Interview with Kalyn Josephson about RAVENFALL

Kathie: Hi Kalyn! Congratulations on your upcoming book, Ravenfall, which will be released on August 30th from Delacorte. Can you tell us a bit about it, please?

Kalyn: Thank you! RAVENFALL is about a girl from a family of psychics who run a sentient inn at the crossroads of the human world and Otherworld, and the boy who comes to them for help solving a magical mystery. It’s full of Irish mythology, autumn vibes, and whimsical magic.

Kathie: Where did the spark for the story come from?

Kalyn: The story was born from my love of Irish mythology and funnily enough, The Addams Family. I loved the idea of a magical family who’s a little too comfortable with the darker side of things, which is why the story came to focus on grief, found family, outcasts, and most importantly, a cat. As a kid, every story had a dog that was the good guy, and a cat that was the bad guy, and I always wanted to write a story with a cat sidekick who steals the show.

Kathie: This is your first middle-grade book, although you have two young adult novels published. What was it like to write for a younger audience, and does your writing style change?

Kalyn: I really enjoyed it! I feel like I got to be so much more creative. If I wanted to do something with the magic, I did it, and the result is so whimsical and fun. I also got to focus a little more on humor, and the tone is much lighter even as the story deals with some heavy topics, like grief. So while my style itself didn’t change much, the things I got to do with it did.

Kathie: Your story is also written from dual POVs. Was this how you originally wrote the story, and which character’s voice came most naturally to you?

Kalyn: It is. RAVENFALL always felt like two people’s stories that were meant to come together, and I couldn’t imagine telling it without both perspectives. Though I definitely struggled more with Anna’s perspective than Colin’s, just because her character comes from a background so different to my own, that I spent a lot of time thinking about how being raised in a magical inn would affect the things she said and the way she thought.

Kathie: Can you tell us a bit about your research process and an interesting tidbit you knew needed to be part of the story?

Kalyn: Most of my research was into mythology. While the book focuses on Irish mythology, all types exist in the world, so I learned a lot of fascinating things about magical creatures across the world. Unfortunately, I can’t share the tidbit I found the most interesting, because its discovery is a big spoiler!

Kathie: Can you tell us a bit about the cover, who illustrated it, and what elements stand out for you?

Kalyn: I am in love with the cover. The illustrator is Ramona Kaulitzki, who did such a fantastic job of capturing the spooky autumnal vibes of the story. In particular, I love all the little creatures she depicted, especially the little black cat on Anna’s shoulder, Max, who as far as he’s concerned, is the most important character.

Kathie: If you were a librarian and had a young reader standing in front of you with your book in their hand, what would you say to them to convince them to try it?

Kalyn: I’d tell them that it’s a story full of magic that feels like putting on a cozy sweater and drinking a cup of hot chocolate on a cold day, complete with adventure, laughter, and a very curious cat.

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

Kalyn: I’m on Instagram (@kalynmjosephson) and Twitter (@kalynjosephson), but you can also check out my website kalynjosephson.com for information about all my books.

Here are some pre-order links for Ravenfall:

– Signed Copies from Kepler’s Books: https://www.keplers.com/josephson-ravenfall

– Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/ravenfall-kalyn-josephson/1140943746?ean=9780593483589

– Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Ravenfall-Kalyn-Josephson/dp/0593483588

– Indiebound: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780593483589

– Target: https://www.target.com/p/ravenfall-by-kalyn-josephson-hardcover/-/A-85893742

– Book Depository: https://www.bookdepository.com/Ravenfall-Kalyn-Josephson/9780593483596?ref=grid-view&qid=1644000934707&sr=1-1

Kathie: Thanks so much for chatting with me today, Kalyn, and good luck with your book’s release. I look forward to reading it.

Kalyn: Thank you so much for having me! I hope you enjoy it.

Kalyn Josephson is a fantasy author living in the California Bay Area. She loves books, cats, books with cats, and making up other worlds to live in for a while. She is also the author of THE STORM CROW duology.

COVER REVEAL for Unbreakable: The Spies Who Cracked the Nazis’ Code by Rebecca E.F. Barone

Kathie: Rebecca, I’m so happy to have a chance to talk with you today! Your second middle-grade nonfiction book, Unbreakable: The Spies Who Cracked the Nazis’ Code, is set for release on October 25th by Henry Holt and Co. Can you tell us a bit about it, please?

Rebecca: Thanks so much, Kathie! I’m thrilled to bring this early sneak-peak to MG Book Village! 

Unbreakable is the story of the fight to crack the Enigma code in World War II. It begins about a decade before the war breaks out, when Polish cryptographers discover that all of their tricks to unravel codes don’t work against a new German cipher. Over the build-up to and then through the war, we see how spies, soldiers, and mathematicians steal, capture, and solve this cipher that was hiding some of the most important Nazi communications.

Kathie: What was it about this topic that prompted you to write a book about it?

Rebecca: Some of my favorite books are spy thrillers, and the adventure of cracking Enigma is a truth-is-stranger-than-fiction story that hits every box: aliases! invisible ink! codes! spies! a love story! cool tech! The more I researched and read, the more I realized that I had to write about it.

I also loved that mathematicians were some of the heroes of the story. It’s fun figuring out how to express the excitement and energy of solving a very technical problem to young readers!

Though the story does not focus on the gender divide specifically, I am also honored to write about the way women contributed to cracking Enigma. 

Kathie: Can you share a bit about your research process, and something you discovered that fascinated you?

Rebecca: Right off the top, I know you’re a librarian, Kathie, and that many of your readers are, too, I have to give a huge thank you librarians! I wrote this whole book – conception to final draft – during the pandemic, and there’s no way I could have done it without librarians. Thank you for all you do!!

Reading is always my first go-to. I read and read and read. Bibliographies of books point me in the next directions I need to go and help point me to people who know a lot on the topic. It’s been a pleasant surprise to find that many people are very kind and willing to speak about their area of expertise! Getting up the nerve to ask is usually the hardest part.

I’m grateful that I was able to exchange several emails with Dermot Turing, Alan Turing’s nephew, who has written several books of his own about Enigma. He was also kind enough to put me in touch with Beata Majchrowska, the Polish biographer of two of my very favorite people in this book: Antoni and Jadwiga Palluth. While the biography is only available in Polish, Beata and I were able to email and Skype, and she was so incredibly helpful in understanding the characters and their story.

As for something that fascinated me…I don’t want to give anything away! I will say that I was surprised by how confident the Germans were that their code was truly “unbreakable.” There were so many close calls!

Kathie:  I find it so interesting that your background is in science and engineering, while your books focus on stories about people. How do those perspectives work together?

Rebecca: This is such a fantastic question, and I have an absolute blast playing with this dichotomy during school author visits! 

I’ll tell students about my work in the auto industry, where we would intentionally put cars into situations where they’d break – think Death Valley in June or high in the Rocky Mountains pulling heavy trailers. Then, after they’d break, we’d figure out what went wrong and work to make sure it didn’t happen again.

And when I worked with the NFL, it was the football players that were breaking. How can we use what we know about the way the world works – which is what engineering is – to keep these athletes healthy and whole?

There was always a problem, or a conflict. There was always a setting. There were characters. Sometimes those characters were football players and sometimes they were cars, but there were backgrounds and motivations to each.

I came to see that what I was doing as an engineer was telling a story, albeit one that used numbers and equations more than letters and paragraphs!

I’m intrigued by the idea of non-people as characters, too. It was a different conversation, but I remember that you, Kathie, pointed out to me that Antarctica itself is almost a character in Race to the Bottom of the Earth, which made my day!

So, perhaps my books are about characters, and a lot of those characters just happen to be people. Because, to me, science and engineering is story-telling. 

Kathie: Please tell us about the cover of your book, and who designed it? Did you have any involvement in the process?

Rebecca: I was thrilled when my fantastic editor, Brian Geffen, suggested that Shane Rebenschied should illustrate the cover. His photo illustration is just jaw-dropping, and I loved his portfolio the moment I saw it. Sarah Kaufman is the designer, and I couldn’t be happier with how she brought everything together.

Brian had such a clear vision for the cover from the start, which reflects the story so wonderfully. I was able to give feedback, but not much was needed! Brian’s concept, together with Shane and Sarah, absolutely brought the story to life.

Kathie: It’s time for the big reveal!

Kathie: I absolutely love this cover! I think it will immediately draw the attention of young readers. What were your thoughts when you first saw it?

Rebecca: I was (and still am!) totally blown away! This perfectly captures the feel and pace of the story – high-stakes, espionage, the ever-present threat and then reality of war. There’s so much riding on breaking the Enigma code, and this cover conveys that beautifully! I hope MG readers of all ages will be as floored as I am.

I can’t thank Shane and Sarah enough!

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

Rebecca: I love hearing from readers! I’m on Twitter at @rebeccaefbarone, and my author website – which is getting its own new reveal this summer! – is www.rebeccaefbarone.com. Contact info, bios, books, info on author visits, and order links are all up!

Kathie: You know that I’m very excited to read this book, especially since I enjoyed your debut, Race to the Bottom of the Earth: Surviving Antarctica. Thank you so much for letting me be part of the cover reveal and chatting with me today.

Rebecca: Thank you so much for this fantastic reveal, Kathie! It’s been so much fun chatting with you and introducing readers to Unbreakable. Thank you to you and the rest of the MG Book Village team!

Rebecca E. F. Barone holds degrees in mechanical engineering and English. Her technical engineering projects have included injury analysis for the National Football League, development of gait biometrics, and engine calibration of hybrid cars. Realizing her love for books in addition to numbers, she now describes the world with words rather than equations. Rebecca enjoys rock climbing, marathon running, and creating amazing (sometimes tasty!) messes with her husband, son, and daughter. Her first book, Race to the Bottom of the Earth: Surviving Antarctica, garnered four starred trade reviews, and her second book, Unbreakable: The Spies Who Cracked the Nazis’ Secret Code, will lauch in October, 2022.

Interview with Stacia Deutsch about COMING OF AGE: 13 B’Nai Mitzvah Stories

Kathie: Hi Stacia! I’m so glad I have the chance to chat with you today about COMING OF AGE: 13 B’NAI MITZVAH STORIES (edited by Jonathan Rosen and Henry Herz) which will be released on April 19th from Albert Whitman & Co. Can you tell us a bit about this book and how you got involved with it?

Stacia: Henry Herz, an editor on the book,  is the world’s greatest connector. You know how they say we are all “6 Degrees of Separation”? Henry Herz might be the link between all humankind! I’ve known him for a few years and he asked me to be involved. Of course, I jumped at the chance to write something with Jewish interest. I’m a reform rabbi by education and have done very little writing in the Jewish arena. I’ve written hundreds of books and I’m about to launch the new Boxcar Children Mystery spin off called The Jessie Files when this opportunity popped up. I was thrilled to participate. 

Kathie: The book is comprised of 13 stories written by Jewish authors relating to Bat and Bar Mitzvahs. Your story is called “Helping Noah: A Torah Travel Adventure”. I’d love to know what inspired it?

Stacia: I love time travel. I’ll watch or read pretty much anything with a time travel element. My first original book series that I ever did was called Blast to the Past about kids that meet famous people in history. It ended after 8 titles and now it seems like a long time since I wrote it with my friend, Rhody. I’d been wanting to do a Jewish time travel for years. This invitation seemed like the perfect opportunity. The Torah is full of incredible stories and this book gave me the chance to imagine what it would have been like to have walked with our ancestors. I picked: what would it feel like to stand in the rain while Noah built the ark? And more, could a modern kid help? 

Kathie: Did you have a Bat Mitzvah when you were a teen, and if so, what was the experience like for you? What would you say to your younger self today?

Stacia: Thirteen can be rough. It takes a kid in the middle of their most awkward stage and pushes them into the center of attention for a day. It can be really positive to get that praise and sense of accomplishment. BUT,  for some kids, this is also traumatic. If you don’t want that kind of attention the process can be really difficult. As a teenager, I got the chance to craft an experience that was uniquely mine. My parents were great about it all. I hope that kids today can find their own path to this meaningful ceremony. I’d tell my younger self to push even harder to get the Bat Mitzvah that I wanted. There’s no one way to do this! I did a smaller temple service and the family went to a dude ranch right after, my brother did his in a tiny camp setting, and my sister had a huge invite list and an awesome bash. It’s about the accomplishment. How you share that is totally up to you!

Kathie: Was there a story in this collection that resonated with you?

Stacia: I loved Debra Green’s Pandemic Bat Mitzvah. She’s a great writer and so funny. Debra’s story made me a little teary. Her character discovers that some of the things she assumed were true, didn’t happen the way she thought. I really resonated with that idea. Plus there are nosebleeds in her story…

Kathie: I wasn’t familiar with the term “B’Nai” and had to look it up while I was reading. What else do you hope non-Jewish readers will learn from this book, but more importantly, what do you hope young Jewish readers will discover while reading it?

Stacia: Language is changing. Everyday. My own kids are correcting me constantly. I hope that kids who read this, Jewish and non-Jewish, will find stories they connect with and can relate to. Coming of Age is a universal theme and I think that teenagers will find themselves in each of the stories. For the Jewish reader, narratives that enhance our Jewish identity are often hard to come by. These stories should encourage Jewish families to share their own memories as they make new ones. I hope this inspires more stories, more books, and a lot of creativity!

Kathie: Is there anything you think our readers should know about COMING OF AGE?

Stacia: I am blessed to be amongst the most amazing authors featured in this book. This is incredible company and when we all do get together, finally, I will be star-struck! I hope that the readers Google the authors of their favorite stories and find out what else they worked on. Then everyone can be star-struck with me. 

Kathie: Can you share a link for readers who would like to pre-order their copy ahead of time?

Stacia: https://www.amazon.com/Coming-Age-Bnai-Mitzvah-Stories/dp/0807536679/ref=sr_1_5?keywords=coming+of+age+herz&qid=1639789372&sr=8-5

Kathie: Thanks so much for answering my questions today, Stacia, and I look forward to hearing the young reader feedback from your book.

Stacia: Thanks for this opportunity, This past year with Covid has been quiet for me and I am thrilled to have the chance to talk about what I’ve been up to! I hope your readers love the book and have as much fun with it as I did. 

Stacia Deutsch is the New York Times bestselling author of more than 300 children’s books. Her career started with the original, award winning, Blast to the Past series about four kids who time travel and meet famous people in history which was a result of her obsession with time travel stories! Now, she writes mostly chapter book and mid-grade for licensed characters. Stacia loves playing with known characters in worlds that already exist. Stacia’s first movie novelization was Batman: The Dark Knight and since then she has written many more. Most recently, she wrote the movie novel for Boss Baby 2. Other recent books include the Friendship Code for Girls Who Code/Penguin, seven novels for Spirit: Riding Free (Little Brown/Dreamworks), and a few LEGO stories. She’s lucky to be writing the newest Boxcar Children mysteries called The Jessie Files based on the books by Gertrude Chandler Warner. Stacia lives on a Temecula ranch with 4 horses, 3 dogs, and a cat that makes her sneeze. 

COVER REVEAL for The Prince of Steel Pier by Stacy Nockowitz

Kathie: Welcome to MG Book Village, Stacy! I’m so thrilled to be part of the cover reveal for your MG debut novel, The Prince of Steel Pier, which is set for release September 1st from Kar-Ben. I’d love to hear more about it, please?

Stacy: Sure! THE PRINCE OF STEEL PIER takes place in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in the summer of 1975. The book follows Joey Goodman, a thoughtful, anxious 13-year-old, who feels like he doesn’t have a place in his big, boisterous Jewish family. He’s sure that his parents, his grandparents, and his three brothers see him as kind of a wimp. If only he could prove to them, and to himself, that he’s strong and tough, maybe they’d stop treating him with kid gloves. One day on the A.C. Boardwalk, Joey stands up for himself to a group of men who turn out to be gangsters. They’re so impressed with him that their leader, Artie Bishop, the so-called king of Steel Pier, offers Joey a job. Artie and his crew make Joey feel like he has a place to belong, that he’s “one of the guys.” But Joey soon learns that working for Artie puts his whole family in danger. He must decide where he truly belongs, and where strength can really be found. It’s a story about the bonds of family, self-discovery, and finding strength within yourself.

Kathie: I know that you worked on this book with Amanda Rawson Hill and Cindy Baldwin as part of Pitch Wars. Can you tell us a bit about that process and how the book changed from its original concept?

Stacy: I knew next to nothing about writing and publishing a book when I submitted to Pitch Wars. When Amanda and Cindy chose my manuscript, you could’ve knocked me over with a feather. But they are the most amazing mentors anyone could ask for. My first edit letter was about six pages long, but while they were giving me plenty to chew on, they were also incredibly positive and supportive of the book. They encouraged me to fully explore the themes of the book and to round out the characters. They taught me about three-act plot structure and hitting writing beats- things I’d never heard about before working with them. The book itself has not changed too much, but it is so much richer and more nuanced now than it was when I submitted it to them.

Kathie: I’d love to know more about your main character and the inspiration for him?

Stacy: I’ve been a middle school teacher and librarian for thirty years, and Joey is an amalgamation of lots of students I’ve known through the years. I wanted Joey to be smart, but not brilliant, kind but not sugary sweet. He’s the kid who doesn’t speak up much in class but who does his work and gets along with almost everyone. But at home, he’s got three brothers with strong personalities, and he feels like his voice just isn’t heard. Joey feels out of place in his family because he’s not as charming as Reuben or as bold as Simon or as captivating as Ben. What he doesn’t realize is that he has so many wonderful inner strengths. He learns that over the course of the novel. Creating characters is one of my favorite things about writing. I like to imagine the kind of kid I wish I’d been and write characters that way!

Kathie: What would you like our readers to know about your book?

Stacy: The book takes place at the fictional St. Bonaventure Hotel, but when I was little, my grandparents actually owned a kosher hotel on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City called the St. Charles. Much of the setting for THE PRINCE OF STEEL PIER is based on my memories of all the time I spent down the Jersey Shore with my family, especially at the hotel and on the Boardwalk. There’s a scene at the very end of the book where Joey’s grandfather shows him an old St. Bonaventure postcard, and his family members are all in the pictures on the postcard. That postcard is real! I have a St. Charles Hotel postcard from about 1967 that features me and my family members at the hotel, and readers will be able to see it with my Author’s Note in THE PRINCE OF STEEL PIER. I didn’t know any gangsters though- I swear!

Kathie: Who are the illustrators behind the cover and did you have any involvement in it?

Stacy: I absolutely LOVE my cover! The very talented artist’s name is Alisha Monin, and as soon as I saw her artwork on her website, I was blown away! I’m grateful that Kar-Ben encouraged my involvement in every step of the cover design. They asked me what I envisioned for the cover and I was able to give feedback and input throughout the design process. I think the final cover is just perfect!

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

Kathie: Oh wow, I love the way the hands add that menacing feel! What did you think when you first saw the cover?

Stacy: At first I wasn’t sure how I felt about the hands. In the first go-round, I thought they made the cover look a bit too much like it was a horror novel. Now, I think the hands are amazing! Just menacing enough! And that IS Joey standing there. Alisha captured him perfectly. I always wanted Skee-Ball to be featured on the cover because Skee-Ball is important to the plot of the story. Alisha drew the game just as I remember it from my childhood days at the Boardwalk arcades I frequented.

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

Stacy: They can go to my website at www.stacynockowitz.com, and follow me on Twitter @snockowitz.

Kathie: Thanks so much for joining me today, Stacy. I’m really looking forward to reading your book.

Stacy: Thank you so much, Kathie! I hope all of your readers will enjoy THE PRINCE OF STEEL PIER when it comes out in September!

Stacy Nockowitz is a middle school librarian and former language arts teacher with more than 25 years of experience in middle school education. Stacy received her Bachelor’s Degree from Brandeis University and holds Master’s Degrees from Columbia University Teachers College and Kent State University. She is also an MFA candidate in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Stacy received a PJ Library Writer’s Incentive Award in 2020 for her debut novel THE PRINCE OF STEEL PIER, coming in September 2022 from Kar-Ben Publishing. An unrepentant Jersey Girl, Stacy still teases her hair and uses plenty of spray. When she’s not writing or matching great kids with great books, Stacy can most likely be found reading or rooting on her beloved Philadelphia Eagles. Her kids have flown the coop, so Stacy lives in central Ohio with her husband and their cat, Queen Esther. Find her on Twitter @snockowitz or at http://www.stacynockowitz.com.

(Re)defining Success as a Writer, by Shirley Reva Vernick

You can find my novels in many places—libraries, classrooms, bookstores, awards rosters. But one place you’ll never find them is on a bestseller list. I used to think that was a problem. I used to think success meant Amazon rankings, that sales numbers were directly related to literary merit. This mindset generated more than a little anxiety for me, which, in turn, impaired my productivity. How could the creative juices flow on my next project when I was worried about the sales numbers on my current publication?

Eventually, I understood the fallacy of my thinking. I’d been defining success improperly—for myself, anyway. Just because Hollywood wasn’t calling for the movie rights, I realized, didn’t mean my books weren’t successful in truly important respects.

So I expanded my definition of success in a way that stimulates a more fertile mindset. A mindset where I give myself the freedom, the personal permission, to write from the heart and feel good about it, bestseller list or not.

What does writing from the heart look like? Take my newest book, Ripped Away (Regal House Publishing, Feb. 8, 2022). This novel is based on true, lesser-known events that took place in a specific time and place—London during the Jack the Ripper spree. When I learned about these real events, though, I saw more than an historical event. I saw a broader theme, one with urgent contemporary relevance: tolerance (and its flipside, bigotry). Once I made the connection between then and now, between them and us, writing the story became a labor of passion, of making universal connections. Ripped Away was great fun to write, but it was more than that too. It was also deeply satisfying and personally significant. 

Here is my new definition of writerly success. Aside from the sales reports, I am succeeding if:

  • I’m writing meaningful and entertaining stories for young readers.
  • I’m enjoying my work—writing with enthusiasm and honing my craft. 
  • My daughters see me working hard in pursuit of my goals. 
  • I’m getting positive reviews and other literary recognition. 
  • People are engaging with me in-person and through social media platforms.

I encourage other writers to develop a kinder, gentler definition of success. The way I see it, if we’re going to do the hard work of writing, and if our sales figures aren’t going to soar as dizzyingly high as we’d fantasized, we should do whatever we can to keep ourselves motivated, creative and sane. 

Shirley Reva Vernick is the award-winning author of five novels for young readers. A graduate of Cornell University and an alumna of the Radcliffe Writing Seminars, she is committed to creating stories that inspire hope, tolerance, and a love of reading. Shirley also mentors incarcerated individuals with their writing via the Prisoner Express program. Please visit her at www.shirleyrevavernick.com.

COVER REVEAL for Double Axel or Nothing by Anita Saxena

Kathie: Hi Anita! Welcome to MG Book Village, and thank you for giving up the opportunity to be part of your cover reveal. Double Axel or Nothing is your debut middle-grade novel and will be released by Outside Edge Books on March 1st. Can you please tell us a bit about your book?

Anita: Thank you for having me! So excited to be hanging out at MG Book Village. I’ve been a competitive figure skater for 31 years and a figure skating instructor for over two decades. Over the years I’ve watched many skaters struggle with certain jumps. They get so caught up in their inability to land that jump that they lose sight of the fact that they are amazing and beautiful figure skaters. Watching that happen over and over again inspired me to write Double Axel or Nothing.

The main character, Ruby Rani, longs to be the next U.S. Figure Skating National Champion like her idols Michelle Kwan and Alyssa Liu. Most ladies that reach this elite level of skating can do triple jumps by the time they turn thirteen. Ruby Rani’s thirteenth birthday is just weeks away, but she can’t even land a double axel—a jump she’s been failing at for the past seventeen months. If she can’t do a double axel by the end of the summer, her coach won’t allow her to compete at the regional championships. Without regionals, there’s no hope of making it to nationals. It doesn’t help that a voice in her head keeps telling her she can’t do it. To make matters worse, her parents seem indifferent about her ambitions. They only care about her brother making a perfect score on the ACT and their busy dental practice. Ruby Rani has to figure out if it’s possible to achieve a dream when it feels like no one believes in you, especially when the biggest doubter is herself.

Kathie: I recently finished an eARC of the book, and I really enjoyed seeing inside the mind of a young teen with ambitions to be a competitive figure skater. How much of this story is based on your own experience, and what’s one thing you learned about yourself through the writing process?

Anita: It was easy to pull from my experiences as an athlete. I’ve had to fight through ups and downs just like Ruby Rani has. There were points in my skating career where I felt like people in my life didn’t understand or support my goals. Some of the emotions that Ruby Rani goes through are a reflection of how I felt during those times.

When I was younger I certainly experienced the emotional highs and lows that came with one day being able to land a jump and the next day repeatedly falling on my butt. As I wrote Ruby Rani’s story, I remembered going through many of the mental and emotional hurdles that she goes through.

Kathie: This is a character-driven novel where Ruby Rani tries to overcome the obstacles she’s created with the enormous pressure she places on herself to meet a perceived ideal. I loved how honest and raw her emotions were. What’s one piece of advice would you offer to young readers passionate about excelling in a sport?

Anita: Remember: positive self talk. Shut down that negative voice inside you that tells you that you can’t do something. If your thoughts are so mean you wouldn’t say them to a friend, why would you say them to yourself?

Own your identity as an athlete. Say out loud, “I am a figure skater (insert your sport).” There are no accolades or skills required to say that. If you love being on the ice or on the basketball court or on the field—then you are that athlete. Train hard. Rest & recover. Be kind to yourself. Stay realistic with the expectations and goals that you set. And most importantly, have fun!

Kathie: I loved Emma as a supporting character and how she offers encouragement as well as some balance for Ruby Rani. Which relationship did you most enjoy writing?

Anita: That’s a tough question. Each of Ruby Rani’s relationships are special to me. But I think I enjoyed writing about Ruby Rani’s relationship with her Dad the most. Her dad is tough on her just like my dad was tough on me growing up. I can definitely say I wouldn’t be who I am without his encouragement and expectations.

Kathie: Can you please tell us about the cover’s illustrator and what your reaction was when you first saw the art?

Anita: Credit goes to Jessica R. Ament and Haroula Kontorousi for the amazing cover. I couldn’t stop smiling when I saw it!

Kathie: OK, let’s show everyone the cover!

Kathie: I love how so many elements from the story are incorporated into it! Is there anything you’d like to point out that a reader might miss?

Anita: There are definitely many elements from the story included on the cover. I laugh every time someone comments about the teeth (but then tell them that Ruby Rani’s dad is a dentist, also my husband is a dentist). What I love about the figure skater on the cover is that the position of her arms, torso, legs, and skates are optimal for landing a double axel. We worked really hard to be as accurate with this as possible. Could the cover be foreshadowing for a happy ending? You’ll have to read to find out.

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

Anita: Please come visit me! My website is: www.anitasaxena.com. I’m also pretty busy on Instagram: @AnitaSk8.

In honor of the Olympics, the publisher Outside Edge Books is selling signed copies from February 9 – 20, 2022. Click here to pre-order a signed copy. Quantity is limited. The paperback and e-book will be available wherever you like to purchase books on March 1st. Don’t forget that you can also request it from your library.

Kathie: Thanks so much for chatting with me today, Anita, and I wish you all the best with your book’s release.

Anita: Thank you for letting me hang out at MG Book Village and celebrate the cover and release of Double Axel or Nothing with everyone!

Anita Saxena has been a competitive figure skater for most of her life and coaching for more than two decades. She enjoys ice dance, theatre on ice, showcase, and moves in the field.

Anita lives in Alabama with her husband and three cats. When she’s not on the ice, she writes and is an optometrist. Anita also enjoys playing and teaching piano. She loves hiking when the weather is mild and going to the beach for undisturbed reading time. Anita also happens to be a connoisseur of hot tea and popsicles. After graduating from the University of Alabama at Birmingham with University Honors in Philosophy and a minor in Chemistry, she then went on to receive her Doctorate of Optometry from the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Optometry. 


Interview with Lisa Stringfellow about A COMB OF WISHES

A Comb of Wishes

Anne: Hi Lisa, and welcome to MG Book Village! I’m so glad you could stop by and share a bit about your debut novel, A Comb of Wishes, which hits shelves tomorrow: Tuesday, February 8. I really enjoyed this story! Could you start by giving us a super brief summary of what it’s all about?

Lisa: Yes, of course! Twelve-year old Kela is grieving her mother’s recent death when she stumbles on an ancient box in a coral cave. Inside is a beautiful hair comb and when she touches it, she opens a magical connection to a dangerous mermaid named Ophidia. The mermaid offers Kela a wish in exchange for her comb’s return, so Kela wishes for the thing she wants more than anything else…for her mother to come back.

Anne: Such a great setup. Now, I noticed that many of the chapters begin or end with, “Crick. Crack. This is a story… Crick. Crack. The story is put on you.” I love these lines! One character explains to another that “the story is put on you” means the listener must decide what the story means. Where did these lines come from? Were they part of a storytelling tradition in your own family?

Lisa: “Crick, Crack” is not part of my personal family tradition but it is part of a large cultural tradition in the Caribbean. In the Black diaspora, storytelling is a participatory event that requires interaction from both the teller and the hearer of the tale. Another place you can see this is in the call and response structure of sermons within the Black church.

In the Caribbean, many islands have traditional ways of beginning and ending a story—a story frame—that serves as a cue for listeners. “Crick, Crack” (sometimes written as “Krik Krak”) is the frame that I use throughout my book, and it is common on islands like Haiti, Grenada, and others. A popular ending phrase in storytelling in the Caribbean is “De wire bend, De story end.” The tags sometimes are just a signal of ending, like writing “The End,” but other times the tags invite the listener to consider some deeper meaning in the story.

Anne: Now that you’ve cued me in, I hear a sense of “call and response” in the story. Nice. One of your themes is that something sad or broken can become something beautiful; we see this in your protagonist’s hobby of making jewelry from pieces of sea glass. How did this element of the plot emerge? When you started writing, did you know Kela would be a collector of sea glass?

Lisa: Actually, in my early drafts Kela collected seashells and made shell jewelry. I didn’t consider changing her hobby to sea glass until I met a writer who happened to be a marine biologist, and she told me that shell collecting was not environmentally friendly. I immediately researched the environmental impact of shelling and realized I did not want to inadvertently advocate for it through Kela’s actions. For those who may not know, collecting shells removes habitats for sea animals that depend on them, like hermit crabs, and it contributes to beach erosion.

sea glass bracelet
bracelet crafted by Ela Sea Glass Jewelry

I started thinking about what else she could collect that would lead her to the sea and sea glass quickly resonated. Sea glass is essentially “trash” that humans have added to the ecosystem, so removing it doesn’t harm the animals and marine environment. This was a fortuitous change because my research also led to me reading the folktale about sea glass being “mermaid’s tears,” which fit so beautifully into my story. It’s another reason I value critique partners and encourage writers to seek other eyes on their work.

Anne: Oh. That is so good to know. (Now I have to scour my house for shells and return them to the beach!) Okay, new question: the sea woman (or mermaid) tells Kela that “magic always has a cost… The stronger the magic you invoke, the deeper the consequence.” Oooooh, this line raises the stakes! How did you decide what the “rules” of magic would be? Were there any rules you considered and decided not to use? 

Lisa: Worldbuilding is such an important part of fantasy writing and I thought long and hard about how magic would work. Magic should always have a cost, otherwise what is to prevent the user from solving all of their problems with a snap of their fingers?

I decided that Ophidia would have rules that bound her. Why would she offer Kela a wish? Only because she had to. Granting wishes became the “payment” mermaids had to give to humans for the way the seafolk acquired immortality. Kela would also have rules of magic that would affect her. She can wish for anything she wants, but the bigger the wish, the higher the cost she would have to accept. In stories about wishes, the language of the wish is always important and the wishes almost never turn out exactly as the wisher would hope.

Without spoiling anything, I’ll also say that I created magic that even Ophidia couldn’t overcome. She wields power, but there are things beyond even her abilities and understanding. Adding those limitations added suspense and tension that I hope readers enjoy!

Anne: Yes! This reader enjoyed the suspense! What do you hope readers will take away from A Comb of Wishes?

Lisa: There are many things I hope readers take away. First, I wanted to create a positive representation of Black girlhood and family in the novel. Even though Kela is dealing with sadness, she is not alone. In the Black experience, community is vitally important. Eventually, she confides her feelings to her father, her best friend, and others.

Second, sometimes we adults tend to shy away from discussing tough topics with children, but they are necessary. Grief is a human emotion that we all experience. Books can be a safe way for children to see and process those feelings. A Comb of Wishes is a story about grief and love. My main character tries to act “normal” to keep her father from worrying but she struggles with her sadness and withdraws from her best friend Lissy. The adults in her life support her by keeping the lines of communication open and giving her time and space. Parents and teachers can use the book to foster healthy conversations about death and loss and remind children that the ones who have left us always stay in our hearts.

Anne: That’s lovely. Really. And finally, Lisa, where can readers go to learn more about you and your work?

Lisa: Readers can visit my website, lisastringfellow.com, to learn more about me and my books. I’m also active on Twitter and Instagram @EngageReaders: https://twitter.com/EngageReaders and https://www.instagram.com/engagereaders/

Anne: Thank you so much for stopping by MG Book Village, and for writing such a great story!

Lisa Stringfellow
Lisa Stringfellow (image credit: Carter Hasegawa)

Lisa Stringfellow writes middle grade fiction and has a not-so-secret fondness for fantasy with a dark twist. Her debut fantasy A Comb of Wishes will be published on February 8, 2022 by HarperCollins/Quill Tree Books. It was selected as an ABA Indies Introduce title for Winter/Spring 2022 and Lisa received the inaugural Kweli Color of Children’s Literature Manuscript Award in 2019 for the novel manuscript. Her work often reflects her West Indian and Black southern heritage. Lisa is a middle school teacher and lives in Boston, Massachusetts, with her children and two bossy cats.

Anne (A.B.) Westrick is today’s MG Book Village interviewer. She’s the author of the older-MG novel Brotherhood. You can learn more about her at https://abwestrick.com/

#VillagePageTurners February Theme: Spotlight on Black Creators

You may or may not know that MG Book Village has started its own Book Club. The Book Club emerged from participants in the #MGBookChat talking about having another venue to talk about middle-grade books. Christie Megill and Laurie Hnatiuk, who are part of the MG Book Village Team, seized the opportunity and the wishes of #MGBookChat friends and decided to take this on, and #VillagePageTurners was born.

The book club follows the same format as a Twitter chat and is held on the last Tuesday of the month at 9 PM EST. More details about the book club and the archives of the four chats are on a Village Page Turners Book Club page, and part of the MG Book Village website.

In January, we moved to the theme of Nonfiction, allowing for greater flexibility, leading to more titles shared and added to reading lists! The chat appeared less stressful and more engaging, and we will use the theme idea in February.

With February being Black History month and many of our participants are involved in reading and sharing books related to Black History, we thought we would expand on this idea and have our theme be SPOTLIGHT ON BLACK CREATORS. What does this mean? Well, it means you can enjoy and appreciate the many ways Black Creators bring books to life for our readers. You do not have to limit yourself to just authors but may also include illustrators and narrators. Above all, you make it work for you.  You may also decide to read different genres (nonfiction, fantasy, sci-fi) audiences (middle-grade or young adult) formats (audio or graphic novels and picture books) or perhaps you want to focus on one particular creator, again make it work for you.

To help you out, here are some possible links to help you discover the many talents out there.

2021 Picture Books by African-Americans

2022 Picture Books by African-Americans

25 Must-Read Children’s Books for Black History Month

28 Nonfiction Titles for Black History Month

30 incredible Black children’s book illustrators – Mother Mag

54 YA Books You Need to Read—Especially During Black

65 Black Young Adult Novels to Add to Your TBR – Reading …

99 Books about Extraordinary Black Mighty Girls and Women

African American Books That Changed the Game: 20 Must

Best Picture Books by Black Authors

Black Children’s Book Illustrators to Follow and Support

Chapter Books By Black Authors

Heisse Reads and Recommends Black History Month 2022 Picture Book Recs

Jillian Heisse UPDATED* Honoring Black Lives: A Virtual Picture Book Library 

Middle Grade & YA Audiobooks by Black Authors

We hope you enjoy celebrating Black Creators and join us on February 22 at 9 PM EST to share and spotlight the Black Creators you read