Posts Tagged Giveaway

Interview with Anika Fajardo, author of What if a Fish plus a GIVEAWAY!


Hello Mixed-Up Readers,

I recently I had the privilege of interviewing Colombian-American author Anika Fajardo, author of What if a Fish. Anika’s story is sure to speak to diverse middle grade readers who might see themselves in some of the experiences and uncertainties that are faced by her protagonist.

APP: Tell me a little bit about yourself as a Latinx storyteller. What makes you, you?

AF: I was born in Colombia and raised in Minnesota after my parents divorced when I was two. From the time my family began reading to me, I wanted to be a writer. My memoir, Magical Realism for Non-Believers: A Memoir of Finding Family, was released last year after almost a decade of work. Even though it took me a while to become a writer, I have always worked with words in some way. I’ve been a fifth-grade teacher, a librarian, a communications manager, an editor, and a professor. My debut middle-grade book is called What If a Fish.

APP: I really enjoyed What if a Fish! Tell us a little bit about your story.

AF: What If a Fish features 11-year-old, half-Colombian Eddie Aguado. When his older half-brother’s trip to visit Eddie in Minnesota is canceled, Eddie is sent to spend the summer in Colombia instead. What follows is a generational story of family, identity, and all the things you might find at the end of a fishing line.

APP: What was your inspiration for this particular story?

AF: This book started with names. Eddie, known as Little Eddie, and his older brother, known as Big Eddie. I have a half-brother who is named after our father and nearly all the men in our family.  I suppose that if I had been born a boy, my brother and I would have had the same name. And I wanted to know what that would be like. How do you separate yourself from someone else who has the same name? How does what we call ourselves inform who we are?

APP: That is so interesting, but this story is not only about identity, it is also about perseverance and grief.

AF: I didn’t set out to tell a story about grief, but my grandmother passed away while I was writing this book. I had already created the character of Abuela. And I felt like the best way to honor my grandmother, while also processing my own grief, was to write it into the story. I think the idea of letting go turned out to be an important theme whether talking about letting go of a loved one or letting go of a fish.

APP: Abuelas are so important in so many of our lives as Latinx people! Water is another important element in your story. Tell me about that.

AF: Water is both necessary to life and yet dangerous. It can reveal and it can hide. I wanted to center the story on water in order to contrast Minnesota—land of 10,000 lakes—with coastal Colombia. The two places that Eddie calls home are very distinct, but they have commonalities, much like people from different places might.

APP: So true! There is something magical about water and about all of the female characters in this story, don’t you think?

AF: I love this idea of the females in the story being magical. The women and girls around Eddie help to ground him, make him brave, help him to see love, and connect him to family. It takes all of them to help Eddie fulfill his destiny.

APP: I was particularly fascinated by the character of Cameron. I want a whole book about her. Tell me about how you decided on the role she would play in the story.

AF: I read somewhere that Kate DiCamillo was told to add more kid characters to Because of Winn-Dixie, that a child protagonist can’t spend all their time with adults. So I knew that, because Eddie’s brother is 19, I needed another child character. Cameron is partly based on my own daughter (who started campaigning to dye her hair purple after I wrote that part). In many ways, Cameron is the opposite of Eddie. She’s brave, fierce, and doesn’t seem to care what anyone thinks of her. It’s nice to see the two of them interact and learn from each other.

APP: Team Cameron, love her! And I support your daughter’s quest for purple hair. But I’m wondering why you chose to have your main character be a boy?

AF: Eddie was a character that came to me many years before I started writing this book. For some reason, the idea of this boy wandering the neighborhood in search of something took hold. I think that a girl character might have required more dialogue, more interior complexities. In some ways, a boy character is a stripped-down story with action at its center. But I also wanted the character to be a boy because I wanted to show that boys can be introspective and quiet and vulnerable. There isn’t one way to be a boy or a girl.

APP: Absolutely, and as the mother of many daughters and several sons, I agree. I feel that you perfectly captured the feeling of child immigrants like me, as well as children of immigrants. We can feel like we don’t really belong anywhere. Did that come from your own childhood experience?

AF: Although I’m not technically a child of immigrants (my Colombian father never immigrated to the US and lives in Colombia still), I definitely felt the pull from coming from two cultures, two countries. Now it’s hard to believe, but when I was a child in Minnesota in the 1980s, my Colombian background was extremely unusual. Where I grew up, there were hardly any non-whites. I was constantly asked where I was from or what I was. I never had a good answer for that. When I was a young adult, I went to Colombia and found that I also felt out of place there. For anyone straddling two cultures, it’s as if you don’t fit in either place. The number of children in the US that come from mixed backgrounds or from immigrant families is going to continue to increase and those children need to see themselves reflected in stories.

APP: Yes! Another way that I connected with this story is as a person who only has half siblings myself. I was annoyed at first when Little Eddie kept referring to Big Eddie as his half-brother. I wanted him to just say ‘brother’ like I do to my own brother. He will never have a full sibling and I wanted him to just embrace the one he had. Did you do that intentionally? If so, why?

 AF: I have a half-brother and it’s true that, too, generally refer to him as my “brother.” But I think Eddie calls his brother his “half-brother” because he’s trying to make sense of the relationship. He’s trying to name things. Obviously, names play an important role in Eddie’s world. He also loves facts (he reads his encyclopedia regularly), so I also think it’s important to him to be factual. And the fact is that his brother is, technically, his half-brother.

APP: Yes, I love the way he took an encyclopedia with him on the trip! I was surprised that Little Eddie had never visited Colombia before. Why would he not have visited as a small child, and why did he speak no Spanish at all? I wanted to complain about that.

AF: Your complaint has been registered! The truth is, the reason is simply because I modeled Eddie’s experiences on my own life. Colombia was always quite mysterious and distant to me as a child. I didn’t visit Colombia until I was an adult. Part of the reason for that divide in my own was personal and familial. But part of it was also that Colombia was, and in many ways still is, a dangerous place for visitors. So I used that as my excuse.

APP: That explains it! On another topic, I really hated those bullies who were rude to Little Eddie. Do you feel that it is important for Latinx writers to portray how kids can be treated at schools and in neighborhoods?

AF: I often felt like an outsider, like I was different. And when you’re a kid, being different is often seen as a bad thing. While I never had an experience like the one of the bullies in the book, I’ve felt the sting of people’s prejudice. Outside of my own experience, I also wanted to reflect my brother’s experiences growing up. Based on the stories he’s told me, I think it can be harder for boys in terms of outright bullying.

APP: What do you feel are some of the most important challenges for Latinx writers trying to get published today?

There is a perception that “everyone” wants to publish diverse books by diverse authors. But that can manifest itself in a call for a specific type of story—stories that perpetuate the stereotypes of racial/ethnic groups. For Latinx authors, that often means stories that reflect certain, specific aspects of the Latinx experience (immigration, assimilation, language, etc). Although the industry is changing, I still think it’s a challenge for Latinx writers who want to write about other topics.

APP: Yes, it is a challenge. What advice do you have for authors interested in writing magical realism for middle grade audiences?

Magical realism is sometimes confused with fantasy. But magical realism is about magical things happening in otherwise realistic fiction. It has its roots in Latin American literature and is a reflection of colonization and diverse representations of reality. Middle-grade readers demand that stories make sense, so I think that magical realism in books for this age group needs to be thoroughly woven into the reality of the narrative. In What If a Fish, I used magical realism elements sparingly to make them pop. I also made them a little dream-like so that a reader who isn’t sure they believe in the magic can imagine an alternate reason behind the magic.

APP: Thank you so much for this interview Anika!

For a chance to win a copy of What if a Fish enter the rafflecopter below! NOTE: US entries only please!

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STEM Tuesday — Planets and Stars — Interview with Author Rosemary Mosco

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

Today we’re interviewing Rosemary Mosco, author of Science Comics: Solar System: Our Place In Space. This hilarious STEM-filled graphic novel starts in the imagination of its two character, Sara and Jill who design the spaceship “Unbored.” It is crewed by their intrepid pets, Riley, Fortinbras, Pepper and Mr. Slithers. The science is both approachable and decodable for even the most reluctant reader. It’s a must-have for classrooms looking to expand their libraries.

“…Like having a Time Life Science Library in comic books. Which is awesome!” —Popular Science


Christine Taylor-Butler: Rosemary, you grew up in Ottawa, Canada surrounded by nature. I love that you say you can walk into the woods and find 20-30 hilarious things to use as comic prompts. But how does that work if the subjects are far away in the solar system?
Rosemary Mosco: That’s a good question. I’m trained as a naturalist and science writer, but not as an astronomer. At first, I was nervous about tackling this subject matter. But then I realized that my background made me a good choice for this book – I’m already so enthusiastic about science, and I’m trained to explain complicated concepts in simple terms. So, every fact and discovery I shared was something I took pains to fully understand, and something that I’d found honestly exciting as a layperson! The key is enthusiasm, I think, and the rest just follows.

CTB: The graphic novel is filled with fun but factual information about each planet as well as the sun. It might surprise readers to know there is as much science in this book as more traditional nonfiction for kids. How long did it take to do the research? Any fun fact left on the cutting room floor?
Rosemary: I can’t remember how long the research took me, but it was many months! I think I would have loved to dive deeper into the possibilities for life on other worlds. My background is in biology, so that’s what gets me really excited – where we might find life, and what it would look like! The recent discovery of possible life in the Venusian clouds just fired off my imagination in all sorts of ways.

illustrator: Jon Chad

CTB: You are known for your humorous field guides but for this book you collaborated with illustrator, Jon Chad. Was it hard to come to a meeting of the minds on the finished product?
Rosemary: Jon Chad is both a consummate professional and just an overall funny, nice person. We were friends right away. His attention to detail is incredible! I really felt like we built this book together, passing ideas back and forth. I think that’s the best way to make a comic book.
CTB: The two girls are named for two real life women scientists, Sara Seager an astrophysicist and Dr. Jill Tarter an astronomer. What lead you to those women as inspiration?

Dr. Sara Seager

Dr. Jill Tarter

Rosemary: There are so many amazing women scientists in the world, but most people can only name one or two scientists, and they tend to be men. I wanted to highlight these two remarkable people. Sara Seager spends her time discovering planets outside of the solar system. That’s her JOB. How amazing is that? Jill Tarter has spent her life tirelessly questing for intelligent life from other planets. Why don’t we give TV shows to these women?

CTB: One of the characters is a person of color. Was it a conscious decision to make the book more inclusive?
Rosemary: That’s a good question. Unless I’m specifically trying to convey a particular message, I leave elements like character design up to my artists. I like to give them as much freedom and creative space as possible, and I scan their art to try and figure out what they want to draw, so I can make the script just as much theirs as mine. Jon drew the character that way and I thought it was a great choice. Anyone can be a scientist. We need to break down the barriers that prevent everyone who wants to be a scientist from achieving that dream.


CTB: You’ve said that if you could go anywhere in space, you would travel to Jupiter’s Moon, Europa. Why that location?
Rosemary: That’s such a good question. The moons of our solar system are, in my opinion, so much more amazing than our planets! Europa is fantastic, with a front seat view of beautiful Jupiter. It’s the smoothest object in the whole solar system. It’s covered in a beautiful cracked crust of frozen water. Under that ice is, very probably, an ocean. I love to imagine what creatures swim beneath the ice.

Caño Cristales Photo by Moterocolombia

CTB: I think I’m in love with another of your books, Atlas Obscura, which was on the NYT’s bestseller list. It’s filled with wonderfully quirky facts about the world. Which of the locations surprised you most when researching?
Rosemary: It’s so hard to choose. I’d probably say Colombia’s Caño Cristales, this sun-soaked, rainbow river that’s colored red and green by plants found nowhere else. It’s beyond beautiful. I’ve never been to Colombia and I really, really want to visit this river someday.

CTB: In preparing for this interview I found myself distracted by the Festival of Bad Ad Hoc Science Theory videos (BAHFest). They were hilarious. You were a judge in 2019. Was there a specific bad science theory that stood out?  What bad hypothesis would you love to present if you were a contestant. (Side note – I really REALLY want that trophy!)
Rosemary: There were so many good presentations at that event! I remember Jerry Wang’s proposal for a naval warship transported by chickens. It had so many sly jokes. This event is wonderfully ridiculous. If I could be a presenter, I’d probably want to present something about urban nature. Maybe I’d argue that pigeons distract city-dwellers from the overwhelming ennui of existence?

CTB: Your humor and art gives people so much joy. Any advice for budding artists in the classroom who might see your work and be inspired to create their own?
Rosemary: Do it! Find something funny, sketch out a comic, and make one! You have your own unique perspective, humor, and talent, and the world would love to see what you make. You can change the world without being serious all the time. There’s space for humor in activism and change.

CTB: Is there anything new coming out that we should keep our eyes out for?
Rosemary: I’ve got a picture book about butterflies coming out in April, 2021 through Tundra. It’s called Butterflies Are Pretty… Gross! and it’s a book about how butterflies are more than just pretty – they’re also ecologically fascinating and disgusting! I have a few other books on the horizon, too. Stay tuned!

Win a FREE copy of Science Comics: Solar System.

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!

Rosemary Mosco makes books and cartoons that connect people with the natural world. Her Bird and Moon nature comics were the subject of an award-winning museum exhibit and are collected in a book that’s a 2019 ALA Great Graphic Novel for Teens. She speaks at birding festivals and writes for Audubon , Mental Floss and the PBS kids’ show Elinor Wonders Why. You can find her at  For fun facts and hilarious nature comics, follow @RosemaryMosco on Twitter.
Fun facts:
Rosemary once drew a poster showing every snake in North America. It took six months and the help of six herpetologists.

She credits her pet birds for helping her write by taking the keys off her keyboard and pooping on the floor.
I learned early on, if you attach a joke and you make it funny enough to pretty much any fact in the universe, people will share it just because of the joke, and then the facts will tag along and people will learn things….” Rosemary Mosco


Christine Taylor-ButlerYour host is Christine Taylor-Butler, MIT nerd and author of Bathroom Science, Sacred Mountain: Everest, Genetics, and many other nonfiction books for kids. She is also the author of the STEM inspired middle grade sci-fi series The Lost Tribes. Follow @ChristineTB on Twitter and/or @ChristineTaylorButler on Instagram

Interview with Tod Olson, Author of Into the Clouds + Book Giveaway

Sean McCollum: This is my first blog post for Mixed Up Files, and I couldn’t be happier to be here, as well as an appropriate amount of nervous. What a cool, helpful crew working together to keep creating this website. I’m a long-time writer for youth and educational publishers, and being part of MUF helps keep me current with young readers and the MG universe, even as I live the life of a digital nomad. (House-sitting in Edinburgh, Czech Republic, New York, Phoenix, and Ecuador in the last year—Have Internet, Will Travel.)

I’m also MOST pleased to introduce Tod Olson to MUF-world. Tod and I go back nearly 40 years, to a small liberal arts college—Lawrence University—in the belly of Wisconsin, before working together at Scholastic. So as I considered what my first post might be, an interview with my best bud (having been his Best Man) immediately came to mind. He also happens to be one of the foremost authors of narrative nonfiction working in children’s publishing—so bonus! Hey T, welcome to MUF.

Tod Olson: Thanks, Sean! Wish we were doing this in person, but I’ll settle.

SMc: I loved Into the Clouds and its nuts and pitons description of the first attempts to climb K2, the second highest mountain in the world. How did you first learn about this chapter in mountain-climbing history and what attracted you to it?

TO: So, I really wanted to tell a climbing story, partly because the ethical questions are so primal: What’s your obligation to other humans when you barely have the resources to keep yourself alive? The 1953 expedition to K2 is legendary in climbing circles for the selfless—some would say suicidal—attempt to get a sick comrade home alive. But the story hadn’t yet found a wider audience. Plus, the contrast with the previous expedition to K2, which ended in disaster, raised interesting questions, not just about climbing but about life: What’s important about any endeavor—the summit or how you climb? The product or the process? Your achievement or the bonds you form along the way?

SMc: You and I have both done some expeditioning and climbed non-technical mountains. So why do people undertake such misery-causing forms of recreation?

TO: A lot of climbers talk about the mountains as a world apart from their workaday lives in New York or Peoria. It’s a place where the complications of civilized life are stripped away and your relationship with nature, with other people, with yourself, is somehow more basic, more pure. I think there’s also a mindfulness to climbing. The danger focuses the mind in the moment—the feel of the rock under the fingers; this foothold, then the next one. Besides, the burgers taste that much better when you get home.

SMc: Oh yeah, and the warm bed. Your writing is rich with sensory detail. How much of that is personal suffering and how much is imagination and empathy for your subjects? In other words, do you go out and risk your life as a way of doing primary research?

TO: Ha! Writing is the most exquisite form of suffering ever invented. Why would anyone feel the need to add to the misery? Actually, it does feel like an act of hubris to presume you can capture an experience you haven’t lived. But even if we tried to climb K2, our experience of the mountain wouldn’t match anyone else’s. We still need to find a way into the minds of the people we write about. I think of research as listening, whether I’m actually interviewing people or engaging with written sources.

In large part, I think I look for portals—observations, phrases, or anecdotes that suddenly admit me into the world of the other. For K2, for instance, one of the 1938 climbers talked about his reluctance to read mail from home on the rare occasions when it arrived at Base Camp. For some reason that made it real for me: Conditions on the mountain were so uncomfortable that in order to bear it, he had to block out the fact that some people in the world lived differently, even if it meant cutting himself off from the people he loved most.

SMc: How did you get interested in survival stories, like the four books of the Lost collection?

TO: When I was 11, I read Alive, the story of the Uruguayan rugby team that was stranded in the Andes by a plane crash and had to eat the bodies of friends and family to survive. I barely left my chair for two days, and I think I’ve been trying to recreate that immersive reading experience as a writer. I tell the Alive story on school visits, and it’s amazing how quickly the thought of eating your cousin can focus the attention of a couple hundred 6thgraders.

SMc: Why do you think young readers are so interested in such stories, whether fictional or not?

TO: Survival stories have an interesting history. Eighteenth-century Europeans were entranced by stories of people marooned with cannibals on remote islands. Robinson Crusoe was arguably the first novel in English, and it was a survival story. At that point, European settlers were spreading out around the globe, leaving everything familiar behind, colonizing places that felt alien to them. The stories were a way of working out their fears.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that survival stories do something similar for a kid anticipating her own entry into a complicated adult world. Besides, what is middle school but a three-year survival epic with really bad food?

SMc: I can still taste the liverwurst. In your mind, what distinguishes narrative nonfiction from fiction? And narrative nonfiction from history? What niche in our need for stories does narrative nonfiction fill?

TO: I love thinking about the first part of that question, but we could talk about it for hours and still fall short of an answer. When you really look closely, I think it’s hard to draw a clear line. So much mediates our knowledge of the past—the limitations of memory, cultural gaps, lack of documentation. Narrative nonfiction authors make decisions on every page about the relationship between their sources and the words on the page.

That said, I think we absolutely need to draw a line, and for me it’s that everything needs to be documented. As for the importance of narrative, I don’t write books primarily to teach, but I do think we learn best through story. We understand people at a deeper level, we empathize, and we retain what we read. If you need evidence, try Say Nothing, which I just finished. It’s an amazing feat of storytelling that made me understand the Troubles in Northern Ireland for the first time.

SMc: Could you describe your research process for Into the Clouds? How much time did you spend researching versus writing?

TO: Hard to say because the research continued after I started writing, but maybe a year of researching and six months of writing. I reached out to the family members of all the climbers I wrote about, and that can take a while because you’re following leads that lead to other leads, etc.

It’s really all about primary sources, and the turning point for me was when I found Dee Molenaar’s diary. He was one of the climbers on the 1953 expedition, and he wrote with disarming honesty about his struggles with pride and fear and insecurity on the mountain. That kind of candor was unusual for the era, and it gave me that portal I needed to get inside their experience on K2.

SMc: Tell us about your writing journey up to this point. What literary mountains are you still wanting to climb as a writer?

TO: I’m done with survival stories for a while. As much as I love them, there’s a sameness to the story arc, and after a while you run out of synonyms for cold, hungry, and miserable. I’m trying to write a novel, which is a lot harder than writing nonfiction. At any given moment, there are hundreds of viable choices instead of dozens.

SMc: What is something people would be surprised to learn about you, besides you and your dad once being national tennis champs in father-son doubles?

TO: I hate being cold. (How are things in Ecuador?)

SMc: Living and writing at 8,000 feet … please … send … oxygen. Advice for writers wanting to try their hand at narrative nonfiction?

TO: Be faithful to your sources, but make the story your own. You’re not building a day-by-day, minute-by-minute chronicle of lived experience. You’re telling a story. As you research, pay attention to the pieces that quicken your pulse, raise a lump in your throat, make you think. Those are the peaks in your mountain range; write up to them, down from them, and around them.

SMc: What are you working on now?

TO: That novel, but we don’t need to talk about that. During quarantine I made a really cool (I think) on-line scavenger hunt for Into the Clouds: It’s on my website, and anyone who completes it gets a chance to win a book. If the novel doesn’t work, I’m going to be a scavenger hunt writer. Is that a thing?

It is now! Thanks, T, for taking the time to share your adventures—writing and otherwise—with us. The best way to follow Tod is through his website:

And here’s another chance to win Tod’s Into the Clouds—via MUF, thank you Tod. (Sorry, only available for MUF readers in the United States and Canada.)

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