Kicking Back with Kick-butt and Supriya Kelkar!

Welcome to Kicking Back with Kick-butt!

Today we’re chatting with Supriya Kelkar, the author of


As the only Indian American kid in her small town, Lekha Divekar feels like she has two versions of herself: Home Lekha, who loves watching Bollywood movies and eating Indian food, and School Lekha, who pins her hair over her bindi birthmark and avoids confrontation at all costs, especially when someone teases her for being Indian.

When a girl Lekha’s age moves in across the street, Lekha is excited to hear that her name is Avantika and she’s Desi, too! Finally, there will be someone else around who gets it. But as soon as Avantika speaks, Lekha realizes she has an accent. She’s new to this country, and not at all like Lekha.

To Lekha’s surprise, Avantika does not feel the same way as Lekha about having two separate lives or about the bullying at school. Avantika doesn’t take the bullying quietly. And she proudly displays her culture no matter where she is: at home or at school.

When a racist incident rocks Lekha’s community, Lekha realizes she must make a choice: continue to remain silent or find her voice before it’s too late.

Let’s talk to this fantastic author about her incredible book!
This is Supriya. Everyone say, “Hi, Supriya!”

Supriya Kelkar

Welcome to Kick-Butt Kidlit, Supriya! Tell us about yourself!

Thank you for having me! I’m a screenwriter and author of middle grade books and picture books including AHIMSA, THE MANY COLORS OF HARPREET SINGH, AMERICAN AS PANEER PIE, and THAT THING ABOUT BOLLYWOOD.

Where did the idea for AMERICAN AS PANEER PIE come from?

The idea came from my childhood, growing up in a small town in Michigan that didn’t value diversity.

What were three interesting things you discovered while working on AMERICAN AS PANEER PIE?  

  1. Just how many purposely bad puns Lekha could make
  2. What a release writing can be
  3. The perfect recipe for paneer pie

Love a good terrible pun!

If you could transport your characters across book dimensions, which book would you most like them to end up in and why?

Ooh this is a great question. Maybe to Josh Funk and Brendan Kearney’s LADY PANCAKE AND SIR FRENCH TOAST picture books to tell Lekha’s story in rhyme (and also to see how adorable an illustrated piece of paneer pie can be).

AMERICAN AS PANEER PIE is your second novel after AHIMSA and you’ve got more on the way. What’s your process for figuring out the voice of your main character with each new novel?

My process comes from what I learned in the screenwriting classes I took in college. I write character journals for all the big characters, not just the main character, which are like diary entries. I get to know their fears, dreams, and their voice through that exercise.

That’s a great idea! Such a great way to dive into your characters thoughts.

What is your favourite thing (or things if you can’t pick just one) about writing middle grade?

I just love what a huge time of change it can be for middle grade characters and how much story you can get out of that. And of course, it’s always a blast connecting to MG readers on school visits to see what they enjoy about these books as well.

Any hints about your next book project?

STRONG AS FIRE, FIERCE AS FLAME is historical, middle grade that challenges who is being centered in books considered classics from the period of European colonization.

That sounds amazing! Can’t wait!

What has been the most surprising part of your publishing journey?

I think being published was the most surprising part, ha! I had written the first draft of AHIMSA in 2003 and it published in 2017. I have hundreds of rejection letters over the years for so many projects and there were several times when I felt like giving up so getting the call that Ahimsa won the New Visions Award and would be published was a huge, unexpected surprise.

What are you reading right now?

I just finished the PB bio ONA JUDGE OUTWITS THE WASHINGTONS: AN ENSLAVED WOMAN FIGHTS by Gwendolyn Hooks and Simone Agoussoye and am about to start CHIRP by Kate Messner

What’s your favourite piece of kick-butt advice?

Don’t be attached to your words! This makes revising so much easier and I’ve always seen my books improve with every revision I’ve done.

100% yes! So true!

Thanks very much for chatting with us, Supriya!

Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out AMERICAN AS PANEER PIE!
It hits shelves on June 9th!

American as Paneer Pie


Connect with Supriya on Twitter, Instagram, or through her website!

Click here to win a copy of AMERICAN AS PANEER PIE!
Contest closes Friday, May 29th at 11:59 pm EST

Thanks for reading!


Kicking Back with Kick-butt and Melanie Conklin!

Welcome to Kicking Back with Kick-butt!

We’re chatting with Melanie Conklin, the author of 


Maddy Gaines sees danger everywhere she looks: at the bus stop, around the roller rink, in the woods, and (especially) by the ocean. When Maddy meets a mysterious boy setting booby traps in the North Carolina woods, she suspects the worst.

Maddy is certain she’s found Billy Holcomb-the boy who went missing in the fall. Except, maybe it’s not him. It’s been six months since he disappeared. And who will believe her anyway? Definitely not her mom or her stepdad . . . or the chief of police.

As Maddy tries to uncover the truth about Billy Holcomb, ghosts from her own past surface, her best friend starts to slip away, and Maddy’s world tilts once again. Can she put the pieces of her life back together, even if some of them are lost forever?

Let’s talk to this delightful author about her amazing book!
This is Melanie. Everyone say, “Hi, Melanie!”

Melanie Conklin

Welcome to Kick-Butt Kidlit, Melanie! Tell us about yourself!

Thanks for hosting me! I’m happy to be here to talk about my second book for young readers. I started writing about 7 years ago, and it’s been four years since my debut, Counting Thyme. It’s both exciting and terrifying to have a new book enter the world!

Where did the idea for EVERY MISSING PIECE come from?

When I was a child, I often wondered what would happen if I found a missing child. I saw missing child notices sometimes, at the grocery store or yes, on the back of milk cartons. So this is a “what-if” scenario that has been in my mind for a long time. In Every Missing Piece, the main character is an eleven-year-old girl named Maddy who thinks that the new boy in her neighborhood might be a child who went missing six months earlier.

What were three interesting things you discovered while working on the book?

As authors, we look up all kinds of weird stuff, right? For this one, I learned that bullfrogs can lay up to 20,000 eggs at once (!), that North Carolina has on average 4 tornadoes per month, and that there is a meteor shower called the Gamma Normids.

20, 000!!! That sounds exhausting! 😂

When you were working on EVERY MISSING PIECE, how did you balance plotting out the action elements of the mystery with the emotional arcs of the characters?

I’ve learned not to worry about getting the plot right during my first draft. Often, my external action is completely wrong for the story the first time around. Once I finish a draft, I step back and examine my plot. Then I can change the plot until it works, and in this case, until it provides the right sequence of clues for a quickly-paced mystery!

If you could transport your characters across book dimensions, which book would you most like them to end up in and why?

Wow, what a great question! I think Maddy and crew would’ve to visit the characters in WISH by Barbara O’Connor. WISH is also set in North Carolina, which is my home state. It was super fun to write about settings from my childhood, including pig pickin’s and the secret cemetery that was hidden in the middle of my neighborhood!

What is your favourite thing (or things if you can’t pick just one) about writing middle grade?

I love that middle grade stories give you hope. No matter how challenging the circumstances, there is always a dose of hope, and my heart needs that.

That’s one of my favourite aspects too. 

Any hints about your next book project?

My next project is set in New Jersey in a town very similar to my own! It’s another mystery, but this time starring a group of friends and neighbors who have to face some hard truths about their choices as a community.

What has been the most surprising part of your publishing journey?

The most surprising part of the publication journey is how wonderfully support children’s authors are. We are a community and I appreciate that.

What are you reading right now?

Right now, I’m reading A WISH IN THE DARK by Christina Soontornvat and RED AT THE BONE by Jacqueline Woodson.

What’s your favourite piece of kick-butt advice?

If you want to kick butt at writing, let go! Allow yourself to explore in early drafts. Don’t be too rigid in your writing rules. Give yourself the time and space to discover the heart of your story. The rest can be fixed in revisions!


Thank you so much for chatting with us, Melanie!

Kick-butt Kidlit fans, make sure you check out EVERY MISSING PIECE!
It hits shelves on May 19th!



Connect with Melanie on Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, or through her website!

Click here to win a copy of EVERY MISSING PIECE!
Contest closes Friday, May 15th at 11:59 pm EST

Thanks for reading!

Kicking Back with Kick-butt and Tanya Guerrero!

Welcome to Kicking Back with Kick-butt!

We’re chatting with with Tanya Guerrero, the author of


He’s only twelve years old, but he’s lived in more countries than he can count. After his parents divorced, he and his mother have moved from place to place for years, never settling anywhere long enough to call it home. And along the way, Pablo has collected more and more fears: of dirt, of germs, and most of all, of the ocean.

Now they’re living in the Philippines, and his mother, a zoologist who works at a local wildlife refuge, is too busy saving animals to notice that Pablo might need saving, too. Then his mother takes in Chiqui, an orphaned girl with a cleft lip—and Pablo finds that through being strong for Chiqui, his own fears don’t seem so scary.

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

Let’s talk to this terrific author about her wonderful book!
This is Tanya. Everyone say, “Hi, Tanya!”

Tanya Guerrero

Welcome to Kick-Butt Kidlit, Tanya! Tell us about yourself!

I’m Tanya Guerrero, a Filipino-Spanish MG author based in the Philippines, (I live in a shipping container home in the suburbs of Manila.) In my free time, I love to bake sourdough bread, grow my own fruits and veggies, obsess over my houseplants, and of course read. I also volunteer for an animal welfare organization, and have my own mini-rescue at home, (don’t ask me how many cats and dogs I have), though, I’m sure my 9-year old daughter would love to tell you each and every one of their names. HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE SEA, my debut novel is out on March, 31st, 2020.

What was the inspiration behind HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE SEA?

What happens to my main character, Pablo in HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE SEA, definitely reflects a lot of my own experiences as a child. When my parents separated, my sister and I moved to Spain to live with our maternal grandparents. Although, I’d been to Spain before on family vacations, it was a completely different living and going to school there. I barely knew any Spanish, and had to learn quickly. And then there was all the anxiety with missing my parents and my extended family and friends. After a few years in Spain, we moved again, to New York City. We had to start all over again. New place, new schools, new friends. Although I knew how to speak English, the American culture was quite new to me. Even after I managed to settle in, that feeling of being an outsider—an immigrant, never really disappeared. Then, several years later, when I was twelve going on thirteen, I moved back to the Philippines. A new start. Again. It was a strange time for me. I had been away for so long that I felt completely removed from my own culture—like a foreigner even though I’m half-Filipino.

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

I also based a couple of the secondary characters on some real life people I know. For example, Pablo’s mom is fictionalized version of the amazing women I’ve met in the animal welfare network I volunteer in. Heinz the surfer, is inspired by some of my Filipino surfer friends. And even, Lucky the dog, is based on a friend’s rescued Labrador who passed away last year.

What were you doing when you found out there was an offer on your book? (We love these stories here at Kick-butt Kidlit!)  

Well, my story isn’t all that exciting. Unfortunately, because of time zone issues, (the Philippines is 12-hours ahead of Eastern standard time,) a lot of good news happens while I’m asleep. So on the day I found out about the offer on my book, I’d just woken up and was still super groggy. I have this terrible habit of checking my email first thing, so that’s exactly what I did. When I saw an email from my agent, Wendy, my heart skipped a beat. And then I opened the email, and saw that we’d gotten an offer from FSG BYR, which was one of my dream imprints. Since my husband was still asleep, I went to the bathroom and did my happy dance there. I’m secretly glad nobody was around to witness my dorky celebratory dance moves.

That’s still a fun story! What great news to wake up to!

What were three interesting things you discovered while working on HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE SEA

  1. Since Pablo’s mom is a zoologist, I did quite a bit of research on wildlife and wildlife rehab, particularly on species that are endemic to the Philippines. His mom is also really into crystals, so I learned a lot about particular kinds of crystals and what their benefits are.
  2. Though I have experienced visiting orphanages in the Philippines, I made sure to speak to several friends who are either fostering children or have adopted children. This gave me a more authentic way to portray how Pablo reacts to his foster sister, Chiqui, and how Chiqui reacts to her new foster home. I also did a lot of research about children that are born with cleft lips—specifically, why it’s prevalent in developing nations like the Philippines, how it affects the children that have them, and what happens pre and post corrective surgery.
  3. I have a couple of scenes that take place in the Monteray Bay Aquarium, since Pablo’s father is a consulting marine biologist there. Since I’ve never visited, I studied their website, travel blogs and Google images, to make sure the scenes felt authentic. Now, I kind of feel like I have actually been there!

If you could transport your characters across book dimensions, which book would you most like them to end up in and why?

Pablo feels really alone, not only because he is an only child with a mom that moves them around a lot, but also because of his severe anxiety. I think he would feel a lot less lonely if he had friends that were experiencing some of the same issues as him. So I would love to send Pablo to visit, Charlie from The Someday Birds, Molly from Finding Perfect, and Willow from Counting By 7s. I have a feeling they would become fast friends!

Agreed! That would be a great crossover to read!

Why were you drawn to writing middle grade?

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

Reminiscing about those anxiety-filled middle school years, and how much I relied on those books for comfort, convinced me to shift my storytelling to focus on the upper-MG. Another thing that convinced me, was when I was on sub for a YA thriller I’d written, an editor commented that she thought my voice was more suited for an MG-aged protagonist. So, that’s how I came to write, HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE SEA, which was my first attempt at writing an MG story.

Any hints about your next book project?

Yes! I actually just finished my second round of revision for my next book, ALL YOU KNEAD IS LOVE, which will be published by FSG BYR in 2021. Here is the short synopsis that was included in the Publisher’s Weekly announcement:

The middle grade novel is about a 13-year-old girl of Filipino and Spanish descent who goes to live with her estranged grandmother in Barcelona to escape a domestic violence situation at home, and who finds new friends, rediscovers family, and uncovers a hidden talent for bread baking. 

My main character is named, Alba, and I hope readers will love her as much as they love Pablo.

That sounds fantastic! Can’t wait to read it!

What has been the most surprising part of your publishing journey?

I’ll be completely honest here. When I started writing HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE SEA, I had this fear that readers would be turned off by a book set in a different country with a lot of Tagalog and Spanish dialogue. But as soon as my ARCs went out, and I started getting reviews, I was surprised that readers could really relate to Pablo’s story, despite all the cultural differences and language barriers. It’s made me a lot more confident about writing in settings outside of the US, as well as including as much non-English dialogue as I want. I now know that readers are craving for something different, and that perhaps, I can be the one to write those stories for them.

What are you reading right now?

I’m currently reading an ARC by a fellow 2020 debut, FRIEND ME by Sheila M. Averbuch. It’s an MG sci-fi-ish thriller, that has some serious Black Mirror vibes. I also have more MG ARCs lined up next, WHAT STARS ARE MADE OF by Sarah Allen and PEPPER’S RULES FOR SECRET SLEUTHING by Briana McDonald.

I also like to read adult fiction to balance my TBR out a bit. I just started, THE AUTHENTICITY PROJECT by Claire Pooley, which I am loving so far.

What’s your favourite piece of kick-butt advice?

Craft-wise, I think the most kick-butt advice I can give is to read a lot and to read widely. I have learned so much about writing from reading all types of genres, across all age groups. For example, one thing I learned from reading adult fiction with main characters that are children, is how the adults are always fully-fleshed out characters, which I don’t always see in MG and YA books. This prompted me to make sure that whenever I write adult characters in my own stories, that they are as three dimensional as possible, with their own little character arcs within the larger arc of the main story.

Great advice!

Thank you so much for chatting with us, Tanya!

Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE SEA! It hits shelves on March 31st!

how to make friends with the sea


Connect with Tanya on Twitter, Instagram, or through her website!

Click here to win a copy of HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE SEA!
Contest closes Tuesday, March 31st at 11:59 pm EST

Thanks for reading!

Kicking Back with Kick-butt and Jessica Kim!

Welcome to Kicking Back with Kick-butt!

We’re chatting with Jessica Kim, the author of


One lie snowballs into a full-blown double life in this irresistible story about an aspiring stand-up comedian.

On the outside, Yumi Chung suffers from #shygirlproblems, a perm-gone-wrong, and kids calling her “Yu-MEAT” because she smells like her family’s Korean barbecue restaurant. On the inside, Yumi is ready for her Netflix stand-up special. Her notebook is filled with mortifying memories that she’s reworked into comedy gold. All she needs is a stage and courage.

Instead of spending the summer studying her favorite YouTube comedians, Yumi is enrolled in test-prep tutoring to qualify for a private school scholarship, which will help in a time of hardship at the restaurant. One day after class, Yumi stumbles on an opportunity that will change her life: a comedy camp for kids taught by one of her favorite YouTube stars. The only problem is that the instructor and all the students think she’s a girl named Kay Nakamura–and Yumi doesn’t correct them.

As this case of mistaken identity unravels, Yumi must decide to stand up and reveal the truth or risk losing her dreams and disappointing everyone she cares about.

Let’s talk to this wonderful author about her awesome book!
This is Jessica. Everyone say, “Hi, Jessica!”

Jessica Kim

Welcome to Kick-Butt Kidlit, Jessica! Tell us about yourself!

Hi, I’m Jessica Kim and I’m the author of STAND UP, YUMI CHUNG! I’m live in Southern California with my husband and two kids. When I’m not writing stories about Asian American tweenagers finding their way in the world, I can be found sampling artisan condiments and exotic produce at farmers’ markets, going for long hikes on the beach, fanladying over BTS or photographing flowers for my Instagram.

What was the inspiration behind STAND UP, YUMI CHUNG?

This story is a thinly veiled autobiography of me wanting to try my hand at writing, but being held back by my fear of failure (strongly reinforced by my risk-averse Asian upbringing). It’s true.

For years, I’d wanted to write a book but was too chicken to try. Mostly because I’d never seen anyone in my community do such a thing. Also the whole creative thing isn’t the most financially viable career option. But in my heart of hearts, I REALLY loved writing and couldn’t stop. I started wondering what it’d be like if I could just be someone else and shed all the self-consciousness I carried with me all the time.

When I started taking writing classes and showing up to critique group meetings, I’d make sure to put on a brave face and pretend to be my writing alter-ego, the more confident and self-assured creative Jessica who was totally unconcerned with what other people thought. But of course I did. In fact, for a while I didn’t really tell people in my life about my writing because I couldn’t bear the thought of someone asking me, “So when is your book coming out?” and having to reply, “Maybe never!” and then having to flee into the woods to hide from the shame that my big dreams might never come true.

But luckily, I don’t have that fear anymore because I actually do have a book coming out! In March! (pinches self). Sometimes, I still can’t believe it. I’m so glad I stuck with it even though it was so very uncomfortable for me.

What were you doing when you found out there was an offer on your book?

I was on vacation in Hawaii with my family and my agent, Thao Le, emailed me to tell me the good news! I was over the moon and celebrated with banana cream pie from Leoda’s kitchen. Later that night, I was so excited I told the strangers at our luau table that my book sold and they all clapped for me. It was so kind of them.

Oh, fun! Love that you were already on vacation and celebration ready!

What were three interesting things you discovered while working on STAND UP, YUMI CHUNG?

1) It is very difficult to be funny on command. Comedians are geniuses and I bow down to their brilliance

2) My characters are real to me. They’re my imaginary friends. Sometimes I’ll be out somewhere and think: “Felipe would really love that Avengers mug” or “That joke is so Yumi.” After spending so much time in their heads, they’ve become so near and dear to me.

3)  I never knew how many people are involved in creating a book. I thought it was just the author and maybe some notes from the editor, but nope, it’s not like that at all. There are literally TEAMS of people from the agent to editorial to marketing to publicity to reviewers etc who are involved in the process and I’m so thankful for all the hard work everyone at Kokila and Penguin Young Readers have put into this project. finger hearts.

If you could transport your characters across book dimensions, which book would you most like them to end up in and why?

This is a weird question! My dear writing friends (we call ourselves the Kimchingoos) and I sometimes muse about how we should have our characters make cameos in each other’s books. Kind of like the MCU. The only thing is we write vastly different age categories and genres so it’d be hard to figure out how Nara the tooth fairy from a fantasy pineapple kingdom would land in my story set in Koreatown, Los Angeles but it’d be fun to try. I’d also have to figure out where to pop Azia J’Adore, drag queen extraordinaire, some Korean witches and goblins, and Riley Jo, the snarky guitar prodigy into the mix. Now you know to look out for these Easter eggs in my future books. wink.

That’s so cool! Take notes, everyone, so you can keep an eye out!

Why were you drawn to writing middle grade?

To tell you the truth, middle grade was my last stop on my journey to publication. At first, I thought I wanted to write picture books. Didn’t we all? And then I took a few classes on how to write them and promptly discovered I was in way over my head. Picture writers are poets! They can paint entire stories in 500 words. Me? I need 50,000. Just look at this interview. I’m all over the place. I could not be reined into that tight format. Then, I wrote an entire YA novel. Was it good? I didn’t say that. But I did it. And well, the feedback I got when I queried it was: it sounds young. Which led me to FINALLY consider the tweens. Which is completely bone-headed in retrospect. I mean, I did teach middle school and upper elementary for ten years AND I just so happen to have my very own living breathing middle grade reader in my own house AND I’ve been told my whole life that I’m immature for laughing at fart jokes. Why did it take me so long to write middle grade? I do not know but I’m just glad I’m here now. MG forever.

Any hints about your next book project?


Fair. 😂

What has been the most surprising part of your publishing journey?

How long it takes. It feels like the longest pregnancy ever. It’s like you’re not quite a mom yet but the baby is coming. But instead of nine months it’s almost two years. Patience, it’s a virtue… that I don’t have a lot of. So, I’m learning to cultivate it.

What are you reading right now?

I just read Debbi Michiko Florence’s book Keep It Together, Keiko Carter and loved it. So tense, so sweet, so awkward. So MG in every way. Read it. It’s super cute.

What’s your favourite piece of kick-butt advice?

Do you.

Bonus Question: What’s one of your favourite jokes?

What do you call a man with no nose and no body? Nobody nose

(dodges tomatoes and runs off stage)

Ha! Love it!

Thank you so much for chatting with us, Jessica!

Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out STAND UP, YUMI CHUNG!
It hits shelves on March 17th!

Stand Up Yumi Chung Cover

Add STAND UP, YUMI CHUNG! on Goodreads!

Connect with Jessica on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, or through her website!

Click here and enter to win a copy of STAND UP, YUMI CHUNG!
Contest closes Sunday, March 15th at 11:59 pm EST

Thanks for reading!

Kicking Back with Kick-butt and Janae Marks!

Welcome to Kicking Back with Kick-butt!

We’re chatting with Janae Marks, the author of


Zoe Washington isn’t sure what to write. What does a girl say to the father she’s never met, hadn’t heard from until his letter arrived on her twelfth birthday, and who’s been in prison for a terrible crime?

A crime he says he never committed.

Could Marcus really be innocent? Zoe is determined to uncover the truth. Even if it means hiding his letters and her investigation from the rest of her family. Everyone else thinks Zoe’s worrying about doing a good job at her bakery internship and proving to her parents that she’s worthy of auditioning for Food Network’s Kids Bake Challenge.

But with bakery confections on one part of her mind, and Marcus’s conviction weighing heavily on the other, this is one recipe Zoe doesn’t know how to balance. The only thing she knows to be true: Everyone lies.

Let’s talk to this amazing author about her fantastic book!

This is Janae. Everyone say, “Hi, Janae!”

Janae Marks

© Jerri Graham Photography

Welcome to Kick-Butt Kidlit, Janae! Tell us about yourself!

Thanks so much for having me! I am an author, wife, mom, book lover, and Hufflepuff! I have an MFA in Creative Writing with a concentration in Writing for Children from The New School, and I also worked for a big five publisher for seven years. I grew up in the suburbs of New York City, but now I live in Connecticut with my husband and daughter. FROM THE DESK OF ZOE WASHINGTON is my debut novel.

What was the inspiration behind FROM THE DESK OF ZOE WASHINGTON?

I was inspired by current events. Back in 2014, I was obsessed with the first season of the podcast Serial, which told the story of a young man who’s serving a prison sentence for murder, but many believe could be innocent of the crime. I also watched the Netflix documentary Making a Murderer, which told a similar story. Both got me thinking about wrongful convictions, and how often they happen. I started researching the Innocence Project, an organization that helps overturn wrongful convictions. Since I write for kids, I started to wonder what it’s like to have a parent in prison, and what it would be like to find out that they might actually be innocent. From there, Zoe Washington was born.

What were you doing when you found out there was an offer on your book? (We love these stories here at Kick-butt Kidlit!) 

I love these stories, too! I can’t remember exactly what I was doing when the first offer came in. My agent emailed me and I immediately hopped on the phone with him to discuss it. But I was lucky in that my book ended up going to “auction” – multiple publishers wanted to buy it, so my agent gave them a date to submit their best offer. I remember exactly where I was when my agent called to share the results of the auction – in my car in a Panera Bread parking lot! I had just eaten lunch and was about to head home when I got the call. So I heard about the offers while sitting in the driver’s seat!

Oh, wow! Congratulations! Fielding multiple offers must have been so exciting!

What were three interesting things you discovered while working on FROM THE DESK OF ZOE WASHINGTON?

While researching the book, I learned a couple of interesting facts that made me want to tell this story even more:

1) 1 in every 27 children has a parent in prison.

2) Black people are 7 times more likely to be wrongfully convicted of murder than white people.

I also learned a lot about baking while researching the baking scenes in the book. For example, while watching a TV show that went behind the scenes of a cupcake bakery, I discovered how they came up with new cupcake flavors.

If you could transport your characters across book dimensions, which book would you most like them to end up in and why?

Zoe’s friend Trevor is obsessed with chocolate, so it would be fun to send him and Zoe to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory from Roald Dahl’s CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY.

That sounds like a recipe for shenanigans for sure!

Why were you drawn to writing middle grade?

I actually started writing ZOE WASHINGTON as a young adult novel, with a teenage protagonist. But then one of my critique partners told me that it sounded more like a middle grade story. She was right! Once I started writing it as a middle grade, it came together much faster. I realized that Zoe made more sense as a twelve-year-old, when she could be more naive about the injustices within the prison system, and have more room to grow as a character.

Now that I’ve published a middle grade novel, I can’t wait to write more. I love writing about characters in this age group, and connecting to young readers, plus teachers and librarians.

Any hints about your next book project?

My next book is coming out in Fall 2021, and it features a new friendship, a mystery and a main character who’s super into movie scores. I can’t wait to share more about it soon!

Can’t wait!

What has been the most surprising part of your publishing journey?

How long it took to get my agent and book deal. I expected to get both soon after graduating from my MFA program in 2010. But it took over seven more years! Talking to other authors, this is such a common experience. More often than not, publishing is a marathon, not a sprint.

What are you reading right now?

I recently finished reading early copies of two excellent middle grade debut novels, which both come out on March 24: THE DERBY DAREDEVILS: KENZIE KICKSTARTS A TEAM by Kit Rosewater, and MY LIFE AS A POTATO by Arianne Costner.

What’s your favourite piece of kick-butt advice?

Keep going! As I said above, my publishing journey was long. But I kept writing because I truly believed that if I kept trying, one day I’d achieve this goal. I knew rejection is part of the process, and was determined to not let it get me down for too long. I’m so glad I never quit.

So true! And I know your readers are glad too!

Thank you so much for chatting with us, Janae!

Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out FROM THE DESK OF ZOE WASHINGTON. It’s on shelves now!



Connect with Janae on Twitter, Instagram, or through her website!

Click here and enter to win a copy of FROM THE DESK OF ZOE WASHINGTON!
Contest closes Friday, February 28th at 11:59 pm EST

Thanks for reading!


Kicking Back with Kick-butt and Sarah Kapit!

Welcome to Kicking Back with Kick-butt!

We’re chatting with Sarah Kapit, the author of


Vivy Cohen wants to play baseball. Ever since her hero, Major League star pitcher VJ Capello, taught her how to throw a knuckleball at a family fun day for kids with autism, she’s been perfecting her pitch. And now she knows she’s ready to play on a real team. When her social skills teacher makes her write a letter to someone she knows, she writes to VJ and tells him everything about how much she wants to pitch, and how her mom says she can’t because she’s a girl and because she has autism. And then two amazing things happen: Vivy meets a Little League coach who invites her to join his team, the Flying Squirrels. And VJ starts writing back.

Let’s talk to this excellent author about her awesome book!

This is Sarah. Everyone say, “Hi, Sarah!”


Welcome to Kick-Butt Kidlit, Sarah! Tell us about yourself!

I write middle-grade novels because I never quite outgrew being a kid. GET A GRIP, VIVY COHEN! is my first published novel. In my past life, I earned a PhD in History from UCLA, where I studied the history of women and medicine. I currently live in Bellevue, Washington with my husband and our goofy orange cat.

Where did the idea for GET A GRIP, VIVY COHEN! come from? 

Vivy was the result of a lot of different things coming together. First, I’ve long wanted to write about an autistic character. A lot of the existing books with autistic characters don’t really feel authentic to me, and I wanted to do better. So it was just a matter of finding the right story.

When I saw the trailer for the TV show PITCH I had an intensely emotional reaction. The show featured a woman pitcher who played for the San Diego Padres. Sadly, it was cancelled before its time. But for me as a woman baseball fan, it was just so moving to see a woman take the mound. I’ve long thought that the first woman to play in MLB might be a knuckleball pitcher. That’s because it’s a bit of a “trick” pitch that relies on finger movements rather than pure strength.

All of this came together to create the idea of an autistic girl knuckleball pitcher. Once I had Vivy in place the rest of it flowed quite naturally.

PITCH!!! Loved that show. It was DEFINITELY cancelled before its time. Glad to see threads of it living on in your book!

What were you doing when you found out there was an offer on your book? (We love these stories at Kick-butt Kidlit!)

I’m afraid that there isn’t anything terribly exciting about my story! Before I had an offer, I talked to my editor on the phone. We really clicked well and basically re-arranged the latter half of the book together. She told me that an offer was very likely so I was anxiously waiting for several days. Then I got an email from my agent informing me of the offer and it was pretty awesome. I was probably at home or at a coffee shop, so nothing out of the ordinary there.

What were three interesting things you discovered while working on your book?

I didn’t have to do a ton of research for VIVY because I already knew about the main subjects so well. But I did discover a lot of interesting facts about the knuckleball:

1. One of the first pitchers to throw the knuckleball was Eddie Cicotte, who was later part of the 1919 White Sox team that threw the World Series. Unlike most of today’s knuckleballers, the knuckleball was only one of Cicotte’s pitches.

2. Pitchers who throw the knuckleball are super-hard-working. Most turn to the knuckleball only after something else in their baseball career went wrong. Tim Wakefield started out as a first baseman, but he couldn’t hit. He learned the knuckleball to have a shot at a career. R.A. Dickey found out after being drafted that he’s missing a ligament in his elbow, which would make traditional pitching impossible in the long-term. A lot of pitchers in this situation would have quit, but Dickey learned the knuckleball. These pitchers really had to show tenacity in order to get to where they are, which is definitely reflected in Vivy.

3. Despite the knuckleball’s reputation as a “trick” pitch, it is really, really hard to hit. Derek Jeter–a great hitter by any measure–could not hit the knuckleball.

Wow! Who knew the knuckleball was so cool? (Sarah and Vivy, that’s who.)

If you could transport your characters across book dimensions, which book would you most like them to end up in and why?

It’s cliched, but I’d love to see Vivy and her friend Alex go to Hogwarts. I think they’d both join the Hufflepuff Quidditch team. Her older brother Nate would play for Ravenclaw and they’d strike up a friendly rivalry.

Why were you drawn to writing middle grade?

The first novel I ever finished was a YA, but after writing that I realized that middle grade is a category that might suit my natural voice better. Maybe it’s just because my own middle school experiences still feel vivid to me, but it was easy to challenge all of the emotions of that age. I had so much fun with it that I didn’t look back.

Any hints about your next book project?

In all of my books I channel some aspect of my personality and experiences. I’m very excited about the next book because it’s all about one of the most fundamental experiences of my life: having a sister.

Love a sister story. 😀

What has been the most surprising part of your publishing journey?

The number of stages involved was definitely a bit of a surprise. You expect to just turn in a book and have it be done, but that actually happens many different times.

What are you reading right now?

In middle-grade, I just finished THE NEXT GREAT PAULIE FINKEL, which I absolutely loved. Such vivid characters and setting! I started A SONG FOR A WHALE and am loving that also.

What’s your favourite piece of kick-butt advice?  

Things may not always work out exactly the way you want them to, but most of the time you can still end up exactly where you need to be.

What a great perspective to have!

Thank you so much for chatting with us, Sarah! 

Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out GET A GRIP, VIVY COHEN!
It hits shelves on February 25th!


Add GET A GRIP, VIVY COHEN! on Goodreads!

Connect with Sarah on Twitter or through her website!

Click here and enter to win a copy of GET A GRIP, VIVY COHEN!
Contest closes Friday, February 14th at 11:59 pm EST

Thanks for reading!


Kicking Back with Kick-butt and Lyla Lee!

Welcome to Kicking Back with Kick-butt!

We’re chatting with Lyla Lee, the author of


Mindy Kim just wants three things:
1. A puppy!
2. To fit in at her new school
3. For her dad to be happy again

But, getting all three of the things on her list is a lot trickier than she thought it would be. On her first day of school, Mindy’s school snack of dried seaweed isn’t exactly popular at the lunch table. Luckily, her new friend, Sally, makes the snacks seem totally delicious to Mindy’s new classmates, so they decide to start the Yummy Seaweed Business to try and raise money for that puppy!

When another student decides to try and sabotage their business, Mindy loses more than she bargained for—and wonders if she’ll ever fit in. Will Mindy be able to overcome her uncertainty and find the courage to be herself?

Let’s talk to this lovely author about her fabulous books!

This is Lyla. Everyone say, “Hi, Lyla!”

Lyla Lee

Welcome to Kick-Butt Kidlit, Lyla! Tell us about yourself!

Hi! I’m Lyla. Although I currently live in Dallas, Texas, I was born in a small town in South Korea and have lived all over the US. My MG debut, Mindy Kim and the Yummy Seaweed Business comes out in January 14, 2020 with Aladdin Books/Simon & Schuster, and my YA debut, I’ll Be the One comes out in June 2020 with Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins.

MINDY KIM AND THE YUMMY SEAWEED BUSINESS is the first book in your new chapter book series. Are you able to share a bit about the adventures you have planned for Mindy?

Sure! The second book, Mindy Kim and the Lunar New Year Parade actually comes out on the same day as the first book (1/14) so you won’t have to wait for the next installment in Mindy’s adventures. 😉 That book was an homage to the lunar new year celebrations that I had with my family while growing up. After that, Mindy goes on a lot of other fun adventures like getting a puppy (out in May 2020) and running for class president (out in Fall 2020)!

Oh, yay! Sounds like readers will get to have a ton of fun with Mindy this year!

If you had started a secret trading ring at school when you were a kid, what would you have traded in? Delicious snacks or something else?

Haha, the funny thing is that Mindy Kim #1 was actually based on a REAL snack trading ring that a friend and I started in elementary school. We traded seaweed snacks, just like Mindy, in exchange for different yummy snacks. We never did anything that got us in trouble for it, though. ^_^;

Ha! That’s awesome.

What were three interesting things you discovered while working on MINDY KIM?

I love doing research for my books, and I’m always finding out new things while writing the Mindy Kim series. Three interesting things I’ve had to look up are: the smartest ways to train a dog, various ways to cook Korean food (although I love eating my mom’s cooking, unfortunately I only know how to make a few dishes), and the exact locations of various places from my childhood neighborhood in Florida (3rd grade me didn’t have access to Google maps, sadly).

If you could transport your characters across book dimensions, which book would you most like them to end up in and why?

I think Mindy would have so much fun with the books in the Magic Treehouse series! The adventures across time and space in those books were my favorite while I was growing up, and I’m sure Mindy would love them as well (as long as she gets to stop to pet cute dogs along the way).

That would be an epic crossover!

Why were you drawn to writing for kids?

I grew up reading kids’ books and even when I technically became “too old” to read kidlit, I never stopped reading them. I was also starved for representation in the books I read so writing diverse books for kids seemed like a natural calling for me.

Any hints about your next book project?

My YA, which debuts later this year, is about a bisexual plus sized Korean American girl who enters a K-pop competition! You can find out more about it on my website.

What has been the most surprising part of your publishing journey?

The #1 most surprising thing has definitely been the timing of everything. I went from not being able to get an agent and sell a book for ten years to selling not one but six books in the span of the same year or so. It’s been a wild ride for sure!

What are you reading right now?

A lot of my friends have books that either came out last year or are coming out this year so I’ve been reading my friends’ books! I’m reading BLOOD HEIR by my friend, Amelie Zhao, and also, DIAMOND CITY by Francesca Flores, which is out this month.

What’s your favourite piece of kick-butt advice?

Remember to self-care because the publication journey is a marathon, not a race. I’m a bit of a workaholic, so I often overwork myself because there are so many things I want to do. In the past, I tended to not really take care of myself and that often led to not-so-good consequences like burnout, fatigue, etc. I really wish I’d learned to take care of myself sooner but I’m doing my best to do that now. Happy, healthy writers can write more words in the long-run!

That is EXCELLENT advice!

Thank you so much for joining us, Lyla! 

Kick-butt Kidlit friends, check out the MINDY KIM series.
The first two books are out now!

Mindy Kim

Add the MINDY KIM series on Goodreads!

Connect with Lyla on Twitter or through her website!

Click here to enter to win a copy of MINDY KIM AND THE YUMMY SEAWEED BUSINESS!
Contest closes Thursday, January 30th at 11:59 pm EST

Thanks for reading!