A Possibility of Whales with Author Karen Rivers

Are you up for a pre-book birthday celebration?

Great! Because I have the amazing Karen Rivers here to chat about her upcoming release A POSSIBILITY OF WHALES. Her book birthday is in six days.

Here’s a peek into Karen’s book.

The heartfelt story of a girl who–thanks to her friends, her famous single dad, and an unexpected encounter with a whale–learns the true meaning of family.

Twelve-year-old Natalia Rose Baleine Gallagher loves possibilities: the possibility that she’ll see whales on the beach near her new home, the possibility that the trans-gender boy she just met will become her new best friend, the possibility that the paparazzi hounding her celebrity father won’t force them to move again. Most of all, Nat dreams of the possibility that her faraway mother misses her, loves her, and is just waiting for Nat to find her.

But how can Nat find her mother if she doesn’t even know who she is? She abandoned Nat as a baby, and Nat’s dad refuses to talk about it. Nat knows she shouldn’t need a mom, but she still feels like something is missing, and her questions lead her on a journey of self-discovery that will change her life forever.

In her unique, poignant narrative voice, Karen Rivers tells a heartwarming story about family, friendship, and growing up, perfect for readers of Katherine Applegate and Rebecca Stead.


Hi Karen! It’s wonderful to have you visit us. Did you always want to be a children’s author and what’s been your biggest surprise from doing so?

No, absolutely not. I honestly don’t think I would have thought it was possible. I didn’t even entertain the idea, although I was always writing. (It’s a bit of a mystery to me now, why I thought of authors as some realm of human beings so far above me that I didn’t even consider it.) I wanted to be a vet.  At certain points, I thought about acting, about law, about medicine, but I didn’t really consider writing as a possibility until after I’d written a book and sold it (it was an adult book that I don’t think I started believing it would ever be anything) and only THEN did it occur to me that I could go back to my first love, which was the books that mattered the most to me in my life, which were the books that I read when I was in middle school and in high school.

The mere blurb of A Possibility of Whales made my heart flutter. What was it like writing this poignant story?

I loved writing every word of this book. I had wanted to write a book that was a nod to ARE YOU THERE GOD, IT’S ME, MARGARET, a book that was about puberty and that transitional feeling of being in-between childhood and adulthood, being uncertain and even afraid of what the physical changes mean. That was my starting point. But when I dug deeper, I thought about my own kids, and how hard it has been for my son to be the boy-child of a single mother as he navigates puberty, so I wanted to give my character a single dad. I love Nat’s dad, who was loosely inspired by The Rock (with a touch of Matthew McConaughey thrown in). I love their relationship, their tiny family, the way they are a unit, but also the way that he can’t be a mother to her, he can’t be everything she needs. I loved exploring the ways that she found what she needed with her friendship with Harry and with The Bird. I loved bringing Harry to life, giving him a voice to be himself and not just a token character. His story is also rich and full and he has so much to say. And of course, I love the whales, both literally and symbolically. It all came together in my head in this complete piece and every day I got to spend with these characters was a joy.

I love the family aspect of this story!

Nat is a hopeful soul, but she has a lot going on. How did you use her sense of hope, yet spotlight her internal conflicts without dousing her positive outlook? And what can your young readers learn from this?

At certain points, Nat has a choice where she could allow the rejection and loneliness to take over, and she always manages to reach the lifeboat before she sinks. I think that kids instinctively do this, certainly not consciously, especially if they do – like Nat – have an adult who is 100% on their side. I think it’s harder for kids who don’t have a parent like Nat’s dad, who are not getting that kind of love and support from at least one person. My son’s therapist is always reassuring me that it just takes one. Kids need ONE person who is an anchor in their life, who creates the scaffolding for them to safely be themselves. I hate to think of teaching young readers a lesson, it somehow becomes didactic if I’m conscious of it, but what I’m always trying to do in my books (all of them) is to take a character who may, on the surface, seem like they are not OK or they are not going to be OK, and at the end have them realize – not from something external, but from something internal – that they ARE OK. I feel like readers at this age are all struggling with that question, “Am I OK? Am I going to be OK?” And I want to speak directly to all of them and to say through my books, through my characters, “YES. You are OK. You will be OK. You’ve got this.”

What aspect of Nat’s story do you think children of this age will relate to most?

I think the idea of feeling like you want to pump the brakes as puberty starts to loom is pretty widespread. In ARE YOU THERE GOD, the kids all seemed to want to rush towards puberty, to be the first. But amongst my kids and their friends, I see something different. I think life moves so fast now that kids are in less of a hurry to get to adulthood. Maybe we aren’t selling it well. But I think the mixed feelings about physical changes are top of mind to a lot of kids. I also think that kids will love Nat’s dad. I wrote him as a kind of idealized dad, a dream dad. 

Any advice to parents who read this book with their children on how to start a heartfelt discussion about some of the issues Nat deals with?

My best and only advice to parents is always to just create space where you can truly listen to what your kids are trying to tell you. So many times, we go into these conversations armed with what we think are the right things to say because we want to get it right, and we forget to really listen, to truly hear what they are saying. Make space! Don’t assume anything.

So, what do you see and what can your fans expect next on your horizon?

I have so many books in various stages of production right now! My next middle grade with Algonquin is called NAKED MOLE RAT SAVES THE WORLD and it’s about a kid who has a really unusual “superpower” and has to use it to, well, save the world (in the small picture, that is). It’s another book with a single parent, a kid who feels ‘different’ and about the way we seek and find our people and our place in a world that doesn’t always seem to understand us; it’s about expectations and figuring out how to be who you are.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us, Karen! Wishing the all the best in the future.


Karen Rivers grew up in British Columbia, where she takes loads of photos, goes on lots of walks, and writes books. She believes that stories are all secret passages to alternate worlds where we can be safe to explore the unsafe, the unsettling or the unfair hands some people have been dealt.  She also believes in you. Find Karen on her Website and Twitter.

Want to own your very own copy of A Possibility of Whales? Enter our giveaway! (*Winner will be announced via Twitter on March 14th.)

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STEM Tuesday Wild and Wacky Science — Interview with Sarah Albee

Welcome to STEM Tuesday: Author Interview & Book Giveaway, a repeating feature for the fourth Tuesday of every month. Go Science-Tech-Engineering-Math!

Today we’re interviewing Sarah Albee who wrote this month’s featured wild and wacky science book, POISON: Deadly Deeds, Perilous Professions, and Murderous Medicines.

Sarah Albee is the New York Times bestselling author of more than 100 books for kids, ranging from preschool through middle grade. Recent nonfiction titles have been Bank Street College of Education Best Books selections, Notable Social Studies Trade Books, and winners of Eureka! Nonfiction Children’s Book Awards. She loves to meet her readers and visits K-8 schools all over the country.

Mary Kay Carson: Tell us about Poison and how you came to write it.

Sarah Albee: It’s the history of how humans have poisoned one another, from ancient times to the present. For kids who want to delve deeper into the chemistry of a particular poison, there are “tox boxes” throughout the book that describe how a particular poison can be delivered, where it comes from or how it is manufactured, and what the symptoms are when a person is poisoned. I’ve been obsessed with poison and how it works ever since I was a little kid and first read Snow White. I wanted to know what sort of poison was in that apple. How could it cause a reversible paralysis and a heartbeat that is so slow, you might not find a pulse and conclude that the victim is dead? And because I know you are wondering, too, I’ll tell you my theory: atropine. It’s a plant-based alkaloid found in belladonna and mandrake, and used to be known as sleeping nightshade. Back in 1597 a botanist wrote that a small amount of belladonna leads to madness, while a moderate amount causes “dead sleepe” and a lot of it can kill you.

MKC: You undertook a phenomenal amount of research to write this book. 

SA: I uncovered so many cool stories, I didn’t have room to include them all in the book. So I released a series of short videos called The Poison Files, mostly “whodunit” poison cases from history, and starring some great kid-actors. You can find them on YouTube and on my website.

MKC: This book, as well as others you’ve authored, are a mix of both history and science. Do you have a STEM background? 

SA: Many of my books are a mash-up of history and science. I am more of a historian than a scientist. In fact, to refresh my scientific knowledge, I took two online college courses as part of my research for this book (chemistry and forensics). But the division of human knowledge into separate disciplines is a relatively recent phenomenon, and in my mind, somewhat of an artificial construct. Enlightenment era thinkers considered all human knowledge seamless. What I find fascinating to explore and to write about are the in-between areas—the science behind historical events, the history of science, the real lives of painters and musicians and how their experiences informed their art, and the real-life events that might have inspired novels and poems.

MKC: For readers who loved POSION, what other middle-grade books would you suggest—nonfiction and/or fiction?

SA: I’m a big fan of How They Croaked/How They Choked by Georgia Bragg (and, fun fact, we share the same editor!). Also books by Carlyn Beccia (she has a new one coming out in April that I can’t wait to read, called They Lost Their Heads!). Another science writer with a great sense of humor is Jess Keating. Love her books!

MKC: What’s next for Sarah Albee?

SA: I am hard at work right now on a book that has yet to be announced, so I can’t talk too specifically about it. But it will be a combination of (true) stories that include a bit of history, science, biography, art, and sports, all rolled into one. As for how I’m tackling it…let’s just say one must tiptoe gently through my office to avoid setting off an avalanche and being crushed beneath a tumbling pile of books.

More about Sarah Albee and her book POISON:

  • Read reviews from KirkusSchool Library JournalBooklist, and Bulletin for the Center for Children’s Books here.
  • Buy the book!
  • See the book trailer!
  • Watch six videos from Sarah Albee’s “Poison Files.”

Win a FREE copy of POISON!

* Enter the giveaway by leaving a comment below.*  The randomly-chosen winner will be contacted via email and asked to provide a mailing address (within the U.S. only) to receive the book.

Good luck!

Your host this week is Mary Kay Carson, fellow space geek, science nerd, and author of Mission to Pluto and other nonfiction books for kids.


Interview with Shannon Hitchcock + Giveaway

Today, I’m thrilled to welcome middle-grade author, Shannon Hitchcock, to the Mixed-Up Files to talk about her latest novel, ONE TRUE WAY, which hits bookstores tomorrow, February 27, 2018. But first, here’s a little bit about Shannon and her fabulous novel.

The ALAN Review hailed Shannon Hitchcock as, “A New Voice in Historical Fiction.” She’s the author of the Crystal Kite award-winning novel, THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL, and a second novel, RUBY LEE & ME, a nominee for the 2017-18 Nebraska Chapter Book Golden Sower Award, Pennsylvania’s Keystone Award, an Iowa Children’s Choice Award, and Japan’s Sakura Medal. ONE TRUE WAY, which received a starred review from KIRKUS REVIEWS, is her third novel.


Welcome to Daniel Boone Middle School in the 1970s, where teachers and coaches must hide who they are, and girls who like girls are forced to question their own choices. Presented in the voice of a premier storyteller, ONE TRUE WAY sheds exquisite light on what it means to be different, while at the same time being wholly true to oneself. Through the lives and influences of two girls, readers come to see that love is love is love. Set against the backdrop of history and politics that surrounded gay rights in the 1970s South, this novel is a thoughtful, eye-opening look at tolerance, acceptance, and change, and will widen the hearts of all readers.


ONE TRUE WAY is about two middle-school girls growing up in the seventies who develop feelings for each other. You mention in the Author’s Note about how you got the idea. Why was it so important to you to write this particular novel?

I grew up in a conservative church that taught homosexuality is a sin. I had never really questioned those teachings until a person I love came out to me. I wrote ONE TRUE WAY to make sense of it all.

All three of your published novels are historical. What is it about that genre that appeals to you?

I grew up on a hundred-acre farm in a family of storytellers. I loved hearing my grandparents and uncles talk about the times before I was born. All of my favorite books were historical too. I loved Little House on the Prairie, Heidi, Caddie Woodlawn, and the biographies of women like Annie Oakley, Nancy Todd Lincoln, Lucretia Mott, and Betsy Ross. I have a theory that the type of books you loved as a child are probably the kind you’d enjoy writing as an adult.

The characters in ONE TRUE WAY are so richly developed. Are any of them based on people you’ve known?

Probably the best example is Reverend Walker. She’s based on my real-life minister, Vicki Walker, who helped with the theological aspects of my book.

I love the period details in the book. Can you tell us about some of the research you had to do?

I started with my yearbook from 1977. I looked at our hairstyles and clothes. I googled songs from 1976 and 77 to fact check my memories. I watched a lot of YouTube clips of Anita Bryant and her Save Our Children campaign. Probably the most important research was reading every LGBTQ themed YA book I could get my hands on. I made note of what content would be appropriate and inappropriate for a MG audience.

In the book, you do a wonderful job with a few characters who have to reconcile their religious teachings with the notion of homosexuality. Can you tell us how you came to formulating those ideas presented?

Three books were invaluable to me: Defrocked: How A Father’s Act of Love Shook the United Methodist Church by Franklyn Schaefer, Crooked Letter i: Coming Out in the South by Connie Griffin, and When Christians Get It Wrong by Adam Hamilton. Once I had formulated my own opinions, I discussed my beliefs with the Reverend Vicki Walker. I knew I was on to something when she said, “You have no idea how many parents have sat where you are, struggling to accept their gay children, and how many children have sat in the same seat, afraid of disappointing their parents.” If ONE TRUE WAY can help those families in any way, I will consider it a success.

For those who would like to read more middle-grade LGBTQ-themed books, do you have any recommendations?

I’ve actually compiled a list which is on my website here.

For more about Shannon and her work, visit her website. You can also connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Thanks, Shannon! And thanks for offering a free signed copy of your book to a lucky winner (U.S. and Canada only). To be eligible to win, leave a comment below. I’ll pick a winner at random Wednesday night at 9 p.m. and announce who won on Thursday.