Kacen Callender, an award-winning novelist who has published fiction for children, teens, and adults, returns to the middle-grade arena with Moonflower, due from Scholastic next May. The novel follows Moon, a nonbinary 12-year-old who travels to the spirit realms each night, hoping never to return to the world of the living, on their healing journey through the baffling landscape of depression. Unveiled here is the book’s cover, which was designed by Elizabeth Parisi and features the art of Daniel Minter.

Callender said that Moonflower is one of the most personal books they have written, “because it pulls from the depression and suicidal ideation I’d had as a child,” and that it was difficult to write for multiple reasons. “The first being that the story is so personal,” they explained, “and I wanted to do right by younger Kacen, who would have needed these words, while also feeling the immense importance of other young readers who might need this story now, too, and keeping their safety in mind by not potentially triggering their own suicidal thoughts.”

The author also contended with balancing their divergent emotions while writing Moonflower. “Because my creativity is energized by joy and excitement, and depression is the opposite of joy,” they noted, “I needed to find a way to have fun with the story and my imagination, too, while remaining authentic to the valid pain I felt as a child.”

The fact that the novel draws largely from their spirituality required Callender to reconcile the realms that the story explores. “I wanted to write an atmospheric book about spirits and the non-physical realms, but early readers kindly let me know that the story didn’t feel grounded enough,” they noted. “Spirit and the non-physical is by nature ungrounded, so I needed to balance the two so that the book felt more like a fantasy adventure inspired by spirit, and less like it’s entirely a dream.”

Raising the Curtain on the Cover

Parisi, v-p, creative director in the Scholastic trade book group, was pleased to work on the cover of Moonflower with Minter, who won Caldecott Honors for his illustrations in Going Down Home with Daddy by Kelly Starling Lyons and a Coretta Scott King Illustration Honor Award for Ellen’s Broom, also by Lyons. “What I was really excited about was bringing Daniel’s more mature, fine-art style to Moonflower’s cover,” she said. “His gallery work is stunning and appeals to all ages.”

Before Parisi began the design (which, she explained, “needs to support the art, while having its own presence”), she had many conversations with Moonflower’s editor, Andrea Davis Pinkney, about the details of the story and what elements to highlight on the cover. “Andrea very much wanted to convey the hope of Moon’s story,” Parisi recalled. “We also wanted to convey Moon’s connection to the stars and figures in their inner, spiritual world, and the spare isolation they may feel in the outer world, while also conveying elements of renewal and growth.”

Callender believes that the cover design, and Minter’s art, serve the novel well. “I love Daniel Minter’s work, especially the style of thin silver-white lines over beautiful atmospheric colors,” they said. “I think that the energy of his style captures the atmosphere of Moonflower.”

Callender is neither intimidated nor bolstered by the fact that their forthcoming novel is the first to appear since 2020’s King and the Dragonflies, which received the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, a Coretta Scott King Honor Award, and the Lambda Literary Award.

“I feel grounded in knowing that this book is separate from King and the Dragonflies, just like King and the Dragonflies was separate from Hurricane Child, and that regardless of how anyone does or doesn’t respond, I’m always worthy of the love and acceptance I show myself,” they said. “If the story makes me happy, and is what I set out to write, then that is what always matters more than anything else, including the validation of others. Though it can be nice to see that my stories and words resonate with other people, too, and help them on their own journeys.”

Moonflower by Kacen Callender. Scholastic, $17.99 May 2022 ISBN 978-1-33863-659-8