Editor Spotlight: Thalia Leaf from Calkins Creek

Today, we have a treat for readers who are especially interested in history and historical fiction for kids. Recently, I was delighted to interview Thalia Leaf, who is an associate editor at Calkins Creek. Thalia offered several insights into her publishing imprint and what she looks for in submissions. So let’s get started!


Dorian: How did you get involved in children’s publishing?

Thalia: I always wanted to work in children’s publishing, but I got here in a roundabout way. Before I worked in publishing, I taught English abroad. It was so fascinating to see the way kids responded (or didn’t respond) to certain books—it’s so important for kids to have books that are interesting and relevant to them. When I came back to the U.S., I interned at a literary agency where I worked on a pretty wide range of children’s books, which I loved. My first job in publishing was in adult books though—I worked on very serious history books for a handful of years. I was really delighted when an opportunity came up to work on U.S. history-focused fiction and nonfiction at Calkins Creek. It combined the work I’d been doing on history books for adults and my dream of working on children’s books.


Dorian: Can you tell us a little bit about Calkins Creek?

Thalia: Calkins Creek is an imprint of Astra Books for Young Readers. Our list includes fiction and nonfiction for kids and teens. We focus on publishing books about American history, which might sound sort of narrow, but within it there’s potential for books on a huge range of topics from science and art to racial justice and political activism. We love books that highlight an untold story about a person or an event that kids really ought to know about. Of course, it’s most important that our books are exciting, kid-friendly, and beautifully produced. Some of my favorite Calkins Creek books are Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop: The Sanitation Strike of 1968 by Alice Fay Duncan; Dorothea’s Eyes: Dorothea Lange Photographs the Truth by Barb Rosenstock; Without Separation: Prejudice, Segregation, and the Case of Roberto Alvarez by Larry Dane Brimner; Buzzing with Questions: The Inquisitive Mind of Charles Henry Turner by Janice N. Harrington;  Race Against Time: The Untold Story of Scipio Jones and the Battle to Save Twelve Innocent Men by Sandra Neil Wallace and Rich Wallace; and Blood and Germs: The Civil War Battle Against Wounds and Disease by Gail Jarrow.










Dorian: They all sound fascinating. Have you always been interested in books about history and historical fiction, and what books sparked your interest in the genres?

Thalia: Yes, I have! What I love about historical fiction is that it has same escapist appeal of sci-fi and fantasy, but you also get to learn something! As a little kid, I was pretty obsessed with the 19th century thanks to the Little House books and Caddie Woodlawn, which my mother read to me starting in kindergarten. I was very into dressing up in 19th century clothes and was always asking my parents to take me to living history museums like Old Sturbridge Village. When I got a bit older, I read historical fiction on my own; in middle school my friend Ana and I read every book we could find on the Tudors. Some of my favorite middle grade and YA historical fiction books were The Witch of Blackbird Pond, The Sally Lockhart series, All of a Kind Family, and The Devil’s Arithmetic. I wish I’d had books like Show Me a Sign by Ann Clare LeZotte and Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park when I was a kid.








Dorian: With so much misinformation in various media, it must be challenging to edit books that deal with history. How do you meet that challenge?

Thalia: The prevalence of misinformation is exactly why I think publishing great children’s books on historical subjects is so important. Our understanding of history affects our understanding of the present. Much of American history is difficult and ugly and uncomfortable. But we don’t make things better by avoiding talking about them. Kids don’t need things sugarcoated for them—and they’re pretty good at detecting BS.


Dorian: What are some of your favorite middle-grade books you’ve worked on and why?

View from Pagoda Hill by Michaela MacColl is probably my favorite Calkins Creek middle-grade book. It’s based on the author’s family history. I’m relatively new to the imprint, so the books I’ve actually worked on have yet to come out.


Dorian: What middle-grade books do you have coming up that you’re excited about?

Thalia: They’re still in the early stages, so I can’t say too much. I’m especially excited about a book we have on a woman who worked as a spy during World War II and another about a young girl who solves the mystery of a Revolutionary War-era diary she finds.


Dorian: Very intriguing! What subjects or historical time periods are you particularly interested in seeing in your submissions box from agents?

Thalia: I want to find untold stories that urgently need to be told, and these come from all historical periods and are about all topics. At the moment, though, I’m especially interested in stories of immigrants, as well as books that deal with more recent history (1975-2008). I’d also love to see manuscripts on Jewish topics that break the mold a bit. Manuscripts that deal with LGBTQ+ themes would be especially welcome, as I think there’s a massive amount of untold history there. Graphic novel submissions would be especially welcome. I’m constantly updating my manuscript wishlist, which you can find here.


Dorian: What advice do you have for authors who’d like to write about historical events (nonfiction or fiction)?

Thalia: First, do your research! The best books come from discovering a person or an event that no one knows about but everyone ought to know about. Sometimes you’ll read a newspaper article or see something on social media that intrigues you and makes you want to dig deeper and find out if there’s a good story there. Second, make sure your story has a proper narrative arc, even if you’re writing nonfiction. When writing history, it’s hard not to make a book just a recitation of the facts, but it’s so important that you shape the story you’re telling. Even in nonfiction, your characters need to have “wants” or goals, encounter obstacles, and succeed or fail in a way that changes them or their world.


Dorian: Great advice! Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Thalia: Calkins Creek only accepts agented submissions and all submissions must include a bibliography.

This has been wonderful. Thanks so much for taking the time out to give our readers such great information about you and Calkins Creek.

Find Thalia’s wishlist and more about Calkins Creek by following her on twitter


Danielle Joseph’s SYDNEY A. FRANKEL’S SUMMER MIX-UP + Giveaway!!

Today I’m so delighted to introduce Mixed-Up Files readers to Danielle Joseph, author of everything from picture books to young adult novels. We recently spoke about her middle-grade debut, Sydney A. Frankel’s Summer Mix-Up, which will be published this coming Tuesday, November 1. Danielle has generously offered a signed copy of the book along with some swag to one lucky winner. So don’t forget to click on the Rafflecopter at the bottom and follow the prompts for a chance to win. (USA only.)

About Danielle

Danielle is the author of the picture book, I Want to Ride the Tap Tap (Macmillan, 2020) and the young adult novels Shrinking Violet, Indigo Blues, and Pure Red. Shrinking Violet was adapted into the 2012 Disney Channel movie, Radio Rebel starring Debby Ryan. Danielle is a former middle school creative writing teacher and has been teaching writing workshops for more than ten years. She was born in Cape Town, South Africa and currently lives in Maryland with her husband and three children. Visit for more information about her and her books.


About the Book

Dorian: Please tell us a little about Sydney A. Frankel’s Summer Mix-Up.

Danielle: Sydney A. Frankel’s Summer Mix-Up is about best friends, summer shenanigans, and overcoming your fears. It’s also about navigating the transition before starting middle school. Most importantly, this book is for anyone that has ever felt a little different from the crowd.


Dorian: Sounds great! What was the inspiration behind this book?

Danielle: The original idea for this book actually came from a conversation I had with my eldest son. He was in fifth grade at the time, and he told me he didn’t want to enter the school spelling bee because he didn’t want to win. The winner would have to represent the whole school at the county spelling bee. Just like Sydney Frankel, my son didn’t like being in the limelight. This was the little nugget that I needed to get this story rolling.


Dorian: I can definitely relate. Were there any autobiographical elements in the book?

Danielle: Like my son, I was also very shy growing up, so I was definitely able to draw from some of my own experiences while writing this book. I was also a very tall kid who grew early, like Sydney, so some of those details are from my own experiences.


Dorian: What would you like readers to take away after reading Sydney A. Frankel’s Summer Mix-Up?

Danielle: I would love readers to connect with the characters in the book. I want them to know that they are not alone and that we all have different anxieties and fears. That things aren’t always what they seem on the surface and that even the most confident seeming person has their own struggles.


Dorian: What were some of your favorite middle-grade books when you were a kid?

Danielle: As a kid, I always wanted to be Judy Blume or Beverly Cleary. They were my literary heroes because their characters jumped off the pages and their humor was spot on. I was also a big fan of Bridge to Terabithia, Harriet the Spy, and Ronia, the Robber’s Daughter.


Dorian: You’ve written novels for the young adult audience and a picture book as well. What did you find was different about writing for the middle-grade reader?

Danielle: My process of writing is similar for everything I work on, I like to write a skeleton draft and then weave in everything that is missing. But when writing for the middle-grade reader, I really tried to make sure there was someone in the book that everyone could connect to on some level. For some kids this might be the first time they’re reading a novel completely on their own, and it was important to me that they could easily relate to the story.


Writing Tips and Rituals

Dorian: I love that idea! Did you run into any stumbling blocks while writing Sydney A. Frankel’s Summer Mix-Up or was it smooth sailing as you wrote?

Danielle: I definitely had stumbling blocks. I always get stuck in the soggy middle. I want to hurry up and get to the finish line. When this happens, I leave notes for myself in the manuscript about things that will happen in later chapters. Then when I actually get to those scenes, I’m happy to have some ideas already laid out.


Dorian: Do you have any writing rituals regarding where you write, whether you listen to a certain type of music, what beverages or food you must have next to you, etc.?

Danielle: I love to have a hot beverage while I write, either coffee or tea depending on the time of day. And I will never say no to chocolate.

I play music often when I’m drafting but like silence when I’m revising. And since I work from a laptop, I work from different spots—my patio, family room couch, dining room table and home office. In non-Covid times I love to write from cafes. But these days, it’s usually all about my dog Ringo, a two-year-old mini doodle. We move spots when he gets bored.


Dorian: So cute!! What are two of your best tips for our readers who also write?

Danielle: One of the best things you can do is listen to the world around you. By that I mean, sit in an outdoor setting, and listen to people passing by. How do they talk? What are they saying? This is especially important when you are an adult writing for kids. Don’t lose touch with how kids communicate today.

The other thing is to give yourself a break. So often writers want everything that they put on the page to be perfect. Allow yourself to brain dump and free flow write. No one has to see your first or even second draft . . . Often, I’ll sit down and write and think everything I just wrote is trash. However, when I read it over the next day, I usually find plenty to keep me going.


Dorian: Great tips! Can you tell us a little about the turtle pin that’s one of your swag items and how it fits into the novel?

Danielle: The turtle is a starring pet in Sydney Frankel. I don’t want to give too much away but readers will meet the turtle! He belongs to a friend of Sydney’s and gets his own pin because he’s cute!


Dorian: Do you have anything else in the works that you’d like to tell us about?

Danielle: It hasn’t been announced just yet, but I do have an upcoming picture book biography about a female freedom fighter that I am so excited to share with my readers.

Dorian: That’s wonderful! Thanks so much for talking with us and for donating a signed copy of Sydney A. Frankel’s Summer Mix-Up along with a bookmark and turtle pin. 

Readers: Don’t forget to try your luck below from now until Saturday at midnight.


a Rafflecopter giveaway

BY THE LIGHT OF FIREFLIES: Author Interview with Jenni L. Walsh


BY THE LIGHT OF FIREFLIES, by author Jenni L. Walsh, is one of my favorite historical fiction reads this year. It releases next week (November 2) and I’m going out to get it for my daughter who’s going to LOVE it. Full transparency, Jenni is my agent sister, (huzzah, Shannon Hassan!) so I am predisposed to think she is fabulous, but after you read this interview I got to do with her (and her book), I’m positive you’ll agree.



Sybil Ludington believes in the legend of fireflies–they appear when you need them most. But it’s not until her family is thrust into the dangers of the Revolutionary War, and into George Washington’s spy ring, that Sybil fully experiences firefly magic for herself–guiding her through the darkness, empowering her to figure out who she’s supposed to be and how strong she really is–as she delivers her imperative message and warns against a British attack.

BY THE LIGHT OF FIREFLIES (Wyatt-Mackenzie, November 2021) is the captivating tale of a young girl’s journey as a daughter, a sister, a friend, a spy, and eventually a war hero, completing a midnight ride that cements her place in history as the “female Paul Revere.”

Jenni L. Walsh Interview

MUF: What a wonderful hero Sybil Ludington is. How did you find her?

JLW: She certainly was! My first publications with Scholastic were nonfiction books in my She Dared series about girls who, at a young age, did daring and heroic feats. I had been putting together a list of young women who could fit the bill and Sybil Ludington quickly went on the list. My publisher and I decided my next books should be fiction, so I didn’t continue the series, but I knew I wanted to tell Sybil’s story. And here I am doing just that.

Piecing Sybil’s Story Together

MUF: Sybil’s story must have been hard to piece together given the scarcity of records about her. What did you find most challenging about creating her character? What was the easiest?

JLW: It’s always a challenge when there’s little information, but it’s also a lot of fun – like a big puzzle. I took whatever I could find out about Sybil, even seemingly little details like being the oldest child, and began to piece it all together to inform Sybil’s character and the storyline. I came across some awesome details relating to Sybil – like how she thwarted an attack against her home by mimicking an army using her many siblings – and some non-Sybil details that I knew I had to work into the story – like how urine was used to help remove stains while laundering clothing during that era. I find, though, that once I have a bunch of potential scenes, facts, and tidbits to include, the story begins to take on a life of its own and everything begins to fall into place. That’s when things become a bit easier, and even more fun.

Paving Her Own Way

MUF: I admit it – I cried at the end of Sybil’s amazing ride (I won’t say too much about it here because spoilers!!!) when her mother comes out to see her. Their relationship is complicated because of traditional women’s roles at the time. What were you hoping to illustrate for readers with this relationship?

JLW: What a wonderful reaction. I’m so glad you enjoyed this thread. Sybil’s character highly values the opinions of her parents. Throughout the novel, she strives for their attention and praise, it often putting her at odds with her sister. Nothing like some sibling rivalry. But as far as Sybil and her mother, I wanted to show that children learn from their parents (we see Sybil idolize her mom in some moments) just as much as adults continue to learn and grow from their children. I like that each generation brings a different perspective, and I love that I could show Sybil wanting to pave her own way.

((Like reading about spies? Check out this MUF archived article on the spies of a different war.))

MUF You’ve said you love fireflies, (I do too!) and that’s why they’re part of your book. What drew you to incorporate them as a magical element?

JLW: Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve found fireflies magical. Perhaps it’s because we get such a short amount of time with them each year. Even as an adult, the first firefly I see of the season stops me in my tracks. I thought they were the perfect element to give the book a bit of a magical realism twist, using them as a device to illustrate Sybil’s growing confidence in herself. They also made the cover pretty dang cool, too.

Writing Historical Fiction

MUF: You primarily write historical fiction, for both children and adults. What draws you to the genre?

JLW: I’m fascinated by real life people and events. There are some remarkable and thought-provoking people who came before us, and I enjoy giving them a voice. I also like highlighting a person or group or moment in time that not a lot of people know about. So far I’ve brought a WWII resistance group, the first croupier in American history, and an American outlaw to life. Next up after Sybil is a Berlin Wall escapee (that one’s coming in 2022)!

MUF: For the MUF readers who are also writers, what’s one piece of craft advice you’d give to someone who wants to write historical fiction?

JLW: Take the time to fall down rabbit holes. Never fail, I’ll be researching one thing and, if I didn’t take my time with it and go off into a research tangent, I never would’ve unearthed a tidbit that fit perfectly into my plot or sparked a whole new aspect of my storyline.

Looking into the Future

MUF: What’s next for fans of Jenni Walsh?

JLW: More writing! Which means I get to do what I love most. I’m in the middle of writing my next adult historical which is coming in November 2022 with HarperCollins. Also at the moment, I’m beginning to send ARCs out into the world for my next middle grade called Over and Out. That one is coming from Scholastic in March 2022. Once I get my adult historical off to my editor, then it’ll be time to start thinking/tinkering with my next middle-grade idea. I try to always have a project underway, even if it’s just researching or brainstorming what I want to do next. Apparently, I get antsy if I don’t have something going on. Please feel free to follow along with me as I share details about each project. I’m @jennilwalsh across all social media!

MUF: Thanks so much, Jenni, and congratulations!

Jenni L. Walsh

Author photo of Jenni Walsh

Jenni is the author of the nonfiction She Dared series and historical novels Hettie and the London BlitzI Am Defiance, and By the Light of Fireflies, and Over and Out. She also writes historical novels for adults, including Becoming BonnieSide by Side, and A Betting Woman.. To learn more about Jenni and her books, please visit or @jennilwalsh on social media.