Cover Reveal for SOL INVICTUS by Ben Gartner

Hi Ben! I’m so glad you could drop by the Village today and tell us about the sequel to your debut novel, THE EYE OF RA. What’s the name of the next book in the series, and can you tell us a bit about it, please?

Thank you for having me, Kathie! It’s an honor to be featured on MGBookVillage. You and the others do such great things for the middle grade community. Thank you.

My new book is SOL INVICTUS and picks up where THE EYE OF RA left off, specifically following John and Sarah. In book two, I tease a bit more about the overall series arc, but the meat of the adventure is when John and Sarah travel back to an ancient Roman frontier town called Aventicum in modern day Switzerland. They’ve been given a cryptic message that they must unite the Roman emperor of Gaul with one of the Alemanni (Germanic) “barbarians” if they wish to fulfill their quest. Along the way they have to survive in the Alps, battle fearsome wild beasts in the gladiator ring, and evade capture during a chariot chase. And all while dealing with their own internal struggles around the balance between independence versus being part of a whole, and how those two things can coexist.

How did writing the second book differ from writing the first one, and what’s one thing you did differently this time?

I plotted a lot more from the outset with this book. I love to just sit down and write and let my mind wander and follow the movie along, so to speak. That is how book one started, in collaboration with my sons. Then, of course, once we had some meat to a story, I did outline the whole thing and went back and revised heavily so that the outcome is different than it was when we started. But with book two, while I did brainstorm with my boys for ideas, I completed a more thorough outline before diving in to the writing. I also plotted more of the overall series arc and completed a skeleton for book three at the same time as book two. The day I stop learning is the day I die and this writing process is no exception!

Do you find that feedback from your readers influences the direction of the series, or do you have an idea ahead of time where it’s going?

Definitely both. I love to hear feedback about what worked well and what maybe didn’t excite as much. You can learn from both types of feedback. That doesn’t mean I have to agree with everything, and I certainly need to remember that this is my story and story-telling can be a subjective art, but I do incorporate a lot of the ideas from my readers (especially my sons, of course!) because often they are brilliant ideas! For one example, my sons introduced the idea of a puppy into the mix and that spawned my thinking about a wolf, and research led me to the story of Fenrir, and… Well, I do like to keep some surprises…

Have you changed your writing schedule over the last few months, and if so, how has that impacted you?

Well, my writing schedule has changed quite a bit, but not primarily because of COVID per se, which is what I think you’re driving at. What has most impacted my writing schedule is the various multi-tasking necessary with having multiple books in various stages of development or production. I’m still marketing my first book, but that’s taking a bit of a back seat because I’m now focusing more of those efforts on Sol Invictus – this cover reveal, contacting ARC-reviewers and bloggers, etc. And I’m also writing the third book. To be honest, I don’t love the marketing aspects of book selling. Or, said more accurately and in the positive: I most enjoy the writing part of being an author. 🙂

Let’s talk about the new book’s cover. I know you have the same illustrator; can you tell us about the experience of working with them?

Anne Glenn (http://anneglenndesign.co.uk/) is a very talented and distinguished illustrator and designer. She’s worked with a lot of big names and big publishing houses so I feel very lucky to be working with her. Her beautiful work speaks for itself!

It’s time for the big reveal!

Oh wow, there are so many great details in this cover; it looks like an action-packed ride!

What is it that you hope young readers will take away from your books?

The thing I loved about reading when I was a kid (and still do, of course) was the ability of a book to transport me to another time and place, or even to within another body, to see the world outside of my own horse blinders. I could be and do anything. I love the adventure, the possibilities, and the learning that come with that shift in perspective. And, though maybe I didn’t fully grok it at the time, reading let me work through my own “stuff.” In the best books, I could empathize with the character. They may be completely different from me, but I subconsciously learned from our shared humanity and shared challenges. I feared with them, I reveled with them, I overcame with them.

And besides, a little escapism isn’t such a bad thing, as long as there’s a good story wrapped inside of all the thrills.

Are there more books to come in the series, and if so, can you tell us anything about what you’re working on right now?

I am working on book three now! All will be revealed about who John and Sarah really are, and why they’ve been traveling in time. Their character growth will ratchet up along a self-actualization curve and bring them more into their own skins.

For the core of the adventure, they’ll be traveling to the time of the Aztec people (who actually called themselves the Mexica) in modern-day central Mexico, around the ancient city of Tenochtitlan (where Mexico City now resides). One of my challenges with this third book will be the names! For example, Huitzilopochtli was the sun god (among other things) and a primary deity for the Aztecs. Yes, I listened to pronunciation guides.

Where can people go to find out more about you and your writing?

BenGartner.com is the best place. I’m active on Twitter (@BGartnerWriting), and less so on Instagram (BGartnerWriting) and Facebook (BenGartnerAuthor).

Pre-orders for SOL INVICTUS coming February 2021 are available now:

All the Digital: https://books2read.com/sol-invictus-ben-gartner

Print pre-orders: Coming soon! You can sign up for my newsletter to learn more here: http://bit.ly/ben-gartner-mailing-list

Thank you for allowing us to be part of your cover reveal, Ben.

It has been my pleasure! Thank you so much. And thank you again for all the time and effort you volunteer for our middle grade community – authors, readers, teachers, librarians, thank you!

Ben Gartner is the award-winning author of The Eye of Ra adventure series for middle graders. His books take readers for a thrilling ride, maybe even teaching them something in the meantime. Ben can be found living and writing near the mountains with his wife and two boys.

2021 MG Debut Authors

We believe it’s important to support debut authors, especially during such challenging times. We created a list of 2021 MG debut authors and their release dates, along with links to their books on Goodreads. A huge thank you to Sam Subity for sharing his resources with us, and making our job very easy! We will update the information as more becomes available, and you can access it any time as a heading on the main page of our website.

If you are a traditionally published MG debut author and would like to be added to the list, or if this information needs to be updated, please feel free to send us an email.

Cover Reveal: THE ODDMIRE, BOOK THREE: DEEPEST, DARKEST, by William Ritter

Hi, Will! Thank you for stopping by the MG Book Village to reveal the cover for your new book, THE ODDMIRE, BOOK THREE: DEEPEST, DARKEST, which comes out June 22, 2021! Can you tell us a bit about the book?

Thanks for having me! DEEPEST DARKEST is the third adventure of the Burton boys, a human and a goblin changeling raised as brothers, who continue to barrel into danger with the help of their friends Fable and Evie. A running thread from the very first book has been the mystery of what happened to the boys’ father, who disappeared when they were just babies. In this book, they are determined to finally find an answer, but digging too deep will uncover more than they were prepared to handle.

This is the third book in a series. Can you share what your experience has been like writing a series? Have your characters changed since the first book in any ways that have surprised you?

There are some ideas that I knew would be a part of the story all along, and it’s nice to finally get those onto the page after years of having them just rattle around in my head. But yeah, there are definitely things that surprise me along the way. There are whole characters I didn’t know were going to be so integral to the story, and there are depths to characters I originally considered minor. Sometimes they push their way into the narrative in ways I didn’t plan, and the best thing I can do is let it happen. As for Tinn and Cole, they have both become stronger and more independent over the years, which was an intentional direction for the story—but they also have very human insecurities that run deep. Part of letting them grow bigger, paradoxically, has been letting them experience those things that make them feel the smallest.

Much of this book takes place underground. What made you decide to give this book such a strange and *ahem* creepy setting?

It came about organically, but the setting really did lend itself perfectly to the emotional core of the story. Threats that surround us and undermine our whole foundation are the most intimidating and difficult to navigate, and the kids in this installment really feel out of their depth both literally and physically as the weight of their situation presses down on them. It’s especially unsettling to find out bad things have been lurking beneath the surface for a long time, and that the people in charge have just let them keep going unchecked. I think that we as a country—especially young kids—can relate to those feelings in a big way right now.

Despite being an action-packed adventure, this book is driven by discussions of family and belonging. Why was it important to you to explore these themes in this series?

Adoption is an important part of my own family, and celebrating the many ways that families become whole has been central to the concept of this series from its inception. My own kids mean the world to me, and more so than any of my other works, this series is for them.

In this book, and in the first two books of the series, as well, there don’t seem to be any characters who are ALL bad or ALL good. How do you navigate the complexity of heroes and villains existing in that gray space?

In the end, it’s all about empathy. It’s never really as simple as hero vs villain—it’s empathy & love vs antipathy & hate. All people have the capacity for both sides within them, and I try to reflect that. If I allow a villain’s hate to make my heroes hateful, then hate wins. If I allow a villain’s antipathy to strip a hero of their empathy, then empathy loses. We don’t have to accept or excuse villainous acts, but we can denounce hate while extending love. The real trick is recognizing that all of us have heroes and villains inside of us, and the best anyone can do is to try to support and bring out the heroes in others, and not reinforce their villains by treating them as if that’s all they are capable of.

What do you hope your readers — especially the young ones — will take away from the book?

That they are worthy of love and that it is never too late to be a better you, even if you stumble.

Now, let’s get to the cover! You’re not only the author of THE ODDMIRE series, you’re also the illustrator! What was it like creating the illustration for this cover? Did you go through many versions before you arrived at this design?

So many! Yes. All of the covers have gone through a series of concepts and drafts, but I think this one went through the most. Various versions featured different moments from the story, different characters, different angles. With every cover I’ve done, I feel like I always set my target just slightly beyond what I know I can do—and then each time I end up frantically teaching myself how to draw all over again to meet the demands of the design. Carla Weise and Laura Williams, the art team at Algonquin Young Readers, have been stellar at giving me editorial direction along the way. In the end, I’m really happy with how this one came out.

Okay, let’s take a look!

WOW! It’s got so much energy! And speaking of angles — I think you went with the right one! Can we expect more adventures from Tinn, Cole, Fable, and Evie?

These characters are definitely not finished having adventures, but I will leave it there for now. Spoilers!

Where can we find out more about you and your work?

You can always visit my website (https://rwillritter.wordpress.com/), follow me on Twitter (https://twitter.com/Willothewords), or find more information about The Oddmire, and my YA series, Jackaby, through the Workman site (https://www.workman.com/authors/william-ritter).

Thank you for allowing us to be part of your cover reveal, and all the best with your book’s release!

Thanks so much for having me!

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

Book Review: ICK! DELIGHTFULLY DISGUSTING ANIMAL DINNERS, DWELLINGS, AND DEFENSES, by Melissa Stewart

Looking for one of those books that makes readers say, “Ewww!”, “Oh my goodness!”, “That’s gross!” out loud or makes them slam the book shut, only to open it again to continue reading? Ick! is the book for those readers. This is the perfect book for those kids who love to learn about animals, especially what they eat, where they live, and how they defend themselves.

Now there are some animals you know are going to be included in this book, like spiders, rats, and snakes, and even with some new information, they are still just as gross as you expect them to be. However, the interesting thing about this book is that you will be surprised at some of the other animals that are highlighted, ones that readers may even admire or think are nice and cuddly.

And as expected from a National Geographic book, the photographs are awesome. They are vibrant, up close and personal, and usually include the thing that qualifies the animal as icky. Which is why there’ll be some strong reactions from readers as they read this book.

As far as the text goes, there’s not an overwhelming amount of text for kid readers who don’t want to be overwhelmed with a lot of specific vocabulary to wade through. Stewart does an excellent job of getting straight to the point explaining why the animal has earned its distinction and then gives a couple of other interesting facts for the reader to enjoy.

This is definitely one that students will love to pick up, put back down in disgust, and then pick it right up again. My kids (aged 9 and 11) and I love these kinds of books, so reading this was a no-brainer for us, and we were not disappointed!

Ick! Delightfully Disgusting Animal Dinners, Dwellings, and Defenses by Melissa Stewart was released in June 2020.

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

Cover Reveal for THE KATE IN BETWEEN, by Claire Swinarski

Hi Claire, and welcome to MG Book Village! It doesn’t seem like all that long ago that we were chatting about your debut novel, WHAT HAPPENS NEXT, so you’ve been very busy! Can you tell us a bit about your new novel, THE KATE IN BETWEEN, which is scheduled to be released on May 18, 2021 with Quill Tree Books?

THE KATE IN BETWEEN is about what happens when 12-year-old Kate goes viral for saving her best friend Haddie’s life. Only, just like so often happens in our digital culture, what actually happened isn’t what it looks like. Kate had actually recently ditched Haddie for a more popular crew, and the reason Haddie needed saving in the first place was Kate’s fault. It leads to all kinds of questions: who is Kate, really, when nobody’s looking? Who is Haddie? Are they good, are they bad? What do those words even mean? It’s about friendship conflict, which I had a lot of in middle school, but more importantly, it’s about discovering who you really are and what you really stand for. And we’re back in Wisconsin again–only this time, instead of the Northwoods, Kate is living in my hometown of Madison!

What’s one thing you learned from writing your first published book that you did differently while writing the second?

Writing KATE was a very collaborative process with my editor, which I’m not used to! I usually write by the seat of my pants, so having to have things plotted out ahead of time was out of my comfort zone. But I learned from WHAT HAPPENS NEXT just how important a great editor is, and I was really thankful to work with Alyssa Miele at Quill Tree once again. 

What three things can you tell our readers about this story or its inspiration?

First of all, I went through some incredibly difficult friendship conflict in middle school, as I mentioned above. It’s easy to write this off as drama, as if it’s something shallow and inconsequential to the rest of a girl’s life. But the truth is, middle school is a very formative time, and things that happened to me during those years are things I continue to wrestle with and mull over today. It’s the time of life when we’re really deciding what we believe about the world, so the interpersonal complexities we walk through at 12 are anything but inconsequential. Secondly, Kate’s mom is wrapped up in a multi-level marketing scheme. MLMs are really popular among women my age and I wanted to write about the effect being in one can have on someone’s family members. Thirdly, when I started the book, I couldn’t stop thinking about how differently kids are growing up now than they were in the 90s, when I was growing up. We simply didn’t have the access to share media the way middle schoolers do now–how is it changing the way they act and react to things? That was really interesting and fun to explore.

OK, let’s talk about the cover. I really love the colors that were chosen. Who was the illustrator, and did you have any input in its development?

Richie Pope illustrated the cover. Let me just say this: I have heard horror stories about writers not really liking their cover and having to do all of this awkward back-and-forth, and that has never happened to me. Both times I’ve seen my book covers, I have been in awe of the illustrator’s talent and the way they were able to bring the story to life! I was asked for input this time around but I told them the truth: I honestly had no vision in my head of this cover. I wanted the illustrator to be free to create something he thought would tease the story and expose a bit of the message. I think Richie hit it out of the park!

Let’s do the big reveal!!

Wow, it’s so eye-catching. When I look at it, the first word that comes to mind is “secret”. If you could describe it in one word, what comes to mind, and why?

I would say “conflicted”. Kate just looks so unsure, and I love that, because so much of the book rests on that feeling–that I-don’t-really-know worry. She truly looks like a Kate who’s in between versions of herself. 

Releasing one book and writing another during a pandemic are far from ideal conditions for any author, so let me first say congratulations for hanging in there. How have you managed to juggle all of your different hats during such an uncertain time?

Oh, my gosh. KATE was written before the pandemic hit, but I did all of the editing with absolutely no childcare! I have two very little kids so it was definitely a juggling act. Thankfully, I have an amazingly supportive husband who has a flexible job as well, so we were able to kind of pass the baton and balance everything. I also had to give myself time limits of how long I could look at the news. It was easy to read COVID horror stories and then be distracted while I was supposed to be living in Kate’s world!

Are you working on any other writing projects you can share with us at this time?

I’m dabbling in a bit of ghostwriting at the moment, so it’s very hush hush! But I would love to return with another middle grade book under my own name soon–I’m constantly thinking of ideas and scribbling stories. 

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

You can head to claireswinarski.com–I particularly love visiting classrooms virtually, so teachers, please feel free to reach out!

Thank you so much for joining us today, Claire, and I can’t wait to read this book when it’s available!

Thanks, Kathie! May can’t come quickly enough. 

Cover Reveal: STRONG AS FIRE, FIERCE AS FLAME, by Supriya Kelkar

Hi, Supriya! Thank you so much for coming back to the MG Book Village to reveal the cover of your new novel, STRONG AS FIRE, FIERCE AS FLAME!

Thank you so much for having me here! I’m so glad to be back.

Before we get to the cover, can you share what the book is about?

STRONG AS FIRE, FIERCE AS FLAME is the story of Meera, a young girl in British East India Company-controlled India in 1857. Meera is a child bride who escapes the life she has no say in only to end up a servant to a British officer in the East India Company. When the Indian rebellion spreads, Meera must choose between a life where she still doesn’t have a say in what happens to her, and fighting against the colonists. 

I got the idea for this book when I thought back to the only time I saw even the tiniest bit of representation in a book as a child. It was in THE SECRET GARDEN, and I remember feeling very uncomfortable knowing the Indians in the story were in the backdrop of the main character’s story in their own land. I wanted to challenge who we center in stories and so-called classics from this time period and make readers think about who is being left out. 

I know that, originally, the novel had a different title. Can you tell us how and why it changed, and how you felt about the change?

Because the original title had the word “pyre” in it, there was some concern not everyone would recognize what that word meant at the middle grade level. When we finally came to the title STRONG AS FIRE, FIERCE AS FLAME, I loved how empowering it was and how it captured the theme and a simile in the book. 

Your debut novel, AHIMSA, was also a work of historical fiction. Your most recent novel, AMERICAN AS PANEER PIE, was contemporary. Now, with STRONG AS FIRE, FIERCE AS FLAME,  you are back to historical fiction — and a bit further back in time than AHIMSA. Can you discuss your process, and how it differs, if at all, when you’re writing about the past or the present?

I think the biggest challenge for me when writing historical fiction is all the research it takes to make sure it not only works from a plot standpoint but that it is also historically accurate. With AHIMSA, I was able to ask my relatives who lived through that time period in 1942 in India. But STRONG AS FIRE, FIERCE AS FLAME takes place almost 100 years earlier, in 1857, when the sepoy mutiny against the British East India Company began in South Asia. Because I didn’t have the luxury of asking relatives to confirm details, I had to rely on a lot of historical texts. A family friend is a professor who gave me several old books written by East India Company officials from the 1600s through the 1800s. I found old writings by British Memsahibs, the wives of officers living there. All of those texts were at times really difficult to read because of the racism and because they were documenting all the looting that was done through colonization but they were valuable in describing how colonists felt and what they thought about the people whose land they were draining of its resources. There were smaller details, like what would someone from this part of India wear in the 1850s or whether it would be henna or alta on a bride’s hand in this part of India back then, that I just couldn’t confirm from books so I found a professor of fashion history in India who was really kind and helpful and filled in the details I needed. So I guess that was a long way of saying, historical fiction takes me a lot more time to write because it has to be historically accurate while also being an entertaining, moving story whose plot makes sense.

Why do you think it’s important for young people to read about the past? Is there anything that, when exploring history, fiction is particularly adept at doing?

I think it is so important for young people to read about the past to understand how we are where we are today. The industrial revolution didn’t happen the way we were taught in a short chapter in history class in school. The industrial revolution and many of the advances that happened in part because trillions of dollars were being stolen from colonized countries and sent over to the west. We can see the effects of colonization in so many countries, including our own. And we can also see how much has changed by reading about the past and how much hasn’t. For instance, child marriage, one of the topics covered in STRONG AS FIRE, FIERCE AS FLAME, still takes place around the world. Child marriage still takes place in America. The racism covered in the book, the centering of certain stories and the erasure of others still takes place today. I love how fiction can make readers really connect to someone’s experiences, even if they took place almost 200 years ago, and get a reader to care about the issues they dealt with, all of which are still around in today’s world, in the reader’s real world.

All right — let’s get to the cover! Who did the art? And how did you react when you first saw it?

The cover was designed by Sheila Smallwood, and the art is by Kate Forrester, who also did the cover art for AHIMSA. I was so thrilled to hear she was doing the cover for STRONG AS FIRE, FIERCE AS FLAME and couldn’t stop staring at that stunning cover when I saw it. I still stop to stare at it. I love the palette and how powerful the cover is with the flames behind Meera and the strength in her face. It shows the devastation of colonization in the background and has some of the metaphors for freedom from the book on it, like the kite and the birds. And I adore the lotuses and the plants showing Meera’s growth. It is a piece of art and I can’t wait to hold the finished book with this gorgeous cover on it.

Okay, let’s take a look!

WOW! It is remarkable! When can readers get their hands on STRONG AS FIRE, FIERCE AS FLAME, and where can they go to learn more about you and your work?

STRONG AS FIRE, FIERCE AS FLAME releases on February 24, 2021 and is available for pre-order today! Readers can learn more at my website, www.supriyakelkar.com.

Here are preorder links for STRONG AS FIRE, FIERCE AS FLAME:

Amazon
Bookshop.org
BN.com

And check out the book trailer for STRONG AS FIRE, FIERCE AS FLAME below!

Interview with Jennifer Gennari re: MUFFLED

We’re happy to have you visit MG Book Village today, Jennifer. Your second middle grade novel, MUFFLED, is scheduled for release on October 27th with Simon & Schuster. Can you tell us a bit about it, please?

Thank you for having me! I am excited for readers to meet Amelia, reluctant trombonist and earmuff wearer! Fifth grader Amelia is sensitive to sound yet has to learn to play an instrument, or, as she sees it, make noise on purpose. It’s a story about navigating school, making friends, and stepping out of her comfort zone on her own terms. Plus, a pet fish and the Boston Public Library!

I’m curious to know how the idea for this book came to you. What compelled you to tell this story?

Snow is the seed of MUFFLED! When I was young, a blizzard in my Boston suburb stopped all traffic for a few days, and I loved the silence. Later, I wondered, what if quiet was a need, not a want? Then I met my husband, who is a highly sensitive person. He has taught me to listen more and provide those breaks of sound and space around him. Many of his traits I borrowed for Amelia, but ultimately this is her story. Plus, I love trombones, although I played clarinet in elementary school (and quickly switched to choir!).

Is there a character that you most enjoyed writing, and which character is most like you?

It’s hard to choose one! Madge was fun — she is kind and loud and it takes a lot to make her upset. Amelia is a little like me, although I do not have a sensitivity to sound. I was the kid alone on the playground, reading and avoiding sports. And the biggest treat was to create Mr. Skerritt, the school counselor, who wheezes when he speaks (which irritates Amelia) but ultimately she realizes he is a friend.

Do you like to have a book planned out before you write, or does it develop as the writing happens?

I am a planner, and I often begin with an idea and a setting. Then, the characters develop through many, many revisions. I am a huge fan of revising! I read aloud and use index cards to rearrange scenes until I have a satisfying arc. MUFFLED is interesting, too, because it started as a novel-in-verse. A big shout-out to my editor, Catherine Laudone, who asked if I’d be willing to write it in prose. Her suggestions helped me deepen the secondary characters and add in fun people like Mr. Skerritt!

What’s one thing that’s different about publishing this book (besides a pandemic, of course!) from your debut book, MY MIXED-UP BERRY BLUE SUMMER.

Nothing compares to the thrill of a debut! The main difference is that I know what to expect with a second book, from marketing to promotion to sales. It’s hard to connect with readers during a pandemic but it was also hard to find an audience for MY MIXED-UP BERRY BLUE SUMMER, which takes place in Vermont in 2000 during the backlash against the nation’s first civil union law. Unfortunately, many schools and states weren’t ready yet for a middle grade novel about a girl with two moms. I am hoping that MUFFLED finds many more readers, especially as it is a Junior Library Guild selection.

The other big difference is that it was eight years ago! Now I know so many more authors and book-loving people. It really does take a village (like MG Book Village!) to make and share books, and I’m grateful to everyone, from agents, editors, and designers to booksellers, bloggers, and librarians. 

What do you hope your readers will take away from your story?

I hope everyone finds MUFFLED a fun read, with a holiday concert that goes wrong, multiplication tricks, and Boston T subway rides. Ultimately, compassion is an undercurrent that runs through my work — I believe we should be kind to one another and accept our different ways of experiencing the world. 

Where can our readers go to find out more about you and your writing, and do you have another writing project on which you’re currently working?

You can follow me on twitter @jengenn and learn more at www.jengennari.com. I am excited about my next middle grade, which is the story of a girl who wants to stop the sea from flooding the only home she’s ever known.

We wish you all the best with your book’s launch, Jennifer!

Jennifer Gennari is the author of MUFFLED (Simon & Schuster, 2020), a Junior Library Guild selection, and MY MIXED-UP BERRY BLUE SUMMER (Houghton Mifflin, 2012), a Bank Street Best Children’s Books of the Year selection, and an American Library Association Rainbow List title. An engaging speaker and teacher, she has presented at schools, SCBWI workshops, and Highlights Foundation. She serves as Marin County Co-Coordinator for the SF North and East Bay Region of SCBWI. A graduate of Vermont College of Fine Arts, she lives on the water in the San Francisco Bay Area. 

Five Things You Should Know About A THOUSAND QUESTIONS by Saadia Faruqi

FIVE THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT A THOUSAND QUESTIONS

Set against the backdrop of Karachi, Pakistan, Saadia Faruqi’s tender and honest middle grade novel tells the story of two girls navigating a summer of change and family upheaval with kind hearts, big dreams, and all the right questions. A Thousand Questions (Quill Tree Books, Oct 6). Preorder here.  

When I started writing A Thousand Questions, I wondered if anyone in the U.S. would be interested in reading about my birth country of Pakistan. Add to that the fact that this book isn’t about some big tragedy or major injustice, but rather a story about everyday life in another country. I’ve decided that the answer to this question is yes. Our young readers today are smart and curious. They look forward to books in unusual settings because they want to learn and be entertained.

So here are five important (and fun) things a reader will take away from A Thousand Questions:

  1. Life in other countries is very similar to ours.

Often, we tend to exoticize life in other countries. How many times have you heard a British accent and thought it sounded just the coolest? And how many times have you met someone from the Middle East and wondered how much freedom they had? A Thousand Questions showcases the everyday, mundane tasks of life in Pakistan through two perspectives: Mimi’s new, wondering perspective as an outsider, and Sakina’s weary, old perspective of someone who’s lived there all her life. From the streets of Karachi to the delicious foods cooked in Nani’s kitchen, there is so much American readers will find familiar and comforting.

2. Speaking of food, Pakistani cuisine is delicious.

Sakina’s father is the cook in Mimi’s grandparents’ house, and he takes pride in cooking the most delicious and mouthwatering food. Interestingly this isn’t the food you’d find in a south Asian restaurant (tikka or biryani for example) but ordinary household foods I grew up eating, such as aaloo gosht or pulao. What’s especially relevant is that Mimi, the American grandchild, finds the food too spicy in the beginning of the story. But as time goes by, she learns to appreciate what’s on the table. I think readers are like that as well: they may find a book like A Thousand Questions unusual at first, but they’ll hopefully love it as they continue to read.

3. Karachi is an amazing destination for tourists.

Like any other big city, Karachi (the financial center of Pakistan) has its fair share of problems. Overcrowding, poverty, bad roads, etc. But it’s also an incredibly diverse city and a premier destination for tourists to South Asia. I was born in Karachi and grew up there, so I know all the best places to visit, from British-era buildings and open-air vegetable markets, to multi-storied indoor amusement parks and big malls housing the latest international items. Mimi rides a camel on the beach, sits in a noisy rickshaw, and visits a mausoleum – all things I did in my youth. Aaliya Jaleel was the fantastic illustrator who created the cover of A Thousand Questions with Karachi’s beautiful – and to me, beloved – skyline.

4. Friendships can jump across language and cultural barriers.

At its heart, A Thousand Questions is a friendship story. Mimi arrives from America at her grandmother’s house, yearning for the father who’s left her. Sakina is the cook’s daughter, too busy trying to get admission into school while keeping it a secret from her family to be interested in the new guest. They hardly speak each other’s languages, and the way they’ve both grown up is worlds apart. Yet they find something in common: they both have big, impossible dreams. And they’re both determined to accomplish those dreams. If there’s a lesson in this book, it is that friendship takes courage and patience, but is always worth it.

5. Democracy is something to be grateful for.

During the course of the summer, while Mimi and Sakina are slowly becoming friends, there is also something bigger than them happening: a national election. Just like we’re counting down the days to the 2020 elections in the U.S. the characters in the book are counting down the days to elect their leaders. There is a lot of election drama, including violence and corruption. All this is important for American readers, both young and old, to read about. Only then can we truly understand the value of true democracy, and how fragile it can be.

I wrote A Thousand Questions to share my childhood memories with my readers. I wanted to show you my heritage: where I came from, and what made me who I am today. Preorder now by clicking here.

Saadia Faruqi is a Pakistani American author, essayist and interfaith activist. She writes the children’s early reader series “Yasmin” published by Capstone and other books for children, including middle grade novels “A Place At The Table” (HMH/Clarion 2020) co-written with Laura Shovan, and “A Thousand Questions” (Harper Collins 2020). She has also written “Brick Walls: Tales of Hope & Courage from Pakistan” a short story collection for adults and teens. Saadia is editor-in-chief of Blue Minaret, a magazine for Muslim art, poetry and prose, and was featured in Oprah Magazine in 2017 as a woman making a difference in her community. She resides in Houston, TX with her husband and children. 

Interview with Summer Rachel Short about THE MUTANT MUSHROOM TAKEOVER

Welcome to MG Book Village, Summer! I look forward to learning more about you and your writing. Could you tell our readers a little bit about yourself, please?

Thanks so much for having me here, Kathie! I’m a middle grade writer living in North Texas. I have a degree in journalism and have worked as a writer in some capacity pretty much all of my professional life. Though it wasn’t until about five years ago that I really got serious about writing fiction. Before that I’d written a few short stories here and there and drafted novel ideas that got tucked away in desk drawers. Then in the end of 2015, it was like a switch flipped and all of sudden writing a novel went from something on the backburner to a driving passion.

Your upcoming book, THE MUTANT MUSHROOM TAKEOVER, comes out on September 22nd. Can you give us a brief synopsis of it?

The book is a lightly spooky STEM novel that features eleven-year-old aspiring naturalist, Maggie, and her conspiracy theorist/YouTuber best friend, Nate, who must solve the mystery surrounding a strange glow-in-the-dark fungus that’s spreading through their small town. At the same time, Maggie is trying to put her family back together as her dad has recently taken a job across country. For now, she’s stuck in her gramma’s mobile home with her grumpy older brother, Ezra, who develops odd symptoms after their run-in with the fungus. All around town people and animals start sprouting unusual growths and exhibiting alarming behavior. Things get more dangerous as Maggie’s brother develops a bluish glow and a nagging cough. Maggie must use her scientific know-how and Nate’s impressive knowledge of all things spooky to save their town from the odd glowing mushrooms.

What’s one thing about this story that compelled you to write it?

Several years ago, my kids and I watched an old documentary called Fungi: The Rotten World About Us on YouTube. We were all so fascinated by fungi’s strange properties that I kept reading more until I stumbled upon an especially creepy kind of fungus with some very bizarre abilities. This real-life fungus features prominently in my book (I can’t say the name of it just yet as it’s a spoiler!). Another inspiration was my son, who was ten at the time, who wanted me to write a story about a character named Root Beard who possesses a beard made of living tree roots. That nugget became the impetus for an important character in the book. 

Is there a character in this book that you would have liked as a friend?

I have to say my main character’s best friend, Nate. He’s a conspiracy theorist/wanna-be YouTube star. He’s on the hunt for aliens, Bigfoot, and anything else spooky and sensational. He keeps Maggie on her toes and has a zest for adventure that I admire. He’s all about fun and doesn’t really give much thought to what people will think of all his wild ideas.

Did this story change a lot during the editing process?

The story changed a fair amount over the couple years I worked on it. In the earliest drafts, Maggie’s best friend, Nate, was actually an antagonist, but the more I wrote, the more he kept zinging out one liners and eventually I rewrote his character completely. Also, I was a PitchWars mentee in 2018 and The Mutant Mushroom Takeover was the manuscript I submitted. During that period, I got great feedback from my mentors on ways to strengthen the story, including reducing its length quite a bit. Originally, it was around 70,000 words and the final version is closer to 50,000. The book’s title has also changed a few times throughout its life. But the main characters’ opposites-attract friendship and the mystery of the strange fungus taking over their small town always remained at the heart.

How have you adapted your book’s release due to COVID?

More of my author activities are definitely moving online because of COVID. I’ve done a couple of virtual author panels so far and will also be doing my book launch party virtually with a local independent bookstore. While I’d love to see friends and family in person and sign all their books for my release, the virtual launch does let me connect with people who otherwise probably wouldn’t be able to attend.

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

My website is srachelshort.com. I’m also on Twitter at @Summer_Rachel_ and Instagram @summerrachelwrites.

Thank you so much for chatting with me today, Summer, and best of luck with your book’s release.

Summer lives in North Texas with her charming husband, three hilarious kids, a fluffy kitty, and a big yellow dog. Before spinning tales about mutant mushrooms, she once worked as a science reporter for her university’s newspaper, where she wrote on topics like nanotech tweezers, poultry farm pollution, and the nighttime habits of spiders and snakes. She enjoys
exploring new places with the family, playing tennis, and dreaming up ideas for her next book.

Interview: Amy Timberlake

Hi there, Amy! Thanks so much for stopping by the MG Book Village to chat about your new book, Skunk and Badger!

Hi Jarrett! Thanks for having me. Yay!

First off, can you tell us what the book is about?

Skunk and Badger is about two animals who are forced to become roommates. This does not go well. The badger — an Important Rock Scientist — has moved into the brownstone first. How will he do his Important Rock Work with a roommate? How will he find his focus, focus, focus? Difficulties abound. There are too many chickens.  

Can you share where these characters came from? Did the idea for the story come first, or did Badger and Skunk?

Skunk and Badger came first? I think? A long time ago, I tried to write a story in the style of Marjorie Sharmat’s “Nate the Great,” with a skunk as the main character. Also, as I was packing up in a recent move, I came across this story about a badger who collected stamps. Anyway, neither of these tries amounted to anything. Then years went by, and I was re-reading A. A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh stories and I thought, What if I wrote something like this but in my own style? What would that be like? That’s when I was able to start writing “Skunk and Badger.” 

In addition to the themes woven throughout the story, there are two topics delved into relatively deeply: rocks and chickens! Did you have an interest in these topics before sitting down to write Skunk and Badger? Did you do any research to learn more about them?

I find chickens funny. I like the way they peer and scrutinize and then, peck-peck-PECK! Also, all those tufts and booties and wattles! And why all the varieties? Look up ‘Transylvania Naked Neck chicken!’ What do you think of that? 

And rocks run in the family. My uncle is a geologist and my grandfather worked in the copper industry. My grandmother landscaped her front lawn with old mining equipment and tumbles of big rocks. In the home I grew up in, books were held upright with geode bookends. Still, none of this meant I was interested in rocks or geology. But then Badger walked into my story with his magnifying glass and his quartzite and I had to learn about rocks and geology. I’m doing the best I can to keep up with him. Badger knows far more about rocks than I do. 

Geology — whew! — it’s mind-bending! Or mind-stretching? Anyway, you have to conceptualize a huge span of time. I’ve got this Earth Science textbook. I’ve read histories, and geology written for non-scientists. I took a beginner geology course up at the North House Folk School in Grand Marais, Minnesota because I had to find a way in. Badger needed to see like a geologist, and that’s tough. Geologists don’t look at the landscape in the same way that everyone else does. Geologists read history and time in the rocks around them. That rolling hill? Those sharp-edged mountains? They look completely different to a geologist. You may see something still and lovely; a geologist sees action and violence. 

Skunk and Badger features both spot and full page illustrations by Jon Klassen (plus one absolutely stunning spread!). What was it like working with Jon? What did you think when you first saw his art for the book?

I’ve loved the process of working with Jon. I trust him! 

That said, we each did our work separately and so, when the first illustration arrived it felt as if it came out of the blue. Elise Howard, my editor at Algonquin Young Readers, emailed it. I opened that email and yelled. In front of me was Badger. He sat at his rock table. He was in his rock room. Then I said, “There he is. That’s Badger. He’s in his rock room.” I said this to myself, to Phil (my husband), and to Elise Howard (when she called later). Seeing that image felt both right and eerie. I mean, I recognized Badger, as if yeah, there was the badger who lived in my head, focus-focus-focusing on his Important Rock Work. How was that possible? I’d only just opened the email! Also, at that point, Jon and I had not spoken. I’m still shook by this. I don’t know how Jon did that — but wow.

Skunk and Badger couldn’t be more timely, but there are qualities of the writing, illustration, and general presentation that make it feel classic. While reading, I especially couldn’t help but think of The Wind and the Willows and the Frog and Toad books. Was this intentional? Did these books, or any other older children’s books, play a role in the process of Skunk and Badger‘s creation?

The writing was inspired by A.A. Milne in particular, so that sort of storytelling (the style of it, the shape and size of it, the craftsmanship) was in my head from the beginning. Jon wanted to illustrate the text using full-color spreads printed on thicker, glossy paper that are tucked into the book and bound with the rest of the pages. This is something done in traditional book publishing. Algonquin Young Readers and Jon took these ideas and ran with them. The design of this book is something very special. As a ‘book object’ I consider it a work of art. Honestly, it’s been dreamy to have any part in something like this!   

What do you hope your readers — especially the young ones — take away from Skunk and Badger?

I am hoping for discussion! Maybe about getting along? Or about apologies? Or how disparate creatures — feathered, scaled, or furred — come together in community? Or perhaps they’ll decide to take a day and see the world through Skunk’s eyes. I love how Skunk sees the world! 

Skunk and Badger is listed as the first book in a series. Can you tell us anything about what’s in store for this pair?

In the second book, it’s summer. Skunk and Badger leave the brownstone on an adventure that goes, well, alarmingly astray…  

Are you doing anything else — interviews, events, etc. — to celebrate the release of Skunk and Badger? If so, where can readers find out about that, as well as more about you and your work?

Everything is at amytimberlake.com

Is there a celebration of Skunk and Badger? YES! (See “Events” on amytimberlake.com.) Throughout September and October, there’ll be a virtual book tour where I’ll be live and in conversation with various folks including Jon Klassen, Lisa Yee, Betsy Bird, and Jim Higgins of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. There’s also a blog tour going on September 13-19th.

 I hope to see and meet you there!    

Thanks Jarret and MG Book Village for having me! I loved being here!

Amy Timberlake’s work has received a Newbery Honor, an Edgar, and a Golden Kite Award. One book was chosen to be a Book Sense Pick, another was reviewed in The New York Times Book Review. Her books have made several “best books of the year” lists, and she loves it whenever her books are chosen to be part of a state reading list. Chicago’s Lifeline Theatre has adapted both One Came Home and The Dirty Cowboy for the stage. She’s received residency fellowships from Hedgebrook, and The Anderson Center. She was recently awarded The Sterling North Legacy Award for Excellence in Children’s Literature. She is represented by Steven Malk at Writers House. Amy grew up in Hudson, Wisconsin. She attended Mount Holyoke College and majored in History. She also holds an M.A. in English/Creative Writing. Most of the time, she can be found in Chicago, where she lives with her husband. But on especially good days she can be found walking on a long, long trail.