Cassie Beasley’s debut Circus Mirandus (Dial, June) has drawn early accolades – including a starred review from PW – and comparisons to classic middle- grade, including Roald Dahl and Peter Pan. The novel follows fifth-grader Micah whose grandfather falls ill; and in order to find a way to save him, Micah finds his way to the mystical circus his grandfather has told stories about since Micah can remember. In this interview Beasley discusses her new novel, old favorites, and her favorite writing partner: her sister.

What drew you to write about the circus?

I suppose the simplest answer is that I needed a place for my magicians to hang their hats, and what better place than a circus? Circuses and carnivals, even ones that aren’t inhabited by illusionists and invisible tigers, have a natural magic to them. They are in-between spaces, where the perfect fantasy world created by the performers exists alongside the mundane world with all of its ugliness and heartache. It seems a fitting setting since much of the book is about a boy discovering that the marvelous stories he’s loved throughout his childhood are true even as he’s facing the harsh reality of his grandfather’s death.

You work closely with your sister, and she recently sold her first novel as well. Can you tell us about your relationship?

Kate is my best friend! She’s also the perfect critique partner. A sister doesn’t have to pull her punches when she tells you your story isn’t working, and sometimes that’s exactly what you need. We haven’t written a book together yet, but we work on our separate projects side by side, and it’s wonderful. We ply each other with coffee and hot tea, and we talk out plot problems together. We’re both writing middle grade right now, and I love her work. Her novel is called Gertie’s Leap to Greatness (FSG, Sept.), and I can’t wait to see it beside mine on a shelf next year.

What were your favorite books as a child?

I read everything I could get my hands on, but the books I returned to over and over again tended to be fantasies. I loved The Princess Bride, The Giver, and, of course, Harry Potter. At home, I read my way through my parents’ bookshelves – a lot of Mercedes Lackey and Piers Anthony and Barbara Hambly. I went through a lengthy David Eddings phase. I read The the Belgariad series so many times that the old paperbacks fell apart and I had to tape them back together.

What are you working on next?

I’ve got a couple of different projects going. Both of them are middle- grade novels, and I’m very excited about them. But I think that’s all I’ll say about them for now because they’re still at that fluid stage where so much can change.

Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley. Dial, $17.99 June 2 ISBN 978-0-525-42843-5