Interview, Reina Luz Alegre, Middle Grade Author of THE DREAM WEAVER
Apr 28th, 2020 by Liza Wiemer

The Dream Weaver, an #ownvoices novel by Reina Luz Alegre

Buying Links: IndieBound |Bookstop | Books-A-Million Amazon

From Goodreads:

Twelve-year-old Zoey comes from a family of dreamers. From startup companies to selling motorcycles, her dad is constantly chasing jobs that never seem to work out. As for Zoey, she’s willing to go along with whatever grand plans her dad dreams up—even if it means never staying in one place long enough to make real friends. Her family being together is all that matters to her.

So Zoey’s world is turned upside down when Dad announces that he’s heading to a new job in New York City without her. Instead, Zoey and her older brother José will stay with their Poppy at the Jersey Shore. At first, Zoey feels as lost and alone as she did after her Mami died. But soon she’s distracted by an even bigger problem: the bowling alley that Poppy has owned for decades is in danger of closing!

After befriending a group of kids practicing for a summer bowling tournament, Zoey hatches a grand plan of her own to save the bowling alley. It seems like she’s found the perfect way to weave everyone’s dreams together…until unexpected events turn Zoey’s plan into one giant nightmare. 

Now, with her new friends counting on her and her family’s happiness hanging in the balance, Zoey will have to decide what her dream is—and how hard she’s willing to fight for it. 


Question: Was there anything that surprised you while writing this novel? If so, what?

Answer: Yes! I was surprised how much fun I had writing the conflicts, and filling in the characters’ personalities so that everyone—even the bully on the rival bowling team—had some nuance to their personality, reasons for their perspectives, redeeming qualities in addition to flaws. Happily ever afters are my favorite, and the book does end on a positive note, but I was surprised by how much I enjoyed writing the drama and bumps in the road along the way too. 
Question: Any novel secrets? Something that readers wouldn’t know just from reading your book like special inspirations, places or people you interwove into the text? 

Answer: I wove a lot of my Cuban Latinx heritage into the story in ways that felt meaningful to me—from treating characters to foods like ropa vieja (a shredded beef dish) and pastelitos to pinning Azabache charms to sprinkling in Spanish phrases I grew up hearing to the bigger culture clash between Zoey’s Cuban grandpa and her non-Cuban dad’s attitudes about privilege and family.  

Question: What do you love about your cover and how does it connect to your story?

Answer: I LOVE the cover so much. Hugest of thanks to Lucy Ruth Cummins and Lizzy Stewart for designing and illustrating such a beautiful, eye-catching cover, that shows a bustling boardwalk and the entrance to grandpa’s beachside bowling alley! I especially love how much motion the cover conveys—from the super fun Ferris Wheel in the background to the ocean waves at the bottom to main character Zoey running off while seemingly calling back to her friends. It really conveys the story’s fun, fast-paced plot and Zoey’s determined, resourceful personality.

Bonus round:

Coffee Tea or Hot Chocolate? Coffee! By the pot or cafetera. 

Winter, spring, summer or fall? Usually winter. I love the holiday season! But as a kid, summer was definitely my fave. And this year, I don’t think I’ve ever thought more about summer! 

Fries or onion rings? Fries—I make fries at home at least once a week (the frozen kind—full disclosure—I’m not whipping them up from scratch). 

Movie at a theater or watch a movie at home? At home! And probably a romcom I’ve already seen 100 times.

Ice cream: chocolate, strawberry or vanilla? All of the above! And also pistachio. Or cookie dough. Or cookies n’ cream. Now that I’m thinking about it, I can’t think of a single ice cream flavor I don’t like!

About Reina Luz Alegre

Reina Luz Alegre lives in the Miami area with her family. She’s dreamed of becoming an author since the second grade, and grew up to work on various other professional dreams–including as a freelance journalist and lawyer–before debuting her first novel, The Dream Weaver. When she’s not writing, Reina loves to read, sing, and salivate over baking shows. Follow her on Twitter at @ReinaLuzAlegre

Interview with Nicole Kronzer, Debut YA Author of UNSCRIPTED
Apr 20th, 2020 by Liza Wiemer

Buying Links

About UNSCRIPTED From Goodreads:

A funny and timely debut YA about the toxic masculinity at a famous improv comedy camp

Seventeen-year-old Zelda Bailey-Cho has her future all planned out: improv camp, then Second City, and finally Saturday Night Live. She’s thrilled when she lands a spot on the coveted varsity team at a prestigious improv camp, which means she’ll get to perform for professional scouts—including her hero, Nina Knightley. But even though she’s hardworking and talented, Zelda’s also the only girl on Varsity, so she’s the target for humiliation from her teammates. And her 20-year-old coach, Ben, is cruel to her at practice and way too nice to her when they’re alone. Zelda wants to fight back, but is sacrificing her best shot at her dream too heavy a price to pay? 

Equal parts funny and righteous, Unscripted is a moving debut novel that Printz Award winner Nina LaCour calls “a truly special book, written at exactly the right time.”


1. Share with readers a novel secret—something that readers will never know just from picking up the book. It could be a place you included in the novel, a name you gave to a character inspired by another person, special research you did.

When I wrote the acknowledgments for Unscripted, they were 2500 words. My editor (very sweetly) wrote me back and said there were only 3 pages allotted in the book for thank-yous, and did I think I could maybe cut them back to 1000 words? As a result, if you flip back to the acknowledgments, the font is much smaller and the spacing narrower compared to the rest of the book, and they’re kind of choppy flow-wise. But I had so many people to thank! 

2. What did you find most unexpected when you were writing this novel?

I had no idea how charmed I would be by copy editing! If folks don’t know, copy editors are the geniuses who not only check your punctuation and grammar (turns out, I’m an idiot when it comes to hyphens), but also make sure details are consistent throughout the book. For example, there’s a CD that I called “Pacific Coast Whale Sounds” at the beginning of the book, but then apparently had a change of heart halfway through and switched it to “West Coast Whale Sounds.” 

If you make an allusion (like I did when some kids at the camp in my book are playing the muggle version of Quidditch from the Harry Potter universe), they cite the original source and page number where it’s first mentioned. 

They also make a style sheet, which is basically a guide to my particular voice. For example, no distinguishing between who/whom, I spell “dillhole” and “asshat” as one word, and “eye-daggers” gets a hyphen. It might seem really dorky, but I cooed and cooed when my copy edits arrived. Maybe it’s the English teacher in me that appreciated all that work!  

3. Was this your first book you wrote or do you have others that didn’t sell? If so, share something you learned through the process of getting published.

A writer friend of mine gave me great advice as I started to query my first novel. She said, “Start writing your next book right away.” I was surprised, but she was absolutely right. A number of agents requested to read my first book, but as the passes started rolling in, I was disappointed, but not devastated because I had another iron in the fire that I was really excited about. I wrote the agents back who had requested my first novel but passed and asked if I could query them with my next project when it was done. Most of them wrote back right away saying, “Absolutely!” After passing on my first book, Sara Crowe, my dream agent, offered on Unscripted only six days after I sent it to her. 

The biggest thing I learned was not to treat my first project like a precious, singular work of art. In this business, the best thing you can do is to keep moving forward. 

Bonus round: What do you prefer?

Laundry, dishes, dusting, vacuuming?

Laundry! I did the family laundry growing up as soon as I was tall enough to reach the bottom of the washer and dryer. My mom told me I could watch TV as I folded and ironed, so that’s why it’s my favorite chore. I still watch TV as I fold and iron clothes as an adult. 

Flying, sailing, walking, driving?

As Mel and Sue on Bake-off would say, I’m a keen walker. I like to envision myself as Elizabeth Bennet, traversing the English countryside. But also, I’m a big environmentalist, and a lover of efficiency. Walking is non-carbon-emitting transportation as well as physical exercise and good for my mental health. Bam! It’s a three-fer. Love a walk.

Movies at home or movies in a theater?

Movies at home. I love knitting as I watch TV and movies, and movie theaters are just too dark to knit in. 😉 

Peas, carrots, brussels sprouts, spinach?

All of the above, please. I love vegetables. But if I had to pick one, it would be brussel sprouts. (Roasted in olive oil with a little salt and pepper for the win!)

Broadway play, Broadway musical, TV show, or movie?

Broadway play. I love musicals, but they make me weep. The first Broadway musical I saw was Les Misérables as a junior on my high school band trip to New York. I ugly cried through the entire second act. Lion King, Hamilton, Urine Town—all of it. Music plus story? Sob city. I can hold it together more easily in a play. But really, all of them—play, musical, TV, movie—I love them all. 

Feel free to share anything else you would like. I’m flexible! 

I narrated my own audiobook! I was a professional actor before I was a teacher and author. I also had a lot of practice during the two-and-a-half-year span when I read all seven Harry Potter books out loud to my daughters! 

The first time Nicole saw a finished copy!

About Nicole:

In addition to writing books for teenagers, her favorite people, Nicole Kronzer is a high school English teacher and former professional actor. She loves to knit and run (usually not at the same time), and has named all the plants in her classroom. She lives with her family in Minneapolis.

Find Nicole: Website | Twitter | Instagram

Diary of a 5th Grade Outlaw Series, Interview with Middle Grade Author, Gina Loveless
Apr 17th, 2020 by Liza Wiemer

From Goodreads: (Book 1)

Robin Loxley, the 5th grade outlaw of Nottingham Elementary, tells all! From Epic! Originals comes a comic-inspired illustrated novel series that treats growing up as an adventure.

Fifth grade has just started, and the school bully, Nadia, already rules recess with an unfair Playground Tax. Robin refuses to be pushed around, but all she can think about is winning back her best friend, Mary Ann, after a disastrous fallout over the summer. To do so, she will have to stand up to Nadia, face the wrath of Assistant Principal Johnson, and become a legendary outlaw at Nottingham Elementary—all while forming a merry band of new friends along the way.

From Goodreads: Book 2

In Book 2 of the Diary of a 5th Grade Outlaw series, life is going great for Robin Loxley—until a friend thief comes along and threatens to ruin everything!

After her victory over Nadia, the playground bully, Robin has her old best friend back, plus a whole gang of new friends! But when that Nadia tries to steal away all of the people she holds dear, will Robin be able to keep her band of merry misfits together? Find out in Robin’s second illustrated diary—a tell-all about growing up, dealing with bullies, and trying to do what’s right.


Question: Share with readers a novel secret—something that readers will never know just from picking up the book. It could be a place you included in the novel, a name you gave to a character inspired by another person, special research you did.
Answer: When I imagine a fictionalized world’s location, I always take a real world’s location and then tweak a thing here or there about it. So while Nottingham Elementary school’s playground can’t be found at any real school, it shares a lot of similarities to Lehigh Parkway Elementary School, where I went to K-5. 
Question: What is it about your book that you think will have MG readers hooked?
Answer: I hope there are many things that will hook a kid into the Diary of a 5th Grade Outlaw series! One thing would be the hybrid nature of the book. Kids will feel like this isn’t a totally normal “book” because they’ll get breaks from reading traditional text every few pages, thanks to the awesome comic pages and illustrations by Andrea Bell. 
It’s my hope that Robin’s tough girl attitude, humor, confidence, and belief in doing what’s right are all reasons kids will be drawn to her as a protagonist. 
Question: Why did you want to write for MG kids?
Answer: That middle grade age range – from eight to twelve years old – was some of the hardest time for me, as a kid. But I always had a positive perspective on life, even if I wasn’t well liked because kids thought I was strange. My goal as an author is to help every kid–no matter how different they feel they are because of the way they see the world–to feel like it’s okay to be that way. 

Bonus round: What do you prefer?

Laundry, dishes, dusting, vacuuming? None? Haha! Cooking is the main chore I do in my house, and I love it because it lets me creative at something other than writing. 
Flying, sailing, walking, driving? Walking for sure. Walking through parks, walking my rescue dog Gerdie around my neighborhood, and walking along the rails trails and in the woods are all my favorites!
Movies at home or movies in a theater? Well, I love going to the theater, but right now, social distancing is a must, so all my movies will be watched at home for quite awhile.
Peas, carrots, Brussels sprouts, spinach? All of them, please! I’m a big veggie head. In fact I grow all of those (except carrots) in my vegetable garden.
Watch baseball, football, soccer, tennis, ice skating or gymnastics? I don’t have cable, so sadly I haven’t watched any sports in awhile. But I’m a big soccer and tennis fan. 

About Gina Loveless:

It was five years after Gina Loveless earned an MFA from California Institute of the Arts that she realized her mission as an author was to write books that helped all the weird kids of the world feel less alone. When she’s not writing or reading, Gina can be found in Eastern PA, boogying at concerts with her husband, tending to their awesome produce garden, or snuggling with her rescue dog Gerdie.
Diary of a 5th Grade Outlaw series, The Friend Thief, came out on April 14th. Please consider going to Let’s Play Books, the Indie bookstore that hosted a virtual launch party for Gina’s book!

Note from the author:

The second book in the Diary of a 5th Grade Outlaw series, The Friend Thief, came out April 14th. I hosted a virtual launch event with the independent book store Let’s Play Books! Seven incredible debut and established authors and illustrators joined me for a whole day of activities. You can find all of the videos, including my live reading and Q&A, on my Facebook page (facebook.com/lovelesswriting), and all of the videos with the other authors on my Instagram (@lovelesswriting) Find me on Twitter.

This pandemic has upended the lives and businesses of so many people. Personally, all of my in-person launch events were cancelled. It’s also hit my local indie book store especially hard. I live in a state with shelter-in-place happening right now, which has made it difficult for so many local businesses. Because I’m such a champion for in-person book stories, and because my local indie, Let’s Play Books, is such a champion for me, I would like to encourage orders of my book to go through them. If you are local to the eastern PA/ Lehigh Valley area, you can order the newest book on their website here: https://www.letsplaybooks.com/book/9781524855741 and here for the first book: https://www.letsplaybooks.com/book/9781524855482. If you’re not local, they created a wonderful list of all the authors that participated in my event, along with my books, which can be ordered here: https://bookshop.org/lists/gina-loveless-book-launch-list

Interview with YA author, Gila Green about her new novel, NO ENTRY
Apr 12th, 2020 by Liza Wiemer

Buying links:

Everything is located on this media page: https://stormbirdpress.com/media-content-no-entry/ 

Purchase availability:

Paperback and eBook

Stormbird Press

Meet Gila Green

About NO ENTRY from Goodreads:

Broken-hearted after losing her only brother in a terrorist attack, 17-year-old Yael Amar seeks solace on an elephant conservation program in South Africa’s Kruger National Park. She is soon catapulted into a world harmonious with nature where she can heal and devote herself to the wildlife that is so important for the continued existence of all mankind. She is dazzled by her new best friend, reunites with her devoted boyfriend, and is fascinated by a local ranger who peels back another layer of meaning in her surroundings with each lesson. Then, on a drive through the safari, she sees something shocking. Soon her haven on earth is seething with blood and betrayal and she is warned that she is no match for the evil that lurks in the men’s hearts around her. Now she has a secret she must keep from the people she loves the most if she is to stand against the murderous forces that threaten Kruger, her new friends, and her own life. But will taking a stand do more harm than good?


Question: Your publishing house burned down. Obviously, this impacted the ability for readers to get physical copies. Please share how the Australian fires impacted your book—expected and unexpected—and is there a chance another publishing house will pick it up?

Stormbird Press was evacuated and burned to the ground in mid-December. They lost all their equipment, everything. The press was located in a senior staff member’s home that was also an animal sanctuary. It’s all gone now. 

I am sure this impacted my book No Entry in ways that I don’t know about (you don’t know what you don’t know, right?). 

On an immediate level, No Entry and my novel-in-stories White Zion were both accepted to the Vancouver Jewish book festival that took place the week of February 9. It’s a big trip from Israel and I was preparing in terms of places to stay, flights, book deliveries and promotion, and so on and the press burning down meant there was very little they could offer by way of support for the festival in the fall while I was planning. Then there was zero support from mid-December. There was hardly any internet connection at all between Israel and Australia as they are located on Kangaroo Island which was destroyed. 

In addition, I was thrilled when the Biblical Museum of Natural History (https://www.biblicalnaturalhistory.org/)accepted my book for their gift shop but their order could not be processed by a press that no longer existed. In the end, I gave them a handful of my own courtesy copies when I returned from the Vancouver festival but now their move to their new location is stalled by corona virus. So, the wildfires burned down my book launch in many ways and then corona virus hit my relaunch so to speak. 

In addition, I was invited to speak at a couple of synagogues and Jewish organizations in Toronto in the fall and I had tentatively been speaking to Hadassah Brandeiss about speaking in New York, although that was for my novel in stories White Zion, not No Entry but, of course, I cannot book any overseas trips right now. 

You ask if there’s a chance of another publishing house picking it up. That’s a difficult question to answer. Originally, Stormbird suggested a sequel -though it was not on contract—I wrote the sequel anyway and it’s already gone through the beta reader stage and I’m really happy about my manuscript. 

Stormbird was also hoping to make some sort of a comeback, no matter how small by end of March/beginning of April. Then corona virus hit the world. So now things are entirely up in the air. 

I cannot predict what will happen and I’ll have to start exploring options soon. I am not giving up on the series and I believe I’ll find a way forward with it, the precise way is still unknown. No Entry has five-star reviews from conservationists and it has an important message about the dangers of elephant poaching and extinction, a heroine many people can relate to and it’s a fun and educational read—some of the messages have led to the pandemic we’re in right now. I believe important messages will find their way to people ultimately. 

It is still possible to buy No Entry on Kindle and there are still some physical copies people can order on Amazon USA and Canada but stock is limited. 

 I was thrilled to see today that No Entry today is at number #341 on Amazon Kindle for Teen & Young Adult Diversity and Multicultural Fiction. 

Share with us a novel secret: It could be special research you did, a character you named after someone you know, an event that takes place that’s based on your life or someone close to you.

Nothing in No Entry is based on my real life. I’ve never been in a position to take down a murderous poaching ring or anything similar and I think I’m grateful for that. If you read the dedication to No Entry, you’ll learn that while I was writing the novel there was a terrible car ramming in Jerusalem. Four soldiers on a cultural visit to the city were killed. I felt such a sense of loss and hopelessness and I wanted to do something—anything. I changed the names of four of my main characters (their first names only) to the names of those four soldiers: Yael, Erez, Shir and Shira. It’s a tiny thing but it was all I could think of to honor these senseless deaths and in turns this connects one of the messages of the novel: that the same people willing to profit off of blood ivory are often the same people willing to profit off of human slavery and terrorism. These people bring nothing but misery to the planet and we need to do more to accept our responsibility in stopping them.  

Question: What was one of the most interesting things you discovered while researching your novel?

One of the most interesting things I discovered is that the frozen land of Siberia is rapidly thawing due to climate change. As such, wooly mammoths that have been buried for 10,000 years are now accessible to tusk hunters. Tusk hunters are racing to retrieve them due to the very unfortunate demand for tusks, particularly in China.  This is bad news for elephants because inexperienced people cannot tell the difference between illegal elephant tusks and wooly mammoth tusks. This enables elephant ivory traders to pass off their tusks as “ice ivory” or mammoth tusks. It’s very bad news for elephants. It would mean we would have to ban trade in an extinct species (wooly mammoths), something that’s never been done as far as I know of to protect elephants and right now that’s not happening.  

Bonus round:

What do you prefer?

Dessert: Ice cream, brownies, fruit salad, cookie (what kind?) I live in Israel which has a hot climate, so hands down ice cream. 

Places you’ve been: Canada, Australia, United States, Africa? I’ve never been to Australia. I’ve been to South Africa many times and to Swaziland. So out of Canada, USA and Africa, I’d have to pick USA but that’s a hard one. 

Desert, rainforest, beach, marsh, urban park? Beach, particularly a beach in Cape Town, South Africa. 

Movies, musical, play, ballet? Play. 

About Gila Green:

Canadian author Gila Green is an Israel-based writer, editor, and EFL teacher. She is the author of Passport Control (S&H Publishing, 2018) and White Zion, a novel in stories forthcoming from Cervena Barva Press. Her first young adult eco-fiction novel is No Entry forthcoming from Stormbird Press, Australia. She is working on a sequel to that novel with the view of turning it into a series. Her first novel is King of the Class (NON Publishing, Vancouver, 2013). 

Gila’s short fiction appears in dozens of literary magazines in the U.S.A., Canada, Australia, Israel, Ireland, and Hong Kong including: The Fiddlehead , Terrain.org, Akashic Books, Fiction Magazine, The Saranac Review, Arc Magazine, Many Mountains Moving, Noir Nation, Quality Women’s Fiction, The Dalhousie Review, Jewish Fiction, Mom Egg Anthology, Tel Aviv Stories, Jane Doe Buys a Challah, The South Circular, Kunapipi, Yuan Yang Journal, Arc Magazine, 100 Pages of Canada, An Artistic Collaboration of Canadian Artists, and Boston Literary Review.

Her work has been short-listed for the Doris Bakwin Literary Award (Carolina Wren Press), WordSmitten’s TenTen Fiction Contest, twice for the Walrus Literary Award, and twice for the Eric Hoffer Best New Writing Award. 

Gila’s fellowships include the Summer Literary Seminars Program (Montreal). She has lived in Ottawa, Winnipeg, Vancouver, Johannesburg, Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Jerusalem.

Find Gila: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

April is Poetry Month: BIRTHRIGHT Poems by Erika Dreifus
Apr 3rd, 2020 by Liza Wiemer

Buying Links: Kelsay Books | Bookshop | IndieBound | Amazon

About this collection of poetry from Goodreads:

The poems in BIRTHRIGHT, Erika Dreifus’s debut collection, embody multiple legacies: genetic, historical, religious, and literary. Through the lens of one person’s experience of inheritance, the poems suggest ways in which all of us may be influenced in how we perceive and process our lives and times. Here, a poet claims what is hers as a child of her particular parents; as a grandchild of refugees from Nazi Germany; as a Jew, a woman, a Gen Xer, and a New Yorker; as a reader of the Bible and Shakespeare and Flaubert and Lucille Clifton. This poet’s birthright is as unique as her DNA. But it resonates far beyond herself.

“With its honest, accessible language and straightforward storytelling, Erika Dreifus’s first full-length collection is a welcome addition to the modern American poetry canon—narrative, Jewish, feminist, or otherwise.”


Question: Your poems are very relatable and intimate. Why did you start writing poetry and how long did it take you to put this collection together?

Answer: In one way, my life as a published poet began back in the 1970s, when my elementary-school newsletter published a series of “poems” that I’d written. But I think it’s wiser to skip ahead to about 2007, when I was living in a new city, working in a new job, and finding myself at a bit of a crossroads with the fiction-writing that I was focusing on at the time. I enrolled in the first of several online poetry classes. This collection, published in 2019, actually includes some work that originated in that first online class. So, let’s say that it took me about 12 years to put this collection together.

Question: Share something behind-the-scenes about your collection, something people wouldn’t know just from reading the collection. 

In the book’s acknowledgments section, I reference, all-too-briefly, Amy Gottlieb’s “Jewish Sources, Literary Narrative” classes at the Drisha Institute in New York. These classes were transformational. Not only did Amy’s approach introduce me to a new experience of studying Jewish texts and writing midrashic poems in response to them; several of my classmates (who also get shoutouts in the acknowledgments) and I continued and amplified this work together even after the course series ended. Combined, all of these women have played a crucial role in (re)acquainting me with the stunning textual legacy that we share as Jews—and facilitating an understanding of the creative potential that rests within it. 

Bonus round: What would you prefer? 

Chanukah, Passover, Purim, Sukkot, Shavuot, Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, or Shabbat?

Answer: That’s a tough one! Each has its charms. I like the frequency of Shabbat, so let’s go with that one.

Biking, walking, rollerblading, running, dancing?

Answer: It’s a tie between walking and running. 

Writing, revising, reading?

Answer: Another tough one! Pass!

Introvert, extrovert or ambivert?

Answer: “Ambivert” is new to me, but I love it. Perfect word.

Central Park, The Metropolitan Museum, Times Square, Lincoln Center, Broadway

Answer: Yet another set of excellent choices (well, maybe Times Square is a little less excellent than the others). At the moment, Central Park is perhaps uppermost in my mind. Typically, I’m there several times each week for a walk and/or jog. But when I went over there briefly for some fresh air and exercise last weekend—the first after New Yorkers had been asked to “stay home” to reduce the spread of Covid-19 —it seemed to me alarmingly crowded. I think that I’ll be keeping away for the near future. It will be wonderful when we can all return. 

Thank you so much for inviting me to appear on this blog, Liza. And congratulations (again!) on your own forthcoming book. 

About Erika: 

Erika Dreifus is the author of Birthright: Poems, published by Kelsay Books in fall 2019. She is also the author of Quiet Americans: Stories, a short-story collection that is largely inspired by the histories and experiences of her paternal grandparents, German Jews who escaped Nazi persecution and immigrated to the United States in the late 1930s. Erika earned undergraduate and graduate degrees from Harvard University, where she taught history, literature, and writing for several years. A fellow in the Sami Rohr Jewish Literary Institute and adjunct assistant professor at Baruch College of The City University of New York, she writes and lectures widely. Since 2004, Erika has published The Practicing Writer,a free (and popular) e-newsletter for writers of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. She lives in New York City. Web: ErikaDreifus.com. Twitter: @ErikaDreifus. Facebook: ErikaDreifusAuthor.

MY LIFE AS A POTATO by Arianne Costner
Apr 2nd, 2020 by Liza Wiemer

An Interview with Arianne Costner

Buying links: IndieBound | B & N | Amazon | Book Depository

Published March 24, 2020 by Random House Books for Young Readers

Description from Goodreads:

For anyone who has ever felt like a potato in middle school, this hilarious story about a boy forced to become the dorkiest school mascot ever will have readers cheering!

“A grade A, spudtastic (not to mention FUNNY) debut. Arianne Costner sure knows middle school and middle schoolers!” –Chris Grabenstein, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library

Ben Hardy believes he’s cursed by potatoes. And now he’s moved to Idaho, where the school’s mascot is Steve the Spud! Yeah, this cannot be good. 

After accidentally causing the mascot to sprain an ankle, Ben is sentenced to Spud duty for the final basketball games of the year. But if the other kids know he’s the Spud, his plans for popularity are likely to be a big dud! Ben doesn’t want to let the team down, so he lies to his friends to keep it a secret. No one will know it’s him under the potato suit . . . right? 

Excerpt from Page 1:

I don’t know what I did to deserve it, but the fact is clear: I, Ben Hardy, am cursed by potatoes. That demon veggie has been out to get me for years.

Evidence #1: When I was five, I tripped over a bag of potatoes and broke my arm. I had to wear an itchy green cast for six weeks.

Evidence #2: My mom makes the world’s gluey-est mashed potatoes. They’re great for craft projects. Not for eating.

Evidence #3: There’s a faded scar above my left eyebrow. What happened? Let’s just say I got on the bad side of a cat named Tater Tot.

Then, two weeks ago, right in the middle of seventh grade, my family moved from Los Angeles to South Fork, Idaho–aka “the Potato Capital of the World.” The people here worship the veggie like my dad worships the Lakers.

Case in point: my new school’s game-day shirt. Today about half the school showed up wearing one. When I reach the cafeteria for lunch, I realize my friend Ellie is part of that half.

“You have to get one, Ben. Where’s your school spirit?” Ellie plunks her lunch tray down and tosses her long black braid over her shoulder. On her shirt, a cartoon potato flexes its bulky biceps and flashes the kind of smile that should be reserved for clowns in horror movies.

Out of all the mascot options–the Cougars, the Eagles, the Saber-Toothed Tigers–my new school just had to be the Spuds. This crosses a line. At my last school, we were the Wildcats, ferocious and intimidating. All a potato can scare is . . . well, me, I guess.


Question: Share with readers a novel secret—something that readers will never know just from picking up the book. It could be a place you included in the novel, a name you gave to a character inspired by another person, special research you did.

Answer: The principal in the book is based somewhat off a man I know in real life. When I was drafting, out of laziness, I gave that character his name with the intention to change it later. I didn’t remember I did this until the final copyediting stages! Luckily, I was able to change the name to something else just in time. That might have been a little awkward.

Question: Why potatoes? 😍

Answer: When I taught seventh grade, my students were strangely obsessed with potatoes and thought they were hilarious. When I got the idea to write about a secret mascot, a potato seemed the perfect fit! Besides, I have a friend who lived in the district in Idaho with a Spud mascot. I think that’s pretty cool and unique! Go Spuds!

Question: Why did you want to write for MG kids?

Answer: This age is just the best! I love the funny awkwardness of middle school and the hope that’s inherent in middle grade literature. 

Bonus round: What do you prefer?

Best vacation? Beach, Disney, Big city going to museums and historical places, skiing. Oh, DEFINITELY Disneyland. No hesitation. Except for right now, because we are social distancing. (Cries softy.)

Laundry, dishes, dusting, vacuuming? I love putting clothes into the washing machine and starting it. It makes me feel productive while only taking a minute or less. Now folding–that’s where it gets me. But at least I can fold while watching a show.

Flying, sailing, walking, driving? I’m actually terrified of airplanes. I’ll be boring and go with walking. I’m truly a scaredy-cat. 

Movies at home or movies in a theater? At home, in bed please.

Peas, carrots, Brussels sprouts, spinach? Carrots. 🙂

Additional info:

On my website, I have tons of resources for kids and parents! The educational resources include teaching guides with vocabulary activities, discussion questions, and writing prompts. Then, I have a tab called “Potato Fun” that has a “What Kind of Potato Are You” quiz, some funny potato facts, a recipe, and a dance tutorial for one of Ben’s favorite dances. 

Students! Write to Arianne: I also have a swag envelope I’m sending to any kid who writes me and tells me what their favorite part of the book was. The gift includes a giant laminated potato bookmark, a super potato sticker, and a signed and stamped bookplate (picture on website.) I thought this would be a fun activity for kids stuck at home. 

About Arianne:

Arianne Costner lives in the middle of the desert with her husband and three children. She is a former English teacher who believes that writers should crack up at their own jokes. When she isn’t writing, she can be found playing the piano and composing music. Her favorite kind of potato is the tater tot, with mashed potatoes coming in close second—as long as they’re not gluey.

Fun Facts:

  • I am the oldest of five brothers and sisters. 
  • My author idol is Gordon Korman.
  • My birthday is Christmas Day!
  • At one point in time, I dreamed of becoming a Zumba teacher. That never happened. But maybe one day. 
  • I consider myself very non-picky and will eat almost anything except brussel sprouts. 
  • I lived in Chile for 18 months and it holds a special place in my heart. Speaking of food, I ate a chicken foot while I was there. It wasn’t terrible.
  • Music is my second passion. I play the violin and teach piano lessons. My favorite composers are Chopin and Rachmaninoff. One day I dream of publishing a book about a string quartet.

Apr 1st, 2020 by Liza Wiemer

An Interview with Middle Grade Author, Sonja Solter

Description from Goodreads:

A sensitive, harrowing, and ultimately hopeful novel in verse about one girl’s journey in the aftermath of abuse.

One day after school, on the couch in the basement, Tori’s uncle did something bad. Afterward, Tori tells her mom. Even though telling was a brave thing to do, her mom still doesn’t believe her at first. Her grandma still takes his side. And Tori doesn’t want anyone else—even her best friend—to know what happened.

Now Tori finds herself battling mixed emotions—anger, shame, and sadness—as she deals with the trauma. But with the help of her mom, her little sister, her best friend, and others, can Tori find a way to have the last word

From debut author Sonja K. Solter comes a heartbreaking yet powerful novel that will strike a chord with readers of Jacqueline Woodson and Tony Abbott. 

Buying links: IndieBound |B & N | Amazon

STILL WEIRD: (A poem from the book)

Mom laughed

 a short, barky laugh. 

Her anger kind of 

whooshed out of her 

like when you let go 

of the end of a balloon.

And then she laughed 

some more.

And I laughed too.

She’s back, she said, 

my girl, I’ve missed her.

And then I started crying 

(tried to pretend I was 

only laughing, 

let my bangs fall over my eyes)

because it all reminded me 

how things are 

Still Weird.


Share with readers a novel secret—something that readers will never know just from picking up the book. It could be a place you included in the novel, a name you gave to a character inspired by another person, special research you did.

Answer: Even though the story isn’t meant to take place in Colorado, there is a poem early on where Tori, her mom, and her sister go to feed the fish at a pond. That was based on the pond at Fox Run Regional Park in Colorado Springs, which is my favorite place in the whole world, and which is also the same park where the first poems came to me. 

Question: Often the topic of sexual assault is written about for older children. Why did you feel it was important to share this for younger MG students?

According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, children are the most vulnerable to sexual abuse between the ages of seven and thirteen. We more and more emphasize body boundaries and this kind of safety for younger students with informational presentations, which is great, but it’s also important to share with the more personal approach that a novel makes possible. As with other stories, readers come away with increased empathy, but, in this case, it’s extra important because the topic has been taboo. It’s absolutely appropriate that we feel discomfort that child sexual abuse exists, but that shouldn’t extend to the survivors and their ability to speak out. I hope that readers in other tough situations will also find hope in a story that is realistic about how difficult things can be, but also about the long-term, hard-won light at the end of the tunnel. I should also note that there are no details of the abuse; the focus is on the emotional response and healing journey that Tori goes through as a survivor.

Bonus round: What do you prefer?

Best vacation? Beach, Disney, Big city going to museums and historical places, skiing? Big city going to museums and historical places- also monuments, temples, ruins, even if not in a big city– you get the picture (And-yikes!- downhill skiing terrifies me even though I live in Colorado.)

Laundry, dishes, dusting, vacuuming? Laundry- I find it extremely satisfying. 

Flying, sailing, walking, driving? Walking- my favorite form of transportation and recreation

Movies at home or movies in a theater? In a theater, but I hardly ever do it! 

Peas, carrots, Brussels sprouts, spinach? Brussels sprouts- roasted just right! 

About Sonja:

Children’s book author Sonja K Solter spent her childhood summers in her mother’s homeland of Finland and traveled the world extensively with her family. She read so voraciously as a child that she once brought over 70 books on a trip. (Her mother is still trying to figure out how that slipped by her.) Sonja graduated with an interdisciplinary degree in Human Biology from Stanford University and has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Hamline University. Her master’s critical thesis was on writing trauma in middle grade and young adult realistic fiction. She is currently a creative writing mentor to youth with the Society of Young Inklings and enjoys writing poetry and prose for children of all ages. She has also been a Music Together® director and teacher, where she especially enjoyed the collaborative improvisation aspect of the program. Sonja lives with her husband and two children in Louisville, Colorado, and enjoys nature, travel, and yoga.

Find Sonja here: Website |Twitter | Facebook

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