Posts Tagged we need diverse middle grade

WNDMG Wednesday – Introducing Isi Hendrix

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

 

Introducing Isi Hendrix

Hello, WNDMG Wednesday readers … I am so excited for this month’s post. I get to introduce you to the amazing Isi Hendrix, author of the Afrofantasy MG Adia Kelbara and the Circle of Shamans. (HarperCollins – USA and Usborne – UK, September 2023) It’s such a high-profile debut novel, it got TWO debut days: one here in the USA and one in the UK!

About Adia Kelbara

Adia Kelbara USA book cover

United States Cover

Adia Kelbara cover illustration

United Kingdom Cover

Life is tough for twelve-year-old orphan Adia. Her aunt and uncle believe she’s an ogbanje, a demon-possessed child that brings misfortune wherever they go, and Adia can’t disagree—especially when she suddenly manifests mysterious powers that she can’t control, causing an earthquake in her village.

So when Adia is offered a kitchen apprenticeship at the faraway Academy of Shamans, she flees with nothing but a pouch of change, her cat Bubbles, and the hope that someone there can figure out what’s wrong with her—and fix it. But just as she’s settling in, Adia stumbles upon a shocking secret: Unlike her, the kingdom’s emperor really is possessed—by a demon more wicked than any other. And he’s on his way to the Academy for a visit.

Joining forces with a snarky goddess, a 500-year-old warrior girl, and an annoying soldier-in-training, Adia must travel through hidden realms to exorcise the emperor and save her kingdom. But to succeed, she first must come to understand the powers inside her….

The fate of the world hangs in the balance.

Interview with Isi Hendrix

WNDMG: Welcome to the We Need Diverse MG (WNDMG) series. We’re honored to have you here!

First off, I have to say, I absolutely loved Adia Kelbara and the Circle of Shamans. Your debut novel is the definition of propulsive reading. Adia is so easy to root for and connect with—plus, she’s wry and funny. This is a really hard mix of character traits to pull off, and I’m so impressed!

Developing Adia

WNDMG: What influences helped you develop Adia Kelbara herself?

author headshot - black woman with long curly braids framed by flowering plants

Monique Cooper Photography

IH: Adia is a twelve-year-old orphan living with her aunt and uncle. She doesn’t fit in with her family or anyone in her village of the Swamplands, which is currently overrun by missionaries. The missionaries showed up years ago and told Adia’s people that everything they believed in was wrong, and that to be good, they had to follow the beliefs of the people behind the Sunless Mountains. But Adia questions what she’s told.

I’m borrowing from real life with that aspect of Adia’s personality. My family’s conservative religion (introduced to my tribe by Western missionaries) absolutely did not feel right to me and I was her age when I began to question things and where this religion had even come from because it certainly wasn’t anything that was native to the Igbo people. So, for me, Adia represents the strength of indigenous wisdom and the ancestral knowledge that’s woven into our DNA that no invader or colonizing force can ever erase.

Adia Kelbara character art black tween wearing yellow dress in forest with orange cat

The Guardian Deity

WNDMG: What was the inspiration for Ginikanwa?

IH: Ah, Gini. My snarky Goddess. I’ve always loved the older, powerful mentor in fantasy novels, like Gandalf. Thankfully times are changing, but for far too long that role was almost always exclusively delegated to a grey bearded white man. So, I knew that I wanted Adia’s teacher and mentor in these books to be a woman, specifically an African goddess or an Alusi—a guardian deity of the Igbo people.

Book Banning and World Building

WNDMG: Your themes are so current and relevant, this book is almost contemporary. You tackle topics like religion, colonialism and mental and emotional health with grace and passion. Was this always going to be a book about colonialism or did that piece reveal itself to you as you wrote?

 IH: It revealed itself to me as I was writing it. I wrote my first draft before this book banning atrocity America is currently dealing with was in full swing, and even then I assumed I was writing something that would be banned. But once I saw what was coming out in this story, especially the commentary about religious colonization which is very personal to me, there was no turning back.

Blurb graphic adia kelbara

Let the Story be Born

WNDMG: As a writer, I am always curious about how authors choose genre. What was your process for deciding the best way to tell Adia’s story?

IH: I read widely, but (so far) every time I try to write a story it comes out as a fantasy story. So, I don’t fight it. I let the story that wants to be born be born. And I’m so glad it came out this way. Using a fantasy setting lets me explore these heavy themes in a way that—I hope—is accessible to children and also just a fun adventure story.  I re-read books now that were my favorite as a child like A Wrinkle in Time, and I’m in awe at how L’Engle and authors like her wrote these profound books that you could write a whole doctorate thesis about, but it’s also a book I probably read fifty times before I was ten years old. So, I think speculative fiction is a great way to explore big ideas and themes with young readers. Madeline L’Engle said one of my favorite quotes on writing. “You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.”

((If you’re enjoying this interview with MG fantasy author Isi Hendrix, you might also like this archived WNDMG Wednesday interview with fantasy author Kaela Rivera)) 

Changes, Challenges, and Easter Eggs

 WNDMG: From the time you drafted Adia to the time you got your publishing deal, what has been the biggest change in your manuscript?

 IH: Ah, that’s hard to say without giving a huge spoiler! I’ll just say that a character I’d originally given an almost forgettable role to, ended up playing a major part of the story.

WNDMG: What was the hardest part of the book to write?

IH: Character-wise, I always struggled when my mentor or agent or editors wanted me to dive deeper into a character I don’t particularly like. The way I can’t stand this character you’d never think I was the one who created him. So, in my early drafts I tended to just blow him off as an irredeemable jerk. But everyone asked for the motivation behind why he behaves the way he does so I had to tap into that, and the story is all the better for it. Yes, I would have had an easier time writing a full-on villain, verses someone who’s morally gray. But the morally grey ones make for complex characters in the end.

WNDMG: Do you have any Easter Eggs in there?

Adia’s name is Swahili for gift and very fitting. But it’s also from one of my favorite song, “Adia” by Sarah McLachlan, and the song’s chorus is also extremely fitting for this character. It keeps repeating that “We are born innocent. Believe me, Adia, we are still innocent.” So I love that her name has a lot of layers in there. Naming every other character in this book took me a minute, but I knew Adia’s name right away.

character art Adia in purple dress surrounded by flowers

(There also may or may not be a Mean Girl’s reference somewhere in the book, because this book definitely has a mean girl in it.)

The Final Battle

WNDMG: Is there one scene you can point to that is the most important scene to you?

IH: The final battle scene. I’m not a visual writer. I don’t see everything in my head like a movie (and I wish I did). But that was the one scene that I watched play out from beginning to end. I was walking one evening and this download came out of nowhere. I froze on the sidewalk and was almost in tears. Then I ran home to write it all out.  I even had to go back and rewrite a lot of the book because I understood that was how it had to end. So that final battle scene where Adia goes up against the antagonist will always be what I consider the most important.

What’s Next

WNDMG: This is the first book in a planned trilogy. Can you tell us anything at all about what we can expect from Adia in Book Two? (Yes, this is definitely the sign of an impatient reader asking!)

IH: You’re going to find Adia back at the Academy of Shamans, this time as a student! But as always, everything goes sideways whenever Adia is at that school. So you’re going to see her dealing with a mysterious illness that’s plaguing the students and the kingdom.

WNDMG: Is there anything I haven’t asked that you would like to share with our readers?

IH: Read widely and read banned books!

WNDMGSo many congratulations to you from all of us at WNDMG and From the Mixed-Up Files … of Middle-Grade Authors!

Isi Hendrix author photo smiling Black woman with long braids wearing gold dress holding gold UK edition of book

About Isi Hendrix:

Isi Hendrix is a Nigerian American children’s book author who has been lucky enough to live and work all over the world, from the Himalayas to the Amazon rainforest, during her past life as an anthropologist. Now she’s based in her hometown of Brooklyn, NY, where she lives with a rotating roster of foster kittens and a stubborn refusal to accept that she is highly allergic to cats.

Isi’s debut middle grade novel, Adia Kelbara and the Circle of Shamans, released in September, 2023.

To Buy Adia Kelbara and the Circle of Shamans:

Bookshop.org

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

Stay in touch with Isi via her website!

Diversity in MG Lit #43 March & April 2023

cover art Indigo and Ida

Diversity in MG Lit

It’s the beginning of May, but March and April were big months for diversity in MG Lit book releases, so I’m going to recap and highlight a few standouts and ask you to mention those I’ve missed in the comments. As usual I’m going to focus on debut authors and diverse representations that most need amplification.
book cover The StorytellerHappy to see a debut MG book from acclaimed Cherokee author Brandon Hobson, The Storyteller. Ziggy is already dealing with anxiety and the disappearance of his mother only makes things worse. In a search for answers about where his mother (and so many other Native women) have gone Ziggy is drawn to a nearby cave and the story tradition of the Cherokee for answers. (Scholastic Press, 4/18/23)
book cover Good DifferentBooks about neurodivergent girls are few and far between. I was thrilled to find Good Different by Meg Eden Kuyatt. Selah is an autistic seventh grader learning to embrace her inner dragon while still taking responsibility for her actions. The novel in verse format gives Selah’s story an engaging pace and emotional power. (Scholastic Press, 3/7/23)
book cover Parchute KidsTwo graphic novels caught my eye this month, both with Asian-American protagonists. Squished by Megan Wagner Lloyd and Michelle Mee Nutter is about the second oldest daughter finding some autonomy and space to make her art in a family of seven siblings. A large family is its own culture beyond race and ethnicity. I belong to a big family and found lots of scenes here that resonated. (Graphix 3/7/23) Parachute Kids by Betty C Tang is about being left in America with siblings or relatives while parents remain behind in an Asian country. (Graphix 4/4/23)
book cover BoundlessTwo stories about African-American athletes will appeal to sports fans. Colin Kaepernick Change the Game by Eve L Ewing and Orlando Caicedo is a graphic novel (Graphix 3/7/23). Track and field fans will devour the story of national champion, world champion, and four time Olympian, Chanunté Lowe in her debut MG biography Boundless. (Scholastic focus 3/7/23)
book cover Once There Wasbook cover The Scroll of ChaosAnd finally there are four notable additions to the genre of MG protagonist meets magical creatures and discovers hidden powers. They are Once There Was by Kiyash Monsef (S&S 4/423), Momo Arashima Steals the Sword of the Wind (Labyrinth Road RH 4/4/23), Hamara and the Jungle of Memories by Hanna Alkaf (HC 3/28/23), and The Scroll of Chaos by Elie Chapman (Scholastic Press 3/7/23)
As always this is only a small sample of the diverse books published in March and April. If I’ve missed something, do mention it in the comments.

WNDMG Wednesday – Meet Our New Contributors

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

Meet our New Contributors

At WNDMG Wednesday, we have great news: We’ve added three new exciting voices to the WNDMG team. Each of these amazing writers will bring a thoughtful presence to our mission to center, uplift, and celebrate diverse voices. We’re so excited for you to meet our new contributors!

Welcome to the Team

Kelly Garcia

brunette haired woman smiling wearing blue cardigan holding book

Author Bio

Like Claudia, K.D. Garcia loves a good mystery. However, if she had run away, K.D. would’ve skipped right past the museum of art and dove into the museum of natural history. There, she would’ve focused on something spooky, like a mummy’s curse or the dark corner of the museum that might be haunted. After solving the mystery, K.D. would’ve spent her time studying the vertebrates of the world, because animals hold her entire heart. In real life, K.D. writes Middle Grade stories that are filled with family, friends, and fur babies alongside a mystery that may or may not involve a friendly (or unfriendly) haunting.

Why I’m Excited to Join WNDMG

I’m looking forward to contributing to WNDMG for a bunch of reasons. The opportunity to introduce MG readers to worlds where diverse people reach their full potential tops the list. Lots of middle graders haven’t been exposed to all the stereotypes us older folks have, and I believe that more inclusive books for MG-ers will translate to a more inclusive society—one day.

Shifa Saltagi Safadi

Muslim woman in white head covering smiling at camera

Author Bio

Shifa is always running, but not away from anything…rather to a quiet corner where she can read a good book in peace. When she’s not correcting grammar and teaching ELA to her middle school students or reviewing books on her Muslim bookstagram @muslimmommyblog, you can find her tapping away at her keyboard and inventing her own adventures with Syrian Muslim American main characters like herself and her four kids. Shifa lives near Chicago, and is the author of multiple picture books, and an unannounced MG Novel in Verse coming in 2024!

Website

Instagram

Twitter

Why I’m Excited to Join WNDMG

I am hugely looking forward to being a WNDMG member as I am a superfan of all diverse books! As an ELA teacher for middle school students as well as a book blogger, I love seeing kids and parents alike with eyes that light up at seeing someone who looks like them or even has their same name in a book! Growing up as a Syrian Muslim in America, books were the way I made sense of the world, and although I often found myself searching for Muslims or Syrians in books- there truly was no rep besides damaging stereotypes.

Fast forward to when I started my Muslim book blog @muslimmommyblog in 2018, I was so excited to finally start finding Muslim and Arab books- and so I shared them on my instagram- with huge success and so many people constantly contacting me thanking me for letting them know about the diverse book options out there, as even Muslims and Arabs are hugely diverse!

I am so proud and happy to be a part of a community of writers and readers who help amplify marginalized voices, and am honored to be a part of the wonderful WNDMG group at MUF, and get the opportunity to champion and support even more diverse voices!

Ines Lozano

Author hedshot brown haired brown skin woman smiling in camera

Author Bio

Ines Lozano writes children’s fiction, believing that our best stories come from the memories forged during childhood.

A proud latina, nothing drives her more than the chance to prove her family’s sacrifices worthwhile. Her grandparents came to the States from El Salvador and Puerto Rico with the hopes of offering their children and future generations the opportunity to choose their dreams over choosing survival.

Ines was born and raised on Long Island, and she continues to live there now with her husband, daughter, and rising tik-tok-star dog.

When she’s not writing, you can find Ines scrolling through Instagram and TikTok or shopping online for quirky earrings.

Why I’m Excited to Join WNDMG

I’m ecstatic about being a contributing member of From The Mixed Up Files…Of Middle-Grade Authors. I look forward to amplifying BIPOC-centered middle-grade stories.

 

((Are you new to our once-monthly WNDMG Wednesday series? Welcome! We’re glad to have you. Check here to read our archived posts.))