I am excited to have gotten a chance to read When the World Turned Upside Down by K. Ibura before it comes out. It took me right back to the start of the COVID-19 quarantine and all the unknowns that went with it.
It is rare that kids get to read about circumstances they have encountered that will become such a part of history (and is still going on today). Teachers, I really think you’ll love this book as there’s so much to discuss throughout.
About the Book
Hi K.! Thank you for sharing When the World Turned Upside Down with me. Can you give us a short summary about the book?
I’d be happy to. When the World Turned Upside follows four friends—Shayla, Liam, Ai, and Ben—as they navigate all the unexpected changes that COVID-19 brought to our lives. Set in 2020 at the beginning of the panic, the book walks through the shock of school closing and explores the struggle and isolation each kid faces at home. As they’re managing the loss of their normal lives, they soon realize they aren’t the only ones struggling. They find others in their apartment complex who need help with a variety of things and band together to support their building community.
Social justice comes into play, as the kids learn to overcome tough times and to use their voices to help their communities.
When does it come out?
The book hits bookstores on Feb 1. It was originally scheduled for November, but we hit some COVID-related delays. Excited to see it reach readers!
About the Author
Tell us about you. I read you’re an artist. I’d love to know more!
Yes, I come from a creative family. My sister was a visual artist first, but when I was young we would collage furniture, make people oversized birthday cards, and draw fashionable people from our imagination. Years later I started painting and more recently, I found my way back to collage. I even opened an Etsy store. Being creative makes me feel alive.
What was your path to becoming an author?
I started writing in college after a classmate suffered a racist incident on public transportation. The story hooked me, bothering me until I finally decided to write it down. That first story got published, and from there I kept going, writing speculative stories for magazines and anthologies—and eventually writing two short story collections. When the World Turned Upside Down is my debut novel and my first book for young people. I’m excited to enter this new arena as a writer.
First, I am impressed that you got the idea for the book in April 2020 and finished your final draft in January 2021 (that has to be a record!). Knowing you had a timely topic, did you have to work differently than you’re used to?
I definitely worked differently with this book. I have historically struggled to write novels. I’m a writer who discovers what I’m writing as I go along. That’s fine for short stories because you can write many many drafts until you get where you’re trying to go. It’s a lot harder for novels because they’re so long. You’ll run out of steam if you write too many drafts. When I decided to do this book, I knew it had to be done quickly to remain timely, I decided to be more completion minded. For the first time, I wrote an outline—I used the outline to sell the book, then evolved it into a plot chart that I used in the various round to keep up with the characters and plot points. Given we were in the middle of the pandemic, the story was evolving as I wrote, so my goal was to be limber, to listen to my characters, and to focus on creating a functional whole.
What was your original spark for the book?
I wanted to look at what kids survived during COVID. It was a time period that I was extremely aware of all the issues adults were going through, but I kept thinking—kids are going through the exact same challenges. We were all stuck in the house together. We couldn’t hide our challenges and anxieties the way we usually do. Kids were less sheltered from the impact of COVID-19, and I wanted to look at what that was like for them to survive this all-encompassing, unavoidable historical moment.
What research did you need to do?
I did research to build important elements of the character’s backgrounds. I researched childhood anxiety for Liam’s character and Indonesian culture and foods for Ai’s character. I cannibalized stories I heard from others during the pandemic of events that happened to them. In trying to determine who the kids would eventually come to use their voices, I read essays written by 5th graders about social justice—I wanted to understand what social justice meant to them and how they would express it for themselves. Finally I read two books for young people (This Book Is Anti-Racist by Tiffany Jewell and Not My Idea by Anastasia Higginbotham) about identity and society to help me determine what the parameters were that I would include in the informative conversations about social justice.
I love your cast of characters. What pieces of the characters are reflections of yourself?
That’s a hard question for me to answer. These characters came to me fully formed. I didn’t have to create them—as I thought of them, their personalities and interests were already there. I’m sure there are pieces of them that reflect me, but I don’t know which pieces of them reflect me. This book was unique in that I was more guided by the moment and the experiences of these characters in this moment. In that way, it almost felt like an external mandate. Like these characters were on a mission and I was in service of them, their stories and this historical moment.
Do you think you’ll create a sequel or companion book with these characters?
I’ve certainly thought about it. I can definitely see these four evolving and their relationships evolving along with their individual growth. Maybe we’ll need to get out of the pandemic and have a new impactful world event I can put them through.
I see you have a new young adult series coming in the fall 2022. Tell us a little about that.
Yes, I’m returning to the world of speculative fiction with my next book. It is the story of a teenager with mysterious powers who is raised in isolation by her grandmother. When her grandmother becomes ill, she is thrust out into the outside world. She not only has to learn what it means to be a teenager, she has to confront mysterious forces that teach her about her history and demand that she makes heartbreaking choices for her future. I can’t wait for readers to meet the heroine and fall in love with her!
Information for Teachers
Your book addresses George Floyd’s murder as well as racial inequality. Sensitive topics such as this can be difficult to address with this age group. Would you care to share your thoughts on this?
I think the difficulty is more with adults than with kids. In general, kids have a strong sense of justice and fairness. When kids ask why things are that way, as adults we fumble for answers. The realities of inequality are painful and as adults, we have to learn how to adjust to the injustices of the world that we see on a daily basis. After a lifetime of making these adjustments, it can be hard to be honest about them with children. Once we are having authentic discussions with children, we then have to reflect on ourselves and the roles we may or may not be playing in systems of inequality.
One potential entry point is to have a weekly celebration of justice warriors—spotlighting people who are fighting for justice. These warriors can cover all areas of inequality, from imbalances in food access, to environmental justice, to gender equality to racial justice. By looking at the positive work individual people are doing you can provide positive examples to children, giving them an inspiring entry point into heavy topics. You can pair these spotlights with an age-appropriate investigation into the area the social justice warrior is looking to impact. Acts of justice are all around us—in the classroom, at home, on the playground, and all over the world. Showing students how others are using their voices goes a long way to empowering students to take note of areas of justice that matter to them.
What websites and books do you recommend for teachers who want to share your book with their class and want to go further into the topic of becoming aware of racial inequality and/or creating social justice?
I mentioned both This Book Is Anti-Racist by Tiffany Jewell and Not My Idea by Anastasia Higginbotham in response to an earlier question. One thing I love about This Book Is Anti-Racist is it centers on identity. I think so often it’s easy for people to forget that justice issues are rooted in identity. This Book Is Anti-Racist provides a roadmap for kids to acknowledge and celebrate their own identities and become more aware of other’s identities. It’s a meaningful foundation for anti-racist work. Not My Idea does the important work of separating her identity as a White person from racism because racism was not her idea, she argues, she doesn’t have to protect or defend it. In a picture book format, the book works to powerful disconnect a White identity from an allegiance to racism. I recommend both books for people of all ages.
Are you doing a virtual tour in support of this book? Tell us more!
Yes! I’ll be embarking on a free-to-attend virtual tour in partnership with three Black-owned bookstores, and I’ll be appearing in conversation with a different fellow middle grade author at each tour stop:
- 1/31 @ 7:30pm ET – , in conversation with Varian Johnson (author of Playing the Cards You’re Dealt)
- 2/1 @ 5pm MT – , in conversation with Ibi Zoboi (author of Star Child: A Biographical Constellation of Octavia Estelle Butler)
- 2/2 @ 6pm ET – , in conversation with Brandy Colbert (author of Black Birds in the Sky)
I thought it might be interesting to ask the readers a specific question to answer in the comments. Is there anything you’d like readers to comment on?
In 2020, I reactivated book clubs, writing groups, art clubs, and starting cooking again. I dropped it all in 2021 and just focused on writing and puzzles. What did you pick up in year 1 of the pandemic? What did you drop in year 2? What do you think is coming in Year 3?
Thank you for your time.
K. Ibura will be giving a copy of When the World Turned Upside Down to a lucky reader. Enter the giveaway below for a chance to win a copy. (U.S. addresses only, no P.O. Boxes)