Cover Reveal: THE FORBIDDEN LOCK, by Liesl Shurtliff

Hi there, Liesl! Thank you so much for stopping by the MG Book Village to talk about your new book and reveal its cover. But before we get to that, since this is your first time at the Village, would you care to tell our readers a bit about yourself and your work?  

Hi! Thanks so much for having me here. I’m a middle-grade author from Chicago. I have a series of humorous fairytale retellings called the Fairly True Tales series and then the Time Castaways series, which is a family time travel adventure. My writing style usually includes quirky characters, fast-paced plots, fantastic world building, and lots of magic. I love my house plants, fuzzy socks, and afternoon tea with friends.  

All right — onto the new book, THE FORBIDDEN LOCK, the third book in your Time Castaways series! Can you tell us what this installment of the series is all about?

The third and final book of the Time Castaways trilogy! Without giving away too much about Books 1 and 2, The Forbidden Lock continues the saga of the Hudson family and their feud with Captain Vincent and his crew of time pirates. The Hudsons are in a race for time itself. Captain Vincent has gained the power to change events in time, and with the help of famous chemist Alfred Nobel, he can even erase a person’s entire existence. Captain Vincent plans to make his perfect world, and it doesn’t include the Hudsons. The world literally starts to fall apart. People start to disappear. Time periods are crashing into each other, dinosaurs have taken over Central Park, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art is overtaken by the very historical figures it features. Our hero Matt finds himself increasingly alone, wondering if he’ll be able to hold on to his family, his friends, or even himself. 

Have you always been interested in history?

Yes! For as long as I can remember I have been fascinated by the past, especially when it’s presented as a great story. I want to know about people and places from long ago, how they lived, what they wanted and felt, how they’re different for me, how they’re the same. I also love to learn the unusual, lesser-known details of their lives. For instance, most people know Alfred Nobel as the famous chemist who invented dynamite who then left most of his fortune to found the Nobel prizes, but a lot of people don’t know that his first love was literature. He wanted to be a poet, and actually wrote some pretty darn good poetry, but his father convinced him it wasn’t a practical profession. (I mean, he’s not totally off base, is he?) I include that tidbit in The Forbidden Lock, and even use one of his poems called A Riddle as the epigraph of this book, as well as in the story.

Is time travel something you fantasized about as a kid, or something you do fantasize as an adult? What influences did you have in developing your time travel world?

What kid doesn’t fantasize about time travel? Every time I even mention it to a group of kids they always go “Ooooooh!” I think it’s a very natural thing to think about. We wish we could go back and change things. We wish we could see what’s coming. I did fantasize about time travel as a kid, and still do. I thought about how it might be possible, what you could do or not do, the consequences, the way it would feel. I once attended a lecture by a mathematician who described in detail how time travel was indeed possible in theory, but no one was quite sure how to do it without dire consequences, like your head exploding. It really sparked my interest, and though this series is more fantasy than science-y, I did draw upon some of the concepts in his lecture to build my own logic around time travel and how it works. Time sickness is a thing, and some get it worse than others.

The line between fiction and non-fiction can, of course, be a fuzzy one – but things get especially fuzzy when you, say, feature actual people from the past in your fictional stories. Can you speak to that fuzzy line, and what you find so fascinating, beneficial, and fun about blending fact and fiction?

Fuzzy is definitely the right word for it. I include a lot of historical character in the Time Castaways trilogy, including Queen Elizabeth I, Annie Oakley, and Alfred Nobel. I did a lot of research, digging through multiple sources to try to get as clear a picture as possible of the time and people that I want to include in my book. I try to stay true to history as much as possible, but the thing about history is we can’t always know what’s true or false. There’s a lot of blank space, so many questions we can’t possibly answer with 100% certainty, and historians are constantly making new discoveries that shift our view of the past. That’s where history can be really fun in fiction. We can take liberties in filling in those blank spaces. Some might say this can be problematic with young readers, that they might be confused about what’s true and what’s not, but that hasn’t been my experience. Quite the opposite. Often, I hear readers ask, “Did that really happen?” Sometimes true facts are stranger than fiction, and kids want to know more. Historical fiction can be a great springboard into deeper historical research and interest for students.

You’ve mentioned that these books are uniquely challenging to write – I can’t even begin to imagine! Can you share with us some of those challenges, and perhaps how you dealt with them?

I think one of the biggest challenges with writing time-travel is that the possibilities are endless! I know that might seem like a good thing, but when we’re storytelling, it helps to have some constraints. When you have the possibility of time travel, you open up infinity possibilities and it can easily overwhelm you. Where do I decide to take my characters? Who will they meet? What will they do? How will their actions affect various timelines? How will time travel affect them? It’s a lot to wrap the brain around, and I had to spend some time developing a framework. I’m not typically an outliner, I generally find it too confining. But in this case, I needed confinement! It’s a good example of how every book is different. We can’t approach every story in the same way.

The other big challenge for me was simply keeping track of everyone’s timelines. This is a multi-generational family saga with characters coming from all different centuries and countries. Some people get lost in time for years and then come back where they started. They could be decades older while everyone else hasn’t aged a minute. I had to make some spreadsheets to manage it all. And oh boy, do those spreadsheets come in handy when it’s time for copy edits! Poor copy editors. These books have to be their worst nightmare.

What do you hope your readers — especially the young ones — take away from this book, and the Time Castaways series in general? 

Mostly I hope readers simply enjoy the ride. That’s always my goal as a writer. I want to create stories that make reading a joy and not a task. Beyond that, I do hope these stories help readers think and wonder and stretch their imaginations about what’s possible. Just like time travel, the possibilities are infinite. 

Many of our site’s readers are teachers of Middle Grade-aged kids. Is there anything you’d like to say to them – in particular those planning to share THE FORBIDDEN LOCK, and the Time Castaways series in general, with their students?

This series is full of potential for further discussion, learning, and research, so I do hope many classrooms will benefit from those opportunities. I do have a great educator guide on my website for this series, with several Common Core-aligned activities. I’d say it’s best suited for middle-schoolers, grades 5-8, though not out of bounds for grades 3-4.  

Okay – let’s get to the cover! Were you at all involved in the creative process?

I was! Of course, we wanted the books to match the other covers in style and tone, so we knew there would be a vehicle at the center, and two location silhouettes on the top and bottom. My publisher asked me which vehicle and locations I thought should be featured on this particular cover. As we’d done a train transforming into a ship, and then a bus, I thought it was time for flight! As for the locations, The Forbidden City of China and the Lost City of Colombia are two key locations in this book, so I knew I wanted those featured.

What was it like for you to see the cover art for the first time?

I was beyond thrilled! It’s perfect. The design is by Katie Fitch, and the art by Alexandria Neonakis. I love her style. It’s perfect for these books. I love how the cover captures the adventure and magic (with a dash of humor) that readers will find within the pages.

Okay — let’s take a look for ourselves!

Wow! It’s fabulous! And the three covers look wonderful together!

Now, when can readers get their hands on THE FORBIDDEN LOCK?

October 15, 2020!

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

You can learn more about me and my books on my website, Lieslshurtliff.com. I’m also active on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook as @LieslShurtliff. There you can see more personal tidbits on my work and family, plus super cute photos of my new kitty!

Liesl Shurtliff is the New York Times bestselling author of the (Fairly) True Tales series and the Time Castaways series. Her books have been named several state award lists and have won many awards including a Children’s Book Award from the International Literacy Association. A native of Salt Lake City, Utah, Liesl has called Chicago home for fifteen years. She and her husband have four children who have inspired many characters in Liesl’s books, both hero and villain.

Cover Reveal: HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MYRTLE, by Elizabeth C. Bunce

Hi there, Elizabeth! Thank you so much for stopping by the MG Book Village to chat about HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MYRTLE and reveal the book’s cover. What’s HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MYRTLE all about?

Thanks so much for having me! This is great fun.

I pitched the second Myrtle Hardcastle mystery to my editor like this: “How To Get Away with Myrtle: in which a boring railway holiday to the seaside is livened up by jewel thieves and murder, and Aunt Helena has (sadly) probably not killed someone.”

What’s it like writing a series? How does your approach to Book 2 differ from your approach to Book 1?

Series are as much fun for the author as they are for the readers. Maybe even more! As I spent more and more time with my characters, they naturally started to suggest further adventures to me. I didn’t set out to write a series, but even before the end of Premeditated Myrtle, it was clear that all of these characters had more Investigating to do. Happily, my publisher agreed and signed on for four Myrtle books.

The biggest difference is that the first book started off much longer—quite a bit longer than is typical for series mysteries (for adults or young readers). I whittled it down to a more manageable size—but writing a shorter book was entirely new to me. My young adult novels have all topped out just over 100,000 words. I wasn’t sure I could write a shorter book, but I was determined to learn how. And the first draft of How to Get Away with Myrtle was half that length! It’s since been fleshed out to its final length of around 74,000 words, which feels just exactly right. (I think I have the knack now—I just turned in Book 3, at just over 73,000!) They’re a terrific length for book-loving middle graders (who often email me asking for longer books!).

The Myrtle Hardcastle Mystery Series is set in Victorian England! Can you tell us a bit about this setting and why it is so important?

It would take several college courses, an army of historians, and thousands of pages to explain the significance of Victorian England and the global shadow we still live under, well more than a century later! But for these books, I really wanted to explore a world that was just developing all of the standard criminology tools we now take for granted (fingerprinting, blood analysis, etc.), and how exciting that must have been for crime fighters of the era.

Myrtle’s world is like the world of kids today: she lives with many technologies that are “old hat” for her—she’s never known a world without railways, gas lighting, telegrams, or photography. But many things are new and modern and thrilling: telephones, electricity, innovative advances in crime science. Sometimes the past can feel like one blurry lump that’s hard to distinguish, but the world is constantly changing, and people of every era have lived in modern, technologically advanced times. (1893 might seem old-fashioned or even primitive to us, but to people of the period, it was the most advanced the world had ever been.) Myrtle’s cutting-edge enthusiasm for All Things Modern helps bring that sense alive for readers. 

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

These books, above all, are a celebration of curiosity and a determined search for knowledge. I hope readers find Myrtle’s curiosity infectious—the way she is easily distracted by any new bit of fascinating information that crosses her path, and can’t wait to share that information with the reader (whether or not it’s actually relevant to the matter at hand!). And, in turn, that they’ll see this irrepressible curiosity as a positive trait. In Myrtle’s case, she uses it to solve murders and further the cause of justice. But curiosity also fuels science, it fosters understanding between cultures, it drives discoveries and pushes boundaries. Joined with perseverance and determination, curiosity can make a person unstoppable, capable of achieving whatever we set our minds to.

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

We’re developing a Common Core-aligned classroom guide for Premeditated Myrtle, the first book in the series, which will also work with Book 2. These books are ideal read-alongs for units of history (How to Get Away with Myrtle in particular deals with the early industry of tourism, the effect of railways on culture and society, the science of photography and its use in crime scene analysis—which would make for a fantastic classroom exercise!—and more.). The books also include historical notes, and there are resources for readers on my website (www.elizabethcbunce.com). I have tried to share as much real history as I can in these books, but for even more historical fun, join me there. I’ll be sharing lots of period science and criminology, Victorian-era crafts and amusements, and other wonderful tidbits that will help enrich the reading experience.

I want readers to join in my fascination and delight for history—not just dates and battles and politics, but the way our ancestors lived their daily lives, what it might have felt like (or… smelled like) to live in a particular era, in a particular class, with particular interests. Myrtle shows one face of history to young readers, and I hope she opens up windows to other facets of the past, as well.

I love to talk to young readers, writers, and historians, and teachers or librarians interested in school visits (virtual or in person when circumstances permit) should contact me to discuss appearances.

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

Tell us about the cover! Were you involved in the process?

Artist Brett Helquist’s covers have been more than I could have dreamed of for Myrtle. Sometimes an author has very little say in a book cover, but that was not the case here. Early on in the series development, I spent quite a bit of time with my editor discussing our shared vision for the series. As soon as we saw the artwork for Book 1, we knew we were on the right track. Myrtle’s expression of determined action was so perfectly captured!

The initial sketches for Book 2 originally featured the stolen tiara. I proposed featuring the train instead, thinking it would invite readers to come along with Myrtle on her holiday—and everyone embraced this idea enthusiastically (I’ve heard even the artist was relieved not to have to paint that tiara after all!). Now that the overall series design is established, I keep that in mind when writing the new books, making sure the stories include nice visual set pieces for the cover art, and small significant objects/props that can be featured in the frame corners and chapter headers. Keep your eye out for those scissors!

(Interesting nerdy footnote: Editor Elise Howard’s vision included the iconic red cow-catcher on the train, even though they were not typically used on English trains of the period! But it definitely helps set the stage.)

As a historical costumer, I was also asked to provide input on Myrtle’s clothing. I had one request: that she wear a middy (a sailor suit, fashionable seaside wear of the era). This request was actually borne from Brett’s original sketch for Book 1, where Myrtle was wearing an ascot with flippy little ties. It didn’t feel right for Book 1, but I knew it was perfect for How to Get Away with Myrtle! I sent along a photograph of an 1890s red and white middy in a museum collection—and it ended up inspiring the spectacular color scheme.

But I had NO IDEA how well Brett would realize all of these suggestions! In the story, the travelers are lured by a fabulous brochure advertising the Family Amusements of a luxurious seaside resort, including the beautiful beach and the quintessential pier. Brett’s cover for this book looks exactly like that Brochure! I’m beyond thrilled. The back-and-forth creative input of everyone involved in these books, including the covers and the internal design work, has been an amazing experience that makes the whole package that much stronger.

What was it like for you to see the cover for the first time?

My editor was whisking out of the country as she was sending me the artwork, so the exchange happened over the phone—there is no written record to record it for posterity. There are rumors that I might have squealed, but as there is no independent confirmation of that, it cannot be proved.

When can readers get their hands on HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MYRTLE?

It will be out October 6, in a Fabulous Two-Book Launch Event Extravaganza, right alongside Book 1, Premeditated Myrtle! I’m so excited that eager readers will be able to grab both books at the same time—or pick the one that appeals the most. These books occur in sequence (Book 1 takes place in August 1893, Book 2 is in October, Book 3 in December, etc.)… but you can read them in any order you like!

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

My website and blog are at www.elizabethcbunce.com. If you subscribe to the blog, you’ll get all the newsy updates on everything Myrtle related, as well as everything I’m making besides books (there are some Myrtle crafts coming!). Readers can also follow the hashtags #MyrtleMondays, #DoubleMyrtle, and #PeonytheCat on Facebook and Instagram. My publisher, Algonquin Young Readers, also has fabulous resources and a robust social media platform, and you can see what else they have coming out.

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

Cover Reveal: THE GREAT PEACH EXPERIMENT: WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU LEMONS, MAKE PEACH PIE, by Erin Soderberg Downing

Hello, Erin! Thank you for coming to the MG Book Village to chat about your new book and reveal its cover. But before we get to all that, since this is your first time at the Village, would you care to tell our readers a bit about yourself and your work?

Thank you so much for letting me visit to share my new series with you guys! My name is Erin, and I’ve written more than fifty books for kids and tweens. Some of the stories you might be most familiar with are the chapter book series PUPPY PIRATES; a middle grade series about a family of magical misfits, called THE QUIRKS; or the middle grade magical realism novel MOON SHADOW. Also important to note: my favorite kind of pie is KEY LIME.

Okay, now, onto the new book, THE GREAT PEACH EXPERIMENT: WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU LEMONS, MAKE PEACH PIE. Can you tell us what it’s all about?

The first book in THE GREAT PEACH EXPERIMENT series is about a family traveling around the country, selling pie out of their newly-acquired food truck. 12-year-old Lucy, 10-year-old Freddy, 8-year-old Herb, and their dad are searching for a way to reconnect as a family after the loss of the kids’ mother, and decide to honor her memory by living out one of Mom’s lifelong dreams. The story is funny, heartwarming, and touching – and is my favorite book I’ve ever written. I love the kids in the Peach family (the perspective shifts in each chapter, so the reader gets to know all three of them really well during the journey!), and their dad is frustratingly charming and quirky. Also, there’s a lot of pie.

Where did the idea to write a book about a food truck come from?

My family loves to travel, and we’ve always dreamed of hitting the road and living out of campgrounds for a summer (we’re actually planning to do that this summer, since camping is a great way to stay socially distanced!). When I was trying to figure out *why* and *how* this busy family could justify taking a whole summer off to travel around, I realized I needed to come up with some sort of goal and objective for the family. I’ve always LOVED food trucks – the variety of food choices, the colorful designs that make them all look so festive, eating outside – and though I’d never have the patience or guts or cooking skills to actually start up a food truck of my own, writing this story gave me a chance to pretend. The story evolved a lot from initial idea and draft to finished story, but the food truck was there all along. It’s just such a random idea for a family to embark on, so it made me laugh and gave me joy while writing.

Did you have to do any research while writing the book?

So much! I knew nothing about food trucks going into this, so I visited a lot of them (and obviously bought lots of yummy food while chatting up the people running the trucks), did a ton of internet research, watched lots of Food Truck Wars, and also made a ton of stuff up. It’s fiction – and character arcs are ultimately the most important part to me in every story – so some of the food truck details and reality had to be fiddled with to fit my story. But I wanted the food truck basics and pie-baking details to be loosely based in reality, which required a lot of delicious research.

WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU LEMONS, MAKE PEACH PIE is the first of two books that have been announced in this series. Have you already begun working on Book 2?

Yes! I have a 17-page chapter-by-chapter outline done (I’m a big planner, especially with books in a series), and I’ve written the first couple of chapters already. It’s so nice getting to spend time with this family. They’re all so much fun! The second book is going to be about the Peaches’ second big family experiment – converting their Great Aunt’s massive ol’ mansion into a B&B, which involves a lot of messy mishaps and funny disasters.

Many of our site’s readers are teachers of Middle Grade-aged kids. Is there anything you’d like to say to them – in particular those planning to share WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU LEMONS, MAKE PEACH PIE with their students?

One of the fun things about this series (for me as the writer, and for readers!) is the rotating perspective – though it’s written in third-person, each chapter shifts to focus on a different character. So readers have a chance to get to know three very different kids, and I’m guessing everyone will have a favorite – which will lead to some fun discussions with friends and classmates. All of my books have a lot of humor and heart, so while this book definitely has a layer of sadness and this family is working through some very difficult issues, I hope I’ve dealt with them in a funny, realistic, and relatable way.

Also, here’s a fun fact: my son Henry drew some of 10-year-old Freddy’s sketchbook entries while I writing this story (Freddy is very much based on real-life Henry!!), and now the designer & publisher are planning to use them in the actual final book! (In case you’re wondering, I always steal bits and pieces of my own kids to create my characters.)

All right – let’s get to the cover! Were you at all involved in the creative process?

I tried to suggest a few ideas, but ultimately, I know I’m really terrible at coming up with cover concepts. Luckily, designer/artist Michelle Cunningham is BRILLIANT and came up with four different cover concepts that were all amazing. It was hard to pick a favorite out of the four options she sketched up for us!

Well, let’s check out the one you did choose. Here it is…

Wow! It’s wonderful! What was it like for you to see the cover art for the first time?

I can honestly say that this cover is perfect, so I couldn’t stop staring at it. I still can’t – I have a giant version of the cover printed and hanging right next to my computer. The colors! The little food truck! The little lemon! The beautiful background! I don’t know how Michelle created something so marvelous and perfect for the story, especially considering how much text she had to fit on this cover.

When can readers get their hands on WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU LEMONS, MAKE PEACH PIE?

April 6, 2021!! Add it on Goodreads, please (!): https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/53413451-when-life-gives-you-lemons-make-peach-pie?ac=1&from_search=true&qid=XTkZbTDtMy&rank=1

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

My website (for lots of info about me, my books, school visits, and more):  http://www.erinsoderberg.com

Facebook (the latest book news): https://www.facebook.com/ErinDowningBooks/

Instagram (mostly pictures of my kids and dog): https://www.instagram.com/erinsoderbergdowning/

Twitter (reading life stuff): https://twitter.com/erindowning

I can’t wait for you all to meet Lucy, Freddy, Herb, and Walter Peach – get ready for a fun adventure in the Peach Pie Truck!!!

Learn more about my books at: www.erinsoderberg.com

Erin Soderberg Downing has written more than fifty books for kids, tweens, and young adults. Some of her most popular titles include the middle-grade novel Moon Shadow and two fun chapter book series: Puppy Pirates and The Quirks. Erin loves creating stories that are accessible and help inspire a lifelong love of reading for fun. Before becoming an author, Erin was a children’s book editor, a cookie inventor, and also worked for Nickelodeon. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband, three hilarious kids, and a mischievous pup named Wally (the star of Puppy Pirates!). More information can be found at www.erinsoderberg.com.

Cover Reveal: THE SECRET LIFE OF SAM, by Kim Ventrella

Hello, Kim! Thank you so much for stopping by the MG Book Village to reveal the cover of one of your upcoming releases, THE SECRET LIFE OF SAM!

Thanks so much for having me!

What’s THE SECRET LIFE OF SAM all about?

How far would you go to be with the people you love—even after they’re gone?

After Sam’s dad dies in a car accident, he’s shuttled off to the dusty town of Holler, Oklahoma to live with a long-lost aunt. He misses everything about his old life—fishing in the swamps, drinking warm cans of Orange Crush and, especially, listening to Pa weave his famous tall tales.

He hates everything about Holler, with its empty fields and dead grass, until he encounters a strangely familiar cat who leads him to a mysterious tree—a tree that turns out to be a portal, letting him return to his old life for a few minutes a day, and be with Pa once more.

Sam’s visits to the bayou become stranger and stranger. Pa’s old stories unfold around him in beautiful but sinister detail, and Pa is not quite himself. Still, Sam is desperate to find a way for them to stay together—until he learns the bittersweet lesson that sometimes loving someone means having to say goodbye.

Certain themes or motifs seem to pop up in all of your work. Most notably (to me, at least): magic, darkness, and nature. Can you tell us a bit about your tendency to approach tough, dark topics and situations with magic or fantastical elements? And is there a reason why that magic is, in your work, so often combined or rooted in the natural world?

I like to think that I tackle difficult topics with big doses of whimsy, humor and hope. It’s true that from a very young age, I’ve always been drawn to dark stories. I had a tough childhood, and I always found myself yearning for stories that reflected my experience, preferably in the guise of a fantasy. Rather than make me sad, these stories made me feel accepted and understood. They validated my experience and gave me courage. That’s not to say that SAM is a sad story. It’s not! More than anything, it’s about the healing power of friendship and family.

As for my stories melding nature and magic, I’ve never really thought about that before, but you’re right! Notably, both my first book, SKELETON TREE, and SAM involve trees with magical properties. In retrospect, I think this connection totally makes sense, because what’s more magical than nature? Not only is nature full of mind-blowing plants and animals, but it’s full of mystery! There’s so much we have yet to discover.

What do you hope your readers – especially the young ones – take away from THE SECRET LIFE OF SAM?

SAM is about so many things: new friendships, reconciling with family, losing someone you love and, ultimately, hope. I want readers to come away inspired to tell their own stories. I see this book encouraging readers to be more understanding, to focus on friendships and, of course, to look at the world in a more magical way.

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

I always love to connect with classrooms, either digitally or through in-person school visits! If your class is reading one of my books, or would just like to chat with an author, let me know. You can find more info at: https://kimventrella.com/school-visits/

Okay, on to the cover! Were you at all involved in the process?

I created a Pinterest board with some ideas for aesthetics and gave feedback on the initial sketch. The illustrator, Brandon Dorman, did an amazing job capturing the essence of the novel in a single image. He has also done some super impressive MG series, like LAND OF STORIES and FABLEHAVEN, so I knew I’d be in good hands.

Let’s check it out. Here it is!

It’s FABULOUS! Full of mystery and movement! Wow. What was it like for you seeing the cover art for the first time?

It’s always a little nerve-wracking, but also fun. Thankfully, Brandon Dorman is awesome! The image inside the alligator is so perfect and sweet and teeming with nostalgia. It’s really fantastic how he incorporated so many story elements seamlessly into this single scene.

When can readers get their hands on THE SECRET LIFE OF SAM?

It comes out 9.29.2020 with HarperCollins!

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

Readers can visit me online at https://kimventrella.com/ or follow me on Twitter or Instagram @kimventrella.

KIM VENTRELLA is the author of the middle grade novels Bone Hollow and Skeleton Tree (out now), as well as Hello, Future Me and The Secret Life of Sam (coming soon). She is also a contributor to the anthology, Don’t Turn Out the Lights: A Tribute to Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (9.1.2020). Her works explore difficult topics with big doses of humor, whimsy and hope. Kim has held a variety of interesting jobs, including children’s librarian, scare actor, Peace Corps volunteer and French instructor, but her favorite job title is author. She lives in Oklahoma City with her dog and co-writer, Hera.

Cover Reveal: HEX ALLEN AND THE CLANKSMITHS, by Jasmine Florentine

Hi there, Jasmine! Thank you so much for stopping by the MG Book Village to chat about HEX ALLEN AND THE CLANKSMITHS and reveal the book’s cover. Before we get to the book and the big reveal, though, would you care to share a bit about yourself?

First of all, thank you so much to MG Book Village for hosting this cover reveal! I’m really honored!

I’m a mechanical engineer and artist, and now I get to add writer to the list of things I do, so that’s really exciting! I’m also proud nerd who loves obsessing over MG and YA books, comics, animated movies, and musicals.

HEX ALLEN AND THE CLANKSMITHS is your debut novel. Can you tell us about your journey to the printed page? 

Sure! The idea to write a book stemmed (pun intended) from my passion for STEM outreach and education. I wanted to use storytelling as a way to inspire kids — particularly girls and underrepresented minorities — to pursue STEM.

Naively, I thought, “I know, I’ll write a book where the characters use STEM, how hard can that be?” Ha! That was like 5 years ago. It took me a while just to learn how to plot a story, to scrap the first few versions entirely, to figure out how the publishing industry works, and to revise, revise, revise. I’ve always written stories or drawn comics for fun, but they usually never made it past a few chapters. This was the first time I was like, “I want to PUBLISH a book because I want to convince every kid that ENGINEERING IS AWESOME!”  So that gave me a lot more motivation to push through.

It took 2 or 3 years before I queried, and then another 2 years-ish of work with the publishing/editing team at Innovation Press. They’ve been INCREDIBLY patient with me, and I’ve learned a lot from them. The book is about a million times better because of everyone who helped so I’m thinking it might just be best to set the original draft on fire so I never have to go back and read it because my brain probably couldn’t handle the embarrassment.

How has all of your learning and experiences outside of writing influenced your writing and the stories you choose to tell?

I studied mechanical engineering at MIT, which has a tradition of very hands-on engineering. People build roller coasters out of wood, put police cars on the roofs, and build upside down rooms in weird places. We’re surrounded by technology every day, but those kinds of crazy engineering stunts always reminded me how magical engineering, and STEM in general, really is. I wanted to convey that sense of awe and amazement in the book, which is why I set it in a world where magic is normal and STEM is mysterious.

Another influence was my own experience, falling into engineering kind of by lucky accident. I really had no clue what engineering was growing up, and applied to tech schools because a friend encouraged me to do so (and because I thought the pranking culture at tech schools was awesome). I had a college counseler tell me, first that I wouldn’t get in, then that I would but only because I was a girl, and that I wouldn’t like it anyway. I spent my first year at MIT with a major case of imposter syndrome thinking I got in only because I was a girl . . . I don’t want that to happen to anyone else.

Okay – let’s get to the book. What’s HEX ALLEN AND THE CLANKSMITHS all about?

I started writing a whole summary and then realized it wasn’t as good as the book blurb, so I’m just copying and pasting that instead!

“Hex Allen can’t do magic—a huge problem when everything from lights to locks is powered by simple spells that everyone (save a few unfortunate “Undevelopeds”) can do. After years of feeling useless, Hex seizes the chance to change her future by journeying to the Wishing Wyrm, a legendary dragon that will grant a single wish once a century. Unfortunately, Hex isn’t the only one after the wish, and every rival wish hunter has magic on their side—every rival except the Clanksmiths. Like Hex, Cam and Fuse can’t do magic, but they’ve learned to build clank using the mysterious, forgotten arts of science and engineering.

After a fairy fiasco throws Hex and the Clanksmiths together, they agree to cooperate—for the time being.  With the Clanksmiths’ know-how and Hex’s creativity, they outsmart monsters with everything from LEDs to electromagnets to water balloon launchers. But as they race to the Wishing Wyrm, Hex must decide between her friendship with the Clanksmiths and the wish that would give her a normal, magical life.”

There’ll also be illustrated instructions for how to build some of the projects in the back of the book!

Were you like the Clanksmiths as a kid – a tinkerer who always had a project (or two, or three…) in the works?

Ha, yes! I was into origami, model airplanes, making Halloween costumes, drawing comics, craft kits, science kits, making things with random stuff around the house. I built a life-size puppet out of a coconut and a tomato trellis for my elementary school talent show.

The funny thing was I had never heard of engineering, so I always thought of all these projects simply as “art”.

You could be variously described as an engineer, an artist, a craftswoman, a designer, and about a billion other things besides. Of course, you are ALL of these things at once. But have you found any interesting parallels or similarities among these disciplines that are often presented as disparate and unrelated?

Holy moly yes. I’ve always made things, and never drew a line between what was art and what was engineering (largely because I didn’t know what engineering was). I have no clue why these disciplines are presented as unrelated! They’re all about using your imagination to make things, it’s just different ways to approach it. Look at product design, for instance — it brings together the technical aspect of making something functional, with the artistic aspects of making it visually appealing and user friendly. It’s one of many areas where art, design, and engineering overlap.

What do you hope your readers – especially the young ones – take away from HEX ALLEN AND THE CLANKSMITHS?

I hope they come away from the book thinking that STEM is fun! And just as importantly, that anyone can be a maker, an engineer, a scientist. Maybe some of them will realize that they are already those things!

Also, I think some people are intimidated by STEM disciplines or just don’t have the clearest idea of what they encompass. I often hear people say things like “engineering seems cool but I’m not good at math”, and are surprised to hear I don’t do much math on a day to day basis. Engineering is really about creative problem solving.

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

If the book inspires some of your students to learn more about STEM or to build some cool clank themselves (which I hope it will!), there’s a lot incredible free resources out there. The book includes instructions for the projects Hex and her friends build, but for kids who want even more, Instructables.com and Makezine.com are fantastic websites with a lot of projects.

For kids who want to get even deeper, they should see if there’s a local Makerspace or look into joining a FIRST team (I’m biased, I worked at FIRST, but it’s a really incredible program). 

And of course, teachers can always contact me if they want other inspiration for STEM projects or want me to Skype in to a class. I’m always happy to gush about STEM!

Just as a teaser, here’s a snippet from the project instructions included in the book. 😉

All right – let’s get to the cover. Were you at all involved in the process?

Yes! The Innovation Press is great about involving the author throughout. I had input into picking the illustrator, the initial sketches, the lettering (I got to do the coloring on the lettering actually!). But honestly, Ebony’s art was spot on except for a few minor details (the characters’ age, adding more clank). Mostly I just flipped out about how awesome the Clanksmiths’ outfits were or how much I loved the characters.

You are an accomplished illustrator in your own right. What was it like seeing another artist bring the characters you’d written to life?

I was nervous at first about giving up creative control but I AM SO GLAD I DID.  Even before I saw Ebony’s cover, I was already in love with her portfolio, so I was really excited to see what she was going to bring to the characters. And what she brought was AMAZING. I was basically fangirling over my own characters for a week after because the way she drew them was so perfect. I’m super excited to see the rest of Ebony’s illustrations for the book.

You should definitely check out her website and her other books to see more of her beautiful illustrations: http://www.ebonyglenn.com/.

Okay — I think we’d better check it out. Here it is!

What was it like seeing the cover art for the first time?

I was at a friend’s birthday party when I got the email with the full color version, and brought the party to a full stop by freaking out and then passing around my phone so everyone could have a look. The goggles! The colors! The monsters peeking out from the trees! The more I stare at it the more I’m in love with it!

When can readers get their hands on HEX ALLEN AND THE CLANKSMITHS, and do you have any exciting upcoming events to celebrate the release and spread the word about the book?

September 15, 2020! Ebony is going to be doing book signings at the 2020 Seattle Children’s Book Festival, and there will be an ARC giveaway at the Baker and Taylor/Follett boot at ALA Chicago 2020.

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

I’m on Twitter at @jrflorentine (admittedly, I’m still kind of figuring out Twitter). I also have a website, jasmineflorentine.com, which is currently my engineering/art portfolio, but I will be updating soon with a writing section (still can’t quite believe that’s happening, woo!)

Thank you again so much for hosting this cover reveal!

Cover Reveal: HIDE AND SEEKER, by Daka Hermon

Hi there, Daka! Thank you so much for stopping by the MG Book Village to chat about HIDE AND SEEKER and reveal the book’s cover. Before we get to the book and the reveal, would you care to share a bit about yourself?

Sure! I was born in Chattanooga, TN, and growing up in the South greatly influenced my writing and love of food! I could live off sweet tea, buttermilk cornbread and peach cobbler. I’ve been writing all my life. I wrote stories for my classmates and family members, and loved when I was able to make them laugh or surprise them in some way. I spent most of my childhood in bookstores and libraries, imagining the day when I could share my stories with the world, so Hide and Seeker is a dream come true.  I majored in English Literature/Creative Writing at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia and I currently work in the entertainment industry in Los Angeles, California. When I’m not writing, I’m adding to my growing toy collection, reading, exercising, hanging out with friends and family or searching for the best chocolate cupcake.

HIDE AND SEEKER is your debut novel. Can you tell us about your journey to the printed page?

It’s been a very, very long journey, with a lot of starting, stopping and some moments of doubt. I worked on several other projects, but always seemed to come back to this story. I think it’s because it’s based off one of my favorite childhood memories—playing Hide and Seek with my sisters, cousins and the kids in my neighborhood. I decided to put aside all my other ideas and only focus on this story. I joined SCBWI in 2008 and began to attend the workshops and conferences. I met some very talented writers who encouraged and supported me. Once I was ready, I started submitting my manuscript. There were many rejections, but also some positive feedback from agents. In March of 2017, I entered a #DVpit contest giveaway and won a query and first pages critique from author Will Taylor (@InkAndHive). He was amazing and I can’t thank him enough for his support and feedback. During the contest, I received several requests from agents to read Hide & Seeker.  Will also referred me to agent Emily Keyes from Fuse Literary. After a R&R, I signed with Emily and she’s the best! We work really well together. In March of 2018, we submitted the manuscript to Matt Ringler at Scholastic. We went through a few rounds of revisions and in November of 2018 Scholastic officially acquired my novel. There were lots of tears, screams and chocolate involved on my part. I’m tearing up just thinking about it now.

Let’s get to the book. What’s HIDE AND SEEKER all about?

Justin and his friends attend the welcome home party for a kid who mysteriously disappeared a year earlier and recently returned home.  After playing a game of Hide and Seek, strange things begin to occur. A mark appears on the wrist of every person who played the game and one by one they begin to vanish. They are taken to another world, called Nowhere, where they not only have to face their greatest fears, but also the Seeker, an evil monster who is determined to keep them imprisoned forever.

The book sounds seriously scary. Have you always been a fan of scary stories? Did you set out to write one?

It’s funny because my friends will tell you I’m afraid of my own shadow. I’m the person who has to watch a scary movie during the day so I have time to recover before I go to sleep. I do enjoy spooky novels, but I didn’t set out to write one. In my mind, it was an action-adventure, but as more people read it, they explained it was a Horror novel. Once I started revising, the creepier the story became. I’m still surprised these ideas flowed out of me, but I’m also excited I can embrace all things scary in this way.

So many young readers gravitate toward scary stories, and even crave them. What do you think it is about kids and scary stories? Why are so many of them attracted to being terrified in their reading?

I’ve often wondered that myself. I asked one of my young nephews and he explained that it’s all about the adrenaline rush scary stories give you. He enjoys those heart-stopping moments, the ups and downs and eventually seeing the monster defeated. I’m excited for everyone to read Hide and Seeker and I hope it more than satisfies the need for all things creepy and terrifying.

What do you hope your readers – especially the young ones – take away from HIDE AND SEEKER?

Hmmmm… I’ve thought about this a lot. Many of the main characters in the book are a reflection of me as a child, of the feelings I had growing up. I would want the readers to understand that it’s okay to be afraid or to feel lost, sad, confused or not enough. You’re not alone and stronger than you think. I want the readers to see the power of friendships, helping others and embracing who you are no matter the circumstances. I hope the readers will be entertained and but more importantly empowered.

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

Definitely! At its heart, this novel is about loss, facing your weakness and overcoming your fears.  The main character, Justin, is struggling with the aftermath of his friend’s sudden return and the recent death of his mother. He also has to deal with the terrifying realization that something sinister is hunting him and his friends. He’s ultimately able to learn the true meaning of family and friendship, and the value of believing in yourself. I think these are issues students can identify with. I hope I’m able to visit your schools and talk to your students about this story, my journey, the writing process.

Now for the cover. Were you at all involved in the process?

I wasn’t involved in the initial design stage. My amazing editor had an idea of what he thought could best reflect the creepiness of the story and I trusted him whole-heartedly. The one thing I knew I wanted was for the main character to be featured on the cover. Before it became final, I was able to suggest some changes, but they were minor. The overall process went very smoothly.

What was it like seeing the cover art for the first time?

I remember the moment vividly. I had just pulled into a parking lot in Santa Monica and glanced at my phone. I saw I had an email referencing the cover artwork. My chest tightened. I was so nervous and didn’t know what to expect. I said a quick prayer that the cover was something I liked. I opened the file and gasped. It was beautiful and spooky, exactly how I imagined it. I LOVED it. The first person I shared the artwork with was my dad. His response, his happiness and excitement… it was an amazing moment I’ll never forget.

All right – enough waiting! Let’s check out the cover!

Art by Marcela Bolívar.

When can readers get their hands on HIDE AND SEEKER?

In the true spirit of Hide and Seek, I can say… Ready or not. Here it comes! September 15, 2020. I’m so excited!

Where can readers find you online, and how can they learn more about you and your work?  I’m looking forward to communicating with my readers! For more information about me and the novel, they can find me at dakahermon.com or follow me @dakadh.

Daka Hermon was born in Tennessee and spent her childhood huddled under a blanket with a flashlight reading and writing fairy-tale and fantasy stories. She works in the entertainment industry, and is an active member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. She loves peach sweet tea, chocolate, cupcakes, and collecting superhero toys. Daka lives in California and can be found online at dakahermon.com and on Twitter @dakadh.

Cover Reveal: HELLO FROM RENN LAKE, by Michele Weber Hurwitz

Have you ever heard a lake? Sensed its thoughts?

Might sound a little crazy, but twelve-year old Annalise Oliver, the main character in my upcoming middle grade novel, has.

Maybe it’s because she was abandoned near one when she was a baby. Or maybe it’s because when she’s next to that very same lake, her worries float away as she watches the water ripple and sway, sparkling when it catches the sun.

Whatever the reason, Annalise and Renn Lake share a deep, mystical, almost unexplainable bond. It’s been that way since she was three years old and first heard the lake say hello. And Renn has always been a source of comfort and calm for Annalise, especially when she’s upset or sad.

But this summer, when a small patch of algae quickly becomes a harmful bloom and the lake is closed, Renn goes silent.

Annalise is devastated. Her happiest times are working alongside her adoptive parents, whose family has owned and run cabins along Renn Lake, Wisconsin for generations. While the authorities debate and discuss and disagree about what to do, Annalise gets frustrated, and then angry.

Finally, she decides she can’t wait for them to act. After she and her friends – confident babysitter Maya and science nerd Zach – learn about an innovative treatment for harmful algal blooms, they take a risk to save their beloved lake. But this means that Annalise must confront her deepest fears and most troubling questions. There are secrets about the night she was left, and Renn Lake was the only witness.

This book, my fifth middle grade novel, is very close to my heart. I love lakes, and the entire culture that goes along with them – cabins and canoes and jumping off a rickety old pier into refreshing, cool water. As a lifelong Midwesterner never living near an ocean, I’ve spent many summers enjoying the lakes around me – in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Illinois. It’s been distressing to see the rise in harmful algal blooms in lakes and other bodies of water, which occur when blue-green algae grow out of control. Blooms can have many negative and sometimes dire effects on people, plants, fish, and animals, not to mention interdependent ecosystems and aquatic habitats. This past summer, some dogs died after swimming in lakes that had algal blooms.

Scientists think the increase in blooms is related to warmer temperatures, heat waves, and other extreme weather events. Runoff is a big cause too – rain or melting snow that picks up debris, chemicals and pollutants and flows over sidewalks, driveways, and streets into lakes and rivers. If an algal bloom grows large enough, it can create a dead zone, covering the surface of the water and blocking sunlight. No oxygen gets through and aquatic life disappears.

The impacts of climate change are terrifying. It’s clear to me that we need to address our environmental problems now, before it’s too late and the damage is irreversible. I’ve been impressed and heartened to see kids protesting, speaking out, and urging policymakers to act. Their signs have brought tears to my eyes: “There is no planet B.” “What future?” “Sea levels are rising, and so are we.”

Every single one of us can help in some way. We can do small things, big things, even just one thing. As the kids in my novel come to realize.

Not only is Hello From Renn Lake a story of community, the power of youth activism, and fighting for the things you love, it’s about the strong connection between humans and nature. I firmly believe that nature has a voice, and we need to listen to it. The bond between Annalise and Renn Lake is the emotional core of this story. The girl and the lake heal each other.

I’m thrilled to debut the cover on MG Book Village, one of my absolute favorite sites for all things middle grade. I love Celia Krampien’s illustration, with its nod to a vintage postcard. She beautifully captured the sentiment of the story as well as Annalise (front and center), Zach, Maya, and Annalise’s spunky little sister Jess. You can see more of Celia’s work here: http://www.celiakrampien.com/

Writing a novel is a leap of faith in so many ways – trusting yourself to tell the story that’s in your head, but worrying about getting it down and getting it right. Pushing away those constant doubts, and listening to your heart. I took a big leap in the narration of this book, which alternates between the perspectives of Annalise and Renn Lake. I think (I hope) I got it right.


Hello From Renn Lake dives into the world on May 26, 2020 from Penguin Random House/Wendy Lamb Books. Michele is also the author of Ethan Marcus Stands Up and Ethan Marcus Makes His Mark (Simon & Schuster/Aladdin) and The Summer I Saved the World in 65 Days and Calli Be Gold (Penguin Random House/Wendy Lamb Books). She lives in the Chicago area, near Lake Michigan.


HELLO FROM RENN LAKE is now available for preorder. Links to do so from your preferred bookseller are below!

Indie Bound

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Books-A-Million


Book Trailer Premiere: THE HUMILIATIONS OF PIPI MCGEE by Beth Vrabel

If you’ve ever been bumped from the cool table in the cafeteria, suffered through an accidental mullet, shouldered an unfortunate nickname (ahem, such as … I don’t know… Beef instead of Beth), or otherwise were pelted by puberty’s relentless arrows, Pipi McGee can relate. But Pipi’s determined to use her eighth grade year righting the wrongs of her early education. She’s aiming for redemption but will take revenge. Take a look at this trailer to hear more about The Humiliations of Pipi McGee!

Click here for more information about The Humiliations of Pipi McGee!

Beth Vrabel is author of the Cybils’-nominated Caleb and Kit, ILA award-winning A Blind Guide to Stinkville, JLG-selection A Blind Guide to Normal, The Reckless Club, and the Pack of Dorks series. She is a former journalist so speaks from a very real point of reference and personal experience. She lives in Canton, Connecticut.

Cover Reveal: HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE SEA, by Tanya Guerrero

Hey there, Tanya! Welcome to the MG Book Village! We’re thrilled to be hosting your cover reveal, and are grateful you chose us to host it! Before we get to all of that, though, would you care to introduce yourself to our readers?

Hi, everyone! I’m Tanya Guerrero, an MG author based in the Philippines. In my free time, I love to bake sourdough bread, grow my own fruits and veggies, and of course read. I also volunteer for an animal welfare organization, and have my own mini-rescue at home. Don’t ask me how many cats and dogs I have—though, I’m sure my 9-year old daughter would love to tell each and every one of you!

The book whose cover you’re here to reveal – HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE SEA – is your debut, right? Can you tell us about your journey to the printed page?

Yes, it is my debut. Though, I have shelved a couple of YA books before it. Initially, I wanted to write stories for teens, but after an editor commented that my voice seemed more suited for a younger audience, I got to thinking. Why not MG?

Growing up, books were a huge part of my childhood, particularly MG books like Bridge to Terabithia, Where the Red Fern Grows, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, A Wrinkle in Time, and pretty much anything by Judy Blume. These stories were of solace to me, something I could escape to when times were tough. I was pretty much THAT kid who read way past her bedtime with a flashlight under the covers.

Reminiscing about those anxiety-filled middle school years, and how much I relied on those books for comfort, convinced me to shift my storytelling to focus on the upper-MG market. After all, I seemed to have a younger voice, anyway. So, that’s how I came to write, HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE SEA, which thankfully, was acquired by FSG BYR/Macmillan very early into submissions.

Thank you for sharing all that. It’s great for others to hear about the road to publication — it’s almost never a quick or easy one! Now, let’s get to the book itself. What is HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE SEA all about?

HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE SEA is about a 12-year old boy named Pablo who finds himself moving from country to country with his single mom after his parents go through a messy divorce. With each move, his anxiety—more specifically, his aversion to dirt and germs, his obsessive behaviors, and his fear of the sea—are exacerbated.

When they move to the Philippines, where his mom is hired as a zoologist for a local wildlife refuge, things get way worse. His mom is too busy saving animals to notice that maybe Pablo needs saving, too. Then, unexpectedly, Chiqui, an orphaned Filipino girl with a cleft lip comes to live with them. At first, Pablo’s life is turned upside down. But as he gets to know Chiqui, he realizes that through being strong for her, maybe his own fears don’t seem quite as scary.

He might even find the courage to face his biggest fear of all…and learn how to make friends with the sea.

Is there anything about your own childhood that inspired HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE SEA?

Definitely! In many ways, what Pablo goes through reflects a lot of the emotions I had as a child. When my parents separated, my sister and me moved to Spain to live with our grandparents. Although I’d been to Spain before on family vacations, it was a completely different story living and going to school there. I barely knew any Spanish, and had to learn quickly. And then there was all the anxiety related to missing my parents and my extended family and friends. After a few years in Spain, it was decided that we’d move to New York City. We had to start all over again. New place, new schools, new friends. Although I knew how to speak English, the American culture was quite new to me, other than what I’d already seen on TV. Even after I managed to assimilate, that feeling of being an outsider—an immigrant—never really disappeared. Then, several years later, when I was twelve going on thirteen, I moved back to the Philippines. A new start. Again. It was a strange time for me. I had been away for so long that I felt completely removed from my own culture—like a foreigner even though I’m half-Filipino.

All these experiences inspired what Pablo goes through. I made his character half-Spanish and half-American to reflect my mom’s side of the family and the many years I lived in the US. The fact that he feels disconnected to his life in the Philippines mirrors the same feelings I had when I moved back. Through his character, I show what it was like to learn, to discover, to appreciate the Filipino culture, especially the Filipino people.

I felt it necessary to write about the experience of being an immigrant, and a third culture kid, because I’d never really seen any children’s books that reflected my own experience. And although not all kids will see themselves in Pablo’s story, I’m quite sure that there are many who will.

Though some of my childhood experiences were difficult, at the end, I think all the moving around definitely made me into a better person. That’s the kind of ending I want for Pablo, too. And I think, ultimately, readers will feel a lot of hope for Pablo’s future after they finish the book.

Were there any challenges associated with writing a story set in another country for a book primarily aimed at American readers?

Sure, there were some challenges, namely making sure that the foreign words and phrases (Tagalog and Spanish) would somehow not get lost in translation (or rather in non-translation). There were several instances where I didn’t want to offer many hints as to what was being said, because that’s a big part of being a foreigner in a foreign land. Not understanding the language can create a lot of anxiety and barriers for a child trying to fit in. Although, as an educational reference, we did decide to include a glossary of Tagalog words and phrases at the back of the book.

The other challenge was making sure that the place—the Philippines—would also be a character of its own. I felt it was important to describe everything as vividly as possible, to infuse as much of the culture as I could, through a variety of settings, food references, and especially Filipino humor, which is such an important part of everyday life in the Philippines.

Besides those challenges, I found it relatively easy to make my characters and story appealing to American readers. Having lived in the US for a large chunk of my childhood and adult years, I knew how to make certain aspects more relatable. I found the key was really in presenting universal themes that anyone could understand no matter where they came from.

What do you hope your readers—particularly the young ones—will take away from HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE SEA?

For me what’s most important is that children, especially American children, open up their eyes to the world outside of their own country. I think now, more than ever, is the time for us, as humans, to try and connect, to find those universal themes of love, family, friendship, and home in one another, despite the borders and seas that separate us. It’s only then that we’ll realize that perhaps our similarities outweigh our differences.

Beautifully put. Now, let’s get to what you’re here to do – reveal your cover! Were you involved in the process at all?

Yay! To be honest, I wasn’t too involved in creating the artwork. I have a lot of faith in my editors Joy Peskin and Trisha de Guzman, especially since Trisha was born in the Philippines and only moved to the US when she was seven—so culturally, we had that connection. When they hired a talented artist, Christine Almeda, who is also Filipino-American, I knew that I had nothing to worry about. So I just let the professionals do their jobs and did my best to trust the process!

What did you think when you first saw the art?

What struck me the most at first glance were the colors! It was so spot on, because so much of the scenery in the Philippines is full of color, from the verdant foliage, to the bright tropical flowers, to the blues of the sea and the sky. I also loved how Christine made the plants so lush and distinctly tropical. It’s really obvious that it’s not a beach scene in the US.

I also thought that the body language was just right. Pablo holding his knees against his chest, his face without a smile, looking off into the distance, shows his fear and anxiety perfectly. His back is facing Chiqui, which says a lot about how he first feels when she enters his life.

I think the cover will really appeal to both girls and boys—a definite plus in my opinion, since I’m a huge advocate of gender neutral media for children.

I couldn’t be happier with the artwork and stellar book design by Aram Kim.

Okay – let’s see it!

Tanya! It’s FANTASTIC! Not that I’m surprised, with Christine and Aram behind it — but WOW. I can’t imagine anyone walking by this book and not picking it up to learn more.

Speaking of which — when can readers get their hands on HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE SEA, and where can they learn more about you and your work?

HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE SEA is available for pre-order now on Amazon, Book Depository and other outlets, but will release on March 31st, 2020.

https://www.amazon.com/How-Make-Friends-Tanya-Guerrero/dp/0374311994

https://www.bookdepository.com/How-Make-Friends-with-Sea-Tanya-Guerrero/9780374311995

Please make sure to add it up on Goodreads here:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/38724629-how-to-make-friends-with-the-sea

I can also be reached through my website:

https://www.tanyaguerrero.com/

Tanya Guerrero is Filipino and Spanish by birth, but spent her childhood living in three continents—Asia, Europe and North America. Upon graduating from high school, she moved to Boston and attended Boston University, where she studied screenwriting. Over the course of eleven years, she’s worked as photo editor in children’s educational publishing, operated her own photo studio and freelanced as a writer.​

HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE SEA, her debut middle-grade novel will be published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers/Macmillan on March 31st, 2020. Currently, she lives in a shipping container home in the suburbs of Manila with her husband, her daughter, and a menagerie of rescued cats and dogs. In her free time, she grows her own food, bakes sourdough bread and reads lots of books.

Cover Reveal: THE WONDER OF WILDFLOWERS, by Anna Staniszewski

Hello, Anna! Welcome to the MG Book Village, and thank you so much for hosting your cover reveal here. We’re very excited! Before we get to all of that, though, would you care to introduce yourself to our readers?

Thanks so much for having me! I’m the author of over a dozen books for young readers, including the tween novels The Dirt Diary and Secondhand Wishes; the picture books Power Down, Little Robot and Dogosaurus Rex; and the forthcoming Once Upon a Fairy Tale chapter book series. I write a lot of different kinds of stories, but I think what they all have in common is a sense of humor and a touch of magic.

Now, can you tell us about the new book — THE WONDER OF WILDFLOWERS?

10-year-old Mira is an immigrant in a country that’s nearly closed itself off from the rest of the world in order to protect its most precious nature resource: a magical substance called Amber that makes people stronger and healthier and smarter. As Mira struggles to find her place in a community that shuns outsiders, she must decide how far she’s willing to go to fit in.

The book is a bit of a departure from your previous novels, correct? Would you care to talk about that, and what led you to write this particular book?

My family moved from Poland to the US when I was five, so—like many immigrants—I had to quickly learn a new language and figure out how to assimilate into a new culture.  I suspect this is why the thread of not fitting in is a common one in many of my books, but for a long time, I shied away from writing about my own experiences. I thought: “There are so many great immigrant stories out there. What do I have to add?” Then one day, I started to wonder what would happen if I sprinkled a touch of magic into my own story, and that turned out to be my “in” into writing this more personal novel. By setting the book in a slightly fantastical version of our world, I was able to tell a tale inspired by my emotional experiences of being an immigrant but focused on Mira’s unique struggles.

Okay — let’s get to the cover. Were you involved in the process at all?

My editor, Krista Vitola, and I talked about ways to convey a sense of magic through the cover, since that element of the story is only hinted at in the title. In our conversation, I mentioned a couple of book covers that I thought successfully highlighted that kind of magical feeling, including Savvy by Ingrid Law. My editor passed that info along to the art director, Chloe Foglia, and I was so excited to see that she and the illustrator, Julie McLaughlin, really took that inspiration to heart and ran with it.  

What did you think when you first saw the art?

I immediately fell in love with it. It’s so visually stunning and creates such a perfect blend of magic and mystery. I love that one of the Amber wells is front and center on the cover, since that’s such a huge part of the story, and that we get to see a hint of something brewing in the town in the background. The cover illustration exactly captures the feelings I was hoping to convey in the novel!

All right — let’s see it!

WOW! It’s FANTASTIC! I love all the movement of the rounded shapes and curves, and the hint of drama and even menace with the lightning bolts, dark clouds, and shadowy houses. When can readers get their hands on THE WONDER OF WILDFLOWERS, and where can they learn more about you and your work?

The Wonder of Wildflowers will be releasing in Spring 2020 from Simon & Schuster. In the meantime, I have a few other projects in the works. Readers can check them out at www.annastan.com.

Born in Poland and raised in the United States, Anna Staniszewski grew up loving stories in both Polish and English. She was a Writer-in-Residence at the Boston Public Library and a winner of the PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Discovery Award. Currently, Anna lives south of Boston with her family and teaches courses on writing and children’s literature at Simmons College. When she’s not writing, Anna spends her time reading, daydreaming, and challenging unicorns to games of hopscotch. She is the author of several tween novels, including The Dirt Diary and Once Upon a Cruise, and the picture books Power Down, Little Robot and Dogosaurus Rex.