FAST FORWARD FRIDAY – Great New Funny Stories by Joanne O’Connell

Joanne O’Connell’s debut book, BEAUTY AND THE BIN, comes out on February 18/21. Today, she’s sharing more great new funny stories with our readers.

Most of us could use a laugh right now (it’s the best medicine, right?) and that’s doubly true for children. Funny books are the perfect way to cheer readers up in troubled times. So, here’s a roundup of some great new stories to make you LOL even during lockdown. You’re welcome!  

Pizazz vs the New Kid: The super awesome new superhero series! 

By Sophy Henn. (out 7 January 2021, Simon & Schuster) 

HELLO! My name is PIZAZZ and I’m a superhero . . . You probably think that’s really AWESOME, and while it can be, it’s also REEEEEEEAAALLLLY annoying. 

So goes the latest fun, energetic read by illustrator and author Sophy Penn (she wrote the Pom Pom series, and the Bad Nana books). This is the second in the series about Pizazz, a child superhero who really wishes they could be normal.  

Mort the Meek and the Ravens’ Revenge 

By Rachel Delahaye (out 4 March 2021, Stripes Publishing). 

On Brutalia violence is a way of life. Ravenous ravens circle overhead, monstrous grot bears cause chaos, and the streets are bulging with brawls. But Mort isn’t like the other islanders – he’s determined to live peacefully… 

Mort is a boy who is determined to be a pacifist despite his gruesome upbringing – and the book is an adventure full of lots of ridiculous characters and predicaments.  

The Accidental Diary of B.U.G 

By Jen Carney. (Out 15 April 2021, Penguin Books) 

There is a new girl at Billie’s school, and Billie takes it upon herself to show her around, teach her the Biscuit Laws, and remind her that yes, two women can get married (after all, Billie’s mums’ wedding is the event of the year). But then suspicion sets in… The new girl seems very close to Billie’s best friend Layla. And doesn’t she know a little too much about the latest big school heist? 

Contemporary and funny, the diary of B.U.G is about friendship, (modern) families and dismantling biscuits. And the great news is that the second book in the series is also out in 2021. Not we’ve not got long to wait!  

Sam Wu is Not Afraid of Space 

By Katie Tsang, Kevin Tsang and illustrated by Nathan Reed (6 August 2020) 

Sam Wu is not afraid of many things. Definitely not ghosts, sharks, the dark, spiders or EVEN zombies! But space, well … 

In this brilliantly funny book, Sam gets the chance to go to Space Camp with his friends for the summer. All eyes are on winning the Space Camp Challenge trophy but it’s tricky being away from home and not everyone is a team player. 

You could read it as a standalone but it’s even better if you read the full Sam Wu series. 

Orphans of St Halibuts  

By Sophie Wills, illustrated by David Tazzyman. 

After the accidental demise and hasty burial of their beastly matron, life has been pretty perfect for the pupils of St. Halibuts. But they still have to put on a facade of normality for the postmistress and visiting inspectors. They don’t want anyone finding out they’re in the orphanage alone… 

This one’s a real page turner, full of stolen cakes, grumpy goats and some pretty major explosions. The pages are packed with fun. 

The Boy Who Made Everyone Laugh  

By Helen Rutter. (Out 4 February, Scholastic). 

Billy Plimpton is an eleven-year-old boy with a big dream. He wants to be a stand-up comedian when he grows up. A tough career for anyone, but surely impossible for Billy, who has a stammer. How will he find his voice, if his voice won’t let him speak? 

This is an against all odds, laugh-out-loud story, with an inspiring, heartfelt message for all readers.   

The Incredible Record Smashers 

By Jenny Pearson 

Lucy is a fixer of broken things. But there’s one thing she can’t fix and that’s her unhappy mum. Until she comes up with an INCREDIBLE plan. Along with her best friend, Sandesh, Lucy is going to SMASH a world record. But breaking a world RECORD when watermelons, kumquats, two baddies and a 30cm shatter-resistant school ruler are involved isn’t quite as easy as Lucy thought… 

Laugh-out-loud, while also dealing with difficult situations (Lucy’s mum suffers from depression) this is the brilliant next read from the author of The Super Miraculous Journey of Freddie Yates. 

Joanne O’Connell is a journalist, and author of Beauty and the Bin (‘a fresh and funny debut about friends, family, school and being a young eco-warrior’) which is out with Pan Macmillan on 18 February 2021. When she’s not writing for national newspapers and glossy magazines, Joanne whips up #noplastic homemade beauty recipes, from strawberry bath slushies to minty chocolate lip balm. She lives with her family in the English countryside. You can find her on Twitter @byesupermarkets or on Beautyandthebin.com 

FAST FORWARD FRIDAY – Tamzin Merchant

Hi Tamzin! Thank you so much for joining me today at MG Book Village! Your debut MG novel, THE HATMAKERS, is being released February 2nd, by Norton Young Readers. I was delighted to have a chance to read an eARC of it, and it’s filled with magic, adventure, rivalry, and a desperate quest. Can you give us a synopsis of it, please?

Hi Kathie! I’m so glad you enjoyed the book. A little synopsis of the book… The hero of the story is Cordelia Hatmaker, the youngest member of the Hatmaker family, who weave their handmade hats with magical ingredients.

Though the story begins with Cordelia’s father going missing in a shipwreck, it becomes a race against time as she discovers a plot to start a war with France. Cordelia and her friends must make the most magical hat they can and get it on the right royal head before all is lost!

I understand that the idea for this book was inspired by a dream you had after working on a television series where you were surrounded by many lovely hats. Can you tell us how you turned that dream into the start of a new book series?

The dream I had was so vivid – a family of magical Hatmakers who are rivals with a family of magical Bootmakers – that I woke up feeling really excited to tell it to people! My boyfriend – the first person to hear it, 10 seconds after I’d woken up – wisely advised that I write it down (dreams have a way of slipping away in the morning light, don’t they?). So I wrote down everything I could remember from the dream and found I didn’t want the story to stop! It took seven drafts and a lot of input from wise and brilliant people to turn the dream into an actual book, but all the elements from the dream remain. The dream was like a window into a world, which I climbed through.

There are many likeable (and unlikeable!) characters in this book, but I think Goose was one of my favorite supporting characters. I loved his relationship with Cordelia, and the risk they took to be friends when they knew their families would disapprove. Which character was most enjoyable for you to write?

I love that you love Goose! The friendship between Hatmaker and Bootmaker was so much fun to write. From a sheer chaotically joyful perspective, I especially enjoyed writing Sir Hugo’s scenes. He’s inspired by one or two actors I’ve come across in my career… writing his actorly antics was very silly fun. I also loved writing Great Aunt Petronella. She kept surprising me with the things she came out with!

This book is set in London in the 1700s. Did you have to do a lot of research about the time period?

I think acting in period dramas has made me familiar in some ways with the “everydayness” of the past, so I didn’t feel I wanted to do too much research into the time period itself other than what I knew from reading books set in the 1700s. But I did visit the Victoria and Albert museum archives and saw an ancient bicorn from the period, which felt magical in itself – thinking of the person who had worn it so long ago.

It was most important to me that the magic in the story felt authentic, so I researched Alchemists to try to make sure the magical system was based on something ancient and real. I also learned how to make a hat using a very old hatblock and a flatiron, the way the Hatmakers in the story do!

I loved the magical ingredients added to the Hatmaker creations to inspire certain qualities in the person who wore them. If you could design a writing hat, what sort of items would you include, and why?

That’s a great question! Writing is such a wonderful, challenging, adventuresome thing to do I would need a few things on a Writing Hat to make sure I was well-equipped for the task…

I think the whole hat would be woven out of paper straw and dyed inky blue – starting with paper and ink is always a good way to begin telling a story.

I’d add a Fabula Flower for inventiveness and tie it onto the hat with a good yarn. A Daedalian ribbon would help weave a complicated plot together nicely. I’d tuck a tailfeather from an Upstart Crow into the ribbon, to help me think of entertaining characters!

Lastly, I’d finish off the hat with a sprinkle of stardust. Every story should have a bit of stardust.

The cover of this book is beautiful; were you involved at all in the design of it, and who was the illustrator? What were your thoughts when you first saw it?

Isn’t it beautiful? I am very much hoping that people judge this book by its cover! Paola Escobar is the illustrator and she’s also created the most beautiful interior art for the book. I suggested the front of Hatmaker House for the cover and when I saw what Paola had come up with, it was completely beyond what I had imagined – I was utterly enchanted.

There are several surprising reveals in the course of reading this book, including the ending. Can you tell us when to expect the next book in the series, and is there anything about it you can share at this time?

Oooh I’m not quite sure what I’m allowed to share at the moment, other than the title – THE MAPMAKERS! It will be out in Spring 2022…

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

I’m on Twitter at @tamzinmerchant and Instagram @tamzinmerchant

Something I think is especially magical about books is that, once a reader has read a book, it becomes their story as much as it is the writers’. So I would LOVE to hear your reader’s ideas for magical hats!

Thank you very much for talking with me today, Tamzin, and all the best with your book’s release.

Thank you so much, it’s been lovely answering your questions! And I would like to end the interview by asking YOU a question… If YOU could make a magical hat for yourself, what would it be for and what magical things would you make it with?

Oh, thank you, this is the first time I’ve ever been asked a question! I would start with a red cowboy hat, like the one I used as a child when I went on adventures. I’d be sure to add a shimmering silver hatband like the swords carried by brave knights, a very elegant peacock feather so I was dressed appropriately for any occasion, a touch of Slips jelly to get me out of any sticky situation, and a sailor’s gold compass to tap so I could find my way back home.

Tamzin Merchant is a British-born actress best known for her roles in Pride & Prejudice, The Tudors, Salem, and Carnival Row. The Hatmakers is her debut novel. She lives in England.

Interview with Anita Yasuda re: MOTO MAKI’S GHOSTLY MYSTERIES series

Hi Anita, and welcome to MG Book Village! I’m so glad that we have a chance to talk about your upcoming series, Moto Maki’s Ghostly Mysteries, which releases in Summer 2021. Can you tell us about the first books being released in the series, and are there more books coming in this series?

I’m happy to be here, Kathie! I am so excited to chat with the MB Book Village community about my Hi-Lo middle-grade series. Currently, there are four books in Moto Maki’s Ghostly Mysteries. They are The Haunted Umbrella, The Cursed Cat, The Tiger Eye, and The Dream Eater. Each book highlights one ghost or yurei from Japanese folklore. Young readers will meet the harmless umbrella ghost or kasa obake that usually jumps around on one leg and enjoys surprising people. I’ve given the umbrella ghost a twist in this book to give readers chills. Other ghosts in the series are less suspenseful and scarier, such as the dream eater. I suggest readers turn on the lights before diving into this story.

I became fascinated with spooky Japanese tales as a student in Japan some thirty-plus years ago.

On away trips from school, we often stayed in old Japanese inns. My friends and I would try to scare each other. We imagined all sorts of creatures based on the sights, smells, and bumps in the night. It’s a wonder we got any sleep at all on those trips.

Can you give us four words to describe your main character?

Moto is a curious, capable, kind, and relatable kid whose love of treasure hunting accidentally leads him to ghosts.

The M stands for the mysteries that Moto and his best friend, Vijay, become entangled in.

The O stands for the odd supernatural creatures that follow Moto home.

The T stands for the terrific adventures Moto has while figuring out what each ghost wants.

The last O stands for the Japanese word obake that refers to ghosts, monsters, and other supernatural creatures in Japanese stories.

What is it about this series that you think will most appeal to young readers?

The series is action-packed with just enough adventure, suspense, and spook to keep readers hooked and pages turning. I think it will be the perfect series for children who like mysteries and ghosts. Because Moto Maki’s Ghostly Mysteries is a Hi-Lo, it will also appeal to reluctant readers in search of fast-moving text and those on the younger side of middle grade.

How did writing this book series differ from other series that you’ve written?

I have been fortunate to work on several early graphic novels and readers for children, but all of those were developed within their respective publishing houses. This series was different in that I pitched it directly to ABDO and was fortunate enough for an editor at ABDO to say yes. For the Moto Maki series, I dived deep into my past experiences living and working in Asia. I wanted the series to explore traditional ghosts but with two modern protagonists during the Festival of the Dead. The festival goes by other names. In Japan, it is called O-bon, and it usually begins in late July. In other parts of Asia, the English term for the festival is the Hungry Ghost Festival. During this time, ghosts, including those of ancestors, are said to return to the realm of the living. People leave out food and other offerings for the spirits.

How have you found time to incorporate writing into your daily life with the challenges of the pandemic?

I am an early riser. I wake at four am daily. After making a cup of tea, I begin my day with a meditation to center myself. Then, I might check correspondence or post something positive on my social media, but I limit my time spent on platforms to five minutes tops. Then, I plunge into my writing. Usually, I have several projects on the go. I find keeping a written agenda of all my assignments and due dates, edits, and correspondence essential for keeping on track and motivated. When the clock strikes seven, I get ready for a busy morning in the classroom, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Though the world is occupied by the pandemic, the best I can do is keep moving forward. I do this by following my routine and putting one foot or one letter in front of the other. I also think it’s important to take time away from work. So, after teaching, you will find me walking in the woods with my dog. It’s a time to clear my mind and connect with nature.

Can you give us one interesting tidbit about yourself that no one may think to ask you?

From the age of five, my family would spend each March break exploring independent bookstores all over Toronto. Some people might not think this a riveting holiday, but it began a lifelong love of books and inspired me to write.

Are you working on another writing project, and if so, is there any information you can share with us?

I have several projects that my agent is currently sending off into the world. These projects are dear to my heart. They celebrate my South Asian heritage and are rooted in my childhood experiences growing up the daughter of immigrants in North America.

I look forward to the day when readers will be able to hold these books in their hands.

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

Thank you for this opportunity to speak with MG Book Village community.

The best place for readers to connect with me is on my website www.anitayasuda.com. If teachers are looking to book Zoom or Skype visits, this is also where they can contact me.

I am also on Twitter @anita_yasuda and Instagram @anitayasudabooks.

I really appreciate you taking some time to talk to me today, Anita, and best of luck with your new series.

Anita Yasuda is the author of many books for young readers. Her middle-grade Hi-Lo chapter book series, Moto Maki’s Ghostly Mysteries, releases in 2021. The books published by Magic Wagon, ABDO Publishing, are illustrated by Francesca Ficorilli. Anita graduated from Victoria College, University of Toronto. She then began working in early childhood education and educational publishing. After living all over the world, she now lives in Ontario, Canada. You can follow Anita on Twitter @anita_yasuda, Instagram @anitayasudabooks, or visit her at www.anitayasuda.com.

Cover Reveal for EVERYWHERE BLUE, by Joanne Rossmassler Fritz

Hi Joanne, and thank you for joining me at MG Book Village today. We’re happy to share the cover of your upcoming debut novel, EVERYWHERE BLUE, set to be released in June 2021 with Holiday House. It must be such a thrill for you to finally see your hard work pay off in a finished book! Did you always want to be a writer?

Hi, Kathie, and it’s a pleasure to be here. Thank you for hosting my cover reveal. Yes, I’ve been writing for many decades so this is definitely a thrill for me! I’ve wanted to be a writer since I discovered the magic of books in elementary school. But I didn’t start writing until high school. In high school and college, I wrote a lot of angsty poetry. Then I let too many years go by while I worked and married and raised a family, and only occasionally dipped into writing, mostly picture books, since I had young children. My first brain aneurysm rupture in 2005 was the catalyst I needed to get motivated to take writing seriously!

Can you tell us a bit about this story, and why it was important for you to tell it?

EVERYWHERE BLUE is a novel in verse. Twelve-year-old Maddie (short for Madrigal) loves music, math, and everything in its place. When her beloved older brother, Strum, vanishes from his college campus, her well-ordered world is plunged into chaos. This story was important for me to tell because Maddie has an undiagnosed anxiety disorder and I’ve suffered from anxiety most of my life. I also played the oboe in school, as Maddie does. But that’s where the similarity ends. Maddie took on a life of her own as I revised (and revised and revised). For one thing, she’s a math genius. I am definitely not! The other reason it was important for me to tell this story is that I know a family whose son vanished and has never been found. So, I guess in a way I wanted closure for them (but to protect their privacy, I’ve changed all the details).

What three things would you say to a young reader you met in a bookstore, holding your book in their hands, to try and pique their interest?

I would say, “It’s about a shy, anxious girl who loves to read and loves music. It’s about family, and how siblings get along — and sometimes don’t get along! It’s about standing up for what you believe in.”

What have you learned in the process of getting this book published that’s been valuable to you?

Oh, I’ve learned so much! Especially patience! Many of my non-writer friends express surprise at how long the process takes. Another thing I’ve learned is how often I use the same words over and over in a manuscript. Apparently, I used the word “still” at least 50 times, and my editor suggested I delete most of them. So that was an eye-opener. Sally Morgridge has been a fantastic editor, encouraging me to go deeper and add more details, more poems to help readers “see” Strum, who is only seen in the memories and dialog of the other characters, and more poems to show the shifting relationships among the three siblings.

OK, let’s talk about your cover. Who was the illustration/designer, and were you involved in the process?

Elena Megalos created this gorgeous cover. My editor sent me samples of her work, early on. I liked her blue patterns. But I didn’t suggest anything. It’s my first book, and I figured I’d let the experts (editorial and marketing) work it out.

What was your first reaction when you saw it, and is there any particular detail that really stands out for you?

I was stunned! I mean, the details are fantastic! I love the oboe. It’s so realistic! But I’m also impressed by the tiny figure of Strum hiking along, with the symbolism of the glacier/iceberg. When you read the book, you’ll understand why.

Let’s share the cover with everyone!

Oh, wow, I love the mood that the blue gives to this cover, and as a former oboe player, I’m a HUGE fan of seeing that on the cover!

Thank you, Kathie. I hope people like it and I hope people buy the book!

Are you currently working on another writing project?

Yes! It’s another novel in verse. I don’t want to say too much about it yet, but I am finally writing about brain aneurysms, since I have survived two of them. Though it’s loosely based on my own experiences, it’s still fiction.

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

I have a website!  https://www.joannerossmasslerfritz.com/  You can also visit Holiday House’s website: https://holidayhouse.com/

All the best to you, Joanne, in your debut year, and I look forward to reading your book.

Thank you, Kathie!

Joanne Rossmassler Fritz is a poet and a member of SCBWI. She developed her love of children’s books by working at a school library, the independent bookstore Chester County Book and Music Company, and at a publishing company. She and her husband live outside West Chester, Pennsylvania. This is her debut novel.  

FAST FORWARD FRIDAY – Christina Li

Hi Christina! Thank you so much for joining me on Fast Forward Friday. I was so happy to have a chance to read an eARC of your upcoming debut novel, CLUES TO THE UNIVERSE. Your story has such rich characters; I can’t wait for everyone to meet Ro and Benji. Can you tell our readers about it, please?

Hi Kathie! Thank you so much for having me here! So the book is set in Sacramento, California in 1983, and the main characters are Ro Geraghty, an ambitious scientist grieving the unexpected death of her space-loving father and determined to finish the model rocket they started building together. Benji Burns is a shy, introverted artist who loves reading comic books, and whose favorite comic book series is none other than Spacebound, the comic book series his dad wrote after walking out on his family years ago. When the two characters meet after a folder mix-up in seventh grade science class, Benji helps Ro finish her rocket for the science fair, and Ro helps Benji search through the comic books and across the country for his long-absent father. 

Ro and Benji, in a sense, are two characters who are really different but come to find heartfelt connections between them. Ro is someone who has a plan for everything, and always tries to follow logical steps to solve any problem. However, she’s dealing with what seems to be insurmountable grief from losing her father the previous year, and after moving to a new school to start her seventh grade year, as a biracial Chinese-American kid, she’s also having a hard time adjusting and fitting in, and she is at a loss for how to navigate these issues. Benji, on the other hand, is painfully shy, and likes to keep to himself and his comics, something that gives him a sense of escapism from his school bully, living in the shadow of his baseball star brother, and a mother who worries far too much. Though Ro and Benji are vastly different characters, they are both coping with the loss and absence of their fathers, and through forming their unlikely friendship, Ro and Benji learn from each other, challenge each other, support each other through their tumultuous seventh grade year and help each other cope with their loss, and eventually, become each others’ found family. 

One of the things I most enjoyed is how the story is told in Ro and Benji’s alternating voices. Did you write this story in that format from the beginning, or did it develop in the course of edits?

CLUES TO THE UNIVERSE was dual-POV from the start! It was a wonderful surprise to me, too, as I’d only ever written in one first-person POV for my main characters, and now there were two of them. Coming up with both of their voices was one of the most challenging and fun things to explore throughout the course of writing my manuscript, and I loved putting in both Ro and Benji’s different personalities, characteristics, and quirks–Ro with her straightforward, grounded, and logical voice, and Benji with his flair for exaggeration and his love of the fantastical. 

My favorite character is Ro because I could relate to her tenacity, her unwillingness to give up when something isn’t working, and her need for things to work the way they’re supposed to. Did you have a character you most enjoyed writing, or who is most like you?

I’m so very glad you relate to Ro! Ro was actually the first voice that came to my mind, and she is so very dear to me. The way Ro interacts with her mother, her family’s Chinese culture, and her sense of not belonging were things that were very much a part of my experience growing up, and it was so incredibly validating and vivid to include those details in the book–everything from the way Ro’s mother calls her baobao (an affectionate Chinese word for children that stems from the word baobei, which means “treasure”) to the pastries that are included in one of the scenes. However, I would say the core of my personality leans more toward Benji. All his jokes aside, he’s just someone who is shy and trying to find his voice and scared of standing up for himself and going after what he really wants, and as a painfully shy kid growing up, a lot of my fears were the same as Benji’s. 

Your story touches on so many different topics, including grief, loss, family, friendship, STEAM, culture, art…it feels like I need to read it again to soak it all in. Could you share three things you hope a reader will take away from it?

Of course! I once heard a quote at an author event that “science and art are the same in that they both draw patterns out of chaos”, and that quote has very much stuck with me since then. CLUES TO THE UNIVERSE does touch on so many things, but ultimately, I hope the book evokes the wonder of those unexpected and profound connections between different people. Ro and Benji meet as characters who want nothing to do with each other, but at the end of the book, they discover parallels between rocket science and space comics, between their families, and in the loss and grief they face. I hope that readers come away from the book with warm hearts, thinking about the unexpected connections between things in the world, and thinking about the families they discover, born and found.

Is there anything about your publishing journey that has surprised you?

I’ve been so pleasantly surprised and blown away by just how supportive and loving the book community is! From debut authors cheering each other on to librarians taking time out of their busy days to shout out books on Twitter, everyone I’ve met (or virtually met!) has just so much love for books and it truly makes me so happy to get to be a part of this community. 

Can you tell us where to find out more about you and your writing, please?

My website is christinaliwrites.com, and I’m on Twitter @CLiwrites and on Instagram @christinaliwrites! Come drop by and say hi! 

Thanks again for talking with me today, and I look forward to seeing your book in the hands of readers in January.

Christina Li is a student at Stanford University studying Economics. In her spare time, when she is not stressing over her latest stats problem set, she is dreaming up characters and stories for children and young adults. Her debut, Clues to the Universe, is coming out from Quill Tree Books on January 12, 2021.

FAST FORWARD FRIDAY – Caroline Gertler

Hi, Caroline, and welcome to MG Book Village! Your middle grade debut, MANY POINTS OF ME, is one of the first books I’ve read to be released in 2021, and I fell in love with Georgia and her journey to discover who she is after her dad’s death.  Can you share the synopsis with the readers, please?

I’m excited to be here today, Kathie, and I’m glad you loved the book!

MANY POINTS OF ME is about Georgia Rosenbloom, who’s grieving the loss of her father, a famous artist. She feels like she shared so much of him with the world, especially with her best friend, Theo, who’s also an aspiring artist. When Georgia finds a sketch that Dad made of her before he died, she sets out to prove that he intended to paint her for his last, great unfinished painting. Set in New York City, this is a story of creativity, grief, friendship, and finding the many different points of yourself.

One of my favorite things about this story is how clearly the reader feels Georgia’s longing to know that she mattered to her father. Did this story find its inspiration in a character, or was there something else that drove you to write it?

I actually set out to write more of a caper, an art mystery. But as I got to know Georgia and her world better, it became a deeper emotional story of self-discovery. I’m lucky not to have experienced the kind of loss that Georgia has, but when I started writing this book, my family was going through a challenging time, and I dug in to those feelings.

Your passion for art definitely comes through in your writing, and not only do you have a background in art history, but you also give tours at The Met! Is there an aspect of the art world that it was important for you to incorporate into the story?

I love how stories like FROM THE MIXED-UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER and UNDER THE EGG and MASTERPIECE give children a magical connection to the Met. I wanted to write my own ode to the Met, which is an institution close to my heart. I wanted to capture the magic of being intimately acquainted with its art and spaces.

I was also intrigued by stories of artists like Mark Rothko and the lesser-known Paul Feeley, who died young, leaving children behind. I wondered what it would be like to grow up in the light (or shadow) of an artist’s legacy.

Lastly, statistics show that women’s artwork comprises a low percentage of the total art market and museum acquisitions and exhibitions. So I made sure to spotlight women artists in the book.

What do you hope a young reader might say after they read your book?

I hope that readers might find empathy for how Georgia treats Theo; some readers might find her unlikable at first. I was particularly interested in writing from the perspective of the friend who’s doing the changing and growing apart, rather than from the perspective of the one being pushed away. Georgia realizes she has many different “points” of herself that can all exist together; I hope understanding that concept helps readers accept their own many points. Life is a process of growth and change and acceptance.

Are you working on another writing project at the moment?

Yes! I’m grateful to have gotten a two-book contract, and my editor is currently reading a draft of my second novel for middle grade readers.

Oh, that’s great news! Where can our readers go to find out more about you and your writing?

Check out my website, www.carolinegertler.com. It includes a virtual tour of Georgia’s New York City world and the Met. I’m also active at instagram, @carolinegertler, and on twitter, @cmgertler.

Thank you so much for joining me today, and I wish you all the best with your book’s release in January!

Thanks to you, Kathie, for these thoughtful questions. MG Book Village is an incredible resource, and you’re so generous and enthusiastic in your support of middle grade authors!

Caroline Gertler has an MA in art history, and gives tours of Old Master paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She is a former children’s book editor, and Many Points of Me is her first novel. Caroline Gertler lives with her family in New York City.

FAST FORWARD FRIDAY – Chrystal Giles

Hi Chrystal, and welcome to Fast Forward Friday! I recently had the chance to read your debut MG book, TAKE BACK THE BLOCK (releases January 26, 2021), and I thought it was such a great read. Can you tell our readers a little bit about it, please?

Hi Kathie, thanks so much for having me! And thank you for reading TAKE BACK THE BLOCK, I am so glad you enjoyed it. It is my debut middle-grade novel about an eleven-year-old boy named Wes who makes activism personal when his neighborhood is targeted by a powerful developer. Readers will follow Wes on a journey of trying to save his home and navigate his changing friendships.


Your story takes place in a place called Kensington Oaks, which is a predominantly Black neighborhood. I love how you bring it to life with details like the slideshow with pictures of special memories from events held there. Is it based on a real place, and if not, how do you make it feel so real?

I am so glad the Oaks came alive for you! The Oaks is not a real neighborhood and I can not say it is directly based on a real neighborhood. It is however based on a combination of neighborhoods in my hometown of Charlotte, NC. I really wanted readers to be enveloped by Wes’s surroundings. For the Oaks to resonate it needed to feel real, almost like a character itself–so that was my goal, to introduce the Oaks and have readers get to know it, little by little. I slowly revealed small components of the neighborhood throughout the story just like I did with the other side characters.

This is such an important time in kid’s lives because of changing friendship dynamics, and Wes has not only emotional but physical distance from his tight-knit group. Which relationship was the most challenging for you to write? 

I love this question. I’m tempted to say Kari and Wes’s relationship was the most challenging to write, but I will go with the relationship between Wes and Brent. In the opening of the story, Wes and Brent were very close (best best friends) and then transitioned into a bit of a back-and-forth before things took a turn for the worse. Creating those small cracks in their relationship was challenging for sure. We know that friendships don’t always go through change on a consistent path, so highlighting the ebbs and flows was difficult at times (and fun too).

There’s a very strong theme of social activism that runs throughout this story, which I found very inspiring. What do you hope your young readers will take away from your story?

In short, I hope readers walk away with the knowledge that their voice matters! I would say directly to readers: “You can create change. YES YOU! It doesn’t take a huge cause or a large group–it takes one person, one voice. Speak up, speak out, take action!”

I really loved that your book is a great length, with short chapters, and it has an appeal to a wide audience range. Is that something you purposely tried to do, or did the story just take shape that way?

I’d love to say I had a master plan, but I didn’t. I like to read shorter middle-grade novels so I naturally wrote a shorter novel. My earlier drafts were even shorter than the version that will be published; it was beefed up a bit during each edit. After listening to educators, I have learned that books under 250 pages with shorter chapters are a need in the middle grade space and I am happy TAKE BACK THE BLOCK can help to fill that need.

OK, what is one question that I haven’t asked you but that you would like to answer?

I’d like to talk a little about how fun this book is. TAKE BACK THE BLOCK will inevitably be coined as timely and important, which is true but I would like to emphasize the humor and everyday realness of the characters. I tried really hard to balance the tough topics with levity. Wes and crew have moments of just hanging out, playing video games, and super funny banter–I hope readers will remember those moments too.

Are you working on another writing project right now, and where can our readers go to connect with you?

Yes, I have another stand-alone middle-grade novel that will be published in 2022 by Random House. Readers can find me on Twitter @creativelychrys, on Instagram @chrystaldgiles, and at my website, www.chrystaldgiles.com.

I’m so glad we had a chance to chat today, Chrystal, and thanks for taking the time to answer my questions.

Thank you again, Kathie, for having me and for asking incredibly thoughtful questions!

Chrystal D. Giles is a children’s book author and champion for diversity and representation in children’s literature. She is making her middle-grade debut with, Take Back the Block, a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection. Chrystal was a 2018 We Need Diverse Books mentee, and her poem “Dimples” appears in the poetry anthology Thanku: Poems of Gratitude (Millbrook). Chrystal lives outside Charlotte, North Carolina, with her husband and son.

Interview: Charise Mericle Harper

Hi Charise! Thank you so much for stopping by the MG Book Village to share about your recent release, SO EMBARRASSING: AWKWARD MOMENTS AND HOW TO GET THROUGH THEM! Before we get to the book, would you care to introduce yourself to our site’s readers?

Hello Readers!  This is always hard for me, I’m not super comfortable with listing off accomplishments.  When I do school visits, I have a sidekick character to help me explain things.  He’s an animated book, and we give the presentation together.  I guess he’s not going to be much help today.  Okay, so I’m on my own, here it goes. I like to make things. I make picture books, graphic novels, and chapter books.  I the draw pictures and I the write words.  Sometimes I to do both together and that is always my favorite.  I love making comics!

You did great! 🙂 Okay, so: SO EMBARRASSING. Where did the idea for such a book come from?

Well, it really was a collaborative project with my editor, Chris Duffy at Workman.  I wanted to make a book filled with comics and factual information, and wanted the content to be helpful to kids.  This is an unusual book, so it took some work to figure out how all the pieces were going to fit together.  There isn’t a big central story, but reappearing characters and two dedicated narrators helped give it a framework.  Then the fun started – I got to make comics!

Were you easily embarrassed as a kid? Did you ever want to stick a paper bag over your head?

Absolutely!  And I am a blusher!  While I’m not an expert on embarrassment, I feel like I have a pretty good understanding of that moment when it happens and the horror of it all.  How you just want to disappear. It’s awful. On the other hand, I’m always predisposed to look for humor in a situation, and this topic has a lot of opportunities for humor. 

Do you think, as we grow up, that we stop doing so many embarrassing things, or do we just stop getting embarrassed as easily?

Wait!  Are you saying that adults don’t get embarrassed? No one told me! I’m still operating at full kid level.  Let me take a second to let that sink in.

I’m pretty sure that no one likes the feeling of being embarrassed, so I suppose that adults might be good at avoiding potentially embarrassing situations. They have years and years of practice. So they know to say, No thanks, I won’t get on that electric scooter while you have a camera pointing at me. Also, perhaps the adult brain can understand that embarrassment isn’t such a big deal, that if you can laugh it off – you win.

Were there any issues or anecdotes that didn’t make the cut — that were removed from the book, say, during revisions?

I don’t think there were any big cuts to the book, but it was good that that we had a limited number of dedicated pages per chapter.  I could have easily made more comics with additional time and pages.  I didn’t include any of my own big embarrassment stories in the book, but inspired by the book, I made some comics about them and added them to my website.  The time my car caught on fire was pretty embarrassing, as was the time I fell in the middle of the street while walking my dogs.  That last one happened only last year. Yikes!

What do you hope your readers will take away from the book?

Well, first off, I hope they will smile and laugh.  There are some facts in the book, so I’m hoping those might be interesting and helpful. Also, knowing that you are not alone is a big help when facing an uncomfortable situation.  No one talks about embarrassment, what to do when it happens, and why it happens, yet it is something that we’ve all experienced.  When I was just starting this book, I was at a school visit with about sixty fifth graders. I told them about the new book I was working on, shared my own embarrassment story, and then asked if anyone wanted to share a story of their own.  I thought two or three brave students might put a hand up, but I was wrong.  More than half the class wanted to talk about something embarrassing that had happened to them. I couldn’t believe it.  It was fun, it was high energy, and it gave me confidence in my subject matter.  Embarrassment equals a good story.

SO EMBARRASSING is a marvelous mishmash — there are comics, lists, charts, facts, and at different points, the book reads like a self-help survival guide, a confession-filled memoir, an illustrated informational text, and a handful of other things besides! How did you come to use this approach? Are there any other topics that you could see making a book about in such a fashion?

You use the word mishmash and that was the exact recipe I used.  I put all the things I like to do together, mixed them up, and then made them fit.  A fair amount of it was not pre-planned, but just appeared as I kept working through the pages.  I’m really thankful to my editor for letting me play around with the format.  Not every publisher is going to be so comfortable with that.  I am looking for new topic right now.  I’m not sure if it’s going to be exactly like So Embarrassing. I might have to invent something new.  I felt very comfortable making this book. I’d love to make more.

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

My website holds more information than anyone could want.  There’s information about all my books, free comics to read, and free crafts to make.  You can find all this at www.chariseharper.com  Come on by!


Charise Mericle Harper is the author and illustrator of many children’s books, including the Just Grace series, the Fashion Kitty series, and the Next Best Junior Chef series. She lives in Oregon. She can be found at chariseharper.com.

FAST FORWARD FRIDAY – Megan Freeman

Welcome to Fast Forward Friday, Megan. Your debut book, ALONE, comes out on January 12, 2021. I recently had a chance to read it, and it’s such a unique story that adventure lovers are really going to enjoy. Can you tell our readers a bit about it, please?

Thanks so much for having me, Kathie. I’m delighted to be here.

Perfect for fans of Hatchet and the I Survived series, ALONE is a novel-in-verse that tells the story of a young girl who wakes up one day to find herself utterly alone in her small Colorado town.



When twelve-year-old Maddie hatches a scheme for a secret sleepover with her two best friends, she ends up waking up to a nightmare. She’s alone—left behind in a town that has been mysteriously evacuated and abandoned.



With no one to rely on, no power, and no working phone lines or internet access, Maddie slowly learns to survive on her own. Her only companions are a Rottweiler named George and all the books she can read. After a rough start, Maddie learns to trust her own ingenuity and invents clever ways to survive in a place that has been deserted and forgotten.



As months pass, she escapes natural disasters, looters, and wild animals. But Maddie’s most formidable enemy is the crushing loneliness she faces every day.

One of the things I loved about this story is that it’s written as a novel in verse, and moves very quickly. Why did you decide to write it in this format?

The earliest drafts of the book were actually written in prose, in third person voice, and in past tense. After many rounds of revisions and feedback, I decided to tap into my experience as a poet and I rewrote the entire story in verse, using first person voice and present tense. This allowed me to get inside Maddie’s head and explore the solitary and sensory nature of her experience. The poetry freed the story and I felt much freer as a writer.

One thing I noticed is how little dialogue there is since Maddie spends so much time alone. Did that make it easier or harder to write?

The lack of additional characters and dialogue initially made the writing very challenging, but once I introduced George, the rottweiler who stays with Maddie throughout the story, it got easier. George became someone she could interact with and talk to, and that eased the burden of the story being all inside Maddie’s head. The problem was also made easier by writing in verse. The poetry leant itself to expressing her various moods and states of being—things that might otherwise be revealed through dialogue and interaction with other characters—and it offered me a way in to Maddie’s inner experience.

If you’d been in a similar situation to Maddie, what’s one thing you think you would have done differently?

Wow, that’s a tough question, and one I’ve asked students before but no one has ever asked me. When I was twelve I couldn’t wait until I was old enough to drive, so I might have taken the car and tried driving out of town to see if I could find other people. I don’t know if I would have had Maddie’s foresight to consider the possibility of running out of gas and being stuck in the middle of nowhere.

I can also be pretty extroverted, so I might have decided to reveal myself to the looters immediately instead of waiting and watching to see if they were safe the way Maddie does. I guess it would just depend if my fear of them was greater than my eagerness to be with people again. But would interacting with them be a smart choice in the long run? Hard to say. There are real risks with every decision and the stakes are very high.

What would you like young readers to take away from your story?

I’ll quote James Patterson here and say I hope young readers love it so much that it makes them want to go right out and read another book. The more kids love reading the more books they read, and I want my book to be part of the cycle that creates enthusiastic lifelong readers.

I also hope they will be intrigued by the what ifs of the story. What if they were left behind like Maddie is? What might be challenging and what might be exciting? What kind of animal would they want as their companion? How might they solve some of the problems Maddie faces? What problems might they encounter that she doesn’t have? The question what if opens the doorway to imagination and it’s really fun to walk through. I hope my book is an invitation to imagination.

Can you tell us where to find out more about you and your writing, please?

At MeganEFreeman.com, readers can find more information about me, as well as information about author events and how to find ALONE in bookstores. It also has links to my social media, where I love interacting with readers directly.

Thank you so much for joining us today, and I appreciate you taking the time to chat with me.

I loved it, and I really appreciate everything Middle Grade Book Village does for readers, teachers, writers, and families. Thank you so much!

Megan E. Freeman attended an elementary school where poets came into the classrooms every week to teach poetry, and she has been a writer ever since. She writes middle-grade and young adult fiction as well as poetry for adults. Also an award-winning teacher, Megan has decades of experience teaching in the arts and humanities and is nationally recognized for presenting workshops and speaking to audiences across the country. Megan used to live in northeast Los Angeles, central Ohio, northern Norway, and on Caribbean cruise ships. Now she lives near Boulder, Colorado.

FAST FORWARD FRIDAY – Basil Sylvester

Hi Basil! I’m so glad you could join me today on Fast Forward Friday. Your middle grade debut, THE FABULOUS ZED WATSON!, is co-authored with your dad, Kevin Sylvester, and comes out on January 26, 2021 with HarperCollins. I was delighted to have a chance to read an ARC, and I absolutely loved this story. It’s funny, uplifting, original, and who can resist a road trip to search for a long lost book? Can you give us a bit of a synopsis of it, please?

Hi Kathie! Thanks for having me! I definitely can; the book is about an energetic kid named Zed who is obsessed with finding a long-lost manuscript called The Monster’s Castle. They have to go on a road trip to gather all the clues to find it, except they don’t have a car—so they have to go along with their neighbour, Gabe, and his sister Sam. It’s a book filled with road-side stops, bad puns, ice cream, clues, new friends, and lots of fictional monsters!

Zed is such an entertaining character. I especially liked when they did something we weren’t expecting, such as thinking like a corpse, or dancing in the Potato Dance Off. Yet I also learned a lot from Zed about what it means to be nonbinary while they explained it to their friend, Gabe, and the challenges they’ve faced. How did you find that balance between educating and entertaining as you wrote them?

I’m really glad you liked their weirdness—the corpse moment was one that Kevin wrote separately, and I laughed out loud when he showed it to me! I think it’s important to have conversations in the book that sound like people would actually talk—if we just went for a straight lecture or information session, it wouldn’t be realistic anyway. So that’s kind of where some of the Own Voices element comes in, because when people ask me about gender or lgbtq+ stuff, I tend to address it with humour/levity. I also think that if trans and/or nonbinary kids read this book, they would get bored if it was just an info session for the uninitiated, so addressing stuff like this with humour means it’s more engaging for everyone and just a better read.

What was it like to co-author a book with your dad, and how did the collaboration work in terms of the writing process? Did you also have input on his illustrations?

It was so fun, honestly! We wrote an outline super quickly—we just seemed to be on the same page so to speak. Then we split it up in parts—Kevin would write a certain part if he was excited about it, I would write the gender stuff and a lot of the character-driven conversations, and so on. Then we got together and read everything out loud, and edited as we wrote. While I was reading, he would illustrate—I had a lot of input, he was very generous about that. He originally drew a couple character designs for Zed and I remember I mainly directed him on that—I said I wanted Zed to be short and wearing lots of oversized stuff, and to be a bit chubby, like me.

I’m always drawn to a story where there’s a hunt for missing items, but I could never solve a single clue. Do you enjoy scavenger hunts, and how did you come up with such creative clues?

As a kid I absolutely loved them! in fact, my dad and my mom used to make scavenger hunts for us and hand-write notes from different fictional characters that would lead us around the house and backyard. There’s something so incredibly special about solving a clue yourself and getting a reward for it! I’m a bit self conscious about the clues in Zed because I worry they’re a bit opaque, but sometimes the fun is just watching Zed and Gabe run around and doing zany things. The clues were all about places, and initially it was all going to be stuff just from The Monster’s Castle, but we realized that wouldn’t be as fun since the reader wouldn’t know it. So we added the plant/flower clues to make it a bit more complex and also so that you could learn things while watching them solve it!

What’s one thing that’s surprised you about the publishing process?

I would say for our book the thing that surprised me the most was the trust they put in me with a lot of the aspects of the design, even though I’m an unknown to them! For instance, they sent a cover mock-up and I suggested a different style of font—which they then allowed me to do! Me! I’m really proud of the cover we did—it was based on my original idea and then I, who is in no way a professional artist or any kind of artistic talent, got to do the cover lettering and the lettering on the spine! It was very exciting to work with our editor and the art department on that, and I feel really great about how it turned out!

What would you like to hear a young reader say after they’ve read your book?

I just hope they enjoy it, and like Zed. I hope some LGBTQ+ kids will see themselves and have fun reading a book where the main character is like them and gets to do all kinds of cool things. I hope they say that it inspired them to learn something else—like, I don’t know, gardening or the history of pulp horror novels, or maybe that it inspired them to write. I think I’d like that a lot.

Do you have another book on which you’re working right now?

Basil: Not exactly—I’m trying to finish my bachelor’s degree (sigh). But I am toying with writing an adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, possibly for YA readers. I’m not sure yet, and I don’t want to jinx it! But I can tell you there will be a queer element to it, most definitely.

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

To be honest, I am not all that active on social media, but I am trying to update my writing Instagram account more, @basiltheowrites (Theodore is my middle name).

Thank you so much for talking with me today, Basil, and I wish you all the best with your book’s launch in January.

Thanks so much Kathie! What an honour, and I’m so glad you enjoyed the book! The published version is going to be even better—we caught a few mistakes in the ARC—so look out for that on January 26! Have a great weekend everyone, and happy reading!

BASIL SYLVESTER is a nonbinary bookseller. Their favourite monsters are vampires. They live in Toronto. The Fabulous Zed Watson! is their first book.