Interview: Taryn Souders

Hello, Taryn! Thank you for stopping by the MG Book Village to talk about your new novel, COOP KNOWS THE SCOOP. But before we get to the book, would you care to introduce yourself to our readers?

Sure! I live in Florida, but I’m originally from Texas. We have three awesome kids and two mentally unstable cats (Mordecai and Sebastian). I’ve been writing for the past few years, and I’m represented by the amazing Sally Apokedak of The Apokedak Literary Agency.

You’ve written picture books AND middle grade novels. Does the process for them differ at all? Is there anything about writing for middle grade readers that you particularly like?

The process is similar, but you definitely have to dive deeper for novels. You can’t rely on illustrations for novels as you can with picture books. Illustrations carry so much of a story’s weight and help an author out with keeping their word count low. They do awesome things–like showing a character’s emotion or the setting or a total catastrophe unfolding. That’s not an option for middle grade. You got into the nitty gritty of description and emotion and so forth. Oddly enough, I find picture books harder to write!

I LOVE writing for middle grade readers. They are at the age where they understand a lot of different types of humor like wit, sarcasm, and even dry humor. Their conversations are the best to listen to! They are energetic and funny and up for anything!

All right, onto the MG novel we are here to discuss — COOP KNOWS THE SCOOP! Can you tell us what it’s all about?

I LOVE this book! Coop Goodman lives with his mom and his paternal granddad in Windy Bottom, Georgia. (His dad was a marine in Afghanistan who died when Coop was five.) Windy Bottom is a small town where everyone knows everyone’s business. When the town council decides it’s time to renovate the old playground, a skeleton is found buried under the slide! The identity of the dearly departed shocks the town, and Coop’s beloved Gramps becomes the number one suspect. Coop takes on the role of detective as he tries to clear his granddad’s name—and discovers there’s more than just a skeleton buried in Windy Bottom . . . there are lots of secrets.

This is your fourth novel, but your first mystery. Have you always wanted to write a mystery? Did you read a lot as a kid? Do you now? How was writing this mystery different from writing your other books?

Yes. Yes. Yes. Very Different. Next question.

Just kidding. I have always wanted to write a mystery—mainly because I LOVE mysteries. They’re pretty much all I ever read as a kid. I devoured Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Boxcar Children, Encyclopedia Brown, and more. As I got older, I flew through Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, PD James, and so many others.

Nowadays I read middle grade mysteries—for a couple reasons. #1 They are super fun to read. #2 As an author, I think it’s important to read the genres and subgenres you write or want to write. I study them—see how other authors introduce clues, suspects, red herrings, etc.

Writing Coop Knows the Scoop was definitely different from how I approached my other books. Mainly because I HAD to outline everything ahead of time—and I was a pantser when it came to writing. So, writing “by the seat of my pants” was thrown out the window. The reason I needed to do that was I had to get all my clues and red herrings sorted out. I had to make sure I didn’t introduce someone or something out of order, which in turn, might screw up how the mystery was solved.

COOP KNOWS THE SCOOP deals with some heavy issues. Why do you think it’s important for kids’ books to address and explore such issues? Are there any benefits to doing so in fiction, as opposed to or in addition to non-fiction?

There’s a place in both fiction and nonfiction in dealing with heavy issues. Nonfiction can run the risk of being too “cold and clinical” in its deliverance of facts. However, facts are needed and are important. But sometimes we can lose readers if they can’t relate to what they’re reading—and that’s where fiction fills gap. Fiction allows the reader to believe there are other people in the world dealing with the same issues and/or feeling the same way they feel. Fiction builds relationship and empathy—which are also needed and important. So, yeah, I think a reader should read both fiction and nonfiction.

Some of the issues Coop deals with are the loss of a parent, deception and dishonesty from a “parental figure”, the loss of trust, drinking, gambling, and jealousy. I put jealousy in the “heavy issue” category because if it’s not dealt with it can lead to some pretty terrible things.

I know it was important to you to depict and explore the characters and culture of a small Southern town. Can you talk about the creation of Windy Bottom? How does setting more generally factor into your writing and storytelling?

Setting is super important to me and Windy Bottom was so fun to create! While the town is a character in and of itself, the citizens are the ones that show off its personality and quirkiness. I’ve lived in small southern towns and do they really do have a life of their own. As an author, it’s important to me that the reader be grounded in the story—to know where they are and what’s around them. If that can be accomplished, I believe the adventure or mystery or whatever, is enjoyed even more.

What do you hope your readers – especially the young ones – take away from COOP KNOWS THE SCOOP?

The main theme of COOP is forgiveness. We all make mistakes, particularly when we’re young. Let’s face it, who we are now is not necessarily who we were “back then.” We’re constantly growing and changing—hopefully for the better. Fun fact: the original title of COOP KNOWS THE SCOOP was REMAINS TO BE SEEN. I loved this because it worked on two different levels. #1—Tabby’s remains needed to be seen in order for the truth to come out and for her to receive justice. #2—it echoed the theme of the story: who we ultimately become remains to be seen. We can learn from our mistakes of the past, but not let them hold us prisoner. The title got changed to COOP KNOWS THE SCOOP, which I also love, but the theme remains the same—and those concepts of redemption and forgiveness are what I hope readers take away.

Many of our site’s readers are teachers and librarians of Middle Grade-aged kids. Is there anything you’d like to say to them – in particular those planning to add COOP KNOWS THE SCOOP to their classrooms and libraries?

There are some great “extras” that Sourcebooks Kids offers. There is a free downloadable Activity Kit filled with all sorts of games and activities related to the story. There is also a fantastic Discussion Guide that can help facilitate classroom discussion. I recommended teachers, librarians, and parents check them both out! Just click on the links.

When can readers get their hands on COOP KNOWS THE SCOOP?

It releases July 7! Wohoo!!

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

They can visit me at my website: or find me on Facebook: Taryn Souders – Author, or on Twitter @TarynSouders.

Taryn has written both picture books and middle-grade novels. Her books have taken part in Battle of the Books, been named to state reading lists, including the Georgia Children’s Book Awards and the Sunshine State Young Readers Awards, and have been Crystal Kite Finalists. Her fourth middle grade novel, Coop Knows the Scoop, releases July 2020. Taryn is a member of both SCBWI and Word Weavers International, and is represented by Sally Apokedak of Apokedak Literary Agency. She currently lives in Sorrento, Florida with her husband, David, their three children, and two cats—an overly fuzzy Ragdoll named Mordecai and a polydactyl Hemingway named Sebastian—who like to terrorize flies (the cats, not her husband or children). While she’s somewhat decent at math, she is terrible at science and has an intense dislike of tarantulas.

Cover Reveal for ARIA JONES AND THE GUARDIAN’S WEDJA, by Malayna Evans

Hi Malayna, and welcome to MG Book Village! We’re very excited to reveal the cover for your upcoming MG novel, ARIA JONES & THE GUARDIAN’S WEDJA, which comes out on August 25, 2020. Can you tell us a bit about it, please?

Thanks so much for hosting me. It’s a pleasure to share my good news here with you—I’m a fan.

The book is about twelve-year-old Aria Jones and her trip through time. Adventurous by nature, Aria is happy to oblige when she and her big brother Jagger are summoned back to ancient Egypt. She’s missed the friends she made on her first trip to the past, during which she acquired a not-so-comfy superpower. But what she finds when she gets back isn’t the fun-filled reunion she expected. Turns out, her friends aren’t doing so well. So when the household god Bes passes along a puzzling prophecy, Aria has to battle old enemies, forge new alliances, and face her inner demons in order to restore magic, save her friends, and get back to Chicago with her big bro at her side.

Did you know that you were going to be writing a sequel to your debut novel, JAGGER JONES AND THE MUMMY’S ANKH, and how did writing this book differ from your first?

I had a three-book concept in mind from the outset. I’m an Egyptologist by training and when I started playing around with the idea of writing a book with a brother-sister duo, inspired by my own two kids, lost in ancient Egypt, an old blessing was stuck in my mind: ankh, wedja, seneb, which means (may you have) life, prosperity and health. I thought it would be fun to explore those themes in a trilogy, contrasting modern and ancient notions. As you can imagine, I was pretty ecstatic when I got a three-book deal.

What I didn’t know in advance was that I’d shift to Aria’s point of view for book two. To be honest, I tried sticking with Jagger but Aria just wanted to be heard. She’s nothing if not persistent. Once I made the switch, the story came more easily. Her voice was a lot of fun for me to write. While Jagger is cerebral and serious, she’s feisty and clever. And she taps a very different universe of resources to problem solve than her brainy brother.

Is there anything you learned about your characters while you were writing this story that surprised you?

Yes! I knew Aria was a cheery optimist when I wrote book one. But I didn’t realize her character arc would so closely mimic my own. She’s optimistic to a fault, which leads her to ignore problems and tell herself she just needs to be tough, keep going, and everything will be okay. Like me, she had to learn the hard way that pushing uncomfortable thoughts away doesn’t solve them, it only gives them space to grow bigger.

Writing has been difficult for many authors in the past few months. How have you managed to do edits and focus on your writing?

It’s been a stressful few months. But there’s inspiration in the chaos too. The breadth and depth and diversity of people standing up for equity is moving. It’s one of those moments that reminds me to stay teachable. That’s definitely true when it comes to writing—I still have a lot to learn. I wish I could say the months I’ve been locked in my house with my kids and dog were super fruitful on that front. But honestly, I’ve struggled to set the anxiety aside and focus. I did have a one-month stretch of productivity during which I pounded out a rough draft of a new MG manuscript. That’s unusual for me. Generally I set aside a few hours a day to work on my writing. But through this, I’ve written when the spirit moves me and ignored the task when it doesn’t. That’s not the way I usually organize my life—I prefer a steady pace—but like so many of us, I’m just letting myself just do what I can and forgiving myself for what I can’t.

Did you have any input on your cover, and if so, what was the experience like for you?

I shared a lot of opinions on Jagger’s cover. I’m lucky my publisher was so supportive and worked through multiple drafts until we landed on a cover we could all agree on. Comparatively, Aria’s cover was a breeze. I did suggest a few scenes I thought would work well on the cover. And they delivered an initial draft I loved the second I saw it. The creepy mummy shadows on the bottom are my favorite thing about Aria’s cover.

It’s time for the big reveal!

Oh wow, this is such a vibrant cover that immediately makes me want to read it!

Thanks, Kathie. I’m extra happy to see the sphinx here with Jagger and Aria. It’s one of the symbols of ancient Egypt people are most familiar with. Oddly, it wasn’t until book one was put to bed that I realized I’d incorporated loads of people and places and artifacts I’m fascinated by but I hadn’t brought many old, familiar favorites into the story. I tried to rectify that with book two, and the sphinx on the cover flags that nicely.

What is it that you love most about writing middle grade fiction?

The best, and most unexpected, delight of this journey has been visiting middle grade learners in real life and online to proselytize about ancient Egypt. I spent a good decade studying the culture. I wanted to be a professor but that didn’t quite pan out for me. So personally, it’s fun to finally put my education to use, although not quite as I expected to. More importantly, I think it’s important, maybe now more than ever, to remind folks that the human culture we share has diverse roots and, specifically, that this ancient African civilization gave us our writing system, various math concepts, our calendar, and so much more. That’s just not a thing I learned growing up—my education was entirely Eurocentric—so if a few kids read Jagger and Aria’s stories and appreciate the glories of ancient Egypt or learn about some of the the ways our daily life is still influenced by it, I’ll be a happy storyteller and historian.

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

My website is a great place to learn more. I have educational resources, including an escape room style classroom activity and learning guides, for educators. You can check it out at and follow me on Twitter ( or Instagram (

Thank you for allowing us to be part of your cover reveal, and we look forward to following your publishing journey!

Thanks so much for having me. It’s been a treat to swing over and share my adventure with you. I wouldn’t dare speak for middle grade authors en masse about much, but I’m certain I’m not alone when I say many of us appreciate the work you do on MG Book Village. Keep up the good work—we appreciate you!

Malayna Evans was raised in the mountains of Utah and spent her childhood climbing, reading Sci-Fi, and finding trouble. She earned her Ph.D. in ancient Egyptian history from the University of Chicago. She’s used her education to craft a time-travel series set in ancient Egypt, inspired by her own children. Book one is Jagger Jones and the Mummy’s Ankh. Book two, Aria Jones and the Guardian’s Wedja, comes out in August of 2020. Evans lives in Oak Park, IL, with her two kids, a rescue dog, and a hedgehog. She’s passionate about coffee, travel, and visiting classrooms to proselytize about ancient Egypt. You can learn more about her resources for educators or schedule a class visit at 

Interview: Kristin L. Gray

Hello, Kristin! Thank you for stopping by the MG Book Village to talk about your new novel, THE AMELIA SIX! But before we get to that, would you care to introduce yourself to our readers?

Hi, thanks for having me!

I’m Kristin, I live in Arkansas with my family, two dogs, cat, and bearded dragon. I used to be a pediatric nurse, but now I write full time, working in children’s novels and picture books.

Okay, now: Can you tell us what THE AMELIA SIX is all about?


Six STEAM-savvy girls spend the night at the Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum in Atchison, Kansas, when her historic flight goggles mysteriously disappear.

A bit of trivia, this particular pair actually vanished during Amelia’s lifetime. More on that in the book.

Have you always been interested in Amelia Earhart? How did you decide to write a book in which her story takes a central role?

Yes, Amelia, and the mystery surrounding her and her co-pilot Fred’s disappearance, has always been fascinating to me. But a family road trip to the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum the summer before I entered fourth grade cemented my interest. I remember checking out biographies of Amelia at school. I’ve always loved looking at maps, too, so tracking her flight around the globe is thrilling and heartbreaking.

Writing a mystery about a mystery (or mysterious figure) sounded intriguing, challenging, and fun! In short, I have always been obsessed with CLUE and all things Nancy Drew. Cozy mysteries are my absolute favorite books to read. I knew wanted to try to write one myself . . . it was just a matter of finding the right setting and believing that I could pull the story off.

And I had plenty of setbacks. I actually set the story in a different famous house first! But those key figures weren’t nearly as inspiring to me, and the story fizzled. Then when my family took a detour to visit Amelia’s historic house in Kansas, everything clicked. It should have been Amelia all along.

You could’ve written a more straightforward historical novel, or written a story about a contemporary kid learning about that history, but you chose to use the subject matter to build a mystery. Was that always the plan? Do you think the mystery genre in particular is a beneficial one with which to explore the past?

I set out to write a mystery from the start, and I do think in this case it works well. Bringing contemporary kids (characters) into a historic house, namely Amelia’s, was a fun way to expose them to lots of aviation history. Time travel and historical novels are wonderful and offer immersive worlds, but I write contemporary stories best. I never thought to write this story any other way. I love mysteries and old things, and this book let me explore both simultaneously.

To answer your last question, in a way, all mysteries explore the past. Some pasts are just more recent than others.

One of the things I love about this book, as well as your first novel, VILONIA BEEBE TAKES CHARGE, is the voice. All it takes is a single sentence, and suddenly you feel like you can hear – actually hear – your narrators talking. Can you discuss your creation and development of voice in your work?

Aww. Thank you. I don’t have a clear answer, other than I live with a bunch of kids – having five myself. I hear a lot of conversations, ha. I also read a lot of books – I tell students in my Skype and school visits that books are our best teachers! I never took a single writing class when I was in school, so I learn by reading and studying others—Rita Williams-Garcia, Sheila Turnage, Karina Yan Glaser—to name a few. And I try to remember what it felt like to be a kid myself. Sometimes, when the writing is especially daunting, I pretend I’m telling a story to one of my friends.

What do you hope your readers – especially the young ones – take away from THE AMELIA SIX?

There’s one line in the book that I love: “You can be quiet and brave.”

Bravery isn’t always loud. It isn’t always shocking, stunt-worthy, or brash. We don’t have to have some grand adventure like Amelia, or like my main character Millie, in order to be brave. Bravery can be found every day, in a small act of kindness or in an unseen advocacy. Quiet, everyday bravery is courageous.

Many of our site’s readers are teachers and librarians of Middle Grade-aged kids. Is there anything you’d like to say to them – in particular those planning to add THE AMELIA SIX to their classrooms and libraries?

Thank you for adding The Amelia Six to your collection!

There’s an author’s note at the end of the book describing the top five theories of Amelia’s disappearance plus a reading list for those extra-curious students. On my website, I have links to downloadable maps of her around-the-world flight. Plus, links to for more information on how to Rubik’s speedcube like Millie.

Did you know Rubik’s loans cubes to schools as STEAM tools and for their popular mosaic projects? Check out Amelia Earhart!

When can readers get their hands on THE AMELIA SIX?

Today, June 30th, wherever books are sold!

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

Find me at and @kristinlgray on all social media channels. Thanks again, Jarrett, for having me to the MG Book Village.

KRISTIN L. GRAY is the author of Vilonia Beebe Takes Charge, a Bank Street Best Children’s Book, and the all new The Amelia Six: an Amelia Earhart Mystery, as well as the picture books Koala is Not a Bear and Rover Throws a Party: Inspired by NASA’s Curiosity on Mars. Kristin lives in Arkansas with her five children, two dogs, bearded dragon, and carb-loving cat. She loves connecting with classrooms in person and via Skype.

Cover Reveal for THE ENGINERDS STRIKE BACK, by Jarrett Lerner

Hi Jarrett! It’s a HUGE honor for me to be part of the cover reveal for the third book in the EngiNerds series, THE ENGINERDS STRIKE BACK. I can’t wait to hear what Ken and the gang have going on in this story. Can you give us a synopsis?

Do you know that I’ve never done an official cover reveal? I’ve probably arranged and/or hosted nearly a hundred for other authors, but have yet to do one for myself. I always just post my covers on social media, typically accompanied by a whole bunch of exclamation points and emojis. Anyway, I can’t think of anyone I’d rather do my first *official* cover reveal with. So THANK YOU for being a part of it!

Okay — to the book! I don’t want to give any spoilers, but even if someone hasn’t the read the first two books in the series, the sight of the cover will give some stuff away. Most notably: ALIENS. Plural. They’re here, on Planet Earth — and they may potentially be here to do some less-than-awesome things. It all involves beans, billboards, and a shiny little object called a “zap cannon.” And for various reasons explored in the book, it’s the EngiNerds — and ONLY the EngiNerds — who can save the day.

Do you find it difficult to come up with new adventures for the EngiNerds, or do they find you, so to speak?

Writing sequels is definitely a bit different than writing a first book in a series. In a first book, you make all sorts of explicit and implicit rules — about the world, about the characters — and you find, in working on follow-ups and sequels, that you have to obey those rules. Sometimes it’s nice to have all those rules in place, sort of like settling into a cozy, familiar nook… and sometimes it’s highly frustrating, sort of like being trapped in a super confining box. 

In terms of the EngiNerds’ adventures, it’s been a bit (just a bit) more of the former. Most of the big pieces of the plots of Revenge of the EngiNerds and The EngiNerds Strike Back have sort of “unspooled” from things that took place in EngiNerds. But that’s not to say that it was simple or easy to do that unspooling, or that I didn’t have to do a lot of additional creating in order to make these books as good as they could be — and make sure they could stand on their own as worthy.

I also think that any (relative) ease I experienced in creating the EngiNerds’ subsequent adventures is a result of all the work I did on the characters while writing the first book. I did a lot of unseen, off-the-page exploring of each of the kids, even those that didn’t end up having a huge role in the first book. They, of course, help drive a lot of the story, and all that time I spent figuring them out means that, while the adventures don’t exactly “find me,” I can find them a little more easily.

Was there something interesting you learned about your characters while writing this story that you didn’t know about them before?

Always. Revisiting characters, filling up more pages with their thoughts and feelings and actions — it’s like spending more and more quality time with somebody. You learn more about them. You “see” them a little more fully.

It’s such a fascinating process. The characters are, obviously, MY creation. Yet they really do take on a life of their own. Those rules about them that you make up, they almost start to work like equations — you combine this aspect of them and that aspect of them, and you get something new, something that you couldn’t have foreseen at the outset, when you first created them. Does that make sense? I hope so.

And lest it sound like authors just sit back and, more and more, their characters do the heavy lifting, that is NOT the case. Just like you can’t learn more about someone else if you don’t actively listen to them, if you don’t pay attention to their actions and behavior, your characters only “take on a life of their own” if you are doing WORK. Writing. Thinking. Rewriting. Rethinking.

I know many authors have found it challenging to write over the past few months. What is one technique you use to help you keep the words flowing?

Well, the pressure of a deadline is always helpful! And I’ve had a lot of those these past few months.

Also, I always try to be as in tune as possible with my creativity, and to try to appreciate and embrace when I need to alter my habits in order to make sure I can continue to use it. I believe one’s creativity is constantly shifting, evolving, stretching and expanding in new directions and ways. Sometimes, you’ve got to do new things to accommodate that. For me, something as simple as using a different kind of notebook or a different tool (a pencil instead of a pen, a crayon instead of a marker, etc.) can help me keep creating in a time, place, or circumstance in which I otherwise might find myself stuck or distracted.

OK, let’s not keep everyone in suspense, let’s show them the new cover!

I have to say, this might be my favorite EngiNerds cover yet! I’d love to know how much input you have, what you share with the illustrator for their inspiration?

I’m so glad you like it! And I’m so glad to get a chance to chat about the illustrator for these books. Since I’m also an illustrator, many people assume that I illustrate all my books. That’s not the case. Books are team efforts. I always tell kids that it’s crazy to me that I get my name on the front of my books, all alone. If you check out the acknowledgements page of my books (or ANY book), you’ll see just how many people it takes to make a book as good as it can be. It takes LOTS.

I fully embrace the “team effort” aspect of book-making, because (a) I know that I’m a human being with limitations, (b) I’m fortunate to have an INCREDIBLE team at Simon & Schuster/Aladdin, and (c) I know that everything my team does, says, suggests, etc., is in an effort to make the book as awesome as possible.

In terms of illustration, I’ve also got a particular style. My illustration style may not always be the best choice for one of my books. In these cases, working with another illustrator will benefit the book. It also gives me more time to work on other projects. Which is helpful, as I’m someone who is constantly juggling a number of projects.

All of which is to say (finally), that yes, Serge Seidlitz — who has done all my EngiNerds covers — has once again knocked it out of the park and into another galaxy! In terms of my involvement in the creation of the cover art: I’m involved, as is my editor and art director, but I’m there as a member of the team, and the LAST thing I’d ever want to do is step on Serge’s toes, or put him in a box that will limit his own unique (and glorious!) creativity. So, I share what he needs to know about the story, throw out some very general ideas for consideration — as do the other members of my team — and then he runs wild. We typically then go back and forth a few times, fine-tuning things, making any necessary (usually relatively minor) adjustments. Seeing someone else create in a world you’ve built — it’s so fun and exciting. It reminds me of building skateboard ramps as a kid, and watching my friends go flying off of them.

What aspect of being a writer do you most enjoy?

The people. Especially the kids. It’s interesting — I sit at home, doing this really pretty solitary thing, and because of it, I get the opportunity to travel around and meet and connect with thousands of other people. That’s something I didn’t really think about, or even realize was a possibility, when I first began to really strive to do all this professionally. But it’s without a doubt one of the greatest joys. I’ve made so many friends. I’ve learned so much. And I’ve been so inspired by it all! And I don’t think I’ll ever tire of talking with, learning from, and working with kids. Seeing their creativity in action — it’s something else. It fills me with so much joy and hope.

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

They can find me — and lots of my art and (free!) activities — at, as well as on Twitter and Instagram @Jarrett_Lerner.

Thank you for the honor of letting me be part of this reveal with you, my friend. I love watching your publishing career blossom.

Working with you on this site, working with you to help continue to build and bolster and better the Middle Grade community — it’s been so, so wonderful. I’m proud of what we’ve done, and excited to continue doing it in the future. I feel lucky to call you a friend. And it just makes sense — and makes me very happy! — to have you host my very first *official* cover reveal. Thank YOU, Kathie!

Jarrett Lerner is the author of EngiNerds and its sequel, Revenge of the EngiNerds, as well as the author-illustrator of the upcoming activity book, Give This Book a Title. Jarrett is also the author of the forthcoming Geeger the Robot early chapter book series, the forthcoming third book in the EngiNerds series (The EngiNerds Strike Back), and the author-illustrator of the forthcoming Hunger Heroes graphic novel series (all published by Simon & Schuster/Aladdin). He cofounded and helps run the MG Book Village, an online hub for all things Middle Grade, and is the co-organizer of the #KidsNeedBooks and #KidsNeedMentors projects. He can be found at and on Twitter and Instragram at @Jarrett_Lerner. He lives in Medford, Massachusetts, with his wife, his daughter, and a cat.

Interview and Cover Reveal with Laura Stegman re: SUMMER OF L.U.C.K.

Welcome to our Fast Forward Friday feature, Laura! I look forward to learning more about you and revealing the cover for your upcoming release SUMMER OF L.U.C.K. Could you tell our readers a little bit about yourself, please?

Hi Kathie! I’m honored to be featured. Your site is one of my favorites!

When I was a kid growing up in Southern California, writing a novel wasn’t my life’s ambition. I was determined to be an actress. Instead, life sent me in a completely different direction, and for many years I’ve owned a successful public relations firm specializing in arts publicity.

And even though I passed on acting a long time ago, I ended up with the role of a lifetime today: AUTHOR. But that came about slowly. Publicity work sharpened my storytelling skills, which led to some free-lance non-fiction writing assignments for newspapers and magazines. And one day, inspired by the childhood kidlit I still loved, I began writing a middle grade fantasy, which eventually became Summer of L.U.C.K.

SUMMER OF L.U.C.K., is your debut novel, and it comes out with INtense Publications on September 15th. Will you give us a brief synopsis of it, please?

Yes! Summer of L.U.C.K. is about three kids who long to believe in themselves.

Stuttering Darby is never perfect enough for her mother. Justin’s been silent since his dad died. Naz is struggling to learn English. But after they meet at summer camp, mysterious calliope music from an abandoned warehouse grants them power to communicate without words. When they sneak inside, the dark, empty space bursts into a magical carnival. They’re greeted by the ghost of Leroy Usher, who asks for their help convincing his family to restore the carnival to its former glory. In return, he promises to teach the kids how to find their voices.

As Darby, Justin, and Naz are swept off on a series of midnight adventures via Mr. Usher’s carnival rides, they discover they’re capable of more than they ever imagined. With each challenge, their confidence in communicating – and in themselves – grows. Meanwhile, they scheme to persuade the Usher family to revive the carnival. But when Darby’s bunkmates trick her into starring in the camp talent show, her budding confidence falters. Can she risk being less than perfect by performing in the show and speaking up to Mr. Usher’s resistant son? If not, she’ll put the carnival in danger and sabotage her most important quest: to believe in herself, stutter and all.

What aspect of this story came to you first, and how did the rest of the writing unfold? Is there some part of your own story that you wanted to share with young readers?

When I was a kid, my favorite book, The Diamond in the Window, was about an 11 year-old – my age at the time – with freckles – just like me. She hated her freckles – just like I did. And I’ve never forgotten that this character learned to accept not only her freckles but also herself. Her journey spoke to me so powerfully that, decades later, I decided to write a middle grade story that I hoped would mean as much to readers today as that story meant to me.

With self-acceptance and overcoming self-doubt as my starting points, Summer of L.U.C.K.‘s themes grew to include friendship, courage, and perseverance. I have to admit that the plot unfolded as I went along. And, it changed and expanded with each revision over the many years it took to bring L.U.C.K. up to standards that attracted a publisher. Like so many other writers, my files are full of discarded scenes and characters, with much kicking and screaming involved in letting them go.

Although I don’t share Darby’s, Naz’s, and Justin’s specific situations, I absolutely relate to their efforts to find their voices. As a kid, I lived with what felt like constant criticism, like Darby. I never lost a parent like Justin, but I’ve felt his loneliness. And then there’s Naz, whose endearing personality makes me laugh. Honestly, I have no idea where his antics come from, but I do share his sunny disposition, love of food, and tenacity.

I spent a couple of summers at sleep-away camp when I was the characters’ ages, so I had a bunch of real-life memories to draw on for that. Horseback riding, archery, and canoeing, for example. But Summer of L.U.C.K.‘s magical carnival came straight from my imagination. Each revision required that I dig deeper to envision the fantasy adventures and weave them into the characters’ arcs. Successfully, I hope!

What has the journey to publication been like for you?

Long and winding! I’m not a born writer, nor have I formally studied creative writing, but as an avid reader, especially of middle grade fiction, I’ve learned by doing. And re-doing. About halfway through the journey to signing a publishing contract, I worked with a development editor who helped me bring the story to life. Then I found a treasure chest of information online, such as web sites like this one, from which I learned about writing resources and opportunities to get input from agents. I entered Twitter contests to have my work evaluated and mentored by more experienced writers. I learned how to connect with critique partners. And I even linked up with a classroom of kids in a literacy program who Beta read and gave me helpful feedback. I’m so grateful for everyone who helped me along the way.

Because I fell in love with Darby, Naz, Justin, Mr. Usher, and their world, that was the story I wanted to tell. If I couldn’t share it, I wasn’t sure I had anything else in me to write. So I queried for years. And years. And years. I had crushingly disappointing moments along the way, especially full manuscript rejections by more agents than I care to remember. Sometimes other writers would suggest I let Summer of L.U.C.K. go. “Write something else,” they encouraged.

But I had faith in Summer of L.U.C.K., and I believed in myself. With every rejection, I worked harder on improving the narrative and the writing. It’s hard to put into words just how much it means to me to have this book published. It’s really a dream come true.

What do you hope that young readers will take away from your story?

I hope they’ll enjoy meeting my characters and sharing their adventures. I’d like them to finish the book knowing that whatever they’re struggling with, others kids struggle too, and they are not alone.

My contract with INtense Publications calls for two sequels, and I’m about halfway through writing the second book. The sequel’s first chapter is included at the end of Summer of L.U.C.K., so I also hope folks who read it will be drawn to find out what comes when the story continues “next summer.”

How do you balance writing other aspects of your life?

I wish I had an answer that lived up to this interesting question, but here goes. After signing my contract for L.U.C.K. and two sequels, I’ve devoted four to six evenings a week to writing the second book, which has been a joy. During the week, I spend time on my business, socializing, and other tasks, leaving L.U.C.K.‘s marketing/promotional work and R&R for the weekends. With no Major League Baseball, concerts and gatherings since the pandemic, I’ve had much more time to devote to writing and promotional work. That’s helpful as my deadlines approach! Still, I make time just about every evening for an hour or so of reading crime fiction, mysteries, and middle grade fiction, my favorite genres, and quality time with my husband.

Can you tell me who designed your cover, and if you were involved in the process?

My cover, which I just love, was designed by Kaylee Grissom, and she was great to work with. She absolutely incorporated my input, but the concept and the execution were all hers.

OK, it’s time for the cover reveal!

Wow, that looks great! Is there anything I haven’t asked you yet that you’d like to share with us?

In recent years, Lady Gaga’s speech when she won an Oscar has sustained me through the ups and downs of my writing career, and I love passing it on. She said, in part, “It’s not about how many times you get rejected or you fall down or you’re beaten up. It’s about how many times you stand up and are brave and you keep going.”

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

Summer of L.U.C.K. will be released in September by INtense Publications

I’d love MG Book Village readers to visit my web site or reach out on my social platforms:

Twitter:  @LauraStegman 

Instagram:  laura_stegman


Thank you so much for chatting with me today, Laura, and good luck with your debut’s release.

Many thanks to you for this opportunity!

Laura Segal Stegman is a Los Angeles-based arts publicist and author whose middle grade debut novel, Summer of L.U.C.K., will be published in September 2020 by INtense Publications, followed by a sequel in 2021. Having grown up in Southern California with parents who valued reading, she remains spellbound by kidlit. Some of her favorite middle grade novels, then and now, are The Diamond in the Window, Ellen Tebbits, All of A Kind Family, Wonder, A Patron Saint for Junior Bridesmaids, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and The Miraculous. Laura’s non-fiction credits include collaboration on the travel book Only in New York, and her feature stories have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Magazine, Westways Magazine and Christian Science Monitor, among others. A long-time publicity consultant, she owns Laura Segal Stegman Public Relations, LLC, which has represented a wide-ranging client list of businesses, arts organizations and non-profit events over the years. She is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of UC Irvine with a B.A. in Drama and lives with her husband in West L.A. and part-time in New York City. She loves reading, L.A. Dodgers baseball, classical music and theater.


I could spend this whole review listing all the people to whom I would recommend Girls Garage: How to Use Any Tool, Tackle Any Project, and Build the World You Want to See written by Emily Pilloton and illustrated by Kate Bingaman-Burt, because there are so many who would love this book. Pilloton is the founder of Girls Garage, which is a brick-and-mortar building in California where she helps girls “come together to do audacious, brave things as young builders.”  Since we cannot all be in California, Pilloton has gifted us with this book that is not only inspirational, but is also gives concrete steps for any girl who aspires to design and/or build. This informational book is arranged in a specific order to help the reader learn a few different things.

First there’s the “Safety and Gear” section, which is naturally where any girl will want to start reading. Then the bulk of the book, sections titled “Toolbox” and “Essential Skills” explore just about everything you need to know about the variety of materials one could use to build, including the different types of lumber (who knew there were three different types of manufactured wood?), and how to do many basic building skills, like painting a wall. The last section, called “Building Projects” is exactly that, a list of different projects, with all materials and step-by-step directions included. The best part? Sprinkled throughout the whole book are mini stories told about and by women who have been on this builder journey, that the reader can make connections to or be inspired by. 

Although one could, Girls Garage is not the type of book I imagine most girls will read from cover to cover, and I don’t think its meant to be that way.  However, the way that it is written, with Pilloton’s personal stories and advice throughout, I could see how one might read it cover to cover. Personally, I cannot say enough that I feel like this is an awesome reference guide that needs to be on many girls’ bookshelves, not just for when they want to put that frame on the wall, but for when they may need some inspiration to follow their dreams. As Pilloton says, “Our goal shouldn’t be to live without fear, but to acknowledge that fear is unavoidable and to act bravely in spite of those fears. Bravery is something you can practice, something you can choose.”

This book was released in June 2020, and I would like to thank the publisher for sharing an ARC for me to review!

Deana Metzke, in addition to being a wife and mother of two, spent many years as a Literacy Coach, and is now an Elementary Teacher Instructional Leader for Literacy and Social Studies for her school district. In addition to occasionally sharing her thoughts here at MG Book Village, you can read more of her thoughts about kid lit and trying to raise children who are readers at or follow her on Twitter @DMetzke. She is also a member of #bookexcursion.


It’s summer! YAY! That means it’s time to get out and have some fun. Hang on a minute, for many of us, depending on where you live, it is still a time to be somewhat cautious.. As tough as it is, considering how and where you will venture out is still something to keep in mind. What if I told you that you could find some amazing ways to use your imagination and explore things right from your window or in your own backyard.

For a kid, summer is a time of exciting exploration—at least that’s what it should be. No classes. No tests. Just a time for you to let your imagination run wild. (this applies to kids of ALL ages, too. After all, everyone needs a chance to let their imagination take over.)

I have wonderful memories of my summers as a child. Aside from eating lunch, I spent all day outside. My favorite place to be was exploring the creek in our backyard. Frogs, toads, minnows, and tiny water bugs kept me entranced for hours. I would watch them swim, jump, or swim through the shallow moving water and wonder what it would be like to be one of them.

Animals are amazing creatures! We humans can learn so much from them. I guess that’s why when I discovered the science of biomimicry, I got SO excited! Biomimicry studies how animals and nature work and then mimics it or takes inspiration from these designs and processes to solve human problems.

That means watching how a bird flies might inspire you to build an airplane, or maybe it will give you ideas of how to quiet a loud fan in your house. Sound intriguing? I think so!

My love of science, animals, and nature inspired my new book BEASTLY BIONICS: Rad Robots, Brilliant Biomimicry, and Incredible Inventions Inspired by Nature  (NGKids Books)

This book is chock full of tons of new biomimetic inventions. Did you know that scientists have developed a bionic tool shaped like an elephant’s trunk that helps lift heavy objects? Or that the needle-like pointed beak of the kingfisher bird encouraged engineers in Japan to change the design of the Shinkansen “bullet trains” to reduce noise? How about that  studying the poison dart frog helped engineers create a liquid mixture to keep plane wings free of ice? And even that examining slugs contributed to the invention of a surgical bandage that could one day be helpful in open-heart surgery? COOL, right?

Many of the inventions in this book are still in the prototype stage. That means that these scientists and engineers are still working to perfect them. Science takes time. It involves a lot of trial and error and re-tooling to get things right.

But above all, science and engineering takes IMAGINATION!

You there. Are you bored with sitting in your house? Take a look out your window outside. What kind of animals do you see there? Birds? Bugs? Spiders? Frogs? Snakes? Start to look at these animals in a different way. What kinds of things do they do that might be used to help humans? Do they have a unique way of moving? Do they carry things that are really heavy easily? Maybe they glide through the air effortlessly. Think about how you could translate that into something that you can use.

Grab a pencil or pen. Draw your design. Imagine how you would use robotic parts to build it. Then either go get some parts or build it out of your building blocks at home. Test your idea (safely). And make changes if necessary.

Here are a few ideas to get you started (from my Beastly Bioinics book)

© image from Beastly Bionics NGKids Books

Think about biomimicry the next time you go to the zoo. As you walk in front of the animals, watch them carefully. Notice how they move, eat, sleep. Do they use their arms or legs in unusual ways? Are they able to be silent when they walk? Ask yourself: how can these traits be helpful to humans?

© image from Beastly Bionics NGKids Books

What are you waiting for? Innovation and Exploration are right out your window, or in your own backyard, or at the zoo, or in the ocean…it’s EVERYWHERE! What kind of biomimetic creation will YOU invent?

For more information about Beastly Bionics, look at these links below

Starred Review from School Library Journal

Top 6 Picks for June from School Library Connection


Jennifer Swanson is the award-winning author of over 40 books for children, mostly about STEM. Her books have received many accolades including the Green Earth Book Honor Award, a Florida Book Award, a Parent’s Choice GOLD award, and multiple California Reading Association awards, and National Science Teaching BEST STEM awards. Jennifer is also the founder of STEM Tuesday and STEAMTeam2020.

An accomplished and exciting speaker, Jennifer has presented at National NSTA conferences, the Highlights Foundation, the Atlanta Science Festival, the World Science Festival in NYC and the Library of Congress’ National Book Festival. You can learn more about her and book her for speaking engagements and in-person and virtual school visits at

Interview with Nicole Melleby

Hello, Nicole, and thank you for joining us at MG Book Village today! Your new MG novel, IN THE ROLE OF BRIE HUTCHINS…, comes out on June 16th with Algonquin Young Readers. Can you please tell us about it?

I keep calling IN THE ROLE OF BRIE HUTCHENS… a middle grade Love, Simon meets Lady Bird. Brie is a soap opera loving Catholic school girl who has a complicated relationship with her mom, which is only further complicated by her mom’s strong faith and Brie’s first crush on another girl. Brie knows she’s gay, and is well aware of the Catholic church’s stance on that, so she doesn’t share her mom’s faith, nor does she really understand it. What Brie really wants is to get into the performing arts high school next year, but with her working-class family’s financial struggles (and the fact that Brie’s grades thus far are mediocre at best) she has to prove to her parents that she can—and should—be allowed to apply. Nothing seems to really go Brie’s way, however, when her mom walks in on Brie googling inappropriate photos of Brie’s favorite soap opera actress, and to divert her mom’s attention, Brie lies and says she’s been chosen to play the big role in her 8th grades religious May Crowning ceremony.

So, to make that actually happen, and to successfully attain her dreams (and to get her mom to really see her) Brie’s got a lot of work to do. 

How different was the process of writing your second book from your debut MG novel, HURRICANE SEASON?

I was lucky enough to have written a draft of my second book before I even sold my first, but still, there’s a reason everyone says book 2 is the hardest. You’re in the middle of getting reviews from readers on your first book, trying to block all that out to focus on the writing of your second without anything going to your head. You’re way more aware of the audience, because they’re already in contact with you in different ways while reading the first book. I had to get myself to focus on the book while blocking out the rest. 

How much of your own experience did you write into your story, or did you get your inspiration from other places?

Nicole: It’s actually funny–I said earlier that In the Role of Brie Hutchens could be comped to the movie Lady Bird. I actually walked out of the theater after seeing Lady Bird and said, “I want to write about a coming of age queer middle grade story based on my experience in Catholic school.” Only, when I sat down to write that story, I realized that the experiences of middle grade readers now are much different than when I was that age. In big part thanks to the internet (I sound about a thousand years old right now), today’s middle grade readers have access to and an understanding of queer identities and vocabulary that I had no idea existed until I was in my twenties. I had to find a way to tell the story I wanted to tell, but for today’s audience. Brie is exactly like I was: dramatic, confused, a little self-centered, questioning the idea of faith and religion. But Brie knows that she has feelings for girls and doesn’t really struggle with understanding what that means–just what to do about it. 

What 3 pieces of advice would you give to Brie if she was your younger cousin?

1. You have nothing to be ashamed of.

2. The longer you let a lie go, the worse the outcome is going to be when it inevitably comes to light.

3. If your mom refuses to see who you are, there are plenty of people who happily will; you’re not alone. 

What one thing did you learn in the process of writing this book that might surprise your readers?

As confident in myself and my writing as I’d like to think I am, I still sometimes hold back. Before I came out, I was writing queer stories, but because I was still so afraid and uncomfortable with my own identity, I couldn’t fully tell those stories. I realized while writing this book that I was holding back in another way: I grew up going to Catholic school, as a Catholic, and I no longer consider myself religious at all. There were many times when my editor would give me feedback where she’d say, “Explore these feelings of faith and religion with Brie and her mom more.” I had to push myself, because I was holding back from actually opening that door and letting myself go there. But once I did, once I went there…the story was stronger for it. 

What do you hope young readers will take away from your story?

I wanted to show that “coming out” isn’t one moment. It’s a lifetime of moments. And it sucks, it does. It’s frustrating for Brie as much as it is freeing. But I wanted to show that, despite the struggle and the pain, there is good, there is hope. The soap opera scene that Brie consistently goes back to, the one where the character Bianca comes out to her mom, Erica Kane, is this sweet, heartbreaking scene where Bianca begs her mom to see her. “Can’t you see who I am? I want you to see who I am.” That’s exactly what Brie wants throughout her whole process, too. She wants to be seen, she wants her mom to see her. I want my young readers to get from this story (and every story I write) is that *I* see them, regardless of the rest. 

I know many writers are finding it challenging to write these days. How does your writing routine today differ from what it was 6 months ago?

Nicole: I try to keep my routine the same, just with added anxiety! It’s hard, and I have to be forgiving with myself if I just can’t be creative as often or as well as I’m used to, but I’ve always treated writing like the job I consider it to be, and I still put in the time just as I do my dayjob. It’s not always great writing–sometimes I’ll try and fail miserably to write anything worthwhile. But, resilience is key, in almost everything right now. I have to keep giving it my best, and allowing my best to sometimes just be mediocre, if that’s what I need. 

Are you working on a new writing project right now, and where can we go to keep up-to-date about you and your writing?

I am currently working on my third book, which will come out Spring 2021, called HOW TO BECOME A PLANET. The story starts off with an 11-year-old girl named Pluto having just gotten a depression and anxiety diagnosis. Pluto and her mom are struggling to understand and deal with Pluto’s diagnosis and what that means for Pluto moving forward. 

My friend Josh Levy (who wrote a wonderful sci-fi MG book called SEVENTH GRADE VS. THE GALAXY) actually told me that he called the Hayden Planetarium Question and Answer Hotline to ask them questions about traveling in space while writing his book. When he told me this, I had already written a first draft of Pluto’s story—and her mom’s love of outer space and how she gave that love to Pluto—and I knew immediately I wanted to write that into my story. So Pluto, while wondering why astronauts decided that Pluto (the dwarf planet) wasn’t a planet anymore, and wondering why she has depression and why her life is changing because of it, calls up the Hotline to ask all of the big questions that are on her mind. Even if they can’t exactly help her. 

I’m also co-editing a queer middle grade anthology with Katherine Locke called THIS IS OUR RAINBOW: SIXTEEN STORIES OF HER, HIM, THEM, AND US that has an absolutely WONDERFUL lineup of authors. You can keep up with me and my work either at my website or on Twitter, where you can find me @LadyNeeko (which, for the record, is a play off of Lady Gaga and the nickname Nico.) 

Thanks again for joining me today, and all the best with your book’s release.

Nicole Melleby is a born-and-bred Jersey girl with a passion for storytelling. She studied creative writing at Fairleigh Dickinson University and currently teaches creative writing and literature courses with a handful of local universities. Her debut novel, HURRICANE SEASON was a Lambda Literary Award Finalist, and was awarded the Skipping Stones Honor Award for exceptional contribution to multicultural and ecological awareness in children’s literature. Her second novel, IN THE ROLE OF BRIE HUTCHENS… will be released April 21, 2020. When shes not writing, Nicole can be found browsing the shelves at her local comic shop or watching soap operas with a cup of tea.


The first book about the pandemic is already here! Below you can find more information about the brand new release, Don’t Stand So Close To Me by Eric Walters (published by Orca Books).

Written, published and released during a pandemic: Eric Walters defies traditional publishing norms to create a book for young people living through the COVID-19 era. Don’t Stand So Close to Me, a middle-grade novel by multi-award-winning author Eric Walters about a group of preteens forced into isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic, will be released June 3, 2020, from Orca Book Publishers.

Don’t Stand So Close to Me reflects the current life experience of many young people around the world who, due to COVID-19, are unable to attend school in person or see their friends. It offers lessons about understanding the pandemic and concepts such as “exponential growth” and “flattening the curve.” It also instills hope and optimism about the ways our communities have come together to support one another, from a safe distance.

Walters had hundreds of emails from teachers and parents asking if he was going to write about these unprecedented times. He explains, “there was a need to educate and inspire, to lead with optimism, while trying to make sense of the chaos swirling around us.”

Walters came up with the idea on April 22, which went from conception to publication in less than seven weeks. “It’s been an amazing collaborative process from the start,” he says of working with his editor and publisher at Orca Book Publishers. In addition, Walters reached out to teachers, librarians and students across North America to create a team of beta readers for the manuscript on a tight timeline. Their feedback—which included everything from identifying the concepts coming out of the pandemic that are challenging for preteens to understand to tweaking the dialogue and song references to improve the authenticity—has ensured that the story accurately portrays current experiences of distance learning.

Don’t Stand So Close to Me will be released in PDF and EPUB formats and will be available at and all major ebook retailers. A print version will be released this fall. Eric has also written a free teacher’s guide to assist teachers in adapting the book into their distance learning plans before the end of the school year, which is available at “This has certainly been a challenging time for the Canadian publishing and bookselling industry, and we’ve been considering novel ways to reach readers,” says Andrew Wooldridge, publisher of Victoria’s Orca Book Publishers. “As print sales have largely collapsed, we have seen renewed interest in ebooks and digital content.”

Walters is the author of more than 115 novels and picture books and has won over 100 awards. He also has a master of social work degree and was employed in a hospital emergency department for 18 years, which included working in mask, gloves and scrubs during the SARS outbreak. Walters conceived of the “I Read Canadian” initiative launched earlier this year to promote Canadian children’s books. He co-founded and co-runs The Creation of Hope, a children’s program for orphans in rural Kenya. A portion of the proceeds from Don’t Stand So Close to Me will be donated to Lakeside Hope House in Guelph, Ontario, where Walters lives. Lakeside Hope House offers services and programs that challenge the stigmas surrounding poverty and advocates on the belief that poverty, food insecurity, health and community are all interconnected.

Book Trailer Premiere: GARGANTIS, by Thomas Taylor

There’s a storm brewing over Eerie-on-Sea, and the fisherfolk say a monster is the cause. Someone has woken the ancient Gargantis, who sleeps in the watery caves beneath this spooky seaside town where legends have a habit of coming to life. It seems the Gargantis is looking for something: a treasure stolen from her underwater lair. And it just might be in the Lost-and-Foundery at the Grand Nautilus Hotel, in the care of one Herbert Lemon, Lost-and-Founder. With the help of the daring Violet Parma, ever-reliable Herbie will do his best to figure out what the Gargantis wants and who stole her treasure in the first place. In a town full of suspicious, secretive characters, it could be anyone!

In the second fantasy set in Eerie-on-Sea, Herbert and Violet team up to solve the mystery of Gargantis — an ancient creature of the deep with the power to create life-threatening storms.

Click HERE to check out a recent interview of Thomas Taylor in the School Library Journal!