Interview with Adam Borba about THE MIDNIGHT BRIGADE

Hi Adam! Thanks so much for stopping by the MG Book Village to share about your debut Middle Grade novel, The Midnight Brigade. Before we get to the book, would you care to introduce yourself to our readers?

Thanks so much for having me! I’m originally from the Bay Area, but grew up in Palm Springs, California. My wife and I now have two young children in Los Angeles. My day job is developing and producing movies for Walt Disney Studios, so I’m always reading, writing, or talking story.

Okay: The Midnight Brigade. What’s it all about?

It’s about a lonely, introverted boy named Carl Chesterfield who lives in Pittsburgh. Carl is an observer. He watches, he listens, he processes, he empathizes, but he has trouble speaking up. Trouble raising his hand when he thinks someone is about to make a mistake, or even to share his own opinion when asked. The kid worries he’ll say the wrong thing, so he often says nothing.

Soon after the story begins, Carl’s observations lead him to suspect that monsters might secretly be chewing on Pittsburgh’s bridges. He then finds a flyer for a mysterious group called “The Midnight Brigade” which seems to share his suspicions. Carl joins the group and makes a couple of friends: an odd boy named Teddy, and Bee, the loner daughter of a famous restaurant critic. Then our trio makes an incredible discovery: living under one of Pittsburgh’s bridges is a twenty-five-foot-tall troll named Frank.

The Midnight Brigade is about a lot of things – friendship, food, integrity, empathy – but at its core it’s about someone who wishes he had the courage to step up and find his voice (like so many young readers). And it’s a book about three outsider kids coming together to try to save a struggling family business and the city of Pittsburgh.

Why did you choose to set this book in Pittsburgh? Could it have been set anywhere else? Was there anything about the city that you wished you could’ve included, but that didn’t make it into the final book?

My wife is from Pittsburgh. I fell in love with the city on my first trip to visit her family. It’s a city with so much character and culture. And three major rivers run through it — because of that, it has four hundred and forty-six bridges (even more than Venice, Italy), which made it the perfect setting for this story.

Whenever I visit Pittsburgh, I discover something new, so I’m sure the next time I’m there I’ll be kicking myself about something incredible that would have been perfect for this story.

Have you always been fond of bridges? Most of us take them for granted, in our day-to-day lives, but when you stop to think about them, they are astonishing. At the same time, these (relatively) static structures don’t naturally lend themselves to exciting, Middle Grade storytelling. How did you go about imparting your own fascination with and excitement about bridges to your readers?

Honestly, I didn’t fall in love with bridges until I visited Pittsburgh. I can’t imagine going there and not be impressed by them. Firstly, they’re massive. Truly engineering marvels, spanning bodies of water, and made from tons of steel. And hundreds of cars drive across them all day every day. Secondly, they’re gorgeous. Like works of art. When I get excited about things, I research. So, Pittsburgh’s bridges sent me down a multi-week Google rabbit hole.

I think the scale of the bridges is what makes them exciting. These are huge structures, but if they weren’t built properly (or if something damaged them) they’d collapse. That idea adds a layer of drama to this story. This quiet, lonely kid – Carl – begins to think that something is happening to his city’s bridges that is making them unsafe. But his theory is so absurd that he isn’t sure who he can tell. Plus, he’s not exactly comfortable opening his mouth in the first place.

The Midnight Brigade is at once utterly real and wildly fantastical — you’ve got wonderfully relatable human characters side by side with… well, I don’t want to give too much away, so let’s just say, non-human ones. How did you balance these two things in your storytelling?

Thank you! While I believe there’s a way to make anything work in storytelling, for me, it’s easier to mix the real and the fantastical if you limit yourself to just one or two magical “buys” and play everything else completely straight — especially how the characters react to the fantastic. You identified one of the keys to balancing these elements in your question: relatability. For me, if characters are also dealing with everyday problems and concerns, they’ll feel more real and relatable to readers (or the audience). So, if we’re invested in Jenny dealing with classmates not pulling their weight in her group project, and being disappointed with her parents for not letting her go to a concert, we can also be invested in Jenny discovering that her best friend is an alien, as long as the complications feel real.  

You have done a lot of impressive, exciting work in the film world. Has your work and experiences there influenced your novel writing at all? If so, how?

Appreciate it! I draw on my film background quite a bit. While filmmaking offers the luxury of telling stories with pictures, it all starts with a screenplay, which is a document that’s usually only a 100 or so pages long by the time we start production (and those pages have a lot of blank space). Because scripts are so short, the storytelling on the page needs to be efficient. I try to take that approach with my writing: Cut out the boring stuff and anything that isn’t essential. I also try to be as clear and economical as possible with character arcs, so readers understand how and why a character changes and grows as cleanly and efficiently as possible.

Theme is also something I learned from filmmaking. When we’re developing a movie, one of the early goals we have is to get to a one sentence message. Something universal. Something that each scene in the movie builds to. Something that sums up what the movie is really about. It’s rarely a line that’s said out loud in the film, but it’s always something that my colleagues, the director, and the film’s writers have agreed to. A few examples from our recent films: “Everyone belongs somewhere,” “It’s okay to be different,” “Everyone grows up at their own pace,” “Everyone is deserving of love.” When I’m writing, I try to figure out the theme as early as possible, so I can tie it to narrative and character as much as possible.

Finally, structure is something I learned from film development. The rough drafts of my novels are fairly close to the traditional three act structure of a feature film. Because of that, my rough drafts are on the short side (like a screenplay). As I work with my editor to revise, my drafts become longer as subplots are added and we dive deeper into character. So, while the final manuscript isn’t quite a traditional feature structure, because I started that way, the story remains structurally sound for me.

What do you hope your readers — the young ones, in particular — take away from The Midnight Brigade?

Most importantly, I hope they have a good time. Like the stories I help make for Disney, this is one driven by heart, humor, and a little bit of magic. I hope it’ll transport readers to that special whimsical place that my favorite stories transport me to.

But if there’s one more thing they take away, I hope it’s the message that Frank the troll passes on to Carl: Be Bold. 

All right, I can’t not ask: if someone wanted to get the world’s best pierogi, where would you send them?

That’s easy! Go to my wife’s grandmother’s house. Just say I sent you. She’s a nice lady. Maybe bring a dessert?

The Midnight Brigade published on September 7th, so readers can already get their hands on it. But where can they go to learn more about you and your work?

You can order the book here:, and at some point soon I’ll make a website (probably). But for now, I can be reached on Twitter @adam_borba and Instagram @adamborba

Thanks again for visiting and sharing with us, Adam. We hope you’ll come back soon!

Thank you! So glad you enjoyed the book!

Adam Borba is a film producer and son of bestselling author Michele Borba. He was labeled one of The Hollywood Reporter’s 2017 up-and-coming executive producers and exemplifies the title with his current filmography. He is one of the minds behind Pete’s Dragon (2016) and A Wrinkle in Time (2018), and is currently working on the live action production of Peter Pan & Wendy (2022).

Interview with H.S. Norup about THE HUNGRY GHOST

Kathie: Hi Helle, and welcome to MG Book Village! It’s a pleasure to chat with you today about the North American release of THE HUNGRY GHOST which comes out on September 28th. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, please?

Helle: Thank you, Kathie. I always enjoy #MGBooktober and the other chats you organise, so I’m delighted to visit MG Book Village.

I’m Danish, but I have lived most of my life outside Denmark. Currently, I reside in Switzerland with my husband and two young-adult sons. I have also been at home in the US (New Jersey and Georgia), the UK, Austria, and Singapore.

Whenever I’m not reading or writing, I spend my time outdoors. I love to explore new places and learn about other cultures and traditions.

So, I feel lucky that both my own corporate career and my husband’s have given us opportunities to live abroad and travel.

I’ve always been a voracious reader, but I didn’t start writing until I was in my thirties. At first, I wrote just for fun, then about ten years ago I started taking it seriously and finished my first manuscript. I was 49 when my debut was published—it’s never too late!

Kathie: This book was originally published last September in the UK. Can you tell us what it’s like to be promoting the book for a new audience, and if there are many differences between the UK and US versions?

Helle: It a difficult time to have a book published. Because of the pandemic, all promotion last year was purely online. My publisher had arranged a big blog tour, and I did virtual talks and school visits in the UK and Singapore. I was also lucky that both Financial Times and Singapore’s main newspaper, The Straits Times, reviewed THE HUNGRY GHOST.

On Twitter, I’m quite well-connected with UK teachers, librarians and MG authors, but it’s hard to know to what extent the online promotion results in book sales.

I’m less well-connected online in North America, and publicity from the publisher is limited, so promotion this time around is going to be even more difficult. I hope the fact that the book recently won a SCBWI Crystal Kite award will help.

There are no differences between the UK and the US versions. It’s even the same stunning red cover.

Kathie: I’d love to know about the inspiration for this story?

Helle: I began writing The Hungry Ghost, while I lived in Singapore. When we moved there, I was immediately fascinated by the mix of cultures and religions, and I wanted to capture the vibrant atmosphere in a story.

On my walks, early on, I noticed offerings on the pavements—little collages of food, joss sticks and candles—for ancestors and forgotten restless spirits. The focus on remembering and honouring ancestors fascinated me and gave me the first kernel of a story idea.

At times, when the busy city overwhelmed me, I found solace in parks and nature reserves. My favourite place became an old Chinese graveyard—the biggest outside China. It hasn’t been in use in fifty years, so the rainforest has turned it into a tropical wilderness, right in the middle of Singapore. On my long hikes there, I thought a lot about forgotten spirits.

The idea for The Hungry Ghost really sparked, when I asked myself: “What if a girl who had just moved to Singapore met a hungry ghost who needed her help to remember the past?”

From there, the story, which explores themes of families under stress, grief and acceptance, evolved.

I was aware that I was writing about a culture that isn’t my own, so I anchored the book in the perspective of someone with my own background. Therefore, the main character, Freja, comes from Denmark.

Kathie: Many readers may not be familiar with the folklore which is an important part of the book. Can you tell us more about that?

Helle: There are various beliefs around the hungry ghosts throughout China and South East Asia, but in essence these ghosts are spirits that are not at rest. They are unsatisfied, hungry, because of the way their lives ended or because they were forgotten by their descendants. One month every year, the seventh month in the Chinese calendar, they are on holiday from the realm of the dead and roam the streets, seeking nourishment. In addition to the offerings of food and burnt paper effigies, live stage performances, called Getai, are held to entertain both the living and the dead.

The hungry ghosts are often perceived to be vicious and vengeful, but I mainly felt sad for the ones that had been forgotten by their loved ones. And so, the importance of remembering those we have lost, and how that impacts our way of dealing with grief, became a key aspect of the story.

In the story, Freja also enter a portal to another world. This world, based on ancient Chinese mythology, includes mythical creatures—the azure dragon, the white tiger, the red vermillion bird, and the black tortoise—that are among the foundations for Feng Shui.

Kathie: What sort of research did you do for this story, and can you share an interesting tidbit that you discovered but didn’t include in the book?

Helle: For contemporary Singapore, I walked and walked, visiting all the locations in the book. I tasted the food Freja eats, smelled the frangipani trees at night, and perspired in the humid air. I saw lizards and monkeys and a black spitting cobra. I held a python in the zoo. I even went to the graveyard at night during the hungry ghost month…

In addition to reading about hungry ghosts, I asked Chinese Singaporeans about their beliefs and traditions. After the book was written, I used a cultural sensitivity reader and had Singaporean friends read through the Singaporean dialogue.

The driving force in the book is the mystery around the hungry ghost’s past, so I spent much time researching Singapore’s colonial history. It was especially important for me to understand the situation of the Chinese population a hundred years ago when the ghost was alive. A key source was the newspaper archive at the National Library of Singapore. Several newspapers, going back 200 years, are available and searchable online. Obituaries and small announcements I stumbled upon became clues for Freja to discover in the story.

There were so many things I wish I could have included in the book: details about the other cultures that link to the story, locations I wish Freja could’ve had time to visit, and more of the local food. In an earlier version of the book, the visit to the hawker centre took up a whole chapter and included all the local dishes I miss.

Kathie: What’s one thing you enjoyed about living in Singapore, and how is it similar to where you live now? How is it different?

Helle: I definitely miss the food! I loved going to the hawker centres—the organised street food markets, where you can find a huge variety of inexpensive dishes.

There are no hawker centres in Switzerland, although, occasionally, pop-up street food markets appear. Luckily, I also like cheese and chocolate! And it’s much easier to get hold of fresh organic produce here than it was in Singapore where almost everything is imported from the neighbouring countries or flown in from Australian and Europe.

Kathie: Is there a book or author that has influenced you as a middle-grade writer?

Helle: The first book I fell in love with was The Brothers Lionheart by Astrid Lindgren. The Narnia Chronicles by C.S. Lewis and The Never-ending Story by Michael Ende were also childhood favourites that influenced me to write books set in the borderland between real and imaginary worlds.

My books are hopeful and have family and friendship at their hearts. In this regard, I admire and am probably influenced by Sharon Creech and Eva Ibbotson, whose adventure stories are full of heart and hope.

Kathie: Where can our readers go if they want to know more about you and your writing?

Helle: My website is On social media, you can find me on Twitter and Instagram @hsnorup

Kathie: Thanks so much for joining us today, Helle, and I wish you the best with your book’s North American release.

Helle: Thank you so much for having me, Kathie.

H. S. Norup is the award-winning author of The Hungry Ghost and The Missing Barbegazi—a Sunday Times Book of the Year in 2018. Originally from Denmark, she has lived in six different countries and now resides in Switzerland with her husband and two sons. She has a master’s degree in Economics and Business Administration and sixteen years’ experience in corporate marketing strategy and communications. When she’s not writing or reading, she spends her time outdoors either skiing, hiking, walking, golfing or taking photos.

Interview with Hallie Christensen about Enchanted Misadventures with Great-Aunt Poppy: Magic, Mayhem, and Monsters

Christie: Hi Hallie! “Enchanted Misadventures with Great-Aunt Poppy: Magic, Mayhem, and Monsters” comes out in October. Can you give us a brief synopsis of it, please? 

Hi! Of course 🙂  

When three siblings discover that they must spend the holiday with their Great-Aunt Poppy, they prepare themselves for the worst week of their lives. Poppy, or Groppy, is a witch, though, for some reason, only the children can see that. While surviving the creepy house and Groppy’s thousands of cats, the siblings stumble upon a spell room with a magic potion that grants wishes. But wishes go awry, and while their aunt can save them from her own magic, the children must help her capture something frightening in the woods that even a witch’s magic can’t stop. To survive the holiday, it will take all the bravery and wit the kids can muster. But who knows? Things aren’t always what they seem! The best holiday surprise might be hiding in the most unlikely place imagined!

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

Well, one of the best ways to perfect your writing skills is to write! Funny how that works. So, I was on a writing website and they had a short story contest and I decided to join. One of the prompts was, and I’m paraphrasing, “Three siblings have to spend a holiday with a relative and they are not looking forward to it.” I thought, “I like that!” and I sat down and it just immediately came to me. I have never found something so easy to write and may never again, lol. I loved the story so much that I showed it to one of my critique partners and she was like, “Hallie, this is awesome. You’ve got to try and publish it!” So, I made the novella into a novel, and the rest is history, as they say. 

Christie: Did you have a character that you most enjoyed writing?

Oh gosh, lol. I love all of the characters. But Nolan’s quick wit and dry humor – he gets me every time. All of my characters are an inspiration from my childhood experiences, friends, and family, and they all hold a close place to my heart. And don’t think I didn’t hear Merlin (the cat) scoff when I picked Nolan, ha. I love you too, Merlin! Silly cat. They’re all my favorite, really :).   

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

Figuring out how they were going to survive the “scary thing” in the woods (I’m trying not to give too much away). I knew what they needed to do, I knew how the story would end, but I didn’t know how it was going to be done. I just kept working up to that point in the book and thinking “It will come to me eventually.” Luckily when I got to the major scene, it did! (With a lot of prior research…) But it was tricky and took quite a few rewrites. I made sure to have a few beta readers to double check everything. Beta readers are the best!  

Christie: What do you think is important for young readers to know about this story?

Each of the three siblings, Ava, Nolan, and Charlotte, experience their own personal growth throughout the story. Each has something they want to work on, work through, or overcome. Be looking for those scenes! They break through those struggles and really take charge! I’m so proud of them! 🙂  

Also, I have to mention Great-Aunt Poppy, or Groppy, as the kids call her. She is amazing! I love how she doesn’t change, just the children’s perspective of her. I don’t want to give anything away, but there’s a great message in Groppy’s character. 

Christie: What has your debut publishing journey been like?

Very interesting, lol. This is my first traditionally published novel and it has been a whirlwind! There is so much to work on! There were edits and rewrites, and then I helped with the cover appearance, everything that goes on it and choosing the artist’s style for the cover, which I love BTW. Also I’ve been chatting up my book on social media and spreading the news with the community and beyond. I mean, you get out of it what you put into it. There’s always work to be done.  

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

I know how to juggle, lol. I love cats and that is one of the main reasons why there is a cat in this story. I think I may always put a cat in my stories, though, they may not always be able to talk, ha. 

I am a band nerd. I marched in a band all throughout school and college. And if you’re wondering, I play the saxophone and flute and know a few major chords on the guitar. 

As for what is unique in my story, I find Groppy to be very unique, and I think that’s what makes her so special and an amazing person. 

Christie: What’s one thing that I haven’t asked you about your book or your writing process that you could share with us?

I am a planster! Meaning that I both plan out my story and also write by the seat of my pants. A combination of planner and pantser, lol. I did not coin the phrase, but I fully embrace it. 

You never know when writing inspiration will strike, so you write it down when it does. Sometimes you plan a story out only to realize halfway through that something needs to change. There’s nothing wrong with that. I like the quote by Terry Pratchett, “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.” 

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

I have a website:

You can also follow me on social media: 

Insta: @halliekat_bibliolove

Twitter: @HallieKathaleen


If you have a question or would like to chat about book stuff or anything really, please reach out! 🙂 

Hallie Christensen grew up in a small town in Alabama surrounded by professional storytellers – her family. She received her BA in English with a minor in Italian while attending The University of Alabama and her MA in Teaching English from Faulkner University.  Her life’s background helped to influence her writing and creativity. While growing up she attended Young Authors conferences, played in a marching band, tried her luck as a magician, became a Junior Ranger for quite a few National Parks, and for a brief moment was a disc jockey with an eclectic taste of music spanning from The Monkees to N’SYNC. When she isn’t writing, editing, teaching English courses, or marking-up essays, she enjoys hiking, rappelling, attending rock concerts from musicians her parents’ age, staying at B&B’s, playing in a family band, and of course, reading with preferences in fantasy, contemporary, and the classics. Hallie currently resides in northern Alabama with her husband and a couple of cats.

COVER REVEAL for Trouble at Turtle Pond, by Diana Renn

Kathie: Hi Diana! Thanks so much for asking us to be part of your cover reveal for TROUBLE AT TURTLE POND, which comes out in April 2022 with Fitzroy Books/Regal House. Can you please give us a brief synopsis of your story?

Diana: Thanks so much for hosting me here today! TROUBLE AT TURTLE POND is an eco-mystery about a boy named Miles who moves to a new neighborhood near a wildlife refuge, where nesting turtles are on the move. A neighbor girl, Pia, convinces him to join her in being a Backyard Ranger, a self-appointed wildlife ranger working to protect road-crossing turtles and other creatures of the pond. They discover clues pointing to a series of crimes against Blanding’s turtles, which are endangered. The crimes disrupt the work of a local biologist and her conservation group that have been working hard to protect them. Worse, a pair of turtle hatchlings that Pia has been fostering go missing at a town event. Suspecting wildlife poachers are involved, Miles and Pia investigate a string of suspects in town. Miles hopes to get positive attention for solving the mystery and stopping more turtle crimes. He’s desperate to leave his troublemaking reputation behind, as his ADHD-related challenges brought him only negative attention at his old school. The rangers double their numbers, convincing two other kids on the street to join their team. But an unexpected twist throws suspicion back on Miles. He has to convince his new friends that he’s not who they think he is, and stop the turtle crimes before more turtles – and people – get hurt. It’s a story about citizen science sleuths, activist kids, and the power of paying attention.

Kathie: Congratulations, this is your middle-grade debut book! What did you most enjoy about writing for this age group rather than the older audiences of your previously published books?

Diana: Thanks! It was so much fun to write a mystery for this younger age group. In some ways, the process I went through was exactly the same as my work for teens and adults: doing some planning, making sure I understood the world these characters were in, coming up with a series of related crimes that ratchet up in intensity, having a good number of suspects to work with (each with their own means, motives, and opportunities for crime), planting clues, then covering my tracks. But what I really loved about creating a younger investigative team was the chance to turn up the dial on suspense, and to make relatively ordinary occurrences become infused with possibility — and even tinged with menace. The Backyard Rangers are taking those first steps toward independence, widening their worlds, even by venturing a couple of blocks from their home, or out to the pond alone, or to a shop without a grownup. They’re encountering so many things for the very first time. Senses are heightened. Everything’s exciting. Nothing is taken for granted. I also liked exploring the friendship dynamics with this age group, as kids are investigators of themselves as well at this age. They notice more things about one another, from appearance to interests to obligations to fears and anxieties. Finally, kids at this age usually still have one foot in the world of magic and imagination. For Miles, a highly creative kid, that means thinking he can communicate with animals, feeling a special connection to them. If he were a teen or adult, we might call him just highly attuned or empathetic, but because of his age, I was able to play out entire mental dialogues that he has with the turtles he comes across.

Kathie: Your story has a number of different themes that will appeal to a wide range of readers. Could you tell me what sort of readers I could recommend this book to?

Diana: I hope it will appeal to mystery lovers of all ages, but especially those in the 8-12 age group who like a twisty, small town mystery that can keep them guessing. Animal lovers in general (and turtle lovers in particular) should enjoy the story too, and anyone who cares deeply about nature. Kids with ADHD, executive function issues, sensory issues, or anxiety, may relate not only to Miles but also the other characters; I wanted to be sure that Miles isn’t the only neurodivergent kid in the book, and that there are a range of experiences represented. Finally, I think teachers who have citizen science themes in their curriculum would enjoy this story, and there are numerous opportunities to connect to STEM / STEAM themes.

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

Diana: Miles is a kid who happens to have ADHD, which comes packaged with some other things like anxiety and sensory processing issues. Miles has always viewed his diagnosis as a weakness, something that’s led him to impulsive actions, social disconnections, and the unfortunate nickname “Mayhem Miles.” But it actually aids him greatly in solving this mystery, as the things he pays attention to, and the way he processes information, ultimately help him here. He’s also able to turn his unique talents into things that directly help the conservation group (like making box turtles to raise money), and he has some innovative ideas that people take seriously once he articulates them. I love Miles’s creativity, his outside-the-box thinking, his sense of humor (even if he sometimes tries too hard to get a laugh), and his fierce loyalty to the turtles and his friends.

Kathie: Who is the cover’s illustrator, and what was your involvement in the process?

Diana: C.B. Royal is the chief cover designer at Regal House Publishing. Her work has been getting so much attention lately, and even winning awards. Fitzroy Books / Regal House has a very collaborative marketing process with their writers. I was invited to submit extensive notes about what I envisioned for a cover, from palette to characters to symbolic elements to the overall feel. I also shared with them some covers I liked for comparable books. I really wanted a cover that felt like a classic cozy children’s mystery – this story is set in a small town, with just enough danger to keep the pages turning but still let you sleep at night. The typewriter font and the woodcut-style boy with the flashlight accomplish that feeling nicely. I also wanted a cover to capture that sense of mystery and danger; hence the dusk hour we see, and the grouping of trees that almost appear to be whispering. I wanted the cover  to appeal to all genders, and not to be specific with regard to character features. So the boy with the flashlight in silhouette, cloaked in shadow, is merely suggestive, and lets readers maintain their own mental picture of Miles. And I love the palette, all the pond colors.

Kathie: Drum roll please, here is the cover of TROUBLE AT TURTLE POND!

Kathie: Oh wow! I really love the blue background and how the flashlight beam is reflected in the trees. Can you tell us something about the cover that a reader may not discover on their own?

Diana: This is incredibly subtle, but if you look very closely at the turtle on the log — you may even need to shine your phone’s flashlight on it — you’ll see it has a yellow throat. This is a distinctive feature of the Blanding’s turtle. (That and the fact that they always appear to be smiling, because of their jaw shape, so that makes them desirable — though illegal — pets!) I love that the designer registered that throat detail in my preliminary notes, and honored it in her design. This is no clip art turtle. I know it’s a Blanding’s turtle.

Kathie: What’s one thing you’d like our readers to know about your story?

Diana: “Little is big.” Miles and his friends are working to save turtles that are often quite small — the hatchlings are no bigger than quarters when they first emerge from their shells. They are advocating for creatures that people are driving by and, unfortunately, driving over. They are a voice for the voiceless. They also work to save turtles – and ultimately solve a mystery – through a series of seemingly small actions that all add up to big change. The story was loosely inspired by real-life turtles in my own neighborhood, and the small but huge actions taken by kids and teachers to foster turtles in our town’s classrooms and give them a head start in life (releasing them into ponds after letting them grow bigger and stronger in classroom tanks). I hope TROUBLE AT TURTLE POND inspires readers to look around and see what’s worth protecting and fighting for in their own backyards — if not turtles, then something else.

Kathie: Thanks so much for joining us today, Diana, and I hope the months pass quickly until your release date.

Diana: Thank you for having me! I hope the months pass quickly too. My release date is timed with the turtles in my neighborhood. They’re heading off to hibernation soon. When they start emerging to nest in the spring, my book will be emerging too!

Diana Renn is the author of three YA mysteries: TOKYO HEIST, LATITUDE ZERO, and BLUE VOYAGE (all published by Viking / Penguin Random House). Her debut middle grade novel, TROUBLE AT TURTLE POND, will be published by Fitzroy Books / Regal House April 5, 2022. She lives outside of Boston, Massachusetts, with her husband, her son, a dog and a cat, and a street full of turtles. Visit her online at

TROUBLE AT TURTLE POND is available for pre-order!

(Please consider pre-ordering directly from the website of this independent publisher as opposed to a larger entity, as it’s the best way to support a smaller press!)

COVER REVEAL for Secret of the Shadow Beasts, by Diane Magras

Kathie: Hi Diane! It’s such a pleasure to have you at MG Book Village today for the cover reveal of your upcoming book, Secret of the Shadow Beasts. I’m so happy to be part of your street team for its launch as I’m a huge fan of your writing. Can you tell our readers a bit about it?

Diane: Thanks so much for having me, Kathie! (And I’m so thrilled that you’re on my street team.)

So here’s the formal description:

For fans of Dragon Pearl and the Lockwood & Co. series comes a swift-moving contemporary fantasy about a young girl tasked with destroying deadly shadow creatures.

In Brannland, terrifying beasts called Umbrae roam freely once the sun sets, so venomous that a single bite will kill a full-grown adult—and lately, with each day that passes, their population seems to double. The only people who can destroy them are immune children like Nora, who are recruited at the age of seven to leave their families behind and begin training at a retrofitted castle called Noye’s Hill. But despite her immunity, Nora’s father refused to let her go. Now, years after his death by Umbra attack, Nora is 12, and sees her mother almost killed by the monsters too. That’s when Nora decides it’s time to join the battle. Once she arrives at Noye’s Hill, though, she and her new friends are left with more questions than answers: Where are the Umbrae coming from? Could the government be covering up the true reason their population has whirled out of control? And was Nora’s father, the peaceful, big-hearted man who refused to let Nora fight, in on the treacherous secret? 

Kathie: This story sounds very different your previous books, The Mad Wolf’s Daughter, and its sequel, The Hunt for the Mad Wolf’s Daughter. What aspect of the story came to you first? Was it a character, plot, or setting that compelled you to write it?

Diane: Yes, it’s quite different in many ways, though readers will find some similarities. But also, my two previous books were the backdrop to much of my early thinking about this story. It was between edits of The Mad Wolf’s Daughter that I firstbegan mulling over the idea of deadly monsters that came out at night to destroy humankind with only kids able stop them. But I wasn’t sure what to do with that concept. Around the same time, I was also pondering stories about a rural kid who lived on a sheep farm (based on a farm I stayed at in the Scottish Borders), but again wasn’t sure where to put her. Between the edits of my second book, I sketched out a few stories around a different character, a girl with unseen talent who isn’t sure of herself. And then one day, the three aspects combined, and the girl on the sheep farm and the girl with unseen talent turned into Nora, my main character. So I had her and the basic premise all at once.

Kathie: What’s something interesting you learned during the research process that you can share with us?

Diane: There’s a crucial video game element in this book and I knew I needed to get my details right. I game a bit, but I’m not an expert like Nora, so I turned to an expert I know well: my 14-year-old son. He’s an avid reader too, so he understood exactly the kind of help I needed in conveying Nora’s gaming in a work of fiction. He invented and designed Warriors of the Frozen Bog, the game that Nora and her best friend Wilfred play (a game that I would absolutely love to play). Thanks to his detailed description of all its parts (lore, geography, classes, progression system, equipment, mobs, and quests), I could confidently write about it. One gaming chapter even includes Nora’s current build (which my son put together for her). Non-gamers will, I hope, find it interesting, while gamers will totally understand how OP (overpowered) it is!

Kathie: Can you tell us about the cover’s illustrator and what your thoughts were when you first saw it?

Diane: My cover art is by Vivienne To, whose work has graced the covers of many incredible middle grade fantasies (including quite a few Rick Riordan Presents titles). I felt very lucky when I heard she’d agreed to do this—and even more lucky when I saw an early sketch. Nora’s face was exactly what you see on the final cover, just as I’d envisioned her. When I saw the final cover art, I was thrilled. It fits the feel of the book perfectly, and I think it’s gorgeous.

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

Kathie: I absolutely love it! Vivienne is one of my favorite MG illustrators as her covers are so colorful, and she brings life and personality to characters. Is there a certain element that you felt was important to have represented in the cover image?

Diane: I wanted to have Nora and her Order, the group with whom she goes out to fight the Umbrae, in action—and, if possible, hints of their characters in their faces. Vivienne did a magnificent job with that—for one, Nora’s determination but also that flicker of fear and uncertainty in her face. Everyone else looks confident and ready to battle. Nora, not so much. I was also hoping we could picture the Umbrae, and I love how they’re looming above the kids: terrifying but also pretty fascinating!

Kathie: What would you like to hear a young reader say after they finished reading this story?

Diane: First, I want young readers to feel that they can escape in this book when times are tough. Fiction that takes you completely away from your world is so important, especially now. But I also want them to be able to think about the issues under the surface—such as being yourself and trying hard even if you don’t fit in, and the questionable nature of history—when they feel like going deeper. And I hope young readers will find something of themselves in the characters. I’ve depicted many things I’ve seen, heard, or experienced—some things very challenging—in a world that wholly centers and supports these kids. I hope my readers feel seen and less alone, as well as inspired, and maybe a bit brave when facing the challenges of their own lives.

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

Diane: The best place to find me is my website, You can also find me on Twitter, where I share my thoughts about a lot of things, and Instagram, where I seem to post a lot of pictures of my cat!

Kathie: Thank you so much for letting us be part of the cover reveal. I can’t wait to read it!

Diane: You are so welcome! I can’t wait to share it with you too. And thank you so much, Kathie, and MG Book Village, for all your enthusiasm and support!

  • SECRET OF THE SHADOW BEASTS will be published on June 14, 2022, by Dial Books for Young Readers

Diane Magras, award-winning author of the New York Times Editors’ Choice The Mad Wolf’s Daughter, as well as its companion novel, The Hunt for the Mad Wolf’s Daughter, grew up on Mount Desert Island in Maine, surrounded by woods, cliffs, and the sea. An unabashed fan of libraries (where she wrote her first novel as a teenager), history from all voices, and the perfect cup of tea, Diane lives in Maine with her husband and son.

Interview with Adele Griffin about ALL PETS ALLOWED, Book 2 in the Blackberry Farm series

Hi, Adele! Thanks for coming by to talk about the next book in your Blackberry Farm series, ALL PETS ALLOWED! How does this book differ from the first book in the Blackberry Farm series, THE BECKET LIST?

ALL PETS ALLOWED is more about the siblings. Becket and Nicholas are opposite personality twins, and they each adopt pets that are similarly opposite. I liked paying attention to how the twins act and think so differently, yet they also understand each other—and how that relationship is the key to figuring out their pets. Also I really enjoyed writing about all the farm animals in BECKET LIST, so I doubled-up for ALL PETS. Sheep and chickens everywhere you look!

Why did you decide to make this story the next chapter for Becket and the Branch family?

Le-Uyen Pham’s depiction of Nicholas really entertained and inspired me. She gave him so much expression and joy in BECKET. I wanted to see more of him!

Becket is a strong and outgoing heroine who reminds readers of legendary characters like Ramona or Judy Moody. Who or what is your inspiration for this character?

My family! My husband and my kids are all very live-out-loud Beckets, and I am more like introvert Nicholas, and it’s always fun listening to them and responding to their big outgoing declarations and projects.

Do you have any funny / fun pet experiences or stories that you’d like to share?

We have a dog and a cat who are best friends! They are about the same size, and Toby thinks he’s a dog, while Trudy thinks she’s a cat. We love to watch them play—you can see them do their thing on my Instagram Highlights.

What is one thing you’d like readers to take away from ALL PETS ALLOWED?

I love that Becket and Nicholas, even though they are twins growing up in the same house, are always figuring ways to better understand each other. And still can be surprised by the other!  

What are you working on next?

Courtney Sheinmel and I are writing a middle grade novel called GNOME BUGS. It’s about a family of roly-poly gnome hybrids. We think it’s very funny, we hope other people will love it the way we do.

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

Head over to my website, for booky things. For daily pet content, come find me on Instagram—I’m @adelegriffin.

Adele Griffin is the highly acclaimed author of over thirty books for Young Adult and middle grade readers.

Her works include the National Book Award Finalists Sons of Liberty and Where I Want to Be, as well as the popular Oodlethunks series for younger readers. Her novel The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone was a YALSA Best Book, an Amazon Best YA Book of the Year, a Booklist Top Ten Arts Books for Youth, a Junior Library Guild selection, a Romantic Times Finalist for Book of the Year, and a School Library Journal Top Fiction pick. Her latest Becket Branch adventure, All Pets Allowed, is publishing in 2021 with Algonquin Books.

She lives with her husband, Erich, their two sons, a cat named Toby and a dog named Gertrude, in Brooklyn Heights, New York.

Cover Reveal and Exclusive Excerpt: THE SCIENCE OF BEING ANGRY, by Nicole Melleby

The MG Book Village is thrilled to welcome back Nicole Melleby, this time to reveal the cover and share an exclusive excerpt of her latest novel, The Science of Being Angry. Take a look at the cover below, and stick around to read the excerpt. And get excited for the book itself, which is slated to release in May of 2022!

Exclusive Except from the Science of Being Angry:

“This is a terrible idea.”

Joey ignored her brother. Colton, her other brother, did, too, because they always ignored Thomas in moments like these. Thomas thought everything was a terrible idea. He usually went along with it, anyway, because he hated feeling like the third wheel. He was like Mama in that way.

There was really no avoiding it though, since they were triplets. They should all have been equals, but it was simple math: three of them meant there was always an odd man out.

Joey and Colton had their toes over the edge of the swimming pool. They were always the first two to do everything. The first two born, the first two to start a fight, the first two to climb out of bed in the middle of the unusually sticky, humid fall night to jump into the apartment swimming pool on a dare. They were like their other mom in that way, regardless of the lack of shared DNA.

The boys, Joey’s brothers, were skinny and pale in only their underwear. Joey had one of Mom’s old hockey shirts on; it came down to her knees. If it were up to her, she’d just be in her underwear, too. But they were already breaking a lot of rules, and her moms could be ridiculously strict about certain gender-related things, like girls wearing shirts outside, even though they were lesbians.

“On the count of three,” Joey said, tugging at the neck of her shirt. She was sweating; they all were. That was why they were out here in the first place.

The apartment-complex pool had been closed since after Labor Day, but it hadn’t yet been drained. It was too hot to sleep, and Joey had a view of that pool from her bedroom window. She had climbed out of bed and walked quietly on the pads of her feet to her brothers’ bedroom. Colton was breathing loudly. He hadn’t been snoring, but his mouth was open, and it drove Joey mad that he could sleep through this heat. Her sleep shirt was damp with sweat.

Thomas, from his bed across the room, had noticed her first. “What are you doing?” he had asked, his voice sleepy.

Joey hadn’t responded to him then, either. Instead, she climbed up on top of Colton’s bed, and started kicking at his legs, trying to get him to wake (both out of jealousy that he was asleep and because she knew if anyone else would agree to do this, it would be him).

“Stop,” Colton mumbled, his face buried into the pillow. “What are you doing?”

“I can’t sleep,” Joey said. “It’s too hot.”

“You’re supposed to do like Mama says,” Thomas said. “Think about your toes falling asleep, and then your feet, and then your legs, and then—”

“Yeah, yeah, I know, Thomas,” Joey interrupted. Mama thought meditation could fix anything. If not that, then the essential oil diffuser she put in Joey’s room. Joey usually turned that off once Mama was in her own bed.

The one in Colton and Thomas’s room was turned up high. As if the smell of lavender actually did anything.

“I want to go in the pool.”

“You want to what?” Thomas asked.

Colton blinked sleepily at her. But then he smiled.

Joey wasn’t supposed to have a favorite, but in moments like these, it was probably Colton. “Are you coming or what? I’ll dare you.”

Colton hesitated for only a moment before climbing out of bed. “Yeah, okay. I’m coming.”  

. . .

From the acclaimed author of Hurricane Season, an unforgettable story about what makes a family, for fans of Hazel’s Theory of Evolution and Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World.

Eleven-year-old Joey is angry. All the time. And she doesn’t understand why. She has two loving moms, a supportive older half brother, and, as a triplet, she’s never without company. Her life is good. But sometimes she loses her temper and lashes out, like that time she threw a soccer ball—hard—at a boy in gym class and bruised his collarbone. Or the time jealousy made her push her (former) best friend (and crush), Layla, a little bit too hard.

After an incident at Joey’s apartment building leads to her family’s eviction, Joey is desperate to figure out why she is so angry. A new unit on genetics in her science class makes Joey wonder if maybe the reason is genetic. Does she lose control because of the donor her mothers chose?

The Science of Being Angry is a heartwarming story about what makes a family and what makes us who we are.

Nicole Melleby, a born-and-bred Jersey girl, is the author of the highly praised novels How to Become a PlanetIn the Role of Brie Hutchens…, and Hurricane Season. She lives with her partner and their cat, whose need for attention oddly aligns with Nicole’s writing schedule.

COVER REVEAL for Trusting True North, by Gina Linko

Kathie: Hi Gina, and welcome to MG Book Village. Thank you for allowing us to be part of your cover reveal today. Your upcoming book, Trusting True North, comes out in April 2022 from Shadow Mountain. Can you tell us a bit about it, please?

Gina:  Hi Kathie! Thanks so much for talking to me today about my new book! Your web site is so exciting and does such a great job of sharing middle-grade lit. I would love to tell you about True:

True Vincent loves to draw maps with carefully plotted scales, perfectly drawn legends, and beautifully calligraphed compass roses. She loves to add sea creatures in the bodies of water, just like the old explorers did, and phantom towns and trap streets, even Latin sayings, like, There Be Dragons, to warn of uncharted territories. Maps are handy and sophisticated, a tool for making sense of the world, or at least a little sliver of it. Maps are necessary. They show you where to go, how to get somewhere, point you in the right direction.

And that’s important to True, especially now that the world’s gone a little haywire: True’s best friend Tamsin can’t quit talking about boys. True’s big sister suddenly wants nothing to do with her, and her mother — her very favorite person in the world — well, she’s off in Canada, making boring topographical maps for zinc miners and drillers. And, of course, the whole world is on an actual lockdown because of the virus. 

True wishes she had a map that would show her how to get out of all of this. But she doesn’t. So instead, her days are full of babysitting her bother of a brother George, e-learning on the computer for school, and lots of not fun chores like cleaning the chicken coop. Gone are the days of exploring the little scrubby patch of woods that runs behind her house, of meeting up with Tamsin at the tilted blue barn to read in the hayloft. True misses normal. 

But when True and George manage to slip away from under the not-so-watchful eye of their grandma, they reacquaint themselves with their woods, their forest pathways, and they find themselves at the tilted blue barn, ready for some regular old adventure. And they get it: a veritable ghost in the hayloft, a new possible-friend/maybe-traitor, a jumble of brand-new kittens, and the inspiration for a real pirate treasure hunt. 

But True soon gets more than she bargained for, finding herself in a heap of trouble from their jaunts to the blue barn. True’s navigating a knotted, labyrinth of a problem, trying desperately to map her way out, but how are you supposed to find your way back to normal when every longitude and latitude, every parallel and meridian, sends you somewhere scarier than before, somewhere more terrifying than the last, somewhere that might break your heart?

Kathie: What were your inspirations for writing Trusting True North?

Gina:  True popped into my mind pretty much fully formed. She’s a smart and sassy kid. She likes to make sense of the world around her by making maps. She likes order, she likes to feel like she understands right/wrong. She’s busy with her interests and hobbies, and she knows what she’s about. She loves her family, and she wants to … do things right. She has a really strong moral compass. (Map pun intended LOL) She’s at this precipice in her life where she’s starting to take in other people’s evaluations on things, and then think: Yeah, but what do I think? I love True’s mind. It’s always going. Always thinking. She’s trying to make sense of the world around her, both literally, with her map-making, and figuratively, in trying to understand what is going on with the world around her and all the changes the pandemic is bringing into the world, and specifically her little life in Spooner, Minnesota. And I think – I hope – I capture this moment in True’s life where she realizes that, hey, being smart, being independent, being mature – it doesn’t always mean you have all the answers. I think that is a powerful moment for True. And when you realize that, when you find yourself in that moment, what do you do?

Kathie: How did the pandemic influence this book, in the setting?

Gina: I can remember being a kid, very vividly. Certain moments in time, suspended in my mind like a series of quickly snapped Polaroids. Waiting for the school bus in my favorite green overalls (yes, green!). Cutting my friend Nikki’s hair in seventh grade and her mom, well, not quite being thrilled about that. I remember my first pair of good basketball Nikes. I remember when fruit-roll-ups were invented and Mom gave me one in my sack lunch! But more than that, I remember feelings. Big feelings. Intense emotions.  Especially in those middle-grade years, the tween years, when kids are morphing into who they really are, who they want to be, constructing themselves – into real, actual fully formed people, complete with a very sophisticated understanding of the world around them. Anyway, the pandemic has been so influential, so ever-present, and so long lasting, it deserves to be mentioned in children’s literature. We can’t skip by it like it’s not happening. It’s shaping our young people.

Do you remember how long a summer could seem?  Endless. Stretching on for what seemed like forever! We’d go back to school in September and feel like completely different people, barely recognizing some of our friends for the new haircuts, new inches grown. The pandemic, and all it has asked of children, is too much of a force to just be ignored in children’s literature. It’s here. We can’t ignore it. Masks. Lockdowns. Fears. We have to acknowledge this in children’s stories, because kid readers, they are not to be pandered to. They want the realities of life. They’re living them right now in schools, nearly two years into this thing, and they want to see it reflected in their adventures on the page – both the sacrifices they’ve had to make, the fears they’ve had to shoulder, and the unexpected good things too. Like time with family and the intense awareness of others, and how we can care for others with our own actions. Kids get it. They’re living it.

Kathie: True North, the main character, is a mapmaker, and we see the map of Spooner, Minnesota, at the front of this book. How/why do you think maps help draw readers in?

Gina:  I think that lots of readers – me included – love to open a book and see a map waiting for us, staring up at us, beckoning us into this new world. Like, hello, dear reader, this is your new home for the next few hundred pages. Would you like to look around?  A map in a book is like a little extra gift — a signal that this location you’re about to read about, well, it’s going to be important. This place might be full of surprises, escapades, even dragons. Who knows? Maybe a pirate treasure? The sky is the limit, you know? Maps capture our imagination in a way that, I think, can’t really be overstated. I mean, maps pretty much guarantee that you, the reader, are going on an adventure. And what more can you ask of any book?

Kathie: You’ve said that empathy plays a big part in this book to True North. Can you explain that?

Gina: True empathy is a kind of magic, I like to think. Being able to see things from other points of view, being able to stand in someone else’s shoes and truly understand what they feel, care about what they care about. It’s powerful. It forces us to think bigger, open our minds and hearts to the world around us, to understand other people’s struggles and motivations. To not just focus on our little corner of the map, you know? And in this time of the pandemic, empathy is truly a superpower, I think. It’s something that kids are showing that they fully understand, even more than grown-ups, really. Middle-grade readers get it. Kids are truly leading the way.

True North’s entire story centers around her ability to empathize.  It’s not always a comfortable feeling. It leaves True in a difficult, daunting mess. But she embraces it, this empathy. Uses it. Wields it. And she finds that, in the end, empathy might be difficult at times, but it is very powerful too. Because really, empathy is about looking outside of just your own little self, and turning toward that big, wide world, embracing it. (And then, of course, drawing yourself a map of it.)

Kathie: Can you tell us about the cover’s illustrator and what involvement you had in the process?

Gina: The gorgeous, riveting cover was designed by Richard Erickson. And I just can’t explain how much I love it. I want to thank Richard and Shadow Mountain for truly capturing the anticipation, the excitement — and even the shadowy fear — that True and her friend Kyler feel standing outside the slanted barn. I mean, authors want so badly for their covers to reflect the themes and feelings within their stories, and this cover truly does. I mean, can’t you just sense the energy that True is feeling standing with Kyler, looking at her beloved barn? She is truly ready for an adventure, poised on the precipice of something big, and so is the reader, once they see this cover.

The process for this cover was an easy one, I think, because obviously the designer read the book! This is a huge compliment because how else can the details be so incredibly perfect? The cat on the cover – oh, this is my favorite detail. But I won’t give it away. (wink, wink!)

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

Kathie: Oh wow, I LOVE the way the compass is included in the font. Is there any element that the average reader might miss that you’d like to point out?

Gina:  Thank you! It’s a great detail — that compass is gorgeous. And the compass really plays a big part in the story, as does True’s full name (True North) and its literal, map-making meaning. Compasses are about searching, trying to find our way, and True is definitely doing that. Oh, I just love so many things about this cover, but I especially love the haunted, creepy look that True’s beloved slanted barn has, as well as the hazy, purple-twilight lighting of the Scrub – the forest behind True’s house. And let’s not forget to mention the cat! I won’t say too much about that. But the cat is so very important between True and her friend Kyler. Everyone needs a cat on their adventure, don’t they?

Kathie: Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about your book?

Gina:  I would love to show you True’s hand-drawn map of the scrub! You can get a taste for the adventure that True and Kyler take on in Spooner, Minnesota. The map was made by Rachel Murff, a truly talented artist, and she has so many hidden details in the map itself, as well as in the gorgeous border. I challenge readers to find all the items in that map inside the story itself. It’s almost like a reader scavenger hunt! Grandma Jo’s windchime, the Colonel and the dreaded chicken coop, the metal detector! The map itself is an absolute treasure!  

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

Gina: Please visit me at I have a lot of book-like information, as well as fun pictures of my two fluffy cats: Sparkle and Louis. They are distinguished gentlemen about town, the true stars of my web site.

Kathie: Thanks so much for chatting with me today, Gina, and best of luck with your book’s release.

Thank you for having me today, Kathie. This has been a pleasure!

Gina Linko likes to write books for kids and young people, because, in her opinion, they are the absolute best kinds of people. Gina has two fluffy, fat cats, one of which is an evil genius. She also has three kids, none of which are fluffy or evil geniuses, although they are quite interesting in their own human-like ways. Gina lives in a suburb outside Chicago, where she works as a textbook editor and spends her free time reading and then reading some more. She likes to stay up super late at night. She doesn’t like alarm clocks. She really likes Hershey nuggets, playing euchre, and watching the Cubbies. Her children like to call her Lil Gina, even though she’s six-feet tall.  


Kathie: Welcome to Fast Forward Friday, Alda! I’m happy to have a chance to talk with you about your upcoming MG debut, BAREFOOT DREAMS OF PETRA LUNA, which comes out September 14th from Sourcebooks for Young Readers. Can you tell us a bit about it, please?

Alda: I’m a huge fan of Middle Grade Village and I’m just thrilled to be interviewed by you. Thank you! Now, about my book. Petra Luna is a twelve-year old girl who makes it her purpose to keep her family safe in the middle of war and chaos. Despite the turmoil and suffering around her, she remains faithful to her dreams of learning to read and write and to a promise she made to her father before he was forced to fight in the war.

Kathie: Your book takes place in northern Mexico in 1913, and your great-grandmother’s story is the inspiration for it. What was it like to research and verify the family history you heard as a child.

Alda: My goodness, I spent months reading everything under the sun that had been written about the Mexican Revolution, and the day I found out that my family’s story had been true and accurate all along, will be one I’ll forever remember. Ever since, I became much more grateful for my family stories, knowing they were not exaggerations. Also, through the many photographs I came across in my research, I saw, learned, and appreciated all that my family had gone through – the harsh poverty, the prejudices, the violence – and the enormous effort and sacrifice they made to give me a better life. After completing my book, I felt closer to them than ever before.

Kathie: Your main character, Petra, endures some extremely difficult circumstances, yet her resilience is inspiring. If you could give her one piece of advice, what would it be?

Alda: You’re stronger than you think – you’ve got this!

Kathie: This will be the first time many people will learn about this event in history, yet the topic of individuals departing Mexico for the United States is still relevant today. What do you hope young readers will learn from your story?

Alda: During my research, I came across many black and white photographs that showed the masses of impoverished people escaping the violence in Mexico in 1913. In one old photograph, I saw numerous families wearing ragged clothes, walking along railroad tracks, all with fearful and exhausted faces. Not long ago, in a newspaper, I saw a recent picture full of color that showed families wearing different clothes but with the same fear and exhaustion on their faces. They too walked along railroad tracks. I placed both old and new photos side by side and was shocked to see the similarities, despite both having been taken 100 years apart. I did the same with pictures taken at refugee camps – like the one my great-grandmother had stayed in. The similarities are incredible. With my book, I want readers to realize that history tends to repeat itself. The Mexican Revolution came to be because of the great disparities the impoverished masses faced. The economic disparities, wide social gaps, and prejudices that exist in our world today could lead to new wars if left unchecked, just like they did in Mexico in 1913. When readers step into a story’s history, they can see how some things transcend time and places.

Kathie: What’s one thing you learned while writing this book that you’re glad you now know?

Alda: Through my research I witnessed the immense resilience people, especially women and children, had during the Mexican Revolution. Through their stories I learned about the different roles women filled. Some followed their husbands and sons to war, making sure they were fed and taken care of, while other women joined the ranks and trained as soldiers, achieving ranks as high as general. Children too, as young as twelve, joined the ranks of the rebels and were treated as equal comrades despite their age. The women and children who were too old or too weak to fight, like Petra and her family, bravely faced the harsh elements of the desert and crossed it against all odds to reach the safety of the U.S. That resilience is one that made me see my circumstances, especially during the COVID pandemic, in a different light and made me appreciate the many blessings in my life.   

Kathie: Has your writing routine changed during the pandemic, and if so, how have you adapted?

Alda: To be honest, I’ve never really had a writing routine. The only thing that changed during COVID was the amount of time I had available for writing since homeschooling took a big chunk of it. Lucky for me, my kids returned to school in October but I can imagine how difficult it was for the families who had to homeschool for an entire school year.

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

Alda: I do! Currently, I’m working on Book 2, the follow-up to Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna. This story follows Petra and her family to a refugee camp in Eagles Pass, Texas and then to San Antonio where 30,000 refugees settled during that time. I’m also working on the Spanish translation of Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna and will soon record the Author’s Note for the audio book. I’ve also been kicking around the idea of a picture book and a historical YA. Stay tuned!

Kathie: Where can our readers go if they want to learn more about you and your writing?

Alda: You can visit my website at and see the resources I offer (educator’s guide, videos, music playlists, etc.) that follow Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna and help students better understand the Mexican Revolution. I also offer a quarterly newsletter where I give writing/publishing advice, share my favorite kid lit books, and offer behind the scenes material. You can also find me on Instagram at @aldapdobbs, and on Facebook at Alda P. Dobbs.

Kathie: I really appreciate you answering some questions for me today, Alda. Thank you so much, and all the best with your book’s release.

Alda: My pleasure, Kathie! Thank you for this opportunity!

Alda P. Dobbs is the author of the upcoming novel Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna. She was born in a small town in northern Mexico but moved to San Antonio, Texas as a child. Alda studied physics and worked as an engineer before pursuing her love of storytelling. She’s as passionate about connecting children to their past, their communities, different cultures and nature as she is about writing. Alda lives with her husband and two children outside Houston, Texas.

Interview with Kate DiCamillo about THE BEATRYCE PROPHECY

Hi Kate! Thank you so much for joining us here at the MG Book Village to talk about your newest book, The Beatryce Prophecy.

Would you care to start things off by sharing what the novel is about?

The Beatryce Prophecy is a story about kings and queens, and prophecies and mermaids, and seahorses and goats.  Mostly, it’s the story of a girl named Beatryce who can read and write in a time and place when it is against the law for a girl to do either of those things.  It’s the story of how Beatryce claims who she is and finds her way home.

Before we get more into the story, I feel I need to ask about one character in particular. Answelica! In your work, you’ve created dozens of unforgettable animal characters, but this menacing, fiercely loyal goat might be the most memorable for me. I certainly won’t forget her for a long time! Was there a real life inspiration behind Answelica?

Oh, Answelica.  I love her, too.  And I don’t know where she came from!  She was one of those characters who just showed up–fully formed and full of surprises.  I loved her (and her hard head and big teeth and powers of discernment) from the minute she arrived, and I miss her still.

In an author’s note, you mention that this story has been with you, kicking around in your imagination, for decades. Why do you think it finally decided to come out now? 

What happened was this: I started the story in the summer of 2009 and I worked on it for awhile and then forgot about it.  I mean, I truly forgot about.  Entirely.  And then in 2017, I cleaned out a closet and found the beginning pages and I was like: oh, this.  This goat!  This girl!  I have to tell this story.  And so I started working on it again.

While you never state precisely when this story takes place, it seems to occur in a medieval time and space. Does this sort of world hold any particular appeal for you as a writer? As a reader? Why did you choose to Beatryce’s story there and then?

You’re right!  I never do say when and where it takes place, and part of the reason is because I’m not sure myself (I tip my hand about that uncertianity at the end of the book).  When the story arrived, when I started telling it, I knew that I was in a different place and time from this one.  And that’s all I knew.  I just followed the characters through that world, their world.

So many of us, adults especially, take for granted that reading is a human right, and so many of us, in this community especially, work so hard to ensure that every child learn to read so they can exercise that right. Among other things, The Beatryce Prophecy reminds us how precious, important, and powerful the act of reading – and writing – is. Would you care to share any of your thoughts and feelings about all of that?

Yes, so much of this story for me is about the empowerment that comes through reading and writing. The book is dedicated to my mother who gave me the gift of words.  I struggled to learn to read.  And when I could finally do it, I remember very clearly thinking: all things are possible now.

You have worked with a number of remarkable illustrators. Is there anything you especially enjoy about having a visual artist depict the characters and settings that you create with words?

It’s one of the great gifts of writing books for kids–watching someone take the characters in your imagination and bring them to life through art.  With Sophie it was so, so moving to watch her do this.  She and I both had the feeling that instead of creating the words and the art for this story, we were insteading remembering something we already knew.

The Beatryce Prophecy is illustrated by the fabulous Sophie Blackall. What was the experience like working with her?

Well, see above.  It was truly miraculous.  I wept a lot.  She makes so much light with this art.  Every line of it is a gift.

What do you hope your readers – the young ones, in particular – take away from The Beatryce Prophecy?

I hope that they feel less alone when they finish the book.  

I hope that they feel empowered.

When can readers get their hands on The Beatryce Prophecy, and are there any events or appearances you’d like to let us know about?

September 28th is when the girl and the goat go out into the world!

Go to your local bookstore to find their story!