COVER REVEAL for Secret of the Shadow Beasts, by Diane Magras

Kathie: Hi Diane! It’s such a pleasure to have you at MG Book Village today for the cover reveal of your upcoming book, Secret of the Shadow Beasts. I’m so happy to be part of your street team for its launch as I’m a huge fan of your writing. Can you tell our readers a bit about it?

Diane: Thanks so much for having me, Kathie! (And I’m so thrilled that you’re on my street team.)

So here’s the formal description:

For fans of Dragon Pearl and the Lockwood & Co. series comes a swift-moving contemporary fantasy about a young girl tasked with destroying deadly shadow creatures.

In Brannland, terrifying beasts called Umbrae roam freely once the sun sets, so venomous that a single bite will kill a full-grown adult—and lately, with each day that passes, their population seems to double. The only people who can destroy them are immune children like Nora, who are recruited at the age of seven to leave their families behind and begin training at a retrofitted castle called Noye’s Hill. But despite her immunity, Nora’s father refused to let her go. Now, years after his death by Umbra attack, Nora is 12, and sees her mother almost killed by the monsters too. That’s when Nora decides it’s time to join the battle. Once she arrives at Noye’s Hill, though, she and her new friends are left with more questions than answers: Where are the Umbrae coming from? Could the government be covering up the true reason their population has whirled out of control? And was Nora’s father, the peaceful, big-hearted man who refused to let Nora fight, in on the treacherous secret? 

Kathie: This story sounds very different your previous books, The Mad Wolf’s Daughter, and its sequel, The Hunt for the Mad Wolf’s Daughter. What aspect of the story came to you first? Was it a character, plot, or setting that compelled you to write it?

Diane: Yes, it’s quite different in many ways, though readers will find some similarities. But also, my two previous books were the backdrop to much of my early thinking about this story. It was between edits of The Mad Wolf’s Daughter that I firstbegan mulling over the idea of deadly monsters that came out at night to destroy humankind with only kids able stop them. But I wasn’t sure what to do with that concept. Around the same time, I was also pondering stories about a rural kid who lived on a sheep farm (based on a farm I stayed at in the Scottish Borders), but again wasn’t sure where to put her. Between the edits of my second book, I sketched out a few stories around a different character, a girl with unseen talent who isn’t sure of herself. And then one day, the three aspects combined, and the girl on the sheep farm and the girl with unseen talent turned into Nora, my main character. So I had her and the basic premise all at once.

Kathie: What’s something interesting you learned during the research process that you can share with us?

Diane: There’s a crucial video game element in this book and I knew I needed to get my details right. I game a bit, but I’m not an expert like Nora, so I turned to an expert I know well: my 14-year-old son. He’s an avid reader too, so he understood exactly the kind of help I needed in conveying Nora’s gaming in a work of fiction. He invented and designed Warriors of the Frozen Bog, the game that Nora and her best friend Wilfred play (a game that I would absolutely love to play). Thanks to his detailed description of all its parts (lore, geography, classes, progression system, equipment, mobs, and quests), I could confidently write about it. One gaming chapter even includes Nora’s current build (which my son put together for her). Non-gamers will, I hope, find it interesting, while gamers will totally understand how OP (overpowered) it is!

Kathie: Can you tell us about the cover’s illustrator and what your thoughts were when you first saw it?

Diane: My cover art is by Vivienne To, whose work has graced the covers of many incredible middle grade fantasies (including quite a few Rick Riordan Presents titles). I felt very lucky when I heard she’d agreed to do this—and even more lucky when I saw an early sketch. Nora’s face was exactly what you see on the final cover, just as I’d envisioned her. When I saw the final cover art, I was thrilled. It fits the feel of the book perfectly, and I think it’s gorgeous.

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

Kathie: I absolutely love it! Vivienne is one of my favorite MG illustrators as her covers are so colorful, and she brings life and personality to characters. Is there a certain element that you felt was important to have represented in the cover image?

Diane: I wanted to have Nora and her Order, the group with whom she goes out to fight the Umbrae, in action—and, if possible, hints of their characters in their faces. Vivienne did a magnificent job with that—for one, Nora’s determination but also that flicker of fear and uncertainty in her face. Everyone else looks confident and ready to battle. Nora, not so much. I was also hoping we could picture the Umbrae, and I love how they’re looming above the kids: terrifying but also pretty fascinating!

Kathie: What would you like to hear a young reader say after they finished reading this story?

Diane: First, I want young readers to feel that they can escape in this book when times are tough. Fiction that takes you completely away from your world is so important, especially now. But I also want them to be able to think about the issues under the surface—such as being yourself and trying hard even if you don’t fit in, and the questionable nature of history—when they feel like going deeper. And I hope young readers will find something of themselves in the characters. I’ve depicted many things I’ve seen, heard, or experienced—some things very challenging—in a world that wholly centers and supports these kids. I hope my readers feel seen and less alone, as well as inspired, and maybe a bit brave when facing the challenges of their own lives.

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

Diane: The best place to find me is my website, www.dianemagras.com. You can also find me on Twitter, where I share my thoughts about a lot of things, and Instagram, where I seem to post a lot of pictures of my cat!

Kathie: Thank you so much for letting us be part of the cover reveal. I can’t wait to read it!

Diane: You are so welcome! I can’t wait to share it with you too. And thank you so much, Kathie, and MG Book Village, for all your enthusiasm and support!

  • SECRET OF THE SHADOW BEASTS will be published on June 14, 2022, by Dial Books for Young Readers

Diane Magras, award-winning author of the New York Times Editors’ Choice The Mad Wolf’s Daughter, as well as its companion novel, The Hunt for the Mad Wolf’s Daughter, grew up on Mount Desert Island in Maine, surrounded by woods, cliffs, and the sea. An unabashed fan of libraries (where she wrote her first novel as a teenager), history from all voices, and the perfect cup of tea, Diane lives in Maine with her husband and son.

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, adelegriffin.com 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.

COVER REVEAL for Trusting True North, by Gina Linko

Kathie: Hi Gina, and welcome to MG Book Village. Thank you for allowing us to be part of your cover reveal today. Your upcoming book, Trusting True North, comes out in April 2022 from Shadow Mountain. Can you tell us a bit about it, please?

Gina:  Hi Kathie! Thanks so much for talking to me today about my new book! Your web site is so exciting and does such a great job of sharing middle-grade lit. I would love to tell you about True:

True Vincent loves to draw maps with carefully plotted scales, perfectly drawn legends, and beautifully calligraphed compass roses. She loves to add sea creatures in the bodies of water, just like the old explorers did, and phantom towns and trap streets, even Latin sayings, like, There Be Dragons, to warn of uncharted territories. Maps are handy and sophisticated, a tool for making sense of the world, or at least a little sliver of it. Maps are necessary. They show you where to go, how to get somewhere, point you in the right direction.

And that’s important to True, especially now that the world’s gone a little haywire: True’s best friend Tamsin can’t quit talking about boys. True’s big sister suddenly wants nothing to do with her, and her mother — her very favorite person in the world — well, she’s off in Canada, making boring topographical maps for zinc miners and drillers. And, of course, the whole world is on an actual lockdown because of the virus. 

True wishes she had a map that would show her how to get out of all of this. But she doesn’t. So instead, her days are full of babysitting her bother of a brother George, e-learning on the computer for school, and lots of not fun chores like cleaning the chicken coop. Gone are the days of exploring the little scrubby patch of woods that runs behind her house, of meeting up with Tamsin at the tilted blue barn to read in the hayloft. True misses normal. 

But when True and George manage to slip away from under the not-so-watchful eye of their grandma, they reacquaint themselves with their woods, their forest pathways, and they find themselves at the tilted blue barn, ready for some regular old adventure. And they get it: a veritable ghost in the hayloft, a new possible-friend/maybe-traitor, a jumble of brand-new kittens, and the inspiration for a real pirate treasure hunt. 

But True soon gets more than she bargained for, finding herself in a heap of trouble from their jaunts to the blue barn. True’s navigating a knotted, labyrinth of a problem, trying desperately to map her way out, but how are you supposed to find your way back to normal when every longitude and latitude, every parallel and meridian, sends you somewhere scarier than before, somewhere more terrifying than the last, somewhere that might break your heart?

Kathie: What were your inspirations for writing Trusting True North?

Gina:  True popped into my mind pretty much fully formed. She’s a smart and sassy kid. She likes to make sense of the world around her by making maps. She likes order, she likes to feel like she understands right/wrong. She’s busy with her interests and hobbies, and she knows what she’s about. She loves her family, and she wants to … do things right. She has a really strong moral compass. (Map pun intended LOL) She’s at this precipice in her life where she’s starting to take in other people’s evaluations on things, and then think: Yeah, but what do I think? I love True’s mind. It’s always going. Always thinking. She’s trying to make sense of the world around her, both literally, with her map-making, and figuratively, in trying to understand what is going on with the world around her and all the changes the pandemic is bringing into the world, and specifically her little life in Spooner, Minnesota. And I think – I hope – I capture this moment in True’s life where she realizes that, hey, being smart, being independent, being mature – it doesn’t always mean you have all the answers. I think that is a powerful moment for True. And when you realize that, when you find yourself in that moment, what do you do?

Kathie: How did the pandemic influence this book, in the setting?

Gina: I can remember being a kid, very vividly. Certain moments in time, suspended in my mind like a series of quickly snapped Polaroids. Waiting for the school bus in my favorite green overalls (yes, green!). Cutting my friend Nikki’s hair in seventh grade and her mom, well, not quite being thrilled about that. I remember my first pair of good basketball Nikes. I remember when fruit-roll-ups were invented and Mom gave me one in my sack lunch! But more than that, I remember feelings. Big feelings. Intense emotions.  Especially in those middle-grade years, the tween years, when kids are morphing into who they really are, who they want to be, constructing themselves – into real, actual fully formed people, complete with a very sophisticated understanding of the world around them. Anyway, the pandemic has been so influential, so ever-present, and so long lasting, it deserves to be mentioned in children’s literature. We can’t skip by it like it’s not happening. It’s shaping our young people.

Do you remember how long a summer could seem?  Endless. Stretching on for what seemed like forever! We’d go back to school in September and feel like completely different people, barely recognizing some of our friends for the new haircuts, new inches grown. The pandemic, and all it has asked of children, is too much of a force to just be ignored in children’s literature. It’s here. We can’t ignore it. Masks. Lockdowns. Fears. We have to acknowledge this in children’s stories, because kid readers, they are not to be pandered to. They want the realities of life. They’re living them right now in schools, nearly two years into this thing, and they want to see it reflected in their adventures on the page – both the sacrifices they’ve had to make, the fears they’ve had to shoulder, and the unexpected good things too. Like time with family and the intense awareness of others, and how we can care for others with our own actions. Kids get it. They’re living it.

Kathie: True North, the main character, is a mapmaker, and we see the map of Spooner, Minnesota, at the front of this book. How/why do you think maps help draw readers in?

Gina:  I think that lots of readers – me included – love to open a book and see a map waiting for us, staring up at us, beckoning us into this new world. Like, hello, dear reader, this is your new home for the next few hundred pages. Would you like to look around?  A map in a book is like a little extra gift — a signal that this location you’re about to read about, well, it’s going to be important. This place might be full of surprises, escapades, even dragons. Who knows? Maybe a pirate treasure? The sky is the limit, you know? Maps capture our imagination in a way that, I think, can’t really be overstated. I mean, maps pretty much guarantee that you, the reader, are going on an adventure. And what more can you ask of any book?

Kathie: You’ve said that empathy plays a big part in this book to True North. Can you explain that?

Gina: True empathy is a kind of magic, I like to think. Being able to see things from other points of view, being able to stand in someone else’s shoes and truly understand what they feel, care about what they care about. It’s powerful. It forces us to think bigger, open our minds and hearts to the world around us, to understand other people’s struggles and motivations. To not just focus on our little corner of the map, you know? And in this time of the pandemic, empathy is truly a superpower, I think. It’s something that kids are showing that they fully understand, even more than grown-ups, really. Middle-grade readers get it. Kids are truly leading the way.

True North’s entire story centers around her ability to empathize.  It’s not always a comfortable feeling. It leaves True in a difficult, daunting mess. But she embraces it, this empathy. Uses it. Wields it. And she finds that, in the end, empathy might be difficult at times, but it is very powerful too. Because really, empathy is about looking outside of just your own little self, and turning toward that big, wide world, embracing it. (And then, of course, drawing yourself a map of it.)

Kathie: Can you tell us about the cover’s illustrator and what involvement you had in the process?

Gina: The gorgeous, riveting cover was designed by Richard Erickson. And I just can’t explain how much I love it. I want to thank Richard and Shadow Mountain for truly capturing the anticipation, the excitement — and even the shadowy fear — that True and her friend Kyler feel standing outside the slanted barn. I mean, authors want so badly for their covers to reflect the themes and feelings within their stories, and this cover truly does. I mean, can’t you just sense the energy that True is feeling standing with Kyler, looking at her beloved barn? She is truly ready for an adventure, poised on the precipice of something big, and so is the reader, once they see this cover.

The process for this cover was an easy one, I think, because obviously the designer read the book! This is a huge compliment because how else can the details be so incredibly perfect? The cat on the cover – oh, this is my favorite detail. But I won’t give it away. (wink, wink!)

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

Kathie: Oh wow, I LOVE the way the compass is included in the font. Is there any element that the average reader might miss that you’d like to point out?

Gina:  Thank you! It’s a great detail — that compass is gorgeous. And the compass really plays a big part in the story, as does True’s full name (True North) and its literal, map-making meaning. Compasses are about searching, trying to find our way, and True is definitely doing that. Oh, I just love so many things about this cover, but I especially love the haunted, creepy look that True’s beloved slanted barn has, as well as the hazy, purple-twilight lighting of the Scrub – the forest behind True’s house. And let’s not forget to mention the cat! I won’t say too much about that. But the cat is so very important between True and her friend Kyler. Everyone needs a cat on their adventure, don’t they?

Kathie: Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about your book?

Gina:  I would love to show you True’s hand-drawn map of the scrub! You can get a taste for the adventure that True and Kyler take on in Spooner, Minnesota. The map was made by Rachel Murff, a truly talented artist, and she has so many hidden details in the map itself, as well as in the gorgeous border. I challenge readers to find all the items in that map inside the story itself. It’s almost like a reader scavenger hunt! Grandma Jo’s windchime, the Colonel and the dreaded chicken coop, the metal detector! The map itself is an absolute treasure!  

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

Gina: Please visit me at ginalinko.com. I have a lot of book-like information, as well as fun pictures of my two fluffy cats: Sparkle and Louis. They are distinguished gentlemen about town, the true stars of my web site.

Kathie: Thanks so much for chatting with me today, Gina, and best of luck with your book’s release.

Thank you for having me today, Kathie. This has been a pleasure!

Gina Linko likes to write books for kids and young people, because, in her opinion, they are the absolute best kinds of people. Gina has two fluffy, fat cats, one of which is an evil genius. She also has three kids, none of which are fluffy or evil geniuses, although they are quite interesting in their own human-like ways. Gina lives in a suburb outside Chicago, where she works as a textbook editor and spends her free time reading and then reading some more. She likes to stay up super late at night. She doesn’t like alarm clocks. She really likes Hershey nuggets, playing euchre, and watching the Cubbies. Her children like to call her Lil Gina, even though she’s six-feet tall.  

FAST FORWARD FRIDAY – Alda P. Dobbs

Kathie: Welcome to Fast Forward Friday, Alda! I’m happy to have a chance to talk with you about your upcoming MG debut, BAREFOOT DREAMS OF PETRA LUNA, which comes out September 14th from Sourcebooks for Young Readers. Can you tell us a bit about it, please?

Alda: I’m a huge fan of Middle Grade Village and I’m just thrilled to be interviewed by you. Thank you! Now, about my book. Petra Luna is a twelve-year old girl who makes it her purpose to keep her family safe in the middle of war and chaos. Despite the turmoil and suffering around her, she remains faithful to her dreams of learning to read and write and to a promise she made to her father before he was forced to fight in the war.

Kathie: Your book takes place in northern Mexico in 1913, and your great-grandmother’s story is the inspiration for it. What was it like to research and verify the family history you heard as a child.

Alda: My goodness, I spent months reading everything under the sun that had been written about the Mexican Revolution, and the day I found out that my family’s story had been true and accurate all along, will be one I’ll forever remember. Ever since, I became much more grateful for my family stories, knowing they were not exaggerations. Also, through the many photographs I came across in my research, I saw, learned, and appreciated all that my family had gone through – the harsh poverty, the prejudices, the violence – and the enormous effort and sacrifice they made to give me a better life. After completing my book, I felt closer to them than ever before.

Kathie: Your main character, Petra, endures some extremely difficult circumstances, yet her resilience is inspiring. If you could give her one piece of advice, what would it be?

Alda: You’re stronger than you think – you’ve got this!

Kathie: This will be the first time many people will learn about this event in history, yet the topic of individuals departing Mexico for the United States is still relevant today. What do you hope young readers will learn from your story?

Alda: During my research, I came across many black and white photographs that showed the masses of impoverished people escaping the violence in Mexico in 1913. In one old photograph, I saw numerous families wearing ragged clothes, walking along railroad tracks, all with fearful and exhausted faces. Not long ago, in a newspaper, I saw a recent picture full of color that showed families wearing different clothes but with the same fear and exhaustion on their faces. They too walked along railroad tracks. I placed both old and new photos side by side and was shocked to see the similarities, despite both having been taken 100 years apart. I did the same with pictures taken at refugee camps – like the one my great-grandmother had stayed in. The similarities are incredible. With my book, I want readers to realize that history tends to repeat itself. The Mexican Revolution came to be because of the great disparities the impoverished masses faced. The economic disparities, wide social gaps, and prejudices that exist in our world today could lead to new wars if left unchecked, just like they did in Mexico in 1913. When readers step into a story’s history, they can see how some things transcend time and places.

Kathie: What’s one thing you learned while writing this book that you’re glad you now know?

Alda: Through my research I witnessed the immense resilience people, especially women and children, had during the Mexican Revolution. Through their stories I learned about the different roles women filled. Some followed their husbands and sons to war, making sure they were fed and taken care of, while other women joined the ranks and trained as soldiers, achieving ranks as high as general. Children too, as young as twelve, joined the ranks of the rebels and were treated as equal comrades despite their age. The women and children who were too old or too weak to fight, like Petra and her family, bravely faced the harsh elements of the desert and crossed it against all odds to reach the safety of the U.S. That resilience is one that made me see my circumstances, especially during the COVID pandemic, in a different light and made me appreciate the many blessings in my life.   

Kathie: Has your writing routine changed during the pandemic, and if so, how have you adapted?

Alda: To be honest, I’ve never really had a writing routine. The only thing that changed during COVID was the amount of time I had available for writing since homeschooling took a big chunk of it. Lucky for me, my kids returned to school in October but I can imagine how difficult it was for the families who had to homeschool for an entire school year.

Kathie: Do you have another writing project on which you’re working right now?

Alda: I do! Currently, I’m working on Book 2, the follow-up to Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna. This story follows Petra and her family to a refugee camp in Eagles Pass, Texas and then to San Antonio where 30,000 refugees settled during that time. I’m also working on the Spanish translation of Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna and will soon record the Author’s Note for the audio book. I’ve also been kicking around the idea of a picture book and a historical YA. Stay tuned!

Kathie: Where can our readers go if they want to learn more about you and your writing?

Alda: You can visit my website at www.aldapdobbs.com and see the resources I offer (educator’s guide, videos, music playlists, etc.) that follow Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna and help students better understand the Mexican Revolution. I also offer a quarterly newsletter where I give writing/publishing advice, share my favorite kid lit books, and offer behind the scenes material. You can also find me on Instagram at @aldapdobbs, and on Facebook at Alda P. Dobbs.

Kathie: I really appreciate you answering some questions for me today, Alda. Thank you so much, and all the best with your book’s release.

Alda: My pleasure, Kathie! Thank you for this opportunity!

Alda P. Dobbs is the author of the upcoming novel Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna. She was born in a small town in northern Mexico but moved to San Antonio, Texas as a child. Alda studied physics and worked as an engineer before pursuing her love of storytelling. She’s as passionate about connecting children to their past, their communities, different cultures and nature as she is about writing. Alda lives with her husband and two children outside Houston, Texas.

Twitter Giveaway Celebration for New Fall #MG!

It’s September! The days are cooling down, kid-readers are back to school, and we’re officially easing into fall. That means a cozy new reading season filled with some wonderful middle grade books, including brand new titles launching this month from yours truly—authors Rebecca Caprara, Saadia Faruqi, Janae Marks, Mae Respicio, and Betsy Uhrig. We’re excited for our newest books to be out in the world connecting with readers… and equally excited to celebrate with a special Twitter Giveaway, where 1 lucky winner will receive each of our new fall books!

To enter, go to any of our handles; RT+ L the original giveaway tweet, and make sure to comment on one thing that you love about fall reading. For an extra entry, tag some reader friends. The deadline to enter this giveaway is September 12—1 randomly drawn U.S. winner will be announced.

In the meantime, we’d love to share more about our books! Here’s a glimpse into our fall releases: 

YUSUF AZEEM IS NOT A HERO

By Saadia Faruqi
Out 9/7/21

Yusuf Azeem has spent all his life in the small town of Frey, Texas—and nearly that long waiting for the chance to participate in the regional robotics competition, which he just knows he can win. Only, this year is going to be more difficult than he thought. Because this year is the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, an anniversary that has everyone in his Muslim community on edge. With “Never Forget” banners everywhere and a hostile group of townspeople protesting the new mosque, Yusuf realizes that the country’s anger from two decades ago hasn’t gone away. Can he hold onto his joy—and his friendships—in the face of heartache and prejudice?

HOW TO WIN A SLIME WAR
By Mae Respicio
Out 9/14/21

Alex Manalo and his dad have just moved back to Sacramento to help out with their extended family’s struggling Filipino market. While Alex likes helping in the store, his true passion is making slime! He comes up with his own recipes and plays with ingredients, colors, and different bumpy or sparkly bits, which make his slime truly special. A new friend encourages Alex to sell his creations at school, which leads to a sell-off battle with a girl who previously had a slime-opoly. Winner gets bragging rights and the right to be the only slime game in town. But Alex’s dad thinks Alex should be focused more on “traditional” boy pastimes and less on slime. As the new soccer coach, Dad gets Alex to join the team. Even though he hates sports, Alex gives in. Alex is battling on multiple fronts–with his new friends at school, and with his dad at home. It will be a sticky race to the finish to see who oozes out on top.

A SOFT PLACE TO LAND

By Janae Marks
Out 9/14/221

Joy Taylor has always believed home is the house she lived in her entire life. But then her dad lost his job, and suddenly, home becomes a tiny apartment with thin walls, shared bedrooms, and a place for tense arguments between Mom and Dad. Hardest of all, Joy doesn’t have her music to escape through anymore. Without enough funds, her dreams of becoming a great pianist—and one day, a film score composer—have been put on hold. A friendly new neighbor her age lets Joy in on the complex’s best-kept secret: the Hideout, a cozy refuge that only the kids know about. And it’s in this little hideaway that Joy starts exchanging secret messages with another kid in the building who also seems to be struggling, until—abruptly, they stop writing back. What if they’re in trouble? Joy is determined to find out who this mystery writer is, fast, but between trying to raise funds for her music lessons, keeping on a brave face for her little sister, and worrying about her parents’ marriage, Joy isn’t sure how to keep her own head above water.

WORSE-CASE COLLIN 

By Rebecca Caprara

Out 9/28/21

Twelve-year-old Collin has a plan to survive any worst-case scenario. Avalanche? No problem. Riptide? Stay calm. He’s 100% prepared for every disaster…except maybe his home life. Everyone called it a fluke when Collin’s mom died in a car accident. But twelve-year-old Collin wonders what might’ve happened if someone had been better prepared. So now he keeps a worst-case scenario handbook, outlining how to overcome everything from avalanches to riptides to a bad case of halitosis. It’s no wonder his hilarious and loyal best friends, Liam and Georgia, nickname him Worst-Case Collin. But there’s no chapter in Collin’s handbook about how to avoid bullies at school, or how to hide his dad’s troubling hoarding habits from everyone. When everything builds to a breaking point, Collin must figure out his own best-case scenario. Kirkus calls this contemporary middle grade novel-in-verse, “Poignant, timely, and altogether affecting.”  

WELCOME TO DWEEB CLUB

By Betsy Uhrig

Out 9/28/21

What if you got a glimpse into your future – and didn’t like what you saw? When Jason Sloan and a few other intrepid classmates join a mysterious club at the start of seventh grade, they have no idea that they’re about to get an alarming look five years into their future. Bad hair, inexplicable fashion choices, and depressing social situations are fully on display, forcing Jason and his friends to do whatever it takes to avoid their fates in this “funny and original story about friendship and the future” (Kirkus Reviews).

Interview with Sara Pennypacker about PAX, JOURNEY HOME

Kathie: Hi Sara, and welcome to MG Book Village. I’m so glad to have the opportunity to chat with you about PAX, JOURNEY HOME, which comes out on September 7th from Balzer & Bray. I loved reconnecting with Pax and Peter and discovering what’s happened in their lives since we last saw them. Can you tell our readers what to expect in this sequel?

Sara: The sequel takes place a year after the first book ended, and it’s been a busy time.  Pax and Bristle are parents – this isn’t much of a spoiler if you’ve seen the gorgeous cover by Jon Klassen – and readers will spend time with the fox kits as they grow. Peter has spent the year at Vola’s where he’s learning to work with wood and building himself a cabin, but he’s had a new loss. 

Kathie: There are five years between the publication of Pax and this new story. At what point did you start writing this second adventure, and what perspective did you get about your characters during that time?

Sara: For a couple of years after PAX came out, I was certain there would be no sequel. I had deliberately left PAX’s ending a bit ambiguous, and I was not surprised to hear from readers that they kept wondering what happened after that final scene. What did surprise me was that I would keep thinking about it! Mostly I worried: Poor Peter, carrying so much loss on his young shoulders, and Pax, making his way in the unfamiliar wild world. One day I was talking to my agent about the things I thought might happen in the following year, and as I was talking, we both realized I had another book. 

Kathie: I really loved watching Peter and Pax reunite, and the trust that Pax has in Peter even when Peter struggles to believe he’s worthy of it. What do you enjoy about writing from the perspective of a fox?

Sara:  All the fox scenes, even the ones that included danger, were a joy for me. To write from  that viewpoint you need to stay in the moment and to pay attention to the natural environment at all times: Is there danger from the sky? Is there something to eat below the ground? In contrast to how I wrote Peter, I never had Pax worry about past mistakes or about how he might be judged. It was very freeing – maybe animals have something to teach us! 

Kathie: Both Peter and Pax grew during their year apart, and developed new relationships. What influence do you think their time together had on their ability to connect with others?

Sara:  First, it’s important to notice the differences: Peter spent the year closing himself off and convincing himself he had no need for family, while Pax did the exact opposite – he fit himself joyfully into his wild environment and welcomed a new family with boundless love. But both remembered their time together and neither grew bitter or distrustful. Pax remained a little more at ease around humans and Peter’s closeness with Pax left him more comfortable in wilderness. 

Kathie: There’s a strong environmental theme in this story. What message would you like readers to take away from it?

Sara: Oh, boy. Yes, there is an environmental theme, but I hope I don’t come off as trying to send a message – that’s not the job of a story-teller. I think good books should raise questions, though, and let the readers consider those questions for themselves. PAX asked the questions “What are the real costs of war and who pays them?”  PAX, JOURNEY HOME asks how can we heal after loss. One of the losses in the book was clean water – humans, animals and plants alike have been sickened by water contaminated during the war of the first book. In the sequel we see that the same organization, equipment and personel can be repurposed to clean up the water.

Kathie: What is your involvement in the illustration process? Do you collaborate with Jon Klassen or does your work occur separately?

Sara: I have almost no involvement at all, and that’s my universal position through all my books. Illustration is its own art form and I am not an expert, so I just stay out of the way and marvel at it afterward! 

Kathie: Will we see more stories about Pax and Peter, or are you working on something new at the moment?

Sara: No, I am not worried about Peter and Pax anymore – they are both on good, healthy paths now – so I will not revisit them. And right now I am just finishing up a new novel – something lighter and funnier – that should come out early in 2023. 

Kathie: Thank you so much for answering my questions today, Sara, and I can’t wait for young readers to be able to pick up your book.

Sara: Me too, Kathie! It takes so long to put a novel together, and involves so much of your heart, that it’s really hard to wait until publication…and now finally that’s going to happen! It was a joy to return to the world of the foxes, and I hope that’s how it feels to readers, too. 

Sara Pennypacker is the author of the #1 New York Times bestselling Pax; its sequel Pax, Journey Home, the award-winning Clementine series and its spinoff series, Waylon; and the acclaimed novels Summer of the Gypsy Moths and Here in the Real World. She divides her time between Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and Florida. You can visit her online at www.sarapennypacker.com.

Book Review: THE MAGICAL IMPERFECT, by Chris Baron

Full disclosure: poetry and I don’t see eye to eye.  It has a lot to do with a certain poetry test I took as an eighth grader and bombed, but that is a story for another blog post. HOWEVER, Chris Baron’s middle grade novel in verse, The Magical Imperfect, was accessible for me, and even inspired me to create, in words and images, the feelings, thoughts, and wonderings provoked by Malia and Etan’s story. I was so inspired that I literally turned my copy of The Magical Imperfect into a scrapbook. Here’s proof!   

Etan is a 12 year old that lives in a tight knit community.  He lives with his mom and dad and spends his free time in his grandfather’s jewelry repair shop.  When we meet Etan he is going through selective mutism, he is incapable of producing audible speech in certain situations and with certain people.  This stems from his mom’s current health condition, Etan and his dad took her to a behavioral health hospital, at her request. Etan wonders where his words went, wonders when his mom will come home, wonders why there seems to be a struggle between his dad and grandfather, wonders all this and more in silence. When he makes a delivery to  Malia, a 12 year old girl who is currently homeschooled to shield her from the cruelty of some of her  classmates that used her acute eczema, a skin condition that manifests as an itchy rash that can blister, scab and leave marks on the skin to call her “The Creature” and bully her.  Etan doesn’t think she looks like a creature, and in her company, he feels safe and speaks.

As you can imagine, Etan, his father and his grandfather, are all processing mom’s needs and decisions in different ways. Although I used my annotating acronym A.F.K. (Adults Failing Kids) for some of the actions of the  caring adults in Etan’s life, Chris Baron invests in making secondary characters as fully human as possible.  This caught my attention because for a while now, I have been thinking that if we, as adults, owned up to our own humanness and shared it early on with the children in our lives- that we don’t have it all figured out, we are not all-knowing, we hope we know best, but alas!, we get a lot of things wrong; then our kids would not be so disappointed, we wouldn’t lose bits of their trust, when life exposes us. Chris Baron gives readers this knowledge through Etan’s acknowledgement that the adults in his life, because of their humanness, do not have all the answers, are imperfect, and therefore disappointment at their shortcomings isn’t crushing. With this acknowledgement Etan finds the strength to assess his adults, the situation and what his gut tells him is the right path.  I hope that Mr. Baron, and other authors who write for our middle grade readers continue to expose this in characters that are as full as the ones in The Magical Imperfect. 

What The Magical Imperfect Gifts Middle Grade Readers

Readers will be able to internalize what Etan knows about adults and their humanness, as Etan shares his thinking, weighing the words and actions of his adults, their capacity, and what he feels to be right.  As an educator and parent committed to helping children develop critical thinking skills on things that matter, I am grateful for Etan’s awareness. Readers will also glean a flowchart of sorts, to guide them when they think about adults’ words and actions as they become aware of their adults’ vulnerability.

Set in the San Francisco Bay Area, 1989, the year the San Francisco Giants made it to the World Series and also the year of a 6.9 magnitude earthquake that caused extensive damage, readers will be in constant anticipation of how these two events play out. Who will win the World Series? Are they finally reading about  THE BIG earthquake? These events not only provide a rush of excitement to the story, but also an opportunity for readers to witness how a community can live in harmony even when they are rooting for different outcomes (Etan and Malia’s town has a mix of dedicated Giants fans and A’s fans!), practice different religions (Etan’s family and some members of the community are Jewish as well as other faiths, but Judaism is showcased in the story), and how they come together without reservation when someone in their community is in need.   

The Magical Imperfect will accompany other middle grade novels that I hold dear, because they offer young readers a model of what friendship feels like, empathy that moves to action, interest in each other’s passions, high expectations and accountability, the need to ask for forgiveness and to forgive with equal urgency.  Etan and Malia also provides an opportunity for readers to behold a healthy friendship between kids of a different gender than self.  I work with 5th graders, and they cannot seem to separate friendship from “like-liking” at this age, it makes them miss out on finding true friendships, a lot.

Readers who enjoy magic realism, stories that mostly happen in the real world but are spiced with magical, fantasy elements posed in an utterly believable premise, will find themselves suspending disbelief as Etan’s grandfather shares the magical contents of a mysterious box that traveled with him when he emigrated from Prague to Angel Island in the U.S., the equivalent of Ellis Island, with Etan.

Our kids consume an immense amount of messages about what beauty looks like, mostly portrayed by models who are unhealthily thin and have light smooth skin, that skews their views about their own beauty and that of others around them.  Reading The Magical Imperfect middle graders will come to know and care about Etan’s friend, Malia, who offers us a counterculture point of view to beauty.  Malia’s battle with acute eczema, juxtaposed with Malia’s singing voice,her generosity in sharing it, her magnetic personality, sense of style, her relationship and interaction with nature and her ability to really see her friend Etan, invites readers to redefine their views of beauty.

What The Magical Imperfect Gifts the Adults who Live with Middle Grade Readers

Remember my annotating acronym A.F.K. (Adults Failing Kids)?  Adults in Etan and Malia’s life are loving but they are also human.  Adult readers can reflect on the thoughts and feelings Etan goes through as the consequence of an adult offering him a well intentioned comment about making an effort to speak, that impacts him negatively.  Malia and Etan both give us insight on how hollow promises offer zero hope and that a vulnerable “I don’t know. I’m not sure if…” is best, because it’s genuine.  Etan also shares what an adult that really listens looks like, what they make a kid feel.  We should all remember this when our kids want our attention, it is a “heart” priority!

As adults we can open up a conversation about mental health and taking care of one’s own, with Etan’s mom.  Although the exact issue she is feeling is not disclosed, we learn that she is overwhelmed by feelings of sadness. She decides to reach out for help, although it is difficult to be away from Etan and his dad, and focus on healing and feeling healthy before continuing to fully be mom and wife.  Again, Chris Baron doesn’t only show the bright side of this decision, he also portrays how a family member’s illness affects the whole family, even as they are supportive and understand that there is no other path. This is a wonderful conversation to set, reinforce, or rebuild the foundation of our views on mental health— it is part of our general health care and that actively seeking to heal is vital.

What The Magical Imperfect Gifts Educators

An engaging story that offers the opportunity to explore poetry, figurative language, and writing in verse and serves as mentor poems on sports fandom, weather, family, bullying, music and many other topics will motivate students to try this form, and focus their writing as well.  The biggest hurdle to write in any form, for many kids and adults, is a blank page and the “you can write about anything at all” prompt. 

The Magical Imperfect offers a counterbalance to what middle grade readers are exposed to when exploring The Holocaust.   Through Etan and his grandfather, readers gain insight into Jewish folklore, holy artifacts, family heirlooms, rituals and customs as well as some of the practices when observing Jewish holidays.  This insight is intertwined with the plot, making for an exploration that does not become a distraction, but can lead to wonderings, encouraging research that will help our students better understand and honor the Jewish members of their community, as well as globally. In our present national climate, offering students a baseline to refer to when they hear or learn about anti-Semitic ideology or actions is much needed. Chris Baron offers us additional elements to add to what school curriculum exposes our kids to, making it possible for them to create a more complex and layered idea of Jewish people in our nation’s past and its present.  

Self-selected research is an experience we must include in our students’ learning and I believe that The Magical Imperfect will make this experience authentic for readers.  I know that I was extremely curious about many things (Jewish and Filipino food, what is a tzedakah) and stopped frequently to do a Google search, read articles, and look for pictures.  I’ll share a few research-worthy topics I found as I read:  

  • Have the San Francisco Giants ever won The World Series
  • MLB players mentioned by Etan and Jordan 
  • Earthquakes- in the U.S./World comparison 0of intensity, predictability, frequency, areas
  • Jewish sacred objects, rituals, food
  • Pulley Systems and their modern use (Buddy went up and down on a pulley system!)
  • Malia’s 80’s songs (artist, music, lyrics, stats)- why did she like these songs so much and why did the author choose them? 
  • The effects of sharing sports’ fandom in family connection

I hope you choose to share Malia and Etan’s story with the kids in your life and, if you are an educator, in your classroom.  Going back to school after a pandemic year will be a smoother experience if we emulate the community action and love we witness in The Magical Imperfect as we sort through our memories of what it means to coexist as a classroom family in a physical space.  As our kids grapple with the isolating effects of this past school year and ease back into sharing time and space with old and new friends, Etan and Malia’s friendship will help nurture healthy, supportive interactions, and although they might feel a little rusty on how it all goes, their empathy, kindness, and joy will be tickled and awoken by Chris Baron’s The Magical Imperfect.

Ro Menendez is a picture book collector and teacher-librarian in Mesquite, TX.  After thirteen years in the bilingual classroom she decided to transition to the library where she could build relationships with ALL readers on her campus. She enjoys the daily adventure of helping young readers develop their reader identity by connecting them with books that speak to their hearts and sense of humor! Ro’s favorite pastimes include reading aloud to children and recommending books to anyone who asks! She is also very passionate about developing a diverse library collection where all readers learn about themselves and those around them. You can find her on Twitter at @romenendez14.

Interview with Betty Fudge about NORM & GINGER ENTER THE HIDDEN

Christie: Hi Betty! Norm And Ginger Enter The Hidden comes out today (happy book birthday!) Can you give us a brief synopsis of it, please?

There is a secret hiding inside a remote Vermont farmhouse where eleven-year-old Becky and her family move after her father is fired from his job under mysterious circumstances. A guardian emerges with an ominous warning that someone is coming through a mirror to take Becky from the safety of her new home, and leads her to the discovery of artifacts hidden under her bedroom floor. That same night she finds an abandoned puppy destined to protect her, and whose collar causes the artifacts to turn on. An ancient battle resumes for control over a secret once thought buried too deep to be uncovered. As more mysterious creatures arrive, how will she know who is there to help and who means her harm? Becky and her new puppy must race to interpret the warnings, overcome their fear of sinister forces, and trust in new alliances to solve a mystery that has been hidden from her family for generations. But is it too late?

Christie: Can you tell us the idea that inspired the book?

Betty: I love walking in the woods and I find that nature is a treasure trove of beauty and inspiration. Our children when they were younger enjoyed the stories I made up  as we spent time outside together.

Christie: Did you have a character that you most enjoyed writing?

Betty: That is hard because I love many of the characters in this book. I would say Rothschild, the praying mantis. He is often misguided and headstrong. It gets him in trouble!

Christie: What was one of your biggest challenges writing this story?

Betty: As a debut author I found the editing process challenging at times. It is hard to cut characters or scenes in the initial phases. Even though the editing process is challenging it is worth it. I was fortunate to work with a wonderful editor at Koehler books.

Christie: What do you think it’s important for young readers to know about this story?

That it is safe to dive into the world of The Hidden. It is scary without being too dark. I want them to know that they will laugh with these characters and learn a lot about friendship and trust.

Christie: What has your debut publishing journey been like?

A big learning curve! It has been fun, mostly. I am so happy to be working with my publisher. I feel they are supporting me and my success.

Christie: Is there something unique about you or your story that you’d like to share with our readers?

So many fantasy young adult and even middle grade books are dark. Our world is dark enough. I think this book has all the elements that readers of fantasy will enjoy without the overly dark themes in so many other books. This is book 1 in a series. I want readers to feel tension and explore the mystery, but feel safe. The reader will ask themselves which characters are trustworthy? Who is good? Who is bad? Even with the tension there is humor throughout.

Christie: What’s one thing that I haven’t asked you about your book or your writing process that you could share with us?

When I would reach a slowdown in writing or a block about where I wanted the story to go, I would take a walk in the woods and find my inspiration. Maybe I would see a garden spider weaving a web or crawling on a branch and ask myself questions about the spider, what should her name be? Where is she going? Those trips deep into the woods always jump start my writing!

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

My author website is https://bettyfudge.com/

On Facebook: Betty Fudge, author

Instagram: @ bettyfudgeauthor

Betty Fudge graduated from N.C. State University and has enjoyed a career in healthcare, sales, and consulting. Inspired by her childhood spent exploring the woods with a pack of neighborhood dogs by her side, she writes stories about adventure, friendships, and mysteries. 

Interview with Mahtab Narsimhan about VALLEY OF THE RATS

Kathie: Hi Mahtab, it’s such a pleasure to welcome you to MG Book Village today! I’m really looking forward to learning more about your upcoming MG novel, VALLEY OF THE RATS which will be released by DCB on September 18th. Can you give us a brief synopsis of it, please?

Mahtab: Thank you for inviting me to the MG Book Village, Kathie! It’s such a pleasure to share thoughts and ideas with an awesome community, invested in bringing books and readers together!

Synopsis: Book nerd Krish hates the outdoors, and camping. But especially germs. When Krish and his father, Kabir, take a camping trip to Ladakh, he convinces himself that they will bond, despite their differences.

When they’re lost in a bamboo forest, teeming with black rats, and germs, Krish is at an all-time low. His GF (gut feel) and a couple of rats lead them to a hidden village, Imdur, unmarked on any map.

Krish and his father are allowed to stay, only if they follow rules. But Krish soon realizes the village has an odd custom of worshipping rats. They also have a secret. And so does his dad. Turns out, Krish has a secret too.

When all the secrets explode into the open, Krish and Kabir are in grave danger. Can Krish overcome his fears and phobias to take the chance offered to him? Or are he and his dad doomed to spend the rest of their lives among rats?

Here’s the book trailer:

Kathie: This story is much creepier than your previous books. Where did the inspiration for the story come from, and what was it like for you to write something in this genre?

Mahtab: I’m a huge advocate of channeling your emotions, fears, hopes, dreams into your stories. You have a deeper connection with your audience when you can translate these emotions into words, and make them feel the way you do.

The inspiration for this story came from a National Geographic documentary I saw on YouTube about the Karni Mata temple in Rajasthan. Here rats are revered instead of reviled.

Here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2OOs1l8Fajc&t=84s&ab_channel=NationalGeographic

Being a city girl, now living in a rural community, I’m often scared of the most harmless critters. Even as a child, growing up in Mumbai, I was deathly afraid of lizards (gecko in this part of the world), rats (large ones) and flying cockroaches (which were plentiful.)

All of this came together in a kind of “idea soup” which became the story for Valley of the Rats.

Fun anecdote: I live in a semi-rural residential community outside of Vancouver. Sometimes the “outdoors” tends to slip indoors! While doing the final edits for Valley of the Rats, I woke up one morning to find a tiny mouse (think Despereaux + Ratatouille) on the stairs to my office. Despite writing about rats for quite a few months now, I shrieked for help and woke my husband at five-thirty am to get it back outdoors. Reality is so far from imaginative endeavours. The fact that I hate rats and am so afraid of them helped me get into Krish’s head to describe his fears.

Kathie: I love that you explore the impact of Krish and his dad’s disrespect for the community that’s providing for them. What do you hope readers will take away from your story?

Mahtab: I’m so happy you asked about that underlying theme in the story!

After I watched the documentary, and given my own fears about rats, I started thinking about how animals (people, too!) are viewed differently, depending on where you are in the world. Gross-factor aside, rats are extremely intelligent creatures—able to adapt and survive in the harshest conditions, while cockroaches can survive a nuclear blast!

I knew then I had to write a story about a community of people who are judged on their customs and traditions by outsiders who tell them what is right and wrong. At the back of my mind was the recent tragedy of the Residential Schools in Canada and how the indigenous people suffered because they were told what was best for them and their children by outsiders.

As technology makes travel to the remotest corners of the world possible, countless communities are now being visited and changed by outside influences. Not always for the better.

First off, I hope readers will enjoy the action, the adventure, and the fantastical/mysterious elements of the story. The goal of a novel is to entertain, and I hope I’ve achieved that in Valley of the Rats.

Secondly, I hope readers will understand that you need to respect cultures and communities that are different from your own. They have their own way of life and do not need, or want, to be judged. They may not welcome the change you propose so, tread carefully and follow their requests even if they are not to your liking. After all, you are a guest in their home.

People, instinctively, fear those who do not look or behave like themselves or share the same beliefs. There is suspicion and disdain among the privileged for those who are different. I explored this theme with Krish and Tashi. Krish, who comes from the city, looks down on the Imdura, believing them to be ignorant and dirty. Eventually, he realizes that Tashi is a much better person than he is, in every way. He comes to understand her way of life, accept her differences, and they become best friends. She is the catalyst that changes his life for the better and it is because he kept an open mind and was willing to make the effort to change.

After reading this novel, I hope readers will ignore the knee-jerk reaction to the obvious and look beyond the surface to appreciate the heart of the story. I sincerely hope this story will encourage empathy toward the Other.

Kathie: Is there anything you’d like to share with our readers about the research you did for the book, or something interesting you learned in the process you didn’t know before?

Mahtab: The village of Imdur and all its inhabitants are pure fiction. Though this story is set in Ladakh, which is part of the foothills of the Himalayan Range (and very cold!), I imagined a micro-climate which supports the growth of a bamboo forest.

This idea was inspired by a PBS documentary about Mautam or Bamboo Death—a true event which occurs in Mizoram every 48 years. Here’s the link in case anyone wants to check it out. There is a longer, one hour documentary as well on YouTube, but this link gives the gist of it.

I also researched how communities lived and survived in Nepal and in the northern regions of India. I used the bits which were interesting. For example, the headdress of Imma, the shaman of Imdur) was inspired by this research.

I also researched how people around the world use bamboo. I found out that it’s used not just for building houses or furniture but even as cooking vessels. This is such a clean and green solution, I had to use it in the book.

Kathie: What is your favourite part of the writing process?

Mahtab: Definitely the research. Even when I came across an interesting article which wasn’t relevant to the story I was writing, I filed it away for future use. Everything is valuable and I’ve got thousands of bookmarks under the “Ideas” folder on my browser!

First drafts are the hardest and I used to have a tough time starting every morning. Of late, I tend to plot out my story and it’s easier to write the first draft. I know where I’m going and enjoy diversions sparked by the act of sinking deep into the story.

I also enjoy the revision process because it means there are words on paper and now I can tweak and massage them into an actual story. The draft stage was when I told the story to myself, and revision is when I have my audience firmly in mind.

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

Mahtab: You can visit me at www.mahtabnarsimhan.com or follow me on Twitter @MahtabNarsimhan

Kathie: Thank you so much for chatting with me today, Mahtab. Your book is coming out at the perfect time to appeal to readers who like stories with a dark mystery behind them.

Mahtab: Thank you for your support, enthusiasm, and for this wonderful community of MG writers and readers, Kathie!

MAHTAB NARSIMHAN is an award-winning author with numerous critically acclaimed books,  nominated for several awards, including The Third Eye which won the Silver Birch Fiction Award. She is inspired by the desire to make sense of the world through stories and is deeply committed to representing diversity in her books.  Please visit www.mahtabnarsimhan.com for more information. 

FAST FORWARD FRIDAY – Jessica Vitalis

Kathie: Hi Jessica! It’s such a pleasure to have a chance to chat with you today about THE WOLF’S CURSE, your MG debut which will be published on September 21st by Greenwillow Books. Please tell our readers a bit about your story.

Jessica: Thank you for having me! The Wolf’s Curse features a Great White Wolf that is very old and very tired. For hundreds of years, she’s searched for someone to take her place. But in all that time, only three people have seen her. One died young. One said no. One is still alive—a twelve-year-old boy named Gauge.

Unfortunately, everyone in the village thinks Gauge is a witch. He’s been in hiding half his life, all because he once saw the Wolf, and right after that, the Lord Mayor’s wife died. Things go from bad to worse when the Wolf steals his grandpapá’s soul.

The Wolf visits the boy again, this time with an offer; she can save him the pain of growing up––if he’ll take her job. Now that he’s all alone in the world, it may be the only way to escape the bounty on his head. Too bad his beloved grandpapá’s last words were Stay away from the Wolf.

Kathie: I thought your use of the Wolf as the narrator was so clever and original. Can you tell me why you chose to write it from her perspective?

Jessica: I was standing in front of my bookshelves one day, seeking inspiration, when my gaze landed on The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. I knew right away that I wanted to try writing a story with a death-like narrator, but I wanted to do it in a way that reimagined the Grim Reaper for middle grade readers. I knew that would mean making the narrator female, and I knew that she’d want to try to trick someone into taking her place, but I didn’t know that was going to mean making her a Wolf until I sat down and started writing. Right away, the Wolf’s snarky voice took over and there was no turning back! 

Kathie: I really loved the protectiveness and loyalty that develop between Gauge and Roux despite knowing each other for a short amount of time. Why do you think Gauge is willing to jeopardize his own escape to help someone he hardly knows?

Jessica: Great question! Humans are inherently social animals, and when we endure traumatic events, those shared experiences can forge deep bonds almost instantaneously. Other than his grandpapá, Roux and her father are the only people who show Gauge the slightest kindness over several years. He has a big heart and he’d never turn his back on the one person who was there for him in his darkest hour. (Plus, there is the matter of his emerging crush; as adults, it can be hard for us to remember the intensity of those new feelings!)

Kathie: I was struck by the similar economic situations of Gauge and Roux, and yet how differently they were treated by the community because of fear. What were you trying to show young readers with this disparity?

Jessica: I think this aspect of the story is an exploration of issues from my own childhood. I moved nearly twenty-four times before fourth grade and lived in places ranging from apartments to campers to school buses to one-room cabins with no plumbing or electricity; by the time we (more or less) settled down in middle school, I was acutely aware of, and embarrassed by, the differences between my family and the students around me. My hope is that by highlighting the contrast between how the community treats Gauge and Roux, readers might start to examine how not being familiar with a particular aspect of someone’s identity might lead us to unconsciously fear them or assume that they are “bad.” And while the difference between Gauge and Roux in The Wolf’s Curse is supernatural/fantastical, in real life it can be all too easy to focus on how a member of our community may dress or look or talk differently (or any number of other differences); it’s only when we set these externalities aside that we can focus on our common humanity.

Kathie: This story felt like historical fiction to me with a touch of magic. I’m curious to know what genre you would classify it as?

Jessica: I’ve gone back and forth on how to best categorize this book many times! Although the story is set in an era that might loosely be described as late medieval or early renaissance, I worry about labeling it historical due to the many liberties I took with the world building. I tend to stick to calling it fantasy in my own mind, but I suspect historical fantasy might be a more useful label in terms of helping readers determine whether the story is of interest, and I agree that historical fiction with magic works, too!

Kathie: Is there one thing you’d like our readers to know about The Wolf’s Curse that you haven’t been asked by anyone yet?

Jessica: One of my favorite aspects of this story is how it depicts Lord Mayor Vulpine’s abuse of power. As the highest-ranking official in the village, it’s incumbent upon him to protect those in his charge; instead, he uses his position to enrich himself and to wield absolute control over the villagers. Oftentimes, kids (and adults) can feel helpless in the face of such abuses, and I hope that learning to recognize such behavior within the pages of a story will give young readers the tools, and confidence, to begin identifying and questioning unhealthy power dynamics in their own lives and in our society at large.

Kathie: Are you working on another writing project at the moment?

Jessica: Yes! My sophomore novel comes out in the fall of 2022; it’s a loose companion novel to The Wolf’s Curse in the sense that it’s set in the same general era but in a neighboring country with different magic. I absolutely love the premise, which is both the opposite of The Wolf’s Curse and a perfect complement, and I can’t wait until I can share more. 

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

Jessica: Readers can learn more about me and my stories at www.jessicavitalis.com; I’d also love to connect on Twitter (@jessicavitalis) and IG/FB (@jessicavauthor).

Kathie: I’m so glad we had a chance to talk today, Jessica. Thanks a lot for sharing some insight on your story, and I look forward to seeing it in the hands of young readers.

Jessica: It’s been a pleasure! Thanks for having me––and for everything you do to support kidlit creators.

Jessica Vitalis is a Columbia MBA-wielding writer specializing in middle grade literature. An American expat, she now lives in Canada with her husband and two precocious daughters. She loves traveling, sailing, and scuba diving, but when she’s at home she can usually be found recording book talks for Magic in the Middle and changing the batteries in her heated socks. Her debut novel, The Wolf’s Curse, will be published September 21, 2021 by Greenwillow/HarperCollins with a second book to follow in the fall of 2022.