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Posts from June 2007

Sunday Afternoon Visits: June 24

It's been a fairly quiet weekend in the Kidlitosphere, because a lot of people are in Washington at ALA. And I took yesterday off from the blog, because this weekend is the 20th anniversary of Mheir's and my first date (we were very young - teenagers even), and we've been celebrating and reminiscing. However, I've been saving up posts of interest all week, and I have a bunch of links for you.

  • ScholarlyBrio interviews the Readergirlz divas. Besides background questions about Readergirlz, the interview also includes a general soundtrack for Readergirlz.
  • Robin Brande announces the date for her real-world Kidlitosphere potluck, to be held in Chicago on October 6th. Robin also suggests that people try to live naturally, as inspired by a 3 1/2 year old girl, asking "Don’t you ever wonder what it would be like to return to your roots as a 3 1/2-year-old and have chocolate milk and naptime and a few fish sticks if that’s what takes your fancy?" Her post inspired Jason Kotecki to write about this topic at Escape Adulthood, where he gives us all permission to act like kids, and eat fish sticks.
  • And, while we're on the subject of Escape Adulthood, check out Kim Kotecki's post about a prescription for reducing stress. It's very simple: get enough sleep and exercise regularly. I'm working on that, myself, and I agree that it helps.
  • Jennifer has started a Read Together mission for summer at Snapshot, which she would like to be "an encouragement to those of you who are looking to connect with your kids. Reading a book together is a wonderful way to open the door to discussions, to find out what makes them laugh, what makes them angry, or what they don't quite understand." She's chosen a topic that's near and dear to my heart (see my post from last year on this topic here). I think that Jennifer's Read Together mission is a great thing, and I hope that tons of people will participate. See also her list of recommended books to read together. You can use auto-links to sign up here.
  • Sherry shares her 10-year-old son's summer reading list at Semicolon. It's quite diverse, from The Mouse and the Motorcycle to Stormbreaker. Sherry also lists some summer reading programs.
  • Shrinking Violet Promotions has a conference survival guide for introverts (which writers often are). They note: "writer’s conferences are hundreds of writers getting together and pretending they’re extroverts. All that pretending and socializing depletes our energy meters way fast. If we’re not careful, we can find ourselves running on empty by the end of the first day of a four day conference."
  • Over at Big A little a, Kelly has an important announcement, and a bit of a feminist rant, about an upcoming companion book to The Dangerous Book for Boys. This one is called The Daring Book for Girls, to include "chapters on 'Five karate moves every girl should know' and 'Famous women spies.'" I personally will accept "Daring" instead of "Dangerous", because, after all, most girls are smart enough to know the difference. And I wish Kelly a great blog vacation for the next week or so.
  • YA Authors Cafe has an interesting discussion going on, inspired by a question from our own Little Willow, asking "Why do you read? Do you look for books that are similar to YOUR life or vastly different?" Personally, I read because I love stories, in any and all forms.
  • The Carnegie and Kate Greenway Medals were just awarded in the UK (these are like our Newbery and Caldecott awards). Meg Rosoff won the Carnegie for Just in Case. Mini Grey won the Kate Greenway for The Adventures of the Dish and the Spoon. I haven't read either, but I've heard great things. Also, Philip Pullman won the Carnegie of Carnegies, the Great Book award, for Northern Lights (published as The Golden Compass in the US), named the best children's book published in 70 years. (Via Big A little a, and others)
  • And, for a more cynical perspective on an award-winning author, check out Anne's post at Book Buds about Children's Poet Laureate Jack Prelutsky. She notes: "My husband figures the guy's close to retiring and is building his bank account. I'd rather finger our whole branding culture that, sadly, has nothing to do with hot irons and everything to do with the stupifying -- and stupid-making -- effects of mass marketing." I also wish Anne a great vacation from blogging this week.
  • Via the Orlando Sentinel Parenting Blog (and with thanks to Sandra Pedicini), "Cheerios invites previously unpublished adult authors to submit their story for a children's book", aimed at four to eight year olds. Winners will receive prizes, and a chance for publication by Simon & Schuster.
  • Via Tasha from Kids Lit, I learned of a mother who came up with the Anti-Princess Reading List, "a collection of picture books that feature strong girls in lead roles. Her site also offers books that feature working mothers and book for babies."
  • Congratulations to Mitali Perkins and SparrowBlog for dramatically increased traffic this week. It seems that Elizabeth Edwards commented on a post that Sparrow made about a joke by Presidential candidate-daughter Emma Claire, prompting attention by the mainstream press.
  • In case you missed it before, HipWriterMama recaps her favorite post, about the struggles of her younger sister, who has "a rare inflammatory muscle disease called dermatomyositis." It's sad, but also inspirational.

And that's enough for one day, though I haven't caught up on all the weekend posts. I'll be back with more early in the week. I also got four picture book reviews written today, which will be forthcoming this week. I'm going to try to get on a more regular schedule for writing reviews. I love writing them, but when I fall behind, and have, say, 10 that I need to write, I get a bit stressed out. But I hope to stay more on top of them in the future. A happy week to all!

Final SBBT Wrap-Up

Here is the final recap of the Summer Blog Blast Tour, with thanks to HipWriterMama and Lectitans for compiling and organizing the links. And of course, huge thanks for Colleen Mondor for conceiving of and organizing the whole thing. You might enjoy reading Colleen's post about the logistics of the enterprise. Here's the recap by author, with direct links to each interview.

Holly Black at The YA YA YAs
Holly Black at Shaken & Stirred
Holly Black at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast

David Brin at Chasing Ray

Eddie Campbell at Chasing Ray

Cecil Castellucci at Shaken & Stirred
Cecil Castellucci at A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Svetlana Chmakova at Finding Wonderland

Chris Crutcher at Bookshelves of Doom
Chris Crutcher at Finding Wonderland

Christopher Golden at Bildungsroman

Brent Hartinger at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast
Brent Hartinger at Interactive Reader

Sonya Hartnett at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast

Justina Chen Headley at HipWriterMama
Justina Chen Headley at Big A, little a
Justina Chen Headley at Finding Wonderland

Tom & Dorothy Hoobler at Chasing Ray

Kazu Kibuishi at Finding Wonderland
Kazu Kibuishi at lectitans

Justine Larbalestier at A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy
Justine Larbalestier at Big A, little a
Justine Larbalestier at HipWriterMama

Carolyn Mackler at The YA YA YAs

Bennett Madison at Shaken & Stirred
Bennett Madison at Bookshelves of Doom

Hilary McKay at Bookshelves of Doom

Kirsten Miller at Jen Robinson's Book Page
Kirsten Miller at Miss Erin
Kirsten Miller at A Fuse #8 Production: Part One and Part Two

Mitali Perkins at Big A, little a
Mitali Perkins at HipWriterMama
Mitali Perkins at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast

Julie Anne Peters at A Fuse #8 Production: Part One & Part Two
Julie Anne Peters at Finding Wonderland

Dana Reinhardt at lectitans
Dana Reinhardt at Interactive Reader
Dana Reinhardt at Bildungsroman

Laura Ruby at Writing and Ruminating
Laura Ruby at Miss Erin
Laura Ruby at A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy
Laura Ruby at The YA YA YAs

Jordan Sonnenblick at Bildungsroman
Jordan Sonnenblick at Writing and Ruminating
Jordan Sonnenblick at Jen Robinson's Book Page

Shaun Tan at A Fuse #8 Production

Tim Tharp at Chasing Ray

Ysabeau Wilce at Finding Wonderland
Ysabeau Wilce at Bildungsroman
Ysabeau Wilce at Shaken & Stirred

Gene Yang at Finding Wonderland

Sara Zarr at Interactive Reader
Sara Zarr at Big A, little a
Sara Zarr at Writing and Ruminating

By all reckoning, the SBBT was a success. Lots of great interviews, lots of great exposure for a wonderful and diverse set of authors. Thanks so much to everyone who participated, to the people who read the interviews, and especially those of you who took time to comment. I hope that everyone found new and interesting book recommendations. As for the team of bloggers who brought you the SBBT, we're not done yet. We'll be back with other exciting projects. Stay tuned!

Good News: It's a Carnival

An all-new Carnival of Children's Literature is now available, brought to us by Mary Lee and Franki from A Year of Reading. This one is well-thought out and organized, featuring clever newspaper images to mark each category: publishing news, contest news, great books, awesome authors, summer reading, poetry highlights, games and toys, and book talk (wouldn't that make a great Jeopardy episode?). The usual Kidlitosphere suspects are represented, as well as various new contributors. It's well worth visiting.

SBBT: Day 7 Schedule

Today have the final interview of the Summer Blog Blast Tour, in which Readergirlz diva Justina Chen Headley wraps things up at Finding Wonderland. Overall, we've had more than fifty author interviews, with a variety of authors, covering a variety of genres. It's been thought-provoking and inspiring. Huge round of applause for Colleen Mondor and the other bloggers, and for all of the wonderful authors who showed their faith in the Kidlitosphere by participating. Thanks for visiting with the SBBT team. I'm sure that we'll be back in the future with more to say.

Saturday, June 23
Justina Chen Headley finishes out the week at Finding Wonderland

SBBT: Day 6 Schedule

The Summer Blog Blast Tour is nearing it's close, at our sixth out of seven days of fabulous author interviews, but still going strong. Today we have ten more interviews, including a first appearance by Tim Tharp. I can't wait to go read more books by our participating authors, can you?

Friday, June 22
Tim Tharp at Chasing Ray
Justina Chen Headley at Big A, little a
Ysabeau Wilce at Shaken & Stirred
Dana Reinhardt at Bildungsroman
Julie Ann Peters at Finding Wonderland
Cecil Castellucci at A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy
Bennett Madison at Bookshelves of Doom
Holly Black at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast
Justine Larbalestier at Hip Writer Mama
Kirsten Miller at A Fuse #8 Production (Part Two)

Books Now Available: Puss in Boots and A Monster Cat

Two books that I reviewed from ARC have just been released today.

  • Into the Wild by Sarah Beth Durst. (My review). Sarah's excited thoughts on the release of her first novel can be found here. She says that publication day "is the day that I have been waiting for and working toward for literally my entire life." She also recounts the moment when she decided to become a writer. It's a lovely, giddy, window into one writer's long-time dream fulfilled. 
  • A Girl, A Boy, and a Monster Cat by Gail Gauthier. (My review). Today only, you can win a free copy of the book. Details are available at Gail's website. And, for a different perspective on release day, read about what Gail is doing today. She says "by the time a book is actually published, a writer ought to have moved on to something else. This one ought to, anyway." Oh, the difference between first book and seventh.

Hat tip to Liz B. from Tea Cozy for inspiring me to do a better job of notifying people when the books that I've reviewed are released.   

SBBT: Jordan Sonnenblick Interview

I'm pleased to welcome Jordan Sonneblick today as part of the Summer Blog Blast Tour. Jordan is the author of Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie (review) and Notes from the Midnight Driver (review). Both are laugh-out-loud funny books, despite being based on serious underlying topics. Drums, Girls is about a 13-year-old boy whose pesky younger brother is diagnosed with cancer. Midnight Driver is about a 16-year-old boy who steps out of line and is sentenced to community service visiting with a crusty old man. What makes them funny is the wry, self-deprecating and utterly believable voices that Jordan brings to each of his characters. My questions are in bold.

Thanks for being here today, Jordan. First question, did you read a lot as a kid?

The DARK IS RISING sequence, by Susan Cooper, was the big turning point. After I read her books, I was hooked for life.

Tell me about a favorite and/or unusual place that you've read books (as a child or an adult)?

No special spot -- I will read ANYWHERE!

When did you start writing? Or did you always write?

I always wrote when I was a kid. Then I basically took a break from the end of high school right up until the day I started writing DRUMS, GIRLS & DANGEROUS PIE. Apparently, the fifteen-year hiatus was a necessary part of my development.

Your website says that you are a middle school English teacher. Are you still teaching full-time?

I am on a two-year leave of absence, but I am planning to go back in fall 2009. I meet tons of kids on school visits, but I miss having my OWN students.

Both of your books feature musicians. For Steven from Drums, Girls, especially, music is his thing - what he can get lost in, and know that he's doing something great. Your website picture shows you holding a guitar. Do you play drums, too? Have you ever played in a band? Or the school band?

I play drums, guitar, and bass. If I just had some more arms, I could be a fairly decent rock band.

Both Steven and Alex go through significant personal growth in their respective books. They each start out not quite doing the right thing, and even railing against what they know they're supposed to be doing. Steven has trouble being there for the sick younger brother who adores him. And Alex starts out feeling quite sorry for himself for having to spend time with the crusty Sol in a nursing home. Did you, as the author, always know that they would evolve to do the right thing? Or were you figuring it out along the way with them?

I'm a big pre-plotter. Both DRUMS and NOTES were very heavily outlined beforehand. I don't generally know how characters are going to interact in each specific scene, but I do know, in broad strokes, how the protagonists will change, and I always know the last line of the book before I start writing. I sort of think a good analogy would be to a road-trip vacation: you have roadmaps, or Mapquest directions or whatever, and you know the kids are going to fight in the car -- but you have no idea how and when each fight will arise. Even within a tight outline, your characters will surprise you just as your kids do.

One of my favorite thing about both of your books is their narrative voice, in each case wryly sarcastic, sometimes self-deprecating, and utterly believable as the voice of a teenage boy (though there are certainly > differences between Steven and Alex). What I'm wondering is, does this voice stem more from your own internal 14-year-old, or from spending time with kids as a teacher and visitor to schools?

I have certainly learned a ton from my students in the 14 years I've spent as a teacher, but I think that mostly comes out in my plot details. My continued sense of teen-boy voice is almost totally a result of my general immaturity.

Your books make me laugh out loud, and I heard that same feedback recently from a 12-year-old girl who I know. Does this humor come naturally in your early writing, or is it something that you add more on revision? I find it especially interesting because both of your books deal with such serious topics.

For me, funny is easy as I'm drafting -- I was always the smart-mouthed kid who got kicked out of class. The serious parts are the challenge. Truthfully, I think that the reason I couldn't write for fifteen years before DRUMS was because I needed some life experiences -- marriage, becoming a parent, being a teacher -- so that I could become a person who could handle being serious in print.

I love the character of Sol from Midnight Driver. Was Sol, and/or Alex's relationship with someone elderly and different from him, inspired by some real-life person or event? I remember reading that you wrote Drums, Girls at least in part in response to a girl from one of your classes, who had a younger sibling with cancer, and wondered if that was the case with Notes from the Midnight Driver.

Sol is a composite character: he's basically a combination of my favorite grandfather's vocabulary and personality, the illness (and reaction to it) of a roommate my grandfather had in the hospital a week before I started writing NOTES, and a totally made-up musical career. The biggest of those three components is my Grampa Sol, who was always extremely crusty and snappish with everyone else in the world, but endlessly warm and attentive with me. He was also a teacher and writer, so obviously his influence on me was just huge. Grampa Sol is 96 years old now, fairly docile, and quite senile, so it was really important for me to capture some of his old fierceness on the page.

Are you working on another book? Is there anything that you can tell us about it? Will we find out more about Alex and Laurie in the next book? (It was such a pleasant surprise to see Steven from Drums, Girls, show up in Midnight Driver.)

My next two books are finished already, so I'm just chomping at the bit for their pub dates to roll around. ZEN AND THE ART OF FAKING IT will be published by Scholastic in October, and is about an 8th grader who lies to his whole school, mostly to impress a girl. Then, in the spring, a new division of Holtzbrinck, called Feiwel & Friends, will publish my first middle-grade novel, tentatively titled DODGER & ME. I wrote D&M for my 9-year-old son; it's about baseball, an imaginary blue chimp, and what happens when girls stop being yucky.


SBBT: Day 5 Schedule

And the interviews just keep on coming at the Summer Blog Blast Tour. Eleven more interviews today, including first appearances by authors Eddie Campbell and Cecil Castellucci. My interview with the oh-so-funny Jordan Sonnenblick will be posting today. What do you all think? Has the SBBT been a success?

Thursday, June 21
Eddie Campbell at Chasing Ray
Sara Zarr at Writing and Ruminating
Brent Hartinger at Interactive Reader
Justine Larbalestier at Big A, little a
Cecil Castellucci at Shaken & Stirred
Ysabeau Wilce at Bildungsroman
Jordan Sonnenblick at Jen Robinson's Book Page
Chris Crutcher at Finding Wonderland
Kazu Kibuishi at lectitans
Mitali Perkins at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast
Laura Ruby at The YA YA YAs

SBBT: Day 4 Schedule

And here we are with Day 4 of the Summer Blog Blast Tour. Are you beginning to get a sense of the care and effort that have gone into putting together all of these interviews? Of course most of the credit goes to the SBBT's creator and organizer, Colleen Mondor of Chasing Ray. Lots of new authors to hear from today, not to mention a few you should be getting to know fairly well by now. Happy reading!

Wednesday, June 20
Mitali Perkins at HipWriterMama
Svetlana Chmakova at Finding Wonderland
Dana Reinhardt at Interactive Reader
Laura Ruby at A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy
Holly Black at Shaken & Stirred
Hilary McKay at Bookshelves of Doom
Kirsten Miller at Miss Erin
Julie Ann Peters at A Fuse #8 Production (Part Two)
Carolyn Mackler at The YA YA YAs
Jordan Sonnenblick at Writing and Ruminating

Not Feeling Like "I Should Be Doing Something Else"

I ran across this quote recently, at Ocean Without End, and it's really stuck with me:

"Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don't feel I should be doing something else." ~ Gloria Steinem

For me, the thing that when I do it, I don't feel like I should be doing something else, is walking while listening to a book. It doesn't work just walking - then my brain is active, and I start worrying about tasks that I should be working on. And it doesn't always work just reading (unless I'm in bed, ready to go to sleep). But if I'm out walking, striding along getting good exercise, and my mind if taken up by the audio version of a good book, then I am completely in the moment.

This is pretty much the only time all day that I don't stress about the other things that I'm not working on (whether they are paying work or working on my blog). Something about the combination of doing something to help me get in shape, and being outside in the California air, and being immersed in a story, that works for me. It captures my full being (at least most of the time).

What about you? What are the things that you do that, when you're doing them, you don't feel like you should be doing something else?

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

Children's Literacy Round-Up: June 19

I only ran across a couple of literacy and children's book-related articles this week (in addition to my other posts about the RIF Multicultural Literacy Campaign, and Denise Hamilton's article about luring reluctant boy readers).

  • The Loma Colorado Library recently had a magician named Mysto perform as part of their summer reading program. According to an article in The Rio Rancho Observer, "There was a theme to Mysto's magical mayhem, however, as this show was tailored to encourage children to use the library, including one illusion that resulted in Sesame Street's Cookie Monster receiving his own library card." How cool is that?
  • The Sallie Mae Fund was honored as 'Donor of the Month' by Reading is Fundamental, according to a recent press release. "Since 2001, The Sallie Mae Fund has provided more than 100,000 books and thousands of volunteer hours through RIF's National Book Program." Given the amount of student loan interest that we've paid to Sallie Mae in my household, I'm pretty sure that we helped buy RIF a lot of books. Which is some consolation.
  • has made a variety of resources available through their website, with a goal of helping parents to keep kids learning through the summer. According to their press release, "The materials, developed by some of the nation's leading education and literacy organizations, contain age-appropriate reading and writing activities, and use a variety of other resources, including children's television shows and hit songs, to creatively connect with children." Which sounds like it has potential.

Happy reading!

SBBT: Kirsten Miller Interview

Today's Summer Blog Blast Tour guest is Kirsten Miller, author of Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City (review) and Kiki Strike: The Empress's Tomb (due out in October). The Kiki Strike books are about a band of intrepid young girls (they are 12 in the first book) who fight dangerous enemies and guard a hidden city beneath the streets of New York City.  Here, Kirsten discusses some of the inspirations for the books, and gives us just a few hints about what's coming in The Empress's Tomb. She also shares a fascinating ghost story. Read on! My questions are in bold.

Did you read a lot as a kid?

Oh yeah. I grew up in a very small town in the mountains of North Carolina, so there wasn’t much else to do. Fortunately, my parents had a fairly large library, and nothing was off-limits. So I transitioned to adult books early on. I went straight from Dr. Seuss to the Amityville Horror. It was only later (when I was in my early teens) that I went back and gobbled up all the children’s classics and realized what I’d been missing. Even today, if I’m looking for something to read for pleasure, I’ll pick up a YA book before just about anything else.

(However, I’ll admit that if video games were as fantastic back then as they are now, I would have spent a lot more time hunting for treasure and kicking bad guy butt as a kid.)

Tell me about a favorite and/or unusual place that you've read books (as a child or an adult)?

I often read in the bathtub, and I’m incredibly clumsy, so it’s never a good idea to loan me a book. Every single book I own has significant water damage. But I firmly believe that a well-worn book is a well-loved book. (At least that’s what I tell my friends after I’ve destroyed their books.)

When did you start writing? Or did you always write?

I’ve always written, I guess. A few years back, my parents moved house and shipped all of my childhood belongings to me. (Quite a cruel thing to do to someone who lives in a New York apartment.) I found all sorts of adventure stories that I’d written as a kid. Apparently I was obsessed with aliens and ghosts—surprise, surprise. As a college student I went through a terrible phase of writing morbid stories about my life’s trials and tribulations. Very dull stuff—especially given the fact that I haven’t experienced that many trials or tribulations. Oddly enough, I’ve now come full circle and am back to penning the same sort of tales I wrote when I was ten.

Have you thought about starting a blog of your own? Or are you content with Ananka's blog?

I’ve thought about writing a blog of my own, but as I’m sure you know it’s really hard work. I couldn’t possibly do two at once. Also, I find the stuff posted on “Ananka’s Diary” at far more interesting than anything I could write about myself. I really am fascinated by giant squid, Bigfoot-like creatures, and Japanese television, so I get a kick out of introducing kids (and adults) to them. And of course, it’s all fodder for writing more crazy books.

Where did you get the idea of writing about the Shadow City beneath New York?

I’ve always been a big fan of underground places. Whenever I visit a new city, I’ll hunt through the guidebooks for subterranean sites to visit. (They’re surprisingly common.) But I suppose my interest in forgotten worlds dates from my childhood. There were mines in the woods around my family’s house, and my sister and I used to play in them. They weren’t the dangerous underground variety, unfortunately, but rather large pits that had been dug in the nineteenth century. We felt as if we’d found the traces of lost society.  As far as we knew, we were the only ones who were aware of their existence.

As an adult, I became fascinated by New York history. In the course of my reading, I discovered that there are, in fact, tunnels beneath Manhattan. (Though not quite on the scale of the Shadow City.) Put two and two together and . . .

Ananka is the narrator of Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City, even though she's more side-kick than main superhero. Do you identify with Ananka more than with Kiki yourself, because she's a writer/researcher? Or is this more a way to make keep Kiki mysterious?

Both. The book isn’t a “whodunit” in the classic sense—though it is a mystery. (I’ll argue that one to the death!) The mystery is the nature of Kiki Strike’s identity. Who is she? What makes her tick? Why has she formed the Irregulars, and what does she intend to do with them? So while Kiki was the first character to pop into my mind, I knew from the beginning that it would be difficult (if not impossible) for her to tell her own story.

That’s not to say that Ananka was invented as a means of addressing a narrative challenge. I do identify with her quite a bit. Kiki’s the cool, mysterious character most of us would like to be, but Ananka’s the sort of person we all have a chance of becoming. She’s the book’s true hero—its real “girl detective.” 

My favorite parts of the book are the little "spy handbook" sections, like "How to follow someone ... without getting caught" at the ends of the chapters. Did those come to you early in the writing process, or were they something that you added on later? Do you think that you'll ever publish a pure "spy handbook" with suggestions like these?

Ooooh—good idea! I love the idea of a spy handbook for girls. There are tons right now for boys, which doesn’t seem quite fair, does it?

The “how to” sidebars were one of the first ideas I had. I thought it would be cool to combine an adventure story with information that readers could use in the real world. Although they’re funny, they were also meant to underscore the book’s main messages, (doesn’t that sound grand), which are essentially:

1) There’s no excuse for boredom. The world is a fascinating place if you bother to pay attention.
2) It’s possible to be girly and dangerous.
3) Low expectations can be a blessing in disguise.
4) Always keep a roll of duct tape handy.

Were you ever a Girl Scout? (this question was suggested by a 12-year-old friend) If so, were you a rebellious Girl Scout?

Heehee. Yes, I was a Girl Scout. But I’ve always had problems with authority, (a trait I inherited from my mother, who shares much in common with Luz Lopez), so I didn’t last very long. I remember feeling quite disappointed that we were making (and selling) cookies instead of learning how to rock climb, survive in the woods, or track dangerous animals. (Which makes me sound like a tomboy, I guess. I really wasn’t. I’d have been the one doing all of that in lip gloss and fancy shoes.)

When you set out to write these books, were you deliberately looking to provide strong, action-oriented examples for middle school age girls, or is that just what came out?

Not long after I started writing the book, I saw a clip on CNN about a ten-year-old girl who’d been kidnapped while riding her bike. As she told it, a man had stopped her with “that boring old I lost my puppy dog story.” Of course she didn’t believe a word of it. So when it became clear that she couldn’t be fooled, the man forced her into his truck. The girl (I wish I could remember her name) proceeded to scream, shout, and beat the living hell out of him. (Judging by her smirk as she recounted the incident, the girl enjoyed herself thoroughly.) Eventually, the man figured he couldn’t kidnap such a pain in the butt and kicked her out of his truck.

That’s the kind of girl I wanted to portray. The world would be a much safer, more enjoyable place for girls if we knew when to mind our manners—and when not to.

I've heard a bit of feedback about the Kiki Strike books that although they are wonderful in terms of featuring strong girl characters, they aren't very boy-friendly. Did you think about that at all? Would you ever give male characters a stronger part to play in one of your books?

You know it’s funny—some of the most positive response I’ve gotten have been from males (young and old). And whenever I’ve read to groups of kids, the boys have been extremely enthusiastic and engaged. (As one boy put it, the book had “just the right number of explosions.”) If fact, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by boys’ reactions. When I was in middle school, my male classmates would have turned up their noses at any book with a girl on the cover. Talk about progress!

That having been said, there are boys in The Empress’s Tomb. (My favorite is a boy genius who lives in Central Park.) So to the fifth grade boy who once asked me if I thought “boys could make good Irregulars,” the answer, of course, is YES!

The six Irregulars are all quite different from one another, in both strengths and nationalities. Did they each appear to you, demanding to be written about? Or were you, in some cases, looking for particular traits, and you kind of went looking for the characters. Kiki, especially, is such a unique character that I wonder if she popped up in your mind first.

In many ways, the book is a love letter to New York, and I wanted the Irregulars to reflect the fascinating ethnic mix you find in the city. (As well as represent my favorite neighborhoods.) And I thought it would be interesting to see how six girls from different walks of life (rich, poor, royal, non-royal) would come together to fight the forces of evil.

Kiki was the first character to arrive, but the rest of the girls weren’t far behind. Some of them (namely Oona) demanded my attention more than others, but I found all six fascinating in their own ways. I knew I’d be spending a great deal of time with them, so each needed to be a person I was curious to learn more about. In the end, I guess I created my ideal group of friends.

It was neat seeing Oona get more of a central role in The Empress's Tomb. Did you know in the first book what her parentage was going to turn out to be?

(Hmm. Let’s see if I can answer this without giving too much away.) I’ve known Oona’s secret for quite some time. The plot of The Empress’s Tomb took shape as I was writing Kiki Strike, so it was easy to slip in a few clues about Oona’s background here and there. (In fact, there are clues about the other girls in the first book, too.)

In The Empress's Tomb, Ananka notes that "Any person who believes in ghosts has at least one good story to share." Do you have any real-world ghost stories? Or, have you ever personally tested out any of the methods in the "How to Summon a Poltergeist" section?

I haven’t tried my hand at impersonating a poltergeist yet—though I had a lot of fun writing that particular section. I have, however, seen a ghost. When I was quite young, my family lived in an old farmhouse, and until I was six, my sister and I shared a room. Unfortunately, my sister was already well on her way to becoming one of the biggest slobs in the known universe, and I eventually demanded my own clutter-free space. So my parents let me move to a small chamber at the back of the house that had previously been used for storage. A few days later, I was making my bed when I looked up to see an unfamiliar man leaning against my dresser. He wasn’t particularly frightening—in fact he seemed rather pleasant. As soon as I started screaming, he vanished.

That wasn’t the last time I saw him. Over the next few months, he randomly appeared in my bedroom. I’d be playing with my toys or reading a book, and I’d look up find him watching me. At first, my mother made light of the situation. But one day she came home and insisted that I move back into the room I had shared with my sister. As much as I hated to admit defeat, I didn’t argue. I later discovered that my mother had just been to see the woman who had sold my parents the house. She’d discovered that the woman’s husband had died in our house’s back bedroom. The woman showed my mother a picture. It was the same man I had described seeing in my room.

That’s a true story!

Are the giant squirrels in Empress based on real animals? Have you ever seen them?

Yes, the Black Giant Squirrels of Malaysia are very real. They have black and yellow fur, and they’re as big as cats (around three long feet, including tail), but their behavior is much like that of the squirrels you’d see in any American park.

I’ve always been intrigued by squirrels of all shapes and sizes. Few other species manage to inspire such love—or loathing. I’m always blown away by the number of anti-squirrel sites one can find on the Internet. There are people who seem to devote their entire lives to exposing squirrels as a menace to mankind.

People who know of my interest in squirrels will often send me videos or website links. I first saw a Black Giant Squirrel in one such video and immediately knew it would have a place in my book. Someday I’d like to see one in the wild.

You can ignore this one if you've already answered it for other blog tour participants, but: Will there be a third Kiki Strike book?

You’re the first person to ask so far. The answer is  . . . maybe.

We can only hope. The second book is, if anything, better than the first.