Posts Tagged lower middle-grade

New Middle Grade Animal Book Series by PJ Gardner, HORACE & BUNWINKLE! Special visitor, Agent Kari Sutherland!

Young readers love stories driven by animal main characters. There’s something relatable about animals and their humble relationship to nature and the humans around them.  And usually lots of humor. Like this next book I have to share with you!


HORACE & BUNWINKLE!The first in a young middle grade animal series in which an anxious Boston Terrier and an exuberant potbellied pig team up to solve crimes in their barnyard—from debut author PJ Gardner, with illustrations by David Mottram.

Perfect for fans of the Mercy Watson series, The Trouble with Chickens, and A Boy Called Bat.

Horace Homer Higgins III despises dirt. And the outdoors. And ducks. But when his person, Eleanor, moves to a farm called the Homestead, the anxious Boston Terrier is forced to adapt. As if that isn’t enough to strain his nerves, Ellie adopts a perpetually cheerful potbellied pig named Bunwinkle to be his baby sister.

Bunwinkle is delighted to be on the farm despite the stuffy demeanor of her new canine brother. She’s sure she’ll crack his shell eventually—no one can resist her cuteness for long—especially once they bond over watching a TV pet-tective show.

When the duo discovers that neighborhood animals have been disappearing, they decide to use their new detective skills to team up to solve this barnyard mystery. Is it a mountain lion? Or their suspiciously shot-loving veterinarians?

Only one thing seems certain: if they don’t figure it out soon, one of them might be next!


*Special Surprise For Readers About HORACE & BUNWINKLE*

After you share in our chat with Author PJ and Agent Kari, make sure to enter the giveaway at the bottom for your chance to WIN a copy of HORACE & BUNWINKLE Signed by Author PJ Gardner!

Chat with Author and Agent

Welcome PJ & Kari! These two characters are simply adorable! I knew the moment I met them that our MUF family just had to invite you both for a visit.

Let me start with you, PJ:

Have you always wanted to write animal characters or did Horace and Bunwinkle start out as human characters? Or maybe something else?

Animals have so much personality. They’re as individual and quirky as any human. So, it’s always seemed natural to me that they have their own stories. And I was raised on those stories. The first books I remember reading were Little Bear and Frog and Toad. Charlotte’s Web had a huge impact on me, too. I have the clearest memories of sitting in Mrs. Hill’s third grade classroom with my book on my desk, as she read to us. Oh my gosh, I can still remember sobbing like mad at the end.

Charlotte’s Web . . . yes, me too!🕸️🐷🕸️

Horace and Bunwinkle were always animals, but their names were originally Quincy and Queenie. My youngest son who was about seven at the time, got really into Rocky and Bullwinkle and Claymation movies. One day he wanted to watch Wallace and Gromit, but he couldn’t remember their names. He asked me to put on Horace and Bunwinkle. Changing the names inspired me to actually write the story.

Middle grade readers love mysteries, following the clues and oh, the suspense! What makes this mystery unique?

The mystery is unique because the investigators are unique. A stuffy, rule abiding Boston Terrier and a precocious, freewheeling piglet make for unusual detectives. But they are real detectives. (They call themselves pet-tectives, by the way.) They use real investigative methods, often to humorous effect, and the stakes are real.

Love pet-tectives!💚

Let me turn to Kari for a moment. Before I ask you about PJ’s work, I’m sure readers would like to know what you look for first in a submission.

The first thing that will draw me to a query is the voice. Is it compelling and engaging? Plot is something that can be reworked, but voice is integral to capturing me as a reader and agent.

I think I know the answer now, but I still have to ask – what drew you to request P.J.’s work?

See above. 😊 P.J.’s voice leapt off the page and pulled me in. The first thing she queried me with was a very serious YA, so the tone was completely different from Horace & Bunwinkle, which wasn’t something I saw until we were already working together. It was a project she’d set aside, then sent to me when we were talking about middle grade ideas. Everything PJ sends me is infused with its own, distinctive, voice and Horace & Bunwinkle actually has two– Horace, the anxious, proper Boston Terrier, and Bunwinkle, the confident, cheerful pot-bellied pig. I love them both!

I’m sure readers are going to agree with you.

PJ: Horace and Bunwinkle is the first in this book series. Did you intend on writing a series?

In my mind Horace & Bunwinkle was always a series. I had five or six ideas for future stories with these characters when we went on submission. In fact, Book 2 is has gone to copy edits, and I’ve started working on the outline for Book 3.

This is exciting! Congratulations on completing book 2.

Horace and Bunwinkle has been offered as a comparison to series, The Trouble with Chickens, and A Boy Called Bat. Is there a book from your childhood that reminds you of H&B, a book or character(s) that was dear to your heart?

The comparison I’ve always thought of is There’s a similar quirkiness and humor, plus a fun mystery. And I love that both break the “dumb dog” stereotype. I’m so excited it’s being made into a graphic novel!

Kari: From your agent’s eye, how is this animal story different from others?

It combines a lot of appealing elements including a hilarious cast of critters with unique personas, a bucolic setting, and a fun mystery, but at its heart it is about two individuals learning to love each other despite their flaws and working together to crack the case. I think the dynamic between Horace and Bunwinkle really makes this stand out!

PJ: Humor is a great draw for MG readers. Would you give an example (maybe even a brief description of a scene) of how you used humor in this book?

I’m a huge fan of quirky characters and the humor that comes from their interactions. I do this a lot in Horace & Bunwinkle. Take Smith and Jones, two very old horses who live on the Homestead. Smith is extremely hard of hearing and Jones is a conspiracy theorist. He believes ghosts are stealing the animals. Later, he realizes it’s really aliens. They’re witnesses to several of the pet-nappings but getting good information out of them is a humorous mess.

Why will readers like Horace and Bunwinkle as characters?

Even though Horace and Bunwinkle are animals they’re totally relatable. They’re weird and silly, they get grumpy and anxious. Specifically, I think they’ll like that Horace has a gruff exterior, but a kind heart, that he changes over the course of the book. And Bunwinkle is pure fun, excited about everything, and full of life.

What do you hope readers take with them once they’ve finished the book?

I hope that readers see themselves in the characters. I hope they feel inspired to be curious, but also take care of their community. That probably seems silly from a lighthearted mystery in animal point of view, but Horace and Bunwinkle also deal with real things like adoption, moving, and anxiety.

Fun Tidbits For PJ

You’re walking into a library. Which section do you go to first and why? I would go to either the mystery or the manga sections. I adore a twisty-turny tale of suspense, especially if there’s a supernatural element. I was introduced to manga a few years ago and really got into it. I’m partial to shojo.

Favorite writing snack or drink? Cinnamon bears and/or Nearly Naked popcorn.

Time to write? I have 3 kids and 2 dogs, I write when I get the chance.

Book? The Life of Pi.

You’re stuck in a dream and the only way to escape is to write your way out. What would be your first sentence? Wake myself from a dream sentence: The spiders are coming.

I am right behind you!

Questions About Writing📝

PJ: For our writing readers, would you briefly share your writing process.

Have a great idea. Brainstorm endlessly. Talk myself out of writing. Get 700 more great ideas. Watch K-Dramas. Ride a guilt wave. Organize thoughts. Start writing. Force myself to write through the “This is garbage” phase. Eat a dozen bags of Cinnamon Bears. Finish a draft. Let it sit. Watch more K-Dramas. Organize thoughts again. Force myself to edit.

Kari: Are you an editorial agent? How did you and P.J. work together on this project?

Yes, I’m definitely an editorial agent (having worked as an editor for many years, I can’t help it!). The main things we focused on before submitting it were bringing the mystery forward in the arc, spinning out more suspects/clues along the way, and fine tuning of the emotional arcs for each character. I’d point out questions I had or places it was bumpy and PJ worked her magic.

And lastly, Kari . . . Mind sharing some advice for our reading writers out there.

Write the story that comes from your heart—don’t write to a trend. Read across a wide range of genres and tastes as that helps you study character, plot, pacing, and language style. Remember that nobody’s first draft is perfect and even if you have to set aside a project (or two), they were all steps along your journey as you hone your craft and were important even if nobody else ever reads them.

Thank you for sharing Horace & Bunwinkle with us! All the best to you both. We can’t wait to see more of Horace and Bunwinkle in the future.

About The Author

When PJ Gardner was a little girl growing up in Colorado she dreamt of being an actress or a dental hygienist or even Mrs. John Travolta. It Author PJ Switzerdidn’t occur to her that she could be a writer until she was a grown up. Now her debut middle grade novel, Horace & Bunwinkle, is being published by Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins, and she’s thrilled.

PJ lives in the scorching heat of the Arizona desert with her husband, sons, and Boston Terriers, Rosie and Rocky. She doesn’t own a pig because her husband says she’s not allowed to. INSTAGRAM | FACEBOOK | TWITTER | WEBSITE

About The Agent

Agent Kari SutherlandKari Sutherland joined the Bradford Literary Agency in 2017 after a decade of experience in publishing from the editorial side. Previously a Senior Editor at HarperCollins Children’s Books, she has worked with bestselling and critically acclaimed authors on projects such as the #1 New York Times bestselling Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard and the #1 New York Times bestselling Pretty Little Liars series by Sara Shepard. With her editorial insight and experience with the entire publishing process, Kari is passionate about helping to polish each manuscript and equip her clients for success. Find out more about her at or follow her on Twitter: @KariSutherland.

Love Animal Tales? Check out a STEM collection we’ve gathered HERE!


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