Kathie: Welcome to Fast Forward Friday, Cliff! Your upcoming MG debut, An Occasionally Happy Family, is set for release on May 18th from HMH Books for Young Readers. I recently had the chance to read it, and found it a delightful mix of funny and heartwarming moments as Theo deals with his family during their first vacation without his mom. Can you tell us about it please?

Cliff: Thank you for having me, Kathie, and for your kind words about the book! AN OCCASIONALLY HAPPY FAMILY is the story of two siblings, Theo and Laura, dragged into the Texas desert by their nature-loving Dad for a surprise vacation. It’s their first family vacation since their mother’s passing, and the family has not fully faced the loss. Over the course of their seven day vacation, the family struggles through a series of calamities which could bring them together or lead them to drift further apart. 

Kathie: What was it about the idea for this story that compelled you to write it?

Cliff: I’m a middle-school English teacher, and started teaching at a school that ran its own version of Donalyn Miller’s 40 Books a Year student-reading challenge. I read along with students, listened to what books they liked and didn’t, and began noticing a real gap between what many students enjoy reading (short, funny books) and what I/their parents often encourage them to read (weighter, literary books that tackle serious issues). I am trying to bridge that divide with a book that is short, snappy and (hopefully) can be read as purely funny OR as a serious exploration of the early loss of a parent. 

Many aspects of the book are also drawn from personal experience. I lost both parents as a child and wanted to write a book that communicated how I felt. For me, there wasn’t a neat divide between Before and After, or even expressions of grief in a consciously aware way, as is often depicted. It was much messier. So I wanted to show someone who thought he had everything under control but who is letting his grief out in these small ways that he doesn’t even realize and is aching to just let it all out. 

Kathie: I loved the cast of colorful characters that really brings this story to life. Which character was the easiest for you to write, and which was the most challenging?

Cliff: Thank you! Theo was definitely the easiest for me to write. I more or less wrote in my voice with some of the maturity of older age sanded off. It was not that difficult to write like a 13 year old boy. 

The character of Leonard, a recently-divorced amateur birdwatcher, was the most difficult for me because he kept changing throughout drafts from being 100% annoying in every line (too annoying for early readers) to becoming more rounded (hopefully). For those interested, he is largely based on Jonathan Franzen and his many birder interviews available on Youtube. 

Kathie: There are so many moments in this story that are hilarious, such as the family that they meet out hiking and their encounter with a bear, and yet at the heart of the story is Theo’s struggle to adjust to the changes in his family. How do you balance the use of humor with an emotionally difficult subject?

Cliff: Humor is how I have always dealt with difficult emotions, for better or worse, and it’s become somewhat second-nature for me to wrap heaviness inside of jokes. But to answer this more directly, I treat each chapter as an individual unit during editing and focus on fine-tuning for what is funny, and what I’m trying to communicate. For many rounds of editing, I am just trying to click the funny level up and get in as many jokes as possible. In the final stages of editing, I focus more on how each character would truthfully respond in a given scene and the structure of the story as a whole. Inevitably I take out some jokes in that process. From there, I rely on my wonderful editor, Amy Cloud, to tell me what still needs work.

Kathie: You did an excellent job making this story feel so relatable even though I didn’t deal with the loss of a parent as a child. What are some of the aspects of it that you hope will appeal to young readers?

Cliff: I’m very happy to hear this. I didn’t necessarily set out to write a book about the loss of a parent. The original goal was to write a book that middle grade readers would enjoy, and the details of the mother just sort of showed up as I started drafting. That said, once I decided it was going to be a larger part of the book, I tried to be as realistic as possible and bring readers into the experience. Some of the descriptions are based on direct memories. But to get to the question — I hope readers will take what they want from the book. There is a lot of info about Big Bend National Park and the history of Texas, observations on older sisters, bumbling fathers, overzealous young influencers, French nudists, bear attacks. I hope readers can find something in that list to hook them AND walk away with a new or renewed appreciation that expressing even the most difficult emotions can be really healing. 

Kathie: What’s one question that I haven’t asked you, but that our readers might enjoy knowing about you or your debut?

Cliff: Readers may enjoy knowing that I secretly tested out the funniness of this book in my classroom. I like to write new pieces along with students and showcase what I write as the work of “Example Kid.” While teaching dialogue, I included a few pages from the book as a warm-up reading to see if it got laughs.

Kathie: Do you have another writing project on which you’re working right now?

Cliff: While staying inside from March to August 2020, I wrote 500 words a day of a light sci-fi story. It’s in very ragged shape and may never exist outside of my laptop, but it kept me busy when I needed it. I’ve put that aside for now and am currently working on another contemporary middle-grade book set on a French farm. Like the current book, it’s mostly a comedy but also mixes in some darker elements.

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

Cliff: Readers can find out more about me on or follow me on Instagram. AN OCCASIONALLY HAPPY FAMILY is out on May 18th, and all the pre-order links are available on the HMH website

If readers want a signed copy, they can order from my favorite local independent bookstore, Kepler’s Books

Kathie: It was wonderful to have a chance to chat with you today, Cliff. Best of luck with your book’s release.

Cliff: Thank you so much, Kathie, for this interview and all you do to boost the Middle Grade Book community!

Cliff Burke grew up in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio. He’s worked as a house painter, a parking lot attendant, and a sign-twirling dancing banana, but most recently as a reading and writing teacher in China, Hong Kong, and Texas. Currently, he teaches writing and humanities at a middle school in the Bay Area. An Occasionally Happy Family is his first novel

Cover Reveal: COLD-BLOODED MYRTLE, by Elizabeth C. Bunce

Hi there, Elizabeth! Thank you so much for stopping by the MG Book Village to chat about COLD-BLOODED MYRTLE and reveal the book’s cover. This is the third book in the Edgar Award and Agatha Award-nominated Myrtle Hardcastle Mystery Series! What’s in store for Myrtle this time?

I am delighted to be back! Thank you for continuing the tradition for Myrtle Hardcastle Mysteries cover reveals.

In Cold-Blooded Myrtle, our Investigator encounters her first cold case. Years ago, a student at the local college vanished under Mysterious Circumstances and no trace of her was every found. A murder in the opening pages of Cold-Blooded Myrtle recalls this old mystery; and Myrtle, Miss Judson, and Peony set out to unravel a twisted tale of secret societies, cryptic messages, long-buried secrets, and a killer bent on revenge.

This installment takes place during the holiday season. Tell us what inspired this festive setting! 

A holiday mystery is a crime fiction tradition, and many of our modern holiday customs have their origins in the Victorian era, so I knew from the start one of the books would have to take place during an Exceptionally Victorian Christmas. The Myrtle Hardcastle Mysteries also tend to be inspired by real-life happenings, and Cold-Blooded Myrtle is no different. This time, it was an incident with some family friends’ Dickens village display. Somehow, a harrowing tragedy befell the miniature townsfolk (my chief suspect is a cat): figures knocked over, overturned vehicles, objects scattered through the snowy streets, absolute carnage. Their daughter—a young woman after my own heart!—was visiting at the time, and instead of setting everything back to rights, she turned it into a crime scene, with blood trails, footprints, and crime scene tape! Instantly I realized I had the perfect setup for a Myrtle story.

In what ways has Myrtle grown and changed since Book 1?  

Well, she hasn’t changed too much, thank goodness! She’s still as impulsive, determined, and Irrepressible as ever. But having encountered several murders now, her perspective on human nature is definitely growing. In some ways, I think she’s more understanding, but at other times, she’s become even more suspicious of everyone! Anyone she encounters, it seems, might have murderous intentions. In Cold-Blooded Myrtle, the story draws Myrtle into her most personal case yet—one involving her late mother. Myrtle is at an age where she’s starting to see her parents as people, with pasts and secrets and perhaps less-admirable qualities. She’ll get to know her mum from another perspective.

What do you hope your readers–especially the young ones–take away from this book?

In addition to introducing young readers to the fun of classic detective stories, the Myrtle Hardcastle Mysteries share my love of research and historical curiosities—this time, readers will enjoy a journey into the strange origins of our holiday traditions. This book is also chock full of some of my favorite subjects, plus new characters, new looks at familiar members of the cast, and more fabulous 19th century settings!

And as always, I hope that young readers see Myrtle’s determination and curiosity as an invitation to be bold and curious in their own lives. Myrtle is a heroine who doggedly pursues her own path, despite outside pressures trying to define her.  I want kids to see that it’s ok to embrace their own passions and interests too, whatever they might be.

Many of our site’s readers are teachers of Middle Grade-aged kids. Is there anything you’d like to say to them – in particular those planning to add COLD-BLOODED MYRTLE to their classroom libraries?

I am so excited to share the news that the classroom guides (yes, guides!) are now available. They have been months in development, but they’re finally here! Teachers interested can sign up for a special mailing at this link:

They’ll also be available to download at my website (

I am also always thrilled to talk to students, either at full class school visits or small writing groups. Just drop me an email at my website!

All right — I’ve got some questions about the cover. But before we start discussing it, let’s take a look…

WOW! Can you tell us how this gorgeous cover came to be?

Well, first, I just want to say how absolutely THRILLING this particular cover is! I am beyond excited that Myrtle’s partner in sleuthing, her unflappable governess Miss Judson, has joined Myrtle on the jacket. My publishers were very coy about this, not breathing a word of their plans, and they sprung it on me as a complete surprise. Seeing Miss Judson alongside Myrtle made me stand up and cheer!

For the Myrtle Hardcastle Mysteries, I have had the privilege of helping to plan some of the cover imagery, including planting small objects throughout the story that can be singled out for the jacket corners and the chapter spot illustrations. This time, I suggested the image of Myrtle looking in through the shop window at the holiday display, and I love how artist Brett Helquist realized this—there’s so much intrigue there: what are they looking at? What’s happening? What do the olives and the overturned wishing well signify? Readers won’t have to wait long to find out….

I can’t help but notice that there is a cat sitting behind Myrtle and her governess, Miss Judson. Tell us about her!

That would be the third member of the team, Peony the Cat! Peony has been a key part of the crew since her own origin story in Premeditated Myrtle (MHM #1), and she features prominently in How to Get Away with Myrtle (MHM #2)–you can spot her tucked away on the covers of the first two books, too. Anyone who’s ever known a cat can tell you, it is impossible to keep them out of the action, and new readers will discover that Peony is just as irrepressible as her fellow human sleuths. 

When can readers get their hands on COLD-BLOODED MYRTLE?

October 5!

Can we expect more adventures with Myrtle?

I have just turned in the manuscript for In Myrtle Peril. That will come out Fall 2022, and I’ve thrown even more hard-to-believe real-life Victorian drama at Myrtle this time.

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

My website (with all social media links) is On Instagram, follow the hashtags #MHDS (Myrtle Hardcastle Detective Society) and #MyrtleMondays for regular updates. In addition, I blog weekly on topics about life in Victorian England, sharing the influences behind Myrtle’s world and her cases. I love to hear from fans, so my contact information is at the website, too.

Thanks again for returning to the MG Book Village, Elizabeth! We hope you and Myrtle will join us again soon!

Thank you so much for welcoming Myrtle back!

Elizabeth is a fan of all things fantastical, mysterious, spooky, and old. She writes historical fantasy, mysteries, and ghost stories for young readers, and discerning not-so-young readers. Her books are inspired by real places and cultures of the past, often with otherworldly or magical elements. She’s been writing as long as she can remember—even before she knew it was a job. She’s always been interested in literature, folklore, history, and culture, so she studied English and anthropology in college. But she’s only ever worked as a writer (although not all her writing jobs were as interesting as being a novelist). She’s a native Midwesterner, living in the tall grass prairie near Kansas City with her husband and their feline supervisory staff. When she’s not writing, you’ll usually find her Making something—cosplay, needlework, historical costuming, quilting… but not cooking. In 2009 her first book, A Curse Dark as Gold, won the inaugural William C. Morris Award for a Young Adult Debut, further cementing her affection for librarians everywhere! You can read her acceptance speech on the Making Page, and learn more about the Morris Award from YALSA.


Kathie: Hi Graci! Thank you for taking a few minutes to answer some questions about your upcoming book, THE LAST FALLEN STAR, which will be published on May 4th by Rick Riordan Presents. Can you please tell our readers a bit about your debut novel?

Graci: Absolutely! The Last Fallen Star is a mythology inspired story about Korean-American witches in Los Angeles. It’s about the search for magic, forbidden spells, unbreakable sisters, and about one adopted girl who is desperate to belong. 

Twelve-year-old Riley Oh is our main character, and she is desperate to become a healing witch like her sister and her parents. Except she’s adopted and her biological parents weren’t witches, which means despite knowing all the healing spells back to front, she doesn’t have a lick of magic in her blood. 

Then when her sister Hattie discovers a spell that could share half of her magic with Riley, they cast the dangerous forbidden spell. As you can imagine, things go terribly wrong. And when Hattie’s life ends up hanging in the balance, Riley has to go on the search for the Godrealm’s last fallen star–whatever and wherever it may be–or risk losing her sister forever. 

Kathie: Did you grow up reading or listening to Korean myths, and do you have a favorite?

Graci: Oh yes, my halmeoni (grandma) and my parents used to tell us loads of Korean folk tales and myths growing up. My sisters and I used to love huddling under the blanket on Halmeoni’s bed as she told us ghost stories from the small fishing village where she grew up. 

My favourite myth is actually the one that inspired The Last Fallen Star, and is one of the origin myths for the Korean peoples. The story goes that there was a tiger and bear who both desperately wanted to become human. They prayed to their god for help, and heeding their call, their god bestowed upon them an assignment: If they could take a bundle of mugwort leaves and a handful of garlic cloves and withstand a hundred days in a cave, their prayers would be answered. After twenty days, the tiger became weary. He missed the warmth of the sun and the taste of flesh too much to stay another day in the cold and dark. So he left the cave, giving up his chance to become human. But the bear persevered. And on the twenty-first day, their god rewarded her by turning her into a beautiful human—the first Korean woman to walk this earth.

Kathie: Although I loved so many of your characters, I think Emmett was my favorite supporting character for his bravery and loyalty to Riley. If you could choose one character to know in real life, who would it be and why?

Graci: I think I would choose to know Taeyo in real life. There’s something about the unencumbered way he sees the world, and the genuine earnesty he gives off that I think would be a good influence on me 🙂 And also Emmett. He and I would geek out about dogs, and I honestly would love to try his baking!

Kathie: This is an action-packed novel that moves at a very fast pace. I was amazed at how many twists, turns, and plot details were revealed in only 336 pages! How do you keep track of everything that’s going on; do you work with an outline ahead of time, or does the story unfold as you write?

Graci: Yes, I work with an outline ahead of time. I adore plans and checklists and any kind of tool that I can convince myself will make the actual task of writing less painful. Does it, in fact, make the writing process less painful? Probably not, I suspect! 😉 But I find having a map gives me confidence that I’m heading in the general right direction. And if I happen to find a nice patch of flowers to stop at, or a random side path in the woods, I let myself get lost for a wee while before returning to the main road. 

Kathie: OK, I have to ask, if you could choose one of the belong to one of the six clans, which one would it be and why?

Graci: Haha, this is a good question! Can I choose two? I would say I’d like to belong to the Gom clan and the Tokki clan. The Gom clan because their motto of Service and Sacrifice really resonates with me. I can’t think of a cooler superpower than being able to heal and help others. But also the Tokki clan because I’m a total foodie and I want to be able to infuse my food with magic! 

Kathie: I can only imagine what it was like to have such a powerful editing team behind your first book. What was one of the best pieces of advice they gave you?

Graci: It has been an absolute dream working with Hannah, Stephanie, and Rick! I think one of the best pieces of advice I was given was to trust in my own voice. I was worried I hadn’t nailed the “right voice” for a middle grade audience (whatever that is!), and that I wasn’t funny enough (I’m not a very funny person in real life, as far as I’m aware!). But I was told to just lean into Riley as a character and to do her justice in the best way I could. It seems odd, but that permission to write what was authentic to me was exactly what I needed to hear. 

Kathie: We know that the sequel, The Last Fallen Moon, is set for release in Summer 2022. Can you tell us anything about it yet, and do you know how many books will be in this series?

Graci: I can’t tell you too much at this stage, mostly because it’s still in the process of coming to life 🙂 I can say, however, that the epilogue of The Last Fallen Star gives a pretty good indication as to where the second book might be headed. And yes, the series has been confirmed as a trilogy, with the third book coming out in 2023. 

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

Graci: They can find out more about The Last Fallen Star at and if they want to know more about me, they can visit On social media, I can be found on Instagram as @gracikimwrites and on Twitter as @gracikim 

Kathie: Thanks again for answering my questions, Graci. I’m very eager to follow Riley’s story and find out what’s going to happen next! 

Graci: Thank you for having me over, Kathie! It’s been a blast 🙂 

Graci Kim is a Korean-Kiwi diplomat turned author who writes magic-infused books for magic-infused readers. She grew up not seeing herself in her most treasured books, and has since committed herself to writing about Korean diaspora kids who achieve all their hopes and dreams. In a previous life, Graci was a diplomat for the NZ foreign service, a cooking show host, and once ran a business that turned children’s drawings into cuddly toys. If not lost in her imagination, you’ll find Graci drinking flat whites, eating ramyeon, and most likely hugging a dog (or ideally, many). She lives in New Zealand with her husband and daughter.

Writing from Two Points of View by Chad Lucas

Hi! I’m Chad Lucas, and my debut middle grade novel, Thanks a Lot, Universe, is out on May 11 from Amulet Books/Abrams Kids. It’s a story told from alternating perspectives: Brian Day, a shy, anxious kid whose life is upended by a family crisis, and Ezra Komizarek, Brian’s outgoing basketball teammate who wants to help but is scared of revealing his feelings for Brian. Over the course of the story, they both have to decide if they’re willing to risk trusting each other with things they don’t usually tell anyone.

Brian sometimes talks to himself—or more often, argues with himself—in rounds of what he calls Brian versus Brian. So I figure the best way to talk about writing from dual points of view in this book is to make like Brian and interview… myself.

Me:Writing a novel from two different perspectives seems like a lot of work. Why do it?

Also Me:Great question.

Me: Are you going for flattery already?

Also Me: Yeesh. To answer the question, one of the things I explore in Thanks a Lot, Universe is the difference between how we see ourselves versus how others see us. Brian and Ezra both wrestle with versions of the idea that “If I let people see the things about myself that I usually try to hide, maybe they won’t like me.” I think that’s a pretty common struggle in junior high—it certainly was when I was that age. So it fit well to have this interplay in the book where the reader gets to see Brian from Ezra’s point of view, and vice versa, and to notice how it contrasts from the way they see themselves.

Me: You go deep on identity, huh? That sounds heavy.

Also Me: It is, at times. And poor Brian goes through a lot over the course of this story. But another thing that writing from two perspectives let me do is balance the heavy moments with lots of humor. Ezra and his friends are pretty funny. There are some hilarious mayo-related jokes in this book.

Me:        We’ll let readers be the judge of whether your jokes are funny. But getting back on topic, what’s the biggest challenge of writing dual perspectives?

Also Me: For me, the biggest challenge was making sure each character has a distinct voice—so that Brian always sounds like Brian, and Ezra sounds like Ezra. They have very different personalities, they have unique mannerisms and favorite phrases, and they notice different things about the world around them. But going back and forth between those contrasting voices was also one of the most fun parts of writing this book.

Me:        What sort of things did you do to make sure they sound unique?

Also Me: When I was revising—and I revised a lot—I’d often work on just Brian chapters or just Ezra chapters for a while, to stay in the groove with one voice. And I used some stylistic techniques to set them apart. Brian’s an introverted internal processor; he thinks in lists sometimes and second-guesses himself a lot. I incorporated that in the way I wrote his chapters. Ezra’s more outgoing and engaged with a close group of friends, so there are more texting conversations and snappy dialogue in Ezra’s chapters.

Me:        In scenes when Brian and Ezra are together, how did you decide which character’s perspective to focus on in that moment?

Also Me: I usually went with whoever had the most at stake, or whoever was feeling something most deeply in that situation. For example, there’s a scene late in the book that’s a big moment for both characters. I start from Brian’s perspective, and then something happens (which I won’t spoil here) where I knew I had to break and show the rest of the scene from Ezra’s point of view.

Me:        Any other good reasons to have more than one narrator?

Also Me: One of the other great things that writing from two perspectives can do is heighten the tension. Sometimes the reader knows what one character is thinking or feeling, but the other character hasn’t figured it out yet, and that can build anticipation for the reader toward that moment when they finally clue in. It also lets you show both sides of a story, literally. Most of us have been in situations where we’ve maybe read too much into one little thing that someone else said or did, and we end up misinterpreting or looking for meaning that isn’t there. Or maybe we’ve been on the other side and said or done something that seems small to us but ends up having a big impact on someone else, for better or worse. Writing from two perspectives lets you dig into those dynamics in some interesting ways.

Me:        Last question: Did you always plan to feature both Brian and Ezra’s points of view, or did that evolve as you were writing?

Also Me: I had both from the early stages, but it did evolve. In earlier versions I had a Brian section, then an Ezra section, then a third part with alternating chapters. I have to credit my excellent editor, Emily Daluga, for pushing me to alternate points of view all the way through. In the end that really brought out Ezra’s character more and balanced the story better. Plus, it let me add even more brilliant jokes.

Me:        You really think you’re funny, huh?

Also Me: Listen, this book is objectively hilarious, when it’s not making people cry. There’s a little something for everyone.

Chad Lucas has been in love with words since he attempted his first novel on a typewriter in the sixth grade. He has worked as a newspaper reporter, communications advisor, freelance writer, part-time journalism instructor, and parenting columnist. A proud descendant of the historic African Nova Scotian community of Lucasville, he lives with his family in Nova Scotia. His debut novel Thanks A Lot, Universe, which Kirkus Reviews called “tenderhearted and bold” in a starred review, releases from Amulet Books/Abrams Kids on May 11.

Cover Reveal: ALL PETS ALLOWED (Blackberry Farm 2), by Adele Griffin, illustrated by LeUyen Pham

The MG Book Village is thrilled to be hosting the cover reveal for All Pets Allowed, the sequel to Adele Griffin and LeUyen Pham’s acclaimed The Becket List!

Here’s what Adele has to say about LeUyen’s cover:

“What a happy smile of a cover! LeUyen’s art is a vibrant celebration of the title ALL PETS ALLOWED, as she gives us a generous gallery of friends in so many shapes and sizes. I love that you can feel the same warmth and big heart of the first Blackberry Farm book, where there’s plenty of wide-open space for a game of catch. Also, I find a new favorite face every time I look!”

And here’s a bit more about the book:

More than anything else—even more than the best birthday party ever—Becket Branch wants a dog for her tenth birthday. But her twin brother, Nicholas, has secretly been wishing for a cat. Lucky for Becket and Nicholas, their animal-loving parents have an animal-loving surprise for them: they’re going to the local shelter and adopting both a cat and a dog. It should be the biggest BEAUTIFUL ALERT ever, but Becket’s dream dog, Dibs, turns out to be a super-shy scaredy-pooch who is going to need a lot of training. Meanwhile, Nicholas’s cat, Given, is more outgoing and attention-seeking than the just-for-him pet he was expecting.
Laugh along as Becket fishes mice out of Nicholas’s slippers, puts bullies in their place, and tries, and tries again, to train Dibs—all while learning new life lessons and keeping up with her other farm chores.
With black-and-white drawings throughout by award-winning illustrator LeUyen Pham (Real Friends), this second volume of the Blackberry Farm series offers a gentle message about embracing new friends who may not match preconceived expectations.

You can get your paws on All Pets Allowed on August 31st (click HERE for more info and preorder/purchase links)! And if you haven’t read The Becket List, you’ll definitely want to before then!

Middle Grade Books About Substance Abuse, Addiction and Alcoholism

by Afoma Umesi

It’s easy to pretend that children’s books should be free of hard themes like mental illness, suicide, and substance abuse. However, real life begs to differ. Many kids are grappling with these tough issues every single day. Thankfully, middle grade is catching up quickly. These middle grade books about addiction and alcoholism are honest, realistic, and yet sensitive enough that they don’t horrify children who read them. They create empathy and make kids whose families have been impacted feel seen and understood.

Life in the Balance

Jen Petro-Roy’s book about 12-year-old Veronica whose mom has to go to rehab for alcoholism will resonate with all readers. Veronica’s complex emotions about her mom and her dwindling interest in softball, their family sport, make this an engaging read.

Bringing Me Back

In this novel by Beth Vrabel, Noah is dealing with being separated from his mother, who has been imprisoned for driving under the influence of alcohol. Noah’s stepfather becomes his guardian for the period and things get even worse when Noah is caught shoplifting. This book handles several tough issues and still makes room for plenty of heart.

Where We Used to Roam

When Emma’s teen brother, Austin begins misusing opioids, her parents send her off to a family friend in Wyoming as Austin goes to rehab. This novel is unflinching in its depiction of dealing with addiction in the family as well as friendship issues in middle school.

Genesis Begins Again

Genesis has a lot on her plate. First off, she does not like the color of her skin. Second, her parents can’t seem to find a place to live long-term, and on top of that, her dad is addicted to gambling (with their rent money). When they finally find a place where Genesis enjoys her schoolmates and teachers, everything begins to fall apart again.

The Secret Sheriff of Sixth Grade

Maverick’s mom has issues with alcohol and cannot seem to hold down a job. Her current boyfriend is also abusive. Between such an unstable home condition and bullies at school, Maverick tries to cope by being a hero to others who need the help. He even carries along the plastic Sheriff’s badge his late father gave him as a present. When things get tough, Maverick finds that community can make a difference. No one does serious and funny like Sonnenblick.

Sunny Side Up

It’s 1976 and Sunny Lewis’s parents have shipped her off to the retirement community in Florida where her grandpa lives. While she does make a new friend as she adjusts to living with old folks, readers and Sunny quickly learn about Sunny’s older brother Dale and his issues with substance abuse aka the reason why Sunny had to go away. This graphic novel is perfect for lovers of this format.

Violets are Blue

Barbara Dee’s forthcoming middle grade book features 12-year-old Wren whose parents are divorced. Wren loves special effects makeup and is hoping for a fresh start when she and her mom move to a new town. But things go awry when her mom starts napping a lot and having trouble at the hospital where she works.

Sure Signs of Crazy

Sarah Nelson’s mother tried to drown her when she was only two, because of her mental illness. Now Sarah lives with her dad alone, but sometimes he drinks too much. This middle grade book will make your heart ache, but also, few characters will tug at your heartstrings like Sarah will.

The True History of Lyndie B. Hawkins

Another historical novel by the late Gail Shepherd, this one is about Lyndie, a history aficionado whose dad hasn’t been the same since he returned from the Vietnam war. Her dad is drinking more than usual and Lyndie’s grandmother is not pleased. Thankfully, Lyndie soon finds a mystery to keep her occupied as her family finds a way to heal.

Mostly the Honest Truth

When Jane’s dad goes back to rehab, she is sent to temporary foster care and begins living in a community called the Three Boulders. Jane is sure that this will be a super short stint, but life doesn’t quite go as she plans.

The Mending Summer

Georgia’s summer isn’t going as planned. Her mom is too busy studying for her biology degree and her dad is struggling with alcoholism. But when Georgia is sent off to live with a mysterious great aunt, things take an interesting turn. There, along with a new friend, she discovers an enchanted lake that seems to help at first, until things begin to spiral out of control.

Across the Desert

Dusti Bowling’s forthcoming middle grade title centers young Jolene who finds comfort in the library and chatting online with a tween airplane pilot, Addie Earhart. At home, her mother is grappling with an addiction to narcotics. But when Addie’s plane crashes over the desert, it’s up to Jolene to go on a rescue mission.

Interview with Jess Redman about THE ADVENTURE IS NOW

Kathie: Hi Jess! I appreciate you taking some time today to answer some questions about your upcoming novel, THE ADVENTURE IS NOW, which comes out on May 4th with Farrar, Straus and Giroux. I recently had the opportunity to read it, and once again, found myself swept up in one of your stories. Can you please tell our readers about it?

Jess: Kathie, thank you so much for having me! Working on this story over this past year has brought me much needed joy, and I’m very excited it’s almost out in the world.

THE ADVENTURE IS NOW is about 12-year-old Milton P. Greene, who has been having the Most Totally, Terribly, Horribly Rotten Year of All Time. He has zero friends, his parents are divorcing, and he can’t seem to do anything right. The best part of his day is when he plays his video game Isle of Wild and gets to forget how horribly heinous everything is for a few hours.

Things take a turn for the spectacular when Milton sent to the Lone Island to stay with his ecologist uncle. On the island, he finds some new friends, a field guide full of fantastical plants and animals, and a series of clues that will lead to a hidden treasure. And so a wild and wondrous real-life adventure begins!

And something really neat—this book features an illustrated field guide complete with clues for readers to solve along with Milton.

Kathie: Although this story reads like realistic fiction, there’s a fantastical element to Lone Island that feels otherworldly at times. Can you tell us the inspiration behind this and why you chose to use it in this story?

Jess: When I was growing up, I loved two kinds of stories: fantasy and contemporary books that made me cry. Unsurprisingly, most of what I write now combines these preferences, although THE ADVENTURE IS NOW is considerably lower on the tear-jerker scale than my first two books.

The contemporary element allows me to explore real-life issues, but the fantasy element gives me the freedom to bend the rules, explore new perspectives, add an extra layer of drama and magic. Characters can be larger than life, stars can fall out of the sky, plants can have feelings. 

My rule for my stories is this: Everything doesn’t have to be real. It just has to be true.

Kathie: Milton is a lovable and somewhat quirky character who I loved watching embark on a quest to find a treasure but finding something much more important than that. What did you learn from him as you wrote his story?

Jess: I love writing somewhat eccentric, slightly larger-than-life characters like Milton, and Faye from my debut, THE MIRACULOUS. Both Milton and Faye showed up in my brain pretty fully-formed—their clothing, their style of speech, their interests, it was all there. But while Faye is a secondary character, Milton is center stage.

Because I write from a close third-person perspective, Milton’s personality is infused in every aspect of the story, from the goofy wordplay to catchphrases like Mighty moles and voles! It was so much fun to write in that voice and to get to draw from a lighter, sillier side of myself.

But the story also delves into Milton’s anxiety and loneliness. Milton’s friendships with Fig, Rafi, and Gabe challenge and grow him. Out in nature, Milton is electricity-free and finally connected (whether he wants to be or not) with who he is and who he wants to be.

Anxiety, loneliness, too much screen time—these were definitely issues I dealt with this last year—I think a lot of us did! There was a lot of rottenness, but writing this story helped me find some spectaculousness along with Milton, and I hope readers will do the same.

Kathie: Relationships are at the heart of this story, both those between people and with the environment; I particularly enjoyed Milton and Fig’s growing friendship. Which relationship was the most challenging for you to write?

Jess: In earlier versions of this story, there were six kids on this adventure. I paired this down to four during edits, because I wanted more space to explore each relationship dynamic.

The most challenging relationship to get just right was between Rafi and Fig. In earlier versions, Rafi was more of a bully, and Fig had been nothing but kind to him. I decided to shift this to a more adversarial relationship, because Rafi needed to be part of the adventure, and I couldn’t let him come along if he was going to be unsafe for Fig, emotionally speaking. So I added some complexity to how Fig and Rafi met, what they were each going through, why they didn’t connect.

This is something I worked on with Dustin in QUINTESSENCE too. I like to have characters who struggle with anger and aren’t immediately likable, because in the real world these are often the kids who need the most love. But I also want to be aware of the messages I’m sending to readers about bullying.

Kathie: There are so many unique elements in this story. I think my favourite was the Beautimous Lemallby. If you woke up tomorrow morning and found one thing in your backyard, what do you hope it would be?

Jess: I have to say the Beautimous Lemallaby would probably be my choice too. If Little SmooshieFace—aka Lord Snarlsy—were in my backyard, I would invite him to sit on my shoulder and I would feed him a steady supply of SunBurst Blossoms. Although our 18-year-old cat Soul Pie would be very jealous.

I got to invent a whole bunch of plants and animals for this story. Writing the field guide in Dr. Ada Paradis’s voice—another quirky (although off-stage) character—was so much fun and seeing it brought to life with Cassie Gonzales’s art work was amazing. I was able to include quite a bit of real biology and ecology in as well, and a major part of the plot deals with environmental protection and the power of nature.

Kathie: What’s something important for readers to know about this story?

Jess:  At this point in my authorhood journey, I’ve worked on both serious and light-hearted projects, and what I’ve found is that the line isn’t as clear as readers might think. Funny books can have a great deal of heart and truth in them. Serious books can make you laugh out loud.

Some reviewers of THE ADVENTURE IS NOW have focused on the humorous side of the story, like The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books who recently called it a “Roald Dahl-esque delight.” Some have focused on the emotional aspects, like Publishers Weekly who said it “renders compassionate characters…placing an emphasis on honesty and emotional directness that makes for an affirming adventure.” I would like to think it has both humor and heart.

Kathie: Are you working on another project, and where can our readers find out more about you and your writing?

Jess: I’m always writing something new! I’ve been working on a story about a surfer girl who washes up on an island that’s not on any maps and meets a boy who’s been sending messages in bottles for the past hundred years. It’s an upper middle-grade magical-historical-timey-wimey contemporary (that’s a thing, right?) that delves into environmental issues, growing up, and living forever. For now, it’s called EVERLASTING ISLAND, and I’m excited to share it sometime in the future.

Kathie: Thank you so much for chatting with me today, Jess. I loved learning more about THE ADVENTURE IS NOW, and I wish you all the best with its launch.

Jess: Thank you so much for having me on MG Book Village and for all you do to support authors! And, readers, please stop by my website because I have some exciting launch events coming up including free school visits, a preorder campaign, and lots of resources like teaching guides and book trailers.

Jess Redman is a therapist and author of books for young readers with FSG/Macmillan. Her first book, The Miraculous, was a Bank Street Best Children’s Book of 2019, an Amazon Best Book of 2019, and was called “layered, engaging, and emotionally true” in a Kirkus starred review. Her second book, Quintessence, was an NCTE Charlotte Huck Honor Book. Her third book, The Adventure Is Now, is scheduled for publication on May 4, 2021, and has been described by BCCB as “a Roald Dahl-esque delight.” Redman currently lives in Florida with her husband, two young children, an old cat named SoulPie, and a fish named Annie. Visit her at or on Twitter and Instagram at @Jess__Red.


Kathie: Welcome to Fast Forward Friday, Yvette, I’m so happy to have you here today. Your debut novel, GLITTER GETS EVERYWHERE, will be released on May 4th with HarperCollins. I recently had a chance to read an eARC, and I LOVED this story. Can you please tell our readers a bit about it?

Yvette: Thank you for having me, Kathie, and for your kind words about my book. I’m delighted you enjoyed it, and I’m so pleased to have a chance to chat with you today.

In GLITTER GETS EVERYWHERE, ten-year-old Londoner Kitty Wentworth, her infuriatingly perfect older sister, Imogen, and her devastated father are struggling to come to terms with her mother’s recent death. Surrounded by a group of quirky, affectionate characters, including a fun next-door neighbor who hopes to heal the family through her baking, a loving grandmother, and a loyal best friend, Kitty attempts to navigate life without her beloved Mum. When Kitty’s dad announces that the family is temporarily moving from London to New York City, Kitty’s new normal comes crashing down. Why does everything have to keep changing when all Kitty wants to do is turn back the clock? It takes the care and patience of the people who love her, the wise words her mum left in a series of birthday letters, and the friendship of a blue-haired boy to bring the color back into Kitty’s life. While grief, like glitter, does indeed get everywhere, Kitty learns that so do love and hope.

Kathie: I really loved that we got to spend a lot of time in London understanding Kitty’s life there before we travelled with her to New York. It gave us a better sense of how different life in New York was for her. How much of Kitty’s experience moving overseas is based on your own, and what was that adjustment like for you?

Yvette: For me, London and New York City are like characters in the story, which is one of the reasons I was delighted to see both skylines feature on the beautiful cover! I’ve raised my children in both cities. It was fun to write a book that captured some of the differences and similarities between the two places—the school systems, the cultural references, the energy of the two cities, and of course, the sometimes unexpected language differences! When I was Kitty’s age, one of my favorite books was Tales of a Fourth-Grade Nothing by the incredible Judy Blume. Growing up in a sleepy village in England, I was fascinated to read about life as a kid in New York City. I wanted to be surrounded by soaring skyscrapers, not flat fields. I’ve lived in New York City for many years but getting a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty, the steam that comes out of the street, and even lines of yellow cabs still takes my breath away at times. That said, I love London and miss it desperately. Due to the pandemic, I haven’t been there for over eighteen months. I may just kiss the ground when I finally land at Heathrow, with a mask on, of course!

Kathie: I love stories where there are supportive adults helping kids through difficult times, and I especially appreciated how you normalized the therapy experience. Which of the adult characters is most like you?

Yvette: Me too! There is definitely a bit of me in every character in the book, both the adults and the children. I hadn’t thought specifically about which adult I am most like until you asked this question, but the answer is probably Kitty’s grandmother. I love the relationship Gran has with Kitty. I do wish I could bake like Mrs. Allison, though! Kitty’s mum assembles a support network for her daughters before she dies, and having therapists as part of that support system was important to me. 

Kathie: Kids often enjoy reading “sad” books, and although this book has grief as a central theme, I’m not sure I’d classify it as a “sad” book because of all the hope in it. What are your thoughts?

Yvette: My favorite stories are ones that make you laugh and cry, and that was what I set out to write. Readers have told me that they were in floods of tears but also laughed out loud while reading the story—I certainly did while writing it! I tried to introduce moments of light, humor, and hope throughout the book, particularly after some of the darkest times, for example, the appearance of Sir Lancelot, the flatulent French bulldog after Kitty’s mum’s funeral—that chapter is appropriately entitled Light Relief. I love the fact that many middle grade books tackle difficult topics in stories underpinned by hope.

Kathie: This story takes a very in-depth look at the grieving process, and the many faces of it. What sort of research did you do to understand how a young person may deal with it?

Yvette: I did a lot of research about the grieving process, specifically into tweens and teens grieving the loss of a parent. I read and watched interviews with dozens of young people who spoke honestly and heart-breakingly about the different stages of their grief journeys. I’m fortunate to have both my parents, but a dear friend of mine died when I was Kitty’s age. She was brilliant and sweet and funny. Her name was Laura, and I named Kitty’s mum after her. I can recall my feelings of shock, grief, anger, and despair as clearly as if it were yesterday. I still find grief glitter everywhere, but now, it mostly brings back happy memories of my friend and makes me smile.

Kathie: What’s one thing you learned in the process of writing and publishing this book that you didn’t know before?

Yvette: The most surprising and delightful part of the journey is how supportive, generous, and encouraging the writing community is. I was fortunate enough to get wonderful blurbs from amazing authors. I was blown away that some of my writing idols not only read but also loved my book. I’m eternally grateful to be part of the community of 2021 debut authors. I feel about this group the way I feel about the group of friends I met when I had my first child—you go through all these experiences together for the first time and form lifelong bonds. I have loved getting to know other authors, librarians, teachers, parents, and of course, my wonderful readers. 

Kathie: Are you working on another writing project at the moment?

Yvette: Yes! I’m currently writing my next middle grade novel, which is scheduled for release in 2023 from HarperCollins. I’m so happy to be working with my brilliant editor, Tara Weikum, again. 

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

Yvette: Please visit me online at, or find me on Twitter @yvettewrites.

I’d love for you and your readers to join me for my virtual book launch hosted by the legendary Books of Wonder at 1 PM EST on May 8th. I’ll be in conversation with the fabulous Ali Standish. You can sign up at

Kathie: Thanks so much for chatting with me today, Yvette, and I hope young readers enjoy this book as much as I did.

Yvette: Thank you, Kathie, and thanks for all the support that you and the MGBookVillage team give to authors. I hope young readers find joy and hope in Kitty’s story. I truly loved writing every word.

Yvette Clark is the author of novels for young readers. GLITTER GETS EVERYWHERE, her debut middle-grade novel, will be published by HarperCollins in May 2021. A Brit by birth and a New Yorker by design, Yvette lives in Manhattan with her husband, two teenagers, and a small blue cat. She loves reading, writing, trampolining, singing and cooking, and plans one day to attempt doing them all at the same time! Yvette is proud to be a mentor for a fantastic organization called Girls Write Now. Find out more about them here:

“Building the World of Wilderlore,” by Amanda Foody

I’ve been a devoted fantasy reader since I was a child. I loved all books, but there was something special about the stories that transported me to new worlds. It wasn’t so much because the real world bored me, but I already knew my place in it. My favorite mystery or thriller or contemporary books might’ve been entertaining, but the stories truly ended when they reached their final page.

Meanwhile, fantasy novels offered something . . . more. Almost like a choose your own adventure, to be carried on by my own imagination.

Where did I fit into this new world?

The Accidental Apprentice, the opening of the Wilderlore series, is my first middle grade fantasy novel. Prior to it, I’ve only published YA fantasy books, all of which are cast in worlds that I could imagine myself into, but would perhaps be frightened to do so. I knew even before I started drafting Wilderlore that I wanted to create a setting a reader would love to visit. A setting that was perfect for a choose your own adventure.

I started with a very particular word in that idea: choose. This may be a traditional novel that follows a designated hero—Barclay Thorne, a clever but stubborn mushroom farmer who has no interest in going on an adventure—but if I wanted readers to take up the mantle after Barclay’s story ended, then I needed to offer them choices of their own, buried within the story.

In Barclay’s world, there are tons of fantasical animals known as Beasts, and if you form magical bond with one, you’ll share some of its powers yourself—and you’ll thus be dubbed a Lore Keeper.

This concept immediately offered such fun and exciting choice: If you were a Lore Keeper, what kind of Beast would you bond with?

I adored this foundational question most of all, because it permeates the entire story. Every new Beast that Barclay encounters, no matter how adorable or monstrous, they’re a possibility. If not so much to him, but to the reader. And so I made sure to highlight that question. I threw in tons of Beastly description, including an encyclopedia as bonus content at the end of the book. I added depth to the choice, different Beastly classifications, different notions to consider. Would you rather one or two powerful Beasts or many weaker ones? What types of magic would you like? What would be the most useful magic in your story?

And this is just one of the choices presented. The Beasts live in six diferent regions of the world, called Wilderlands, each based on a different sort of enviornmental biome. Where would your adventure begin? In the Woods, like Barclay? What about in the Lore Keeper capital in the Mountains? The famous university of the Desert?

What would your Lore Keeper job be? Would you try to obtain a Guild license or strike out on your own? If you were to join the Guild, which type of license would you pick?

I had so much fun creating these layers of choices and categories that my younger self would’ve adored. But by far, the most fun I had in creating the world of Wilderlore was the details. Because even with all these exciting decisions, my younger self wouldn’t have struck off on my own imaginative adventure into a world if I didn’t like that world.

And so, true to the themes of the story, I let my imagination run absolutely wild with details! The Wilderlands needed a newspaper, so I named it the Keeper’s Khronicle. What would a young Lore Keeper be interested in? Well, like regular kids, probably sports, collectibles, and more, and thus came the competitive Dooling tournament and the champion cards. I threw in boutique stores and celebrities, delectible foods and famous landmarks. Essentially, the more I could come up with, the more vivid I could make the setting, the better!

From its deliberate decisions to sneaky whimsical discoveries, building the world of Wilderlore was and continues to be an absolute joy. It feels like extending a hand to my inner child and letting her guide the journey. It feels like coming home. And if it sparks the imagination of even a single reader, then I will consider my own adventure writing it to be a spectacular success.

Click HERE to check out the Pinterest board Amanda used during the writing of Wilderlore.

Amanda Foody has always considered imagination to be our best attempt at magic. After a double life as an accountant preparing taxes for multinational corporations, she now spends her free time brewing and fermenting foods much more easily obtained at her local grocery store. She lives in Boston, MA with a hoard of books guarded by the most vicious of feline companions, Jelly Bean. Her books include the Wilderlore series, The Shadow Game series and more. Her next YA novel, All of Us Villains, co-authored with Christine Lynn Herman, releases on November 9, 2021.

Cover Reveal: NOT A UNICORN, by Dana Middleton — PLUS: A Conversation between Dana and author Jill Diamond

Jill: I loved NOT A UNICORN and I’m excited to learn more about the book and your process! To begin, could you please give us a brief synopsis?

Dana: First of all, thanks so much Jill for being one of my first readers and for doing this interview with me. Your support along the way has meant the world to me! 

NOT A UNICORN is the story of 13 year old Jewel Conrad who has a horn on her head that looks very much like a unicorn horn. You might think that looking like a human unicorn would be cool, but Jewel doesn’t feel that way at all. More than anything, she wants to be hornless and “normal.” But there are other forces at play in Jewel’s world that make getting what she wants more complicated than she ever expected. She has to figure out the mystery of her horn which takes her on an unexpected quest to unexpected places. In the end, Jewel’s story becomes one to which we can all relate: learning to love and accept herself as she is.

Jill: This is such a unique concept, can you explain where it came from and why it resonated with you?

Dana: I wish I knew where Jewel came from, but I don’t. She just appeared in my brain one day and would not let go. She simply demanded that I write about her. Honestly, I resisted. I mean how weird would it make me to write a book about a girl with a unicorn horn?! And then I realized that was exactly how Jewel felt. She was scared to let herself be the real weird her in the world. So thanks to Jewel, I’m learning how to do that, too!

Jill: Jewel doesn’t want to have a unicorn horn and will do almost anything to get it removed. Why is this so important to her and what’s so bad about having a unicorn horn from Jewel’s perspective?

Dana: She wants to be like everyone else—just like so many kids in middle school. But for Jewel, she feels like she can never be normal and never live the life she wants when everyone is always staring at her. She thinks getting rid of her horn will solve all her problems. But will it?

Jill: Is it a real unicorn horn?

Dana: You’ll have to read the book to find out!

Jill: An interesting aspect of your book is that it’s a hybrid contemporary fantasy, which is great from a reader’s perspective because it makes it both relatable and escapist. Was it challenging to write a multi-genre book?

Dana: My two previous books were contemporary middle grade with some added magic or mystery, but Jewel’s story was very different from those. So, yes it was challenging. Partially because Jewel was less like me than any main character I had ever written. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVED getting to inhabit her skin. I loved getting to know her and discovering the fantasy part of her story along with her. But it was important to me to get that balance right. I wanted this to be about a real girl in a real life who was living an experience that at times crossed the barriers of reality. That fantasy part was new to me as a writer but ultimately extremely fulfilling to get on the page. At this point, it all seems absolutely real and possible to me. Of the books I’ve written, it’s the one that I would most like to step into and experience for myself.

Jill: The characters in your book have very distinct personalities. Do you connect with any of the characters’ stories or traits?

Dana: I think I most connect with Jewel in her desire to belong. That was an acute desire for me at her age and I think it’s a human desire throughout our whole lives. Part of my evolution, as well as Jewel’s, is learning that you can be authentically yourself and still belong. The other characters in this book, especially Jewel’s friends, Nicholas and Mystic, came to me over time. They definitely have distinct personalities, and I think I would have been too intimidated to sit down at a lunch table with them in middle school. But even though they are a bit guarded and tough on the outside, their waters run deep. They were so worth getting to know! And I couldn’t have asked for better companions to go with me and Jewel on this journey.

Jill: Do you have another book you’re working on now?

Dana: Yes! I just finished a mystery with my screenplay writing partner, Kate McLaughlin. This is the first middle grade novel we’ve written together, but not the last, as we hope for it to become the first of a series. It’s contemporary fiction with some fantasy elements, too. Imagine that?

Jill: How can readers find out more about you and your writing?

Dana: You can always find out more about me by reading any of my books because there’s lots of me in them! Also, you can visit my website or follow me on social media:





Thanks so much, Jill, for taking the time to discuss NOT A UNICORN with me today. I can’t wait for it to be out in the world!

Jill Diamond is the author of LOU LOU AND PEA AND THE MURAL MYSTERY and LOU LOU AND PEA AND THE BICENTENNIAL BONANZA. You can find her online at or @jillinboots on Twitter.

Dana Middleton is the author of THE INFINITY YEAR OF AVALON JAMES and OPEN IF YOU DARE. Her new book, NOT A UNICORN, comes out from Chronicle Books on September 21.