Posts Tagged illustrated middle grade books

The F.A.R.T. Diaries #1: Top Secret! No Kids Allowed!~ An Interview with Peter Bakalian

Welcome to my interview with author Peter Bakalian and his hilariously clever middle grade book The F.A.R.T. Diaries #1: Top Secret! No Kids Allowed! I’m sure the title has you as curious as it did me. So let’s jump right in and see what this diary is all about.

The Book

The F.A.R.T. DIARIES #1: Top Secret! No Kids Allowed! by Peter Bakalian

Publisher: Aladdin

Released: May 3, 2022

When a young teen discovers a top-secret parenting manual, it’s kids versus grown-ups in this kooky, illustrated middle grade thriller with nonstop, seat-of-your-pants action that will delight fans of Jarrett Lerner and Stuart Gibbs.

When a tween boy [Codename: Furious Popcorn] picks up what he thinks is a cookbook and finds a diabolical parenting manual, his world turns upside down. The Ultimate Guide to Hacking Your Kids was written by an organization called F.A.R.T. (Families Against Rotten Teens), a secret society of grizzled parents whose origins date back to antiquity.

FP is determined to get to the bottom of this, but when he begins investigating F.A.R.T., the manual goes missing, his parents deny knowing anything about any kind of book, and–maybe strangest of all–kids at school start listening to their parents and teachers. What kid would ever do that?

F.A.R.T. proves to be more than just some gassy acronym and parental rules and regulations when FP and the Only Onlys, his best friends since preschool, discover F.A.R.T.’s grand plan: a brain modem that can turn kids into well-behaved zombies!

This wacky crew has no choice but to find out who’s behind the nefarious organization and save young people the world over from total F.A.R.T. domination!

“A laugh out loud outrageous adventure with likeable characters and an engaging storyline. I loved the obstacles, the fast pace, and the unique skill set each character brought to the group.”   –  Meagan Marie, Goodreads 


Hi Peter! We are thrilled you’ve stopped by the Mixed-Up Files to share this fun middle grade book. Let’s start with the obvious – Humor. It’s a huge element throughout the story. And it’s not just humor, but some quirky and witty humor such as the characters having coded names. How did you come up with such an ingenious idea and title?

Thank you for the word “ingenious.” I’ve heard other adjectives!

Haha! I’m sure.

F.A.R.T. (Families Against Rotten Teens) is about a secret organization of frustrated parents whose mission is to keep kids confused and obedient. It’s been around since ancient times. All parents know about it. F.A.R.T. publishes a parenting manual that’s chock full of dirty tricks, advertisements for insane products and services. No kid is ever supposed to see it, until one does.

The idea came about when I was young parent and I heard a commercial for a manual that promised a perfectly obedient child within 30 minutes or less. I was ready to empty my savings account for it until I realized that it would become useless once my son caught on to the 30 minute secret. Anyway, I realized that this 30 minute manual was hype, but it got me thinking – what if a manual like that really existed and a kid found it?.

Surely this will get MGers to think about it’s possibility.

As for the book title, I tried a lot of acronyms but F.A.R.T. was the silliest so it won. The original title of the book was HOW TO RAISE YOUR ROTTEN KIDS UNTIL THEY’RE READY FOR JAIL.  A little harsh, yes? Anyway, the folks at Aladdin suggested putting F.A.R.T. on the cover and I’m glad they did.

I loved the silly! I’m sure young readers will, too.

If a secretly coded description of F.A.R.T. (Families Against Rotten Teens) was found on the back of a cereal box, what would a middle grade reader see? Same middle grader reader’s parents/guardians see?

Now, THAT’S ingenious.

😊 Aw . . . thank you.

Hmm, I think you could print anything you wanted under the words NUTRITIONAL INFORMATION. No kid would ever read it. Does anyone? If they did they’d probably never buy the cereal. I was going to suggest something diabolical with Alpha-Bits cereal, but they discontinued making it last year, which means that all our domestic cereals are illiterate.

Haha! Good point.

I’m afraid I’ll have to kick this problem over to the folks in F.A.R.T. RESEARCH. Incidentally, cereal plays a pivotal role in the second book of this trilogy.


How did the illustrations influence the text? Did you change anything once the illustrations were added?

The illustrations and text were conceived simultaneously. Basically, I’d have an idea like a camera that prevented kids from pulling a photobomb – you know, making a weird face just as you took their picture. I wrote the copy quite seriously even though it was ridiculous (e.g.: The camera would shoot 40 gallons of compressed water at the kid if it sensed an incoming photobomb.).

See, that is genius and super funny!

At the same time, I’d Photoshop stock images to support this idea, as if it were an article from Consumer Reports.  I’ve spent a number of years producing and writing animation where text and images were conceived hand in hand, so I tend to think that way.

The book also contains interactive graphics on some pages. Were those after-thoughts or did you write scenes on purpose to include them?

At its heart, F.A.R.T. is a mystery story, so the graphics included clues and details that were essential. They were always meant to be there. Personally, I love when a book rewards me with seemingly hidden details. When I was a kid, Mad Magazine would include tiny sketches of guys having a fist fight or a duel in the page margins. I’d think I was the only one who saw it, but of course everyone did.

(PS: Readers – the graphics are very cool and interactive. I agree with Peter. They were essential.)


Let’s break in for a moment to share a teeny excerpt from F.A.R.T. (Families Against Rotten Teens).

Diary 1: Ride at Your Own Risk DIARY 1 RIDE AT YOUR OWN RISK
The guys who run amusement parks won’t tell you this, but all the really good rides have a secret exit just before you get on them. It’s true. They call it a “Chicken Hatch,” and it’s for people who lose their nerve at the last minute.

Me, I think it’s wrong to call people “chicken” because they don’t want to vompedo their lunch on some roller coaster. That’s why I’m offering you a chance to exit this diary right now.

I’m serious. I’ve kept this journal in case something should happen to me, but the detours and trapdoors that follow could easily scramble your eggs. But before you leave, consider this: F.A.R.T. wants you to take this exit.

Yes, you heard that right—F.A.R.T. They want you to laugh at their ridiculous name and go back to eating your cornflakes because you’re not supposed to know anything about them. Not you or your friends or any kids anywhere.

Now, if you’re still with me, ask yourself this question:
I mean a lot smarter. Do they always find your hiding places for junk food, like the Pringles can you disguised as a fire extinguisher or the cake frosting you use for toothpaste? Have they recently discovered that you’ve rigged the thermometer in the medicine chest to read 10,000 degrees when you want a sick day, or put Meow Mix on your veggies so your cat will eat them?

How about you? Has a change come over you at school? Do you high-five your teacher when she pulls a pop quiz, remind substitute teachers that homework is due, or tell fellow students, You only hurt yourself when you forge a bathroom pass? Sound familiar?

And riddle yourself this: When your parents go to a PTO meeting, where do they really go? IS there a PTO? Have you ever been to a meeting? Of course not.

Like you, I ignored these warning signs until I stumbled onto the truth. It was a bizarre truth that made sense of it all, but none of my so-called friends could believe it. If you must know, they laughed at me. The fools!

What I needed were people who could grasp the incredible. People I could trust. And I needed them now.

That was when I called THE ONLY ONLYS.

I loved the ONLY ONLYS!

Story Charm✨

All humor aside, this story challenges the relationship between parent and child. What collective message and/or lesson do you hope readers of all ages will take away after reading F.A.R.T.? (Is it too obvious that I like typing your title?)

I used to think: Raising a kid will be easy because I was a kid, once.  Then, this kid enters your life and you realize that all the stuff that worked on you as kid doesn’t work because YOUR KID ISN’T YOU.  Naturally, you look for answers from other parents and manuals and a boatload of experts – it’s a whole industry – and again you discover that nothing works quite the way you thought it would. The F.A.R.T. Manual is a parody of all it. The message, I guess, is that you’re raising an individual, not a Mini-Me.

BTW, I like typing F.A.R.T., too. I have it on speed type so it pops up whenever I type an “f” followed by a period. Unfortunately, I forget to turn this feature off and it has sneaked into some of my business correspondence with troubling consequences.

Too, funny! *Note: to clarify, while writing up the interview I shared with Peter how much I liked writing F.A.R.T.

Why will MG readers relate to the group of young characters you’ve created?

Well, I hope they do. Our four characters’ initial bond was that they are all only children – hence they call themselves the Only Onlys – but that becomes less important.  I think what makes them relatable is that they fuss and fight among themselves, but they like each other very much. That was important to me. We all have relationships like that. I’ve also noticed that comedy ensembles – even those that beat each other up for most of the story – are always loyal to each other in the end, and that seems essential to the genre.

Author Insights👀

What was the most challenging part of writing this story? Easiest?

I’m not confident enough to start writing and see where it takes me. I believe Stephen King does that but – surprise! – I’m not Stephen King. Or Burger King. I began as a television writer.  No producer wants to hear that you wrote yourself into a corner when the show starts shooting tomorrow, so I outline and outline. The easiest part – or the more enjoyable part – is the dialogue I get to write for my characters.

And IMHO – because I’ve read the book – the dialog is fantastic! I really enjoyed that part.

What do you see as the greatest challenge for middle grade literature today?

More people are fighting for the real estate between kids’ ears than ever before, so an author must be a willing marketer and understand new information channels.  The challenge is to do this responsibly.  I’m climbing that learning curve right now and it’s fascinating.

Writer’s Corner📑

Fun fact: What does your creative/writing space look like?

I love being surrounded by everything I could possibly need, like a surgeon. You can see it at for free! My desk fits perfectly in an alcove because I purchased a beautiful dining room table at an estate sale and sawed off the ends to make it fit. Ah, the things we do for art.

From your vast experience, what are the three top traits an aspiring writer should focus on honing?

I’m a first time novelist, so “vast” may not apply. In any case, it reminds me of the joke: There are four ingredients to writing a successful novel, but nobody knows what they are.  But since you asked, people often say “Write what you know,” but I’d suggest writing what you like. You’ll research it for pleasure and your enthusiasm may rub off on the reader.  Second, protect your writing time from interruptions. You’ll win no popularity contests, but it’s essential. Lastly, there are A LOT of books on how to write by some very successful writers. I enjoyed them all, especially learning that they wrestle with the same doubts that we all do. They tend to say the same things about conflict, action, etc, but they may save you from rookie mistakes that will cost you time, which is the most precious thing you have.

What next creative adventure might be on the horizon for you?

There are two more books in the F.A.R.T. trilogy, so that’s my horizon for now. I am truly grateful for the opportunity.

That’s great! I’m sure readers will be anxiously waiting for those books.

About the Author

Peter Bakalian

After starting as an intern at Walt Disney Studios, Peter Bakalian joined the production team for Rankin/Bass’s ThunderCats and later earned Emmy recognition for his writing on Curious George. He was also nominated along with Suzanne Collins for Best Animated Screenplay by the Writers Guild of America for the Fox musical special Santa, Baby! which he also produced. His work has also appeared on the BBC series Big & Small and Scholastic’s Clifford’s Puppy Days. F.A.R.T. is his first novel. He lives in Bradley Beach, New Jersey. You can find Peter on his Website & on LinkedIn.


Thank you for sharing yourself and your work with our readers and writers. All the best to you!

Feel free to share your thoughts with Peter about his book. I’m sure he’d love to hear from you! And if you’d like to check out another illustrated middle grade book, hop over to this Link!

NO PLACE FOR MONSTERS: School Of Phantoms (Bk2), An Interview with Kory Merritt

Welcome to my interview with Author/Illustrator Kory Merritt and his latest release No Place For Monsters – SCHOOL OF PHANTOMS!

Kory visited us back in October of 2020, where he introduced NO PLACE FOR MONSTERS (Bk1). At that time he also showcased his mighty artistic ability through some added drawings. You can find them HERE as well as book 1, No Place For Monsters.


School of Phantoms


No Place For Monsters – SCHOOL OF PHANTOMS by Kory Merritt

In this spine-tingling follow-up to No Place for Monsters, which Diary of a Wimpy Kid author Jeff Kinney called “wildly imaginative and totally terrifying,” a group of unlikely friends must band together to protect their town from the monsters that are threatening to destroy it.

The storm is coming. Who will survive?

It’s been months since Levi and Kat defeated the Boojum and rescued their town’s forgotten children. But now the strangeness has started again: hundreds of creepy snowmen pop up across town and a bizarre blizzard hits the day before spring break.

Being trapped in the school overnight by freak weather is bad enough. But an evil is lurking . . . one far worse than ice and wind. Worse than power outages. Even worse than being stuck with teachers and annoying classmates.

Something is roaming the darkened school halls. Something . . . hungry. Now it’s up to a small group of student survivors—along with some supernatural helpers—to uncover the cold-hearted menace before it takes the entire school.



Hi Kory! It’s wonderful to have you join us, again. If you would, give us a sneak peek into SCHOOL OF PHANTOMS in tweet-length and a hashtag?

Kids and teachers trapped overnight in a haunted school, told partly through illustrated “found footage.” #SpookyCartoonFoundFootage

Trapped in a haunted school overnight. I mean, what could go wrong?😱😱😱

What makes this follow-up book different from the first?PHANTOMS IMAGE

The overall presentation and format are different—much of it is told through “found footage” (views from phone cameras, school security footage, etc). So I think the illustrations are more ambitious and creative.

That’s pretty cool!

The story is also different in that it has a bigger cast of characters. It takes place in a school, so the view bounces back and forth between sixth graders, third graders, and teachers. The first book only had two or three main characters. This one has a bunch of different viewpoints.

What was your favorite part about continuing this story?

It was fun to experiment with the illustration format, and also set the new story in a school. I used to be an elementary art teacher, and sometimes wondered what it would be like to be trapped in the school overnight during a storm.

Care to share a #funfact about Phantom that you left out of the book itself?

My original draft had a scene set in the school library, where the library gets haunted and storybook characters come to life and attack the students. I tried to use mainly public domain book characters, but wanted the main library villain to be Greg Heffley from Wimpy Kid, who would get taken out with a single punch. My editor wisely convinced me to cut this chapter—it would have been a legal nightmare to include so many existing characters.

Ooh, super creepy and a bit funny!



I’m sure your main characters grow even more throughout this second book. How do they change from the PHANTOMS IMAGEend of the first book and how can young readers relate to those changes?

The main characters from the first book are back, but now they’re part of an ensemble and share equal “screen time” with a bunch of other characters. So we see a bunch of different personalities colliding as they’re forced into a strange and desperate situation.

New ensemble of characters? Ooh, please introduce them.

The story takes place mainly over one night of being trapped in a haunted school. There are new sixth grade characters, some primary grade students, and some faculty: Ms. Padilla the cunning science teacher, Mr. Chuck the burnt-out custodian. If you’ve ever gone to school, you should find something relatable.

Plus a whole bunch of new creatures get involved: some friendly, some not-so-friendly. Big spiders. Creepy snowmen. Monsters based on school subjects . . .

Oh, these are awesome!


Did you do any research for this second book? Do you do separate research or inspiration searching for your drawings as opposed to your writing work?

PHANTOMS MOVIE IMAGEResearch is important, but this book is set in a school and deals with strange creatures. I used to be a K-6 art teacher, and I’ve always loved strange real-life animals, so the writing was based around fields I’m already very familiar with.

For the illustrations: I wanted to capture the feel of a “found footage” movie. So I watched several found footage movies, including Blair Witch. I tried to replicate the shaky camera movements for certain illustrations.

For our illustrating writers, what are three of the most important pieces of advice you’d pass along to them?

I’m bad with advice—I can never think of anything original to say. I guess it’s pretty simple: 1. Gotta write and draw a LOT. You’ll look back at older work and be embarrassed by it, but staying productive lets you develop your style, so don’t worry about mistakes at first.

  1. Read a lot of books. Read a wide variety of books by a wide variety of writers/illustrators. Read outside your comfort zone—don’t just read the same thing over and over. Read comics and graphic novels, sure, but also read traditional prose with no illustrations—try to visualize scenes in your head as you read.
  2. Finish things. Lots of people want to write or draw stories and they start working on books, but lose interest or give up. Force yourself PHANTOMS CASTto finish projects. Even if it’s not what you hoped for, you at least developed your style during the process.

Really great advice, even if someone has heard some of it before. It never hurts to be reminded. 👍

Was there anything that surprised you about this story as you wrote it?

I realized that I like having big casts. Keeps things bouncing along.

Haha! But it keeps it interesting, right?


Any suggestions on how young student writers and/or illustrators can find inspiration when beginning a story . . . let’s say for an assignment in class?

I guess . . . think of something that is fun for you to write about. Not everyone likes writing—that’s fine. But I think it helps if you’re interested in the subject. I like animals and creatures, so I always want to include them in stories, and it motivates me to write and draw.

How can librarians and teachers use spooky stories such as this one in their classrooms and homes to encourage reluctant readers to engage in reading?

I’ve heard illustrated stories and comics/graphic novels can be gateways to all sorts of books and reading habits. You get a feeling of accomplishment when you finish a book, and I think illustrations can be a fast hook for pulling in readers—you simply open the cover, and here’s a glimpse of the world.

Obviously, there’s lots of spookiness going on throughout SCHOOL OF PHANTOMS. Why do you believe spooky stories are important for young readers to read?

My books are spooky but in a cartoonish way, for kids—I think sometimes it’s just fun to read a creepy story. Some excellent spooky stories, such as books by talented authors like Tananarive Due, can have deeper meanings and mirror real-life fears, and help readers cope through the fantasy.

Thank you for sharing your latest story with us, Kory! It looks and sounds amazing. Plus, what better time to share a story about being stuck in a haunted school for the night than during Halloween season!


Kory Self-Portrait

Kory Merritt is a former public school art teacher from western New York who enjoys reading weird stories, looking for strange wildlife, and drawing creepy monsters. In addition to teaching, Kory previously worked as an illustrator for the online game franchise Poptropica and its spin-off book series., Facebook: @korymerrittauthor, Twitter and Instagram: @koryjmerritt