FAST FORWARD FRIDAY – Cheryl Schuermann

We are excited to introduce you to debut author Cheryl Schuermann, whose book A BOY CALLED PREACHER, comes out on April 18th. You will find her cover reveal at the end of her post.

Thank you, MG Book Village, for the opportunity to introduce my upcoming middle grade novel, A BOY CALLED PREACHER! Here is a peek into my journey as a writer and how this story came to be.

As a child, I asked a million questions. I wanted to learn everything possible about my parents’ childhoods and the major historical events during those decades. I dreamed of traveling back in time and read historical fiction voraciously, two to three novels per week.

I relished my mother’s stories of her extraordinary childhood north of the Arctic Circle. Her parents were teachers for the Territory of Alaska and her childhood was happy, secure, and fulfilling, despite the isolation and bitter cold temperatures.

Her life was truly Little House on the Tundra. How could I not write about it? In 2007, I began to focus on the craft of writing. My mother’s story became my first book, a sort of love letter to her family.

When the Water Runs: Growing Up With Alaska (2008, 2019) is a work of creative non-fiction. I wrote in my mother’s voice, as if she were sitting in your living room, telling her stories over a cup of hot tea. Though not a middle grade novel, the opportunity to write one would soon come.

My father grew up in central Kansas on a 320-acre wheat farm, far from the Eskimo village in the wild, untamed North Country. After his father abandoned the family on the farm, life became much more difficult and challenging. At the age of eight, my dad dug in and worked to help keep the wheat crops going, feeling the weight of responsibility for his mother and younger brother. He went to school, hurried home, and climbed on the tractor.

In 2009, I began writing the story of a twelve-year-old boy who finds himself managing a Kansas farm. A Boy Called Preacher is fiction. The emotions and the frustrations in the story are, unfortunately, true.

Once or twice, I found a good time to offer my dad a cup of coffee and ask a few questions. Some of his responses developed into scenes in my novel. (Yes, he really did shoot jackrabbits for the War Effort in the early 1940s.) He also mentioned a best friend who always had time to fish and always had money for the soda fountain. My dad typically did not have either.

After completing a few chapters, I asked my dad if he would like to read them. One of the sweetest memories I have is standing in my kitchen listening to him chuckle from the living room as he read. When he finished reading, I asked him what he thought. He just said, “Good job, Sis.”

In my draft, I had nicknamed the main character Preacher and named his friend Sam.

What was your best friend’s name, Dad?

He grinned. Earl Floyd.

Earl Floyd.

Yep, Earl Floyd. Both names together.

Thankfully, Word has a feature called Find/Replace. I quickly replaced every Sam with Earl Floyd.

In the Fall of 2010, I submitted the completed manuscript to several agents. One expressed interest but asked me to revise the last few chapters and submit again.

I was on track to re-submit at the end of February 2011. All writing came to a halt, however, when my dad suddenly passed away the first week of February. At the time, my mother was experiencing dementia and the next five years revolved around her care. Somehow in 2015, I managed to write a biography for children for the Oklahoma Hall of Fame, Jordan Tang: Think…Create…Discover.

In February of 2019, nearly three years after my mother’s passing, I opened the file titled Preacher and again immersed myself in the story of Johnny “Preache Wilcox, his dog Deke, and his best friend Earl Floyd. I revisited Preacher’s encounters with Eldon Dunn (meanest tractor mechanic in Kansas), his persistence at solving a water crisis threatening the family farm, and his relationship with a stranger who brings clues about his father’s past.

Through the years, I have grown to love Preacher and Earl Floyd, their personalities, the way they interact with one another, and the way Preacher tries to make Earl Floyd understand. Earl Floyd just doesn’t get it–not in a mean way, just in an Earl Floyd way. Though ignorant of the depth of Preacher’s pain, Earl Floyd is a faithful friend. And Preacher grows up before our eyes.

Having taught reading to all grades K-12, I can honestly say my favorite students to teach were the middle grade readers. I was especially drawn to reluctant boy readers in middle grades. Maybe because I raised four of them in my home. Oh, mine could read just fine. But they did not choose to read. What?? Why would
I want to read
? They would much rather be outside seining the pond for crawdads than curled up on the couch with a good book. Finding a book that would turn magic in their hands and draw them into a story was not always easy.

Will a middle grade reader start reading A Boy Called Preacher and not want to put it down? Will students relate to the characters, the challenges, and the emotions in this story? Will they ask, Is there another one?

Then, we have readers.

This is why I write middle grade.

And, yes! A second Preacher book is coming.

Cheryl Schuermann loved her many years in the classroom as a special educator and reading specialist. Always a literacy advocate, she spent sixteen more years consulting with educators across the United States. Her desire is for students everywhere to be proficient readers who can hardly wait to open a new book. Cheryl and her illustrator husband, Stan, live in Oklahoma where they enjoy being close to their family, including thirteen grandchildren.

A Boy Called Preacher is scheduled for release February 29, 2020 by INtense Publications. This is Cheryl’s debut MG novel and Stan Schuermann’s debut as a children’s book illustrator. Their debut picture book, Gwyneth Came to Dance, is scheduled for release Fall 2020.

You can find Cheryl on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Interview: Ali Bovis

Hi there, Ali! Thanks so much for stopping by the MG Book Village to talk about your upcoming chapter book series and to share one of the four book’s covers.

Hi! Thanks so much for having me. I’m honored and excited to chat with the MG Book Village community.

Let’s get right to it. The four books in the Sylvie series are coming out all at once, but together, they constitute your debut. Can you tell us about your journey to the printed page?

I started writing about five years ago. Growing up in New York City I spent a lot of time volunteering and attending rallies with my family, from a very young age. When I had children of my own, I looked for books reflecting those experiences and values. I found so many beautiful stories centered on themes of kindness and helping others, which was amazing. That said, most tended to be set within the context of one’s family, school, or friends. I did not find as many books showing the characters in a larger context, or specifically engaged in service activities reaching through their communities and beyond. So I was inspired to try to create some myself.

I discovered a welcoming and active kid lit community on twitter. I joined wonderful groups online (including MG Book Village, Kidlit411, Sub it Club, Debut PB Study Group, Storystorm, ReFoReMo) and programs (including 12×12 Picture Book Challenge, Making Picture Book Magic, the Manuscript Academy, WriteOnCon). There I learned about the craft of writing and the business of the children’s publishing industry. I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and attended conferences and workshops. I read hundreds of children’s books. I read books on the craft of writing too. I took long walks with my dog, Janie, to process it all. Perhaps the most important part of my journey was connecting with my talented and supportive critique partners. They challenge and inspire me every day. They also helped create Sylvie from her earliest character study to the last lines of the final book. 

Interestingly, I initially wrote Sylvie in a picture book format. An editor said she loved Sylvie. She called her a young “Leslie Knope” (from NBC’s Parks and Recreation) and suggested I age Sylvie up and build out her story into a chapter book. I took the advice and wrote Sylvie as a chapter book. Soon after, one of my critique partners introduced me to the team at ABDO who would bring Sylvie to life.

Thank you for mentioning all of those fabulous resources — aspiring authors take note. Also, as a HUGE fan of Leslie Knope, I am now even more excited about meeting Sylvie! Now, back to you — did your work previous to writing influence and inform your writing at all?

All of my previous professional and volunteer experiences provide me with an unusual but invaluable foundation for my writing, especially for writing Sylvie.

Like Sylvie, I’m a lifelong altruist. Prior to writing, I served as Director of Corporate Affairs and Philanthropy for Polo Ralph Lauren. I’ve also worked or volunteered for numerous government, political, and nonprofit organizations including the White House, the United States Senate, three presidential campaigns, two presidential inaugural committees, and Special Olympics. These experiences, as well as the volunteer projects from my childhood through today, inform the events for this series. 

In addition, I believe resilience is a key for success in the publishing industry. My experience in the political arena was an incredible lesson in giving your all and enjoying the journey, regardless of the outcome.

I couldn’t agree more, and sometimes think resilience is the key to success in the publishing industry. Now, on to Sylvie. Can you tell us a bit more about her?

Sylvie is fiercely determined to make a difference in the world, no matter what might get in her way. She’s an altruist and an optimist. She is intensely passionate about the things most important to her (especially making the world a better place, her adopted puppy Snickers, her best friend Sammy, and ice cream sundaes with extra rainbow sprinkles).

Now, since today also marks the first time you are sharing any of your book’s covers, let’s talk about that. What did you think when you first saw your character, Sylvie, brought to life by illustrator Jen Taylor?

The first thing I noticed on the cover was Sylvie’s megaphone. The inclusion of that personal item showed how well Jen captured the spirit of this character. It was thrilling to see Sylvie come to life with so much energy and excitement on all the covers and interior art scenes.

Why do you think it’s important for kids to read about a character like Sylvie?

More than ever, this generation is growing up in a world with high-stakes challenges—environmental, political, economic, social, and more. I hope they see these challenges as opportunities to make a difference.

What do you hope your readers – especially the young ones – take away from the Sylvie books?

I hope readers can see that you are never too young to change the world for the better. And that there is no one way to make it happen! I also hope the Sylvie books show kids they can do anything they set their mind to, particularly when it comes to helping others.

Many of our site’s readers are teachers and librarians. Is there anything you’d like to say to them – in particular those planning to add Sylvie books to their classrooms and libraries?

First of all, I’d like to say “thank you!” I have so many fond memories of my teachers and librarians, who encouraged my love of learning and helping others. Educators bringing Sylvie into their classrooms should check out the back matter. Each book has a page with resources for extension activities, which I hope will serve as a helpful roadmap. Information for events featured in the books is all included (Make a Difference Day, Earth Day, beach clean up, and winter coat drive).

Good to know! One last thing: where can our readers find out more about you and your work?

Thanks so much of this opportunity to connect with the incredible MG Book Village community! Readers can visit me at or follow me on twitter @alibovis.

Ali Bovis is a children’s writer and lifelong altruist. Her debut chapter book series, Sylvie, releases in 2020, published by ABDO books. A Georgetown University graduate, Ali grew up in New York City and now lives in Bethesda, Maryland with her husband, two children, and two playful poodle-mixes. Like Sylvie, Ali is always dreaming up ways to make a difference in the world. Prior to writing for children, Ali served as Director of Corporate Affairs and Philanthropy for Polo Ralph Lauren. Ali has also worked or volunteered for numerous government, political, and nonprofit organizations including the White House, the United States Senate, three presidential campaigns, and Special Olympics. You can follow Ali on twitter @alibovis or visit her at


How to Make Friends with Your Setting

By Tanya Guerrero

Whenever people find out I’m an author, they always end up asking me questions like:

What are the things you love to write about most?

What is the one characteristic of your writing that sets it apart?

What is your greatest writing strength?

Whatever the question, somehow, I always end of talking about complex characters and settings. I adore them both, and it’s always my goal to make my characters—particularly my main character, interact with my settings as if they too are characters in their own right. In the writing world, that is what is often referred to as “Setting as Character.” For me, it’s always been a necessity to create settings that live and breathe and act in ways that will affect what my characters will feel and think and do.

As someone who grew up in three different countries and travelled extensively as a child and adult, I’ve always found tons of inspiration in the places I’ve lived and visited. Paying attention to the sounds, the smells, the colors, the textures of a particular setting is so important in getting to know the heart of a destination and the heart of its culture.

Most often writers only focus on what the setting of a scene looks like, sprinkling descriptions here and there. That’s good and all, but a lot of times that only allows the reader to visualize the characters against a backdrop, rather than the characters interacting with that backdrop.

But how does one write setting as character without going overboard? Wouldn’t you need to go on and on, paragraph after paragraph describing every detail under the sun to make your point? Well, no, not really. A writer only needs to pick and choose those crucial details that will somehow affect your characters’ emotions. And to do that, you need to get to know your setting, as well as you get to know your characters.

What is the most effective way of doing that? For me, it’s a twofold process. Usually, I’ve either lived in or travelled to that particular place, so at the very least I have firsthand knowledge of the setting’s characteristics. While this is ideal, I realize it’s not possible for everyone. So that’s when research comes in. When researching, I love to do a combination of reading travel articles, and books about a place, and perusing hundreds of photos, choosing my favorites to add to a Pinterest board. I know that Pinterest can be a total time-suck. But whenever I start a new book, I find it really handy to create a new mood board, build a foundation, and elaborate on it as I write.

My mood boards are usually a combination of visuals of characters, settings, and objects that end up creating the whole universe of my book.


My MG debut, HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE SEA, takes place in the Philippines. Here is the official synopsis:

Pablo is homesick.

He’s only twelve years old, but he’s lived in more countries than he can count. After his parents divorced, he and his mother have moved from place to place for years, never settling anywhere long enough to call it home. And along the way, Pablo has collected more and more fears: of dirt, of germs, and most of all, of the ocean.

Now they’re living in the Philippines, and his mother, a zoologist who works at a local wildlife refuge, is too busy saving animals to notice that Pablo might need saving, too. Then his mother takes in Chiqui, an orphaned girl with a cleft lip—and Pablo finds that through being strong for Chiqui, his own fears don’t seem so scary.

He might even find the courage to face his biggest fear of all…and learn how to make friends with the sea.

Below, I’ll include excerpts from my book, and then show the images used in my Pinterest board while I was drafting. You’ll be able to see how Pablo interacts with each and every setting on a physical and emotional level, as if that setting was a character doing or saying something to him.

Photo #1: Sari-Sari store

In this excerpt, Pablo is overwhelmed by the variety of products crammed into the tiny convenience store. He recognizes that it’s a sensory overload for him, and he has to forcefully stop himself from obsessing with the display.

Meanwhile, I just gawked at all the stuff. It was an explosion of products—jam-packed from floor-to-ceiling. Everything they were selling was tiny—individual sachets of shampoo, soap, detergent, bleach, pieces of candy, gum, and chocolates in plastic jars, festive colored bags of chips hanging from the walls, and never-ending cans of tuna, sardines, and mystery meat. There was also a display of bottled sodas. Some brands I recognized, but others, like Royal Tru-Orange, Sarsi, and RC Cola, were completely foreign to me.

I had to stop myself from counting, from inspecting the rows to see if they were evenly spaced.

Photo #2: Tricycle

In this excerpt, Pablo is experiencing a lot of anxiety, and the appearance of the tricycle as a potential mode of transportation is triggering him even more.

Why was I the only one worried about this? The tricycles were basically rusty sardine cans with wheels. On one side was a motorcycle and driver, and on the other, a decrepit-looking sidecar barely big enough for two people. Instead of doors, there were filthy pieces of plastic. And the seat was a piece of plywood covered in moldy and torn vinyl. The two guys driving had on basketball shorts and flip-flops. Not a helmet in sight.

Photo #3: Narra flowers

In this excerpt, Pablo describes the carpet of yellow narra flowers, and then goes on to explain how he would ordinarily feel about it. We also see a change in him, based on how his outlook to the environment has evolved.

We left the adults behind and stood on the curb, waiting for the tricycles to pass by. Finally, the road cleared. A gust of wind blew above us, shaking the narra trees. Hundreds, maybe thousands, maybe even millions of tiny yellow flowers showered down. It was as if particles of light were falling straight from the sun.

I held Chiqui’s hand as we crossed. There was still part of me that was disgusted by the cheesy powder on her fingers. There was still part of me that wondered what bacteria, what viruses, what germs were floating in the air and oozing under our feet. There was still part of me that wanted to count every single flower on the ground, and then sweep them up with the old-fashioned broom and dustpan in my closet. But there was also another part of me that didn’t care quite as much.

Photo #4: Beach hut ceiling

In this excerpt, Pablo feels physically ill from a bad experience he just had. He uses the woven ceiling of the beach hut to try and soothe himself.

I collapsed on a bamboo bench. Maybe I would feel better after a nap.

Thankfully there was a breeze. It blew back and forth, ruffling the hut’s thatched edges. It was like listening to crinkling paper. For a while I gazed up at the pattern on the ceiling. The dried palm fronds were woven so meticulously. They were perfect. My eyes stung from staring so hard. Maybe if I stared and stared and stared, I wouldn’t think about what had happened.

Photo #5: Boodle Fight meal

In this excerpt, Pablo is presented with a situation where people are sharing a meal and eating with their hands. While that may seem fun to other people, it’s extremely stressful for him.

“Everyone! Kain tayo! Let’s eat!” announced Heinz.

The crowd parted. My breath halted.

What the . . .

I was in complete and utter shock.

There was a long and low table with sixteen floor cushions. There was no tablecloth, no place settings, no napkins, no coasters, no platters, no serving-ware. Nothing. Instead, there were huge, shiny green leaves covering the table. Along the center, from one end to the other, there were mounds of food plopped directly onto the leaves—grilled meat and seafood, tomato, onion and eggplant salad, sautéed greens, boiled eggs, red and white rice, watermelon and mango slices and little coconut bowls filled with condiments and water. I didn’t see a plate or a fork or a spoon or a knife in sight.

How am I supposed to eat?

People settled onto the floor cushions, and then they dipped their hands in water before helping themselves to the food. With. Their. Hands.

Photo #6: Bangka

In this excerpt, Pablo is already experiencing anxiety, but the appearance of the bangkas by the sea exacerbates his anxiety even more.

Miguel peered between the two front seats. He must have seen the confusion plastered on our faces, because he pointed toward the beach and said, “We can’t drive directly to the cove. That’s what all those bangkas are for.”

“Bangkas?” I blurted out. “What the heck are bangkas?”

Ms. Grace touched my shoulder. “See all those boats, Pablo? Those are bangkas. They’re outrigger canoes made out of wood. The larger ones are motorized. The smaller ones only use paddles. It’s the most common mode of water transportation in the Philippines. They can also be used for fishing,” she explained.

I gawked at the narrow canoes with their bamboo outriggers. They looked flimsy, like do-it-yourself balsawood boats a kid would make.

“It’s the easiest way, Pablo. The alternative would be hiking through a mountain to get to the other side,” said Miguel.

It felt like every gaze in the car was directed at me. White spots of panic flashed, making everything I looked at all polka-dotty.

I hope these examples from my debut have helped in some way to show how setting as character can be used as an effective tool in the MG narrative. Here are some points I’d like to emphasize:

1. Describe the setting with your protagonist’s voice in mind. With MG, I think this is of particular importance.

2. Don’t go overboard with describing everything in the setting. Pick a couple of elements that would set the mood and pique your character’s interest.

3. Use the mood of your setting as a tool to highlight your character’s emotional state.

4. As your protagonist goes through his/her/their character arc, make sure that the mood and description of the setting shifts as well. If your characters are happier, descriptions can be cheerier. If they are sadder, descriptions can be gloomier. If they are angrier, descriptions can be harsher. So on and so forth.

5. Finally, if you are challenged by writing “Setting as Character,” try to play around with visual tools such as creating a mood board on Pinterest, an actual mood board with a cork board collage, or if you have artistic skills, sketch out your scenes the way your protagonist would see them.

Tanya Guerrero is Filipino and Spanish by birth, but has been fortunate enough to call three countries home: the Philippines, Spain, and the United States. Currently, she lives in a shipping container home in the suburbs of Manila with her husband, daughter, and a menagerie of rescued cats and dogs. In her free time, she grows her own food, bakes bread, and reads. How to Make Friends with the Sea is her debut novel.

Photo Sources:

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MG at Heart Book Club’s November Pick: MY FATE ACCORDING TO THE BUTTERFLY, by Gail D. Villanueva

When superstitious Sab sees a giant black butterfly, an omen of death, she knows that she’s doomed! According to legend, she has one week before her fate catches up with her — on her 11th birthday. With her time running out, all she wants is to celebrate her birthday with her entire family. But her sister, Ate Nadine, stopped speaking to their father one year ago, and Sab doesn’t even know why.

If Sab’s going to get Ate Nadine and their father to reconcile, she’ll have to overcome her fears — of her sister’s anger, of leaving the bubble of her sheltered community, of her upcoming doom — and figure out the cause of their rift.

So Sab and her best friend Pepper start spying on Nadine and digging into their family’s past to determine why, exactly, Nadine won’t speak to their father. But Sab’s adventures across Manila reveal truths about her family more difficult — and dangerous — than she ever anticipated.

Was the Butterfly right? Perhaps Sab is doomed after all!

* “Villanueva’s debut is a beautiful #ownvoices middle-grade novel. Tough topics are addressed, but warmth and humor… bring lightness to Sab’s story. This immersive novel bursts with life.” — Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“Debut author Villanueva deftly incorporates a touch of the magical alongside vibrant details about contemporary Filipino life and a universal story about growing up, reconciliation, and family.” — Publishers Weekly

And the theme for the months discussion around the book is Superstitions and Signs! Be sure to check in each week for the discussion questions and chime in to let us know what you think!

The newsletter goes out 11/25.

Cover Reveal: MUSIC FOR TIGERS, by Michelle Kadarusman

Michelle, I can’t tell you how excited I am to be part of your cover reveal for MUSIC FOR TIGERS? I adored both THE THEORY OF HUMMINGBIRDS (2017) AND GIRL OF THE SOUTHERN SEA (2019). Will you tell our readers a little bit about yourself, please?

Thanks so much, Kathie! Your support truly means the world to me. So, before I go on, I really want to say, hand-on-heart THANKS to you and MGBookVillage for being such incredible cheerleaders for authors, books, readers and the middle grade community at large.

It still gives me a thrill to say I’m a children’s author. I started out writing for younger readers for Chirp and chickadee magazines – which incidentally, for any new writers out there – kid’s magazines are an excellent way to break into the kidlit scene. My first book was YA/hi-lo for the Lorimer Sidestreet series. Then I tried to write another YA but my ‘voice’ kept yearning to be younger. So, I switched to middle grade and immediately felt at home! MUSIC FOR TIGERS is my third middle grade novel, I’m working on my fourth.

Can you tell us a bit about MUSIC FOR TIGERS?

MUSIC FOR TIGERS is about a Canadian girl, a violin enthusiast, spending the summer at her Australian mother’s family camp in the Tasmanian bush. There she discovers that her great-grandmother started a secret sanctuary for extinct marsupials, including the thylacine, or more popularly known as the Tasmanian tiger. A dog-like carnivorous marsupial with dark tiger stripes. Her family have been stewards of the sanctuary for decades but now a mining development threatens the forest and the safety of the last remaining tiger.

It sounds fascinating! What inspired you to write this story?

Michelle: The kernel for MUSIC FOR TIGERS had been swirling around in my mind for years. I’m not entirely sure why, but Tasmanian tigers have really wanted my attention. Perhaps because growing up in Australia this animal and its history always fascinated and deeply saddened me. Also, a few news articles appeared fairly recently about people claiming to have sighted them. The question of whether they still exist continues to intrigue me. The last known Tasmanian tiger died in captivity in 1936 after they were hunted into extinction by early settlers.

As a nature and animal lover, the reality of animal extinction and deforestation is devastating. I’m inspired to try and write stories that (hopefully) help to encourage young readers to think about being custodians and caretakers of the natural world.

Did you have any input on the cover, and who is the illustrator?

I am lucky to be published by Pajama Press. The publisher, Gail Winskill, is a marvel, and she very courteously asks my input with cover design ideas, but ultimately it is the amazing work of art director, uber talented, Rebecca Bender. To me, the cover for MUSIC FOR TIGERS is especially wonderful and perfectly evokes the allure of this mysterious creature.

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

Oh WOW, this might be my favorite of all your covers, it’s stunning!

Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about your book?

For research I travelled to a remote area in the North West of Tasmania called the Tarkine. It is an incredibly beautiful part of the world – including a pristine, bewitching, ancient temperate rainforest. Sadly, logging and mining remain a threat to the area. It is hard to fathom, world-wide, how we are letting our ancient forests to be compromised. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to immerse myself in that magical setting and get back to my Aussie roots. I grew up in Melbourne, but my mum was born in Tasmania. Even for Australians, Tassie feels distant and remote, so I’m excited to introduce this unique place to North American readers who may not know about its rich history.

What is the release date for MUSIC FOR TIGERS, and where can our readers go to find out more information about it, and you?

Release date is April 28, 2020. Pre-orders are available! Please visit me at: Twitter: @MichelleRReader, Instagram: michellekadarusman or Goodreads

Thanks again for letting us be part of your cover release. This book is one of my most anticipated 2020 MG releases, so I can’t wait to read it!

I can’t wait to know what you think! Thanks so much for sharing and supporting my new work.

Michelle Kadarusman is a Governor General’s Award nominated children’s author. She grew up in Melbourne, Australia and has lived in Bali, Jakarta and Surabaya in Indonesia. Toronto has been her home since 2000.

Her first middle grade novel, THE THEORY OF HUMMINGBIRDS, was inspired in part by her experience of having a childhood disability. It was nominated for the Ontario Library Association’s (OLA) Silver Birch Express award, along with the Saskatchewan (SYRCA) and Manitoba (MYRCA) young readers’ choice awards.

Her second middle grade novel, Governor General’s Award nominated GIRL OF THE SOUTHERN SEA, is set in Indonesia and was chosen as a Junior Library Guild selection.

Michelle founded the former literacy charity Raising Readers in Toronto (2006 – 2018) and held the position of submissions and marketing manager for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, Canada’s most prestigious literary award, from 2011 to 2018. She currently writes full time.

Special Halloween Cover Reveal: RISE OF THE ZOMBERT, by Kara LaReau — Plus: “Ten Creepy Things About Me,” by Kara LaReau

Hello, friends — and Happy Halloween! I hope you’re downright infested with holiday spirit. I’m in an especially spooky mood because I have a dark, creepy new middle-grade trilogy in the works, called the ZomBert Chronicles. The first book in the series, Rise of ZomBert, doesn’t come out until July 2020, but I thought today would be just the right time to reveal the cover!

Illustrator: Ryan Andrews. Editor: Sarah Ketchersid. Designer: Amy Berniker.

I also thought I’d share a few things about myself to really get you in the Halloween mood. Without further ado…


1. A Stephen King Connection

When people think of master of horror Stephen King, they automatically think of Maine, where many of his books are set. BUT Stephen King actually spent several years of his childhood in Connecticut…in my home town, Stratford. In fact, King has said that the setting for IT, Derry, Maine, is based on his memories of Stratford. The town of Lambert in the ZomBert Chronicles is also based on my hometown; you won’t find any clowns in the sewers in my books, but you might find something just as unsettling.

2. Horrifying Hometown Happenings

In case you think my home town is only fictionally creepy, allow me to acquaint you with some of Stratford’s real creepy happenings. In 1651, Stratford was the site of a witch trial and execution, 40 years before Salem’s infamous witch fever took hold. When the accused woman, Goodwife (or “Goody”) Bassett was taken to the gallows, it’s said she grabbed on to a boulder and left fingernail marks on it. It came to be known as Witch’s Rock, though no one knows where it is now. Stratford was also home to the Phelps Mansion, which was known for some serious poltergeist activity (sadly, it was torn down 40 years ago).

3. Ghostly visitors

One of my high school friends lived in a haunted house in the older part of town. He and his family experienced all sorts of eerie happenings, and even saw what seemed to be a young boy in old-fashioned clothes; at one point, their family even brought in some sort of medium to assess the “presence.” As a result, my friends and I were inspired to attend a talk given by famous ghosthunters Ed and Lorraine Warren, who lived in the town next to ours. Unfortunately, Ed and Lorraine weren’t very convincing, but we continued our interest in all things paranormal.

4. Ouija board

My friends and I would often try to conjure spirits using my Ouija board; one night, when we were teenagers, we really thought we’d made contact with someone, though now we’re sure it was all in out heads. (Or was it?)

5. Horror movie marathons

As a teenager, I also enjoyed hosting horror movie marathons at my house. I don’t know how or why my typically-overprotective mom allowed this, especially as some of the films were pretty dark and gory! One of the movies we watched, The Stuff, is one of the inspirations for my ZomBert trilogy.

6. The Truth is Out There

As I got older, I continued my interest in all things weird and spooky, so you can imagine how I felt when I first watched The X-Files. I was obsessed. I’ve never been one to collect things, but I still own quite a bit of X-Files memorabilia. (My favorite episodes? Season 2, ep 20, aka “Humbug,” and Season 4, episode 2, aka “Home.” The weirdest ones, of course.)

7. Queen Shirley

I still love Stephen King, and I’m now a big fan of dark, spooky mystery novels by authors like Kate Atkinson, Gillian Flynn, Tana French, and Ruth Ware. But the queen, for me, is Shirley Jackson. One of my favorite books of all time is We Have Always Lived in the Castle; I aspire to write a middle grade psychodrama in that vein one day.

8. Little Terrors

When I was pregnant with my son, I had all sorts of cravings, including guacamole, pineapple, and horror novels. I actually binged horror novels for the entire 9+ months I was incubating him! Among others, I re-read all the Stephen King classics, then read Ray Bradbury, H.P Lovecraft (who was born and lived in Providence, where I live now), Ira Levin, and Robert Marasco. My son is six years old now and loves guacamole and pineapple; time will tell if all that horror reading transferred to him as well!

9. Cousin Joyce

Everyone’s family is a bit…dysfunctional and weird, right? Well, I’ve come to realize that one story about my grandmother is particularly off. You’ll have to head to my website to read about it. (WARNING: it’s not for the faint of heart!)

10. Freaky Felines

Confession: I’m not a dog person, AT ALL. I love cats. In a way, my ZomBert trilogy is a love letter to all the cats I’ve known. The first cat I ever had as a pet, when I was about three, was named Lullabye. He was an outdoor cat and quite the hunter, and had a penchant for leaping into the air to catch dragonflies, which he’d then leave all over our lawn; I actually have a dragonfly tattoo in his honor. Another cat, Josie, used to leave headless frogs on our front doorstep, seemingly as trophies for us. I never truly appreciated these “gifts” at the time, but I’ve managed to incorporate them into the ZomBert Chronicles, along with all sorts of other freaky feline behaviors I’ve witnessed over the years. Cats really are the closest thing we have to aliens — as far as we know, anyway *cue X-Files music*

I hope this list has creeped you out in the best possible way, and that it’s gotten you excited to read Rise of ZomBert. Though the book doesn’t officially publish until July 2020, you can still preorder it now; if you preorder from my local indie, I’ll personalize and sign your copies when they’re ready! Just leave the personalization info in the Comments section of your order.

ALSO…a lucky few of you might just win an ARC of the book; head on over to my Twitter feed (@karalareau) to learn how to enter my ZomBert giveaway!

Kara LaReau was born and raised in Connecticut. She worked as an editor at Candlewick Press and at Scholastic Press, and now works as a freelance editor through her own company, Bluebird Works. Kara is the author of picture books such as UGLY FISH, illustrated by Scott Magoon, and Good Night Little Monsters, illustrated by Brian Won; an award-winning chapter book series called The Infamous Ratsos, illustrated by Matt Myers; a middle-grade trilogy called The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters, illustrated by Jen Hill; and a new middle-grade trilogy called the ZomBert Chronicles, illustrated by Ryan Andrews. Kara lives in Providence, Rhode Island with her husband and son and their cat.

Book Review: THE DRAGON THIEF, by Zetta Elliott

Kavita has a new pet named Mo. It’s a dragon and it breathes fire! She deftly acquired it recently from a witch’s apprentice who really should have been paying better attention to all three of the magical creatures in his charge. That apprentice was Jaxon, her brother Vik’s best friend. It was Jaxon’s job to deliver the dragons back to the realm of magic and when one went missing, he thought it might have been flying around Brooklyn, but it was actually with Kavita and she was desperately seeking a way to keep it out of sight. Hiding the dragon, however, was becoming more difficult by the minute. What once fit inside a mint tin had now grown to the size of a cat!

While Kavita receives some help from an unlikely hero, Jaxon and his friends go on a mission to locate a working gateway back to the realm of magic – but they have to do it without Ma. Oh, she’s around, but she appears to be under some sort of strange sleeping spell that she has yet to wake up from. This would be Jaxon’s chance to prove that Ma was right to choose him as her apprentice, but he had to do more than just believe in magic, he had to believe in himself. That’s what his grandfather would tell him. If he believed in himself, the possibilities would be endless.

The adventure continues in this second installment of what I hope might one day become a trilogy. The Dragon Thief picks up right where Dragons in a Bag left off-with a missing dragon! It is clear that Kavita has the dragon and the one person who can help her seems to have a rather unique interest in doing so. In the process, she grows so much closer to a family member who up until this point, she hadn’t really known too much about – unlocking a trove of family history. Kavita knew that her family was from India but she did not know that their roots could be traced to Africa too because of the enslavement of Africans from Zanzibar who were brought to the southernmost parts of India.

Zetta’s ability to go beyond entertainment to educate readers while unearthing hidden historical gems has made me a fan of her work. I would highly recommend both Dragons in a Bag and The Dragon Thief for middle grade readers (ages 8-12).

Christina Carter is an Elementary School Librarian (K-5), Wife to a Most Magnificent Husband, and Mother to 3 Beautiful teen and young adult Blessings, and yes, she loves to read! 

The 2019-2020 school year represents her 7th year serving as a school librarian (Library Media Specialist); spreading the love of reading, encouraging exploration and discovery through research, and engaging students in lessons that spark their creativity. When she think back to her childhood, these elements were what made the library a very special place for her. She believes it is a launchpad by which we get to discover and pursue our dreams. Every day that she opens a book, she opens up a world of possibility.

Christina is active on social media (mostly Twitter & her blog) and is a member of #BookExcursion, a group of educational leaders who read, review, and promote books through social media and in their communities with an express purpose of sharing their love of reading with the families they serve. You can find her on Twitter at @CeCeLibrarian.