THE SILVER BOX ~ An Enchantment Lake Mystery: Interview with Award-Winning Author Margi Preus

Welcome to my interview with Award-Winning Author, Speaker, and Educator Margi Preus! We’ll explore her latest release THE SILVER BOX: An Enchantment Lake Mystery – book 3 in the series. Margi’s stories hold breathtaking and bold journeys such as found in her books Heart Of A Samurai and Village Of Scoundrels.

The Book📚

THE SILVER BOX: An Enchantment Lake Mystery

The Silver Box ~ An Enchantment Lake Mystery

by Margi Preus

In the final Enchantment Lake mystery, Francie’s search for the truth about her mother—and herself—plunges her into danger during a North Woods winter.

Everything depends on a small, engraved silver box. If only Francie can follow its cryptic clues to the whereabouts of her missing mother she may finally understand the truth about who she really is. But one ominous clue after another reveal that Francie possesses something so rare and so valuable that some people are willing to do anything to get it. When her pursuit leads her into the snowy north woods, It is only to find out that she, herself, is being pursued.



The Interview🎙️

It’s wonderful to have you join us here on the Mixed-Up Files, Margi. Let’s begin with your young self. What was she like? Did she enjoy reading? Writing? Was she adventurous?

Young Margi had the independence of Francie (the protagonist of The Silver Box) if not the bravery. As the last of six kids who spent summers at a lake cabin along with dozens of cousins, I had a prodigious amount of freedom and independence. I roamed around like a stray (mostly wet) dog all summer. So, yes, adventure was a big part of life. There was plenty of reading. I like to think I wrote, but I recently found my childhood diary, which is 99%empty, so probably not. However, I used to make up plays with my friends which we would perform for unsuspecting relatives.

Sounds like a wonderful childhood. It also gave you lots of material to write about, I’m sure. (Flannery O’Conner from your answer below😊)

Readers have watched Francie, your main character/modern-day sleuth, grow over the course of the previous two books in THE SILVER BOX Series. Why will young readers be drawn to her?

I imagine that Francie’s life of independence—kind of a more grown up, somewhat more serious Pippi Longstocking—would be appealing to kids. She lives on her own and makes her own decisions—not all of them good ones. She also gets herself into some hair-raising adventures. As a kid I would have been drawn to all of those things.

What do you hope readers learn from Francie’s journey?

I don’t presume to know what, if anything, readers will learn or gain from any of my books. I would be thrilled even if it is simply to have an enjoyable reading experience—one that makes them want to read more!

That would be a wonderful takeaway!

This series has been described as a great read for fans of Nancy Drew and those who enjoy cozy mysteries. What makes this series and THE SILVER BOX: An Enchantment Lake Mystery as its final book, unique? Were you sad to finish it?

I think the setting is one of the unique things about these stories, and it’s been fun to write a book set in a place I know so well, which is northern Minnesota lake country. And it’s been fun to live vicariously through Francie’s dangerous adventures. (Especially when you know she’s going to make it out somehow or other).

Haha! Yes, I’m sure.

It is always sad to leave a character you have grown to know and love. But she is graduating from high school now and it’s a little like sending a kid off to college.

A More Personal View🦋

Your books all have a sense of timelessness about them. How do you believe you accomplish this?

Thank you! And I have no idea! I do try to avoid slang for the most part, mainly because it’s impossible to stay current, but also because it does have a tendency to date a piece of writing. Our constantly changing technology is also a challenge. If you’re writing a story set in contemporary times, you have to acknowledge our ever-present phones, laptops, tablets, and other devices, but fortunately, there are plenty of places in the Enchantment Lake area where cell service is spotty—and of course the cold weather drains batteries rather quickly, so our heroes often have to solve their problems the old fashioned way: resourcefulness, bravery, quick-wittedness.

On your website, you mention being inspired by family members and their stories. Who have you used specifics of their stories and turned them into something unique for your characters and the world they live in?

I suppose most characters have some elements of people we know. None of my characters are direct one-to-one matches to anyone in particular, most are built of a combination of various traits and characteristics of people I know or imagine. I used to say that the somewhat loopy great aunts in the story were based on my own aunts and my mother—I have recently realized that, actually, maybe I am one of those dotty old aunts myself!

I’m sure you’re a wonderful aunt!

You had a lot of ‘odd’ jobs before you began writing for young readers. How have those experiences helped you become a writer and how can aspiring writers look to their current circumstances or situations and turn them into writing fuel and material?

Wasn’t Hemingway a big proponent of having a lot of experiences so you had something to write about? But then there was the genius Emily Dickinson who never went anywhere. And Flannery O’Connor famously said, “Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days.”

So, far be it from me to offer advice about whether to live large or stay home and write, but I personally am glad for all my experiences and my many very “odd” jobs. Although I don’t know that I have written specifically about any of my oddball work experiences, they have given me a wealth of experience, introduced me to a wide swath of humanity, and no doubt broadened my horizons.

This is such a wise and insightful answer. It’s really making me think.💡 Thank you!

What have been your biggest obstacles when a story idea came upon you and what have you found helped you the most in overcoming them?

The obstacles are familiar to all writers:  doubt that your idea, that what you’ve written, and that what you’re about to write has any merit. That challenge rears its head pretty much on a daily basis. The way forward is, as Robert Leckie advised, to “go up and shoot that old bear under the desk between the eyes.”

For Our Teachers and Authors🍎🏫🎒

What is your favorite aspect of in-person or virtual school visits and how can authors be more accessible to students? Do you have any favorite online platforms or activities you use during your visits?

Thanks for asking about virtual visits, which I have done through Skype and more recently Zoom and Crowdcast, but would use whatever platform the school or group is using. Of course I love the energy of being with a whole room or auditorium full of kids, but I am looking forward to doing more virtual—and interactive—visits. Some things I’ve done lately include creating a story together, and a virtual treasure hunt.

Ooh . . . creating a virtual story with students for your visit. Now that sounds like something students would love!

I am currently working on developing a game to accompany The Littlest Voyageur (Holiday House 2020) which would be great for any group reading that book or studying the fur trade. (Read-aloud chapters of The Littlest Voyageur are available on my YouTube channel.)  I am also planning a Zoom conversation with some of the people I interviewed for Village of Scoundrels (Amulet/Abrams, 2020) which I will record and make available as a resource to accompany that book or for holocaust studies. As for The Silver Box or any of the mysteries, I think it would be very fun to construct a mystery with students, which would give us a lot of opportunity to talk about story construction, building suspense, developing characters, and all kinds of other good stuff.  Of course, I am also available to talk about writing and my books in general

In this world that seems so upside-down, what reading and writing advice can you share with our teachers and librarians?

All I really want to say to teachers, librarians, and parents is thank you. Thank you for hanging in there and for taking care of the kids. Please take care of yourselves, too! We appreciate you. And if you really want some reading/writing advice, email me with your specific questions. Seriously.


Inquiring minds are super excited to hear what they can expect next from you. Please share!

Thanks for asking! I have a couple of picture books in the pipeline. They won’t be out any time soon—but 2020, the pandemic year, was my year for books—I have three out this year: Village of Scoundrels, The Littlest Voyageur, and The Silver Box— thank you anyone for noticing!!

And thanks for taking this time to check in with me, Mixed Up Files!

Picture books . . . Yay! You have so much work releasing soon. So exciting! Thank you for sharing your wisdom and writing self with us. You are inspiring.

The Author

Margi Preus is a New York Times bestselling author of books for young readers, including the Newbery Honor–winning Heart of a Samurai.Author Margi Preus Among her other novels are Village of Scoundrels, Shadow on the Mountain, West of the Moon, and The Bamboo Sword, as well as the previous two books in the Enchantment Lake series, Enchantment Lake and The Clue in the Trees, which were published by the University of Minnesota Press and received the Midwest Book Award and the Midwest Booksellers Choice Award. She lives in Duluth.

Find Margi: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

Love learning about authors? Here’s a recent author interview in our MUF archive.

The Giveaway

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Kids on the March – Cover Reveal

Cover Reveal Kids on the March

It’s Cover Reveal Saturday … and today we’re getting a sneak peek at the cover for Kids on the March (Algonquin), by Michael G. Long.

Seriously, I’m such a fan of this subject, I can’t even with the suspense. I’m going to reveal this cover right now…






Cover Reveal Kids on the March

Wait, what?

Just kidding. The real reveal is coming shortly, I promise. But I couldn’t resist having a little fun with the fabulous app Mindy Alyse Weiss showed me, the Blur Photo app. Good, right?

But before we see the real thing, we’ve got some goodies. An excerpt from Kids on the March, followed by a quick interview with author Michael G. Long.

Kids on the March Excerpt:

“Today, we march, we fight, we roar!”

Delaney Tarr, a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, spoke those powerful words at the student-led March for Our Lives in Washington, DC, on March 24, 2018.

“We know what we want, we know how to get it, and we are not waiting any longer!” she declared. The crowd thundered its support.

Many of the marchers on that chilly spring day were elementary, middle, and high school students from across the country. Called together by the Parkland students, they had gathered at the nation’s capital to protest for gun control legislation.

As Tarr continued her speech, countless kids raised their protest signs high: what do you like more, guns or kids?; protest guns, not kids; and #enough is enough!

A short while later, Yolanda Renee King, the nine-year-old granddaughter of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, also spoke. She said, “I have a dream that enough is enough and that this world should be a gun-free world, period!”

Marchers who had studied her grandfather in history class probably recognized that her words echoed Dr. King’s most famous speech, “I Have a Dream,” which he gave to 250,000 protestors at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963.

When we think of protests in US history, we often call to mind Dr. King and his adult colleagues. But do you know that many participants in the 1963 March on Washington were kids? Do you know, too, that several months before the March on Washington, thousands of young Black people marched against racial segregation in Birmingham, Alabama? Do you know that this was not the first time in US history that kids marched for justice?

Sixty years earlier, in 1903, child laborers marched from Philadelphia to New York to protest the dangerous working conditions in textile mills.

Even this early march was not the first of its kind.

Young people have led or participated in numerous marches throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Whether they led or followed, the kids in these historic marches were tough, bold, and brave. Some of these marches occurred in the face of violence, and others in relative safety, but all of them required courage.

The marches in which kids have participated are all deeply connected. They have sought to establish peace, justice, and freedom for all. Each has attempted to fulfill the civil rights identified in the US Constitution. Each has tried to hold the nation accountable to the beliefs and principles set forth in the Declaration of Independence.

As leaders and participants, kids have fought on the front lines of virtually every important march for first-class citizenship throughout US history. When democracy was threatened, kids were there. When people on the margins needed a voice of protest, kids were there. In some cases, kids were there, marching and chanting, long before adults even thought about protesting.

You, too, can march. If you don’t like a law that causes suffering, or if you would like a new policy that could help create a better world, you, like the kids in this book, can stand up. You can straighten your shoulders. You can throw back your chin. And you can shout what young people have been shouting for decades: “Let’s march!”

Interview with Kids on the March Author Michael G. Long


MUF: What’s your favorite element of the cover design?

Take a close look at the faces of the young activists, and you’ll see my favorite part of the cover: that beautiful display of pure passion in their fight for peace with justice. The image comes from a photograph taken at the historic March for Our Lives, a nonviolent protest against gun violence in our schools. Although I still get sad, and angry, about the event that fueled this protest—a horrific school shooting in Parkland, Florida—I also get chills when I look at the faces of the young people who stood up when adults failed them and organized their very own international protest for safe schools. What passion and power! It’s so inspiring for me to see kids standing up, speaking out, and protesting for other kids. I love that.

MUF: Did you do any political organizing as a child?

As a kid, I was not a political organizer. But when I was about ten years old, I sat at my family’s dining room table and wrote the Pennsylvania governor a letter expressing my opposition to the death penalty. That was probably the first time I protested for an issue I cared about so deeply. There wasn’t anything dramatic about it; it was just a simple act of using a pencil, lined white paper, and a stamped envelope. But that small act was a way for me to share my voice, and it set the stage for my later participation in numerous sit-ins, marches, and rallies for social justice. By the way, the governor sent me a reply, and I recall how thrilled I was that he’d heard my youthful voice and respected it enough to correspond with a kid who couldn’t vote at the time. I’ll never forget that.

MUF: Any personal reflections on youth activism?

Writing Kids on the March is my way of protesting the unfortunate exclusion of youth activism from our books and classes on US history. As a young student, I read history books that were organized by wars and presidents. Where were all the kids? Well, I later discovered that all the kids missing from my history books were helping to lead, organize, and support virtually every social movement that has secured and advanced the basic human rights we now enjoy. Kids have been at the vanguard of almost every social justice movement in US history. Today, my personal heroes aren’t US presidents or military generals; they’re the kids in this book, young people who care so deeply that they feel compelled to stand up, speak out, and protest for the rights to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. They’re leading us through the chaos of this new century, and I’m delighted to play a supporting role by sharing their voices.

((Like reading about socially conscious kids and political activism? See our booklist here.))

The Real Reveal

Okay … now I know your appetite is whetted, and you’re ready for the real reveal … drum roll, please!


Kids on the March

Kids on the March will be available in spring of 2021.

About Michael G. Long

Michael G. Long

Michael G. Long is the author and editor of many books on civil rights, peaceful protest, and politics. Kids on the March is his first book for younger readers.

Distress Signal: A Chat with the Author + Giveaway

Looking for a fresh adventure book? I had the pleasure of reading Distress Signal, set in Chiricahua National Monument in Arizona, and interviewing the author, Mary E. Lambert. Be sure to read to the end for a chance to win a signed copy of her book.

Distress Signal by Mary E. Lambert


Thank you, Mary, for sharing Distress Signal with me, which just came out October 20. I love a good adventure, and I learned so much about survival skills.

About the Book

Can you give us a short summary about Distress Signal?

After a flash flood separates Lavender and three of her classmates from the rest of their sixth-grade campout, the four feuding friends must find a way to work together if they want to make it out of the wilderness alive.   

About the Author

You mention in your book’s About the Author that you grew up using a ham radio. Was that something you were interested in or that your parents had you to do?

While I grew up around ham radio, I was not actually licensed to use it. My grandpa, my dad, and both my brothers had their licenses, but I never took the test. I was intimidated by the amount of studying required, which is probably why I was so proud of my niece when she became the first girl in our family to earn her license. This really motivated me to write a story with a young female protagonist who embraces amateur radio as a pastime.

Mary sent me this great picture and caption: “Here I am—all ready to hike! Behind me, you can see the ‘Wonderland of Rocks’ that make this national monument so famous.”


Tell us about your writing journey: Did you enjoy writing as a child? What did you write about?

I’ve always loved stories! I think I’ve been trying to write them ever since I learned to hold a pencil. One of my very, very early attempts was a picture book called What If We Let All Gravity into Space?

As a child, I had this idea that gravity was some sort of gas that we could bottle up and jettison into outer space. I thought that if we just got rid of it, then all our problems would be solved. We could fly everywhere like Peter Pan, and wouldn’t that be amazing?! My imagination tended to run away with me, and I wrote some pretty silly stuff. But I always had fun doing it!


How much of Lavender is similar to you?

For me, fifth and sixth grade were tricky years. Social interactions change as kids start to become teenagers, and it can be very difficult to navigate friendships gracefully throughout this period of life. Like Lavender, I really struggled to figure out my place with my peers and to accept changing relationships as everyone around me started growing up.


For Teachers & Writers

How can teachers use this book in their classrooms? (And, teachers: this would be a great book when you are teaching the National Parks!)

There are so many different directions that a teacher could take this book in a classroom! With the novel’s unique setting, a classroom teacher could make tons of connections to social studies and geography.

Chiricahua National Monument is a sky island with incredible biodiversity. It lies at the intersection of four major ecosystems, and five distinct biomes. So, this book could also be a really useful staring point for discussions about climate, topography, and other earth science topics.

Teachers could also connect this novel to the physical sciences with discussion of radio waves, frequencies, and wavelengths. I personally love when teachers relate literature to mathematics or science, and I really hope Distress Signal offers some exciting opportunities to do so!


It is always fascinating to learn how a book got its shape. What would you say was the spark for Distress Signal? What came next? And what components organically fell into place later on?

Mary’s oldest niece with her ham radio.

Like so many stories, I think Distress Signal started as a combination of two ideas or events. In August 2017, my nine-year-old niece got her ham radio license, and I was incredibly proud of her. It’s a difficult test, and there seem to be far more men involved in the amateur radio community than women. I was so impressed that not only was the first female in our family to get licensed, but she passed the test at a fairly young age.

At the same time, there was terrible flooding in Texas and Louisiana due to Hurricane Harvey. With communication limited by the storm, rescue workers in some areas relied on assistance of ham radio operators to coordinate relief. These two ideas came together, and I remember thinking, I should write a story about a girl who uses ham radio to save her class from some kind of natural disaster.


Many people are often surprised how much research goes into writing fiction. What kind of research did you do? Were there any interesting things you learned that didn’t make it into the book?

As I researched for Distress Signal, I read news articles, watched YouTube videos, purchased survival guides, and took a trip to Chiricahua National Monument. Of course, I had been there multiple times before, but I wanted the setting as fresh in my mind as possible. I also interviewed several people, so I could ask really specific things related to certain scenes in the story.

I learned so many interesting things that didn’t really fit with this story! Lavender and her friends are not survival experts, so they do a lot of things wrong and it was frustrating sometimes to study what a person should actually do if lost in the wilderness and then write characters who were doing the exact opposite.

I also learned a little history of the area, and I was sad that nothing about the Native Americans from this region made it into the manuscript. Lastly, there were some really unique animal facts from this area that just weren’t a part of this story. For instance, did you know that jaguars actually lived in the Chiricahua Mountains? Who knew that they inhabited areas so far north? Or, if you’re into entomology, be sure to look up the vinegarroon (also, known as the whip spider). I had one of those in my manuscript at one point and they are really intriguing arachnids.


What ended up taking more time than you anticipated when researching/writing/revising?

For this manuscript, the revision definitely took more time than anticipated. I’ve lost count of how many versions this story has had! In it’s first iteration, the flash flood happened at the very end of the book. Now, it’s occurs near the start of the story.


How can we learn more about you? [website, social media, etc]

You can learn more about me at my website You can also pick up a copy of my first novel, Family Game Night and Other Catastrophes. My sister and I are very close friends, and since it’s a story about two sisters, it’s very near and dear to my heart. I think I actually have quite a bit more in common with Annabelle than I do with Lavender.


Author Mary E. Lambert

Mary E. Lambert will be giving a copy of Distress Signal to a lucky reader. Enter the giveaway below for a chance to win a copy.

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*This giveaway is only available in the United States (please, no P.O. Boxes).

And the winner is…Danielle Hammelef! Congrats!

Mary E. Lambert is a middle school English teacher from Tempe, Arizona. In her free time, she is usually grading an endless pile of essays, but sometimes she puts down the red pen to write something of her own. She recently adopted a scruffy little mutt, and now whenever she tries to grade papers or type the next chapter of a novel, Ollie Duke is somewhere nearby…usually nipping at her ankles. 

Distress Signal is available here: