FAST FORWARD FRIDAY – Jake Maia Arlow

Kathie: Hi Jake, and welcome to Fast Forward Friday! I had the pleasure of reading an eARC of your upcoming book, ALMOST FLYING, which comes out on June 8th with Dial Books. It’s such a great story, and I hope everyone has it on their TBR list. Can you tell us a bit about it in your own words?

Jake: SO happy to be here, Kathie! ALMOST FLYING is a queer middle-grade novel that centers around an amusement park road trip. It features a first crush, a prickly stepsister, and TONS of roller coasters! 

Kathie: I love stories where the main character has an “awakening” about some aspect of themselves, and Dalia goes through her own roller coaster ride of emotions during one week without it feeling rushed. Did the pacing come naturally, or was it challenging to include so many thoughts and feelings in a short time frame?

Jake: It was definitely a challenge! The first draft of the book was much more meandering, but I think that was because I really wanted to get all of Dalia’s thoughts and feelings out onto the page. This was my first time going through the editing process with a book–from self-editing all the way to the official copy-edits, and it was an incredible experience. I love being able to mold something that came out of my brain so raw and unfiltered into something intelligible that will hopefully resonate with my tween (and not-so-tween) reader.

Kathie: This story has a number of important relationships, and I loved how they connect and influence each other. I especially liked how the age difference between Dalia, and Alexa and her friends, added a mature support network and relationship modeling for Dalia. Which relationship was the most fun for you to write, and which character would you most like to be friends with?

Jake: Thank you for saying that! It was really important for me to model positive queer relationships in older teens for the younger main characters, whether those be romantic or platonic. One of my favorite relationships to write was the one between Alexa and Dhruv, since they have such a lovely queer friendship that they both feel is almost familial. And I’d most like to be friends with Dhruv, for sure. 

Kathie: What would you like young readers to know about this story, and what do you hope they’ll take away from it?

Jake: I’d love for young readers to know, first of all, that they can find all the roller coasters in the story as POV videos on YouTube. I know this seems like a small, silly thing, but watching those videos as a kid (and an adult) allowed me to escape and dream and relax. And I hope that they’ll come away knowing that they deserve to be loved as they are, however they are, and that there are always people who will care about them, even if those people aren’t biologically related to them. 

Kathie: I had no idea there were so many different types of roller coasters! Are you a fan of them, and if so, what style do you like the best?

Jake: I know, it’s shocking how many there are! I’m a fan of all types of roller coasters, but I never knew the official names for the different kinds before I was doing research and digging into Dalia’s voice. My favorite type of roller coaster is definitely a wooden roller coaster, even though they give you major whiplash! 

Kathie: What’s one thing you learned about yourself or your writing while publishing this book?

Jake: First of all, that I have no idea where to place commas (this past sentence was no exception)! But jokes aside, I learned that my writing voice isn’t something to be ashamed of. I’ve always been told that I “write like I speak”–which is true, and I love that about my writing. I think it makes it more accessible, fun, and unique than it otherwise might be. 

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

Jake: Yes! You can go to my website, jakewhosagirl.com, or you can go to my Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok, which are all @jakewhosagirl! 

Kathie: I really appreciate you taking some time to talk with me today, Jake, and I wish you all the best with your book’s release.

Jake: Thank you so much, Kathie! I’m so grateful for all of your work in the middle grade space.


Jake Maia Arlow is a podcast producer, writer, and bagel connoisseur. She studied evolutionary biology and creative writing (not as different as you might think) at Barnard College. She has lived in various places, but can always be found with an iced coffee. You can find her on all social media platforms @jakewhosagirl, or at her website, jakewhosagirl.com.

FAST FORWARD FRIDAY – Shakirah Bourne

Kathie: Welcome to Fast Forward Friday, Shakirah. It’s a pleasure to have a chance to talk with you today. Your debut book, JOSEPHINE AGAINST THE SEA will be published on July 6th with Scholastic. Can you tell our readers what it’s about, please?

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

JOSEPHINE AGAINST THE SEA is a contemporary fantasy about 11 year-old cricketer Josephine, who is very overprotective of her Dad, and sets booby traps for his dates to scare them away. She knows she can distract her Dad from dating by getting on her school’s cricket team but the Coach says only boys are allowed to play. But then her Dad brings home a new catch – Mariss, and unlike the others, she does not not scare easily. Josephine discovers that Mariss is not what she seems, and has to convince everyone of her true nature before it’s too late. It’s a Barbadian with a sweet single father-daughter relationship, addresses issues like overcoming grief and is full of Caribbean folklore.

Kathie: This is a story I would highly recommend for fans of The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste, and I know she wrote a blurb for your book. Can you tell us more about the inspiration for it?

Shakirah: Sure! There were several story seeds that inspired the growth of this tale, but the first sprout occurred in English class in secondary school (high school) when we read a Caribbean short story about a fisherman who became obsessed with a mermaid. She would sit on a rock by the river, combing her hair and singing. Though villagers warned him to stay away, he’d visit her everyday and soon she took over his dreams; he stopped eating, providing for his family, and one day, the villagers found his clothes on the riverbank and he was never seen again. I wondered, who was that mermaid? What happened to that fisherman? That story haunted me since I was 12 years old so when I decided I wanted to write a folklore story, JOSEPHINE AGAINST THE SEA became my answer to those questions.

Kathie: Did you enjoy reading or listening to myths and fairytales as a child, and did you have a favorite one?

Shakirah: I have always been infatuated with myths and fairytales about princesses, vampires, mermaids and other sea creatures, Anansi the Spider, Greek mythology, you name it, so it would be torturous to try to pick a favorite one. But one local folklore character that is very well-known is the Heartman, a cloaked figure that patrols the streets at night in a hearse, looking for naughty children who are outside after dark. He rips the hearts from their chests and offers those organs to the devil. In other tales, he steals the hearts because he has none of his own. Of course this was a story used to scare children so that they would get home early, but in my research I discovered that the legend was based off of a real serial killer!

Kathie: Josephine and her dad both come to terms with the loss of her mom in this story, and Josephine also comes to accept that her dad might need more than watching cricket with her in his life. What’s one important thing you hope readers will discover while reading this book?

Shakirah: Josephine and her Dad have a special bond, and he does his best as a single Dad to raise her and fulfil her needs, but in his inability to talk about her Mum, and also deal with his own grief, Josephine is left to make incorrect assumptions in an attempt to protect his heart. I hope readers will understand the importance of communicating feelings, because confronting and sharing emotions is the first step to healing.  

Kathie: Josephine desperately loves cricket and wants to play on the team but has several obstacles to overcome. Did you enjoy cricket growing up, and if so, what position did you (or would you want to) play? What words of encouragement would you give to a young girl in Josephine’s position?

Shakirah: I made the assumption that because I loved watching cricket, I naturally would be skilled at playing the game. I had imagined myself to be an amazing bowler, but I discovered how wrong I was when I tried out for a girl’s cricket team at college, ran to catch the ball and it felt like a rock had shattered my knuckles. Those balls are HARD! Through Josephine, I’m glad that I can still contribute to the game in a safe, pain-free way.

Josephine goes to extreme lengths to prove her bowling skills. Sometimes, people who are supposed to be your role models aren’t very supportive, and I would encourage young girls to find creative ways to overcome challenges, continue to develop their skills and never give up on a dream.  

Kathie: Although Barbados is home to you, many young readers may not be familiar with it. What would you like young readers to know about it?

Shakirah: This is such a great question. Firstly, I’d love people to understand that the Caribbean is made up of several different countries, and all of us are not from Jamaica or the Bahamas. 🙂 Barbados is tiny–it’s only 179 square miles, which is just over half the size of New York! Without traffic, you can drive from the top to the bottom of the island in less than an hour. Though Barbados is small, we’ve made a big impact on the world. Fun fact: Barbados is the birthplace of the grapefruit. It was actually an accident–a cross pollination between the orange and the shaddock, but I’m sure the world is grateful for this delicious fruit.

We’re more than white sand and beaches, or a stop on a cruise ship; it’s an island that is rich in culture and history. For instance, Barbados was the only country George Washington visited outside North America!

Kathie: How has the pandemic affected your writing routine, and are you currently working on another book?

Shakirah: The pandemic has definitely made it more difficult to write, because my brain is constantly in alarm mode. I have to keep up with continuously shifting COVID protocols, and still be productive and meet deadlines.  I’m currently working on a middle grade horror called Duppy Island, about a young filmmaker who follows her family to a silent retreat, and discovers that the island is haunted by douens (children who died before they were baptised). Duppy Island is surrounded by a thick fog, and always looks gray and overcast, and ironically, Barbados recently experienced some ash fall from La Soufriere volcano eruption in St Vincent, which made the atmosphere similar to that on Duppy Island! It’s definitely more challenging to focus on writing when mother nature seems to be at war with the world.

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

Shakirah: You can follow me on Twitter or Instagram @shakirahwrites, where I cheer on fellow authors, post about publishing and writing, art and random things that make me laugh. You can also visit my website at shakirahbourne.com

Kathie: I wish you every success with your book’s release, Shakirah, thanks for chatting with me today.

Shakirah: Thank you so much Kathie. I really appreciate the support that you’ve given to authors on your wonderful platform.

Shakirah Bourne is Bajan author and filmmaker. She once shot a movie scene in a cave with bats during an earthquake, but is too scared to watch horror movies. She enjoys exploring old graveyards, daydreaming and eating mangoes. She currently resides in Barbados in the Caribbean, and spends most of her time staring out at the sea thinking about new stories to tell. Her debut middle grade contemporary fantasy, JOSEPHINE AGAINST THE SEA, will be published by Scholastic in July 2021.

20 Questions with Author Sam Subity and His Middle Grade Debut The Last Shadow Warrior

Publishing a book comes along with a whirlwind of interviews and blog posts, so I thought I would compile an easy-to-read, condensed version as sort of a lightning round of FAQs. 

20 questions. Short answers. Let’s get started! 

What was the inspiration for The Last Shadow Warrior?

This is a question that I think can be answered in lots of different ways, which is good because it’s also naturally the most frequent question that authors are asked. But at its core, I’d have to say my main inspiration was the story of Beowulf. I first read it a long time ago, but when I picked up a copy of The Lightning Thief much more recently, the gears really started turning in my brain and eventually became my pitch for the book: Percy Jackson meets Beowulf. 

Do you need to have read Beowulf to follow your story?

Nope. I mean, those familiar with the story will likely have some moments like, “Oh, I see what he did there,” but no knowledge of the original story is necessary.

How did you choose the book’s setting?

Minnesota has the largest concentration of people of Scandinavian descent in the U.S. (nearly ⅓!), so it felt like a natural setting for a story packed with Vikings and Norse mythology. And the mysterious private school that Abby attends there has the name “Vale Hall” as a nod to Norse mythology. 

And your main character Abby Beckett is one of those Vikings, right?

Yes, she’s descended from a line of Viking warriors known as the Aesir who are a sort of ancient secret society charged with protecting humanity against these monsters called Grendels. Except she hasn’t figured out yet what her special abilities are, or even if she’s got any at all. 

That word “Aesir” comes up a lot in the book. How do you pronounce it exactly?

I’ve heard it different ways, but I like Neil Gaiman’s pronunciation that basically sounds like a combination of the words ACE + EAR. My website SamSubity.com actually has a pronunciation guide for this and other Norse words that kids might not be familiar with. Another they’ll see a lot is “knattleikr” (kin-attle-eye-kur) which is a sport that Abby plays.

And knattleikr is a real sport, right?

Totally. The Vikings used to play it over a thousand years ago and there are a few enthusiast clubs still today that attempt to recreate the game, but we don’t really have any historical descriptions of how it was played or the equipment used. So, like me, they made up their own rules.

It sounds like you included a lot of real history in the book. Are there any other examples?

Absolutely! I compiled a “Fact vs Fiction” guide for teachers on my website to help kids identify the historical stuff in the story. In fact, one of my characters, Grimsby, is named after a small town in England that was settled by Vikings. 

That reminds me: You’ve mentioned that you like to include easter eggs throughout your stories. Is there a favorite that you can share?

I do think it’s fun to include little things that maybe just your family and friends will get. About halfway through TLSW, Abby visits Vale’s library which is named “F.J. Feola Library” after a great friend of mine who passed away from cancer several years ago. He always wanted to write his own book, so I thought putting him in one was the next best thing. 

You also mention a lot of other books and authors in your story from Shakespeare to Dr. Seuss. Were you always a big reader?

Definitely. I read anything and everything when I was growing up. In third grade, I read around 100 books in a month and won the grand prize for my class which was to meet McGruff the Crime Dog. 

McGruff the…Crime Dog?

He took a bite out of crime. It was mostly an 80’s thing. 

Anyway, I imagine you probably wrote a lot too?

I did write a lot of short stories and fan fiction of my favorites like The Hobbit. But the authors I read as a kid from Tolkien to Beverly Cleary seemed like almost mythical figures, so I didn’t imagine I could actually ever be one. Then as I got older, my creative outlet took a detour into inventing toys and games before I started writing seriously again around five years ago. 

Inventing toys and games sounds like fun. Can you share any that you’ve created?

It was a ton of fun, but I could rattle on about it for hours, and this is supposed to be a quick FAQs, so…back to books? 

Sure, okay, what has been your favorite part of being a debut author so far?

Definitely connecting with kids. I love to see them inspired to read and even write their own stories after encountering mine. After one virtual class visit, one of the girls wrote me afterward to say that she had a question but was too shy to ask in class. That would have totally been me at that age. So for those shy, quiet kids, I want to encourage them to find their means of self-expression, whether it’s writing, art, or something else entirely.

Is that why writing for kids appeals to you?

For sure. And I love the hope that’s inherent in the stories. Also the fun. I mean, in what other category can you put a Ping-Pong playing sea monster in a book and your readers don’t even blink? 

And you’ve probably had some odd questions from kids, right?

Yeah, you really have to be ready for anything when you’re talking with kids. One wanted to know what I had for lunch. That led to a discussion on the merits of carnitas vs. carne asada tacos. It was random but really fun! 

So what did you have for lunch?

Leftover lasagna, which happens to be my favorite food. Not the leftover version specifically. Like, well, you get what I mean. 

I guess even authors have trouble with words sometimes. But speaking of food, you do have a lot of it in the book…

Maybe I was hungry from all those long writing sprints. But I think kids like to read about food too. So I have some authentic Scandinavian dishes like lutefisk (think fish Jell-O) and aebleskivers (powdered, jam-filled doughnut holes) as well as a Viking Slurpee machine nicknamed Slurpus Maximus that offers some, well, unique flavors. 

What do you hope kids get out of The Last Shadow Warrior?

Hopefully they find it to be a fun ride, and at a deeper level, one of the central themes is around Abby feeling like she’s constantly trying and failing to live up to everyone’s expectations, including her own. But by the end she learns that there are lots of different ways to define a hero, and I hope her story helps kids find the hero in themselves too. 

Do you only write middle grade?

The first kids’ book manuscripts I wrote were actually picture books and chapter books. My first one came from an incident where my toddler sneezed in my face when I was taking his picture. People ask me sometimes where my ideas come from, and in that case the idea literally hit me in the face. I still have the picture of him in mid-sneeze, and the manuscript which I titled “How Do You Achoo?” So maybe I’ll see my name on a picture book eventually too. But…most likely not that one. 

What’s been your least favorite part of being a debut author?

Honestly, all the self-promotion. I’d much rather talk about all the other wonderful books from my debut author group The 21ders than my own. But I so appreciate all the people who are still reading this interview at this point and who already have or plan to read The Last Shadow Warrior.

What’s next for you?

In Beowulf there are essentially three “bad guys,” so my original concept had TLSW as the first book in a trilogy that mirrors the original saga. So I’m hoping for the chance to write the second (and third) books if enough readers connect with the story. 

You can find Sam online at SamSubity.com and on Twitter or Instagram at @sjsubity, and his debut novel The Last Shadow Warrior (Scholastic Press) in bookstores everywhere on May 4. 

Cover Reveal: EGG MARKS THE SPOT, by Amy Timberlake, with pictures by Jon Klassen

The MG Book Village is thrilled to be revealing the cover of Egg Marks the Spot, the follow up to Amy Timberlake and Jon Klassen’s fabulous Skunk and Badger. Egg Marks the Spot will be released on September 2nd, and in addition to revealing the book’s cover here, we will be sharing a sneak peek of both its text and art. Below, beneath the cover, you will find a link to an excerpt from the third chapter of Egg Marks the Spot, and beneath that, you’ll see some of the book’s interior art.

Excited?

Intrigued?

Click HERE to read a few pages of Egg Marks the Spot!

More about Egg Marks The Spot:

Buried in the heart of every animal is a secret treasure. Badger’s is the Spider Eye Agate, stolen years ago by his crafty and treasure-trade-dealing cousin, Fisher. Skunk’s is Sundays with the New Yak Times Book Review.
 
When Mr. G. Hedgehog threatens to take the Book Review as soon as it thumps on the doorstep, Skunk decides an adventure (“X Marks the Spot!”) will solve both their problems. Badger agrees, and together they set off for his favorite campsite on Endless Lake. But all is not as it seems at Campsite #5. Harrumphs in the night. Unexpected friends.
 
Then Fisher appears, and Badger knows something is up.
 
Something involving secrets, betrayals, and lies.
 
And a luminous, late-Jurassic prize.
 
In a volume that includes full-color plates and additional black-and-white illustrations by Caldecott medalist Jon Klassen, Newbery Honor author Amy Timberlake takes readers on a second adventure in the new series reviewers have called an instant classic, with comparisons to Frog and ToadWinnie-the-Pooh, and TheWind in the Willows.

Amy Timberlake’s novels for young readers have received a Newbery Honor, an Edgar Award, a Golden Kite Award, and the China Times Best Book Award. She grew up in Hudson, Wisconsin, but now calls Chicago home. She is a graduate of Mount Holyoke College, and holds an MA in English and Creative Writing from the University of Illinois. You can find her walking on Chicago’s Lakefront Trail on cool, crisp fall days. 

Jon Klassen is a Canadian-born author-illustrator. His books include I Want My Hat BackThis Is Not My Hat, winner of the Caldecott Medal; and We Found A Hat. He is a member of the Order of Canada in recognition of his contributions to children’s literature. He currently lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two sons.

FAST FORWARD FRIDAY – Cliff Burke

Kathie: Welcome to Fast Forward Friday, Cliff! Your upcoming MG debut, An Occasionally Happy Family, is set for release on May 18th from HMH Books for Young Readers. I recently had the chance to read it, and found it a delightful mix of funny and heartwarming moments as Theo deals with his family during their first vacation without his mom. Can you tell us about it please?

Cliff: Thank you for having me, Kathie, and for your kind words about the book! AN OCCASIONALLY HAPPY FAMILY is the story of two siblings, Theo and Laura, dragged into the Texas desert by their nature-loving Dad for a surprise vacation. It’s their first family vacation since their mother’s passing, and the family has not fully faced the loss. Over the course of their seven day vacation, the family struggles through a series of calamities which could bring them together or lead them to drift further apart. 

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

Cliff: I’m a middle-school English teacher, and started teaching at a school that ran its own version of Donalyn Miller’s 40 Books a Year student-reading challenge. I read along with students, listened to what books they liked and didn’t, and began noticing a real gap between what many students enjoy reading (short, funny books) and what I/their parents often encourage them to read (weighter, literary books that tackle serious issues). I am trying to bridge that divide with a book that is short, snappy and (hopefully) can be read as purely funny OR as a serious exploration of the early loss of a parent. 

Many aspects of the book are also drawn from personal experience. I lost both parents as a child and wanted to write a book that communicated how I felt. For me, there wasn’t a neat divide between Before and After, or even expressions of grief in a consciously aware way, as is often depicted. It was much messier. So I wanted to show someone who thought he had everything under control but who is letting his grief out in these small ways that he doesn’t even realize and is aching to just let it all out. 

Kathie: I loved the cast of colorful characters that really brings this story to life. Which character was the easiest for you to write, and which was the most challenging?

Cliff: Thank you! Theo was definitely the easiest for me to write. I more or less wrote in my voice with some of the maturity of older age sanded off. It was not that difficult to write like a 13 year old boy. 

The character of Leonard, a recently-divorced amateur birdwatcher, was the most difficult for me because he kept changing throughout drafts from being 100% annoying in every line (too annoying for early readers) to becoming more rounded (hopefully). For those interested, he is largely based on Jonathan Franzen and his many birder interviews available on Youtube. 

Kathie: There are so many moments in this story that are hilarious, such as the family that they meet out hiking and their encounter with a bear, and yet at the heart of the story is Theo’s struggle to adjust to the changes in his family. How do you balance the use of humor with an emotionally difficult subject?

Cliff: Humor is how I have always dealt with difficult emotions, for better or worse, and it’s become somewhat second-nature for me to wrap heaviness inside of jokes. But to answer this more directly, I treat each chapter as an individual unit during editing and focus on fine-tuning for what is funny, and what I’m trying to communicate. For many rounds of editing, I am just trying to click the funny level up and get in as many jokes as possible. In the final stages of editing, I focus more on how each character would truthfully respond in a given scene and the structure of the story as a whole. Inevitably I take out some jokes in that process. From there, I rely on my wonderful editor, Amy Cloud, to tell me what still needs work.

Kathie: You did an excellent job making this story feel so relatable even though I didn’t deal with the loss of a parent as a child. What are some of the aspects of it that you hope will appeal to young readers?

Cliff: I’m very happy to hear this. I didn’t necessarily set out to write a book about the loss of a parent. The original goal was to write a book that middle grade readers would enjoy, and the details of the mother just sort of showed up as I started drafting. That said, once I decided it was going to be a larger part of the book, I tried to be as realistic as possible and bring readers into the experience. Some of the descriptions are based on direct memories. But to get to the question — I hope readers will take what they want from the book. There is a lot of info about Big Bend National Park and the history of Texas, observations on older sisters, bumbling fathers, overzealous young influencers, French nudists, bear attacks. I hope readers can find something in that list to hook them AND walk away with a new or renewed appreciation that expressing even the most difficult emotions can be really healing. 

Kathie: What’s one question that I haven’t asked you, but that our readers might enjoy knowing about you or your debut?

Cliff: Readers may enjoy knowing that I secretly tested out the funniness of this book in my classroom. I like to write new pieces along with students and showcase what I write as the work of “Example Kid.” While teaching dialogue, I included a few pages from the book as a warm-up reading to see if it got laughs.

Kathie: Do you have another writing project on which you’re working right now?

Cliff: While staying inside from March to August 2020, I wrote 500 words a day of a light sci-fi story. It’s in very ragged shape and may never exist outside of my laptop, but it kept me busy when I needed it. I’ve put that aside for now and am currently working on another contemporary middle-grade book set on a French farm. Like the current book, it’s mostly a comedy but also mixes in some darker elements.

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

Cliff: Readers can find out more about me on https://www.cliffburke.com/ or follow me on Instagram. AN OCCASIONALLY HAPPY FAMILY is out on May 18th, and all the pre-order links are available on the HMH website

If readers want a signed copy, they can order from my favorite local independent bookstore, Kepler’s Books

Kathie: It was wonderful to have a chance to chat with you today, Cliff. Best of luck with your book’s release.

Cliff: Thank you so much, Kathie, for this interview and all you do to boost the Middle Grade Book community!

Cliff Burke grew up in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio. He’s worked as a house painter, a parking lot attendant, and a sign-twirling dancing banana, but most recently as a reading and writing teacher in China, Hong Kong, and Texas. Currently, he teaches writing and humanities at a middle school in the Bay Area. An Occasionally Happy Family is his first novel

Cover Reveal: COLD-BLOODED MYRTLE, by Elizabeth C. Bunce

Hi there, Elizabeth! Thank you so much for stopping by the MG Book Village to chat about COLD-BLOODED MYRTLE and reveal the book’s cover. This is the third book in the Edgar Award and Agatha Award-nominated Myrtle Hardcastle Mystery Series! What’s in store for Myrtle this time?

I am delighted to be back! Thank you for continuing the tradition for Myrtle Hardcastle Mysteries cover reveals.

In Cold-Blooded Myrtle, our Investigator encounters her first cold case. Years ago, a student at the local college vanished under Mysterious Circumstances and no trace of her was every found. A murder in the opening pages of Cold-Blooded Myrtle recalls this old mystery; and Myrtle, Miss Judson, and Peony set out to unravel a twisted tale of secret societies, cryptic messages, long-buried secrets, and a killer bent on revenge.

This installment takes place during the holiday season. Tell us what inspired this festive setting! 

A holiday mystery is a crime fiction tradition, and many of our modern holiday customs have their origins in the Victorian era, so I knew from the start one of the books would have to take place during an Exceptionally Victorian Christmas. The Myrtle Hardcastle Mysteries also tend to be inspired by real-life happenings, and Cold-Blooded Myrtle is no different. This time, it was an incident with some family friends’ Dickens village display. Somehow, a harrowing tragedy befell the miniature townsfolk (my chief suspect is a cat): figures knocked over, overturned vehicles, objects scattered through the snowy streets, absolute carnage. Their daughter—a young woman after my own heart!—was visiting at the time, and instead of setting everything back to rights, she turned it into a crime scene, with blood trails, footprints, and crime scene tape! Instantly I realized I had the perfect setup for a Myrtle story.

In what ways has Myrtle grown and changed since Book 1?  

Well, she hasn’t changed too much, thank goodness! She’s still as impulsive, determined, and Irrepressible as ever. But having encountered several murders now, her perspective on human nature is definitely growing. In some ways, I think she’s more understanding, but at other times, she’s become even more suspicious of everyone! Anyone she encounters, it seems, might have murderous intentions. In Cold-Blooded Myrtle, the story draws Myrtle into her most personal case yet—one involving her late mother. Myrtle is at an age where she’s starting to see her parents as people, with pasts and secrets and perhaps less-admirable qualities. She’ll get to know her mum from another perspective.

What do you hope your readers–especially the young ones–take away from this book?

In addition to introducing young readers to the fun of classic detective stories, the Myrtle Hardcastle Mysteries share my love of research and historical curiosities—this time, readers will enjoy a journey into the strange origins of our holiday traditions. This book is also chock full of some of my favorite subjects, plus new characters, new looks at familiar members of the cast, and more fabulous 19th century settings!

And as always, I hope that young readers see Myrtle’s determination and curiosity as an invitation to be bold and curious in their own lives. Myrtle is a heroine who doggedly pursues her own path, despite outside pressures trying to define her.  I want kids to see that it’s ok to embrace their own passions and interests too, whatever they might be.

Many of our site’s readers are teachers of Middle Grade-aged kids. Is there anything you’d like to say to them – in particular those planning to add COLD-BLOODED MYRTLE to their classroom libraries?

I am so excited to share the news that the classroom guides (yes, guides!) are now available. They have been months in development, but they’re finally here! Teachers interested can sign up for a special mailing at this link: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSd2yGwahFDVdWpmP8QBSDhzYj30gNKYRUJZFEMIjaJx1s9FYw/viewform?vc=0&c=0&w=1&flr=0&gxids=7628

They’ll also be available to download at my website (elizabethcbunce.com).

I am also always thrilled to talk to students, either at full class school visits or small writing groups. Just drop me an email at my website!

All right — I’ve got some questions about the cover. But before we start discussing it, let’s take a look…

WOW! Can you tell us how this gorgeous cover came to be?

Well, first, I just want to say how absolutely THRILLING this particular cover is! I am beyond excited that Myrtle’s partner in sleuthing, her unflappable governess Miss Judson, has joined Myrtle on the jacket. My publishers were very coy about this, not breathing a word of their plans, and they sprung it on me as a complete surprise. Seeing Miss Judson alongside Myrtle made me stand up and cheer!

For the Myrtle Hardcastle Mysteries, I have had the privilege of helping to plan some of the cover imagery, including planting small objects throughout the story that can be singled out for the jacket corners and the chapter spot illustrations. This time, I suggested the image of Myrtle looking in through the shop window at the holiday display, and I love how artist Brett Helquist realized this—there’s so much intrigue there: what are they looking at? What’s happening? What do the olives and the overturned wishing well signify? Readers won’t have to wait long to find out….

I can’t help but notice that there is a cat sitting behind Myrtle and her governess, Miss Judson. Tell us about her!

That would be the third member of the team, Peony the Cat! Peony has been a key part of the crew since her own origin story in Premeditated Myrtle (MHM #1), and she features prominently in How to Get Away with Myrtle (MHM #2)–you can spot her tucked away on the covers of the first two books, too. Anyone who’s ever known a cat can tell you, it is impossible to keep them out of the action, and new readers will discover that Peony is just as irrepressible as her fellow human sleuths. 

When can readers get their hands on COLD-BLOODED MYRTLE?

October 5!

Can we expect more adventures with Myrtle?

I have just turned in the manuscript for In Myrtle Peril. That will come out Fall 2022, and I’ve thrown even more hard-to-believe real-life Victorian drama at Myrtle this time.

Where can readers find you online, and how can they learn more about you and your work?

My website (with all social media links) is elizabethcbunce.com. On Instagram, follow the hashtags #MHDS (Myrtle Hardcastle Detective Society) and #MyrtleMondays for regular updates. In addition, I blog weekly on topics about life in Victorian England, sharing the influences behind Myrtle’s world and her cases. I love to hear from fans, so my contact information is at the website, too.

Thanks again for returning to the MG Book Village, Elizabeth! We hope you and Myrtle will join us again soon!

Thank you so much for welcoming Myrtle back!

Elizabeth is a fan of all things fantastical, mysterious, spooky, and old. She writes historical fantasy, mysteries, and ghost stories for young readers, and discerning not-so-young readers. Her books are inspired by real places and cultures of the past, often with otherworldly or magical elements. She’s been writing as long as she can remember—even before she knew it was a job. She’s always been interested in literature, folklore, history, and culture, so she studied English and anthropology in college. But she’s only ever worked as a writer (although not all her writing jobs were as interesting as being a novelist). She’s a native Midwesterner, living in the tall grass prairie near Kansas City with her husband and their feline supervisory staff. When she’s not writing, you’ll usually find her Making something—cosplay, needlework, historical costuming, quilting… but not cooking. In 2009 her first book, A Curse Dark as Gold, won the inaugural William C. Morris Award for a Young Adult Debut, further cementing her affection for librarians everywhere! You can read her acceptance speech on the Making Page, and learn more about the Morris Award from YALSA.

FAST FORWARD FRIDAY – Graci Kim

Kathie: Hi Graci! Thank you for taking a few minutes to answer some questions about your upcoming book, THE LAST FALLEN STAR, which will be published on May 4th by Rick Riordan Presents. Can you please tell our readers a bit about your debut novel?

Graci: Absolutely! The Last Fallen Star is a mythology inspired story about Korean-American witches in Los Angeles. It’s about the search for magic, forbidden spells, unbreakable sisters, and about one adopted girl who is desperate to belong. 

Twelve-year-old Riley Oh is our main character, and she is desperate to become a healing witch like her sister and her parents. Except she’s adopted and her biological parents weren’t witches, which means despite knowing all the healing spells back to front, she doesn’t have a lick of magic in her blood. 

Then when her sister Hattie discovers a spell that could share half of her magic with Riley, they cast the dangerous forbidden spell. As you can imagine, things go terribly wrong. And when Hattie’s life ends up hanging in the balance, Riley has to go on the search for the Godrealm’s last fallen star–whatever and wherever it may be–or risk losing her sister forever. 

Kathie: Did you grow up reading or listening to Korean myths, and do you have a favorite?

Graci: Oh yes, my halmeoni (grandma) and my parents used to tell us loads of Korean folk tales and myths growing up. My sisters and I used to love huddling under the blanket on Halmeoni’s bed as she told us ghost stories from the small fishing village where she grew up. 

My favourite myth is actually the one that inspired The Last Fallen Star, and is one of the origin myths for the Korean peoples. The story goes that there was a tiger and bear who both desperately wanted to become human. They prayed to their god for help, and heeding their call, their god bestowed upon them an assignment: If they could take a bundle of mugwort leaves and a handful of garlic cloves and withstand a hundred days in a cave, their prayers would be answered. After twenty days, the tiger became weary. He missed the warmth of the sun and the taste of flesh too much to stay another day in the cold and dark. So he left the cave, giving up his chance to become human. But the bear persevered. And on the twenty-first day, their god rewarded her by turning her into a beautiful human—the first Korean woman to walk this earth.

Kathie: Although I loved so many of your characters, I think Emmett was my favorite supporting character for his bravery and loyalty to Riley. If you could choose one character to know in real life, who would it be and why?

Graci: I think I would choose to know Taeyo in real life. There’s something about the unencumbered way he sees the world, and the genuine earnesty he gives off that I think would be a good influence on me 🙂 And also Emmett. He and I would geek out about dogs, and I honestly would love to try his baking!

Kathie: This is an action-packed novel that moves at a very fast pace. I was amazed at how many twists, turns, and plot details were revealed in only 336 pages! How do you keep track of everything that’s going on; do you work with an outline ahead of time, or does the story unfold as you write?

Graci: Yes, I work with an outline ahead of time. I adore plans and checklists and any kind of tool that I can convince myself will make the actual task of writing less painful. Does it, in fact, make the writing process less painful? Probably not, I suspect! 😉 But I find having a map gives me confidence that I’m heading in the general right direction. And if I happen to find a nice patch of flowers to stop at, or a random side path in the woods, I let myself get lost for a wee while before returning to the main road. 

Kathie: OK, I have to ask, if you could choose one of the belong to one of the six clans, which one would it be and why?

Graci: Haha, this is a good question! Can I choose two? I would say I’d like to belong to the Gom clan and the Tokki clan. The Gom clan because their motto of Service and Sacrifice really resonates with me. I can’t think of a cooler superpower than being able to heal and help others. But also the Tokki clan because I’m a total foodie and I want to be able to infuse my food with magic! 

Kathie: I can only imagine what it was like to have such a powerful editing team behind your first book. What was one of the best pieces of advice they gave you?

Graci: It has been an absolute dream working with Hannah, Stephanie, and Rick! I think one of the best pieces of advice I was given was to trust in my own voice. I was worried I hadn’t nailed the “right voice” for a middle grade audience (whatever that is!), and that I wasn’t funny enough (I’m not a very funny person in real life, as far as I’m aware!). But I was told to just lean into Riley as a character and to do her justice in the best way I could. It seems odd, but that permission to write what was authentic to me was exactly what I needed to hear. 

Kathie: We know that the sequel, The Last Fallen Moon, is set for release in Summer 2022. Can you tell us anything about it yet, and do you know how many books will be in this series?

Graci: I can’t tell you too much at this stage, mostly because it’s still in the process of coming to life 🙂 I can say, however, that the epilogue of The Last Fallen Star gives a pretty good indication as to where the second book might be headed. And yes, the series has been confirmed as a trilogy, with the third book coming out in 2023. 

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

Graci: They can find out more about The Last Fallen Star at www.giftedclans.com and if they want to know more about me, they can visit www.gracikim.com On social media, I can be found on Instagram as @gracikimwrites and on Twitter as @gracikim 

Kathie: Thanks again for answering my questions, Graci. I’m very eager to follow Riley’s story and find out what’s going to happen next! 

Graci: Thank you for having me over, Kathie! It’s been a blast 🙂 

Graci Kim is a Korean-Kiwi diplomat turned author who writes magic-infused books for magic-infused readers. She grew up not seeing herself in her most treasured books, and has since committed herself to writing about Korean diaspora kids who achieve all their hopes and dreams. In a previous life, Graci was a diplomat for the NZ foreign service, a cooking show host, and once ran a business that turned children’s drawings into cuddly toys. If not lost in her imagination, you’ll find Graci drinking flat whites, eating ramyeon, and most likely hugging a dog (or ideally, many). She lives in New Zealand with her husband and daughter.

Writing from Two Points of View by Chad Lucas

Hi! I’m Chad Lucas, and my debut middle grade novel, Thanks a Lot, Universe, is out on May 11 from Amulet Books/Abrams Kids. It’s a story told from alternating perspectives: Brian Day, a shy, anxious kid whose life is upended by a family crisis, and Ezra Komizarek, Brian’s outgoing basketball teammate who wants to help but is scared of revealing his feelings for Brian. Over the course of the story, they both have to decide if they’re willing to risk trusting each other with things they don’t usually tell anyone.

Brian sometimes talks to himself—or more often, argues with himself—in rounds of what he calls Brian versus Brian. So I figure the best way to talk about writing from dual points of view in this book is to make like Brian and interview… myself.

Me:Writing a novel from two different perspectives seems like a lot of work. Why do it?

Also Me:Great question.

Me: Are you going for flattery already?

Also Me: Yeesh. To answer the question, one of the things I explore in Thanks a Lot, Universe is the difference between how we see ourselves versus how others see us. Brian and Ezra both wrestle with versions of the idea that “If I let people see the things about myself that I usually try to hide, maybe they won’t like me.” I think that’s a pretty common struggle in junior high—it certainly was when I was that age. So it fit well to have this interplay in the book where the reader gets to see Brian from Ezra’s point of view, and vice versa, and to notice how it contrasts from the way they see themselves.

Me: You go deep on identity, huh? That sounds heavy.

Also Me: It is, at times. And poor Brian goes through a lot over the course of this story. But another thing that writing from two perspectives let me do is balance the heavy moments with lots of humor. Ezra and his friends are pretty funny. There are some hilarious mayo-related jokes in this book.

Me:        We’ll let readers be the judge of whether your jokes are funny. But getting back on topic, what’s the biggest challenge of writing dual perspectives?

Also Me: For me, the biggest challenge was making sure each character has a distinct voice—so that Brian always sounds like Brian, and Ezra sounds like Ezra. They have very different personalities, they have unique mannerisms and favorite phrases, and they notice different things about the world around them. But going back and forth between those contrasting voices was also one of the most fun parts of writing this book.

Me:        What sort of things did you do to make sure they sound unique?

Also Me: When I was revising—and I revised a lot—I’d often work on just Brian chapters or just Ezra chapters for a while, to stay in the groove with one voice. And I used some stylistic techniques to set them apart. Brian’s an introverted internal processor; he thinks in lists sometimes and second-guesses himself a lot. I incorporated that in the way I wrote his chapters. Ezra’s more outgoing and engaged with a close group of friends, so there are more texting conversations and snappy dialogue in Ezra’s chapters.

Me:        In scenes when Brian and Ezra are together, how did you decide which character’s perspective to focus on in that moment?

Also Me: I usually went with whoever had the most at stake, or whoever was feeling something most deeply in that situation. For example, there’s a scene late in the book that’s a big moment for both characters. I start from Brian’s perspective, and then something happens (which I won’t spoil here) where I knew I had to break and show the rest of the scene from Ezra’s point of view.

Me:        Any other good reasons to have more than one narrator?

Also Me: One of the other great things that writing from two perspectives can do is heighten the tension. Sometimes the reader knows what one character is thinking or feeling, but the other character hasn’t figured it out yet, and that can build anticipation for the reader toward that moment when they finally clue in. It also lets you show both sides of a story, literally. Most of us have been in situations where we’ve maybe read too much into one little thing that someone else said or did, and we end up misinterpreting or looking for meaning that isn’t there. Or maybe we’ve been on the other side and said or done something that seems small to us but ends up having a big impact on someone else, for better or worse. Writing from two perspectives lets you dig into those dynamics in some interesting ways.

Me:        Last question: Did you always plan to feature both Brian and Ezra’s points of view, or did that evolve as you were writing?

Also Me: I had both from the early stages, but it did evolve. In earlier versions I had a Brian section, then an Ezra section, then a third part with alternating chapters. I have to credit my excellent editor, Emily Daluga, for pushing me to alternate points of view all the way through. In the end that really brought out Ezra’s character more and balanced the story better. Plus, it let me add even more brilliant jokes.

Me:        You really think you’re funny, huh?

Also Me: Listen, this book is objectively hilarious, when it’s not making people cry. There’s a little something for everyone.

Chad Lucas has been in love with words since he attempted his first novel on a typewriter in the sixth grade. He has worked as a newspaper reporter, communications advisor, freelance writer, part-time journalism instructor, and parenting columnist. A proud descendant of the historic African Nova Scotian community of Lucasville, he lives with his family in Nova Scotia. His debut novel Thanks A Lot, Universe, which Kirkus Reviews called “tenderhearted and bold” in a starred review, releases from Amulet Books/Abrams Kids on May 11.

Cover Reveal: ALL PETS ALLOWED (Blackberry Farm 2), by Adele Griffin, illustrated by LeUyen Pham

The MG Book Village is thrilled to be hosting the cover reveal for All Pets Allowed, the sequel to Adele Griffin and LeUyen Pham’s acclaimed The Becket List!

Here’s what Adele has to say about LeUyen’s cover:

“What a happy smile of a cover! LeUyen’s art is a vibrant celebration of the title ALL PETS ALLOWED, as she gives us a generous gallery of friends in so many shapes and sizes. I love that you can feel the same warmth and big heart of the first Blackberry Farm book, where there’s plenty of wide-open space for a game of catch. Also, I find a new favorite face every time I look!”

And here’s a bit more about the book:

More than anything else—even more than the best birthday party ever—Becket Branch wants a dog for her tenth birthday. But her twin brother, Nicholas, has secretly been wishing for a cat. Lucky for Becket and Nicholas, their animal-loving parents have an animal-loving surprise for them: they’re going to the local shelter and adopting both a cat and a dog. It should be the biggest BEAUTIFUL ALERT ever, but Becket’s dream dog, Dibs, turns out to be a super-shy scaredy-pooch who is going to need a lot of training. Meanwhile, Nicholas’s cat, Given, is more outgoing and attention-seeking than the just-for-him pet he was expecting.
 
Laugh along as Becket fishes mice out of Nicholas’s slippers, puts bullies in their place, and tries, and tries again, to train Dibs—all while learning new life lessons and keeping up with her other farm chores.
 
With black-and-white drawings throughout by award-winning illustrator LeUyen Pham (Real Friends), this second volume of the Blackberry Farm series offers a gentle message about embracing new friends who may not match preconceived expectations.

You can get your paws on All Pets Allowed on August 31st (click HERE for more info and preorder/purchase links)! And if you haven’t read The Becket List, you’ll definitely want to before then!

Middle Grade Books About Substance Abuse, Addiction and Alcoholism

by Afoma Umesi

It’s easy to pretend that children’s books should be free of hard themes like mental illness, suicide, and substance abuse. However, real life begs to differ. Many kids are grappling with these tough issues every single day. Thankfully, middle grade is catching up quickly. These middle grade books about addiction and alcoholism are honest, realistic, and yet sensitive enough that they don’t horrify children who read them. They create empathy and make kids whose families have been impacted feel seen and understood.

Life in the Balance

Jen Petro-Roy’s book about 12-year-old Veronica whose mom has to go to rehab for alcoholism will resonate with all readers. Veronica’s complex emotions about her mom and her dwindling interest in softball, their family sport, make this an engaging read.

Bringing Me Back

In this novel by Beth Vrabel, Noah is dealing with being separated from his mother, who has been imprisoned for driving under the influence of alcohol. Noah’s stepfather becomes his guardian for the period and things get even worse when Noah is caught shoplifting. This book handles several tough issues and still makes room for plenty of heart.

Where We Used to Roam

When Emma’s teen brother, Austin begins misusing opioids, her parents send her off to a family friend in Wyoming as Austin goes to rehab. This novel is unflinching in its depiction of dealing with addiction in the family as well as friendship issues in middle school.

Genesis Begins Again

Genesis has a lot on her plate. First off, she does not like the color of her skin. Second, her parents can’t seem to find a place to live long-term, and on top of that, her dad is addicted to gambling (with their rent money). When they finally find a place where Genesis enjoys her schoolmates and teachers, everything begins to fall apart again.

The Secret Sheriff of Sixth Grade

Maverick’s mom has issues with alcohol and cannot seem to hold down a job. Her current boyfriend is also abusive. Between such an unstable home condition and bullies at school, Maverick tries to cope by being a hero to others who need the help. He even carries along the plastic Sheriff’s badge his late father gave him as a present. When things get tough, Maverick finds that community can make a difference. No one does serious and funny like Sonnenblick.

Sunny Side Up

It’s 1976 and Sunny Lewis’s parents have shipped her off to the retirement community in Florida where her grandpa lives. While she does make a new friend as she adjusts to living with old folks, readers and Sunny quickly learn about Sunny’s older brother Dale and his issues with substance abuse aka the reason why Sunny had to go away. This graphic novel is perfect for lovers of this format.

Violets are Blue

Barbara Dee’s forthcoming middle grade book features 12-year-old Wren whose parents are divorced. Wren loves special effects makeup and is hoping for a fresh start when she and her mom move to a new town. But things go awry when her mom starts napping a lot and having trouble at the hospital where she works.

Sure Signs of Crazy

Sarah Nelson’s mother tried to drown her when she was only two, because of her mental illness. Now Sarah lives with her dad alone, but sometimes he drinks too much. This middle grade book will make your heart ache, but also, few characters will tug at your heartstrings like Sarah will.

The True History of Lyndie B. Hawkins

Another historical novel by the late Gail Shepherd, this one is about Lyndie, a history aficionado whose dad hasn’t been the same since he returned from the Vietnam war. Her dad is drinking more than usual and Lyndie’s grandmother is not pleased. Thankfully, Lyndie soon finds a mystery to keep her occupied as her family finds a way to heal.

Mostly the Honest Truth

When Jane’s dad goes back to rehab, she is sent to temporary foster care and begins living in a community called the Three Boulders. Jane is sure that this will be a super short stint, but life doesn’t quite go as she plans.

The Mending Summer

Georgia’s summer isn’t going as planned. Her mom is too busy studying for her biology degree and her dad is struggling with alcoholism. But when Georgia is sent off to live with a mysterious great aunt, things take an interesting turn. There, along with a new friend, she discovers an enchanted lake that seems to help at first, until things begin to spiral out of control.

Across the Desert

Dusti Bowling’s forthcoming middle grade title centers young Jolene who finds comfort in the library and chatting online with a tween airplane pilot, Addie Earhart. At home, her mother is grappling with an addiction to narcotics. But when Addie’s plane crashes over the desert, it’s up to Jolene to go on a rescue mission.