Kicking Back with Kick-butt and Jenn Bishop!

Welcome to Kicking Back with Kick-butt!

Today we’re chatting with Jenn Bishop, the author of

WHERE WE USED TO ROAM

When Emma starts sixth grade, things finally begin to change. She may still be in the shadow of her older brother, Austin, the popular high school quarterback, but she’s made artsy new friends who get her way more than her bookish best friend, Becca.

But things are changing for Austin, too. After undergoing surgery for a football injury, Austin has become addicted to opioid painkillers. By the end of the school year, everything blows up with Austin—and Becca. When their parents decide to send Austin to rehab and Emma to stay with family friends in Wyoming for the summer, Emma seizes the chance to get away.

Wyoming turns out to be a perfect fresh start, especially after Emma makes friends with Tyler, a kindred spirit who doesn’t judge her—then again, he doesn’t know what she did to Becca. Still, Emma can’t hide forever…or go back to the way things were with Austin or with Becca. But can she find a way to confront the truth and move forward?

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

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

Thanks so much for having me! I’m a middle grade author based in Cincinnati, Ohio. All four of my novels (The Distance to Home, 14 Hollow RoadThings You Can’t Say, and Where We Used to Roam) are contemporary stories about kids with big hearts in tough situations.

What was the inspiration behind WHERE WE USED TO ROAM?

I knew I wanted to write something set in Wyoming, but it took me a while to figure out what the story was. Let’s just say this book looked very different at draft 1, 8, and the finished copy. It’s also inspired by something that was unfolding around me both in New England, which I’d just left, and Ohio, where I had just moved — the opioid epidemic.

What were three interesting things you discovered while working on WHERE WE USED TO ROAM?

A lot of the things I discovered while working on this book were craft-related — as well as lessons about myself. I learned that sometimes setting something aside for a little while is the only way to figure things out. I learned that it’s okay to completely re-write your book after the 9th draft — especially if you have good reasons and a plan. And I learned that some characters can get in the way of what you are trying to do and the only thing you can do is cut them out (and it’s okay because they’re fictional!).

That setting things aside lesson is KEY!

This is your fourth book! For our aspiring authors reading this, what are some tools that you use to help create a different voice with each new book?

This is something I am still actively working on. I think the biggest part is getting to know your character. It can take a while, and it certainly does for me — longer, it seems, with each subsequent book. But if you put in the time to consider the totality of a character–how they fit into their family, their personal history, how their friendships or lack thereof have shaped them, etc. — you will end up with a person. And just like how each person has a unique voice, so will your character.

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

Ooh! You know, I’ve recently read a few MGs that have characters who would make great friends for Emma, the protagonist from Where We Used to Roam: Izzy from Jennifer Blecher’s Stick with Me and Georgia from Caroline Gertler’s Many Points of Me. Izzy and Georgia are both artists and would be real kindred spirits with Emma.

That sounds like an excellent crossover!

Why were you drawn to writing middle grade?

Middle grade books were the books that cemented my status as a reader. I fell in love with reading stories that made me feel big feelings, which is what the middle grade books I read as an upper elementary student did.

Any hints about your next book project?

While nothing’s been officially announced yet, I think it’s safe to say that I will have a fifth book coming out, tentatively in 2023. It’s a return to the sports world for me: a basketball-centered story set in Cincinnati with multiple POVs. I’m deep in the revision cave with it at the moment, just peeking my head out every now and then for fresh air.

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

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

This is a hard answer, but in truth, it’s the attrition along the way. I have met so many writers with more talent than me who have given up or simply not had the same opportunities or luck. There’s a lot of failure in publishing, for everyone: so many more no’s than yeses, even many books into a career. Never mind everyone’s on their own journey — some with more luck than others. What looks like a drought can appear to be fertile ground years later. I’ll be curious to see what the middle grade landscape looks like five, ten, twenty years down the road.

What are you reading right now?

I have been on a nonfiction kick lately — right now reading two different grownup books: Hidden Valley Road by Robert Kolkar and Sometimes You Have to Lie by Leslie Brody. The latter is a biography of Harriet the Spy author Louise Fitzhugh and the former chronicles an American family with 12 children, 6 of whom develop schizophrenia. I’ve developed a real interest in psychology-related nonfiction in recent years. Up next is Christina Soontornvat’s All Thirteen.

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

Read! Read in your genre, but read outside of your genre too. Reading enriches us as writers, but it also can help give us some of the raw material we need for our stories. And in times like these, it can be such a comfort to settle into a good book. It doesn’t just feed your mind; it feeds your soul.

Yes, yes, yes! Exactly this. 😀

Thank you so much for joining us, Jenn!

Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out WHERE WE USED TO ROAM!
It’s on shelves now!

Add WHERE WE USED TO ROAM on Goodreads!

Connect with Jenn on Twitter or through her website!

Click here to enter to win a copy of WHERE WE USED TO ROAM!
Contest ends Friday, April 9th at 11:59 pm EST

Thanks for reading!

Kicking Back with Kick-butt and Lisa Fipps!

Welcome to Kicking Back with Kick-butt!
Today we’re chatting with Lisa Fipps, the author of
STARFISH

Ever since Ellie wore a whale swimsuit and made a big splash at her fifth birthday party, she’s been bullied about her weight. To cope, she tries to live by the Fat Girl Rules–like “no making waves,” “avoid eating in public,” and “don’t move so fast that your body jiggles.” And she’s found her safe space–her swimming pool–where she feels weightless in a fat-obsessed world. In the water, she can stretch herself out like a starfish and take up all the room she wants. It’s also where she can get away from her pushy mom, who thinks criticizing Ellie’s weight will motivate her to diet. Fortunately, Ellie has allies in her dad, her therapist, and her new neighbor, Catalina, who loves Ellie for who she is. With this support buoying her, Ellie might finally be able to cast aside the Fat Girl Rules and starfish in real life–by unapologetically being her own fabulous self.

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

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

I’m so glad to be joining you! I’m a Hoosier. Haven’t heard that word before? It means someone from Indiana. I graduated from Ball State University with a bachelor’s in journalism. Then I was a reporter, editor, and page designer for companies in Indiana and Texas. Being a journalist allowed me to hone my writing and editing skills. It also gave me an ear for authentic dialogue, plenty of ideas for characters, and the skills to design my own flyers, bookmarks, etc., which helps a lot. I transitioned out of journalism and into marketing several years ago. I’m currently the director of marketing for a public library, in addition to being an author of middle-grade novels.

Oh, wow! Very cool that you’re bringing all of those different experiences to your writing!

What was the inspiration behind STARFISH? And what made you decide to write it as a novel-in-verse?

Starfish was the book I needed when I was a kid. I was fat and bullied relentlessly. I wish someone would have told “Little Lisa” that she didn’t deserve to be treated like that, that she could stand up for herself, that she had a right to be seen and heard. I also wish I would have known how to reach out to get help to deal with all the emotions I felt. Since Starfish wasn’t on library and bookstore shelves when I was little, I wrote it. I write in free verse because that’s how stories come to me. It allows me to tell a story packed full of emotion but with few words.

We love hearing stories about “The Call” here on Kick-butt Kidlit. What were you doing when you found out your book had sold?

My “call” moment is a bit different than most. My agent, Liza Fleissig with Liza Royce Agency, pitched Starfish to Editor Nancy Paulsen. I’d written Starfish as a young adult novel. Nancy asked if the three of us could talk on the phone. During the call, Nancy said she thought I should rewrite Starfish as a middle-grade novel. She said if it were middle-grade that I’d be able to reach the kids who are being bullied while they’re being bullied and be able to give them the tools they needed to deal with it. And maybe, just maybe, I’d also reach the bullies and get some of them to stop. Nancy’s a genius that way. She’s such an expert in children’s literature. I’m blessed beyond measure to work with her. I agreed to rewrite it, and she bought the book.

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

I realized even the tiniest change can have a huge impact. I tend to write tight, because of my years as a journalist. But through Nancy and the copy editors, I found even more ways to tighten, tighten, tighten. I learned a lot about the book publishing industry’s way of editing. It’s different than journalism. Journalists use the Associated Press style guide. A lot of those rules are all about saving space. For example, journalists use numbers when it comes to 10 and up. Publishing uses the word ten, etc. And I learned that there’s always something to learn. And I like that. I have an unquenchable thirst for knowledge about anything and everything.

That’s such a good way to be!

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

Wow! Fun question! I think I’d want Ellie, Viv, and Catalina to be in a novel for adults, to see what their lives are like when they’re in their thirties. When I create characters, they live on in my head, in my life. I’d like to know how they’re doing, what they’re up to, how they’ve made their mark in the world.

As someone who always wants to check in with characters and see how they’re doing, I would love that!

Why were you drawn to writing middle grade?

I’m drawn to writing. Period. But what I like about middle-grade, in particular, is that kids don’t tolerate bad writing. An adult might keep reading a book even if it gets boring in spots or doesn’t ring true because they want to see how it ends or they’ve paid good money for the book. Kids won’t. So, you have to up your game as a writer if you want to write for kids.

Any hints about your next book project?

Stay tuned for an exciting announcement. But what I can say is that I’m always working on books. Note the plural. I have several going at one time.

Oooh, exciting! Can’t wait until you can share the details!

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

Journalism is incredibly competitive. You keep everything you know a secret. You want to get the scoop. Have the edge. But fellow authors are so willing to share tips that help them with agents, editors, writing, marketing, etc. It’s a community. I love that.

What are you reading right now?

I bought a copy of any ALA Youth Media Award nominee or winner that I didn’t already own, so my to-be-read pile is quite lengthy, at the moment. I’m also going to be a panelist for several upcoming events, so I’m reading books by my fellow panelists. I tend to read primarily middle-grade novels, a smidge of YA, and then some books for adults. When it comes to books for adults, I usually read nonfiction. Right now, I’m reading I Never Said I Loved You by Rhik Samadder, A Framework for Understanding Poverty by Ruby K. Payne, and Art of Memoir by Mary Karr. I choose books based on research I’m doing for middle-grade books, what I’m dealing with as a person, or just because it’s something I don’t know yet. I’m a bit eclectic when it comes to books and music.

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

I print or write down every good thing people say about my writing. I place it in a jar. Then, whenever I start to doubt myself or life is kind of crummy, I go through them. I’m inspired. Encouraged. Refueled.

Love that idea!

Thank you so much for joining us, Lisa!

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

Add STARFISH on Goodreads!

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

Click here to enter to win a copy of STARFISH!
Contest ends Friday, March 26th at 11:59 pm EST

Thanks for reading!

Kicking Back with Kick-butt and Angela Ahn!

Welcome to Kicking Back with Kick-butt!
Today we’re chatting with Angela Ahn, the author of
PETER LEE’S NOTES FROM THE FIELD

Eleven year-old Peter Lee has one goal in life: to become a paleontologist. Okay, maybe two: to get his genius kid-sister, L. B., to leave him alone. But his summer falls apart when his real-life dinosaur expedition turns out to be a bust, and he watches his dreams go up in a cloud of asthma-inducing dust.

Even worse, his grandmother, Hammy, is sick, and no one will talk to Peter or L. B. about it. Perhaps his days as a scientist aren’t quite behind him yet. Armed with notebooks and pens, Peter puts his observation and experimental skills to the test to see what he can do for Hammy. If only he can get his sister to be quiet for once—he needs time to sketch out a plan.

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

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

Thanks for inviting me, Casey! My name’s Angela Ahn. My family immigrated from Korea to Canada in the early 70’s. I grew up in Richmond, BC and Vancouver, BC and except for 2 years in Hong Kong, and 2 years in Toronto, Vancouver has always been home.

I went to UBC for many, many years and earned many, many degrees, some of which have proven useful. 

I am married with two kids, and probably couldn’t survive without my coffee machine. 

What was the inspiration behind PETER LEE’S NOTES FROM THE FIELD?

I won’t repeat it here, but in the acknowledgments section at the back of the book, I tell a long, potentially tragic, but ultimately uplifting story about a girl (my daughter), and her stuffed dinosaur which was purchased at the gift shop at the Royal Tyrrell Museum. For one long day, we thought the aforementioned dinosaur was lost, but turns out it actually was just unceremoniously jammed into a drawer. I know it sounds crazy, but that dinosaur was the spark for this story. 

Love when ideas come from the most unexpected places!

Your main character, Peter, has dreams of being a paleontologist. What was your dream job when you were a kid?

I’m not trying to elicit sympathy here, but I honestly do not remember dreaming of being anything. Perhaps I had no imagination, or if I’m getting truly introspective here, I suspect it was because as a child of immigrants, I think our family tended to focus on practical ambitions, like “Get a good job!” It was more a question of what on earth am I decent at, and how can this translate into a job? I always did well in social sciences in school, so guess what, I did a double-major in English and History. What can you do with that degree? High school teacher! I only lasted 5 years. Just because you’re a good student in a subject doesn’t mean you can actually teach it. 

What were three interesting things you discovered while working on PETER LEE’S NOTES FROM THE FIELD?

I learned about asthma. I have an acquaintance who had a child with asthma and she didn’t know it at the time, but when she was talking about her son’s health, I listened intently because I knew I was writing this character who had asthma. I ultimately got a writer friend, Sophie Gonzalez, who has asthma herself, to read an almost completed draft so she could offer comments to add more authenticity to Peter’s experience. 

I had to re-learn a lot about dinosaurs. At one point, I’m not bragging here, but I was kind of an armchair expert. My kids were obsessed so we watched a lot of documentaries on dinosaurs, and had a lot of information books. But as their interests changed, those books started to collect dust. I even gave some away! (I regretted that decision, I must say.) So I had to reacquaint myself for the book. 

Lastly, I learned that writing is definitely not a solo effort. It takes, not a village, but maybe a very large family of people helping you along the way. 

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

I think L.B. would have her mind blown if she could travel between parallel worlds like in The Golden Compass. Peter would probably fit right in with the trio of boys in Mrs. Bixby’s Last Day as they fumble around together to try and do something sweet for a beloved teacher. 

Why are you drawn to writing middle grade?

I guess I’m not the most mature 40-something mom out there. I love the voice of a tween, what can I say? I’m a kid at heart.  

Any hints about your next book project?

Maybe not realistic contemporary? Wait and see!  

Ooooh, exciting! Looking forward to when you can share more!

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

I never realized how hard it would be to actually hear what people think about my books. Reviews are the best and the absolute worst. I’m a Gemini. 

What are you reading right now?

I just finished Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston–amazing. I won’t give away the big twist at the end, but it’s the kind of book that just compelled me to finish it as soon as possible. I am in the middle of a Whale of the Wild  by Rosanne Parry now, and there is this scene that reminded me so much about the real story from, I think 2018, of the orca that kept the body of her dead calf afloat for over 2 weeks that’s just very heartbreaking. 

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

 My first book was published when I was 45 years old. It was the first children’s book I had ever attempted. Don’t think there is a straight-line for your own individual creative journey. 

Love that! And it’s so important to remember.

BONUS QUESTION: What is your favourite dinosaur?

Brachiosaurus! (Must read the acknowledgements section of the book to find out why I’m deeply attached to this kind of dinosaur).  

Thank you for joining us, Angela!

Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out PETER LEE’S NOTES FROM THE FIELD!
It’s on shelves now!

Add PETER LEE’S NOTES FROM THE FIELD on Goodreads!

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

Click here to enter to win a copy of PETER LEE’S NOTES FROM THE FIELD!
Contest ends Friday, March 12th at 11:59 pm EST

Thanks for reading!

Kicking Back with Kick-butt and Nadia L. Hohn!

Welcome to Kicking Back with Kick-butt!
Today we’re chatting with Nadia L. Hohn, the author of
MALAIKA’S SURPRISE

When Malaika finds out she is going to have a new baby brother or sister, she worries that her mother will forget about her. But a surprise arrives on Malaika’s birthday that gives her reason to celebrate her family’s love.

It’s summertime, and Malaika and Adèle are enjoying playing carnival in their bright costumes, dancing and laughing in the sunshine. But when Mummy announces that they will soon have a new baby brother or sister, Malaika is unsure how to feel about another change in her family. Will Mummy forget about me?

Back at school, Malaika is excited to see her teacher and classmates, and makes friends with a new girl who has recently arrived from a faraway country, just like Malaika. Then on her birthday, a surprise arrives to remind Malaika of the importance of family, and the story ends with a celebration of her family’s love.

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

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

I was born and live in Toronto. I am a Black Canadian author and educator of Afro-Jamaican descent. I am an MFA student in Creative Writing at the University of Guelph. I am a vegetarian, musician, aspiring illustrator, and multilingual. I love to watch artsy films, cook, work out, and can’t wait to travel once this quarantine is over.

MALAIKA’S SURPRISE is the third book in the Malaika series. What was the inspiration behind Malaika’s latest adventure?

This book began as two separate stories. Then it became one. And then two. I began to conceive the idea of a third Malaika book during my year of teaching in the UAE in 2016. There, I experienced the hospitality of this Muslim country. As a Christian and a Westerner, it was a shift to a different cultural centre and norm. I was living in the UAE when the Quebec mosque shooting took place and it was upsetting. I wondered how this event might have Malaika and her family have responded to given that they live in Quebec City. Because I had already done some research and interviews among Black people living in Quebec City for Malaika’s Winter Carnival, I had an idea that many new immigrants felt in terms of isolation and I can imagine more so now given Bill 21.

I had also decided that I wanted the new character to be Muslim and Somali given that there was an absence of Somali-Canadian characters in Canadian children’s books. While the illustrations were being completed for Malaika’s Surprise in 2019, the Somali-Canadian journalist Hodan Nalayeh was tragically killed. I had seen Hodan speak and just before I had moved to the UAE, after my going away dinner, we had a short chat. I had just gone through my divorce. At the time, Hodan was both a single mom and divorced but very positive. She basically said I should give her a call and, “We should talk” as she had a lot of advice to share. I saw Hodan as an ally, like the character in my book, who was telling me it would all be okay. Sadly, the conversation never took place. Malaika’s Surprise is partly dedicated to her.

The story also reveals some of the feelings I had about my youngest sister being born (the book is also dedicated to her) and the importance of fathers.

The Malaika books are illustrated by Irene Luxbacher. What’s it like seeing your characters come to life in the illustrations? Did you get to see sketches along the way?

It’s an exciting part of the process. Irene works in mixed media so the advanced sketches I saw were also mixed media, a little less detail than what’s in the final product. I enjoyed it and it’s kind of fun to see how Irene takes my words and interprets them, especially since this book is so full of surprises.

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

I am not sure if you mean putting Malaika into another book but I do imagine Malaika in other genres. I have been working on a play for a few years now and I would love to see it as a short series or film on Netflix, for example. Just putting it out there.

That would be amazing!

What do you love most about writing picture books? What’s the most challenging part?

I love that you can say a lot in 1, 000 words or less with pictures. I have a Masters degree in equity studies and look at the world with an antiracist lens. So, if you look at my articles, I write explicitly about inequities in the children’s book industry, for example. However, in a picture book and even children’s non-fiction, I need to break down big ideas into poetry, music, and ideas that are accessible for the young reader.

Any hints about your next book project?

I just signed a book with Orca. It will be an anthology of sorts. I don’t want to say too much about it yet. I have a few picture books down the pipeline and editing my middle grade novel. Stay tuned!

Oooh! Lots of exciting stuff on the horizon!

Some people like to write while listening to music or when they have a hot beverage in hand or at their favourite spot in a cozy chair. What’s something that always helps you get settled into a writing session?

I tend to write a lot while in my bed while wrapped in my comforter. My secret is out now. I do some of my writing at my desk but usually that’s when there is a deadline. Lol.

Ha!

Are you a pantser or a plotter? What are some of your favourite methods you’ve come up with to tackle writer’s block?

I tend to be a pantser. I admire the plotters though as that seems to be the one I wish I could do more of. I may need to do more plotting for my middle grade book though.

Some of my favourite methods I’ve come up with to tackle writer’s block– just start somewhere. I set a 30 minute timer and sometimes I’ll just read my work. Or, I’ll boldface the title of the chapters. Or I’ll Google search the topic. I just try to do something that will move my story a long further.

What are you reading right now?

I proposed a directed reading course as part of my MFA program, so I am reading all young adult books about Black girls. I am currently reading Facing the Sun by BC based author, Janice Lynn Mather.

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

My favourite piece of kick-butt advice is by author Toni Morrison: If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.

Evergreen advice!

Thank you for joining us, Nadia!

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

Add MALAIKA’S SURPRISE on Goodreads!

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

Click here to enter to win a copy of MALAIKA’S SURPRISE!
Contest ends Friday, March 5th at 11:59 pm EST

Thanks for reading!

Kicking Back with Kick-butt and Louisa Onomé!

Welcome to Kicking Back with Kick-butt!
Today we’re chatting with Louisa Onomé, the author of
LIKE HOME

Chinelo, or Nelo as her best friend Kate calls her, is all about her neighborhood Ginger East. She loves its chill vibe, ride-or-die sense of community, and her memories of growing up there. Ginger East isn’t what it used to be, though. After a deadly incident at the local arcade, all her closest friends moved away, except for Kate. But as long as they have each other, Nelo’s good.

Only, Kate’s parents’ corner store is vandalized, leaving Nelo shaken to her core. The police and the media are quick to point fingers, and soon more of the outside world descends on Ginger East with promises to “fix” it. Suddenly, Nelo finds herself in the middle of a drama unfolding on a national scale.

Worse yet, Kate is acting strange. She’s pushing Nelo away at the exact moment they need each other most. Nelo’s entire world is morphing into something she hates, and she must figure out how to get things back on track or risk losing everything⁠—and everyone⁠—she loves.

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

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

Hey! I’m Louisa Onome, and I’m a writer based in the Toronto area. My debut young adult contemporary, Like Home, is all about friendship, family, and what it really means to change. When I’m not writing, I moonlight as a therapist (I know, the shock!) and can usually be found hanging with friends (pre-pandemic, anyway) or glued to my PlayStation. 

What was the inspiration behind LIKE HOME?

Like Home was inspired by a slew of things, but first and foremost, I had really wanted to write a story that depicted the kind of childhood closeness I had with friends growing up. I was fortunate enough to live on a street where the kids on my street were all close friends. Each of us were kids of immigrants, so our experiences differed based on where our parents were from, but we had so many similarities trying to navigate our environments. And then, of course, the catalyst for me actually writing the book was this Korean drama I watched called ‘Reply 1988’. It broke me! The relationships on that show reminded me so much of my own upbringing and it made me want to try my hand at writing a story like that.

Love that!

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

Ha! I am notoriously always frying plantain or trying to cook something oily whenever important publishing news comes out. I distinctly remember tweeting something ridiculous (as I normally do) and then, immediately after, my editor emails me with the announcement and I had to tweet that. So both tweets back to back definitely looked like they belonged to different people, but I’m cool with that because it just proves we all contain multitudes!

What were three interesting things you discovered while working on LIKE HOME?

Oh I love this question! The main thing that I discovered while writing Like Home is that I can tell a story that is authentic to my own experience, to a world I am familiar with, and people will still connect with it. Prior to Like Home, I wrote four other manuscripts, none of which anyone will ever see because they just weren’t very good. But something that stuck out to me in those old attempts is that I wasn’t being myself. I was writing protagonists I had no business writing, and I was writing about things I didn’t even truly care about. Once I got rid of the idea of what was acceptable for me to write, and once I really tapped into things that matter to me, it became so much easier to write this story.  I also discovered that I enjoy writing friend fights and I swear a lot more than I thought I did.

What an invaluable discovery! (But also laughing about the swearing thing. 😂)

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

I would love to put them in a fantasy setting, so maybe the world that Roseanne A. Brown created in A Song of Wraiths and Ruin! It’s so rich and the folklore feels so real.

Why were you drawn to writing YA?

I love YA because of its freshness. Personally, when I was that age, it was the last time anything was new. You could conceptualize and experience firsts in a way that is hard for me to do the older I get. I think a part of me wants to always remember what that feels like, and reading and writing YA is such a thorough way of reliving those emotions. On another level, I just love how creative YA can be and how we can explore so many difficult themes in a variety of ways.

Any hints about your next book project?

Yes! My next project is also a YA contemporary, currently titled Model Minority. It’s about a Nigerian-Canadian girl who is caught between both aspects of her culture, the Nigerian culture she is born into and the Western culture she was raised in. At its core, it’s a story about identity and how we put these labels on ourselves that may hurt us more than help us. There is also a love triangle, which I’m having a lot of fun writing. It’s scheduled to come out spring 2022 and I’m so excited for readers to experience aspects of my personal culture.

Looking forward to it!

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

I shouldn’t be surprised, but I still am every time I meet a new, supportive writer. The community is so cool and I’ve found that there’s always someone willing to help when you need it. 

What are you reading right now?

Right now, I have the immense pleasure of reading Courtney Gould’s The Dead and the Dark. It comes out August 3 and it’s so haunting! Literally hooks you from the first page.

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

My favourite piece of advice is pretty simple: Keep going. I know that can mean a lot of things to different people, and truly it all depends on your perspective as well, but when I say keep going, I mean continue writing, continue learning, and continue growing. The journey only stops if you do!

One hundred percent! So true!

Thank you for joining us, Louisa!

Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out LIKE HOME!
It hits shelves on February 23rd!

Add LIKE HOME on Goodreads!

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

Click here to enter to win a copy of LIKE HOME!
Contest ends Saturday February 20th at 11:59 pm EST

Thanks for reading!

Kicking Back with Kick-butt and Eden Royce!

Welcome to Kicking Back with Kick-butt!
Today we’re chatting with Eden Royce, the author of
ROOT MAGIC

It’s 1963, and things are changing for Jezebel Turner. Her beloved grandmother has just passed away. The local police deputy won’t stop harassing her family. With school integration arriving in South Carolina, Jez and her twin brother, Jay, are about to begin the school year with a bunch of new kids. But the biggest change comes when Jez and Jay turn eleven—and their uncle, Doc, tells them he’s going train them in rootwork.

Jez and Jay have always been fascinated by the African American folk magic that has been the legacy of her family for generations—especially the curious potions and powders Doc and Gran would make for the people on their island. But Jez soon finds out that her family’s true power goes far beyond small charms and elixirs…and not a moment too soon. Because when evil both natural and supernatural comes to show itself in town, it’s going to take every bit of the magic she has inside her to see her through.

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

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

Thanks so much for inviting me! I’m Eden Royce, author of ROOT MAGIC. I’m a Gullah-Geechee from Charleston, South Carolina now living in the United Kingdom. I write full time and when I’m not doing that I enjoy reading, roller skating, and gardening. I also have an enormous collection of notebooks and a small collection of fountain pens.

Someday, we’ll have to do a KBKL post featuring authors with their enormous notebook collections. It seems to be a pretty regular author hobby! 😂

What was the inspiration behind ROOT MAGIC?

My inspiration came from listening to stories my elders told when I was younger. I wanted to tell tales they would recognize, ones that hadn’t had the chance to see the light of day very often, if ever. I also wanted to portray rootwork in its original form and with its original intent: as protection and healing for the rootworker and their loved ones, instead of the evil practice most film and other media depict it as.

Setting is important in any book, but for historical fiction, it’s almost like another character! For our aspiring writers reading this, how did you decide what details to include to set the stage for your novel?

Setting is super important! Especially with Southern Gothic books like ROOT MAGIC. I wanted readers who weren’t familiar with the part of the world I grew up in to be able to feel like they were actually visiting the Sea Islands off the coast of Charleston. For people who know the South Carolina Lowcountry I wanted them to recognize it. So I made sure to include sensory details describing the weather, the scents and sounds of the tidal marshlands, the flavor of the food, and the fragrance of herbs and plants to help readers picture the world.

What were three interesting things you discovered while working on ROOT MAGIC?

I didn’t delve into lots of research to write ROOT MAGIC because much of it is based on stories from family members that I listened to when I was growing up. Especially stories from my great aunt who was a rootworker and my mother who was a social worker on Wadmalaw Island in the early 1960s where and when ROOT MAGIC is set.

While working on this book I found I was teaching people about the Lowcountry and Sea Islands of South Carolina where I grew up. I discovered so few people knew about my culture or my people. Lots of people didn’t know about rootwork either. If they had heard of it or something similar, they thought it was an evil magic from a horror movie out to destroy them. That’s so far from the truth! Because that level of unfamiliarity can cause inaccurate and unfair judgments, I wanted to write a book that explored the part of the world where I grew up, some painful and difficult history, along with joy, love, and community.

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

Just South of Home by Karen Strong. Jez and Jay would love to team up with the quartet to solve a ghostly mystery.

That would be an epic crossover!

Why were you drawn to writing middle grade?

So much of empathy and acceptance of other people and cultures begins at a young age so I wanted to introduce younger readers to characters from a background they may have never heard of but make it a fun learning experience. I also wanted to help younger Gullah-Geechee children to see kids like themselves in the pages of a book facing their past, speaking their language, and knowing they have a connection to their ancestors and infinite possibilities for the future.

Any hints about your next book project?

My next project is magical adventure middle grade novel set in present day.

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

All of it really. Learning about publishing as an industry, meeting wonderful new people, working with other creatives, meeting deadlines, talking about my work, the joys and frustrations that come with being a debut author – it’s all been a surprising yet incredible journey.

What are you reading right now?

I’m reading a friend’s poetry collection that I hope will be out in the world soon. When I’m not doing that I’m reading Legendborn by Tracy Deonn (YA) and A Visitation of Spirits by Randall Kenan (Adult).

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

Don’t compare yourself to others. Your journey in this life is uniquely your own.

Yes! Love how you phrased this.

Thank you so much for joining us, Eden!

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

Add ROOT MAGIC on Goodreads!

Connect with Eden on Twitter or through her website!

Click here to enter to win a copy of ROOT MAGIC!
Contest ends Saturday, February 13th at 11:59 pm EST

Thanks for reading!

Kicking Back with Kick-butt and Jazz Taylor!

Welcome to Kicking Back with Kick-butt!
Today we’re chatting with Jazz Taylor, the author of
MEOW OR NEVER

Avery Williams can sing, but that doesn’t mean she can sing in front of people. She likes to stay backstage at her new school, which is where, to her surprise, she finds a cat tucked away into a nook. Avery names the stray Phantom and visits any time she’s feeling stressed (which is a lot these days).

As she sings to Phantom one day, her crush, Nic, overhears her and ropes Avery into auditioning for the school’s musical. Despite her nerves, Avery lands the lead role!

She knows she should be excited, but mostly Avery is terrified. Can Phantom help her through her stage fright? And what will happen if anyone finds out about her secret pet?

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

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

I’m a writer, receptionist, and huge cat fan! I love watching cooking shows (despite being unable to make anything more difficult than ramen noodles) and live with my hilarious grandmother in Alabama.

High gives for being a cat fan!

What was the inspiration behind MEOW OR NEVER?

I was really drawn to the idea of accidentally landing a part in a school play and the hilarity that would ensue. But I also wanted to talk about how lonely it can be when you have an anxiety disorder, and to want something desperately that may be too painful for you to continue. Oh, and cute cats of course 😊

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

I was at work! My agent DM’d me on twitter and I had a happy dance break in the bathroom!

What were three interesting things you discovered while working on MEOW OR NEVER?

-I really love friendship stories!! I want to write a ton more!
-Avery is a big fan of Beyonce, so I discovered a few new favorites from research!
-Goldendoodles are so cute. Like seriously. Just google them because WOW

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

I’m going to go against the grain and say none of them. Avery, the MC, would absolutely pass out if she had to deal with any superpowers, magical schools, or heaven forbid, horror! Let’s keep her calm in the real world lol!

Ha! Okay, that’s totally fair. We don’t want anyone passing out!

Why were you drawn to writing middle grade?

I love writing YA and adult too, but MG will always be special to me. I love that each story has a thread of hope in it, and I can trust the characters will go through challenges and grow, but ultimately be alright.

Any hints about your next book project?

No hints!! It’s top secret!! 😊

Can’t wait until you can share!

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

I have really loved all the support from fellow authors. I’m still blown away that people want to read and talk about the words I wrote. From sharing my posts on twitter, to authors sending me kind messages, to interviews (thank you, Casey!!)—I really am so grateful. I hope it lives up to everyone’s expectations, and people love the characters as much as I do!

What are you reading right now?

I’m taking a break currently, but I cannot wait to dive into my friend’s MG horror for beta reading!!

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

Celebrate the small wins! The big ones are great, but don’t forget to celebrate every time you write 500 words, or pen a particularly good sentence, or finish an outline. The little wins add up, and you can’t have a big one without the little celebrations along the way.

Yes! Love this.

BONUS QUESTION: If you were going to audition for a musical, what would your go-to song be?

I’ve actually done this! I was a bit of a singer in my youth haha! I auditioned with Think of Me from Phantom of the Opera 

Oooh, classic pick! Hope it went well!

Thanks for joining us, Jazz!

Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out MEOW OR NEVER!
It’s on shelves now!

Add MEOW OR NEVER on Goodreads!

Connect with Jazz through her website!

Click here to enter to win a copy of MEOW OR NEVER!
Contest closes Friday, January 8th at 11:59 pm EST

Thanks for reading!

Kicking Back with Kick-butt and Daka Hermon!

Welcome to Kicking Back with Kick-butt!

Today we’re chatting with Daka Hermon, the author of

HIDE AND SEEKER

I went up the hill, the hill was muddy, stomped my toe and made it bloody, should I wash it?

Justin knows that something is wrong with his best friend. Zee went missing for a year. And when he came back, he was . . . different. Nobody knows what happened to him. At Zee’s welcome home party, Justin and the neighborhood crew play Hide and Seek. But it goes wrong. Very wrong.

One by one, everyone who plays the game disappears, pulled into a world of nightmares come to life. Justin and his friends realize this horrible place is where Zee had been trapped. All they can do now is hide from the Seeker.

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

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

I was born in Tennessee and spent my childhood huddled under a blanket with a flashlight, reading and writing fantasy stories. I love sweet tea, cupcakes and collecting superhero toys. 

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

I knew Hide and Seeker was being pitched at an acquisition’s meeting, but I didn’t know the exact date. I was scrolling through my emails and froze when I saw one from my agent. I opened the email and screamed! Then I called my dad and he screamed. I’ll never forget the sound of his happiness.

Aw! That sounds like such an awesome moment!

What was the inspiration behind HIDE AND SEEKER? 

Growing up, Hide and Seek was one of my favorite games to play. All the kids in the neighborhood would join in. We’d stay outside until dark playing, then we’d run around catching lightning bugs. It’s one of my best childhood memories.

Speaking as a genuine scaredy-cat, HOW do you write a horror story without scaring the pants off of yourself??? 

I’m a scaredy-cat, too!! I didn’t set out to write a horror story. I thought I was writing an action-adventure or mystery, but once I started querying agents, more than one told me that I was writing a horror and to go with it, so I did. I’m still surprised I was able to write something so scary.

What were three interesting things you discovered while working on HIDE AND SEEKER?

1) The chant in the book is actually what we said to start our games. I asked my sisters and cousins, who I frequently played with, where it came from and no one knows. It’s a scary mystery.

2) I’m more like the main-character, Justin, than I realized. I have similar fears and anxiety.

3) I’m really fascinated by ice cream trucks. I get a little excited and nervous when I hear the jingles.

No one knows where the chant came from??? That is so spooky, Daka!

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

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky! I think Justin and Tristan would be great friends and could team-up to save the world.  

Now THAT would be an epic crossover. When can we read it? 😀

Why were you drawn to writing middle grade? 

In some ways middle school was the best and worst time of my life. I have such vivid memories of friendships and events that happened while I was in middle grade. I think that’s why I’m drawn to writing about middle grade characters and stories. I’m reliving those moments, and maybe sharing a voice I didn’t feel comfortable using then.

Any hints about your next book project? 

Well… it may be another horror, which again surprises me.

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

The amazing support from the book community and other authors. I’ve met so many great people who have inspired and motivated me throughout this journey.

What are you reading right now? 

I’m reading Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia, This is My America by Kim Johnson and rereading some R.L. Stine Fear Street novels.

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

I don’t know if it’s my favorite, but I have a Star Wars sign with Yoda saying, “Do or do not. There is no try.” Right now, that’s motivating me to write.

True, that is.

Thank you so much for joining us, Daka!

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

Add HIDE AND SEEKER on Goodreads!

Connect with Daka on Twitter or through her website!

Click here to enter to win a copy of HIDE AND SEEKER!
Contest closes Friday, October 30th at 11:59 pm EST

Thanks for reading!

Kicking Back with Kick-butt and Donna Barba Higuera!

Welcome to Kicking Back with Kick-butt!

Today we’re chatting with Donna Barba Higuera, the author of

LUPE WONG WON’T DANCE

Lupe Wong is going to be the first female pitcher in the Major Leagues. She’s also championed causes her whole young life. Some worthy…like expanding the options for race on school tests beyond just a few bubbles. And some not so much…like complaining to the BBC about the length between Doctor Who seasons.

Lupe needs an A in all her classes in order to meet her favorite pitcher, Fu Li Hernandez, who’s Chinacan/Mexinese just like her. So when the horror that is square dancing rears its head in gym? Obviously she’s not gonna let that slide.

Not since Millicent Min, Girl Genius has a debut novel introduced a character so memorably, with such humor and emotional insight. Even square dancing fans will agree…

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

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

I grew up in a small central California oil/agricultural desert town. There was an awesome pioneer cemetery and I think the stories I imagined about the people’s names on the headstones were the first stories I made up. And my little kid mind had some super weird stories to tell.

I live in the Pacific Northwest now. My husband is also a Middle Grade novel writer, Mark Maciejewski, of the infamous I AM FARTACUS series. I have four kids, 3 old dogs, fish, frogs, and I have a crow friend who responds to my “Com-n-eat!” call every morning.

A crow friend sounds AMAZING!

What was the inspiration behind LUPE WONG WON’T DANCE?

I love this question! Well…my daughter Sophia (7th grader at the time) was telling us over dinner one night how they were going to have a square dancing section in P.E. She was not happy. She didn’t want to dance. And she didn’t really get what square dancing had to do with her. She proclaimed she was going to dance with her best friend Gracie. To which, my older daughter laughed and said, “Ummh, you can’t dance with Gracie. And not only can you not dance with Gracie, you have to dance with a boy, and you have to say yes to whoever asks you.”

The entire exchange felt so off to me. You too? You’re asking, “They still square dance?” Uh, yeah! They do! A huge percentage of schools still have square dancing as standard curriculum. At such an unsure time in kids’ lives, they have to dance with someone of the opposite sex and hold hands, often for the first time with someone other than a family member.

That was how it started. But the character, Lupe, is based on my kids, and me. But Lupe handles it in a way we would have if we were spunkier and not intimidated to speak up and say what we really wanted to say.

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

Ha! I was painting my fence. My agent, the lovely Allison Remcheck of Stimola Literary Studio, decided to Facetime me to give me the good news.

Yes, I answered and only then noticed I had a lovely streak of cedar-shaded stain down my face.

Allison told me why she was calling, and I quickly forgot my embarrassment at how I looked.

What were three interesting things you discovered while working on LUPE WONG WON’T DANCE?

-Square Dancing is the official dance in 28 states.

-There is an endangered earthworm in the northwest called the Giant Palouse Earthworm, which is typically 8 inches long, but has an Australian cousin earthworm that can grow to over 3 feet (and it can spit.)

-Not so much interesting, but disturbing. The origins of some of the songs we are familiar with had some very racist origins. Hard to write about, but necessary. Here’s a link to the article that took this story and Lupe’s journey in another direction.

(Warning: Racist language and offensive slurs) https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2014/05/11/310708342/recall-that-ice-cream-truck-song-we-have-unpleasant-news-for-you

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

So, I instinctively blurted out, “Land of the Lost”.  But this is a movie, you say? Well, I Googled it so I could find a way to keep it as my answer. There was a Little Golden Book of Land of the Lost- The Unexpected Guests.

And “why” you ask? So my characters could eat giant strawberries of course! But now, I think I’m the one who actually wanted the giant strawberries.

But if placed Lupe, Niles, Andy in Land of the Lost, I think they all have such unique interests; it would be super entertaining to watch Niles studying endangered pachyderms or gastropods, Andy would be dissecting velociraptor dung, and Lupe would be organizing an equal rights movement for Pakuni against the Sleestak, but also, I’d love to see them all jostling to get in front of one another and protect each other from the T-Rex, Grumpy.

That would be an incredible crossover. And who wouldn’t want giant strawberries??

Why were you drawn to writing middle grade?

I am drawn to writing for this age group because it is definitely the age I was most awkward. I think as a writer, the most vulnerable moments in our character’s lives are the most endearing and interesting. So much of my most embarrassing moments as a middle schooler find their way into what I write.

Any hints about your next book project?

Yes!

I love fantasy and sci-fi! LUPE WONG WON’T DANCE was the first contemporary novel I’ve written. I’m working with the same editor, Nick Thomas at Levine Querido, on my next project. THE LAST CUENTISTA, a book about 12-year-old Petra Peña who rushes to evacuate Earth for a new planet when a comet approaches on a collision course with Earth. Her suspended animation fails during the 370-year journey, so when all the other children are mysteriously reprogrammed and the adults purged, Petra becomes the lone bringer of Earth’s now forbidden stories and her grandmother’s Mexican folklore to a changing humanity. It will be released Fall 2021.

Also, illustrator, Juliana Perdomo, and I have just finalized our picture book, EL CUCUY IS SCARED, TOO!  in which the Mexican boogeyman, El Cucuy is just as afraid as the boy he terrorizes, about moving to a new city with unfamiliar people and places; the boy realizes if he can reassure and help El Cucuy to be fuerte y valiente, then perhaps he can be strong and brave as well. The editor is Emma Ledbetter and it will be released by Abrams Kids, Spring 2021.

Oooh, those both sound great. Can’t wait!

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

The moment I connected with my editor, Nick Thomas. My agent and I were nearing time for submission. I was at a “First Pages” round table at an SCBWI conference (Yay SCBWI!) in Portland, OR. When we’d finished and were leaving, Nick asked if I could chat for a moment about my book. Within a day, Nick had read the book.

Within a week or so, my agent let me know we were going to acquisitions.

Writing can be arduous, until that one moment when it clicks with the right person at the right time. I know this is not the typical path to finding a publisher, so the sequence of events caught me off guard.

It was meant to be. 😀

What are you reading right now?

I’m reading two books.

I am finishing Cherie Dimaline’s, THE MARROW THIEVES. So good!

And I’m about halfway through Darcie Little Badger’s, ELATSOE. Also amazing!

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

Keep a notebook and pen on your bedside table. Those “just before you fall asleep” ideas are either brilliant, or really handy for a good laugh later.

This is so totally true!

BONUS QUESTION: What’s one of your favourite ‘Would You Rather’ questions?

LOL! Lupe and Niles’ “would you rathers” always seem to go pretty gross or cringy.

A good “would you rathers” tells you something about someone’s character. For me, “Would you rather take a leisurely swim in the ocean, or stick your hand in a bucket of eyeballs.”

My answer: Easy, I’d gladly plummet both hands in a bucket of eyeballs.

I am TERRIFIED of the ocean. Fun foot-loss fact: sharks can swim in two feet of water.

(I’m an eye doctor, so the eyeballs thing is sort of not a fair comparison. I touch eyes all day long.)

YIKES!!! When you add in the fun foot-loss fact, that’s a hard choice! 😂

Thank you so much for joining us, Donna!

Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out LUPE WONG WON’T DANCE!
It’s on shelves now!

Add LUPE WONG WON’T DANCE on Goodreads!

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

Click here to enter to win a copy of LUPE WONG WON’T DANCE!
Contest closes Friday, October 2nd at 11:59 pm EST

Thanks for reading!

Kicking Back with Kick-butt and David A. Robertson!

Welcome to Kicking Back with Kick-butt!

Today we’re chatting with David A. Robertson, the author of

THE BARREN GROUNDS

Morgan and Eli, two Indigenous children forced away from their families and communities, are brought together in a foster home in Winnipeg, Manitoba. They each feel disconnected, from their culture and each other, and struggle to fit in at school and at their new home — until they find a secret place, walled off in an unfinished attic bedroom.

A portal opens to another reality, Askí, bringing them onto frozen, barren grounds, where they meet Ochek (Fisher). The only hunter supporting his starving community, Misewa, Ochek welcomes the human children, teaching them traditional ways to survive. But as the need for food becomes desperate, they embark on a dangerous mission. Accompanied by Arik, a sassy Squirrel they catch stealing from the trapline, they try to save Misewa before the icy grip of winter freezes everything — including them.

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

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

This is always such a loaded question! I’m a Cree/Sottish/English/Irish writer and I live in Winnipeg with my family. I have a wife and five children, with two dogs and one cat. I’ve written about 25 books in my ten-year professional writing career, from graphic novels to picture books to young adult novels to middle grade novels to memoir to literary fiction.

All of my books have been about Indigenous people—their histories, communities, cultures, contemporary struggles, resiliencies, strengths, and more. I chose to write about Indigenous people because I didn’t have books when I was a kid, certainly not like kids have now. I feel so lucky to be writing books in a time when so many Indigenous artists are sharing their stories through literature, music, dance, art. It’s exciting to be a part of the Indigenous arts scene in Canada. 

Where did the idea for THE BARREN GROUNDS come from?

From a lot of different places. I’ve wanted to tell a story about the foster care system in Canada for a long time, and have been waiting for the right time and the right idea. This felt like all of that. I wanted kids to learn about how the foster care system treats Indigenous children, and what cultural disconnect can do to a kid, their family, their community, their identity. And also, what reconnection can do, how empowering it is.

A focus I’ve had, as well, is to take classic literature and reimagine it through an Indigenous lens. So, this series (The Barren Grounds is the first in a series called The Misewa Saga) is influenced by Narnia. I think it walks a delicate line of honouring that story, which I love, and becoming something all its own. I’m proud of the book in this way.

Finally, I wanted to incorporate Cree stories of the sky, to retell them through my own voice, and to see what messages I could send to kids through that retelling. The Barren Grounds takes the legend of Ochek, fisher, and how he became the constellation western society calls The Big Dipper. It becomes a story that not only addresses the foster care system, but also land protection and stewardship. About how colonialism has impacted people and the environment.  

It sounds like a truly incredible story. Looking forward to reading it!

What were three interesting things you discovered while working on the book?

1. That writing middle grade fantasy is really hard, but really rewarding. 

2. That it was extremely important to focus the story on Morgan, a female Cree protagonist. I want kids to feel seen and empowered when reading her. I want to offer a new kind of hero that can exist outside the pages of a book. 

3. That legends never die. That sounds cliched. But a legend like Ochek and the summer birds remains relevant today, and has messages in its story that people need to hear. 

In THE BARREN GROUNDS, your two main characters travel to another reality called Askí. For our aspiring writers reading this – how did you approach creating a new reality? Were there certain world-building elements that were key to having the rest fall into place?  

I think you just have to be able to imagine the entire world. Where everything is. The logic of the world. The people who populate it. Its history. Its struggles. Everything that makes up what it is. If you understand that world, you can write within it in an authentic way. So if you follow the logic and description of the world you’ve created, even if it’s a fantasy story, it rings true. It’s a place that people can imagine themselves in. That they want to live in. Or at least visit.

This is the first book in The Misewa Saga series which is very exciting! How do you plan out your plots when you’re working on a series? Do you like a visual system with post-it notes and charts or something else?

No, nothing like that. What I did was write a detailed synopsis for the first book, so I knew exactly what would happen and when. I used that as a road map, to guide my writing all the way to the end. And for the entire series, I wrote summaries for books 2 and 3 initially, so I knew where it all ended before I even started writing The Barren Grounds. And when it came time to start writing book 2, which I’m done now, I wrote a detailed synopsis for it, too, to create another roadmap. So it’s all a document that I follow; I wish it was more exciting! 

It doesn’t have to be exciting when it works! 😀

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

Well, I like imagining kids reading the book and getting lost in it. I love thinking that maybe one kid will find their favourite book ever, and it will stay with them all their life. I have books like that, and it’s such a special thing. In writing middle grade itself, I think it was just creating real characters, making them say real things, and having fun with their quirks and personalities and how they moved through the world I created for them. 

Any hints about your next project?

I have so many coming up, that it’s hard to hint at any one thing. I have two picture books coming out in the next two years, two more instalment in The Misewa Saga, three graphic novels, a memoir, another non-fiction book, and a lot of anthology projects. So, it’s more like: I have a lot coming, so please look out for my books! 

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

Winning the governor general’s award was surprising and shocking, and what it did for my career was incredible. I never expected to win anything as a writer, I just wanted to write good stories. So it’s surprising to me when your work gets recognized by awards, or award nominations (because you lose more than you win!). 

What are you reading right now?

Empire of Wild by Cherie Dimaline

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

Read. A lot. 

Evergreen advice!

Thank you so much for joining us, David!

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

Add THE BARREN GROUNDS on Goodreads!

Connect with David on Twitter, Facebook, or through his website.

Click here to enter to win a copy of THE BARREN GROUNDS!
Contest closes Friday, September 18th at 11:59 pm EST

Thanks for reading!