Author Interviews

Naked Mole Rat Saves the World by Karen Rivers

Ever read the title of a book and know instantly that you must find out more about the story?

When I first saw the title of our next spotlight, I couldn’t help being filled with all sorts of questions. What’s up with this mole rat? Why did the day have to be saved? And how does he do it?

And wait! A mole rat?

Haha! I know. I’m being a little overly dramatic, but this goes to show how much value a title can hold. Let’s meet this mole rat.

Can Kit’s super-weird superpower save her world?

Kit-with-a-small-k is navigating middle school with a really big, really strange secret: When she’s stressed, she turns into a naked mole rat.

It first happened after kit watched her best friend, Clem, fall and get hurt during an acrobatic performance on TV. Since then, the transformations keep happening—whether kit wants them to or not. Kit can’t tell Clem about it, because after the fall, Clem just hasn’t been herself. She’s sad and mad and gloomy, and keeping a secret of her own: the real reason she fell.

A year after the accident, kit and Clem still haven’t figured out how to deal with all the ways they have transformed—both inside and out. When their secrets come between them, the best friends get into a big fight. Somehow, kit has to save the day, but she doesn’t believe she can be that kind of hero. Turning into a naked mole rat isn’t really a superpower. Or is it?

“A warm coming-of-age story populated with a cast of memorable characters.”
—Kirkus Reviews

The book releases on October 15, 2019 by Algonquin.


It’s wonderful to have you visit us here again, Karen. Welcome!

Kit is such an intriguing and endearing character. What characteristics did you know you had to include within her?

Kit, like most of my characters, came to me fully formed as herself, right from the beginning. I knew she had to be stronger than she knew, but I also knew that she was going to have occasionally overwhelming anxiety herself, that would be secondary (in her mind) to her mum’s more paralyzing version. I also wanted her to be brave, in particular brave to be herself, even when others might think it’s “weird” (to rollerskate, to believe in magic, to tie ribbons to trees in the park, to blow bubbles). And I knew she would be funny, of course.

Just hearing you describe her in your own words makes me like her even more.

We all know how important it is for young readers to relate to the characters they read. How will young readers relate to Kit?

I think a lot of kids around the age that kit is in the book are on the cusp of young adulthood, while also still wanting to stay kids. Kit very much wants to hold on to her kid-like qualities. I know some kids like this, who feel like they are being left behind because their friends are more like teenagers already, even when they aren’t quite ready.

That’s a very important reality during the transformation between tween and teen, and it’s not talked about enough. Glad you’ve mentioned it here. What is your favorite part of the world you’ve created for Kit and why?

I love the magic more than anything — all of it, from the literal to the metaphorical. I also love the way both kit and Clem find their power in surprising ways. Both of them are exploring the scarier, darker sides of their realities in these brave and surprising ways.

Was there anything about Kit that surprised you?

When I started writing, I didn’t realize that sometimes she was going to be angry or that she was going to show her anger on the page, that she could be unforgiving. I happen to have a twelve year old of my own now (although she was younger when I was writing this story) and this ability to flip back and forth between joy and fury turns out to be very real. It felt true on the page, too, but I hadn’t necessarily anticipated it.

Would you have been friends with Kit as a middle schooler?

Oh, definitely. She’s kind and fierce and funny and loyal AND she roller skates!

She definitely sounds like fun! What’s the most important element from this story you hope readers take with them once they’ve finished the book?

That everyone has something going on beyond the version of themselves that they present and that you see at school. You don’t have to scratch the surface very deeply to realize that we all have many, many layers. You never know what someone else is going through, and you definitely can easily underestimate what they are capable of if you forget to look beyond their outward appearance. And of course it’s also a book about forgiveness, about acknowledging that not everyone always does the right thing.

Another hidden truth during those middle grade years. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about Kit and Clem’s story and for helping young readers explore who they are through them. All the best from your Mixed-Up Files family . . .

Karen Rivers’s books have been nominated for a wide range of literary awards and have been published in multiple languages. When she’s not writing, reading, or visiting schools, she can usu­ally be found hiking in the forest that flourishes behind her tiny old house in Victoria, British Columbia, where she lives with her two kids, two dogs, and two birds.

Find her online at and on Twitter: @karenrivers.


LGBTQ+ History Month: Interview with Sarah Prager

Not only is October LGBTQ+ History Month, but October 11 is National Coming Out Day.

To mark these two events today, we’re featuring Sarah Prager, author of the award-winning Queer, There, and Everywhere: 23 People Who Changed the World (2017), illustrated by Zoe More O’Ferrall, as well as her forthcoming book, Rainbow Revolutionaries: 50 LGBTQ+ People Who Made History (2020, illustrated by Sarah Papworth). Sarah has also developed the Quist mobile app (, a free resource that teaches LGBTQ+ history in youth-friendly ways.


Let’s welcome Sarah to the Mixed-Up Files blog today to discuss a topic that’s important to her.

Hi, Sarah! We’re celebrating LGBTQ+ History Month, so your books are the perfect lead-in to this topic. Can you tell us a bit about this celebration and how it ties to your books?

LGBTQ+ History Month has been celebrated in the U.S. every October for 25 years, and we owe its foundation to a high school teacher. LGBTQ+ history education has the power to save and improve lives, and I’ve loved being an educator on it for the last six years. Rainbow Revolutionaries: 50 LGBTQ+ People Who Made History is an illustrated collection of biographies that celebrate some of the most amazing folks our history books forgot to mention.

What made you choose this topic?

When I came out at the age of 14, I found a sense of community in teaching myself about my LGBTQ+ ancestors. Figures like Sappho let me know that I wasn’t alone and that I wasn’t the first one to feel this way. That was incredibly powerful for me, and I wanted to bring that same representation to the next generation. Of course, this topic is important not just for LGBTQ+ youth but for everyone of all identities to understand that LGBTQ+ people have always been here, are not some fad, and have shaped the world as we know it.

What historical periods will your forthcoming book, Rainbow Revolutionaries, address?

This book has stories from as early as the 300s BC! We go all the way up through the present day, featuring people from ancient China (200s BC Han Dynasty), al-Andalus (Muslim-ruled Spain in the 900s), turn-of-the-century Paris, the U.S. civil rights movement, and the Soviet Union. All in all, there are ten different centuries represented.

Who are some of the people you researched and what did you discover about them?

It was hard to narrow it down to the fifty who ended up being featured, but the ones who made the cut all have gripping stories. There’s Chevaliere d’Eon (1728-1810, France), the spy who transitioned while serving abroad; there’s Frieda Belinfante (1904-1995, the Netherlands), the lesbian who forged identity documents for Jews during World War II; and there’s Navtej Johar (1959-present, India), the gay Bharatanatyam dancer who brought a case against the Indian Supreme Court to decrimanalize homosexuality…and won!

What was the most interesting or surprising fact you found?

One story I had never heard of before researching this book was about Maryam Khatoon Molkara (1950-2012, Iran). In 1987, she single-handedly got a powerful ayatollah to publicly approve of gender affirmation surgery for trans people!

Can you share a favorite anecdote?

Sylvia Rivera (1951-2002, U.S.) and Marsha P. Johnson (1945-1992, U.S.) have always been favorite LGBTQ+ historical figures for me. Sylvia had this “I’m gonna say it even if you’re uncomfortable hearing it” attitude that is so admirable and Marsha was known for being incredibly kind to everyone who came across her path. They were best friends and together created a movement against all odds. They both experienced a lot of violence and oppression (including from within the gay community) but they persevered.

How have views of LGBTQ+ identity changed over time?

A common misconception is that we’ve gone in a straight (no pun intended) line from hate and discrimination for centuries towards the fight for liberation in the last 50 years. Actually, there was an incredible diversity of queerness around the world, oftentimes accepted and celebrated and normalized, for centuries before the arrival of European invaders. It was the colonial era that made worldwide hatred of queerness the norm. Apart from that influence, we see societies with three or more genders or with bisexuality as the norm, as a couple examples. Every time and place has had totally different ways of understanding and labeling what we’d today call LGBTQ+ identities, way too many to name. While words like “gay” and “trans” are new, the concepts are not.

Why is this topic important for middle graders?

This topic is important for all ages, but I think middle graders are in a place where they are ready to start re-examining what they learned in elementary school, like was Christopher Columbus really as heroic as they were told. They’re also becoming ready to look at historical figures as real people who had full lives including crushes and dates and questioning themselves. I think it is the perfect time to introduce a book like this that may complicate the way they look at history.

Thank you for being with us. We appreciate sharing your insights, and we’re looking forward to your new release.

Blurb for Rainbow Revolutionaries

Take a journey through the lives of fifty revolutionary queer figures who made history in this groundbreaking illustrated biography collection from the author of Queer, There, and Everywhere.

Did you ever wonder who invented the computer? Or who advised Martin Luther King Jr. on his nonviolent activism?

Author Sarah Prager and illustrator Sarah Papworth bring to life the vibrant histories of fifty pioneering LGBTQ+ people our history books forgot to mention. Delve into the lives of Wen of Han, a Chinese emperor who loved his boyfriend as much as his people; Martine Rothblatt, a trans woman who’s helping engineer the robots of tomorrow; and so many more.

From athletes (Billie Jean King) to doctors (Magnus Hirschfeld) and activists (Marsha P. Johnson) to painters (Frida Kahlo), LGBTQ+ people have made their mark on every century of human existence. This book is a celebration of the many ways these hidden heroes have made a difference and will inspire young readers to make a difference, too.

About Sarah Prager

Sarah Prager is the author of Queer, There, and Everywhere: 23 People Who Changed the World (2017, YA, HarperCollins) and the forthcoming Rainbow Revolutionaries: 50 LGBTQ+ People Who Made History (2020, MG, HarperCollins). Queer, There, and Everywhere received numerous accolades including three starred reviews and being named a 2017 Best Book for Teens by New York Public Library and Chicago Public Library. Prager also created the Quist mobile app in 2013, a free resource that teaches LGBTQ+ history to thousands around the world ( Her writing has been published in The Atlantic, HuffPost, and many other publications, and she has spoken to over 125 audiences across five countries on the topic of LGBTQ+ history. Prager lives in Massachusetts with her wife and their two young children.

Connect with Sarah:

Interview with Kirk Scroggs, Author of The Secret Spiral of Swamp Kid

Hello Mixed-Up Filers!

We are in for a treat today! I can’t even begin to tell you how excited I was for this interview. As some of you know, I’m a huge comic fan, and Swamp-Thing, in particular, has always been among my favorites. So, when I found out that I was going to get to interview Kirk Scroggs, author of a new adaptation of Swamp Thing geared toward Middle Grade readers, I was absolutely thrilled.


JR: Hi, Kirk and thanks for joining us today.


JR: Before we begin, can you tell us a little bit about the DC’s middle grade books and The Secret Spiral of Swamp Kid?

KS: DC’s middle grade graphic novels are meant to introduce kids to graphic novels and their iconic characters. I have to give them credit for approaching writers from all genres and age groups and encouraging them to think outside the box right off the bat. With The Secret Spiral of Swamp Kid, I pushed it a little further and said “What if I did a graphic novel that’s also diary fiction with a hefty dose of chapter books thrown in?” It’s designed to look like a real kid’s spiral who’s been spilling his guts onto the page and doodling a lot of monsters when he should be paying attention in class. In the process of reading his thoughts and doodles, we learn a lot about an outcast kid just trying to make through middle school while realizing his own budding superpowers and saving his school from dark forces at the same time.

JR: I love the idea of these iconic superheroes as kids. With yours, after I finally managed to wrest it away from my kids, I devoured it. I’m a huuuuuge Swamp Thing fan and loved what you did with the story. So, it seems like DC gave you the freedom to explore any story you wanted?

KS: I am so thrilled you liked it! It sure was fun to play around in DC’s sandbox of great characters. They presented the opportunity as a list of heroes/villains they were interested in developing with no limits on what we could do with them, as long as it was for young readers. There were maybe fifteen characters on that list and, honestly, once I saw Swamp Thing on there, all I could see was green. I whipped up a fake cover and the first four pages, complete with a spiral notebook background I had scanned. My first stab at it was called Swamp Teen. They loved it but quickly reminded me of the age group. So, Swamp Kid was born!


JR: You’re also involved with another huge cultural franchise, The Muppets. How has that experience been, and seriously, what’s Kermit like behind the scenes? I mean, nobody is THAT nice.


KS: That whole experience seemed like a dream. My biggest influence might well have been Jim Henson so getting the opportunity to write some bad puns and silly gags for those characters was like winning the lottery. And Kermit— what is it with me and Swamp Creatures? I’m still waiting to catch the real Kermit in the act. He seems so perfect. There’s gotta be a little diva under that felt facade, but I never saw it.


 JR: I read that you love monsters. We’re kindred spirits that way. What was the first one you remember loving and also which are some of your favorites?

KS: As a kid, I loved anything monsters. Ghostbusters, Gremlins, Monster Squad. Every day was Halloween in my brain. I vividly remember seeing King Kong in the theater at far too young of an age, and during the scene where the giant snake attacks Kong on Skull Island the bulb in the projector went out so we could just hear the battle happening. I remember being outraged, and terrified. King Kong and Swamp Thing, and certainly Frankenstein, have that tragic quality to them. They are sympathetic and misunderstood under all the fur and moss and nuts and bolts.

JR: You named a lot of my favorites! Can you tell us a little bit about your writing journey getting to this point? 

KS: I got lucky with getting an agent a while back. I had written a little tale called Dracula Vs. Grampa which became the first entry in Wiley and Grampa’s Creature Features. It was a long road to getting the first one published, but I’ve been very fortunate to always get to do my own illustrations. I’ve been building up quite a catalog of monsters and madness ever since. Little Brown Books really believed in me and now DC.


 JR: That’s fantastic! Can you also tell us a little bit about what your writing process is like?

KS: It really is like Swamp Kid’s journals. I sit down, sometimes on the floor with a spiral or just some blank white paper and start doodling. Sometimes I even cut and paste with actual scissors and scotch tape. Once I’ve got a good game plan I move to the digital world and whip up a rough draft that I send to my amazing editor, who then mercilessly slashes it to ribbons!


JR: What was your favorite childhood book?

KS: Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends is still unbeatable in my book. Those scrappy little drawings he did for it and the level of humor at work.

JR: What’s your favorite movie?

KS: Jaws is my favorite movie and that’s the complete opposite of a sympathetic monster!


JR: That’s required once-a-year viewing in my house. Something people would be surprised to learn about you?

KS: I was a classically trained tenor in Milan where I played the role of Othello. Just kidding! That’s a tough one. I actually didn’t read a lot of superhero comics as a kid except for Swamp Thing. Mad Magazine was my thing and I loved spooky comics. Tales from the Crypt, Weird War Tales, Creepshow.


JR: Also a fun movie! What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve received and is there any you can give to writers looking to break in?

KS: I can’t remember who said it, but it was don’t write for kids, write as a kid. It works out for me because I have the brain of an eighth-grader! As for breaking in, my advice is to be yourself and show us something new. Even if you’re doing a spin on a classic character, maybe one with a lot of moss hanging from him, do something fresh and original. Give us a couple of scenes that pull the rug out from under us or leave us thinking.


JR: That’s great advice! What are you working on next?

KS: I’m currently in the early stages of another DC project! I’m hoping to use a similar format and I’m guaranteeing multiple monsters.


JR: Multiple monsters works for me! How can people follow you on social media?

Check out I’m on something called Instagram and Twitter too. And the face book of course.


JR: I’d like to thank you once again for joining us today!

KS: Thank you, Jonathan! It was a treat!


Well, that’s it for now. So, until next time, thanks for reading!