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Interview with Newbery Author Donna Barba Higuera

TLC

Interview with Newbery Author Donna Barba Higuera

The Last Cuentista by Donna Barba Higuera won the Newbery award this year! I recently had the immense pleasure of speaking to the story’s author about this beautiful and powerful book.

TLC

Newbery Award Winner

Winning the Newbery

APP: Congratulations Donna !! How does it feel to win a Newbery award as a Latinx writer?

DBH

Donna Barba Higuera

DBH: How does it feel? I mean, my initial reaction was shock!  Having a story like this represented as a Newbery, where they’re looking at all books, and all cultures is huge to me. I never thought that a book like this would get noticed because it does represent my culture and kids like I was who need to see themselves in books. But I also think that a reason that it’s important to me is because kids from outside cultures can pick up a book that is not about their culture and they learn something. So I love that this book will allow some children to do that.

APP: I agree, it’s such an important book for the Latinx community but also for those outside of the community to learn something about it, including some Spanish sprinkled throughout. Can you give us a quick summary of your book for those who haven’t read it?

DBH: Basically It’s about a girl, Petra, who is leaving Earth for the last time, and has to choose something to take that is most important to her. For her that’s story. But story is threatened to be erased by people going into the future. What it means to be human, Earth’s folklore, history, and mythology are all threatened. Petra, is trying to protect that.  I hope that this book is one that kids will pick up and say, okay if I was leaving Earth for the last time, what would I do if I were Petra? What would I take with me?

Overcoming Challenges

APP: Yes, I’m sure kids will wonder what they would take with them, I know I did. Petra is an interesting character because she is very smart and capable but also has a major vulnerability. She has a serious vision challenge. Why did you decide to integrate that into her character?

DBH fam

Mother, Father, big sis and Donna

DBH: My mother had retinitis pigmentosa, it’s a degenerative eye disease, and I’m an eye doctor. But I also wanted to show that someone like Petra, or my mother, are not defined by their disease. Just because Petra had a visual dysfunction that did not deter from her journey, or what she wanted to do.

It presented a challenge at times but I wanted to show a character who lived with that like my mother did. I wanted to show kids who are reading this that they may have challenges but they can overcome them. It’s okay to have challenges, we don’t have to fix everything. Challenges are part of who we are as humans.

The Power of Stories

APP: That is so true, and also so hard to accept sometimes. It is great to see a character that has a trait that can’t be fixed and has learned to live with. Like you, Petra is a storyteller. She tells cuentos (stories) told to her by her Abuela. In a way this grandmother, Lita, is on the journey as well though she is left behind on Earth. I felt that you were telling us that we can carry our history, the people we lose, and ourselves through stories. Is that something you were trying to do?

DBH & abuela

Donna and her Abuela

DBH: Yeah, that makes me very emotional. The opening scene was absolutely me getting to say goodbye to my grandmother. The things she taught me when I was younger, it wasn’t just about cooking and culture, it was the stories she told me. Some of them were incomplete. She didn’t remember or didn’t know them fully. They had been told to her as well. She stopped going to school when she was ten or eleven years old. Much of what she knew was through the tradition of oral storytelling.

I carry the stories and the things that my grandmother taught me throughout my daily life. This story allowed me to go back and revisit that, and what my grandmother meant to me, and the gifts that she gave me. Oftentimes, it was while she was cooking, or we were working in the yard, that she would tell her stories. Everything had a story. I look back on that and I think that  storytelling isn’t always what we think of in the western way of telling stories. It isn’t always sitting down with a book, or a teacher telling a story that is very structured. A lot of storytelling in cultures happens naturally throughout life.

((Enjoying this interview? Read more from Donna Barba Higuera))

Difficult Choices

APP: That is so true, and I think that is a very common experience in many Latin American families. Our stories are part of what holds our families together. We carry our grandparents stories throughout our lives, even after we lose them. That is such an important and beautiful message in your book where the people who leave Earth have to leave so much behind. How did you decide what each person would take with them for your book, and what would you take if you had to make that choice?

DBH father and grandmother

Donna’s grandmother and father

DBH: You know, that’s such a good question. I decided I wanted to show people’s
personalities. They had a small amount of space, they could only take one or two things. I wanted to show based on people’s personalities, what they valued and what was important to them. Petra’s brother, Javier, brings his book. That was what was important to him. Petra brings a pendant from her grandmother. Her father brings a rosary. It wasn’t just about religion, he had made that rosary with his own hands, and with his daughter. He had made every single bead.

For me, it would be books. I would have to figure out a way to bring them all. I worry about getting older and losing my memory. Maybe this book is about getting older and losing your memories and my fear of losing my memories, and stories, and wanting to hold on to them. I’d be like Petra. She panicked and I would panic if I was going to lose all my stories. And of course, for Petra, the worst thing happens to her, which is probably my biggest fear. People lost their memories. What if that had been her, and she had lost her memory of love of story and the things she’s passionate about?

Dreamers

APP: It’s really scary to think about! And there is so much more going on in this book, it’s hard to talk about it all without giving it away. One thing I wanted to ask you about that intrigues me was the weaving of Javier’s picture book Dreamers into the narrative. How did you decide to use this book and did you talk to Yuyi Morales, the author, about using her book as an element in your story?

Dreamers PB

Award winning picture book

DBH: Another great question, I don’t think anybody’s asked me this. Originally, I started writing my book before I’d read Dreamers and had another placeholder book in that spot that didn’t quite fit the narrative of what I wanted. Then when I read Dreamers I thought, this is the book.

We had to make sure that the lines that I used were the ones I felt were most powerful for this book. You can’t just use the whole thing, we had to get permission. My editor got permission from her publisher to use those lines.  Now people  who hadn’t read Dreamers before are discovering it and finding it is so powerful and so emotional. I wanted to show things without feeling preachy, or trying to teach someone.  I’d rather have a child read and they determine what message they can get from a story on their own. I know Yuyi Morales and am a fan of her writing. This is a tribute to her wor

Loss

APP: Absolutely, I love her book, and it was definitely the perfect choice for Javier. Your book is  about adventure but also about love, family, and loss. How did you balance all of those big topics and did you worry that it would be too much for an MG audience to handle?

DBH: Yeah, I will say, I think that there are some readers where it may be too much. It’s an emotional book and it’s an emotional journey. I believe that when you have a message that may be sad or difficult to hear, you have to try and balance it with moments where you can take a breath. You need a slow scene, a family moment or humor. A moment where you can laugh and feel it’s okay again, a reset. It is difficult to write.

When I go back through revisions, I will go wow, that’s a lot! I need to dial it back a little bit. It’s a lot for middle grade and we debated moving it up to YA. The irony is that the YA audience has found it, and are reading it. Ultimately, I think it’s a book for all ages. People will get different messages from the reading at different ages. I remember when I was a kid reading Where The Red Fern Grows and just weeping. There are books like that. We need books that make us cry too.

What it means to be human

APP: Yes, often those are the books we remember the most because they have such an impact. We really care about the characters. In your book, I was very much drawn to the character of Voxy and his need for connection through cuentos. He will probably face a greater challenge than anyone as the story ends. Without giving away any spoilers, let’s talk about him for a minute.

editor

HS Yearbook Editor

DBH: I love that character. What I wanted to show is that you can change humans in certain ways, but you can’t breed the curiosity and wonder out of a child. He’s kind of like this little trickster guy, he sneaks around to hear the stories. I wanted to show that. He was willing to take big risks so he could hear these stories. But I wanted to show his innocence too. Even though he’s part of this ‘Collective’ that seems so structured and so driven, he is a human. He has his own feelings, and emotions and curiosity. I wanted to show that.

Sibling Love

APP: I love Voxy, and how he reminds Petra of her little brother and his antics back on Earth. That sibling relationship between Petra and Javier is so meaningful. Both before and after they get on the ship. Their relationship turns into something we would never experience in the real world. I won’t delve too much into what happens between them, so as not to give it away, but how did you come up with that idea? I was completely taken by surprise.

DBH: It was in the very beginning when I was thinking of the story itself and dealing with time.  That idea came to me. I said, oh my gosh that would be the most horrific thing to happen, and then I thought I had to do it.  It was one of those things where my weird imagination was at work, probably while driving in my car. There were a few scenes that were really difficult to write, including that last scene with Javier.  That was a very hard scene to write. I think a lot of the scenes in the book relate to the separation of families and how it just feels out of control. I wanted to show the horror of what happens when families are torn apart. It came about in a way it had to be told, but it was very difficult to write.

Family Separation

Abuela and Tias

Storytellers in the family: Abuela & Tias

APP: Yes, family separation is such an important and timely topic among many Latinx families. This book feels like a story within a story within a story. I loved it. Let’s talk about the ending. We are left wondering what will happen to characters as the story ends. The final sounds we hear leave us with a feeling of hope, but without a certainty of what will happen. I’m thinking (hoping) there will be a sequel, am I right?

DBH: So, I think so. I’ve already written what happens next, we just chose not to use it in the novel. My editor was right. He said, that’s you as a writer needing closure and clarity on what happens to the characters. I do think it will come. I’m working on a different project right now but I do think there will be a sequel someday. I don’t know when. I wrote two or three more chapters, but not enough that’s formed into a book. I have different ideas of what a sequel would be. We could go in all different directions.

 

APP: That is so true, and I can’t wait to see where you will take this story as well as many other writing projects to come. Thank you so much for talking to me and sharing this beautiful book with all of us! And now for a giveaway! Donna has generously agreed to give away a copy of her award winning book to one lucky MUF reader. US entries only please!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

 

 

The Impression of a Great Story

My sister and I like to swap conspiracy theories. It’s a favorite activity at family gatherings, and this past Christmas, after we established that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle probably aren’t robotic clones, we got onto the subject of the Mandela Effect.

The Mandela effect was coined by paranormal researcher Fiona Broome in 2009. The name comes from her discovery of a commonly held belief that former South African president Nelson Mandela died as a political prisoner in the 1980’s. In reality, he passed away in 2013 at the age of 95. Nonetheless, countless people seem to share a false memory of Mandela’s death in the 80’s and his subsequent funeral.

Thanks to the marvels of the internet, there are now dozens of places to find lists of other, similar phenomena (starting with Broome’s own website, which documents the history of this discovery), and the name “Mandela Effect” serves as an umbrella term to describe these commonly held false memories.

Any amount of research on the subject leads to the inevitable question of “why?”.

Why do we misremember things so easily?

Or maybe…why are we so quick to dismiss our memories when they’re challenged?

I’m not particularly interested in solving this problem. Like most writers, I’m happier opening doors and asking questions. And since I’m especially interested in how this phenomenon ties into the kidlit corner of the world, I’ve sifted through the lists to find the three best literary examples of the Mandela Effect. Ready to do some head scratching?

There are no Berenstein Bears

Even as I write that title, Google is telling me I’ve got it wrong. But if it wasn’t for spell check, I’d challenge anyone who questioned my spelling. I mean, hey, I have two little kids. I read books about a lovable family of anthropomorphized bears on the regular. So how could I have it so wrong? What about you? And be honest. The Berenstain Bears would want you to be honest.

A Tale of No Tail

This is one I had to personally check for myself, which isn’t a great sign for my overall sanity. It’s true, though — despite all taxonomical evidence to the contrary, George is a good little monkey who’s always very curious…and inexplicably lacks a tail. Some devoted fans point to the tendency in the 1930’s to group smaller apes (who do not have tails) with monkeys, hence the confusion. Others have proposed the equally reasonable suggestion that in an alternate reality, George does have a tail, and several parallel timelines have actually merged together to create this memory conundrum. Maybe in that other universe George does take the chocolates at the end of the book. I get that he was full, but I never understood why he didn’t just hang onto them for later.

Down or In?

Here’s another one I had to go digging for on my kids’ bookshelf. The Big Bad Wolf tells the pigs he’ll huff and he’ll puff and he’ll blow their house down, right? 

RIGHT?

Maybe you’re faring better than I did in this exploration of collective recollection, but I was 0/3 in my research. The wolf does, in fact, promise to blow the pigs’ houses in. To be fair, there are a hundred spinoffs of this story, and I’m fully confident that in one of them, I’ve got the wording right. Have I personally checked this? Nope! This is as far down the rabbit hole as I’m willing to go, but be my guest and let me know in the comments.

One of the inevitable questions when we do this sort of thing is what really makes a book memorable? Is it these little details, which we apparently have a tendency to muddle, or is it something less tangible? As a kid, my favorite book was James and the Giant Peach, but until I reread it as a young adult, I couldn’t really tell anyone the plot. I just knew that I loved it. I remember a strange sadness when the stack of pages in my right hand grew thin, and I knew it was almost over.

As authors, those are the feelings we dream of conjuring up in people, and it goes far beyond a title or a memorable line or an artistic decision. So whether you’re a reader, a writer, or a little of both, we can probably all agree that the impression of a great story lasts a lot longer than the details, no matter which reality you’ve merged from.

Author Spotlight: Jake Burt + a Giveaway!

My amazing 2017 Debuts author pal Jake Burt has recently released his fifth novel (!!!), but this is his FIRST time chatting with us on the Mixed-Up Files!!! Can you tell how excited that makes me? Well, CAN YOU…? 🙂

Before I turn the mic over to the mega-talented Jake Burt (besides being an author, Jake is a fifth-grade teacher, an Ultimate Frisbee champ, and a gifted banjo player), here’s a short summary of his latest MG novel, The Ghoul of Windydown Vale (Feiwel and Friends).

(Oh, and don’t miss the chance to win TWO signed copies of Jake’s books–GHOUL and Cleo Porter and the Body Electric–if you enter the giveaway. Scroll down for details! 👇👇👇)

The Ghoul of Windydown Vale

Copper Inskeep holds Windydown Vale’s deepest and darkest secret: He is the ghoul that haunts the Vale, donning a gruesome costume to scare travelers and townsfolk away from the dangers of the surrounding swamps. When a terrified girl claims she and her father were attacked by a creature—one that could not have been Copper—it threatens not just Copper’s secret, but the fate of all Windydown.

Without further ado… heeeeere’s Jake!

Interview with Jake Burt

MR: Welcome to the Mixed-Up Files, my friend!

JB: Thank you, Melissa! My pleasure to (finally) be here!

MR: Your latest book, The Ghoul of Windydown Vale, has been described as “scarier than Scooby-Doo, but not too scary to read [to kids] at night.” What is the secret to writing a spooky book for middle-grade readers? Is there anything specific you aimed for—or avoided—during the writing of this novel?

JB: To me, the best spooky stuff is that which is unknown. I’ve never been a big fan of slasher horror, for instance: if you know from the first scene or chapter that the menace is a guy with a chainsaw, then the rest of the movie/book is just about seeing what inventive/gruesome ways said guy can terrorize people with a chainsaw. But a creeping, unseen dread? That, to me, is compelling and chilling in all the best ways. It’s particularly effective for middle grade novels, too, since ideally, we’re trying to avoid subjecting young readers to Friday the 13th-level bloodshed. I elected to go with first person present as my narrative style, too, because I wanted the reader to have that close, closed experience of navigating the spooky things right alongside my main character. 

Windydown Vale and its  (Vaguely) Pioneer Past

MR: Windydown Vale is set in an unspecified historical era, in an unspecified geographical location. What was the inspiration behind these fictional choices? Was it meant to reflect the secret behind the Ghoul’s true identity? Or maybe something else…?

JB: By keeping the location very local, and by locking the setting into a nebulous, vaguely pioneer past, my goal was to “trap” the reader. You don’t know what else is out there, except that Windydown Vale is surrounded in the immediate sense by deadly swamps. Better to stay in town than to risk a journey elsewhere, no? And an ahistorical time period lends itself to the tone of the book. Even if ghouls aren’t real, our characters don’t have the technology to prove it. I wanted the lore of the book to sit solidly in a temporal framework where legends and monsters are part of the science, since scary things are much more fun when everyone believes in them.

Cleo Porter and the Body Electric + a Global Pandemic

MR: Your previous novel, Cleo Porter and the Body Electric, takes place in the aftermath of a fictional pandemic—“influenza D.” Cleo Porter, the 12-year-old protagonist, experiences life from the confines of her germ-free apartment, takes classes via Virtual Adaptive Instructional Network, and enjoys computer-simulated playdates with her friends. Interestingly, this book was written a year before the appearance of Covid-19. You’re an amazing guy, Jake, but I know you’re not psychic. How on earth did you come up with this idea? Also, what was it like to have a book come out during a global pandemic—about a global pandemic?

JB: Having Cleo launch in the midst of COVID was surreal, to say the least. I was certainly worried that it would be a “too soon” situation, but reception of the book has been universally positive. Part of the reason, I think, is that the book doesn’t actually center on the pandemic; it’s about the long-term aftermath. Still, many of the themes (isolation, compassion, the value of science) are relevant. Teachers and librarians have reported finding Cleo to be a compelling resource for book groups and classroom discussions, and I’m honored that it has served that purpose, in addition to being a fast-paced, twisty adventure. Part of the reason it rings so true is that it’s based on my experience during a real pandemic–not COVID, but  SARS, back in 2013. I lived in China at the time, and we went into full lockdown as the country sought to manage the spread. It was upon that time that I based Cleo’s setting.

Reviews and Feedback

MR: As a follow-up, Jake, what kind of feedback did you receive from readers following the publication of Cleo Porter? I’m guessing kids found solace in Cleo’s plight, considering that many of them were in similar circumstances. Did any of the feedback surprise you—from kids or reviewers?

JB: I was pleasantly surprised by the reception; it was certainly nerve-wracking waiting for reviews to come in! To be honest, the biggest surprise came from the New York Times. I didn’t expect them to review it, much less do so in such a positive way. It was definitely a career milestone. (To read the Times’ glowing review of Cleo Porter and the Body Electric click here.)

The Tornado + Bullying

MR: To switch gears, your 2019 novel, The Tornado (2019), focuses on two characters who are the victims of bullying but handle it in vastly different ways. Bell Kirby hides from his tormenter while Daelynn Gower—a new girl with outrageous clothes and rainbow-colored hair—confronts the perpetrators head-on. Not to stir up unpleasant memories, but were you bullied as a child? If so, how did you handle it? Also, what advice would you give to fellow educators who confront bullying in their classrooms?

JB: Heavy questions, Melissa! And important ones. Yes, I was bullied. Parker Hellickson, the bully in Tornado, is based on the guy who bullied me throughout elementary school. Everything Parker inflicts on Bell is something my bully did to me. How did I handle it? Not well. I wilted. Thus, when I saw him bullying other kids, I didn’t say a word. I hid, and in some cases, I even laughed along with my “Parker,” hoping that by supporting him, I’d stay out of his crosshairs. It didn’t work, and it left others feeling as alone as I did. Tornado is, in part, a way to explore that bystander guilt.

My advice to educators, based on my own experiences and what I’ve seen in twenty-two years in the classroom, is to call a spade a spade. Don’t be afraid to label bullying behavior as such. “Bully” is a necessarily loaded term, but attempts to tiptoe around it or explain away bullying behaviors as simply “kidding around,” “accidental,” or “a one-time thing” subtly erode an educator’s ability to address the root causes of the behavior and to put measures in place to protect the victim. I’d also advise bringing in administrators and families as soon as possible to be part of the dialogue. A teacher shouldn’t have to handle something as serious as bullying in a vacuum, and multiple perspectives can be helpful in correctly diagnosing bullying as such.

The Right Hook of Devin Velma + Social Anxiety

MR: The Right Hook of Devin Velma (2018) features a character who suffers from social anxiety. As an example, Addison “freezes” when he’s feeling particularly anxious, or when he speaks to certain adults. He’s also majorly stressed about social media. What prompted you to write about social anxiety? What sort of research was involved?

JB: Addison’s anxiety was a way to explore my own, particularly around the topic of social media. When my first novel was published, one of the requests Macmillan made was that I jump onto Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. to help spread the word. I was deeply unsure about how that would go, though it turns out that all my fears are shared by a considerable number of other authors on those platforms: I don’t have anything interesting to post; I will over-post and annoy people; I will seem like an egomaniac; I will bore people and turn them away from my books with my inane ‘netprattle. Fortunately, none of that has come to pass…or just as fortunately, I’ve made friends kindly enough not to embarrass me by telling me my online act has grown stale.

Of course, social media anxiety isn’t social anxiety disorder, and so I did need to do considerable research into how it manifests, how those who have it cope, and how therapists try to address the issue and help people live with it. Like with so many anxiety-based disorders, there is no one way people experience SAD, so I tried to make Addison’s journey as authentic to him as I could, while staying true to the narratives of folks with SAD writ large. For example, there is no quick fix; Addison doesn’t suddenly wake up one day “cured” of his anxiety. He manages it as best he can, enjoying the small victories where he can claim them, in the hopes that they will ultimately build to a life more comfortable to live.

Genius at Work

MR: Of all your five books, which was the hardest to write? The most fun…? Also, what about titles? Do you come up with them yourself?

JB: Hardest: The Ghoul of Windydown Vale. Genius that I am, I decided to try to write this one during the school year. All my others I manuscripted over the summer. Trying to balance writing and teaching was daunting, and likely something I won’t attempt again any time soon. The most fun to write was Cleo. Her pragmatism and overly literal way of looking at the world made her a tremendously entertaining character to shepherd through a sci-fi world. Plus, giant insectoid drone battles are a ton of fun to choreograph.

Carving Out Writing Time

MR: In addition to being a prolific novelist, you’re a fifth-grade teacher and parent to a young daughter. When do you find the time to write? Do you have a specific writing routine?

JB: I thought I had a routine, and then COVID hit, and then I tried to write during the school year, and then I didn’t have a great routine anymore. I think many of us are in the same boat, re-learning how to be creative and productive. When I’ve got all my ducks in a row, my writing arc goes something like this: Brainstorm, outline, and research in the spring (especially spring break). Begin manuscript writing in mid-June. Finish manuscript and revise through late July. Get manuscript to second readers at the start of August. Revise again. Send manuscript to agent at the end of August. Wait for feedback. Revise more throughout the fall, until my editor is ready to proceed with copyedits. Take care of those over winter break. Then the novel is pretty much out of my hands, and I can turn my attention to the next one.

The Pedaler

MR: Rumor has it that you write while pedaling an exercise bike. I can barely walk and chew gum at the same time! How on earth do you do this? Enquiring minds want to know.

JB: It’s true: I’m actually responding to these questions right now while on a bike. I’ve found that cycling (stationary, of course) helps settle my body and quiet my mind. If I simply sit, my legs get twitchy and I’m distracted. I should note, though, that I’m not on a Peloton or something of the sort. I ride what’s usually called an “exercise desk.” Imagine a bike with a desk surface where the handlebars should be, and you’ve pretty much got it.

Meet Jake’s Next Book Projects

MR: What are you working on now, Jake? Can you give us a teaser?

JB: Only the vaguest of teasers, but yes…in question form:

Q: “What do you call a kid with three wishes?”

A: “The single greatest threat to global security the world has ever seen.”

Lightning Round!

MR: One last thing. As you know, no MUF interview is complete without a lightning round, so…

Preferred writing snack?

Nothing. Sticky fingers + keyboard = disaster.

Coffee or tea?

TEA!

Dog or Cat?

(I think this photo speaks for itself. 🙂 — MR)

Favorite song you can play on the banjo?

“Wildwood Flower.”

Zombie apocalypse: Yea or nay?

As in “Would I survive?” Yea. Totally yea. I’m up-to-date on all my literature. As in “Do you want one?” Nay. Very nay. 

Superpower?

I used to go with teleportation. Then I switched to telekinesis. Now it’s “the ability to craft the details of my own afterlife.”

Favorite place on Earth?

I do love me some Disney World…

Hidden talent (besides strumming the banjo, pedaling your desk bike, and playing Ultimate Frisbee)?

After twenty-two years of practice, I think I’m really, really good at reading middle-grade fiction aloud to an audience. 

If you were stranded on a desert island with only three things, what would they be?

Teleportation, telekinesis, and the ability to craft the details of my own afterlife. 

MR: Thanks for participating, Jake. And congrats on the publication of The Ghoul of Windydown Vale!

And now…

A GIVEAWAY!

For a chance to win TWO signed copies of Jake’s books, The Ghoul of Windydown Vale and Cleo Porter and the Body Electric, comment on the blog–and, if you’re on Twitter, on the Mixed-Up Files Twitter account, for an extra chance to win! (Giveaway ends 2/21/22 EST.) U.S. only, please. 

All About Jake

Jake Burt is the author of the middle-grade novels Greetings from Witness Protection!, an Indie Next selection, The Right Hook of Devin Velma, a Junior Library Guild selection, and The Tornado, which School Library Journal called “one of the best stories about bullying for middle grades,” in a starred review. His novel Cleo Porter and the Body Electric was praised as a “thrilling sci-fi adventure” by #1 New York Times bestselling author Alan Gratz. His latest book, The Ghoul of Windydown Vale, is available now. Jake teaches fifth grade and lives in Hamden, CT, with his wife and their daughter. Learn more about Jake on his website and follow him on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

GHOUL Art by Larissa Brown Marantz