COVER REVEAL for The Unforgettable Logan Foster by Shawn Peters.

Kathie: Hi Shawn, and welcome to MG Book Village! It’s wonderful to connect with you and have a chance to be part of the cover reveal for your upcoming book The Unforgettable Logan Foster. Can you please tell us about it, and when it will be published?

Shawn: Thanks Kathie! I’m excited to be working with you and MG Book Village after months of Monday night #MGBookChats. I’m amazed by the community you’ve assembled.

Logan Foster is an undersized 12-year-old orphan with a photographic memory and zero filter. After a decade of never lasting with any foster family for too long, he has no expectations of ever being adopted and spends his spare time searching for the younger sibling he believes is still out there. But when he’s brought home by a kind, suburban couple who are clearly hiding something from him, Logan’s logical mind won’t stop until he uncovers the super-secret truth; superheroes are real… and his new foster folks are actual superhumans. Suddenly, he’s drawn into a world of hidden organizations, comic-book-level battles and the realization that something he has locked in his one-in-a-billion brain may make him the most valuable person in the world to a certain villain who has lived for thousands of years. 

The book will come out on the first Tuesday of 2022, which is January 4th. So when you make a resolution to read more next year… The Unforgettable Logan Foster is available.

Kathie: This sounds like a very funny action-packed novel. Was this the type of book that you enjoyed reading as a kid?

Shawn: When I was a MG reader, I actually spread my attention around to a lot of different genres. I was a big fan of Roald Dahl, Madeline L’Engle, Terry Brooks and anything that had a precocious pre-teen genius like the “Encyclopedia Brown” books by Donald J. Sobol and all the “Great Brain” books by John Dennis Fitzgerald. Those characters definitely resonated with how I saw myself at that age, and they informed how I thought of Logan when I was writing him. 

But whenever I was sick (and as a kid who had tonsils the size of racquet balls and a ton of allergies, I had my share of sick days), my parents would buy me comic books to read while I was home from school; Thor, Captain America, Hulk, Superman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Firestorm, Spiderman… and then there were these ones called “Marvel Universe” that were just a sequential, alphabetical encyclopedia of every hero or villain to ever appear in Marvel comics. I’d pore over them, reading their origin stories and comparing their powers and strength stats. At the time, that amount of information was only available in the series of comics, not online… because online wasn’t a thing yet. But these reference books made all the characters seem more real. Like there were actual facts to be learned about them. That stuck with me.

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

Shawn: Logan is definitely based, in part, on myself at that age. But his voice and mannerisms draw on a few other young people I’ve known and even coached in town sports over the years. He’s neurodivergent, and has had a few different diagnoses over his years in the El Segundo Transitional Orphanage, but it’s his truly eidetic memory combined with his devotion to understanding the facts are core to how he organizes the world. He’s not a show off, and he really doesn’t mind too much what others think of him. But when there are assumptions that are wrong, whether it’s with his peers or in school or in the middle of a superhuman battle… he is compelled to deliver the facts. 

So, what I admire most about him is his willingness to never try to be someone he isn’t. When I was the smallest kid in my grade, I definitely tried a lot of different things to feel anywhere in the same zip code as “cool.” Some, like getting good grades and doing theater and choosing the right time to make a joke in class kinda worked. Others, like my attempts to play tackle football at lunch when the Vice Principal wasn’t looking or the several months I dedicated to breakdancing didn’t fit as well. But Logan’s dedication to what he knows to be true about himself attracts some “super” supportive people to him, and in turn, gives him a chance to make a difference in their lives. He gets to grow without feeling like he has to change who he is.

Kathie: I’d love to hear who illustrated your cover, and what involvement you had in the process. What was your first reaction when you saw the cover?

Shawn: When my editor, David Linker, sent me a link (no pun intended… for once) to the portfolio of Petur Antonsson, I was sold. I was beyond sold, frankly. His covers for the UK editions of the Artemis Fowl books all just screamed “action and dangerous fun”, but then he showed so much sensitivity with how he portrayed the more unsure, less-than-heroic protagonists like his cover for Joshua S. Levy’s Seventh Grade vs. The Galaxy. I just knew he was the one who could place undersized Logan at the center of something that felt huge without him ever getting lost. Corina Lupp designed the cover for Harper Collins, and she was the one who had the vision to take a pivotal moment in the book and use it as a venue for introducing the tensions, the characters, and even a few Easter Eggs. I had my own ideas for the cover (I’m a creative director for an ad agency by day so I’m used to brainstorming on how words and images come together on a page), but this team knew when they hit on a concept that would get readers to grab it off the shelves. So from there, it was all about dialing in the characters’ looks and details. I definitely sent about 10 pages of character references throughout the process. 

Kathie: OK, it’s time for the big reveal. Drum roll, please!

Kathie: Wow! I absolutely love this cover and I suspect the superhero theme will be very popular with young readers. Are there elements that were captured in the artwork that surprised you?

Shawn: So the superhero elements were definitely something I knew we needed because this book is written for kids who enjoy comics, maybe even graphic novels, and are waiting for something to resonate and draw them into chapter books where the story plays out in the reader’s inner movie theater. If this were for an older audience, maybe we could’ve tried to keep the mystery and been more cheeky with the cover, but for this age group, it felt so right. And then there are little things, like the way the letters in “Logan Foster” are shaded that just scream comic book in all the best ways. I asked for a hint of that Into the Spider-Verse vibe and they nailed it. Also, there’s something about the way the light from the projector highlights Logan’s hair that hits me right where I live. So much of this book is about Logan sharing what’s going on in between his ears. That’s where the reader gets his unfiltered thoughts and understands what makes him funny and brilliant and vulnerable. So the spotlight is exactly where it should be on this cover.

Kathie: Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about your debut novel?

Shawn: I want to share the whole thing… another trait Logan and I have in common. We can both overshare. But I do think this book is made for kids who don’t feel like they ever get to see themselves reflected in the protagonists of these big, adventure-filled MG books. Harry Potter has some serious magic. Percy Jackson is a demi-god with one of the “big three” as his dad. Logan is a kid who is the smallest, youngest, and smartest kid in his grade, and he has no fantasies about that changing or ever making him more popular.  The things that make him special are perceived as odd or annoying by those around him when we meet him. My wife is an all-universe 5th grade teacher and she shared the book with more than a hundred students over two years so I could get feedback, and we saw how this story captured the imagination of students, especially boys, who weren’t big readers. They had no problem putting themselves in Logan’s shoes. So I hope those are the kinds of readers who will get the main message; anything can be a superpower in the right circumstances when we don’t run away from who we are. 

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

Shawn: The easy answer is my website, and Twitter where I’m @shawntweeters . (Sorry about that handle… I came up with it when Twitter was new I didn’t think it would last long)

But if you really want to go deep, join the “Written by Shawn Peters” Facebook page.There will be updates there about the book, any appearances, and honestly… a ton of comments from my mother, which will tell you everything you need to know about me and how I ended up like this.

Kathie: I’m excited to read a copy of this book when it’s available, Shawn, and I wish you all the best with the book’s release.

Shawn: Thanks Kathie. I appreciate the chance to show off the cover and connect with this community. I’m excited too… and nervous… but mostly excited. And hopefully we can do this again in a year, because the sequel is due out in early 2023.

SHAWN PETERS has spent more than two decades writing professionally for television and advertising.  He lives outside of Boston with his superhero wife and two kids, and in his spare time, Shawn makes ultra-nerdy Dungeons and Dragons puns on Twitter under the handle @DnD_DadJokes

Book Review: BY THE LIGHT OF THE FIREFLIES, by Jenni L. Walsh

As a literacy educator who has a particular affection for 3rd-5th grades, one thing I’m always looking for is good historical fiction. Finding the time in an elementary school day to teach both Social Studies and Literacy adequately can be difficult at times, so any opportunity to integrate the two is something I’m looking out for. Using good, engaging historical fiction texts is one way I’ve found to integrate the two, and one of my latest reads is a perfect example.

The American Revolutionary War is one of those major historical events that can be difficult to find texts for that are appealing for kids, as well as at a level that upper elementary students can read independently.  However, author Jenni L. Walsh written a new engaging book, By The Light of the Fireflies, about a little known Revolutionary War heroine, that will be great for middle grade readers. 

Sybil Ludington is a young girl who lives in a world where society (and her mother) expect little more of her than to become a farmer’s wife. Luckily for Sybil, she also lives in a world where her father, a solider against the British, needs assistance from his smart, adventurous daughter.  This story of how she learns to decode messages, becomes a spy, and goes a run similar to Paul Revere’s (but maybe even better) is full of suspense and excitement. Sybil definitely becomes a character the reader is rooting for, and General George Washington, who makes an  appearance in the story, would agree. Walsh does a good job of engaging the reader while also helping them to understand the context of the time period of the American Revolution.

As mentioned in the author’s note at the end of the book, Sybil Ludington was a real person, although much of this story Walsh has written is fictionalized. However, there is enough truth in the story that I can see students becoming intrigued enough with Sybil that they will want to learn more about her, and even about the American Revolution, which makes By the Light of the Fireflies a historical fiction win-win in my book!

By The Light of the Fireflies by Jenni Walsh will be published on November 2, 2021. I would like to thank the author for providing me with an ARC of her book.

Deana Metzke, in addition to being a wife and mother of two, spent many years as a Literacy Coach, and is now an Elementary Teacher Instructional Leader for Literacy and Social Studies for her school district. In addition to occasionally sharing her thoughts here at MG Book Village, you can read more of her thoughts about kid lit and trying to raise children who are readers at or follow her on Twitter @DMetzke. She is also a member of #bookexcursion.


Kathie: Hi Victor! Welcome to Fast Forward Friday, where we learn a bit about a debut middle-grade author and their upcoming release each Friday. TIME VILLAINS comes out on July 6th from Sourcebooks Young Readers. Can you give us a brief synopsis of it, please?

Victor: Hi Kathie! Thanks so much for having me. I’d love to. The book/series is inspired by the classic question, “If you could invite any three people to dinner, living or dead, who would you invite?” It centers around a mysterious table that actually summons any guest (from history or fiction) right into your dining room.

Javi Santiago, a sixth grade Puerto Rican sandwichéaste (think cinéaste but for sandwiches) accidentally summons Blackbeard the pirate, and then has to stop him from wreaking havoc on his town. Everything seems hopeless when Javi and his friends realize that their school is full of teachers who don’t quite seem like they’re from around here…

I like to describe the series as a time-hopping, reality-busting escapade starring all of your favorite characters from history and fiction.

Kathie: Can you tell us the idea that inspired the book?

Victor: It was a combination of a few things. The first was stumbling on an enchanted forest fifteen years ago. My brother and I were in France, we were completely lost, and we ended up in a historic forest believed to be magical. It was dusk when we arrived and we scrambled through it until nightfall. The experience was as mystical as you’d expect—one that stayed with me.

The idea for the table came over a decade later. I’m not much of a talker, but I do love asking questions—I used to be a documentary filmmaker and interviews were my favorite part of the job. One day I was mulling over classic questions when the “invite any three people to dinner” floated into my consciousness, and the idea of a magical table popped into my head. I loved the excuse to populate a book with characters from history and fiction, but a magical table sounded pretty lame without an epic backstory. Then I remembered the forest.

Kathie: The first question that popped into my mind as I read your story was how did you choose the individuals that Javi and Wiki invite to dinner, and who would you invite if you had the chance?

Victor: One of the main reasons I wrote this book was because of my original answer to the “invite anyone to dinner” question/homework as a kid. My list included Columbus, Edison and Cortés. As a Puerto Rican who was new to the US, that’s a pretty atrocious list! TIME VILLAINS is a reaction to that list, and to the curriculum that would lead me to create that list. A big focus of this series is exploring characters more representative of the world’s history and fiction, because I’m hoping this book is ultimately a gateway to other books, characters and historical figures for kids to explore. Of course, I also picked my favorite fictional characters and historical figures—especially those that would make interesting combinations.

My personal picks for guests change constantly, but the ones I want to invite most often are Walt Whitman, Julia de Burgos and Galadriel. I’m a poetry fiend and a Tolkien nerd.

Kathie: There’s a lot of humour that happens amid the mayhem. Why did you choose to tell this story through that lens, and what do you personally enjoy about reading funny stories?

Victor: At its core, TIME VILLAINS is about first-generation Puerto Rican siblings, and Boricua culture infuses many aspects of the book. Humor is such an intrinsic part of our culture that I wanted it very present in this book. (An overly serious kids book wouldn’t feel very Puerto Rican to me!) A lot of the humor also came from discovering Javi’s voice. He’s silly but also has a melodramatic streak, and I had so much fun playing into that duality.

Another reason I wanted to lean into the humor was my experience with funny middle grade books–not only as a kid devouring them but as a third grade teacher reading them aloud to my class. My favorite books to read aloud to my students were Half Magic, Sideways Stories From Wayside School and other books that balanced humor and story. It always made performing the books fun for the kids.

Kathie: What has your debut publishing journey been like?

Victor: Becoming a published author has been my goal since I was five, so it’s been an extremely long journey! Part of me is bummed that it took me decades to silence my inner critic long enough to write novels, but I’m mostly grateful that I’ve been able to try on so many other hats in the meantime. I’ve been a teacher, a documentary filmmaker, the voice of Skittles and YouTube, a toy and game designer for Hasbro—it’s been a fun journey!

The more recent publishing journey has been a surprisingly positive one, due entirely to my incredible agent and editor, and the wonderful folks at Sourcebooks. It’s been a complete joy and honor to work with them.

Kathie: Is there something unique about you or your story that you’d like to share with our readers?

Victor: I’m excited for readers to uncover the Easter Eggs I planted throughout the book. I wanted to give adult readers and curious kids something fun to puzzle over as they read the story, so I peppered it with mysterious literary and historical characters whose identities I never reveal (though I drop a few hints). It might take a little research to uncover their identities, but that’s all part of the fun. Heck, an astute reader could figure out the backstory to the entire series if they follow the clues…

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

Victor: I’m at and I’m starting a (very sporadic) newsletter for those who’d like to find out when the next books drop.

Kathie: Thank you so much for spending some time with me today, Victor. I hope TIME VILLAINS has a very successful release.

Victor: Thanks so much, Kathie!

Victor Piñeiro is a creative director and content strategist who’s managed @YouTube and launched @Skittles, creating its award-winning zany voice. He’s also designed games for Hasbro, written/produced a documentary on virtual worlds, and taught third graders. Time Villains is his first novel.

Interview with Amy Makechnie about TEN THOUSAND TRIES

Kathie: Hi Amy! It’s such a pleasure to talk to you about your upcoming book, TEN THOUSAND TRIES, which will be released on July 13th by Atheneum Books for Young People. I had the pleasure of reading an eARC, and this is a story that’s going to tug on a lot of heartstrings. Can you please tell our readers what it’s about?

Amy: Hi Kathie! Thank you for reading. Kirkus Reviews just posted: “A heart-tugging and uplifting story about never giving up – on the soccer field, on loved ones, and on life.” I really love that summation! Going a little further: GOLDEN “Macaroni” Maroni is determined to become master of his eighth grade universe by channeling his hero: international soccer superstar, Lionel Messi. But first he’s got to survive middle school, win the soccer championship, and stop Lucy Littlehouse from moving away. If he can do that, then maybe he can prevent Dad from losing to the three worst letters in the alphabet: A-L-S. Golden believes he can find a way – even if it takes TEN THOUSAND TRIES.

Kathie: I know the inspiration for this story came from a few different places, and it sounds like you’re no stranger to soccer life. Can you tell us a bit about the biggest influences on this particular book?

Amy: Every fall I coach a co-ed middle school soccer team, a cast of rotating characters whom I always grow to adore. My son, who played on the team, was very much the inspiration for our main character, Golden. He too was OBSESSED with Messi. He became convinced that with enough effort he could become GREAT (He even had a 10,000 hours chart on his wall :). 

At the same time, he had a teammate whose father (Eric) had been recently diagnosed with ALS. Eric was a really good friend of ours. It was surreal and heartbreaking to watch him decline physically, to go from super athletic and strong to sitting in a wheelchair unable to move. This was juxtaposed with my middle school boys whose #1 goal was to become bigger, stronger, and faster. It really made me think about our culture, our values, and what truly makes a boy a man. In the end, Golden concludes – it’s not bench press stats that matter most.

Oh, and of course I’m all into Malcom Gladwell’s 10,000 hours theory!

Kathie: My favourite character was Benny, who was often in the background and yet so supportive and loyal to Golden. Did you have a character that you most enjoyed writing?

Amy: I have the strongest attachment to Golden as he is the main character and was in my head day and night! I still feel very attune to his emotions. But I also loved writing Benny Ho and Lucy Littlehouse (these characters are very real to me!) Much of Benny’s story was cut due to my already-long word count. But early on, I had two friends help me flesh out what it’s like to be Asian-American living in a small town that’s mostly white. I’ve occasionally seen abusive language on the athletic field, but I’ve also seen how the best teams and leagues unite diverse groups of people. 

Kathie: Golden desperately wants to grow physically as he’s smaller than his peers, but he certainly goes through some emotional growth in the story! He was in such a state of denial about his dad’s illness, which is a common reaction for many people when faced with the impending loss of a loved one. What advice do you wish you could have given Golden?

Amy: I’ve realized a few things about advice, one of them being: use it sparingly. With Golden, I knew what was coming, but no one – not Golden’s best friends, parents or coaches (not even me as the author!), could dissuade him from believing he could “fix” Dad. I wouldn’t change that. I’d let it play out like it did. Being (ahem) an oft-unrealistic optimist myself, I loved Golden’s fierce hope. I’d say, “Golden, no matter what, you’ll always have a dad that loves you. Our mortal bodies die, but love doesn’t.”

Kathie: ALS is a disease we don’t often see mentioned in middle grade fiction. You discussed it with sensitivity and compassion, and yet the realities of the disease and its impact on families are harsh. How did you find a balance between the truth while still incorporating hope that’s so important to stories for this age group?

Amy: It is harsh. With ALS, one day muscles work, and the next day you suddenly can’t scratch your nose. But I didn’t want to write a sad story, nor did I want to treat an incurable disease too lightly. I tried to balance reality with enough humor and hope to keep the reader turning the pages. The sports angle helped tremendously – who can’t help but root for the underdog? Like Golden, middle schoolers are so funny and resilient. They see goodness and light where adults have grown weary and more cynical. Some of that is inexperience and naivety, but it’s also a superpower to see the possibilities that others can’t – and that’s really fun to write.

Kathie: TEN THOUSAND TRIES is a story that can be recommended to many different kinds of readers because it explores many topics (soccer, parents with an illness, adjusting to changing friend relationships, grief, community). What do you think it’s important for young readers to know about this story?

Amy: That love might break your heart, but it’s still worth it x 10000. It feels impossible at the time, but with every hard thing, there are silver linings – even if it takes a long time to see them. I’d tell readers that there are some sad parts in the book, but also a lot of funny, happy moments – just like life.

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

Amy: Yes! Something very different for younger readers. It’s a story about a very dignified nanny and six rambunctious, naughty children. Oh, and the nanny is a dog. 

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

Amy: My website is: You can go there to subscribe to my newsletter, read reviews, and find my books!

Kathie: I really appreciate you chatting with me today, Amy. I wish you all the best with your book’s release, and I sincerely hope it finds those readers who need it most.

Amy: Thank you for having me, Kathie. I love how you said that. I hope Golden, Benny, and Lucy find their way into many hearts, too!

Amy Makechnie is the author of The Unforgettable Guinevere St. Clair and Ten Thousand Tries. She writes from a small New Hampshire town, teaches an Anatomy and Physiology class, and mothers a wily flock of children (+ one rascal of a puppy), all of which provide daily writing inspiration.

Stay in touch with Amy on Instagram, Twitter, and by subscribing to her newsletter!

Interview with Samantha Clark about ARROW

Kathie: Hi Samantha, and thanks for taking some time to talk with me today about your upcoming book, ARROW, which will be released on June 22nd with Paula Wiseman Books. Can you please tell our readers a little bit about it?

Samantha: Hi Kathie! I’m thrilled to join you on MG Village today. I love your site and am excited to tell your readers about ARROW. This book is my love letter to rainforests and the people who protect them. I think of it as Mad Max meets The Jungle Book with plenty of Fern Gully thrown in. Here’s the description:

This middle-grade novel tells the story of Arrow, a 12-year-old boy with a limb difference, who has grown up the only human living in a lush forest oasis in a dry and arid future where the rich live in stilted cities and industry has devoured nearly all the trees. This patch of rainforest survives behind a magical curtain that keeps it hidden from those who would exploit it. But the magic has started to deplete, and the veil that shields the forest has begun to shred. When people from the outside world find the cracks in the magic, they discover a place they have only seen in dreams—dense and green with water in the air. Arrow is intrigued by these new humans, the first he’s ever seen, but their arrival sets off a chain of events that will lead Arrow to make a devastating choice: be accepted by his own kind or save his home from being destroyed.

Kathie: This story has a very strong environmental focus, including the setting, characters and plot. Why did you choose to make this the center of your novel?

Samantha: I didn’t set out to write a story with an environmental focus, but I shouldn’t be surprised that this theme ended up being so important. Living as part of nature as opposed to trying to force our will upon it has long been a passion of mine, and it never ceases to amaze me how a writer’s passions end up in their stories. But also, the idea for this book came to me while trees were getting torn down all around my neighborhood to make space for more shopping centers and gas stations. I heard the horrible grinding noise every time I left our house. When a boy with one hand who lived in a tree popped into my head, I immediately thought of a trip I had made into the Amazon rainforest when I was 10 in my birth country of Guyana in South America. Putting those memories together with the tree cutting around me and this boy in my head, the book started to take shape.

Another thing I loved about working with this theme was the opportunity to blend science and fantasy. While ARROW is a fantasy book, set in a future with trees that pull magic from the earth, every bit of the magic in the story is based on science. I had so much fun researching and working out how I would amplify our real world to make the science-based magic in the book. It’ll be fun for students to figure out what’s real and what’s not.

Kathie: I found it so fascinating that the story is told from the perspective of the Guardian Tree. I’d love to know why you chose to make it the story’s narrator?

Samantha: I’m so glad you liked the Guardian Tree! I’ve actually always wanted to write a story from the viewpoint of a tree and had another story idea that never got written. But for ARROW, this was another case of me following my muse instead of dictating how the writing should go. The first lines of the book were the first things I wrote:

“My end began the day the sky turned red. We shook. We trembled. We started to bleed. But this would be only the start, a small taste of the battle to come. Our quiet world had been changing, and I could only hope some would survive.”

Those words poured out of me when I still didn’t know much about the story, and they haven’t changed from the first draft. But they ended up showing me how the story should be told and who should be telling it. The more I wrote of the book, the more I realized that the Guardian Tree is the perfect voice for this story, and when readers get to the end, I think they’ll see why.

Kathie: Arrow is a character who is torn between the life he’s known, and the life he wants, and the consequences of the choices he makes. What do you hope readers will learn about themselves through him?

Samantha: I love Arrow and he’s got a lot of me within him. I didn’t grow up the only human in a rainforest and I don’t have a limb difference, but I’m an only child and by the time I was 12, I’d lived in four different countries. I grew up feeling like I was always an outsider who desperately wanted to be accepted, just like Arrow when he meets other humans for the first time. But as a child, while I did make some good friends along the way, I also met a lot of resistance from other kids, just like Arrow does.

For anyone who feels like they’re an outsider, I hope when they read ARROW, they’ll see that their worth isn’t decided by other people. We are the only ones who can truly know what we can do, but as long as we stay true to ourselves—straight and true like an arrow—we’ll find the people who will really appreciate us for who we are.

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

Samantha: Readers who love adventure and acceptance books will love ARROW. While it’s got environmental themes, it’s ultimately an adventure story with mystery. Arrow is on a mission to save the rainforest even before the book begins. The magic that feeds the rainforest is dying and Arrow and the Guardian Tree have been trying to fix it. When the other humans come into the forest, they add complications and set Arrow on a course to save his home in more ways than one. It’s part mystery, part adventure as Arrow races against time to find out what’s killing the forest and protect it from being exploited by the outside world.

Kathie: If there was one thing you hope a reader will remember for this story, what is it?

Samantha: I of course hope readers will get a better understanding of trees and nature when they read ARROW. But aside from that theme, I hope they’ll also see the importance of ecosystems. The Guardian Tree talks about this in the book, how a forest is an ecosystem, with everything within it living and working together for the benefit of all. They help each other, no one taking more than they need and everyone doing their part. Nature lives within ecosystems, trees providing homes for birds who in turn spread the trees’ seeds, for example. And people are designed to live within ecosystems. Our ancestors did, all playing a part for the health and well being of everyone.

But too often in today’s society, we tend to have a me first view of life: Me before other people and Me before nature. Unfortunately, as we can see in our world, this doesn’t help to keep ourselves, our families and our communities thriving long into the future. So,  I hope ARROW’s readers see the importance of being a part of an ecosystem, of sharing and helping everyone within their own ecosystems, whether it’s their family, classroom, school, or town.

Kathie: Can you please let us know where we can find out more about you and your writing?

Samantha: Absolutely! My website is There you’ll find blog posts with writing tips, interviews and more. I also do monthly giveaways on my enewsletter, and you can subscribe here:

You can also find me on social media here:





Kathie: I really appreciate you talking with me today, and I wish you all the best with ARROW’s release.

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

Samantha M Clark is the award-winning author of THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST and the forthcoming ARROW (June 22, 2021), both published by Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster and AMERICAN HORSE TALES: HOLLYWOOD coming from Penguin Workshop/Penguin Random House on June 29, 2021. She has always loved stories about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. After all, if four ordinary brothers and sisters can find a magical world at the back of a wardrobe, why can’t she? While she looks for her real-life Narnia, she writes about other ordinary children and teens who’ve stumbled into a wardrobe of their own. In a past life, Samantha was a photojournalist and managing editor for newspapers and magazines. She lives with her husband and two funny dogs in Austin, Texas. Samantha is the Regional Advisor for the Austin chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators, and explores wardrobes every chance she gets. Sign up for news and giveaways at Follow her on Twitter @samclarkwritesInstagram @samanthamclarkbooksFacebook at SamanthaMClarkAuthor, and Pinterest at SamClarkWrites.

FAST FORWARD FRIDAY – Alysa Wishingrad

Kathie: Hi Alysa! It’s my pleasure to spend some time with you today talking about your debut MG novel, THE VERDIGRIS PAWN, which will be released on July 13th by HarperCollins. I just finished it last night, and I have so much I want to know! Let’s start by asking you to tell our readers a little bit about it, please.

Alysa: Hi Kathie! It’s such a pleasure to be here with you, thank you so much for having me.

THE VERDIGRIS PAWN is the story of Beau, heir to the ruler of the Land, a man so frightening, people only dare call him Himself. Raised isolated and alone, Beau has no idea of the brutal tyranny Himself unleashes upon his subjects, and how hated and feared their family is.  

This all changes when he meets Cressi, a young servant, who opens his eyes to the realities of life in the Land – especially about Mastery House, a terrible and brutal place where the children of the poor are sent to be raised and trained to be servants in exchange for payment of their family’s taxes.  

This discovery of the truth sets Beau off on an epic adventure along with Nate, a runaway, as he tries to undo the poisoned legacy of his family. But in order to restore fairness and equality to the Land, Beau must think of things like a real-life game of Fist (a board game similar to chess!)  

Although, when you’re reviled throughout the Land and false heroes lurk around every corner, leading a rebellion is easier said than done. 

This is a story about how appearances aren’t always what they seem and how real power can come from the most unlikely places. 

Kathie: This was such a unique story, and felt like a mix between historical fiction and fantasy. I’d love to know if you had a time period in mind for when it was set, and what kind of research you did to help you create the setting and characters?

Alysa: I think the best way to describe the time period of THE VERDIGRIS PAWN is quasi-medieval. I was inspired to create a pre-industrial world that might look like something we recognize from history, but that also allowed me the space to play and not to be burdened by the need to be accurate. What was important to me was that the world feel both somehow familiar and new to the reader.

As for research, I love nothing more than getting lost for hours and days chasing down details about how people lived, what foods they ate, how medicines were made, what garments they wore. And sensory details are so important to me as well. The pre-industrial world did not smell or sound the same as it does now. I love digging around for those facts. While I always want to understand the big picture of a time period, fundamentally it’s the details of daily life that fascinate me most.

Many of my characters could, I think, live in any time period. There are always those who will have isolationist tendencies, and the power hungry have existed since time immemorial. But in building Himself, I dug deep to really understand how despots can come to power, how they maintain their hold, and what are the conditions that can lead to their downfall.

Kathie: Was there ever a point when you thought about telling the story from the perspective of a different character, and what was it about Beau that drew you to his side of the story?

Alysa: This was always Beau’s story from the very beginning. I was really taken with the idea of turning the trope of “the chosen one” on its head. What happens when the chosen one doesn’t want to be chosen? And further, do the privileged have the right to spurn their privilege because they either don’t want it or think themselves unworthy of it?

But mostly I fell in love with this boy, who, even though he’s woefully ignorant about the realities of life around him and who has been raised with such cold-hearted judgement, never lost his gentle and open heart.

And yet, Cressi’s voice and POV are so vital to this story. In many ways she’s the true heroine here, the driving force for change in Beau, Nate, and the Land. I loved spending time in her POV chapters and travelling along with her as she comes into her own power. I suppose if I could have told this in two books Cressi would absolutely have gotten her own volume!

Kathie: I really loved the character development, and how each of the three main characters went through tremendous growth and coming into their own as individuals; it felt like all three of them had been gone from the Manor for much longer than a few days. Is it hard to keep the details straight when so much happens in a short amount of time? Do you have to plot it carefully to keep track?

Alysa: Absolutely! There are several plot lines that all eventually converge, but until they do, I had to balance who knows what when along with what the reader knows.

I know several writers who have wonderfully organized systems of charts and graphs to keep track of timelines. I don’t do so well with charts. My method is a bit messier and involves writing out the story of the story by hand, diving into character notes, and keeping a lot of it in my head.

Once great advantage of having two parallel POVs was that I could read all of Beau’s chapters as one story, then read Cressi’s to make sure neither one was getting ahead of the other.

And yes, you’re right an awful lot happens to these characters and the Land over the course of a few short days. But as I think we’ve all seen in the last year, change really can happen overnight.

Kathie: What was one of your biggest challenges writing this story? 

Alysa: Oh gosh, where to start? I’ll begin by saying that writing this book was not a speedy process, it took many years to get this story right and working.

But specifically, getting to know Beau was a challenge. I had made several assumptions about him, who he was and how he’d respond to certain situations. Yet the deeper I went the more he surprised and delighted me with his compassion, honesty, and willingness to learn. I in turn had to learn to listen and learn from him.

Building in the backstory was also a challenge. I needed to fold in the history of the Land and several of the characters without it feeling heavy handed or too expository. In so many ways telling this story was like making a bed. You smooth the sheet in one section only to realize that you’ve created a few wrinkles further down. But I hope the history and backstory enriches the reader’s experience.

Kathie: Did you have a favorite section to write?

Alysa: It’s not so much a section as an element. There are a great many things and people who are not what/who they appear to be in this story. Holding back the truth and letting it drop out ever so slowly was a great challenge, but also fantastically fun.

Oh! And developing the game of Fist also presented me with an incredible challenge.

Kathie: What’s one thing you’d like our readers to know about The Verdigris Pawn?

Alysa: I know some folks have been uncertain about how to pronounce Verdigris. I’m happy to say that you have two options, both of which are correct. You can pronounce it either VER-duh-grees, or VER-duh-gris.

And for those readers who might not know, verdigris is the chemical reaction that occurs when bronze and copper are oxidized. The Statue of Liberty is an example most everyone can call to mind.

Much like copper and bronze Beau, Cressi, Nate and the Land all get tested and transformed into something new over the course of the novel.

Kathie: Are you working on another writing project at the moment, and do you like short bursts of time or long uninterrupted stretches in which to write?

Alysa: I am working on two other books actually, neither of which I can say much about yet though.

I tend to work in phases. There are times where I can sit and work for hours on end, when the words just flow, and I know where I’m going. Other times, I have to break my day up into chunks and leave myself time to think and not think. I call that thinkutating— a mix of thinking and contemplating – meaning leaving space for the answers to come when you’re not looking for them.

Since both of my kids are fairly grown now, I can work pretty much uninterrupted – although my dogs have very strong opinions about how often I need to get up and go for a walk with them.

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

Alysa: Readers can find me on twitter and Instagram talking about books and food, and they can visit me at

THE VERDIGRIS PAWN will be out July 13th – all the pre-order links are here on the HarperCollins page. And if anyone would like a signed pre-order and some pawn-ish swag (pawn-shaped stickers and bookmarks) they can order from either of my two of my favorite local Independent Booksellers:

Oblong Books, and Postmark Books

Kathie: Thank you so much for talking with me today, Alysa. I’m so happy to know your book will be out in the world for young readers to enjoy very soon.

Alysa: It’s been such a delight chatting with you, thank you so much for having me, Kathie. And thank you for all you and Middle Grade Book Village do for readers, writers and lovers of Middle Grade Literature!

Alysa Wishingrad once had a whole different career working in theater, film and TV, but nothing could be better than building worlds for middle grade readers. When she’s not writing, she’s probably out walking the dogs or getting back to seeing as much theater as she possibly can. Alysa lives in the Hudson Valley of NY with her family, three cats, and two demanding dogs.

THE VERDIGRIS PAWN, her debut novel will be out July 13 from HarperCollins. Visit her at

Book Review: PIZAZZ and PIZAZZ VS. THE NEW KID, by Sophy Henn

Everyone knows that kids love graphic novels. But for some young readers, there may be something even better: the so-called “hybrid” novel. “Hybrid” books can, and often do, contain anything and everything. Prose, spot illustrations, full page illustrations, comics strips and long-form comics — you name it. One of the things I love about books that use such a variety of forms is that each one is totally different. For young readers, that leads to a wildly exciting reading experience, as they really don’t know what to expect next, both in terms of the content of the story and the form in which it will be delivered.

Pizazz and Pizazz vs. The New Kid, both recently released from Simon & Schuster/Aladdin and both written and illustrated by Sophy Henn, are excellent additions to the hybrid Middle Grade space. The story is about and told by Pizazz, a reluctant superhero who comes from a large family of them. Why is Pizazz reluctant? There’s the embarrassing outfit, for one thing, plus the humiliatingly superhero she’s been saddled with (it’s not revealed until late in the first book, so I won’t spoil it for you here). Not to mention the fact that it seems every time Pizazz is hanging out with her friends, she has to dash off to somewhere or other and save the day. It all keeps Pizazz from leading a normal life — and that’s all she really wants.

Sophy Henn does a great job juggling the out-of-this-world excitement of Pizazz’s superheroics with more down-to-earth themes and conflicts — ones that every kid, whether or not they’ve got superpowers, will be able to relate to. Add in a boatload of humor and all the bold, exciting illustrated elements, and you’ve got yourself books that kids won’t be able to put down. But Pizazz and Pizazz vs. The New Kid (and no doubt the third book in the series, out September 7) are worth adding to your collection for other reasons, besides. With its mix of text and art, the books can serve as great “bridges” for a number of readers — including those who are beginning to read longer chapter books on their own (the Pizazz books are about 200 pages each) and those who prefer, or are more comfortable with, either full-text books or graphic novels and want to explore the other.

You can meet Sophy Henn and get a sneak peek of the first book in the series here:

For more information, head to the individual Pizazz book pages on Simon & Schuster’s site (here’s the one for Pizazz) or follow Sophy on social media (here’s her Twitter)!

. . .

Review by: Jarrett Lerner

Jarrett Lerner is the author of EngiNerds, Revenge of the EngiNerds, The EngiNerds Strike Back, Geeger the Robot Goes to School, and Geeger the Robot: Lost and Found, as well as the author-illustrator of the activity books Give This Book a Title and Give This Book a Cover. Jarrett is also the author-illustrator of the forthcoming Hunger Heroes graphic novel series and the forthcoming illustrated novel in verse A Work in Progress (all published by Simon & Schuster/Aladdin). He cofounded and helps run the MG Book Village, an online hub for all things Middle Grade, and is the co-organizer of the #KidsNeedBooks and #KidsNeedMentors projects. He can be found at and on Twitter and Instragram at @Jarrett_Lerner. He lives with his family in Medford, Massachusetts.


5 Questions with Author Jessica Speer About Her Middle-Grade Debut – BFF or NRF (Not Really Friends)? A Girls Guide to Happy Friendships

Thank you so much for having me, Kathie, and for your unwavering support of debut authors! It’s such an honor to be part of Fast Forward Friday.

  1. What was the inspiration for BFF or NRF?

When my two daughters entered the preteen years, friendship struggles started to emerge. This reminded me of my experience as well as the stories of so many others. So I got curious.

I’ve got a background in social sciences and have always been fascinated with human relationships. I dove into books and research on the subject. I also started a friendship program for elementary school girls. This program and the stories of girls shaped this book from start to finish.

  1. Why are friendship and social struggles common in the preteen years, especially for girls?

When we explore everything going during this phase of life, it’s not surprising that social struggles happen. Girls’ confidence drops between the ages of 8-14. Some studies find that confidence dips as much as 30% in girls, leading to self-doubt, social anxiety, and risk avoidance.

At the same time, preteens are becoming more reliant on peers. Friendships begin to replace family as tweens’ primary source of identity and support. Preteens also start exploring their own identity. Who their friends are, what they wear, what activities they do.

All of this happens alongside the physiological changes of adolescence. So yeah, social changes and struggles are common in the preteen years! In my friendship programs, the notion that change and struggle are normal was a huge relief to girls. This is emphasized in the book too.

  1. The pandemic and social isolation added even more change to our social lives. Did this impact your writing or your book?

Yes, for sure. My book was initially scheduled for release in 2020. It was delayed due to the pandemic, which allowed me to edit it one more time. I’m grateful for these final edits because I was able to add additional content that I hope will support girls as they reenter their in-person social worlds.

Many girls are feeling isolated and unsure of where their friendships stand. I hope that BFF or NRF serves as a supportive guide as girls rebuild relationships.

  1. BFF or NRF has interactive components, like quizzes and fill-in-the-blanks. Why is that important?

It can be tough to navigate social issues the moment they happen. The book’s interactive nature gives readers a chance to reflect when they are not right in the moment. The activities help girls learn more about themselves as well as others. Something magic happens when we put words on paper or on screen. Quizzes and activities give girls a chance to think about who they are, how they want to behave, and how they might respond in challenging situations.

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

Absolutely! For updates, you can find me on @jessica_speer_author on Instagram and @speerauthor on Twitter. For book-related news and articles on social-emotional topics, you can visit my website,

Thank you so much, Kathie! I’m honored to be a part of MG Book Village and the Fast Forward Friday series. Your support for the book means the world!

Jessica Speer’s book, BFF or NRF (Not Really Friends)? A Girls Guide to Happy Friendships grew out of her friendship program that strengthens social awareness and helps kids learn to navigate common struggles. She has a master’s degree in social sciences and explores social-emotional topics in ways that connect with pre-teens and teens.