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Talking With Kids About 9/11, a guest post by Saadia Faruqi

Most young people don’t really care about 9/11. It’s not surprising, since the attacks occurred twenty years ago and are considered ancient history by anyone who’s growing up in the age of TikTok music videos. They study about it in schools in a very perfunctory manner, or hear about it from adults on each anniversary of the attacks. If they come from a family that was personally affected, they will pay homage to the victims. Beyond that, 9/11 isn’t really something on most kids’ radars.

Still, I find myself talking and writing about this subject frequently. I discuss it with my own children, a high-schooler and a middle schooler. I write about it in articles and essays. I think about it more than I probably should. The reason: 9/11 wasn’t just the worst terrorist attack in our nation’s history, it was also a phenomenon that led to a deep change in our society, our laws, and how we view each other. The day after the attacks in 2001, we began to view a group of our neighbors, friends, and community members as suspicious because they shared the religious beliefs of our enemy.

This group, Muslim Americans, were harassed on streets, told to “go back home” and treated like enemies. Our government enacted regulations that targeted us, such as additional security at airports, secret surveillance, and racial profiling. Kids were affected then, and still are today. In fact, those who weren’t even alive during 9/11 still have to live in a world completely shaped by that time period. Think about the movies they watch and the video games they play, where the enemy is always someone who looks like me. Think about the taunts in the cafeteria and the playground, where the targets are always kids like mine. Think about teachers saying grossly inaccurate and even offensive things when they teach World History or World Cultures. This treatment is extended to anyone who is perceived as Muslim: brown people, Hindus and Sikhs, Arabs, immigrants, and more.

These are all the reasons why we need to talk about 9/11 and its aftermath. It’s a much bigger and more nuanced conversation that many adults realize. It’s about who was impacted by government policies, and how prejudice was institutionalized. It’s about how we treat our neighbors and classmates. It’s about which regulations are wrong, and how we can use civic action to make changes.

The good news: kids are very smart. They will understand and analyze this issue in ways that will amaze you. They just need the opportunity to learn and discuss.

In my book YUSUF AZEEM IS NOT A HERO, I explore many aspects of a post 9/11 world and how they affected my community. Yusuf is a sweet, nerdy sixth grader excited about starting middle school, and maybe winning a regional robotics competition. But his small Texas town is preparing for the 20th anniversary of the attacks, riled up by a white supremacist group called the Patriot Boys who want to run Yusuf and his Muslim community out. They bully the kids in school and the adults in neighborhoods, block the construction of a new mosque, and vandalize private property. From calling a kid a terrorist in the school hallways, to accusing another of bringing a bomb to school, the story shines an ugly but accurate light on our society today.

Yusuf learns more about 9/11 from his uncle’s journal, and realizes that the past informs the present and therefore affects the future. That’s what I hope from all my young readers. Learn about history, because how human beings react to events and incidents offers insight about what needs fixing. We need to treat others better, and with more respect. We need to make our communities and schools more welcoming. We need to look at people with love and understanding, not hatred and suspicion. When we start talking about 9/11 and everything that happened after that – politically, culturally, religiously – we will begin healing.

Meet the author

Photo credit: QZB Photography

Saadia Faruqi is a Pakistani American author, essayist and interfaith activist. She writes the children’s early reader series “Yasmin” and other books for children, including middle grade novels “A Place At The Table” co-written with Laura Shovan (a Sydney Taylor Notable 2021), and “A Thousand Questions” (a South Asia Book Award Honor 2021). Her new book “Yusuf Azeem Is Not A Hero” details the experiences of the Muslim American community twenty years after 9/11. Saadia is editor-in-chief of Blue Minaret, a magazine for Muslim art, poetry and prose, and was featured in Oprah Magazine in 2017 as a woman making a difference in her community. She lives in Houston, TX with her husband and children. 

About Yusuf Azeem Is Not a Hero

At a time when we are all asking questions about identity, grief, and how to stand up for what is right, this book by the author of A Thousand Questions will hit home with young readers who love Hena Khan and Varian Johnson—or anyone struggling to understand recent U.S. history and how it still affects us today.  

Yusuf Azeem has spent all his life in the small town of Frey, Texas—and nearly that long waiting for the chance to participate in the regional robotics competition, which he just knows he can win.

Only, this year is going to be more difficult than he thought. Because this year is the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, an anniversary that has everyone in his Muslim community on edge.

With “Never Forget” banners everywhere and a hostile group of townspeople protesting the new mosque, Yusuf realizes that the country’s anger from two decades ago hasn’t gone away. Can he hold onto his joy—and his friendships—in the face of heartache and prejudice?

ISBN-13: 9780062943255
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/07/2021
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

Steven Banks Jumps All Over the Place Because That’s How His Mind Works, a guest post

I love monsters and they scare me. I wondered what would happen if the three classic “biters”; a vampire, a werewolf and a zombie, bit a kid the day before he started middle school. That became my book series Middle School Bites…Tom Marks is a Vam-Wolf-Zom. Any kid who felt different, strange, unique for any reason can identify with Tom. Book #3, Middle School Bites: Out for Blood comes out August 31. 

I don’t write for kids. I write for people. The majority of the people who read the books seem to be smaller and younger than I am. But I also wanted an adult to be able to pick up the book, read it and enjoy it. At some point they were eleven, right? Diary of A Wimpy Kid was originally conceived for adults looking back on their middle grade years.

It drives me crazy when kids don’t sound like kids in books. You must be true to your character’s age and background. I want to gently thrash authors who use sophisticated words and phrases that most kids (unless they were a genius) would never use, in dialogue or first-person action descriptions. It’s very difficult, I have to fight the urge to use more evocative words and phrases. Stephen Sondheim, to this day, regrets having Maria in West Side Story sing the line “It’s alarming how charming I feel” in the song l Feel Pretty. He said he cringes whenever he hears the line sung. She is a young, teenage Puerto Rican immigrant, she is not in a Noel Coward play. 

Big Fat Exception: To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. How old is Scout and how is she using all these big ol’ fancy words?…But…The book has sold 30,000,000 copies so maybe you should not listen to me.

I think on paper. What does that mean? I have to write it out to see if something will work or is funny or good. And sometimes the process makes me come up with an idea or phrase I could not have imagined in my mind. Weird. I also like to move around and write in different locations; outside in the garden, the kitchen, living room, bed. For some reason it gives me a “new” and clearer view of things that I wrote at my office desk on the computer. After many years of writing books and scripts, I’ve learned to write anywhere. I wrote some of the Middle School Bites series in my car mechanic’s waiting room, doctor’s office, in my car waiting to get my Covid vaccination shot and at The Hollywood Bowl as I listened to the LA Philharmonic rehearse.

You don’t have to write about what you know. Kazuo Ishiguro, who was born in Japan, wrote a first-person narrated book as a middle-aged English butler in high society pre-World War II in Remains of The Day. He didn’t live that life. He did his research. He imagined it.

Write about anything and anyone. Just make it good (the hardest part). Beverly Cleary wrote the first book I adored, Henry Huggins. It’s about a third-grade boy and perfectly captured a boy’s POV. She was not a boy, but she could imagine and write that character. Like JK Rowling did with Harry Potter, or S.E. Hinton did with Pony Boy in The Outsiders (when she was 14! And finished at 15!). Ray Bradbury was not a Martian, but he took us to Mars. Seeing the world through another’s person’s eyes is a great journey and life experience. 

Serious Middle Grade Fiction with heavy themes is terrific…But…There is a lot of it. My goal with my books is to write a fast-moving, entertaining and funny book, suck the reader in, but at the same time, slip in – judiciously! – in tiny bits – some serious ideas, thoughts, philosophy and history. Make ‘em laugh and trick them into thinking. I have Emily Dickinson and Vincent Van Gogh appear in my books, via assigned school projects. Tom imagines that if he had a time machine he would go tell them that they become world famous after they died. Tom then tries to buy a painting from Van Gogh, who now wants $85,000,000 for it.

I also slip in a message about doing life, not watching it. Tom goes to a dance and his Dad teaches him some simple moves and tells him to dance, as opposed to being the boys who just lean against the wall and watch, trying to be cool. Participate in life.

No big secret! I made a conscious decision to not have Tom hide the fact that he is a Vam-Wolf-Zom in the book.  Kids hiding their real identity, super power, etc., has been done to death. I thought…What if everyone knows Tom is a Vam-Wolf-Zom? The school’s motto is All Our Welcome and they announce Tom’s “predicament” at an assembly. However, some people do not treat him the way they are supposed to and tease him and make fun of him and call him names. That’s reality.

Why are people bullies? Tanner Gannt is the bully in my books. I wanted to explore the different sides of a bully. Why is he like that? Tom learns more about Tanner when he ends up in his bedroom, as a bat, hiding in his backpack. He also witnesses a poignant Christmas morning with Tanner and his mother. 

I was the head writer of SpongeBob Squarepants for six years. I did seasons 4 through 8. My mantra for the show: simple and silly. I oversaw six of writers and there were also the story board artists who wrote. We wrote what we thought was funny and amused us, but keeping in mind the show was predominantly for kids. It was a huge, collaborative group effort, with chances to “plus” or improve the episode at many different steps. Writing books is a solo flight. Very different. But…also rewarding. It’s a good thing to try different styles of writing, novels, non-fiction, poetry, short stories. You may discover what you’re really good at and you didn’t know it. Playwright August Wilson thought he was going to be a poet, but he became a playwright. And there’s poetry in his plays.

Superpowers! Because Tom is a Vam-Wolf-Zom he has super hearing, night vision, great strength, the ability to hypnotize people (if their wills are not too strong) and turn into a bat and fly or even turn into smoke…In a way, he is a superhero…But sometimes he hears and sees things using his powers that he would rather not…I also followed the “rules” of monsters and try to keep it “realistic”. Tom has to slather on sunscreen, wear hats and dark glasses in the sun, constantly eat to satisfy his zombie hunger (he does not eat brains) and blood, synthetic blood or raw liver smoothies seem to work.

A lot of “bad” things happen to Tom. Arthur Miller, the playwright, said that when he was writing Death Of A Salesman, would think to himself, each day, about his main character: “What can I do to Willy Loman today?” Poor Willy. Poor Tom. I would think the same thing. Get Tom into trouble. Have something bad happen. How does he react? There is your drama. Conflict. Humor. But Tom does have small triumphs along the way and learns things. 

Cliffhangers are cool. At the end of book one, on the last page, Tom meets the vampire that bit him. At the end of book two, he meets the werewolf who bit him and in book three he meets the zombie. 

I put stuff I like in books. I like Emily Dickinson, action figure toys, Monty Python, rabid collectors, good-bad movies and noir detective novels. So….Tom has to do a diorama for history class and uses an old action figure to be Emily Dickinson. He aims to impress a girl he likes, who loves Dickinson’s poetry. The action figure is from the worst super hero movie ever made called Vacuum Girl. She sucks baddies up in her vacuum, but it has to remain plugged in. The toy turns out to be valuable because the figure was a re-purposed toy (Big Jack Jackson) from an old TV show. It was dangerous for kids to play with, so it was recalled. The toy is stolen and Tom must track it in film noir / detective fashion. I wrote those chapters in a kid-styled version of Dashiell Hammet and Raymond Chandler. Tom also imagines the worker who had to re-paint the figure, complaining to his boss that it does not look like the actress in the movie and they are not fooling kids in a John Cleese / Michael Palin dialogue exchange. 

You can’t just put stuff in a book because you like it. You need a dramatic reason! I love Halloween…My brother, Alan, and I used to build a giant maze and walk through in his front and backyard. Filled with monsters (actor friends and neighbors in elaborate masks and costumes), special effects and very scary stuff.  We took three weeks to build it. We’d get over 1,000 people going through on Halloween night….So….Tom loves Halloween, but it is also a rare chance for him to go out in a mask and costume and be “in disguise”, so no one knows who he is. People don’t stare or ask questions. He can also ask other kids, “What do you think of that Tom Marks? So, that’s a good thing…But…Do you want to hear those answers? Meanwhile, the school bully, Tanner Gantt, dresses up like a Vam-Wolf-Zom, to make fun of Tom. 

I base some characters on real people. Abel Sherril is based on three people; My friend, Bill Prady, who co-created The Big Bang Theory, (the TV show, not the theory) read the entire World Book Encyclopedia when he was ten years old and was a Walking Google pre-Google. The fact that Abel wears a suit and tie to school every day is based on another friend, Mark Wheeler, (a geologist and a national champion fencer!) who wore a suit to kindergarten. And I used to bring my lunch to school in a briefcase. I love briefcases. Blame James Bond and Ian Fleming…Zeke, Tom’s best friend, is named after a nickname I called my dad and he is based on a good friend’s son, who is full of life, doesn’t get embarrassed, marches to his own drummer, is super enthusiastic and loyal…Good qualities in a human being. Tom sometimes wishes he was more like Zeke. So do I. 

I love libraries. You get to borrow books for free! The library I went to as a child is still there and not much has changed. It’s a little like going back in time when I go inside. Weird. I also wrote a great deal of a one-person show I did, that you can see on Amazon Prime “Steven Banks Home Entertainment Center” (Shameless plug). 

A good book is a good book, no matter what age it is written for. I pity the people who do not read YA or middle grade or even picture books. Where Is My Hat? by Jon Klassen is a masterpiece. I read the Ramona books as an adult. Ramona is a great American literary figure and I am being 100% serious. Beverly Clearly captured a child’s mind perfectly. 

Book you should read that you might not know about. One of the best new books I have read in the past 15 years is The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place by Maryrose Wood. A 15-year-old Victorian-era girl becomes a nanny/teacher to three children who were literally raised by wolves. An adult can enjoy this as much as any middle grader. It’s that good and that funny. The writing attains a P.G. Wodehouse level at times. It’s a series of 7 books. Also The Dead Father’s Club by Matt Haig, narrated by an authentic sounding (!) 11-year-old. It’s a modern-day version of Hamlet. You’re welcome. Wait…One more: I wrote a YA novel called King of The Creeps. It’s not about monsters. It’s about a 15-year-old in 1963 who decides to become a folk singer to impress girls, buys a cheap guitar in Greenwich Village, has one lesson, learns one chord and two days later ends up on a big TV show The Ed Sullivan Show.

In conclusion…There is no conclusion. Read!

Meet the author

Steven Banks is the Emmy nominated head writer of SpongeBob Squarepants and wrote on Jimmy Neutron Boy Genius and CatDog. He recently wrote the new animated series Stan Lee’s Superhero Kindergarten starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Steven wrote and starred in the cult classic special, Home Entertainment Center, on Amazon Prime.  His books include the YA novel, King of the Creeps and New York Times Bestseller, SpongeBob Exposed. His new book series is Middle School Bites. TV appearances include Mom, Penn & Teller Fool Us, My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and The Jimmy Kimmel Show. Plays include Love Tapes, co-written with Penn Jillette, Looking at Christmas (NYC PBS) and Shadowland, which he co-created with the legendary dance/theater company, Pilobolus, which has been performed in 40 countries and seen by over one million people. Steven is a drop out of Los Angeles City College and a graduate of the Ringling Brothers & Barnum and Bailey’s Clown College.


Middle School Bites on Facebook 


middleschoolbites on Instagram

About Middle School Bites: Out for Blood

Tom the Vam-Wolf-Zom is back—and so is the werewolf that bit him—in this monstrously funny series about a boy who’s dying to fit in.

Eleven-year-old Tom was bit by a vampire, a werewolf, and a zombie right before the first day of middle school. It was a weird and crazy day. And he didn’t even get excused from sixth grade!

Now he’s being hunted down by the werewolf that bit him. Should Tom join a wolf pack? On the one hand, he could give up school and homework forever. (He really doesn’t want to do his history report.) On the other hand, he’d miss his band, his friends, and Annie, his maybe-possibly-someday girlfriend. He might even miss his big sister, Emma.

Then the vampire that bit him returns with a warning: the werewolf is dangerous. Perhaps Tom should stick with sixth grade—even if it’s mostly talent show disappointments, detention, and chicken-turkey-salami-roast beef sandwiches. 

Created by an Emmy-nominated writer for SpongeBob, The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, and CatDog,this hilarious series is illustrated with clever, cartoon-style art on every spread. Perfect for fans of Diary of a Wimpy Kid and The Last Kids on Earth.

ISBN-13: 9780823446162
Publisher: Holiday House
Publication date: 08/31/2021
Series: Middle School Bites #3
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

Writing Pains: Steps of the writing process that torment us the most, a guest post by Class of 2K21 Books

“Do the thing you think you cannot do.”

–Eleanor Roosevelt

When we picture our favorite authors creating their masterpieces, we envision words flowing like magic from their fingers, vibrant characters leaping off the page, and tension building with slow and steady perfection as light streams through their plant-filled offices.

But when talking to authors, you see that the reality is often punctuated by false starts and hiccups, self-doubt, and lots of caffeine. It means writing over stolen moments amid the juggle of life and deferred showering as deadlines loom. It means fear. The truth is, the writer’s journey is filled with phases of slog, insecurity, and a specific kind of literary torture. 🙂

Below, several Class of 2kBooks authors share aspects of the writing process they find the most daunting, along with ways to overcome those fears in order to unlock the story within. Read on to hear from fab authors Shakirah Bourne (Josephine Against the Sea), Kalena Miller (The Night When No One Had Sex), Jessica S. Olson (Sing Me Forgotten), Sam Taylor (We are the Fire), and Jennifer Adam (The Last Windwitch).

Sam Taylor: For me, the first draft is the hardest part. I always outline and complete quite a bit of research and planning prior to starting, but still it is so, so hard to create an entire book from a blank page! I’ve started keeping my first drafts (or Draft Zero, as I call them) to myself. This gives me the freedom to explore my story and get to know my characters, without worrying about making sense to someone else. I consider Draft Zero a reality-check for my outline. It’s my chance to figure out which of my initial ideas are working, and which need more development. Most importantly, my best and most creative ideas come while I’m working through Draft Zero. Here, I have the chance to explore them. In revision, I can get all those loose threads cleaned up and presentable for my first round of readers.

Jennifer Adam: There are two distinct parts of my writing process that I find deeply challenging. The first is just getting an initial draft done. I struggle with perfectionism that sometimes manifests as a temptation to procrastinate (if I can’t do it perfectly, maybe I shouldn’t do it at all) or as the urge to endlessly fidget with the words I’ve already written rather than just moving forward. I’ve definitely gotten better at pushing through – mostly because there are so many stories I want to tell and I know I’ll never get to them if I don’t get things done! – but that first draft is still such a slog for me. It’s hard to create something from nothing.

The other part I find difficult is diving into any major edits. I LOVE digging deep into a story, tearing it apart and rebuilding it more strongly, adding layers and depth and texture. I love seeing how a story can evolve and take on a clearer, sharper shape. But starting edits makes me so anxious – I’m always scared I’ll break the story or make a bigger mess. It takes me several days of thinking and brainstorming just to get up the courage to start making changes. Once I do, though, I have a marvelous time because it starts to feel like working on a puzzle, and that moment all the pieces click is pure magic.

Jessica S. Olson: The hardest part of the writing process for me is always the beginning. Nailing down an outline and then writing the first draft. Especially now that I’ve written several books, it’s always so daunting to begin, because it’s like staring up at this massive mountain I’ve hiked before and knowing just how difficult it’s going to be to reach the top and just how long it’s going to take. I’ve also learned that so much of what I outline and what goes into the first draft ends up getting changed in future drafts. Rewritten. Altered. Deleted. So every word in that first draft feels pointless sometimes because I know that most of those words won’t make it to the final draft. But these messy first drafts are so vital, and they have to be written! You can’t revise what you don’t have. Every masterpiece has to start somewhere–so we push through!

Kalena Miller: Perhaps I’m unusual, but I love first drafts. Staring at a blank piece of paper is the best part of the process. For me, revising tends to be more difficult. Once I have a complete draft, my brain balks at the idea of messing it up because I’m overwhelmed by the prospect of putting it back together. However, working with an editor on THE NIGHT WHEN NO ONE HAD SEX has really helped me overcome this fear. Getting to work alongside another professional who’s just as invested in my book as I am was an amazing experience. Not that revising wasn’t still an overwhelming process (I definitely cried a few times, but that’s not particularly unusual for me), but knowing my editor shared my vision for the book was the motivation I needed to get it done. 

Shakirah Bourne: I’m pretty sure my version of hell is staring at a blinking cursor on a blank page. Writing a first draft is so painful for me–I feel the weight of irrational expectations, fear of failure, and frustration that the wonderfully-crafted story in my head does not magically appear on the page. I get through it by reminding myself that the first draft doesn’t have to be good, but finished. I also make sure that I have a detailed outline before writing to help avoid excessive procrastination and prevent writer’s block. Some days, drafting is enjoyable and fun, and when I re-read I’m pleasantly surprised that the writing isn’t as awful as I imagined, but to maintain motivation I have to visualise the moment I write the final line in the last chapter. I love doing edits and revisions so I’m always very excited when I get to that stage.

As we can see, writing involves avoidance, stress, and self-doubt. It means carving out time in the dead of the night or the first light of dawn, juggling jobs and family amid fears and expectations. For some of us, anxiety lies in the early blank page stages, while for others it’s the later layers, the developmental reworkings that are most dreaded.

But no matter our kryptonite, we can each find our courage. We dive into the fulcrum of our hearts, that quiet place within where the magic begins. We come to see that in our fears and fallibilities lies strength, a quiet belief that helps us do that thing we thought we could not do.

Thank you so much for being with us here on TLT.  The links to some of our books can be ordered/pre-ordered and added to your Goodreads, so check us out below.

Wishing you the strength to tackle the tough as you work toward your dreams!

With gratitude,

The Class of 2k21 Books











Amplifying the voices of diverse multiracial authors and illustrators, a guest post by Sailaja Joshi

 Photo credit: BLIP Photography

As a book lover, sociologist and someone who understood the power of books, I knew I wanted literature to be part of my daughter’s upbringing, and to have her learn about her heritage through the lens of other cultural experiences. As excited as I was to build my daughter’s library, I found myself extremely frustrated at what I saw. The small selection of books featuring Indian or South Asian characters on the market were developmentally inappropriate, culturally inaccurate or insensitive, and not what I wanted on my daughter’s bookshelf. It was in this moment I realized I must do something about this. This is how Mango & Marigold Press came to be.

The work we do at Mango & Marigold Press helps to amplify the voices of diverse multiracial authors and illustrators. With our #1001DiverseBooks initiative, Mango & Marigold Press funds 1,001 new copies of each of their books for literacy nonprofits to bridge the accessibility gap and provide children with a wider range of representation in the characters and experiences they’re reading about. Recently, we celebrated our sixth anniversary and 20th published book, yet despite the strides we’ve made and the impact we’ve had on the publishing industry (along with many other amazing organizations and initiatives), it’s clear that substantial improvement is still very much needed.

Representation matters in children’s literature. Children need to see themselves in literature. A lot of people might dismiss the importance that children’s books have on the state of the world, but I’d strongly disagree. Kids are born open-minded. By creating a more diverse landscape of literature, we open up the world for them, encourage wonder and awe, and prompt conversations about culture, race, and experiences. At a young age, children’s minds are like sponges — quickly absorbing everything they see and hear. Incorporating diverse literature at these early stages makes it easier for a child to absorb and form a sense of acceptance.

As parents, we have an amazing ability to mold and shape our children’s young minds and create lifelong morals and values that will help them better themselves and the world through the literature we read to them and provide them with. Teaching kids about diversity and acceptance is a large part of our responsibilities, and an easy and organic way to do that is through literature. Here are some ways to diversify your child’s at home libraries, along with a handful of recommended titles to add to your child’s collection.

Photo credit: Emily Tirella

Three Ways to Diversify Your Children’s Book Collection

Audit Your Current Library

In order to best fill in the gaps, you need to understand what your collection is lacking. Therefore, look through your current assortment of books before heading to the library or bookstore so you have a plan and know exactly what you’re looking for.

Authors Matter – Check the author

Representation matters in literature, but so does who’s writing it. Oftentimes, cultural experiences are misrepresented in literature because they are being written by authors writing outside their experiences, therefore, do your own research and make sure the author is writing from personal experience.

Make it a recurring to-do and not a one-time checklist

The world is constantly changing, and so should you. Your libraries should evolve and change throughout the years and diversifying shouldn’t be viewed as one-time to do. One of the best ways we can support diversity is by making it a part of the conversation every day, so keep at it!

Recommended Titles

Finding Om (written by Rashmi Bismark, Illustrated by Morgan Huff)

Finding Om is an illustrated children’s book that shares the story of Anu, an Indian African girl who explores the mantra Om with her beloved grandfather, Appuppa. Through this story, she begins to uncover techniques of mindfulness that readers can explore along with her. This wonderful multicultural, intergenerational story is sure to become a staple in classrooms and homes across the world.

Super Satya Saves the Day (written by Raakhee Mirchandani, Illustrated by Tim Palin)

Super Satya, a Sikh American girl, is ready to have a super day, including finally conquering the tallest slide in Hoboken. But her day takes a not-so-super turn when she realizes her superhero cape is stuck at the dry cleaner. Will she be able to face her fears, help her friends and be the true hero everyone knows she is? Super Satya Saves The Day introduces Satya, a precocious Indian-American superhero.

Always Anjali (written by Sheetal Sheth, illustrated by Jessica Blank)

When Anjali finally gets the bike of her dreams on her birthday, she and her two best friends are excited to get matching license plates with their names on it. But Anjali can’t find her name. There’s Amy, Betsy, Chris, and many more, but no Anjali. To make matters worse, she gets bullied for her different name, and is so upset she demands to change it. When her parents refuse and she is forced to take matters into her own hands, she winds up learning to celebrate who she is and carry her name with pride. A timeless story about appreciating what makes us special and honoring our differences. Grand prize winner in 2019 for the Purple Dragonfly Award.

Bindiya in India (written by Monique Kamaria Chheda, MD, Illustrated by Debasmita Dasgupta)

Bindiya in India is the story of a young Indian American girl’s first trip to India for an Indian wedding. Weaving together Hindi and English, the children’s illustrated book takes place in the 1990s. It follows Bindiya as she meets her extended family for the first time, celebrates Indian wedding traditions, and creates memories and bonds to last a lifetime.

Meet the author

Photo credit: Emily Tirella

Sailaja Joshi is the founder of Mango & Marigold Press, an award-winning independent publishing house that shares the sweet and savory stories of the South Asian experience. Mango & Marigold Press’s mission has expanded to not only bridge the diversity gap in literature for children and teens but also improve the accessibility of diverse books in underserved communities through their #1001DiverseBooks initiative, with a goal to close the literacy and achievement gap. Sailaja has also been a passionate volunteer in the Hindu Youth community for over twenty years.

Characters Can Deal With Anxiety Too, a guest post by Alexandria Rose Rizik

I remember my first panic attack: I was in a movie theater. Suddenly I couldn’t catch my breath, my arm went numb, and the darkness of the theater along with the vibrations from the surround sound made me feel claustrophobic, like the walls were caving in on me. I ran to the bathroom and called my mom. I was only sixteen years old and had never experienced a panic attack like that before. So, to say the least, I didn’t know what was going on.

That was the first of many panic attacks I suffered from throughout my teen/young adult years. In a sense, when you’re dealing with anxiety, it can become your identity. I think that’s why it played such a prevalent role in my writing, specifically with this character Kendra. She reflected my sixteen-year-old self. The story was inspired by my first real relationship and the heartache that followed, so it only seemed fitting to include that element in the story. It was with this boyfriend that I had my first panic attack in the theater, which also seemed like a metaphor in a sense for the relationship.

I didn’t realize then that anxiety affects so many people—especially so many young people. Even more so, it’s on a rise. In fact, according to adda.org, “Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S,” and “Anxiety disorders affect 25.1% of children between 13 and 18 years old.” In my opinion, that’s a pretty large percentage.

The fact that anxiety plays such a big role in the lives of teens and young people encouraged me even more to make mental health the forefront of this character’s personality. I think so many people will be able to relate to Kendra’s character and what she goes through, how she tries to manage her angst.

At first, it was really difficult to write about her anxiety because it was so personal and I was still learning how to manage it myself. How could I help a character get through her anxiety if I didn’t even know how to deal with it myself? It was also something I didn’t discuss with outsiders. At that point, I didn’t want people to know what I was dealing with so I put on a happy face and whenever the anxiety tried to creep its way out, I’d be so afraid of having a full blown panic attack in front of people. How embarrassing, I would think. No one understands. But putting the feelings down on paper actually helped me with my own anxiety.

The truth is, a lot more people deal with anxiety and mental health issues than I realized. And just like me, they want to mask it with a happy face so no one around them will know. But as time has gone on, I’ve seen the way, especially through social media, people are more open about their mental health struggles. That’s really the core of who Kendra is in 21 Questions. She’s a teenage girl who has been through a lot of trauma that leaves her with this anxiety that she’s learned to somewhat manage, but she has her triggers—one being Brock Parker. When Brock enters her life and stimulates this side of her that arouses her panic attacks, she realizes she’s been putting a bandaid on her pain and never really dealt with it head on for the sake of protecting herself and what she believes makes her an outcast from the rest of her friends and acquaintances.

Brock has his own set of mental health struggles too. They might not be as transparent Kendra’s are. But at one point he even says the reason he does drugs is because he likes the way they make him feel and “they take away all of my worries and anxieties, so that I don’t feel them.” The difference between he and Kendra is that he numbs his anxieties before he gets a chance to feel them. Which is an interesting point to address, because a lot of the time mental health and addiction go hand-in-hand. The question becomes: what came first? The chicken or the egg? Do people abuse drugs to numb their mental health issues or does drug use bring out those issues?

Both of these characters are beautifully flawed. I wanted to write about two imperfect people who despite their trauma and issues, persevered. They aren’t perfect, but they never claimed to be. I think about some of my favorite characters in literature and film and why I connected to them and what made them so relatable. They are characters who make mistakes and fail, but those failures aren’t always what define them. In fact, they are what shape them and I think that is raw and real, which is something I strive for my characters to be.

As a writer, pulling from personal experiences can be so vulnerable but it’s what creates characters that people connect with, which is the whole goal. I just want my readers to say, “wow, I felt that…I’ve been there.” Covering heavy topics like anxiety and mental health was a challenge but something I believe should be discussed more in literature especially with the rise in numbers of young people dealing with it.

Meet the author

Alexandria Rizik is an award-winning filmmaker and the author of three books, the poetry collection Words Written in the Dark, a children’s book Chocolate Milk, and her recent release and debut novel 21 Questions.

She was born and raised in Scottsdale, Arizona, where she was brought up by a large Armenian family. She received her bachelor of arts in English literature from Arizona State University.

Alexandria’s love for writing began when she was a young child: her aunt bought her a journal and told her to write a story in it, and the rest is history. Her favorite part about writing is being able to write the happily every after that doesn’t always happen in real life.

Besides writing, Alexandria loves yoga, wine, and family time.

About 21 Questions

In Laguna Beach, California, sixteen-year-old Kendra Dimes is preparing for the 2010 USA Surfing Prime West. She’ll be competing this year in honor of her brother, who was a surfer too, but who died from a drug overdose. Kendra has suffered anxiety attacks ever since her brother’s death, and surfing is what’s been helping her heal.

Brock Parker is the new bad boy at school; he deals drugs to the high school clientele for his parents, who work for a Mexican drug lord. Though Brock and Kendra come from two different worlds, sparks fly when they meet at the homecoming dance—their attraction is magnetic. When they start a game of 21 Questions one night, they begin to learn more about each other—and, surprisingly, about themselves too. But some questions aren’t answered with the whole truth; after all, Brock can’t tell Kendra what his parents do for a living.

As Kendra and Brock experience all of life’s most exciting firsts, they prove that even when life throws you the perfect storm, you can make it through and come out stronger than before. 21 Questions is a coming-of-age journey packed with passion and heartbreak, risk and romance.

ISBN-13: 9781684630875
Publisher: SparkPress
Publication date: 08/03/2021
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

Into the Dark: Why Kids Should Read Horror, a guest post by Ally Malinenko

The scene went like this:

“I would never let my children read that.”

I froze, shame flooding me, coloring my cheeks, tightening my throat. Her words echoed in my head.

 “I would never let my children read that.”

Let’s start at the beginning, shall we? One of the things a lot of people might not know about publishing is that it involves secrets. Lots of them. For instance, you’re really not supposed to talk about your book being accepted for publication before the Publisher’s Weekly announcement. It’s fine to tell family and all but you aren’t supposed to go on Twitter and scream about it as much as you’d like to. Back in January 2020 Ghost Girl, my debut novel, had been accepted but we were waiting on contract stuff to finalize before the announcement was made. It had been over a month and to say I was getting antsy would be an understatement. I work in a research library and one day we had an appointment with a well-known biographer. It’s not important who. But let’s just say that this biographer happened to write one of my favorite books about one of my favorite writers.

To say I was excited to meet her was an understatement.

I’m not sure why I said it. It was almost like I couldn’t stop myself.

“My first book is being published.”

“Oh, that’s wonderful, congrats. What do you write?”

The eternal question. What do you write? My lizard brain blurted out the same thing I say all the time, not even thinking it would elicit a response.

“I write middle grade horror.”

Her face wrinkled in surprise that then deepened into disgust. “Middle grade? Like…..for children.”

“Yes,” I said, my voice a pitch higher as the tips of my fingers started to tingle. Anxiety was descending.

“I would never let my children read that.”

And once again I was whisked through time back to the halls of my school, clutching my tattered copy of Scary Stories to tell in the Dark, teased by the other kids in the hall. Or in the library, same book in hand, a teacher giving me a cocked eyebrow and a sidelong look.

I handed the famous biographer her materials, muttered the usual reminder about the archive rules and left as quickly as possible wondering how after all these years, are we still of afraid of children who like dark, strange, scary things?

I have wondered about this before I started writing Ghost Girl, and while editing Ghost Girl and now that my book is out, I’m still thinking about it. Prior to working in the archive, I was a children’s librarian and I knew all the kids that were like me, the ones that beeline straight for the Goosebumps. Those kids are there, looking for these books. So why are parents, teacher and sometimes even librarians – the gatekeepers – worrying about it? What do adults think they are saving kids from? What do they think is going to happen if kids read scary books?

Because the truth is those books offer more than scares; they offer solace. It’s a thing I call Safe Scary. Kids know the world is a scary place. There is no way to shield that from them. Nor should we. Giving kids scary books gives them a place to navigate those feelings, to be scared in a safe way. If it’s too much they close the covers. But if it’s not they have a chance to be the hero, which is the other important thing that horror does for kids. It gives them agency. It gives them power. A thing that children, by nature and status, do not have. They live in a world where they are told when to get up, when to go to bed, what to eat, when to eat it, what to watch, and sadly what to read. When kids read books, they get to play act the main character. My main character is Zee, a girl who loves scary stories but didn’t expect to live in one. She is stubborn and brave and at times makes terrible decisions. She is, fully, a kid. Reading Zee’s story, kids get to experience it with her. They’ll go into the woods with Zee, into the dark, but they’ll come back out on the other side, where the light is. They’ll survive the night. That is what horror books teach us – survival. Let them defeat the monsters on the page so they’ll recognize the ones that will inevitably appear in their lives.

The other thing horror does is tells kids the truth. Adults often forget that kids have the same emotions as they do but often lack the skills to express them. They are acutely aware when things are not okay. But we are rarely honest with kids about the bad parts of life. We lie when their pets die. We tell them everything is fine when Mom and Dad aren’t speaking at the dinner table. We throw the truth in a dark corner and hope they never see it. Horror, on the other hand, doesn’t deal in platitudes. It doesn’t pretend away reality. It puts you front and center against a monster and then it places in your hand the sword you need to vanquish it. Horror believes in kids and trusts them to go along for this ride. It knows they’ll last the night.

Fear is a natural part of life and adults have learned coping skills for their fear. They have had years of experiences to pull from when the bottom drops out. But kids don’t. Horror books offer very important lessons about fear. The biggest being that you either conquer it for succumb to it. Fear offers no middle ground. It is through story telling that we learn how to navigate our emotions. Stories build empathy. They are a way for humans to say to each other “I felt this. Did you feel this too?” They are ways for us to make connections in a world that often seems devoid of them. Horror by nature builds empathy simply because when the main character is threatened, you root for them. You want them to win. You want them to survive the night. A connection is built.  A lesson is learned. A fear is conquered. A hero emerges, dusty and shaken but still standing.

I recently read an excellent piece about the loneliness of horror fandom for kids, especially for BIPOC kids, by Ally Russel. Ally wondered where her horror family was as a kid. Why she felt so disconnected. I understood that. It can be a lonely fandom. But we have now the opportunity to change that. As Ally says, “If you know a young horror fan, protect them at all costs. Let them explore the boundaries of their fear.”

Protect them at all costs.

Protecting them isn’t shielding them. It isn’t placating them. It is letting them know the dangers our there and putting a book in their hand so they’re ready when it happens. Monsters, eventually, come for all of us. It is best to be prepared.

If I could redo that afternoon with that very Important Biographer, I would have done it different. I would have told her all these things. I would have kept my head up. I would let her know I am proud to write horror for kids, proud to have the privilege to write horror for kids.

To watch them go, head up, shoulders back, right into the dark and know they’re going to be okay.

Meet the author

Ally Malinenko is a poet, novelist, and librarian living in Brooklyn, New York, where she pens her tales in a secret writing closet before dawn each day. Connect with Ally on her website at www.allymalinenko.comInstagram

About Ghost Girl

Perfect for fans of Small Spaces and Nightbooks, Ally Malinenko’s debut is an empowering and triumphant ghost story——with spooky twists sure to give readers a few good goosebumps!

Zee Puckett loves ghost stories. She just never expected to be living one.

It all starts with a dark and stormy night. When the skies clear, everything is different. People are missing. There’s a creepy new principal who seems to know everyone’s darkest dreams. And Zee is seeing frightening things: large, scary dogs that talk and maybe even . . . a ghost.

When she tells her classmates, only her best friend Elijah believes her. Worse, mean girl Nellie gives Zee a cruel nickname: Ghost Girl.

But whatever the storm washed up isn’t going away. Everyone’s most selfish wishes start coming true in creepy ways.

To fight for what’s right, Zee will have to embrace what makes her different and what makes her Ghost Girl. And all three of them—Zee, Elijah, and Nellie—will have to work together if they want to give their ghost story a happy ending.

ISBN-13: 9780063044609
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 08/10/2021
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

The Clues in the Cover, a guest post by Betty Culley

Yes, my book covers make me cry! I’m not an artist but it’s magic to me how an artist can draw a vision I can only express in words. When I saw Chris Kwon’s cover art for my first YA verse novel, THREE THINGS I KNOW ARE TRUE, I got weepy. Part of my inspiration for the book, the mighty Kennebec River that runs through the small towns near me, was depicted with such beauty.

When I saw the cover for my debut middle-grade book, DOWN TO EARTH, I was equally amazed. One reason was that Henry’s house was eerily like my own house, right down to the attic window and the double chimney! And the trees rimming the land are just like the fir and hemlocks on my land. I hadn’t ever sent anyone at Crown Books for Young Readers photos of where I lived, but there it was.

The other thing that amazed me was the way the artist, Robert Frank Hunter, put significant objects from the book in the fireball on the cover. Some of those are: a dowsing stick, a sandhill crane, a compass, a notebook, a tusk, a tie, a slice of pie, and a rubber boot.

The dowsing stick is what Henry uses to find out if he is a water dowser or not. He comes from a long line of well drillers and water dowsers, who use a dowsing stick to find water deep underground. When they pass over water, the stick points downward. Henry doesn’t know if he has inherited this gift or not.

The tusk represents a 10,000-year-old wooly mammoth tusk Henry sees in the Maine State Museum. Unfortunately, in order to study and date it, the tusk was destroyed. Seeing this at the museum makes Henry worry what will happen to the meteorite that falls in his family’s field. It is much, much older than the tusk he saw.

Hints about the other objects in the fireball. The boots — Henry’s little sister. The tie— a visitor who brings a very unusual gift. The compass—saved from a flood.

This is the back of the cover. It has a quote from inside the book of what Henry is thinking when he’s standing on the roof of his house watching the fireball. He considers how big the universe is. That is part of my inspiration for the story—considering how vast the universe is myself and wondering what would happen if a meteorite from far outside our solar system landed here on earth.

Back cover says:
“I know scientists aren’t sure if there’s an end to the universe. I read that you can travel at the speed of light forever without reaching an edge of it. But when I was balanced on top of the roof watching the light burst over me, it felt real, how big the universe is.”

Seeing my covers reminds me how inspiration is everywhere. A book can inspire a drawing. A drawing can inspire a book. A river or a rock can be the seed of a story.  My next middle-grade novel The Natural Genius of Ants is partly inspired by something we usually walk by without noticing- ants. My next YA verse novel The Name She Gave Me is inspired by my own adoption history. Both books are coming out next year. I’ve seen cover sketches, and yes, there were some more tears!

Meet the author

Betty Culley’s debut YA novel in verse, THREE THINGS I KNOW ARE TRUE, was a Kids’ Indie Next List Top Ten Pick and on the ALA-YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults List. Her first middle-grade novel is inspired by her fascination with meteorites, voyagers from another place and time. She’s worked as a pediatric nurse and lives in a small town in central Maine.

Website: www.bettyculley.com

Twitter: @Betty_Culley

Instagram: @bettyculley

Facebook: @bettyculleywrites

About Down to Earth

Counting by 7s meets See You in the Cosmos in this heartwarming coming-of-age story perfect for the budding geologists and those fascinated by the mysteries of the universe.

Henry has always been fascinated by rocks. As a homeschooler, he pours through the R volume of the encyclopedia (to help him identify the rocks he finds). So, when a meteorite falls in his family’s field, who better to investigate than this rock enthusiast—with his best friend, James, and his little sister, Birdie, in tow, of course. 

But soon after the meteorite’s arrival, the water in Henry’s small Maine town starts drying up. It’s not long before news spreads that the space rock and Henry’s family might be to blame. Henry is determined to defend his newest discovery, but his knowledge of geology could not have prepared him for how much this stone from the sky would change his community, his family, and even himself.

Science and wonder abound in this middle-grade debut about an inquisitive boy and the massive rock that came down to Earth to reshape his life.

ISBN-13: 9780593175736
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Publication date: 08/24/2021
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

The Ways Stories Find Us, a guest post by Lesa Cline-Ransome

“Where do you find your stories?” It’s a question asked of every author at every conference, panel, and nearly every interview. The real question is, do authors find stories, or do stories find authors? 

I imagine some of us, like archaeologists on an excavation, head out digging for stories, unearthing layers until we uncover the treasures we were searching for buried beneath the surface. But others, like me, let the stories find us. 

The task is no less easy. It requires preparation. Patience. A keen ear. Trust. 

As a young girl, my neighborhood friends and I in Malden, Massachusetts spent our summer nights playing hide and seek until the streetlights came on. As the counting began, we ran and hid in backyards, behind houses and tall bushes, quietly fending off mosquitos hoping not to be caught. But if we were successful in securing too good of a hiding place, and we were alone for too long, we secretly hoped to be caught. There was a joy in being found, of being reunited with friends. This is how it feels when the right stories find their way to you. A lot like a celebration. 

Stories can find us in the ways we least expect them to. As writers, we let them in, one by one, filtered through our life experiences, interests, and curiosities. 

I have written nearly twenty-five books for young readers and rarely have any of them begun with me at a desk thinking of topics and subjects I’d like to tackle. 

A taxicab hailed on a New York City street stops to pick up an editor on her way to the office and the driver listens to a public radio interview of a journalist who wrote a recently published adult biography on one of the first black female White House correspondents Ethel Payne during the editor’s brief ride. When she arrives at her desk she writes to me in an email, “Have you ever heard of Ethel Payne?” No, I have not, I reply, but I look her up, wanting to know more and in reading Ethel Payne’s story, I recall my youthful dreams of becoming a journalist and just like that, the picture book biography, The Power of Her Pen: The Story of Groundbreaking Journalist Ethel L. Payne is born.  

Attendees at the Plum Creek Literacy Festival in Seward, Nebraska

At a literary conference in Seward, Nebraska, I sit across from Steve Sheinkin, one of my favorite authors. The author next to me has a line about a mile long, and mine, not so much. Finally, I gather up the nerve to go over and introduce myself to Steve. I fumble a fangirl hello and look down to see one of his titles, The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights. Hmmm. I think to myself. Why have I never heard about this? I manage to ask him to sign a copy and devour the book on the flight home. And there the story sits, quietly. Waiting. Until I begin writing my debut middle grade novel, Finding Langston where I insert a reference to the Port Chicago Disaster as part of a secondary character named Clem’s storyline. One year later my editor discusses with me the idea of expanding the story of Clem’s character into a novel all his own in the final book of the Finding Langston trilogy. “Maybe you could explore more of the Port Chicago Disaster,” she suggests. What my editor doesn’t know is that that story has already found me. 

And so Being Clem, the story of Clem, emerges from a chance meeting in Seward, Nebraska years earlier. And in it we see Clem and his family struggle as they come to grips with the death of his fictionalized sailor father, Clemson Thurber killed during the tragic naval base explosion that killed over 200 black servicemen during WWII.

A nagging toothache reluctantly lands me in my dentist’s chair where in his attempts to soothe my dentophobia, my kindly dentist tells me a story to calm my jittery nerves. My dentist is a fan of nonfiction and shares the account of a strange story of a failed entrepreneur named Frederik Tudor who thought he could finally get rich by harvesting the ice from Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts, packing it onboard a ship and selling it in India. “Aren’t you from Massachusetts?” he asks. I am from Massachusetts, but all I knew about Walden Pond was the story of the poet Henry David Thoreau, who sought a life of solitude in the woods of Concord, I tell him through a mouth full of gauze. “Well, Henry David Thoreau watched him harvest the ice,” my dentist continues in between his drilling, just steps away from his cabin and recorded it in his diary. My dentophobia disappears in my thoughts of a story of two men, one pond, and how it drew them together for very different reasons. And there in my dentist’s chair another story finds me and will make its way to bookstores as Of Walden Pond: Henry David Thoreau, Frederic Tudor, and the Pond Between in the fall of 2022.

The author’s mother, Ernestine Cline

Because much of my spare time is spent in the company of books, that is where my stories and I have made our acquaintance. I grew up with a mother who was an avid reader and often needed to be reminded she had children who wouldn’t mind having a hot dinner every now and again. She would reluctantly put down her book and throw something together so we could eat. I couldn’t imagine then what those pages held that so transfixed her that she couldn’t remember our grumbling stomachs. But now, when I look up to see that I have missed subway stops, appointments, and portions of my day because the time has simply disappeared in the pages of a book, I think of my mother. But it is in these moments, I am allowing the stories to come.

I could almost hear the voices calling from the stoop of 4501 Wabash Avenue on Chicago’s Southside for my book Finding Langston and feel the hard backed seats Ruth Ellen and her parents sat in bound for New York City in my book Overground Railroad in the instant I opened Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns: The Story of America’s Epic Migration. Reading Wilkerson’s real-life portrayals of subjects whose journeys north and west were prompted by fear and racism, determination and hope inspired the worlds through which young Langston and Ruth Ellen see the world as passengers on the journeys of the adults in their lives. 

It is often said that you need to be in the right place at the right time. In a taxicab, a dentist chair, a literary conference in Nebraska, a quiet place with a good book. And that is a large part of having stories find you. It is making space for the crucial moment when that piece of a story intersects with some part of you—your history, a memory, an experience, an untapped passion—and you know in that moment, there’s something here. 

But being in the right place at the right time is just one part of creating a story that is authentic to you. That is the seed. Next comes the planting in an environment enriched with strong characters, setting, plot and dialogue. Carefully using your craft to remain true to the stories that are begging to be told, engagingly and honestly, the way only you can tell them. 

Meet the author

Photo credit: John Halpern

Lesa Cline-Ransome is the author of more than twenty books for young readers, including Just a Lucky So and So (2016), Before She Was Harriet (2017), and Underground Railroad (2020).  Her Finding Langston Trilogy consists of Finding Langston (2018), Leaving Lymon (2020)and Being Clem(2021). Lesa’s work has received a plethora of honors, including dozens of starred reviews, NAACP Image Award nominations, Coretta Scott King Honors, and Christopher Award. Many titles have been named to ALA Notable Books and Bank Street Best Children’s Books lists. She lives in upstate New York. www.lesaclineransome.com

Twitter and Instagram – @lclineransome

About Being Clem

The final novel in the award-winning Finding Langston trilogy from Coretta Scott King Author Honoree and Scott O’Dell Award medalist Lesa Cline-Ransome.

Clem can make anybody, even his grumpy older sisters, smile with his jokes. But when his family receives news that his father has died in the infamous Port Chicago disaster, everything begins to fall apart. Clem’s mother is forced to work long, tough hours as a maid for a wealthy white family. Soon Clem can barely recognize his home—and himself. Can he live up to his father’s legacy?

In her award-winning trilogy, Lesa Cline-Ransome masterfully recreates mid-twentieth century America through the eyes of three boys: Langston, Lymon, and, now, Clem. Exploring the impact of the Great Migration, the Harlem Renaissance, Jim Crow laws, and much more, Lesa’s work manages at once to be both an intimate portrait of each boy and his family as well as a landscape of American history.

ISBN-13: 9780823446049
Publisher: Holiday House
Publication date: 08/03/2021
Series: The Finding Langston Trilogy #3
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

Why I Like Complicated, Flawed, Perfectly Imperfect and Sometimes Downright Unlikeable Heroines (and You Should Too), a guest post by Brittany Geragotelis

As an author, I’ve gotten my fair share of critiques on my books. I know, I know, par for the course, right? And most of them I can let run off my back. Everyone’s entitled to their opinions and everyone has one. With that said, the one that actually irks me most is the argument that a character of mine isn’t totally “likeable.” Either she’s too self-absorbed or too bitchy or falls in love too fast or is too perfect…the list goes on and on. So, you’d think that by now I would just give in and write a fully likeable character.

But here’s the thing: I LIKE flawed characters.

I like the characters who are beautiful but make mistakes because they think their beauty is enough. I dig a girl who falls in love as quickly as a five-minute mile, only to have it implode just as fast. I go crazy over someone who is stubborn and self-absorbed or snarky or mean, as long as there’s a lesson to be learned there.

Because THAT’S interesting.


Newsflash: we all have flaws. We all mess up (especially in our youth). We’re all stubborn, and mean (at times), and selfish. We all fell for the boy—or girl—when we knew we shouldn’t. We all said something or did something we shouldn’t have and paid the price for it. That’s life, after all.

But beyond that, not all of these so-called unlikeable traits are wholly…bad.

In my series The Infamous Frankie Lorde, the main character is a thief. She’s the daughter of an infamous international con-artist and is an expert at just about everything to do with pulling a job. Stealing, lying, breaking and entering—she does it all. When we meet Frankie, her dad’s been sent to prison and she’s been sent to her own kind of prison: to live with her cop uncle in Greenwich, CT.

Photo credit: Brittany Geragotelis

This is when she decides to switch up her game: she vows to only steal from the criminal, corrupt and downright evil people in the community, and give back to those who deserve or need it. And suddenly her misdeeds aren’t so bad. Because, in the end, what she’s doing is for the greater good.

When I started writing the Frankie books, I was super excited at the thought of my two kiddos reading it one day. I have a 5-year-old and a nearly 2-year-old and despite the fact that Frankie’s a thief, I actually hope my kids recognize all the great traits the character has and maybe take on some of them themselves. Flaws and all.

Because sometimes we need our unlikeable moments in order to grow, learn and push us to become better humans. Also, sometimes all that separates a bad characteristic from a good one is how you choose to use it.

Here are some of the questionable traits that Frankie has that I hope my kids pick up someday:


Frankie is super clever and knows a little about everything. She knows how to speak multiple languages. She knows how to pick a lock. She knows how to BS her way into getting what she wants. She’s a master manipulator. My older son, Huck already has this trait in the bag. He’s so smart and driven and will go after something with everything he has if he wants it enough. As long as his focus is on a prize that won’t harm anyone else, I don’t mind him being a bit mischievous.

Photo credit: credit: Brittany Geragotelis


At first, Frankie tries to keep her head down and not rock the boat in her new life—even when a new friend is being bullied. She thinks it’s the best way to keep her secret life a secret. In the end, she learns when she needs to come out of that mode to help others and when to focus on herself. Selfishness can be a great thing sometimes—like when it’s in the form of self-preservation. Also, if we focus solely on the needs of others, we can often forget about our own needs and wants, which could end up leaving us with nothing more to give. It’s like what they say on an airplane: In case of emergency, put your mask on first and THEN assist others. Selfishness can be our own way of doing this.


Let’s be honest, being a great liar can also make for a fantastic storyteller. It can also describe someone who has a very good imagination and is great at making people believe the tall tales they weave. This is a trait that isn’t always easy to come by. Besides, it’s not like I can argue with the fact that as an author, I myself am a professional liar by trade. I just choose to use my powers for good, and not evil. My goal as a parent will be to try to teach my kids to do the same.


Overly-confident, know-it-all, sassy, argumentative—some may see these traits as negative, but they can also be incredibly useful. Confidence is important when you’re heading into a dangerous or scary situation. And questioning authority or those who are in any positions of power (i.e. bullies) can be a highly enviable characteristic. While I don’t want my kids to be rude for no reason or to outright disrespect their teachers or the law, I do want them to know that if something doesn’t sit right with their soul, they can question why. No matter who they’re up against. 

So, I say we celebrate a character’s messier qualities. These are the ones that will make us all think, learn and hopefully decide within ourselves just the kind of people we want to be.

Meet the author

Photo credit: Shani Barel

Brittany Geragotelis is the author of the perfectly imperfect THE INFAMOUS FRANKIE LORDE series, which is a youthful mashup of Ocean’s Eleven meets Robin Hood. She’s also the author of the magical teen series, LIFE’S A WITCH, mom to two mischievous boys, a cat, a dog and four fish, and wife to an awesome guy who spends all his time on YouTube. When she’s not writing or momming, she’s reading, binge-watching shows on Netflix and Hulu and making day-trips to Disneyland. For more on Brittany and her life, visit brittanygeragotelis.com, twitter.com/TheBookSlayer and Instagram.com/thebookslayer

About The Infamous Frankie Lorde 2: Going Wild

Tiger King meets Ocean’s 8 in this slick second book in the Infamous Frankie Lorde series as potentially reformed international thief Frankie dives into the dangerous and political world of trafficking exotic animals. Perfect for fans of Ally Carter’s Gallagher Girls and Heist Society.

For Frankie, using her less-than-legal set of skills to pull a heist against a crooked real estate mogul with the help of her new friend Ollie was super gratifying, but she’s getting restless now. And with her no end in sight for her dad’s prison sentence, she’s finally coming to terms with the fact that she may be in Connecticut for a lot longer than she expected. 

Volunteering at a local animal shelter over school break, Frankie and Ollie hear that there’s a dangerous exotic animal farm supplying Greenwich’s elite with lions and tigers and bears. (Oh my!) Feeling an instant kinship with the endangered creatures locked away in their cages, Frankie makes it her mission to find the perpetrators, free the beautiful beasts, and ensnare the bad guys in a trap of her own.

ISBN-13: 9781645950578
Publisher: Holiday House
Publication date: 08/03/2021
Series: The Infamous Frankie Lorde #2
Age Range: 10 – 14 Years

Larger Than Life Grandmothers and Best Friends, a guest post by Jaime Berry

Without really meaning to, I seem to write stories with a grandparent and a best friend at the center, and my novel Hope Springs is no different. My main character, Jubilee, lives with her grandmother, Nan. They abide by a set of Relocation Rules they’ve created to help them in their search for the “perfect place.” But Jubilee starts to feel their first rule—just the two of them is all they need—might leave them a little too close to alone.

I didn’t live with my grandmother, but when I was young, I spent almost all my free time with her. She was spectacular—a painter, big, bold and loud, somewhat foul-mouthed, a fantastic cook, a crafter, an avid reader, a dog lover, and a soap opera and video game aficionado. She drove her enormous Crown Victoria sedan with burgundy plush interior, a car we called the Hooptie, with such wild abandon that every errand was a nail-biting adventure. From the time I was born until my late teens when she passed away, she never lived more than two blocks away from me.

After school, we watched Guiding Light, we took weekly trips to the library, drew or painted together, and rounded out the days with an hour or so of Super Mario Bros. She tried and failed to teach me to crochet but succeeded in teaching me to play gin rummy by age six. On weekends when my mother let me stay the night, Nanny Stella whisked me over to the local bingo game at Big Ben Skating Rink and let me manage two of her many cards. Despite being the youngest attendee by at least fifty years, I found the whole experience thrilling. She used to embarrass me to no end when she’d introduce me as her “bosom buddy” rather than her granddaughter, but deep down, I loved it. Unlike my main character, Jubilee, I never suspected I was missing out on anything at all.

In one way or another my grandmother always works her way into my stories. All the grandmotherly characters in Hope Springs are parts of her, but maybe she was most like the least grandmotherly of all—Nan. Like Nan, my grandmother was a real character, a scene stealer. She taught me to be strong and opinionated, to value creativity, and that sometimes being good and being polite are two very different things. Maybe it’s because she loved me unconditionally that it wasn’t until I had a best friend my own age that I felt those qualities were truly appreciated. And it’s only when Jubilee meets and befriends Abby that she feels ready to say what she truly wants out loud. I think that’s one of the things great friendships do, embolden us, and make us unafraid to be ourselves out loud.

When I wasn’t with my grandmother I wouldn’t say I was lonely, but I was often alone, especially at school. I was not good at following rules, and having grown up in the church, I was overly concerned about making decisions that would land me in hell (like maybe bingo and gin rummy). But when I was ten, a girl named Tamara showed up in my class. The arrival of a new kid in my hometown in rural Oklahoma was an event. There was almost a sort of competition to see who would get to be friends with her first. And I don’t know how in the world it got to be me, but it got to be me!

We spent recess racing and trying and failing to perform a cartwheel while holding hands, ending up in a tangled pile of giggles. Every weekend we alternated staying the night at each other’s houses. We painted toenails, caught crawdads (Tamara caught them, I squealed and ran for the shore), and rode four wheelers. At recess we ran like wild things, sang “Sweet Child of Mine” at the top of our lungs, and laughed in the faces of all who thought us strange. It was a kind of magic I’d never felt before. Nanny Stella was fantastic, but she sure didn’t sprint and she’d never heard of Guns N’ Roses.

I knew how much my grandmother’s influence impacted me but never thought about how that first real friendship shaped me until I noticed how much of it made its way into Hope Springs. Hope Springs, Texas is the perfect place for Jubilee to finally put down roots, but her friendship with Abby is what kickstarts her growth. With Abby, Jubilee learns to try new things, becomes involved in her community, develops connections to others, and finds the nerve to admit and to fight for what she really wants—to belong, to be loved, and to finally feel at home. Growing up I had all three, and I thought Jubilee should too.

Meet the author

Photo credit: Lee Seidenberg Photography

Jaime Berry is a native of rural Oklahoma and a former New York City public school teacher. After years with two small boys in a too-small Brooklyn apartment, Jaime and her husband moved to the wilds of suburban New Jersey and added another boy and a dog to the mix. Hope Springs is Jaime’s debut novel.

Social Links: Twitter: @jaime_berry3, Instagram: jaimeberryauthor, Website: jaimeberryauthor.com

About Hope Springs

Fans of Kate DiCamillo and Katherine Applegate will fall in love with this tug-at-your-heartstrings middle grade novel about one girl who is desperate to find the “perfect home” as she moves from one town to the next with her Grandmother.
Eleven-year-old Jubilee Johnson is an expert at three things: crafting, moving, and avoiding goodbyes. On the search for the “perfect place,” she and her Nan live by their Number One Relocation Rule — just the two of them is all they need. But Jubilee’s starting to feel like just two is a little too close to alone.

Desperate to settle down, Jubilee plans their next move, Hope Springs, Texas — home of her TV crafting idol, Arletta Paisley. Here she meets a girl set on winning the local fishing tournament and a boy who says exactly the right thing by hardly speaking at all. Soon, Jubilee wonders if Hope Springs might just be the place to call home.

But when the town is threatened by a mega-chain superstore fronted by Arletta Paisley, Jubilee is faced with skipping town yet again or standing up to her biggest bully yet. With the help of her new friends and the one person she never thought she’d need — her Momma — will Jubilee find a way to save the town she’s come to love and convince Nan that it’s finally time to settle down?

ISBN-13: 9780316540575
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date: 08/10/2021
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years