Cover Reveal: EIGHTH GRADE VS. THE MACHINES, by Joshua S. Levy

Hey Josh! Thanks again for coming back to the MG Book Village for another dover reveal! We’re thrilled to have you. Before we get to the big reveal, though, can you tell us a bit about the book?

For. Sure. EIGHTH GRADE VS. THE MACHINES is the direct sequel to my first book, SEVENTH GRADE VS. THE GALAXY. They’re both part of a series we’re now calling “The Adventures of the PSS 118.” They’re middle grade sci-fi stories about a group of kids and their teachers who go to school aboard the “Public School Spaceship” (PSS!) 118.

SEVENTH GRADE opened on the last day of the school year. The PSS 118, in orbit around one of Jupiter’s moons, got attacked by aliens and catapulted across the galaxy. And it was up to seventh graders Jack, Becka, and Ari to help the school find its way home. (Your classic summer vacation, in other words.) School Library Journal called it, “A perfect bridge for readers looking for a Percy Jackson-esque work of science fiction.”—and I couldn’t have asked for a better description.

EIGHTH GRADE picks up where SEVENTH GRADE left off—the kids and teachers are home. But nothing is the same. I really want to avoid spoilers here, because SEVENTH GRADE ends…on a bit of surprise note. Long story short, though, EIGHTH GRADE takes the shenanigans up a level.

One of my favorite things about SEVENTH GRADE is how “down to earth” I tried to make it, even though, you know, it’s set on a spaceship in the future. The kids still have homework, assemblies, and classrooms. Here’s an image from inside the SEVENTH GRADE cover, which shows a “fire escape” layout of the school!

Like your average middle school, the PSS 118 has a lunchroom, gym, and library—and command bridge, fusion reactors, and gravitometric field generator (just hang a left at the teachers’ lounge).

In EIGHTH GRADE VS. THE MACHINES, they’re still going to school—but the PSS 118 has been repaired and upgraded. So they’re ready for all the things kids tend to expect out of eighth grade. Stand-up comedian robots. Libraries at the center of alien planets. And Hannukah doughnuts (in space!).

Like I said in the cover reveal for SEVENTH GRADE, which MG Book Village was generous enough to run for the first book: I wanted the world to be both familiar and different. And fun. I wanted it to be a lot of fun.

Was the artwork for the EIGHTH GRADE VS. THE MACHINES cover done by the same illustrator as SEVENTH GRADE? What did you think when you first saw it?

Yes! I’m so delighted that Petur Antonsson (@peturantonsson) illustrated the EIGHTH GRADE cover, which I love as much as the last one. Petur has done (and continues to do) such incredible work in the middle grade sci-fi/fantasy space. I’d really encourage anyone who likes the art to check out more of Petur’s work, including the amazing illustrations for the new middle grade Star Wars High Republic books (which I LOVE), and Lori Snyder’s THE CIRCUS AT THE END OF THE SEA, which also comes out in October 2021. Once again, the EIGHTH GRADE cover has this…cinematic quality to it that I can’t get enough of—to say nothing of all those easter eggs.

Okay! I don’t think we can hold off any longer — let’s see it!

SO awesome. WOW. How about we check it out side by side with the last book’s cover?

They look GREAT together. Now, you mentioned easter eggs. No spoilers, please — but can you tell us a bit about some of those?

Absolutely. Doctor Shrew (hamster/pet of one of the main characters) is right in the middle there—and he’s got his new little exoskeleton on! I think it looks even better than I had imagined it. There’s also a new alien character behind Becka. Pay close attention to her necklace. It’s important!

Thanks again for coming back to the Village, Josh. We appreciate it! And before we go: when does the book come out and where can readers pre-order?

EIGHTH GRADE VS. THE MACHINES will be out on October 5, 2021. You can find pre-order links in all the usual places, including IndieBound’s site, on Barnes & Noble, and Amazon. It’s also floating on Goodreads here. (PS, the paperback of SEVENTH GRADE VS. THE GALAXY is also coming out on October 5: Amazon. Barnes & Noble. IndieBound.) Thank you!

Joshua S. Levy was born and raised in Florida. After teaching middle school (yes, including seventh and eighth grade) for a little while, he went to law school. He lives with his wife and children in New Jersey, where he practices as a lawyer. Unfortunately, outer space doesn’t come up in court nearly as often as he’d like. You can find him online at http://www.joshuasimonlevy.com/ and on Twitter @JoshuaSLevy.

Cover Reveal: EGG MARKS THE SPOT, by Amy Timberlake, with pictures by Jon Klassen

The MG Book Village is thrilled to be revealing the cover of Egg Marks the Spot, the follow up to Amy Timberlake and Jon Klassen’s fabulous Skunk and Badger. Egg Marks the Spot will be released on September 2nd, and in addition to revealing the book’s cover here, we will be sharing a sneak peek of both its text and art. Below, beneath the cover, you will find a link to an excerpt from the third chapter of Egg Marks the Spot, and beneath that, you’ll see some of the book’s interior art.

Excited?

Intrigued?

Click HERE to read a few pages of Egg Marks the Spot!

More about Egg Marks The Spot:

Buried in the heart of every animal is a secret treasure. Badger’s is the Spider Eye Agate, stolen years ago by his crafty and treasure-trade-dealing cousin, Fisher. Skunk’s is Sundays with the New Yak Times Book Review.
 
When Mr. G. Hedgehog threatens to take the Book Review as soon as it thumps on the doorstep, Skunk decides an adventure (“X Marks the Spot!”) will solve both their problems. Badger agrees, and together they set off for his favorite campsite on Endless Lake. But all is not as it seems at Campsite #5. Harrumphs in the night. Unexpected friends.
 
Then Fisher appears, and Badger knows something is up.
 
Something involving secrets, betrayals, and lies.
 
And a luminous, late-Jurassic prize.
 
In a volume that includes full-color plates and additional black-and-white illustrations by Caldecott medalist Jon Klassen, Newbery Honor author Amy Timberlake takes readers on a second adventure in the new series reviewers have called an instant classic, with comparisons to Frog and ToadWinnie-the-Pooh, and TheWind in the Willows.

Amy Timberlake’s novels for young readers have received a Newbery Honor, an Edgar Award, a Golden Kite Award, and the China Times Best Book Award. She grew up in Hudson, Wisconsin, but now calls Chicago home. She is a graduate of Mount Holyoke College, and holds an MA in English and Creative Writing from the University of Illinois. You can find her walking on Chicago’s Lakefront Trail on cool, crisp fall days. 

Jon Klassen is a Canadian-born author-illustrator. His books include I Want My Hat BackThis Is Not My Hat, winner of the Caldecott Medal; and We Found A Hat. He is a member of the Order of Canada in recognition of his contributions to children’s literature. He currently lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two sons.

Cover Reveal: COLD-BLOODED MYRTLE, by Elizabeth C. Bunce

Hi there, Elizabeth! Thank you so much for stopping by the MG Book Village to chat about COLD-BLOODED MYRTLE and reveal the book’s cover. This is the third book in the Edgar Award and Agatha Award-nominated Myrtle Hardcastle Mystery Series! What’s in store for Myrtle this time?

I am delighted to be back! Thank you for continuing the tradition for Myrtle Hardcastle Mysteries cover reveals.

In Cold-Blooded Myrtle, our Investigator encounters her first cold case. Years ago, a student at the local college vanished under Mysterious Circumstances and no trace of her was every found. A murder in the opening pages of Cold-Blooded Myrtle recalls this old mystery; and Myrtle, Miss Judson, and Peony set out to unravel a twisted tale of secret societies, cryptic messages, long-buried secrets, and a killer bent on revenge.

This installment takes place during the holiday season. Tell us what inspired this festive setting! 

A holiday mystery is a crime fiction tradition, and many of our modern holiday customs have their origins in the Victorian era, so I knew from the start one of the books would have to take place during an Exceptionally Victorian Christmas. The Myrtle Hardcastle Mysteries also tend to be inspired by real-life happenings, and Cold-Blooded Myrtle is no different. This time, it was an incident with some family friends’ Dickens village display. Somehow, a harrowing tragedy befell the miniature townsfolk (my chief suspect is a cat): figures knocked over, overturned vehicles, objects scattered through the snowy streets, absolute carnage. Their daughter—a young woman after my own heart!—was visiting at the time, and instead of setting everything back to rights, she turned it into a crime scene, with blood trails, footprints, and crime scene tape! Instantly I realized I had the perfect setup for a Myrtle story.

In what ways has Myrtle grown and changed since Book 1?  

Well, she hasn’t changed too much, thank goodness! She’s still as impulsive, determined, and Irrepressible as ever. But having encountered several murders now, her perspective on human nature is definitely growing. In some ways, I think she’s more understanding, but at other times, she’s become even more suspicious of everyone! Anyone she encounters, it seems, might have murderous intentions. In Cold-Blooded Myrtle, the story draws Myrtle into her most personal case yet—one involving her late mother. Myrtle is at an age where she’s starting to see her parents as people, with pasts and secrets and perhaps less-admirable qualities. She’ll get to know her mum from another perspective.

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

In addition to introducing young readers to the fun of classic detective stories, the Myrtle Hardcastle Mysteries share my love of research and historical curiosities—this time, readers will enjoy a journey into the strange origins of our holiday traditions. This book is also chock full of some of my favorite subjects, plus new characters, new looks at familiar members of the cast, and more fabulous 19th century settings!

And as always, I hope that young readers see Myrtle’s determination and curiosity as an invitation to be bold and curious in their own lives. Myrtle is a heroine who doggedly pursues her own path, despite outside pressures trying to define her.  I want kids to see that it’s ok to embrace their own passions and interests too, whatever they might be.

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 COLD-BLOODED MYRTLE to their classroom libraries?

I am so excited to share the news that the classroom guides (yes, guides!) are now available. They have been months in development, but they’re finally here! Teachers interested can sign up for a special mailing at this link: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSd2yGwahFDVdWpmP8QBSDhzYj30gNKYRUJZFEMIjaJx1s9FYw/viewform?vc=0&c=0&w=1&flr=0&gxids=7628

They’ll also be available to download at my website (elizabethcbunce.com).

I am also always thrilled to talk to students, either at full class school visits or small writing groups. Just drop me an email at my website!

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

WOW! Can you tell us how this gorgeous cover came to be?

Well, first, I just want to say how absolutely THRILLING this particular cover is! I am beyond excited that Myrtle’s partner in sleuthing, her unflappable governess Miss Judson, has joined Myrtle on the jacket. My publishers were very coy about this, not breathing a word of their plans, and they sprung it on me as a complete surprise. Seeing Miss Judson alongside Myrtle made me stand up and cheer!

For the Myrtle Hardcastle Mysteries, I have had the privilege of helping to plan some of the cover imagery, including planting small objects throughout the story that can be singled out for the jacket corners and the chapter spot illustrations. This time, I suggested the image of Myrtle looking in through the shop window at the holiday display, and I love how artist Brett Helquist realized this—there’s so much intrigue there: what are they looking at? What’s happening? What do the olives and the overturned wishing well signify? Readers won’t have to wait long to find out….

I can’t help but notice that there is a cat sitting behind Myrtle and her governess, Miss Judson. Tell us about her!

That would be the third member of the team, Peony the Cat! Peony has been a key part of the crew since her own origin story in Premeditated Myrtle (MHM #1), and she features prominently in How to Get Away with Myrtle (MHM #2)–you can spot her tucked away on the covers of the first two books, too. Anyone who’s ever known a cat can tell you, it is impossible to keep them out of the action, and new readers will discover that Peony is just as irrepressible as her fellow human sleuths. 

When can readers get their hands on COLD-BLOODED MYRTLE?

October 5!

Can we expect more adventures with Myrtle?

I have just turned in the manuscript for In Myrtle Peril. That will come out Fall 2022, and I’ve thrown even more hard-to-believe real-life Victorian drama at Myrtle this time.

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

My website (with all social media links) is elizabethcbunce.com. On Instagram, follow the hashtags #MHDS (Myrtle Hardcastle Detective Society) and #MyrtleMondays for regular updates. In addition, I blog weekly on topics about life in Victorian England, sharing the influences behind Myrtle’s world and her cases. I love to hear from fans, so my contact information is at the website, too.

Thanks again for returning to the MG Book Village, Elizabeth! We hope you and Myrtle will join us again soon!

Thank you so much for welcoming Myrtle back!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jill: Is it a real unicorn horn?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Website: http://www.danamiddletonbooks.com

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

Twitter: https://twitter.com/DanaKMiddleton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Okay, let’s take a look!

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks so much for having me!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Okay, let’s take a look!

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

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

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

Amazon
Bookshop.org
BN.com

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

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.