FAST FORWARD FRIDAY – Jaime Berry

Kathie: Hi Jaime, and welcome to Fast Forward Friday. I just finished your middle-grade debut novel, HOPE SPRINGS, which comes out August 10th from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, and it was fantastic! I think young readers will love this story, especially those who know what it’s like to move a lot and search for the “perfect” place to call home. Can you tell us about your book, please?

Jaime: Thank you so much for having me, Kathie. And thank you for your kind words about my book. HOPE SPRINGS is about 11 year-old Jubilee and her grandmother Nan. They live by a set of Relocation Rules meant to help them find their perfect place. But Jubilee starts to feel that their number one rule- just the two of them is all they need- leaves them a little too close to alone. After she convinces Nan to move to the small town of Hope Springs, Texas, Jubilee begins to think maybe she’s found the place she’s been searching for, but it’ll take quite a bit to make Nan feel the same way. 

Kathie: Jubilee lives with Nan, and instead of working through hard things, they usually pick up and move. Now Jubilee is making attachments in Hope Springs and breaking the Relocation Rules. Did you move a lot as a child or stay in one place, and how did that affect your perspective writing this story?

Jaime: I never moved as a kid! I was born and raised in a tiny rural town, but moved to Brooklyn after college. Then as a young adult I did quite a bit of moving from one apartment to the next, and didn’t expect to feel as homesick as I did. One of the unique things about living in a very small town is that everyone knows each other; that can be a mixed blessing, but it makes it almost impossible not to be connected to the community. And that’s what I thought would speak most to Jubilee- connection. 

Kathie: I think Abby was my favourite character; I loved how Jubilee didn’t have a choice but to be her friend and be welcomed into her family. Which character are you most like, and what appealed to you about telling Jubilee’s story?

Jaime: Oh my goodness, this is a tough question! I love Abby too, but I’m honestly not sure which character I’m most like. I wrote a draft of this story after my very young family outgrew the first apartment I thought of as home other than my hometown. We searched and searched for our next perfect place, and ended up leaving Brooklyn and relocating to the suburbs.

It took me quite a while to settle into our new town, and I did a lot of thinking about how little a house has to do with the feeling of home. I guess in that way, I’m like Jubilee. I do think my household is like Abby’s, always loud and messy, but a welcoming loud mess…I hope!

Kathie: I fell in love with Hope Springs for its setting and its people. Was it inspired by a place you lived or visited?

Jaime: Yes! Hope Springs is based on the small town I grew up in called Antlers tucked down in the southeast corner of Oklahoma. And just like Hope Springs, there was one stop light in the whole county. My dad and my grandfather worked together at Berry Drug Store on Main Street, and a few blocks in either direction at the stoplight’s intersection made up the entire downtown.

Both sets of my grandparents lived there too. In fact, for a while, my maternal grandmother, my great aunt, my aunt, and my family all lived down the same country road. When I think of home, I normally think of there-not our house, but that stretch of road with its horse pastures and rolling hills. It was called Red Hill Road, and that’s where I set up Nan and Jubilee in a rental house right next to a murky pond, very much like the one by my grandmother’s house when I was eleven.

Kathie: This is a character-driven novel with the themes of family, community, friendship, and belonging that run strongly through it. Where do you consider “home” to be, and what qualities make it so for you?

Jaime: I think maybe what makes a home is slightly different for everyone. For me, home is wherever a person feels loved and supported enough to take risks and pursue what might seem like unattainable goals, a place filled with the people that make you feel more like yourself when you’re there than when you’re not. 

Kathie: What have you learned during your debut year that you’ll definitely use moving forward with your writing career?

Jaime: I’ve made plenty of mistakes during my publishing journey, but if it weren’t for my fellow 2021 debut writers, the 21nders, I would’ve made a ton more. So, I think sharing experiences and having a support network of fellow writers going through similar publishing hurdles is really important. Also, writing can be lonesome but connecting with teachers, librarians, and other writers makes it less so. I think like Jubilee and Nan I’ve learned that going it alone, or even close to alone, isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Kathie: Are you working on another writing project right now?

Jaime: Yes! I have another middle grade contemporary scheduled to come out in Fall of 2022. I’m really excited about it and couldn’t be happier to be working on another book with Sam Gentry, my wonderful editor at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

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

Jaime: My website is jaimeberryauthor.com, and on Twitter I’m @jaime_berry3.

Kathie: Thanks for joining me on Fast Forward Friday today, Jaime, and I hope young readers love Jubilee’s story as much as I did.

Jaime: Oh, thank you so much! This has been a ton of fun. One of the things I have loved most about this whole debut process is connecting to other people who love middle grade as much as I do. Thank you so much for taking the time to read my book. I truly hope that readers will find some comfort in Hope Springs, and I’m thrilled you enjoyed your time there!

Jaime Berry is a native of rural Oklahoma and a former New York City public school teacher. After years with two small boys in a too-small Brooklyn apartment, Jaime and her husband moved to the wilds of suburban New Jersey and added another boy and a dog to the mix. Hope Springs is Jaime’s debut novel. 

Book Trailer Premiere: ROOK, by William Ritter

Hi, Will! Thanks for stopping by the Middle Grade Book Village to share a book trailer for your newest book. Tell us about Rook!

Thanks so much for inviting me! I am so thrilled to be returning to New Fiddleham and to the bizarre life of Abigail Rook. For those who haven’t read the Jackaby series, those four books follow Rook as she first arrives in America, finds work for the titular supernatural detective, and gradually becomes the hero of her own story over a series of wild capers. Part of my decision to end that series where I did was because it felt like the natural conclusion of an arc—Rook had reached the end of an important chapter in her life and was done following. This book picks up with the next chapter of her life, one in which she very much takes the lead.

The events of the fourth Jackaby book changed things in this world, and without giving too much away, this new novel explores the ramifications of those changes. After generations of isolation, the human world and the world of magic are finally colliding—and New Fiddleham is not the same city that it was when Rook first stepped off the boat. She’s going to have her hands full with paranormal perils, insidious plots, mounting pressure… and parents.

The fourth Jackaby novel came out in 2018. What is it like returning to the series after spending some time away?

It’s like returning home to visit old friends. I’ve missed writing these characters. They’ve grown while I’ve been away, and writing them has been a chance to learn who they are all over again.

Many of your books, including The Oddmire series for middle grade readers, take place in the same universe as Jackaby. What draws you to this world of folklore and fantasy?

The turn of the 20th century is such an interesting time period for a fantasy. The world is scary and rough in many ways, and it still has a lot of growing ahead of it, but human beings are also exploring the development of electricity, pushing the limits of steam power, and developing marvels of engineering… and they’re doing so right alongside Ouija Boards, séances, and spirit phones. It’s a time when anything seems possible, bad or good. That atmosphere pairs so nicely with a coming-of-age story—whether that’s a story about MG characters just coming out of childhood or YA characters learning how to be adults. The urban streets of New Fiddleham and the rural roads of Endsborough are very different venues for exploring these ideas, but the feelings behind them are kindred spirits.

All right, let’s take a look at the book trailer — which, I feel I need to mention, you animated yourself!

Wow! It’s fabulous! Just one thing: Rook isn’t scheduled to release for a while—so what should we read while we’re waiting?

Well, Jackaby and the Oddmire, obviously. But for a few read-alikes: I recently adored Cemetery Boys by fellow Oregon author Aiden Thomas. They managed to create a marvelously grounded yet supernatural world full of darkness and light in perfect balance. Highly recommend. For fans of Fractured Folktales—Curses by Lish McBride is brilliant, too. It releases this month, but I had the privilege of getting to be an early reader. McBride’s writing is always so sharp and cheeky, and this gender-swapped Beauty and the Beast retelling is some of her best. Don’t miss it. I’ll add that the Rick Riordan Presents line of books is perpetually coming out with awesome mythology-inspired fantasy. Roshani Chokshi’s Aru Shah and Kwame Mbalia’s Tristan Strong were both stellar. Rebecca Roanoke’s Race to the Sun is the latest on my TBR. Happy reading!

Where can readers follow your progress and learn more about your work?

I’m on frequently on twitter at @WillOtheWords, and occasionally on my own blog at https://rwillritter.wordpress.com/.

William Ritter is an Oregon author and educator. He is the proud father of the two bravest boys in the Wild Wood, and husband to the indomitable Queen of the Deep Dark.The Oddmireis Ritter’s first series for middle-grade readers. He is also the author of the New York Times bestselling, award-winning Jackaby series for young adult readers. Visit him online at rwillritter.wordpress.com and find him on Twitter: @Willothewords.

FAST FORWARD FRIDAY – Ally Malinenko

Kathie: Hi Ally! I’m so glad to have a chance to talk to you about your upcoming debut novel, GHOST GIRL, which will be coming out on August 10th from Katherine Tegen Books. Can you give us a brief synopsis of it, please?

Ally: I’m so excited to talk to you too! Thank you for having me! Ghost Girl is a spooky middle grade book about Zee, a tow-headed, stubborn, storytelling girl and her best friend Elijah. When a storm comes through town delivering a new principal with strange ideas about your dreams coming true things start to get spooky. In order to understand what’s happening Zee and Elijah team up with Nellie, bully turned buddy, and the three of them will have to work together if they want to give their ghost story a happy ending.

Kathie: I absolutely loved the role that the library played in this story (surprise, surprise!). Can you tell us where the inspiration for this part of the story came from?

Ally:Yes I can! It’s a combination of two libraries. One is the Newburgh Library in the Hudson Valley. I grew up near there and always loved when we would go because that was, as I called it, the Big Library. It had three floors which blew my mind when I was little. The second inspiration is the library that I currently work at in Brooklyn! The physical building, with the lower decks and the wings like the covers of a book, is based on the Central Library at Brooklyn Public Library. 

Kathie: I think Elijah is my favorite character; he is a devoted friend, helps unite Zee and Nellie, shows a quiet strength when it’s most needed, and so desperately wants his one wish to come true. Which character or relationship did you most enjoy writing, and which was the most challenging for you?

Ally: I loved writing Elijah so I’m so happy to hear that he resonated with you. He came so easily to me, and I thought he was a good opposite to Zee. Where she’s all noise and bluster, Elijah is quiet and careful. I think a lot of his personality is based on my father. I found the way Zee and Elijah offset and then balanced each other was one of my favorite relationships to write. The most challenging was Nellie and Zee, simply because I hate bullies, which both girls at times are guilty of, and writing their increased agitation was hard. 

Kathie: I love how the villain, Principal Scratch, convinces the town that he’s trustworthy and that they were able to manifest their most desired wishes. If you would have one non-serious wish that would come true, what would it be?

Ally: Oh! That’s a good question. I suppose if I could have one non-serious wish come true is that I would continue to be able to write spooky books for kids. 

Kathie: There are few middle grade horror stories, and yet we know so many young readers love them. Did you enjoy scary stories as a kid? Why do you think we don’t see more being published, and why do you think young readers are so drawn to them?

Ally: I love this question because I love talking about the importance of what I call safe-fear. I adored scary books as a kid. One of my all time favorites was Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark! I still remember most of those stories. I vividly remember the first time I read the Monkey’s Paw and how chilled I was by the knock on the door at the end. If you haven’t read it, please go google it. I think a lot of the reason that we don’t see more scary stories being published is because of adult gatekeeping. I remember meeting an author I admired recently and when I explained that my book was middle grade horror she wrinkled her nose and said such a thing shouldn’t exist. I was crushed. I think kids are drawn to scary stories because they already know the world is scary and I think when adults try to be gatekeepers for kids they are denying that children have the same wide berth of emotions as adults. They just don’t always have the tools to manage them. And that is where scary stories step in. It’s a safe kind of fear. It isn’t happening to the reader, they just get to follow along. It allows a kid the opportunity to step into something scary and feel those feelings and then, be the hero at the end! Scary stories are the place where kids learn that sometimes life is scary and that’s OKAY. 

Kathie: If you saw a young reader in the library holding your book and deciding whether to check it out, are you the type of author who would go up and speak to them, or quietly smile to yourself and wait to see what they do? If you did speak to them, what would you say to convince them to try it?

Ally:I would definitely wait to see what they did and then, if they did check it out, I would ask them why. And chances are good it would be because of the amazing cover that my illustrator Maike Plenzke created! 

Kathie: Are you working on another writing project right now, and where can we go to find out more about you and your writing?

Ally:I am! I just turned in a new round of edits to my editor on a new stand alone spooky book called This Appearing House. It is about a girl, Jac, and her best friend Hazel, who get trapped in a haunted house. But it’s also about illness, fear, trauma, and acceptance. I can’t wait for people to read it. It’s slated to be out Summer of 2022 by Katherin Tegen Books. The best place to find out more about my writing and whatever shenanigans I’m up to would be at my website at allymalinenko.com 

Kathie: Thanks, Ally, for spending some time with me today. I hope this book will find those young readers who love a scary story just in time for the fall spooky season.

Ally: Thank you so much for having me Kathie! I loved talking with you about spooky books and why they matter! And yes, I joked with my husband that this year Spooky Season starts on August 10th the day Ghost Girl is out! 

Ally Malinenko is a poet, novelist, and librarian living in Brooklyn, New York, where she pens her tales in a secret writing closet before dawn each day. Connect with Ally on her website at www.allymalinenko.com

COVER REVEAL for The Way I Say It by Nancy Tandon

Kathie: Hi Nancy! I’m so happy that MG Book Village is part of the cover reveal for your middle-grade debut novel, THE WAY I SAY IT. I love watching authors launch their first book and feel honoured to be part of your journey. Please give us a synopsis of your story, and tell us when it’s set for release?

Nancy: Hi Kathie! Thank you for having me. What a treat and an honor to be here among such a supportive community of middle grade book lovers to share the cover of my debut novel! 

THE WAY I SAY IT tells the story of a sixth grader named Rory who can’t say his own name. But being “the kid who still can’t say the /r/ sound” is just the beginning of his troubles. First Rory’s ex-best-friend Brent starts hanging out with the mean lacrosse kids. But then, a terrible accident takes Brent out of school, and Rory struggles with how to feel.

Rory and his new speech teacher put their heads together on Rory’s r’s (not to mention a serious love of hard rock and boxing legend Muhammad Ali), but nobody seems to be able to solve the problem of Rory’s complicated feelings about Brent. Brent’s accident left him with a mild brain injury, and he’s struggling. Should Rory stand up for his old friend at school–even after Brent failed to do the same for him? 

THE WAY I SAY IT releases on January 18, 2022 and is available for pre-order now!!

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

Nancy: In my previous career as a Speech/Language Pathologist, I worked with many kids who had trouble saying sounds included in their own name. For example, one of my favorites was a young girl named Camille. She couldn’t say the /k/ sound, and it led to a lot of confusion when people would ask her her name. It can be so frustrating when an articulation disorder interferes with someone’s ability to communicate, and especially when it impedes the production of something so personal — your own name! 

I also worked in both inpatient and outpatient brain injury rehabilitation programs. There is a saying: “if you’ve met one person with a brain injury, you’ve met one person with a brain injury.” Recovering from a head trauma that affects one’s ability to communicate is a complex, highly individual road. 

But no matter where a difficulty with speech or language stems from, at the core, there seems to be a common desire for all humans : we want to be heard and understood. I was compelled to explore what that might look like at the middle grade level, when kids are really beginning to figure out who they are and who they want to be. 

Kathie: Is your main character based on an actual person, and can you give us one characteristic about them that you most admire?

Nancy: Honestly I did the “devious writer” thing and asked myself: what would be the worst name to have if you were a sixth grader who can’t say /r/ sounds? And Rory was born. But in the beginning, I struggled to make him a fully fleshed out character. He was very one dimensional. Then I attended a play put on by local sixth graders. The boy playing the lead had a distinctive speech pattern that my SLP brain registered as what we call “gliding of liquids” — essentially, replacing /r/ with a /w/ sound. But this kid was amazing. He owned the stage. He sang with the voice of an angel. And it hit me — I wasn’t letting Rory actually be himself. And who he is is a multi-faceted cool kid who makes mistakes but is driven to learn and grow. From there the story took off.  

Kathie: What’s one thing about your publishing journey (so far) that’s surprised you?

Nancy: I had no idea when I started writing how many wonderful new friends I would make! I’ve met the most fascinating, talented people — both readers and writers. And I have relied on those friends to buoy me as I’ve been bobbing around in the pre-published waters for a looong time. I would not have survived without that raft!

Kathie: Let’s talk about your book’s cover. Can you please tell us about the illustrator and your involvement in the process?

Nancy: My publisher, Charlesbridge, has worked with illustrator Chris Hsu on other projects, and he was my editor Karen Boss’s first choice for the cover of THE WAY I SAY IT. Lucky for us, he was available! He’s incredibly talented; have a gander at his portfolio at https://chrishsu.net/ and you’ll agree!

I got to see an early version of the cover, and there were some minor tweaks after that. Both Charlesbride and Chris Hsu made the process very easy on my end! And I am so excited about the final product!

Kathie: It’s the moment everyone has been waiting for…here’s the cover for The Way I Say It!

Kathie: I really love the way the title is written in a speech bubble, and how the primary colors jump off the page!

Now, what’s a little-known fact about this story you can share with us?

Nancy: Many years ago, a few sample pages of this story won the Ruth Landers Glass Scholarship from the New England Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators. The fact that someone (not related to me) felt the story had promise truly sustained me in the long years on my path to publication since then!

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

Nancy: I love connecting with other readers and writers! I can be found at https://www.nancytandon.com and on Twitter (@nancytandon) and Instagram (@_nancytandon_)

Kathie: Thank you so much for taking the time to share some details about your upcoming book, Nancy. I look forward to reading it!

Nancy: Thank you, Kathie. It’s been my pleasure, truly. A huge thank you to all the volunteer hours that have gone into making Middle Grade Book Village a ‘one stop shop’ where people can find out about awesome stories for middle grade readers! 

The Way I Say It is available for pre-order from the following: 

RIVER BEND BOOKSHOP  (Exclusive pre-order campaign! Specify if you would like your book personalized; your order will also include some super special surprise swag!)

PENGUIN/RANDOM HOUSE 

IndieBound 

Barnes and Noble 

Amazon

Happy reading to all!

Nancy Tandon is a former teacher, speech-language pathologist, and adjunct professor of phonetics and child language development. As an SLP, she worked with many clients who had difficulty pronouncing sounds specific to their names, as well as people recovering from brain injury. Nancy lives in Connecticut with her husband and two children. The Way I Say It is her first novel. Visit her at http://www.nancytandon.com.

FAST FORWARD FRIDAY – Christyne Morrell

Kathie: Hi Christyne! It’s great to have a chance to talk to you about your upcoming release, KINGDOM OF SECRETS, which will be released by Delacorte Books on August 3rd. Can you please tell us our readers what it’s about?

Christyne: Hi Kathie! It’s so lovely to be here! KINGDOM OF SECRETS is the story of a girl named Prismena (Prissy for short), whose father is the hot-air balloonist in the kingdom of Oren. Prissy is a budding inventor who longs to build and fly the complicated vessels herself, but her father doesn’t approve. 

One day, a girl named Abi steals Prissy’s only remaining memento of her deceased mother – a silk scarf – and promises to return it only if Prissy smuggles a mysterious box onto one of her father’s flights. Since balloon travel is strictly regulated, that single act of rebellion results in the arrest of Prissy’s father and kicks off a series of events that will pull her out of her predictable life and set her off on an epic adventure through the kingdom. 

Along the way to free her father from jail, she’ll get caught up in a bar fight, nabbed by a malicious schoolmistress, tossed into a home for unwanted children, and thrust into the center of a brewing rebellion. On her journey through Oren, Prismena will uncover secrets that change the way she views her family, her kingdom, herself, and even her beloved hot-air balloons. She’ll have to break a few rules – and even forge metal – to save the people she loves, but she may also get a chance to soar.

Kathie:  You create such a magical world; both Oren and Palma have unique characteristics. I’d love to know if you were inspired by other fantasy settings?

Christyne: Thank you! My goal was to create a world that felt timeless and magical even though it doesn’t actually contain any magical elements. I grew up reading and watching fairy tales that took place in imaginary kingdoms far, far away, and those stories definitely inspired the setting of KINGDOM OF SECRETS. I was obsessed with a TV series called Fairie Tale Theater, which featured retellings of classic fairy tales with all the big stars of the 80s, like Robin Williams and Carrie Fisher (bonus points for anyone who remembers these!). I also recently introduced my daughter to The Princess Bride, one of my favorite movies as a child. As we were watching, it dawned on me that Oren is clearly a descendant of the fictional kingdom of Floren. It wasn’t something I did intentionally, but I do think Oren and Palma owe their existence to decades of fairy tales and fables rattling around in my brain! More recently, I’ve been inspired by books like Shannon Hale’s Princess Academy and Jennifer Neilsen’s False Prince trilogy, both of which create such realistic, well-drawn worlds. 

Kathie: I really loved that you included flashback scenes that added a new perspective to the present day story and helped us understand the characters in a new way. Was that an original part of your story, or did that come later?

Christyne: This story has a very long pre-publication history – I’ve lost track of how many times I rewrote it before it finally sold! In the first drafts, all the backstory was disclosed as part of the present-day narrative. As I revised, and thanks to excellent feedback from my beta readers, I realized I was missing out on a golden opportunity to tell Wren’s story from her point of view. Her scenes completely transformed and deepened the narrative, and also added to the central mystery by presenting another question for readers to answer: Who is Wren and how does she factor into the current-day adventure?

Kathie: Did you ever consider telling this story from Abi’s point of view?

Christyne: Yes! I’d always intended for this book to center around a reluctant rule-follower who gets swept up in a rebellion (Prissy), but as I wrote the story, Abi kept stealing the show (as she’s known to do). So once I was finished writing the book, I felt compelled to go back and spend a little more time with her. It was like writing fan fiction for my own book! I wrote a prologue to the novel that describes how Abi met Halston and joined the group of orphans who later became her family. It gives the reader a glimpse of the world through her eyes, which of course is thoroughly entertaining! As part of my pre-order campaign, I’m giving away hand-sewn copies of that prologue. Your readers can learn more on my website, including how to snag a copy!

Kathie: Can you share one thing you would like readers to know about this story?

Christyne: Would you mind if I shared two? 

Kathie: Absolutely, go right ahead!

Christyne: Thanks! 

The first one is a bit of interesting history and a glimpse at the inspiration behind the story. My husband is a wealth of random information, and years ago, he mentioned that hot-air balloons were used by the Union Army during the Civil War, for reconnaissance missions and to spy on the Confederate Army. There was even an official branch of the Union Army called the Balloon Corps. After he told me that, I couldn’t get the image out of my head – of peaceful hot-air balloons flying over a scene of battle. I knew there was a story there, but it wasn’t until years later that it became the first spark for KINGDOM OF SECRETS. People always ask where my ideas come from, and sometimes it’s the most unlikely, casual detail that takes root and becomes the impetus for an entire novel. Of course, my husband loves to say that he was the inspiration for my book!  

The second takeaway is that, even though KINGDOM OF SECRETS is set in an unfamiliar time and place, this story explores concepts and themes that are relevant to modern-day readers. Fantasy books are often seen as a diversion or an escape – and rightfully so – but that doesn’t mean they don’t tackle familiar issues that middle graders are dealing with, like questioning parental authority, discovering their own unique gifts, forging their own paths, standing up for what’s right, and learning to appreciate different perspectives. Whether they are summoning the courage to challenge unfair rules (like Prissy) or learning to accept the help of a friend (like Abi), I hope my readers will see their own stories reflected in the pages of KINGDOM OF SECRETS, even as they are swept up on a fantastical hot-air balloon adventure!

Kathie: I always thought flying over the savannah in Africa in a hot air balloon would be awesome…until I developed a fear of heights! Have you ever been in a hot air balloon, and if not, do you have any interest in flying in one?

Christyne: I’m right there with you, Kathie! In the past, I’ve gone skydiving and once took a trapeze class on a NYC rooftop, but these days, I’m the person squeezing the armrests when the airplane takes off. My adventurous days were long gone by the time I set my sights on hot air balloons. While I was drafting KINGDOM OF SECRETS, my husband offered to take me on a hot-air balloon flight for research purposes, but I turned him down. I might be willing to go up in a tethered balloon someday… baby steps! 

That said, I did get to do lots of research on hot-air balloons, including an interview with a pair of real-life balloonists. It was fun to learn about these amazing machines and dip into the fascinating history and science behind them. So even though I’ve never flown in one, I feel like I got to go on a vicarious balloon ride by writing this story! 

Kathie: Are you working on another writing project at the moment?

Christyne: I’m currently working on my second novel, TREX, coming from Delacorte next summer. TREX is a contemporary mystery with a sprinkling of sci-fi, about a boy with an experimental brain who shoots lightning from his fingertips. He teams up with a shy amatuer spy, and together they set out to catch a prowler in their neighborhood – which may or may not be an evil scientist trying to kidnap Trex and experiment on his brain. It’s quite a departure from KINGDOM OF SECRETS, but it contains similar surprises and plot twists, which I hope will keep readers guessing and turning pages!

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

Christyne: You can learn more about me at www.christynewrites.com. I’m also on Twitter and Instagram at @christynewrites. 

Kathie: I really appreciate you taking the time to answer my questions today, Christyne. I hope your book’s release is a big success!

Christyne: Thank you, Kathie. Thank you so much for having me!

Christyne Morrell is a children’s book author and attorney. She lives in Decatur, Georgia with her husband, daughter, and hyperactive beagle. Christyne has been writing poems and stories since she could hold a pencil, but KINGDOM OF SECRETS (Delacorte 2021) is her debut middle-grade novel. Her second novel, TREX, will be released in Summer 2022.
Christyne is also the author of the picture book Abra, Cadabra & Bob (Clear Fork Publishing 2019), and her work has appeared in Highlights,Spider, and The School Magazine. She can be found online at christynewrites.com and on Twitter and Instagram at @ChristyneWrites.

COVER REVEAL for The Unforgettable Logan Foster by Shawn Peters.

Kathie: Hi Shawn, and welcome to MG Book Village! It’s wonderful to connect with you and have a chance to be part of the cover reveal for your upcoming book The Unforgettable Logan Foster. Can you please tell us about it, and when it will be published?

Shawn: Thanks Kathie! I’m excited to be working with you and MG Book Village after months of Monday night #MGBookChats. I’m amazed by the community you’ve assembled.

Logan Foster is an undersized 12-year-old orphan with a photographic memory and zero filter. After a decade of never lasting with any foster family for too long, he has no expectations of ever being adopted and spends his spare time searching for the younger sibling he believes is still out there. But when he’s brought home by a kind, suburban couple who are clearly hiding something from him, Logan’s logical mind won’t stop until he uncovers the super-secret truth; superheroes are real… and his new foster folks are actual superhumans. Suddenly, he’s drawn into a world of hidden organizations, comic-book-level battles and the realization that something he has locked in his one-in-a-billion brain may make him the most valuable person in the world to a certain villain who has lived for thousands of years. 

The book will come out on the first Tuesday of 2022, which is January 4th. So when you make a resolution to read more next year… The Unforgettable Logan Foster is available.

Kathie: This sounds like a very funny action-packed novel. Was this the type of book that you enjoyed reading as a kid?

Shawn: When I was a MG reader, I actually spread my attention around to a lot of different genres. I was a big fan of Roald Dahl, Madeline L’Engle, Terry Brooks and anything that had a precocious pre-teen genius like the “Encyclopedia Brown” books by Donald J. Sobol and all the “Great Brain” books by John Dennis Fitzgerald. Those characters definitely resonated with how I saw myself at that age, and they informed how I thought of Logan when I was writing him. 

But whenever I was sick (and as a kid who had tonsils the size of racquet balls and a ton of allergies, I had my share of sick days), my parents would buy me comic books to read while I was home from school; Thor, Captain America, Hulk, Superman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Firestorm, Spiderman… and then there were these ones called “Marvel Universe” that were just a sequential, alphabetical encyclopedia of every hero or villain to ever appear in Marvel comics. I’d pore over them, reading their origin stories and comparing their powers and strength stats. At the time, that amount of information was only available in the series of comics, not online… because online wasn’t a thing yet. But these reference books made all the characters seem more real. Like there were actual facts to be learned about them. That stuck with me.

Kathie: Can you tell us a little bit about your main character and what you admire most about them?

Shawn: Logan is definitely based, in part, on myself at that age. But his voice and mannerisms draw on a few other young people I’ve known and even coached in town sports over the years. He’s neurodivergent, and has had a few different diagnoses over his years in the El Segundo Transitional Orphanage, but it’s his truly eidetic memory combined with his devotion to understanding the facts are core to how he organizes the world. He’s not a show off, and he really doesn’t mind too much what others think of him. But when there are assumptions that are wrong, whether it’s with his peers or in school or in the middle of a superhuman battle… he is compelled to deliver the facts. 

So, what I admire most about him is his willingness to never try to be someone he isn’t. When I was the smallest kid in my grade, I definitely tried a lot of different things to feel anywhere in the same zip code as “cool.” Some, like getting good grades and doing theater and choosing the right time to make a joke in class kinda worked. Others, like my attempts to play tackle football at lunch when the Vice Principal wasn’t looking or the several months I dedicated to breakdancing didn’t fit as well. But Logan’s dedication to what he knows to be true about himself attracts some “super” supportive people to him, and in turn, gives him a chance to make a difference in their lives. He gets to grow without feeling like he has to change who he is.

Kathie: I’d love to hear who illustrated your cover, and what involvement you had in the process. What was your first reaction when you saw the cover?

Shawn: When my editor, David Linker, sent me a link (no pun intended… for once) to the portfolio of Petur Antonsson, I was sold. I was beyond sold, frankly. His covers for the UK editions of the Artemis Fowl books all just screamed “action and dangerous fun”, but then he showed so much sensitivity with how he portrayed the more unsure, less-than-heroic protagonists like his cover for Joshua S. Levy’s Seventh Grade vs. The Galaxy. I just knew he was the one who could place undersized Logan at the center of something that felt huge without him ever getting lost. Corina Lupp designed the cover for Harper Collins, and she was the one who had the vision to take a pivotal moment in the book and use it as a venue for introducing the tensions, the characters, and even a few Easter Eggs. I had my own ideas for the cover (I’m a creative director for an ad agency by day so I’m used to brainstorming on how words and images come together on a page), but this team knew when they hit on a concept that would get readers to grab it off the shelves. So from there, it was all about dialing in the characters’ looks and details. I definitely sent about 10 pages of character references throughout the process. 

Kathie: OK, it’s time for the big reveal. Drum roll, please!

Kathie: Wow! I absolutely love this cover and I suspect the superhero theme will be very popular with young readers. Are there elements that were captured in the artwork that surprised you?

Shawn: So the superhero elements were definitely something I knew we needed because this book is written for kids who enjoy comics, maybe even graphic novels, and are waiting for something to resonate and draw them into chapter books where the story plays out in the reader’s inner movie theater. If this were for an older audience, maybe we could’ve tried to keep the mystery and been more cheeky with the cover, but for this age group, it felt so right. And then there are little things, like the way the letters in “Logan Foster” are shaded that just scream comic book in all the best ways. I asked for a hint of that Into the Spider-Verse vibe and they nailed it. Also, there’s something about the way the light from the projector highlights Logan’s hair that hits me right where I live. So much of this book is about Logan sharing what’s going on in between his ears. That’s where the reader gets his unfiltered thoughts and understands what makes him funny and brilliant and vulnerable. So the spotlight is exactly where it should be on this cover.

Kathie: Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about your debut novel?

Shawn: I want to share the whole thing… another trait Logan and I have in common. We can both overshare. But I do think this book is made for kids who don’t feel like they ever get to see themselves reflected in the protagonists of these big, adventure-filled MG books. Harry Potter has some serious magic. Percy Jackson is a demi-god with one of the “big three” as his dad. Logan is a kid who is the smallest, youngest, and smartest kid in his grade, and he has no fantasies about that changing or ever making him more popular.  The things that make him special are perceived as odd or annoying by those around him when we meet him. My wife is an all-universe 5th grade teacher and she shared the book with more than a hundred students over two years so I could get feedback, and we saw how this story captured the imagination of students, especially boys, who weren’t big readers. They had no problem putting themselves in Logan’s shoes. So I hope those are the kinds of readers who will get the main message; anything can be a superpower in the right circumstances when we don’t run away from who we are. 

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

Shawn: The easy answer is my website, www.shawnpeterswrites.com and Twitter where I’m @shawntweeters . (Sorry about that handle… I came up with it when Twitter was new I didn’t think it would last long)

But if you really want to go deep, join the “Written by Shawn Peters” Facebook page.There will be updates there about the book, any appearances, and honestly… a ton of comments from my mother, which will tell you everything you need to know about me and how I ended up like this.

Kathie: I’m excited to read a copy of this book when it’s available, Shawn, and I wish you all the best with the book’s release.

Shawn: Thanks Kathie. I appreciate the chance to show off the cover and connect with this community. I’m excited too… and nervous… but mostly excited. And hopefully we can do this again in a year, because the sequel is due out in early 2023.

SHAWN PETERS has spent more than two decades writing professionally for television and advertising.  He lives outside of Boston with his superhero wife and two kids, and in his spare time, Shawn makes ultra-nerdy Dungeons and Dragons puns on Twitter under the handle @DnD_DadJokes

Book Review: BY THE LIGHT OF THE FIREFLIES, by Jenni L. Walsh

As a literacy educator who has a particular affection for 3rd-5th grades, one thing I’m always looking for is good historical fiction. Finding the time in an elementary school day to teach both Social Studies and Literacy adequately can be difficult at times, so any opportunity to integrate the two is something I’m looking out for. Using good, engaging historical fiction texts is one way I’ve found to integrate the two, and one of my latest reads is a perfect example.

The American Revolutionary War is one of those major historical events that can be difficult to find texts for that are appealing for kids, as well as at a level that upper elementary students can read independently.  However, author Jenni L. Walsh written a new engaging book, By The Light of the Fireflies, about a little known Revolutionary War heroine, that will be great for middle grade readers. 

Sybil Ludington is a young girl who lives in a world where society (and her mother) expect little more of her than to become a farmer’s wife. Luckily for Sybil, she also lives in a world where her father, a solider against the British, needs assistance from his smart, adventurous daughter.  This story of how she learns to decode messages, becomes a spy, and goes a run similar to Paul Revere’s (but maybe even better) is full of suspense and excitement. Sybil definitely becomes a character the reader is rooting for, and General George Washington, who makes an  appearance in the story, would agree. Walsh does a good job of engaging the reader while also helping them to understand the context of the time period of the American Revolution.

As mentioned in the author’s note at the end of the book, Sybil Ludington was a real person, although much of this story Walsh has written is fictionalized. However, there is enough truth in the story that I can see students becoming intrigued enough with Sybil that they will want to learn more about her, and even about the American Revolution, which makes By the Light of the Fireflies a historical fiction win-win in my book!

By The Light of the Fireflies by Jenni Walsh will be published on November 2, 2021. I would like to thank the author for providing me with an ARC of her book.

Deana Metzke, in addition to being a wife and mother of two, spent many years as a Literacy Coach, and is now an Elementary Teacher Instructional Leader for Literacy and Social Studies for her school district. In addition to occasionally sharing her thoughts here at MG Book Village, you can read more of her thoughts about kid lit and trying to raise children who are readers at raisingreaders.site or follow her on Twitter @DMetzke. She is also a member of #bookexcursion.

FAST FORWARD FRIDAY – Victor Piñeiro

Kathie: Hi Victor! Welcome to Fast Forward Friday, where we learn a bit about a debut middle-grade author and their upcoming release each Friday. TIME VILLAINS comes out on July 6th from Sourcebooks Young Readers. Can you give us a brief synopsis of it, please?

Victor: Hi Kathie! Thanks so much for having me. I’d love to. The book/series is inspired by the classic question, “If you could invite any three people to dinner, living or dead, who would you invite?” It centers around a mysterious table that actually summons any guest (from history or fiction) right into your dining room.

Javi Santiago, a sixth grade Puerto Rican sandwichéaste (think cinéaste but for sandwiches) accidentally summons Blackbeard the pirate, and then has to stop him from wreaking havoc on his town. Everything seems hopeless when Javi and his friends realize that their school is full of teachers who don’t quite seem like they’re from around here…

I like to describe the series as a time-hopping, reality-busting escapade starring all of your favorite characters from history and fiction.

Kathie: Can you tell us the idea that inspired the book?

Victor: It was a combination of a few things. The first was stumbling on an enchanted forest fifteen years ago. My brother and I were in France, we were completely lost, and we ended up in a historic forest believed to be magical. It was dusk when we arrived and we scrambled through it until nightfall. The experience was as mystical as you’d expect—one that stayed with me.

The idea for the table came over a decade later. I’m not much of a talker, but I do love asking questions—I used to be a documentary filmmaker and interviews were my favorite part of the job. One day I was mulling over classic questions when the “invite any three people to dinner” floated into my consciousness, and the idea of a magical table popped into my head. I loved the excuse to populate a book with characters from history and fiction, but a magical table sounded pretty lame without an epic backstory. Then I remembered the forest.

Kathie: The first question that popped into my mind as I read your story was how did you choose the individuals that Javi and Wiki invite to dinner, and who would you invite if you had the chance?

Victor: One of the main reasons I wrote this book was because of my original answer to the “invite anyone to dinner” question/homework as a kid. My list included Columbus, Edison and Cortés. As a Puerto Rican who was new to the US, that’s a pretty atrocious list! TIME VILLAINS is a reaction to that list, and to the curriculum that would lead me to create that list. A big focus of this series is exploring characters more representative of the world’s history and fiction, because I’m hoping this book is ultimately a gateway to other books, characters and historical figures for kids to explore. Of course, I also picked my favorite fictional characters and historical figures—especially those that would make interesting combinations.

My personal picks for guests change constantly, but the ones I want to invite most often are Walt Whitman, Julia de Burgos and Galadriel. I’m a poetry fiend and a Tolkien nerd.

Kathie: There’s a lot of humour that happens amid the mayhem. Why did you choose to tell this story through that lens, and what do you personally enjoy about reading funny stories?

Victor: At its core, TIME VILLAINS is about first-generation Puerto Rican siblings, and Boricua culture infuses many aspects of the book. Humor is such an intrinsic part of our culture that I wanted it very present in this book. (An overly serious kids book wouldn’t feel very Puerto Rican to me!) A lot of the humor also came from discovering Javi’s voice. He’s silly but also has a melodramatic streak, and I had so much fun playing into that duality.

Another reason I wanted to lean into the humor was my experience with funny middle grade books–not only as a kid devouring them but as a third grade teacher reading them aloud to my class. My favorite books to read aloud to my students were Half Magic, Sideways Stories From Wayside School and other books that balanced humor and story. It always made performing the books fun for the kids.

Kathie: What has your debut publishing journey been like?

Victor: Becoming a published author has been my goal since I was five, so it’s been an extremely long journey! Part of me is bummed that it took me decades to silence my inner critic long enough to write novels, but I’m mostly grateful that I’ve been able to try on so many other hats in the meantime. I’ve been a teacher, a documentary filmmaker, the voice of Skittles and YouTube, a toy and game designer for Hasbro—it’s been a fun journey!

The more recent publishing journey has been a surprisingly positive one, due entirely to my incredible agent and editor, and the wonderful folks at Sourcebooks. It’s been a complete joy and honor to work with them.

Kathie: Is there something unique about you or your story that you’d like to share with our readers?

Victor: I’m excited for readers to uncover the Easter Eggs I planted throughout the book. I wanted to give adult readers and curious kids something fun to puzzle over as they read the story, so I peppered it with mysterious literary and historical characters whose identities I never reveal (though I drop a few hints). It might take a little research to uncover their identities, but that’s all part of the fun. Heck, an astute reader could figure out the backstory to the entire series if they follow the clues…

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

Victor: I’m at victorpineiro.com and I’m starting a (very sporadic) newsletter for those who’d like to find out when the next books drop.

Kathie: Thank you so much for spending some time with me today, Victor. I hope TIME VILLAINS has a very successful release.

Victor: Thanks so much, Kathie!

Victor Piñeiro is a creative director and content strategist who’s managed @YouTube and launched @Skittles, creating its award-winning zany voice. He’s also designed games for Hasbro, written/produced a documentary on virtual worlds, and taught third graders. Time Villains is his first novel.

Interview with Amy Makechnie about TEN THOUSAND TRIES

Kathie: Hi Amy! It’s such a pleasure to talk to you about your upcoming book, TEN THOUSAND TRIES, which will be released on July 13th by Atheneum Books for Young People. I had the pleasure of reading an eARC, and this is a story that’s going to tug on a lot of heartstrings. Can you please tell our readers what it’s about?

Amy: Hi Kathie! Thank you for reading. Kirkus Reviews just posted: “A heart-tugging and uplifting story about never giving up – on the soccer field, on loved ones, and on life.” I really love that summation! Going a little further: GOLDEN “Macaroni” Maroni is determined to become master of his eighth grade universe by channeling his hero: international soccer superstar, Lionel Messi. But first he’s got to survive middle school, win the soccer championship, and stop Lucy Littlehouse from moving away. If he can do that, then maybe he can prevent Dad from losing to the three worst letters in the alphabet: A-L-S. Golden believes he can find a way – even if it takes TEN THOUSAND TRIES.

Kathie: I know the inspiration for this story came from a few different places, and it sounds like you’re no stranger to soccer life. Can you tell us a bit about the biggest influences on this particular book?

Amy: Every fall I coach a co-ed middle school soccer team, a cast of rotating characters whom I always grow to adore. My son, who played on the team, was very much the inspiration for our main character, Golden. He too was OBSESSED with Messi. He became convinced that with enough effort he could become GREAT (He even had a 10,000 hours chart on his wall :). 

At the same time, he had a teammate whose father (Eric) had been recently diagnosed with ALS. Eric was a really good friend of ours. It was surreal and heartbreaking to watch him decline physically, to go from super athletic and strong to sitting in a wheelchair unable to move. This was juxtaposed with my middle school boys whose #1 goal was to become bigger, stronger, and faster. It really made me think about our culture, our values, and what truly makes a boy a man. In the end, Golden concludes – it’s not bench press stats that matter most.

Oh, and of course I’m all into Malcom Gladwell’s 10,000 hours theory!

Kathie: My favourite character was Benny, who was often in the background and yet so supportive and loyal to Golden. Did you have a character that you most enjoyed writing?

Amy: I have the strongest attachment to Golden as he is the main character and was in my head day and night! I still feel very attune to his emotions. But I also loved writing Benny Ho and Lucy Littlehouse (these characters are very real to me!) Much of Benny’s story was cut due to my already-long word count. But early on, I had two friends help me flesh out what it’s like to be Asian-American living in a small town that’s mostly white. I’ve occasionally seen abusive language on the athletic field, but I’ve also seen how the best teams and leagues unite diverse groups of people. 

Kathie: Golden desperately wants to grow physically as he’s smaller than his peers, but he certainly goes through some emotional growth in the story! He was in such a state of denial about his dad’s illness, which is a common reaction for many people when faced with the impending loss of a loved one. What advice do you wish you could have given Golden?

Amy: I’ve realized a few things about advice, one of them being: use it sparingly. With Golden, I knew what was coming, but no one – not Golden’s best friends, parents or coaches (not even me as the author!), could dissuade him from believing he could “fix” Dad. I wouldn’t change that. I’d let it play out like it did. Being (ahem) an oft-unrealistic optimist myself, I loved Golden’s fierce hope. I’d say, “Golden, no matter what, you’ll always have a dad that loves you. Our mortal bodies die, but love doesn’t.”

Kathie: ALS is a disease we don’t often see mentioned in middle grade fiction. You discussed it with sensitivity and compassion, and yet the realities of the disease and its impact on families are harsh. How did you find a balance between the truth while still incorporating hope that’s so important to stories for this age group?

Amy: It is harsh. With ALS, one day muscles work, and the next day you suddenly can’t scratch your nose. But I didn’t want to write a sad story, nor did I want to treat an incurable disease too lightly. I tried to balance reality with enough humor and hope to keep the reader turning the pages. The sports angle helped tremendously – who can’t help but root for the underdog? Like Golden, middle schoolers are so funny and resilient. They see goodness and light where adults have grown weary and more cynical. Some of that is inexperience and naivety, but it’s also a superpower to see the possibilities that others can’t – and that’s really fun to write.

Kathie: TEN THOUSAND TRIES is a story that can be recommended to many different kinds of readers because it explores many topics (soccer, parents with an illness, adjusting to changing friend relationships, grief, community). What do you think it’s important for young readers to know about this story?

Amy: That love might break your heart, but it’s still worth it x 10000. It feels impossible at the time, but with every hard thing, there are silver linings – even if it takes a long time to see them. I’d tell readers that there are some sad parts in the book, but also a lot of funny, happy moments – just like life.

Kathie: Are you working on another writing project at the moment?

Amy: Yes! Something very different for younger readers. It’s a story about a very dignified nanny and six rambunctious, naughty children. Oh, and the nanny is a dog. 

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

Amy: My website is: https://www.amymakechnie.com. You can go there to subscribe to my newsletter, read reviews, and find my books!

Kathie: I really appreciate you chatting with me today, Amy. I wish you all the best with your book’s release, and I sincerely hope it finds those readers who need it most.

Amy: Thank you for having me, Kathie. I love how you said that. I hope Golden, Benny, and Lucy find their way into many hearts, too!

Amy Makechnie is the author of The Unforgettable Guinevere St. Clair and Ten Thousand Tries. She writes from a small New Hampshire town, teaches an Anatomy and Physiology class, and mothers a wily flock of children (+ one rascal of a puppy), all of which provide daily writing inspiration.

Stay in touch with Amy on Instagram, Twitter, and by subscribing to her newsletter!

Interview with Samantha Clark about ARROW

Kathie: Hi Samantha, and thanks for taking some time to talk with me today about your upcoming book, ARROW, which will be released on June 22nd with Paula Wiseman Books. Can you please tell our readers a little bit about it?

Samantha: Hi Kathie! I’m thrilled to join you on MG Village today. I love your site and am excited to tell your readers about ARROW. This book is my love letter to rainforests and the people who protect them. I think of it as Mad Max meets The Jungle Book with plenty of Fern Gully thrown in. Here’s the description:

This middle-grade novel tells the story of Arrow, a 12-year-old boy with a limb difference, who has grown up the only human living in a lush forest oasis in a dry and arid future where the rich live in stilted cities and industry has devoured nearly all the trees. This patch of rainforest survives behind a magical curtain that keeps it hidden from those who would exploit it. But the magic has started to deplete, and the veil that shields the forest has begun to shred. When people from the outside world find the cracks in the magic, they discover a place they have only seen in dreams—dense and green with water in the air. Arrow is intrigued by these new humans, the first he’s ever seen, but their arrival sets off a chain of events that will lead Arrow to make a devastating choice: be accepted by his own kind or save his home from being destroyed.

Kathie: This story has a very strong environmental focus, including the setting, characters and plot. Why did you choose to make this the center of your novel?

Samantha: I didn’t set out to write a story with an environmental focus, but I shouldn’t be surprised that this theme ended up being so important. Living as part of nature as opposed to trying to force our will upon it has long been a passion of mine, and it never ceases to amaze me how a writer’s passions end up in their stories. But also, the idea for this book came to me while trees were getting torn down all around my neighborhood to make space for more shopping centers and gas stations. I heard the horrible grinding noise every time I left our house. When a boy with one hand who lived in a tree popped into my head, I immediately thought of a trip I had made into the Amazon rainforest when I was 10 in my birth country of Guyana in South America. Putting those memories together with the tree cutting around me and this boy in my head, the book started to take shape.

Another thing I loved about working with this theme was the opportunity to blend science and fantasy. While ARROW is a fantasy book, set in a future with trees that pull magic from the earth, every bit of the magic in the story is based on science. I had so much fun researching and working out how I would amplify our real world to make the science-based magic in the book. It’ll be fun for students to figure out what’s real and what’s not.

Kathie: I found it so fascinating that the story is told from the perspective of the Guardian Tree. I’d love to know why you chose to make it the story’s narrator?

Samantha: I’m so glad you liked the Guardian Tree! I’ve actually always wanted to write a story from the viewpoint of a tree and had another story idea that never got written. But for ARROW, this was another case of me following my muse instead of dictating how the writing should go. The first lines of the book were the first things I wrote:

“My end began the day the sky turned red. We shook. We trembled. We started to bleed. But this would be only the start, a small taste of the battle to come. Our quiet world had been changing, and I could only hope some would survive.”

Those words poured out of me when I still didn’t know much about the story, and they haven’t changed from the first draft. But they ended up showing me how the story should be told and who should be telling it. The more I wrote of the book, the more I realized that the Guardian Tree is the perfect voice for this story, and when readers get to the end, I think they’ll see why.

Kathie: Arrow is a character who is torn between the life he’s known, and the life he wants, and the consequences of the choices he makes. What do you hope readers will learn about themselves through him?

Samantha: I love Arrow and he’s got a lot of me within him. I didn’t grow up the only human in a rainforest and I don’t have a limb difference, but I’m an only child and by the time I was 12, I’d lived in four different countries. I grew up feeling like I was always an outsider who desperately wanted to be accepted, just like Arrow when he meets other humans for the first time. But as a child, while I did make some good friends along the way, I also met a lot of resistance from other kids, just like Arrow does.

For anyone who feels like they’re an outsider, I hope when they read ARROW, they’ll see that their worth isn’t decided by other people. We are the only ones who can truly know what we can do, but as long as we stay true to ourselves—straight and true like an arrow—we’ll find the people who will really appreciate us for who we are.

Kathie: What sort of reader did you have in mind when you wrote this book?

Samantha: Readers who love adventure and acceptance books will love ARROW. While it’s got environmental themes, it’s ultimately an adventure story with mystery. Arrow is on a mission to save the rainforest even before the book begins. The magic that feeds the rainforest is dying and Arrow and the Guardian Tree have been trying to fix it. When the other humans come into the forest, they add complications and set Arrow on a course to save his home in more ways than one. It’s part mystery, part adventure as Arrow races against time to find out what’s killing the forest and protect it from being exploited by the outside world.

Kathie: If there was one thing you hope a reader will remember for this story, what is it?

Samantha: I of course hope readers will get a better understanding of trees and nature when they read ARROW. But aside from that theme, I hope they’ll also see the importance of ecosystems. The Guardian Tree talks about this in the book, how a forest is an ecosystem, with everything within it living and working together for the benefit of all. They help each other, no one taking more than they need and everyone doing their part. Nature lives within ecosystems, trees providing homes for birds who in turn spread the trees’ seeds, for example. And people are designed to live within ecosystems. Our ancestors did, all playing a part for the health and well being of everyone.

But too often in today’s society, we tend to have a me first view of life: Me before other people and Me before nature. Unfortunately, as we can see in our world, this doesn’t help to keep ourselves, our families and our communities thriving long into the future. So,  I hope ARROW’s readers see the importance of being a part of an ecosystem, of sharing and helping everyone within their own ecosystems, whether it’s their family, classroom, school, or town.

Kathie: Can you please let us know where we can find out more about you and your writing?

Samantha: Absolutely! My website is http://www.samanthamclark.com/ There you’ll find blog posts with writing tips, interviews and more. I also do monthly giveaways on my enewsletter, and you can subscribe here: https://www.samanthamclark.com/enewsletter/

You can also find me on social media here:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/samclarkwrites

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/samanthamclarkauthor/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/samanthamclarkbooks/

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/samclarkwrites/

Kathie: I really appreciate you talking with me today, and I wish you all the best with ARROW’s release.

Samantha: Thank you so much for having me, Kathie!

Samantha M Clark is the award-winning author of THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST and the forthcoming ARROW (June 22, 2021), both published by Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster and AMERICAN HORSE TALES: HOLLYWOOD coming from Penguin Workshop/Penguin Random House on June 29, 2021. She has always loved stories about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. After all, if four ordinary brothers and sisters can find a magical world at the back of a wardrobe, why can’t she? While she looks for her real-life Narnia, she writes about other ordinary children and teens who’ve stumbled into a wardrobe of their own. In a past life, Samantha was a photojournalist and managing editor for newspapers and magazines. She lives with her husband and two funny dogs in Austin, Texas. Samantha is the Regional Advisor for the Austin chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators, and explores wardrobes every chance she gets. Sign up for news and giveaways at www.SamanthaMClark.com. Follow her on Twitter @samclarkwritesInstagram @samanthamclarkbooksFacebook at SamanthaMClarkAuthor, and Pinterest at SamClarkWrites.