Posted in Meet the authors

Monica Brown

Monica Brown_Credit Josh Briggs.jpg
Photo by Josh Briggs

Author website/social media:


When you were my age (9), did you like to read?

 I loved to read when I was young. I always had a book in my hand. I had an aunt who was a kindergarten teacher and she gave me a variety of books. I remember reading Nancy Drew, Beverly Cleary’s Ribsy, Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, and Judy Blume’s Blubber. I particularly loved books with adventurous kids and animals too.

 What was your favorite story?

I never had just one favorite story!  The lovely thing about books is how many different kinds of adventures they can take us on. I like stories with witches and monsters, and quiet stories set in nature. I like stories about nerds and about misfits and about rebels.

 How do you get your ideas?

I’m a curious person, so I read a lot, and listen to others, and observe the world around me. There’s so much beauty and wonder, I’ve always been able to come up with interesting ideas and characters. Sometimes, fictional characters, like Marisol McDonald and Lola Levine, are drawn from my own family and life, and at other times, they come from a question asked by a child. For example, the character of Chavela Chavez from Chavela and the Magic Bubble was inspired by a question my daughter Isabella asked me: “Where does bubble gum come from?”  With my new Sarai series, I was inspired by Sarai Gonzalez herself! She’s a bold, caring, creative girl who wants to change the world and leave it a better place!


Why do you think multi-cultural (including bilingual) books are important?

Multicultural books are important because they reflect our world and our reality. I love bilingual books because I think it’s neat to see two beautiful languages side by side on the page. I also think being bilingual, or trilingual, is something to be celebrated! The more languages we know the more people we can connect to, and life is all about relationships and friendship.


What advice do you have for a kid who wants to be an author?

 Read. Read. Read. Write. Write. Write. Revise. Revise. Revise. And don’t give up! Keep writing and believe in yourself, even if nobody else does! Write the stories you want to read.


As an author, do you hear from your readers? What do you like about that?

 It’s always a lovely gift to hear from my readers! I like knowing that I’ve made them laugh or think or that I’ve given them the enjoyable experience of reading a good story.


If you could portal into any book (yours or another person’s), what book would it be?

 My Lola Levine series is inspired by my family, so it’s certainly a place I enjoy being in—if only in my mind when I write. My children are grown up and at college, so it’s fun to remember the times when we were all at home together. But I supposed if I could portal into a book, I might choose one where there’s magic, like Cornelia Funke’s Inkspell or J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter Series, because who wouldn’t like to be magical?


Posted in Meet the authors

Stephanie Campisi


Twitter, IG: @stephcampisi


Tell me a little about yourself:

I’m a picture book author who writes stories about creatures and people who don’t quite fit in. My books include The Ugly Dumpling, Luis and Tabitha (out this month!) and soon The Five Sisters and Very Lulu.

I’m originally from Australia, but now live in a tiny town in Washington State, USA. I spend my days working in my upstairs office, reading on the porch and keeping an eye out for interesting wildlife in my yard.

1. When you were my age (9), did you like to read?

Absolutely! I was lucky enough to have a library at the end of my street, so I spent most of my afternoons there. They had a great kids’ section, and I remember trying to work my way through all the books in alphabetical order!

2. What was your favorite story?

I loved animal books, fantasy stories and ghost stories. When I was 9, some of my favourites were The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, Rowan of Rin by Emily Rodda and R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books, which were starting to become really popular at the time.

3. How do you get your ideas?

I get ideas from everywhere! I email myself newspaper stories that I find interesting, take photos when I’m out walking or travelling, and make notes when I read something interesting in a book. Normal conversations with people can also lead to great ideas. People all lead such different lives, and it’s easy to come across something that you find really interesting and worth exploring in a story. I also love word play, so lots of my books start out with a funny title and build from there.

4. Your book – was it easy or hard?

The initial idea is always easy, but turning it into a book is hard work! Even a picture book can take months to write, and it can be a few years before it ends up in a bookshop or on library shelves. I do think that the more you write the easier it gets. It’s a bit like taking up running: at first you run out of breath really quickly, but the longer you train, the longer (and better) you can run!

5. What author do you really like right now?

I really enjoy Cressida Cowell – I think she’s hilarious! In teen books I love Jaclyn Moriarty, and for picture books I think that Julie Falatko and Ame Dyckman are great.

6. Do you have any new or lesser known authors you would suggest?

For picture books, Jessie Sima and Dashka Slater; for novels, Mary Hooper and Cassandra Golds are authors you might like to try in a few years’ time. (I have to keep it short, or I’ll go on forever! I feel like so few authors are as well-known as they should be!)

7. What advice do you have for a kid who wants to be an author?

Just the basics: read a lot, write a lot, and be a mindful “reporter” of the world around you. Write stories that you love, and explore interesting characters and ideas. Don’t even worry about how to turn a story into a book. Just enjoy reading, writing, and observing. All of these habits are very valuable skills for an author.

8. As an author, do you hear from your readers? What do you like about that?

Yes, I do! It absolutely makes my day to get an email or a message from someone telling me that they’ve enjoyed one of my books. So if you read something that you love, don’t feel shy about letting the author know. I promise they’ll love to hear from you. It’s much better than getting a bill in the post.

(In fact, when I was about 13, I wrote to one of my favourite authors, and she wrote back with a lovely note – I was so surprised and excited, because up until then I don’t think I’d truly realised that authors were real people! That note helped me realise that being an author was something that I could do, too.)

9. If you could portal into any book (yours or another person’s), what book would it be?

Well, books are full of drama, and I’m a very boring person. So nothing where I’d be in trouble or danger! I think I’d pick a setting by Diana Wynne Jones. Weird, strange things might happen, but I’d be having so much fun I wouldn’t mind

illustration by Hollie Mengert

illustration by Hollie Mengert

illustration by Hollie Mengert
Posted in Meet the authors

Helaine Becker

hb author photo.jpg

  • Author website/social; twitter @helainebecker  I have an instagram acct @helainebecker but I never use it.

When you were my age (9), did you like to read? Oh yes. I was AVID. I was very lucky – we had a great public library in my town, and my parents took us kids at least once a week. They were avid readers too. Nobody told me what I could or couldn’t read, so I ranged widely through the kids’ section first, then the adult section. When I was nine, I read and loved books like Magic Elizabeth by Norma Kassirer, Half Magic and Seven-Day Magic by Edward Eager, The Four Story Mistake by Elizabeth Enright, The Witch Family by Eleanor Estes and The Borrowers by Mary Norton. I’d probably discovered The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, by CS Lewis by then. I also started reading books for adults like Tolkien’s The Hobbit and mysteries by Agatha Christie. I didn’t always understand everything I read, but found them pretty fun anyway. I’ve attached a picture of me on a summer vacation in Rhode Island. A very typical picture of me at that age – I was 9 that July – turning 10 later in the summer.

9 yo Helaine reading on the beach

What was your favorite story?I fell head over heels for the Lion the Witch and Wardrobe, which I stumbled upon by accident. I remember finding it on the shelf at the library, taking it home and loving it – but then I couldn’t find it again!! I didn’t remember the author’s name or the complete title. It was probably two years before I stumbled across it again – AND discovered there were six more books in the Chronicles of Narnia series. I was ECSTATIC. I read every book at least 3000 times.

How do you get your ideas? For me, ideas are everywhere. They are like breathing. I pay attention to what’s going on around me, and am constantly asking myself questions, of the “I wonder….” and the “What if” variety.  I also still read a lot, and when I read, I learn stunning bits of info that just seem to scream out to be turned into book. As far as retelling stories goes – no story is ever complete. When I read a story like Cinderella, I wind up with questions. Like, “what if Cinderella had the stinkiest feet of everyone in the whole town?” THAT then becomes a new story, a “retelling” of an old one, but with a new twist that only I can provide. (That retold Cinderella became a poem called “Smelly Smelly Cinderelly.” It originally appeared in my book Mother Goose Unplucked. It’s hilarous, if I do say so myself. When I do school visits, I sometimes read another poem called Tinkle Tinkle Tinklebell, about a Tinkerbell like fairy with a bladder problem).

What author do you really like right now?I am madly in love with the books of Kim Brubaker Bradley. I love how she tells complicated stories simply, without dumbing down or sanitizing the tough bits. Jefferson’s Sons and The War That Saved My Life are both brilliant.

Do you have any new or lesser known authors you would suggest?I live and work in Canada, so I know a lot of Canadian authors. They’re doing amazing things now! You will love love love books by Helene Boudreau, Deborah Kerbel, Frieda Wishinsky, Karen Krossing, Mahtab Narsimhan, Heather Camlot Lena Coakley,Adrienne Kress.

What advice do you have for a kid who wants to be an author?Ah. The question.  You know some of the biggies people always tell you, like read a lot, already. They are right, but I won’t repeat. Here’s my one extra point:  Most of us think that if we try and write something and it comes out bad, that means we’re not good writers. That’s not true. EVERY writer’s first draft stinks. It’s so stinky we have a term for it – we call it “word vomit.” It’s hard to get the ideas out of your head and onto the page. The first draft, therefore, is just your raw material. Pro writers revise and revise and revise until their eyes cross, trying to turn that mess into a shiny jewel. The ones who succeed are the ones who worked the hardest at that revision stage, not the ones who started out with the best first draft.

As an author, do you hear from your readers? What do you like about that? I love knowing that my work touched someone’s heart – whether to make them laugh, learn to read, or get through a tough time. Writers spend a lot of time in our offices alone, doubting ourselves. Getting feedback like that gives us the courage and will to keep at it.

If you could portal into any book (yours or another person’s), what book would it be?Through most of my life I would have instantly said, “Narnia.” Talking animals! Centaurs! Kids get to be queens! But now? Hmmmm….it’s going to have to be a world with working flush toilets…and no sexism or racism….I pick The Zoom, where Sloth in Sloth at the Zoom lives. I think she’s got a pretty sweet gig going!


Posted in Meet the authors

Liesl Shurtliff

·  Author website/social media: @lieslshurtliff (Twitter, IG, FB)

·Tell me a little about yourself: I live in Chicago with my husband and four beautiful kids. I grew up in Salt Lake City, the 5th of 8 kids. In college I studied musical theatre and dance, but very quickly realized I wanted to tell my own stories, rather than perform someone else’s.

1.     When you were my age (9), did you like to read? I did, so long as I had the right book!

2.     What was your favorite story? At nine I believe my favorite was Wait Till Helen Comes: An Ghost Story by Mary Downing Hahn.

3.     How do you get your ideas? Like why retell fairy tales? I get my ideas in many ways: life experience, other books and stories, friends, family, nature, dreams…ideas are everywhere. Fairytales in particular were a big part of my childhood. Those stories always sparked my interest and imagination. I wanted to be in those stories. In a way, retelling them makes them more personal to me.

4.     What author do you really like right now? I like so many authors. If I had to name just one that I really like right now I’d say Adam Gidwitz. I think he’s brilliant.

5.     Do you have any new or lesser known authors you would suggest? Her book is not quite out yet, but keep an eye out for Temre Beltz. I had the privilege to read your debut middle grade fantasy The Tragical Tale of Birdie Bloom and it is fantastic!

6.     What advice do you have for a kid who wants to be an author? Read, read, read. Write, write, write. Repeat. When you feel your writing is as good or better than published books you are reading, then you can start to navigate the publishing and business side of things. Developing your own writing skill, style, and voice is the key. The rest will follow.

7.     As an author, do you hear from your readers? What do you like about that? I do! I’ve had many lovely interactions with readers both in person or online. I just love hearing what they enjoyed about my books. It makes my day and inspires me to write more.

8.     If you could portal into any book (yours or another person’s), what book would it be? I’d go to the world of Harry Potter. No contest.

Posted in Meet the authors

Gina Perry

Author website/social media: twitter: @ginamarieperry instagram: @ginapineapple
· Tell me a little about yourself: I am an author and illustrator of children’s book. I live in seacoast New Hampshire with my husband and two children and one old fish. I went to art school and worked in animation and designing paper products before figuring out that making books for kids was my dream job. I like going for beach walks and hikes with my family, playing ping-pong, and drinking tea while I work.
1. When you were my age (9), did you like to read? I loved to read at your age! I loved mystery, adventure, and fantasy/science fiction.
2. What was your favorite story? A Wrinkle in Time and A Wind in the Door were my favorite books back then. I still love them and read them once every other year.
3. How do you get your ideas? A lot of my ideas come from silly songs I make up! Other ideas come from daydreaming what might be fun to illustrate. Thinking about my kids and my own childhood has given me lots of ideas, too. I find that getting the ideas is easy, not dismissing them as silly or too weird is the hard part. Don’t dismiss your ideas. Write them down and come back to them later to see if you still like them.
4. Your book – was it easy or hard? It was hard! I rewrote the story many times over many years. The idea for the characters, a rainy day, and the refrain “Too much! Not enough!” was always there, but most of the other elements changed several times.
5. What author do you really like right now? I love everything by Sara Varon. She creates the most unusual but likeable characters and stories. Her latest book, NEW SHOES, is fantastic!
6. Do you have any new or lesser known authors you would suggest? Yes! One author who might not be as well known in the US – Marguerite Abouet. She is from West Africa and her AKISSI books are just fantastic. When I was a kid I loved books that showed me kids living exciting lives in different places. I would have adored this funny graphic novel about a girl in West Africa.

A newer author that I really like is
Hannah Barnaby. Her first two books, BAD GUY and GARCIA & COLETTE GO EXPLORING are so different but incredibly well done – funny, and smart with just the right amount of heart and relatability.  Keep an eye on Hannah!
7. What advice do you have for a kid who wants to be an author? I think young authors should always keep a little notebook with them to jot ideas down. My first book, SMALL, was the result of waiting for my doctor’s appointment a little too long – but I had a notebook! Ideas can come at the strangest times. Also, never get rid of your old writing. We can all be too critical of our work, but when you look back at your older writing you can see how you’ve grown as a writer.
8. As an author, do you hear from your readers? What do you like about that? I love hearing what kids think about my books. It’s really cool when they notice the little details I put into the stories. I also love when kids walk away feeling something positive about themselves from my books.
9. If you could portal into any book (yours or another person’s), what book would it be? Oh, I think I would need to bravely step into Laurel Snyder’s ORPHAN ISLAND. I desperately want to know where the story goes after the book ends!

Posted in Meet the authors

MJ Fahy

Q: When you were my age (9), did you like to read?

A: When I was your age I would read all the time (even in bed, by torchlight). I’d read everything – even the writing on shampoo bottles! I liked reading newspapers too.

Q: What was your favorite author or book?

A: My favorite author when I was very small (5 – 7yrs) was Beatrix Potter. Then when I was your age I loved Enid Blyton stories, especially The Magic Faraway Tree, Malory Towers, The Famous Five, and The Secret Seven.

Q: how do you get your story ideas?

A: From everywhere, I think a writer’s experiences in life often find themselves in their books. The cottage from The Magpie King is based on my grandparents’ house; it’s also the place where I was born. The garden even has an old willow tree too.

Q: is it hard to write a book?

A: For me, the hardest part is setting aside time to write and making sure I write every day. Silly little things sometimes break my concentration: like one of the dogs throwing up, or a new unidentified bird visiting the bird-feeder (I can see the bird-feeder from a window of my writing shed), so I have to grab my binoculars to look and suddenly I find another hour has passed by with no writing done!

Q: what authors do you like right now? Any lesser known ones you can recommend?

A: I have a wide taste in books, in all genres, so that’s a tough question. I very much like Joe Abercrombie’s writing; he writes gritty (lots of sword fights) stories with main characters who aren’t always very likeable. I enjoyed reading George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasies (A Song of Ice and Fire). And I like Angelika Rust’s fantasy novellas too. Some British children’s writers whose books I’ve enjoyed recently are M.G. Leonard (Beetle Boy, Beetle Queen, Battle of the Beetles), and Peter Bunzl and his books about automata (Cogheart, and Moonlocket).

Q: what is the best part of being an author?

A: Having someone say that they loved my book/s. There’s no other feeling quite like it. Also, I really like buying pens and notebooks (too much!), and going into stationery stores to look at pens and notebooks.

Q: any advice for a kid who wants to be an author?

A: Always have a pen and notebook with you! You never know when a brilliant idea is going to pop into your head, and being without the resources to write it down is maddening. And always believe in yourself, if you want to write, go for it! Never let anyone tell you ‘You can’t write’. Finally, Read! Read! Read! Reading everything and anything will make you a better writer; exposing yourself to different writing styles will help you find your own unique ‘voice’.

Posted in Meet the authors

Manuel Betancourt

Author website/social media: / @bmanuel on Twitter
·  Tell me a little about yourself: Where to begin? I guess I always say that I’m a writer and a lapsed academic (that means I got my PhD but I’m not a professor; fun fact, the Cardboard Kingdom team is full of guys and gals who went to grad school for one thing or another!). I was born and raised in Colombia, went to school in Canada, and now live in New York City where I write mostly about movies and TV — like Miguel, I am a big big movie fan. I also read a lot and love to bake with my husband.
1.     When you were my age (9), did you like to read?
I did. I was an avid reader both in English and in Spanish (that’s my first language). I was the kid always signing out extra books from the library and reading assigned texts way faster than my classmates. I just loved getting lost in different worlds unlike my own.
2.     What was your favorite story?
I was obsessed with this British book series called The Demon Headmaster (less scary than it sounds, but only just). It was all about how a young girl realizes her new school is led by a demon that hypnotizes kids into submission and hopes to take over the world. Before I was obsessed with Harry Potter this was the school-driven series I was hooked on. I’m still amazed my school in Bogotá, Colombia had it in their library!
3.     How do you get your ideas? 
Everywhere! Everything I watch, I read, I see becomes fuel for ideas. I will say though that I’m a big movie fan (like Miguel is in “The Prince”) so I find a lot of inspiration from movies, both new and old. Animated films in particular make up a good chunk of my pop cultural world — everything from Beauty and the Beast to WALL-E. Chad only learned this after we’d worked on our story together but my mom runs an animation company at home so I was around cartoonists and animators all through my childhood!
4. Your book was done with multiple authors. Was that easy or hard? 
I really expected it to be hard. Really hard. But I was so surprised — and glad! — that it was anything but. It was such a collaborative project, and from the beginning it was clear that we were all just eager to make each other’s work better and stronger. We all recognized that we each brought something different, something special to the table. Plus, Chad is a wonderful ringmaster. We couldn’t have asked for a better leader.
5. What author do you really like right now?
In terms of graphic novels, I’ve always been a fan of Brian K. Vaughan, whose Runaways and Paper Girls I just love, especially for the way he tackles teen angst. Then there are people like Marjane Sartrapi and Alison Bechdel whose works I return to time and time again (can you tell I like reading about teen girls?). But, honestly, the author I’ve always been in awe of is Gabriel García Márquez who remains a hero of mine — and not just because he’s the most famous Colombian writer ever 🙂
6.  Do you have any new or lesser known authors you would suggest?
Here’s where I have to give a shoutout to Steven Rowley, who’s become a friend ever since I read and fell in love with Lily and the Octopus. But if we must skew younger, I love the kind of work that Jeffery Self (Drag Teen) and Adam Silvera (They Both Die At The End, History is All You Left Me) are doing when it comes to telling stories about boys like me when I was younger.
7. What advice do you have for a kid who wants to be an author?
Write! It’s such a simple piece of advice but you only get better if you write. And if you share that work. If I’ve learned anything from working on The Cardboard Kingdom is that there’s nothing better than having a generous reader on the other end whose feedback will make your work stronger.
8.  As an author, do you hear from your readers? What do you like about that?
I mostly write nonfiction essays (reviews, features, interviews) so I hear from readers quite a bit. But I’ll admit that hearing from Cardboard Kingdom readers has been the best part of this journey — I love knowing that something I made gave someone else joy. Also, every picture of a young kid playing dress-up with cardboard makes me tear up!
9.  If you could portal into any book (yours or another person’s), what book would it be?
I gotta say, traveling into the Cardboard Kingdom and getting to meet all of our kids and their fantasy alter-egos would be pretty fun. It would also mean I’d have to come up with a costume myself, which I actually love doing. I’ll take any opportunity to dress up