Kathie: Hi Karen, and welcome to MG Book Village! I’d love to know more about your upcoming middle grade book, THE BACKYARD SECRETS OF DANNY WEXLER which is scheduled for release in November with Lerner/Kar-Ben. Can you please tell our readers about it?
Karen: Hi Kathie, and thanks so much for having me here!
The Backyard Secrets of Danny Wexler is about 11-year-old Danny, the only Jewish boy in his town in 1978. When a local child goes missing, Danny’s convinced it’s connected to an old Bermuda Triangle theory involving UFOs. With his two best friends and their Spacetron telescope, Danny heads to his backyard to investigate. But hunting for extra-terrestrials is complicated, and it doesn’t help that his friend Nicholas’s mom doesn’t want her son hanging out with a Jewish boy. Equipped with his super-secret spy notebook, Danny sets out to fight both the aliens and the growing antisemitism in the town, in hopes of mending his divided community.
Kathie: I remember being fascinated by the Bermuda Triangle when I was a kid. Was it something you wondered about as a child, or did your interest in the topic come later?
Karen: Definitely as a kid! I remember spending a lot of time wondering about it. When I started brainstorming for this story and thinking of my own memories about growing up in the 1970s, my curiosity about the Bermuda Triangle was something that really stood out. There are a handful of scenes in this story that are pulled straight from my childhood, which made this book both fun and at times, cringe-worthy to write.
Kathie: Anti-Semitism was also a very real issue in the late 1970s (as it is today). Was there a reason you chose to tell this story during this period of history, and what do you hope your characters communicate about this topic?
Karen: When I sat down to write this new story, I knew I wanted to set it in the late 1970s so I could tap into my own memories of being a middle grade child during this time period. While I’m not sure I set out originally to write about antisemitism, recent acts in my community as well as throughout the country, combined with memories I’d tucked away, quickly weaved their way into the pages. My hope is that my characters inspire conversations that continue long after the story ends, and that kids (and adults) recognize that antisemitism still exists, and that we still have so much work to do.
Kathie: Can you tell me about your main character, and what do you admire most about them?
Karen: Is it admirable to say Danny will do just about anything for a slice of chocolate cake? Danny is both typical and atypical. He is awkward and gullible. He is a loyal friend. He is curious. He is thoughtful. He can be quick to judge others. He is determined and ambitious when he wants to be. He has strong opinions and is often not sure when/how/if to filter them. He is (sometimes) willing to admit when he’s wrong. He loves Star Wars (and chocolate cake.) He’s not sure about girls and piano lessons. What I admire most about him though, is the way he listens.
Kathie: What would you most like young readers to know about your book?
Karen: While I know that antisemitism is a heavy topic, The Backyard Secrets of Danny Wexler also has light and funny moments. FYI, hunting aliens is tricky! So is trying to avoid your hairy-handed piano teacher. And did you know there are purple vegetables? You may learn a thing or two about cooking. (Hint: I include one of my grandmother’s recipes at the end of the story.)
I also hope young readers come away from this story with the knowledge that their voice matters, and that we (as adults) are listening.
Kathie: What’s one thing you’ve learned about yourself as a writer during your publishing journey?
Karen: There’s been so much! I started writing later in life and with a background in law and finance, I had to learn everything outside of writing professional emails about taxes. Creatively, I have really learned how to slow down and be more patient with my process, taking some time off in between drafts and revisions. Every writer is different of course, but for me, I’ve found that taking this time helps me understand my characters and story better. Next up is patience everywhere else in the journey.
Kathie: Are you working on another writing project at the moment?
Karen: Yes! I have two middle grade projects in the works. One, about a science-loving girl who’s moved into a house that’s rumored to be haunted, is on submission, and the other, about ballet, is in revisions. I’m hoping to share more information about both of these soon!
Kathie: Where can you readers go to find out more about you and your writing?
Karen: Visit my website www.karenpokras.com where you can learn about my books, sign up for my newsletter, and read blog posts.
I’m also on social media … my preferred platform these days is
I can also be found on:
Kathie: Thanks so much for taking some time to answer my questions today, Karen, and I hope you have a great response to your book.
Karen: Thank you so much for having me, Kathie!
Karen Pokras is a daisy lover, cat wrangler, and occasional baker. She has been writing for children for over ten years, winning several indie literary awards for her middle grade works. Always an avid reader, Karen found her passion for writing later in life and now runs all of her stories past the furry ears of her two feline editorial assistants before anyone else. A numbers geek at heart, she enjoys a good spreadsheet almost as much as she loves storytelling. A native of Connecticut, Karen is the proud mom to three brilliant children who still provide an endless stream of great book material. She lives with her family outside of Philadelphia.