Monday, March 22, 2021

Author Interview: Riel Nason

One of my favourite authors is Riel Nason, who is also from New Brunswick, Canada.





2020 was a big year for Riel: she had both a picture book - THE LITTLE GHOST WHO WAS A QUILT and a middle grade novel  - WAITING UNDER WATER - published!





The Interview!

First of all, you had two books come out last year — a picture book called The Little Ghost Who Was a Quilt and a middle grade novel called Waiting Under Water — so congratulations! What was it like having two books come out in 2020?

Well, had I known what 2020 had in store for us all … but, trying to stay on the positive side of things, reading is something that you can do at home alone, so although it was less than an ideal time to release books as far as having events, the stories did reach readers.  


Although this blog is about middle grade fiction, I can’t help but ask a couple of questions about your wonderful picture book. What inspired your delightful ghost, Scrappy?

I love Halloween and I love quilting.  I had wanted to write a children’s picture book for quite a while – I just had to come up with what I thought was a really good idea.  The idea of a quilt ghost struck me as something really fun and more importantly, so different, to work with, so then it was a matter of what his story would be.


As someone who is just dipping their toes into writing a picture book herself, what is the drafting process like compared with writing YA or MG?

I am not someone who makes formal drafts, but I absolutely jot down many, many snippets of ideas and major plot points.  For a novel, I think about the main plot, what may be subplots, different scenes, etc.  But for a picture book, there is one story, one plot.  It has to be clear and short while still being fun and clever – AND still leaving little bits of the story for the illustrator to tell.  When writing and editing any piece obviously every word counts, but with a picture book every word REALLY counts.


Will we ever see Scrappy again?

I would be thrilled if The Little Ghost Who Was a Quilt could have more adventures …


Waiting Under Water is one of my favourite middle grade books of 2020! What inspired the story?

I am terrible at remembering what things all align in my head to come up with a story, but I am committed to writing stories set in New Brunswick and writing about small town-life.  


And quilts appear in this book, too! I love that Hope quilts and that quilting is presented as something wonderfully creative, not something reserved for little old ladies in church halls (not that there’s anything wrong with that!). Did you quilt when you were Hope’s age?

I didn’t quilt when I was Hope’s age, but I did crochet and make many kinds of crafts.  I only started quilting about 10 or 12 years ago.


Hope is about to be snatched out of the magical village of St. David’s and moved to a big city far away. Did you experience anything similar as a kid? 

Kind of.  I did live in Toronto for a year when I was Hope’s age.  My Dad was on sabbatical for a year and went to U of T.  So our family went from Hawkshaw, NB (Population 25ish) to Toronto for a year and then back to Hawkshaw, NB again.


As the reader, I thought that you dealt with Hope’s anxieties and tics perfectly; they’re an issue, but they aren’t the heart of the story. How difficult was it to find that balance?

I’m not sure that it was something I thought about.  I think for me, once I know what a character is like, what personality traits I have decided for them to have, what challenges, etc. are established then I work with those as the character goes through each scene and situation in the book.  It’s never a matter of like, oh yeah, time to mention the tics again, but more, wow this thing happening in the book would really stress Hope out, she likely will have anxiety here.


Friendship is a huge theme in the novel, not just for the kids, but we see the adults grappling with leaving friends, too. Hope and her best friend, Willa, have their own friendship challenge, as well as with the ‘mean girls’ who tease them, and all of the relationships evolve. How do you work on your characters to make them so vivid?

Hmm, not sure other than every time someone does something in the book I think about whether it is reasonable for that character to do. If I realise that something has to happen to advance the plot or get some information out to the reader, I think through how it make it happen naturally.  I also try to imagine myself in different scenes, thinking about what I may do or say.


I’m pretty sure I know the village that inspired St. David’s is — I spent a lot of time there as a kid — and you captured it perfectly! What do you think living in a small place gives a kid?

I likely know where you are referring to.  Because only one small village in NB has “sea caves” that are popular for visiting, some people have assumed that St. David’s is inspired by this single place.  But that’s not the case.  It’s a fictional version inspired by many, many tiny villages I’ve visited often in New Brunswick and Maine. I think spending a summer in a small seaside village as a kid is a wonderful thing.


I’m not going to give the ending away, but it is so SATISFYING. Did you plan the ending that way from the very beginning or is there an alternate Hope universe out in the ether?

So glad you like the ending.  It was always that way right from the first draft.


What are you working on next?

I am writing a new middle grade novel.  I am just starting.  I also have a couple of picture books in the works.  My next picture book comes out in July. It’s called Disaster at the Highland Games.


And finally, do you really make a wish when someone gives you a quilt? Because I’ve got a couple that I’m pretty sure no one has ever made a wish on and I’m wondering if I’m too late…

Hmm, it’s supposed to be wished on the first night by the first person who sleeps under it, but it’s not an exact science, so maybe ?  Thanks Wendy!

Thanks Riel!


Want to learn more about Riel? 



Monday, March 15, 2021

Review: Mrs. Smith's Spy School for Girls Double Cross


Abby and her friends have entered into a prestigious Challenge to compete against other teams at Briar Academy. The winning team brings glory to their school and stakes claim as the best and the brightest. While there, they discover some mysterious activities that lead them on another spy filled adventure. In order to uncover the nefarious plans that lead back to their nemesis the Ghost, Abby and her friends will have to decide if they want to sacrifice the competition and all its glory to stop the notorious Ghost once and for all.

Reading this final installment of the Mrs. Smith's Spy School for Girls was like visiting with old friends. Toby, Izumi, Charolette, and Abby are at it again, and they reluctantly join forces with Poppy and Owen Elliot the other team from Smith to solve the mystery. Much like the previous two, Double Cross is a lot of fun filled with sarcasm, adventure, gadgets, and mischief. It's a blast to watch these characters get into trouble and figure out how they are going to get out of it. Even when the odds are stacked against them, they manage to work together and power through. I will miss this world and hanging with these characters and their fully formed personalities. Overall a great final wrap up to the series.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Guest post by Jen Petro-Roy, author of Life in the Balance AND GIVEAWAY!

We’re all Real People 

When I was in kindergarten, I thought my teacher lived at school. It made sense, didn’t it? That was the only place I saw her—when I got there in the morning, she was there, setting up the classroom, putting out the toys, and greeting me with a smile on her face. When I left, she was still at school. So she obviously lived there….right?

I don’t remember all the details, but I apparently was utterly in shock after running in to my teacher at the grocery store. Why was she…away from the school? Did she…have her own home? Was she…her own person?

It’s not just kindergartners who struggle with this fact. Growing up, it was often hard to reconcile the reality that adults weren’t just there to discipline and take care of me. I wasn’t selfish, but I was self-centered in that little kid way, where my reality was central to my mind. I didn’t always understand that the authority figures around me—my parents—were their own people, too. They had their own history, their own problems and struggles. 

In my new book, Life in the Balance, Veronica is confronted with the reality that her mother has a problem. Veronica’s mother is an alcoholic, and after struggling for a long time with her addiction, she’s decided to enter a treatment center. 

Sadly, there are so many kids dealing with this same reality. Veronica is lucky in that her mother doesn’t protest toohard—she doesn’t fight back against the truth that she needs additional help—but Veronica is still affected by the turn her family has taken. After dealing with her mom’s addiction, the missed softball games, the late nights “out for drinks” with colleagues, and the lying, Veronica now has to come to terms with the fact that her mother will be leaving for an extended period of time.

That her mother has to take care of herself before she can take care of Veronica.

Adults are people, too, and I think the middle grade fiction is such a wonderful place to explore this reality. I love writing for middle schoolers because of where they are in life—that beautiful, confusing middle zone where they’re still so reliant on family members but also starting to define their life outside of the home. Where they’re clinging more tightly to friends and trying to establish their identity but still want that closeness with their parents.

In Life in the Balance, Veronica isn’t sure exactly what that identity is yet—she’s always played softball but is now starting to fall in love with singing. She wants to be close to her family but her mom is drifting away. And her best friend doesn’t understand the depth of Veronica’s anger at what is going on.

Kids get angry. Kids feel.

Because just like adults are humans, kids are, too. We all interact with each in a complicated dance. And that’s what the best books show—the difficulties of being human and of being in relationships. The way we all affect each other, in good and bad ways.



Jen Petro-Roy writes "honest books with heart," about kids who are strong, determined, unsure, struggling to fit in, bubbly, shy, and everything in between. She is the author of P.S. I MISS YOU, GOOD ENOUGH, YOU ARE ENOUGH, and LIFE IN THE BALANCE (out February 2021), all from Macmillan/Feiwel & Friends.

When she isn't writing, Jen can be found reading, playing board games, belting out songs in the car to embarrass her two daughters, and working as an eating disorder awareness advocate.


Twitter: @jpetroroy

Instagram: @jpetroroy



Leave a comment below between February 15th and February 20th and you'll be entered to win your own copy of Jen's wonderful new book!

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Saturday, January 30, 2021

How (and Why!) to Dress Your Characters

As your characters wend their way through their novel, bravely facing the obstacles you throw at them, you may ask yourself - what should they wear? And does it really matter?

Well, yes, it does. And here's why. You can pack a ton of information into your characters' wardrobe, from backstory to mood to carefully placed plots elements. Plus, in real life, people wear clothes. Don't neglect this important part of setting and characterization.

Setting, you may ask? How in the world can clothes influence the setting of a book? J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series is an excellent example of this. Without the wizard robes and pointed hats, Hogwarts would be a very different place indeed. 

Uniforms with Purpose

Uniforms serve several functions in story writing. They provide the reader immediate clues about what type of story and world they've entered. A book packed with characters in army clothes will be quite different from one featuring ball gowns.

Uniforms can create unity among characters and highlight differences between groups. This is also clear in the Harry Potter books where Muggles dress very much like you and I but wizards cannot seem to figure out the intricacies of normal Muggle attire. Rowling also uses the standard wizarding world uniform to accentuate the times Harry and the other characters are away from the magical setting. 

Uniforms can also provide simplicity for both the reader and the writer, who won't need to rack their brains for distinctive, character-consistent outfits. Instead, small differences between similarly dressed characters can reveal their traits and mood. A rumpled outfit vs. a sleek, well-maintained one. 

Again in Harry Potter, Lupin's shabby robes reveal a great deal about his backstory, while Professor Lockhart's garish ones accentuate his narcissism. Ron Weasley's ancient dress robes contrast with Harry's new ones, highlighting Ron's poverty and providing an opportunity to show how each boy feels about it. Even Parvati Patil's butterfly hair clip - not the standard dress code - gives us information about who she is in contrast to those around her.

Dressing for the Weather

Casting characters in big bulky coats versus shorts or swimsuits establishes the type of weather and climate they are in. If they are missing a much-needed coat or sunhat, that creates potential problems for the character to work through. Similarly, when a character chooses a bright yellow raincoat, are they shaking their fist at mother nature, expressing a need for attention, or simply choosing from their limited options? The clothing begs the question. As the author, you decide how much to answer.

When dressing your character, consider how the weather changes throughout the day in your setting. Consider changes across weeks or months and adapt your characters' wardrobes accordingly. 

Clothing Sets the Mood

Perhaps you've heard the phrase, "Let me slip into something more comfortable," often given with a wink and a sly grin. There's no doubt that clothes set the mood for a given situation. Clothing choices often indicate characters' hopes or their anticipation of how the day may progress. They can also reflect characters' moods or their attempts to disguise how they really feel. Clothing can indicate the general mood of a place, like the gray clothes often featured in stories about orphanages.

Time and Fashion

Here's a few examples:
The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis features girls wearing dresses, typical of 1940s England.

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card features characters wearing futuristic battle gear.

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan dresses its characters in modern clothes.

Clothing Reveals Character

We've all heard it before, you can't judge a book by it's cover. This is meant to prevent hasty, ill-informed opinion making. However, as an author, you can use clothing to reveal a lot about your character. Or lack of clothing - consider The Emperor's New Clothes. 

Cassandra Clare, author of The Mortal Instruments series and its many spinoffs, uses fashion to great effect. Her descriptions of clothing and accessories is so seamlessly woven into the story (pun intended!)
that it doesn't slow the momentum. Instead, it becomes part of what the reader looks forward to enjoying. In the list below, note the contrasting traits that are revealed by the clothing of each character.
Isabel - long dresses, tight clothes, high heels, and an electrum whip wound around her arm
Clary - jeans and tennis shoes, T-shirts or tank tops, a backpack
Alec - dark clothes, including old sweaters
Magnus - flashy clothes with sequins, leather, and plenty of glitter

Whatever your story, put some thought and effort into dressing your characters. Your readers will thank you!

Monday, January 18, 2021

Amari and the Night Brothers Review

When Amari gets kicked out of school for fighting with a kid who teased her about her missing brother, her mom has no idea what she will do for Amari's education. While Quinton’s disappearance is mysterious, most people think he got involved in something illegal and is probably long dead. Amari knows her brother was too smart to do anything like that but no one believes her. Until a magical briefcase shows up and has a message for Amari, from her brother.


The cryptic message leads her to the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, a secret organization that trained Quinton and hired him to investigate supernatural happenings including chasing down evil magicians. Amari is eager to join the Bureau with the sole purpose of using her time to investigate her brother's disappearance and find him. But when her initial evaluation yields an unexpected result, she is thrust into another situation that makes her painfully aware of how hard it is to be different, and from a background that isn't appreciated. Amari struggles to prove herself, so she can continue to look for clues to save Quinton while navigating an unknown environment with an evil magician bent on punishing the supernatural world. But if she can't solve the mystery of Quinton's disappearance before her training runs out, she'll be back home with her memory erased and no closer to rescuing her brother.


Amari and the Night Brothers contains a magical and imaginative world with a wonderfully diverse cast that you want to dive right into and never stop turning pages. Amari is a strong main character who has been brought up in a world where the system is stacked against her. She is painfully aware of the hurdles in front of her because she is poor and black. Despite the constant roadblocks, Amari rises to the occasion and even when she wants to quit she reminds herself what her brother would do in that situation. She continues to push ahead even when tempted by a seemingly easy road that would sacrifice her internal moral compass and lead to terrible path. Ultimately nothing stops her from standing up for what she believes in. And it’s wrapped up in a story filled with surprises and intrigue at every step along the journey. The themes are so beautifully woven into the adventure and mystery and the story demonstrates the importance of having role models and allies along the way.


This is the first book I’ve read in a while that was hard to put down. I can’t think of anything that I didn’t like about the story other than it ended far too soon. Amari and the Night Brothers is the next big thing. It will be a HUGE series for young and not-so-young readers alike. Make sure you get your hands on it ASAP, because everyone will be talking about this book. I can’t believe I have to wait a whole year for the next installment because I’m ready to dive into this world all over again.



B. B. Alston started writing in middle school, entertaining his classmates with horror stories starring the whole class where not everyone survived! After several years of trying to break into publishing, he had just been accepted into a biomedical graduate program when a chance entry into a twitter pitch contest led to his signing with TBA, 20+ book deals worldwide, and even a film deal. When not writing, he can be found eating too many sweets and exploring country roads to see where they lead.


B. B. was inspired to write AMARI AND THE NIGHT BROTHERS because he couldn’t find any fantasy stories featuring Black kids when he was growing up. He hopes to show kids that though you might look different, or feel different, whatever the reason, your uniqueness needn’t only be a source of fear and insecurity. There is great strength and joy to be found in simply accepting yourself for who you are. Because once you do so, you’ll be unstoppable.