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 ginalinko.com. 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.