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WNDMG Wednesday Author Interview with Nicole Melleby

We Need Diverse MG Logo hands holding reading globe with stars and spirals floating around
We Need Diverse MG Logo hands holding reading globe with stars and spirals floating around

Illustration by: Aixa Perez-Prado

Welcome to WNDMG Wednesday and happy September to you all. I’m excited to share my interview with author Nicole Melleby, on her latest book: THE SCIENCE OF BEING ANGRY (Algonquin Young Readers, May 2022).

Book cover with the title The Science of Being Angry featuring a figure in the center of a re-orange circle - with two people looking on at the main figure

About the Science of Being Angry

Eleven-year-old Joey is angry. All the time. And she doesn’t understand why. She has two loving moms, a supportive older half brother, and, as a triplet, she’s never without company. Her life is good. But sometimes she loses her temper and lashes out, like the time she threw a soccer ball—hard—at a boy in gym class and bruised his collarbone. Or when jealousy made her push her (former) best friend (and crush), Layla, a little bit too roughly.

After a meltdown at Joey’s apartment building leads to her family’s eviction, Joey is desperate to figure out why she’s so mad. A new unit in science class makes her wonder if the reason is genetics. Does she lose control because of something she inherited from the donor her mothers chose?

A warm WNDMG welcome to Nicole Melleby (and welcome back to MUF!)!

A Two-Mom Household

MUF: What’s the origin story for your book?

NM: During the early days of the pandemic, I binge-watched a lot of the TV show the Fosters. It’s one of the only shows I had seen that had lesbian moms as the head of the family. It was representation I didn’t realize I was craving. And I realized that I hadn’t yet written a book with a family dynamic that could resemble the one I would have someday. So I knew then that I wanted to write a book with two moms, and tell a story about what their family might look like. I also wanted to tackle childhood anger, and with all of these things in place, Joey came to be. With Joey’s anger, and her two-mom household, it naturally developed into a story about nature vs. nurture and what makes us worthy or not of love from there.

The Science of Being Angry

MUF: Your main character, Joey, is searching for answers about why she is the way she is – and since it’s in the title, (!!) I guess it’s no spoiler to say she’s wondering about why she’s always so angry. You’ve framed a thoroughly 21st century perspective to this age-old but also complicated question. How did you work through the challenge of exploring the science and the question itself for a middle-grade audience?

NM: I think that what it came down to for me was to show that Joey’s anger causes a lot of issues, but that Joey herself doesn’t mean to be this way. She hates that she’s this way and can’t control it. And while yes, her actions need to have consequences, I wanted to show that Joey isn’t unlovable because of it. She deserves love and she deserves to feel safe regardless of her anger issues. In her search for those answers, she ends up on an ancestry website to find out why she is the way she is, and I think having those sort of answers at her fingertips with the internet is a very 21st century middle grade thing. It’s messier when you pair the internet with any sort of soul searching, regardless of how old you are!

An Unconditional Love

MUF: I was particularly struck by a moment in the book where (no spoilers here) your main character, Joey, expresses concern that one of her mothers will want to give her up because of her anger. I think all of us have those moments where we worry that the love we get from others is conditional. Why was this scene important for the book?

NM: I wanted to show that DNA doesn’t make a family, love does, and that Joey’s anger doesn’t make her any less worthy of that love. That who she is, regardless of where her DNA came from and which parent she shares a biological connection with, doesn’t mean that any one of her family members could just walk away from her. It’s a struggle for everyone to learn how to understand one another, but at the end of the day, they are there for Joey no matter what.

These are Important Stories

MUF: At WNDMG, part of our canon is that representation matters, but in this current (loud) culture of book banning, that message sometimes gets shouted down. Have you faced challenges to your book?

NM: I have! And it’s hard, and it sucks, and it’s easy to get caught up in it in a “woe is me” kind of way. But, really, you need to use it to fuel you to keep pushing. I’m going to keep writing these stories because they’re important and these kids need them. And, well, the more books like this I publish, the less of a chance they can ban all of them, right?

MUF: Right!!!!! You never name Joey’s diagnosis – curious to know whether you were describing Oppositional Defiance Disorder?

NM: I purposely didn’t name Joey’s diagnosis because I wanted to show that it could take time to get one. Hopefully they find a good solution, but it was more about everyone understanding one another. When I was writing, I looked up a bunch of different reasons a kid like Joey could have these anger issues—Oppositional Defiance Disorder was one of them, so was ADHD, sensory issues, and a whole slew of others. I took the time to decide what Joey’s anger looked like, and realistically what it could look like, and shaped it from there. I have my own theories as to what she would be diagnosed with, but I never sat down and pin-pointed one specific thing.

((Enjoying this interview? Here’s another from the last time she visited with MUF during her 2019 debut of Hurricane Season))

Keeping Track of the Triplets

MUF: What parts of this book were hard to write?

NM: Honestly, the hardest thing was balancing triplets!!!! I originally write it as quadruplets, but it was way too many siblings and I kept losing track of one of them. So, they became triplets, and even that was a lot to keep track of! I kept forgetting who was in a scene and who wasn’t. Those poor brothers of Joey.

Valid and Worthy of Love

MUF: What resonates most for you?

NM: Getting to write about and see this particular type of family in a published book meant a lot to me.

MUF: Who did you write this book for?

NM: I wrote it for the kids of same-sex parents, for the angry kids, for the queer kids. I want them to know that I see them and that they’re valid and worthy of love.

What’s Next

MUF: What are you working on next?

NM: I have a lot to look forward to in 2023! My very first picture book, Sunny & Oswaldo, comes out from Algonquin Young Readers in Februray, and my very first co-written middle grade project, Camp QUILTBAG, written with A. J. Sass, comes out in March!

Cover illustration featuring two young people, one with an arm slung around the other, both smiling.

We Love Easter Eggs

MUF: The Wild Card question: is there anything I didn’t ask but you wish I had? Feel free to use this space for closing remarks if you like!

NM: Are there any Easter Eggs in The Science of Being Angry? Why, yes! Like every single one of my books so far, Joey and her family live in my hometown of the New Jersey shore. And, because of this, in every one of my books the characters get pizza from Timoney’s pizza (the pizzeria Pluto and her mom own in my book How to Become a Planet!) Though, unfortunately for Joey, she doesn’t get to eat the pizza so much as she’s hit in the face with it…..

 

About Nicole Melleby

headshot of author Nicole Melleby, a brown-haired smiling woman in an outdoor setting

Photo Credit: Liz Welch

Nicole Melleby, a New Jersey native, is the author of highly praised middle-grade books, including the Lambda Literary finalist Hurricane Season and ALA Notable book How to Become a Planet. She lives with her wife and their cat, whose need for attention oddly aligns with Nicole’s writing schedule. Visit her online at nicolemelleby.com and @LadyMelleby on Twitter.

To buy Nicole’s Books:

Workman Publishers

Bookshop.org

 

 

STEM Tuesday — A River Runs Through It– In the Classroom

 

River systems are an essential part of Earth’s ecosystems. Rivers provide water and habitats for animals and plants. Their flowing waters are a source of transportation and power for the communities that live nearby. Rivers are even a place for celebrations, festivals, and recreational activity. Life would not be the same without rivers.

A River’s Impact

Rivers have shaped life all over the world. Students can explore the impact some famous rivers have had in these books:

Ten Rivers That Shaped the World  by Marilee Peters, illustrated by Kim Rosen

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgAs the rivers of our world twist and turn, they also mold our history. Readers can take a metaphorical dive into 10 fascinating rivers that shaped our lives and learn fun facts along the way such as why people in India have gathered to bathe in the Ganges for thousands of years. The book shows readers that rivers can be extraordinarily powerful, not simply because of their fast-flowing currents, but because of their ability to make civilizations rise or crumble. Through a colorful and engaging layout, this book teaches both geography and world history.

Where is the Mississippi River? by Dina Anastasio, illustrated by Ted Hammond

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgPart of the popular Where Is? series, this chapter book traces the history of the Mississippi River from its formation during the Ice Age into the present day. Over time, the “mighty Mississippi” has been a home for wetland wildlife, an important route for trade and military campaigns, and an inspiration for classic literature. Engineering connections are embedded into a section about flooding disasters and various efforts to design flood-prevention structures like levees and spillways.

 

Great Rivers of the World by Volker Mehnert, illustrated by Martin Haake

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgThis gorgeous atlas travels down 17 rivers in six continents, from the Rhine in Europe to the Murray in Australia. Each river is introduced with a full-page map, a short narrative, and  fascinating facts about its history and ecology. With eye-popping icons of landmarks, animals, plants, and people, readers will always find more to discover and explore.

 

Activity #1

What rivers are closest to where you live? Identify and research a nearby river. What impact has the river had on the local community? What is the river’s history? How was it used in the past? How does that compare to how it is used today? What industries rely on the river? What problems are associated with the river? How can these problems be solved? Present what you have learned.

Activity #2

Rivers are full of plant and animal life. Plants provide food and shelter for many animals. Some animals and plants live under the water, while others live on the water’s surface. Other animals and plants live on riverbanks near the water. What animals and plants live in the river near you? Take a fieldtrip to the river and see how many different plants, animals, and insects you can find. How does each fit into the river’s ecosystem?

Healthy Rivers

A healthy river is essential for the communities and ecosystems that rely on it. Students can learn about efforts to conserve water and improve the health of our waterways in these books.

Going Blue: A Teen Guide to Saving Our Oceans, Lakes, Rivers & Wetlands by Cathryn Berger Kaye, M.A. and Philippe Cousteau with EarthEcho International

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgWritten in conjunction with ocean spokesperson Philippe Cousteau, grandson of the illustrious Captain Jacques Cousteau, this call-to-action book is both interesting and commendable for its well-researched content. The book educates readers about the earth’s water crisis and gives them tangible tools and inspiration to transform their ideas into action. This includes practical suggestions they can implement today in order to benefit our planet’s water system. The content is not only theoretical but also experience based, as it shows readers of the value of community service. The book also includes many stories, interviews, and resources on the topic

My River: Cleaning up the Lahave River by Stella Bowles and Anne Laurel Carter

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgThis engaging book tells the story of Stella Bowles, a sixth grade Nova Scotia student who became an environmental activist. She focused her science fair project on her campaign against sewage pipes draining straight into the LaHave River. She doggedly advocated for all three levels of government (municipal, provincial, and federal) to step up and do something about the issue, and after fighting for two and a half years, she succeeded in rallying supporters into funding a $15.7 million cleanup. This is an excellent book about not only environmental activism but also having the courage to stand up and speak out when you see something that isn’t right.

Activity #3

What steps can you take to improve the health of rivers in your community? Investigate existing river health efforts in your community and see how you can volunteer. Many communities have groups that work together to clean and restore river ecosystems. Joining one of these teams will give you a chance to see how one person can make a difference in local rivers. What other changes in daily life can you make to protect river health? Brainstorm ways to conserve water, reduce water pollution, and more.

 

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Carla Mooney loves to explore the world around us and discover the details about how it works. An award-winning author of numerous nonfiction science books for kids and teens, she hopes to spark a healthy curiosity and love of science in today’s young people. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, three kids, and dog. When not writing, she can often be spotted at a hockey rink for one of her kids’ games. Find her at http://www.carlamooney.com, on Facebook @carlamooneyauthor, or on Twitter @carlawrites.

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