It’s time to Kick Back with Kick-butt!
Today we’re chatting with Sonja Thomas, the author of
SIR FIG NEWTON AND THE SCIENCE OF PERSISTENCE
Twelve-year-old Mira’s summer is looking pretty bleak. Her best friend Thomas just moved a billion and one miles away from Florida to Washington, DC. Her dad is job searching and he’s been super down lately. Her phone screen cracked after a home science experiment gone wrong. And of all people who could have moved into Thomas’s old house down the street, Mira gets stuck with Tamika Smith, her know-it-all nemesis who’s kept Mira in second place at the school science fair four years running.
Mira’s beloved cat, Sir Fig Newton, has been the most stable thing in her life lately, but now he seems off, too. With her phone gone and no internet over the weekend at her strict Gran’s house, Mira must research Fig’s symptoms the old-fashioned way: at the library. She determines that he has “the silent cat killer” diabetes. A visit to the vet confirms her diagnosis, but that one appointment stretched family funds to the limit—they’ll never be able to afford cat insulin shots.
When Mira’s parents tell her they may have to give Fig up to people who can afford his treatment, Mira insists she can earn the $2,000 needed within a month. Armed with ingenuity, determination, and one surprising ally, can Mira save her best (four-legged) friend before it’s too late?
Let’s talk to this incredible author about her terrific book!
This is Sonja. Everyone say, “Hi, Sonja!”
Welcome to Kick-Butt Kidlit, Sonja! Tell us about yourself!
Hi, and thanks so much for having me! My name is Sonja Thomas and I’m a silly introvert who runs on coffee and hugs. I love to dance and sing along with music and I squeal every time I see an adorable animal (Squirrel!).
A recovering CPA, I write stories for kids of all ages in all genres, but middle grade contemporaries are my sweet spot. I’m a contributing author for GOOD NIGHT STORIES FOR REBEL GIRLS: 100 REAL-LIFE TALES OF BLACK GIRL MAGIC. My debut middle grade novel, SIR FIG NEWTON AND THE SCIENCE OF PERSISTENCE, is out now.
What was the inspiration behind SIR FIG NEWTON AND THE SCIENCE OF PERSISTENCE?
The inspiration for SIR FIG NEWTON AND THE SCIENCE OF PERSISTENCE came from real life. My first cat Whiskey was diagnosed with diabetes and a co-worker had shared with his young son, who has Type I diabetes, that my cat was receiving insulin shots. His son was so excited, that he’d said, “If a cat can get insulin shots, then so can I!” That’s when I knew I had to write Whiskey’s story.
Aw! That is so lovely!
We love hearing stories about ‘The Call’ here on Kick-butt Kidlit. What were you doing when you found out your book had sold?
It was February 2020 and I was doing tax returns when I’d found out that my book had sold! The first thing I did was call my mom. It was incredibly hard to go back to work, but I certainly had a smile on my face all day long.
What were three interesting things you discovered while working on SIR FIG NEWTON AND THE SCIENCE OF PERSISTENCE?
1. I had so much fun researching and trying out different experiments, like grape plasma balls, growing a crystal garden, and building a catapult.
2. I had the best time deciding what fun tee shirt slogans Mira’s STEM Camp teacher would wear. Some I made up myself, like “STEM Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” while others I owned or found online, like “Black Holes Are Out of Sight.”
3. Growing up near Kennedy Space Center, I’d often imagined myself an astronaut, just like my main character, Mira. However, I never thought it was possible for someone like me—a Black female—to go into space. During my research, I was incredibly inspired to learn about women of color who’d accomplished amazing things in STEM. Hopefully readers will be too!
We need a video series with all of these experiments you did!
If you could transport your characters across book dimensions, which book would you most like them to end up in and why?
I would love to transport Mira and Sir Fig Newton into the sci-fi middle grade novel TROUBLE IN THE STARS by Sarah Prineas. Mainly so Mira could realize her dream of going into space. Not only could she study the stars, planets, and galaxies up close, but she’d also get to meet humanoids, reptilians, and insectoids! And I’m sure that after Trouble met Sir Fig Newton, they would choose to shapeshift into a kitten instead of a puppy!
Why were you drawn to writing middle grade?
When I’d started writing with the intention of getting published, I first focused on picture books. After receiving many rejections, I tried my hand at young adult. Again, I received many, many rejections. Then I wrote SIR FIG NEWTON and I’d finally found my voice.
I love writing middle grade because it’s when we’re first discovering who we are, where we fit in, and how to navigate our world. But what I love most is that no matter how difficult the topic, middle grade reads are infused with hope.
Any hints about your next book project?
I can’t talk too much about it yet, but it’s another contemporary middle grade novel, this time set in Portland, Oregon with beavers and bits of magic!
Ooooh, can’t wait!
What has been the most surprising part of your publishing journey?
Even though I already knew it takes about two years for a book to be published from the date a book is sold, I now understand WHY. From big picture edits to line edits to copy edits and the list goes on—there are so many steps along the way!
What are you reading right now?
I just finished reading LEARNING TO FALL by Sally Engelfried in one sitting! If you love heartwarming novels with family drama and skateboarding, then definitely add this middle grade debut, releasing September 6th, to your TBR pile.
What’s your favourite piece of kick-butt advice?
In 2011, I entered a contest hoping to win first prize: a personalized letter from my favorite children’s author, Judy Blume. I didn’t get first place, but was in the top five, and was shocked when I received a personalized email, including this kick-butt advice:
“My only advice, never give up, and never let anyone discourage you. Determination is as important as anything.”
Writing isn’t easy. But despite all the rejection and self-doubt, I held onto these words and now I’m a kidlit author, just like my idol!
Awesome! We’re glad you listed to Judy!
Thank you so much for joining us, Sonja!
Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out
SIR FIG NEWTON AND THE SCIENCE OF PERSISTENCE!
It’s on shelves now!
Click here to win a copy of SIR FIG NEWTON AND THE SCIENCE OF PERSISTENCE!
Contest closes Friday, July 8th at 11:59 pm EST
Thanks for reading!