Interview with Adam Borba about THE MIDNIGHT BRIGADE

Hi Adam! Thanks so much for stopping by the MG Book Village to share about your debut Middle Grade novel, The Midnight Brigade. Before we get to the book, would you care to introduce yourself to our readers?

Thanks so much for having me! I’m originally from the Bay Area, but grew up in Palm Springs, California. My wife and I now have two young children in Los Angeles. My day job is developing and producing movies for Walt Disney Studios, so I’m always reading, writing, or talking story.

Okay: The Midnight Brigade. What’s it all about?

It’s about a lonely, introverted boy named Carl Chesterfield who lives in Pittsburgh. Carl is an observer. He watches, he listens, he processes, he empathizes, but he has trouble speaking up. Trouble raising his hand when he thinks someone is about to make a mistake, or even to share his own opinion when asked. The kid worries he’ll say the wrong thing, so he often says nothing.

Soon after the story begins, Carl’s observations lead him to suspect that monsters might secretly be chewing on Pittsburgh’s bridges. He then finds a flyer for a mysterious group called “The Midnight Brigade” which seems to share his suspicions. Carl joins the group and makes a couple of friends: an odd boy named Teddy, and Bee, the loner daughter of a famous restaurant critic. Then our trio makes an incredible discovery: living under one of Pittsburgh’s bridges is a twenty-five-foot-tall troll named Frank.

The Midnight Brigade is about a lot of things – friendship, food, integrity, empathy – but at its core it’s about someone who wishes he had the courage to step up and find his voice (like so many young readers). And it’s a book about three outsider kids coming together to try to save a struggling family business and the city of Pittsburgh.

Why did you choose to set this book in Pittsburgh? Could it have been set anywhere else? Was there anything about the city that you wished you could’ve included, but that didn’t make it into the final book?

My wife is from Pittsburgh. I fell in love with the city on my first trip to visit her family. It’s a city with so much character and culture. And three major rivers run through it — because of that, it has four hundred and forty-six bridges (even more than Venice, Italy), which made it the perfect setting for this story.

Whenever I visit Pittsburgh, I discover something new, so I’m sure the next time I’m there I’ll be kicking myself about something incredible that would have been perfect for this story.

Have you always been fond of bridges? Most of us take them for granted, in our day-to-day lives, but when you stop to think about them, they are astonishing. At the same time, these (relatively) static structures don’t naturally lend themselves to exciting, Middle Grade storytelling. How did you go about imparting your own fascination with and excitement about bridges to your readers?

Honestly, I didn’t fall in love with bridges until I visited Pittsburgh. I can’t imagine going there and not be impressed by them. Firstly, they’re massive. Truly engineering marvels, spanning bodies of water, and made from tons of steel. And hundreds of cars drive across them all day every day. Secondly, they’re gorgeous. Like works of art. When I get excited about things, I research. So, Pittsburgh’s bridges sent me down a multi-week Google rabbit hole.

I think the scale of the bridges is what makes them exciting. These are huge structures, but if they weren’t built properly (or if something damaged them) they’d collapse. That idea adds a layer of drama to this story. This quiet, lonely kid – Carl – begins to think that something is happening to his city’s bridges that is making them unsafe. But his theory is so absurd that he isn’t sure who he can tell. Plus, he’s not exactly comfortable opening his mouth in the first place.

The Midnight Brigade is at once utterly real and wildly fantastical — you’ve got wonderfully relatable human characters side by side with… well, I don’t want to give too much away, so let’s just say, non-human ones. How did you balance these two things in your storytelling?

Thank you! While I believe there’s a way to make anything work in storytelling, for me, it’s easier to mix the real and the fantastical if you limit yourself to just one or two magical “buys” and play everything else completely straight — especially how the characters react to the fantastic. You identified one of the keys to balancing these elements in your question: relatability. For me, if characters are also dealing with everyday problems and concerns, they’ll feel more real and relatable to readers (or the audience). So, if we’re invested in Jenny dealing with classmates not pulling their weight in her group project, and being disappointed with her parents for not letting her go to a concert, we can also be invested in Jenny discovering that her best friend is an alien, as long as the complications feel real.  

You have done a lot of impressive, exciting work in the film world. Has your work and experiences there influenced your novel writing at all? If so, how?

Appreciate it! I draw on my film background quite a bit. While filmmaking offers the luxury of telling stories with pictures, it all starts with a screenplay, which is a document that’s usually only a 100 or so pages long by the time we start production (and those pages have a lot of blank space). Because scripts are so short, the storytelling on the page needs to be efficient. I try to take that approach with my writing: Cut out the boring stuff and anything that isn’t essential. I also try to be as clear and economical as possible with character arcs, so readers understand how and why a character changes and grows as cleanly and efficiently as possible.

Theme is also something I learned from filmmaking. When we’re developing a movie, one of the early goals we have is to get to a one sentence message. Something universal. Something that each scene in the movie builds to. Something that sums up what the movie is really about. It’s rarely a line that’s said out loud in the film, but it’s always something that my colleagues, the director, and the film’s writers have agreed to. A few examples from our recent films: “Everyone belongs somewhere,” “It’s okay to be different,” “Everyone grows up at their own pace,” “Everyone is deserving of love.” When I’m writing, I try to figure out the theme as early as possible, so I can tie it to narrative and character as much as possible.

Finally, structure is something I learned from film development. The rough drafts of my novels are fairly close to the traditional three act structure of a feature film. Because of that, my rough drafts are on the short side (like a screenplay). As I work with my editor to revise, my drafts become longer as subplots are added and we dive deeper into character. So, while the final manuscript isn’t quite a traditional feature structure, because I started that way, the story remains structurally sound for me.

What do you hope your readers — the young ones, in particular — take away from The Midnight Brigade?

Most importantly, I hope they have a good time. Like the stories I help make for Disney, this is one driven by heart, humor, and a little bit of magic. I hope it’ll transport readers to that special whimsical place that my favorite stories transport me to.

But if there’s one more thing they take away, I hope it’s the message that Frank the troll passes on to Carl: Be Bold. 

All right, I can’t not ask: if someone wanted to get the world’s best pierogi, where would you send them?

That’s easy! Go to my wife’s grandmother’s house. Just say I sent you. She’s a nice lady. Maybe bring a dessert?

The Midnight Brigade published on September 7th, so readers can already get their hands on it. But where can they go to learn more about you and your work?

You can order the book here:, and at some point soon I’ll make a website (probably). But for now, I can be reached on Twitter @adam_borba and Instagram @adamborba

Thanks again for visiting and sharing with us, Adam. We hope you’ll come back soon!

Thank you! So glad you enjoyed the book!

Adam Borba is a film producer and son of bestselling author Michele Borba. He was labeled one of The Hollywood Reporter’s 2017 up-and-coming executive producers and exemplifies the title with his current filmography. He is one of the minds behind Pete’s Dragon (2016) and A Wrinkle in Time (2018), and is currently working on the live action production of Peter Pan & Wendy (2022).

Interview with Adele Griffin about ALL PETS ALLOWED, Book 2 in the Blackberry Farm series

Hi, Adele! Thanks for coming by to talk about the next book in your Blackberry Farm series, ALL PETS ALLOWED! How does this book differ from the first book in the Blackberry Farm series, THE BECKET LIST?

ALL PETS ALLOWED is more about the siblings. Becket and Nicholas are opposite personality twins, and they each adopt pets that are similarly opposite. I liked paying attention to how the twins act and think so differently, yet they also understand each other—and how that relationship is the key to figuring out their pets. Also I really enjoyed writing about all the farm animals in BECKET LIST, so I doubled-up for ALL PETS. Sheep and chickens everywhere you look!

Why did you decide to make this story the next chapter for Becket and the Branch family?

Le-Uyen Pham’s depiction of Nicholas really entertained and inspired me. She gave him so much expression and joy in BECKET. I wanted to see more of him!

Becket is a strong and outgoing heroine who reminds readers of legendary characters like Ramona or Judy Moody. Who or what is your inspiration for this character?

My family! My husband and my kids are all very live-out-loud Beckets, and I am more like introvert Nicholas, and it’s always fun listening to them and responding to their big outgoing declarations and projects.

Do you have any funny / fun pet experiences or stories that you’d like to share?

We have a dog and a cat who are best friends! They are about the same size, and Toby thinks he’s a dog, while Trudy thinks she’s a cat. We love to watch them play—you can see them do their thing on my Instagram Highlights.

What is one thing you’d like readers to take away from ALL PETS ALLOWED?

I love that Becket and Nicholas, even though they are twins growing up in the same house, are always figuring ways to better understand each other. And still can be surprised by the other!  

What are you working on next?

Courtney Sheinmel and I are writing a middle grade novel called GNOME BUGS. It’s about a family of roly-poly gnome hybrids. We think it’s very funny, we hope other people will love it the way we do.

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

Head over to my website, for booky things. For daily pet content, come find me on Instagram—I’m @adelegriffin.

Adele Griffin is the highly acclaimed author of over thirty books for Young Adult and middle grade readers.

Her works include the National Book Award Finalists Sons of Liberty and Where I Want to Be, as well as the popular Oodlethunks series for younger readers. Her novel The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone was a YALSA Best Book, an Amazon Best YA Book of the Year, a Booklist Top Ten Arts Books for Youth, a Junior Library Guild selection, a Romantic Times Finalist for Book of the Year, and a School Library Journal Top Fiction pick. Her latest Becket Branch adventure, All Pets Allowed, is publishing in 2021 with Algonquin Books.

She lives with her husband, Erich, their two sons, a cat named Toby and a dog named Gertrude, in Brooklyn Heights, New York.

Interview with Kate DiCamillo about THE BEATRYCE PROPHECY

Hi Kate! Thank you so much for joining us here at the MG Book Village to talk about your newest book, The Beatryce Prophecy.

Would you care to start things off by sharing what the novel is about?

The Beatryce Prophecy is a story about kings and queens, and prophecies and mermaids, and seahorses and goats.  Mostly, it’s the story of a girl named Beatryce who can read and write in a time and place when it is against the law for a girl to do either of those things.  It’s the story of how Beatryce claims who she is and finds her way home.

Before we get more into the story, I feel I need to ask about one character in particular. Answelica! In your work, you’ve created dozens of unforgettable animal characters, but this menacing, fiercely loyal goat might be the most memorable for me. I certainly won’t forget her for a long time! Was there a real life inspiration behind Answelica?

Oh, Answelica.  I love her, too.  And I don’t know where she came from!  She was one of those characters who just showed up–fully formed and full of surprises.  I loved her (and her hard head and big teeth and powers of discernment) from the minute she arrived, and I miss her still.

In an author’s note, you mention that this story has been with you, kicking around in your imagination, for decades. Why do you think it finally decided to come out now? 

What happened was this: I started the story in the summer of 2009 and I worked on it for awhile and then forgot about it.  I mean, I truly forgot about.  Entirely.  And then in 2017, I cleaned out a closet and found the beginning pages and I was like: oh, this.  This goat!  This girl!  I have to tell this story.  And so I started working on it again.

While you never state precisely when this story takes place, it seems to occur in a medieval time and space. Does this sort of world hold any particular appeal for you as a writer? As a reader? Why did you choose to Beatryce’s story there and then?

You’re right!  I never do say when and where it takes place, and part of the reason is because I’m not sure myself (I tip my hand about that uncertianity at the end of the book).  When the story arrived, when I started telling it, I knew that I was in a different place and time from this one.  And that’s all I knew.  I just followed the characters through that world, their world.

So many of us, adults especially, take for granted that reading is a human right, and so many of us, in this community especially, work so hard to ensure that every child learn to read so they can exercise that right. Among other things, The Beatryce Prophecy reminds us how precious, important, and powerful the act of reading – and writing – is. Would you care to share any of your thoughts and feelings about all of that?

Yes, so much of this story for me is about the empowerment that comes through reading and writing. The book is dedicated to my mother who gave me the gift of words.  I struggled to learn to read.  And when I could finally do it, I remember very clearly thinking: all things are possible now.

You have worked with a number of remarkable illustrators. Is there anything you especially enjoy about having a visual artist depict the characters and settings that you create with words?

It’s one of the great gifts of writing books for kids–watching someone take the characters in your imagination and bring them to life through art.  With Sophie it was so, so moving to watch her do this.  She and I both had the feeling that instead of creating the words and the art for this story, we were insteading remembering something we already knew.

The Beatryce Prophecy is illustrated by the fabulous Sophie Blackall. What was the experience like working with her?

Well, see above.  It was truly miraculous.  I wept a lot.  She makes so much light with this art.  Every line of it is a gift.

What do you hope your readers – the young ones, in particular – take away from The Beatryce Prophecy?

I hope that they feel less alone when they finish the book.  

I hope that they feel empowered.

When can readers get their hands on The Beatryce Prophecy, and are there any events or appearances you’d like to let us know about?

September 28th is when the girl and the goat go out into the world!

Go to your local bookstore to find their story!

Interview with Nicole Melleby about HOW TO BECOME A PLANET

Today we’re chatting with Nicole Melleby, whose book How to Become a Planet publishes today! This contemporary middle grade tells the story of Pluto, a young girl who is dealing with a summer unlike any she’s experienced before. Instead of trips to the planetarium, playing at the boardwalk arcade, and working in her mom’s pizzeria, she’s faced with a diagnosis of depression. When her father threatens to move her to the city, where he believes money will fix Pluto’s problems, Pluto determines to complete a checklist which she feels will get her back to her old self. But a new therapist, a new tutor, and a new friend with a checklist of her own help Pluto learn that there is no old and new Pluto- there’s just her.

Of the few middle grade books which feature characters dealing with depression, the focus is often on the initial cause or even when the character feels they’ve ‘overcome’ their depression. What made you decide to explore a character dealing with a recent diagnosis?

I wanted to show that mental illness can be a lifelong issue. I wanted to let Pluto explore what it meant for her, now that she has this diagnosis, moving forward. How does it change her? Does it change her? What does it all mean? Getting a diagnosis isn’t the end for Pluto—it’s a new beginning, like it ends up being for a lot of kids (and adults) struggling with mental illness. And it can be scary! She’s got all of these big emotions, and her depression has set her back in a lot of ways while she and her mom were trying to figure out what was wrong, and now that they know what is wrong, where do they go from here? Ultimately, I wanted to show my readers that it’s okay to have these diagnoses, that it doesn’t change who they are, and I wanted to show them that despite it feeling so hard, there is always hope.

How to Become a Planet is your third middle grade novel. Are there any themes you’ve noticed pop up across all your books?

Mental illness and queer characters always have a place in my books, in a number of different capacities, but I have noticed now that I’m on my third book that a big theme that often comes up for me is the dynamic between parents and my middle grade aged characters. In Hurricane Season, Fig struggles with this intense sense of responsibility to take care of her dad and herself in the face of his undiagnosed bipolar disorder. In In the Role of Brie Hutchens…, Brie is desperately eager for her mom to just see her and love her for who she is. And here, in How to Become a Planet, Pluto is constantly caught up in her single mom’s expectations and concerns for Pluto’s well-being, and how that effects Pluto’s own journey. I once read that the difference between Young Adult and Middle Grade is that Young Adult characters look to find their place in the world outside of their friends and family, while middle grade characters try and find their place within their friends and family. Middle grade characters are surrounded by adults who make the calls about their lives, and I think it’s important for them to find agency and understanding within that. 

Your novels feature strong secondary characters that help guide and mentor the main character. Do you have a favorite secondary character that you’ve written?

Oh, this is such a tough question to answer! I have a particular soft spot for Fallon, Pluto’s new best friend (and crush!) in How to Become a Planet. Fallon is my first nonbinary character; she’s a bit of a nerd (a book nerd, to be specific) and she can be prickly and defensive if she gets her feelings hurt. But she listens to Pluto and tries her hardest to understand what Pluto is going through. Like attracts like, and Fallon sees something familiar in Pluto’s struggle to understand herself, since Fallon’s going through some pretty similar feelings herself. She’s gallant and sweet and exactly the type of friend Pluto needs when she finds her. 

But I also have to give a shoutout to Parker in In the Role of Brie Hutchens. She’s Brie’s best friend, and she has my favorite moment in all of my books: When Brie comes out to her, Parker (who can’t respond verbally, since they’re in the middle of class) responds by sending Brie a thumbs up and rainbow emoji. She’s the kind of best friend I think any queer kid could love. 

I’m going to cheat and keep going, because while we’re on the subject of all of these wonderful best friends, I have to mention Danny. In Hurricane Season, Fig is going through a lot, and she’s going through most of it alone, until Danny comes along. While he ends up with a bit of a misguided crush on Fig, at the end of the day, Danny completely and fully has Fig’s back and is there for her when she needs him. 

What do you hope young readers take away from How to Become a Planet?

Mental illness is often seen as an “adult issue” and that’s just not true. There are many, many kids who struggle with depression and anxiety and other mental illnesses. You’re not alone if that includes you. 

In your astronomy research for How to Become a Planet, what was one interesting thing you learned that didn’t make it into the book?

I actually found out after I turned my book in that due to the increasing number of debris in space, the space station has guidelines for avoiding a collision, that includes keeping empty space in an invisible rectangular shape clear around the space station called the “pizza box”. This was particularly amusing to me, because Pluto and her mom own a pizzeria on the boardwalk and are obsessed with all things astronomy. While I didn’t know this fun fact, I can almost guarantee Pluto and her mom are well aware of it! 

As a Pitch Wars mentor, you have experience guiding aspiring writers. What advice would you give to young writers?

You don’t have to write every day—I see so many writers wracked with guilt over how much or how little they write day-to-day, and it’s hard! Write how much you want to write, how much you need to write. You decide what those answers are. 

Find a group of writers who are in the same boat as you. If you’re looking for an agent? Find writers to commiserate with. If you’re on sub? Ditto. Find a debut group if you’re having a very first book coming out—because all of these stages are daunting and new and no one knows how to navigate them, but it helps not navigating them alone. 

Also: If you’re facing a rejection? I find it best to sing this ridiculous song, because it’s so ridiculous it makes me feel better every single time I have sung it to myself (which has been often, because rejection is part of being a writer!): Nobody loves me, everybody hates me, I should just go eat worms. Worms! Worms! Worms!

Get your copy of How to Become a Planet from Indiebound!

Nicole Melleby, a born-and-bred Jersey girl, is an award winning children’s author. Her middle grade books have been Junior Library Guild Gold Standard selections, recipient of the Skipping Stones Honor Award, and a 2020 Kirkus Reviews best book of the year. Her debut novel, Hurricane Season, was a Lambda Literary finalist. She lives with her partner and their cat, whose need for attention oddly aligns with Nicole’s writing schedule.

Nicole is currently represented by Jim McCarthy (@JimMcCarthy528) with Dystel, Goderich & Bourret LLC.

Feel free to follow her on Twitter!

Interview with Supriya Kelkar about THAT THING ABOUT BOLLYWOOD

Welcome back to the MG Book Village, Supriya! Thanks so much for stopping by.

Thank you for having me here, Jarrett! It is so great to be back at the MG Book Village.

Since you’ve been here to discuss your previous contemporary Middle Grave novel, American as Paneer Pie, you’ve released a historical Middle Grade novel (Strong as Fire, Fierce as Flame — which we were honored and delighted to host the cover reveal of!), a picture book (Bindu’s Bindis), and also announced that you’ll be illustrating your first picture book (American Desi, written by Jyoti Rajan Gopal). You have been seriously busy!

Yes, it has definitely been a busy year! I’ve been learning lots about the illustrating side of books and working on revisions and first drafts of new projects too so that has been exciting as well.

You are here to chat about your upcoming release, That Thing About Bollywood. Could you tell us what the book is about?

That Thing about Bollywood is the story of Sonali, a Bollywood-obsessed girl who isn’t good at expressing her feelings. Sonali’s parents don’t get along and it looks like they may be separating. One day, something magical happens that causes her to express herself in the most obvious way possible, through Bollywood song and dance numbers. As the Bollywood magic grows and Sonali’s whole world starts to turn Bollywood, she must figure out what is causing the magic and how to stop it before it is too late. 

American As Paneer Pie, your other contemporary novel, is strictly realistic. But That Thing About Bollywood has lots of fantastic elements. Was that always part of Sonali’s story?

It was! I had actually been searching for a way to incorporate Bollywood into a book for a long time. One day I woke up with the idea that classic 90s Bollywood is about expressing yourself very obviously, so what if there is a girl who isn’t good at expressing herself, and magic causes her to show her true feelings in a Bollywood way? So magic and Bollywood were part of Sonali’s story right from the very first thought I had about this story.

The magical or fantastical elements of That Thing About Bollywood are all rooted in, or relate back to, very real issues and emotions, some of them very tough. Do you think there are any advantages or particular strengths to addressing such topics and feelings with fantasy?

I really wanted to explore what happens in some families in the Asian American community, where things like sickness and separations can sometimes be hidden from the community. And I think having the fantastical elements of Bollywood magic in the mix can sometimes let readers feel a little more at ease about the discussions of these issues in the book that are really quite serious.

What do you hope your readers take away from That Thing About Bollywood?

I hope readers realize it is okay to express themselves and not be embarrassed of all the feelings they have. I hope it inspires them to find their voice and know how powerful they are.

Can you tell us about your own history with Bollywood film, song, and dance?

When I was growing up, there were no South Asian American characters in American books, and there weren’t any roles for South Asian American actors that weren’t racist depictions. I never saw anyone who looked like me in any American media. But Bollywood, the nickname for the Hindi movie industry, one of the largest film industries in the world, gave me just a little of the representation I was looking for. Bollywood gave me a space where people who looked like me were heroes, and where my languages, and foods, and cultures were celebrated. I even learned Hindi from watching 3 Hindi movies a week as a child, because they weren’t subtitled back then so I had to figure out what was being said. And when I grew up, I ended up working as a Bollywood screenwriter on the writing teams for several Hindi movies, including India’s entry into the Oscars.

What’s your favorite thing about the world of Bollywood? Did you include that in That Thing About Bollywood?

It is so hard for me to pick just one thing but if I had to, it would be the songs and dance numbers. I tried to pick some of my favorite Bollywood tropes and pay homage to them in the musical numbers Sonali does in the book. And I’ve been counting down to the release of That Thing about Bollywood with movie clips of all of these Bollywood tropes on Twitter!

Do you have any appearances or events scheduled to celebrate your new release? Where can readers find more information about you and your work?

I do! The virtual launch party for That Thing about Bollywood is being hosted by Nicola’s Books in Ann Arbor, MI. You can get the Zoom link and signed copies at this link!  And readers can find more information about me at my website,, and find me on Instagram @supriya.kelkar and Twitter @supriyakelkar_.

Thank you again for joining us here, Supriya! And congratulations on the release of another wonderful book!

Supriya is an author, illustrator, and screenwriter who grew up in the Midwest, where she learned Hindi as a child by watching three Hindi movies a week. Winner of the New Visions Award for her middle grade novel AHIMSA, (Tu Books, 2017), Supriya has worked on the writing teams for several Hindi films, including Lage Raho Munna Bhai and Eklavya: The Royal Guard, India’s entry into the 2007 Academy Awards. Supriya’s books include AHIMSA, THE MANY COLORS OF HARPREET SINGH (Sterling, 2019, illlustrated by Alea Marley), AMERICAN AS PANEER PIE, a School Library Journal Best Book of 2020, (Aladdin/Simon & Schuster, 2020) STRONG AS FIRE, FIERCE AS FLAME (Tu Books, 2020), BINDU’S BINDIS (Sterling, 2021, illustrated by Parvati Pillai), and THAT THING ABOUT BOLLYWOOD (Simon and Schuster BFYR, 2021). She is the illustrator of Jyoti Rajan Gopal’s AMERICAN DESI (Little Brown 2022). Supriya is represented by Kathleen Rushall at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, and Kim Yau at Echo Lake Entertainment for film/TV rights.

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:





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 or @jillinboots on Twitter.

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

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

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

Let’s dive in!

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

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

Tanya with Lolo Ernesto and Lola Francisca

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

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

Tanya’s walnut rosemary sourdough loaf and sourdough bagels

What importance does food play in your stories? 

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

Snacking on churros con chocolate with Lola in Barcelona

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

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

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

Tanya’s “failure bread”

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

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

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

Get your copy of All You Knead is Love today!



Barnes and Noble

About All You Knead is Love

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

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

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

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

Interview: Charise Mericle Harper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interview: Amy Timberlake

Hi there, Amy! Thanks so much for stopping by the MG Book Village to chat about your new book, Skunk and Badger!

Hi Jarrett! Thanks for having me. Yay!

First off, can you tell us what the book is about?

Skunk and Badger is about two animals who are forced to become roommates. This does not go well. The badger — an Important Rock Scientist — has moved into the brownstone first. How will he do his Important Rock Work with a roommate? How will he find his focus, focus, focus? Difficulties abound. There are too many chickens.  

Can you share where these characters came from? Did the idea for the story come first, or did Badger and Skunk?

Skunk and Badger came first? I think? A long time ago, I tried to write a story in the style of Marjorie Sharmat’s “Nate the Great,” with a skunk as the main character. Also, as I was packing up in a recent move, I came across this story about a badger who collected stamps. Anyway, neither of these tries amounted to anything. Then years went by, and I was re-reading A. A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh stories and I thought, What if I wrote something like this but in my own style? What would that be like? That’s when I was able to start writing “Skunk and Badger.” 

In addition to the themes woven throughout the story, there are two topics delved into relatively deeply: rocks and chickens! Did you have an interest in these topics before sitting down to write Skunk and Badger? Did you do any research to learn more about them?

I find chickens funny. I like the way they peer and scrutinize and then, peck-peck-PECK! Also, all those tufts and booties and wattles! And why all the varieties? Look up ‘Transylvania Naked Neck chicken!’ What do you think of that? 

And rocks run in the family. My uncle is a geologist and my grandfather worked in the copper industry. My grandmother landscaped her front lawn with old mining equipment and tumbles of big rocks. In the home I grew up in, books were held upright with geode bookends. Still, none of this meant I was interested in rocks or geology. But then Badger walked into my story with his magnifying glass and his quartzite and I had to learn about rocks and geology. I’m doing the best I can to keep up with him. Badger knows far more about rocks than I do. 

Geology — whew! — it’s mind-bending! Or mind-stretching? Anyway, you have to conceptualize a huge span of time. I’ve got this Earth Science textbook. I’ve read histories, and geology written for non-scientists. I took a beginner geology course up at the North House Folk School in Grand Marais, Minnesota because I had to find a way in. Badger needed to see like a geologist, and that’s tough. Geologists don’t look at the landscape in the same way that everyone else does. Geologists read history and time in the rocks around them. That rolling hill? Those sharp-edged mountains? They look completely different to a geologist. You may see something still and lovely; a geologist sees action and violence. 

Skunk and Badger features both spot and full page illustrations by Jon Klassen (plus one absolutely stunning spread!). What was it like working with Jon? What did you think when you first saw his art for the book?

I’ve loved the process of working with Jon. I trust him! 

That said, we each did our work separately and so, when the first illustration arrived it felt as if it came out of the blue. Elise Howard, my editor at Algonquin Young Readers, emailed it. I opened that email and yelled. In front of me was Badger. He sat at his rock table. He was in his rock room. Then I said, “There he is. That’s Badger. He’s in his rock room.” I said this to myself, to Phil (my husband), and to Elise Howard (when she called later). Seeing that image felt both right and eerie. I mean, I recognized Badger, as if yeah, there was the badger who lived in my head, focus-focus-focusing on his Important Rock Work. How was that possible? I’d only just opened the email! Also, at that point, Jon and I had not spoken. I’m still shook by this. I don’t know how Jon did that — but wow.

Skunk and Badger couldn’t be more timely, but there are qualities of the writing, illustration, and general presentation that make it feel classic. While reading, I especially couldn’t help but think of The Wind and the Willows and the Frog and Toad books. Was this intentional? Did these books, or any other older children’s books, play a role in the process of Skunk and Badger‘s creation?

The writing was inspired by A.A. Milne in particular, so that sort of storytelling (the style of it, the shape and size of it, the craftsmanship) was in my head from the beginning. Jon wanted to illustrate the text using full-color spreads printed on thicker, glossy paper that are tucked into the book and bound with the rest of the pages. This is something done in traditional book publishing. Algonquin Young Readers and Jon took these ideas and ran with them. The design of this book is something very special. As a ‘book object’ I consider it a work of art. Honestly, it’s been dreamy to have any part in something like this!   

What do you hope your readers — especially the young ones — take away from Skunk and Badger?

I am hoping for discussion! Maybe about getting along? Or about apologies? Or how disparate creatures — feathered, scaled, or furred — come together in community? Or perhaps they’ll decide to take a day and see the world through Skunk’s eyes. I love how Skunk sees the world! 

Skunk and Badger is listed as the first book in a series. Can you tell us anything about what’s in store for this pair?

In the second book, it’s summer. Skunk and Badger leave the brownstone on an adventure that goes, well, alarmingly astray…  

Are you doing anything else — interviews, events, etc. — to celebrate the release of Skunk and Badger? If so, where can readers find out about that, as well as more about you and your work?

Everything is at

Is there a celebration of Skunk and Badger? YES! (See “Events” on Throughout September and October, there’ll be a virtual book tour where I’ll be live and in conversation with various folks including Jon Klassen, Lisa Yee, Betsy Bird, and Jim Higgins of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. There’s also a blog tour going on September 13-19th.

 I hope to see and meet you there!    

Thanks Jarret and MG Book Village for having me! I loved being here!

Amy Timberlake’s work has received a Newbery Honor, an Edgar, and a Golden Kite Award. One book was chosen to be a Book Sense Pick, another was reviewed in The New York Times Book Review. Her books have made several “best books of the year” lists, and she loves it whenever her books are chosen to be part of a state reading list. Chicago’s Lifeline Theatre has adapted both One Came Home and The Dirty Cowboy for the stage. She’s received residency fellowships from Hedgebrook, and The Anderson Center. She was recently awarded The Sterling North Legacy Award for Excellence in Children’s Literature. She is represented by Steven Malk at Writers House. Amy grew up in Hudson, Wisconsin. She attended Mount Holyoke College and majored in History. She also holds an M.A. in English/Creative Writing. Most of the time, she can be found in Chicago, where she lives with her husband. But on especially good days she can be found walking on a long, long trail.

Interview: Jamie Sumner

Hi there, Jamie! Thanks for swinging by the MG Book Village to talk about your new novel, TUNE IT OUT! Can you tell us a bit about yourself and the book?

I am so very happy to be here, Jarrett! I’m a writer based in Nashville, Tennessee. I’ve written articles and essays for the New York Times and the Washington Post, but my heart lies in middle grade fiction. Before I was a writer, I taught high school English for over a decade and before that I worked in New York at a small publishing house in Chelsea. The love of language has carried me through all my jobs.

TUNE IT OUT is my second middle novel. My first, ROLL WITH IT, came out last year. TUNE IT OUT is the story of twelve-year-old Lou Montgomery who has the voice of an angel and a mother who wants to make her a star. The catch is, Lou also has an undiagnosed sensory processing disorder that makes performing nearly impossible. Sounds and crowds overwhelm her. When Child Protective Services separates the mother-daughter duo, Lou is sent to live across the country with her aunt and uncle. This is where she finally attends school regularly, makes her first real friend, joins the theater class, and begins to understand her SPD. This is Lou’s journey to find her own voice and take ownership of what she lets define her.

Music and musical theater play a big role in the book. Have they played a big role in your own life?

I love musical theater (she says with jazz hands)! It’s where I first found my home and my people in high school. I tended to stick backstage and worked as assistant director on all the plays. My senior year, I did an independent study where I wrote a one-act play that I was able to cast, direct, and put on for the entire school. It was epic. And it was all due to my theater teacher, Paula Flautt. She took a risk on me and I am so grateful. This book is dedicated her.

I think there’s something about music and theater both that open you up to parts of yourself you might never have recognized. They allow you to explain the unexplainable through movement and sound. Everyone has a favorite song that the minute you hear it, you think, yes, this is me, this is my experience and I couldn’t have said it better myself. I believe really great books do this as well. They make you feel a truth you knew deep down, but never recognized until the moment you read it on a page.

Do you listen to music when you write? Or do you need quiet? Or can you listen to music during some parts of your creative process, but not others?

I need quiet while I write. Well…I’m home writing with three kids, so I need whatever level of quiet I can get. However, I listen to music as I’m plotting and also when I get stuck. I have certain songs and styles of music that I associate with each of my characters and if I don’t know where to go next or I start to feel disconnected from a character, I’ll put something on that reminds me of them. Lou’s music was an eclectic mix of Patty Griffin, Dolly Parton, and Pink. She’s tough and also heartbreakingly vulnerable and these women know how to rock that complexity.

Lou, TUNE IT OUT’s main character, has a sensory processing disorder. Can you share with us exactly what it is?

Thank you for asking this. The best way I can explain it is to think of a sensory processing disorder as a traffic jam of the senses. Sounds and touches and tastes, even light, collide in a way that overloads the brain. It’s too much to process and can make the world feel unbearably overwhelming at times. Each case is different. Some people have difficulty with certain fabrics on their skin. Others are sensitive to loud or sudden or specific sounds. Some need firm versus light touch, like a hug or a handshake instead of a pat on the shoulder. Unfortunately, as is the case with many invisible disabilities, SPD is often misdiagnosed or misunderstood. I hope this book can spread some understanding of it.

Can you discuss your relationship with sensory processing issues, and why you were compelled to create and write about a character like Lou?

My son, Charlie, has both cerebral palsy and a sensory processing disorder. The SPD diagnosis came later in his life when we noticed his sensitivity to particular sounds. Vacuums, hair dryers, razors, lawn mowers – they all brought him to tears. He was terrified of them. It wasn’t something you could rationalize him out of because this is how his brain works and his brain is wonderful and he deserves to be understood. As a teacher, I also came into contact with students with sensory issues and I watched them struggle to explain something that no one else could see. In TUNE IT OUT, I wanted to create a character that might help bring awareness to and empathy for their situation. Lou’s story is ultimately about how she grows brave enough to speak her truth to the people in her life who need to accept her for who she is. I think middle school kids are so much better and braver than adults at this and I hope they cheer her on as the story unfolds.

What sort experiences did you call upon and what sort of research did you do before and while crafting Lou’s story? Did you use sensitivity readers?  

My priority in writing Lou’s story was to portray her experience as authentically as possible while fully acknowledging that is not my experience. To do that, I called upon sensitivity readers with sensory processing disorders as well as occupational therapists who work with those with SPD. A judge and a social worker also read early drafts to make sure Lou’s experience with Child Protection Services was accurate.

What do you hope your readers – especially the young ones – take away from TUNE IT OUT books?

Middle school is tough. You are just beginning to peel yourself away from the identity your parents and teachers place upon you and figure out who you really are apart from those labels. I hope this story helps readers feel brave enough to voice their wants and needs and to dive headfirst into who they want to be, no matter what anyone else says.

When can readers get their hands on TUNE IT OUT, and do you have any other exciting appearances or events around the release?

TUNE IT OUT is available on September 1st, 2020 wherever books are sold! Personally, I’d say order it from your favorite independent bookstore, because they need us as much as we need them right now. I’m having my launch party/live Facebook chat with Parnassus Books here in Nashville on September 2nd at 6 p.m. (CST). If you want to “tune in” (pun intended), you can find all the info here!

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

The best place to find me is my website: If you’re a teacher and looking to schedule a Zoom/Skype visit, this is the best place to contact me!

I’m also on:


Instagram: @jamiesumner_author

Twitter: @jamiesumner_

Jamie Sumner is the author of the acclaimed middle-grade novel, ROLL WITH IT (Atheneum/Simon & Schuster, October 2019). Her second middle-grade novel, TUNE IT OUT, which has received starred reviews from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly and the School Library Journal, will be coming out September 1st, 2020. She has written for the New York Times and the Washington Post as well as other publications, and is the reviews editor at Literary Mama. She loves stories that celebrate the grit and beauty in all kids. She and her family live in Nashville, Tennessee. Connect with her at