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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



THE LOST GIRL by Anne Ursu & New Information

There’s much to love about Anne Ursu’s latest middle grade book, THE LOST GIRL. The shifting relationship of twin sisters, Lark and Iris, who are reluctantly being pushed toward independence. How the separation upsets the balance in both their lives. The odd new shop in town with its mysterious secrets. Lark and Iris finding new connections through activities and friends. All these things combine to make a beautiful and fantastical contemporary middle grade novel…with ravens!!! MG fans, read this book!

As a parent of fraternal twins, this book appeals to me on many levels. All that wonderful stuff pales in comparison, though, to what hit me on a two-and-a-half page stretch of THE LOST GIRL. The monumental turn which stuck in my craw and won’t go away starts on page 150.  Iris asks her mother a question as her life spirals beyond her comfortable and normal level of control.

(Iris) “I have another question.”

(Mom) “Shoot.”

(Iris) “Is there stuff you learned at school that you found out later wasn’t true? Like everybody believed one thing and they were wrong?”

There it is. The monumental question in this wonderful book I can’t get out of my head. How do we react when the knowledge previously learned and the things considered truths are no longer true? When new information upsets our apple cart of truths, what’s the next step?

The question made me think of the shifting truths in nutrition, the environment, climate change, food security, health, education, and politics, to name a few. In science, we deal with changing information daily. New discovery and fresh inquiry push science forward. New knowledge replaces old knowledge. But this is not always universally accepted. As in other walks of life, the birth of new knowledge and its acceptance is not a smooth process. It’s sometimes hard for the “old guard” to accept the new knowledge and move forward. They often don’t have the desire, the energy, or the resources to shift thinking and move from the mapped and paved superhighway of their past knowledge base onto the bumpy and shifting ground of new discovery.

The mother in THE LOST GIRL answers that there were things she learned which are now considered wrong.

  • Pluto as a planet
  • Brontosaurus
  • Pterodactyls
  • How margarine was so much better than butter but one day became “…basically death on a stick.”

Iris is confused by this revelation as her whole world seems to be knocked off balance and laments to herself, “It would just be nice to be able to believe in the things she did know.”

The new information problem in my head drifted to art, reading, and writing, especially the endeavors aimed at children. New information about past and present children’s literature may lie at the core of the biggest kidlit issues of our generation. Representation. Diversity. Criticism/Backlash. Misinformation.

Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop proposed the idea of “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Doors” in her classic 1990 paper. Dr.Bishop presented the need to increase diverse choices and voices in our children’s literature universe to give children from diverse and marginalized backgrounds a mirror to see themselves represented and provide a window for others to see into their existence.

How many times in the past several years have we heard about problematic children’s literature and/or problematic creators? At least a few times, right? Hopefully, we are paying attention to these conversations and criticisms happening all around us. The struggle with new information is real and presents challenges almost daily in this information age. We must learn to analyze, accept, and adapt to new and different information.

With apologies to Dr. Bishop, I would like to add another function to the mirror. A mirror for us to analyze ourselves as adult creators and gatekeepers. We need to study our own beliefs toward new children’s literature information. Do we hold onto problematic children’s literature with clenched fists because it is dear to our heart? Do we study the facts and make informed decisions about problematic books and/or problematic creators? Do we ignore the issues because a book or a creator holds such a revered place in our own formation?

Honestly, I do not know the answers. These are individual questions we must ask ourselves. We have to decide whether to accept the new information or turn a blind eye. We have to decide how new knowledge affects our view of the problematic content as we move forward. We need to do the best we can and when new information arises, be willing to adjust.

The goal is to try and get things right in a constantly changing world by making informed decisions via a willingness to keep learning and relearning. Nothing is ever truly written in stone. Knowledge changes. Process information with an open mind.

As I’ve soapboxed before, the single greatest skill our young people will need in the digital age is the ability to sift through the mountains of data and the wave of available information to determine the truths. (Or the truths at that particular time?)

Perhaps Iris’ mom has the best advice about dealing with an ever-evolving knowledge base:

(Iris) So what do you do?”

(Mom) I guess… we just do the best we can with the information we have, you know? And stay open to the idea that there’s a lot we don’t know.”

Do the best with the information we have. I like that.

Wield knowledge wisely and to great benefit. It’s okay to be wrong IF you learn to be right.

Knowledge is powerful, not power.

Thank you, Anne Ursu, for THE LOST GIRL. It is a very good book. Also, a debt of gratitude for those two-and-a-half pages. They raised a deep question that wormed its way into my brain and won’t let go. THE LOST GIRL made me think and that’s one of the greatest gifts a story can give.


Note: Below is a link to the replay of the 2019 May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture presented on April 13, 2019 by Dr. Debbie Reese, host of the  American Indians in Children’s Literature web site and blog. It was an exceptional presentation about diversity, representation, and the #DiversityJedi in children’s literature. 

An Indigenous Critique of Whiteness in Children’s Literature replay from Wisconsin Public Television.



And Baby Makes…

The age-old adage is, of course, “And Baby makes three.”

But in middle grade fiction, the addition of a baby often makes for more. Much more.

Full disclosure here: I’ve got babies on my brain. And for the first time in decades, I’ve got diapers in my shopping cart and onesies in my closet, and a portable crib in my guestroom. As I write this, I’m days (maybe hours???) away from becoming a first-time grandmamma, and I’m just a little way, way too excited about it.

So, when I saw my next Mixed-Up Files post was due at the same time as our next family member, I knew right away what my topic would be. Babies. Babies. MIDDLE GRADE BABIES!

There are loads of middle-grade characters dealing with the addition of a new sibling. Some handle it better than others, but one common thread weaves throughout: Babies change everything!

Alvin Ho, Allergic to Babies, Burglars, and Other Bumps in the Night by Lenore Look, illustrated by LeUyen Pham


In this, the fifth installment in the Alvin Ho series, Lenore Look and LeUyen Pham deliver (ha,ha!) with great hilarity a story that many older brothers can relate to – what if that thing in mom’s belly is a …. girl?!  Alvin’s always-entertaining tales are great for younger middle-graders and middle-graders struggling with reading.

Ramona Forever by Beverly Cleary


By the time this book came out in 1984, Beverly Cleary had already won two Newbery Honors and a National Book Award, and Romona had already faced challenges both big and small. When her mother announces she’s pregnant, Ramona realizes she’ll be taking on a role she’s never played before-BIG sister.

Clementine and the Family Meeting by Sara Pennypacker, illustrated by Marla Frazee


Third-grade Clementine is surrounded by changes. When a family meeting is called to announce the pending arrival of a new baby, Clementine isn’t sure what to expect. At school, changes are happening as well. Her best friend is acting differently, and Clementine has to face the fact that nothing stays exactly the same.

The Key that Swallowed Joey Pigza by Jack Gantos


In a way that only Jack Gantos can, this final book in the Joey Pigza saga blends humor and wackiness with the very serious reality of postpartum depression. When Joey’s mother decides she should enter the hospital, Joey has to step up and care for his newborn baby brother.

Sometimes, babies appear in middle grade tales and they grow up to be the main character. Think of how Harry Potter began. A dark street, streetlights go out, and figure is seen leaving something on a doorstep. Number 4, Privet Drive.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhillgirl-who-drank-the-moon

This new book, from the author of The Witch’s Boy, centers around a community who believes they must sacrifice a baby each year to appease the evil witch who resides in the forest. But the witch isn’t evil at all, and she cares for the babies until she can place them in a deserving home far away. When an unfortunate mishap forces her to keep one of the babies as her own, everything changes. This one is being called a “new classic.”

And sometimes, it’s the middle-grade main character who finds an abandoned baby…

Baby by Patricia MacLachlan


Sophie is a baby left by her mother and found by twelve-year-old Larkin. Larkin’s family has lost a newborn boy and finds healing and hope in the arrival of Sophie. But the note left by Sophie’s mother promises she’ll return someday. How can they love if they know they’ll have to let go? Touching and timeless. True MacLachlan.

And finally, sometimes the middle grade main character is not the finder, but the seeker…

Winterfrost by Michelle Houts


Yes, this one’s my own, and I hesitated to mention it, because we writers are great at singing others’ praises, but it always feel a little uncomfortable to shout about our own work. But, Winterfrost fits the criteria for this post, so I’ll go ahead and share it. When twelve-year-old Bettina is left home alone to care for her not-quite-one-year-old baby sister, the unthinkable happens. Baby Pia disappears into the white wilderness, and Bettina is forced to  enter a magical world she’d only heard about from her grandfather. Based on Danish folklore.

So, what can you add?  Comment below with a middle-grade story featuring a baby. And stay tuned for more baby news! I promise to update this blog post when my first grandbaby is here!

** UPDATE** Baby Jack arrived promptly on his due date. Mom, Dad, and baby are all doing well. Grandma Michelle has fallen head over heels in love.


Michelle Houts is the author of five books for young readers. She lives on a farm where babies of the animal kind are a common occurrence. She absolutely cannot wait to hold her first grandbaby in a few days. That’s all she can think to write about, baby. She just signed a book to her first grandchild and is looking forward to sharing books of every kind with him.