Tag Archives: interview

A Peek Into the Creator of Rise of the Jumbies

Hi Mixed-Up Files Readers,

I’m thrilled to introduce our next author guest and share her brand new book with you! Some of you will remember her from The Jumbies, the first book in her creepy middle grade series.  Let’s hear a warm welcome for Tracey Baptiste!

Hi Sheri! Thanks so much for doing a feature on the series.

It’s my pleasure. So excited to chat! Let me ground the readers by starting with an element of the first book – without giving anything away. In the first book of A photo of Tracey Baptiste's book, The Jumbiesthis series, The Jumbies, your main character Corinne is a confident girl for the most part; she’s afraid of nothing. But then she must learn how to call upon that confidence in the form of courage to save her island home. You’ve continued Corinne’s story in Rise of the Jumbies with her discovering she’s suspect to the story’s main plot line. That had to be hard for her, especially after she’d found and used her courage in book I.

Did she go through self-doubt and questioning? How else did she react to this? What will young readers gain by exploring this with Corinne?

There are always going to be moments when a person does all the right things, and people still aren’t on their side. This is Corinne’s experience at the beginning of the book, and it hurts her. It also propels her to go to extraordinary lengths to save the children of the island. I’m not sure she would have risked herself in this way otherwise since she had already done so much.

Such an important lesson for kids to learn alongside Corinne.

I absolutely love the culture and diversity of this book! The story world is rich and intriguing. I’m always intrigued when authors talk about stories they recall from childhood. How closely did you follow those stories you were told as a child and how did you weave in your imagination to create such a unique tale?

At their core, the jumbies have the same traits as the ones in stories I listened to as a child, but I did let my imagination run wild. For one thing, the jumbies are all somewhat unified, and in the stories I heard, it was always one jumbie on the prowl, or maybe a few douens together, but they never worked together the way I have them in this series. And Severine was entirely my invention—a jumbie who unified those on land. I needed her to focus Corinne’s anger/sadness/loss, but also to make it a bigger story because all the jumbies under Severine make for a more dire situation for the island.

What’s the most important message or lesson readers will find in this book?

That individual groups have more in common than they realize. That squeezing any group to the fringe is cruel, and a recipe for disaster.

How would you describe Rise of the Jumbies in either five descriptive words or 140 characters?

Exciting, magical, gorgeous, brutal, frightening.

These really are perfect.

A fun question: if Corinne could be any character from any fairytale, who would it be and why?

Corinne falls firmly in the Cinderella trope. The dead mother, the evil stepmother (in this case wannabe stepmother), the magical trees (one of which is near the mother’s grave), the need to overcome the stepmother in order to get to a “happy” ending. This was all deliberate. I love Cinderella stories, so when I read the Haitian folktale “The Magic Orange Tree,” I recognized the same story bones as Cinderella, and that was the inspiration for the first Jumbies book.

How did you find writing a sequel different from writing the first book and what advice could you share with our writer friends about how to approach writing a ‘book 2’?

I had ideas for a book 2 when we sold the first Jumbies, but it wasn’t bought as a multi-book deal, so I dropped those ideas in favor of making book 1 stand alone. Then book 2 became a possibility so keeping the consistency was very difficult. I struggled a lot. I knew I needed to up the ante on the danger Corinne and her friends were in, but that I also needed to deepen the emotional story. The mermaids were always in my thoughts for a book 2, so I was thrilled to bring them in, and I had a very specific agenda for them—they would tell the most harrowing emotional story in the book, that of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. Their story was the most crucial and difficult for me, and moving some of the focus away from Corinne helped to drive the second book. This was a deliberate strategy to keep things fresh and unexpected in the sequel.

Oh wow, this is such a powerful part of the story. So glad you were able to bring it to readers in book II.

What do you see as the most challenging aspect of growing up ‘middle grade’ in today’s world of books? How can authors make a difference in these middle schoolers lives?

Middle grade readers are watching a world where hate is once again bubbling to the surface, and that’s all in the spotlight because of social media, which they all have access to. Books that accurately represent different cultures and different stories are crucial now so that there isn’t an ingrained sense of “otherness” about people who don’t look the same, or who live differently. I am a strong advocate for Own Voices stories because who better to tell stories than the people who live them? Unfortunately, there are still more books published about [insert non-white culture/ethnicity here] than written by people within those groups.

Care to share what your readers can expect from you next? We’d love to hear!

I’m working on two books of historical nonfiction. One is about the civil rights movement, and the other I’m still researching, so I can’t say much about it yet.

Ooh, secretive … we like that! Best of luck with both projects. We’ll anxiously await their releases. And thank you for sharing yourself and your work with the Mixed-Up Files.

Tracey Baptiste is a YA and MG author, former elementary school teacher, and freelance editor. For more on The Jumbies series and the author herself visit her website.

Interview with Author Amy Stewart and a Wicked Bug Giveaway

 

Today we welcome New York Times bestselling author Amy Stewart and we are giving away a copy of her new book for middle-grade readers, Wicked Bugs: The Meanest, Deadliest, Grossest Bugs on Earth (Algonquin Books 2017).

Amy Stewart is the award-winning author of six books on the perils and pleasures of the natural world, including four New York Times bestsellers The Drunken Botanist, Wicked Bugs, Wicked Plants, and Flower Confidential. She is also the author of the Kopp Sisters series. Stewart and her husband own Eureka Books in Eureka, California. She is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, the American Horticulture Society’s Book Award, and an International Association of Culinary Professionals Food Writing Award. 

 Illustrator Briony Morrow-Cribbs studied art at the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design in Vancouver, British Columbia, and currently lives in Brattleboro, Vermont, where she owns and operates Twin Vixen Press

About Wicked Bugs Young Readers Edition: The Meanest, Deadliest, Grossest Bugs on Earth (Algonquin Books 2017):

Did you know there are zombie bugs that not only eat other bugs but also inhabit and control their bodies? There’s even a wasp that delivers a perfectly-placed sting in a cockroach’s brain and then leads the roach around by its antennae — like a dog on a leash. Scorpions glow in ultraviolet light. Lots of bugs dine on corpses. And if you want to know how much it hurts to get stung by a bullet ant (hint: it really, really hurts), you can consult the Schmidt Sting Pain Index. It ranks the pain produced by ants and other stinging creatures. How does it work? Dr. Schmidt, the scientist who created it, voluntarily subjected himself to the stings of 150 species.

 Organized into thematic categories (Everyday Dangers, Unwelcome Invaders, Destructive Pests, and Terrible Threats) and featuring full-color illustrations by Briony Morrow-CribbsWicked Bugs is an educational and creepy-cool guide to the worst of the worst of insects, arachnids, and other arthropods. This is the young readers adaptation of Amy Stewart’s bestselling book for adult readers.

 
First question: Why bugs?

Wicked Bugs is the sequel to Wicked Plants, a book I wrote in 2009 about deadly, dangerous, offensive, illegal, and otherwise horrible plants that have affected humans–mostly for the worst. It was my way of looking at the dark side of the plant world, and telling rather bone-chilling stories that don’t often get told about the surprisingly powerful world of plants!

Wicked Bugs seemed like a natural follow-up. In fact, as I was researching Wicked Plants, I kept running across interesting stories about venom, insect-transmitted diseases, and so forth in the medical literature. I just started keeping a list, and pretty soon, I had another collection of stories.

The irony is that people are very trusting of plants, assuming that anything green that grows out of the ground is all natural and therefore good for you. But I had no trouble rounding up a list of truly terrifying plants. Plants can’t run away and hide from predators, so they fight back in ways that can really inflict a lot of pain and suffering.

For Wicked Bugs, on the other hand, I actually had a hard time coming up with a list of insects, spiders, and so forth that we actually should worry about.  People are generally far more terrified of bugs than plants, but in fact, I had trouble filling a book with actually “wicked” bugs!

 In your introduction, you discuss your use of the word “bug.” Can you tell our readers about it?  How did you choose which critters to include?

 Entomologists will be quick to point out that they use the word “bug” to refer to a specific type of insect with piercing and sucking mouthparts. An aphid, therefore, is a “bug,” but an ant is not. This book covers all manner of slithering, creeping, and crawling creatures, from insects to spiders to worms. In that sense, I’m using the word “bug” in the more ancient sense, dating back to the 1620s, when it was used to refer to any sort of little insect-like creature.

How did you approach research for the book?

 I interviewed toxicologists, physicians, and entomologists. I read a lot of medical and scientific journals, scoured old newspapers, and did original, primary research to try to debunk myths and avoid repeating old, false information. Although this looks like a small, light-hearted book, I do quite a bit of research. For instance, I would never repeat a fact from a modern book along the lines of “the ancient Greeks used wasps for warfare.” I’d need to trace that to the source–and I don’t just mean a more authoritative Greek scholar, I mean the original source text, which, fortunately, has probably been digitized and can be found in a research library somewhere in the world. I’ve hired translators to translate 500 year-old German texts and even Egyptian hieroglyphics.

Tell us about the decision to publish a young readers’ edition of your 2011 New York Times best seller for adults, Wicked Bugs: The Louse That Conquered Napoleon’s Army & Other Diabolical Insects.

I do quite a lot of events around the country at science museums, botanical gardens, libraries, and so forth. At those events I will often meet teachers and parents who are really eager to find interesting science books for their kids and students. I confess that because I’m not a parent myself, I wasn’t aware of the changes that Common Core and other educational standards have brought to the classroom, but teachers and parents brought me up to date! They told me that literature and writing are being integrated into other subjects, like science and history. Because Wicked Bugs combines all of those things–science, history, and storytelling–it really fit the bill.

 How does this middle grade version differ from the adult version?

We had the text professionally edited to fit the right age and grade level, and we removed just a little bit of “adult’ content.  We also made it into a full-color edition by using hand-colored versions of Briony Morrow-Cribbs’ extraordinary copperplate etchings. As you might know, copper etchings were used to illustrate scientific books three hundred years ago. It’s almost a lost art today. But Briony took up the challenge, often working from real specimens at her university entomology department, wearing jeweler’s glasses to see every tiny detail.

If there was one single thing that you wanted young readers to get from Wicked Bugs, what would it be?

Honestly, I just want them to enjoy the book. I write for entertainment–to entertain myself, and to entertain readers.

 Do you have plans for any other books for young readers?

I very much hope that my publisher will want to do Wicked Plants! There are other books about bugs out there for this age group, but it seems to me that botany is a very underserved subject for young readers. There’s a definite Harry Potter vibe to Wicked Plants–poisons and potions and so forth–but it’s also an engaging look at botany and a good way into the subject. If anybody out there thinks Wicked Plants would make a good next book, please send me your thoughts!

You have published both fiction and nonfiction. Do you have a preference? How does your writing process differ?

Right now I’m writing a series of novels (Girl Waits with Gun, Lady Cop Makes Trouble, and Miss Kopp’s Midnight Confessions) [for adults] based on the true story of one of America’s first female deputy sheriffs and her sisters.

It’s great because the research is really the same, but the writing is very free, because I can make things up if I have to. Also, I’m no longer writing in my own voice, and I do get tired of the sound of Amy Stewart in my head all the time.  Now I’m writing in the voice of a woman who lived in the 1910s, and that’s a great challenge. There will be many more books in that series to come!

And now for the giveaway!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Video Conferencing: Authors at Your Fingertips

Author S A Larsen

You’ve just finished reading a fantastic book with your class. The kids are engaged and the story is the topic of conversation. Go beyond the traditional project or book report and transport the author to your doorstep.

The Digital Age:
We live in a digital age, and fortunately for our schools, many authors are available to video conference. Location and time differences are no longer a deterrent. Many authors list video conferencing information on their websites. An internet search can also help you find available authors. Some authors charge a fee and some don’t. Chat with your author to see what terms can be reached. Link To Mixed-Up File Authors

If your school doesn’t have a budget for author presentations, be creative:

  • Take book orders from the students. Many authors are happy to sell and ship personally signed copies.
  • Ask the PTO to purchase class sets for the grade levels.
  • Offer to post  a review of the book on strategic websites.
  • Feature the book in the school newspaper or on the school website.
  • Post the book and video conference snippets on the school Facebook page.
  • Display the author’s name and book title on the school billboard.
  • Invite your local newspaper columnist to cover the class video chat.

Have fun and don’t be afraid to use your imagination!

Annabelle Fisher, author of The Secret Destiny of Pixie Piper, Skypes with a class of readers

So, you’ve booked the author. Now what?

Ask the author:
First, ask the author what they offer. Some will talk about their book and the background it took to write it. But, if it’s a science author, they may have a favorite demonstration to share. If it’s a picture book illustrator, they may draw the character for the kids. If it’s a fantasy author, they may demonstrate how to create imagery through descriptive writing from a new world.

Does the author request questions before the video conference? This helps the author give informed and well-thought-out answers. Poll your students. What do they want to know? Was there a fascinating section of the book they wanted to know more about? What about behind-the-scene events? Why did the author create a certain character? Did the author use traits from real people? Were any of the events in the book part of the author’s life? Were there unanswered questions in the story line? Help students focus their questions so they pull out unique elements of the author’s work. This is the benefit of video conferencing. You have the author’s ear! When conference day comes, let the students take turns asking the questions.

Student Created Games

Do students have something to share with the author? 

Did they create a skit? Did they write an alternative ending to the story or insert a chapter in-between? Did they write a quiz show or create a game that targets details from the book? Did they create trading cards of the different events and characters? Or perhaps your students would like to dress in character and the author has to guess the character’s identity.

Using Google Maps with author interview:
Also, consider things like Google maps. Students have the ability to bookmark a location on the world-wide map with their own information and facts. This is a great option for historical novels or any story that travels. Consider having students interview the author about the different locations and the importance of each site. Besides being a great project where students research and enter information on the world-wide map, people from around the globe get instant access to the information your students have entered. Extend the project by collaborating with other classes (from anywhere in the world) and build a map together.

Before you read:
Think forward. Invite the author beforehand to share background information and tidbits before you start reading. Why did they write this book? Did they face challenges? Does the story relate to their own life or the life of someone else? Who or what influenced them? Meaningful introductory conversations set the stage for an engaging beginning.

Authors love sharing and the age of video conferencing has opened up a new set of doors.