Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Interview with Bridget Hodder, Author of The Button Box

Author Interview: Bridget Hodder

I'm a huge fan of Bridget, and absolutely adored her first book, The Rat Prince, so I jumped at the chance to read The Button Box, her latest middle grade novel with the genius who is Fawzia Gilani-Williams!

Let me tell you: the book does not disappoint! I adored all of the characters, and learning about the real history behind the story!

About the Book

After Jewish fifth-grader Ava and her Muslim best friend Nadeem are called hateful names at school, Ava's Granny Buena rummages in her closet and pulls out a glittering crystal button box. It's packed with buttons that generations of Ava's Sephardic ancestors have cherished. With the help of Granny's mysterious cat Sheba, Ava and Nadeem discover that a button from the button box will take them back in time. Suddenly, they are in ancient Morocco, where Nadeem's ancestor, Prince Abdur Rahman, is running for his life. Can Ava and Nadeem help the prince escape to Spain and fulfill his destiny, creating a legendary Golden Age for Muslims, Jews and Christians?

The Interview

Q1: First: hooray for a new book by you Bridget! But would love to know how you and the wonderful Fawzia Gilani-Williams came to work together?


Thank you, Wendy! 


Fawzia and I have waited so long to bring The Button Box to the world! It's a cross-cultural tale of modern children --one Sephardic Jewish, one Muslim--who are magically transported by an antique family button into a shared ancient past, full of danger and challenges they must face with courage. The kids bring that courage with them back to the present, newly empowered to solve their own problems.


To answer your question about how Fawzia and I became co-authors, I have to tell a little story. 


I met Joni Sussman, the head of Lerner Books' Kar-Ben imprint, at the Highlights Workshop for Jewish kidlit writers. The workshop featured an opportunity for authors to read aloud from their works in progress. After I read a few pages from my first draft of The Button Box, Joni told me she would be interested in acquiring the book for Kar-Ben. I was thrilled, but I told her the tale would be undergoing some major changes, first. I needed a Muslim co-author to make the book become what it truly needed to be: a celebration of the intertwined elements of the Sephardic Jewish and Muslim past, brought into the present through genuine modern perspectives from both cultural traditions.


Joni suggested Fawzia Gilani-Williams, who she'd worked with before on the classic "Yaffa and Fatima: Shalom, Salaam"...and a beautiful partnership soon came into being. 



Q2: Is co-authoring a book harder or easier than writing alone?


I wouldn't say the writing process is necessarily harder when co-authoring, but it does take longer. To achieve the necessary balance of voices and material in the story, and to maintain a good working and personal relationship, much care and thought and extra time is required. You can't rush trust, and trust is the sine qua non of creating art together. 


Working across several time zones, with Fawzia in the United Arab Emirates and me in the U.S., it took at least a day to get a response to every email or draft. We put in the "plus time" to make sure we were both okay with every change, and that neither of us felt under- or over-represented in the story. 


On the other hand, a co-authorship offers remarkable creative and emotional support! Each of us knows exactly what the other is experiencing. We're able to compare notes and back up each other's opinions. And when an edit comes that is difficult to execute, we can share the burden. Probably the best advice I can give if you want a great co-writing experience is to have Fawzia Gilani-Williams as your co-author.


Q3: The book begins with Jewish Ava and Muslim Nadeem being bullied in school because of their religions. How hard was that to write? It is such a painful experience.


It was hard, because we were channeling current distressing trends of ever more open and aggressive hate against Muslims and Jews in the U.S. But this theme was central to our purpose in writing the book: to support those children who experience harassment; to give them courage; and to provide empathy and modeling that can create allies among the readership. 


To that end, we strove to create the most classroom-friendly book possible, with a historical map, a cross-cultural glossary, definitions and extra resources in the back matter, to aid teachers and students alike as they search for more knowledge on the subjects we raise. The team at Lerner Books and Kar-Ben was simply amazing in how they made our vision come alive in the pages of The Button Box.


Q4: The use of the button box is such a lovely and powerful way to talk about the importance of honoring our ancestors traditions and experiences. Was it always a button box or did you have other options? And, did your family have one?  


Oh, there was never any was always going to be a Button Box. My mother and grandmother had button jars that I spent fascinated hours with in my childhood...and in my adulthood, too! I buy old button collections whenever I see a really good one at a thrift store or a swap meet and add the loveliest ones to my stash. It's amazing to see the craft of the handmade antique buttons, and the fine materials like mother-of-pearl, burled wood, shiny black jet and even genuine sea pearls.


Q5: I’d heard of Sephardic Jews, but knew very little about them, so I loved the history. I also loved how the story uses historical truths to show that our religious differences don’t have to divide us, but can in fact, can build new and wonderful traditions and beliefs if we’re open to that. Are other readers as surprised as I was by this amazing piece of history?


They are! Fawzia and I are bowled over by the reaction we've gotten from readers. They are so eager to explore new, exciting eras of history, and our work provides a window into brand new worlds for them. That's one of the valuable things diverse books can provide so easily and so well: a sense of discovery and of wonder at the many precious life-ways our world shining magic buttons in the Button Box, just waiting for you to be open to experiencing them.


Q6: What are you working on now?


Fawzia and I have a picture book coming out next year, in 2023, called THE PROMISE! Once again, Joni Sussman at Kar-Ben is our editor. We just received the breathtaking sketches for the illustrations from artist Cinzia Battistel, and we're floored by their beauty. 


We can't wait to share it with you soon!


Want to learn more about Bridget? Visit her here!

Want to learn more about Fawzia Gilani-Williams? Visit her here!


Friday, March 11, 2022

Review: The Nightmare Brigade, Vol. 1 by Franck Thilliez, Yomgui Dumont

The Nightmare Brigade is SUCH a cool book.

I love a good graphic novel and this one is GOOD, filled with twists and turns and lots of creepy and funny bits to keep the reader engaged. 



The Nightmare Brigade is a dream team lead by Professor Angus. With his two young sidekicks, 14-year-olds Esteban and Tristan, they have one goal: help people vanquish their worst nightmares. With unique skills, the team members can literally infiltrate their patient's nightmare to seek its root and destroy the cause. Things are shaken up however, when they meet young Sarah. The Brigade has a feeling they have seen her before... Before they solve the mystery, an insomniac starts invading other people's dreams. How does he do it and how can he be stopped?

About the Author and Illustrator:

Frank Thilliez is the author of fifteen crime novels, and a screenwriter. 

Yomgui Dumont's worked in cartoons, multimedia, advertising, and the press, and has published more than twenty graphic novels and teen novels.

The book was released first in France and was very successful.

My thoughts:

As I said, this one is good. Esteban and Tristan are likeable characters who derive a lot of satisfaction from helping others. At school they may be bullied, but in the dream world, they're able to be heroes, which is a really interesting premise.

I also liked that Esteban is in a wheelchair in real life and how that plays into the choices he makes and how he behaves in the dreams.

As for Professor Angus, let's just say this: the guy is super mysterious, and readers are often left wondering about his (and other characters') motives, which makes this a great mystery.

And given that this is the first book in the series — Part Two Releases in June — the author leaves us with a real cliffhanger, which I love.

Kids and adults alike are going to eat this up, and there is lots of room here for MANY stories.

Want to Learn More?

Visit here.

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Coming of Age: 13 B'nai Mitzvah Stories + Interview

As a Jewish author I was excited to see a book aimed at kids during the time of their Bar and Bat Mitzvahs (the ceremony in which a Jewish child enters into adulthood). It's an exciting and sometimes confusing time in a young Jewish individual's life. I would have loved to have had a book like this to see myself in during that time in my life.

Coming of Age: 13 B'nai Mitzvah Stories is filled with vignettes about B'nai Mitzvahs and no two are alike. It covers everything from international experiences, pandemic bnai mitzvahs, exploring crushes, time travel, and even the Jewish customs on planet Latke with a race full of octopus-like aliens. And each story captures the range of emotions surrounding the important event in many Jewish children's lives as they are called to the Torah and transition into adulthood.

Whether you're Jewish or not, this is a great resource to help kids understand B'nai Mitzvahs in a variety of fun and interesting ways.

I have the pleasure of talking with one of the authors Nancy Krulik, about the anthology and some of the aspects of her story, The Contest.

Nancy it's so nice to chat with you today about Coming of Age: 13 B'nai Mitzvah stories.

Tell Middle Grade Minded readers a little bit about Coming of Age: 13 B'nai Mitzvah Stories and more specifically what your story is about.
Coming of Age: 13 B’nai Mitzvah Stories is a collection of stories about Jewish teenagers who are each havng having one of the most monumental and meaningful experiences of their lives—their bar or bat mitzvah. Some of the stories are funny, some are serious, and some are a little of both. Some take place in the past, some in the present day, and one even takes place in outer space. The one thing all the tales have in common is that they represent the true emotions 13-year-old Jewish kids feel. It is very much a book of shared experiences.  My particular story, T”he Contest,” is about a boy who has a very difficult time sitting still in synagogue.  He also has a whole lot of b’nai mitzvah to attend. So, to make things a little more interesting, he and his friends come up with a contest to see who can be the first one to be asked by the ushers to leave services.
How did you come up with the idea for your story? Have you ever been kicked out of synagogue before?
I was a bit of a chatterbox as a kid (I still am, but I can control myself a little better now).  I was definitely asked to leave services from time to time. But the whole concept of an actual contest is actually my son’s experience. The first line of the story is, in fact, the first line of his bar mitzvah speech: Shabbat Shalom. Welcome to my Bar Mitzvah. Today I promise to make it all the way through the service without getting asked to leave the sanctuary.”  I was pretty mortified by that line when I first heard it, but the rabbi thought it was hilarious. Turns out the rabbi had a lot of trouble sitting still in synagogue when he was a kid as well. 
How did you get involved in this book?
I met Jonathan Rosen, one of the editors/authors of the collection, on a trip to Israel sponsored by PJ Library. We traveled with a group of children’s authors, which was a remarkable experience. To see Jerusalem with people who are like-minded and care about the same things I do was very important to me. I’d been to Israel before, but never in this type of setting. I made lifelong friends, and Jonathan was one of them. We had all been thinking of ways to reach out to Jewish kids and Jonathan, along with Henry Herz, came up with Coming of Age. When they asked me to be part of a project as important as this one, I jumped at the chance. 
What does it mean to you to be a part of a book that celebrates coming of age in Judaism?
I think it’s incredibly important for Jewish kids to see themselves in literature. It’s important for all kids to feel represented in the culture, particularly in books.  I think it’s also important for people of other faiths to understand what the experience is all about. I think the more we read about the lives and traditions of one another, the less hatred there will be in the world. Let’s face it, today’s 13-year-olds will be tomorrow’s leaders. So why not help them have pride in themselves and understanding for one another?

What do you hope readers get from this collection of stories?
I hope they laugh, and I hope they learn. As for Jewish readers in particular, I hope they take great pride in what they will have accomplished when they stand up at the bimah and read from the Torah. It takes a lot of work and a lot of guts to get up there in front of friends, family, and the congregation.
Is there anything else you'd like to share with readers about this story or your other work?
“The Contest” is actually the first Jewish story I ever wrote, and it has inspired me to play around with other ideas based on Jewish protagonists. Still, anyone who knows my books knows that I write funny. It’s just my thing. So although The Contest does take a serious turn, I kept it funny.  Kids who have read my Katie Kazoo Switcheroo, George Brown Class Clown or Princess Pulverizer series know no one loves putting a good burp into a story more than I do.  Kids who read “The Contest” will not be disappointed.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

 Hooray! Author Elly Swartz has a new book out today!

      Elly is one of my favourite middle grade authors, so I jumped at a chance to read an advance copy of her latest books and ask her all kinds of questions!


But first, a little information about the book:

      When Autumn becomes the secret voice of the advice column in her middle school newspaper she is faced with a dilemma--can she give fair advice to everyone, including her friends, while keeping her identity a secret?

Starting Middle School is rough for Autumn after her one and only BFF moves to California. Uncertain and anxious, she struggles to connect with her new classmates. The two potential friends she meets could not be more different: bold Logan who has big ideas and quiet Cooper who's a bit mysterious. But Autumn has a dilemma: what do you do when the new friends you make don't like each other? 

When Autumn is picked to be the secret voice of the Dear Student letters in the Hillview newspaper, she finds herself smack in the middle of a problem with Logan and Cooper on opposite sides. But before Autumn can figure out what to do, the unthinkable happens. Her secret identity as Dear Student is threatened. Now, it's time for Autumn to find her voice, her courage, and follow her heart, even when it's divided.

The interview!

      Hi Elly - Congratulations on DEAR STUDENT, which is such a heartwarming story!  One of the things that I really loved about this book is that almost nothing in this story is black and white, from Autumn’s family situation to her friendship with Logan and Cooper, to even the animal testing issue. Can you talk about your decision to dive headfirst in gray areas?


I love this question. The gray matter was intentional. I feel my readers are the age when you start realizing the world is not neat. It is not all right or all wrong, all good or all bad. There is this middle ground you need to wade through and decipher. This space is blurry. And navigating it really pushes you to find your heart, your voice, and what matters to you.


2. Autumn uses a technique called Fearless Fred when she is especially in need of some bravery - do you have similar techniques?


Ha! I guess I haven’t thought about it that intentionally before, but I suppose Autumn’s Fearless Fred came from me. Not just me, the author, but me, the person. I do feel there are times I need to dig deep with purpose and find the part of me that fear can boss around. The part of me that’s bigger than my worry. 


We all have fears and worries and things that make us anxious. It’s what we do about it in those moments. And for me, like Autumn, I try to find my Fearless Fred.


3. One thing that I really love about this book is that it addresses full on the fact that most people think other people have it more together than they do. Autumn starts to realize this when she begins to write the advice column. Was this really important to you, to help kids see that their assumptions may be wrong.



Yes! Kids today often only see the shiny penny version of their friend’s lives on Snap Chat or TikTok. They see the manicured moments and curated pictures. They don’t see what’s underneath. They don’t see that we all have fears and worries. That we all are working on something. So I wanted to explore this in Dear Student. Take Autumn, for example, she assumes Logan is brave and fearless because she is popular and involved in many activities at school. When, in actuality, Logan doesn’t feel brave or fearless. Her popularity and involvement stems from a place of wanting to fill a void left by her mom’s other commitments. When Autumn realizes this, she is better able to empathize and understand. 

That’s the magic of pealing back the layers and getting rid of assumptions. It allows us to take the perspective of others, helps minimize misunderstandings, and allows space for empathy.  

In school visits, I often share this idea with an activity called, 5 Reasons Why. It goes like this, one’s first conclusion is not always the correct one! Challenge yourself to move beyond your first assumption by coming up with five different reasons why a person might:

      Be late for school.

      Not attend the school dance

      Eat lunch alone.

      Get in fights.


It’s amazing how the empathy and understanding grows as kids are encouraged to look beyond their initial assumptions. 


4. An interesting part of this book is that several of the parents are pursuing causes and self-actualization that may not be ideal or even good for their children. Can you talk about the decision to include such complicated narratives?


You truly picked up on all the things that touched my heart as I wrote. This decision harkens back to the first question you asked about the gray matter. I wanted to show that not every decision is right or wrong, sometimes it truly is both. For instance, Autumn’s dad is doing something really noble, volunteering for the Peace Corps, and Logan’s mom is doing something incredibly important, fighting for women and girls’ rights everywhere. The world needs people like them, but so do Logan and Autumn. And when I wrote these characters, I respected them as people, but was mad at them as parents. Again, nothing is all one thing. It’s all a delicate balance. 


5. At the end of the book, we don’t know that everything will work out for Autumn. How important was it for you to leave some things dangling?


Hope and authenticity drove the end of this story. I wanted the conclusion to be hopeful. Autumn not only found, but used her voice to share her heart. To me, that was everything. 


As for her friendship with Logan and her temporary house with no lilac bushes, time will tell. It felt authentic to leave some things unresolved. After all, that’s real life. We don’t know how it all turns out. But we can be hopeful!

6. Love Elly books! What’s next????


You are so sweet. Thank you. That means so much to me. And I am happy to share there is more on the way.

I have another middle grade novel entitled, HIDDEN TRUTHS, coming out in 2023 with Random House. HIDDEN TRUTHS is a story told in dual pov between best friends Danielle – a star baseball player – and Eric – her forgetful, but kind, goofy, crossword-loving neighbor. 

Their friendship has begun to shift when a terrible accident happens, accelerating their rift. 

At its heart, this story asks how far you’d go to keep a promise to a friend. And if forgiveness can really heal the hurt that comes when trust is broken. 

I’m also working on a picture book and starting a new middle grade that I am bursting with excitement to write.

Lots more to come. Woohoo!

Want to learn more about Elly? Visit her website!

Friday, January 7, 2022


 Happy New Year!

So excited to share a great interview I did with Ryan Dalton, author of THE LAST ADVENTURE,  which comes out February 1st!

About the Book: 

When Archie's beloved grandpa is diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, Archie desperately wants to slow the progression of his grandpa's memory loss.

Using Grandpa's old journal entries as inspiration, he creates shared role-playing fantasies with epic quests for them to tackle together―allowing Grandpa to live in the present and stay in touch with his fading memories. But as Grandpa's condition gradually worsens, Archie must come to terms with what's happening to his hero. The limits of the fantasies, revelations about Grandpa's past, and a school project about the future force Archie to grapple with what it truly means to live a life worth remembering.

The Interview:

1) The relationship between Archie and his grandfather is absolutely beautiful, but what I really loved was that they played together. I’ve never seen that in a MG novel before but it is so awesome! What inspired that choice and did you have a similar relationship with any of your grandparents?

I didn’t fully realize it until I’d completed This Last Adventure, but I’m drawn to stories that include multi-generational relationships. You get to experience the differences in characters that grew up in very different eras, yet the benefits of a familial bond that provides an underlying security, even when there’s conflict between the characters. There’s also a level of vulnerability that families can have with each other, something deeper than with other characters, and I love writing scenes with lots of words and powerful emotions flying around. I never lived in the same house with my grandparents, so we didn’t have the daily connection that Archie gets to have with Grandpa, but I did enjoy the time I got to spend with them. It was especially fun when personality traits of their younger selves would peek through and I would get a glimpse of playfulness.

2) Archie and his mom are dealing with A LOT. And in very different ways. Can you talk about the choices you made in that relationship?

From the start, I wanted to establish that they were a team with a deep, unbreakable bond, but now that bond was going to be tested and changed in ways they never expected. I knew that was going to cause conflicts because they would struggle at times to understand each other. There would be layers of challenges because, in addition to dealing day-to-day with Grandpa’s condition, they also had their own ways of coping with the emotional toll (some healthy and some not so healthy). So I had to spend a lot of time with them before writing, coming to understand what Archie and Penny would do and why. Then there had to be a path that led to them understanding each other better, which meant there would have to be tough conversations about difficult feelings. I try to feel the emotions I’m writing about in the moment as deeply as possible, wanting them to leap off the page as strongly as possible. So those deep interpersonal scenes can be exhausting to write, but they’re also incredibly rewarding.

3) A universal longing for all of us is that we are remembered. But Archie’s grandfather is haunted by things he’d rather forget. And yet he makes a brave choice which in turns encourages Archie to be brave. Both acts of bravery could have negative repercussions. Why did you want to to frame bravery the way you did? (and bravo by the way!)

I wanted to show that bravery is not dependent on the outcome. Through his own experiences, Grandpa had learned that taking the leap is the important thing. It carries its own reward. So he wanted to teach Archie to go through life unafraid of taking chances, of reaching as high as he could for what he really wanted, knowing that he would be okay even if he fell short or didn’t always get what he wanted. From there, my goal was to show Archie doing exactly that and receiving mixed results – some successes and some failures – and seeing for himself that what Grandpa taught him was true.

(I’m really glad you enjoyed that. It’s one of my favorite parts.)

4) Sometimes, we choose to carry burdens by ourselves, how does that manifest in your characters and what do you want your readers to take away from those choices?

In real life, when we try to carry heavy burdens by ourselves, that often doesn’t work out too well. Yet that’s usually the first thing people try to do. These characters needed to learn the same thing, which meant at first they’d have to try handling problems on their own and then experience the repercussions. It’s only when they start relying on each other, learning how to act like a team again, that things begin to improve.

5) If you could go back in time (or perhaps now!), what would you loved to ask your grandparents?

I would want to hear about the most treasured adventures they had in their life, memories they look back on with the deepest joy. A long life carries many hidden depths, and I’d love to hear the stories they haven’t told in many years.

6) What’s next?

While preparing for publication of This Last Adventure, I wrote another middle grade book that we’re currently taking to various publishing houses. In February, I’ll begin writing my next book – something I can’t talk about in detail yet but am so excited to begin. I have so many stories floating around in my head, just waiting to be written, so I hope to be publishing books in a variety of genres for many years to come. Stay tuned!

Guys, THE LAST ADVENTURE is a wonderful book. I highly recommend it as a great jumping off point for kids to connect with their grandparents!



Thanks for the great interview Ryan!

Friday, October 1, 2021

5 Spooky Books for Middle Grade Readers!

Halloween is just around the corner. Okay, I know it's only Oct 1, but the countdown to spook night, candied apples, and carved pumpkins has officially begun. What better way to launch the Halloween season than to curl up with a frightful book? Here's a few to get you (and your middle grade readers) started!

The Girl in the Locked Room - a Ghost Story

When Jules and her family move into an old, abandoned house, she discovers a locked room and sees a pale, ghostly face peering from its windows. 

Jules embarks on a mysterious quest to open the locked door and change the fate of the family who lived in the house a century before.

"This gentle paranormal mystery is perfect for young readers."-Booklist

A World Full of Spooky Stories: Tales to Make Your Spine Tingle

This spine-chilling anthology gathers spooky stories from all over the world. Read about the bewitching Queen of the Faeries, the terrifying Baba Yaga, Father Death, and more.

Amazon Review: "My 2 elementary age kids love this book. The stories are spooky and I think that's exactly what keeps their attention. It's also very nice to have a variety of new stories from different cultures that were lessen known. Some of the stories can be a bit scary, so I would not recommend it for 6 yrs old or younger." 

The Mystery of Black Hollow Lane

When twelve-year-old Emmy is shipped off to a prestigious British boarding school, she encounters a lot more than tea and crumpets. She discovers a box of mysterious medallions, strange symbols etched into walls, and a secret society: The Order of Black Hollow Lane.

And all of it seems linked to the disappearance of Emmy's long-lost Dad.

Amazon Review: "By cleverly intertwining history into the narrative, Julia Nobel has crafted a page-turning mystery in which a charming cast whose true-to-life interactions make them feel real investigates a secret society whose menace is made worse because it could rationally exist."

Greystone Secrets #1: The Strangers

In this thrilling series opener, the three Greystone children learn of a kidnapping. The only thing is, the children kidnapped have their same first and middle names and birthdates, and other strange similarities. 

When the Greystones try to investigate their world is turned upside down. 

"A secret-stacked, thrilling series opener about perception, personal memories, and the idiosyncrasies that form individual identities." - Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Bestselling Haddix launches a new middle-grade series that blends adventure and sf elements into an engrossing mystery. The kidnapping alone could have made a compelling mystery, but Haddix throws in secret rooms, alternate realities, and a cliff-hanger ending to raise the stakes and delight fans new and old.” - Booklist

The Ghost Collector

This tender story, steeped in Cree folklore, features Shelly, who has a special role with ghosts, like all the women in her family. She helps those who are stuck transition on to the next life. 

But when her mother dies, she starts hoarding ghosts in her room instead. But no matter how many she hoards, she still hasn't found the one that matters most to her.

“Perfectly balances suspense and the supernatural . . . [A] powerful and moving story about coming to terms with the death of a loved one. It’s an auspicious debut that is sure to delight middle-grade readers.” - The Globe and Mail, 08/25/19

“Poignantly haunting.” - The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, 09/19

These books will be a treat as we move into the cozy days and longer nights of fall!