Interview with Lorelei Savaryn about THE EDGE OF IN BETWEEN

Kathie: Hi Lorelei, and welcome back to MG Book Village! The last time we chatted, you were preparing to release your debut novel, THE CIRCUS OF STOLEN DREAMS. Today we’re discussing your new middle-grade novel, THE EDGE OF IN BETWEEN, which came out on April 19th. Can you tell our readers a bit about it, please?

Lorelei: Absolutely! THE EDGE OF IN BETWEEN is a spooky, magical reimagining of The Secret Garden. 


A spellbinding tale of magical realism and superb, twisty retelling of The Secret Garden, where twelve-year-old Lottie’s colorful world turns suddenly gray when an unexpected accident claims her parents, and she is uprooted from her home to live with an eccentric uncle she never knew she had—on the border that separates the living and the dead.

Lottie lives in Vivelle—the heart of a vibrant city where life exists in brilliant technicolor and nearly everyone has magic. And Lottie is no exception; she can paint pictures to life in every shade and hue imaginable. But at the sudden loss of her parents, all the color is stripped from Lottie’s heart and the world around her. Taken in by her reclusive, eccentric uncle, Lottie moves into Forsaken, his vast manor located in the gray wasteland between the Land of the Living and Ever After, the land of the dead.

The discovery of a locked-up garden, a wise cardinal, a hidden boy, and a family whose world is full of color despite the bleakness around them begins to pull at the threads of what it means to live in such a near-dead place, slowly returning some of the color to Lottie’s private world and giving her hope that life is worth experiencing fully, even while one carries sorrow.

But as time runs out, Lottie must find a way to thaw both the world and the hearts of her uncle, cousin, and those she has come to know and love in her new home, or all of Forsaken—including Lottie herself—will be absorbed by Ever After long before their time.

Kathie: I love your writing, but I admit I was initially skeptical about reading this book because I’m not a fan of The Secret Garden. Your book stands so well on its own, though, and doesn’t require any knowledge of the original story. How did you choose what elements to keep from The Secret Garden and how to put your own spin on it?

Lorelei: I’m so glad you enjoyed it! I worked really hard to tell a story that could be appreciated by anyone, whether or not they’re familiar with the original story (or even if they don’t really like it!). Early on, I decided that I would have a counterpart to each of the characters in the original, but that I would take a fresh angle on their personalities and dynamics. I also decided to keep some of the major plot markers in place, namely, that my main character moves in with her uncle, discovers she has a cousin, and finds a hidden garden. I hoped to then build on that foundation to create a world brimming with magic, and that delves into navigating grief and finding one’s way to hope and healing again in a more nuanced and layered way. I also wanted to write a story completely free of the racism, ableism, and colonialism of the original book.

Kathie: Lottie is my favorite character. Can you use three words to describe her, and in what way do you wish you were more like her?

Lorelei: I love Lottie so much! She is resilient, open-hearted, and incredibly creative. I love how she fights to see the good in people, even if it isn’t apparent at the start. One thing I admire about Lottie is how she lets herself feel the way she is feeling- if she is sad, if she is angry, she doesn’t try to hide it. She accepts those feelings as part of herself, and I think I sometimes struggle with trying to put on a brave face when maybe being more vulnerable would actually be the healthier choice, because that opens you up to support from those who love you. On the flip side of that, when Lottie is happy, the whole world knows it, and that joy spreads to others. I’m also working harder to be like Lottie in pausing to appreciate how far I’ve come.

Kathie: One of the things I most enjoy about your stories is how you explore grief and loss but how hope balances out those themes. How does writing fantasy allow you to explore these emotions differently from a realistic story?

Lorelei: This is such a great question. Writing in magical worlds in a strange way allows me to face certain aspects of grief more head on or even more concretely than I maybe could in a realistic story. In The Circus of Stolen Dreams, I got to give Andrea the chance to go back and save the one she had lost, which I think is something so many of us wish for when we experience loss, but can never achieve. It was incredibly healing to write that possibility for her. In The Edge of In Between, there’s a scene where Lottie cries in the frozen over garden, and she’s worried it will make the garden deteriorate even more. But when she looks down, flowers have sprouted up in the places where her tears hit the earth. It can be tough, sometimes, to understand that sadness is not only acceptable, but a necessary part of the path toward healing. Inside the magical world of Forsaken’s frozen garden, I got to show that in such a concrete and visible way. My hope is that readers will remember that scene and carry it with them for the day when their tears need to fall.

Kathie: Color plays an integral part in this story. What is your favorite color, and how do you use color to express yourself in your life?

Lorelei: I recently decided that my favorite color is that pinkish orange hue the sky takes on just as the sun is setting. There are roses that are that color, and I’ve always been drawn to them too. 

I use color in my life, especially in my home, to set up the feeling of different spaces in our house. There are rooms that are in calm and peaceful blues with pops of yellow, there are rooms that have gray walls and pink flowers and brown wood. We have four kids, and things are generally noisy and filled with movement, so I tend towards gentle colors in the spaces I’m in. I appreciate beautiful color combinations as well as the feelings they can evoke and the comfort they can bring. I also love setting up little book arrangements by spine color as decor in different rooms of the house to coordinate with the seasons. Red and green for Christmas, bright yellow during the spring, etc.

Kathie: People often say writing a second book is more challenging than writing the first. Was that true for you?

Lorelei: Oh my goodness, absolutely it was. It took some time to get used to writing my first book from scratch that was under contract, and the expectations and deadlines that came along with that. This was also just a deeply personal story for me, and there was a point three rounds into revision with my editor where I realized I had to scrap everything and start over. With my editor’s blessing, I opened a blank word document and began again, and rewrote the whole thing in about three and a half weeks in order to turn it in on time. It was very scary in the moment, but so worth it in the end.

Kathie: What’s one thing you wish someone would ask you about this book? 

Lorelei: I would love to be asked about the little cardinal in the story! In the original book, the bird that leads Mary Lennox to the garden is a robin. But I chose to use a cardinal because there is a legend about cardinals being messengers for loved ones that we’ve lost. I’ve seen a lot of art and cards about that sort of idea, and it just enchanted me from the very first time I heard it. How lovely it would be to have a messenger like that be a sign for someone who has lost a loved one. I was able to take that story and very easily adapt it to fit into my imaginary world and use the cardinal to bring comfort to my characters in a way that some readers may find familiar.

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

Lorelei: Readers can head on over to! I’m on social media as well:

Instagram: loreleisavarynauthor

Twitter: @loreleisavaryn

TikTok: lorelei_savaryn_author

Kathie: Thank you so much for chatting with me today, Lorelei. I truly enjoyed this story, and I wish you all the best with its release.

Lorelei: Thank you so much Kathie! And thank you for taking the time to chat!

Lorelei Savaryn ( is an author of creepy, magical stories for children. She holds a BA in creative writing and is a former elementary teacher and instructional coach. When she isn’t writing, she spends her time amidst the beautiful chaos of life with her husband and four children outside of Chicago. She is also the author of The Circus of Stolen Dreams. You can follow her on Twitter @LoreleiSavaryn.

Interview with Salma Hussain about THE SECRET DIARY OF MONA HASAN

Kathie: Welcome to MG Book Village, Salma! Today we’re chatting about your debut middle-grade novel, The Secret Diary of Mona Hasan, which releases on May 3rd from Tundra Books. Can you tell us a bit about it, please?

Salma: Thank you for the warm welcome, Kathie! The Secret Diary of Mona Hasan is a middle grade novel set in 1991 about a young, Muslim Pakistani girl growing up in big-city Dubai, in the U.A.E. Due to the first Gulf War her parents decide to immigrate to North America. They end up in small-town Dartmouth on Canada’s east coast. The novel is a year-in-the-life-of young Mona as she journeys through immigration, puberty, and general tween concerns – “When will my chest grow, Allah? Why is my mother not like the mothers on T.V.? Why is Aba ruining our lives by moving us to Canada?”

Kathie: Mona’s story begins in United Arab Emirates, but she ends up immigrating to eastern Canada in a small town outside Halifax. Can you share why you chose these locations as your setting?

Salma: To answer this question, I’d like to share the origin story for this novel – when my daughter was five, she turned to me sleepily at bedtime and asked, “Mama, you were born outside Canada, right? Were you a regular kid just like us?” 

That one question was the spark behind this entire novel. I knew in that moment that I wanted to write a book in a child’s voice to answer my child’s underlying questions – in what ways might the kids who grow up outside Canada be different? And in what ways might they be the same? 

I wanted it to be an immigration story and I choose these particular locations because I know them very well! I grew up in the U.A.E. myself (until grade seven), and immigrated to a small town on the eastern coast of Canada when I was a teenager (I completed my high school years in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia). I have a familiarity and love for both places, and as they are under-represented in childrens’ literature in North America, I wanted to amplify and celebrate them.

Kathie: What 5 words would you use to describe Mona, and explain why you chose them?


CURIOUS – Mona questions the world around her and in so doing holds up a mirror to the absurd world we have created.

JUST – Mona knows when something is wrong and she steps in to do something about it (i.e., in the situation with her sister and Uncle Annoying, and in the situation between Ross and the bully.)

DREAMER – Mona wildly and passionately believes in all the good things yet to come in her life. She dreams of a better world. Every. Single. Day.

UNSINKABLE – Kids, at all times from all places, but especially those who grow up in times of conflict and war, have been and continue to be unsinkable.

GRAND POETESS – Mona would pick this one for herself so I had to include it!

Kathie: The book takes place in 1991 at the start of the first Gulf War. What sort of research did you do, and did you discover anything that surprised you?

Salma: I knew that I wanted the impetus for this family’s move to be the first Gulf War, and I knew that I wanted the novel to cover twelve months. However, when I started researching the first Gulf War, figuring out which twelve months I should cover was a challenge! The Iraqi military invaded Kuwait on August 2, 1990 but Mona’s first diary entry begins on January 1, 1991, so when readers meet this family they have already been dealing with the news of the Gulf War for a few months. This meant I had to insert context and background about the Gulf War quickly but in a way that would not be overwhelming, nor an “info-dump”! It took a few tries to get it right. I looked up the front pages of newspapers in the Middle East (in English, Arabic and Urdu) and compared and contrasted the headlines. I also listened to news coverage from different TV channels (a lot of this is available on Youtube). Nothing was surprising, but a lot of it was very sad. News about any war, anywhere, from any time period, is extremely sad. In contrast, I then also looked at popular “fashion”/“beauty”/“womens’” magazines and listened to music from the late 80s to 91. This research countered the sad stuff. I found that as an escape from the reality and horror of war, people determinedly and resolutely sought out joy in fashion and food and music. 

Kathie: Your writing voice is quite humorous. Are you naturally a funny person?

Salma: Yes, absolutely! My friends (who have had their arms twisted about this) agree. My children, however, disagree.

Kathie: What’s one question you wish readers or interviewers would ask about your story?

Salma: What are Mona and Adam up to today? 🙂 

Kathie: Can you tell us where we can go to find out more about you and your writing?

Salma: Please follow me on Twitter and Insta: @salmahwrites. I post updates about my writing life on these platforms and I also desperately need more followers! (My mom and her friends  aren’t enough! :))

I also have a website (designed by the lovely Hazel of @staybookish):

Kathie: Thank you so much for joining me today. I love connecting with Canadian new authors, and I wish you all the best with your publishing kickoff!!

Salma: Thank you so much, Kathie. I just want to close by adding that the Middle Grade writing community in Canada and beyond is one of the friendliest writing communities to be a part of, and I am honoured and delighted to join it. Thank you for reading The Secret Diary of Mona Hasan!

Salma Hussain enjoys writing prose and poetry for all ages. She has a B.A. (Hon.) in English literature  from the University of Calgary, a law degree from the University of Calgary, and a Masters in Law from McGill University. The Secret Diary of Mona Hasan is her debut MG novel. She lives in Toronto. 

Interview with James Bird about The Second Chance of Benjamin Waterfalls

Anne: Hello, James! Welcome to MG Book Village. I’m excited to chat with you about your new novel, The Second Chance of Benjamin Waterfalls. The book hit shelves on April 19th and I loved reading it. Would you please give readers a super-brief summary of the story?

James: Hello Anne! This book is about second chances. Not only getting them, but also giving them. Benny receives a second chance to turn his life around, and in turn, ends up giving his dad a second chance to become the father he needs to be.

Anne: Great. It’s such a heartfelt story. And there’s a lot of humor here! Characters tell jokes and riddles and play good-natured tricks on one another. What about you? Are you a jokester? Do you have a silly sense of humor? Are any of the characters based on you?

James: I guess I am a bit of a jokester. I try to find the humor in all situations. Sometimes that’s very difficult and nearly impossible, but the point is too look for it, not to find it. I think most problems, not all, but most problems would be solved if we approached them with humor and a sense of trying to find a common ground with people. And now that I am a dad, I see that humor is one of the most precious qualities we are born with, and as we grow up, some of it fades away. With this book, I am trying to reel it back towards the adults in this story. We should not only learn to laugh more, but we should make a huge effort in trying to make other people laugh more.

Benny, in a way, is based on me. I stole a lot as a kid. And like him, I was given a second chance to straighten up.

Anne: Oh, interesting. And it’s lucky for all of us that you straightened up and started writing fiction! Now, Benny is Ojibwe but grew up speaking English, and as he learns a few Ojibwe words, so do readers. Did you grow up speaking Ojibwe, or did you have to research the language to write this novel?

James: I grew up speaking only English, but as I got older, I really wanted to reconnect with my blood. So I made it a mission to learn anishinaabemowin. Now, I am teaching it to my son, Wolf. But he has a young spongy brain, so it’s more like he is teaching it to me.

Anne: Somewhere I read that you were raised in California and now live in Massachusetts. Why did you set the story in Minnesota? What is it about the city of Duluth and the remote area of Grand Portage that made Minnesota the right setting for Benny’s story?

James: The book is set in Minnesota because that is where all my relatives are from. My mom was born and raised there, so now I try to go back as often as I can. It is a part of me now.

Anne: One of the story’s themes is that inside each of us we’ll find both a superhero and a villain; Benny must struggle to wake up his inner superhero. When you started writing, did you set out to incorporate this theme, or did it emerge along the way? How long did it take you to write Benny’s story?

James: I have always believed that each person has a superhero inside of them, as well as a villain. As we grow up, we tend to listen to one and ignore the other. My hope is that people will read my book and decide to listen to their superhero.

Writing this book was rather quick. A few months is all it took. I had a lot of superhero experiences to pull from, and I admit, I also had a lot of villainous experience to draw from too.

Anne: Love it. Before we end, I want to tell readers that your first MG novel was titled The Brave and came out in 2020.

Readers who like The Second Chance of Benjamin Waterfalls will like that one, too. It’s a great story! And my question is: will you be writing more novels for middle grade readers? What are you working on now?

James: Yes. I will be writing many more middle grade books. My third book, No Place Like Home, will be out in spring 2023.

Anne: Awesome. Can’t wait to read it! Finally, please tell readers where they can go to learn more about you and your work.

James: I am on Instagram,, Facebook, and sometimes Twitter,

Anne: Thank you so much for stopping by MG Book Village, and for writing such heartfelt novels for middle grade readers!

James: Great to be here!

James Bird is an Ojibwe author (The Brave, The Second Chance of Benjamin Waterfalls) as well as an award winning filmmaker (Eat Spirit Eat, From Above, Honeyglue, We Are Boats, Wifelike). But in his words, his greatest accomplishment is being a father to his son, Wolf. When he’s not writing, he spends most of his time rescuing animals and painting in the basement with his son. He lives in Massachusetts with his wife, fellow author Adriana Mather. His next book will be released in spring, 2023, and is titled No Place Like Home.

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

Nouns, Verbs And Adjectives Help Mark My Muslim Celebration by Saadia Faruqi

In the first few days of May, American Muslims like myself will mark the end of the holy month of Ramadan with a big celebration called Eid al-Fitr. Traditionally, this means collective prayers, fancy clothes, henna, delicious foods, and gift exchanges. This year, it will also include Mad Libs.

Many people think Mad Libs is inappropriate and risqué. They may not know that it’s one of the world’s most popular word games, making children grin since 1953. My own kids aren’t immune: I played Mad Libs with my then elementary school daughter while on a road trip, and haven’t looked back since. Whether you’re alone or in a group, this fun game inserts parts of speech like nouns, adjectives, verbs, even celebrity names and types of buildings into a story full of blanks for a rip-roaring laugh.

I remember the giggles whenever we’d play the game. My daughter thought she was lucky to be allowed to use words like poop and diaper and fart, all in the name of good fun. Little did she know she was learning language skills and spending time with her family instead of alone in her room playing Roblox. I have the fondest memories of this time, so when Penguin Random House knocked on my door to write a Mad Libs all about Eid, I jumped on board quickly.

As a children’s author, I write stories centering Muslim American families. Characters like my first generation Pakistani American kids, who try to practice their faith while living fulfilling, multidimensional lives in the U.S. One of the reasons I write such books is to allow kids like mine to see themselves in the pages of books, their faces reflected back from the covers, and their lives normalized through the stories. I knew I wanted to go further than that, however. Including Muslim observances like holidays into mainstream culture is an important aspect of my work, and Mad Libs is definitely a part of American culture since the last mid-century. If families can play Mad Libs about Easter, Christmas, and other holidays, why not Eid?

To me, this little booklet of twenty-one word games is more than it seems at first glance. The stories within it are carefully chosen reflections of Eid in all its glory of celebrations. From “Henna How-To” and “Glitter and Lights” to “An Eid Poem” and “An Eid Recipe” this book can help players of every age learn a little something about me. My culture. My holiday. The gifts we give each other. The ways we find joy. The foods we eat, whether they’re home cooked using generations-old recipes or huge family gatherings at a local restaurant. And now, maybe a new tradition: playing a Mad Libs game together after a hearty Eid meal.

At the end of the day, Eid al-Fitr isn’t just a Muslim holiday. With millions of Americans celebrating it each year, Eid is an American holiday, just like all the others. I want to mainstream and normalize it, and if I can help children learn the parts of speech in the process, that’s just an added bonus.

Ramadan Kareem and Eid Mubarak!

Saadia Faruqi is a Pakistani American author, essayist and interfaith activist. She writes the children’s early reader series “Yasmin” and other books for children, including middle grade novels “A Place At The Table” co-written with Laura Shovan (a Sydney Taylor Notable 2021), and “A Thousand Questions” (a South Asia Book Award Honor 2021). Her new book “Yusuf Azeem Is Not A Hero” details the experiences of the Muslim American community twenty years after 9/11. Saadia is editor-in-chief of Blue Minaret, a magazine for Muslim art, poetry and prose, and was featured in Oprah Magazine in 2017 as a woman making a difference in her community. She lives in Houston, TX with her husband and children.