Category Archives: For Kids

Debut Author Adam Shaughnessy Tells the Truth about The Entirely True Story of the Unbelievable Fib

UnknownDebut author Adam Shaughnessy shares his writing journey in penning The Entirely True Story of the Unbelievable Fib, a mystery full of plot twists and plenty of mythology. Despite the title of his novel, Adam appears to have told the entire truth and is not a fibber. Although this cannot be verified.

1) Norse gods and other mythic beings and creatures populate your very exciting mystery adventure. How did you decide to focus in on chiefly Norse mythology for this book?

For years, I’ve had an enrichment business where I visit schools, after-schools, and other organizations with story-based enrichment programs. Many of the stories I work with involve mythology. So I’ve been thoughtful for some time about how many amazing mythologies exist around the world and how few of those mythologies get presented to kids, either through school or through popular culture. When I started my programs about fifteen years ago, kids were basically introduced to Greek and Roman myths (that’s changed a little since then, but not too much). I focused on other world myths, including Norse mythology, in my programs to help diversify kids’ exposure. So Norse myths have been on my radar for a while.

When I decided to novelize my storytelling and write the book that eventually became The Entirely True Story of the Unbelievable FIB, I looked at all the different mythologies I’d worked with over the years in order to decide which set of myths to focus on. In the end, I couldn’t resist the Norse myths. Part of the reason for that decision was thematic—I knew that the book’s plot would revolve around something called The Unbelievable FIB and Norse mythology boasts one of the best liars out there, Loki. But, really, I focused on Norse mythology for the simple reason it’s awesome. The settings are fantastic. The cosmology of the myths is based on the premise that there’s a giant tree so large that it holds the worlds of the gods, of people, and of the dead in its branches. And the characters that populate those worlds are both wicked and wonderful—often at the same time. Plus they have Ratatosk, the talking insult squirrel, and I don’t think characters get any better than that! So Norse mythology was too tempting of a playground not to go there and play.

2) Mr. Fox is a very intriguing character who lives in a magical henhouse. How did you come up with this idea for the henhouse?

Mister Fox introduces himself as a detective who investigates mysteries that involve myth and magic. I wanted his house, the headquarters of his detective agency, to be memorable. Since I knew I was dealing with mythology in the book, I thought about the most magical structures I remembered from the myths I had read. Baba Yaga’s house sprang immediately to mind.

It’s funny, though—I wasn’t immediately sold on the idea. I knew I wanted to focus on Norse mythology for the book’s main plot. I was worried about trying to add Russian mythology into the mix, too.

At the time I was thinking about all this and working out the book’s plot, I was also still doing my enrichment programs. Those programs utilized the character Mister Fox (though in a slightly different form). I built a lot of props for my programs, and I remember standing in a craft store one day with the idea of building a detective’s briefcase for Mister Fox. I had an old black leather case at home. But while I was at the store I came across a wooden briefcase. I got the idea that Mister Fox’s briefcase should be magical… maybe made from wood from a witch’s house. I saw the image of the briefcase in my head immediately—mysterious lights seeping through the cracks between splintered planks of wood. And that briefcase would copy the design of Mister Fox’s house.

Just like that I was back to Baba Yaga and the idea of the Henhouse, which gets its name from Baba Yaga’s odd ideas about mobile home construction (her house travels by chicken foot). It may sound like an odd process, but one of the things I’ve learned about myself as a writer is that I do well when I approach a story as more than just words on a page. Plotting takes on a whole new dimension if I build something related to the story—it gets my brain working in different ways!

3) Without giving anything away, The Entirely True Story of the Unbelievable Fib, involves some red herrings, buried clues, puzzles and other classical mystery elements. What did you learn about mystery writing from this experience?

First of all, I gained a whole new appreciation for mysteries. We all know that reading is an interactive experience. It starts with the writer, but it doesn’t end there. The reader creates the story, too. Through interpretation and imagination, the reader adds things of her or his own. That interactivity is one of the things I like best about sharing stories. Mysteries, I found, really enhance that dynamic. This is especially true of fair play stories, where the clues to solving the mystery are there for the reader to find. Suddenly the book becomes a game that the author and reader play together. I LOVE that! Until I wrote the book, I hadn’t thought about mysteries in that way.

Also, I like how mystery writing forces the author to think very carefully about how much information she or he gives out, and how soon. All writers have to do that, really, but I think it’s especially important in writing a mystery. You can’t be too vague or too obvious with your clues.

4) The main character, Pru, is grieving for her deceased father; we learn about him slowly and Pru’s grieving is handled deftly. Did it take you a while to figure out how to deal with this sort of backstory, in a way that wouldn’t interrupt the tone of your novel?

Yes! I’m someone who works out a plot by writing. I don’t start with an outline. I go right into the first draft. And in my very first draft of FIB (which had a very different narrative voice) I explicitly state that though Pru’s father is dead, this story is not about that. And I honestly believed that statement when I wrote the first draft! Then I finished the draft, got my first glimpse of the true shape of the story, and realized I was an idiot. That, in fact, the story was very much about Pru’s dad’s death and how Pru feels about the loss. And, yes, it was a long process to figure out how to incorporate that plot line, how much weight to give it, and when. It was trial and error. I don’t think I was at all happy with it until around the third or fourth draft.

5) A certain talking squirrel is one of my favorite characters. He has some great and creative insults later in the book. Did his personality evolve over time or did his wisecracking ways come to you right away?
Ratatosk, the talking insult squirrel, is one of my favorites, too! He’s a character in Norse myths, though he gets very little mention in the stories and nothing is said about his personality. That seemed like a huge oversight to me. He’s a talking insult squirrel. That’s star material, as far as I’m concerned. So I always knew Ratatosk would have a role in my book and because of that, I figured out his personality pretty early on in the process.

It did take a little work. Because the myths don’t develop the character, I had to figure out who he was, what he was like, and how he communicated. All we get in the myths is a passing reference to the fact that he carries insults from a dragon at the base of Yggdrasil (the world tree) to an eagle at the top. I imagined that it would be frustrating for poor Ratatosk to have the unique status as the world’s only talking squirrel but to be forced to only carry messages for others—to never get to speak his own thoughts, or really be heard. So he’s a bit of a show off when he talks—always using as many words as he can and always picking the fanciest words he can think of. Of course, I also had to account for the fact that Ratatosk has spent eons carrying insults. That kind of thing is bound to rub off on a squirrel. So he’s a little abrasive at first. Really, though, he has a heart of gold!

6) ABE, Pru’s new friend and sidekick is gifted with puzzles. Is this something you are personally good at as well?

Good at? Um… yes? Okay, that’s a fib. But I like puzzles—a lot. As with the mystery element, I think the inclusion of puzzles in the book adds another opportunity for interactivity. Riddles and puzzles give the reader something to play with. I hinted at this earlier, but I suppose it deserves a greater emphasis because it’s really important to me: I love any opportunity to blend story and play. I think both those things are hugely important for children (and adults, but we’re talking about children’s literature here). I’ve carried that belief with me through two decades of working with and now writing for children, and I suspect (and hope!) that I will continue to carry it with me for many years to come.

7) The Entirely True Story of the Unbelievable Fib wraps up to a satisfying conclusion, and yet the reader is left with the feeling that the 11 year-old protagonist Prudence Potts will tackle many more mythic mysteries and adventures in the future. In fact, a sequel is planned. When you wrote this novel did you have a series in mind for it?
I did. And this brings us back to your first question, which is a nice bit of symmetry. There are so many wonderful collections of myths out there from all around the world. I think a detective agency that investigates the actions of mythological beings could be a neat vehicle through which to explore those mythological realms. I am, of course, biased.

8) Is there anything else you’d like us to know about your book?
Writers like to play with conventions, I think. We like to turn them inside-out and see what makes them tick. One of the things I like the most about The Entirely True Story of the Unbelievable FIB is that it plays with a very popular convention we see in stories for children—the idea that you have to believe in magic to experience it. In FIB, it’s the people who aren’t sure what they believe who can experience magic. It’s the uncertain people, the people with an open mind. It works in the context of the book (I hope!) as a magical system. But it also speaks to something I’m very thoughtful about these days as I go through life—the need to not be so certain about our own ideas and beliefs that we lose the ability to listen to the ideas of others or to see things from their perspective. I hope that also resonates with my readers. Unknown-1

Hillary Homzie is the author of the forthcoming Queen of Likes (Simon & Schuster MIX 2016), The Hot List (Simon & Schuster MIX 2011) and Things Are Gonna Be Ugly (Simon & Schuster, 2009). She can be found at and on her Facebook page.

Books with Biracial Characters


images-3In the US census between 2000 and 2010 people identifying as more than one race increased by 32%. It is, by most methods of calculation, the fastest growing racial group in the county and one that also needs representation in children’s books.

I didn’t set out to write a book about a biracial child, but I grew up in a neighborhood that seemed outwardly monocultural. As I got to know my classmates and their families over time, I learned that my neighborhood was far more diverse than it appeared. Several friends spent part of  the year living in the Middle East. I regularly babysat for a family with white and Native Alaskan parents.  One of my childhood friends spent every summer in Japan with his grandparents. He was fluent in Japanese and English, passionate about martial arts, and sometimes misunderstood by classmates who found his pride in his grandparent’s culture silly. He bore a strong resemblance to his American father and I remember watching him, and other biracial classmates, navigate the balance between body language, speech patterns and cultural convictions that set them apart and the convenience of looking white enough to blend in.

In writing a story with a biracial character  and thinking through my childhood experiences with an adult’s perspective I’ve found that biracial characters are magnets for conflict in ways that make them useful for story-making though not easy in the actually living of the biracial experience. Here are some avenues of conflict you might explore if you are considering writing biracial or bicultural characters.

1. “But you don’t look Indian!” I actually heard someone say this to an accomplished Native American author recently and she responded with what I felt was the perfect balance of firm resolve and compassion. It’s a terrible thing to say to someone–essentially, “you are not who you are.” That comment, and a dozen equally offensive variations, confront biracial people regularly. The relentless explaining of your identity is soul-wearying and makes a great plot point because even the most confident and well-nurtured biracial person can develop doubts of ever find a place where they belong.

images-22. “Shouldn’t you be more_____?” Is another phrase a biracial person frequently hears. Many minorities feel a pressure to behave in the expected mold of their culture, the intellectual Jew or the violin playing Korean child or the athletic black teenager, for example. imagesIt is hard enough to live up to the imagined-by-outsiders standard of one community, let alone trying to meet the expectations of two or even several. images-1The burden of living up to an impossible standard makes for great internal conflict in a story.


3. For many biracial people the aspect of their racial and cultural identity that comes to the fore varies with circumstance. So a family might choose to emphasize the heritage that blends most readily with the community at hand. Or the most advantageous one. For example, if the local schools are substandard, and a Jewish day school with better resources is available, then a family might choose to identify more strongly as Jewish and become more observant than they might have otherwise.  For the biracial child this can feel like  playing favorites with one parent over another or one set of grandparents over another. The tension between wanting the advantage the easy racial identity provides and wanting to see justice done for the disadvantaged racial identity is great food for complex story telling

4. I had a fascinating conversation with Pico Iyer a few summers ago about raising biracial and bicultural children. He’s found that both his own kids and those he knows from his many travels are masters of observation and highly attuned to cultural nuance. Not that the insights they have are unavailable to others who take the time to be attentive and make connections, but that the connections others overlook are blindingly obvious to a biracial or bicultural child. A keenly observant child always makes for a more interesting viewpoint character and the kind of observations readily available to the child who straddles a number of cultural groups is particularly valuable.

5. And here’s the tough part (at least from my perspective as a bicultural but not Unknownbiracial person). Often what white people do to acknowledge and respect cultures other than their own is so awkwardly done that it makes matters worse rather then better. The dressing up as pilgrims and indians in one glaring example. Here’s another. I recently heard hip-hop poet Merlyn Hepworth perform a poem about his 8 year old self and the school fiesta. He is Mexican-American and grew up in Idaho, a state well known for active white supremacist groups. Nonetheless, his 2nd grade teacher wanted to  broaden her students’ world view, so they had a class fiesta. Young Merlyn, all excited, asked his abuela to make tortillas, his favorite food. So she did and on fiesta day he brought them all fresh and warm, with the delicious little scorch marks that hand-made tortillas have. He set this treasure on the table alongside an array of Ortega products, Fritos, salsa in a jar, and chips with melted cheddar cheese. His whole class and teacher and school principal came to the table to eat and not one person would touch his grandmother’s tortillas. And for the first time in his young life Merlyn was ashamed to eat them himself. And so the whole event had the opposite effect from the one the teacher intended. She had wanted to celebrate Merlyn’s culture and ended up making him feel ashamed in a way he  hadn’t before and might not have ever been if he hadn’t brought real Mexican food to a pretend fiesta.

Here are just a few stories with biracial characters you might enjoy.

Misad51C5YsK3BLL._SX338_BO1,204,203,200_ventures of the Family Fletcher by Dana Levy9780688173975

Rain is not my Indian Name
by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones

Operation Redwood 9780385755528by S. Terrell FrenchUnknown

Shadows of Sherwood by Kekla Magoon51Q-2FElUvL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_

I’d love to hear about books that you felt did a good job of representing the biracial experience.  Let me know what books I should be highlighting and I’ll add them to this post and ask the buyer to get them for my bookstore.

A Middle Grade Time Machine

I’ve been staying with my husband’s mother for several weeks. As we go through some of her things for a move, she has been sharing childhood stories with me. I’m hearing about her Dad’s bakery, about pets, about antics she and her siblings got up to. As I was going through a bookcase, I found some middle grade treasures.

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The copy of Peter Pan was my mother-in-law’s, made obvious by the inscription inside, which shows her name, and “My Book,” in very neat large script. As one of seven kids, it was probably quite important to make these distinctions of ownership known!


These books and the stories she told made me think about the young people we write for today, and I marveled at how books have touched us all over the years.

Thinking back to my Dad’s favorite books as a middle grade reader, some, like my mother-in-law’s Peter Pan, are still popular today.



Treasure Island and Kidnapped, by Robert Louis Stevenson, as well as the Jules Verne stories, always came up when we talked favorite books.


The Call of the Wild was another which brought a light of memory to Dad’s eyes when he remembered it. My husband and I discovered very early in our dating days that we had grown up with the same wonderful illustrated edition of Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories, which our parents all loved growing up and shared with their children. These were the stories which shaped them as young readers, our own parents, children born in 1923 and 1934.

Other books they enjoyed might not be so familiar to us today, but I remember them all, as my parents passed them on to me.  Goops and How to Be Them, by Gelett Burgess, The Tanglewood Tales, by Nathaniel Hawthorne, and  The Burgess Animal Book for Children, by Thornton W. Burgess , were favorites my Dad shared.

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A Girl of the Limberlost. by Gene Stratton-Porter, and Daddy Longlegs, by Jean Webster, were some of Mom’s favorites.

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Also wonderful to read aloud, which both my parents loved,  are the poems of James Whitcomb Riley. and Brett Harte’s tales of the California gold fields, especially “The Luck of Roaring Camp”. 


More recently, my mother-in-law introduced our family to Five Children and It, by E. Nesbit., when our own daughter was a youngster. I’m so glad I didn’t miss out on this hilarious author.


Oh, what a time machine we can travel, experiencing what our parents and grandparents read! I learn something new about a generation each time I open up a book from the past, don’t you?