Posts Tagged mental health

Author Spotlight: Kellye Crocker + a GIVEAWAY!

Today, Melissa Roske chats with Kellye Crocker, author of the MG debut, Dad’s Girlfriend and Other Anxieties (Albert Whitman & Co). Described by best-selling author Rita Williams-Garcia as “thoroughly engaging,” the novel combines serious topics—anxiety, ADHD, blended families—with laugh-out-loud humor. It also hooked Newbery Medalist Erin Entrada Kelly “from the first page,” which is no mean feat. Want a chance to win a copy of the book? Giveaway details below 👇👇👇

A Summary of the Novel

Anxiety has always made Ava avoid the slightest risk, but plunging headfirst into danger might be just what she needs. 

Dad hasn’t even been dating his new girlfriend that long, so Ava is sure that nothing has to change in her life. That is, until the day after sixth grade ends, when Dad whisks her away on vacation to meet The Girlfriend and her daughter in terrifying Colorado, where even the squirrels can kill you! Managing her anxiety, avoiding altitude sickness, and surviving the mountains might take all of Ava’s strength, but at least this trip will only last two weeks. Right?

Interview with Kellye Crocker

MR: Welcome to the Mixed-Up Files, Kellye. So happy to have you here!

KC: Thank you, Melissa! I’ve been a MUF fan for years! I’m so excited to be here!

MR: First, I have to tell you how much I enjoyed Dad’s Girlfriend and Other Anxieties. It was fun, fast-paced, and highly relatable. Can you tell us a bit about the novel? What inspired you to write it?

KC: Thank you so much! The book was inspired by my surprise move to Denver and my own anxiety disorder. After living most of my life in Iowa, the only thing I knew about Colorado was that my partner suddenly had a job there. Colorado is so different from Iowa, and I wanted to pay attention to those differences before I got used to them. I fell in love with Colorado—like everyone does (except Ava, at least at first). I’d been feeling down about my writing and a close friend suggested I take a more playful attitude. I had so much fun exploring the state with Ava and writing her contrarian views.

I wasn’t diagnosed with anxiety and depression until I was an adult, in the late ’90s. But I believe it’s something I’ve always had. It had been well-controlled for years—until the move. I didn’t intend to write about anxiety but it suddenly was part of my day-to-day life again and it danced onto the page.

Dealing with Anxious Thoughts

MR: Ava suffers from anxiety, which causes her to obsess over things that can go wrong—especially during her trip to Colorado, where the novel takes place. Ava’s fears include: altitude sickness; rattlesnakes; wildfires; hypothermia; avalanches; ghosts; poisonous plants… The list goes on. How were you able to jump inside Ava’s brain and channel her anxiety so effectively? Also, what did your research process look like?

KC: Here’s the thing: Ava’s not wrong about those dangers! 😜 She just doesn’t have the tools to accurately assess the risks and deal with her anxiety. I have a lot of those tools, and still there were times when I was a bit freaked about, say, bears. And rattlesnakes. And driving on very narrow, very twisty, very high roads with “falling rocks” signs. (By “driving,” I mean white-knuckling it in the passenger seat.) I took a lot of notes about my feelings and physical sensations, especially in the mountains, and drew on childhood memories.

When I finished the first draft in late 2016, I started researching anxiety in young people and was surprised to learn that it was growing and the American Academy of Pediatrics and other organizations were concerned. (This, of course, was pre-pandemic.) I ended up reading a lot of studies and articles about adolescent development and anxiety. I even talked to (and spied on) real young people! I also did a lot of internet searches for things like “how to stay safe in Colorado.”

My amazing editor—who gave me permission to share this—was diagnosed with anxiety as a young person. Everyone’s experience with anxiety—or illness or disability—is unique, so it was very helpful to talk about our experiences as we deepened Ava’s story.

Iowa, Dogs, and Charlotte’s Web

MR: Ava is not the sum total of her anxiety. On the plus side, she’s smart, resourceful, and highly relatable. On the minus, she sabotages her dad’s carefully planned vacation to Colorado with a host of evil-adjacent deeds, including canceling the hotel reservation and putting rocks in The Girlfriend’s shoes. How were you like Ava as a child? How were you different?

KC: One of my biggest childhood fears was getting into trouble! There is no way I would have done what Ava does. She’s also a shy introvert. I’m the opposite of shy. My first grade teacher wrote, “Kellye likes to go visiting” on my report card! As I’ve grown older, though, I’ve discovered that I’m actually an introvert, too. I love being with people, and I need lots of alone time. Ava and I also love dogs, books, and Iowa. We both like a good comfort read, including Charlotte’s Web. (For more children’s books that can calm anxiety, click here.)

The Connection Between Vulnerability and Humor

MR: I appreciated how you were able to take serious topics—anxiety, ADHD, blended families—and add a generous dollop of humor. How were you able to pull this off? Also, what is the secret sauce for writing “funny”?

KC: Thank you! I think humor plays such an important (dare I say “serious?”) role in helping us face and cope with difficult, scary things.

As with so many aspects of writing fiction, I think the humor comes from the main character. How does she uniquely experience and see the world? I can’t quite articulate it, but, for me, there’s also something about the connection between vulnerability and humor that really gets me, especially in writing for young readers. Funny situations often reveal an embarrassing, tender, honest part of ourselves.

At the same time, hyperbole is a fun tool for creating humor, and I may have exaggerated Ava’s Colorado take because it made me smile. I also love paradoxes, and I think it’s true that anxiety can be both awful and funny.

It helps to have really good (and funny) critique partners! (How would any of us survive without friends to help us laugh?) Shout out to Sarah Aronson and Coral Jenrette, in particular, who helped make some last-minute revisions funnier.

Finally, I can’t help thinking about what EB White and his wife, Katharine S. White, said in an essay: “Humor can be dissected, as a frog can, but the thing dies in the process…” I haven’t found the secret sauce, but if you do, Melissa, please share, and I promise to do the same!

Advice from Elizabeth Gilbert

MR: I know you’re a fan of the following quote from writer Elizabeth Gilbert: “Fear can come along for the ride, but it doesn’t get to drive—or touch the radio.” What is it about this advice that resonates with you?

KC: Oooh, you’re good, Melissa! Respect from one journo to another! Fear and writing is something I’ve been interested in for years. As strange as it sounds, our sweet, twisted fear is trying to protect us. It’s the ancient lizard part of our brains that sounds the alarm: BELONGING IS EVERYTHING1 What if your writing is terrible, and everyone knows but you? You will be REJECTED! YOU! WILL! DIE! ALONE!

First of all, Elizabeth Gilbert’s quote frees me from even trying to get rid of fear. (I think it’s probably impossible. Also, fear is part of ourselves, which is why she opposes macho approaches like “Punch your fear in the face!”) Her quote reminds me that when I’m doing something I really care about, especially when it’s so uncertain, fear will show up—and that’s okay. It might arrive disguised as procrastination or writers’ block, perfectionism or the most vicious Inner Critic (whose voice sounds so familiar… Your dad? Your former coach? A jealous ex?) However it shows up, it’s not the boss! It sits in the back seat because it’s not making any decisions about this creative road trip.

I try to make Fear feel as welcome, safe, and cozy back there as I can. Setting baby-step goals, finding joy in writing, focusing on a playful process instead of the end “product,” all help me calm my fear. A friend and I joked that we feed our Fear warm applesauce cake—and then she made me one with her own home-grown apples! It was delish—and still warm. Writing (and baking) friends are so important for dealing with the fear that comes with this work.

On the Move

MR: Ava faces relocation after her dad falls in love with The Girlfriend and considers a move from Iowa to Colorado. This is something you faced yourself when you relocated to Colorado from Iowa. Can you tell us about it? What are the pros and cons of moving from one place to another?

KC: As an adult, I’d moved four other times to places where I knew no one (and little about each state), and each experience was positive. The move to Colorado felt different because I’d lived in Iowa as an adult for 26 years. My roots were deep. Maybe stuck?

I didn’t want to leave our son, who had started his first year of college, my parents, and friends I’d loved for decades. I also still was recovering from a debilitating, long-term illness. Our mortgage would be paid off in three years. My husband and I were nervous. Should we do this? What if we moved to Colorado and didn’t like it? What if it was a huge mistake?

At the same time, we agreed that our decision had to come from a positive place and not fear. (Say it with me: Fear doesn’t get to drive! That quote works for everything! 😃 ) We were new empty-nesters. Weren’t we due for an adventure? If not now, when? We could return to Iowa if we wanted, couldn’t we?

Getting our house ready to sell was a full-time job. Sometimes I’d stretch out on our living room floor and sob about all I was leaving. (Why the floor? I didn’t want to disturb the stager’s precise sofa-pillow arrangement.)

AND…Colorado’s sunny, laid-back vibe really suits us. Exploring the state’s famous mountains, history, cultures, customs, and food—and meeting amazing new friends—is the shake-up we didn’t know we needed. We joke that we should have moved sooner.

Path to Publication

MR: You were a newspaper journalist and freelance writer and editor for more than two decades. How did your past career prepare you to be a novelist? Also, can you tell us about your path to publication? Was it a straight path or a curvy road?

KC: A sure way to improve your writing is to write a lot every day, and that’s what newspaper reporters do. As a reporter, you’re constantly meeting different kinds of people, and it’s such a privilege to hear their stories. You have to be able to understand their perspective, even if you personally disagree, and that’s important for writing fiction, too. One of my fiction-writing strengths, I think, is dialogue, and that probably comes from so many years of listening to—and writing down—what people said and how they said it. Also, as a reporter, you don’t have the luxury of waiting for inspiration. You sit down, write, and meet your deadline. It’s great training for novel writing.

My road to publication was long, with lots of hairpin turns, potholes, construction zones, and traffic jams! I wrote fiction for kiddos seriously and steadily for sixteen years before publishing my debut novel. Here’s to all of us late bloomers!

The process of getting the book out has been nerve-wracking. Like a lot of books in the past couple of years, mine experienced supply chain and shipping delays. In addition, the publisher was unhappy with the quality of the initial printing, so the book went through an entire reprint. (I’m very happy that they did that.) My release dates were 9/1/22, then 10/18/22, and, finally, 11/22/22.

I was told that November 22 definitely was my pub date… except no print books were available! Amazon was saying the hardcover wouldn’t ship until January. (It seems to have shipped sooner than that.) The book seems to be sort of trickling out. I haven’t seen it in “the wild” yet, and occasionally a friend emails asking, “When is your book coming out?”

Writing: Inspiration Is in the Cards

MR: What does your writing routine look like? Do you have any particular writing habits or rituals?

KC: I usually work for two or three hours in the morning, and sometimes can get another hour or two in in the afternoon. I have a neurological disorder and chronic illnesses that cause serious exhaustion, and, sadly, that has worsened recently. I’m trying to learn how to work with it. (Fighting it didn’t help.) For example, I just learned about pre-emptive rest—resting before you absolutely need to—and am experimenting with that in the hopes that it increases my energy.

It’s funny when I think about my writing habits and rituals. I don’t have one thing that I always do, but I have a bag of tools, so to speak, that I use often, as needed. I do a lot of journaling, but not every day. I’ll go through periods where I light incense for certain projects. (I like Golden Coast and Amber and Moss from PF Candle Co.) Sometimes I ask a question and draw a tarot card for inspiration. (I recently bought the cool Modern Witch Tarot Deck by Lisa Sterle.) Making low-stakes visual art—drawing, painting, collaging—is helpful. Sometimes I play music. I like to read early in the morning—it inspires my own writing. (I also read while resting in the afternoon…and at night. LOL.)

Read, Read, Read… and Write, Write, Write

MR: In addition to being an author of MG fiction, you teach creative writing to young people. What advice do you give to your students—and to other aspiring authors—besides “Never give up”? (For more insight and advice from Kellye, click here.)

KC: I want my students to know that writing is good for everyone. Scientific studies show writing helps them think better, stretch their creativity, and express themselves—all important skills for whatever their dreams are. Other studies have found strong mental health benefits from even short sessions of journaling (private writing about feelings).

For those who want to publish, I recommend the standard: Read, read, read. Write, write, write. Send, send, send. As I’ve turned toward a more relaxed, playful writing process, I’ve encouraged my students and others to do the same. Drafting and editing require different skills and brain regions. It’s unhelpful to attempt both at the same time. Try to bring as much of your weird, wild, and wonderful self to the page. That’s truly where the magic is.

I also love, love, love working with young reluctant writers! I think it’s important that they understand they are innately creative, what they have to say is important, we need their voices, and stories can take lots of forms. I wrote a guest post about teaching creative writing to young people for The TeachingBooks Blog here.

New Projects Ahead

MR: What are you working on now, Kellye? Care to share?

KC: I’m juggling a few things. One is a middle grade novel set in the Victorian era. I finished the first draft ten years ago! I did a big revision in 2022, but it’s still a mess, and I’ve been stuck for quite a while. Expecting an epiphany…any…day… I’m also dipping into a new novel-ish thing…middle grade…set in the near future, involving politics and basketball. And I’m working on two nonfiction picture books. Picture books are a new and challenging form for me, but nonfiction feels like coming home.

Lightning Round!

MR: And finally, no MUF interview is complete without a lightning round, so…

Preferred writing snack? Dove dark chocolate

Coffee or tea? Cold brew coffee, even in winter—unless it’s really cold—then hot. Black. But iced tea (no sugar) on a hot, summer afternoon is lovely.

Cat or dog? DOGS. DUH. (Written under the watchful eye of Daisy Crocker, my energetic, bossy, loudly barky Black Lab.) As a kiddo, I was dismayed that the only pets allowed at my house were tropical fish. As an adult, I’ve been a devoted pet mom (consecutively) to two black cats and two Black Labs. They stretched my heart in so many ways.

Zombie apocalypse: Yea or nay? OMG, are you even KIDDING?! NAY ALL DAY, NAY ALL THE WAY!!! (I’m assuming this question involves me facing real zombies, in which case, I’m probably already dead. If it involves me safely reading about or watching zombies [on TV], then yea.)

Superpower? Napping

Biggest fear? That someone I love will be hurt or die. (Second biggest: Zombies. Thanks for that!)

Tractor rides or hiking trails? Hiking. At a leisurely pace, not too far.

Favorite place on earth? With family and friends. Maybe in a magical, cozy-cool indie bookstore?

If you were stranded on a desert island with only three things, what would they be? Assuming clean water and food (coconuts? bugs?) already are included, I’d bring the biggest book I could carry, a notebook-and-pen, and sunscreen. Because of the hyphens, I’m hoping we can count notebook-and-pen as one thing. If I’m overruled, I’ll ditch the sunscreen.

MR: Thank you for chatting with us, Kellye—and congratulations on the publication of Dad’s Girlfriend and other Anxieties. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I know MUF readers will too!

KC: Thank you so much, Melissa! Your questions really made me think. And I really appreciate you taking the time to read Dad’s Girlfriend and to share it with your readers!


For a chance to win a copy of Dad’s Girlfriend and Other Anxietiescomment on the blog–and, if you’re on Twitter, on the Mixed-Up Files Twitter account for an extra chance to win! (Giveaway ends 2/19/22 EST.) U.S. only, please. 


Kellye Crocker is a journalist who’s worked in library youth services and has taught writing at two Iowa universities. She teaches creative writing to young people through a large literary nonprofit. She holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She’s an empty-nester who lives in Denver, where you’ll find her reading, making art, and hiking with her husband and their rambunctious black lab, Daisy. Learn more about Kellye on her website and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.


Melissa Roske is a writer of middle-grade fiction. Before spending her days with imaginary people, she interviewed real ones as a journalist in Europe. In London she landed a job as an advice columnist for Just Seventeen magazine. Upon returning to her native New York, Melissa contributed to several books and magazines, selected jokes for Reader’s Digest (just the funny ones), and received certification as a life coach from NYU. In addition to her debut novel Kat Greene Comes Clean (Charlesbridge), Melissa’s short story “Grandma Merle’s Last Wish” appears in the Jewish middle-grade anthology, Coming of Age: 13 B’Nai Mitzvah Stories (Albert Whitman). Learn more about Melissa on her Website and follow her on  TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

WNDMG Wednesday Author Interview with Nicole Melleby

We Need Diverse MG Logo hands holding reading globe with stars and spirals floating around
We Need Diverse MG Logo hands holding reading globe with stars and spirals floating around

Illustration by: Aixa Perez-Prado

Welcome to WNDMG Wednesday and happy September to you all. I’m excited to share my interview with author Nicole Melleby, on her latest book: THE SCIENCE OF BEING ANGRY (Algonquin Young Readers, May 2022).

Book cover with the title The Science of Being Angry featuring a figure in the center of a re-orange circle - with two people looking on at the main figure

About the Science of Being Angry

Eleven-year-old Joey is angry. All the time. And she doesn’t understand why. She has two loving moms, a supportive older half brother, and, as a triplet, she’s never without company. Her life is good. But sometimes she loses her temper and lashes out, like the time she threw a soccer ball—hard—at a boy in gym class and bruised his collarbone. Or when jealousy made her push her (former) best friend (and crush), Layla, a little bit too roughly.

After a meltdown at Joey’s apartment building leads to her family’s eviction, Joey is desperate to figure out why she’s so mad. A new unit in science class makes her wonder if the reason is genetics. Does she lose control because of something she inherited from the donor her mothers chose?

A warm WNDMG welcome to Nicole Melleby (and welcome back to MUF!)!

A Two-Mom Household

MUF: What’s the origin story for your book?

NM: During the early days of the pandemic, I binge-watched a lot of the TV show the Fosters. It’s one of the only shows I had seen that had lesbian moms as the head of the family. It was representation I didn’t realize I was craving. And I realized that I hadn’t yet written a book with a family dynamic that could resemble the one I would have someday. So I knew then that I wanted to write a book with two moms, and tell a story about what their family might look like. I also wanted to tackle childhood anger, and with all of these things in place, Joey came to be. With Joey’s anger, and her two-mom household, it naturally developed into a story about nature vs. nurture and what makes us worthy or not of love from there.

The Science of Being Angry

MUF: Your main character, Joey, is searching for answers about why she is the way she is – and since it’s in the title, (!!) I guess it’s no spoiler to say she’s wondering about why she’s always so angry. You’ve framed a thoroughly 21st century perspective to this age-old but also complicated question. How did you work through the challenge of exploring the science and the question itself for a middle-grade audience?

NM: I think that what it came down to for me was to show that Joey’s anger causes a lot of issues, but that Joey herself doesn’t mean to be this way. She hates that she’s this way and can’t control it. And while yes, her actions need to have consequences, I wanted to show that Joey isn’t unlovable because of it. She deserves love and she deserves to feel safe regardless of her anger issues. In her search for those answers, she ends up on an ancestry website to find out why she is the way she is, and I think having those sort of answers at her fingertips with the internet is a very 21st century middle grade thing. It’s messier when you pair the internet with any sort of soul searching, regardless of how old you are!

An Unconditional Love

MUF: I was particularly struck by a moment in the book where (no spoilers here) your main character, Joey, expresses concern that one of her mothers will want to give her up because of her anger. I think all of us have those moments where we worry that the love we get from others is conditional. Why was this scene important for the book?

NM: I wanted to show that DNA doesn’t make a family, love does, and that Joey’s anger doesn’t make her any less worthy of that love. That who she is, regardless of where her DNA came from and which parent she shares a biological connection with, doesn’t mean that any one of her family members could just walk away from her. It’s a struggle for everyone to learn how to understand one another, but at the end of the day, they are there for Joey no matter what.

These are Important Stories

MUF: At WNDMG, part of our canon is that representation matters, but in this current (loud) culture of book banning, that message sometimes gets shouted down. Have you faced challenges to your book?

NM: I have! And it’s hard, and it sucks, and it’s easy to get caught up in it in a “woe is me” kind of way. But, really, you need to use it to fuel you to keep pushing. I’m going to keep writing these stories because they’re important and these kids need them. And, well, the more books like this I publish, the less of a chance they can ban all of them, right?

MUF: Right!!!!! You never name Joey’s diagnosis – curious to know whether you were describing Oppositional Defiance Disorder?

NM: I purposely didn’t name Joey’s diagnosis because I wanted to show that it could take time to get one. Hopefully they find a good solution, but it was more about everyone understanding one another. When I was writing, I looked up a bunch of different reasons a kid like Joey could have these anger issues—Oppositional Defiance Disorder was one of them, so was ADHD, sensory issues, and a whole slew of others. I took the time to decide what Joey’s anger looked like, and realistically what it could look like, and shaped it from there. I have my own theories as to what she would be diagnosed with, but I never sat down and pin-pointed one specific thing.

((Enjoying this interview? Here’s another from the last time she visited with MUF during her 2019 debut of Hurricane Season))

Keeping Track of the Triplets

MUF: What parts of this book were hard to write?

NM: Honestly, the hardest thing was balancing triplets!!!! I originally write it as quadruplets, but it was way too many siblings and I kept losing track of one of them. So, they became triplets, and even that was a lot to keep track of! I kept forgetting who was in a scene and who wasn’t. Those poor brothers of Joey.

Valid and Worthy of Love

MUF: What resonates most for you?

NM: Getting to write about and see this particular type of family in a published book meant a lot to me.

MUF: Who did you write this book for?

NM: I wrote it for the kids of same-sex parents, for the angry kids, for the queer kids. I want them to know that I see them and that they’re valid and worthy of love.

What’s Next

MUF: What are you working on next?

NM: I have a lot to look forward to in 2023! My very first picture book, Sunny & Oswaldo, comes out from Algonquin Young Readers in Februray, and my very first co-written middle grade project, Camp QUILTBAG, written with A. J. Sass, comes out in March!

Cover illustration featuring two young people, one with an arm slung around the other, both smiling.

We Love Easter Eggs

MUF: The Wild Card question: is there anything I didn’t ask but you wish I had? Feel free to use this space for closing remarks if you like!

NM: Are there any Easter Eggs in The Science of Being Angry? Why, yes! Like every single one of my books so far, Joey and her family live in my hometown of the New Jersey shore. And, because of this, in every one of my books the characters get pizza from Timoney’s pizza (the pizzeria Pluto and her mom own in my book How to Become a Planet!) Though, unfortunately for Joey, she doesn’t get to eat the pizza so much as she’s hit in the face with it…..


About Nicole Melleby

headshot of author Nicole Melleby, a brown-haired smiling woman in an outdoor setting

Photo Credit: Liz Welch

Nicole Melleby, a New Jersey native, is the author of highly praised middle-grade books, including the Lambda Literary finalist Hurricane Season and ALA Notable book How to Become a Planet. She lives with her wife and their cat, whose need for attention oddly aligns with Nicole’s writing schedule. Visit her online at and @LadyMelleby on Twitter.

To buy Nicole’s Books:

Workman Publishers



WNDMG Wednesday–Guest Post–Chad Lucas on Letting Boys be Boys

We Need Diverse MG
We Need Diverse MG

Artwork by Aixa Perez-Prado

This month on WNDMG, we’re excited to feature a guest post from author Chad Lucas. Chad’s debut middle grade, THANKS A LOT, UNIVERSE (Abrams Books), releases next week–May 11.

Thanks A Lot, Universe Book Cover

In a starred review, Kirkus calls it “tenderhearted and bold,” and furthermore:

“Featuring snappy dialogue from earnest tween voices, skillful prose guides this engrossing story from start to finish. The themes and social commentary found here are gentle and organic—never heavy-handed—and the plot’s antagonists are far from two-dimensional, expertly reflecting real-life human complexity for a middle-grade audience.”

— Kirkus Reviews

Letting Boys Be Boys

By Chad Lucas

Here’s one not-so-secret reason why I love writing for middle-grade readers: there is no one—I mean no one—more hilarious than a group of middle schoolers in their natural habitat.

Outside of writing, I get to interact a lot with boys between 10-13 as a basketball coach. When I’m in the gym with my team, two things usually happen at least once during every practice or game:

  1. Some kid will try something that makes me think, “Why on earth did you do that?”
  2. Someone—often the same kid—will make me laugh with my whole chest.

Middle school boys are a riot. They’re full of opinions and bursting with questions, like “Can you dunk, Coach?” (With these 41-year-old knees? Child, please.) In that dynamic phase between childhood and full-blown teendom, they’re a whirlwind of contradictions and energy—busting out rap lyrics, piling on each other like puppies, inventing elaborate five-step celebrations for when one of them blows past a defender or swishes from deep like Damian Lillard.

They can be so sophisticated and funny, yet sometimes they’re not sure if they want to grow up.

“Puberty is gross and weird,” one particularly exuberant sixth-grader said at practice one night.

“It’s a natural stage of life. Everyone goes through it,” I offered.

“Not me, Coach,” he declared. That was my big laugh for the night.

I’ve tried to harness some of that whirlwind in my debut middle grade novel, Thanks a Lot, Universe—both the angst of dealing with changes big and small and the sheer joy of boys being boys.

Now, I know that’s a loaded phrase. “Boys will be boys” has been used to downplay or dismiss some inexcusable things. But I’m also aware of all the mixed messages that boys—especially Black boys—receive on what it means to be a boy, and how the world will see and treat them.

Toxic masculinity is a powerful thing. So is the insidious racism that can turn a sweet, playful Black or brown kid into a “threat” in mere seconds. Our boys aren’t always allowed to be boys.

I know a book can’t single-handedly solve those problems. But I hope that readers who pick up Thanks a Lot, Universe will see some healthy representation of how complex and fully human boys can be.

My main characters, Brian and Ezra, are both ballers. Brian also struggles with social anxiety that grows into full-blown panic attacks after a family crisis upends his life. Meanwhile, Ezra wants to help but he’s still coming to terms with his crush on Brian, and he’s not sure he’s ready to let his friends know how he really feels.

One of my older supporting characters, Gabe, is a high-school athlete who ends up befriending Brian and Ezra for reasons I won’t give away here. I’ve had multiple readers tell me how much they love Gabe, and I think it’s because he’s equal parts swagger and vulnerability. That’s what I love about him, anyway.

Without being heavy-handed about it, I think it’s important to give boys permission to contain multitudes. They can be loud, sporty, sweaty, goofy… and they can be artsy, anxious, sensitive, soft. They can question their sexuality, or what it means to identify as a boy. It helps when they see that full range of representation in books.

And boys, especially Black and brown boys, deserve to see those many facets of their identities explored with joy. Of course, that doesn’t mean we writers should never address difficult topics; there’s certainly some angst and heartache in Thanks a Lot, Universe. But some of my favourite scenes involve Ezra—a queer, biracial Black boy—just riffing with his friends, piling on jokes that grow increasingly ridiculous until they collapse into absurdity.

In a world where kids like Ezra are often reduced to issues, threats or problems to be solved, writing stories where they just get to be boys still feels like a small act of revolution.



Thanks A Lot, Universe

Chad Lucas has been in love with words since he attempted his first novel on a typewriter in the sixth grade. He has worked as a newspaper reporter, communications advisor, freelance writer, part-time journalism instructor, and parenting columnist. A proud descendant of the historic African Nova Scotian community of Lucasville, he lives with his family in Nova Scotia. In his spare time, he enjoys coaching basketball, and he’s rarely far from a cup of tea. His debut middle-grade novel THANKS A LOT, UNIVERSE (Amulet Books/Abrams Kids) releases in May 2021.


Thanks A Lot, Universe Book Cover

Thanks A Lot, Universe

Brian has always been anxious, whether at home or in class or on the basketball court. His dad tries to get him to stand up for himself, and his mom helps as much as she can, but after he and his brother are placed in foster care, Brian starts having panic attacks. And he doesn’t know if things will ever be “normal” again…

Ezra’s always been popular. He’s friends with most of the kids on his basketball team—even Brian, who usually keeps to himself. But now, some of his friends have been acting differently, and Brian seems to be pulling away. Ezra wants to help, but he worries if he’s too nice to Brian, his friends will realize he has a crush on him…

But when Brian and his brother run away, Ezra has no choice but to take the leap and reach out. Both boys have to decide if they’re willing to risk sharing parts of themselves they’d rather hide. But if they can be brave, they might just find the best in themselves—and in each other.

We Need Diverse Middle-Grade posts once a month, drawing on work from our own team of MUF contributors as well as from guest authors, editors, agents, teachers, librarians, and booksellers. You can count on our presence here on Mixed-Up Files to shine a light on the stories, work, and truth of all those who are still underrepresented in this field. You’ll be able to recognize our monthly posts by seeing our WNDMG  logo: the diverse world we envision. Our artwork is by contributor Aixa Perez-Prado.

Guest Posts for We Need Diverse Middle Grade

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