Posts Tagged chapter book series

The Kids in Mrs. Z’s Class: An Interview with Kate Messner & Rajani LaRocca

A new chapter book series just launched. Written by eighteen authors and starring a class full of third graders (each book focused on a different student), The Kids in Mrs. Z’s Class books will be a fun series for kids to dive into. They will get to know about each student in the class—how fun is that? I got a chance to interview the authors of the first two books: Kate Messner, author of Emma McKenna, Full Out (book #1 in the series) and Rajani LaRocca, author of Rohan Murthy Has a Plan (book #2 in the series).


About the Books

In Emma McKenna, Full Out, Emma is thrilled to start third grade at the brand-new Curiosity Academy. She’s excited for interesting new classmates, a cool teacher, and best of all, a fresh start after a second-grade talent show disaster at her old school left her with an unfortunate nickname. But then Lucy shows up—Lucy, her ex-best-friend, who gave Emma that awful nickname and spread it around school. Emma decides the only way to save the school year is to make fast friends with everyone before Lucy can tell them about the nickname. She sets out to be friendly and beloved, just like her favorite animal, the capybara. When the class gets riled up over choosing an animal for the new school mascot, Emma vows to keep quiet and not take sides. But what if speaking up is the thing that finally helps her connect with her classmates and saves her from third-grade doom?

In Rohan Murthy Has a Plan, Rohan Murthy is a visual thinker who wants to help improve the world—and right now, he wants to help raise money for his school’s new garden. He comes up with the idea of starting a pet care business, but his parents won’t let him do it unless he proves he can be responsible for an animal first. So, Rohan volunteers to bring home Honey, the class guinea pig, for the weekend. And then, disaster strikes! This is a story about overcoming fear, asking for help, and thinking of options when your first idea doesn’t work out.


About the Authors

How did each of your writing journeys begin? Have you held any other interesting jobs?

Kate Messner (KM): Writing has always been a part of my life, from the time I could hold a pencil. I played with poetry, stories, and research papers (I was the youngest of four kids and endlessly jealous that my older siblings got to spend hours at the library!). My undergraduate degree is actually in journalism, and I spent seven years as a TV news reporter and producer before going back to school for a masters degree in education. I taught middle school English for fifteen years, and my first published books were written while I was still in the classroom. 


Rajani LaRocca (RL): I’m a doctor, but I came back to writing in 2011, taking classes online and really loved it. I realized I wanted to write for kids and began to work toward publishing novels and picture books. Eventually I found an agent, and ROHAN MURTHY HAS A PLAN will be my 17th book! 



You’ve both written so many wonderful, award-winning books (books by Rajani LaRocca) (books by Kate Messner). Tell us about one of your favorite books you’ve written.

KM: Gosh, that’s a tough question! I’ve written more than sixty books for kids, and when I do school visits, I explain to readers that asking me to choose a favorite is a little like asking parents to choose a favorite kid. But I will say that for elementary school chapter book readers, in addition to THE KIDS IN MRS. Z’S CLASS, I’ve loved sharing my RANGER IN TIME books. 

RL: I’LL GO AND COME BACK is a picture book that came out with Candlewick in 2022. It’s a story that’s dear to my heart – about a girl who visits her grandmother in India. She feels lonely and homesick even though she’s surrounded by family and her grandmother helps her by playing and eating. Then her grandmother visits her in the United States and she’s also homesick, and her granddaughter helps her. This was the first book we sold, even though it was my 8th or 9th to come out. It’s a story that exemplifies who I am as a writer because it’s all about family and love that stretches across the world. 


Writing a Book in a Series

The books in The Kids in Mrs. Z’s Class series are each written by a different author. I’m curious about what parameters were given to the authors.

KM:  We have an extensive series bible that includes all of the details about Curiosity Academy, where all of our characters go to school, and the town of Peppermint Falls. Each author began by filling out a character worksheet with pages of details about their character, and then everyone on the team was given access to all of those character worksheets. So we all started writing our stories with the setting and much of the cast already in place. 


In each of the books in the series, the main character has a secret. Did you ever experience anything similar to your character’s secret?

KM: Oh, gosh yes. Without giving too much away, I’ll share that Emma’s secret involves friend troubles, and I think that’s emotional territory that we all remember navigating when we were growing up.

RL: Absolutely! Rohan secretly had an encounter with a cat that didn’t go well and he didn’t want to tell anyone. The same thing happened to me when I was visiting a friend and a friendly cat was rubbing up against my leg. When I reached down to pet it, it bit me on the thumb! 


Kate, I know you have written three series: Ranger in Time, Marty McGuire, and Fergus and Zeke. Can you share any tips for writing a series? 

KM: Honestly, I think the real trick to coming up with a series is to be sure you’ve chosen a premise that you’re excited about, because when a series takes off, it means that you’re committed to that setting and those characters for a long time. Be sure that you feel excited about it – not just for the first few books but in the long term. 


I read the Publishers Weekly article “Multi-Author Series Spotlights the Fun and Foibles of Third Grade” by Sally Lodge. It explained how the authors were encouraged to communicate with one another because each protagonist in one story appears as a secondary character in the other authors’ books. Usually authors don’t get to collaborate like this! What were some positives and negatives to this approach? 

KM: Well, the down side of all this collaboration is that it’s a huge logistical challenge to keep track of everything and ensure consistency from book to book. But that concern is absolutely eclipsed by the up side – the joy we’ve all found collaborating along the way. 

RL: I really loved the Google doc where we all shared our characters and what they were about. It was an absolute delight! 



Something I personally struggle with is writing a classroom scene since there are so many characters. Any tips to make this manageable?

KM: Because we’re working with a full third grade classroom (18 kids!) we knew this would be a challenge. One thing that helps keep larger casts from being confusing is making sure that each character is truly unique – not just in their appearance but in their personalities and speech patterns. Our team of authors did an amazing job with this, so it made writing the books an absolute joy. While many books mention all eighteen kids at some point, the books in this series tend to focus primarily on the main character along with just a few others who interact with them regularly in the story. This, too, helps the large cast from feeling overwhelming or confusing for readers. 


For Teachers

Do you have a curriculum guide or discussion questions posted online?

KM: Yes! We have an extensive teaching & discussion guide that also includes a character worksheet so readers can brainstorm their own characters to join Mrs. Z’s class. Teaching and Discussion Guide

How can we learn more about you? [website, social media, etc.]


Just for Fun

Returning to your third-grade selves (and related to each of your books) . . . What would you choose as a cool school mascot?

KM: Sharks!

RL: Wolves! 


What business would you have wanted to start and why?

KM: I desperately wanted to babysit, long before I was old enough. 

RL: I’d like to start a chai stand! 


Thanks for your time, Kate and Rajani.

Check out the first two books in The Kids in Mrs. Z’s Class series: Emma McKenna, Full Out and Rohan Murthy Has a Plan, which are both newly released.