WNDMG – Interview with Debut Author Patchree Jones

Welcome, Patchree!

It is my extreme pleasure to welcome Patchree Jones to the blog today.  Her debut book comes out later this year, and it’s the sort of story I adore. This is a fantasy that features best friends and a Thai-inspired world.

Take Home Messages

What messages do you hope young readers will take away from your story?

In SKYLIGHT, we follow Sofia through her journey as she deals with issues of self-love, self discovery, and struggles to share her true thoughts and feelings. This story is meant for every kid who feels like they don’t fit in.  I want readers to know that it’s okay to not blindly follow the plan others have for you because you are entitled to have an opinion in your life, even as a kid.

Thai Inspiration

Can you tell me about the Thai folklore that inspire this book?
One of the many traditional Buddhist temples in Thailand
There isn’t one particular folklore that served as the main inspiration. Rather, it’s an homage to my Thai upbringing and culture. I pulled ideas from different elements of mythology and infused my own interpretations. For instance, the Mehk people of the story are loosely based on the kinaree,
a half-human/half-bird creature. However, I’ve recrafted this mythological creature into one which has roots with the kinaree but does not exist in Thai folklore.


Phra Aphai Mani - Wikipedia

Since I was born and raised in the US, I didn’t have many “home-grown” stories of Thai folklore, besides a few scary ghost stories. I delved into classical Thai literature and mythology as an adult, and I was inspired by PHRA APHAI MANI, an epic poem composed by Thai poet Sunthorn Phu. This poem is similar to the Ramayana fused with elements of the Odyssey, so it was a great resource for Thai folklore.

Learning About Different Cultures

How do you balance introducing readers to unfamiliar cultural aspects of your story while keeping the story engaging?
different culture to kids
I used Sofia, my main character, to introduce readers to unfamiliar cultural aspects. Without spoiling too much, Sofia learns about the Mehk people and the kingdom of Tropos right alongside the reader. Everything in this world, including all of the cultural norms, are new to her because she was raised outside of these traditions. She learns throughout the story as she learns aobut herself.

Advice for Aspiring Authors

What advice would you give to aspiring authors of middle grade fantasy?
The Best Middle Grade Fantasy Books - The Bookish Mom
Just keep writing. Read a lot of middle grade books beyond just fantasy and take copious notes. As you write, don’t delete anything and don’t expect your first draft to be perfect. Finally, write the story of your heart or at least the story you want to read. There’s really no wrong way to write as long as you continue to put words down on the page.

Dogs and Anime!
Beastars - Plugged In

Can you tell me about your dog?
I love anime, and one of my favorite shows is Beastars. The main character in that show is a wolf so I named my dog Legoshi because he’s part German shepherd, part timber wolf!
He’s a pandemic pup and turns four this year. Legoshi is bigger than most German shepherds, but is the biggest scaredy cat. He hates golf carts, garbage trucks, and the vacuum cleaner, but he loves cheese and candy. He’s a professional napper and is the perfect blanket whenever he naps next to you.

Best Thing about Being an Author of Fantasy for Middle Graders!

What’s the best thing about being an author of fantasy books for middle grade children?
The best thing about writing middle grade fantasy is that I can watch any cartoon or kids show I want and claim that it’s research! But seriously, I think the best thing about being a middle grade fantasy author is the freedom that comes from writing for kids. I get to lean into my silly side, invent
wild storylines, and deal with serious topics in a digestible manner. Moreover, writing middle grade makes me feel closer to my kids and helps us learn from each other as I draft new stories.

New Middle-Grade Releases for March!

March always feels like a long month to me. Cold. Windy. Hints of winter mingled with hints of spring. There’s a lot of time to read a book or two or a few. New Middle-Grade Releases for March will give you some ideas. Enjoy!

Ferris by Kate DiCamillo. 240 pp. March 5.

ferrisIt’s the summer before fifth grade, and for Ferris Wilkey, it’s a summer of sheer pandemonium. Her little sister, Pinky, has vowed to become an outlaw. Uncle Ted has left Aunt Shirley and is holed up in the Wilkey basement to paint a history of the world. And Charisse, Ferris’s grandmother, has started seeing a ghost at the threshold of her room, which seems like an alarming omen given that she is also feeling unwell. But the ghost is not there to usher Charisse to the Great Beyond. Rather, she has other plans—wild, impractical, illuminating plans. How can Ferris satisfy a specter with Pinky terrorizing the town, Uncle Ted sending Ferris to spy on her aunt, and her father battling an invasion of raccoons?


The First State of Being by Erin Entrada Kelly. 272 pp. March 5. first state of being

It’s August 1999. For twelve-year-old Michael Rosario, life at Fox Run Apartments in Red Knot, Delaware, is as ordinary as ever—except for the looming Y2K crisis and his overwhelming crush on his fifteen-year-old babysitter, Gibby. But when a disoriented teenage boy named Ridge appears out of nowhere, Michael discovers there is more to life than stockpiling supplies and pining over Gibby.

It turns out that Ridge is carefree, confident, and bold, things Michael wishes he could be. But when Ridge reveals that he’s the world’s first-time traveler, Michael and Gibby are stunned but curious. As Ridge immerses himself in 1999—fascinated by microwaves, basketballs, and malls—Michael discovers that his new friend has a book that outlines the events of the next twenty years. His curiosity morphs into something else: focused determination. Michael wants—no, needs—to get his hands on that book. How else can he prepare for the future?

Read an interview with award-winning author Erin Entrada Kelly.

Free Period by Ali Terese. 272 pp. March 5.

free periodHelen and Gracie are pranking their way through middle school when a stinky stunt lands them in the front office — again. The principal orders the best friends to do the unthinkable: care about something. So they join the school’s Community Action Club with plans to do as little as humanly possible.

But when Helen is caught unprepared by an early period and bleeds through her pants, the girls take over the club’s campaign for maxi pads in bathrooms. In the name of period equity, the two friends use everything from over-the-top baked goods to glitter gluing for change. But nothing can prepare them for a clueless school board, an annoying little sister, and crushes. As Helen and Gracie find themselves closer to change and in deeper trouble than ever before, they must decide if they care enough to keep going . . . even if it costs them their friendship.


Gigi Shin Is Not a Nerd by Lyla Lee. 192 pp. March 5. gigi shin

Jiyoung “Gigi” Shin loves to create, from her zany outfits to self-executed haircuts. She dreams of becoming an artist and doodles every chance she gets—at school instead of taking notes, in choir instead of singing, and at home instead of homework. Art is her way of escaping her boring life in suburban Middle of Nowhere, Texas. Unfortunately, her working-class, immigrant parents want her to focus on her studies and pursue something more “practical.”  When Gigi learns about an elite art camp on the East Coast, she’s determined to go. But she knows her parents won’t let her. After overhearing her little brother Tommy complain about how hard math is and how his teacher goes too fast for him, Gigi has a brilliant idea: forming a tutoring club with her friends to make enough money for the art camp. The girls go all in, but the first few sessions with their classmates are a little chaotic, and Gigi wonders if she will end up sacrificing more than she bargained for to achieve her dreams.

Gut Reaction by Kirby Larson & Quinn Wyatt. 272 pp. March 5.

gut reactionTess Medina is still dealing with the loss of her father when she starts at a new school. She feels close to him by doing what she does best — baking — because her dad taught her everything she knows. But when tasting her creations causes a deep stabbing pain in her abdomen, she tries to power through and be strong in the same way she powers through her emotional pain.

Lucky for Tess, her baking skills attract the right kind of attention, and she assembles a ragtag team to taste her new creations in preparation for the Jubilee Flour Junior Baker West Coast competition. This is a chance to redeem herself and prove that she’s a star baker. Above all, Tess is desperate to win first place and make her dad proud.

But leading up to the competition, Tess’s pain gets worse and worse, and, soon, she finds that she’s avoiding so many foods that she’s barely eating. When the physical pain becomes too great, Tess will be forced to confront everything she has been trying so desperately to hide.

Kyra, Just for Today by Sara Zarr. 320 pp. March 5. kyra just for today

Krya has always felt like she’s a bit too much. Too tall, too loud, and too earnest. But she’s okay with that. Ever since her mom got sober five years ago, she and Kyra have always been there for each other—something Kyra is thankful for every week when she attends her group meetings with other kids of alcoholics.

Then seventh grade starts, and everything Kyra used to be able to count on feels unsure. Kyra’s best friend, Lu, is hanging out with eighth graders, and Mom is unusually distant. When Mom starts missing work, sleeping in, and forgetting things, Kyra doesn’t dare say “relapse.” But not saying that word means not saying anything at all—to Lu or to her support group. And when Kyra suspects that her worst fears might be real, she starts to question whether being just enough is not enough at all.

Mani Semilla Finds Her Quetzal Voice by Anna Lapera. 336 pp. March 5.

mani semillaTwelve-year-old, Chinese-Filipino-American-Guatemalan Manuela “Mani” Semilla wants two things. To get her period and to thwart her mom’s plan of taking her to Guatemala on her thirteenth birthday. If her mom’s always going on about how dangerous it is in Guatemala, and how much she sacrificed to come to this country, then why should Mani even want to visit?

But one day, up in the attic, she finds secret letters between her mom and her Tía Beatriz, who, according to family lore, died in a bus crash before Mani was born. But the letters reveal a different story. Why did her family really leave Guatemala? What will Mani learn about herself along the way? And how can the letters help her to stand up against the culture of harassment at her school?

Maya Plays the Part by Calyssa Erb. 240 pp. March 5. maya plays the part

Maya lives and breathes musicals. When her chance to finally be a part of the summer musical program at the community theater comes up, Maya is convinced she will get the lead. After all, who knows The Drowsy Chaperone better than she does? However, things don’t turn out exactly the way she’s planned, and the summer turns out to be jam-packed with problems: dealing with her best friend’s move, her parents’ busy jobs, and―since her autism diagnosis―the ongoing puzzle of how to be Maya in Public. But perhaps most important of all, Maya has to figure out how to play the part that truly feels like her own.

Paper Dragons: The Fight for the Hidden Realm by Siobhan McDermott. 384 pp. March 5.

paper dragonsAn outsider in her village above the cloud sea, 12-year-old orphan Yeung Zhi Ging’s only hope of escape is to win the single invitation to train as a Silhouette: an apprentice to the immortals. After her ill-fated attempt to impress the Silhouette scout leads to a dragon attack, Zhi Ging is sure her chances are over. But the scout spots her potential and offers her protection and a second chance. She’s in.

In her lessons in the underwater realm of the immortals, Zhi Ging faces challenging trials to prove she’s worthy—despite her rivals’ attempts to sabotage her. But as Zhi Ging’s power grows, so do the rumors of the return of the Fui Gwai, an evil spirit that turns people into grey-eyed thralls. Can Zhi Ging use her newly uncovered talents to save her friends and the world beyond? Or will the grey-eyed spirit consume them all?


Penny Draws a Secret Adventure by Sara Shepard. 240 pp. March 5. penny draws a secret adventure

Little by little, Penny Lowry is making it through the fifth grade with help from her friends as well as her lovable dog Cosmo. But there’s a lot of change to deal with this year. Penny’s newborn twin brother and sister have everyone in her family on their last nerve with their crying. Her friends Maria and Chloe are spending a lot of time together without inviting Penny along, leaving her to worry why. Then, on top of everything else, Penny and her friends discover a very old map in her attic that sends them on a wild scavenger hunt in search of treasure! Can Penny get her worries about her friends and family under control, and lead her group of friends to find the hidden treasure?

Summer at Squee by Andrea Wang. 320 pp. March 5.

summer at squeePhoenny Fang plans to have the best summer ever. This year she’s a senior camper at Summertime Chinese Culture, Wellness, and Enrichment Experience. That means she and her squad of friends will have the most influence. It almost doesn’t matter that her brother is a CIT (counselor-in-training) and that her mom and auntie are the camp directors.

But the day Phoenny arrives, she learns the Squad has been split up, and there’s an influx of new campers. Determined to be welcoming and share all the things she loves about camp, Phoenny quickly learns how out of touch she is with others’ experiences. Particularly of the campers who are adoptees. The same things that make her feel connected to her culture and community make some of the other campers feel excluded.

Summer at Squee turns out to be even more transformative than Phoenny could’ve imagined, with new friendships, her first crush, an epic show, and a bigger love for and understanding of her community.

Next Stop: A Graphic Novel by Debbie Fong. 272 pp. March 19. next stop

Pia is a soft-spoken middle schooler whose life is turned upside down after both the loss of her younger brother and her parents’ decision to move to a new town. To get her mind off of the troubles at home, Pia goes on a bus tour with a family friend, stopping at weird and wacky roadside attractions. The final destination: a mysterious underground lake. The locals say it has magical powers. Pia won’t admit she believes in it, but she’s holding on to hope that the waters may hold the answer to mending her broken family.


The Circuit: Graphic Novel by Francisco Jiménez. Illustrated by Celia Jacobs. 240 pp. March 26.

the circuitPoignantly told from a young boy’s perspective, The Circuit centers on a Mexican family working in California’s fields. It portrays an honest and evocative account of a family’s journey from Mexico to the fields of California and to a life of backbreaking work and constant household moves. The story is told through the eyes of a boy who longs for education and the right to call one place home.

A popular choice for community reads, as well as school curricula and curriculum adoptions. Francisco Jiménez’s award-winning memoir is brought to life in Celia Jacob’s beautiful and resonant artwork and is a powerful story of survival, faith, and hope.

Olivetti by Allie Millington. 256 pp. March 26. olivetti

Being a typewriter is not as easy as it looks. Surrounded by books and recently replaced by a computer, Olivetti has been forgotten by the Brindle family―the family he’s lived with for years. The Brindles are busy humans. But 12-year-old Ernest would rather be left alone with his collection of Oxford English Dictionaries. The least they could do is remember Olivetti since he remembers every word they’ve typed on him. It’s a thankless job, keeping memories alive.

Olivetti gets a rare glimpse of action from Ernest’s mom, Beatrice, only for her to drop him off at Heartland Pawn Shop. When Olivetti learns Beatrice has mysteriously gone missing afterward, he believes he can help find her. He breaks the only rule of the “typewriterly code” and types back to Ernest, divulging Beatrice’s memories stored inside him.

Their search takes them across San Francisco―chasing clues, maybe committing a few misdemeanors. As Olivetti spills out the past, Ernest is forced to face what he and his family have been running from: The Everything That Happened. Only by working together will they find Beatrice and the parts of themselves they’ve lost.

Here are even more ideas for a new March read.

March 2024 bookshelf

Meet Literary Agent Michaela Whatnall

Michaela Whatnall, Literary Agent

Michaela Whatnall, Literary Agent

I’m excited to introduce you to literary agent Michaela Whatnall. You’re going to love getting to know them!

Michaela Whatnall joined Dystel, Goderich & Bourret in 2019 in the agency’s West Coast office. They graduated from Emory University with a degree in English and linguistics, completed the Columbia Publishing Course, and in 2023, they were selected as a Publishers Weekly Star Watch Honoree. 

Michaela’s background in school and library marketing accounts for their strong interest in children’s literature, particularly contemporary middle grade and young adult fiction of all genres. In the adult fiction space, they are particularly seeking contemporary, speculative, and historical upmarket fiction, as well as character-driven, grounded fantasy. They are also open to select narrative nonfiction for both children and adults, graphic novels, and picture books.

I know you’re ready to learn more about Michaela, so let’s get started with the interview.


SK: Michaela, tell us a little about your agency.


MW: Dystel, Goderich & Bourret was founded in 1994 and is based in New York, though I work out of our West Coast office. We are a mid-size agency full of fantastic agents who represent books across practically every genre, with a focus on helping our clients build their careers long-term. I feel very lucky to work here!


SK: What was your path to becoming an agent?


MW: I always knew that I wanted to work with books, and from my very first internship in the publishing industry, I had an inkling that working as an agent would be the best fit for me. That said, I had a bit of a roundabout path to getting here—after a number of internships, my first job was in school and library marketing, which turned out to be a fantastic introduction to the industry and also solidified my passion for children’s books.

During my three years working on the marketing side, I continued to build up my experience in other areas, from writing reader reports for a literary agency to writing monthly reviews of forthcoming kid’s books for an industry publication. That meant that when the right opportunity opened up at DG&B, I felt very prepared to dive in.


SK: What are the best and worst parts of being an agent?


MW: There are so many good parts that it’s hard for me to choose! I think my very favorite part of my job is having editorial conversations with my clients—I truly love the process of reading their work, getting my thoughts and notes together, and then talking with them about potential routes for revision. There’s something special about the creative energy during those calls and the amazing moments of discovery that can happen that really sustains me.

The worst part of being an agent, at least for me, is probably the fact that in this role, you will never feel 100% “caught up” on your work. There is simply never an end to your reading pile—as quickly as you’re able to move through it, more gets added at the exact same time, so you can never experience that feeling of being totally up to date on work (which is a feeling I crave, as a devotee of time management and checklists!).


SK: What do you look for in a query?


MW: The number one thing I look for in a query is specificity. What makes this story different from others in its category? At the exact same time, I’m also looking to see that the writer understands how their book fits into the currently publishing landscape. My favorite queries come from writers who are well-read in their category, who understand where their book will fit on the shelves (this can be communicated through comp titles), as well as what unique angle/perspective their book brings that is providing something fresh and new.


SK: What are the top reasons you pass on a submission?


MW: There are many reasons I might pass on a submission—first and foremost, most of my passes are simply because a project is not the perfect fit for me, which is an incredibly subjective thing. It’s a reality of the industry that agents have to be selective, because there’s just not enough time in the day to take on as many clients as we wish we could. With this in mind, I encourage writers to keep querying widely—a book that’s not the right fit for me could be absolutely perfect for someone else (and vice versa!).


SK: Here at the Mixed-Up Files, we’re all about middle grade. What do you love most about middle-grade novels?


MW: I love that middle grade novels are instrumental in creating life-long readers. For so many of us, middle grade books are what made us first fall in love with reading, and I feel so lucky that I get to be a part of bringing new middle grade books into the world that will find brand new readers. I still remember my days of returning again and again to the bookstore and the library, and the extreme excitement of emerging with fresh stories that I couldn’t wait to devour (shoutout to the Pony Pals series, one of the first to truly hook me!). Middle grade writers are the ones creating that experience for kids.


SK: Which middle-grade book(s) influenced you most as a child?


MW: One of my very favorite books as a kid was Absolutely Normal Chaos by Sharon Creech, and I still have so much affection for it. It has a really fun premise—it’s about a girl named Mary Lou who has been assigned by her teacher to keep a journal over the summer, and her journal gets very personal very quickly (it even opens with a note to her teacher imploring them not to read it!). The journal chronicles her life in a large and hectic family (something I strongly related to!), her thoughts as she reads The Odyssey for the first time (which inspired me to read The Odyssey as a kid), and all the wacky adventures she gets up to over the summer. There’s something so relatable and engaging about Mary Lou’s sarcastic sense of humor, and I reread that book many times.


SK: What are some of your favorite current middle-grade novels?


MW: A more recent middle grade novel that I loved was The Line Tender by Kate Allen (full disclosure, Kate is represented by my colleague Michael Bourret!). It deals incredibly thoughtfully with the topics of loss and grief, and follows a girl named Lucy, who is grappling with life after the death of her mother. The book perfectly balances both sorrow and hope, and it moved me deeply.


SK: What is your best guess on where the middle-grade market is headed?


MW: Ooh, this is a tough one. The market is having a tricky moment, but middle grade as a category is evergreen, and agents and editors are going to continue to champion these books. I’m not sure that I’m able to make a strong guess about where we’re headed, but I will say that now more than ever, something that helps a book find its footing is identifying a strong hook that sets it apart.


SK: Which genres/themes/subjects are you drawn to / not drawn to?


MW: In middle grade, the books I’m most drawn to are the ones that I might have worked on in my school and library marketing days. This means that I like books that could find a good home in classrooms and libraries because they grapple with interesting themes and can spark a discussion with kids after they’ve read it. This could mean a book dealing with a real-world issue that kids face, or it could mean a super fun fantasy or adventure book that manages to weave in themes relevant to kids’ lives. Across the board, I like specificity—subject matter that’s relatable to kids, but that I haven’t seen on the page before.


SK: Are there any current projects you’re excited about?


MW: A good example of the kind of books I look for and something that I’m very excited about is my client Jasminne Paulino’s recently announced book, The Extraordinary Orbit of Alex Ramirez, which is coming from Putnam next year. It’s about a boy who attends school in a self-contained classroom and yearns to attend mainstream science class, and it dives into his relationships with his family, friends, teachers, and bullies as he learns how to advocate for himself. Before reading Jasminne’s book, I had never read a story about a student in a self-contained classroom, so it immediately caught my attention. From there, the execution of the manuscript made me fall in love. Jasminne is a poet, and her free verse style, which smoothly incorporates Spanish to reflect Alex’s bilingual upbringing, really makes this story stand out.


SK: What advice do you have for authors who would like to send you a query?


MW: If you feel we might be a match, please do try me—I’m eagerly seeking more middle grade right now! I know that querying can be an intimidating, slow, and often stressful process, but something I like to tell writers is that on the other side of the screen, I am a reader eager for a good story, so I’m excited to receive and read your query. Looking through queries is one of my favorite parts of my job because I always have that feeling that the next story I’ll fall in love with could be just a click away!


SK: Okay, we’ve learned so much about you as an agent. What are your favorite things to do that have nothing to do with being an agent?


MW: I’m a big theater fan, so I love attending shows, especially musicals. I’m also lucky to have very creative friends, so I often find myself swept up in helping to make all kinds of projects, like short films and narrative podcasts. I adore story in all its forms, so one of my favorite things is exploring the storytelling possibilities of different mediums. In my downtime I love cuddling with my two cats and settling into a cozy armchair with a good book or podcast and a warm mug of tea.


SK: I know that so many Mixed-Up Filers are going to want to connect with you. Where can authors learn more about you? 



Agency website: 


Instagram (where I’m most active): 



SK: Before we close, let’s have a little fun with favorites! What is your favorite…


Dessert? Key Lime Pie

Type of weather? A complete tie between a perfect sunny day and a cozy drizzly one

Genre of music? A chaotic mix of showtunes and alternative/indie folk

Season? Summer

Game? Stardew Valley


Thanks, Michaela, for a great discussion and a lot of fun facts. Mixed-Up Filers have definitely become your fans!