Posts Tagged Dori Hillestad Butler

Author Interview: Dori Hillestad Butler

Dori as Sherlock Holmes

Photo credit: Cheryl Fusco Johnson

We’re excited to have Dori Hillestad Butler(one of our Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Readers members) on here today to talk about her new release.

Hi, Dori!! Happy to have you here! Let’s start with learning a bit more about you, and then we’ll talk more about King & Kayla and the Case of the Cat Hunt.

Dori’s Bio:

Dori Hillestad Butler is the author of more than 60 books for young readers including the two-time Geisel Honor award winning King & Kayla series, the Edgar award winning Buddy Files series, the Treasure Troop series, the Dear Beast series and the Haunted Library series. Her books have appeared on ALSC Notable, Bank Street College Best Books of the Year, Junior Library Guild, CCBC Choice, Booklist Editor’s Choice and more than 20 state award lists. She loves visiting schools and libraries all over the country, either in person or virtually, and is eager to share her love of story with readers and writers of all ages.  She grew up in southern Minnesota, spent 19 years in Iowa, and now lives in the Seattle area.

Did you have any childhood dreams for when you became an adult? If so, did they come true?

Yes, I did. And yes, that dream came true. I dreamed of becoming an author.

What advice would you give to your eight-year-old self?

Probably the same thing I say to other eight-year-olds. 1) Read something every day. 2) Write something every day. 3) And never, ever give up on your dream!

Did you love to read as a child? Can you tell us some favorite books?

Yes, very much! I loved the Betsy-Tacy books because they were friendship stories set very near to where I lived. I was also a fan of the Boxcar Children. Those kids were so resourceful, and I was jealous of their boxcar.

What was an early experience where you learned that written language had power?

That’s a good question. An interesting question. Let me think…I wrote to my state senator when I was eight or nine. Back then you could still smoke inside public buildings and I didn’t like that. We’d talked about the harmful effects of cigarette smoke in school and being around cigarette smoke gave me a headache. So, I wrote to my senator and told him I thought there should be a law banning cigarette smoke in public buildings. I don’t take credit for the Minnesota Clean Indoor Air Act, which took effect not long after I wrote that letter. But Tom Hagedorn wrote back to me! And I was pretty shocked that he did. He was a busy grownup and I was just a kid. That experience certainly taught me that written language had power.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I’m not sure there was single moment when I decided that, but I remember cuddling with my grandmother while she read to me. I kept two books at her house: A Pony for the Winter and A Duck for Keeps. Both by Helen Kay. I loved those books, and I still have them. And I remember telling her I wanted to write books just like these!

Have you had any careers besides writing?

Nope! I feel pretty lucky that I get to do what I’ve always wanted to do.

Why do you write?

I want to turn non-readers into readers!

It’s always nice to get to know a little about an author’s personality. So we asked Dori to answer a few fun questions about her writing habits.

What do you drink while writing?

Coffee. Tea. And water.

Do you have any special things around your desk that help inspire you when you write?

I have some award certificates on the wall above my monitor. I also have a little Yoda figure with a light saber a little “bluebird of happiness” on my desk. That little bird is only about the size of my thumbnail. I saw a whole bin of them in a little novelty store when I was visiting my mother-in-law in Florida, and the sign on the bin claimed they were “little bluebirds of happiness.” I decided I needed one. And it sits on my desk to remind me that being a writer makes me happy. Sometimes I need that reminder—especially if it’s taken me all day to write two sentences.

Book cover Cat HuntAnd now that we know about more about Dori let’s find out about more about her book, King & Kayla and the Case of the Cat Hunt.

About the book:

In this latest book in the Geisel Honor award-winning series, our intrepid human-and-dog detective duo have another mystery to solve: how did Raj’s cat escape from a locked house?

King and Kayla have a new case and a new friend. King LOVES new friends. They’re his favorite!

Raj needs our beloved detectives to help him find his cat. Blue was in the house when Raj left for school but now he’s gone. Blue didn’t come for dinner or breakfast. (King can’t imagine missing a meal.) Blue never goes outside and he never had the chance to escape. Where did he go?

When Raj describes Blue, he sounds very familiar. Could Blue be Cat with No Name?

What inspired you to create this story?

Ha! My neighbor Dave and his cat, Blue. I met Dave the day after we moved into our townhouse. He’d lost his cat, so he was going door to door looking for him. He’d left the door to his rooftop patio open and thought maybe someone else had done the same thing, and maybe his very shy cat was hiding in one of our connected homes. The movers had indeed left our roof door open when they put our patio furniture up there, but I told Dave there was no way Blue could be in our house. I introduced him to our 103-pound dog, Mouse, and assured him that if there was a cat in the house, we would know about it.

But Mouse was trying to tell us something. Every time we took him outside, he veered toward my husband’s closed office door rather than the outside door. We didn’t think anything of it when he barked and scratched at that door; he hated closed doors.

Two days after we’d met Dave, Mouse finally got into that room. He went right to the futon and started pawing at the boxes underneath. We moved the boxes and guess what we found. Yup. We found Blue. I felt bad that we hadn’t looked harder when Dave had first stopped by, but I think I made up for it by immortalizing his cat.

Dave, Blue, and Dori

Dori, Blue, and Dave Photo Credit: Bob Butler

Did you base your characters on anyone you know?

See above. By the way, Dave was delighted that his cat inspired one of my books, and now whenever he sees me outside, he calls to me and says, “Hey, I have another story about Blue that you might not know.” That always makes me smile because I have another story about Blue that he doesn’t know.

Dave’s daughter stayed with Blue a couple years ago while he was away. And the cat got out again while she was there. Blue was gone for a couple of days and I helped her look for him. We did eventually find him. She made me promise not to ever tell him Blue had gotten out. And I haven’t. I sure hope he doesn’t read this blog—LOL!

Do you have any advice for readers on how to solve problems like your characters?

When King & Kayla are working on a new case, they make a list of things they know about that case. Then they make a list of things they don’t know. And then they make a plan to find out the things they don’t know, which leads to solving the case. I think that’s a good way to solve any problem.

What is your favorite part of the book?

The fact that it was inspired by real events

What do you hope readers will take away from the story?

That they can be problem solvers, too. Just like King and Kayla.

Please tell us about your other books.

Sure. I’ve got several early chapter series. Dear Beast is a 4-book epistolary [written in letters] series about a cat and dog who learn to share a boy who goes back and forth between them and his recently divorced parents. The Treasure Troop is a 4-book series full of codes and puzzles that readers can solve along with the three characters. The Haunted Library is a 10-book series about a ghost boy and a “solid” girl who work together to solve ghostly mysteries and try and find the ghost’s missing family. And the Buddy Files is a 7-book series, also about a school therapy dog who solves mysteries.

Can you share what you’re working on now?

Yes, I have a new chapter book series coming from Simon & Schuster called Ella Porter, Teleporter. You can probably guess what that’s about. J

I’m also collaborating on a middle grade novel with a friend. It’s a story about two cousins who are trying to heal a rift in their family, and that’ll be out from Holiday House in 2024.

And of course 2024 will also bring a new King & Kayla book, King & Kayla and the Case of the Downstairs Ghost.

I’m sure we’ll all be eagerly awaiting the next book once we finish King & Kayla and the Case of the Cat Hunt! Thanks so much for joining us, Dori. And we look forward to seeing what you come up with next.

Thanks for having me, Laurie!

So glad you were here! And thanks for answering all my questions! We loved learning about you and your newest book!

World Press Freedom Day

May 3 is World Press Freedom Day, which celebrates the importance of a free press in a functional society. First organized by the United Nations General Assembly in 1993, it’s a day to commemorate journalists around the world who have fought with integrity for a free press.

Here at The Mixed-Up Files, we’d like to celebrate by shining a light on middle-grade books about real and fictional investigative journalists. If you have your own favorite middle-grade book about a star reporter, tell us about it in the comment section!


The News Crew, (Book 1: Originally The Cruisers) by Walter Dean Myers
The is the first in a series, which included: Checkmate, A Star is Born, and Oh, Snap! Zander and his crew are underdogs at DaVinci Academy, one of the best Gifted and Talented schools in Harlem. But even these kids who are known as losers can win by speaking up. When they start their own school newspaper, stuff happens. Big stuff. Loud stuff. Stuff nobody expects. Mr. Culpepper, the Assistant Principal and Chief Executioner, is ready to be rid of Zander, Kambui, LaShonda, and Bobbi – until they prove that their writing packs enough power to keep the peace and show what it means to stand up for a cause.



Isabel Feeney, Star Reporter by Beth Fantaskey

It’s 1920s Chicago—the guns-and-gangster era of Al Capone—and it’s unusual for a girl to be selling the Tribune on the street corner. But ten-year-old Isabel Feeney is unusual . . . unusually obsessed with being a news reporter. She can’t believe her luck when she stumbles into a real-life murder scene and her hero, the famous journalist Maude Collier. The story of how Isabel fights to defend the honor of her accused friend and latches on to the murder case makes for a winning middle grade mystery.




The Tragically True Adventures of Kit Donovan by Patricia Bailey

Life in a Nevada mining town in 1905 is not easy for 13-year-old Kit Donovan, who is trying to do right by her deceased mother and become a proper lady. When Kit discovers Papa’s boss at the gold mine is profiting from unsafe working conditions, she realizes being a lady is tougher than it looks. With a man’s hat and a printing press, Kit puts her big mouth and all the life skills she’s learned from reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to work, defying threats of violence and finding that justice doesn’t always look like she imagined it would.




Adam Canfield of the Slash by Michael Winerip

Adam Canfield has to be the most overprogrammed middle-school student in America. So when super-organized Jennifer coaxes him to be coeditor of their school newspaper, THE SLASH, he wonders if he’s made a big mistake. But when a third-grader’s article leads to a big scoop, Adam and his fellow junior journalists rise to the challenge of receiving their principal’s wrath to uncover some scandalous secrets. From a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and NEW YORK TIMES columnist comes a funny, inspiring debut that sneaks in some lessons on personal integrity — and captures the rush that’s connected to the breaking of a really great story.




The Truth About the Truman School by Dori Hillestad Butler

When Zebby and Amr create the website, they want it to be honest. They want it to be about the real Truman Middle School, to say things that the school newspaper would never say, and to give everyone a chance to say what they want to say, too. But given the chance, some people will say anything—anything to hurt someone else. And when rumors about one popular student escalate to cruel new levels, it’s clear the truth about Truman School is more harrowing than anyone ever imagined.




Clara Voyant by Rachelle Delaney

Clara can’t believe her no-nonsense grandmother has just up and moved to Florida, leaving Clara and her mother on their own for the first time. This means her mother can finally “follow her bliss,” which involves moving to a tiny apartment in Kensington Market, working at an herbal remedy shop and trying to develop her so-called mystical powers. Clara tries to make the best of a bad situation by joining the newspaper staff at her new middle school, where she can sharpen her investigative journalistic skills and tell the kind of hard-news stories her grandmother appreciated. But the editor relegates her to boring news stories and worse . . . the horoscopes.

Worse yet, her horoscopes come true, and soon everyone at school is talking about Clara Voyant, the talented fortune-teller. Clara is horrified — horoscopes and clairvoyance aren’t real, she insists, just like her grandmother always told her. But when a mystery unfolds at school, she finds herself in a strange situation: having an opportunity to prove herself as an investigative journalist . . . with the help of her own mystical powers.



Ida B. Wells: Let the Truth Be Told by Walter Dean Myers, illus. Bonnie Christensen

This picture book biography introduces the extraordinary Ida B. Wells. Long before boycotts, sit-ins, and freedom rides, Ida B. Wells was hard at work to better the lives of African Americans.

An activist, educator, writer, journalist, suffragette, and pioneering voice against the horror of lynching, she used fierce determination and the power of the pen to educate the world about the unequal treatment of blacks in the United States.

In this picture book biography, award-winning, New York Times bestselling author Walter Dean Myers tells the story of this legendary figure, which blends harmoniously with the historically detailed watercolor paintings of illustrator Bonnie Christensen.




Nellie Bly and Investigative Journalism for Kids by Ellen Mahoney

In the late 1800s, the daring young reporter Elizabeth Cochrane—known by the pen name Nellie Bly—faked insanity so she could be committed to a mental institution and secretly report on the awful conditions there. This and other highly publicized investigative “stunts” laid the groundwork for a new kind of journalism in the early 1900s, called “muckraking,” dedicated to exposing social, political, and economic ills in the United States. In Nellie Bly and Investigative Journalism for Kids budding reporters learn about the major figures of the muckraking era: the bold and audacious Bly, one of the most famous women in the world in her day; social reformer and photojournalist Jacob Riis; monopoly buster Ida Tarbell; antilynching crusader Ida B. Wells; and Upton Sinclair, whose classic book The Jungle created a public outcry over the dangerous and unsanitary conditions of the early meatpacking industry. Young readers will also learn about more contemporary reporters, from Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein to Amy Goodman, who have carried on the muckraking tradition, and will get excited about the ever-changing world of journalism and the power of purposeful writing. Twenty-one creative activities encourage and engage a future generation of muckrakers. Kids can make and keep a reporter’s notebook; write a letter to the editor; craft a “great ideas” box; create a Jacob Riis–style photo essay; and much more.

Revised and Updated

Peachtree Publishers is putting new covers on my companion novels Do You Know the Monkey Man and Yes, I Know the Monkey Man! What do you think? Here are the original covers:








And here are the new ones:

Do You Know the Monkey Man was published in 2005. I signed a contract for it in 2003 and I wrote the first draft before 2000. My main character listened to her music on a Walkman in my first draft. (That was changed to “MP3 player” before publication. “MP3 player” rather than iPod, because who knew how long these iPod things would even be around?)

As soon as I saw these new covers, I asked my editor, Kathy Landwehr, if I could revise and update the books. She agreed that I could, so I marked the deadline on my calendar and noted I also had a MUF post due right around the same time. Suddenly I had a topic for this post: revised and updated middle grade novels!

I knew Lauren Myracle revised and updated her Internet Girls series ten years after they were published. I just saw this article on the Nerdy Bookclub blog and learned that James Preller recently revised and updated his Jigsaw Jones books. But when I started talking about this with people in my various writing circles, I had a hard time finding anyone else who had revised and updated a book. I wondered why that was. Were books simply not staying in print long enough to warrant an update?

Peachtree tends to keep their books in print for many years, so I asked Kathy if she could put me in touch with any of their other authors who have revised and updated one of their books. She couldn’t. Because she didn’t know of any other authors who had done it!

She said, “We’ve revised a series that began publishing in the nineties to update some references in the early titles, so they’d be consistent with the more recently published books. The editorial staff reviewed the books and had the author approve all of the changes. Some of our backlist is historical and doesn’t require updates. Many contemporary titles are set in the outdoors and the content, which doesn’t involve much technology, doesn’t require updating. And then there are some titles in which dated references are so thoroughly integrated into the plot that updating them would require a major overhaul. We haven’t felt that this sort of update would improve the reading experience; kids are perfectly capable of understanding older references and technologies, just as they understand them in historical fiction.”

Okay, once I got in to my own revision I understood what she meant by “references so thoroughly integrated into the plot.” Some of the things I wanted to fix weren’t as easy to fix as I had hoped they’d be. It was like dominoes. As soon as I changed one thing, that change affected something else.

Was this really worth it? This whole thing was my idea. Nobody told me I had to revise or update my book.

I talked to my friend Carol Gorman, who has gotten rights back to many of her previously published middle grade novels and released them under her own publishing imprint, Skylark Lane Press. I wondered whether she had done and revising or updating. She said, “I revised and updated all of them, including my first novel, published in 1985! The characters now have cell phones and they like Harry Styles instead of Leonardo DiCaprio. Although Harry Styles is now probably out of date!”

I asked how she felt about the revision and she said, “I think the improvement is mostly that the books will appeal more to today’s kids than if they felt ‘old-fashioned.’ I learned when I taught at Coe College that today’s kids think that anything, say 8-10 years old, is ‘back in the day’ and really ‘old’!”

I also talked to Robyn Gioia, who published a children’s mystery entitled Miss President with a traditional publisher years ago. Like Gorman, she revised it after it went out of print and self-published a new edition. She said, “Self-publishing was just becoming big and many authors were doing it, so I fleshed it out more, made it stronger in several parts but basically kept the story the same.”

But then after a couple of years, she decided to revisit the story. She decided she wanted to turn it into a fantasy! Talk about a major revision! She said, “I had just read the Rats of Nimh to my class and thought it would be fun to work in a different style. I drastically changed the story.  The Ghost, The Rat and Me is totally different than the original and I love this version the best.”

I did decide to go forward with my revision, too. But wasn’t just technology that I updated. The speed limit in Iowa has changed since I first published Do You Know the Monkey Man. (You’d be surprised how many kids wrote to tell me that the speed limit was 70 on the freeway. Not 65 as my characters said.) I also realized psychics probably charge more today than they did in 2000. And teenagers are paid more for babysitting now than they were then.

I ended up changing quite a few things. Things I didn’t necessarily intend to change. Things that had nothing to do with technology. I’m a better writer now than I was in 2000, when I wrote the first draft of this book, so once I got in there, I just couldn’t stop myself from fixing EVERYTHING. I didn’t make any plot changes, but I did a lot of work at the sentence level. And I changed one very big scene that I had never been happy with. I had a different editor at Peachtree when I first published this book. This was one of my early books, and at that time in my career I tended to do whatever my editor said, whether I agreed with her or not. Most of the time I did agree, but there was one scene in this book that I strongly disagreed with my editor on. But I rewrote it her way anyway. And I’ve always regretted it.

Well, now I have a new editor. And a chance to rewrite this book. So I rewrote that scene the way I wished I could have written it in the first place. And I didn’t tell my new editor what I did. If she finds it (and I suppose she could find it if she turns on track changes) and she misses the dialogue I took out, we can talk about it. But I don’t think she’ll find it unless she does turn on track changes.

Working on this revision reminded me of something Elizabeth Gilbert said when she was in Seattle a year ago. She was talking about reviews and how she doesn’t let them get her down. She said, “Do they think I don’t know that’s there? I wrote the best book I could at the time.”

That last sentence really resonated with me. I can be a bit of a perfectionist. (I can hear every editor I’ve ever worked: “A bit???”) The truth is no book is ever going to be perfect. We do the best we can at the time and then we let the book go.

But sometimes we get a chance to take another stab at a book. Under the guise of “updating the technology.”

Now that my “update” is done, I’m glad I took the time. I can’t say it’s a perfect book. But it’s better than it was.

And I can’t say that it’s totally modern. But again, it’s better than it was. And I really appreciated the opportunity to go back and make it better.