Editor / Agent Spotlight

Get to Know Acclaimed Editor and Middle Grade Author Kara LaReau

Kara LaReau is the author of many beloved middle grade, chapter book and picture books. After receiving her Master of Fine Arts degree in Writing, Literature, and Publishing from Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts, she worked as an editor at Candlewick Press and at Scholastic Press, and via her own creative consulting firm, Bluebird Works. Among other celebrated titles, she edited Kate DiCamillo’s Because of Winn-Dixie (winner of a Newbery Honor), The Tiger Rising (finalist for the National Book Award), The Tale of Despereaux (winner of the Newbery Medal), The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane (winner of the Boston Globe Horn Book Award), and the Mercy Watson series. She’s the author of The Infamous Ratsos, a chapter book series illustrated by Matt Myers, and The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters, a middle grade trilogy illustrated by Jen Hill. Rise of ZomBert, the first in her new illustrated middle grade series, will publish in spring 2020. For more information, visit Karalareau.com

I had the good fortune to get to know Kara when she was the author-in-residence at Hollins University Summer Graduate Program in Children’s Writing, Literature & Illustration
We were roomies in the alumni cottage, where we enjoyed porch sits, her blueberry crumble and many good talks. The students were all wowed by her insightful lectures, one-on-one mentoring, wit, and wisdom about craft.

My interviews for The Mixed Up Files have always been conducted over email. However, this interview was miraculously conducted in person while Kara and I drank coffee and listened to the rumble of the dehumidifier. After all, we were in the Roanoke Valley, where you can swim in the air. But it’s so beautiful–with lush green pastures all hugged by the Blue Ridge Mountains– that you don’t care. Plus, there are bunnies everywhere on campus. It’s easy to see where Alumna Margaret Wise Brown got her idea for The Runaway Bunny. Anyway, I had much to ask Kara. Gosh, it was hard to whittle down my questions since I had admired her for so long.

Why do you write Middle Grade?
I don’t set out to say I’m going to write a chapter book or middle grade. The story comes to me, and that’s when I figure out what it is. That age range was a formative time in my life. When we talk about what is your internal age–that is one of my default ages. And that’s why I enjoyed editing middle grade so much too. It’s kind of like I’m creating the library that I wish that I had had when I was that age.

Do you come up with characters or conceit first?
With the Bland Sisters (Kara’s first middle grade series, The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters), the characters came first. I wasn’t necessarily intending to write a novel about them. I was just writing a short scene about these two very boring girls. Just for fun. I wrote a little more. They kept speaking to me. In the first book, there’s a moment when there’s a knock at the door. I established they never go outside. This created a moment of extreme tension and curiosity. I wanted to know what could be on the other side of the door to motivate them to open the door. For me, the answer was pirates. And of course, they would have to be lady pirates.

I love it. Why Lady Pirates?
It’s my own feminist sensibility, and I tried to imbue the series with that spirit. I’ve tried to create stories that feature women in roles that are most often attributed to men. In the second the book, The Uncanny Express, they encounter a female magician who has encountered a lot of sexism. In the third book (Flight of the Bluebird), I wanted to parody an Indiana Jones style mystery. I thought it would be a fun to have a female action hero in the vein of Indiana Jones. I’m really interested in subverting gender norms.

Once again, I love it! Why is subverting gender norms important to you?
I’m hoping to portray for boys and girls who are reading these books unsung female heroes. For example, the character of Beatrix in book three is based on Amelia Earhart, Bessie Coleman and Nellie Bly–female pilots, journalists and explorers.

Tell us about your research process.
Each (of the Bland Sister books) was different, and each required more and more research. The first one takes place on pirate ship, and to find out what a ship looked like back then, I looked at books. I also looked at the different roles of pirates, and how they talked to each other. I read Robert Lewis Stevenson, as well as Herman Melville Billy Budd and brushed up on Moby Dick. There are lots of Melville references in the book.

While the first book was a parody of pirate stories and Melville, the second was set on a train and I knew it just had to be a parody of Agathe Christie, particularly Murder on the Oriental Express. I decided to re-read Murder on the Orient Express. While I didn’t have time to re-read all of Christie’s work, I actually watched the entire Poirot BBC series. I watched it over the summer and took notes on all the tropes that I noticed and that I could use. I also researched poisons and disguises. In doing that, I immersed myself in her world and that gave me the confidence to start writing the book.

When I started to writing The Flight of the Blue Bird, I knew that there was going to be an airplane. I watched Casablanca and Indiana Jones films. I was setting the adventure in a real place (Egypt), and there were details about archaeology and the Egyptian culture that I needed to be sensitive to and get right. I found James Allen, a professor of Egyptology at Brown University, and discovered he lived five blocks away from me. He gave me all kinds of fascinating details that inspired me to create the backstory in this book. I also watched documentaries about Howard Carter (the British archaeologist who discovered the intact tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamun or “King Tut”). To have confidence to move forward, I did all research beforehand so I could immerse myself in it. Jim Allen read my pages, and then gave me suggestions here and there. Then I also decided the airplane would figure prominently in the plot. I found a husband of a friend of mine who is a pilot, and he also read some of my pages to make sure the aeronautical details were correct.

How long do you do research?
About a month or so. Then it usually takes me a month to a month and half to draft and two months to revise.

In addition to your current middle grade series, you have a popular early chapter series, The Infamous Ratsos. Tell us about where you are with that series.

I’m going to start drafting the sixth one. The first three are out in the world. The fourth one comes out next spring. Illustrator Matt Myers is due to start the fifth one next. The sixth one I’m hoping to start at the end of the summer.

Did you originally conceive of The Infamous Ratsos as a series?
After the first book, I knew I had more ideas as adventures. It turned out when my agent sent out the project, Candlewick wanted to know if I had another idea, so they signed up a two-book contract. In each book, Louie and Ralphie Ratso are learning something knew about themselves. They make mistakes just like we all do, but they’re always eager to learn from those mistakes.

Can you describe the books?
In the first book, The Infamous Ratsos, Louie and Ralphie think they need to be tough, and they equate tough with being mean. But that’s not their true nature, and they eventually realize it’s much easier to be kind than tough. The second book, The Infamous Ratsos Are Not Afraid, is about the brothers realizing they are afraid of admitting they’re afraid. They learn that everyone is afraid of something, and that there are a lot of different ways to be brave.

How did you come up with the different themes for the Ratso series?
I ended up watching a documentary about toxic masculinity, The Mask You Live In. The film showed how boys are conditioned at early age by society, by media, even by their own families to adhere to a very oppressive definition of masculinity. My books examine and subvert different characteristics of toxic masculinity: acting like you’re tough, pretending as if you’re not afraid of anything, pretending you don’t have emotions, refusing help, solving conflict through violence, and shunning feminine traits.

You have a new middle grade series. Tell us about it.
The new middle grade series I don’t want to give name since my publisher hasn’t announced it yet. The first book is called The Rise of ZomBert. It’s about a girl and her best friend, who is a boy, and a cat they find, who may or may not be a zombie.

When does it come out?
Spring 2020

What might be familiar to your readers and what might feel different?
There is a lot of humor in it. However, it is very different as the humor is not as on the surface as it is with Bland Sisters, which is very slapstick. It’s for a slightly older audience than the Bland sisters. And it’s darker than the Bland Sisters. It’s definitely has creepy and scary moments.

How are you feeling about it?
I’m excited. I’m starting to see art come in from (Illustrator) Ryan Andrews that’s bringing in moodiness that compliments the text so well.

Can you give a snapshot of the first book?
I describe it as Bunnicula mixed with Stranger Things. It takes place in the suburbs. There is something going on this neighborhood. And the kids slowly figure out what that’s going on. And they seem to be the only ones that know that truth about what is happening.

What is something about you that most people don’t know?
In The Bland Sisters, the running joke is how much that Kale loves to clean. I actually hate cleaning! That was sort of my response to people when people assume that certain characters are based on the author, which Kale is, but only to a degree!

Anything else you want to say?
I want to thank you for taking the time to interview me, and thank my readers for reading my books. I hope they will check out Rise of ZomBert next spring!

Hillary Homzie is the author of Ellie May chapter book series (Charlesbridge, Dec 2018), as well as Apple Pie Promises (Sky Pony/Swirl, October 2018), Pumpkin Spice Secrets (Sky Pony/Swirl, October 2017), Queen of Likes (Simon & Schuster MIX 2016), The Hot List (Simon & Schuster MIX 2011) and Things Are Gonna Be Ugly (Simon & Schuster, 2009) as well as the Alien Clones From Outer Space (Simon & Schuster Aladdin 2002) chapter book series. She teaches at Hollins University Graduate Program in Children’s Literature and Illustration as well as at Sonoma State University, where she directs the Arts & Humanities internships program and teaches communications. Hillary also teaches the Middle Grade Mastery Course and the Chapter Book Alchemist Course at the Children’s Book Academy. She can be found at hillaryhomzie.com and on her Facebook page as well as on Twitter.

Editor Spotlight: Charlie Ilgunas’s Buzz on Middle Grade!

Charlie Ilgunas is Associate Editor at Little Bee Books, which publishes titles for kids 0-12; Little Bee’s new Middle Grade imprint is Yellow Jacket. He earned his BA from Washington University in Saint Louis and a Graduate Certificate in Publishing from the University of Denver, after which he interned at Bloomsbury before moving to Little Bee. Charlie signed his first title as an editorial assistant at Little Bee five years ago. He works mainly on picture books and middle grade.

Hi Charlie, thanks for chatting with us. I’ll say right up front that Yellow Jacket published some of my favorite middle grade titles this year and last: Rajani LaRocca’s delicious Midsummer’s Mayhem, which is getting all kinds of attention, Samuel Pollen’s The Year I Didn’t Eat, about a boy with anorexia, and Melanie Sumrow’s The Prophet Calls, which centers on a girl living inside a religious cult. These are three wildly different middle grade books in subject, theme, and tone, so I’m wondering—what made them all just right for Yellow Jacket?

That selection really speaks to the diverse tastes of our editors here at Little Bee/Yellow Jacket. Some of us are interested in delving into heavier subjects like Samuel’s, some love magical realism and reimagingings of classics like Rajani’s, and some are interested in dropping children into stories that would be completely outside their experience like Melanie’s. And though we’re still guided by our goals of publishing books about acceptance, anti-bullying, awareness, diversity, and empowerment, because middle grade is a fairly new venture for us, we have a lot of freedom to make our case for submissions that may fall outside those guidelines if we see a need in the market for something else or are just moved by a stunning manuscript.

Little Bee Becomes an Indie

In a starred review, Kirkus called Rajani LaRocca’s debut “A delectable treat for food and literary connoisseurs.”

Can you give us a little industry background on Little Bee and Yellow Jacket? I understand Little Bee was recently purchased by its original founders. What’s the relationship with Simon & Schuster? I really love how GLBTQ-positive Little Bee is. How does the partnership with GLAAD work?

Bonnier started Little Bee five years ago, and we launched Yellow Jacket’s first titles last summer. We also have a licensing imprint, BuzzPop, created about a year after Little Bee. Simon & Schuster has been our distributor since we started, and we’ve built a great relationship with their sales team. The last five years have gone pretty well for us—we’ve had such wonderful responses to so many of our books over these years. But because of circumstances outside our control, Bonnier was considering selling Little Bee. Our CEO and CFO offered to buy the company from them, and luckily that all worked out. So now we’re an independent publisher, which has been a pretty exciting transition!

Our partnership with GLAAD came about not too long after I acquired Prince & Knight. We decided we wanted to make a major commitment to publishing LGBTQ+ stories, because we saw how lacking the children’s space was at the time. Now there are so many books out there, especially heavily promoted at stores every Pride month, which warms my heart! So we were looking for partners to help us collaborate on books, developing topics and giving feedback on submissions, as well as assisting us in getting word out about them. GLAAD has been a major help in that regard.

The Buzz on Editing Middle Grade

When I ask people what makes a book middle grade, they usually say something like: a focus on friendship and family. But so many middle grade books are also exploring political activism, gender identity, mental health—subject matter that used to lean more YA. What’s your take? Are kids from 8-12 more sophisticated now? More prepared to handle tougher topics?

Middle grade stories can really go anywhere. It’s my favorite age range, because children are equipped and ready to choose books on their own for the first time and approach them with a boundless imagination, without a lot of preconceived notions and biases. In a lot of ways, the world is so much wider than YA or adult, which can feel more bound by genre.

Friendship and family go part and parcel with many good middle grade stories. It can be hard to sink your teeth into a story without a little heart to ground the characters. And friends and family are constants in all stages of life, even when (and maybe especially when) discussing political activism, gender identity, and such—how a character’s friends and family react in relation to that aspect of their identity. I don’t necessarily think the topics are tougher or heavier than middle grade books from past decades, just a little different. The topics authors are interested in discussing have evolved to engage with the issues facing children today.

Moser’s middle grade is a retelling of the Irish folktale, The Children of Lir.

From Pitch, to Pitch-Perfect

What’s the biggest factor that decides you to give a thumbs up on a book. Is it voice? Concept? What do you consider “fixable” and what isn’t?

Voice, voice, voice! Concept may get me to read a submission quicker, as it’s the first thing I see of any project in an agent’s pitch. But concept without a voice driving the story is just so disappointing. We want to love each submission that we choose to read! Even so, if the writing is of good quality, voice is fixable, but takes a more intense investment than editing story holes and plot elements. You have to read and reread, and delve deep into the heart of the story, and figure out a way to get the author to focus and bring it out a little more in the characters they create.

How hands on are you as an editor with books you acquire? What’s the most intensive editorial project you’ve ever worked on?

It really depends on the project. Some are written so well that I don’t need to do much development work; I can focus on line editing and transitions and such. But some stories need rewriting/restructuring. That has happened more with picture books at this point, since we are newer to acquiring middle grade! Two of the most intense projects I worked on recently, one was a nonfiction picture book about a trans Civil War soldier. The other was a middle grade retelling of “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.”

The picture book involved so much outside reading (including a 200-page pension file!) as well as photo research to make sure the illustrator’s work was as accurate to the time as possible. For the middle grade book, I did a lot of research into tenth-century Baghdad—the buildings there at the time, the layout of the city, the clothes people wore . . . all fantastically interesting to investigate!

Lenzi’s novel is a reimagining of “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves” told from the perspective of Marjana.

What unique talents or perspectives do you think you bring to the table as an editor? Are you as friendly as your patronus, the capybara?

Curiosity has been a huge benefit. If I’m reading about something in a submission that I find interesting and think, huh, that’s new to me! Let’s learn a little more about that, that often leads me to discover something else tangentially related that I can discuss with the author about incorporating, or something we can tie to another element of the story. I’m generally interested in history/nonfiction. So it’s not really a chore to do a lot of outside research to make sure the story we’re telling is accurate—it’s a fringe benefit!

And hah, I like to think of myself like that! Friendly, stoic, and easygoing!

What’s on Charlie’s Wish List?

Are there any under-represented MG genres or topics you’d like to see more of? Any trends that really excite you?

Survival stories! In the purely fictional realm, that is. I’ve been looking for one ever since I got outbid on a fantastic submission. Hatchet was one of my favorite books as a kid. I would love to find a nail-biting survival story along those lines.

Other than write the next book, what’s the most effective thing an author can do, pre- or post-publication, to help boost sales of his or her books?

Find a community of authors (published or unpublished) to engage with and share work with. Either to critique and improve a manuscript ahead of an agent submitting it to publishers, or to just enjoy and talk about with friends after a book gets published. I see it as a much more fun version of networking! Authors are so supportive of each other. Becoming fans of each others’ work has benefits as far as sales, too, because if one author has success with a book, they can blurb their friend’s book, or talk to booksellers about it, or do joint signings, panels, etc., bringing the book to their own fans.

Up Next for Yellow Jacket

Crumbled is the first in a series introducing the hilarious Nobbin Swill.

What do you have forthcoming in middle grade?

Fiadhnait Moser’s The Serendipity of Flightless Things comes out in mid-August; it has utterly amazing writing. I was so blown away by some of the passages, and I still think about them all the time. It’s a retelling of the Irish folktale The Children of Lir. It gets quite spooky in the second half!

Crumbled!, the first book in Lisa Harkrader’s new series, The Misadventures of Nobbin Swill, comes out in late August. It is so hilarious, I was just laughing at my desk the first time I read it. And the follow-up, Croaked! (2020) may be even funnier! I love it, too, because it is heavily illustrated in two-color, and I think the illustrations really add to the humor.

And finally, the aforementioned The Forty Thieves: Marjana’s Tale, coming out in October. Christy Lenzi reimagines “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves” told from the perspective of Marjana, the girl who keeps saving Ali Baba from the wrath of the thieves after he’s found their treasure. She created a story that adds so much emotional depth to the original, and I can’t wait to get it into readers’ hands!

Thanks so much for your time, Charlie!

You can learn more about Charlie and follow him at:
Twitter: https://twitter.com/chillgunas
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/cilgunas/
Little Bee Books Website: https://littlebeebooks.com/

Editor Spotlight: Hannah Allaman, Disney-Hyperion

What do we mean by Middle Grade?

Hi Hannah, thanks for joining us to talk about your editorial work at Disney-Hyperion. To jump right in: My friends and I have an ongoing debate about what makes a book middle grade. It gets complicated when MG books in the US sell as adult in the UK, or books written as adult get slotted as MG (I know two debuts this year that fit that bill), or when very well received MG books don’t really read as typical MG. I think of novels like Wolf Hollow, which breaks the MG “rules” when the grown-up narrator appears to be telling a story about her distant 12-year-old self. Or a book like Quicksand Pond, where a good bit of the story is narrated from the perspective of a very old woman. So what makes middle grade middle grade?

To me, middle grade is all about that coming of age moment where you’re discovering your own autonomy and independence in complicated ways—those moments when you start taking ownership, making new friendships and exploring new interests, even discovering that your loved ones are flawed and that life isn’t always fair.

Positioning a book a certain way and for a certain audience can be rather subjective, but when I think about my overall list of middle grade titles, I tend to think about hope and humor. Even if it’s not a “funny” book, I think there’s often a sense of levity or lightness in the middle grade space that balances out darker themes kids may be interested in exploring, as well as an ultimate note of hope to buoy the story for younger audiences.

One of my middle grade titles, THE BONE SPARROW by Zana Fraillon, is a novel that sits on the cusp of middle grade and adult because of the heartbreaking topics it explores, but its central thread of hope and friendship feels just right for a middle grade audience.

And related to this, what ever happened to that hot “tween” category we used to hear about? There’s been a lot of convo on social media about the need for “younger YA” that might ride close to the line of “upper MG.” What’s your take on that nebulous readership? Are their needs being addressed?

I’m always, always looking for titles that reach those hinge readers who are moving between categories, because I do think there are gaps where we have greater likelihood of losing readers. We’re publishing more and more into that upper middle grade space with characters who are 13-14, but I think there’s still so much room for younger middle grade that captures readers transitioning out of chapter books (particularly stories with an emphasis on play and imagination), as well as in that younger YA space (especially stories that focus on friendship in those late middle school/early high school years). Those in-between audiences can be hard to capture, but I’m always on the hunt for stories that fill those gaps and meet readers’ needs at all stages.

Hannah’s Middle Grade Wish List

Every genre has trends. Are there any trends now that excite you? Are there any possible trends in MG that you dearly wish will soon have their moment?

I’m really hoping middle grade horror has its moment! There are some incredible new horror selections on shelves—I just finished THE DARKDEEP, by Allie Condie and Brendan Reichs, and I just got my hands on the audiobook of SMALL SPACES, by Katherine Arden. I grew up on a steady diet of R.L. Stine and would love for that type of accessible horror to make a comeback. For me, I think it’s all about that nailing that creepy commercial hook while still delivering a story that’s super voice-driven. I would love to find a horror story that uses a childhood game as a device, like truth or dare—so chilling and creepy and fun!

I also think witches are having a major moment—anyone who knows me knows I’m obsessed with witches. I like to say that I’m acquiring my own literary coven. But I honestly think they’re cropping up in so many different iterations, from seriously dark to sweet and bubbly. I’m absolutely looking for a charming, whimsical witchy chapter book or young middle grade novel!

I adore this recent crop of voicey, character-driven contemporary middle grade novels with a focus on sports—I loved ROLLER GIRL, by Victoria Jamieson, THE CROSSOVER, by Kwame Alexander, and SO DONE, by Paula Chase, and I can’t wait to get my hands on NIKKI ON THE LINE, by Barbara Carroll Roberts. (Give me a MG cheerleading book that engages with the sport on a similar level as E.K. Johnston’s YA novel, EXIT PURSUED BY A BEAR!) Also on the contemporary MG side, I think aspirational, high concept music stories are having a moment. From country to K-pop, stories about kids breaking into the music industry seem to be—oh no, I’m going to do it, I’m going to make a pun—hitting all the right notes.

Hook + Voice = Love

What’s the biggest factor that decides you to give a thumbs up on a book. Is it voice? Concept? What do you consider “fixable” and what isn’t?

I look for that perfect marriage of voice and concept—I want a big, fresh, stand-out hook to reel me in, but it’s really the strong voice and complex family relationships and friendships at the heart of a story that make me want to champion it. Sense of place is also something that can tip the scales of a story for me—I adore immersive, specific settings that become their own character (like in THE VANDERBEEKERS OF 141ST STREET, by Karina Yan Glaser). And particularly in middle grade, I want stakes, both emotional and larger-scale, that take the reader seriously.

To me, if a story has an unforgettable voice, anything else is potentially fixable. That doesn’t always mean that it’s ready for our acquisitions process; in fact, most of my R&R requests come from stories with exceptional voices/prose that need structural and pacing work. As an editor, I can help develop and shape so much about a story, but it’s gotta have that intangible, special, authentic voice at its heart.

How intensive is the editorial work you do with authors? Would you sign a book that was a long way away from being “ready to go”?

My authors will tell you I’ve been known to write some ridiculously long editorial letters. J Once I’ve acquired a project, I love taking a deep dive into developmental edits; I usually send an initial 10-15 page letter, followed by a shorter round focusing on pacing and any final character development notes, and then line edits. My style is super conversational, though, and I love the collaborative nature of revisions; I often come up with a lot of specific ideas to get our conversations going, but to me it’s all about finding the solutions that feel right for the story together.

Our acquisitions process is pretty rigorous; both the editorial team and the larger acquisitions group, including sales, marketing, and publicity, have to be excited about a project in order to move forward with it. (This is great in the long run, because our titles have a built in fan base when we bring them to our launch and sales conferences!) Because of that process, though, it’s hard for me to sign up something that’s a long way from being ready.

That said, I’m a huge fan of R&Rs—I have two that I ended up acquiring and are now on my upcoming 2020 slate! Especially because I’m a young editor who’s still building my list, I’m always looking for those exciting seeds of potential that I can help shape, and it’s thrilling to find an author who’s a skilled reviser and eager to partner with me on our shared vision for the manuscript.

What’s the toughest thing you have to do as an editor?

Honestly, R&Rs that ultimately don’t work out are heartbreaking for everyone, including me. It’s tough to fall in love with something that still needs more time to bake before it’s ready, so to speak, or just isn’t right for my overall list, even though I see its potential. But I cheer for them extra-loud when they do find their perfect homes!

Hannah’s 2019+ Middle Grade List

Can you introduce some of the MG titles you’re publishing this year, including my terrific 2019 debut mate Shauna Barnes Holyoak? What drew you to these titles?

I have such an amazing group of MG titles this year! Here are my highlights (but be warned, I could talk about these books for ages):

The Secrets of Topsea series, by Kir Fox and M. Shelley Coats: In January, we published the second book in the Secrets of Topsea series (THE EXTREMELY HIGH TIDE!), which follows a zany group of fifth graders in a fictional, topsy-turvy coastal town. These books are SO weird (think Wayside School meets the Nightvale podcast) and so full of heart, and I adore their original formats, including narrative/character-driven chapters, newspaper articles, journal entries, and more.

The Click’d series, by Tamara Ireland Stone: We also published the second book in the Click’d series (SWAP’D) in February. Crushes and coding—what more could you want in a MG novel?! Most of all, I love the complex, authentic friendships at the heart of these stories. And the covers, illustrated by Jameela Wahlgren, are seriously the CUTEST.

KAZU JONES AND THE DENVER DOGNAPPERS, by Shauna Holyoak: Okay, you already know this MG mystery stole my heart! Not only are there tons of cute pups (I cannot get enough of Genki and his doggy nests!), but there’s also an amazing mother-daughter relationship, seriously high stakes that had me on the edge of my seat, and an incredible ensemble cast of fifth graders who have all the spunk and persistence of the Scooby Gang.

MIDNIGHT ON STRANGE STREET, by K. E. Ormsbee: I’m cheating a little bit, because this one comes out January 2020, but I love it so much that I have to talk about it. J Imagine if all the kids in STRANGER THINGS had Eleven’s powers—that’s MIDNIGHT ON STRANGE STREET. I love the way the author uses these strange new powers to encapsulate both the extraordinary and extraordinarily tough aspects of being a middle schooler. Also, the kids are on a glowboarding team, which is the coolest sport that doesn’t (yet) exist—think sci-fi roller derby!

How long have you been tap dancing and what got you into it? I just met another MG editor who’s a tap dancer, and one of the characters in my WIP is too. Is something in the air?

Ooh, I hope so! I’ve been tap dancing since I was two. My mom put me in a combination class in hopes that I’d become a ballerina, but it didn’t take. I did competition tap in elementary/middle school and was obsessed with being on stage. One of my favorite tap solos was “I’m Getting Good at Being Bad” from the 102 Dalmatians soundtrack (the one with Glenn Close). My mom made my costume, which was held together with black & white sequins and hot glue.

I mostly stopped tapping in high school but picked it back up in college, in that way you sort of rediscover things you did as a kid that were actually really cool when you’re in college. I ended up taking classes with Margaret Morrison (including tap history courses, which were the absolute coolest for a tap nerd like me) and joining an on-campus tap group. Now I still occasionally take classes at the American Tap Dance Foundation!

All of which is to say, I’m desperate to find a book with a character who tap dances! (Honestly, dance of any kind, but bring on the tap!) We actually published an adorable tap picture book by Tim Federle called TOMMY CAN’T STOP! in 2015, which I highly recommend, but I’m hungry for a MG tap novel.

Many thanks for sharing your thoughts with us Hannah! Best of luck to you and all your middle grade books this year!

Follow Hannah on Twitter @hallaman13,  and look for her on Manuscript Wish List @ManuscriptWList and Manuscriptwishlist.com.