Monsters, Marvels, and Middle Grade with Alysa Wishingrad

graphic showing The Verdigris Pawn and Between Monsters and Marvels book covers









I first met Alysa Wishingrad on Clubhouse. If you’re not familiar with the app, just know at one point it had become a haven for writers seeking community with like-minded scribes—however short-lived. Alysa and I would meet up with a few others and have writing sprints and I recall being so excited to one day read Between Monsters and Marvels. This middle-grade fantasy comes out on September 12, but dear friends, NetGalley has finally started to show me some love, and amongst the ARCs (advanced readers copies) that I basked in this summer, was Alysa’s lovely, second middle-grade novel. Between Monsters and Marvels blew me away.

I had the true pleasure of interviewing Alysa about this treasure of a story, her writing process, and all things Dare—the gritty main character that readers will fall in love with. Read on below.

Let’s start with some questions for the writers out there researching MG books!


“The coarseness of our weave scratches their more refined sensibilities, but our thicker fibers make us more durable.”  When you write delicious lines like these, are they the result of revisions or do they pour out of your head during your drafting process? So much of the writing in Between Monsters and Marvels is lyrical and visual. I guess what I’m really asking is, how do you do it? What does your writing process look like?


Ines, thank you so much for having me, I’m so happy to be chatting with you!

I tend to say that my process is kind of sloppy because I’m not a traditional outliner, I don’t use notecards or have a big whiteboard. But there is a logic and system at work, it’s just very slow. I have to let ideas stew in the back of my head for a good long time until I can begin to see the world in my mind’s eye — I need to be able to see it like a movie. I am an acolyte of paper and pencil so as soon as I begin to get the first whiffs of an idea I start a notebook and get to jotting down ideas and questions. Lots of questions. Who are they? What do they want? Why do they want it? Why are they where they are, and what forces had to coalesce to get them there? I push myself to try to look around corners and really search for the hidden truths hiding out of sight so I can learn as much about my characters, their world, and the problems they’re facing as I can.

Then eventually the writing begins, and I start playing around to try and find the voice. That’s the key for me- once I find the voice then I can begin in earnest. On those days when I’m in the voice, words flow. But by flow, I do not mean they rush out of me. I am a pretty slow, line-level drafter, and will work out a moment until it’s just the right set piece. BUT, and this is the important part, just because a line or beat sets me up to find the rest of the scene or chapter, that doesn’t mean it ultimately stays in. I used to think being able to string together a pretty line was the key to good writing. Silly me, pretty lines are all fine and well, but they have to hit at the heart of the tale you’re weaving.

Finally, my process on both THE VERDIGRIS PAWN and BETWEEN MONSTERS AND MARVELS involved chucking either a completed (and sold) draft, or large swaths and beginning again from the blank page. I’ve done all the hard work at this point, I know the arc, the world, and my MC, so now I have the knowledge and the freedom to roll the story out the right way.


It’s so easy to lose oneself in Between Monsters and Marvels and feel like you’re running right alongside Dare in the Must or on the shores of Barrow’s Bay. What is your favorite piece of advice for middle-grade fans who want to write stories like yours, with such deep world-building and character development?


That’s very nice of you, Ines! I’d say take your time! Ask lots of questions. Interrogate your choices, ask yourself why you’ve made the choices you’ve made. Don’t settle for, “that works.” Push yourself beyond your first, second, or even your third idea.

Just as it takes time to get to know a new person in your life, getting to know a character or your world, is about seeing through all the layers. I try to look at my characters from many different angles and put them through a kind of stress test. How would they respond in any given set of circumstances? And is how they respond how they’d want to? Do they understand how others perceive them? Do they like it? Do they even care? How do they want to be seen, and why is that so important to them?

It’s one thing for me to understand a character by their outward persona— how they present themselves to the world. But they truly begin to come to life when I dig to find out what lies behind the mask. What stories are they telling themselves about themselves?

As far as world-building, I say consider everything – how does the society function, what’s its history, how did it come to look the way it does now. While so much of this work might never wind up on the page, having a full and complete understanding of your world’s geography, history, belief system, etc., helps bring a place to life. And do your research, but unless you’re writing straight historical, I’d say don’t do too much so that you feel hemmed in by it.


For the writers wishing to write in the third person, how did you manage to make us feel so very much in the head of Dare? The narrator’s voice, though third, allows us to feel Dare’s humor, her curious mind, and her perspective.


Third is tricky, but it’s my favorite POV to both write and read. John Gardner’s writings on psychic distance were incredibly helpful to me. The way he talks about the lens zooming in and out just made it click— there’s that visual, movie brain again.

But it was mentor texts— reading and studying how other authors have drawn us in through close third— that were my best teachers. My copies of Laurie Halse Anderson’s middle grades are marked up in a sea of yellow highlighters! The power of her observations just always makes me feel like I am living in the skin of her characters.

Fundamentally though, I think the key goes back to truly understanding your character, knowing not only what they like or don’t like, what they want or don’t want, but how they see the world. It’s really like positioning yourself behind their eyes and experiencing life as they do. I often think of that alien that controls Vince D’Onofrio’s character in the first Men In Black!

On making connections with young MG readers.


Dare is described as wild, tough, and gritty. But she’s also very sweet and thoughtful, and I get the impression that as much as she seems to not want to belong in Barrow’s Bay, deep down she yearns for that belonging or acceptance. For example, when she vows to be more like her father, invisible, rather than be herself.

How were you hoping children would connect with Dare, how she sees herself, and her place in her world?


We all feel like outsiders at some point, whether we admit it or not, and we all have different coping mechanisms. Some of us do everything we can to try to fit in, squeeze ourselves into a mold that winds up stifling us. Others rebel and dare people to try and get close. But deep inside we all just want to be seen for who we are.

Dare refers to all her points and angles (her opinions, intelligence, and her innate ability to see past the illusions people weave) as her awful. And when we meet her, she fairly revels in getting a rise out of people. Then, as she begins to worry about her father, she tries to make a deal with the stars at night to save him –she promises to try to fit in, to hide her awful. But through the course of her story, she begins to understand it’s those very points and angles that made her stick out like a rose among the lilies that are her greatest strengths.

That’s what I hope readers of all ages take away from my Dare— those things we think of as our faults and foibles are our superpowers, it’s up to us to learn how to use them.

Book reccos à la Alysa!


Can you give us a list of your favorite middle-grade books? From when you were in middle school and from today, what books have inspired you?


Oh yes, this is my favorite part!

Growing up some of my most favorites were: Charlotte’s Web [still can’t think of that story without wanting to cry], A Wrinkle in Time, The Phantom Tollbooth, The Borrowers, so many of the Roald Dahl stories, and The Chronicles of Prydain. But I also read a whole lot of books that I’d pull off my parent’s shelves. I’m sure 97% that what I read at the time went right over my head, but they pushed me to consider views of the world I would not otherwise have. John Updike’s Rabbit series was a favorite when I was 12. It makes little sense. What does a 12 year-old girl have in common with a man having a midlife crisis? Well, a lot it turns out. We all face a kind of existential angst at different ages.

Some of my recent faves include:

  • The Troubled Girls of Dragomire Academy by Anne Ursu
  • Freewater by Amina Luqman-Dawson
  • Hana Hsu and the Ghost Crab Nation by Sylvia Liu
  • The Skull by Jon Klassen
  • The Plentiful Darkness by Heather Kassner
  • Adia Kelbara and The Circle of Shamans by Isi Hendrix, coming out Sept 19th!

Speaking of Inspiration…


The setting is so clearly detailed that it’s easy for any reader to dive into the pages and travel through them to get to Dare’s world. Is there a real place that inspired the fictional island of Barrow’s Bay or the mainland (The Must/City on the Pike)?


Barrow’s Bay was directly inspired by Jekyll and Cumberland Islands— both off the coast of Georgia. At the turn of the 20th century, they were exclusively inhabited by the very wealthiest industrialists in the country. Mackinac Island in Michigan, was also a playground for the very wealthy. But the sense of isolation and mystery was inspired by Put-in-Bay in Ohio. I have a friend who grew up there, and her stories of being iced in over the winter and that sense of wilderness absolutely fed my imagination.

City on the Pike was inspired by the countless cities in both the US and the UK that were absolutely overrun and transformed by the rapid growth of factories during the Industrial Revolution. Sadly, the Must is any one of all too many neighborhoods in the cities that were once thriving communities that were ruined by pollution and the nearly inescapable poverty borne of the inequity of the system.


Thank you so much for having me, Ines, it’s been such a pleasure to chat with you!

You can pre-order BETWEEN MONSTERS AND MARVELS from your favorite indie, or from mine, Oblong Books, for signed copies and some MARVELous swag  (


About Alysa Wishingrad

Author Alysa Wishingrad

‌‌Alysa Wishingrad writes fantastical stories for young readers, tales that ask; is the truth really true? Her favorite stories are those that meld the historical with the fantastic, and that find ways to shine a light on both the things that divide and unite us all.

She is the author of Between Monsters and Marvels and The Verdigris Pawn, which was a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection.

Alysa lives in the Hudson Valley with her family, two demanding rescue dogs, and a cat-shaped dog, who is either a monster or a marvel, depending on the day.

You can find her at:

Instagram & Threads @alysawishingradwrites


Twitter @agwishingrad

((If you enjoyed this post, check out this one.))

Fab Fair Middle Grade Finds

I’ve been thinking about their lately. It’s the best end of summer celebration, and it’s a tradition in many states. Here in Minnesota, the fair started today. Some of my favorites are the seed art exhibit in the Agriculture building, thee baby farm animals, the arts and crafts, and the Alphabet Forest (a little reading refuge for kids who love books and the authors who write them).

So why not read some MG books about the great get-togethers happening all over the states? Here are a few finds to inspire your novel’s next fair scene or just to enjoy as you get ready to visit your state’s fair.


Come See the Fair

by Gabriel Savit

Twelve-year-old orphan Eva Root travels the country pretending to channel spirits at séances. Her audiences swear their loved ones have spoken to them from beyond the grave. This, of course, is impossible.

But one day, Eva experiences another impossibility: she hears a voice in her head telling her to come to the World’s Fair in Chicago. There, she meets a mysterious magician who needs her help to bring magic to life. But as their work progresses, Eva begins to suspect that the project’s goals may not be as noble as they seem. And when tragedy strikes, Eva will have to reach beyond death itself to unravel the mystery of the magician’s plan—before it’s too late.






The Circus at the End of the Sea

by Lori R. Snyder

Maddy Adriana knows that magic is real. All her life, her heart has pulled her towards things too perfect to be ordinary. One day, that tug leads her to a magical street circus, hidden in plain sight among the canals and boardwalks of Venice Beach.

For the first time in Maddy’s life, she finally feels like she belongs. But the circus is in grave danger. Maddy will need to confront the frightening side of magic, as well as her own deepest fears, if she’s to have any hope of saving the place she dreams of calling home.

This unforgettable debut shows readers the magic of following your heart and finding where you belong.






Fair Weather

by Richard Peck

Thirteen-year-old Rosie Beckett has never strayed further from her family’s farm than a horse can pull a cart. Then a letter from her Aunt Euterpe arrives, and everything changes. It’s 1893, the year of the World’s Columbian Exposition-the “wonder of the age”-a.k.a. the Chicago World’s Fair. Aunt Euterpe is inviting the Becketts to come for a visit and go to the fair! Award-winning author Richard Peck’s fresh, realistic, and fun-filled writing truly brings the World’s Fair-and Rosie and her family-to life.






Circus Mirandus

by Cassie Beasley

Even though his awful Great-Aunt Gertrudis doesn’t approve, Micah believes in the stories his dying Grandpa Ephraim tells him of the magical Circus Mirandus: the invisible tiger guarding the gates, the beautiful flying birdwoman, and the magician more powerful than any other–the Man Who Bends Light. Finally, Grandpa Ephraim offers proof. The Circus is real. And the Lightbender owes Ephraim a miracle. With his friend Jenny Mendoza in tow, Micah sets out to find the Circus and the man he believes will save his grandfather.

The only problem is, the Lightbender doesn’t want to keep his promise. And now it’s up to Micah to get the miracle he came for.








August is National Dog Month

August is National Dog Month and as an elementary school librarian, I can tell you these four-legged canines are a BIG deal to young readers. Nonfiction dog books inhabit one full shelf and another three-quarters of a shelf in my library … larger than any other nonfiction section. I say inhabit but the truth is those shelves are always empty, the books instead being tucked away in children’s backpacks to be read at home. Kids love looking at the humorous and endearing photos of these lovable pets and reading fun facts about them.

This same interest extends to fiction. I have read all of the middle-grade books that I am recommending because it’s the only way I can keep up with student requests for “stories about dogs.”  Requests that come as frequently as those for “stories like Harry Potter.”

So embrace National Dog Month by sampling a story full of doggie adventure and perhaps a bit of slobbering and barking. And if you have a dog of your own—as I do—give them a few extra dog biscuits this month.

Bone border

Tango: The Tale of an Island Dog – Eileen Beha, 2009Tango

When Tango’s wealthy owners sail into stormy waters, the little Yorkshire Terrier falls overboard. Lost at sea, he washes up, nearly dead, in a village on Prince Edward Island. A lonely widow nurses him back to health and he becomes friends with a fox and a waif. In his new life, Tango finally learns that sometimes it takes getting lost to find what matters most.

A Dog’s Way Home – Bobbie Pyron, 2011 Dog 2

A car accident strands eleven-year-old Abby and her beloved sheltie, Tam, on opposite sides of the Blue Ridge Parkway. It takes the two of them months filled with physical dangers and emotional challenges to find their way back to each other.

Dog 2A Dog’s Life: The Autobiography of a Stray – Ann M. Martin, 2007

Squirrel, a stray puppy, and her brother Bone begin their lives in a toolshed behind someone’s summer house. Their mother nurtures them and teaches them the many skills they will need to survive as stray dogs. But when the puppies are forced to make their own way in the world, they must face busy highways, not-so-friendly animals, the changing seasons, and humans both gentle and brutal.

One Dog and His Boy – Eva Ibbotson, 2012 Dog 4

All Hal had ever wanted was a dog, but his mother thinks a dog will be too messy and noisy. Then on the morning of Hal’s 10th birthday, the unbelievable happens. He’s allowed to choose a dog at Easy Pets, a rent-a-pet agency. The moment he sees the odd-looking terrier, Hal knows he’s found a friend for life. But no one tells him that Fleck is a rental dog and must be returned. With his friend Pippa, Hal frees Fleck and four other dogs from the rental agency and treks from London to Scotland to his grandparents’ home.

Dog 5Crime Biters!: It’s a Doggy Dog World – Tommy Greenwald, 2016

Bored by the lack of crime in Quietville, Jimmy’s vampire dog Abby chews up his mother’s entire shoe collection. Jimmy’s parents insist on enrolling Abby in obedience training, and the longer it goes on the more “normal” and boring she becomes. But when mysterious things start happening to Jimmy’s lacrosse team, he and his friends (aka the Crime Biters) realize they need to get Abby back to her crime-fighting ways.

Fenway and Hattie – Victoria J. Coe, 2016Dog 6

Fenway is a Jack Russell terrier living in the city with Food Lady, Fetch Man, and his beloved short human, Hattie. But when his family moves to the suburbs, things change. Fenway enjoys the huge Dog Park near his new home, but he’s not happy about the Evil Squirrels that taunt him from the trees, the slippery floor in the Eating Room, and the changes in Hattie. Rather than playing with Fenway, she seems more interested in human friends and playing baseball. The other dogs in the Park say Hattie has outgrown him, but Fenway is going to prove them wrong!

Dog 7Just a Dog – Michael Gerard Bauer, 2012

Mr. Mosely is a special dog. Not just because he’s part Great Dane. Not just because he’s all white except for a heart-shaped splotch on his chest. And not just because he’s super clumsy. He’s special because he seems to know exactly what everyone in Corey’s family needs, even when they don’t know themselves. This is the story of Mr. Mosely, from his puppyhood to the last time he curls up on the back porch. It’s the story of how sometimes a dog isn’t “just a dog”. Sometimes he’s the glue that holds a whole family together.

Kizzy Ann Stamps – Jeri Watts, 2012Dog 8

In 1963, Kizzy Ann Stamps worries about her first year at an integrated school. She worries about the color of her skin, the scar running from her eye to the tip of her smile, and whether anyone at the white school will like her. Shag, her border collie, is her refuge, but obstacles arise even with him. Kizzy Ann knows she and Shag could win the dog trials, but will she—an African American girl—be allowed to enter the herding competition?

Dog 9Mutt’s Promise – Julie Salamon, 2016

Luna is a farm puppy who loves her happy life surrounded by her family and Gilberto, the son of farm workers. But when Gilberto’s family moves away, the new farmer Mr. Thomas doesn’t feel he can take care of all the dogs. He finds new homes for the puppies. But Luna and her brother, Chief, are given to a man who does not have the best of intentions. Hungry and scared, the two puppies take matters into their own paws and find a way to escape.

The One and Only Bob – Katherine Applegate, 2020Dog 10

Return to the unforgettable world of The One and Only Ivan in this incredible sequel, starring Ivan’s canine friend, Bob, who sets out on a dangerous journey in search of his long-lost sister with the help of his two best friends, Ivan and Ruby. As a hurricane approaches and time is running out, Bob finds courage he never knew he had and learns the true meaning of friendship and family.

Dog 11Woof: A Bowser and Birdie Novel – Spencer Quinn, 2016

There is trouble brewing in the Louisiana swamp. Bowser can smell it. He’s handsome, slobbery, and can sniff out LOTS of things. Like bacon. Rawhide chews. And the sweat on humans when they’re lying. Birdie Gaux, Bowser’s owner, also knows something is wrong. Her Grammy’s prize stuffed marlin has been stolen and there’s a weird rumor that the marlin is linked to a missing treasure. Birdie and Bowser decide to investigate and things quickly become puzzling and dangerous.

Secondhand Dogs  – Carolyn Crimi, 2021Dog 12

Miss Lottie’s home is for second chances. When she adopts the dogs Gus, Roo, Tank, and Moon Pie, they become a family. But when a new dog, Decker, arrives and tries to hoard Miss Lottie’s heart and home for himself, the pack is threatened. Things go from bad to worse as Decker’s presence causes strife in the group. When Decker convinces Moon Pie to embark on an impossible journey, it’s up to Gus to gather courage, rally the pack, and bring the little dog home.

Bone border

Not enough books for your bite? Check out this link. Or if you’re interested in reading a dog-themed award winner or well-loved classic during National Dog Month, try one from my bookshelf:

Dog bookshelf

Or … if you are more of a cat lover, click here.