KBKL Spotlight On This Is Our Rainbow: Mariama J. Lockington

It’s Spotlight Time!

All month long we’re going to be chatting with a few of the awesome authors
behind the middle grade anthology:

THIS IS OUR RAINBOW

A boyband fandom becomes a conduit to coming out. A former bully becomes a first-kiss prospect. One nonbinary kid searches for an inclusive athletic community after quitting gymnastics. Another nonbinary kid, who happens to be a pirate, makes a wish that comes true–but not how they thought it would. A tween girl navigates a crush on her friend’s mom. A young witch turns herself into a puppy to win over a new neighbor. A trans girl empowers her online bestie to come out.

From wind-breathing dragons to first crushes, This Is Our Rainbow features story after story of joyful, proud LGBTQIA+ representation. You will fall in love with this insightful, poignant anthology of queer fantasy, historical, and contemporary stories from authors including: Eric Bell, Lisa Jenn Bigelow, Ashley Herring Blake, Lisa Bunker, Alex Gino, Justina Ireland, Shing Yin Khor, Katherine Locke, Mariama J. Lockington, Nicole Melleby, Marieke Nijkamp, Claribel A. Ortega, Mark Oshiro, Molly Knox Ostertag, Aisa Salazar, and AJ Sass.

Today we’re chatting with one of the contributing authors, Mariama J. Lockington!

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

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

Hi! I’m Mariama. I’ve been creating my own stories and books since I was in 2nd grade, and I grew up in a very musical family. I write books about the messiness/joys of growing up and what it means to find a place to belong. My debut novel For Black Girls Like Me (FSG BYR July 2019) is a story inspired by own experiences growing up as a Black girl adopted into a white family, and my second book In The Key Us (FSG BYR April 26, 2022) is about two queer, Black girls who meet at a music camp and fall in love with nature, themselves, and each other. I’ve lived in 7 different states, but currently live in Kentucky with my wife and my dog Henry, in a house full of plants. In my free time I like to box, cook, teach storytelling workshops, and work in my garden.  

What was the inspiration behind your contribution to THIS IS OUR RAINBOW?

My story “Devoyn’s Pod” is about an 8th grade girl named Dev who LOVES all things to do with the ocean and her best friends, Ella and Marcel. It was inspired by my time living in Fort Greene Brooklyn and the trips I would make with my queer friends and family to Riis Beach in Queens. I love the beach, but being on a beach full of other queer people like me felt like a homecoming of sorts. I wanted my character to feel this kind of belonging, as she struggles with an unrequited crush, growing pains, and the dynamics of her best friend group changing one summer. I also wanted to write a story in which a Grandparent is affirming and safe for a young person to be in community with, to remind young people that we— LGBTQIA+ folks— are everywhere and have always been so. This is OUR rainbow, after all. 

What’s your favourite line from your story in THIS IS OUR RAINBOW?

Oh, wow! This is so hard because I loved writing this story, but I would have to go with this one:

In fact, most days when I wake up the first thing I think about is her smile and how when I get close to her my skin feels like it’s glowing, like I’m bioluminescent.

What are you currently reading?

Too many things at once!

Black Boy Joy edited by Kwame Mbalia 

Happily Ever Afters by Elise Bryant 

Rise to the Sun by Leah Johnson 

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

  1. Never leave the house without a snack (especially all my fellow hangry peoples).
  2. If you’re a writer, remember that progress outweighs perfection. Get the words on the page by any means necessary, then edit and make it better later.

Need to have both of those on posters for the office!

Thank you so much for joining us, Mariama!

Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out THIS IS OUR RAINBOW!
It hits shelves on October 19th!

Cover Art by JesnCin
Cover Design by Sylvia Bi

Add THIS IS OUR RAINBOW on Goodreads!

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

Click here to enter to win a copy of THIS IS OUR RAINBOW!
Contest ends Friday, October 29th at 11:59 pm EST

(There will be more opportunities to enter the giveaway with each spotlight post
so keep entering the draw!)

Thanks for reading!
The next KBKL Spotlight on This Is Our Rainbow post features: Alex Gino!

Don’t forget to check out our previous posts featuring:

Lisa Bunker

Ashley Herring Blake

Marieke Nijkamp

Eric Bell

Nicole Melleby

KBKL Spotlight On This Is Our Rainbow: Lisa Bunker

It’s Spotlight Time!

All month long we’re going to be chatting with a few of the awesome authors
behind the middle grade anthology:

THIS IS OUR RAINBOW

A boyband fandom becomes a conduit to coming out. A former bully becomes a first-kiss prospect. One nonbinary kid searches for an inclusive athletic community after quitting gymnastics. Another nonbinary kid, who happens to be a pirate, makes a wish that comes true–but not how they thought it would. A tween girl navigates a crush on her friend’s mom. A young witch turns herself into a puppy to win over a new neighbor. A trans girl empowers her online bestie to come out.

From wind-breathing dragons to first crushes, This Is Our Rainbow features story after story of joyful, proud LGBTQIA+ representation. You will fall in love with this insightful, poignant anthology of queer fantasy, historical, and contemporary stories from authors including: Eric Bell, Lisa Jenn Bigelow, Ashley Herring Blake, Lisa Bunker, Alex Gino, Justina Ireland, Shing Yin Khor, Katherine Locke, Mariama J. Lockington, Nicole Melleby, Marieke Nijkamp, Claribel A. Ortega, Mark Oshiro, Molly Knox Ostertag, Aisa Salazar, and AJ Sass.

Today we have a guest post from one of the contributing authors, Lisa Bunker!

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

The Author Visits Her Twelve-Year-Old Self in a Dream

by Lisa Bunker

—Hello, young one. It is strange to see you. Strange, but good.

—Who are you?

—I’m not sure I should say.

—And what are you doing in my dream?

—I’m not sure. Maybe I’m dreaming too.

—Well, you interrupted me. I was figuring out how to skim above the ground by keeping my feet lifted during a step.

—I remember that dream!

—What do you mean? Have you had the same dream?

—The exact same dream. It’s time for me to tell you who I am.

—Who?

—I’m you.

—How can that be? You’re an old lady.

—I’m you from the future.

—And I’m a boy.

Are you sure about that?

—Of course I’m sure.

Then why have you worn your hair so long since you were seven?

—I don’t know. I’m being a hippie, I guess.

The question makes you uncomfortable, I know. I also know that you get teased by the other kids at school. They say all mean, “You look like a girl!” It’s a lot of trouble for a random idea about being a hippie. Are you sure it’s not something else?

—I don’t know. I just feel like it, I guess.

I remember now. Mommy made it clear so firmly and so early that there was no room, no way for me to be me, so I taught myself to stop thinking the thoughts. But I still knew. People would say, “You look like a girl,” and deep inside my silent answer was, “Duh, I am a girl.”

— It’s only a dream, it’s only a dream.

Sweetheart, I’m sorry I disturbed you. You are still so young. And you love your mother and you need her love, and she said no. Honey, don’t cry. It’s OK.

—Really? I’m a girl? Really?

Yes, really. But listen, dear one, you don’t have to do anything about it right now if it scares you too much. Because it would be hard. The world isn’t ready for you, sadly. So, you have a choice.

—What choice?

The choice to remember this dream, or to forget it. It’s a hard choice, but either way it’s going to be OK. You are strong. You will survive.

—I will?

Listen: I remember, because I’m you, that when you were younger, you dreamed you could fly.

—Yes.

And then it changed to skimming, and then after a while the flying dreams stopped. But just the other day, I dreamed I was standing on a hillside, and I thought, this is stupid, of course I can fly, and I took off like a rocket. I shot hundreds of feet into the air. I had no fear, and I could fly as high and far and fast as I wanted.

—Really? That sounds cool. —Sweetheart, I have to go. You can remember, or forget for a while longer, whichever you need. You have no easy choices, but you are strong and you will survive. Happy skimming, as long as it lasts. I love you.

That was so lovely. Thank you so much for joining us, Lisa!

(Lisa Bunker works full time as a writer. Her first novel, Felix Yz, about a boy fused with an alien, was published by Viking in June 2017. Her second novel, Zenobia July, about a trans girl getting to live as a girl for the first time in a new family and school, came out, also from Viking, in Spring 2019. She lives in Exeter, New Hampshire with her wife, Dawn Huebner, a child psychologist and author in her own right. Between them they have three grown children. Since 2018 Lisa has served her town in the New Hampshire House of Representatives. She is also an online entrepreneur: in July 2021 she founded Crucinova​, an indie subscription service dedicated to championing innovation in crossword puzzle construction.)

Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out THIS IS OUR RAINBOW!
It hits shelves on October 19th!

Cover Art by JesnCin
Cover Design by Sylvia Bi

Add THIS IS OUR RAINBOW on Goodreads!

Connect with Lisa on Twitter or through her website!

Click here to enter to win a copy of THIS IS OUR RAINBOW!
Contest ends Friday, October 29th at 11:59 pm EST

(There will be more opportunities to enter the giveaway with each spotlight post
so keep entering the draw!)

Thanks for reading!
The next KBKL Spotlight on This Is Our Rainbow post features: Mariama J. Lockington!

Don’t forget to check out our previous posts featuring:

Ashley Herring Blake

Marieke Nijkamp

Eric Bell

Nicole Melleby

KBKL Spotlight On This Is Our Rainbow: Ashley Herring Blake

It’s Spotlight Time!

All month long we’re going to be chatting with a few of the awesome authors
behind the middle grade anthology:

THIS IS OUR RAINBOW

A boyband fandom becomes a conduit to coming out. A former bully becomes a first-kiss prospect. One nonbinary kid searches for an inclusive athletic community after quitting gymnastics. Another nonbinary kid, who happens to be a pirate, makes a wish that comes true–but not how they thought it would. A tween girl navigates a crush on her friend’s mom. A young witch turns herself into a puppy to win over a new neighbor. A trans girl empowers her online bestie to come out.

From wind-breathing dragons to first crushes, This Is Our Rainbow features story after story of joyful, proud LGBTQIA+ representation. You will fall in love with this insightful, poignant anthology of queer fantasy, historical, and contemporary stories from authors including: Eric Bell, Lisa Jenn Bigelow, Ashley Herring Blake, Lisa Bunker, Alex Gino, Justina Ireland, Shing Yin Khor, Katherine Locke, Mariama J. Lockington, Nicole Melleby, Marieke Nijkamp, Claribel A. Ortega, Mark Oshiro, Molly Knox Ostertag, Aisa Salazar, and AJ Sass.

Today we’re chatting with one of the contributing authors, Ashley Herring Blake!

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

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

I am an author, literary agent, and teacher living in coastal Georgia with my family. I’m a cat mom, tiny human mom, and love organizing my books by color. I also teach middle school writing.

What was your inspiration behind your contribution to THIS IS OUR RAINBOW?

One thing I love about writing middle grade is that it’s a time in life where everything not only feels new, it is new. With Sylvie and Jenna’s story, I wanted to explore those first crush feelings, but pair them with a sort of second-chance feel. There are so many tiny moments that happen to us when we’re growing up, moments that, in retrospect, might seem small, but when they are happening, and the ways in which they help form us, feel huge. For Sylvie, she had such a moment with Jenna in elementary school, but when Jenna returned in middle school, all of her feelings had changed. She had changed. And she had to decide if she was going to embrace that change or hang on to a past hurt. It’s a story about growing up, in all its mess and heartbreak and hope.

What’s your favorite line from your story in THIS IS OUR RAINBOW?

My favorite line (lines?) is actually the very last paragraph of the story: I don’t know what to say. Sometimes, there isn’t anything to say and no reason to try. I uncurl my fingers, and this time I don’t fight it. I reach out and take her hand. She lets me, lacing her fingers between mine and squeezing. Then we sit like that for the rest of ride, two queer girls—messy and mean, sad and sorry and hopeful—holding hands on top of the world.

What are you currently reading?

I’m reading LIKE OTHER GIRLS by Britta Lundin right now. It’s about a queer girl in a very small, conservative town in Oregon, who decides to play football. It brilliant tackles internal misogyny, and the complicated dynamics of figuring out who you are in a small town–when who you are isn’t at all like everyone else. Highly recommend!

What is your best piece of kick-butt advice?

Well, I doubt it’s very kick-butt, and might even border on cliche, but “Eyes on your own paper” comes up in my own life almost daily, particularly as a creative. It’s so tempting to compare oneself to others–physcially, professionally, in terms of success or romance or general happiness. But at the end of the day, we can only live our own life, and in order to make it all that we want it to be, we have to let go of that comparison game.

Thank you so much for joining us, Ashley!

Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out THIS IS OUR RAINBOW!
It hits shelves on October 19th!

Cover Art by JesnCin
Cover Design by Sylvia Bi

Add THIS IS OUR RAINBOW on Goodreads!

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

Click here to enter to win a copy of THIS IS OUR RAINBOW!
Contest ends Friday, October 29th at 11:59 pm EST

(There will be more opportunities to enter the giveaway with each spotlight post
so keep entering the draw!)

Thanks for reading!
The next KBKL Spotlight on This Is Our Rainbow post features: Lisa Bunker!

Don’t forget to check out our previous posts featuring:

Marieke Nijkamp

Eric Bell

Nicole Melleby

KBKL Spotlight On This Is Our Rainbow: Marieke Nijkamp

It’s Spotlight Time!

All month long we’re going to be chatting with a few of the awesome authors
behind the middle grade anthology:

THIS IS OUR RAINBOW

A boyband fandom becomes a conduit to coming out. A former bully becomes a first-kiss prospect. One nonbinary kid searches for an inclusive athletic community after quitting gymnastics. Another nonbinary kid, who happens to be a pirate, makes a wish that comes true–but not how they thought it would. A tween girl navigates a crush on her friend’s mom. A young witch turns herself into a puppy to win over a new neighbor. A trans girl empowers her online bestie to come out.

From wind-breathing dragons to first crushes, This Is Our Rainbow features story after story of joyful, proud LGBTQIA+ representation. You will fall in love with this insightful, poignant anthology of queer fantasy, historical, and contemporary stories from authors including: Eric Bell, Lisa Jenn Bigelow, Ashley Herring Blake, Lisa Bunker, Alex Gino, Justina Ireland, Shing Yin Khor, Katherine Locke, Mariama J. Lockington, Nicole Melleby, Marieke Nijkamp, Claribel A. Ortega, Mark Oshiro, Molly Knox Ostertag, Aisa Salazar, and AJ Sass.

Today we’re chatting with one of the contributing authors, Marieke Nijkamp!

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

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

I’m Marieke Nijkamp (she/they/any). I’m a writer of novels, graphic novels, and comics, including the upcoming At The End of Everything, Critical Role—Vox Machina: Kith & Kin, and the Hawkeye: Kate Bishop miniseries. I’m a geek, I’m a lapsed historian, and these days, I’m also an amateur gardener.

What was the inspiration behind your contribution to THIS IS OUR RAINBOW?

I wanted to write a story in the tradition of Tamora Pierce’s Tortall books—and books like Tonke Dragt’s The Letter for the King, which I devoured growing up—but with actual gender feels. A story about kids who dreams of becoming knights, but who don’t feel like they fit in with the world around them. My main character is Splinter, the “unfortunate youngest” of an old noble family, whose uncle and guardian has very different ideas of what is right and proper. Splinter is determined to find her own path, so on the night of the kingdom’s youngest princess’s birthday party, Splinter sneaks out to the festivities wearing her brother’s old squire gear, and chaos ensues.

What’s your favourite line from your story in THIS IS OUR RAINBOW?

“In all fairness to the guards, I wasn’t just the person who punched the prince. I was the person who gave the prince a black eye and didn’t regret it.”

What are you currently reading?

I just finished Varian Johnson and Shannon Wright’s Twins, which was absolutely lovely, and I loved Emma Steinkellner’s sequel to The Okay Witch.

I’m currently reading Margaret Owen’s Little Thieves and Victoria Schwab’s Gallant, both of which are completely magical in their own (very different!) ways.

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

Probably in line with what Splinter would say as well: Follow your own path. Not everything worth doing is easy, but it is worth doing.

Splinter (and you) are very wise!

Thank you so much for joining us, Marieke!

Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out THIS IS OUR RAINBOW!
It hits shelves on October 19th!

Cover Art by JesnCin
Cover Design by Sylvia Bi

Add THIS IS OUR RAINBOW on Goodreads!

Connect with Marieke on Twitter or through her website!

Click here to enter to win a copy of THIS IS OUR RAINBOW!
Contest ends Friday, October 29th at 11:59 pm EST

(There will be more opportunities to enter the giveaway with each spotlight post
so keep entering the draw!)

Thanks for reading!
The next KBKL Spotlight on This Is Our Rainbow post features: Ashley Herring Blake!

Don’t forget to check out our previous posts featuring:

Eric Bell

Nicole Melleby

KBKL Spotlight On This Is Our Rainbow: Eric Bell

It’s Spotlight Time!

All month long we’re going to be chatting with a few of the awesome authors
behind the middle grade anthology:

THIS IS OUR RAINBOW

A boyband fandom becomes a conduit to coming out. A former bully becomes a first-kiss prospect. One nonbinary kid searches for an inclusive athletic community after quitting gymnastics. Another nonbinary kid, who happens to be a pirate, makes a wish that comes true–but not how they thought it would. A tween girl navigates a crush on her friend’s mom. A young witch turns herself into a puppy to win over a new neighbor. A trans girl empowers her online bestie to come out.

From wind-breathing dragons to first crushes, This Is Our Rainbow features story after story of joyful, proud LGBTQIA+ representation. You will fall in love with this insightful, poignant anthology of queer fantasy, historical, and contemporary stories from authors including: Eric Bell, Lisa Jenn Bigelow, Ashley Herring Blake, Lisa Bunker, Alex Gino, Justina Ireland, Shing Yin Khor, Katherine Locke, Mariama J. Lockington, Nicole Melleby, Marieke Nijkamp, Claribel A. Ortega, Mark Oshiro, Molly Knox Ostertag, Aisa Salazar, and AJ Sass.

Today we’re chatting with one of the contributing authors, Eric Bell!

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

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

Eric Bell (that’s me!) is the author of ALAN COLE IS NOT A COWARD (Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins, 2017) and ALAN COLE DOESN’T DANCE (Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins, 2018), two middle grade novels about a gay seventh grade boy dealing with bullies, crushes, the power of art, and coming out. The first book was nominated to the Rainbow Book List for GLBTQ Books for Children and Teens. The books have also been translated into multiple languages. I am a teacher of writing classes, a virtual workshop leader, a freelance editor and writing coach, and an employee at a library. I live and write in Pennsylvania.

What was the inspiration behind your contribution to THIS IS OUR RAINBOW?

I wanted to tell a somewhat funny story that put an interesting spin on the “coming out narrative.” Sometimes people accidentally out themselves – but what if we could undo that and try again? What if we kept making that same mistake in different ways? And what if, in the end, it turns out to not be a mistake at all?

What’s your favourite line from your story in THIS IS OUR RAINBOW?

The ending. You’ll have to read the story to find out what it is!

What are you currently reading?

I just finished the first DIARY OF A WIMPY KID, which I’d somehow managed to go without reading before. Now I’m excited for the animated movie adaptation.

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

Go easy on yourself. One of the themes of my story is that, even when it’s “the right time,” it’s okay to go at your own pace. As somebody who deals with mental health struggles every day, I’ve had to learn that it’s okay to go slow sometimes, to take time away, and to find strength in knowing your limits. You are still valuable – but don’t forget to value yourself.

Easy to forget, but SO important to remember!

Thank you so much for joining us, Eric!

Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out THIS IS OUR RAINBOW!
It hits shelves on October 19th!

Cover Art by JesnCin
Cover Design by Sylvia Bi

Add THIS IS OUR RAINBOW on Goodreads!

Connect with Eric on Twitter, Facebook, or through his website!

Click here to enter to win a copy of THIS IS OUR RAINBOW!
Contest ends Friday, October 29th at 11:59 pm EST

(There will be more opportunities to enter the giveaway with each spotlight post
so keep entering the draw!)

Thanks for reading!
The next KBKL Spotlight on This Is Our Rainbow post features: Marieke Nijkamp!

Don’t forget to check out the previous post featuring Nicole Melleby!

KBKL Spotlight On This Is Our Rainbow: Nicole Melleby

It’s Spotlight Time!

All month long we’re going to be chatting with a few of the awesome authors
behind the middle grade anthology:

THIS IS OUR RAINBOW

A boyband fandom becomes a conduit to coming out. A former bully becomes a first-kiss prospect. One nonbinary kid searches for an inclusive athletic community after quitting gymnastics. Another nonbinary kid, who happens to be a pirate, makes a wish that comes true–but not how they thought it would. A tween girl navigates a crush on her friend’s mom. A young witch turns herself into a puppy to win over a new neighbor. A trans girl empowers her online bestie to come out.

From wind-breathing dragons to first crushes, This Is Our Rainbow features story after story of joyful, proud LGBTQIA+ representation. You will fall in love with this insightful, poignant anthology of queer fantasy, historical, and contemporary stories from authors including: Eric Bell, Lisa Jenn Bigelow, Ashley Herring Blake, Lisa Bunker, Alex Gino, Justina Ireland, Shing Yin Khor, Katherine Locke, Mariama J. Lockington, Nicole Melleby, Marieke Nijkamp, Claribel A. Ortega, Mark Oshiro, Molly Knox Ostertag, Aisa Salazar, and AJ Sass.

Today we’re chatting with one of the contributing authors AND one of the editors of THIS IS OUR RAINBOW, Nicole Melleby!

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

Photo Credit: Liz Welch

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

Hi! My name is Nicole Melleby, and I’m a born-and-bred Jersey girl who writes queer middle grade novels set around my hometown. My books have been Junior Library Guild Gold Standard selections, recipient of the Skipping Stones Honor Award, and a 2020 Kirkus Reviews best book of the year. My debut novel, Hurricane Season, was a Lambda Literary finalist. I live with my wife and our cat, whose need for attention oddly aligns with my writing schedule.

What was the inspiration behind your contribution to THIS IS OUR RAINBOW?

I wanted to write a queer middle grade version of the song Stacy’s Mom by Fountains of Wayne. Once I knew that, I thought about all of the crushes on older women I had growing up—on teachers and other adult women who gave me attention, even if I didn’t know at the time that they were crushes—and I wanted to channel those feelings into a more self-aware queer character, and what that journey might look like for her.

What’s your favourite line from your story in THIS IS OUR RAINBOW?

Gonna cheat with a few lines:

The fall happened right in front of Stacy Mackenzie’s house. This is important to know, because Stacy’s mom worked at home, and she saw the entire incident from her living room window. She was outside the front door before Stacy even dismounted her own bike, and as she crowded around Abigail, Abigail’s mind took the time to think, Stacy’s mom has the softest hair, regardless of the pain. 

What are you currently reading?

I am currently reading a lot of middle grade novels in verse, since I’m starting to work on one of my own, and the next one up on my to-read is The Deepest Breath by Meg Grehan.

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

I tell everyone about my way of handling rejection, because I swear it helps: If you’re facing a rejection, I find it best to sing this ridiculous song, because it’s so ridiculous it makes me feel better every single time I have sung it to myself (which has been often, because rejection is part of being a writer!): Nobody loves me, everybody hates me, I should just go eat worms. Worms! Worms! Worms!

That is amazing and I definitely hope everyone tries it!

Thank you so much for joining us, Nicole!

Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out THIS IS OUR RAINBOW!
It hits shelves on October 19th!

Cover Art by JesnCin
Cover Design by Sylvia Bi

Add THIS IS OUR RAINBOW on Goodreads!

Connect with Nicole on Twitter or through her website!

Click here to enter to win a copy of THIS IS OUR RAINBOW!
Contest ends Friday, October 29th at 11:59 pm EST

(There will be more opportunities to enter the giveaway with each spotlight post
so keep entering the draw!)

Thanks for reading!
The next KBKL Spotlight on This Is Our Rainbow post features: Eric Bell!

Kicking Back with Kick-butt and Mark Oshiro!

It’s time to Kick Back with Kick-butt!

Today we’re chatting with Mark Oshiro, the author of

THE INSIDERS

Three kids who don’t belong. A room that shouldn’t exist. A year that will change everything.

San Francisco and Orangevale may be in the same state, but for Héctor Muñoz, they might as well be a million miles apart. Back home, being gay didn’t mean feeling different. At Héctor’s new school, he couldn’t feel more alone.

Most days, Héctor just wishes he could disappear. And he does. Right into the janitor’s closet. (Yes, he sees the irony.) But one day, when the door closes behind him, Héctor discovers he’s stumbled into a room that shouldn’t be possible. A room that connects him with two new friends from different corners of the country—and opens the door to a life-changing year full of magic, friendship, and adventure.

Let’s talk to this wonderful author about their fantastic book!
This is Mark. Everyone say, “Hi, Mark!”

Photo Credit: Zoraida Córdova

Welcome to Kick-Butt Kidlit, Mark! Why don’t we start with some introductions – tell us about yourself!

I’m Mark Oshiro, a kidlit author of both young adult and middle grade. I’ve written Anger is a GiftEach of Us a Desert, and my upcoming MG debut, The Insiders. When I’m not writing, I’m usually doing something outdoors, petting a dog, or on a rollercoaster. 

What was the inspiration behind THE INSIDERS? 

The origins of this book come from the very first manuscript I ever completed, back when I was a freshman in college. It was roundly rejected by everyone I sent it to. (I also didn’t understand that maybe you should send it to agents ONLY, and I definitely printed it out and sent THE WHOLE THING to a bunch of editors. I held on to a copy of it all these years and revisited it when I was looking at old projects for inspiration! The idea itself was pretty simple: I wanted to write a story with a gay Latino as the protagonist, and I had this idea of him finding a magical closet that took him on adventures. It was a way for me to reclaim the notion of being “in the closet.”

Oh, wow! I love that you never gave up on the story!

This is your first middle grade novel (yay!) after starting in YA. Why were you drawn to writing for a younger age level?

I wanted to challenge myself, first of all. I’ve read a lot of middle grade over the years and respected how difficult it seemed to write for that age level. I’m happy to report that it was indeed a challenge! But much like my inspiration for writing young adult fiction, I needed the kind of literature coming out now when I was a kid. I write with that mindset: there’s always a queer kid of color out there who needs to feel a little less alone.

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

First thing—and this is kinda cheesy—I learned that I could write middle grade! I honestly wasn’t sure I could when I started, but I’m glad I did after having written and published two other books. 

Second thing: There’s a joke about Capri Sun that’s probably my favorite silly moment in the book, and it caused me to seek out Capri Sun again, and that drink STILL slaps. And there are so many more flavors now! 

Third Thing: I still don’t know how time works. In literally every story I’ve ever written that takes place over more than a couple days, my copyeditors have all found incredibly bizarre mistakes concerning the progression of the days of the week. In an early draft of Anger, I fully skipped Wednesday every week; in Desert, I once had a day passing in four hours; and in The Insiders, my copyeditor pointed out that my protagonist couldn’t count days at ALL. I believe all of this says more about me than anything else.

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

I’m cheating because it’s not out yet and none of you can read it yet, but the world of The Marvellers by Dhonielle Clayton. It’s the start of a middle grade fantasy series, and Dhonielle has so cleverly re-thought the tradition of a magical school, and I am certain the characters of The Insiders would thrive there. 

AH! So jealous that you’ve read it! So excited for when it’s out next year!

For our writer friends reading this, what are your best writer’s block busting tips?

I stop writing and go do literally anything else that isn’t writing. Push-ups, a bike ride, a hike, an hour of video games, chores around the house—all of it gets my brain focusing on other things and usually shakes something free in my mind. It’s also possible that writer’s block is happening because you need to refill your creative well or take a break. I know we’re all stressed and overworked right now, and the best thing I’ve learned in the last couple years is that I have to take time off or burnout will take control of me.

Any hints about your next book project? 

So, I’ve been frighteningly prolific since I finish writing the first draft of The Insiders at the end of February 2020. Publishing is weird in that we’re often working on projects that are years out from release. I’ve actually finished three books since then, and they’re all in various stages of editing right now. I have two books out next year. Both are middle grade! One is a big ol’ secret, and the other is my second book for Harper Collins. It’s not a sequel to The Insiders, but another speculative fiction standalone about regret, time travel, and the most annoying magical companion of all time. I also have a third YA out in the near future, and it’s a contemporary thriller about a cult. 

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

The support of educators and students. I grew up believing that books taught in school had to have been out for a billion years, that they had to be “classics,” and that generally speaking, only old and/or dead white men were used in that setting. I have lost count of the number of classrooms, schools, educational programs, reading clubs, book clubs, and literacy programs have used my YA books in an educational setting. Like… I’m also slightly sorry that my book made some kids do homework, but I’m still SHOOK. I never expected it in my wildest dreams, and I’m so thankful. 

What are you reading right now?

Actually… nothing. Which is okay! I just got off deadline a couple days before this interview when I turned in a rewrite of my next MG book for Harper Collins. So I am currently on a (brief) word break while I reset my brain. I’ve got my fourth book of the year (I am not exaggerating that, HELP) due in November and have to start it soon!

That IS okay! It’s important to remember to take breaks!

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

Don’t compare yourself to anyone but yourself. I say that in terms of being an author AND being a person. There is a vast difference between what is presented to the world and what is actually happening, and there is much we don’t see—in art, in humanity—that affects the presentation. When it comes to writing, I compare my current works with what I’ve done before, since I want to continue growing in my craft, but I do the best I can not to compare what I do with what others are. 

Yes. Exactly this!

Thank you so much for joining us, Mark!

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

Add THE INSIDERS to Goodreads!

Connect with Mark on Twitter, Instagram, or through their website!

Click here to enter to win a copy of THE INSIDERS!
Contest ends Friday, September 24th at 11:59 pm EST

Thanks for reading!

Kicking Back with Kick-butt and Jessica Vitalis!

It’s time to Kick Back with Kick-butt!

Today we’re chatting with Jessica Vitalis, the author of

THE WOLF’S CURSE

Twelve-year-old Gauge’s life has been cursed since the day he witnessed a Great White Wolf steal his grandpapá’s soul, preventing it from reaching the Sea-in-the-Sky and sailing into eternity. When the superstitious residents of Bouge-by-the-Sea accuse the boy of crying wolf, he joins forces with another orphan to prove his innocence. They navigate their shared grief in a journey that ultimately reveals life-changing truths about the wolf––and death.

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

Welcome to Kick-Butt Kidlit, Jessica! Why don’t we start with some introductions – tell us about yourself!

Thank you for having me! I’m a Columbia MBA-wielding children’s author with a passion for dark, magical stories. I’m also a mother of two teen girls and the keeper of two adorable (but mischievous) cats as well as one sweet dog. As an American expat living in Canada, I spend most of the time I’m not writing trying to stay warm.

What was the inspiration behind THE WOLF’S CURSE?

I was standing in front of my bookshelves, casting about for inspiration, when I noticed my worn copy of THE BOOK THIEF. I wondered what kind of story would emerge if I tried writing a book with Death as the narrator. And so THE WOLF’S CURSE was born!

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

I was sitting at my computer when a notification of a new email from my agent flashed across my screen. I’d only been on submission for three weeks, and after several years on submission for various projects with my previous agent, I didn’t expect any news for several weeks, if not months. I opened the email and discovered not only that it was a very attractive offer from one of my dream publishers, but that they’d offered a two-book deal. I started shrieking and (ugly) crying; my daughters heard the commotion and ran in the room. I read them the email and the three of us danced and cried for the next several minutes while I tried to calm down enough to call my agent and hold a (semi) rational conversation. You can read the full story of how I got my agent and two-book deal (and see the photo my daughter snapped when she first ran into the room) here.

That photo is the BEST! Love the joy on your face!

What were three interesting things you discovered while working on THE WOLF’S CURSE?

The most interesting discovery is that the attitudes and rituals surrounding death look different all around the world. For example, a traditional practice among Buddhists in Tibet is Sky Burials, where bodies are placed at the tops of high peaks in order to feed vultures as part of the food chain. The Tinguian people of the Philippines wash their loved ones bodies, dress them in finery, and seat them at the front of the house for up to several weeks. The realization that there are many different ways to grieve and honor the dead opened a door that allowed me to develop my own rituals for THE WOLF’S CURSE.

The second thing I learned while writing THE WOLF’S CURSE is that, despite my best intentions, my stories are probably always going to combine elements of dark and light. I’d written five full manuscripts before this novel, and they were all fairly heavy. When I decided to write a book with Death (or a death-like character) as the narrator, I decided I would have fun with it—I thought perhaps I’d write an adventure or even a comedy. Although there are elements of adventure and humor in the story that emerged, no one will ever accuse me of having written a comedy!

Finally, I learned a lot about wolves, including the fact that although they have a reputation for being independent (hence the term “lone wolf”), they are actually pack animals and extremely loyal. Did you know they often mate for life?

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

What a fun question! Both Gauge and Roux are interested in seeing the world, so they’d probably enjoy leaving their French-inspired medieval/renaissance lives and exploring the modern world. I think they would get along with Kitty from Yvette Clark’s GLITTER GETS EVERYWHERE, so perhaps they could tag along with her in both London and New York?

That sounds like an adventure and a half!

Why were you drawn to writing middle grade?

My first attempt at a novel was a memoir and my second was a young adult novel. At the same time, I was exploring picture books. My critique partners kept telling me that my picture book attempts all sounded like the first chapters of middle grade novels. It wasn’t until I finished David Almond’s KIT’S WILDERNESS that I realized middle grade was the perfect fit for the stories I wanted to tell. 

Any hints about your next book project?

The only thing I can say at this point is that the premise is both the exact opposite of, and a perfect complement to, THE WOLF’S CURSE!

Ooooh! Can’t wait to hear more!

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

How long it’s taken; I wrote six books over the course of thirteen years before landing my first book deal!

What are you reading right now?

I just finished Heather Kassner’s THE PLENTIFUL DARKNESS (so gorgeous and creepy and heartfelt!), and I’m getting ready to start THE MANY MEANINGS OF MEILAN by Andrea Wang. 

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

Never give up!

NEVER EVER!

Thank you so much for joining us, Jessica!

Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out THE WOLF’S CURSE!
It hits shelves on September 21st!

Add THE WOLF’S CURSE to Goodreads!

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

Click here to enter to win a copy of THE WOLF’S CURSE!
Contest ends Friday, September 10th at 11:59 pm EST

Thanks for reading!

Kicking Back with Kick-butt and Sarah Moon!

It’s time to Kick Back with Kick-butt!

Today we’re chatting with Sarah Moon, the author of

MIDDLETOWN

Thirteen-year-old Eli likes baggy clothes, baseball caps, and one girl in particular. Her seventeen-year-old sister Anna is more traditionally feminine; she loves boys and staying out late. They are sisters, and they are also the only family each can count on. Their dad has long been out of the picture, and their mom lives at the mercy of her next drink. When their mom lands herself in enforced rehab, Anna and Eli are left to fend for themselves. With no legal guardian to keep them out of foster care, they take matters into their own hands: Anna masquerades as Aunt Lisa, and together she and Eli hoard whatever money they can find. But their plans begin to unravel as quickly as they were made, and they are always way too close to getting caught.

Eli and Anna have each gotten used to telling lies as a means of survival, but as they navigate a world without their mother, they must learn how to accept help, and let other people in.

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

Welcome to Kick-Butt Kidlit, Sarah! Why don’t we start with some introductions – tell us about yourself!

Thank you so much for this! Things to know about me — I’m a teacher in Brooklyn, I just finished my 17th year teaching. I have a hilarious, brilliant, opinionated four year old and a wonderful, patient wife. I am an extremely amateur knitter and I love reality tv. 

What was the inspiration behind MIDDLETOWN?

I wrote MIDDLETOWN for my sister. I am the youngest of three, and my sister and I were the ones who were home once our parents got divorced. We were 12  and 15 and found ourselves alone, together, a lot. While our lives couldn’t have looked less like Eli and Anna’s, I remember feeling like it was just her and me in our little lifeboat, and so no matter how different we were from each other or how much we fought, we were always going to have to figure out how to keep the boat from tipping over. We’re still like that, I think, all these years later.

The other thing I wanted to write about was being a queer kid in a small town, which was very much my experience. It’s odd — the book is really, really different from my life, but it’s also probably the most autobiographical thing I’ll ever write.

Two sisters, Eli and Anna, are at the heart of this book. What do you think are some key factors in writing realistic sibling relationships?

Ha! I’ve never thought about that. I think it’s about doing something that’s almost impossible to do as a sibling — seeing each person as a whole and also as a part. There’s who Eli is, there’s who Anna is, and there’s who they are to each other. The parts that they show to each other, the parts they try (and fail) to hide from each other, the parts that hurt each other, and the parts that make the other person who she is. We’ll get into this more later, but I have a real *thing* about the complexities of the lives of young people, and so I think that, for me, that extends to their relationships. Nobody is just one thing, not to themselves, and not to anybody else, either. I wanted their relationship to be just as layered as the sisters themselves.

What were three interesting things you discovered while working on MIDDLETOWN?

How many Middletowns there are! I thought they were all in the northeast, but I was wrong. I also learned, as I always do when trying to write a book, that I avoid conflict on that page just as much as I avoid it in life and I always have to go back and force myself to make the characters have  the conversation they are/I am avoiding. I learned that it is indeed possible to write a book during a pandemic with a toddler, though I’m not super sure I’d like to learn that again.

Oof! That definitely sounds like a lesson that would last a lifetime!

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

Anna gets sent to I AM NOT YOUR PERFECT MEXICAN DAUGHTER to learn that she’s not as alone as she thinks she is, and Eli gets sent to I FELT A FUNERAL IN MY BRAIN for exactly the same reason. 

MIDDLETOWN is a middle grade novel that also feels like it could be a bridge into YA. What drew you to writing for this age group?

Sooooo, I didn’t really understand that if you write a book with an 8th grade protagonist, then it’s going to be middle grade (despite the fact that I’ve done this twice now), so there’s that. But the truth is that, while I love the high schoolers that I work with, my heart is always with middle schoolers. Throughout my teaching life, even when I’m working with older kids, I always find a way to connect with middle schoolers because they are my bread and butter. They are hilarious, honest and figuring out themselves in a way that is both excruciating and exhilarating. I invited Kacen Callender to speak at my school last year, and one thing that they said that struck a particular chord is that we write for the age group where we experienced our first trauma. I’d never thought about it like that, and I also haven’t been able to get it out of my head, so that’s probably a factor for me, too. It wasn’t easy growing up queer in my town, I came out when I was 14. I will probably always write for queer 14 year olds, just like I will probably always teach to the queer 14 year old in any classroom I’m in. 

Any hints about your next book project?

A few things! A proper middle grade that takes place at Family Week in Provincetown, and a time-hopping love story, both of which may orr may not include a plethora of queer 14 year olds. 

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

Everything about my publishing journey has been surprising and unlikely, and also in some ways very predictable because it’s very much a result of growing up as the child of a writer. The most surprising part of my publishing journey still is the moment that my heart leapt out of my chest because The Arthur A. Levine, who had just published the anthology I’d co-edited with Celeste Lecesne of the Trevor Project, told me that I should send him what I would be working on next. But the only reason that happened was because I met Celeste when I was a 12 year old kid on my bike in Provincetown because he and my mother worked together at the Fine Arts Work Center, and so it was that I ran into him again 15 years later outside of a theater in New York and said, hey, I have this idea for a book, and six months later, I was sitting in The Arthur A. Levine’s office with my jaw on the floor. I try to be very upfront about both the unlikeliness of my story and the ways in which the industry is greased for a story like mine.

Oh, wow! That’s amazing!

What are you reading right now?

I’m always reading too many books. Blackout (six powerhouses in one book — each page is a gift); All Adults Here (all things Emma Straub always); Time to Stir (a book about the Columbia strike in 1968, see aforementioned time-hopping love story), and While Justice Sleeps (a political thriller from the political genius of Stacey Abrams? Yes, please). 

Just finished BLACKOUT over here and love, love, loved it!

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

When I was 16 and woebegone about my wish to write but my deep, deep doubts about having any talent at all, my stepmother asked me, “Do you know what you have to do to be a writer?” I said, “No,” quite plaintively. She said, “You have to write.” I think about that every day.

That is totally it.

Thank you so much for joining us, Sarah!

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

Add MIDDLETOWN on Goodreads!

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

Click here to enter to win a copy of MIDDLETOWN!
Contest ends Friday, August 13th at 11:59 pm EST

Thanks for reading!

Kicking Back with Kick-butt and Rajani LaRocca!

Welcome Back to Kicking Back with Kick-butt!

Today we’re chatting with Rajani LaRocca, the author of

RED, WHITE, AND WHOLE

Reha feels torn between two worlds: school, where she’s the only Indian American student, and home, with her family’s traditions and holidays. But Reha’s parents don’t understand why she’s conflicted—they only notice when Reha doesn’t meet their strict expectations. Reha feels disconnected from her mother, or Amma, although their names are linked—Reha means “star” and Punam means “moon”—but they are a universe apart.

Then Reha finds out that her Amma is sick. Really sick.

Reha, who dreams of becoming a doctor even though she can’t stomach the sight of blood, is determined to make her Amma well again. She’ll be the perfect daughter, if it means saving her Amma’s life.

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

Welcome back to Kick-Butt Kidlit, Rajani! Why don’t we start with some introductions for our new readers – tell us about yourself!

Hi Casey! It’s so great to be back here! I was born in India, raised in Kentucky, and now I live in the Boston area, where I practice medicine and write books for kids! I’ve always been an omnivorous reader, and now I’m an omnivorous writer of novels and picture books, fiction and nonfiction, in poetry and prose.

What was the inspiration behind RED, WHITE, AND WHOLE?

RED, WHITE, AND WHOLE is a novel in verse set in 1983 about 13-year-old Reha, who feels torn between the worlds of her immigrant parents and her friends at school. But then her mother is diagnosed with leukemia, and her life turns upside down. Reha becomes convinced that if she can just be the perfect daughter, the daughter her parents want her to be, she can somehow save her mother’s life.

The idea for RED, WHITE, AND WHOLE started as a metaphor: the metaphor of blood, and all that it means in terms of biology, family, and community. While the plot of the book is fictional, many of the emotions in it are ones I experienced as a kid growing up as the child of Indian immigrants.

RED, WHITE, AND WHOLE is a novel in verse. What was the creative process for that like? Was it very different from your other novels? What kind of challenges did you run into? 

Because RED, WHITE, AND WHOLE is very interiorly focused and emotional, I thought that verse would be the perfect way to write it. However, I didn’t know if I could write a novel in verse. So I read every novel in verse for young readers that I could get my hands on, and just tried.

I spent a long time thinking about this book before I wrote any of it. I had a rough outline, but then I just sat down and wrote poems. The first poem I wrote became a kind of “keystone” poem that became the central poem of this book — and in the final book, it’s just about at the halfway point.

Then, instead of scenes and chapters, I thought of each poem as a snapshot—of a single moment, or a single thought, image, or concept. I wrote poem after poem, and I sometimes wrote them in pairs when a piece of imagery changed over the course of the novel. I found myself dictating into my phone on my commute and waking in the middle of the night to jot notes. Before writing, and while writing, I listened to a never-ending playlist from 1983-1984, and I created my own playlist for songs I featured in the book—because Reha loves pop music as much as I did when I was her age. Unlike my prose novels, where I usually write scenes and chapters in order, I wrote the poems for RED, WHITE, AND WHOLE in any order I wanted, and figured out the “right” order to put them in during revision.

Here’s a link to the RED, WHITE, AND WHOLE playlist: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/5XAcxzLHYS4Y4gLAgHZeLK?si=50c9baec83784a7d

Oh, wow! What a fascinating process! And a playlist is always fun! 😀

You also have another middle grade novel that just came out last month! MUCH ADO ABOUT BASEBALL is the companion novel to your debut, MIDSUMMER’S MAYHEM. What was it like continuing with a new story in the same book world you’d created? Did you always know that you were going to write a follow-up book? Since it’s a companion novel, will readers get to see much of the characters from the first book?

I really enjoyed returning to the magical world of MIDSUMMER’S MAYHEM! MUCH ADO ABOUT BASEBALL is set in the same town (Comity, MA) during the same summer as the first book but follows a different set of characters — both human and magical. A few of the characters from MIDSUMMER’S MAYHEM are mentioned, but we don’t see any of them in this book. I came up with the idea for this book a long time ago, but it took me a while to figure out what exactly the story should be and how it should be told.

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

It might be fun to see the regular kids from Comity plopped into one of Shakespeare’s plays—perhaps A Midsummer Night’s Dream—and see what happens!

That sounds like a recipe for shenanigans!

Why were you drawn to writing middle grade?

The middle grade years are such an incredible time in kids’ lives, when they are still close to their families but are also forming important friendships and becoming more autonomous, as well as learning about what they are interested in and thinking about what values they hold dearest. Middle grade readers are smart and care about fairness and justice. They love to have fun. And they still believe in magic.

The books I remember the best, the ones that made the biggest difference in my life, were ones I read during my middle grade years. And I’m so humbled and honored to be writing books for middle grade readers today.

Any hints about your next book project?

I have three more books coming this year—all picture books. WHERE THREE OCEANS MEET, coming August 24 from Abrams, is about a girl who travels with her mother and grandmother to the tip of India, and what she learns along the way about the love and strength mothers and daughters share. MY LITTLE GOLDEN BOOK ABOUT KAMALA HARRIS, a picture book biography of our amazing vice president, releases August 31. And THE SECRET CODE INSIDE YOU comes out September 14 from Little Bee Books. It’s a nonfiction book told in rhyming verse that explains the basics of genetics, but also touches on how our choices also make us who we are.

In terms of middle grade, my next MG novel is coming fall 2022 from Quill Tree/HarperCollins. It’s a dual-POV book about identical twin sisters who grow apart but find their way back to each other through music.

So exciting! Can’t wait for more Rajani books!

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

I never expected to meet some of my best friends in my 40s and beyond…but I have, thanks to writing.

What are you reading right now?

I’m reading a lot of adult mysteries and YA fantasy.

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

Be kind to yourself. There are times when the writing flows, and times when it doesn’t. Sometimes you have to push through even when the writing is hard. But sometimes it’s a signal that you need a break.

A very important reminder!

Thank you so much for joining us, Rajani!

Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out RED, WHITE, AND WHOLE (and MUCH ADO ABOUT BASEBALL)! They’re both on shelves now!

Add RED, WHITE, AND WHOLE and MUCH ADO ABOUT BASEBALL on Goodreads!

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

Click here to enter to win a copy of RED, WHITE, AND WHOLE!
Contest ends Friday, July 30th at 11:59 pm EST

Thanks for reading!