Monday, October 30, 2023

Interview with Katie Kennedy, Author of THE PRESIDENTS DECODED

 We haven't done non-fiction lately, so thought Katie Kennedy's new book, THE PRESIDENT'S DECODED would be a great book to read and talk about! I enjoyed the book and immensely and think you and the kids in your life will, too!

About the book:

Ever wonder what the President does? Meet the 45* people who have held the job in this important book that showcases how they each led the country in their time—and features their own thoughts and words through their documents, letters, diaries, speeches and so much more.

Some call it the most important job in the world. It's certainly the most powerful. And it's one that every citizen needs to know about because we're the ones who vote to put a president in office. Lively, informative, filled with firsts and facts, big ideas and compelling anecdotes, 
The Presidents Decoded, is a richly layered guide to the leaders who have shaped our nation.

Featuring over 125 primary sources--including documents, speeches, letters, executive orders and diaries--each leader's time in office is broken down and explained to show the what, how and why of our leaders' thoughts, decisions and policies. Familiar documents like the preamble of the Declaration of Independence, The Emancipation Proclamation, and The Fugitive Slave Act — the part of the Compromise of 1850 that set the country on a path to Civil War — are included. But there's also George Washington’s letter to Martha as he learns that he’s been chosen to be the General of the Continental Army, a letter to Franklin D. Roosevelt from a desperate family during the Great Depression, a letter from baseball legend Jackie Robinson urging John F. Kennedy to do more for civil rights, and the Executive Order limiting the hours of the federal work day, and so many more. Full-color illustrations bring each president and their time in office to life on the page in their career-defining moments as history marches forward and changes the job — and our way of life — through inventions like the camera, the telephone, the first metal detector, services like the Navy and the Red Cross, and the rise of social media platforms like Twitter.

As she did in 
The Constitution Decoded, Katie Kennedy shines a light on American History, this time through the lens of the leaders who shaped our nation.

(*Very clever of you to catch this! the number is off by 1 because Grover Cleveland was the 22nd and the 24th president!)

The Interview:

1.     First of all, congratulations on writing such an interesting book! How long did it take you to do the research before you even started writing?

Thanks! Research took years, if you count the time I spent in college and teaching and reading—I already had a pretty good background when the publisher suggested this project. But specifically, it took about four months, I think. I was reading the Congressional Record at 2:00 a.m.! I had a great time writing this book, and the editor is fun, so we had some entertaining email threads. 


2.     What gave you the idea to include excerpts from historical documents and then decode them for your readers? 

        I thought that was the great thing about the first book we did, The Constitution Decoded—it gives readers the tools to decipher the document. I wanted this book to be like that—to give kids primary sources that they could evaluate themselves. And going to the primary sources is an important concept. How do we know what we know? In an age of disinformation, that’s a vital part of education. 


3.     The media would like us to think that things have only gotten wonky in Washington lately, but it’s clear from the beginning that there has always been in-fighting and significant disagreements between and within parties. How important was it for you to show that? 

        I wasn’t trying to make political points, so in that sense, it wasn’t at all. But I was trying to tell the whole story as best we could in the space available, and you’re right, that absolutely includes political in-fighting and sniping. I mean, John Tyler got kicked out of his own party, and Andrew Jackson’s campaign accused John Quincy Adams of wearing silk underpants! That’s low. 


4.     I love how well you placed each president within the historical context of their times. I was shocked to learn about some of Woodrow Wilson’s beliefs, but impressed to learn he was willing to step down immediately if he lost the election if it was better for the country to do so. How did you decide what was the most important things to include for each president? 

        Oh, it was so hard! Because of course I wanted to include the significant issues—to give readers who are encountering, say, Benjamin Harrison for the first time, some idea of who he was and what he did. So I had to provide a general overview and also highlight what was most significant in each president’s administration. But at the same time, I wanted to go beyond the usual documents and show something a little different, or go a little deeper. An example of that would be the letter in which then-Vice President John Adams referred to himself as “Daddy Vice.”



5.     After all your research, did you find yourself with a preference for any specific president over all others? 

        Like virtually all historians, I rank Abraham Lincoln as our best president, but I think Ulysses S. Grant is greatly underrated. Eisenhower is, too, although not as much. James Buchanan is usually ranked very low, but that’s probably still too high. 


No matter how each performed as president, though, they were wrenchingly human. I think of Calvin Coolidge’s helplessness as he watched his son die because of a blister he got playing tennis. Or James Monroe’s courage in combat during the American Revolution, when he was shot and seriously wounded. Theodore Roosevelt’s agony when his wife and mother died the same day. Or John F. Kennedy towing an injured comrade three miles through the Pacific Ocean during WWII, the man’s lifejacket strap clamped in his teeth. Whatever you think of them as presidents, they were also people with remarkable stories. 


6.     Finally, your book ends with a poignant reminder that the future of the United States lies in the hands of its current and future voters. How do you hope teachers and students use this book to make themselves ready to pick up the democratic torch when their time comes to vote?

I hope that readers think about the gravity of the decision we make in the voting booth. No president gets to choose the challenges they face. So every president—and by extension, every presidential candidate—has to be a mature person with the experience, qualifications, and judgment that allow them to shepherd the country safely for four years. 


And I hope readers think about how president after president passed off the office to their successor, even after bitterly contested campaigns. The peaceful transfer of power is not only one of the things that makes America great, it’s one of the things that makes Americans safe. Political stability and governmental competence allow the economy and arts to flourish. If that ever collapses, the loss will be staggering.


7.     You’ve decoded the Constitution and the presidents. Anything else you’re dying to decode? 

        Yes! We’re just starting a book on voting that will be a good companion to THE CONSTITUTION DECODED and THE PRESIDENTS DECODED. I hope when young readers see how hard people have struggled for the right to vote, they’ll look forward to their chance to participate in, and protect, our democracy. 


Thank you, Katie!

Thank you!

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

Monday, September 18, 2023

Interview with Elisa Stone Leahy, Author of Tethered to Other Stars

Tethered to Other Stars

It was such a privilege to read this wonderful book and I think you will find Elisa's answers inspiring and revelatory.

About the Book:

Perfect for fans of Efrén Divided and A Good Kind of Trouble, this luminous middle grade debut follows a tween girl navigating the devastating impact of ICE’s looming presence on her family and community.

Seventh grader Wendy Toledo knows that black holes and immigration police have one thing in common: they can both make things disappear without a trace. When her family moves to a new all-American neighborhood, Wendy knows the plan: keep her head down, build a telescope that will win the science fair, and stay on her family’s safe orbit.

But that’s easier said than done when there’s a woman hiding out from ICE agents in the church across the alley—and making Wendy’s parents very nervous.

As bullying at school threatens Wendy’s friendships and her hopes for the science fair, and her family’s secrets start to unravel, Wendy finds herself caught in the middle of far too many gravitational pulls. When someone she loves is detained by ICE, Wendy must find the courage to set her own orbit—and maybe shift the paths of everyone around her.

First of all: What an amazing book!  I loved it and all the characters so much! And I learned so much!  So many questions:


The Interview

  1. Can you share what made you write about the refugee crisis in the United States (which, really, is happening all around the world?)

As a Peruvian-American living in the Midwest, I’ve gotten to know many refugees and been involved in immigration activism. I am also a documentary filmmaker but I found that the most vulnerable people cannot share their stories on screen. I cannot put people on camera to share what they’ve been through when the perpetrators are still out there, searching for them. I have friends who ran from gangs in El Salvador, who left abusive relationships in Mexico, or who have been mistreated by ICE agents here in the US. Those stories are not safe for my friends to share in a documentary film, but I can write it into fiction. Children’s literature has an immense capacity to take distant experiences and draw them closer. Many in this country, adults and kids alike, have a very distant concept of what the immigrant experience is like. I hope that by telling some of these stories through fiction for middle grade, readers may draw a bit closer to comprehending that reality.

  1. The main character Wendy (nice name choice by the way!) is a budding scientist whose family has just moved again after raids in their previous community. She and her brother suspect that one of their parents might not have the proper documentation to allow them to stay in the country, but in many ways, are too afraid to ask. There’s a tremendous amount of love and tension in the family – how difficult was that to write?

Tension is always difficult to write, but particularly in middle grade. Middle schoolers are often navigating that transition between the safety of their home and their place in the unknown world outside those walls. As kids expand their understanding of the world beyond the scope of their own family, their values and beliefs begin to take on a new shape. Writing to that age where identity is still forming means questioning family members but not completely throwing off that safety net. Wendy has to see her parents as fallible, yet still trust them. She has to question their choices, but know that they love her wholeheartedly. I gave some of that questioning to her older brother, who is developmentally further along in creating his own identity. But Wendy, like other kids her age, has to find her own path.

  1. One of the difficulties of trying to blend in is that it makes it almost impossible to make waves when you see things that aren’t right. Wendy has some friends at school who are much more forthright when they see racist and other bad behaviours. You did a wonderful job of showcasing the subtle and not-so-subtle ways bigotry manifests itself. How important was it to show kids how insidious that kind of behaviour can be.

When we only hear about the most egregious examples of discrimination, it is easy to think we would speak out. Standing up to racism seems obvious. But most bigotry is subtle and responding to that can be hard. I wanted kids to see examples that are complicated and show how even things that seem small can be damaging. Most kids have a strong sense of justice but taking a stand is not easy. For people who are being targeted, standing up can even make things worse. It was important to me to point out that vulnerable people may have valid reasons to not be at the forefront of the fight, and to show how others can be advocates for justice.

  1. I love the parallel story of Luz, who has sought sanctuary in a local church so she can’t be deported. I find the idea of sanctuary so moving, since really, isn’t that what we all search for in life? This plotline was a wonderful way to politicize Wendy’s brother, Tom. How much research did you have to do around similar cases?

Much of my research came through lived experience in immigration activism. My friend Edith Espinal lived in sanctuary for over 3 years in a church to avoid a deportation order. She took her fight to the news, to the presidential candidates and to the front page of the New York Times. I was part of her team when we traveled to DC to lobby for her and others in sanctuary. We led letter-writing campaigns and petition signings. Edith became the face of the sanctuary movement. My partner and I produced a documentary, A Shelter for Edith, about her story and my book is dedicated to her. But even with all my experience, I did plenty of research. Immigration law is messy and no refugee experience is the same. My book is set in Columbus, Ohio in 2018, during the year that Edith was living in sanctuary. Sanctuary is a concept that I have never seen in contemporary fiction, so it was critically important that I present an authentic experience that fit that time and place.

  1. Wendy standing up for herself actually helps her parents realize the cost of staying hidden. But there are consequences to speaking up. Did you know from the beginning how the book was going to end or did some things change in the writing?

When I began writing this book, my friend Edith was still living in sanctuary. I wrote all the hope I had for her into Luz’s story. I wrote my passion for justice into Etta’s headstrong, big-hearted zeal. I wrote the grief I felt for another friend whose husband was taken by ICE into the hurt Tom’s family felt. I knew from the beginning that I wanted Wendy and her family to be okay and together at the end. But I also knew that there is no easy resolution to the complexities of immigration law. The book opens with Wendy’s family moving into a house that feels unstable and unsafe, mimicking the societal structures that often feel threatening to refugees. The book ends with Wendy’s family together, healing and in a home that is now safe and welcoming. But you’ll notice that the legal questions are not fully resolved and Luz is still living in sanctuary. There is hope, and a path forward, but nothing is certain. True change can only happen with policy change and democratic action. My friend Edith is now living in her own home, thanks to a democratic vote that changed the administration. In the book, Luz’s story is open-ended as a reminder that our actions decide the future.

  1. Secrets are wreaking havoc in Wendy’s family. Wendy’s parents come from places where the only way to survive is to risk the long and dangerous journey to another country, one where they know they may not be welcomed. Was it hard to write how that trauma impacted them and then ultimately their children?

I have dual citizenship, so I have never had to grapple with the realities of immigration for myself. But this book is shaped by the experiences of many, many friends. Telling this story is nothing compared to what they have lived through. I have listened to an ICE officer mock and belittle my friend for misunderstanding the English instructions he was given at his check-in. I have called a friend from the ICE office to tell her that her husband was just taken into custody by an ICE officer who referred to distraught immigrants being deported as “crybabies.” I’ve had parents ask me to help them find paperwork to sign custody of their 5-year-old over to relatives in the event that both of them were deported. And I’ve sat for hours with friends, documenting the darkest moments of their lives for their refugee claims, both of us in tears. Was this hard to write? Yes. But weaving their pieces of truth into this work of fiction was the best way I knew to tell their stories. 

  1. I so hope every school and library gets a copy of this book, because the refugee situation is only going to get worse as the climate crisis intensifies. What do you hope your readers take away from this story?

ICE has done a remarkable job of creating a culture of fear that terrifies families. For kids growing up with that reality, there is often no room to acknowledge that fear and its damaging effects. I wanted to give those kids a place to see themselves and I wanted other kids to get a sense of that suffocating fear. As a child, I vividly remember reading books about WWII and what it was like for the Jewish people living in that environment. Those stories made me a more empathetic person and shaped my view of justice and systems of power. Our kids need to hear these stories.

  1. Finally – What’s next?

If you loved Wendy and her friends, then I have some great news! The second book, which follows one of Wendy’s new friends from school, comes out next Fall. The title reveal and description are coming soon! It takes place just a few weeks after Tethered to Other Stars. I can’t give too much away, but there will be comics, secrets, a drag queen storytime, a sweet crush and library shenanigans. Also a glitter cat. Stay tuned for more! And if you’d like to take a personality quiz to see which of my characters you are most like, check out my website!

Want to know more about Elisa? Click here!

Also, between now and October 2nd, you can enter a goodreads contest to win your own copy! Click here!


Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Interview with Christy Cashman, Author of The Truth About Horses

About the Book:

Fourteen-year-old Reese’s dream of winning the Black Elk race is shattered when her beloved horse, Trusted Treasure, falls at the last jump and the vet suggests they put him down. While still reeling from that loss, her family suffers a second tragedy—one that results in the end of their family business, the sale of Trusted Treasure, and irreparable damage to Reese’s relationship with her father.

Heartbroken and still longing to find Trusted Treasure, Reese meets Wes, a selective mute, whose way of training horses is unlike anything she’s ever seen. If anyone can win the Black Elk, it’s Wes—but he’s struggling with his troubled past, and having a teenage girl hanging around his barn isn’t exactly what he’d planned. Through heartaches and triumphs, Reese must prove her worth if she wants to heal her family, help Wes, and show them all that some dreams are worth fighting for.

A spellbinding tale in which every teenager has magical powers within them just waiting to be discovered, this book will have you laughing and crying—sometimes on the same page—all the while rooting for Reese, the most unlikely of heroes.

The Interview

Hi Christy! First of all, congratulations on writing such a heartfelt and riveting story! You had me hook, line, and sinker from the first page. Where did the idea come from? 

Thank you so much! I’m thrilled that you enjoyed it. 

Trying to figure out exactly where the idea came from is not easy. I think it was a series of ideas. I didn’t even necessarily set out to write a novel. I’m sure I would have balked at that suggestion. I actually thought I was going to write a treatment for a film but once I started the writing process, the voice of the protagonist, Reese, was much more suited for a novel, and I went with it.

I had been to Cavalia and was very moved by the way horses were so artfully celebrated. It’s like each performance was a moving painting of these exquisite creatures and that brought me back to my childhood when simply being in the presence of a horse felt like a spiritual experience. I remember looking at their big eyes, their shiny coats, their flowing manes and tails and feeling a sort of magical energy. I also remember always having a sense of longing as a child. And a lot of that longing was about wanting to be with my horse and take care of him. I think longing is in everyone and as children, it goes hand in hand with learning. If you think about it, what we long for and how we go about attaining or not attaining it tends to be our invitation in life to learn who we are. Having a horse as a child was the world in which I experienced so many successes and failures and that time in my life was so fraught with emotions that writing about Reese and how she longed for her horse Treasure was like finding a trove of possibilities. Sometimes it felt like the story was always there and I just uncovered it and other times it felt like I was totally trying to make my way in the dark.


The story begins with an unthinkable tragedy that sets in motion a lot of terrible things that make our heroine Reese miserable. While I was shocked and sad, I loved the randomness of the event, that it catches the reader totally by surprise, which is what it’s like in real life. How hard was that first chapter to write? 

The first chapter wasn’t always the first chapter. At one point in the process, it was chapter eight! Moving chapters around is a little like moving furniture around in a room. When it goes in the right place, it suddenly feels right, and you know it instantly. When I wrote that chapter, I tried to put myself in the car and when I was about twelve, I was in a car accident where our car hit a patch of ice and we fishtailed off the road into a ditch. I remember sitting in the backseat and seeing all of this weird detail and noticing even in the moment that I was noticing it—it  was weird that I was noticing! It was crazy how everything slowed down. We were lucky we were all OK other than my Mom broke some ribs and my brother’s face hit the windshield (and he picked pieces of glass out of his face for a year) but I guess it was pretty traumatic because that’s the memory I mined from to write that scene.

Reese’s relationship with her father (or lack thereof) is at the heart of the story. At times I just wanted to yell at him, I was so furious. And yet, his behavior isn’t all that uncommon, unfortunately. Why do you think it’s so important for kids to read about parents who mess up? 

Yes, her Dad is very frustrating and I enjoyed writing his character because as adults we tend to think we’re dealing with things when all we’re really doing is avoiding them at all costs. Which I know all about from experience! We grow up with the idea that our parents should know everything when really, they are often just injured children themselves who are afraid to feel. I think accepting that is crucial to growing. And allowing ourselves to be vulnerable about our feelings with our children can feel like we’re admitting we don’t know what we’re doing but it’s probably the only thing that truly connects us.

The other heart of the story focuses on Reese’s desire to find her beloved horse, Trusted Treasure (sold after the family tragedy) and find a way to keep her mother’s horse barn going. I have to say: you make owning a horse and the barn life VERY appealing. As a reader, I learned so much, not just about the care and keeping of horses, but how horses are bought and sold. Was it a challenge to write about an area you know so much about in an accessible way? 

I chose the world of horses because I knew I could write about it in a believable way. A writing instructor told me that we all have these experiences in our lives that we are well-versed enough to be able to create around. So, if you choose a world that you know and are able to describe it using all of your senses, then your story will be grounded and your reader will automatically trust you so that when you weave in the other elements of the story, they can’t decipher what’s made up from what’s not. I heard a musician describing jazz to me. He said that jazz is taking a melody and going off on tangents around it and then making your way back to the melody in an unexpected way. In a way, writing a novel is a little like that in that the “grounded world” is the melody and as long as you keep returning to it, you can weave through all of the other elements you want.

Another character central to the story is Wes, who has his own complicated reasons for taking over the horse barn. Through her relationship with Wes, Reese literally finds a voice and a bit of autonomy in a life that is fast unravelling. Wes’ motives are mysterious throughout a lot of the book; how easy was it to tease out his role in the story? 

I definitely knew that he brought a mysterious quality simply by being a selective mute. I found that Reese’s interpretation of what she thought he was thinking was a fun way to know Wes. But half the time she was only guessing and so it really turned out being a way to get to know her better. I had to work hard to find other ways of understanding Wes. Mainly, I felt like the path to understanding Wes was how he was around his horses. As I was writing his character, I noticed that sometimes I talk because I’m nervous and just filling an uncomfortable space. Because, when someone is silent, the more I hear myself talk, truly “hear myself” I can at times sound pretty ridiculous. I wanted to get that feeling across with Wes when Reese was complaining about Lexi.

There is a wonderful magical realism subplot that involves a group of wild horses. We meet them early in the story, and they show up at very important moments in the story. I love that aspect of the story – it really challenges the reader to decide for themselves what is real or not. 

I have always felt like the best stories are the ones that are highly interpretive. I knew I wanted an element that couldn’t be explained away. 

There is plenty of swearing in this book – Reese is fourteen and going through A LOT – and some really intense moments in the story when Reese loses it and I wondered if there was any push back from your editor? Personally, given the circumstances, I thought the choices you made were right on. 

Believe it or not, there wasn’t any pushback. And believe it or not, I don’t like swearing. But I feel like Reese’s swearing wasn’t gratuitous in the story. She was so angry and she wanted her Dad to feel what she felt. She wanted to make him angry and she tried everything she could to get him to see her even if it was by doing exactly what she knew would rile him up the most! As much as I had to do a bit of soul searching and ask myself if that was the best way to show her anger, I kept landing on yes. In this story, swearing was purposeful and part of my character’s development.

What’s next? You are sure to have a LOT of fans after this story!

I’m so excited to be working on my second novel BEULAH! It’s set in the Great Smoky mountains in Tennessee in the late ‘80s. In the midst of feeling pushed out of her own hometown, Zadie, the 15-year-old protagonist learns that a girl from her school has gone missing. The town is gripped in fear, friends turn on each other and already feeling like an outsider, Zadie finds herself wondering who her friends and her family really are.

Thanks Christy! 

Want to learn more about Christy? click here

Want to pre-order the book, which comes out August 15th? Scan the barcode below:

Thursday, July 6, 2023

Interview: Sally J. Pla, Author of The Fire, The Water, and Maudie McGinn

So excited to be interviewing one of my favourite authors, Sally J. Pla!

She's the author of The Someday Birds, Stanley Will Probably Be Fine, and Benji, The Bad Day, and Me, and No World Too Big.

And she's back with a fabulous new middle grade novel: The Fire, The Water, and Maudie McGinn.

I got to read an advanced reader's copy and I can tell you this: IT IS GOOD!

What it's About

Neurodivergent Maudie is ready to spend an amazing summer with her dad, but will she find the courage to tell him a terrible secret about life with her mom and new stepdad? This contemporary novel by the award-winning author of The Someday Birds is a must-read for fans of Leslie Connor and Ali Standish.

Maudie always looks forward to the summers she spends in California with her dad. But this year, she must keep a troubling secret about her home life—one that her mom warned her never to tell. Maudie wants to confide in her dad about her stepdad's anger, but she’s scared.

When a wildfire strikes, Maudie and her dad are forced to evacuate to the beach town where he grew up. It’s another turbulent wave of change. But now, every morning, from their camper, Maudie can see surfers bobbing in the water. She desperately wants to learn, but could she ever be brave enough?

As Maudie navigates unfamiliar waters, she makes friends—and her autism no longer feels like the big deal her mom makes it out to be. But her secret is still threatening to sink her. Will Maudie find the strength to reveal the awful truth—and maybe even find some way to stay with Dad—before summer is over?

The Interview

1.     First of all, I adored this book so much! I’m a huge fan of Maudie and her dad especially, but every character in this book is three dimensional and unique. Can you tell us about the inspiration for the book?


Thank you so much, Wendy! Thank you for reading, and thank you for having me on! How an inspiration turns into a story is such a fascinating process, isn’t it? For me, usually, I start a story when I hear the voice of a new and different character in my head. But this time, it started with a setting. I live near the beach in Southern California, not far from a state campground, where many RVs and tents and trailers are parked. Walking through the campground on my many beach walks, looking at the different state license plates, hearing kids play, laugh, and cry, hearing families chatting, etc., I started imagining “what if” stories, set in this world. 


2.     I love that! Maudie goes through a lot of traumatic experiences in this book, but eventually finds her way. How hard was it to write some of those scenes?


From the safety of her summer with dad, Maudie flashes back to her life back home with her mom and new stepdad. She does NOT want to return, come August, but has been warned not to ever speak of the situation. So, all summer, she tries to figure out how to stay safely with her dad -- who’s wonderful, but in a life-crisis of his own.


Maudie’s flashback scenes of physical/emotional abuse were not hard to write. They are an everyday reality for far too many young people. They were a reality in my life, at the hands of different abusive people, when I was growing up. Certain things that happened to Maudie, also happened to me, and far worse. Mainly, my challenge, and my process, was this: Write a scene once, and let out all the feelings, just for me. Then delete it all. But while the emotions still simmered, start over in a calmer, softer way, writing to be mindful and respectful to middle-grade sensibilities. Edit, edit, edit, with young readers carefully in mind. 


3.    I love this process. It must have been both cathartic and draining all at once. Maudie's relationship with her mother is complex and troubling, but feels very real. Was it hard to write that relationship so it wasn’t completely black and white?


Such a great question. I wanted it to be clear that Maudie’s mom truly loves her. No villain worth their salt is all 100% evil. She was a teen mom, young and ignorant and with harsh parents who disowned her. To get herself and Maudie out of poverty, Maudie’s mom married someone who truly loves her and provides for their every need -- but who’s now suddenly doing daily damage to her child’s wellbeing. And she’s stuck. She can’t admit it’s happening. It would mean watching her world crumble again, maybe even going back to poverty. Plus, Maudie IS a handful sometimes, right? She’s become a bit delusional, she’s trapped herself.




4.     So true, the best villains have to believe they're doing the right thing. Maudie’s father faces financial hardships in the story, but he’s surrounded himself with good people that are there for him and for Maudie. How important was it for you to portray not only the issue of financial hardship, but to talk about the different kinds of families we can have in our lives?


“Found family” in the campground is a big part of the story, and one of its most joyous aspects. I didn’t want to downplay how grindingly hard it is when there’s financial hardship. But I did want to point out that community, and family, whatever that family looks like, is what gets us through. All the money in the world, alone, won’t do that. If there are no loved ones to raise us right, no family, no community, to support us and help us and guide us and provide all that emotional resilience, that give-and-take along the way, then we’ll be lost. 


5.     Surfing plays a huge part in this story and it is so wonderful that Maudie’s journey towards her truth starts by facing other fears. We all need mentors and she certainly finds one in Etta. Enquiring minds want to know: are you a surfer?


When I was in my early twenties, yeah, I went out a bit, but I was never good enough to feel like I could legit call myself a surfer. My husband and I were big into windsurfing for a while, but it’s been literally decades.  Now I just float around on the water. Still, I think surfing is the most beautiful, natural sport there is. You must fall in love with the ocean, read the waves, know the waves... The whole sport just swims in apt metaphors for surviving, for living! It is the perfect sport for Maudie, for helping her physically and mentally find her courage, strength, resilience, balance. 


6.     What I love about this book is that the fact that Maudie is neurodivergent is portrayed as both a difficulty for her but also a kind of super power. Letting us into Maudie’s head allows the reader to really experience both her challenges and strengths. So many kids are going to be thrilled to see themselves on the page. As someone who is neurodivergent yourself, was that easier or harder to achieve?


Way easier to achieve – Maudie’s head is my head, in many ways! And when it comes to difficulties that are also superpowers, I am so glad that came through. No weakness without strength, no crisis without opportunity, no high tide without low tide, no yin without yang, no  fire without water – and autism is also a condition of complementary contrasts. Some autism professionals divide us into “high functioning” or “low-functioning” groups, not understanding that we are ALL both high and low functioning, depending on the day, the moment , or the challenge at hand.  


Thank you for seeing and embracing this in Maudie. I hope readers will too -- and be encouraged at how much every autistic person (indeed, just plain every person) can change and strengthen and grow.


7.     Finally: please tell us more Sally J. Pla books are in the works!!!!


There are! This winter, I have a short, funny chapter book for younger readers out with HarperCollins UK’s Big Cat series – it’s about two unlikely neurodivergent friends, and it’s called Ada and Zaz. My picture book, Benji, The Bad Day, and Me, should be coming out in Spanish soon. You can look for a little novel with QuillTree/HarperCollins, Invisible Isabel, within a year or two – another autistic main character, and I hope you love her -- and I’m currently working on the novel after that: a love story set in the upper Midwest, where I lived for a long while. I won’t say any more!

Thanks Sally!

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