Kicking Back with Kick-Butt and Celia C. Pérez

Welcome to Kicking Back with Kick-Butt!
We’re talking with Celia C. Pérez, the author of

There are no shortcuts to surviving your first day at a new school–you can’t fix it with duct tape like you would your Chuck Taylors. On Day One, twelve-year-old Malu (Maria Luisa, if you want to annoy her) inadvertently upsets Posada Middle School’s queen bee, violates the school’s dress code with her punk rock look, and disappoints her college-professor mom in the process. Her dad, who now lives a thousand miles away, says things will get better as long as she remembers the first rule of punk: be yourself.

The real Malu loves rock music, skateboarding, zines, and Soyrizo (hold the cilantro, please). And when she assembles a group of like-minded misfits at school and starts a band, Malu finally begins to feel at home. She’ll do anything to preserve this, which includes standing up to an anti-punk school administration to fight for her right to express herself!

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

Celia P

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

I am a full time community college librarian and a mostly-in-the-summer-and-sometimes-in-the-evenings writer. I grew up in Miami, Florida but have lived in Chicago for many years now. I think of both cities as “home.” My favorite writing “snack” is coffee…which isn’t really a snack.

Oh, yay! High five for libraries!

Where did the idea for THE FIRST RULE OF PUNK come from?

It’s hard to remember where the idea of this specific story came from. The story of identity and of looking for where you belong is just something that I have always been drawn to personally so I knew that was what I wanted to explore–how we identify, what kinds of things influence who we are. Punk and zines have been a part of how I identify for a long time and I thought it would be fun to bring that element into this story. I also thought about the kinds of books I would have wanted to read as a kid and the type of characters I liked reading about, and tried to combine those two things.

What were you doing when you found out there was an offer on your book? (I always love these stories.)

I was probably at one of my son’s baseball games which is where you will find me often between mid-April and mid-July. I remember that it was right around my birthday so it felt like an unexpected birthday gift!
Wow! Talk about an awesome birthday surprise! That’s some excellent timing right there.

What were three interesting things you discovered while working on THE FIRST RULE OF PUNK?

I discovered that
(1) I really enjoy revision.
(2) That so much of the work of creating a book is a shared experience. I write alone, so it was a little scary to give my writing to someone else, but I love working with my editor, and it’s been amazing to see how many people are involved in turning what starts out as a stack of printed pages into a book.
(3) That every book has its audience. There were times when I was working on the manuscript when I thought, who is going to want to read a book about a twelve year old punk, especially when a lot of her story involves learning about these different parts of her history? It’s fun to see how other people find connections to this story that, in some ways, felt so personal to me.
It’s funny how many authors have mentioned discovering how much they love revising. Must be something about that moment when you can really see your book begin to take shape.
If you could transport your characters across book dimensions, which book would you most like them to end up in and why?

Oh wow. This is a great question! I loved Judy Blume when I was a kid, so I think it would be fun to have Malú make an appearance in one of her books. Maybe in Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself, since it takes place in Florida. Although that would also require some time travel too!

Why were you drawn to writing middle grade?

Middle grade has always been where my heart lies as a reader. It’s where I have a lot of my fondest memories of reading. Frankly, it’s still what I read most these days. And I just really love that age range. I think it’s really open to exploration and wonder and discovery in a way that isn’t really the case, or maybe is just different, for younger or older readers.

It really does feel like anything is possible in middle grade!

Any hints about your next book project?

I can’t reveal a whole lot yet, but I can tell you that it’s another middle grade novel, this time set in Florida, and it’s been a lot of fun to work on.

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

I really never imagined that the book would get the kind of reception it has received. Every good thing that happens for the book is a surprise. It’s been so exciting and heart warming. I feel really fortunate to have this opportunity.
What are you reading right now?

I’m usually reading a couple of books at a time, one on my own and one with my son at bedtime. I am currently reading Anna Meriano’s Love Sugar Magic and our bedtime book is Varian Johnson’s The Parker Inheritance. I’m really enjoying both!

Oh! The Parker Inheritance is in my TBR pile right now! Make sure to add these to your lists, Kick-butt readers!

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

Look up! I think so many of us spend so much time in front of a screen, whether it’s a computer or a phone or a television, that we forget that the world around us has all kinds of wonderful and cool things to see. One of my favorite things to do when I’m walking my dog is to literally look up into the trees and see what’s happening up there. It makes you realize how often we don’t look past our direct lines of vision (literally or figuratively) and how much we can miss out on when we don’t.
That is so true. We should all get out there and enjoy some of that summer sunshine….after everyone finishes reading this blog post though! 

Thank you so much for chatting with us, Celia!

Kick-butt Kidlit fans, make sure you check out THE FIRST RULE OF PUNK!
The paperback edition is out on July 17th!

First Rule of Punk

Add THE FIRST RULE OF PUNK on Goodreads!

Get in touch with Celia on Twitter or through her website!

Click here to enter to win a copy of THE FIRST RULE OF PUNK! Contest ends on July 17th!

Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for more fun interviews!


Kicking Back with Kick-Butt and Mae Respicio

Kicking Back with Kick-butt and Mae Respicio

Welcome to Kicking Back with Kick-Butt!
We’re talking with Mae Respicio, the author of

Lou Bulosan-Nelson is going to build her dream. She shares a room with her mom in her grandmother’s house in San Francisco, and longs for a place of her own where she can escape her lovable but large extended Filipino family. Lou has a talent for woodshop class and creating projects, and plans to build a tiny house, 100 square feet, all her own, on land that she inherited from her dad, who died before she was born. Then Lou discovers it’s not so easy to build one, but she won’t give up on her dream—and her friends and family won’t either. This heartwarming coming-of-age story explores culture and family, forgiveness and friendship, and what makes a house a true home.

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

Mae R

Welcome to Kick-butt Kidlit, Mae! Tell us about yourself!

Thanks for having me, Casey! In 7th grade English I wrote an “All About Me” essay about how I much wanted to write a book one day. I think twelve-year-old me would be ecstatic to know that my middle grade novel is coming out on June 12th called THE HOUSE THAT LOU BUILT! Let’s see, what else? On most days I’m powered by coffee… and fear of the blank page.

Where did the idea for THE HOUSE THAT LOU BUILT come from?

The idea for LOU was part luck and part brainstorm. I knew it needed a unique hook to stand out in a slush pile, so I went through a long list of ideas trying to figure out what resonated the most with me. One of my personal interests is building and architecture (I’ve worked on different DIY home projects (including restoring a fixer upper), and somehow the idea of a girl who wanted to build herself a house popped into my head. What kid doesn’t want her own space? Once I had the idea, things clicked.

I want to see pictures of the house that Mae rebuilt!

What were you doing when you found out there was an offer on your book? (I always love these stories.)

I love these stories too! Not long after the book went on sub, I was sitting in my office (for my day job as a communications writer), when I noticed I had missed a call from my wonderful agent, Sarah Davies. Sarah’s voice mail said: “Can you please give me a call? Wendy Lamb…” AND THEN IT GOT FUZZY AND CUT OUT! I was dying! Needless to say I called her back immediately, and she revealed that the Wendy Lamb was interested in “having a call” to chat more about my book. (Wendy Lamb?! Chat?! What?!) The next day I spoke with Wendy and her amazing assistant editor Dana Carey (hello jittery nerves) and we had the loveliest conversation about LOU and my goals for the book. Not long after, Wendy offered on the book—I’m still pinching myself.

WHAT?! Oh, my goodness. I think I would have passed out if I’d had to deal with that level of suspense. That’s an excellent story.

What were three interesting things you discovered while working on THE HOUSE THAT LOU BUILT?

  1. It’s possible to be a working mom while writing or revising a book! Sure there are times when sleep feels non existent, but try to establish whatever regular routine works best for you. (All you working/writing parents—I’m here to say it’s doable!)
  2. It’s possible to hone your middle grade voice by listening to the vernacular and rhythm of how middle-schoolers (IRL) talk. Once I started doing this, it brought fresh perspective to how I write dialogue.
  3. It’s totally possible for your manuscript to get plucked from the slush! I had multiple agent offers on my debut and each one was from the slush pile. (Secret: don’t send your ms out until it’s as strong as you can get it.

Three cheers for all of the working/writing parents and caretakers. I’m in awe of what you manage to fit into a day.

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

I think Lou would have a blast leaving her realistic world to visit Meg Murry’s fantasy world in A Wrinkle in Time. This would be my dream meeting for Lou—then she could tell me all about what was like to hang out with one of my favorite middle grade characters growing up.

Why were you drawn to writing middle grade?

There’s something fresh and authentic about the type of self-discovery found in middle grade books. There’s still a hopefulness to how they see the world and I love exploring that. I’m all about middle grade books with hope and heart.

Any hints about your next book project?

Yes! My next contemporary MG will also be published by Random House and Wendy Lamb Books, about a 12-year-old girl named Kaia who’s obsessed with special effects make-up, movie making, and Filipina mermaids. The setting and story are quite different from THE HOUSE THAT LOU BUILT but similarly, at its heart, it’s all about friendship, family, and finding oneself. I’m super excited about this one.

All of that sounds AMAZING! Sign me up! I can’t wait to read it!

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

How many passionate, knowledgeable people have a hand in bringing your book to life! There are so many different stages of traditional publication from editing to cover design to marketing, and working as part of a team who’s so supportive of the book has been incredibly rewarding and fun.

What are you reading right now?

I’m reading Elaine Castillo’s lyrical, powerful debut novel called AMERICA IS NOT THE HEART. It’s all about three generations of Pinay women, immigrant life, and the American dream.

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

Kids need all kinds of windows and mirrors in stories. Find the heart of your book… and write it to the end.

Yes! I love that. What a wonderful note to end on.

Thank you so much for chatting with us, Mae!

Kick-butt Kidlit fans, make sure you check out THE HOUSE THAT LOU BUILT!
It’s on shelves now!

The House That Lou Built


Get in touch with Mae on Twitter, Instagram, or through her website!

Click here to enter to win a copy of THE HOUSE THAT LOU BUILT. Contest ends on June 30th.

Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for more fun interviews!


Kicking Back with Kick-butt and Debbi Michiko Florence

Kicking Back with Kick-butt and Debbi Michiko Florence

Welcome to Kicking Back with Kick-Butt!
We’re talking with Debbi Michiko Florence, the author of

Jasmine Toguchi, Drummer Girl

It’s talent show time at school, and eight-year-old Jasmine Toguchi is excited to show her stuff. But as she thinks about her strengths-tree-climbing, mochi making, collage-none of them feel quite right to perform on-stage. Jasmine’s friends already have a talent: Tommy yo-yo’s, Daisy dances, and Linnie plays piano. Plus, Maggie Milsap (aka Miss Perfect) is saying she’ll have the best talent.

When Jasmine’s mom introduces her to the taiko, a traditional Japanese drum, Jasmine finally finds an activity that feels just right. But will she be good enough at taiko in time to beat Maggie Milsap?

Join Jasmine as she discovers her talent-and the difference between being the best and trying your best.

Let’s talk to this incredible author about her fabulous books!
This is Debbi! Everyone say, “Hi, Debbi!”

Debbi Author Photo

Welcome to Kick-butt Kidlit, Debbi! Tell us about yourself!

Hi! Thank you so much for having me here! I’m Debbi Michiko (my middle name) Florence. I am a native Californian, third-generation Japanese American, and the author of the chapter book series Jasmine Toguchi. I have a degree in Zoology, was a raptor rehabilitator, and could have been a professional poop-scooper – I’ve cleaned up after animals tiny and big, from Madagascar hissing cockroaches to elephants. I’ve lived many places, including Mexico and China, but today I live in Connecticut with my husband, a dog, a rabbit, and two ducks.

You have had some seriously fascinating jobs! I’d love to hear more about being a raptor rehabilitator someday!

Where did the idea for the JASMINE TOGUCHI series come from?

I came across a newspaper article about a multigenerational Japanese American family that got together every New Year’s to make mochi in the traditional way – by steaming sweet rice, pounding it in a giant mortar with a big hammer, and then forming the mochi into shapes by hand. I knew that traditionally there was a man’s job (pounding the rice) and a woman’s job (rolling the mochi into balls) – and I wondered, what would happen if a Japanese American girl wanted to do the boy’s job? Would her family support her? Then Jasmine started talking in my head, demanding that I tell her story. Jasmine is a lot like my daughter was at that age, spunky and confident.

I love it when characters start talking and demanding to be heard! You and Jasmine make an awesome team.

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

I was dropping off a friend at the airport after we attended a novel writing retreat together. While she was checking her bag at the counter, I checked my email on my phone and there was an email from an editor who told me she was taking my book through the acquisition process (which can take weeks)! I was so excited that I had a hard time focusing as I drove home! After I knew Mochi Queen went through the final step and I was waiting to hear the verdict, I was sitting at my kitchen table, refreshing my inbox every 10 minutes when the offer came in on a Friday at 5:21 PM!

Oh, wow! That must have been an intense drive home! And I bet you had a fun weekend of celebration after that Friday!

What were three interesting things you discovered while working on JASMINE TOGUCHI?

1) I work well on deadline.

2) I love writing chapter books.

3) Having a great and smart editor makes all the difference in the world!

Working well on deadline is an AWESOME skill to have. And I totally agree on the editor front (*waves at my great and smart editor*)

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

Charlotte’s Web is Jasmine’s favorite book. It would be fun to see her and her family/friends in that story and setting. Also, because when I was a child, I would have loved to have seen myself (as a Japanese American) reflected in a contemporary story.

This makes me want a Charlotte’s Web reboot!

Why were you drawn to writing in this category – anything in particular about the younger end of the middle grade spectrum?

I’d been writing YA and MG for years before Jasmine came along. I knew she was 8 years old and I knew the story arc. Her story wasn’t YA or solid MG – it was either a picture book or a chapter book. I had zero familiarity with writing picture books. Chapter books felt more familiar after writing novels. I studied many many chapter books before I started writing Mochi Queen.

Any hints about your next book project?

I’m currently working on a MG novel about a 10-year-old Japanese American girl and her quest to break a family curse.

I am IN!!! 

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

The biggest unexpected surprise was writing this series. I wrote Mochi Queen as a stand-alone. When the offer came in to publish Mochi Queen, it included a deal for a series – three additional books! I was so thrilled to be able to tell more stories starring Jasmine! This has gone above and beyond my wildest dreams of getting published! I’m still pinching myself.

Lucky for us readers!

What are you reading right now?

From Twinkle, With Love by Sandhya Menon. I read about 100 books a year, and you can check out my reading blog where I keep a running list on the sidebar.

That’s such a cool idea! I might have to borrow that!

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

Cultivate patience. I used to be the most impatient person in the world, but I’ve learned to be better about waiting, because there is a LOT of waiting in this business. I wrote many novels, put some away, and collected many rejection letters. It took me fifteen years before I sold a manuscript. If you love what you do, keep on keeping on, and keep growing and learning.

Ah, yes! Patience is so important for any dream you want to achieve. Great advice!

Thank you so much for chatting with us, Debbi!

Kick-butt Kidlit fans, make sure you check out the next book in the series, Jasmine Toguchi, Flamingo Keeper! It’s out on July 3rd!

JT - Flamingo Keeper

 Add Jasmine Toguchi, Flamingo Keeper on Goodreads!

Get in touch with Debbi on Twitter, Instagram, or through her website!

Debbi has generously offered to provide a signed copy of Jasmine Toguchi, Drummer Girl for our giveaway! (Thanks, Debbi!) Click here to enter to win a copy of for your bookshelf! Contest ends on June 16th.

JT - Drummer Girl

Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for more fun interviews!


Kicking Back with Kick-butt and Sayantani DasGupta

Kicking Back with Kick-butt and Sayantani DasGupta

Welcome to Kicking Back with Kick-Butt!
We’re talking with Sayantani DasGupta, the author of

(Kiranmala & the Kingdom Beyond Book 1)


(But she doesn’t know it yet.)

On the morning of her twelfth birthday, Kiranmala is just a regular sixth grader living in Parsippany, New Jersey… until her parents mysteriously vanish later that day and a rakkhosh demon slams through her kitchen, determined to eat her alive. Turns out there might be some truth to her parents’ fantastical stories—like how Kiranmala is a real Indian princess—and a wealth of secrets about her origin they’ve kept hidden.

To complicate matters, two crushworthy Indian princes ring her doorbell, insisting they’re here to rescue her. Suddenly, Kiran is swept into another dimension full of magic, winged horses, moving maps, and annoying, talking birds. There she must solve riddles and slay demons all while avoiding the Serpent King of the underworld (who may or may not want to kill her) and the rakkhosh queen (who definitely does) in order to find her parents and basically save New Jersey, her entire world, and everything beyond it… 

Let’s talk to this awesome author and her fantastic book!
This is Sayantani! Everyone say, “Hi, Sayantani!”


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

Thanks so much for having me! It’s an honor!

Ok, about me: I’m a daughter of immigrants from India, a mom of two amazing teenagers, a pediatrician by training, but now I teach at the graduate and undergraduate level – in a field called narrative medicine/health humanities and also in the department of race and ethnicity studies and comparative literature at my university. (I have the best students who are all going to change the world!)

I also have a very silly rescue dog named Khushi (Bengali for happy) who is afraid of EVERYTHING. Plastic bags, the dishwasher, vacuums, trucks, you name it. But we adore him. The Serpent’s Secret is my debut MG novel.

Oh, my goodness – I think your dog would get along with my cat….but they might be too scared to meet each other!

Where did the idea for THE SERPENT’S SECRET come from? 

I always go to that Toni Morrison quote, “If there’s a book you want to read and it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” The Serpent’s Secret is the book I needed as a 12yo immigrant daughter growing up in Ohio and then New Jersey. I was a huge reader and movie buff, but while I loved, say, A Wrinkle in Time or Little Women or Star Wars or Star Trek, those stories didn’t necessarily love me back.

In other words, there was such a lack of representation in my life it gnawed at my self-worth and self-esteem. When the books and media around you either erase you or give you negative portrayals of people who look like you (I’m looking at you Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom), you start to think that maybe you don’t deserve representation – that someone like you can’t be brave, or strong, or save the world.

But when I went on my long summer vacations to India, my grandmothers would tell me these great Bengali folktales starring princes and princesses and rakkhosh demons who rhyme while chomping on your bones – and basically it was the antidote I needed. Hearing those stories allowed me to see that people who looked like me could be brave and awesome and save the world. So when my own kids were growing into the big readers they are, and I realized that things hadn’t changed that much since I was young – there was still a real lack of diversity in children’s literature, particularly in fantasy.

So I started to write The Serpent’s Secret for them. While it is based on and inspired by those Bengali folktales I had loved to much as a kid – I also wrote it with immigrant issues in mind. Kiranmala is an immigrant daughter, a girl growing up in New Jersey who has to discover the truth of her origins and travel back to her parents homeland to discover her true inner strength. So in that sense, it’s my own immigrant daughter story, just with more serpents and demons and flying horses!

Your grandmothers sound amazing! I’m so glad you followed through on that inspiration to write The Serpent’s Secret!

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

The journey to publishing this book has been a very long one. I took it out first with a different agent in 2011 ish, and received many, many very politely worded rejections. I think back then, no one knew what to make of a funny, intergalactic Indian immigrant daughter who fought demons!

Over the years, I worked on it, edited it many times, wrote other manuscripts, attended endless workshops and writing conferences, joined a lovely critique group… Anyway, suffice it to say when I signed with a new agent in 2016, and he wanted to take this book out, I wasn’t overly confident. Boy, was I wrong!

Within a month of my signing with my agent Brent Taylor, we were having a very exciting six publishing house auction on the book! (And in answer to your question, I remember I was in the parking lot outside the pool where my kids do swim team practice when I heard there was to be an auction!) All that waiting now in retrospect was so worth it – I’m so grateful to my editor Abby McAden and all the wonderful team at Scholastic for sharing my vision for the book and supporting it in such a great way.

What were three interesting things you discovered while working on THE SERPENT’S SECRET?

Since The Serpent’s Secret is not only my debut children’s novel, but also the first full work of fiction I wrote (I’ve written other books, essays, stories, academic chapters etc. for adults), I think the most important thing I discovered in writing this book is my own most authentic writerly voice. For years, I thought to write my immigrant daughter novel, I’d have to write some work of grown up literary fiction full of sadness and monsoons and mangoes. In other words that I’d have to exotify my own story in a sense. Discovering my upbeat middle grade writing voice was like giving myself permission to be my most authentic self – as my family will confirm, I’m kind of a twelve year old at heart!

I’ve also discovered the importance of finding your people as a writer – and that means fellow writers who will cheer you on (I’m looking at you critique group partners, We Need Diverse Books and kidlit of color communities!), an editor and agent who believe in you – not just for one story but for the long run, and a publishing house who is willing to support your book and launch it into the world with love.

Finally, I think the lesson of my own publishing story is one of persistence and staying true to your story, and your own beliefs. It’s telling the story you want to tell, not the one that others imagine you should tell. 

That is so, so true. *High fives*

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

Well, The Serpent’s Secret is already a book about an immigrant daughter travelling across dimensions! And I mean that literally since the book not only incorporates folk tales but string theory! The world that Kiranmala goes into is called The Kingdom Beyond Seven Oceans and Thirteen Rivers – it’s the place most Bengali folktales take place and therefore the homeland I thought Kiranmala should have to return to in order to find her true superpowers. Now, obviously a lot of that is both a nod to my childhood love of space shows and movies, but also my love of A Wrinkle in Time. So I think my characters might have a lot of fun visiting both the Star Wars and Wrinkle in Time universes!

Wrinkle in Time has been a popular choice for this question! I love that!

Why were you drawn to writing middle grade? 

Middle grade really is the golden age of reading – it’s when I began my lifelong love of stories and when my children did too. It’s a time full of wonder and honesty and care. Middle grade stories are about hope, about changing the world for the better, about fighting for what’s right and true and just. If we can all keep our most authentic middle grade selves alive in our hearts, I think the world might be a better place. 

Well said! I agree!

Now – any hints about your next book project?

Kiranmala’s adventures are nowhere near over! The Serpent’s Secret is only book 1 in the series Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond. Book 2 comes out in early 2019! (Title and cover reveal soon!)

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

That is actually happened – it actually happened! There was a while there I was pretty doubtful it would, but I am so darn grateful I get to share Kiranmala’s story with a world of readers! (Speaking of, the first two books in the series are coming out in Norwegian, German, Spanish, Catalán, Turkish and now Bengali!)

I think your readers are grateful too!

We love discovering new books here at Kick-butt so please tell us: what are you reading right now? 

Tami Charles’ lovely lovely middle grade novel Like VanessaIt has such an incredible voice, a three dimensional, richly textured main character. It’s so, so wonderful. Oh, and it takes place in New Jersey too – so Jersey girls in middle grade books for the win!

It sounds great! Add it to your TBR list, friends!

One last question! What’s your favourite piece of kick-butt advice?

Something Kiranmala learns on her adventure: It’s only when we accept all the parts of ourselves that we can tap into our truest power! I think this advice goes for superheroes as well as writers!

Love it! That’s fantastic advice. Thank you so much for joining us, Sayantani!

Kick-Butt Kidlit fans, make sure you check out THE SERPENT’S SECRET! It’s available now! 


Add THE SERPENT’S SECRET on Goodreads!

Get in touch with Sayantani on InstagramTwitter, or through her website!

Click here to enter to win a copy of THE SERPENT’S SECRET. Contest ends on May 25th.

Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for more fun interviews!