Rebecca Stead is the author of middle grade novels including When You Reach Me, Liar & Spy, and The List of Things That Will Not Change. Her books have been awarded the Newbery Medal, the Boston Globe/Horn Book Award for Fiction, and the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize. Wendy Mass is the author of the Willow Falls and Candymakers series and 30 more novels. Her debut novel, A Mango-Shaped Space, won the Schneider Family Book Award, and her latest is Lo and Behold. Stead and Mass combined creative forces for their 2018 middle grade novel Bob, and this August they’re back with The Lost Library, a fantasy-tinged mystery. We asked the duo to discuss their new collaboration, finding inspiration during the pandemic, and the magic of Little Free Libraries.
Wendy Mass: Howdy, partner! I can’t believe the Lost Library is soon going to be found by people other than us! I remember the day so clearly when I was walking my dog and got your phone call with the first suggestion of working on something post-Bob. It was such a nice surprise in the midst of the chaos of that time—something to look forward to when everything was so uncertain.
Rebecca Stead: It truly is hard to believe that the summer of The Lost Library is here at last. And yes, we started this adventure in late 2020. Writing always means time working alone, but that year was obviously a special challenge. I remember longing to work on something playful, something that would be an escape for our readers—and also an escape for me, I think.
Mass: It was also nice that we both had the same idea of the kind of story we wanted to tell—about the love of books and reading, and an obsession with libraries (little and big!). Then came experimenting with different genres and story structure and a more “storytelling” tone than either of us had before. And we were united with one goal: to write it very differently than the seven-year unplanned journey that was Bob!
Stead: Absolutely. I embraced the “Wendy way”… planning! Thinking about story and structure ahead of time, instead of groping along in the dark the way I usually do.
And we had a lot of fun (actual fun, I think), talking about genre-bending. Or maybe we should call it genre-collecting? We knew from the start that we wanted to write a mystery. With ghosts. Told (partly) by a cat. But it’s also a story about real life.
Mass: Yes, and real kids.
Stead: I think there are at least four mysteries solved by the end.
Mass: At least! There were many threads to weave during many socially distant walks (made easy by being in different states!), brainstorming and what if-ing until we had a pretty good picture of the various plotlines, all centering around a handmade Little Free Library that went up overnight in a small town. As fellow orange-cat lovers, we knew Mortimer (the self-appointed keeper and protector of the LFL who is very old, hence his name “More-Timer”) would be fun to write—part curmudgeon, part sensitive loner, very aware of his fluffy cuteness. Like all the other characters, he grew a lot by the end.
Stead: Absolutely. The cat grows. Even some of the adults grow, in this one. Although, our fifth-grader Evan is worried about some of the growth ahead. He’s graduating from elementary school, but he kind of wishes he could stay. Which is pretty much how I felt at his age. Were you excited to go to middle school?
Mass: Yes, K–6 in one building was a long time. And middle school meant I would walk to school instead of taking the bus, and that made me feel Very Grown Up.
Stead: Do you want to say a little about the Little Free Libraries in your life? I feel like those were part of the inspiration for you.
Mass: Our first (of many!) Little Free Library discoveries was on a cross-country family road trip during that awesome Every Kid Outdoors presidential initiative. Our daughter had just lost one of the Percy Jackson books—or finished it and ached for the next, the details are fuzzy—but the gist is that at our first sighting of one of these magical little boxes on the side of the road, the exact book she needed was there, just waiting for her. For her bat mitzvah a few years later she built, stocked, and became the steward of her own LFL.
Stead: Opening one and seeing the very book you need feels slightly magical. One of my favorite things about The Lost Library is the way the town responds to the Little Free Library’s sudden appearance, slowly surrounding it with extra bins and a wagon full of books. There’s a suitcase of poetry and an umbrella to protect everything. I remember getting a happy chill when that part was coming together, imagining a town hungry for books, and hungry to share the books they already love.
Of course, this is a town that has been without a real library for a long time… and Evan has to figure out why. Not even the ghosts know what happened.
Mass: The cat knows, but the cat can’t tell him.
Stead: I think that’s mystery number four. Or five.
The Lost Library by Rebecca Stead and Wendy Mass. Feiwel and Friends, $17.99 Aug. 29 ISBN 978-1-250838-81-0