Monday, March 27, 2023

Author Interview: Jaime Berry, author of HEART FINDS

Heart Finds is such a fabulous book!

As soon as I finished the book - which I read in one sitting because it was such a good book - I knew I needed to talk about with author Jaime Berry!

And now of course I need to go back and read her debut novel, HOPE SPRINGS!

About The Book:

Eleven-year-old Mabel Cunningham is a quiet loner who only feels free to be herself when she's "extreme treasure hunting" with her grampa—much to her perfectionist mother's disapproval. Nothing excites Mabel more than discovering a heart find, an item that calls to her heart, and the maybes that come along with it.

But when her friendships start to crumble and her grampa suffers a stroke, Mabel quickly learns that real-life maybes are harder to handle than imagined ones. Desperate to change things back to the way they were, Mabel devises a plan that she believes will fix everything. Except bringing her plan to fruition means lying to her grampa and disappointing her mother.

Will Mabel learn that letting go of the past doesn’t mean letting go of her grampa and that embracing the future might be one of her most important heart finds yet?

The Interview

1.     Hi Jaime! Congratulations on writing such a fantastic book! You had me hooked from the very first line: “My grampa always says the best treasures are the ones that hide in plain sight.” It’s a genius first line, because it lays out exactly what your story is about, both thematically and plot-wise! Was it the book’s first line from the get-go?


Thank you so much, Wendy! That first line came about after many, many revisions and I’m so happy it drew you in. First lines are so hard, aren’t they? And finding one that hinted at the theme and my main character’s journey took several tries. I loved my original first line, but it wasn’t doing the work a really good opening line needs to do, so I think it’s now buried in the beginning of Chapter 3. But as Mabel learns some changes are necessary and sometimes even better in the end.


2.     I love the term heart finds — as soon as I read it, it resonated with me: that feeling of connection with a person, a place or thing that is so visceral it can’t be denied. But you play with the theme beautifully in the book, because sometimes we don’t recognize something in front of us as being a heart find straight away. Has that been your experience, too?


Absolutely, yes. In the first draft I was calling them “amazing finds” and it just wasn’t specific enough. I have my editor, Sam Gentry, to thank for pushing me to really think about what I was trying to get across—that sense of connection that resonates in one’s heart. The main character, Mabel, is sort of a lonely kid, and I wanted that term “heart finds” to hint at what she was really searching for, more connections that made her heart hum, and not just to places or things, but most especially to people who loved her exactly as she is.


3.     The main character Mabel is caught in the middle between her single parent mom and her beloved grandfather at the same time she is navigating the politics of middle school. Mabel is a quirky girl, an old soul, who you know is going to grow up to be the most interesting person in the room. But those kinds of kids often struggle in middle school and high school. How challenging was it to write the truth about a girl who colors outside the lines?


Having been a kid who often didn’t fit in and didn’t fully understand the social complexities of middle school, I feel Mabel and I might be kindred spirits. Getting to know my main character is normally something I figure out as I go, but Mabel came to me fairly easily. I felt I knew her well before I even started writing, but I found feeling that close to a character to be a bit tricky. There were certain scenes that were difficult to write! I almost felt guilty creating moments that I knew would hurt her, but also were necessary to force her growth and push her toward finding people who appreciated her uniqueness. 



4.     When Grampa gets sick, Mabel’s world is up-ended, a common experience for kids the age of your readers. Your write so movingly about this – did you go through something similar when you were young?


I was very close to my grandmother—this book is dedicated to her. She was unruly, funny, creative, and sure of herself. When we spent time together, that self-assuredness was contagious. She made me feel like I was her absolute favorite person in the whole world, and she was definitely mine. She passed away when I was a teenager and it was really difficult to figure out how to find my way back to that feeling without her. I think it’s also worth mentioning that I wrote a majority of Mabel’s story during the height of the pandemic—another time in my life when I felt, along with many others I imagine, completely off balance and uncertain of what the future held. I hope people who read the book come away with the message that when we’re knocked off our feet as Mabel is, it’s okay to struggle and make mistakes as we get back up.


5.     Mabel’s relationship with her mother evolves during the book, and we come to have a tremendous amount of sympathy for the character. While Mabel is caught between her mother and her grandfather, we realize the unfair position they’ve both put her in at times. It’s not something you see enough of in books, how kids are often victims of issues between parents and grandparents. Was that important for you to portray this?


You’re right, it’s not something we see very often in middle grade. In my experience, even the best of family relationships is complicated, and kids are often caught in the middle. Through the course of the book Mabel gains a deeper understanding of her mother’s relationship with Grampa and she learns that she’s misjudged them both a bit—Grampa isn’t entirely blameless, and her mom isn’t entirely to blame. One of the things Mabel says about scavenging for finds with Grampa is that it can be hard to figure out what to hold on to and what to let go—relationships can be that way too in a sense. But by the end of the book, I think they’ve all figured out a way to let go of a few things, to do a better job loving each other, and come to understand that maybe their most valuable heart finds are one another.


6.     When can we expect another Jaime Berry book?


I wish I knew! I’ve just finished up a draft of another tug-at-your-heart, contemporary middle grade—it’s still far away from having a specific publication date. But I feel so very grateful and lucky to get to write books for kids and can’t wait to get the next one into reader’s hands! Thank you so much for this opportunity to chat about HEART FINDS.

You are so welcome!

Want to learn more about Jaime Berry? Visit her beautiful website here!

Thursday, December 15, 2022



Confession: the author had me as soon as I read the title. While Indigo spells his last name differently than mine — McCloud versus McLeod — our last names are the same. So I had to learn all about his horrible sisters!


Indigo McCloud’s sister Peaches is every adult's favourite child: pretty, golden-haired, polite and charming. But the children of Blunt know better: Peaches and her three sisters are a gang of bullies who will stop at nothing to get their way.

This is the story of Indigo’s battle to stop his sisters. Leaping across the rooftops of Blunt, he tries to keep one step ahead of their wicked schemes –but he has to tangle with 437 hungry geese, an avalanche of toilets, curry farts, bungling policemen, vicious eels, a pig in a witch's hat, a three legged spider with a toilet brush and a dangerous villain in odd socks …

What I Thought

This book is HYSTERICAL. And sooooo dark. 

The story begins with the sisters terrorizing a neighbour children who is unwilling to do their bidding. 

Her punishment by the sisters is cruel, but also funny, a theme repeated again and again in the story.

But Indigo's had enough.

And when new neighbour Mandy Tripe and her family are terrorized by his sisters, he's had enough.

Cue an elaborate revenge plot where Peaches and her sisters get their comeuppance and Indigo and the neighbourhood children finally find peace.

Filled with cheeky humour and some very gross experiences, kids are going to lap this book up!

John Hearne has written a book worthy of the Roald Dahl canon.

Publishes February 7, 2023 by Little Island Books.

Want to learn more about the author? Click here.

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Review: MELTDOWN by Anita Sanchez, Illustrated by Lily Padula


I don't know about you, but I'm worried about glaciers.

When I was a kid (back when the dinosaurs walked the earth) I was fascinated by these massive ice rivers that rolled through mountains I could only dream about. 

Eventually I grew up and got to visit the mountains, and finally, in 2014, got to set foot on the Columbia ice fields just north of Banff, Alberta in Canada. 

But when I drove past that same glacier just a few years later, it had shrunk considerably.

Which is why I jumped at the chance to read Anita Sanchez' s new book MELTDOWN: DISCOVER EARTH'S IRREPLACEABLE GLACIERS AND LEARN WHAT YOU CAN DO TO SAVE THEM.

Anita is an award winning author of environmental science and nature books for children and it shows in this book, which is clearly written and organized in a way that draws the reader in.

First we learn about glaciers and the role they play in our planet.

Then she explains how we know they are melting, which teaches the importance of data gathering and scientific techniques.

Then we learn why they are melting, which was way more complicated and interesting than I had anticipated.

There is lots of cool information about what scientists are finding and learning from our glaciers, and great information about plants and animals that rely on glaciers.

Then we reach the hard part: what will happen if all the glaciers disappear.

And finally hope: if we take action now, we may be able to mitigate some of the effects.

There's also tons of additional resources for more information, along with a bibliography and glossary.

What I thought

Books about climate change are never easy.

We are learning things we wish we didn't have to know. 

But it is especially important for kids to learn this information now, as they can help lead us into a brighter future. (And yes, Greta Thunberg is included in the book)

Sanchez explains things clearly and gives the reader hope, but is also very open about what's at stake.

Meanwhile, Lily Padula's illustrations are great and very evocative:

This book belongs in every home and library, and teachers need to use it to help explain what's happening.

Sanchez and Padula have issued a clarion call for action.

My hope is that tons of people read this book and do something about it.

5 stars!

Click on her name to learn more about Anita Sanchez and her environmental science and nature books!  

Friday, October 21, 2022

The Rabbit's Gift By Jessica Vitalis


I recently had the opportunity to chat with author Jessica Vitalis about her wonderful new novel, The Rabbit's Gift, which comes out October 25th! I loved this book so much!

What it's about:

Quincy Rabbit and his warren live a simple yet high-stakes life. In exchange for the purple carrots they need to survive, they farm and deliver Chou de vie (cabbage-like plants that grow human babies inside) to the human citizens of Montpeyroux. But lately, because of those selfish humans, there haven’t been enough carrots to go around. So Quincy sets out to change that—all he needs are some carrot seeds. He’ll be a hero. 

Fleurine sees things a little differently. As the only child of the Grand Lumière, she’s being groomed to follow in her mother’s political footsteps—no matter how much Fleurine longs to be a botanist instead. Convinced that having a sibling will shift her mother’s attention, Fleurine tries to grow purple carrots, hoping to make a trade with the rabbits. But then a sneaky rabbit steals her seeds. In her desperation to get them back, she follows that rabbit all the way to the secret warren—and steals a Chou.

Quincy and Fleurine have endangered not just the one baby inside the Chou, but the future of Montpeyroux itself—for rabbits and humans alike. Now, they’ll have to find a way to trust each other to restore the balance. 

Told from both Quincy’s and Fleurine’s perspectives, The Rabbit’s Gift will enchant fans of Katherine Applegate, Gail Carson Levine, and Anne Ursu.

The Interview:

1.     Hi Jessica! I absolutely adored The Rabbit’s Gift! It is one of the most creative fairy tales I have ever read!  Can you talk about your inspiration?

Absolutely! After writing The Wolf’s Curse, which I always thought of as my “death” book due to the Grim Reaper mythology, I really wanted to write a companion novel about birth, but for a long time I couldn’t think of anything appropriate for middle grade readers. Then a critique partner asked me if I was familiar with La Fée aux Choux (The Cabbage Fairy), which is a short, silent film based on the French mythology that babies grow in cabbage plants. As soon as I watched the film (I highly recommend googling it!), I knew right away that I’d found the seed for my next story––one where human babies are grown in cabbage-like plants and delivered by rabbits!



2.     I love that the first time we meet Quincy, he’s sharing his perspective on heroes and villains and his realization that whether we considered someone (or ourselves!) one or the other depends on whose side we’re on. What made you want to state that up front?

When I first tried writing The Rabbit’s Gift, I thought I needed an omniscient narrator since that’s what I’d used in The Wolf’s Curse. But my critique partners kept telling me the voice sounded too much like Wolf, so I decided to write from dual points of view—a young male rabbit and a human girl. Rather than label one of them the protagonist and one of them the antagonist, I wanted to play with how perspective impacts the stories we tell. When I sat down to start writing, Quincy showed up and insisted on talking about heroes and villains, so I let him run the show!  


3.     An interesting through-line in the story is that both Quincy the Rabbit and Princess Fleurine are forced into roles because of circumstances beyond their control — his size, her being royalty. What message do you hope your readers will take away from their attempts to change that narrative?

One of the things I’ve noticed in my own life as a stay-at-home mom, writer, and introvert, is that when I spend too much time alone, my own problems or issues take on an oversized importance relative to the rest of the world. In The Rabbit’s Gift, Quincy and Fleurine are both so focused on their own unhappiness that they both make mistakes with grave consequences; it’s not until they start to put others first and think about the world around them that their lives start to change for the better. So I think one of the messages in this story is that true happiness rarely comes from trying to change things out of our control; rather, it comes from working to build strong relationships with our friends, family, and community, and by doing our part to try to leave the world a little better than when we found it. 


4.     One thing that you do so well is show how easy it is for the older generation (and some of the younger!) to say “Well, that’s the way it always is.” Change isn’t easy, but I hope this really encourages your readers to push for a better future!

I hope so, too! There is so much happening in the world right that that gives us all cause for concern; it can be easy to feel small and inconsequential when there are so many systemic problems that need addressing, but I hope young readers will grow up feeling empowered to ask big questions and search for big answers. 


5.     The need for cooperation is central to the story and brought to mind how much healthier our planet would be if that was happening more. Can you talk about that?

Absolutely! In The Rabbit’s Gift, human babies are grown in cabbage-like plants and delivered by rabbits. In return, they receive the purple carrots essential to their survival. This symbiosis is the theme upon which the whole story is built, and I hope it shines light on our own tenuous dependency on the natural world. Because the story was written in the first half of 2020, when our divides as a modern nation were coming into sharper relief than ever before, I also wanted to write a story that reminds readers that it’s not only our connection to the natural world that we need to mind, but our connections with each other—as family, as friends, as neighbors, but most importantly, as humans. 


6.     All of the characters are wonderful, but I adore Quincy!  How hard was it to write from a rabbit’s perspective?

On one hand, writing from Quincy’s perspective wasn’t all that difficult because I knew he needed to have the same type of character arc as all of my characters. And it was actually a lot of fun trying to envision seeing the human world for the first time from his perspective. On the other hand, I discovered while writing this story how little I actually knew about rabbits! For example, it wasn’t until I built their entire world around the rabbits needing nutritious purple carrots that I learned that carrots aren’t especially good for real rabbits due to their high sugar content. And I had no idea until after I’d already written certain scenes that rabbits are mostly color blind, are decent swimmers, and have an extra (clear) eyelid that allows them to sleep with their eyes open. Thankfully Angora Roux aren’t real rabbits, so I was able to take plenty of liberties for the sake of the story! 


7.     Finally: what’s next?

I’m glad you asked! My next book, Coyote Queen, publishes with Greenwillow/HarperCollins in the fall of 2023. Coyote Queen is the book of my heart, and the reason I set out to become a writer more than 15 years ago. It’s the story of a girl who enters a beauty pageant desperate to win the prize money to escape her abusive stepfather, only to discover that she’s turning into a coyote. Another (as of yet untitled) book will follow in 2024. 

Want to learn more about Jessica and her books? Click here!

Monday, September 5, 2022

Review: Ravenfall by Kalyn Josephson


In Ravenfall, the Ballinkay family lives in a magical inn with a mind of its own. Thirteen-year-old Anna Ballinkay can see death just by touching someone. But even in a family full of talented psychics, Anna feels like an outcast and constantly wonders how her powers might be useful to maintaining her family's inn. 


That is until fourteen-year-old Colin Pierce shows up on their doorstep in search of his missing brother after the death of their parents. Finally finding a use for her powers, Anna offers to help Colin track down the killer. 


As they struggle to understand who is behind the death and what they might want with Colin, the hidden secrets go deeper and deeper. And if they can't solve the mystery by Samhain (the Irish Halloween), the veil between life and death will be ripped open destroying their world before they can solve the murder.

Ravenfall is filled with Irish traditions and lore. Anna and Colin are the perfect pair to tackle this mystery as the story twists and turns. It's exciting to watch them both discover who they are and what their strengths are in the process. As they navigate a whimsical world with a quirky psychic family, a magical house that fixes and decorates itself, and a shapeshifting cat, they learn about the world of the dead all while finding their rightful place among those they care about. Ravenfall has the right touch of secrets and scary and is a perfect read for spooky season.

Tuesday, August 30, 2022



You are in for another treat this week! 

Not only did I get a chance to read an advance reader copy of SURELY, SURELY, MARISOL RAINEY, but I got to interview Award Winning, Best-selling, author Erin Entrada Kelly!

You know her from her amazing books, including the following:

She's one of my favourite authors, so it was a real treat to ask her about her latest book, a chapter book that continues the adventures of Marisol Rainey, who is one of the most delightful characters you will ever meet.

About the book:

Everyone loves sports . . . except Marisol! The stand-alone companion to Newbery Medal winner and New York Times–bestselling Erin Entrada Kelly’s Maybe Maybe Marisol Rainey is an irresistible and humorous story about friendship, family, and fitting in. Fans of Clementine, Billy Miller Makes a Wish, and Ramona the Pest will find a new friend in Marisol. 

Marisol Rainey’s two least-favorite things are radishes and gym class. She avoids radishes with very little trouble, but gym is another story—especially when Coach Decker announces that they will be learning to play kickball.

There are so many things that can go wrong in kickball. What if Marisol tries to kick the ball . . . but falls down? What if she tries to catch the ball and gets smacked in the nose? What if she’s the worst kickballer in the history of kickball? Marisol and her best friend Jada decide to get help from the most unlikely—and most annoying—athlete in the world: Marisol’s big brother, Oz.

Told in short chapters with illustrations by the author on almost every page, Erin Entrada Kelly’s stand-alone companion novel to Maybe Maybe Marisol Rainey celebrates the small but mighty Marisol, the joys of friendship, the power of being different, and the triumph of persevering. Surely Surely Marisol Rainey is ideal for readers of Kevin Henkes, Meg Medina, Judy Blume, and Beverly Cleary.  

The Interview

1.     First of all, I adored SURELY SURELY MARISOL RAINEY!  It’s the perfect follow-up to MAYBE MAYBE  MARISOL RAINEY!



As a kid who often heard “Nice try”, I could one hundred percent relate to Marisol’s reluctance to participate in kickball!  For many kids who aren’t very athletic, gym class can be traumatizing. Did you pull on experiences of your own to make it feel so accurate?


Absolutely. Marisol is the closest autobiographical character I’ve ever written. Everything about her—except for some elements of her family dynamic—are all Erin. This includes the things she loves, like cats, silent films, and her best friend, along with all her fears and insecurities.


One of my biggest struggles growing up was being in the shadow of my older sister, who was more athletic and didn’t seem afraid of anything, much like Marisol’s brother Oz. With SURELY SURELY, I drew on my childhood fear of playing team sports. In my case, it was softball. I tried all these tricks to avoid going up to bat, like sneaking to the back of the line, but my time eventually came. I struck out the first time. The next time, I kept my eye on the ball and hit it. Not very hard, but I hit it. I made it to first base. Then the bell rang. I still remember what it felt like when the bat hit the ball. 



2.     I love the metaphor of a brain train — it’s the perfect way to describe how our thoughts can race and hurtle us down the tracks to places we really don’t want to visit. What I love about it especially in this book is that kids (and adult readers like me!) will really see themselves in Marisol. She’s a worrier, like so many of us. Why do you think it’s so important for kids to see beloved characters struggling?


We—and by “we,” I mean adults—often have an idealized concept of childhood. We grow up and suddenly all the problems we had as children seem small in comparison. But they weren’t small. And they certainly don’t feel small to the children experiencing them. Adults can be incredibly patronizing and condescending. When kids have crushes, we call it “puppy love.” When kids cry too easily, we say they’re “too sensitive.” We toss their problems aside and give them lectures about the “real world.” Their worlds may seem small and silly to us, but they’re very real. This includes their triumphs and their heartbreaks. Adults forget how difficult it is to grow up.


I still remember the first time I felt truly seen as a young reader—it’s when I read The Very Worried Walrus, which was part of the Sweet Pickles collection. I loved that Walrus. It was the first time I met a character who worried all the time, just like me. It made me realize I wasn’t alone.


3.     One thing I truly loved about the book was Marisol’s friendship with Jada. They so have each other’s backs, though they are human. How difficult is it to write realistic friendships?


If you’ve been fortunate enough to have wonderful friends, it’s not that difficult at all.


4.     Felix’s empathy for animals is both delightful and an amazing lesson in the book. As someone who is pretty sure the squirrel in her backyard understands her, inquiring minds want to know: do animals speak to you like they speak to Felix?


If I’m being honest, I do most of the talking. Ha!


5.     The illustrations are so good! Do you have a particular favorite?


My favorite is the final illustration of Marisol in bed with all her stuffed animals. It’s such an accurate depiction of how I fell asleep when I was her age. I slept with a mountain of them.


6.     When will we get to read more Marisol? She is a delight!


Yes! Another book will be out next year. 

Want to learn more about Erin and her books? Visit here!