COVER REVEAL for People of the Sun by Ben Gartner

Kathie: It’s so nice to have you back at MG Book Village again, Ben! This time, we’re thrilled to be part of the cover reveal for Book 3 in the Eye of Ra series called PEOPLE OF THE SUN. Can you tell us what’s happening with John and Sarah this time?

Ben: I’m so pleased you had me back! As I’ve said before, you and the MG Book Village folks are such a great force for good in our MG community. Thank you kindly.

In PEOPLE OF THE SUN, all is revealed about who John and Sarah really are, and why they’re traveling through time. This was a fun one to finally write, and I hope my readers have their imaginations tickled as much as I did in scheming it up way back when. In terms of the historical era John and Sarah visit, they go back to around the year 1500 CE in central Mexico before a certain Spaniard rapscallion named Cortés arrives. The people with whom they interact are now known as the Aztec. There is plenty of lore to play with in that culture.

Kathie: Were you surprised by any of the events that revealed themselves while you were writing this draft or did you have a pretty good sense of what was happening going into it?

Ben: When I wrote book 1, I didn’t realize I was going to be writing a series. But when I wrote book 2, I knew I had to plot out the series arc more fully so I didn’t write myself into a corner with that middle book. So I had the framework for book 3 before I even started writing book 2. It feels like forever ago and I just can’t wait to get it out into readers’ hands to hear their reactions. Of course, I’ve had beta readers and other author friends read it over, and their enthusiasm for the story has been very exciting. Now time to let it free!

Kathie: What’s something that you’ve learned about yourself from writing this series?

Ben: Wow, this is a great question. Writing this series, and specifically putting it out into the world, has taught me some concrete lessons about being vulnerable. I’d written a few other books before this series, but this is the first one that made it to print. Overcoming that obstacle was something I wish I’d done years ago, but at the same time it feels like now is the perfect time. And the reception from kids, even more than the awards, has been one of the most thrilling and rewarding highlights of my life.

Kathie: This book reveals so much and ends with a satisfying conclusion for the three-book series arc, while also leaving it open to many more adventures for John and Sarah. Do you plan to continue the series?

Ben: I will not be surprised at all if I end up writing more adventures for John and Sarah. Importantly, I wanted to end book 3 on a satisifying note for the series as a whole. But at the same time, I wanted to leave it open to worlds of possibility, similar to how the Magic Tree House books can go on forever (though we know those are for a younger crowd than our MG friends). John and Sarah will always have a special place in my heart, and I’m sure they’ll be whispering in my ear. But, for now, after writing three books about them, I wanted to explore a different story. My work-in-progress is a middle grade “space fiction” (I’m calling it, or some people call the style “hard science fiction”) where my main character gets to travel into orbit in the near-ish future. I want it to be scientifically and technically accurate with the launch details, the layout of the ISS, the real threat of random space debris — I should stop talking now. 😉 

Kathie: Can you tell us about your involvement in the cover design process, and who the illustrator is?

Ben: Anne Glenn is a wonderful talent and working with her is fantastic. She’s created art for a lot of big names and big houses. She’s proven herself many times over as having an excellent gift for making award-winning art. I’m delighted she accepted the work for PEOPLE OF THE SUN. You can learn more about Anne here:   

Kathie: OK, let’s show readers what it looks like!

Kathie: Oh wow, what a great cover!! I especially love the book title with the lightning around it.

Kathie: Have your own kids read this series, and if so, do they offer feedback? What’s been the most useful feedback you’ve gotten from a reader?

Ben: My kids are invaluable in the process, yes. And, most importantly, it’s FUN to involve them in the creation of the story. In fact, I dedicated book 1 to them. My wife is helpful too, so she earned the dedication in book 2. And my readers, who I am so fortunate to know, earned the dedication in book 3. The most useful feedback I receive from readers (such as my kids) is from their reactions while I’m reading. It is priceless to have your eyes down reading and hear a subtle gasp from a student, or a chuckle from your own kid. That alone is worth more than anything else.

Kathie: Are you planning to start writing a new series?

Ben: I touched on my new “space fiction” book above, but as of now I think I’m going to make it a stand-alone. I thought that about The Eye of Ra too, but I think that this one really will be a stand-alone. For now. We’ll see. 

Kathie: Let’s remind readers where they can find out more about you and your writing.

Ben: The best spot is my website I’m active on Twitter at, a little less so on Instagram at, and I should probably just formally give up on Facebook because I’m terrible at it (but I’m My website at has all those links, as well as a sign-up for my [infrequent] mailing list as well, in which I offer exclusive giveaways and updates!

Kathie: Thanks again for letting us be part of your reveal, Ben, and I hope we have the opportunity to do this again in the future.

Ben: I am honored to have had the cover reveal here for both SOL INVICTUS (book 2) and PEOPLE OF THE SUN (book 3). Thank you so much for having me again! Talk to you soon. Until next time, happy reading!

Ben Gartner is the award-winning author of The Eye of Ra adventure series for middle graders (ages 8-12). His books take readers for a thrilling ride, maybe even teaching them something in the meantime. Ben can be found living and writing near the mountains with his wife and two boys.


Kathie: Hi Jaime, and welcome to Fast Forward Friday. I just finished your middle-grade debut novel, HOPE SPRINGS, which comes out August 10th from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, and it was fantastic! I think young readers will love this story, especially those who know what it’s like to move a lot and search for the “perfect” place to call home. Can you tell us about your book, please?

Jaime: Thank you so much for having me, Kathie. And thank you for your kind words about my book. HOPE SPRINGS is about 11 year-old Jubilee and her grandmother Nan. They live by a set of Relocation Rules meant to help them find their perfect place. But Jubilee starts to feel that their number one rule- just the two of them is all they need- leaves them a little too close to alone. After she convinces Nan to move to the small town of Hope Springs, Texas, Jubilee begins to think maybe she’s found the place she’s been searching for, but it’ll take quite a bit to make Nan feel the same way. 

Kathie: Jubilee lives with Nan, and instead of working through hard things, they usually pick up and move. Now Jubilee is making attachments in Hope Springs and breaking the Relocation Rules. Did you move a lot as a child or stay in one place, and how did that affect your perspective writing this story?

Jaime: I never moved as a kid! I was born and raised in a tiny rural town, but moved to Brooklyn after college. Then as a young adult I did quite a bit of moving from one apartment to the next, and didn’t expect to feel as homesick as I did. One of the unique things about living in a very small town is that everyone knows each other; that can be a mixed blessing, but it makes it almost impossible not to be connected to the community. And that’s what I thought would speak most to Jubilee- connection. 

Kathie: I think Abby was my favourite character; I loved how Jubilee didn’t have a choice but to be her friend and be welcomed into her family. Which character are you most like, and what appealed to you about telling Jubilee’s story?

Jaime: Oh my goodness, this is a tough question! I love Abby too, but I’m honestly not sure which character I’m most like. I wrote a draft of this story after my very young family outgrew the first apartment I thought of as home other than my hometown. We searched and searched for our next perfect place, and ended up leaving Brooklyn and relocating to the suburbs.

It took me quite a while to settle into our new town, and I did a lot of thinking about how little a house has to do with the feeling of home. I guess in that way, I’m like Jubilee. I do think my household is like Abby’s, always loud and messy, but a welcoming loud mess…I hope!

Kathie: I fell in love with Hope Springs for its setting and its people. Was it inspired by a place you lived or visited?

Jaime: Yes! Hope Springs is based on the small town I grew up in called Antlers tucked down in the southeast corner of Oklahoma. And just like Hope Springs, there was one stop light in the whole county. My dad and my grandfather worked together at Berry Drug Store on Main Street, and a few blocks in either direction at the stoplight’s intersection made up the entire downtown.

Both sets of my grandparents lived there too. In fact, for a while, my maternal grandmother, my great aunt, my aunt, and my family all lived down the same country road. When I think of home, I normally think of there-not our house, but that stretch of road with its horse pastures and rolling hills. It was called Red Hill Road, and that’s where I set up Nan and Jubilee in a rental house right next to a murky pond, very much like the one by my grandmother’s house when I was eleven.

Kathie: This is a character-driven novel with the themes of family, community, friendship, and belonging that run strongly through it. Where do you consider “home” to be, and what qualities make it so for you?

Jaime: I think maybe what makes a home is slightly different for everyone. For me, home is wherever a person feels loved and supported enough to take risks and pursue what might seem like unattainable goals, a place filled with the people that make you feel more like yourself when you’re there than when you’re not. 

Kathie: What have you learned during your debut year that you’ll definitely use moving forward with your writing career?

Jaime: I’ve made plenty of mistakes during my publishing journey, but if it weren’t for my fellow 2021 debut writers, the 21nders, I would’ve made a ton more. So, I think sharing experiences and having a support network of fellow writers going through similar publishing hurdles is really important. Also, writing can be lonesome but connecting with teachers, librarians, and other writers makes it less so. I think like Jubilee and Nan I’ve learned that going it alone, or even close to alone, isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Kathie: Are you working on another writing project right now?

Jaime: Yes! I have another middle grade contemporary scheduled to come out in Fall of 2022. I’m really excited about it and couldn’t be happier to be working on another book with Sam Gentry, my wonderful editor at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

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

Jaime: My website is, and on Twitter I’m @jaime_berry3.

Kathie: Thanks for joining me on Fast Forward Friday today, Jaime, and I hope young readers love Jubilee’s story as much as I did.

Jaime: Oh, thank you so much! This has been a ton of fun. One of the things I have loved most about this whole debut process is connecting to other people who love middle grade as much as I do. Thank you so much for taking the time to read my book. I truly hope that readers will find some comfort in Hope Springs, and I’m thrilled you enjoyed your time there!

Jaime Berry is a native of rural Oklahoma and a former New York City public school teacher. After years with two small boys in a too-small Brooklyn apartment, Jaime and her husband moved to the wilds of suburban New Jersey and added another boy and a dog to the mix. Hope Springs is Jaime’s debut novel. 

Book Trailer Premiere: ROOK, by William Ritter

Hi, Will! Thanks for stopping by the Middle Grade Book Village to share a book trailer for your newest book. Tell us about Rook!

Thanks so much for inviting me! I am so thrilled to be returning to New Fiddleham and to the bizarre life of Abigail Rook. For those who haven’t read the Jackaby series, those four books follow Rook as she first arrives in America, finds work for the titular supernatural detective, and gradually becomes the hero of her own story over a series of wild capers. Part of my decision to end that series where I did was because it felt like the natural conclusion of an arc—Rook had reached the end of an important chapter in her life and was done following. This book picks up with the next chapter of her life, one in which she very much takes the lead.

The events of the fourth Jackaby book changed things in this world, and without giving too much away, this new novel explores the ramifications of those changes. After generations of isolation, the human world and the world of magic are finally colliding—and New Fiddleham is not the same city that it was when Rook first stepped off the boat. She’s going to have her hands full with paranormal perils, insidious plots, mounting pressure… and parents.

The fourth Jackaby novel came out in 2018. What is it like returning to the series after spending some time away?

It’s like returning home to visit old friends. I’ve missed writing these characters. They’ve grown while I’ve been away, and writing them has been a chance to learn who they are all over again.

Many of your books, including The Oddmire series for middle grade readers, take place in the same universe as Jackaby. What draws you to this world of folklore and fantasy?

The turn of the 20th century is such an interesting time period for a fantasy. The world is scary and rough in many ways, and it still has a lot of growing ahead of it, but human beings are also exploring the development of electricity, pushing the limits of steam power, and developing marvels of engineering… and they’re doing so right alongside Ouija Boards, séances, and spirit phones. It’s a time when anything seems possible, bad or good. That atmosphere pairs so nicely with a coming-of-age story—whether that’s a story about MG characters just coming out of childhood or YA characters learning how to be adults. The urban streets of New Fiddleham and the rural roads of Endsborough are very different venues for exploring these ideas, but the feelings behind them are kindred spirits.

All right, let’s take a look at the book trailer — which, I feel I need to mention, you animated yourself!

Wow! It’s fabulous! Just one thing: Rook isn’t scheduled to release for a while—so what should we read while we’re waiting?

Well, Jackaby and the Oddmire, obviously. But for a few read-alikes: I recently adored Cemetery Boys by fellow Oregon author Aiden Thomas. They managed to create a marvelously grounded yet supernatural world full of darkness and light in perfect balance. Highly recommend. For fans of Fractured Folktales—Curses by Lish McBride is brilliant, too. It releases this month, but I had the privilege of getting to be an early reader. McBride’s writing is always so sharp and cheeky, and this gender-swapped Beauty and the Beast retelling is some of her best. Don’t miss it. I’ll add that the Rick Riordan Presents line of books is perpetually coming out with awesome mythology-inspired fantasy. Roshani Chokshi’s Aru Shah and Kwame Mbalia’s Tristan Strong were both stellar. Rebecca Roanoke’s Race to the Sun is the latest on my TBR. Happy reading!

Where can readers follow your progress and learn more about your work?

I’m on frequently on twitter at @WillOtheWords, and occasionally on my own blog at

William Ritter is an Oregon author and educator. He is the proud father of the two bravest boys in the Wild Wood, and husband to the indomitable Queen of the Deep Dark.The Oddmireis Ritter’s first series for middle-grade readers. He is also the author of the New York Times bestselling, award-winning Jackaby series for young adult readers. Visit him online at and find him on Twitter: @Willothewords.


Kathie: Hi Ally! I’m so glad to have a chance to talk to you about your upcoming debut novel, GHOST GIRL, which will be coming out on August 10th from Katherine Tegen Books. Can you give us a brief synopsis of it, please?

Ally: I’m so excited to talk to you too! Thank you for having me! Ghost Girl is a spooky middle grade book about Zee, a tow-headed, stubborn, storytelling girl and her best friend Elijah. When a storm comes through town delivering a new principal with strange ideas about your dreams coming true things start to get spooky. In order to understand what’s happening Zee and Elijah team up with Nellie, bully turned buddy, and the three of them will have to work together if they want to give their ghost story a happy ending.

Kathie: I absolutely loved the role that the library played in this story (surprise, surprise!). Can you tell us where the inspiration for this part of the story came from?

Ally:Yes I can! It’s a combination of two libraries. One is the Newburgh Library in the Hudson Valley. I grew up near there and always loved when we would go because that was, as I called it, the Big Library. It had three floors which blew my mind when I was little. The second inspiration is the library that I currently work at in Brooklyn! The physical building, with the lower decks and the wings like the covers of a book, is based on the Central Library at Brooklyn Public Library. 

Kathie: I think Elijah is my favorite character; he is a devoted friend, helps unite Zee and Nellie, shows a quiet strength when it’s most needed, and so desperately wants his one wish to come true. Which character or relationship did you most enjoy writing, and which was the most challenging for you?

Ally: I loved writing Elijah so I’m so happy to hear that he resonated with you. He came so easily to me, and I thought he was a good opposite to Zee. Where she’s all noise and bluster, Elijah is quiet and careful. I think a lot of his personality is based on my father. I found the way Zee and Elijah offset and then balanced each other was one of my favorite relationships to write. The most challenging was Nellie and Zee, simply because I hate bullies, which both girls at times are guilty of, and writing their increased agitation was hard. 

Kathie: I love how the villain, Principal Scratch, convinces the town that he’s trustworthy and that they were able to manifest their most desired wishes. If you would have one non-serious wish that would come true, what would it be?

Ally: Oh! That’s a good question. I suppose if I could have one non-serious wish come true is that I would continue to be able to write spooky books for kids. 

Kathie: There are few middle grade horror stories, and yet we know so many young readers love them. Did you enjoy scary stories as a kid? Why do you think we don’t see more being published, and why do you think young readers are so drawn to them?

Ally: I love this question because I love talking about the importance of what I call safe-fear. I adored scary books as a kid. One of my all time favorites was Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark! I still remember most of those stories. I vividly remember the first time I read the Monkey’s Paw and how chilled I was by the knock on the door at the end. If you haven’t read it, please go google it. I think a lot of the reason that we don’t see more scary stories being published is because of adult gatekeeping. I remember meeting an author I admired recently and when I explained that my book was middle grade horror she wrinkled her nose and said such a thing shouldn’t exist. I was crushed. I think kids are drawn to scary stories because they already know the world is scary and I think when adults try to be gatekeepers for kids they are denying that children have the same wide berth of emotions as adults. They just don’t always have the tools to manage them. And that is where scary stories step in. It’s a safe kind of fear. It isn’t happening to the reader, they just get to follow along. It allows a kid the opportunity to step into something scary and feel those feelings and then, be the hero at the end! Scary stories are the place where kids learn that sometimes life is scary and that’s OKAY. 

Kathie: If you saw a young reader in the library holding your book and deciding whether to check it out, are you the type of author who would go up and speak to them, or quietly smile to yourself and wait to see what they do? If you did speak to them, what would you say to convince them to try it?

Ally:I would definitely wait to see what they did and then, if they did check it out, I would ask them why. And chances are good it would be because of the amazing cover that my illustrator Maike Plenzke created! 

Kathie: Are you working on another writing project right now, and where can we go to find out more about you and your writing?

Ally:I am! I just turned in a new round of edits to my editor on a new stand alone spooky book called This Appearing House. It is about a girl, Jac, and her best friend Hazel, who get trapped in a haunted house. But it’s also about illness, fear, trauma, and acceptance. I can’t wait for people to read it. It’s slated to be out Summer of 2022 by Katherin Tegen Books. The best place to find out more about my writing and whatever shenanigans I’m up to would be at my website at 

Kathie: Thanks, Ally, for spending some time with me today. I hope this book will find those young readers who love a scary story just in time for the fall spooky season.

Ally: Thank you so much for having me Kathie! I loved talking with you about spooky books and why they matter! And yes, I joked with my husband that this year Spooky Season starts on August 10th the day Ghost Girl is out! 

Ally Malinenko is a poet, novelist, and librarian living in Brooklyn, New York, where she pens her tales in a secret writing closet before dawn each day. Connect with Ally on her website at

COVER REVEAL for The Way I Say It by Nancy Tandon

Kathie: Hi Nancy! I’m so happy that MG Book Village is part of the cover reveal for your middle-grade debut novel, THE WAY I SAY IT. I love watching authors launch their first book and feel honoured to be part of your journey. Please give us a synopsis of your story, and tell us when it’s set for release?

Nancy: Hi Kathie! Thank you for having me. What a treat and an honor to be here among such a supportive community of middle grade book lovers to share the cover of my debut novel! 

THE WAY I SAY IT tells the story of a sixth grader named Rory who can’t say his own name. But being “the kid who still can’t say the /r/ sound” is just the beginning of his troubles. First Rory’s ex-best-friend Brent starts hanging out with the mean lacrosse kids. But then, a terrible accident takes Brent out of school, and Rory struggles with how to feel.

Rory and his new speech teacher put their heads together on Rory’s r’s (not to mention a serious love of hard rock and boxing legend Muhammad Ali), but nobody seems to be able to solve the problem of Rory’s complicated feelings about Brent. Brent’s accident left him with a mild brain injury, and he’s struggling. Should Rory stand up for his old friend at school–even after Brent failed to do the same for him? 

THE WAY I SAY IT releases on January 18, 2022 and is available for pre-order now!!

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

Nancy: In my previous career as a Speech/Language Pathologist, I worked with many kids who had trouble saying sounds included in their own name. For example, one of my favorites was a young girl named Camille. She couldn’t say the /k/ sound, and it led to a lot of confusion when people would ask her her name. It can be so frustrating when an articulation disorder interferes with someone’s ability to communicate, and especially when it impedes the production of something so personal — your own name! 

I also worked in both inpatient and outpatient brain injury rehabilitation programs. There is a saying: “if you’ve met one person with a brain injury, you’ve met one person with a brain injury.” Recovering from a head trauma that affects one’s ability to communicate is a complex, highly individual road. 

But no matter where a difficulty with speech or language stems from, at the core, there seems to be a common desire for all humans : we want to be heard and understood. I was compelled to explore what that might look like at the middle grade level, when kids are really beginning to figure out who they are and who they want to be. 

Kathie: Is your main character based on an actual person, and can you give us one characteristic about them that you most admire?

Nancy: Honestly I did the “devious writer” thing and asked myself: what would be the worst name to have if you were a sixth grader who can’t say /r/ sounds? And Rory was born. But in the beginning, I struggled to make him a fully fleshed out character. He was very one dimensional. Then I attended a play put on by local sixth graders. The boy playing the lead had a distinctive speech pattern that my SLP brain registered as what we call “gliding of liquids” — essentially, replacing /r/ with a /w/ sound. But this kid was amazing. He owned the stage. He sang with the voice of an angel. And it hit me — I wasn’t letting Rory actually be himself. And who he is is a multi-faceted cool kid who makes mistakes but is driven to learn and grow. From there the story took off.  

Kathie: What’s one thing about your publishing journey (so far) that’s surprised you?

Nancy: I had no idea when I started writing how many wonderful new friends I would make! I’ve met the most fascinating, talented people — both readers and writers. And I have relied on those friends to buoy me as I’ve been bobbing around in the pre-published waters for a looong time. I would not have survived without that raft!

Kathie: Let’s talk about your book’s cover. Can you please tell us about the illustrator and your involvement in the process?

Nancy: My publisher, Charlesbridge, has worked with illustrator Chris Hsu on other projects, and he was my editor Karen Boss’s first choice for the cover of THE WAY I SAY IT. Lucky for us, he was available! He’s incredibly talented; have a gander at his portfolio at and you’ll agree!

I got to see an early version of the cover, and there were some minor tweaks after that. Both Charlesbride and Chris Hsu made the process very easy on my end! And I am so excited about the final product!

Kathie: It’s the moment everyone has been waiting for…here’s the cover for The Way I Say It!

Kathie: I really love the way the title is written in a speech bubble, and how the primary colors jump off the page!

Now, what’s a little-known fact about this story you can share with us?

Nancy: Many years ago, a few sample pages of this story won the Ruth Landers Glass Scholarship from the New England Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators. The fact that someone (not related to me) felt the story had promise truly sustained me in the long years on my path to publication since then!

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

Nancy: I love connecting with other readers and writers! I can be found at and on Twitter (@nancytandon) and Instagram (@_nancytandon_)

Kathie: Thank you so much for taking the time to share some details about your upcoming book, Nancy. I look forward to reading it!

Nancy: Thank you, Kathie. It’s been my pleasure, truly. A huge thank you to all the volunteer hours that have gone into making Middle Grade Book Village a ‘one stop shop’ where people can find out about awesome stories for middle grade readers! 

The Way I Say It is available for pre-order from the following: 

RIVER BEND BOOKSHOP  (Exclusive pre-order campaign! Specify if you would like your book personalized; your order will also include some super special surprise swag!)



Barnes and Noble 


Happy reading to all!

Nancy Tandon is a former teacher, speech-language pathologist, and adjunct professor of phonetics and child language development. As an SLP, she worked with many clients who had difficulty pronouncing sounds specific to their names, as well as people recovering from brain injury. Nancy lives in Connecticut with her husband and two children. The Way I Say It is her first novel. Visit her at

FAST FORWARD FRIDAY – Christyne Morrell

Kathie: Hi Christyne! It’s great to have a chance to talk to you about your upcoming release, KINGDOM OF SECRETS, which will be released by Delacorte Books on August 3rd. Can you please tell us our readers what it’s about?

Christyne: Hi Kathie! It’s so lovely to be here! KINGDOM OF SECRETS is the story of a girl named Prismena (Prissy for short), whose father is the hot-air balloonist in the kingdom of Oren. Prissy is a budding inventor who longs to build and fly the complicated vessels herself, but her father doesn’t approve. 

One day, a girl named Abi steals Prissy’s only remaining memento of her deceased mother – a silk scarf – and promises to return it only if Prissy smuggles a mysterious box onto one of her father’s flights. Since balloon travel is strictly regulated, that single act of rebellion results in the arrest of Prissy’s father and kicks off a series of events that will pull her out of her predictable life and set her off on an epic adventure through the kingdom. 

Along the way to free her father from jail, she’ll get caught up in a bar fight, nabbed by a malicious schoolmistress, tossed into a home for unwanted children, and thrust into the center of a brewing rebellion. On her journey through Oren, Prismena will uncover secrets that change the way she views her family, her kingdom, herself, and even her beloved hot-air balloons. She’ll have to break a few rules – and even forge metal – to save the people she loves, but she may also get a chance to soar.

Kathie:  You create such a magical world; both Oren and Palma have unique characteristics. I’d love to know if you were inspired by other fantasy settings?

Christyne: Thank you! My goal was to create a world that felt timeless and magical even though it doesn’t actually contain any magical elements. I grew up reading and watching fairy tales that took place in imaginary kingdoms far, far away, and those stories definitely inspired the setting of KINGDOM OF SECRETS. I was obsessed with a TV series called Fairie Tale Theater, which featured retellings of classic fairy tales with all the big stars of the 80s, like Robin Williams and Carrie Fisher (bonus points for anyone who remembers these!). I also recently introduced my daughter to The Princess Bride, one of my favorite movies as a child. As we were watching, it dawned on me that Oren is clearly a descendant of the fictional kingdom of Floren. It wasn’t something I did intentionally, but I do think Oren and Palma owe their existence to decades of fairy tales and fables rattling around in my brain! More recently, I’ve been inspired by books like Shannon Hale’s Princess Academy and Jennifer Neilsen’s False Prince trilogy, both of which create such realistic, well-drawn worlds. 

Kathie: I really loved that you included flashback scenes that added a new perspective to the present day story and helped us understand the characters in a new way. Was that an original part of your story, or did that come later?

Christyne: This story has a very long pre-publication history – I’ve lost track of how many times I rewrote it before it finally sold! In the first drafts, all the backstory was disclosed as part of the present-day narrative. As I revised, and thanks to excellent feedback from my beta readers, I realized I was missing out on a golden opportunity to tell Wren’s story from her point of view. Her scenes completely transformed and deepened the narrative, and also added to the central mystery by presenting another question for readers to answer: Who is Wren and how does she factor into the current-day adventure?

Kathie: Did you ever consider telling this story from Abi’s point of view?

Christyne: Yes! I’d always intended for this book to center around a reluctant rule-follower who gets swept up in a rebellion (Prissy), but as I wrote the story, Abi kept stealing the show (as she’s known to do). So once I was finished writing the book, I felt compelled to go back and spend a little more time with her. It was like writing fan fiction for my own book! I wrote a prologue to the novel that describes how Abi met Halston and joined the group of orphans who later became her family. It gives the reader a glimpse of the world through her eyes, which of course is thoroughly entertaining! As part of my pre-order campaign, I’m giving away hand-sewn copies of that prologue. Your readers can learn more on my website, including how to snag a copy!

Kathie: Can you share one thing you would like readers to know about this story?

Christyne: Would you mind if I shared two? 

Kathie: Absolutely, go right ahead!

Christyne: Thanks! 

The first one is a bit of interesting history and a glimpse at the inspiration behind the story. My husband is a wealth of random information, and years ago, he mentioned that hot-air balloons were used by the Union Army during the Civil War, for reconnaissance missions and to spy on the Confederate Army. There was even an official branch of the Union Army called the Balloon Corps. After he told me that, I couldn’t get the image out of my head – of peaceful hot-air balloons flying over a scene of battle. I knew there was a story there, but it wasn’t until years later that it became the first spark for KINGDOM OF SECRETS. People always ask where my ideas come from, and sometimes it’s the most unlikely, casual detail that takes root and becomes the impetus for an entire novel. Of course, my husband loves to say that he was the inspiration for my book!  

The second takeaway is that, even though KINGDOM OF SECRETS is set in an unfamiliar time and place, this story explores concepts and themes that are relevant to modern-day readers. Fantasy books are often seen as a diversion or an escape – and rightfully so – but that doesn’t mean they don’t tackle familiar issues that middle graders are dealing with, like questioning parental authority, discovering their own unique gifts, forging their own paths, standing up for what’s right, and learning to appreciate different perspectives. Whether they are summoning the courage to challenge unfair rules (like Prissy) or learning to accept the help of a friend (like Abi), I hope my readers will see their own stories reflected in the pages of KINGDOM OF SECRETS, even as they are swept up on a fantastical hot-air balloon adventure!

Kathie: I always thought flying over the savannah in Africa in a hot air balloon would be awesome…until I developed a fear of heights! Have you ever been in a hot air balloon, and if not, do you have any interest in flying in one?

Christyne: I’m right there with you, Kathie! In the past, I’ve gone skydiving and once took a trapeze class on a NYC rooftop, but these days, I’m the person squeezing the armrests when the airplane takes off. My adventurous days were long gone by the time I set my sights on hot air balloons. While I was drafting KINGDOM OF SECRETS, my husband offered to take me on a hot-air balloon flight for research purposes, but I turned him down. I might be willing to go up in a tethered balloon someday… baby steps! 

That said, I did get to do lots of research on hot-air balloons, including an interview with a pair of real-life balloonists. It was fun to learn about these amazing machines and dip into the fascinating history and science behind them. So even though I’ve never flown in one, I feel like I got to go on a vicarious balloon ride by writing this story! 

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

Christyne: I’m currently working on my second novel, TREX, coming from Delacorte next summer. TREX is a contemporary mystery with a sprinkling of sci-fi, about a boy with an experimental brain who shoots lightning from his fingertips. He teams up with a shy amatuer spy, and together they set out to catch a prowler in their neighborhood – which may or may not be an evil scientist trying to kidnap Trex and experiment on his brain. It’s quite a departure from KINGDOM OF SECRETS, but it contains similar surprises and plot twists, which I hope will keep readers guessing and turning pages!

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

Christyne: You can learn more about me at I’m also on Twitter and Instagram at @christynewrites. 

Kathie: I really appreciate you taking the time to answer my questions today, Christyne. I hope your book’s release is a big success!

Christyne: Thank you, Kathie. Thank you so much for having me!

Christyne Morrell is a children’s book author and attorney. She lives in Decatur, Georgia with her husband, daughter, and hyperactive beagle. Christyne has been writing poems and stories since she could hold a pencil, but KINGDOM OF SECRETS (Delacorte 2021) is her debut middle-grade novel. Her second novel, TREX, will be released in Summer 2022.
Christyne is also the author of the picture book Abra, Cadabra & Bob (Clear Fork Publishing 2019), and her work has appeared in Highlights,Spider, and The School Magazine. She can be found online at and on Twitter and Instagram at @ChristyneWrites.