Digging Up the Past: An Interview with Kerrie Hollihan

Kerrie Hollihan writes the kind of books kids fight over. I should know, I have one of them in my middle school classroom, and on more than one occasion there has been spirited deliberation over who would get to read it during our break time between classes. Her blend of historical research and captivating narrative draw in even the most reluctant readers. And that’s to say nothing of the subject matter — first mummies, then ghosts, and now bones. Kerrie’s latest title, Bones Unearthed!, is the third in her “Creepy and True” series, and it may just be the most the most appealing yet (and perhaps also the most gruesome). I’m super excited to share this interview with Kerrie — stick around and leave a comment for a chance to win this book when it’s released this week!

CL: Thanks for being here, Kerrie! In the introduction of Bones Unearthed, you compare doing book research to a sort of “virtual dig” — can you explain what you mean by that?

KH: As archaeologists and anthropologists embark on an excavation, they aren’t precisely sure what they will uncover. There might be a general idea, but the actual site can reveal all kinds of artifacts. My project was to write about cases of murder or mayhem across history that left skeletal remains. Hence Bones Unearthed! For instance, in my book proposal I’d written a sample chapter about the cannibalized Jane Doe in the Jamestown Fort. but her discovery was rather random—three bones among 47,000 artifacts found in a kitchen waste pit. What a surprise to those who uncovered her! 

Then  I needed another example of cannibalism to extend that chapter, so my digging continued for other examples. I had to evaluate the details of those to see how they’d fit with the general scheme of my project, and I ended up choosing the rugby team that was downed in an Andean air crash.

CL: Yeah, I read that cannibalism chapter on my lunch break at work — fascinating! Another thing you mention in the book is how learning about the lives of those in the past can tell us about our own lives. Did you have any experiences like that while researching or writing the book? 

KH: Yes. In writing about the Alepotrypa Cave in Greece where generations of people lived and died, I was drawn to thinking about my own family…and my own mortality. In nineteen months’ time, I became a grandmother of two and lost my own dad at age ninety-nine and three-fourths, who was born, lived, and died between two pandemics!

CL: Wow, that is pretty incredible. I also  think it’s so fascinating that the work of excavation correlates to so many other fields of study — like how the discovery of Pompei in Italy connects to plate tectonics. You include many of these as “factlets” in your book — did any of these overlaps stand out to you as particularly interesting?

KH: I was amazed how Edvard Munch’s The Scream came into play during the Year without a Summer—thanks to that Krakatoa volcano eruption in Indonesia.

CL: Okay, so it’s no secret this book has some pretty gruesome chapters…and don’t get me wrong — that’s what I love about it — but it’s certainly not a text for the squeamish! Was there anything you found difficult to read or write about?

KH: When I got my author copies, I thumbed through and, frankly, was taken aback by some of the stories and images. This is horrific stuff! Reading about the young men of that Andean air crash who could only survive by cannibalizing their friends was not pleasant and challenging to present in a careful tone to my readers. It was hard for me to think about the Viking sacrifice of children, as it was about the Inca sacrifice of other little ones I wrote about in Mummies Exposed! The pumice rafts loaded with human bones afloat at sea left a heavy imprint in my mind, and so did the grave robbing of so many disregarded people for cadaver study.

CL: But there are some really heartfelt sections, too. Later in the book is a chapter called “Bones and Benevolence,” in which you detail how some discoveries give us insights into the way people lived and loved long ago. Especially interesting in this chapter is the way modern technology expands our ability to understand and catalogue human remains. Do you have a favorite story from this part of your research?

KH: After writing about so much sadness, I researched examples of gravesites with burials that reflected human caring and respect. I’d known for a while about ongoing DNA study of the remains of sailors’ bony remains from the USS Oklahoma,  but I hadn’t learned the whole story about its sinking and  recovery at Pearl Harbor. These events were real to my own parents, and I grew up honoring December 7 as “the Day that will live in infamy.” Soon enough, we will have lost all those who remember that day. 

I seriously got a lump in my throat as I worked through the research. To learn how that navy veteran, Ray Emory, had a bold idea, which was then enhanced by the development of DNA technology, set my mind aglow. I marvel at how human emotion and determination can join with technological innovation to produce such an appropriate and amazing gift of human remains to the families of the Oklahoma’s dead sailors.

CL: Well, that brings me to something all of your books seem to have in common –  research! Like, lots and lots of research! In the afterword of Bones Unearthed, you make a great comparison between your text and an iceberg. Can you expand on that?

KH: I think nearly all nonfiction authors will say that the fun is in the research. For all the books in the Creepy & True series, there was so much to learn to fill nine or more chapters, some with three topics in each. Let’s take the Franklin Expedition in Chapter 3 of Bones Unearthed! When I chose to write about it, I  had a 20-year-old memory of a PBS program about the expedition and how the men’s brains were addled by lead poisoning. Ha…twenty years on, that presumption turned out to be factually questionable. As I like to point out to students, there’s always something new to learn about something old.

But the bigger story was how the search for Franklin was told by two sets of people: records from the British and American expeditions versus the oral histories of the Inuit people over those same years. How did they connect? 

I had a ton of research evidence in scholarly journals, primary sources recorded in old books, library

Kerrie’s husband generously shared this doodle of an iceberg for illustration purposes.

books filled with secondary sources, modern newspapers and periodicals, government websites, maps of one kind or another… seemed endless. What you read about the Franklin Expedition in Bones Unearthed! is only the tip of the information iceberg. Ninety percent of a nonfiction book lies beneath the surface.

In the end, I had to cut five pages from that chapter, which is a perfect example of revision. Students should hear that we authors can’t hang on to every word we put on the page for a first draft.

Thanks so much to Kerrie for an awesome conversation — BONES UNEARTHED! comes out this week and is available everywhere. You can learn more about Kerrie and her other books on her website, and don’t forget to leave a comment for a chance to win a free copy! 

Dragons! And my favorite books about them.

I am currently obsessed with dragons. That might be because my new middle grade series, coming in March, has a dragon. Makes sense, right? But the fun part of being obsessed with dragons is the ‘research’ I got to do reading middle grade dragon books.

They are so GOOD! One sitting and I’m done kind of good. And I would be remiss if I didn’t share them with you immediately.

I’ve picked five for this list but there are many more and if you have a young reader in your life who is also obsessed, a quick search will bring you even more amazing titles. (descriptions from Amazon)


SPARK, by Sarah Beth Durst

When a shy girl and her dragon-like companion discover their country’s idyllic weather comes at a steep—and secret—cost, they recruit fellow students to defy authority and attempt to spread the truth.

Storm beasts and their guardians create perfect weather every day, and Mina longs for a storm beast of her own. But when the gentle girl bonds with a lightning beast—a creature of fire and chaos—everyone’s certain it’s a mistake. Everyone but Mina and the beast himself, Pixit. Quickly enrolled in lightning school, Mina struggles to master a guardian’s skills, and she discovers that her country’s weather comes at a devastating cost—a cost powerful people wish to hide. Mina’s never been the type to speak out, but someone has to tell the truth, and, with Pixit’s help, she resolves to find a way to be heard.




DRAGONS IN A BAG, by Zetta Elliot (series)

The dragon’s out of the bag in this diverse, young urban fantasy from an award-winning author!

When Jaxon is sent to spend the day with a mean old lady his mother calls Ma, he finds out she’s not his grandmother–but she is a witch! She needs his help delivering baby dragons to a magical world where they’ll be safe. There are two rules when it comes to the dragons: don’t let them out of the bag, and don’t feed them anything sweet. Before he knows it, Jax and his friends Vikram and Kavita have broken both rules! Will Jax get the baby dragons delivered safe and sound? Or will they be lost in Brooklyn forever?




A debut novel inspired by Chinese mythology, this middle-grade fantasy follows an outcast as she embarks on a quest to save the world from demons–perfect for fans of Aru Shah and the End of Time and The Serpent’s Secret.

As a member of the Jade Society, twelve-year-old Faryn Liu dreams of honoring her family and the gods by becoming a warrior. But the Society has shunned Faryn and her brother Alex ever since their father disappeared years ago, forcing them to train in secret.

Then, during an errand into San Francisco, Faryn stumbles into a battle with a demon–and helps defeat it. She just might be the fabled Heaven Breaker, a powerful warrior meant to work for the all-mighty deity, the Jade Emperor, by commanding an army of dragons to defeat the demons. That is, if she can prove her worth and find the island of the immortals before the Lunar New Year.

With Alex and other unlikely allies at her side, Faryn sets off on a daring quest across Chinatowns. But becoming the Heaven Breaker will require more sacrifices than she first realized. . . What will Faryn be willing to give up to claim her destiny?

This richly woven contemporary middle-grade fantasy debut, full of humor, magic, and heart, will appeal to readers who love Roshani Chokshi and Sayantani DasGupta.











This stunning fantasy inspired by Chinese folklore is a companion novel to Starry River of the Sky and the New York Times bestselling and National Book Award finalist When the Sea Turned to Silver

In the valley of Fruitless mountain, a young girl named Minli lives in a ramshackle hut with her parents. In the evenings, her father regales her with old folktales of the Jade Dragon and the Old Man on the Moon, who knows the answers to all of life’s questions. Inspired by these stories, Minli sets off on an extraordinary journey to find the Old Man on the Moon to ask him how she can change her family’s fortune. She encounters an assorted cast of characters and magical creatures along the way, including a dragon who accompanies her on her quest for the ultimate answer.

Grace Lin, author of the beloved Year of the Dog and Year of the Rat returns with a wondrous story of adventure, faith, and friendship. A fantasy crossed with Chinese folklore, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is a timeless story reminiscent of The Wizard of Oz and Kelly Barnhill’s The Girl Who Drank the Moon. Her beautiful illustrations, printed in full-color, accompany the text throughout. Once again, she has created a charming, engaging book for young readers.

Latinx Kidlit Book Festival 2021

LKBF invite

It’s almost time for  second annual The Latinx Kidlit Book Festival, a virtual celebration of Latinx KidLit authors, illustrators, and books. The festival will open its virtual doors this year from December 9-10, 2021. There festival features two free days of panels, craft sessions and illustrator draw-offs with Latinx authors and illustrators of picture books, middle grade, young adult, graphic novel, comic books and poetry. The sessions are geared towards ALL schools, educators, students and book lovers, not just those identifying as Latinx.  Everyone is welcome at this virtual festival that celebrates diversity in children’s literature and brings books and ideas straight into classrooms.

I had the opportunity to talk to two of the festival’s organisers, Ismee Williams and Alex Villasante, who shared more information about the events and opportunities for kids, teachers, and readers everywhere.

Giving Back

APP: Thank you so much for sharing this festival with us. Can you tell me a little about how the Latinx Kidlit Book Festival started?

lkbf fb 2ISMEE: In 2020, we were concerned about the effects of the pandemic on students and teachers. We wanted to give back, the best way we know how. Through the power of story. The LKBF was conceived to bring authors and illustrators into classrooms of schools everywhere. Not just schools with Latinx communities. All schools. All students. From pre-K through 12th grade and beyond. There will be something for everyone. 

APP: What a great idea! I know how much I enjoyed participating in the festival last year, and sharing it with my homeschoolers. What’s new this year?

ISMEE: In early 2021, we met with members of the NCTE to brainstorm new ideas. More interactive and engaging programming was high on the list. Craft sessions to help teachers teach. More content en Español, perfect for ESL as well as Spanish foreign language classes. We also added content for teachers and for would-be writers. The Author’s Guild is sponsoring a panel for aspiring writers. From Manuscript to Marketplace: Three Publishing Journeys in Kidlit with authors, editors and agents – on Tuesday, December 7th.

On December 8th, Penguin Random House is sponsoring a special Educator Night. Lorena German and David Bowles will talk about #DisruptTexts. Join us to learn how to bring Latinx books into classrooms.

Interactive Programming

APP: What a great opportunity for teachers and everyone interested in diversifying readings for children. I’m especially interested in the interactive programming you mentioned, what exactly does that entail?virtual field trip

ALEX: We want the LKBF to be a virtual field trip for students and educators. We expanded programming to amp the fun and engagement. We have five new craft sessions. Best-selling authors will teach how-to classes on writing, perfect for students. Meg Medina (award-winning author of Merci Suarez Changes Gears) will teach how to write from your own life experiences. That session is for grades 4 – 8, perfect for middle schoolers.

We also have a craft session on creating a picture book with Emma Otheguy, Rene Colato Lainez and Juana Medina. We have one on writing poetry with Margarita Engle. Students should come to these sessions with paper and writing utensils and be ready to have fun! We’ve also got Draw Off sessions. Illustrators compete, responding to prompts submitted by the students. Kids get to see the crazy-creations they suggest come to life! These sessions are interactive and will get students (and teachers) hooked!

APP: Sounds so fun! How can educators, parents and kids get ready to get the most out of the festival?

ALEX: Teachers, librarians and parents should check out the offerings on our educator page. We have author/illustrator introduction Flipgrid videos and educator guides to help students prepare for and engage with the festival. We have mini craft video lessons, meant to act as writing prompts. And a book database to help you find the perfect book for the perfect student. And we want to hear from students directly! Submit student questions for a chance to win a classroom set of books. Ask any book-related question you want. Maybe one of our authors or illustrators will answer it LIVE during the festival!

Middle Grade Panels

APP: As a member of a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee, I know how important this opportunity is for educators, authors, and kids and can’t wait to attend! Can you tell us a bit about the Middle Grade books and authors you’ll be spotlighting for our MUF readers? mg panel 1

ISMEE: We have so many wonderful MG authors this year! Karla Valenti (Lotería) is moderating Middle And Marvelous: Middle Grade Characters Who Will Steal Your Heart. Karla will be joined by Laura Ojeda Melchor (MISSING OKALEE), Alex Aster (CURSE OF THE FORGOTTEN CITY), Alejandra Algorta (NEVERFORGOTTEN) and Christina Diaz Gonzalez (CONCEALED). Loriel Ryon (INTO THE TALL TALL GRASS) is moderating ¡Qué Cómicos!: Humor In Chapter Books And Middle Grade. Terry Catasús Jennings (ALL FOR ONE), Adrianna Cuevas (THE TOTAL ECLIPSE OF NESTOR LOPEZ), Donna Barba Higuera (LUPE WONG WON’T DANCE/THE LAST CUENTISTA), and Nina Moreno (JOIN THE CLUB, MAGGIE DIAZ) will join Loriel. And don’t miss our opening headlining session! Books As Teachers: Stories That Build Connection, Empathy And Imagination with educatorS Torrey Maldonado (WHAT LANE?/TIGHT) and Rebecca Balcárcel (THE OTHER HALF OF HAPPY/SHINE ON, LUZ VÉLIZ). mg panel 2

The More You Know

APP: Where can people go to get more information about the festival?


Want to know how best to watch the festival? Sign up for our newsletter. Links to panels will arrive directly to your inbox. The festival can be streamed live into the classroom from our YouTube channel. Students and teachers can interact with authors and illustrators via the live chat. Content will be available even after the premiere. 

Educators, don’t forget to check out our Wed night event just for you! The content will be perfect for DEI professional advancement. There will be a digital gift bag! And a certificate of attendance will be available.

APP: Wonderful! So many interesting speakers to choose from and panels to interact with! Thank you for sharing this with us and I hope that many of our readers will participate in the Latinx Kidlit Book Festival this year, I know I will!


And now for giveaways! Three of the amazing MG authors that will be featured at the Latinx Kidlit Book Festival have generously agreed to give away copies of their books to our MUF readers! There will be six lucky winners for one of the following prizes!

THE LAST CUENTISTA by Donna Barba Higuera

LUPE WONG WON’T DANCE by Donna Barba Higuera

EL CUCUY IS SCARED TOO by Donna Barba Higuera

TOTAL ECLIPSE OF NESTOR LOPEZ by Adrianna Cuevas (signed)



To enter just follow the rafflecopter below, retweet/quote tweet this post, and follow @MixedUpFiles. U.S. entries only please!

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