Kicking Back with Kick-butt and Bethany C. Morrow!

Welcome to Kicking Back with Kick-butt!

We’re chatting with Bethany C. Morrow, the editor (and a contributing author) of

TAKE THE MIC: FICTIONAL STORIES OF EVERYDAY RESISTANCE

A young adult anthology featuring fictional stories of everyday resistance.

You might be the kind of person who stands up to online trolls.

Or who marches to protest injustice.

Perhaps you are #DisabledAndCute and dancing around your living room, alive and proud.

Or perhaps you are the trans mentor that you wish you had when you were younger.

Maybe you call out false allies, or stand up to loved ones.

Maybe you speak your truth and drop the mic, or maybe you take it with you when you leave.

This anthology features fictional stories–in poems, prose, and art–that reflect a slice of the varied and limitless ways that readers like you resist every day. TAKE THE MIC’s powerful collection of stories features work by literary luminaries and emerging talent alike, including Newbery-winner Jason Reynolds, New York Times bestseller Samira Ahmed, anthologist and contributor Bethany C. Morrow, Darcie Little Badger, Keah Brown, Laura Silverman, L.D. Lewis, Sofia Quintero, Ray Stoeve, Yamile Mendez, and Connie Sun, with cover and interior art by Richie Pope.

Let’s talk to this fantastic editor and author about this incredible book!

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

Bethany C Morrow

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

I’m an author of adult and young adult fiction, ranging from speculative literary to contemporary fantasy to science fiction, always representing Black women as the central figures of our own stories, in any genre. I’ve been an anthologist/editor, as well, and sometimes write essays. I’ve just tried my hand at interviewing fellow authors, and enjoyed every minute!

Interviewing authors IS pretty fun! 😀

You are the editor of TAKE THE MIC: FICTIONAL STORIES OF EVERYDAY RESISTANCE. Where did the idea behind this anthology come from?

The rockstar known as Beth Phelan originally approached me about writing a pitch for a short story on resistance, in December 2016, I believe. I ended up talking to her at length, and expressed my passion for an anthology that would honor the everyday resistances being waged and survived by young marginalized people, not just the organized efforts involving protests, etc. Eventually, I not only wrote the short story, but was asked to come onboard as editor, as well.

How did you bring authors together for this project? What made them a good fit?

I went to authors from historically – and presently – underrepresented backgrounds/identities, and asked them to speak to the reality of everyday life they know well. Sometimes someone would be telling a story about something just incredulous that happened to them, and I’d slide into their DMs and ask if they’d be willing to write it into a short story or poem. I was honored to have Jason Reynolds and Samira Ahmed involved, but I was really passionate about being a platform for people who weren’t as widely known yet, and need to be!

I think that’s so great that you focused on lifting up newer voices as well.

What were three interesting things you discovered while working on TAKE THE MIC?

The first is how gracious (!!) these authors were when it came to feedback and just vulnerability. I am still in awe of all of them.

The second thing was how bad my memory is. Almost every group email, I had to check the cover art to make sure I’d gotten everyone’s contact info on the email.

And the third isn’t really something new, just something that continues to disappoint and demonstrate how the power majority needs to really consider whether they’re ready to do the work. When a group of own voice narratives paint a similar picture of the oppressive and offensive nature of whiteness, that conglomerate power institution, it is disgusting to have that continuity disparaged or disbelieved. In the end, it doesn’t matter. The point of this anthology is that we do not require validation; we are free to speak the truth regardless.

Any tips for people who are interested in tackling short stories? 

Short stories, for me, start with understanding that it’s about more than a word count. That goes for novellas, and the like, as well. It isn’t just short. There should be an arc and a completion to it, a fullness, even when the end isn’t final.

Why were you drawn to writing young adult fiction?

I don’t really have a “why.” I don’t think it requires some particular stimuli or inspiration necessarily. It’s a very broad and satisfying category to write in, and I care very much about the audience.

Are you able to give us a hint about your next book project?

By the time you read this, you’ll have had an opportunity to see the cover reveal for my June 2020 release, A SONG BELOW WATER, as well as read a chapter excerpt!

It’s a gorgeous cover and the excerpt was fantastic. Can’t wait to read the whole book when it’s out!

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

I really couldn’t put my finger on one.

What are you reading right now?

I’ve started and very much want to get back to: WITH THE FIRE ON HIGH and WARGIRLS.

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

You’re not well-read if you only read white authors.

Yes. Absolutely.

Thank you so much for joining us, Bethany!

Kick-butt Kidlit friends, check out TAKE THE MIC – it’s on shelves now!

Take the Mic.jpg

Add TAKE THE MIC on Goodreads!

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

Click here to enter to win a copy of TAKE THE MIC!
Contest closes Wednesday, November 27th at 11:59 pm EST

Thanks for reading!

Kicking Back with Kick-butt and Kyle Lukoff!

Welcome to Kicking Back with Kick-butt!

We’re chatting with Kyle Lukoff, the author of

WHEN AIDAN BECAME A BROTHER

When Aidan was born, everyone thought he was a girl. His parents gave him a pretty name, his room looked like a girl’s room, and he wore clothes that other girls liked wearing. After he realized he was a trans boy, Aidan and his parents fixed the parts of life that didn’t fit anymore, and he settled happily into his new life. Then Mom and Dad announce that they’re going to have another baby, and Aidan wants to do everything he can to make things right for his new sibling from the beginning–from choosing the perfect name to creating a beautiful room to picking out the cutest onesie.

But what does “making things right” actually mean? And what happens if he messes up? With a little help, Aidan comes to understand that mistakes can be fixed with honesty and communication, and that he already knows the most important thing about being a big brother: how to love with his whole self.

When Aidan Became a Brother is a heartwarming book that will resonate with transgender children, reassure any child concerned about becoming an older sibling, and celebrate the many transitions a family can experience.

Let’s talk to this awesome author about his amazing book!

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

Kyle Lukoff

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

Thank you! I feel very welcomed. I’m joining you here as the author of A STORYTELLING OF RAVENS (illustrated by Natalie Nelson), WHEN AIDAN BECAME A BROTHER (illustrated by Kaylani Juanita), and the MAX AND FRIENDS series (illustrated by Luciano Lozano). I’m also an elementary school librarian, and have been working at the intersection of books and people for almost 20 years!

Yay! We love librarians here at Kick-butt!

Where did the idea for WHEN AIDAN BECAME A BROTHER come from?

A potato.

I mean, not really, but kind of really. I had been mulling over the prospect of writing a picture book about a trans boy for awhile, but couldn’t come up with any ideas that weren’t boring or reductive. And then one day I was home sick from work, making breakfast, and in the middle of grating a potato I had this vision in my head of a little trans boy showing off his newly-decorated bedroom. And the story grew from there.

What was it like working with the illustrator, Kaylani Juanita, and seeing your words come to life on the page? Any tips for other picture book writers starting out on a new partnership with an illustrator?

Here’s the thing about picture books: unless you illustrate it yourself, or are part of a package deal (spouses, siblings, etc.), or are far more famous and powerful than myself, the author has little to no control over the illustrator, or the illustrations! So I actually didn’t work directly with Kaylani at all. I did get to have a bit of input, because everyone wanted to make sure that the illustrations were accurate and respectful, but aside from a few details all of the illustrations are Kaylani’s own interpretation (with input from the editor and art director, of course).

Watching someone else bring my words to life is absolutely breathtaking. The experience is hard to describe, because as soon as I see the illustrations any of my blurry mental images are swept aside, and I can’t imagine the book existing any other way. The only advice I’d have to aspiring writers is trust that the editor and artist are as invested in the vision of this book as you are; and, if your visions vary, it will hopefully be only for the best. Letting go of the control of your work is hard, but the ability to do that will serve you well in traditional publishing.

Excellent advice!

Now, what were three interesting things you discovered while working on WHEN AIDAN BECAME A BROTHER?

I discovered that sometimes my instincts are worth trusting–I had been encouraged to give up on AIDAN, and refused.

I discovered that sometimes, if you’re lucky, after a lot of lousy drafts inspiration can actually strike, and the true story will reveal itself to you in a way that feels nothing short of miraculous.

I discovered that it’s worth pushing for what you believe in, and listening to advice on how best to deliver that message.

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

I want to see what Aidan would do with Harold’s purple crayon. Probably something extremely cool. I would also like him to hang out with Taylor from THE RABBIT LISTENED, I think they could build something amazing together, and also take care of each other when it doesn’t go well.

Why were you drawn to writing picture books?

My writing tends towards the spare, but hopefully not the sparse, and since picture books skew towards a low word count, that instinct is a helpful one. And I have a deep love for formalist poetry–sestinas, villanelles, sonnets. And picture books are very much like formalist poetry, with the added challenge of having to appeal to the kids being read to and the adults reading it. I love writing within rules and constraints, so picture books are a perfect fit.

Any hints about your next book project?

A GHOST. Maybe.

Oooh, intriguing!

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

I keep telling myself that eventually I’ll feel like a real writer, but so far it hasn’t happened yet. I feel a little more like a real writer than I felt a few years ago, but it’s an extremely slow process and I’m constantly surprised that people I don’t know are reading my books.

What are you reading right now?

I’m answering these questions in a variety of drafts, and since I read approximately one book every 2-3 days, that answer has changed from “Line of Beauty” by Andrew Hollinghurst to a collection of very bleak short stories from Finland to re-reading one of my favorite books about food, “An Everlasting Meal” by Tamar Adler, with some other books in between.

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

I am a huge, huge proponent of giving up on something that isn’t working. Almost every book I’ve successfully published is something that I gave up on at some point, and came back to on a whim. I also dropped out of law school (and am much happier as a librarian) and completely gave up on my dream of being a journalist (and now write fiction which is way less stressful, for me at least). Give up on things and see what comes next!

 So true! You never know where a new path will lead!

Thank you so much for joining us, Kyle!

Kick-butt Kidlit friends, check out WHEN AIDAN BECAME A BROTHER!
It’s on shelves now!

When Aidan Became a Brother.png

Add WHEN AIDAN BECAME A BROTHER on Goodreads!

Connect with Kyle on Twitter or through his website!

Click here to enter to win a copy of WHEN AIDAN BECAME A BROTHER!
Contest closes Friday, November 15th at 11:59 pm EST

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more fun interviews!

 

Kicking Back with Kick-butt and Jerry Craft!

Welcome to Kicking Back with Kick-butt!

We’re chatting with Jerry Craft, creator of

NEW KID

Seventh grader Jordan Banks loves nothing more than drawing cartoons about his life. But instead of sending him to the art school of his dreams, his parents enroll him in a prestigious private school known for its academics, where Jordan is one of the few kids of color in his entire grade.

As he makes the daily trip from his Washington Heights apartment to the upscale Riverdale Academy Day School, Jordan soon finds himself torn between two worlds—and not really fitting into either one. Can Jordan learn to navigate his new school culture while keeping his neighborhood friends and staying true to himself?

Let’s talk to this marvelous author about his excellent book!

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

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

I was born in Harlem, grew up in near by Washington Heights and have wanted to be an artist as long as I can remember. I had trouble getting published, so I started my own publishing company  which I used to bring nearly three dozen books to life during a twenty-year span. In 2014 I illustrated The Zero Degree Zombie Zone for Scholastic. My biggest and best book, New Kid, was published in February of 2019 by HarperCollins.

AND recent winner of the Kirkus Prize! Congratulations!

Where did the idea for NEW KID come from?

It’s inspired by my life. Like me, the main character, Jordan Banks, wants to be an artist, but his mom sends his to a fancy private school instead of letting him go to the art school of his dreams. And like me, Jordan is also one of the few kids of color in his entire grade. It’s loosely based on my four years attending a private high school in the Riverdale section of New York City, as well as a lot of the experiences from my two sons going to a private school in Connecticut.

Who are some of your artistic influences?

Mainly cartoonists such as Charles Schulz, Morrie Turner and a lot of the Marvel Comics artists from the 70s and 80s. But I think the graphic novels that inspired me most when developing New Kid were Smile by Raina Telgemeier, American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang, and Stitches by David Small.

Why were you drawn to illustration?

Is that pun intentional? I think it is. I’ve just ALWAYS loved to draw. And the fact that I can make a living creating the books that I wished I had when I was a kid, has been an amazing experience.

To hear kids say that they’ve never finished a book before, but they’ve read New Kid multiple times is just amazing.

Graphic novels are such a cool art form and one that many kids are interested in both reading and creating. What’s your process when you dive into a new project? How do you decide what will be written narrative versus illustrated?

Well, the writing and development of the characters is the most important. And for me, humor also plays a big role. Without that, it’s just pretty pictures. Nice to look at, but not a book that a kid bonds with to the point of the book almost becoming a friend. If you look at the Wimpy Kid books, the art is fairly simple, but it’s the writing that has made it a universal hit.

The story arc is also crucial. What happens? As well as individual character arcs. Do they learn? Do they grow? Will they be better or worse as a result of what will happen to them?

I think creating a book that is almost like a friend is the dream! Great tips!

What were three things you discovered while working on NEW KID?

First, I am still amazed at how many rewrites it took to get it to the stage where it was ready to be published. Characters that were added. Characters that were removed. Scenes that were moved or deleted . . . Second, how long it took to illustrate. I think I drew at least 15 hours a day from January 2017 until February 2018. And I’m doing it all over again while working on the next two books.

Third, how important it is to have the right team around you. Everyone knows the creator’s names, but New Kid is the book that it is because of the help of my agent, my editor, my colorist, my proofreaders, my marketing team, my amazing PR people, my audio book crew . . .  And that’s before it even got to the reviewers, teachers, and librarians, and bookstore folks who have made it a success.

Any hints about your next book project?

New Kid two is called Class Act, and will follow Jordan, Drew, and Liam through their eight grade year. Or in their case “second form.” And most of the other main characters will return. I hope to be done by November of this year for a planned back to school release in 2020.

Oooh, can’t wait to check it out!

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

Finally getting the opportunity to show what I can do. I’ve always wanted to create stories showing kids of color as just regular kids. Going to school, playing video games, having normal conversations. So I’m very grateful to HarperCollins for giving me a chance to show that there is indeed a need for stories with POC that are both happy and fun.

What are you reading right now?

I literally draw all day, so there’s not a lot of time for me to read. So I rely a lot on audio books. BUT, I did snag an advanced reader copy of Guts, which is Raina’s next graphic novel which will be released in September.  So I am setting aside time for that.

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

I almost said “don’t give up!” But, that needs to go hand-in-hand with “constantly learning and improving.” You can’t just continue to do the same thing and expect different results. I think New Kid is the best thing I’ve ever done, but Class Act will be even better because of all the things I learned, and how I’ve grown, along the way.

So true! Thank you for a great chat, Jerry!

Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out NEW KID!
It’s on shelves now!

New Kid.png

Add NEW KID on Goodreads!

Connect with Jerry on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or through his website!

Click here to win a copy of NEW KID!
Contest closes Wednesday, October 30th at 11:59 pm EST

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more fun interviews!

 

Jerry’s Full Bio:

JERRY CRAFT is an author and illustrator. New Kid is his middle grade graphic novel that has earned five starred reviews, including one from Booklist magazine, which called it “possibly one of the most important graphic novels of the year.” Kirkus Reviews called it “an engrossing, humorous, and vitally important graphic novel that should be required reading in every middle school in America.”

He is the creator of Mama’s Boyz, a comic strip that was distributed by King Features Syndicate from 1995-2013, and won five African American Literary Awards. Jerry is a co-founder of the Schomburg’s Annual Black Comic Book Festival. He was born in Harlem and grew up in nearby Washington Heights. He is a graduate of The Fieldston School and received his B.F.A. from the School of Visual Arts.

Kicking Back with Kick-butt and Debbie Ridpath Ohi!

Welcome to Kicking Back with Kick-butt!

We’re chatting with Debbie Ridpath Ohi, illustrator of

I’M WORRIED!

A girl, a flamingo, and a worried potato star in the third book in New York Times bestselling author Michael Ian Black and illustrator Debbie Ridpath Ohi’s series about feelings—and why they’re good, even when they feel bad.

Potato is worried. About everything.

Because anything might happen.

When he tells his friends, he expects them to comfort him by saying that everything will be okay. Except they don’t. Because it might not be, and that’s okay too. Still, there’s one thing they can promise for sure: no matter what happens…they will always be by his side.

Let’s talk to this fantastic creator about her amazing books!

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

Debbie Ohi.png

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

My name is Debbie Ridpath Ohi, and once upon a time I used to be a computer programmer/analyst. Now I write and illustrate children’s books for a living! I still pinch myself every so often, to make sure I’m not dreaming.

I’M WORRIED is your third collaboration with Michael Ian Black. What’s it like collaborating with an author on a story? What’s your favourite part of the process?

For picture books, or at least the ones I’ve worked on so far, I don’t really collaborate with the author during the creative process. The author works with our editor to polish the picture book manuscript, and I only tend to receive it when it’s ready for me to start illustrating. Sometimes after I start talking to my art director and editor about illustrations, we find that the text needs to be tweaked a bit. If that’s the case, this discussion is between the author and editor, not me and the author.

Not all publishers work like this, but this has been the case with the picture books I’ve worked on so far with Simon & Schuster, Random House and HarperCollins.

Depending on the book and situation, I will occasionally reach out to an author for some input. In an I’M WORRIED spread showing things that Potato is worried about, for example, I asked Michael Ian Black for some ideas and ended up incorporating a bunch of these into the illustration:

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Who are some of your artistic influences?

Just to name a few of my illustrator influences: William Steig, Bill Watterson, Jules Feiffer, Charles Schulz, Edward Gorey.

You also have written and illustrated a number of your own picture books. How is that experience different for you?

Yes, mainly because I felt more free to change things around as well as to experiment. I come from a writing background (I got my awesome agent because of my middle grade writing plus I worked for years as a nonfiction freelance writer) and have waaaaaaay too many story ideas for picture books and middle grade than my current work schedule can support. Oh, for Hermione’s Time Turner! I’m constantly striving to find the right balance between contracted book projects, work-related events and working on my own writing projects.

I will always enjoy illustrating other people’s stories (especially Michael Ian Black’s stories), but I am also finding myself yearning to get more of my own writing out there: picture books, chapter books, graphic novels and middle grade.

Oh, my goodness – the things we could get done with a Time Turner!!!

What artistic tool could you never live without?

My favorite sketching tool: Pentel Pocket Brush Pen.

I love the variable ink line! Learned about this from David Small at an SCBWI Los Angeles Illustrators’ Intensive session.

My current obsession, though: CRAYONS.

Why were you drawn to illustration?

I’ve always loved to draw.

As I grew up, I especially enjoyed making comics for myself, family and friends. I’ve always loved the challenge of conveying a narrative through sequential art.

I’m hoping to do graphic novels someday! I already have some ideas. One of the challenges is streamlining my process. One of the reasons I opted for sequential art format in my contribution to Colby Sharp’s THE CREATIVITY PROJECT is because I wanted to test this. What I found: my current process takes way too much time. I’ve been talking with other graphic novel illustrators about their process in hopes of improving mine.

Any hints about your next book project?

I’m having so much fun illustrating Linda Sue Park’s new picture book story, GURPLE & PREEN! It incorporates photographic elements (crayons!) as well as illustrative, and it’s been exciting to experiment with new techniques. This new book is scheduled to come out from Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers in 2020.

I’m also working on a middle grade novel, and am also excited about my next illustration project: I’M HAPPY, the next picture book in the I’M… series written by Michael Ian Black and illustrated by me (Simon & Schuster).

Exciting! Can’t wait to hear more!

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

Like many in the industry, I consider myself an introvert. When I first began working on my middle grade novels, I remember thinking how I much I enjoyed that part of the creative process, and how terrified I was at the idea of having to go out and TALK to strangers (in the process of networking and promotion).

What I found, to my shock: that despite my utter conviction that I could never learn to do it and would always hate it, that I COULD learn how to get out there and meet people in person. It drives me a little crazy whenever people tell me how lucky I am, that I’m so natural at talking with people at work events, etc., because they don’t realize how scary it all was in the beginning, and how hard I’ve worked at improving. It’s still scary, and I continue to need improving! But it’s easier now, and I even (*gasp*) have fun doing it, especially when I’m talking to young readers.

To other introverts out there: I highly recommend QUIET: THE POWER OF INTROVERTS IN A WORLD THAT CAN’T STOP TALKING by Susan Cain. I discovered her through this TED talk: https://www.ted.com/talks/susan_cain_the_power_of_introverts

What are you reading right now?

I usually have a bunch of books on the go in various formats (print, digital, audio). Right now, it’s:

THE MAGPIE’S LIBRARY by Kate Blair (Cormorant Books)

TRACE by Pat Cummings (Harper)

M: THE MAN WHO BECAME CARAVAGGIO by Peter Robb (Henry Holt)

THE POPE’S DAUGHTER: THE EXTRAORDINARY LIFE OF FELICE DELLA ROVERE – by Caroline P Murphy (Oxford University Press)

The latter two are the result of a recent vacation in Rome. 🙂

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

Resist comparing your own progress to others, especially on social media. Focus on enjoying your own journey at your own pace.

Also: if you are considering writing picture books for publication – READ MANY, MANY PICTURE BOOKS FIRST. So many new picture book writers assume that writing picture books is easy because they’re so short. Yes, it’s easy to write a picture book — the challenge is writing a picture book that will sell.

Both very excellent points! Thank you so much for joining us, Debbie!

Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out I’M WORRIED!
It’s on shelves now!

I'm Worried.png

Add I’M WORRIED on Goodreads!

Connect with Debbie on Twitter, Instagram, or through her website, blog, or
YouTube channel!

Click here to win a copy of I’M WORRIED!
Contest closes Saturday, October 19th at 11:59 pm EST

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more fun interviews!

 

 

Kicking Back with Kick-butt and Rebecca Donnelly!

Welcome to Kicking Back with Kick-butt!

We’re chatting with Rebecca Donnelly, the author of

THE FRIENDSHIP LIE!

Cora Davis’s life is garbage. Literally. Her professor parents study what happens to trash after it gets thrown away, and Cora knows exactly how it feels–to be thrown away. Between her mom and dad separating and a fallout with her best friend, fifth grade for Cora has been a year of feeling like being tossed into the dumpster.

But Cora has learned a couple of things from her parents’ trash-tracking studies: Things don’t always go where they’re supposed to, and sometimes the things you thought you got rid of come back. And occasionally, one person’s trash is another’s treasure, which Cora and Sybella learn when they come across a diary detailing best-friendship problems. Told in two intertwining points of view, comes a warm, wry story of friendship, growing up, and being true to yourself.

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

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

Rebecca Donnelly.png

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

Hi! I write middle grade and picture books, and I’m a children’s librarian. Those two careers go really well together, and I think doing one helps me get better at the other. I’ve been a librarian for about 12 years, and my first book, How to Stage a Catastrophe, came out in 2017. My second novel, The Friendship Lie, came out in August, and my first picture book, Cats Are a Liquid, comes out in October.

Where did the idea for THE FRIENDSHIP LIE come from?

Most of my middle grade fiction ideas start with an image or a first line. In this case, the line was “There was garbage in the bathtub again,” which presents an image that requires some explanation. That led to my MC’s dad being a garbologist (someone who studies garbage the way an archaeologist studies ancient civilizations—pretty similar, if you think about it), and from there came Cora and Sybella’s friendship problems, Cora’s parents’ divorce, and the kooky diary that helps the girls find their way again.

That’s a fantastic first line!

Friendship is at the heart of this book and it’s an important theme for many middle grade novels. What kind of friendship advice would you give to middle grade Rebecca?

Middle grade Rebecca was kind of a mess, friendship-ly speaking. I would tell her that it’s okay to want to be by yourself, but that doesn’t mean you always have to be by yourself. Friendship is worth it.

What were three interesting things you discovered while working on THE FRIENDSHIP LIE?

I learned a lot about recycling! For example, did you know that the chasing arrows symbol on plastic bottles in the US doesn’t mean it can be recycled? The numbers are a code based on the type of plastic used. Tl;dr, check with your local waste hauler.

Also, I learned that in the adoption world, older dogs are known as “senior dogs,” which accords them a measure of respect, I feel.

And I learned that there really was an Earth Week in April 1974, at exactly the same time Nixon was feeling the pressure from Congress about Watergate. Coincidence?

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

Cora and Sybella would love to spend some time in a fantasy world like their own Aquafaba, and Kyle would go anywhere with dogs, so a book about merdogs would be ideal. But while they wait for that, they can hang out with the Vanderbeekers of 141st St from the wonderful series by Karina Yan Glaser. It’s got animals, crafts, snacks, domestic adventure—the kids would love it.

Oh, I think they could definitely get up to some shenanigans with the Vanderbeekers! 😀

Why were you drawn to writing middle grade?

I was a big middle grade reader. YA wasn’t as available when I was a teen as it is now, so when I think about my favorite books from when I was younger, it’s middle grade. Writing middle grade is very introspective for me, because I can think back to what it felt like to be a kid and read that type of book.

Any hints about your next book project?

It’s nonfiction! My editor at Holt asked if I had ever thought about writing longer nonfiction (my first nonfiction picture book comes out next year) and my answer was basically, I have now! I wrote a proposal, which was accepted, and now I’m into the preliminary research phase, which is glorious. You have all the possibilities and none of the realities.

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

The pendulum swing between disappointment and elation. A canceled contract here, a new opportunity there. A bad review here, a…less bad review there. I wouldn’t say I’m used to it, but I’m learning to expect it as a regular feature of a creative career.

What are you reading right now?

Besides the reading I’m doing for my nonfiction project, I’ve recently picked up an adult mystery (my comfort reads) called A Necessary Evil by Abir Mukherjee, set in Calcutta during the British Raj, and Tillie Walden’s YA graphic novel On a Sunbeam, set in space. With fish ships.

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

When you feel down about any particular thing in your own career, try thinking like a librarian, by which I mean, look at the field of kidlit as a whole. There is incredible art being made every day. There are stories being told, and readers being created, and you have a role in that process. Even if you feel that you’re not moving forward, you can advance the field. You can be an advocate for kids and books. That’s part of the work, too. It’s crucial.

Yes! We’re all part of the big picture! I love that! Thanks for joining us, Rebecca!

Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out THE FRIENDSHIP LIE!
It’s out now!

The Friendship Lie.jpg

Add THE FRIENDSHIP LIE on Goodreads!

Connect with Rebecca on Twitter or through her website!

Click here to win a copy of THE FRIENDSHIP LIE!
Contest closes Saturday, September 14th at 11:59 pm EST.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more fun interviews!

Kicking Back with Kick-butt and Karuna Riazi!

Welcome back to Kicking Back with Kick-butt!

We’re chatting with Karuna Riazi, the author of

THE BATTLE

The game begins again in this gripping follow-up to The Gauntlet that’s a futuristic middle eastern Zathura meets Ready Player One!

Four years after the events of The Gauntlet, the evil game Architect is back with a new partner-in-crime—The MasterMind—and the pair aim to get revenge on the Mirza clan. Together, they’ve rebuilt Paheli into a slick, mind-bending world with floating skyscrapers, flying rickshaws run by robots, and a digital funicular rail that doesn’t always take you exactly where you want to go.

Twelve-year-old Ahmad Mirza struggles to make friends at his new middle school, but when he’s paired with his classmate Winnie for a project, he is determined to impress her and make his very first friend. At home while they’re hard at work, a gift from big sister Farah—who is away at her first year in college—arrives. It’s a high-tech game called The Battle of Blood and Iron, a cross between a video game and board game, complete with virtual reality goggles. He thinks his sister has solved his friend problem—all kids love games. He convinces Winnie to play, but as soon as they unbox the game, time freezes all over New York City.

With time standing still and people frozen, all of humankind is at stake as Ahmad and Winnie face off with the MasterMind and the Architect, hoping to beat them at their own game before the evil plotters expand Paheli and take over the entire world.

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

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

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

Happy to be here! I’m Karuna Riazi, and I like to describe myself as a girl who drinks a lot of tea, reads a lot of books and wears a lot of hats! Those hats currently include grad student, middle school educator and author of middle grade and young adult speculative fiction – most notably, The Gauntlet (S&S/Salaam Reads, 2017) and The Battle (S&S/Salaam Reads, releasing this coming August 27)!

THE BATTLE is the sequel to your awesome middle grade debut, THE GAUNTLET.

For our aspiring authors at home, can you tell us a bit about what goes into writing a sequel? Did you always know there was going to be a book two? Did you plan ahead when you were writing book one?

The Battle honestly took a lot to build, particularly since my contract was originally for one book! My editor decided another one would be great thanks to the overwhelming and humbling outpouring of love for The Gauntlet from readers – thank you, guys! This was fabulous and a happy surprise for me, but also different from other authors who already have a two-book deal and are aware of what particular loopholes they need to leave in their first book.

I had room to work with based off the sprawling world that is Paheli and some mysteries that we agreed would be better to leave unsolved – just in case. Having a tenacious villain with a grudge also helped, too. I would say for any aspiring authors at home that my general perspective is to remember the words “just in case” and “standalone with series potential.” Don’t overthink it or plan too early but do set up the field if you want to return to that world!

If you were sucked into a game, who would you hope to have with you on your team and why?

If I were sucked into a game, I’d want to have my close friends and critique partners with me – in particular, if I could choose, Axie Oh (author of Rebel Seoul), Kat Cho (author of Wicked Fox) and Nafiza Azad (author of The Candle and the Flame). We put our heads together a lot to support each other and hash out problems, so I know that we work well together and that we’re all fierce, tough ladies who won’t go down without a fight!

That is a wicked good team! You would totally crush it!

What were three interesting things you discovered while working on THE BATTLE?

Hmm, three interesting things. I learned that it actually takes a lot to translate the mechanics of a video game into words. You have to think of yourself in a game, rather than outside and manipulating the game – there goes all those, “He clicked,” or “She moved the joycon.”

I also learned that, when you’re writing a video game into a book, it’s just like research: you need to learn when to stop going further down the rabbit hole. The thing about video games, in comparison to books, is that you have limits on which pathways you can go down and how many side quests can be tossed in!

And, probably most interesting to me, I learned that I can absolutely write a sequel even if I feel like it’s killing me halfway through.

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 good question, and I’m not entirely sure. Focusing on my protagonists…I think Farah would love to be somewhere else where she could be headlong in an adventure (and preferably by herself so she wouldn’t have to worry about Ahmad), so perhaps the world of The Westing Game, which is one of my forever favorites! I feel like Ahmad would rather stay home and relax after the adventure he’s had in The Battle, and hang out with his friend Winnie!

Why were you drawn to writing middle grade?

I love middle grade, since I was a middle schooler myself! There are a lot of things to love about the young adult category, but when I need comfort or reassurance in the worst way, it’s my middle grade favorites I head back to.

It’s often surprising to people that, after I tell them all this, I admit that the first words out of my mouth when Sona and Dhonielle (my bosses and the CEOs of diverse book packager Cake Literary) told me they thought The Gauntlet should be a middle grade title was “I can’t write middle grade.” I loved the category so, so much that I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to do justice to it in the way that my middle grade heroes (Kate DiCamillo, for instance, or Anne Ursu) could do it so well. But they urged me to reconsider as they thought I would have a great middle grade voice and, apparently, I do! I’m still not sure of it myself but kids do like The Gauntlet, which I find reassuring, and I’m continuing to work hard on writing middle grades that do my love of them justice.

Any hints about your next book project?

As soon as I find out, you’ll be the first to know! I’m currently in between contracts (and seeking representation) and trying to use this liberating, and frightening, blank space to write stories I can have fun with and be proud of. Stay tuned!

Can’t wait to hear more when you can share!

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

I think being published with Salaam Reads, as one of the lead titles, has been one of the most surprising and wonderful aspects of this entire journey. Even in my wildest dreams as a teenager longing to be an author, I never would have imagined becoming one under the very first Muslim-focused imprint. To be part of something so historical and empowering for a marginalized community has been incredible and such an honor.

What are you reading right now?

I am currently reading a lot of picture books. It’s wonderful. I’m in heaven! (My recommendations if you want some happiness in your life: Bilal Cooks Daal by Aisha Saeed and Mommy’s Khimar by Jamillah Thompkins-Bigelow – both Salaam Reads titles!)

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

Do what is right for you, and put yourself first as a reader! Feel like writing longhand? Go for it! Want to write a thrilling supernatural novel full of vampires and werewolves? Knock yourself out! I’ve been reminding myself a lot, and been reminded by some fabulous authors and mentors, that writing should be fun and fulfilling and not torturous or you sloughing through a book because it’s what you think readers will want. Readers have fun when you, as a writer, have fun with your process and your story.

Yes, yes, yes! So true. Thank you so much for joining us, Karuna!

Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out THE BATTLE!
It hits shelves on August 27th!

The Battle.png

Add THE BATTLE on Goodreads!

Connect with Karuna on Twitter or through her website!

Click here to win a copy of THE BATTLE!
Contest closes Sunday, August 18th at 11:59 pm EST.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more fun interviews!

Kicking Back with Kick-butt and Anne Ursu

Welcome to Kicking Back with Kick-butt!

We’re chatting with Anne Ursu, the author of

THE LOST GIRL

When you’re an identical twin, your story always starts with someone else. For Iris, that means her story starts with Lark. Iris has always been the grounded, capable, and rational one; Lark has been inventive, dreamy, and brilliant—and from their first moments in the world together, they’ve never left each other’s side. Everyone around them realized early on what the two sisters already knew: they had better outcomes when they were together.

When fifth grade arrives, however, it is decided that Iris and Lark should be split into different classrooms, and something breaks in them both. Iris is no longer so confident; Lark retreats into herself as she deals with challenges at school. And at the same time, something strange is happening in the city around them, things both great and small going missing without a trace. As Iris begins to understand that anything can be lost in the blink of an eye, she decides it’s up to her to find a way to keep her sister safe.

Let’s talk to this lovely author about her incredible book!

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

Anne Ursu

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

I am the author of six books for young readers, the mom of a twelve-year-old boy, and keeper of several dysfunctional cats. I procrastinate from writing by teaching writing at Hamline University’s low-residency MFA in Writing for Children and the Highlights Foundation.

Where did the idea for THE LOST GIRL come from?

I was interested in the way schools are often unequipped to deal with students who have learning or emotional issues, and particularly the way shy and anxious girls’ troubles can be ignored because they aren’t causing problems. At the same time, I was interested in the way society talks about girls together, as if the relationships are automatically dysfunctional. All of that, plus an interest in art theft and a sign I passed outside of an antique store became The Lost Girl.

This book has an unusual narrator. What was the reason behind that?

As I was writing, I kept hearing this first person narrator addressing Iris. So in one draft I just finally put that narrator in, and three fourths of the way through I knew exactly who that narrator was, and it brought the whole book together for me. Writing is weird.

What were three interesting things you discovered while working on THE LOST GIRL?

1) The collective noun for ravens is an unkindness.

2) The smallest mammal in the world is the bumblebee bat.

3) Kids actually dissect owl pellets in classrooms.

Note: I looked up the bumblebee bat after reading this and it’s also adorable.

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

They have to go to Hogwarts, right? Lark would be in heaven, and Iris would call Malfoy a mole rat.

Why were you drawn to writing middle grade?

Because it’s the best. The readers are the best. You have so much freedom to play in middle grade—with form and structure and reality—and the readers will just go with you, as long as you’re telling them a story.

Any hints about your next book project?

I vowed I would not write a high fantasy again and then was smited with an idea for one. I’m about 60 pages into a book that, right now, is about a girl sent to a reform school for girls in a kingdom beset with attacks by monsters. What it is about when I finish it—well, who knows?

It already sounds awesome! Can’t wait to hear more about it!

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

That every single book will require its own process, and you’ll never feel like you know what you’re doing.

What are you reading right now?

I am reading Christina Soontornvat’s forthcoming A Wish in the Dark, which is outstanding.

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

“Anne. Just finish the dang draft. You can fix it later.”

Relatable!!! Thank you so much for joining us, Anne!

Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out THE LOST GIRL! It’s out now!

The Lost Girl.png

Add THE LOST GIRL on Goodreads!

Connect with Anne on Twitter or through her website!

Click here to win a copy of THE LOST GIRL!
Contest closes Wednesday, August 7th at 11:59 pm EST.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more fun interviews!