Kicking Back with Kick-butt and Leah Henderson!

Welcome to Kicking Back with Kick-butt!

Today we’re chatting with Leah Henderson, the author of

THE MAGIC IN CHANGING YOUR STARS

Can you change your fate—and the fate of those you love—if you return to the past? Journey to 1939 Harlem in this time-travel adventure with an inspiring message about believing in yourself.

Eleven-year-old Ailey Benjamin Lane can dance—so he’s certain that he’ll land the role of the Scarecrow in his school’s production of The Wiz. Unfortunately, a talented classmate and a serious attack of nerves derail his audition: he just stands there, frozen. Deflated and defeated, Ailey confides in his Grampa that he’s ready to quit. But Grampa believes in Ailey, and, to encourage him, shares a childhood story. As a boy, Grampa dreamed of becoming a tap dancer; he was so good that the Hollywood star and unofficial Mayor of Harlem, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, even gave him a special pair of tap shoes. Curious, Ailey tries on the shoes  . . . and instantly finds himself transported to 1930s Harlem. There he meets a young street tapper and realizes that it’s his own grandfather! Can Ailey help the 12-year-old version of Grampa face his fears? And, if Ailey changes the past, will he still be able to get home again? Featuring an all-African-American cast of characters, and infused with references to black culture and history, this work of magical realism is sure to captivate and inspire readers.

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

LHenderson

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

First off, thanks so much for having me!

When it comes to learning about me, my heart spot is middle grade, but I also have a few picture books on the horizon and a story in the YA anthology BLACK ENOUGH: Stories of Being Young and Black America. I teach in Spalding University’s graduate writing program.

And one thing all my books have in common, is that I want my characters and kids reading my words to see and believe in their possibilities on the page and in the world.

Where did the idea for THE MAGIC IN CHANGING YOUR STARS come from?

Actually, I was being led by my dog, Boston, in a neighborhood in Richmond, Virginia. He stopped at a statue to do his business. When I looked up, I saw the feet of Bill “Bojangles” Robinson the famous tap dancer and movie star, and started thinking, those shoes definitely have something to say. And as if my dog realized I was finally paying attention to a new story idea, he glanced back at me one more time and then continued on his journey like he’d done his work for the day. The idea spun around in my head for a while longer, but then the pieces thankfully started coming together.

Oh, wow! Good job, Boston! You can’t beat those right time, right place, right brain space moments.

This book has time travel in it which I LOVE! How did you tackle writing a story with all of the good stuff that time travel entails such as time paradoxes and changing the future? (if you can answer that in a non-spoilery way?)

Oh my goodness, there is so much to think about when writing time travel stories. Something I’ve never attempted before. Let’s just say, a lot of revision needed to happen. I kept realizing, “well that doesn’t make sense,” or “that doesn’t work logically.” But I had to go through and write out ever implausible idea first to realize this. But overall, it was a really fun challenge once I got out of my own way and let story take over. Not sure I did it all right, but I definitely had fun trying.

What were three interesting things you discovered while working on THE MAGIC IN CHANGING YOUR STARS?

THE MAGIC IN CHANGING YOUR STARS is all about highlighting moments of Black Excellence, so I decided early on that I would name the characters after people and places that exuded Black Excellence. A lot of the people and places that inhabit the story, I was already familiar with, but there were a few who I stumbled upon while doing my research that were wonderful discovers for me, like Mr. Rock, my main character, Ailey’s teacher.

The real John S. Rock was not only a grammar school teacher at one point, he was also a dentist, physician, lawyer, abolitionist, and orator. Talk about living your life with purpose! But that’s not all, he was one of the first African American men to obtain
a medical degree and was the first African American lawyer admitted to practice at the U.S. Supreme Court.

I also learned so much more about the exceptionally talented and generous
Bojangles. Every time I think of him, I can’t help but smile. Among the many things he stood for and believed in, he refused to wear blackface when he performed, even though it was a mainstream expectation of the times regardless of if you were white or Black.

But honestly, something I learned about myself while writing this, was really just how important it is to remember the achievements of those who came before, because they left imprints on the world in both large and small ways, hopefully reminding all of us that we can too if we’re willing to discover our stars.

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

As I said before, I’m a firm believer in everyone seeing their possibilities, and I feel like middle grade is all about what is possible and discovering it. I feel like that is really the time kids are coming into their own, and really begin to decide which ways they might go.

Very true. Love that.

Any hints about your next book project?

Up next are a few picture books: TOGETHER WE MARCH (nonfiction), A DAY FOR REMEMBERIN’ (based on actual events), and a couple others still under wraps. 🙂 Oh, yeah, and I’ll be contributing a story to the MG anthology Calling the Moon edited by Aida Salazar & Yamile Saied Méndez.

So exciting! Can’t wait to read them all!

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

Finding a way to live with the uncertainty of it all. But within that, the AMAZING friendships I’ve been blessed to gain in this business have definitely helped to get me through. Publishing has ups, downs, and waiting involved almost daily! You have to have a healthy way to find balance or you’ll certainly lose yourself and your creative spark along the way.

What are you reading right now?

I’ve actually returned to a book I love, SULA by Toni Morrison. But next up is Rebecca Stead’s THE LIST OF THINGS THAT WILL NOT CHANGE and THE ONLY BLACK GIRLS IN TOWN by Brandy Colbert.

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

This quote by Ernest Hemingway says it all: “I learned never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.”

So, stop writing each day before the last scene, sentence, or moment you are certain of. Save it for the next time you sit down to write. You will be excited to return to the page to get it all down.

That is a really good practice to get into. *takes notes*

Bonus Question! You’ve travelled to over FIFTY countries which is so cool! If you could go anywhere in the world, right now, right this second, where would you go?
(Interviewer’s note: This question was sent out pre-pandemic so thank you to Leah for going with it and answering in such a lovely way.)

We are in such uncertain times at the moment with social distancing, masks, and COVID, that I’ve only been able to let my wanderlust dream. And although I have a list two miles long of the places I’d still like to explore (including Madagascar & Tibet), at this very second, a flight wouldn’t be needed.

I’d simply love to hop in the car with my dog and go see my parents and enjoy family. But that’s not a wise possibility right now, so phone calls, Zooms, and FaceTimes are key to my mental travel these days. I’m getting to see friends and family all over the world!

Stay safe everyone, and remember to be appreciative of the little moments especially now!

Casey, thanks again for having me and take good care of yourself.

You too, Leah! Thank you so much for the chat!

Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out
THE MAGIC IN CHANGING YOUR STARS!
It’s available now!

MAGIC IN CHANING YOUR STARS-cover copy

Add THE MAGIC IN CHANGING YOUR STARS ON GOODREADS!

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

Click here to enter to win a copy of THE MAGIC IN CHANGING YOUR STARS!
Contest closes Friday, August 7th at 11:59 pm EST

Thanks for reading!

 

KBKL Spotlight on Canadians: Aviaq Johnston

Spotlight on Canadians Header

A big Kick-butt Kidlit welcome to author, Aviaq Johnston!

Aviaq Johnston grew up in Igloolik, Nunavut. Her debut novel Those Who Run in the Sky won the Indigenous Voices Award for Most Significant Work of Prose in English by an Emerging Indigenous Writer in 2018, a finalist for the 2018 Governor General’s Literary Award for Young Peoples Literature, and an Honour Book for the 2018 CODE Burt Awards for First Nations, Inuit, and Metis Literature. Aviaq also has a children’s picture book called What’s My Superpower? She lives in Iqaluit, Nunavut.

Aviaq Johnston

Tell us a bit about your latest/upcoming project?

The sequel to my first novel, Those Who Dwell Below is coming out this spring! This one takes place shortly after where we left off in Those Who Run in the Sky. Pitu is dealing with a lot as he gets used to being back home; his new role as a leader and how differently he is being treated. A spirit tells Pitu of a nearby community that is experiencing famine. To help them, he has to go and meet a well-known sea spirit, Nuliajuk.

What are you reading right now?

I am actually reading quite a few books at the moment. At home, I am reading Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas. When travelling, I am reading 1984 by George Orwell. When walking my dog, I am listening to The Ring of Solomon by Jonathan Stroud.

Who is a Canadian author or illustrator that you’d like to see more people discover?

So many! Cherie Dimaline, Canisia Lubrin, Smokii Sumac, S.K. Ali, Joshua Whitehead, Tenille K. Campbell, Kim Thuy, Richard Van Camp, Billy-Ray Belcourt, Amal El-Mohtar, Monique Gray Smith, and Maria Qamar, all of whom have a piece of my heart.

[KBKL Note – check out our interview with S.K. Ali on April 24th!]

What’s been the most surprising part of your publishing journey so far?

Perhaps one of the most surprising things I have experienced so far is how it seems that everyone in my life has suddenly forgot how to find and buy books. I appreciate that they all want a copy, but it does get tiring to be asked quite frequently where my books are available or if I have any copies I can give away. In any case, my books are easily found with a google search, available to order online, at local libraries or bookstores, and if not, you can ask the library or bookstore to order copies.

When a reader picks up your books, they can always expect to find…

Badly executed humour! And some sort of supernatural element.

What’s the most Canadian thing you’ve put in a book?

The most Canadian thing is probably that my books usually take place in winter? Since my book takes place before Canada was even a country, it feels weird to answer this haha.

What would you like to see more of in the world of Canadian children’s literature?

The future is intersectional! I want to see more Indigenous, PoC, LGBTQ2S+ characters in all genres, I want to see proper representation of our cultures, I want to see us writing our own stories. Ajunngittugut, we can do this and we are doing this!

If you could spend a day inside of any book, which one would you choose?

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline would be super fun to be stuck in for a day! I would look for a world where you could literally play as Link in every Legend of Zelda game there is, then spend my time exploring Hyrule and paragliding.

Lastly, we always end with: what’s your best piece of kick-butt advice?

The first draft is always the worst your manuscript will ever be, so don’t let editing get you down! It’s a long process, but at the end of it all your story will be strong and will be accessible to any reader you can imagine.

So true! Thank you so much for joining us, Aviaq!

Kick-butt Kidlit friends, add Aviaq’s books on Goodreads!

Connect with Aviaq on Instagram or Twitter!

Click here to enter to the Spotlight on Canadians Giveaway! You could win one of 25 prize packs featuring books from all of our amazing creators!

Aviaq Johnston Prize Pack – a copy of THOSE WHO DWELL BELOW

 

Those Who Dwell Below Inhabit Cover

Other available prizes:

Wade Albert White Prize Pack – a copy of THE ADVENTURER’S GUIDE TO TREASURE (AND HOW TO STEAL IT)

Qin Leng Prize Pack – a copy of THE BETTER TREE FORT

Sarah Everett Prize Pack – a copy of NO ONE HERE IS LONELY

Nhung Tran-Davies Prize Pack – a copy of A GRAIN OF RICE

Cale Atkinson Prize Pack – a copy of OFF & AWAY

Nafiza Azad Prize Pack – an ARC of THE CANDLE AND THE FLAME

Melanie Florence Prize Pack – an ARC of JUST LUCKY

Erin Bow Prize Pack – an ARC of STAND ON THE SKY

Natasha Deen Prize Pack – a copy of IN THE KEY OF NIRA GHANI

Charlene Chua Prize Pack – a copy of THE WIND PLAYS TRICKS

Tanaz Bhathena Prize Pack – a copy of THE BEAUTY OF THE MOMENT

Philippa Dowding Prize Pack – a copy of OCULUM

Mahtab Narsimhan Prize Pack – a copy of EMBRACE THE CHICKEN

Mireille Messier Prize Pack – a signed copy of TELLEMENT SAUVAGE!

Jennifer Mook-Sang Prize Pack – a signed copy of CAPTAIN MONTY TAKES THE PLUNGE

Regan McDonell Prize Pack – a copy of BLACK CHUCK

Carmen Mok Prize Pack – a copy of GRANDMOTHER’S VISIT

Tom Ryan Prize Pack – the very first signed ARC of KEEP THIS TO YOURSELF

Naseem Hrab Prize Pack – a copy of IRA CRUMB FEELS THE FEELINGS

Joanne Robertson Prize Pack – a signed copy of THE WATER WALKER

Sarah Raughley Prize Pack – all three books in the EFFIGIES series

Join us on Saturday, April 20th when we chat with author, Nadia L. Hohn!

KBKL Middle Grade Mysteries with: Natasha Tarpley!

Kick-butt Kidlit Presents_

Our new feature series (Kick-butt Kidlit Spotlight On:) continues this month with a focus on MYSTERY NOVELS! Specifically middle grade mystery because MG is our jam!

Let’s give a big Kick-butt welcome to our guest author for today, Natasha Tarpley!

The Harlem Charade.png

We Are Here: Place as a Character in The Harlem Charade

It’s easy to overlook a place. Walking the same sidewalks, or passing by the same buildings, houses, and stores every day, we tend to take the communities and neighborhoods where we live or spend time for granted. But sometimes a place isn’t content fading into the background; sometimes a place wants to be noticed, and it finds ways of getting our attention. The Harlem neighborhood in New York City, famously known as a mecca of African American arts and culture, definitely captured my attention and plays an essential role in the plot of my middle grade mystery, The Harlem Charade.

I lived in Harlem during the late 1990s and early 2000s, at a time when Harlem was undergoing major transformation as a result of a wave of gentrification (still happening today). Every week it seemed like more old businesses, structures, and long-time neighbors had disappeared and been replaced by new residents, new luxury apartment buildings, and corporate stores. One day, while walking up Malcolm X Boulevard, I felt compelled to look up at the scaffolding around a nearby construction site. Hanging there was a portrait by the street artist Brett Dizney, painted on a piece of scrap wood, of a Harlem resident and a quote about that person’s recollections of the neighborhood. I started seeing the portraits everywhere, popping up in surprising places, telling often overlooked stories, whispering, “we are here. We are here.”

Like many of the remnants of Harlem’s past, Brett Dizney’s portraits also eventually vanished, but they stayed in my memory for years afterwards, and became the inspiration for The Harlem Charade. In The Harlem Charade, Alex, Jin, and Elvin, the book’s three 12 year-old protagonists, must learn about Harlem’s history in order to save the neighborhood from a greedy politician who wants to turn it into a themed amusement park called, Harlem World. As I watched so much of Harlem’s past disappear, I started to think about all the stories of a community that get lost in the wake of new development—like Dizney’s portraits. What is worth preserving about a place, and who gets to decide?

In the book, I wanted my characters to not only wrestle with these questions, but also to create a scenario in which they were forced to look at, experience, and participate in their community in new ways. My hope was that The Harlem Charade would encourage readers, too, to explore their own neighborhoods, to identify the things that were valuable and worth preserving, and to play an active role in making their communities better.

After leaving Harlem in the 2000s, I returned to the South Side of Chicago, where I was born and raised, and now reside. This is an underserved area of the city that is much maligned (as Harlem once was)—reports of violence and poverty are staples on the nightly news. But it is also a place where thousands of African Americans settled after migrating from the South in search of a better life during the Great Migration. It is a place of parks, community gardens, people greeting you when you pass on the street, backyard barbeques, and families still striving to make a good life. In The Harlem Charade, I especially wanted to encourage kids who might live in neighborhoods that are considered unappealing by others, to learn about the history, the complexities, and, yes, the magic that exists in their communities.

Natasha Tarpley

Natasha Tarpley is the author of the best-selling picture book, I Love My Hair!, as well as other acclaimed titles for children and adults. She is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship among other awards. When she is not writing books, Ms. Tarpley can usually be found reading them. She has also taken up the cruel and unusual hobby of running marathons. Ms. Tarpley is the co-founder of Voonderbar! Media, a multicultural children’s book media company. She lives with her husband and the ghosts of two cats on the south side of Chicago.

Add THE HARLEM CHARADE on Goodreads!

Connect with Natasha on Twitter or through her website!

Click here to enter to win a copy of THE HARLEM CHARADE!

The final giveaway will be for EVERY SINGLE book featured in the Kick-butt Kidlit Spotlight On: MYSTERY blog series so make sure you check it out on every post! (New options to enter will be added with each post.) Draw closes on Friday, October 5th at the end of our series.

Thank you for checking out our Kick-butt Kidlit Spotlight On: MYSTERY series! Missed a post? Check out the links below!

Kick-butt Kidlit Spotlight on: MYSTERY Previous Posts

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Kara LaReau

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Sheila Turnage

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Henry Lien

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Jill Diamond

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Beth McMullen

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Casey Lyall

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Kat Zhang

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: C.M. Surrisi

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Dora M. Mitchell

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Natasha Deen

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Jennifer Chambliss Bertman

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Wendy McLeod MacKnight

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Lauren Magaziner

 

KBKL Middle Grade Mysteries with: Kara LaReau!

Kick-butt Kidlit Presents_

Our new feature series (Kick-butt Kidlit Spotlight On:) continues this month with a focus on MYSTERY NOVELS! Specifically middle grade mystery because MG is our jam!

Let’s give a big Kick-butt welcome to our guest author for today, Kara LaReau! 

Bland Sisters

Unintentional Mystery, Intentional Humor: Writing The Uncanny Express

The Uncanny Express was the first mystery I ever wrote, and my decision to write a whodunit was fairly arbitrary: The Jolly Regina, the first story in the Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters, took place on a ship and played with all the tropes of pirate and seafaring stories. It felt right that the second story should take place on a train, and what better tropes to celebrate than all things Agatha Christie, particularly in her masterpiece Murder on the Orient Express?

I already knew this book was going to be hard to write, especially as the second book in a trilogy, but I had no idea just how hard: the twisty plotting, the suspects and their alibis and motivations, getting the homage to Agatha Christie just right. And on top of all of that? It had to be funny. Thankfully, I just needed to follow Agatha Christie’s lead. The premise of her mysteries lends itself to a comic setup: the earnest detective set among eccentric characters is pretty much the straight man-funny man archetype, and I already use that archetype quite a bit throughout the series. Jaundice and Kale are the ultimate straight men — or would that be straight sisters?

But I don’t go “straight” to comedy when I write. My first (and second, and third) drafts are completely devoid of humor, or any detail, really. They’re all business, usually just the dialogue and direction that moves the plot forward. As I flesh things out and the characters come to life and the natural rhythms of the story become clear, the humor manifests, and it’s almost as if the jokes start telling themselves.

Some of the humor is in the naming of the characters, one of my great joys as a writer. I love finding just the right name to fit a character, and I especially love names that are fun to read and read aloud. For instance, my stand-in for Christie’s Hercule Poirot is the great detective Hugo Fromage, which is French for big cheese. A tweedy, put-upon maid is named Vera Dreary. Another character on the Uncanny Express is Countess Ima Goudenoff, which inspired this exchange:

“What is your first name, if I might ask?” inquired the great detective.

“It is Ima,” said the countess.

Ima Goudenoff?” Jaundice said.

“You are,” said Kale, patting her sister’s hand.

I love a good joke (obviously), but I also love using literary and cultural references to enhance my humor. Sometimes, my references are meant for kids, and other times, they can be a bit more sophisticated and adult. For instance, here’s a little joke that cheekily references Murder on the Orient Express:

“Everyone looks guilty,” Jaundice whispered.

“Well, they can’t all have done it,” said Kale. “How silly would that be?”

I hope that kids of all ages will enjoy The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters, so I’ve included all kinds of humor — physical comedy, wordplay, even a bit of scatological humor (despite those who might pooh-pooh it) — for maximum entertainment. Also, I think the best stories are the ones you can come back to again and again, and discover something new and different and funny each time. I especially love going back to stories I loved as a kid and discovering whole new meanings with my (semi-)adult sensibility. It’s like a gift that keeps on giving.

I don’t know if I’ll ever write another mystery — though I’ve learned to never say never when it comes to writing stories. I’m glad I can say I wrote one, and I like to think that it works as a funny, punny read and a solid whodunit. I hope you agree.

Kara LaReau

Kara LaReau was born and raised in Connecticut. She received her Masters in Fine Arts in Writing, Literature, and Publishing from Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts and later worked as an editor at Candlewick Press and at Scholastic Press. She is the author of picture books such as UGLY FISH, illustrated by Scott Magoon, and Good Night Little Monsters, illustrated by Brian Won; an award-winning chapter book series called The Infamous Ratsos, illustrated by Matt Myers; and a middle-grade trilogy called The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters, illustrated by Jen Hill. Kara lives in Providence, Rhode Island with her husband and son and their cat.

Add THE UNCANNY EXPRESS (THE UNINTENTIONAL ADVENTURES OF THE BLAND SISTERS #2) on Goodreads!

Connect with Kara on Twitter or through her website!

Click here to win a copy of THE UNCANNY EXPRESS (THE UNINTENTIONAL ADVENTURES OF THE BLAND SISTERS #2)!

The final giveaway will be for EVERY SINGLE book featured in the Kick-butt Kidlit Spotlight On: MYSTERY blog series so make sure you check it out on every post! (New options to enter will be added with each post.) Draw closes on Friday, October 5th at the end of our series.

Stay tuned for our final Spotlight on MYSTERY series post from Natasha Tarpley!

Kick-butt Kidlit Spotlight on: MYSTERY Previous Posts

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Sheila Turnage

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Henry Lien

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Jill Diamond

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Beth McMullen

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Casey Lyall

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Kat Zhang

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: C.M. Surrisi

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Dora M. Mitchell

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Natasha Deen

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Jennifer Chambliss Bertman

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Wendy McLeod MacKnight

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Lauren Magaziner

KBKL Middle Grade Mysteries with: Henry Lien!

Kick-butt Kidlit Presents_

Our new feature series (Kick-butt Kidlit Spotlight On:) continues this month with a focus on MYSTERY NOVELS! Specifically middle grade mystery because MG is our jam!

Let’s give a big Kick-butt welcome to our guest author for today, Henry Lien! 

Peasprout Chen

Let’s talk about mystery mashups.

Mystery + Fantasy + Boarding School Story = Harry Potter

I think books one through four of the Harry Potter series were so beloved because they were in fact masterfully constructed mysteries mashed up with other genres. The first four books were, at heart, clockwork whodunnits dressed up in fantasy cosplay, all of it masquerading as a boarding school picaresque like Tom Brown’s Schooldays.

Mashups Hide Clues

The effect of mashing these genres together was ingenious: Rowling made the clues that she hid in plain view harder to spot because you were distracted by all the worldbuilding, tropes, and story components from those other genres. And I believe that one mark of a good mystery is that a single plot element is doing double, triple, quadruple, even quintuple duty to distract you from its true function as a clue in plain view regarding the central mystery.

Exhibit 1

In Prisoner of Azkaban, you thought that Hermione’s constant appearances in just about every class offered at Hogwarts served to 1) demonstrate her over-committed class schedule as a running joke; 2) illustrate the ambitiousness that we’d come to love in her; 3) give her opportunity to serve as a Greek chorus by expressing doubts about theories that professors raised in class regarding Sirius Black, etc.; and 4) develop the questioning nature of her character. So you thought you fully understood the plot reasons for Hermione’s constant appearances in every class. What you didn’t realize until you got to the big surprise was that the appearances were serving a fifth purpose, which was the real purpose, which involved a stunning plot twist in service of a mystery plot, and which turned everything that preceded upside down. And the whole time this was happening, there was an equally complex set of plot layers happening around Lupin.

This was breathtakingly masterful plotting and it was possible in part because we were distracted from the clues that Rowling strewed about in plain view by the riot of fantasy elements and the boarding school story tropes. The result was one of the greatest puzzle mysteries of all time.

Mystery + Kung Fu + Figure Skating + Fantasy + 10,000 Other Things = Peasprout Chen

I was inspired to become a writer by Prisoner of Azkaban. I wanted to achieve a puzzle story as brilliantly choreographed as that book. That was a tall request of a first novel but I had the same secret weapon Rowling had: I had a mashup mystery story.

Peasprout Chen, Future Legend of Skate and Sword is an Asian-lore middle grade fantasy about a girl who comes to an academy to study an invented sport that combines figure skating with kung fu. When someone starts vandalizing the buildings on the campus, everyone suspects immigrant Peasprout, who is thrust into a mission to clear her name on top of becoming a champion at her sport. The New York Times’ description of it emphasizes the deeply mashup nature: “It’s Hermione Granger meets Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon meets the Ice Capades meets Mean Girls. For all its disparate ingredients, though, Peasprout Chen, Future Legend of Skate and Sword speaks in a single, strong voice, thanks to its spirited heroine.” What they left out is that it is also an action/adventure tale, a sports book, a boarding school story, a voicey faux memoir from a very unusual character POV, a sensitive LGBTQ coming of age story, and an Own Voices immigration tale. Oh, and a musical, sorta. There’s even a theme song that I wrote and Idina Menzel (“Frozen”, “Wicked”) sang the song at my book launch (check out www.henrylien.com for the video).

The effect of all these wildly diverse elements is that you’re distracted from the fact that what you’re reading is first and foremost a mystery story with clues scattered throughout that reward a second reading. To say more than that would risk spoilers. I’ll just say that almost no one has guessed the solution to the puzzle before the big reveal. I owe a lot of that to J.K. Rowling. Her work taught me that mashups allow for tricks and sleight of hand that achieve some wondrous things: true surprise and real storytelling magic.

Henry Lien.png

Henry Lien is a 2012 graduate of Clarion West, and his short fiction has appeared in publications like Asimov’s, earning several Nebula Award nominations. Born in Taiwan, Henry currently lives in Hollywood, California. He is the author of PEASPROUT CHEN, FUTURE LEGEND OF SKATE AND SWORD and the upcoming PEASPROUT CHEN: BATTLE OF CHAMPIONS.

Add PEASPROUT CHEN, FUTURE LEGEND OF SKATE AND SWORD on Goodreads!

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

Click here to win a copy of PEASPROUT CHEN, FUTURE LEGEND OF SKATE AND SWORD!

The final giveaway will be for EVERY SINGLE book featured in the Kick-butt Kidlit Spotlight On: MYSTERY blog series so make sure you check it out on every post! (New options to enter will be added with each post.) Draw closes on Friday, October 5th at the end of our series.

Tune in on Friday for a guest post from Sheila Turnage!

Kick-butt Kidlit Spotlight on: MYSTERY Previous Posts

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Jill Diamond

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Beth McMullen

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Casey Lyall

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Kat Zhang

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: C.M. Surrisi

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Dora M. Mitchell

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Natasha Deen

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Jennifer Chambliss Bertman

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Wendy McLeod MacKnight

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Lauren Magaziner

KBKL Middle Grade Mysteries with: Jill Diamond!

Kick-butt Kidlit Presents_

Our new feature series (Kick-butt Kidlit Spotlight On:) is kicking off this month with a focus on MYSTERY NOVELS! Specifically middle grade mystery because MG is our jam!

Let’s give a big Kick-butt welcome to our guest author for today, Jill Diamond! 

Lou Lou and Pea.png

Come, Watson, come! The game is afoot. Not a word! Into your clothes and come!”

 This call to mystery action was spoken by one of the most famous literary characters of all time, Sherlock Holmes, to his crime-solving partner Dr. John Watson in Sir Arthur Conan Doyles’ The Abbey Grange. While Sherlock Holmes is unquestionably a master detective in his own right, it’s the team of Holmes and Watson that ultimately gets the mystery-solving job done. And it’s the dynamic friendship between the two characters that really keeps readers hooked. Holmes and Watson have a number of things in common – they are both intelligent, interested in sleuthing, and, depending on the specific depiction, fond of wearing hats. However, it’s the two best friends’ differences that add richness and depth to their adventures and their relationship. Alone, they are well-crafted characters but as a duo, they are mystery detective magic.

Mystery-solving friend duos or teams like Holmes and Watson are common in literature generally, but definitely have a special place in middle grade novels. Not only is the mystery genre particularly beloved in middle grade, the exploration of friendships is a common middle grade theme. Middle grade novels often address how friendships form, what makes them work well and endure or fall apart, and the benefits and challenges of friendship. And, what better way to examine friendship than against the backdrop of an exciting story that requires teamwork to resolve.

In my middle grade novels, LOU LOU AND PEA AND THE MURAL MYSTERY and LOU LOU AND PEA AND THE BICENTENNIAL BONANZA, the main characters, Lou Lou Bombay and Peacock Pearl are two best friends with much in common but, like Holmes and Watson, very different personalities and strengths. I thought it would be fun to interview them and have them tell you a bit about themselves, what makes their friendship special, and how they use it to solve mysteries in their neighborhood of El Corazón!

INTERVIEW WITH LOU LOU AND PEA

Q: How did you become friends?

Peacock Pearl: We were in the first grade and had a chart-making assignment. My chart showed my cleaning chores and Lou Lou’s showed the days that she watered her cactus. When a boy in our class, Kyle Longfellow spilled his chocolate milk on my chart, Lou Lou helped me make a new one, and we’ve been best friends ever since!

Q: What is the best thing about your friendship?

Lou Lou Bombay: We like a lot of the same things, which is really fun! We both love tea and scones and we’ve made them a part of our Friday friend tradition. We like going to see performances at the Heliotrope, the theater in our neighborhood. And we’re both really into solving problems and mysteries!

PP: We’re really different, too. I like art and fashion and Lou Lou is an excellent horticulturist. I speak Spanish and Lou Lou doesn’t. My favorite color is blue and Lou Lou likes red. Our differences keep things interesting!

Q: What is the most challenging thing about your friendship?

PP: Our differences are great – I wouldn’t change them – but they can make things challenging sometimes. Messes drive me crazy. I’m neat and clean and Lou Lou is not so neat and—

LL: Messy! You can say it. I’m messy!

PP: Lou Lou also interrupts me sometimes and I’m—

LL: You’re very polite and never interrupt. Oops! Sorry, I did it again! Pea likes to think things through and I like to charge into the action. I get bored with too much thinking.

Q: How does teamwork help you solve mysteries and problems?

LL: We both have different things we’re good at. For example, Pea’s love of art helped us with the mural mystery and my passion for horticulture came in useful with our city’s bicentennial bonanza celebration. When we combine our awesomeness, we’re unstoppable. (Mostly, at least. We did both get grounded recently for borrowing a diary while trying to solve a mystery).

PP: Yes, that was some unfortunate sleuthing-related business. We had good intentions but went about things a bit wrong, I suppose. But, like Lou Lou said, we have different talents, but we also have different ways of approaching things. I am cautious and logical, but Lou Lou is…spontaneous. Sometimes, you need to think things through when you’re solving a mystery and sometimes­—

LL: You just have to have guts and go for it!

PP: Exactly!

Q: What are some other examples of great mystery-solving teams

PP: The team of kids in THE MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY is one of my favorites. They’re like Pea and me because they use their differences to their advantage!

LL: I love the duo of Howard Wallace and Ivy Mason in the HOWARD WALLACE books. I like to think I’m a little like Ivy because she’s smart, kinda sassy, and gets the job done when it comes to mysteries!

Thank you for sharing, Lou Lou and Pea! It’s clear that, when it comes to mystery solving, teams are the bee’s knees. And, with so many wonderful and fun duos, trios, and groups looking for clues together in the pages of books, the reading possibilities are endless!

Jill Diamond.png

Jill Diamond has loved children’s literature for as long as she can remember, thanks to her school librarian mother and long, cold winters in Maine. She presently lives in San Francisco, where, when she’s not writing, she hangs out with her husband and their son.

Jill is the author of the Lou Lou and Pea series. The second book in the series, Lou Lou and Pea and the Bicentennial Bonanza is available now!

Add LOU LOU AND PEA AND THE BICENTENNIAL BONANZA to Goodreads!

Connect with Jill on Twitter, Facebook, or through her website!

Click here to win a copy of LOU LOU AND PEA AND THE BICENTENNIAL BONANZA!

The final giveaway will be for EVERY SINGLE book featured in the Kick-butt Kidlit Spotlight On: MYSTERY blog series so make sure you check it out on every post! (New options to enter will be added with each post.) Draw closes on Friday, October 5th at the end of our series.

Tune in next Wednesday for a guest post from Henry Lien!

Kick-butt Kidlit Spotlight on: MYSTERY Previous Posts

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Beth McMullen

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Casey Lyall

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Kat Zhang

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: C.M. Surrisi

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Dora M. Mitchell

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Natasha Deen

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Jennifer Chambliss Bertman

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Wendy McLeod MacKnight

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Lauren Magaziner

 

 

 

KBKL Middle Grade Mysteries with: Beth McMullen!

Kick-butt Kidlit Presents_

Our new feature series (Kick-butt Kidlit Spotlight On:) is kicking off this month with a focus on MYSTERY NOVELS! Specifically middle grade mystery because MG is our jam!

Let’s give a big Kick-butt welcome to our guest author for today, Beth McMullen! 

Power Play.png

As summer fades away, I like to look back and gauge if it was time well spent. Did we swim and camp and hike and sail and eat ice cream and read and go to the movies?

Did someone say movies?

Sure, we did the other stuff but, in my family, we are excellent and dedicated movie goers. Popcorn and Junior Mints, air conditioning and a dark theater. Perfection! And of course, being summer, we sat through a lot of sequels: Avengers: Infinity War, Incredibles 2, Hotel Transylvania 3, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Deadpool 2, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, Ant-Man and The Wasp, and Mission: Impossible – Fallout. (There were a bunch of horror film sequels, too, but I am just too chicken to see those.)

Now I have nothing against sequels – I had my own come out on July 3rd actually – but they tend to adhere to the formula of more of the same but, you know, more. Bigger, louder, crazier, wilder. No matter what, crank up the thrills and chills.

And this got me thinking (you can do a lot of thinking during the obligatory thirty minutes of previews shown in theaters nowadays) about the potential problems of adding action/adventure elements to a story. Because here’s the thing – if those elements are gratuitous, your readers will know. They will fall out of your story and you will lose them.

Your thrills must be relevant to the plot. They must move the story forward and not exist simply because you thought it would be cool to send your main character off a fifty-foot cliff into a raging river while being chased by an irritated mama grizzly bear with extra-long claws and razor-sharp teeth. Do not compromise your story for the sake of a short-lived adrenaline rush.

I had an editor once who was ruthless on this point of relevant action or adventure elements. My manuscripts would return to me tattooed with Does this drive the plot forward? As in, is it necessary or are you indulging yourself at the expense of your story? Boy, how I bristled at this! I hated stripping out bits of dialog and prose that felt precious and necessary. But you know what? She was right. This unnecessary material slowed my pacing, muddled the story and lost the reader. It had to go.

Kill your darlings, as they say.

But done well, action/adventure is fun! And it can add some heart pounding, page turning excitement to a mystery, or any genre. So how do you do it well? Start by asking yourself these three questions:

  1. Does the action or adventure sequence contribute to the forward momentum of your story? If it is a tangent or unnecessary side trip, cut it out.
  2. Could the action happen in the world in which you are writing? If you work in fantasy or sci-fi, you will have more leeway than if you write contemporary realistic fiction. But world builders must be careful not to stretch the boundaries of what is possible in the environment they have created. Stay true to your own rules.
  3. Can you visualize the action? I call this the ‘movie rule’. As I work through a scene with lots of movement, I have to see it clearly in my head. If I can’t, I might need to rework the sequence of events or add details to bring it to life. This is where you need to be picky about what you include. Too much description slows down the momentum the action is meant to create. Choose wisely.

Writing action is some of the best fun you can have at a keyboard. I encourage you to write it with abandon and see what happens.

After all, it’s not you being chased off a cliff by grizzly bear.

bethmcmullen2

Beth McMullen is best known for the Mrs. Smith’s Spy School for Girls trilogy, middle grade spy thrillers, packed with action and adventure.  She also writes the Sally Sin series for adult readers. Beth lives in Northern California with her husband, kids, cats and a very tolerant parakeet named Zeus.

Add MRS. SMITH’S SPY SCHOOL FOR GIRLS: POWER PLAY on Goodreads!

Connect with Beth on Twitter, Facebook, or through her website!

Click here to win a copy of MRS. SMITH’S SPY SCHOOL FOR GIRLS: POWER PLAY!

The final giveaway will be for EVERY SINGLE book featured in the Kick-butt Kidlit Spotlight On: MYSTERY blog series so make sure you check it out on every post! (New options to enter will be added with each post.) Draw closes on Friday, October 5th at the end of our series.

Tune in Friday for a guest post from Jill Diamond!

Kick-butt Kidlit Spotlight on: MYSTERY Previous Posts

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Casey Lyall

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Kat Zhang

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: C.M. Surrisi

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Dora M. Mitchell

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Natasha Deen

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Jennifer Chambliss Bertman

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Wendy McLeod MacKnight

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Lauren Magaziner

KBKL Middle Grade Mysteries with: Casey Lyall!

Kick-butt Kidlit Presents_

Our new feature series (Kick-butt Kidlit Spotlight On:) is kicking off this month with a focus on MYSTERY NOVELS! Specifically middle grade mystery because MG is our jam!

Let’s give a big Kick-butt welcome to our guest author for today, Casey Lyall! 

SSL Cover

Here’s Looking at You, Cultural Evolution

            When I was younger, I loved noir mysteries. The haggard detective working his case with a smart-aleck dame by his side. The witty banter. The smoky atmosphere. The shadowy figures lurking around every corner.

As I grew older, I realized…most of those dudes were pretty serious jerks.

And smoking is super bad for you.

These realizations held true while I was working on my first novel – the book that would become Howard Wallace, P.I. When I sat down to write, I knew I wanted to tackle a mystery with a kid detective and the voice that popped out for Howard was firmly noir in flavour. As fun as that was to play with, I had to take a moment to think things through because I didn’t want my main character to be a serious jerk. ESPECIALLY in a middle grade novel.

I had a conundrum. How do you repackage a problematic genre and improve it for readers?

I took it apart.

What were the elements that I loved? What were the elements I loathed?

I loved the action and the suspense.

I loved the rapid-fire dialogue and the witty one-liners.

I loved the push-pull between the detective and the perp.

While I loved the brusque exterior the detective often showed the world, especially when I knew he had a squishy centre, I didn’t love the sexism that came with it. I didn’t want the girl characters to be brushed aside. I didn’t want my detective to be an irredeemable…individual.

So I kept the parts I loved: sketchy settings (meetings in bathrooms and custodial closets left, right, and centre), piles of banter (I always picture Howard and Ivy’s chats as a tennis match), and a great Girl Friday who’s brave, smart, vulnerable, and an equal partner when all is said and done (Ivy not only holds her own on every page, but makes every page her own.)

And then I took my detective who was brusque and haggard and let him also be brave, smart, and vulnerable. And let him learn to be open and emotional. It took three books, but Howard became pretty awesome in the end.

Howard and Ivy are the team that I wish had been in the books I’d read when I was younger. Friends with hard-earned trust between them. Equals in their partnership and the better for it. And not an inch of noir atmosphere sacrificed in the end result.

Every genre has its inherited issues – mysteries are most definitely not the exception. But hallmarks become hallmarks through use. As writers, we can uphold damaging tropes or we can change them. Readers hold this power as well. What we choose to pick up and read and share with friends has an impact. It’s important to be aware of what we promote.

It’s a continuous learning curve and mistakes will be made, but it’s in the learning that you evolve.

Casey Lyall

Casey Lyall (5’4”, brown hair, blue eyes, no known aliases) is a middle grade writer from Southwestern Ontario. She works at her local library where she runs a number of teen groups and waits for management to discover they’re actually paying her to have fun.

Casey is the author of the middle grade mystery series, HOWARD WALLACE, P.I. and the picture book, INKY’S GREAT ESCAPE. The third book in the HOWARD series, SABOTAGE STAGE LEFT hits shelves on September 4th!

Add SABOTAGE STAGE LEFT on Goodreads!

Connect with Casey on Twitter, Facebook, or through her website!

Click here to win a copy of SABOTAGE STAGE LEFT!

The final giveaway will be for EVERY SINGLE book featured in the Kick-butt Kidlit Spotlight On: MYSTERY blog series so make sure you check it out on every post! (New options to enter will be added with each post.) Draw closes on Friday, October 5th at the end of our series.

Tune in next Wednesday for a guest post from Beth McMullen!

Kick-butt Kidlit Spotlight On: MYSTERY Previous Posts

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Kat Zhang

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: C.M. Surrisi

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Dora M. Mitchell

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Natasha Deen

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Jennifer Chambliss Bertman

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Wendy McLeod MacKnight

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Lauren Magaziner

KBKL Middle Grade Mysteries with: Kat Zhang!

Kick-butt Kidlit Presents_

Our new feature series (Kick-butt Kidlit Spotlight On:) is kicking off this month with a focus on MYSTERY NOVELS! Specifically middle grade mystery because MG is our jam!

Let’s give a big Kick-butt welcome to our guest author for today, Kat Zhang! We sat down* with Kat to chat about her new novel, THE MEMORY OF FORGOTTEN THINGS. (*emailed because geography and technology)

MEMORY of Forgotten Things
Hello, Kat! For our readers who haven’t had a chance to check it out yet, would you mind giving a brief overview of THE MEMORY OF FORGOTTEN THINGS?

Of course! The Memory of Forgotten Things is about Sophia, a twelve-year-old girl with some very strange memories–memories of things that never happened. Her mother passed away when Sophia was only six years old, yet she remembers celebrating her tenth birthday with her, or making a nativity with her the year she turned seven. For years, she’s lived with these confusing memories as she and her father struggle to cope in the aftermath of her mother’s death.

Then she discovers that another boy in her class has similar memories–only his are about a step-father whom he’s never met. When the two of them realize they were born on the same day, the day a partial eclipse shadowed their little town, they and a third classmate team up to figure out what these strange memories really mean–and if they have the opportunity to reclaim the people who are lost to them.

The concept of this story is amazing. What sparked the idea behind it?

Thank you! There were a lot of little things that went into this book, so it’s hard to pick out the one initial “spark.” I wanted to tell a story about grief, and how hard it is to move on from grief–and the ways, both big and small, that it can affect people. I also wanted to tell a story about the things in life, good and bad, that make us who we are. And how, even if presented with an opportunity to change our pasts–it might not be as easy a choice as it seems.

One of my favourite things about middle grade is the friendships. What was your favourite friendship moment between Sophia, D.J., and Luke. (That you can give in a spoiler free way. :D)

It’s probably the scene where the trio confront a bunch of older kids at Donway Shallows, an old mill at the edge of town. They’ve arrived there near the start of their acquaintance, trying to solve this mystery but still not entirely sure of their feelings toward one another. Sophia and Luke, especially, are still somewhat antagonistic. But when push comes to shove, they band together and look out for each other, and by the end of the scene, they’re much more a team than they were before.

When you sit down to write a book with alternate realities, what kind of planning goes into it? How do you keep everything straight?  

I did a good bit of research into various theories about parallel universes while I was writing the book. Most of that research didn’t make it directly onto the page, but I think it’s useful information to have floating around your head as you’re writing. I won’t go too much into the “alternative” world (for fear of spoilers!) but it wasn’t too hard to keep things straight. It was really interesting to imagine how things might be different in an alternative version of Sophia’s life!

This is not like your traditional mystery story where the reader can follow along with a detective as they sort out the clues. How did you figure out how to pepper in clues in a way that would keep your reader guessing, but still create a path that makes sense when they look back? 

For me, this is always the hardest part of writing a mystery, and the most satisfying part of reading one! It’s hard to know as a writer which of your clues are too vague and subtle, and which make the answer too obvious. I think having critique partners and other early readers weigh in is really important for this sort of thing. Often, I’ll think: “Wow, that line of dialogue was probably way too obvious and gave everything away!” but my readers won’t think so at all!

THE MEMORY OF FORGOTTEN THINGS is a mix of a few different genres. As a writer, what’s the most appealing part of a genre mash-up for you?

The freedom! While it can be really fun to write a book that sits squarely in one genre, I think there’s even more room to surprise your readers when your book mixes different genres. It adds a touch of something new and exciting, and hopefully the end-result is the best of all worlds!

You started out writing young adult novels. What made you want to dive into middle grade?

Writing for YA and MG audiences is equally wonderful, but different in many ways. On the whole, MG novels tend to be more family/friends-based, while YA novels often have a romantic storyline (or at least subplot). I also feel like MG novels allow a little more room for whimsy, and for telling stories that are very much contained in the main characters’ own immediate lives, rather than stories that are more about the larger world.

These aspects of MG were really important to me as I wrote my first MG novel, The Emperor’s Riddle, and The Memory of Forgotten Things. Certain stories make sense at certain ages, I think, and these books just wouldn’t have been the same if they’d involved older characters, or were directed at an older audience.

I appreciate middle grade books that help kids tackle heavy topics. Grief is an especially hard issue for people at any age. What was it like for you to create a world that dealt with such an emotional topic.

I think it can be really hard to try to tackle a big topic like “grief” or “love” if you try to write a story that encompasses all aspects of that topic. While writing Memory, I tried to keep larger themes in mind (and “grief” was definitely one of them!), but the main focus was always on Sophia’s personal story. Everyone deals with grief in different ways, and I knew I couldn’t cover each and every one of them–I just needed to write what was true and meaningful for Sophia and her father.

I think books are a wonderful way to introduce kids to heavy topics, or to help facilitate a conversation. And I think that kids usually have much greater understanding about these sorts of topics than adults give them credit for. I never felt like I had to hold back or “soften” anything in Memory because it was “for kids,” and I hope that young readers will see themselves in Sophia and her friends.

Our readers love discovering new books so tell us about one of your favourite recent reads?

This is a Young Adult book, but I recently finished Strange the Dreamer, and I can’t wait for the sequel! As for Middle Grade, I’m about to start Beyond the Bright Sea, which I’ve heard great things about.

And lastly, what’s your favourite piece of kick-butt advice?

Work hard, be brave, and be kind 🙂

Truly excellent advice! Thank you so much for joining us, Kat!

Kick-butt Kidlit friends, keep scrolling to enter our giveaway so you can win a copy of THE MEMORY OF FORGOTTEN THINGS for YOUR book shelf!
KatZhang

Kat Zhang spent most of her childhood tramping through a world weaved from her favorite stories and games. When she and her best friend weren’t riding magic horses or talking to trees, they were writing adaptations of plays for their stuffed animals (what would The Wizard of Oz have been like if the Cowardly Lion were replaced by a Loquacious Lamb?). This may or may not explain many of Kat’s quirks today.

By the age of twelve, Kat had started her first novel and begun plans for her life as a Real Live Author (she was rather more confident at twelve than she is even now). Said plans didn’t come into fruition until seven years later, when her agent sold her Young Adult trilogy, The Hybrid Chronicles, to HarperCollins. The series, about a parallel universe where everyone is born with two souls, concluded in 2014.

She is also the author of the middle grade novels THE EMPEROR’S RIDDLE and THE MEMORY OF FORGOTTEN THINGS and the upcoming picture book, AMY WU & THE PERFECT BAO.

 

Add THE MEMORY OF FORGOTTEN THINGS on Goodreads!

 

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

 

Click here to win a copy of THE MEMORY OF FORGOTTEN THINGS!

 

The final giveaway will be for EVERY SINGLE book featured in the Kick-butt Kidlit Spotlight On: MYSTERY blog series so make sure you check it out on every post! (New options to enter will be added with each post.) Draw closes on Friday, October 5th at the end of our series.

Tune in next Monday for a guest post from Casey Lyall!

 

Kick-butt Kidlit Spotlight On: MYSTERY Previous Posts

KBKL Middle Grade Mysteries with: C.M. Surrisi!

Kick-butt Kidlit Presents_

Our new feature series (Kick-butt Kidlit Spotlight On:) is kicking off this month with a focus on MYSTERY NOVELS! Specifically middle grade mystery because MG is our jam!

Let’s give a big Kick-butt welcome to our guest author for today, C.M. Surrisi!

Side of Sabotage

The MG Mystery: A Study in Truth Seeking

Mysteries are prodigiously popular. Some experts speculate that they attract puzzle-lovers, crime enthusiasts, or voyeurs to the darker side of life. As it goes with cozy middle grade mysteries, my particular love, I know they provide a sense of community and offer an opportunity for an ensemble cast to play roles in common social drama, while elevating the amateur detective in his or her pursuit of a ridiculous amount of every day evil.

I both read mysteries and write mysteries. My mysteries, thus far, have been for middle graders, although, I have been pleased to have garnered quite a few adult readers.  My publication schedule has taken me to school visits and library conferences, and brought interactions with young readers, teachers and librarians. After being on a number of panels and examining some of my own reasons for writing for this age group, I’ve come to both a conclusion and a strong recommendation.

The mystery convention teaches readers to discern truth.

Albert Camus said, “Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth,” and now more than ever, we are struggling to discern the truth from a flood of lies.  Since mystery novels are packed with lies, why not read and study mysteries in order to learn how to find truth?  This is my campaign in middle schools: Read More Mysteries; Find More Truth. Thus, I see mysteries as a teaching tool for finding facts.

My argument is as follows:

  • All fiction is a safe way to travel—through time, space, place, and emotion—but a mystery is uniquely designed to explain a crime through reasoning. It’s a way to explore the world of a bad actor from the safety of our homes and puzzle through his or her obfuscations.
  • Mysteries are a way to read for fun and suspense while learning something at the same time—deductive reasoning. This is so much better than saying, open wide, here’s a spoonful of deductive reasoning examples to swallow.
  • Mystery writers follow the means, motive, and opportunity rule, which is what we are trained on through popular culture and scientific reasoning.
  • Mysteries compel the reader to imagination “what if.”
  • Guided reading of mysteries can inspire a life-long skill for testing the truthfulness of information and can go so far as nurture a passion for finding the truth.

I have not been a middle grade teacher or librarian, although I know a number of them, and in my youngest days I stayed inside and played librarian or teacher while other kids were playing baseball. Still, my goal this summer is to work with a middle grade teacher to develop a lesson plan that incorporates my recommendations above, have it vetted by curriculum experts, and put it up on my website as an invitation to examine: The Middle Grade Mystery: A Study in Truth Seeking.

Thanks Casey, for this opportunity to share my thoughts on middle grade mystery!

cm surrisi

C. M. Surrisi has a BFA, a JD, and an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults. Along with her husband, and two dogs she lives in St. Paul, MN. She is represented by Wernick and Pratt Literary Agency. She is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, SCBWI, Women’s National Book Association, and the Author’s Guild.

She is the author of the QUINNIE BOYD mystery series and the picture book THE BEST MOTHER.

Add A SIDE OF SABOTAGE (the third book in the Quinnie Boyd series) on Goodreads!

Connect with C.M. on Twitter, Facebook, or through her website!

Click here to win a copy of A SIDE OF SABOTAGE!

The final giveaway will be for EVERY SINGLE book featured in the Kick-butt Kidlit Spotlight On: MYSTERY blog series so make sure you check it out on every post! (New options to enter will be added with each post.) Draw closes on Friday, October 5th at the end of our series.

Tune in next Monday for a guest post from Kat Zhang!

Kick-butt Kidlit Spotlight On: MYSTERY Previous Posts

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Dora M. Mitchell

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Natasha Deen

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Jennifer Chambliss Bertman

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Wendy McLeod MacKnight

Kick-butt Kidlit Middle Grade Mysteries with: Lauren Magaziner