Writing from Two Points of View by Chad Lucas

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

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

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

Also Me:Great question.

Me: Are you going for flattery already?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And here’s a bit more about the book:

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

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

Middle Grade Books About Substance Abuse, Addiction and Alcoholism

by Afoma Umesi

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

Life in the Balance

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

Bringing Me Back

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

Where We Used to Roam

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

Genesis Begins Again

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

The Secret Sheriff of Sixth Grade

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

Sunny Side Up

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

Violets are Blue

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

Sure Signs of Crazy

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

The True History of Lyndie B. Hawkins

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

Mostly the Honest Truth

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

The Mending Summer

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

Across the Desert

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

Interview with Jess Redman about THE ADVENTURE IS NOW

Kathie: Hi Jess! I appreciate you taking some time today to answer some questions about your upcoming novel, THE ADVENTURE IS NOW, which comes out on May 4th with Farrar, Straus and Giroux. I recently had the opportunity to read it, and once again, found myself swept up in one of your stories. Can you please tell our readers about it?

Jess: Kathie, thank you so much for having me! Working on this story over this past year has brought me much needed joy, and I’m very excited it’s almost out in the world.

THE ADVENTURE IS NOW is about 12-year-old Milton P. Greene, who has been having the Most Totally, Terribly, Horribly Rotten Year of All Time. He has zero friends, his parents are divorcing, and he can’t seem to do anything right. The best part of his day is when he plays his video game Isle of Wild and gets to forget how horribly heinous everything is for a few hours.

Things take a turn for the spectacular when Milton sent to the Lone Island to stay with his ecologist uncle. On the island, he finds some new friends, a field guide full of fantastical plants and animals, and a series of clues that will lead to a hidden treasure. And so a wild and wondrous real-life adventure begins!

And something really neat—this book features an illustrated field guide complete with clues for readers to solve along with Milton.

Kathie: Although this story reads like realistic fiction, there’s a fantastical element to Lone Island that feels otherworldly at times. Can you tell us the inspiration behind this and why you chose to use it in this story?

Jess: When I was growing up, I loved two kinds of stories: fantasy and contemporary books that made me cry. Unsurprisingly, most of what I write now combines these preferences, although THE ADVENTURE IS NOW is considerably lower on the tear-jerker scale than my first two books.

The contemporary element allows me to explore real-life issues, but the fantasy element gives me the freedom to bend the rules, explore new perspectives, add an extra layer of drama and magic. Characters can be larger than life, stars can fall out of the sky, plants can have feelings. 

My rule for my stories is this: Everything doesn’t have to be real. It just has to be true.

Kathie: Milton is a lovable and somewhat quirky character who I loved watching embark on a quest to find a treasure but finding something much more important than that. What did you learn from him as you wrote his story?

Jess: I love writing somewhat eccentric, slightly larger-than-life characters like Milton, and Faye from my debut, THE MIRACULOUS. Both Milton and Faye showed up in my brain pretty fully-formed—their clothing, their style of speech, their interests, it was all there. But while Faye is a secondary character, Milton is center stage.

Because I write from a close third-person perspective, Milton’s personality is infused in every aspect of the story, from the goofy wordplay to catchphrases like Mighty moles and voles! It was so much fun to write in that voice and to get to draw from a lighter, sillier side of myself.

But the story also delves into Milton’s anxiety and loneliness. Milton’s friendships with Fig, Rafi, and Gabe challenge and grow him. Out in nature, Milton is electricity-free and finally connected (whether he wants to be or not) with who he is and who he wants to be.

Anxiety, loneliness, too much screen time—these were definitely issues I dealt with this last year—I think a lot of us did! There was a lot of rottenness, but writing this story helped me find some spectaculousness along with Milton, and I hope readers will do the same.

Kathie: Relationships are at the heart of this story, both those between people and with the environment; I particularly enjoyed Milton and Fig’s growing friendship. Which relationship was the most challenging for you to write?

Jess: In earlier versions of this story, there were six kids on this adventure. I paired this down to four during edits, because I wanted more space to explore each relationship dynamic.

The most challenging relationship to get just right was between Rafi and Fig. In earlier versions, Rafi was more of a bully, and Fig had been nothing but kind to him. I decided to shift this to a more adversarial relationship, because Rafi needed to be part of the adventure, and I couldn’t let him come along if he was going to be unsafe for Fig, emotionally speaking. So I added some complexity to how Fig and Rafi met, what they were each going through, why they didn’t connect.

This is something I worked on with Dustin in QUINTESSENCE too. I like to have characters who struggle with anger and aren’t immediately likable, because in the real world these are often the kids who need the most love. But I also want to be aware of the messages I’m sending to readers about bullying.

Kathie: There are so many unique elements in this story. I think my favourite was the Beautimous Lemallby. If you woke up tomorrow morning and found one thing in your backyard, what do you hope it would be?

Jess: I have to say the Beautimous Lemallaby would probably be my choice too. If Little SmooshieFace—aka Lord Snarlsy—were in my backyard, I would invite him to sit on my shoulder and I would feed him a steady supply of SunBurst Blossoms. Although our 18-year-old cat Soul Pie would be very jealous.

I got to invent a whole bunch of plants and animals for this story. Writing the field guide in Dr. Ada Paradis’s voice—another quirky (although off-stage) character—was so much fun and seeing it brought to life with Cassie Gonzales’s art work was amazing. I was able to include quite a bit of real biology and ecology in as well, and a major part of the plot deals with environmental protection and the power of nature.

Kathie: What’s something important for readers to know about this story?

Jess:  At this point in my authorhood journey, I’ve worked on both serious and light-hearted projects, and what I’ve found is that the line isn’t as clear as readers might think. Funny books can have a great deal of heart and truth in them. Serious books can make you laugh out loud.

Some reviewers of THE ADVENTURE IS NOW have focused on the humorous side of the story, like The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books who recently called it a “Roald Dahl-esque delight.” Some have focused on the emotional aspects, like Publishers Weekly who said it “renders compassionate characters…placing an emphasis on honesty and emotional directness that makes for an affirming adventure.” I would like to think it has both humor and heart.

Kathie: Are you working on another project, and where can our readers find out more about you and your writing?

Jess: I’m always writing something new! I’ve been working on a story about a surfer girl who washes up on an island that’s not on any maps and meets a boy who’s been sending messages in bottles for the past hundred years. It’s an upper middle-grade magical-historical-timey-wimey contemporary (that’s a thing, right?) that delves into environmental issues, growing up, and living forever. For now, it’s called EVERLASTING ISLAND, and I’m excited to share it sometime in the future.

Kathie: Thank you so much for chatting with me today, Jess. I loved learning more about THE ADVENTURE IS NOW, and I wish you all the best with its launch.

Jess: Thank you so much for having me on MG Book Village and for all you do to support authors! And, readers, please stop by my website www.jessredman.com because I have some exciting launch events coming up including free school visits, a preorder campaign, and lots of resources like teaching guides and book trailers.

Jess Redman is a therapist and author of books for young readers with FSG/Macmillan. Her first book, The Miraculous, was a Bank Street Best Children’s Book of 2019, an Amazon Best Book of 2019, and was called “layered, engaging, and emotionally true” in a Kirkus starred review. Her second book, Quintessence, was an NCTE Charlotte Huck Honor Book. Her third book, The Adventure Is Now, is scheduled for publication on May 4, 2021, and has been described by BCCB as “a Roald Dahl-esque delight.” Redman currently lives in Florida with her husband, two young children, an old cat named SoulPie, and a fish named Annie. Visit her at www.jessredman.com or on Twitter and Instagram at @Jess__Red.

FAST FORWARD FRIDAY – Yvette Clark

Kathie: Welcome to Fast Forward Friday, Yvette, I’m so happy to have you here today. Your debut novel, GLITTER GETS EVERYWHERE, will be released on May 4th with HarperCollins. I recently had a chance to read an eARC, and I LOVED this story. Can you please tell our readers a bit about it?

Yvette: Thank you for having me, Kathie, and for your kind words about my book. I’m delighted you enjoyed it, and I’m so pleased to have a chance to chat with you today.

In GLITTER GETS EVERYWHERE, ten-year-old Londoner Kitty Wentworth, her infuriatingly perfect older sister, Imogen, and her devastated father are struggling to come to terms with her mother’s recent death. Surrounded by a group of quirky, affectionate characters, including a fun next-door neighbor who hopes to heal the family through her baking, a loving grandmother, and a loyal best friend, Kitty attempts to navigate life without her beloved Mum. When Kitty’s dad announces that the family is temporarily moving from London to New York City, Kitty’s new normal comes crashing down. Why does everything have to keep changing when all Kitty wants to do is turn back the clock? It takes the care and patience of the people who love her, the wise words her mum left in a series of birthday letters, and the friendship of a blue-haired boy to bring the color back into Kitty’s life. While grief, like glitter, does indeed get everywhere, Kitty learns that so do love and hope.

Kathie: I really loved that we got to spend a lot of time in London understanding Kitty’s life there before we travelled with her to New York. It gave us a better sense of how different life in New York was for her. How much of Kitty’s experience moving overseas is based on your own, and what was that adjustment like for you?

Yvette: For me, London and New York City are like characters in the story, which is one of the reasons I was delighted to see both skylines feature on the beautiful cover! I’ve raised my children in both cities. It was fun to write a book that captured some of the differences and similarities between the two places—the school systems, the cultural references, the energy of the two cities, and of course, the sometimes unexpected language differences! When I was Kitty’s age, one of my favorite books was Tales of a Fourth-Grade Nothing by the incredible Judy Blume. Growing up in a sleepy village in England, I was fascinated to read about life as a kid in New York City. I wanted to be surrounded by soaring skyscrapers, not flat fields. I’ve lived in New York City for many years but getting a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty, the steam that comes out of the street, and even lines of yellow cabs still takes my breath away at times. That said, I love London and miss it desperately. Due to the pandemic, I haven’t been there for over eighteen months. I may just kiss the ground when I finally land at Heathrow, with a mask on, of course!

Kathie: I love stories where there are supportive adults helping kids through difficult times, and I especially appreciated how you normalized the therapy experience. Which of the adult characters is most like you?

Yvette: Me too! There is definitely a bit of me in every character in the book, both the adults and the children. I hadn’t thought specifically about which adult I am most like until you asked this question, but the answer is probably Kitty’s grandmother. I love the relationship Gran has with Kitty. I do wish I could bake like Mrs. Allison, though! Kitty’s mum assembles a support network for her daughters before she dies, and having therapists as part of that support system was important to me. 

Kathie: Kids often enjoy reading “sad” books, and although this book has grief as a central theme, I’m not sure I’d classify it as a “sad” book because of all the hope in it. What are your thoughts?

Yvette: My favorite stories are ones that make you laugh and cry, and that was what I set out to write. Readers have told me that they were in floods of tears but also laughed out loud while reading the story—I certainly did while writing it! I tried to introduce moments of light, humor, and hope throughout the book, particularly after some of the darkest times, for example, the appearance of Sir Lancelot, the flatulent French bulldog after Kitty’s mum’s funeral—that chapter is appropriately entitled Light Relief. I love the fact that many middle grade books tackle difficult topics in stories underpinned by hope.

Kathie: This story takes a very in-depth look at the grieving process, and the many faces of it. What sort of research did you do to understand how a young person may deal with it?

Yvette: I did a lot of research about the grieving process, specifically into tweens and teens grieving the loss of a parent. I read and watched interviews with dozens of young people who spoke honestly and heart-breakingly about the different stages of their grief journeys. I’m fortunate to have both my parents, but a dear friend of mine died when I was Kitty’s age. She was brilliant and sweet and funny. Her name was Laura, and I named Kitty’s mum after her. I can recall my feelings of shock, grief, anger, and despair as clearly as if it were yesterday. I still find grief glitter everywhere, but now, it mostly brings back happy memories of my friend and makes me smile.

Kathie: What’s one thing you learned in the process of writing and publishing this book that you didn’t know before?

Yvette: The most surprising and delightful part of the journey is how supportive, generous, and encouraging the writing community is. I was fortunate enough to get wonderful blurbs from amazing authors. I was blown away that some of my writing idols not only read but also loved my book. I’m eternally grateful to be part of the community of 2021 debut authors. I feel about this group the way I feel about the group of friends I met when I had my first child—you go through all these experiences together for the first time and form lifelong bonds. I have loved getting to know other authors, librarians, teachers, parents, and of course, my wonderful readers. 

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

Yvette: Yes! I’m currently writing my next middle grade novel, which is scheduled for release in 2023 from HarperCollins. I’m so happy to be working with my brilliant editor, Tara Weikum, again. 

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

Yvette: Please visit me online at www.yvetteclark.com, or find me on Twitter @yvettewrites.

I’d love for you and your readers to join me for my virtual book launch hosted by the legendary Books of Wonder at 1 PM EST on May 8th. I’ll be in conversation with the fabulous Ali Standish. You can sign up at https://booksofwonder.com/blogs/upcoming/launch-https://www.yvetteclark.com/event-for-glitter-gets-everywhere-by-yvette-clark

Kathie: Thanks so much for chatting with me today, Yvette, and I hope young readers enjoy this book as much as I did.

Yvette: Thank you, Kathie, and thanks for all the support that you and the MGBookVillage team give to authors. I hope young readers find joy and hope in Kitty’s story. I truly loved writing every word.

Yvette Clark is the author of novels for young readers. GLITTER GETS EVERYWHERE, her debut middle-grade novel, will be published by HarperCollins in May 2021. A Brit by birth and a New Yorker by design, Yvette lives in Manhattan with her husband, two teenagers, and a small blue cat. She loves reading, writing, trampolining, singing and cooking, and plans one day to attempt doing them all at the same time! Yvette is proud to be a mentor for a fantastic organization called Girls Write Now. Find out more about them here: www.girlswritenow.org

“Building the World of Wilderlore,” by Amanda Foody

I’ve been a devoted fantasy reader since I was a child. I loved all books, but there was something special about the stories that transported me to new worlds. It wasn’t so much because the real world bored me, but I already knew my place in it. My favorite mystery or thriller or contemporary books might’ve been entertaining, but the stories truly ended when they reached their final page.

Meanwhile, fantasy novels offered something . . . more. Almost like a choose your own adventure, to be carried on by my own imagination.

Where did I fit into this new world?

The Accidental Apprentice, the opening of the Wilderlore series, is my first middle grade fantasy novel. Prior to it, I’ve only published YA fantasy books, all of which are cast in worlds that I could imagine myself into, but would perhaps be frightened to do so. I knew even before I started drafting Wilderlore that I wanted to create a setting a reader would love to visit. A setting that was perfect for a choose your own adventure.

I started with a very particular word in that idea: choose. This may be a traditional novel that follows a designated hero—Barclay Thorne, a clever but stubborn mushroom farmer who has no interest in going on an adventure—but if I wanted readers to take up the mantle after Barclay’s story ended, then I needed to offer them choices of their own, buried within the story.

In Barclay’s world, there are tons of fantasical animals known as Beasts, and if you form magical bond with one, you’ll share some of its powers yourself—and you’ll thus be dubbed a Lore Keeper.

This concept immediately offered such fun and exciting choice: If you were a Lore Keeper, what kind of Beast would you bond with?

I adored this foundational question most of all, because it permeates the entire story. Every new Beast that Barclay encounters, no matter how adorable or monstrous, they’re a possibility. If not so much to him, but to the reader. And so I made sure to highlight that question. I threw in tons of Beastly description, including an encyclopedia as bonus content at the end of the book. I added depth to the choice, different Beastly classifications, different notions to consider. Would you rather one or two powerful Beasts or many weaker ones? What types of magic would you like? What would be the most useful magic in your story?

And this is just one of the choices presented. The Beasts live in six diferent regions of the world, called Wilderlands, each based on a different sort of enviornmental biome. Where would your adventure begin? In the Woods, like Barclay? What about in the Lore Keeper capital in the Mountains? The famous university of the Desert?

What would your Lore Keeper job be? Would you try to obtain a Guild license or strike out on your own? If you were to join the Guild, which type of license would you pick?

I had so much fun creating these layers of choices and categories that my younger self would’ve adored. But by far, the most fun I had in creating the world of Wilderlore was the details. Because even with all these exciting decisions, my younger self wouldn’t have struck off on my own imaginative adventure into a world if I didn’t like that world.

And so, true to the themes of the story, I let my imagination run absolutely wild with details! The Wilderlands needed a newspaper, so I named it the Keeper’s Khronicle. What would a young Lore Keeper be interested in? Well, like regular kids, probably sports, collectibles, and more, and thus came the competitive Dooling tournament and the champion cards. I threw in boutique stores and celebrities, delectible foods and famous landmarks. Essentially, the more I could come up with, the more vivid I could make the setting, the better!

From its deliberate decisions to sneaky whimsical discoveries, building the world of Wilderlore was and continues to be an absolute joy. It feels like extending a hand to my inner child and letting her guide the journey. It feels like coming home. And if it sparks the imagination of even a single reader, then I will consider my own adventure writing it to be a spectacular success.

Click HERE to check out the Pinterest board Amanda used during the writing of Wilderlore.

Amanda Foody has always considered imagination to be our best attempt at magic. After a double life as an accountant preparing taxes for multinational corporations, she now spends her free time brewing and fermenting foods much more easily obtained at her local grocery store. She lives in Boston, MA with a hoard of books guarded by the most vicious of feline companions, Jelly Bean. Her books include the Wilderlore series, The Shadow Game series and more. Her next YA novel, All of Us Villains, co-authored with Christine Lynn Herman, releases on November 9, 2021.

Cover Reveal: NOT A UNICORN, by Dana Middleton — PLUS: A Conversation between Dana and author Jill Diamond

Jill: I loved NOT A UNICORN and I’m excited to learn more about the book and your process! To begin, could you please give us a brief synopsis?

Dana: First of all, thanks so much Jill for being one of my first readers and for doing this interview with me. Your support along the way has meant the world to me! 

NOT A UNICORN is the story of 13 year old Jewel Conrad who has a horn on her head that looks very much like a unicorn horn. You might think that looking like a human unicorn would be cool, but Jewel doesn’t feel that way at all. More than anything, she wants to be hornless and “normal.” But there are other forces at play in Jewel’s world that make getting what she wants more complicated than she ever expected. She has to figure out the mystery of her horn which takes her on an unexpected quest to unexpected places. In the end, Jewel’s story becomes one to which we can all relate: learning to love and accept herself as she is.

Jill: This is such a unique concept, can you explain where it came from and why it resonated with you?

Dana: I wish I knew where Jewel came from, but I don’t. She just appeared in my brain one day and would not let go. She simply demanded that I write about her. Honestly, I resisted. I mean how weird would it make me to write a book about a girl with a unicorn horn?! And then I realized that was exactly how Jewel felt. She was scared to let herself be the real weird her in the world. So thanks to Jewel, I’m learning how to do that, too!

Jill: Jewel doesn’t want to have a unicorn horn and will do almost anything to get it removed. Why is this so important to her and what’s so bad about having a unicorn horn from Jewel’s perspective?

Dana: She wants to be like everyone else—just like so many kids in middle school. But for Jewel, she feels like she can never be normal and never live the life she wants when everyone is always staring at her. She thinks getting rid of her horn will solve all her problems. But will it?

Jill: Is it a real unicorn horn?

Dana: You’ll have to read the book to find out!

Jill: An interesting aspect of your book is that it’s a hybrid contemporary fantasy, which is great from a reader’s perspective because it makes it both relatable and escapist. Was it challenging to write a multi-genre book?

Dana: My two previous books were contemporary middle grade with some added magic or mystery, but Jewel’s story was very different from those. So, yes it was challenging. Partially because Jewel was less like me than any main character I had ever written. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVED getting to inhabit her skin. I loved getting to know her and discovering the fantasy part of her story along with her. But it was important to me to get that balance right. I wanted this to be about a real girl in a real life who was living an experience that at times crossed the barriers of reality. That fantasy part was new to me as a writer but ultimately extremely fulfilling to get on the page. At this point, it all seems absolutely real and possible to me. Of the books I’ve written, it’s the one that I would most like to step into and experience for myself.

Jill: The characters in your book have very distinct personalities. Do you connect with any of the characters’ stories or traits?

Dana: I think I most connect with Jewel in her desire to belong. That was an acute desire for me at her age and I think it’s a human desire throughout our whole lives. Part of my evolution, as well as Jewel’s, is learning that you can be authentically yourself and still belong. The other characters in this book, especially Jewel’s friends, Nicholas and Mystic, came to me over time. They definitely have distinct personalities, and I think I would have been too intimidated to sit down at a lunch table with them in middle school. But even though they are a bit guarded and tough on the outside, their waters run deep. They were so worth getting to know! And I couldn’t have asked for better companions to go with me and Jewel on this journey.

Jill: Do you have another book you’re working on now?

Dana: Yes! I just finished a mystery with my screenplay writing partner, Kate McLaughlin. This is the first middle grade novel we’ve written together, but not the last, as we hope for it to become the first of a series. It’s contemporary fiction with some fantasy elements, too. Imagine that?

Jill: How can readers find out more about you and your writing?

Dana: You can always find out more about me by reading any of my books because there’s lots of me in them! Also, you can visit my website or follow me on social media:

Website: http://www.danamiddletonbooks.com

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

Twitter: https://twitter.com/DanaKMiddleton

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

Thanks so much, Jill, for taking the time to discuss NOT A UNICORN with me today. I can’t wait for it to be out in the world!

Jill Diamond is the author of LOU LOU AND PEA AND THE MURAL MYSTERY and LOU LOU AND PEA AND THE BICENTENNIAL BONANZA. You can find her online at www.jilldiamondbooks.com or @jillinboots on Twitter.

Dana Middleton is the author of THE INFINITY YEAR OF AVALON JAMES and OPEN IF YOU DARE. Her new book, NOT A UNICORN, comes out from Chronicle Books on September 21.

The Power of Food in Family and Fiction: An Interview with Tanya Guerrero

I’m so excited to chat today with Tanya Guerrero, author of How to Make Friends with the Sea and All You Knead is Love, which is out today!

Let’s dive in!

What role does cooking and baking play in your connection to your family and culture?

Because I grew up in the Philippines, Spain and the US, cooking, and food culture has been ever present in my memories—whether it was fighting for the lone red chili in the can of sardines I’d share with my sister for breakfast, or learning to cook my Lola’s croquetas in her country house kitchen, or eating cinnamon raisin bagels with melted Muenster cheese for lunch every day with my elementary school friends in New York City. I suppose being surrounded by a multicultural family and environment always made me aware of the connection we have to food, and how the process of making it brings us together not only as a culture, as family, as a community, but also brings us together with the land. My Spanish grandparents loved foraging, and some of my most precious childhood moments were spent searching for wild mushrooms, asparagus, strawberries, herbs and even snails, which my Lola Francisca would cook with loads of garlic and parsley.


Tanya with Lolo Ernesto and Lola Francisca

In All You Knead is Love, Alba finds healing from the turmoil in her life through baking. Have you experienced a similar connection in your own baking?

I didn’t do much baking when I was a kid. Rather, I would cook with my grandmother and my mom, oftentimes, three or four course meals, which consisted mostly of Spanish dishes, sometimes Filipino and French dishes as well. The process of foraging and shopping for ingredients, prepping them in the kitchen with my family, and then sitting around the table and eating the dishes that took us hours to prepare, is something I remember fondly, despite any chaos that may have been going on in my life. When my sister and I moved to Barcelona to live with our grandparents while our parents were dealing with their divorce, I found a lot of solace during those years living with my lolo and lola. And that’s something I wanted to give to my main character, Alba. I wanted her to reconnect with her grandmother like I did, I wanted her to reconnect with a culture she barely knew like I did, I wanted her to find love through food like I did. And although, I didn’t learn how to bake sourdough bread until I was in my forties, I also wanted Alba to experience the meditative kind of healing that can come from baking something as basic as bread. 


Tanya’s walnut rosemary sourdough loaf and sourdough bagels

What importance does food play in your stories? 

I think food will always play an important role in all my stories. Because for me, food was always something that connected me to my culture, the family and friends that I love dearly, and the places I’ve lived and travelled. The Filipino and Spanish people have such a huge food culture and history, and because of that, food is always front and center at all our family gatherings.


Snacking on churros con chocolate with Lola in Barcelona

What is a memorable baking or cooking mishap that you have had? What did you learn from it?

Gosh, I’ve had SO many kitchen mishaps over the years! But, I will admit that when I was first learning how to make sourdough bread, I had so many failures—flat, pancake-ish loaves, dense loaves, burned loaves, undercooked loaves, too-sour loaves. But with lots of perseverance and patience, I was able to get past those failures and now I’m able to make all sorts of loaves, although I do still fail from time to time. 

I also have one specific memory that has really stuck in my mind as an epic failure, and the reason I remember it so clearly, is because of the humiliation I felt for myself and for my mom. In the summer after freshman year in college, I went to stay with my mom in Long Island, NY where she lived with her husband and my younger brother. At the time, she was freelancing as a one-woman caterer for some of the wealthy people who summered in the Hamptons. So I spent my break helping her with catering jobs. There was this one particular job, where we were supposed to make a passionfruit tart with mango sorbet for dessert. Well, all the courses turned out perfectly, except for the mango sorbet. For whatever reason, my mom’s ice cream machine wasn’t working properly, so the sorbet wouldn’t solidify. And since we didn’t have time to make any changes to the menu, my mom sent me to the nearest grocery to buy some Haagen Dazs mango sorbet to go with our homemade passionfruit tart. After the luncheon, where all the guests seemingly loved the food, the hostess came into the kitchen as we were packing up, and confronted my mom about the mango sorbet. “I didn’t pay you to serve Haagen Dazs,” she said to us with an accusatory glare. As my mom explained and apologized profusely, I could feel my cheeks getting hotter and hotter, and redder and redder, and it was the first time in my life I experienced something truly belittling. 


Tanya’s “failure bread”

If you could travel to any country to learn how to make their cuisine, which country would you choose and why?

Hmmm… This is such a tough question! I am obsessed with Indian, Chinese, Thai, Mexican, Cuban and generally any Latin American food, so any of these would be great. But if I really had to choose, I’d probably travel through central and south America and do a gastronomic tour, not only for the food, but also so I can also brush up on my Spanish and visit family and friends along the way. I’ve only ever been to Mexico and a couple of islands in the Caribbean, so I know there is just so much for me to explore and learn from this part of the world!

Thank you, Tayna for your wonderful answers! I think we’re all hungry now!

Get your copy of All You Knead is Love today!

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About All You Knead is Love

Twelve-year-old Alba doesn’t want to live with her estranged grandmother in Barcelona.

But her mother needs her to be far, far away from their home in New York City. Because this is the year that her mother is going to leave Alba’s abusive father. Hopefully. If she’s strong enough to finally, finally do it.

Alba is surprised to find that she loves Barcelona, forming a close relationship with her grandmother, meeting a supportive father figure, and making new friends. Most of all, she discovers a passion and talent for bread baking. When her beloved bakery is threatened with closure, Alba is determined to find a way to save it–and at the same time, she may just come up with a plan to make their family whole again.

From the author of How to Make Friends with the Sea comes a heartfelt story of finding one’s chosen family, healing, and baking.

Children Shouldn’t be Allowed to Read Books

… at least, that’s what Mr. and Mrs. Pribble, the antagonists of THE THIEVING COLLECTORS OF FINE CHILDREN’S BOOKS think.

Children can hardly imagine on their own anymore, so why encourage them to read? Children’s books should remain in pristine condition on a well-maintained shelf, away from those filthy creatures who practically gobble up their books! The Pribble’s are wealthy collectors of rare children’s books, and when they’re unable to acquire a copy of Mr. Pribble’s favorite childhood book (called THE TIMEKEEPER’S CHILDREN), they use a piece of futuristic technology to steal the last remaining copy—from inside a young boy’s mind. But this boy, named Oliver Nelson, realizes the book is important to him, too, and decides to fight back. He leaves the main plot, changes events in the story, and enlists background characters to help him defeat the Pribbles. Much adventure ensues.

Now, I hope you’ll forgive me for that dishonest, attention-grabbing headline, as well as the self-promotional book summary. Of course, I believe children should be allowed to read books, and THE THIEVING COLLECTORS OF FINE CHILDREN’S BOOKS was my love letter to the books that made an impact on me as a child.

As children’s book authors, we all have a bit of thievery in us? There are no ideas that are truly new and original, something I found maddening when I was just starting out but inspiring now. We’re all pulling from the same collective well of inspiration, and all the themes can be traced back to other things. With that in mind, I want to present some of the things that inspired me while writing this book.

The Borrowers

I loved THE BORROWERS by Mary Norton when I was younger, and referenced it several times as one of Oliver’s favorites. Perhaps he can relate to it. Oliver steals books from the local library. Yes, he feels guilty for this fact, but he thinks of himself more like a borrower, taking what he needs and putting it to good use. 

Narnia Time

When Oliver is pulled into the fantasy world of Dulum in THE TIMEKEEPER’S CHILDREN, he’s able to stay for weeks and experience a full adventure while only an hour and a half goes by in the real world. This was an idea that I first encountered in THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE. There was always something magical about the way time stopped in Narnia when the children went through the wardrobe. As a child, I could imagine myself living a whole adventure in a moment. As a writer, I realized it was a genius solution to not needing to worry about where the “responsible adults” are during dangerous, high-stakes chapters.

The Ever-Present Narrator

Well, dear reader, I suppose we should discuss the narrative voice of THE THIEVING COLLECTORS OF FINE CHILDREN’S BOOKS. I wanted the voice to be a mixture of the styles used in Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, and Roald Dahl. No, it wasn’t directly inspired by Lemony Snicket, though he did make it wildly popular in children’s literature. The dear reader voice was originally inspired by my general confusion about the device—in many books, I can’t tell who the voice is supposed to be. In this book, I wanted to assign it to a memorable character, and introduce this character in a startling and dramatic way. But the less I say about that, the better … 

Impervious Children

Evil magic has spread over the world of Dulum in THE TIMEKEEPER’S CHILDREN, but luckily, only adults are affected. I can think of several examples like this in children’s literature, one memorable use being the soul-eating spectres from Philip Pullman’s THE SUBTLE KNIFE. In my book, a group of children (dubbed The Gang of Impervious Children) set out to save day from the evil ruler Sigil. His goal is to build a magical clock that will speed up time so that he will have a kingdom without children. Adults always do want children to grow up, don’t they?

There are numerous other books and inspirations I could mention. While researching this book, I went deep down the nostalgia rabbit-hole, re-reading everything that made a mark on me as a child. The results were startling. Many books did not match my memory of them, or the mood I felt when reading them. How could this be? I rarely set out to write a book with a moral or lesson in mind. When I try to do that, it comes out wrong and often teaches something I’m not sure I even believe. The best ideas come organically and can feel a bit obvious in hindsight. In this case, I realized that the books I loved haven’t changed, but I have. As readers, we bring ourselves to the books, injecting our own feelings and imagination into the story, whether or not we mean to.

If anything, THE THIEVING COLLECTORS OF FINE CHILDREN’S BOOKS is about the creative act of reading. Writers only bring part of the story to the table. You, dear reader, bring the rest.

Adam Perry is the author of The Magicians of Elephant County and The Thieving Collectors of Fine Children’s Books. The son of an elementary school librarian, he discovered a love of stories at an early age. He lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, with his wife, children, and a growing collection of children’s books. To the best of his knowledge, none of them are stolen. Find out more at adamperrybooks.com.

FAST FORWARD FRIDAY – Reem Faruqi

Hi Reem, and welcome to Fast Forward Friday! I’m so happy to have a chance to connect with you today, but I loved your upcoming novel, UNSETTLED, which will be released on May 11th by HarperCollins. Could you give us a quick summary of the story, please?

Hi Kathie! I’m so glad you loved my book! You can see the summary on book ordering sites, but this is what I originally had in my query:

My #ownvoices middle grade verse novel, UNSETTLED, has a strong, female character and a poetic voice.

In my lyrical 14,100 word manuscript, Unsettled, Nurah reluctantly moves continents. In a new land, she sticks out for all the wrong reasons. At school, Nurah’s accent, floral print kurtas, and tea colored skin contribute to her eating lunch alone. All she wants is to fit in. If she blends in enough, will she make a friend? For now, all she has is her best friend brother Owais. In the water though, Nurah doesn’t want to blend: she wants to stand out and be just like her star athlete brother and win a swimming medal. However, when sibling rivalry gets in the way of swimming, she makes a split-second decision of betrayal that changes their fates and Nurah might risk losing the one friend she ever had…

How similar is Nurah’s story to your own journey to the United States at the age of 13?

I actually moved from Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates to the United States. However I’m Pakistani  and wanted to reflect that experience of mine. I love Pakistan and visiting any chance I can get. 

Like Nurah, I moved continents when I was 13 years old which I think is a pivotal age.

I don’t want to give away too many spoilers, but I would say 40% is loosely based on my life, 40% is pure fiction, and 20% is inspired by the experiences of others.  I have an interesting  family and immigration experience, so I am grateful that I didn’t have to imagine each story, but was able to draw on them from my mind. 

Then I sorted all of the stories in a blender, mixed it together, and sprinkled it all up with fiction and a touch of drama.

It’s funny, my brothers were reading my book and were asking about specific anecdotes in my book and which of them did what, and when I told them specifics, they denied it so  that must have been the fictional part!

In my author’s note, I touched on some specific experiences that my character and I both shared. There were more than just the author’s note. Maybe one day I’ll go through the book with a highlighter and highlight everything that was inspired by true events.

I found your writing voice so poetic and engaging. Did you always plan to write this story as a novel in verse?

Thank you Kathie! I had it in prose actually and when I sent an early excerpt to my agent at the time,  she said it read a little like a novel in verse and was that what I had intended? I had totally not intended that, but eagerly made the swap and never looked back.

I have always loved reading novels in verse and checked out many more from the library and really immersed myself in that world.

I started out as a picture book author and found myself checking out many middle grade books from the library. However, I avoided writing middle grade because  the word count intimidated me. I found writing picture books less intimidating. With a novel in verse, I found it  more encouraging to attempt than prose. My original draft was in clunky prose,  but when I made the swap to verse, I found the white space soothing and that the words could sing.

I also love the emotional punch that can be added at the end of each verse.

What’s one thing you’d like to share with our readers about your book that you haven’t been asked yet?

In my book, my character touches briefly on her Pakistani clothes. I would love for readers to know how vibrant the colors of our clothes are. You can also get a sense from our colorful book cover by Soumbal Qureshi and Molly Fehr that we love color.

I have the following excerpt of a verse that touches on it. 

Clothes

Nana has tailored

my clothes

for me.

Red piping.

3 buttons.

2 pockets even.

Floral print.

Colors bright

and happy.

Aqua blue

paired with

eggplant purple.

Ripe-mango yellow

paired with

unripe-mango green.

Rosy pink

paired with

bright orange.

Cloth so soft

it feels like tissue.

But then I hear the whispers

that scratch like nails.

Even though

I pair the kurtas

with stiff jeans, not shalwars . . .

Why does she wear clothes

like that

every day?

Why doesn’t she wear anything

different?

I don’t know how some people

go through middle school

dressed like that.

The colors of my clothes

are no longer happy.

In Walmart, the only

long-sleeve shirts

that are loose

that I like

are in the women’s section.

No pockets.

No floral print.

No red piping.

Shirts rough like towels.

Dull like

the colors of

crumpled litter on the beach.

Ugly faded brick.

Faded purple marker.

But I buy them anyway.

Like Nurah, when I moved here, I started to gravitate away from my colorful Pakistani kurtas to blend in and wore American clothes from Walmart that weren’t as vibrant. I love the colors in Pakistani clothes and feel like I wear them proudly more often today. Also, the American clothes I do wear now are brighter colors.

I would also like to add that all Muslims have different experiences. So when a reader reads my book, they should not assume that every Muslim is just like my character. My book is just one example of the many books about Muslim characters and hopefully one of many more to come. 

I do hope that my book sheds a light on a Muslim girl who is proud to practice her faith.

What is your favorite part of the writing process?

My favorite part is when slivers of sentences slide into my mind. 

Are you working on another writing project at the moment?

Yes! I’m always working on another writing project or trying to! I’m currently in the editing stages of my second verse novel. It’s got themes of gold jewelry, growing up,  family, and high-stake decisions.  It should be published next year – I’m awaiting a finalized title and edits. I can’t wait to share more about it.

I’m also in the polishing draft stages of a third verse novel.  It also has themes of family and sports,  yet is quite different from UNSETTLED.

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

My blog which is www.ReemFaruqi.com or my Instagram or Twitter which is @ReemFaruqi .

Thank you so much, Reem, for chatting with me today. I can’t wait to add your book to my library’s collection and recommend it to young readers.

It was a pleasure to chat with you Kathie.   I have read and loved middle grade books for so long; it is an honor to have a middle grade novel published soon. I cannot wait for your readers to read it, to enjoy it, and hope they can relate. Thank you to you and the #MGBookChat librarians and educators for all you do!

Photo credit: Mariam Shakeel

Reem Faruqi enjoys writing lyrical stories that reflect her own experiences. She is the award-winning children’s book author of LAILAH’S LUNCHBOX, a book based on her own experiences as a young Muslim girl immigrating to the United States. Her debut middle grade novel UNSETTLED will be published by HarperCollins in May 2021. Currently, she lives with her husband and three daughters in Atlanta. Reem spends her days trying to write, but instead gets distracted easily by her toddler, camera, and buttery sunlight.