FAST FORWARD FRIDAY – Jake Maia Arlow

Kathie: Hi Jake, and welcome to Fast Forward Friday! I had the pleasure of reading an eARC of your upcoming book, ALMOST FLYING, which comes out on June 8th with Dial Books. It’s such a great story, and I hope everyone has it on their TBR list. Can you tell us a bit about it in your own words?

Jake: SO happy to be here, Kathie! ALMOST FLYING is a queer middle-grade novel that centers around an amusement park road trip. It features a first crush, a prickly stepsister, and TONS of roller coasters! 

Kathie: I love stories where the main character has an “awakening” about some aspect of themselves, and Dalia goes through her own roller coaster ride of emotions during one week without it feeling rushed. Did the pacing come naturally, or was it challenging to include so many thoughts and feelings in a short time frame?

Jake: It was definitely a challenge! The first draft of the book was much more meandering, but I think that was because I really wanted to get all of Dalia’s thoughts and feelings out onto the page. This was my first time going through the editing process with a book–from self-editing all the way to the official copy-edits, and it was an incredible experience. I love being able to mold something that came out of my brain so raw and unfiltered into something intelligible that will hopefully resonate with my tween (and not-so-tween) reader.

Kathie: This story has a number of important relationships, and I loved how they connect and influence each other. I especially liked how the age difference between Dalia, and Alexa and her friends, added a mature support network and relationship modeling for Dalia. Which relationship was the most fun for you to write, and which character would you most like to be friends with?

Jake: Thank you for saying that! It was really important for me to model positive queer relationships in older teens for the younger main characters, whether those be romantic or platonic. One of my favorite relationships to write was the one between Alexa and Dhruv, since they have such a lovely queer friendship that they both feel is almost familial. And I’d most like to be friends with Dhruv, for sure. 

Kathie: What would you like young readers to know about this story, and what do you hope they’ll take away from it?

Jake: I’d love for young readers to know, first of all, that they can find all the roller coasters in the story as POV videos on YouTube. I know this seems like a small, silly thing, but watching those videos as a kid (and an adult) allowed me to escape and dream and relax. And I hope that they’ll come away knowing that they deserve to be loved as they are, however they are, and that there are always people who will care about them, even if those people aren’t biologically related to them. 

Kathie: I had no idea there were so many different types of roller coasters! Are you a fan of them, and if so, what style do you like the best?

Jake: I know, it’s shocking how many there are! I’m a fan of all types of roller coasters, but I never knew the official names for the different kinds before I was doing research and digging into Dalia’s voice. My favorite type of roller coaster is definitely a wooden roller coaster, even though they give you major whiplash! 

Kathie: What’s one thing you learned about yourself or your writing while publishing this book?

Jake: First of all, that I have no idea where to place commas (this past sentence was no exception)! But jokes aside, I learned that my writing voice isn’t something to be ashamed of. I’ve always been told that I “write like I speak”–which is true, and I love that about my writing. I think it makes it more accessible, fun, and unique than it otherwise might be. 

Kathie: Can you tell us where readers can go to find out more about you and your writing?

Jake: Yes! You can go to my website, jakewhosagirl.com, or you can go to my Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok, which are all @jakewhosagirl! 

Kathie: I really appreciate you taking some time to talk with me today, Jake, and I wish you all the best with your book’s release.

Jake: Thank you so much, Kathie! I’m so grateful for all of your work in the middle grade space.


Jake Maia Arlow is a podcast producer, writer, and bagel connoisseur. She studied evolutionary biology and creative writing (not as different as you might think) at Barnard College. She has lived in various places, but can always be found with an iced coffee. You can find her on all social media platforms @jakewhosagirl, or at her website, jakewhosagirl.com.

FAST FORWARD FRIDAY – Shakirah Bourne

Kathie: Welcome to Fast Forward Friday, Shakirah. It’s a pleasure to have a chance to talk with you today. Your debut book, JOSEPHINE AGAINST THE SEA will be published on July 6th with Scholastic. Can you tell our readers what it’s about, please?

Shakirah: Thank you so much for having me, Kathie!

JOSEPHINE AGAINST THE SEA is a contemporary fantasy about 11 year-old cricketer Josephine, who is very overprotective of her Dad, and sets booby traps for his dates to scare them away. She knows she can distract her Dad from dating by getting on her school’s cricket team but the Coach says only boys are allowed to play. But then her Dad brings home a new catch – Mariss, and unlike the others, she does not not scare easily. Josephine discovers that Mariss is not what she seems, and has to convince everyone of her true nature before it’s too late. It’s a Barbadian with a sweet single father-daughter relationship, addresses issues like overcoming grief and is full of Caribbean folklore.

Kathie: This is a story I would highly recommend for fans of The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste, and I know she wrote a blurb for your book. Can you tell us more about the inspiration for it?

Shakirah: Sure! There were several story seeds that inspired the growth of this tale, but the first sprout occurred in English class in secondary school (high school) when we read a Caribbean short story about a fisherman who became obsessed with a mermaid. She would sit on a rock by the river, combing her hair and singing. Though villagers warned him to stay away, he’d visit her everyday and soon she took over his dreams; he stopped eating, providing for his family, and one day, the villagers found his clothes on the riverbank and he was never seen again. I wondered, who was that mermaid? What happened to that fisherman? That story haunted me since I was 12 years old so when I decided I wanted to write a folklore story, JOSEPHINE AGAINST THE SEA became my answer to those questions.

Kathie: Did you enjoy reading or listening to myths and fairytales as a child, and did you have a favorite one?

Shakirah: I have always been infatuated with myths and fairytales about princesses, vampires, mermaids and other sea creatures, Anansi the Spider, Greek mythology, you name it, so it would be torturous to try to pick a favorite one. But one local folklore character that is very well-known is the Heartman, a cloaked figure that patrols the streets at night in a hearse, looking for naughty children who are outside after dark. He rips the hearts from their chests and offers those organs to the devil. In other tales, he steals the hearts because he has none of his own. Of course this was a story used to scare children so that they would get home early, but in my research I discovered that the legend was based off of a real serial killer!

Kathie: Josephine and her dad both come to terms with the loss of her mom in this story, and Josephine also comes to accept that her dad might need more than watching cricket with her in his life. What’s one important thing you hope readers will discover while reading this book?

Shakirah: Josephine and her Dad have a special bond, and he does his best as a single Dad to raise her and fulfil her needs, but in his inability to talk about her Mum, and also deal with his own grief, Josephine is left to make incorrect assumptions in an attempt to protect his heart. I hope readers will understand the importance of communicating feelings, because confronting and sharing emotions is the first step to healing.  

Kathie: Josephine desperately loves cricket and wants to play on the team but has several obstacles to overcome. Did you enjoy cricket growing up, and if so, what position did you (or would you want to) play? What words of encouragement would you give to a young girl in Josephine’s position?

Shakirah: I made the assumption that because I loved watching cricket, I naturally would be skilled at playing the game. I had imagined myself to be an amazing bowler, but I discovered how wrong I was when I tried out for a girl’s cricket team at college, ran to catch the ball and it felt like a rock had shattered my knuckles. Those balls are HARD! Through Josephine, I’m glad that I can still contribute to the game in a safe, pain-free way.

Josephine goes to extreme lengths to prove her bowling skills. Sometimes, people who are supposed to be your role models aren’t very supportive, and I would encourage young girls to find creative ways to overcome challenges, continue to develop their skills and never give up on a dream.  

Kathie: Although Barbados is home to you, many young readers may not be familiar with it. What would you like young readers to know about it?

Shakirah: This is such a great question. Firstly, I’d love people to understand that the Caribbean is made up of several different countries, and all of us are not from Jamaica or the Bahamas. 🙂 Barbados is tiny–it’s only 179 square miles, which is just over half the size of New York! Without traffic, you can drive from the top to the bottom of the island in less than an hour. Though Barbados is small, we’ve made a big impact on the world. Fun fact: Barbados is the birthplace of the grapefruit. It was actually an accident–a cross pollination between the orange and the shaddock, but I’m sure the world is grateful for this delicious fruit.

We’re more than white sand and beaches, or a stop on a cruise ship; it’s an island that is rich in culture and history. For instance, Barbados was the only country George Washington visited outside North America!

Kathie: How has the pandemic affected your writing routine, and are you currently working on another book?

Shakirah: The pandemic has definitely made it more difficult to write, because my brain is constantly in alarm mode. I have to keep up with continuously shifting COVID protocols, and still be productive and meet deadlines.  I’m currently working on a middle grade horror called Duppy Island, about a young filmmaker who follows her family to a silent retreat, and discovers that the island is haunted by douens (children who died before they were baptised). Duppy Island is surrounded by a thick fog, and always looks gray and overcast, and ironically, Barbados recently experienced some ash fall from La Soufriere volcano eruption in St Vincent, which made the atmosphere similar to that on Duppy Island! It’s definitely more challenging to focus on writing when mother nature seems to be at war with the world.

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

Shakirah: You can follow me on Twitter or Instagram @shakirahwrites, where I cheer on fellow authors, post about publishing and writing, art and random things that make me laugh. You can also visit my website at shakirahbourne.com

Kathie: I wish you every success with your book’s release, Shakirah, thanks for chatting with me today.

Shakirah: Thank you so much Kathie. I really appreciate the support that you’ve given to authors on your wonderful platform.

Shakirah Bourne is Bajan author and filmmaker. She once shot a movie scene in a cave with bats during an earthquake, but is too scared to watch horror movies. She enjoys exploring old graveyards, daydreaming and eating mangoes. She currently resides in Barbados in the Caribbean, and spends most of her time staring out at the sea thinking about new stories to tell. Her debut middle grade contemporary fantasy, JOSEPHINE AGAINST THE SEA, will be published by Scholastic in July 2021.

20 Questions with Author Sam Subity and His Middle Grade Debut The Last Shadow Warrior

Publishing a book comes along with a whirlwind of interviews and blog posts, so I thought I would compile an easy-to-read, condensed version as sort of a lightning round of FAQs. 

20 questions. Short answers. Let’s get started! 

What was the inspiration for The Last Shadow Warrior?

This is a question that I think can be answered in lots of different ways, which is good because it’s also naturally the most frequent question that authors are asked. But at its core, I’d have to say my main inspiration was the story of Beowulf. I first read it a long time ago, but when I picked up a copy of The Lightning Thief much more recently, the gears really started turning in my brain and eventually became my pitch for the book: Percy Jackson meets Beowulf. 

Do you need to have read Beowulf to follow your story?

Nope. I mean, those familiar with the story will likely have some moments like, “Oh, I see what he did there,” but no knowledge of the original story is necessary.

How did you choose the book’s setting?

Minnesota has the largest concentration of people of Scandinavian descent in the U.S. (nearly ⅓!), so it felt like a natural setting for a story packed with Vikings and Norse mythology. And the mysterious private school that Abby attends there has the name “Vale Hall” as a nod to Norse mythology. 

And your main character Abby Beckett is one of those Vikings, right?

Yes, she’s descended from a line of Viking warriors known as the Aesir who are a sort of ancient secret society charged with protecting humanity against these monsters called Grendels. Except she hasn’t figured out yet what her special abilities are, or even if she’s got any at all. 

That word “Aesir” comes up a lot in the book. How do you pronounce it exactly?

I’ve heard it different ways, but I like Neil Gaiman’s pronunciation that basically sounds like a combination of the words ACE + EAR. My website SamSubity.com actually has a pronunciation guide for this and other Norse words that kids might not be familiar with. Another they’ll see a lot is “knattleikr” (kin-attle-eye-kur) which is a sport that Abby plays.

And knattleikr is a real sport, right?

Totally. The Vikings used to play it over a thousand years ago and there are a few enthusiast clubs still today that attempt to recreate the game, but we don’t really have any historical descriptions of how it was played or the equipment used. So, like me, they made up their own rules.

It sounds like you included a lot of real history in the book. Are there any other examples?

Absolutely! I compiled a “Fact vs Fiction” guide for teachers on my website to help kids identify the historical stuff in the story. In fact, one of my characters, Grimsby, is named after a small town in England that was settled by Vikings. 

That reminds me: You’ve mentioned that you like to include easter eggs throughout your stories. Is there a favorite that you can share?

I do think it’s fun to include little things that maybe just your family and friends will get. About halfway through TLSW, Abby visits Vale’s library which is named “F.J. Feola Library” after a great friend of mine who passed away from cancer several years ago. He always wanted to write his own book, so I thought putting him in one was the next best thing. 

You also mention a lot of other books and authors in your story from Shakespeare to Dr. Seuss. Were you always a big reader?

Definitely. I read anything and everything when I was growing up. In third grade, I read around 100 books in a month and won the grand prize for my class which was to meet McGruff the Crime Dog. 

McGruff the…Crime Dog?

He took a bite out of crime. It was mostly an 80’s thing. 

Anyway, I imagine you probably wrote a lot too?

I did write a lot of short stories and fan fiction of my favorites like The Hobbit. But the authors I read as a kid from Tolkien to Beverly Cleary seemed like almost mythical figures, so I didn’t imagine I could actually ever be one. Then as I got older, my creative outlet took a detour into inventing toys and games before I started writing seriously again around five years ago. 

Inventing toys and games sounds like fun. Can you share any that you’ve created?

It was a ton of fun, but I could rattle on about it for hours, and this is supposed to be a quick FAQs, so…back to books? 

Sure, okay, what has been your favorite part of being a debut author so far?

Definitely connecting with kids. I love to see them inspired to read and even write their own stories after encountering mine. After one virtual class visit, one of the girls wrote me afterward to say that she had a question but was too shy to ask in class. That would have totally been me at that age. So for those shy, quiet kids, I want to encourage them to find their means of self-expression, whether it’s writing, art, or something else entirely.

Is that why writing for kids appeals to you?

For sure. And I love the hope that’s inherent in the stories. Also the fun. I mean, in what other category can you put a Ping-Pong playing sea monster in a book and your readers don’t even blink? 

And you’ve probably had some odd questions from kids, right?

Yeah, you really have to be ready for anything when you’re talking with kids. One wanted to know what I had for lunch. That led to a discussion on the merits of carnitas vs. carne asada tacos. It was random but really fun! 

So what did you have for lunch?

Leftover lasagna, which happens to be my favorite food. Not the leftover version specifically. Like, well, you get what I mean. 

I guess even authors have trouble with words sometimes. But speaking of food, you do have a lot of it in the book…

Maybe I was hungry from all those long writing sprints. But I think kids like to read about food too. So I have some authentic Scandinavian dishes like lutefisk (think fish Jell-O) and aebleskivers (powdered, jam-filled doughnut holes) as well as a Viking Slurpee machine nicknamed Slurpus Maximus that offers some, well, unique flavors. 

What do you hope kids get out of The Last Shadow Warrior?

Hopefully they find it to be a fun ride, and at a deeper level, one of the central themes is around Abby feeling like she’s constantly trying and failing to live up to everyone’s expectations, including her own. But by the end she learns that there are lots of different ways to define a hero, and I hope her story helps kids find the hero in themselves too. 

Do you only write middle grade?

The first kids’ book manuscripts I wrote were actually picture books and chapter books. My first one came from an incident where my toddler sneezed in my face when I was taking his picture. People ask me sometimes where my ideas come from, and in that case the idea literally hit me in the face. I still have the picture of him in mid-sneeze, and the manuscript which I titled “How Do You Achoo?” So maybe I’ll see my name on a picture book eventually too. But…most likely not that one. 

What’s been your least favorite part of being a debut author?

Honestly, all the self-promotion. I’d much rather talk about all the other wonderful books from my debut author group The 21ders than my own. But I so appreciate all the people who are still reading this interview at this point and who already have or plan to read The Last Shadow Warrior.

What’s next for you?

In Beowulf there are essentially three “bad guys,” so my original concept had TLSW as the first book in a trilogy that mirrors the original saga. So I’m hoping for the chance to write the second (and third) books if enough readers connect with the story. 

You can find Sam online at SamSubity.com and on Twitter or Instagram at @sjsubity, and his debut novel The Last Shadow Warrior (Scholastic Press) in bookstores everywhere on May 4. 

Cover Reveal: EGG MARKS THE SPOT, by Amy Timberlake, with pictures by Jon Klassen

The MG Book Village is thrilled to be revealing the cover of Egg Marks the Spot, the follow up to Amy Timberlake and Jon Klassen’s fabulous Skunk and Badger. Egg Marks the Spot will be released on September 2nd, and in addition to revealing the book’s cover here, we will be sharing a sneak peek of both its text and art. Below, beneath the cover, you will find a link to an excerpt from the third chapter of Egg Marks the Spot, and beneath that, you’ll see some of the book’s interior art.

Excited?

Intrigued?

Click HERE to read a few pages of Egg Marks the Spot!

More about Egg Marks The Spot:

Buried in the heart of every animal is a secret treasure. Badger’s is the Spider Eye Agate, stolen years ago by his crafty and treasure-trade-dealing cousin, Fisher. Skunk’s is Sundays with the New Yak Times Book Review.
 
When Mr. G. Hedgehog threatens to take the Book Review as soon as it thumps on the doorstep, Skunk decides an adventure (“X Marks the Spot!”) will solve both their problems. Badger agrees, and together they set off for his favorite campsite on Endless Lake. But all is not as it seems at Campsite #5. Harrumphs in the night. Unexpected friends.
 
Then Fisher appears, and Badger knows something is up.
 
Something involving secrets, betrayals, and lies.
 
And a luminous, late-Jurassic prize.
 
In a volume that includes full-color plates and additional black-and-white illustrations by Caldecott medalist Jon Klassen, Newbery Honor author Amy Timberlake takes readers on a second adventure in the new series reviewers have called an instant classic, with comparisons to Frog and ToadWinnie-the-Pooh, and TheWind in the Willows.

Amy Timberlake’s novels for young readers have received a Newbery Honor, an Edgar Award, a Golden Kite Award, and the China Times Best Book Award. She grew up in Hudson, Wisconsin, but now calls Chicago home. She is a graduate of Mount Holyoke College, and holds an MA in English and Creative Writing from the University of Illinois. You can find her walking on Chicago’s Lakefront Trail on cool, crisp fall days. 

Jon Klassen is a Canadian-born author-illustrator. His books include I Want My Hat BackThis Is Not My Hat, winner of the Caldecott Medal; and We Found A Hat. He is a member of the Order of Canada in recognition of his contributions to children’s literature. He currently lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two sons.