COVER REVEAL for Game Face by Shari Green

Kathie: Hi Shari, and a big welcome to MG Book Village! I’m so happy to hear you have another book coming our way. Can you tell us about GAME FACE, which is coming out with Groundwood Books on September 5th?

Shari: Thank you so much, Kathie! I love MG Book Village, and I’m so happy to be here! GAME FACE is a novel in verse about thirteen-year-old Jonah. Jonah’s got big dreams, but he’s also got a secret he keeps from everyone but his best friend. The secret? Jonah worries. And his worst worry is that he’s destined to have his life controlled by anxiety, just like his dad does. To prove to the world—and himself—that he’s not like his dad, Jonah is determined to succeed in a role that requires significant chill: goalie for his hockey team. 

Kathie: What about the idea for this story compelled you to write it?

Shari: After many years as a “hockey mom” and decades as a hockey fan, I wasn’t surprised to find a hockey story brewing. I was excited to tell a story that included this sport I love, but it wasn’t until I got to know Jonah and realized the impact anxiety had on him that I felt compelled to write GAME FACE. I’ve got so much compassion for that kid—his dreams, his sorrows, his struggles—and I’ve also got some seriously strong feelings about the stigma surrounding mental health and the huge potential for harm that carries. So really, how could I not tell Jonah’s story? 

Kathie: Can you tell us a bit about Jonah, and what five words would you use to describe him best?

Shari: In many ways, Jonah is a typical eighth-grade kid, with big-league hockey dreams, a best friend, and weekends full of homework, video games, and team practices. But there was a significant loss in his past that has an ongoing impact on both Jonah and his dad. And he’s plagued with worries that he’s gradually realizing are a sign of something bigger—something that might be too big to handle on his own.

Five words for Jonah: determined, anxious, loyal, hopeful, conflicted.

Kathie: I love that you address the topic of anxiety and how it affects Jonah both on and off the ice. Can you tell us a bit more about that and what kind of research you did for this book?

Shari: One thing about having anxiety is that you don’t get to decide when it’s going to make an appearance. So yes, Jonah’s anxiety affects him both on and off the ice. He knows being a goalie forces him into high-pressure situations that can make his anxiety worse, but it’s those exact situations that he believes he must master to prove to himself that he’s “okay.”

Jonah’s anxiety came out of my own experience, although Jonah’s anxiety is more severe. As a starting point, I drew from my experience and from the stories others shared with me. Then I was off to the library, of course! I researched anxiety in children and teens, and I read personal stories of mental illness in competitive athletes. I also connected with a school counsellor and a physician. And then I put myself in Jonah’s shoes (skates?) and let him experience anxiety in his own unique way, trusting that the background research I’d done would ensure Jonah’s experience felt authentic to others with anxiety, even if the situation and the particular symptoms/effects were different for them.

Kathie: I love the recent conversation I heard on Twitter about “sports books” not being just for kids who love sports. What are your thoughts about this, and what sort of reader did you have in mind when you wrote this book?

Shari: Definitely not just for kids who love sports! Just as sports aren’t only about the actual sport or game (they’re also about things such as how we work together, how we complement one another, and how we support one another, and they’re about things such as motivation, goals, commitment, dreams, and competition, and how all that plays out differently in different people), sports books are also about so much more. GAME FACE is a hockey story, yes, but it’s also a story of a boy and his dad, a story of a friendship strained to the breaking point, a story of the impact of mental illness on families and individuals, a school story, an Oma-loves-you story, a make-a-new-friend story, a you’ll-be-okay story. 

What sort of reader did I have in mind? Anyone who loves realistic fiction. Anyone who loves novels in verse. Anyone who loves upper-middle-grade stories with heart.

Kathie: Let’s talk about the cover! Who designed it, and what struck you most when you first saw it?

Shari: The cover artist is the wonderfully talented Julien Castanié, and I have to say, seeing my Jonah there, perfectly captured by Julien, was amazing! It was such a cool process, seeing this character move from my imagination into story and poems and pages, and then into something visual through Julien’s art.

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

Kathie: I love the way the reader is drawn to Jonah’s face. Can you share one element of significance that you love?

Shari: I love the way it captures so much of Jonah’s heart and mind. When I look at it, I feel like I catch a glimpse of Jonah’s big dreams, but then I blink, and I feel the weight of anxiety on him, the alone-in-the-darkness feeling that comes from all he’s dealing with.

Kathie: What else would you like readers to know about this story?

Shari: There are some delicious foods in the story that I absolutely had to test out in my kitchen (all in the name of research, of course! haha). Also, one fun fact is that I wrote this book during the 2018-2019 school year, when I was a “mentor” for a grade 4/5 class in the #KidsNeedMentors program. I gave the class regular updates on my progress, and in turn, they gave me a wonderful supply of enthusiasm and motivation.

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

Shari: I love connecting with other MG lit fans! They can visit my website for info ( or connect with me on social media. (I’m mostly on Instagram @shari_green and twitter @sharigreen.)  

Kathie: Thanks so much for letting us be part of your cover reveal today, Shari, and I anxiously await the opportunity to read it!

Shari: Thank you so much, Kathie! Thanks for the great questions, and huge thanks to you and everyone at MG Book Village for sharing my excitement about GAME FACE!

Shari Green is an award-winning author of novels in verse, including Missing Mike, Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess, and Root Beer Candy and Other Miracles. Her books have been included on international “best of” lists and nominated for multiple provincial and state readers’-choice programs. When she’s not writing or reading, Shari can often be found wandering the beaches or forest trails near her home. She lives with her husband on Vancouver Island, BC, on the traditional territory of the Laich-Kwil-Tach people. Visit her online at

Interview with Aya de León about UNDERCOVER LATINA

Anne: Hello, Aya! I’m thrilled you could join us to talk about Undercover Latina, your recently released novel for older-MG and YA readers. The fast-paced action is awesome! Would you please give us a super-brief synopsis of the story?

Aya: Sure! Andréa is a homeschooled 14-year-old Latina in a family of spies going on her first solo mission. She must press her hair and pass for white to infiltrate a high school in Arizona to befriend the estranged son of a white supremacist terrorist. Shenanigans ensue!

Anne: Yes, they do! And as part of her spy mission, Andréa must learn a card game reminiscent of Magic: The Gathering. Also, she attends a convention similar to Comic-Con. What about you? Are you into Magic and cosplay, or did you have to do research to develop this plot?

Aya: While I tend to write in the crime genre, my partner and my kid are both hardcore into sci-fi/fantasy. My partner used to play Magic a lot, and my kid loves cosplay. Meanwhile, I have been going to my local AfroComicCon for years—I was even their keynote speaker in 2019! I started going to the Con supposedly for them, but I was just loving the imagination and the uprising of women, people of color, and other marginalized folks demanding that we be part of our culture’s collective vision of the future.

In the book, when it was time to have my main character befriend this other kid in her mission, she needed to pretend to share his interests. What could be more fun than making him a nerd who was into comics, gaming, and cosplay? And for me, as someone who mostly writes contemporary, realistic fiction, it was a way to create a world-within-a-world where I could play around with sci-fi/fantasy and fandom.

Anne: Fun! And beneath all that fun, your characters deal with some tough issues ranging from racism and colorism to privilege and white supremacy. I loved insights such as “white people…don’t have the same natural danger radar and vigilance that teens of color have,” and “a lot of the ideas in the US Constitution had come from the Iroquois Constitution [but that’s not taught in our schools].” This is an educational thriller, and it’s oh, so much more readable than a textbook! My question is: when you sat down to write Undercover Latina, which came to you first—the espionage intrigue or the justice issues? Where did you begin?

Aya: It all began with Ally Carter and Robin Benway. I read their spy girl books over a decade ago, and wondered what teens of color would bring to the spy girl genre. My first muse was Amani, who appears as the colleague in Undercover Latina. In particular Benway’s book ALSO KNOWN AS has a spy girl protagonist, whose family works for an independent spy agency. She’s homeschooled and goes to high school for the first time as part of her first solo mission. I LOVED the setup, and that was how The Factory was born, an international spy organization whose mission is to fight racism and protect people of color around the world. So, really, the politics and the espionage developed in tandem, but in response to these two other authors.

As an author, I am always thinking about my books for young people (and adults!) as tools of political education. And once my protagonist is in a school, there needs to be conflict in the scenes. So I’m going to use that opportunity to comment on education, and look critically at what she’s being taught.

Anne: That’s great. I loved your comments on education. Now, tell me: which character did you most enjoy writing, and which was the hardest to write? Do you see yourself in any of the characters?

Aya: I really enjoyed writing all of them. My heart is closest to the girl spies, and Amani has more of me than anyone, except maybe Andréa’s mom, because that issue of wanting your daughter to be bold, but also wanting to protect her is REAL. Probably the most difficult character to write was the white son of the terrorist, because he didn’t have a super strong personality. I needed him to be quiet, and a hard nut to crack, without boring the reader. There’s a twist a little ways into the book that made him more interesting to me, and put his inscrutability into a context that made him more relatable.

Anne: Yes, he grew through the course of the story. Such a great mix of characters!

Before Undercover Latina, you wrote a number of suspense novels for adults. Why did you decide to write for young readers, and how was writing MG/YA different from writing for adults?

Aya: First of all, when I read Benway and Carter, it was only a matter of time before I tried my hand at spy girl fiction. But also, my books for adults are very much adult. They’re sexy beach reads, as well as political thrillers, and as a mom, it was as if I had this big thing I was doing that I couldn’t share with my kid. As she got older, I wanted her to be part of my writer’s life. So I began writing an upper middle grade series so she could be part of that journey. And it’s been amazing. When I go on the road, she comes with me. We go to conferences of kid lit and they give out ARCs (advance reader copies) of all the new books. She can take whatever she wants and is in heaven. She’s a big reader, particularly of graphic novels.

Ultimately, I’m obsessed with the same issues in adult fiction as in MG/YA: race, gender, sexuality, socioeconomics, and the climate crisis. My adult books just have more gritty realism and my kid’s books handle the topics more lightly. Undercover Latina is like Yikes! White nationalism! But also skateboard chases! Teen romance! Cosplay! I think the biggest difference is that in the adult books, I’m writing characters who have heavy trauma histories, and the character development is about working through those histories. With the YA/MG protagonists, I’m writing characters who don’t have big trauma in their early lives. They have intact families. No abuse/neglect/adverse life events. So their developmental arcs are about growing up and experiencing agency in their teens for the first time.

Anne: What do you hope young readers will take away from Undercover Latina?

Aya: I have the world’s longest author’s note. I really think of the book as a fun rallying cry for everyone (particularly in the Latine community) to join the fight to end racism.

Anne: Awesome. I’m European American and would love for more white folks to join in the fight, too. And let me just say: your author’s note isn’t that long! You got me thinking about people who have—as you put it—a “proximity to whiteness”: a light-skinned experience of racism. I’m glad you included it.

I’ve heard that a sequel to Undercover Latina is coming out. What can you tell us about it?

Aya: Yes! Actually, more of a prequel. Untraceable comes out this October (2023).

Amani and her mom go on the run when someone comes after them and burns down their house in LA. They decide to hide in plain sight, moving from a white prep school to a Black public high school. As a plus-sized Black girl, Amani gets body image whiplash when she goes from being romantically invisible to being sexually harassed. Also, she’s totally in the dark about what’s going on with her family, and why they’re on the run. So she begins spying and shenanigans ensue!

Anne: Love it. Finally, where can we go to learn more about you and your writing?

Aya: My website is I’m on twitter @ayadeleon and Instagram @ayadeleonwrites, and all my books are at Bookshop.

Anne: Excellent. Thank you so much for stopping by MG Book Village today!

Aya: Thanks for inviting me!

Aya de León teaches creative writing at UC Berkeley. She is the acquiring editor for Fighting Chance Books, the new climate justice fiction imprint at She Writes Press. Aya has published award-winning climate fiction with Kensington Books, including SIDE CHICK NATION (2019), A SPY IN THE STRUGGLE (2020), QUEEN OF URBAN PROPHECY (2021), and THAT DANGEROUS ENERGY (2022). Aya’s YA/MG books include UNDERCOVER LATINA (Candlewick 2022) and THE MYSTERY WOMAN IN ROOM 3 (free online on Orion Magazine). Aya’s work has also appeared in Harper’s Bazaar, Ebony, Guernica, Bitch Magazine, VICE, The Root, and Ploughshares.

Anne (A.B.) Westrick is the author of the older-MG novel Brotherhood. You can learn more about Anne at the MG Book Village “About” page.

Interview with Karuna Riazi about A Bit of Earth

Kathie: Welcome to MG Book Village, Karuna! It’s a pleasure to have the chance to talk with you about your upcoming book, A BIT OF EARTH, which comes out March 14th from Greenwillow Books. Can you give us a brief synopsis of it, please?

Karuna: It is such a pleasure to be here – thank you so much!

Absolutely! A Bit of Earth is a contemporary retelling of the classic The Secret Garden, told with warmth and hope in a blend of poetry and prose. To borrow from the official synopsis: “Maria Latif is used to not having a space of her own. But what happens when she feels the sudden urge to put down roots in the most unexpected of places? Karuna Riazi crafts a tender coming-of-age story about friendship, family, and new beginnings. A Bit of Earth is a reimagining of the classic The Secret Garden, perfect for fans of Other Words for Home and The Bridge Home.”

Kathie: I had a chance to read an eARC of your book, and I love how you reimagined The Secret Garden. What was it about this particular book that inspired you to rethink it?

Karuna: I have always loved The Secret Garden, since I first read it around seven or eight years. As a rather grumpy and opinionated girl myself, I felt seen in Mary Lennox, and was raptly absorbed in her quest for acceptance in spite of that prickliness, for friendship, and for a peaceful garden to call her own. However, even as Mary made me feel seen, the also present elements of ableism and racism deeply embedded in the plot prevented me from fully calling the story my own – an experience I’ve found I am not alone in sharing, as I’ve discussed A Bit of Earth with friends, family and readers over the past few months. My hopes with A Bit of Earth is to honor and the classic and all it meant to me, while exploring the previously overlooked and rich cultural South Asian background and heritage that is also a part of the original legacy, and that this title – in the words of Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop – will open a new mirror, window, and sliding door that will only further The Secret Garden’s timeless messages and themes.

Kathie: Maria grew up in Pakistan and moved to the United States to stay with her parents’ friends after being bounced around among family members following their deaths. There are many richly detailed cultural elements in the story. Is there a section you most enjoyed writing?

Karuna: One of my favorite scenes to write was definitely the religious gathering, or milaad, that Maria is invited to attend at a new Bangladeshi-American friend’s house. I grew up attending milaads myself, being of Bangladeshi heritage, and being able to add in both a cultural and nostalgic touchstone of my childhood was a highlight. 

Kathie: The reader letter you included at the front of the book really influenced how I looked at Maria as a character. Can you tell us how you’d describe her and what life advice you might give her?

Karuna: I would describe Maria as pricky and grouchy, yearning for a place that will recognize the deep-set grief that results in those reactions and suspicion of the world, and for a found family to support her and love for who she is (and I am so glad that she is able to receive that found family, and a place where she is recognized and invited to start healing, by the end of the book). 

I’m not sure what life advice I would give Maria except for “Keep being who you are.” She’s doing pretty awesomely at being herself, and expecting respect and acceptance for who she is!

Kathie: You wrote the story in prose and verse, which I think worked very well. Why did you choose to tell it this way?

Karuna: It has been such a wonderful journey of discovery toward the inclusion of verse in this story – beginning during my second semester in Hamline University’s MFAC program, when I told my advisor (incredible middle grade author Laurel Snyder) that I wanted to rediscover the poet within me that had so feverishly loved and written verse over my high school years. When A Bit of Earth wasn’t hitting the emotional arc I wanted as a strictly prose novel, Laurel encouraged me to pursue the little verses I was writing from Maria’s perspective in the margins of the first draft. From there, when the book sold to Greenwillow, my wonderful editor Martha Milhalick recognized that the verses were introspective, intimate and emotional insights into Maria’s perspective, and the prose was invaluable in moving the plot forward. The rest is history. 

Kathie: Gardening plays a prominent role in the book. Is it a hobby that you enjoy?

Karuna: At the moment, the only gardening I do is tending to three house-plants, and virtually through farming sims like Stardew Valley – but I want the opportunity to garden more in the future!

Kathie: Relocating from one place to another is such an eye-opening experience. If you could choose one place to live for a year, where would it be and why?

Karuna: I would love to do a year-long artist residency somewhere with a view, preferably in the forest or maybe near the sea. I’ve always wondered if Prince Edward Island (famously home of one of my other favorite childhood heroines, Anne Shirley) offered a residency, or another of Canada’s remote, quiet islands – that would be beautiful, and probably very productive in terms of getting writing done!

Kathie: Is there anything I haven’t asked you about that you want readers to know about your book?

Karuna: I cannot think of anything else at the moment, and only hope that readers – both those who are familiar with the original Secret Garden, or are being introduced to the story for the first time – feel welcomed, seen and loved by A Bit of Earth, and are able to find a home within its pages that will allow them to set down roots and bloom into their own bright, beautiful potential.

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

Karuna: Readers interested in finding out more about me and my book are invited to visit my website, I can also be found on Twitter and Instagram under @karunariazi! 

Kathie: Thank you for taking the time to chat with me today, and I wish you all the best with your book’s upcoming release.

Karuna: Thank you, Kathie! I appreciate your time and your support, and am so honored that you’ve read and enjoyed A Bit of Earth!

Headshot credit: S. Uddin

Karuna Riazi is a born and raised New Yorker, with a loving, large extended family and the rather trying experience of being the eldest sibling in her particular clan. She holds a BA in English Literature from Hofstra University, an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Hamline University, and is an online diversity advocate and educator. She is the author of The Gauntlet (S&S/Salaam Reads, 2017), The Battle (S&S/Salaam Reads, 2019), Ghostwriter: The Jungle Book (Sourcebooks Wonderland/Sesame Workshop, 2019), and A Bit of Earth (HarperCollins/Greenwillow Books, 2023).