Interview with Lorelei Savaryn about THE EDGE OF IN BETWEEN

Kathie: Hi Lorelei, and welcome back to MG Book Village! The last time we chatted, you were preparing to release your debut novel, THE CIRCUS OF STOLEN DREAMS. Today we’re discussing your new middle-grade novel, THE EDGE OF IN BETWEEN, which came out on April 19th. Can you tell our readers a bit about it, please?

Lorelei: Absolutely! THE EDGE OF IN BETWEEN is a spooky, magical reimagining of The Secret Garden. 

ABOUT THE EDGE OF IN BETWEEN

A spellbinding tale of magical realism and superb, twisty retelling of The Secret Garden, where twelve-year-old Lottie’s colorful world turns suddenly gray when an unexpected accident claims her parents, and she is uprooted from her home to live with an eccentric uncle she never knew she had—on the border that separates the living and the dead.

Lottie lives in Vivelle—the heart of a vibrant city where life exists in brilliant technicolor and nearly everyone has magic. And Lottie is no exception; she can paint pictures to life in every shade and hue imaginable. But at the sudden loss of her parents, all the color is stripped from Lottie’s heart and the world around her. Taken in by her reclusive, eccentric uncle, Lottie moves into Forsaken, his vast manor located in the gray wasteland between the Land of the Living and Ever After, the land of the dead.

The discovery of a locked-up garden, a wise cardinal, a hidden boy, and a family whose world is full of color despite the bleakness around them begins to pull at the threads of what it means to live in such a near-dead place, slowly returning some of the color to Lottie’s private world and giving her hope that life is worth experiencing fully, even while one carries sorrow.

But as time runs out, Lottie must find a way to thaw both the world and the hearts of her uncle, cousin, and those she has come to know and love in her new home, or all of Forsaken—including Lottie herself—will be absorbed by Ever After long before their time.

Kathie: I love your writing, but I admit I was initially skeptical about reading this book because I’m not a fan of The Secret Garden. Your book stands so well on its own, though, and doesn’t require any knowledge of the original story. How did you choose what elements to keep from The Secret Garden and how to put your own spin on it?

Lorelei: I’m so glad you enjoyed it! I worked really hard to tell a story that could be appreciated by anyone, whether or not they’re familiar with the original story (or even if they don’t really like it!). Early on, I decided that I would have a counterpart to each of the characters in the original, but that I would take a fresh angle on their personalities and dynamics. I also decided to keep some of the major plot markers in place, namely, that my main character moves in with her uncle, discovers she has a cousin, and finds a hidden garden. I hoped to then build on that foundation to create a world brimming with magic, and that delves into navigating grief and finding one’s way to hope and healing again in a more nuanced and layered way. I also wanted to write a story completely free of the racism, ableism, and colonialism of the original book.

Kathie: Lottie is my favorite character. Can you use three words to describe her, and in what way do you wish you were more like her?

Lorelei: I love Lottie so much! She is resilient, open-hearted, and incredibly creative. I love how she fights to see the good in people, even if it isn’t apparent at the start. One thing I admire about Lottie is how she lets herself feel the way she is feeling- if she is sad, if she is angry, she doesn’t try to hide it. She accepts those feelings as part of herself, and I think I sometimes struggle with trying to put on a brave face when maybe being more vulnerable would actually be the healthier choice, because that opens you up to support from those who love you. On the flip side of that, when Lottie is happy, the whole world knows it, and that joy spreads to others. I’m also working harder to be like Lottie in pausing to appreciate how far I’ve come.

Kathie: One of the things I most enjoy about your stories is how you explore grief and loss but how hope balances out those themes. How does writing fantasy allow you to explore these emotions differently from a realistic story?

Lorelei: This is such a great question. Writing in magical worlds in a strange way allows me to face certain aspects of grief more head on or even more concretely than I maybe could in a realistic story. In The Circus of Stolen Dreams, I got to give Andrea the chance to go back and save the one she had lost, which I think is something so many of us wish for when we experience loss, but can never achieve. It was incredibly healing to write that possibility for her. In The Edge of In Between, there’s a scene where Lottie cries in the frozen over garden, and she’s worried it will make the garden deteriorate even more. But when she looks down, flowers have sprouted up in the places where her tears hit the earth. It can be tough, sometimes, to understand that sadness is not only acceptable, but a necessary part of the path toward healing. Inside the magical world of Forsaken’s frozen garden, I got to show that in such a concrete and visible way. My hope is that readers will remember that scene and carry it with them for the day when their tears need to fall.

Kathie: Color plays an integral part in this story. What is your favorite color, and how do you use color to express yourself in your life?

Lorelei: I recently decided that my favorite color is that pinkish orange hue the sky takes on just as the sun is setting. There are roses that are that color, and I’ve always been drawn to them too. 

I use color in my life, especially in my home, to set up the feeling of different spaces in our house. There are rooms that are in calm and peaceful blues with pops of yellow, there are rooms that have gray walls and pink flowers and brown wood. We have four kids, and things are generally noisy and filled with movement, so I tend towards gentle colors in the spaces I’m in. I appreciate beautiful color combinations as well as the feelings they can evoke and the comfort they can bring. I also love setting up little book arrangements by spine color as decor in different rooms of the house to coordinate with the seasons. Red and green for Christmas, bright yellow during the spring, etc.

Kathie: People often say writing a second book is more challenging than writing the first. Was that true for you?

Lorelei: Oh my goodness, absolutely it was. It took some time to get used to writing my first book from scratch that was under contract, and the expectations and deadlines that came along with that. This was also just a deeply personal story for me, and there was a point three rounds into revision with my editor where I realized I had to scrap everything and start over. With my editor’s blessing, I opened a blank word document and began again, and rewrote the whole thing in about three and a half weeks in order to turn it in on time. It was very scary in the moment, but so worth it in the end.

Kathie: What’s one thing you wish someone would ask you about this book? 

Lorelei: I would love to be asked about the little cardinal in the story! In the original book, the bird that leads Mary Lennox to the garden is a robin. But I chose to use a cardinal because there is a legend about cardinals being messengers for loved ones that we’ve lost. I’ve seen a lot of art and cards about that sort of idea, and it just enchanted me from the very first time I heard it. How lovely it would be to have a messenger like that be a sign for someone who has lost a loved one. I was able to take that story and very easily adapt it to fit into my imaginary world and use the cardinal to bring comfort to my characters in a way that some readers may find familiar.

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

Lorelei: Readers can head on over to www.loreleisavaryn.com! I’m on social media as well:

Instagram: loreleisavarynauthor

Twitter: @loreleisavaryn

TikTok: lorelei_savaryn_author

Kathie: Thank you so much for chatting with me today, Lorelei. I truly enjoyed this story, and I wish you all the best with its release.

Lorelei: Thank you so much Kathie! And thank you for taking the time to chat!

Lorelei Savaryn (loreleisavaryn.com) is an author of creepy, magical stories for children. She holds a BA in creative writing and is a former elementary teacher and instructional coach. When she isn’t writing, she spends her time amidst the beautiful chaos of life with her husband and four children outside of Chicago. She is also the author of The Circus of Stolen Dreams. You can follow her on Twitter @LoreleiSavaryn.

Interview with Salma Hussain about THE SECRET DIARY OF MONA HASAN

Kathie: Welcome to MG Book Village, Salma! Today we’re chatting about your debut middle-grade novel, The Secret Diary of Mona Hasan, which releases on May 3rd from Tundra Books. Can you tell us a bit about it, please?

Salma: Thank you for the warm welcome, Kathie! The Secret Diary of Mona Hasan is a middle grade novel set in 1991 about a young, Muslim Pakistani girl growing up in big-city Dubai, in the U.A.E. Due to the first Gulf War her parents decide to immigrate to North America. They end up in small-town Dartmouth on Canada’s east coast. The novel is a year-in-the-life-of young Mona as she journeys through immigration, puberty, and general tween concerns – “When will my chest grow, Allah? Why is my mother not like the mothers on T.V.? Why is Aba ruining our lives by moving us to Canada?”

Kathie: Mona’s story begins in United Arab Emirates, but she ends up immigrating to eastern Canada in a small town outside Halifax. Can you share why you chose these locations as your setting?

Salma: To answer this question, I’d like to share the origin story for this novel – when my daughter was five, she turned to me sleepily at bedtime and asked, “Mama, you were born outside Canada, right? Were you a regular kid just like us?” 

That one question was the spark behind this entire novel. I knew in that moment that I wanted to write a book in a child’s voice to answer my child’s underlying questions – in what ways might the kids who grow up outside Canada be different? And in what ways might they be the same? 

I wanted it to be an immigration story and I choose these particular locations because I know them very well! I grew up in the U.A.E. myself (until grade seven), and immigrated to a small town on the eastern coast of Canada when I was a teenager (I completed my high school years in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia). I have a familiarity and love for both places, and as they are under-represented in childrens’ literature in North America, I wanted to amplify and celebrate them.

Kathie: What 5 words would you use to describe Mona, and explain why you chose them?

Salma:

CURIOUS – Mona questions the world around her and in so doing holds up a mirror to the absurd world we have created.

JUST – Mona knows when something is wrong and she steps in to do something about it (i.e., in the situation with her sister and Uncle Annoying, and in the situation between Ross and the bully.)

DREAMER – Mona wildly and passionately believes in all the good things yet to come in her life. She dreams of a better world. Every. Single. Day.

UNSINKABLE – Kids, at all times from all places, but especially those who grow up in times of conflict and war, have been and continue to be unsinkable.

GRAND POETESS – Mona would pick this one for herself so I had to include it!

Kathie: The book takes place in 1991 at the start of the first Gulf War. What sort of research did you do, and did you discover anything that surprised you?

Salma: I knew that I wanted the impetus for this family’s move to be the first Gulf War, and I knew that I wanted the novel to cover twelve months. However, when I started researching the first Gulf War, figuring out which twelve months I should cover was a challenge! The Iraqi military invaded Kuwait on August 2, 1990 but Mona’s first diary entry begins on January 1, 1991, so when readers meet this family they have already been dealing with the news of the Gulf War for a few months. This meant I had to insert context and background about the Gulf War quickly but in a way that would not be overwhelming, nor an “info-dump”! It took a few tries to get it right. I looked up the front pages of newspapers in the Middle East (in English, Arabic and Urdu) and compared and contrasted the headlines. I also listened to news coverage from different TV channels (a lot of this is available on Youtube). Nothing was surprising, but a lot of it was very sad. News about any war, anywhere, from any time period, is extremely sad. In contrast, I then also looked at popular “fashion”/“beauty”/“womens’” magazines and listened to music from the late 80s to 91. This research countered the sad stuff. I found that as an escape from the reality and horror of war, people determinedly and resolutely sought out joy in fashion and food and music. 

Kathie: Your writing voice is quite humorous. Are you naturally a funny person?

Salma: Yes, absolutely! My friends (who have had their arms twisted about this) agree. My children, however, disagree.

Kathie: What’s one question you wish readers or interviewers would ask about your story?

Salma: What are Mona and Adam up to today? 🙂 

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

Salma: Please follow me on Twitter and Insta: @salmahwrites. I post updates about my writing life on these platforms and I also desperately need more followers! (My mom and her friends  aren’t enough! :))

I also have a website (designed by the lovely Hazel of @staybookish): www.salmahwrites.com.

Kathie: Thank you so much for joining me today. I love connecting with Canadian new authors, and I wish you all the best with your publishing kickoff!!

Salma: Thank you so much, Kathie. I just want to close by adding that the Middle Grade writing community in Canada and beyond is one of the friendliest writing communities to be a part of, and I am honoured and delighted to join it. Thank you for reading The Secret Diary of Mona Hasan!

Salma Hussain enjoys writing prose and poetry for all ages. She has a B.A. (Hon.) in English literature  from the University of Calgary, a law degree from the University of Calgary, and a Masters in Law from McGill University. The Secret Diary of Mona Hasan is her debut MG novel. She lives in Toronto. 

Interview with James Bird about The Second Chance of Benjamin Waterfalls

Anne: Hello, James! Welcome to MG Book Village. I’m excited to chat with you about your new novel, The Second Chance of Benjamin Waterfalls. The book hit shelves on April 19th and I loved reading it. Would you please give readers a super-brief summary of the story?

James: Hello Anne! This book is about second chances. Not only getting them, but also giving them. Benny receives a second chance to turn his life around, and in turn, ends up giving his dad a second chance to become the father he needs to be.

Anne: Great. It’s such a heartfelt story. And there’s a lot of humor here! Characters tell jokes and riddles and play good-natured tricks on one another. What about you? Are you a jokester? Do you have a silly sense of humor? Are any of the characters based on you?

James: I guess I am a bit of a jokester. I try to find the humor in all situations. Sometimes that’s very difficult and nearly impossible, but the point is too look for it, not to find it. I think most problems, not all, but most problems would be solved if we approached them with humor and a sense of trying to find a common ground with people. And now that I am a dad, I see that humor is one of the most precious qualities we are born with, and as we grow up, some of it fades away. With this book, I am trying to reel it back towards the adults in this story. We should not only learn to laugh more, but we should make a huge effort in trying to make other people laugh more.

Benny, in a way, is based on me. I stole a lot as a kid. And like him, I was given a second chance to straighten up.

Anne: Oh, interesting. And it’s lucky for all of us that you straightened up and started writing fiction! Now, Benny is Ojibwe but grew up speaking English, and as he learns a few Ojibwe words, so do readers. Did you grow up speaking Ojibwe, or did you have to research the language to write this novel?

James: I grew up speaking only English, but as I got older, I really wanted to reconnect with my blood. So I made it a mission to learn anishinaabemowin. Now, I am teaching it to my son, Wolf. But he has a young spongy brain, so it’s more like he is teaching it to me.

Anne: Somewhere I read that you were raised in California and now live in Massachusetts. Why did you set the story in Minnesota? What is it about the city of Duluth and the remote area of Grand Portage that made Minnesota the right setting for Benny’s story?

James: The book is set in Minnesota because that is where all my relatives are from. My mom was born and raised there, so now I try to go back as often as I can. It is a part of me now.

Anne: One of the story’s themes is that inside each of us we’ll find both a superhero and a villain; Benny must struggle to wake up his inner superhero. When you started writing, did you set out to incorporate this theme, or did it emerge along the way? How long did it take you to write Benny’s story?

James: I have always believed that each person has a superhero inside of them, as well as a villain. As we grow up, we tend to listen to one and ignore the other. My hope is that people will read my book and decide to listen to their superhero.

Writing this book was rather quick. A few months is all it took. I had a lot of superhero experiences to pull from, and I admit, I also had a lot of villainous experience to draw from too.

Anne: Love it. Before we end, I want to tell readers that your first MG novel was titled The Brave and came out in 2020.

Readers who like The Second Chance of Benjamin Waterfalls will like that one, too. It’s a great story! And my question is: will you be writing more novels for middle grade readers? What are you working on now?

James: Yes. I will be writing many more middle grade books. My third book, No Place Like Home, will be out in spring 2023.

Anne: Awesome. Can’t wait to read it! Finally, please tell readers where they can go to learn more about you and your work.

James: I am on Instagram, https://www.instagram.com/jamesbirdbooks/, Facebook, and sometimes Twitter, https://twitter.com/jamesbirdwriter

Anne: Thank you so much for stopping by MG Book Village, and for writing such heartfelt novels for middle grade readers!

James: Great to be here!

James Bird is an Ojibwe author (The Brave, The Second Chance of Benjamin Waterfalls) as well as an award winning filmmaker (Eat Spirit Eat, From Above, Honeyglue, We Are Boats, Wifelike). But in his words, his greatest accomplishment is being a father to his son, Wolf. When he’s not writing, he spends most of his time rescuing animals and painting in the basement with his son. He lives in Massachusetts with his wife, fellow author Adriana Mather. His next book will be released in spring, 2023, and is titled No Place Like Home.

Anne (A.B.) Westrick is today’s MG Book Village interviewer. She’s the author of the older-MG novel Brotherhood. You can learn more about her at https://abwestrick.com/

Nouns, Verbs And Adjectives Help Mark My Muslim Celebration by Saadia Faruqi

In the first few days of May, American Muslims like myself will mark the end of the holy month of Ramadan with a big celebration called Eid al-Fitr. Traditionally, this means collective prayers, fancy clothes, henna, delicious foods, and gift exchanges. This year, it will also include Mad Libs.

Many people think Mad Libs is inappropriate and risqué. They may not know that it’s one of the world’s most popular word games, making children grin since 1953. My own kids aren’t immune: I played Mad Libs with my then elementary school daughter while on a road trip, and haven’t looked back since. Whether you’re alone or in a group, this fun game inserts parts of speech like nouns, adjectives, verbs, even celebrity names and types of buildings into a story full of blanks for a rip-roaring laugh.

I remember the giggles whenever we’d play the game. My daughter thought she was lucky to be allowed to use words like poop and diaper and fart, all in the name of good fun. Little did she know she was learning language skills and spending time with her family instead of alone in her room playing Roblox. I have the fondest memories of this time, so when Penguin Random House knocked on my door to write a Mad Libs all about Eid, I jumped on board quickly.

As a children’s author, I write stories centering Muslim American families. Characters like my first generation Pakistani American kids, who try to practice their faith while living fulfilling, multidimensional lives in the U.S. One of the reasons I write such books is to allow kids like mine to see themselves in the pages of books, their faces reflected back from the covers, and their lives normalized through the stories. I knew I wanted to go further than that, however. Including Muslim observances like holidays into mainstream culture is an important aspect of my work, and Mad Libs is definitely a part of American culture since the last mid-century. If families can play Mad Libs about Easter, Christmas, and other holidays, why not Eid?

To me, this little booklet of twenty-one word games is more than it seems at first glance. The stories within it are carefully chosen reflections of Eid in all its glory of celebrations. From “Henna How-To” and “Glitter and Lights” to “An Eid Poem” and “An Eid Recipe” this book can help players of every age learn a little something about me. My culture. My holiday. The gifts we give each other. The ways we find joy. The foods we eat, whether they’re home cooked using generations-old recipes or huge family gatherings at a local restaurant. And now, maybe a new tradition: playing a Mad Libs game together after a hearty Eid meal.

At the end of the day, Eid al-Fitr isn’t just a Muslim holiday. With millions of Americans celebrating it each year, Eid is an American holiday, just like all the others. I want to mainstream and normalize it, and if I can help children learn the parts of speech in the process, that’s just an added bonus.

Ramadan Kareem and Eid Mubarak!

Saadia Faruqi is a Pakistani American author, essayist and interfaith activist. She writes the children’s early reader series “Yasmin” and other books for children, including middle grade novels “A Place At The Table” co-written with Laura Shovan (a Sydney Taylor Notable 2021), and “A Thousand Questions” (a South Asia Book Award Honor 2021). Her new book “Yusuf Azeem Is Not A Hero” details the experiences of the Muslim American community twenty years after 9/11. Saadia is editor-in-chief of Blue Minaret, a magazine for Muslim art, poetry and prose, and was featured in Oprah Magazine in 2017 as a woman making a difference in her community. She lives in Houston, TX with her husband and children.

COVER REVEAL for THE POLTER-GHOST PROBLEM by Betsy Uhrig

Kathie: Hi Betsy! Thank you so much for asking us to be part of the cover reveal for your upcoming middle-grade book THE POLTER-GHOST PROBLEM (scheduled for release on August 30th by Margaret K. McElderry Books. Can you give us a brief synopsis of it, please?

Betsy: Hi, Kathie! Thanks so much for hosting this spooky cover reveal! THE POLTER-GHOST PROBLEM is about three argumentative best friends who stumble on a haunted orphanage during an otherwise boring summer. The orphan ghosts aren’t the problem, though – in fact, they’re quite friendly in their own noncorporeal way. The problem is that they have been trapped at the hated orphanage by an angry poltergeist that won’t let them go until the boys follow its highly unusual and obscure instructions. 

Kathie: This book is a shift away from your previous books with its supernatural happenings. Why did you choose to go in this direction, and what was the writing experience like for you?

Betsy: When I began writing this book, one of my nephews was obsessed with those TV shows featuring investigations into real hauntings. So I started writing this for him, and my goal was an eerie, spine-tingling book. But me being me, I managed to get the word “underpants” into the first paragraph, so it morphed into a spooky-funny hybrid from the beginning. I doubt anyone would truly get a fright out of it, but I hope they get a few laughs! (PS: That nephew is about to graduate from college. These things take time.)

Kathie: Can you tell us a little bit about your main characters?

Betsy: The main characters are three middle-school boys: Aldo, Pen, and Jasper. They are narrating the book as a trio, though Aldo is typing, so he gets the last say for the most part. (This despite his self-confessed acute case of verbal diarrhea and over-familiarity with the thesaurus.) The boys agree on almost nothing, so the narrative is in some ways a 50,000-word argument about how to describe what happened to them over one hair-raising summer. 

Kathie: It sounds like this is a very humorous spooky story. What do you most enjoy about writing stories that make readers laugh?

Betsy: I think there’s humor to be found even in scary situations, so my characters tend to make comments that other, more dignified characters would leave off the page. Let’s face it: If you’re battling a giant squid ghost, at some point you will at least think about the phrase “battered squid” in the seafood sense. My characters just go ahead and admit it. 

Kathie: Let’s talk about the cover. I believe this is the same illustrator who did the cover for WELCOME TO DWEEB CLUB?

Betsy: Yes, the amazing team of Lisa K. Weber (illustrator) and Rebecca Syracuse (designer) reunited for THE POLTER-GHOST PROBLEM, and I’m so glad they did. Lisa is great at bringing my characters to life and making them look suitably nervous. 

Kathie: OK, let’s show everyone what it looks like?

Kathie: What a great spooky cover! I really like how the colors jump out with the teal background. Can you point out one element that you really like?

Betsy: I agree that the color is gorgeous. I also love the swirl of ghostly and poltergeistly activity around Pen, Jasper, and Aldo. My favorite thing is the pink china poodle flying at them. That was a special request on my part! (The haunted orphanage features tons of tacky knickknacks, which make hazardous projectiles.)

Kathie: What’s something you’d like readers to know about this book?

Betsy: First of all, I want them to know that it’s mostly funny and only a little bit scary. So they can carry this book around and impress their peers with their daring without actually having to leave a nightlight on after reading it. Second, I like to think that this is the first-ever middle-grade novel to feature an index! It’s completely useless, but it was so fun to make. 

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

Betsy: They can visit my website, BetsyUhrig.com, which has recently been updated with some fun stuff about this book. They can also follow me on Twitter @BetsyUhrig

Kathie: Thanks for chatting with me today, and best of luck with the buildup to the book’s release!

Betsy: Thanks so much for indulging me, Kathie! Nothing I love more than a low-pressure chat about my books! 

Betsy Uhrig is the author of the middle-grade novels Double the Danger and Zero Zucchini, Welcome to Dweeb Club, and The Polter-Ghost Problem (all from McElderry / Simon &Schuster). She was born and raised in Greater Boston, where she lives with her family and even more books than you are picturing. She graduated from Smith College with a degree in English and has worked in publishing ever since. She writes books for children instead of doing things that aren’t as fun. For more information about her and her cats, visit BetsyUhrig.com.

Kathie interviews herself about IF YOU CAN DREAM IT, YOU CAN DO IT

Kathie: Welcome to MG Book Village, Kathie! How does it feel to be on the other side of this interview process?

Me: Why, thank you, Kathie; I’m a HUGE fan of MG Book Village!!! I honestly didn’t think this day would ever come, so it’s beyond exciting for me.

Kathie: You have the honour of making your writing debut alongside author extraordinaire Colleen Nelson. Can you tell us a bit about IF YOU CAN DREAM IT, YOU CAN DO IT: How 25 inspiring individuals found their dream jobs that releases on October 25th from Pajama Press?

Me: Of course, thanks for asking! Colleen and I interviewed 25 individuals with very cool jobs and asked them how they ended up doing the work they love. We wanted our readers to see their training, what they actually did on an average day, and share advice for kids interested in pursuing similar work. With each profile, we also included helpful information such as spin-off jobs, pro-tips to help prepare for that type of work, and inspiring young people currently exploring similar career paths. Scot Ritchie did a fantastic job on the illustrations, and I’m thrilled with how the final book turned out.

Kathie: What sparked the idea for this book?

Me: Colleen and I started the monthly MG Lit Online Book Club two years ago, so we knew that we worked well together. When I mentioned one day that I had taken a course on writing nonfiction for children and had published a magazine article, she started to think more seriously about her idea to write a nonfiction book about kids figuring out what they wanted to do when they grew up. When she approached me with the idea of working together on a book to highlight a variety of dream jobs, I immediately said yes.

Kathie: How did you choose the individuals you included in the book?

Me: We spent a lot of time searching for people with a wide range of backgrounds and unique perspectives in their fields. For instance, I interviewed one of a handful of female smokejumpers in the United States, while Colleen interviewed a Canadian barber who caters his services to transgender clients. We wanted kids to pick up our book and see a world of possibilities.

Kathie: Tell us what it was like co-writing with Colleen?

Me: Working with a well-established author like Colleen was a godsend. I learned so much from her, and she was incredibly generous in answering all my questions. I’d never considered co-writing a book but discovered I loved having someone to bounce ideas off and working collaboratively. I experienced my share of imposter syndrome as an unpublished author working with someone well-established in the writing community. Still, I learned that I brought valuable skills, ideas, and perspectives to this project, and I’m so proud of the finished product.

Kathie: What do you hope young readers will take away from your book?

Me: My daughter is almost 19 and heading off to university in September (I dedicated this book to her as she sets off in search of her own dream job). She felt so much pressure to have her career path figured out before graduating from high school. I really want young readers to see that many of these successful individuals had no idea what they wanted to do at that point in their lives. Many “fell” into their dream jobs while on the road to someplace else. I hope kids are inspired to pursue their passions and work through the bumps in the road to get to a place where they are doing work they love.

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

Me: Colleen’s website is http://www.colleennelsonauthor.com/, and you can find her on Instagram at @colleennelsonauthor or Twitter at @colleennelson14. You can find me on Twitter or Instagram at @KathieMacIsaac, and at the Bit About Books blog with Laurie Hnatiuk.

Kathie MacIsaac is an award-winning literacy advocate who is passionate about books for middle-grade readers. She is a co-author of the blog Bit About Books and a co-founder of the website MG Book Village, which facilitates connection between members of the middle-grade community. Kathie manages the children’s department of the Headingley Municipal Library near Winnipeg, Manitoba, where she lives with her husband and daughter.  If You Can Dream It, You Can Do It: How 25 inspiring individuals found their dream jobs is her first book.

Interview with Xiran Jay Zhao about ZACHARY YING AND THE DRAGON EMPEROR

Kathie: Hi Xiran, and welcome to MG Book Village! Thanks for taking some time to chat with me about your debut middle-grade book, Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor, which comes out on May 10th from Margaret K. Elderry Books. I recently had the opportunity to read it and I loved it! Can you tell our readers a bit about it, please?

Xiran: Hello, Kathie! Zachary Ying is a middle grade adventure I pitch as Chinese Percy Jackson meets Yugioh. It features a 12-year-old Chinese American boy who’s not really connected to his Chinese heritage, but is compelled to go on a journey across China to fight historical and mythical figures and heist real artifacts after the First Emperor of China possesses his AR gaming headset.

Kathie: What five words would you use to describe Zack, and what do you think makes him such an appealing character?

Xiran: Shy, awkward, sensitive, gloomy, determined. I put a lot of my younger self into him, and I hope that his character arc shows what it means to stand up for yourself and break free from the impossible expectations of others.

Kathie: I really love the way you used technology to connect the past to the future, especially since connecting with others plays such a big part in your life with social media. If you had an AR gaming headset that would connect you to anyone, who would it be and why?

Xiran: I’d want to connect with the First Emperor’s famous chancellor Li Si, who supposedly betrayed him on his death bed and faked an edict to execute his assumed successor (his firstborn son, Prince Fusu) and pass the throne to his youngest son Huhai instead. This ultimately caused the fall of the Qin dynasty because Huhai was so irresponsible. But there are a lot of questions surrounding these events, and I’m so curious that I’d demand to know what really happened from Li Si. Also, he’d be able to tell me what kind of treasures were buried in the First Emperor’s mausoleum! The terracotta soldiers we know so well are only an insignificant part of his burial grounds, after all.

Kathie: There is so much interesting Chinese history packed into your story! What was your research process like, and did you know about these historical figures and events before you wrote the book?

Xiran: Yeah, pretty much all the historical tidbits were stuff I already knew and put in the book out of excitement. I didn’t do much extra research other than to confirm that the details were correct.

Kathie: Growing up in the Canadian school system, I’m amazed by how much world history I missed out on. What advice do you have for young readers who want to know more than they’re taught in the classroom?

Xiran: Don’t shy away from historical stories from non-Western societies! Often, they can be even more fun to learn about, since you’re not getting graded on them. HistoryTubers like Oversimplified and Cool History Bros make great animated videos on history. Or, if you don’t mind longer videos, there’s my own channel too 😛

Kathie: What’s one question you’d love to be asked about your book and why?

Xiran: What’s my favorite quote from the book? It’s “This isn’t even close to the worst thing I’ve ever done! I don’t know why we’re being punished for it!” Peak Qin Shi Huang right there.

Kathie: Are we going to see more of Zack’s story, and if so, is there anything you can share with us?

Xiran: There is definitely going to be a sequel. Maybe even multiple sequels…? Stay tuned!

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

Xiran: I’m on Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, and Tumblr, all under @xiranjayzhao!

Kathie: Best of luck with your book’s release, and I look forward to hearing what young readers think of it!

Xiran: Thanks so much for inviting me to chat, Kathie!

Xiran Jay Zhao (they/them) is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Iron Widow series. A first-gen Hui Chinese immigrant from small-town China to Vancouver, Canada, they were raised by the internet and made the inexplicable decision to leave their biochem degree in the dust to write books and make educational content instead. You can find them on Twitter for memes, Instagram for cosplays and fancy outfits, TikTok for fun short videos, and YouTube for long videos about Chinese history and culture. Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor is their first middle grade novel.

Interview with Karina Evans about GROW UP, TAHLIA WILKINS!

Kathie: Hi Karina, and welcome to MG Book Village! Your middle-grade debut novel, Grow up, Tahlia Wilkins, comes out on April 19th from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. Can you tell us a bit about it, please?

Karina: Hi! Thank you for having me! Grow Up, Tahlia Wilkins! is a fun, coming-of-age romp all about friendship, puberty, and growing up—in all its awkward glory. 

Kathie: I absolutely loved the humor in this story, and that it’s SO relatable. What made you decide to write a book focusing on a girl getting her first period?

Karina: Oh, thank you so much!! Growing up, I really loved Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume because it talked about periods, crushes, and friend dynamics—all must-read subjects for me. I remember looking for books that were similar to it, but struggling to find stories with protagonists that had the same body-changing anxieties I did. When I decided to write middle grade books, I knew I wanted to write stories that would fit into that same ‘figuring out puberty’ vein.

Kathie: You did an excellent job educating readers while entertaining them. Why do you think many girls are still so unprepared given the resources?

Karina: There is still such a stigma around discussing puberty—specifically periods—with others. I think many people believe periods are something that should be endured and experienced privately (which is completely fine if that is your personal choice!). But if kids don’t have ‘what is going on with my body’ conversations with their peers and adults, then they may not be mentally or emotionally prepared for all the changes we go through.

Kathie: I love how creative Tahlia and Lily are with their solutions. Are you the type of person who plans ahead, or do you like to wing it as you go?

Karina: Hmm… tough question! Part of me is pretty meticulous when it comes to planning things like parties and trips, but another part of me (probably a much bigger part) is a total wing-er. I wrote the first draft of Grow Up, Tahlia Wilkins! without an outline, so I had to come up with all Tahlia and Lily’s crazy plans on the fly. I had a rough idea where I wanted the story to go, but had no idea how I was going to get there. Luckily, after many revisions, the story came together! However, I do not write without outlines any more. Too stressful. 

Kathie: What’s one thing you’ve learned as a debut author that you think would be helpful for others to know?

Karina: Ask questions! A lot happens between writing the book and having it on shelves, so it’s good to remember that your agent and editor are there for you. In both puberty and publishing, you should always feel comfortable to ask a trusted person “is this normal?”

Kathie: What’s something you’d like readers to know about your book?

Karina: After signing with an agent but before going on submission, I added nearly 15k words to the original story!

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

Karina: You can find me on Twitter: @karinaewrites, Instagram: @karinaevanswrites, and my website: karinaevans.com

Kathie: Thank you so much for answering my questions today, Karina, and I can’t wait to purchase your book for my collection and start hearing from young readers!

Karina: Thank you so much for reading, Kathie!!

Karina Evans studied English at the University of Delaware before going into a career in the entertainment industry. She currently lives in Los Angeles, California, and Grow Up, Tahlia Wilkins! is her first novel. You can visit her online at karinaevans.com

Interview with Jarod Roselló about THE CURSE OF THE EVIL EYE

*Thanks to Adrianna Cuevas for this sharing her interview with Jarod

I’m excited to chat with the amazing Jarod Roselló today for Middle Grade Book Village! Jarod’s upcoming graphic novel, Red Panda and Moon Bear: The Curse of the Evil Eye is full of hijinks, mayhem… and Cuban food!

What is your favorite part of creating the Red Panda and Moon Bear series?

I love telling stories that surprise me. My challenge to myself as a writer working on Red Panda & Moon Bear has been to open new mysteries and introduce new questions more than answer existing questions. It’s really fun to add elements in the background or into the story that I don’t know anything about. It gives me things to think through and try to solve in later chapters or books. The world of RP & MB is so magical and ever-growing, so this feels narratively relevant and appropriate for this series. 

Did any surprising challenges present themselves as you worked on this second book that hadn’t appeared in the first?

Working on a sequel means there’s a momentary panic at the start of the writing process where I realize I need to honor the first book, but also change some things. I was worried about not getting the tone right or altering the characters too much. I feel like my cartooning and drawing has gotten more sophisticated between the two books and so I wanted to try out new visual and narrative elements, but I didn’t want book 2 to feel really far off from book 1. So you’ll definitely notice some cool new things. 

I also wanted to incorporate more Spanish and Cuban culture into book 2. I’ve always been sheepish about my Spanish which is, admittedly, not great. So I had to be extra mindful of what I was doing and how. 

Probably the most challenging part of RP&MB2 was writing the ending. I didn’t know how to end it! I spent hours on the phone with my editor, Leigh Walton, working it out. A great editor knows how to help you through these issues without taking over. I’m grateful to get to work with Leigh, because we ended up with the perfect ending for this book. 

My son recently came home and told me that his school librarian only lets students check out graphic novels and comics if they also check out another book along with it because those are ‘dessert books.’ What are your thoughts on this view of comics and graphic novels?

Of course, I think it’s ridiculous! Anyone who has read graphic novels knows they’re complex narratives that rely on multiple modes of reading, interpretation, analysis, and reflection. Text in graphic novels tends to be advanced because we have images to scaffold and contextualize the narrative. Adults who discourage graphic novel reading probably aren’t reading graphic novels themselves and so don’t know how to appreciate them or understand them. Comics are also pop culture artifacts which rely heavily on the literacies and artistry of other media. This means they belong to children as much as they belong to adults—even though we’re the ones making them. Some adults are uncomfortable ceding control to children. But when it comes to comics, they’re almost certainly the experts. 

Are the characters in Red Panda and Moon Bear inspired by anything in your life?

Yes, they are! They were originally drawn as silly versions of my own children. But I became immediately invested in them as characters and started imagining what kinds of stories and adventures they would find themselves in. My daughter (who is ten now) used to complain that in children’s movies and books the adults never listen to the kids, and the kids always end up being right (it was actually a monster, the house is really haunted, their teacher is actually a shape-shifting slime-beast from Planet Q, etc.). I wanted to make a book that honored children’s agency and knowledge, where the kids were always right. 

What advice would you have for aspiring comic creators?

Make short comics! Start with comic strips. Put them up online or make copies to give to your friends. Practice drawing by mimicking your favorite comics and figure out what style feels right to you, then RUN WITH IT! Make lots of little things and when you feel comfortable, challenge yourself to tell longer stories. But most importantly, have fun! Drawing comics is hard and can be really tedious. If you don’t design a creative process you enjoy, you’ll never stick with it. 

What’s coming up next for you?

Red Panda & Moon Bear (Book 2): The Curse of the Evil Eye comes out this April! I have an early reader graphic novel series, Hugo & Dino, that comes out in 2023 from Random House Graphic. It’s about a boy who transforms himself into a dinosaur to go on adventures with his best friend, who is also a dinosaur. I’ve also been working in animation lately, which is really cool. I just finished my first pilot script for a top secret project. I hope I’ll be able to talk more about next fall. 

Jarod Roselló is a Cuban American writer, cartoonist, and teacher. He is the author of the middle-grade graphic novel Red Panda & Moon Bear, a Chicago Public Library and New York Public Library 2019 best book for young readers, and a 2019 Nerdy Award winner for graphic novels. His young reader graphic novel series, Hugo & Dino, is forthcoming from Random House Graphic in 2023.

His graphic novel, The Well-Dressed Bear Will (Never) be Found, was a 2015 Honorable Mention in the Publishers Weekly Graphic Novel Critics Poll, and his chapbook, The Star, was the winner of the 2015 Epiphany Magazine chapbook contest for graphic literature.

Jarod holds an MFA in Creative Writing and a PhD in Curriculum & Instruction, both from The Pennsylvania State University. Originally from Miami, he now lives in Tampa, Florida, with his wife, kids, and dogs, and teaches in the creative writing program at the University of South Florida.

Fresh Starts by Diana Renn

Fresh Starts by Diana Renn

It’s launch day for my new middle grade novel, Trouble at Turtle Pond, and I’m delighted to celebrate here at Middle Grade Book Village. Thank you for hosting me!

Trouble at Turtle Pond is a friendship-centered eco mystery. When eleven-year-old Miles moves to Marsh Hollow, he’s desperate for a fresh start, eager to leave his troublemaking reputation behind. In his new neighborhood, nesting turtles are on the move. His neighbor, Pia, convinces him to join the Backyard Rangers, who are working to protect them. Miles and Pia discover clues to crimes against endangered Blanding’s turtles. Worse, a pair of foster turtle hatchlings in Pia’s care go missing at a town event. Suspecting poachers, the Backyard Rangers investigate a string of suspects. But when Miles becomes a suspect himself, he has to convince his new friends he’s not who they think he is, and stop the crimes before more turtles — and people — get hurt.

My road to publishing this book started with a turtle. When I moved to a new town, I nearly ran over one. I quickly discovered that turtles were among my neighbors. My human neighbors taught me how to move a turtle safely across a road. I also learned about other dangers turtles face, including predators and habitat loss.

Our local schools partnered with a conservation group to restore the population of Blanding’s turtles at a nearby wildlife refuge. Kids and teachers cared for hatchlings in their classrooms. Whenever I volunteered to help with turtle-related activities, I was in awe of how much advocacy was kid-powered, from hands-on care, to fundraising, to educating our community.

Volunteering with the conservation group turned into a family endeavor. We went turtle tracking with field biologists to locate nests. We fostered ten hatchlings for a month. I knew I had to write about turtles. My mystery-writing brain kicked in.

Previously, I had published three YA mysteries featuring globetrotting teens, and an international art heist thriller for adults. I now felt a strong pull to write mystery for younger readers, and to write about conservation issues closer to home. Like Miles in my story, I wanted a fresh start.

At first, I wasn’t sure I could write a “turtle thriller.” Would people find turtles as thrilling as I did? Then I hit plot snags. Who would be out to get turtles? Nobody in my real-life network seemed remotely capable of harming turtles or sabotaging a biologist’s efforts. Crafting criminals for this kind of mystery proved more challenging than I imagined.

Delving into research on wildlife crimes and consulting with experts gave me some real-life prototypes to consider, though. After a few false starts, the crime angle took shape.

I then realized this wasn’t really a thriller.Instead, I had all the ingredients for a cozy mystery: the quirky small town of Marsh Hollow, a team of young investigators with a cardboard box ranger station, a string of suspicious characters around town, and themes of friendship and belonging. So cozy mystery became another dimension of my fresh start.

Fresh starts are not without risks. The editor I’d worked with for three books had left for a fresh start of her own, so I’d be sending this out on submission. Then it turned out this book wasn’t a good fit for my agent. We agreed I should seek different representation for my books for younger readers. This was an unexpected fresh start. But I began querying for the first time in a decade, got some good feedback, some close calls, some no’s . . . and then the pandemic hit, greatly slowing the process down. 

I generally have some patience with slowness. Heck, I wrote a book about turtles. But the pandemic made querying timelines feel even less certain. It also brought a fresh sense of urgency to my desire to publish this book. I had a feeling that people might become even more interested in goings-on right in their own backyards, and that books with a grassroots conservation theme might become desirable, even helpful.

I decided to look into publishers that would take unsolicited manuscripts. A friend of mine loved her publisher, Regal House, and recommended I look at their expanding children’s book imprint, Fitzroy Books. I liked what I saw. They were a smaller traditional press, but mighty, growing, putting out excellent books that were getting great reviews and winning awards. Their values aligned with mine, even down to their sustainability statement on their website. They also moved quickly. They requested my full manuscript within 24 hours of my query.

By the end of July 2020, I had a signed contract in hand. It’s been an honor to work with the fantastic team at Regal House, and to get to know other authors there. There’s a wonderful collaborative spirit to marketing and promotion at this press, a true community effort, that reminds me very much of my grassroots work with the turtles.

In the process of getting the word out about this book, I’ve had the privilege of engaging with so many educators, bloggers, authors, and other readers, as well as scientists and conservationists. So publicity, too, has been a collaborative process that has energized me. Every day I feel that I’m still helping turtles by writing and talking about them.

It takes a lot of people to keep their eyes out for turtles and help them safely cross roads. It also takes a lot of observant, dedicated people to help a little cozy mystery about turtles find its readers in a busy marketplace. I’m happy I took some risks, tried a fresh start, and found my path forward with this book. I’m profoundly grateful to all the people who’ve taken an interest in Trouble at Turtle Pond and helped it along its journey!

Diana Renn is the author of the middle grade novel Trouble at Turtle Pond (Fitzroy Books / Regal House) as well three young adult mysteries: Tokyo Heist, Latitude Zero,and Blue Voyage (Viking / Penguin Random House). She also works as an editor and book coach. Diana lives outside of Boston with her husband and son, on a street she shares with turtles. Visit her online at www.dianarennbooks.com.

To find out more, or to get in touch with Diana:

www.dianarennbooks.com

Twitter @dianarenn   https://twitter.com/dianarenn

Instagram @dianarennbooks    https://www.instagram.com/dianarennbooks/

Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/58320997-trouble-at-turtle-pond

Order a signed copy of TROUBLE AT TURTLE POND from Silver Unicorn Bookstore:

https://silverunicornbooks.com/item/htJG23OV3XA0ea7u-jC1rw

Order TROUBLE AT TURTLE POND wherever books are sold!

https://bookshop.org/books/trouble-at-turtle-pond/9781646032273