leave Alba’s abusive father. Hopefully. If she’s strong enough to finally, finally do it.

Alba is surprised to find that she loves Barcelona, forming a close relationship with her grandmother, meeting a supportive father figure, and making new friends. Most of all, she discovers a passion and talent for bread baking. When her beloved bakery is threatened with closure, Alba is determined to find a way to save it–and at the same time, she may just come up with a plan to make their family whole again.

From the author of How to Make Friends with the Sea comes a heartfelt story of finding one’s chosen family, healing, and baking.

Children Shouldn’t be Allowed to Read Books

… at least, that’s what Mr. and Mrs. Pribble, the antagonists of THE THIEVING COLLECTORS OF FINE CHILDREN’S BOOKS think.

Children can hardly imagine on their own anymore, so why encourage them to read? Children’s books should remain in pristine condition on a well-maintained shelf, away from those filthy creatures who practically gobble up their books! The Pribble’s are wealthy collectors of rare children’s books, and when they’re unable to acquire a copy of Mr. Pribble’s favorite childhood book (called THE TIMEKEEPER’S CHILDREN), they use a piece of futuristic technology to steal the last remaining copy—from inside a young boy’s mind. But this boy, named Oliver Nelson, realizes the book is important to him, too, and decides to fight back. He leaves the main plot, changes events in the story, and enlists background characters to help him defeat the Pribbles. Much adventure ensues.

Now, I hope you’ll forgive me for that dishonest, attention-grabbing headline, as well as the self-promotional book summary. Of course, I believe children should be allowed to read books, and THE THIEVING COLLECTORS OF FINE CHILDREN’S BOOKS was my love letter to the books that made an impact on me as a child.

As children’s book authors, we all have a bit of thievery in us? There are no ideas that are truly new and original, something I found maddening when I was just starting out but inspiring now. We’re all pulling from the same collective well of inspiration, and all the themes can be traced back to other things. With that in mind, I want to present some of the things that inspired me while writing this book.

The Borrowers

I loved THE BORROWERS by Mary Norton when I was younger, and referenced it several times as one of Oliver’s favorites. Perhaps he can relate to it. Oliver steals books from the local library. Yes, he feels guilty for this fact, but he thinks of himself more like a borrower, taking what he needs and putting it to good use. 

Narnia Time

When Oliver is pulled into the fantasy world of Dulum in THE TIMEKEEPER’S CHILDREN, he’s able to stay for weeks and experience a full adventure while only an hour and a half goes by in the real world. This was an idea that I first encountered in THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE. There was always something magical about the way time stopped in Narnia when the children went through the wardrobe. As a child, I could imagine myself living a whole adventure in a moment. As a writer, I realized it was a genius solution to not needing to worry about where the “responsible adults” are during dangerous, high-stakes chapters.

The Ever-Present Narrator

Well, dear reader, I suppose we should discuss the narrative voice of THE THIEVING COLLECTORS OF FINE CHILDREN’S BOOKS. I wanted the voice to be a mixture of the styles used in Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, and Roald Dahl. No, it wasn’t directly inspired by Lemony Snicket, though he did make it wildly popular in children’s literature. The dear reader voice was originally inspired by my general confusion about the device—in many books, I can’t tell who the voice is supposed to be. In this book, I wanted to assign it to a memorable character, and introduce this character in a startling and dramatic way. But the less I say about that, the better … 

Impervious Children

Evil magic has spread over the world of Dulum in THE TIMEKEEPER’S CHILDREN, but luckily, only adults are affected. I can think of several examples like this in children’s literature, one memorable use being the soul-eating spectres from Philip Pullman’s THE SUBTLE KNIFE. In my book, a group of children (dubbed The Gang of Impervious Children) set out to save day from the evil ruler Sigil. His goal is to build a magical clock that will speed up time so that he will have a kingdom without children. Adults always do want children to grow up, don’t they?

There are numerous other books and inspirations I could mention. While researching this book, I went deep down the nostalgia rabbit-hole, re-reading everything that made a mark on me as a child. The results were startling. Many books did not match my memory of them, or the mood I felt when reading them. How could this be? I rarely set out to write a book with a moral or lesson in mind. When I try to do that, it comes out wrong and often teaches something I’m not sure I even believe. The best ideas come organically and can feel a bit obvious in hindsight. In this case, I realized that the books I loved haven’t changed, but I have. As readers, we bring ourselves to the books, injecting our own feelings and imagination into the story, whether or not we mean to.

If anything, THE THIEVING COLLECTORS OF FINE CHILDREN’S BOOKS is about the creative act of reading. Writers only bring part of the story to the table. You, dear reader, bring the rest.

Adam Perry is the author of The Magicians of Elephant County and The Thieving Collectors of Fine Children’s Books. The son of an elementary school librarian, he discovered a love of stories at an early age. He lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, with his wife, children, and a growing collection of children’s books. To the best of his knowledge, none of them are stolen. Find out more at


Hi Reem, and welcome to Fast Forward Friday! I’m so happy to have a chance to connect with you today, but I loved your upcoming novel, UNSETTLED, which will be released on May 11th by HarperCollins. Could you give us a quick summary of the story, please?

Hi Kathie! I’m so glad you loved my book! You can see the summary on book ordering sites, but this is what I originally had in my query:

My #ownvoices middle grade verse novel, UNSETTLED, has a strong, female character and a poetic voice.

In my lyrical 14,100 word manuscript, Unsettled, Nurah reluctantly moves continents. In a new land, she sticks out for all the wrong reasons. At school, Nurah’s accent, floral print kurtas, and tea colored skin contribute to her eating lunch alone. All she wants is to fit in. If she blends in enough, will she make a friend? For now, all she has is her best friend brother Owais. In the water though, Nurah doesn’t want to blend: she wants to stand out and be just like her star athlete brother and win a swimming medal. However, when sibling rivalry gets in the way of swimming, she makes a split-second decision of betrayal that changes their fates and Nurah might risk losing the one friend she ever had…

How similar is Nurah’s story to your own journey to the United States at the age of 13?

I actually moved from Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates to the United States. However I’m Pakistani  and wanted to reflect that experience of mine. I love Pakistan and visiting any chance I can get. 

Like Nurah, I moved continents when I was 13 years old which I think is a pivotal age.

I don’t want to give away too many spoilers, but I would say 40% is loosely based on my life, 40% is pure fiction, and 20% is inspired by the experiences of others.  I have an interesting  family and immigration experience, so I am grateful that I didn’t have to imagine each story, but was able to draw on them from my mind. 

Then I sorted all of the stories in a blender, mixed it together, and sprinkled it all up with fiction and a touch of drama.

It’s funny, my brothers were reading my book and were asking about specific anecdotes in my book and which of them did what, and when I told them specifics, they denied it so  that must have been the fictional part!

In my author’s note, I touched on some specific experiences that my character and I both shared. There were more than just the author’s note. Maybe one day I’ll go through the book with a highlighter and highlight everything that was inspired by true events.

I found your writing voice so poetic and engaging. Did you always plan to write this story as a novel in verse?

Thank you Kathie! I had it in prose actually and when I sent an early excerpt to my agent at the time,  she said it read a little like a novel in verse and was that what I had intended? I had totally not intended that, but eagerly made the swap and never looked back.

I have always loved reading novels in verse and checked out many more from the library and really immersed myself in that world.

I started out as a picture book author and found myself checking out many middle grade books from the library. However, I avoided writing middle grade because  the word count intimidated me. I found writing picture books less intimidating. With a novel in verse, I found it  more encouraging to attempt than prose. My original draft was in clunky prose,  but when I made the swap to verse, I found the white space soothing and that the words could sing.

I also love the emotional punch that can be added at the end of each verse.

What’s one thing you’d like to share with our readers about your book that you haven’t been asked yet?

In my book, my character touches briefly on her Pakistani clothes. I would love for readers to know how vibrant the colors of our clothes are. You can also get a sense from our colorful book cover by Soumbal Qureshi and Molly Fehr that we love color.

I have the following excerpt of a verse that touches on it. 


Nana has tailored

my clothes

for me.

Red piping.

3 buttons.

2 pockets even.

Floral print.

Colors bright

and happy.

Aqua blue

paired with

eggplant purple.

Ripe-mango yellow

paired with

unripe-mango green.

Rosy pink

paired with

bright orange.

Cloth so soft

it feels like tissue.

But then I hear the whispers

that scratch like nails.

Even though

I pair the kurtas

with stiff jeans, not shalwars . . .

Why does she wear clothes

like that

every day?

Why doesn’t she wear anything


I don’t know how some people

go through middle school

dressed like that.

The colors of my clothes

are no longer happy.

In Walmart, the only

long-sleeve shirts

that are loose

that I like

are in the women’s section.

No pockets.

No floral print.

No red piping.

Shirts rough like towels.

Dull like

the colors of

crumpled litter on the beach.

Ugly faded brick.

Faded purple marker.

But I buy them anyway.

Like Nurah, when I moved here, I started to gravitate away from my colorful Pakistani kurtas to blend in and wore American clothes from Walmart that weren’t as vibrant. I love the colors in Pakistani clothes and feel like I wear them proudly more often today. Also, the American clothes I do wear now are brighter colors.

I would also like to add that all Muslims have different experiences. So when a reader reads my book, they should not assume that every Muslim is just like my character. My book is just one example of the many books about Muslim characters and hopefully one of many more to come. 

I do hope that my book sheds a light on a Muslim girl who is proud to practice her faith.

What is your favorite part of the writing process?

My favorite part is when slivers of sentences slide into my mind. 

Are you working on another writing project at the moment?

Yes! I’m always working on another writing project or trying to! I’m currently in the editing stages of my second verse novel. It’s got themes of gold jewelry, growing up,  family, and high-stake decisions.  It should be published next year – I’m awaiting a finalized title and edits. I can’t wait to share more about it.

I’m also in the polishing draft stages of a third verse novel.  It also has themes of family and sports,  yet is quite different from UNSETTLED.

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

My blog which is or my Instagram or Twitter which is @ReemFaruqi .

Thank you so much, Reem, for chatting with me today. I can’t wait to add your book to my library’s collection and recommend it to young readers.

It was a pleasure to chat with you Kathie.   I have read and loved middle grade books for so long; it is an honor to have a middle grade novel published soon. I cannot wait for your readers to read it, to enjoy it, and hope they can relate. Thank you to you and the #MGBookChat librarians and educators for all you do!

Photo credit: Mariam Shakeel

Reem Faruqi enjoys writing lyrical stories that reflect her own experiences. She is the award-winning children’s book author of LAILAH’S LUNCHBOX, a book based on her own experiences as a young Muslim girl immigrating to the United States. Her debut middle grade novel UNSETTLED will be published by HarperCollins in May 2021. Currently, she lives with her husband and three daughters in Atlanta. Reem spends her days trying to write, but instead gets distracted easily by her toddler, camera, and buttery sunlight.

Interview with Sarah Allen re: Breathing Underwater

Kathie: Hi Sarah, and thank you so much for joining me today. I absolutely fell in love with your upcoming novel, BREATHING UNDERWATER, which comes out on March 31st with Farrar, Straus and Giroux. I’m so glad to have the opportunity to talk to you about it a bit today. Can we start with a brief synopsis of what it’s about?

Sarah: Yay! I’m so thrilled to join in today! Here’s a bit about BREATHING UNDERWATER:

Olivia is on the road trip of her dreams, with her trusty camera and her big sister Ruth by her side. But Ruth’s depression has been getting worse, so Olivia has created a plan to help her remember how life used to be: a makeshift scavenger hunt across the country, like pirates hunting for treasure, taking pictures and making memories along the way. All she wants is to take the picture that makes her sister smile. But what if things can never go back to how they used to be? What if they never find the treasure they’re seeking? Through all the questions, loving her sister, not changing her, is all Olivia can do—and maybe it’s enough.

Kathie: My favorite part of this story is the relationship between Olivia and Ruth, and witnessing the impact that depression can have on close siblings. Did you have to do a lot of research, or how did you manage to get the dynamic to ring so true?

Sarah: Oh yay, that means so much! I wanted so badly to get that right, and make sure it worked. I started writing this story at a time when all my closest friends were experiencing really difficult mental health challenges, and I felt worse than helpless and desperate to know how to help. While my own brain does worry and anxiety pretty darn well, I really struggled understanding how to help someone dealing with depression. All that wrapped together is where this story came from. Along the way, especially in revisions (so many revisions!) I did research on depression, and had multiple sensitivity readers, because I knew how absolutely critical it was to represent that in a truthful, non-harmful way.

Kathie: Your first novel, WHAT STARS ARE MADE OF, also had a sibling relationship integral to it’s storyline. I know you come from a large family, but you really have a knack for writing books with two sisters in the family. Why do you think that is?

Sarah: Haha, oh wow, thank you! You’re right about the big family–I am the oldest of eight kids, so I find myself telling sibling stories even when I don’t intend to! That dynamic is such rich territory to explore, with such depth and movement in it. I think in a sister relationship there are so, so many levels to draw on. There is confusion next to fierce loyalty, hurt next to protectiveness. I don’t know many other kinds of relationships that lend themselves to that type of mix like a sister relationship. And while the sister relationships in my books aren’t based on any of mine in particular, I find it fascinating to draw on all that complexity in creating the relationships in my writing. 

Kathie: I love a story that takes me on a road trip, and I especially liked all the unique photos that Olivia took to document it. Do you enjoy photography, and would you ever want to try a photo challenge like this one?

Sarah: Ooh, yes, I absolutely love photography! I play around with black and white photography on my Instagram, and had many years as a kid where my ultimate dream was to take pictures for National Geographic, so that particular part of Olivia is definitely drawn from my own experience!

Kathie: I know this story took you many rewrites. Is that usual for you, or was there a certain aspect of this story that you had to work through?

Sarah: I’ve never rewritten something as much as I rewrote this book. The whole treasure-hunt element wasn’t even in the story until something like rewrite thirteen. I think part of the reason it took me so much revision is that in my initial drafts, the plot devices I was using to pull the story forward were not the right devices for this story. Plot is frequently my nemesis, and in this case I had to experiment with replacing plot and structural elements while keeping the frame and character arcs of the story. Sort of like doing surgery to replace someone’s skeleton while trying to keep the skin and muscles intact. Then in the later revisions, that was about focusing in on the elements of the story that really mattered, and making sure we represented the mental health elements in a truthful way.

Kathie: What advice would you give to young readers who can relate to this story?

Sarah: What a good question, and honestly, this is something I’m still trying to figure out myself. I think I’d say that one of the best things you can do for the people you love is to see them complexly. To see them as a changing, nuanced whole, as complicated and human as you are in your own mind. It’s a challenge to hold that in your mind as you try and love the people around you, especially ones that are hurting, but it’s so important to remember that doing that for them, loving them complexly, really is the best and most helpful thing you can do for them. 

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

Sarah: I am pretty active on Instagram and my website has more information as well!

Kathie: Thank you so much for joining me today, Sarah, and I can’t wait to start recommending this book to young readers.

Sarah: I’m so grateful to have the chance to talk about this book with you. These questions are so insightful, and the book community is lucky to have you!

Sarah Allen is a poet and author of books for young readers. Her first book, WHAT STARS ARE MADE OF, was an ALA Notable Book of 2020 and her second, BREATHING UNDERWATER, is a Jr. Library Guild Selection for 2021. Kirkus Reviews called it “a heartfelt, multifaceted treasure hunt.” Born and raised in Utah, she’s currently a poetry MFA candidate and graduate instructor at the University of South Florida, Tampa, and spends her non-writing time watching David Attenborough documentaries and singing show-tunes too loudly. Like Libby, she was born with Turner syndrome, and like Ruth and Olivia, she’s always looking for treasure. Find her online @sarahallenbooks. 

Interview: Sarah Kapit

We’re excited to chat today with Sarah Kapit, author of the Schneider Family Honor book Get a Grip, Vivy Cohen and The Many Mysteries of the Finkel Family, publishing today!

Let’s dive in!

Your first book, Get a Grip, Vivy Cohen, is written in epistolary format. The Many Mysteries of the Finkel Family is told in dual point of view. What challenges as an author did you face transitioning between these two distinct story-telling methods? 

There are definitely challenges to both approaches. With Vivy Cohen, the challenge was to maintain tension and give readers a sense of immediacy even though the story was told through letters, recounting events that had already occurred. With the Finkel Family, I had to be attentive to a different set of issues. I wanted the two sisters’ stories to intersect, but I also had to give them independent storylines.

I actually ended up bringing up the epistolary format back a bit. My editor and I wanted the girls’ perspectives to be distinct. Early on in the book, one of the sisters (Lara) starts keeping a notebook. Dana, my editor, suggested that Lara’s notebook could be incorporated more into the text. So starting around chapter four, we see an excerpt from Lara’s notebook every time we switch into her POV. I guess I just really like writing epistolary!

As authors present characters who represent their own marginalized identities, they are often faced with confronting stereotypes that readers have internalized. In writing both Jewish and autistic main characters, what challenges did you face in staying true to yourself while creating accurate characters?

Really great question! On some level, I think the solution is simply to write nuanced, in-depth characters. Stereotypes depend on dehumanization and reducing people to tired, one-dimensional tropes. Presenting complex characters, and multiple, diverse characters within a group, is the most effective way to counter that.

In writing, I was always mindful of the fact that Lara and Caroline are autistic and Jewish, but I also saw them first and foremost as individual characters in their own right. I think I was able to show how varied autistic people are. Oftentimes we’re stereotyped as math and science nerds, but Lara is obsessed with mystery novels and Caroline is a visual artist. Both experience deep emotions and care about other people, which runs counter to stereotypes.

They do have some body movements and a few other traits that may be considered more stereotypical, but I believe that if you look at their characters in full, they are so much more than the tired autism stereotypes. To be honest, I was a little worried that some readers might think they’re not autistic enough because stereotypes have so distorted people’s views of what autistic people are like.

In writing Jewish characters, I take a similar approach. A lot of Jewish stereotypes are frankly so nasty that they’re not even worth engaging with, really. But on the less toxic end of things, I think Jewish people are often depicted in media as being either ultra-Orthodox or completely secular. That’s not my experience, so I wrote the Finkels to have religious practices similar to my own. I also really wanted them to be of both Ashkenazi and Sephardic heritage, which reflects my own family. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a family like that in kidlit, so it was exciting to do.

As someone who was obsessed with the Encyclopedia Brown books growing up, I related very much to Lara’s sleuthing aspirations. Did you dream of detective work as a kid or is that something you created for the Finkel sisters? 

I mostly enjoyed reading about mysteries more than actually participating in them. Like Lara, I read a ton of mystery novels. I started reading Agatha Christie in middle school. Alas, I knew that actual sleuthing was not for me, so I did not attempt to really start snooping around.

Your book made me hungry! What is your favorite dish to recommend to readers who are interested in the Jewish cuisine that the Finkel family prepares?

Ooh! Well, one of my all-time favorite Jewish comfort foods is kasha varneshkas. I also love spanikopita, also known as bourekas, which is a Sephardic food I grew up with.

You have mentored writers through several programs. What advice would you give to young aspiring authors?

Read in your category, and read recent books. That will give you a sense of what sort of books are being published in today’s market.

Also, experiment with what writing methods work for you. I have found that outlining generally isn’t helpful for me, so I don’t really do it. There’s a lot of writing advice out there, but there are many ways to write a good book. If someone says they know the only way to do it, they’re wrong.

. . .

Visit Sarah at 

The Many Mysteries of the Finkel Family

Fans of the Penderwicks and the Vanderbeekers, meet the Finkel family in this middle grade novel about two autistic sisters, their detective agency, and life’s most consequential mysteries.

When twelve-year-old Lara Finkel starts her very own detective agency, FIASCCO (Finkel Investigation Agency Solving Consequential Crimes Only), she does not want her sister, Caroline, involved. She and Caroline don’t have to do everything together. But Caroline won’t give up, and when she brings Lara the firm’s first mystery, Lara relents, and the questions start piling up.

But Lara and Caroline’s truce doesn’t last for long. Caroline normally uses her tablet to talk, but now she’s busily texting a new friend. Lara can’t figure out what the two of them are up to, but it can’t be good. And Caroline doesn’t like Lara’s snooping—she’s supposed to be solving other people’s crimes, not spying on Caroline! As FIASCCO and the Finkel family mysteries spin out of control, can Caroline and Lara find a way to be friends again?

Indiebound Bookshop Amazon


Kathie: Hi Jennifer! Thanks so much for joining me on Fast Forward Friday today. I can’t wait for readers to meet Brida when THE LAST WINDWITCH is released on April 13/21 by HarperCollins. Can you give us a brief synopsis, please?

Jennifer: Thank you for the chance to chat! THE LAST WINDWITCH is about a hedgewitch’s apprentice named Brida who struggles with her uncooperative magic. After she encounters a herd of mythical stormhorses, she accidentally catches the attention of a wicked queen. While fleeing the queen’s Huntsman and his pack of Hounds and trying to escape the attention of Crow spies, Brida discovers the truth about her family, her magic, and her place in the world. 

Kathie: This book was such a wonderful escape from reality, and I really felt as if I’d gone on a long journey when it was over. Did it take you quite a while to write it?

Jennifer: Well, to be honest I wrote it as an escape from reality for myself! Some of the ideas had been rattling around in my head for quite some time, but I was working on other things and just let them simmer. And then all at once I got horribly sick, my father-in-law passed away, and I had to put one of my beloved horses to sleep. It was one of the hardest years of my life. Sitting down to write Brida’s story felt like a chance to slip into another world of magic and hope, but I didn’t think anyone else would ever read it. I took my time, savoring every scene despite all the distractions of real life. The closer I came to the end, the harder it was for me to say goodbye to these characters – it definitely took a while for me to find the courage to actually finish it. 

Kathie: I love your writing voice, and how you put so much detail into your setting and characters. Can you tell us about the inspiration for the stormhorses and their magic?

Jennifer: The stormhorses (and Brida’s pony, Burdock!) are directly inspired by my experiences with wild mustangs. I have adopted and gentled five wild horses and their unpredictable beauty and power always feels like magic to me. Once they’ve learned to trust me, they’re really not much different than any other horse. But that first touch, when they’re still wide-eyed and quick as the wind – there’s just nothing in the world like it. There’s something so elemental about them, so intimately and profoundly connected to the natural world, and that’s what made me think of the stormhorses. And Burdock is totally based on the antics of one of my mustangs named Ranger. 

Kathie: It’s hard to pick a favorite supporting character, but I really loved Hush and the support she offered Brida. From which character did you learn the most?

Jennifer: Oh, this is a great question. I think every character taught me something slightly different. Bear taught me the value of constancy and courage. Bones taught me that heroes can be small and quick and overlooked, but that doesn’t mean they don’t hide strength. Hush proved that you don’t have to be loud to be heard, that everyone deserves the chance to express themselves, and that silencing someone is a terrible abuse of power. And of course Brida herself taught me that there’s no reason to force our talents to fit someone else’s pattern – we all have our own unexpected abilities, even if it takes courage to uncover them. 

Kathie: What kind of research did you do for this story, and can you tell us one interesting thing you discovered?

Jennifer: Most of the research for this book was foundational – in large part it is based on folklore and ideas I’ve absorbed and adapted over a lifetime, or on my own knowledge of horses and animals. But I did look up “wheeled dog sleds” because I wanted a vehicle that the Hounds could pull through the woods even without snow. I knew that there were wheeled dog carts, of course, but that term didn’t fit the picture in my head. So I spent an amused afternoon watching videos of sled dog teams pulling wheeled dog sleds for training in the summer months and it was SO fun. 

Kathie: To what sort of reader would you suggest I booktalk this story?

Jennifer: First, I would tell young readers not to be intimidated by the size of the book. It is long, but I think they’ll find that it isn’t hard to understand if they give it a chance, and they might enjoy the opportunity to go on a journey with Brida. But I think the readers who will really gravitate toward it are those craving an immersive adventure, who are maybe hungry for something more complex than younger middle grade books but who aren’t interested in or ready for the romance and reality of young adult stories. To me, it feels like an original fairytale that might appeal to kids who love magic, witches, and animals. 

Kathie: I totally agree with you about it being a complex and immersive story. Do you have another book on which you’re working right now?

Jennifer: Yes! I’m currently working on something called Lark and the Wild Hunt, which shares similar themes about cooperation, the balance of power and the natural world, loyalty and courage. And it also includes magic horses, though these are quite different than the stormhorses!

Kathie: I can’t wait to hear more about it! Where can our readers go to find out more about you and your writing?

Jennifer: I admit I’m not the best with social media, but I have a website at and I can be found on twitter at @JenFSAdam. I’m still trying to learn how to use instagram, but I’ve been having fun posting pictures of my current mare, my cats, and my works-in-progress. There I can be found at @jenniferfadam. 

Kathie: Thanks so much for joining me today, Jennifer, and all the best with the release of The Last Windwitch.

Jennifer: Thank *you* for the great questions and the kind words about my book. I’m so excited to share Brida’s adventures with the world.

Jennifer Adam started writing stories when her grandmother showed her how to make books out of construction paper and staples. After living on both coasts, she married a farmer and settled down in the middle of the country. When she’s not riding her formerly wild mustang mare or paddling a kayak on a lake of swans, she’s probably hiking through trees or hiding in a library. Her house is full of books and cats and forgotten cups of tea. THE LAST WINDWITCH is her debut novel and she is represented by Sarah Landis at Sterling Lord Literistic, Inc.

COVER REVEAL for Guardians of Porthaven, by Shane Arbuthnott

Kathie: Hi Shane, and welcome to MG Book Village! You know I’m a huge fan of your previous books, DOMINION and TERRA NOVA, so I was so thrilled to hear you have a new book coming out on September 14th from Orca Books called GUARDIANS OF PORTHAVEN. Can you please tell us a bit about it?

Shane: Thanks so much, Kathie! GUARDIANS OF PORTHAVEN is about superheroes, aliens, and privilege. Malcolm Gravenhurst is the youngest member of the Gravenhurst family, the only family in the world with superpowers thanks to the strange alien technology that landed in the city of Porthaven when his grandparents were young. As the only superpowered people in the world, it’s the Gravenhursts’ responsibility to protect Porthaven and the world from the klek—alien robots who keep showing up and trying to wreck the place. But as Malcolm takes on his duties as a Guardian, he discovers his family may have done some odious things to keep a monopoly on superpowers. Things that are making the invasion worse, not better. If Malcolm really wants to be a hero, he’ll have to find his own way forward. Luckily, he’s not alone, and the people of Porthaven may not be as powerless as he thought…

Kathie: Can you tell us about your main character, and what you admire most about them?

Shane: Malcolm Gravenhurst is someone who grew up with a lot of privilege, and that sometimes makes it hard for him to see the impact of what he’s doing. But he aspires to be something better. He makes a lot of mistakes, but I think the most admirable thing about him is that when he’s brought face-to-face with his own shortcomings, he doesn’t turn away. He keeps trying to do the right thing.

Also, he’s incredibly excitable and more than a little geeky—both things I love in a character!

Kathie: What sort of reader did you have in mind when you wrote this book?

Shane: The book is written for an older middle grade audience—around 10 to 15, I’d say. It’s the kind of book I would have loved at that age. And, honestly, the kind of book I still love at 40.

Kathie: What part of the process of writing this book did you most enjoy? Do you like the idea generation, plotting, editing, or something else?

Shane: I loved the process of getting to know the characters, which happens both in the plotting and the editing. Learning what they like, how they feel, and seeing how they learn and grow when they interact with each other. It’s like having roommates in my brain for a little while.

A close second was making up all the powers. That was just flat-out fun.

Kathie: OK, let’s talk about your cover. Who is the designer/illustrator? Did you have any input on it, and if so, what was the experience like for you?

Shane: Dahlia Yuen is the designer behind this cover, and I really think she’s done a fantastic job. I actually did get to have some input on the design as well, which was a great experience. There was a whole team contributing their thoughts on what was the core of the novel, what was important to represent. I loved seeing what others thought was integral, as well as having my own voice heard in the process. It was great to collaborate on this with Dahlia!

Kathie: Let’s show everyone what it looks like!

Kathie: I love the characters in silhouette, and it has a cool science fiction vibe to it! Is there an element that most stands out to you?

Shane: Do I have to pick just one? I love the rich colour of it. Since I grew up reading comics, I’ve always been drawn to vibrant, saturated colours, and they fit perfectly with this big, bombastic story. And second (sorry, I know I’m cheating!) I love that Malcolm is together with what I call the ‘main four’ of the book. Malcolm is the protagonist, but a big part of the story is him learning to listen and work with other people, because the decisions he makes affect more than just him. So it makes perfect sense that his friends are there with him on the cover.

Kathie: What else would you like readers to know about this story?

Shane: Like I said, I grew up reading comics, and I’m so excited to bring my own superhero story into the world. It’s got a lot of my favourite things: superpowers, alien technology, complicated relationships, strong friendships, and people working hard to figure out right and wrong. For me, the best superhero stories combine a child-like idealism with a realistic, complicated world, and I’ve tried to do that in GUARDIANS. Part of growing up is learning to see the world in all its complexity, but that doesn’t mean letting go of the things you feel are important when you’re young. If anything, they become even more important as you get older!

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

Shane: They can visit my website,! They can also find me on twitter, @smarbuthnott, where I ramble about writing and my kids and politics and basically anything that crosses my mind.

Kathie: Thank you for letting us be part of your cover reveal today, Shane, and I’m anxiously awaiting an opportunity to read it.

Shane: Thanks so much to you, Kathie, and the entire MG Book Village team! I’m so excited to get this book into the hands of readers, so they can go on this journey with me and Malcolm.

SHANE ARBUTHNOTT’s debut novel, Dominion, was nominated for multiple awards, including the Kobo Emerging Writer Prize. The sequel, Terra Nova, published in 2018, also received great critical acclaim. His short fiction has appeared in On Spec and Open Spaces. Shane grew up in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, and now lives in Regina with his family.

Book Review: THE ONE THING YOU’D SAVE, by Linda Sue Park

Linda Sue Park’s The One Thing You’d Save is a unique hybrid of sorts. It’s geared toward middle schoolers, but has lovely black and white illustrations on nearly every page. It is also less than 80 pages long, with sparse text in the Korean sijo poetry style.

A teacher asks her students one thing they would save in a fire if all their pets and loved ones were already out safely. They can choose any one thing, no matter the size or weight. Their responses are funny, heartwarming, surprising, and poignant. We never actually get to “meet” students, but we see their names and the dialogue between students and between students and teacher.

What do the kids want to save? Cell phones, a sweater knitted by a grandparent, the collar of a dead pet, plaques, a bedroom rug, sea shells, a parent’s insulin kit, an entire bookcase. But beyond the objects, the meat of this book is in the reasons why these kids have chosen their one thing. Then, there are the kids who choose to save nothing — their reasons will make your heart ache too.

By the end of the class, even the teacher rethinks her choices, just as every reader will. This book might not satisfy you completely, if like me you enjoy plot, but it will make you think about the one thing, or things that matter most to you. Teachers and middle schoolers alike will find this book to be an excellent conversation starter, and the illustrations will entice reluctant and younger readers.

  • Afoma Umesi is a freelance writer and editor with a voracious appetite for children’s literature. She blogs about books at Reading Middle Grade.


Welcome to Fast Forward Friday, Kaela! I’m so glad you have a chance to chat about your upcoming MG debut, CECE RIOS AND THE DESERT OF SOULS, which will be released on April 13th by HarperCollins. I recently had a chance to read it, and loved how original and unique this story felt to me. Can you give us a brief summary of it, please?

So glad to be here, Kathie! Thank you for having me.

Okay, here we go: CECE RIOS AND THE DESERT OF SOULS follows Cece, a twelve-year-old girl who everyone in her town of Tierra del Sol thinks is cursed with weakness because she once saved a criatura, a spirit of the desert who her people hate. But one day, a dark criatura named El Sombreron the Bride Stealer kidnaps her older, fiery sister, Juana. Cece’s fear turns to determination as she sets off to do the impossible–become a bruja, a witch who controls criatura souls–to rescue her sister. Along the way, she finds allies in powerful criaturas like Coyote, Lion, Kit, and Ocelot who help her through the Bruja Tournament’s fighting rounds and eventually help her see her own strength. And as Cece offers them kindness instead of treating them cruelly like brujas usually do, they begin to trust her and heal from their past pains as well. Together, they’ll have to face off with the dreaded El Sombreron to save Cece’s sister–before the Bride Stealer can end them first.

You mention that the inspiration for this book came from the stories that your abuelo told you when you were young. Did you have a favorite story or criatura growing up?

Actually, I didn’t get to hear my Abuelo’s stories until I was inching toward adulthood because we lived so far apart when I was a kid. But they influenced me very powerfully once I had the chance to listen to his wealth of experience and knowledge. I’d been craving it for years!

My top favorite legend he told me about is probably La Llorona! She’s a classic, incredibly spooky, haunting, part of Mexican folklore that still gives me chills. And my abuelo told me a unique story about her–when his father saw her one night beneath the full moon.

My abuelo’s father was travelling by a river at night. He’d been on a long journey with his burro, and he was heading home through a narrow valley between the cerros (mountains), following a rough path that lined the river. As he walked, light caught on something in his peripherals, and he saw the slim edge of someone standing in the river. It was a ghostly white color, and my great-abuelo knew that it could only be La Llorona

But there’s one trick my abuelo said our familia grew up knowing–if you don’t look at scary things like La Llorona, they can’t get you. So my great-abuelo held his breath and kept his eyes forward. For miles, he could see her ghostly white line out of his peripherals, following him. 

Finally, at the end of the Valley, he couldn’t take it anymore. He turned and looked. But she’d disappeared. There was no sign of her at all.

After a minute, he realized he’d been seeing the string that held his straw hat on his head, where it caught the moonlight!

I went from shivering to laughing throughout this story, and my abuelo laughed too. To this day, it’s one of my favorite stories of his, and probably my favorite one about the legends I’ve included as criaturas in CECE. 

I loved Cece as the younger sibling who wishes she could be more like her older sister, Juana. Did you ever consider writing this story from Juana’s perspective?

I never considered writing this particular adventure from Juana’s perspective, but there was once a draft where Cece was the older sibling. There were a lot of reasons for the change, but I’m happy with how it came out. Not a lot of people talk about it, but younger siblings can feel protective over–while simultaneously feeling like they have to live up to–their older sibling. As a middle child, I’ve definitely felt that before.

I really enjoyed learning about a setting, culture, and traditions so different from my own, and that’s a reason I would pick up this book. I’d love to know what you would say to a young reader standing with your book in their hand in a bookstore, trying to decide if they should buy it?

I’m so glad you enjoyed stepping into my culture! As for a kid in the bookstore? First off, my heart would probably be hammering so hard with excitement at seeing my book in a reader’s hands that I’d have a hard time talking to them. But I believe in doing hard things! So I think I’d want to say, “Have you ever felt like you’re not enough? So does the girl in this book. But she finds out by going on a terrifying, fast-paced adventure to protect someone she loves that she was always more than enough. She just had to figure out what her strengths were and be brave enough to use them. And of course, she needed to find friends who would fight alongside her. Everyone needs that on their adventures.” 

As an adult reader, I really loved Cece’s determination to remain faithful to who she was rather than becoming a bruja to reach her goal. What do you hope young readers take away from your story?

I want readers to know that Cece’s kind heart was always a strength, even when no one (including herself) could see it. Being kind is one of the most difficult things in the world–it takes warriors to be empathetic and loving while still tackling all the hardships in life. You don’t have to be either strong and cruel or weak and gentle. You can be both strong and gentle. Those two qualities belong together, and you’ll find where they fit together in you if you look. Don’t be afraid. You’re your own main character. 

What is one of the most surprising things about your publishing journey so far?

There have been so many things that I didn’t expect along the way, but I think the most interesting twist that I hadn’t anticipated–but ended up loving later–was making CECE into a middle-grade novel. At first, it was a young adult novel, but during acquisition discussions Harper proposed I age it down. That big of a change caught me completely by surprise, but it didn’t take long for me to fall in love with the idea. Middle grade has always had a special place in my heart, and I’d always wanted to write MG novels. I just got to do it sooner than I expected!

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

Sure! You can head over to, my author website, to find ways to contact me, check out my books and upcoming events, or just cruise through my art and writing projects. If you want to stay up-to-date on my publishing journey, check out my Twitter (@Kaela_Rivera), and if you want behind-the-scenes goodies and sneak-peeks about my books, check out my Instagram (@kaelacub). 

I’ll be excited to see you!

Thank you so much for joining me today, Kaela. I hope your book will find many young readers who enjoy reading about Cece as much as I did.

Thank you so much for having me, Kathie. Your questions were insightful, and it’s been wonderful sharing more about Cece’s journey.

Kaela Rivera was raised to believe in will-o’-the-wisps and el chupacabra, but even ghost stories couldn’t stop her from reading in the isolated treetops, caves, and creeks of Tennessee’s Appalachian forests.

She still believes in the folktales of her Mexican-American and British parents, but now she writes about them from the adventure-filled mountains of the Wild West. When she’s not crafting stories, she’s using her English degree from BYU-I as an editor for a marketing company (or secretly doodling her characters in the margins of her notebook). Her debut novel, Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls, comes out April 13, 2021.

Her biggest hope is to highlight and explore the beauty of cultural differences—and how sharing those differences can bring us all closer.

FAST FIVE with Marie Arnold, author of The Year I Flew Away

The Year I Flew Away is author Marie Arnold’s middle grade debut filled with magic, heart, and hope. When 12-year-old Gabrielle is sent to the United States by herself, she faces a mountain of challenges not knowing English and blatant discrimination. When she meets a neighborhood witch who grants her three wishes, Gabrielle decides to use her wishes to make her transition to life in the United States easier. But the cost of her wishes is more than she could ever expect and Gabrielle is faced with the challenge of saving everything she holds dear.

As the daughter of a Cuban immigrant who was sent to the United States by himself, I (Adrianna Cuevas) deeply connected with Marie’s story and how well it portrayed the immigrant experience, particularly the struggle of finding balance between fitting in and preserving your culture. I was excited to interview Marie and dive further into her writing process and inspiration.

Here we go with a Fast Five for Marie Arnold!

While The Year I Flew Away is your middle grade debut, you have written other books for teens and adults. What prompted you to tell a story geared for younger readers?

I think that immigrants have been vilified lately and it’s important for the kids to know that being an immigrant is a good thing. It’s important to stress that our differences are also our strengths.

As writers, we are often told to ‘write what you know.’ Did drawing from your own personal history to inform your story provide any challenges? 

Yes! TYIFA is basically based on my life when I first came to this country. We just added a little magic. : )

What influenced you to incorporate magical elements into Gabrielle’s journey rather than tell a purely contemporary story?

I love magic! I write teen fantasy and magic is always the fun part. Also, magic is a big part of Haitian culture.

Gabrielle asks the witch for the ability to be understood. What would you ask for if you were given this opportunity today as an adult?

I would ask for the same thing! 

What advice do you have for young people who are interested in pursuing storytelling as a career?

Keep writing. Don’t think of it as a hobby, think of it as an actual craft. You only get better by continuing to do it.

About The Year I Flew Away:

It’s 1985 and ten-year-old Gabrielle is excited to be moving from Haiti to America. Unfortunately, her parents won’t be able to join her yet and she’ll be living in a place called Brooklyn, New York, with relatives she has never met. She promises her parents that she will behave, but life proves to be difficult in the United States, from learning the language to always feeling like she doesn’t fit in to being bullied. So when a witch offers her a chance to speak English perfectly and be “American,” she makes the deal. But soon she realizes how much she has given up by trying to fit in and, along with her two new friends (one of them a talking rat), takes on the witch in an epic battle to try to reverse the spell. 

Gabrielle is a funny and engaging heroine you won’t soon forget in this sweet and lyrical novel that’s perfect for fans of Hurricane Child and Front Desk.

Get your copy of The Year I Flew Away here: