Five middle grade authors, whose books were selected for the Buzz Panel, talk about their inspiration.
Marie Miranda Cruz
Everlasting Nora (Tor/Starscape, Oct.)
“My novel is about a girl who lives among the squatters in a Manila cemetery, longing to have a real home again and go back to school. When her mother, who has a gambling addiction, goes missing, Nora’s friends and neighbors rally around her, and she discovers the strength to find her mother.
“My inspiration came from an article I read about a missionary who met a girl in the Philippines whose mother had abandoned her in the cemetery. I was so moved by her plight, and thought a lot about her and so many like her. I live in California, but I grew up in the Philippines, and it wasn’t until I had children of my own that I realized there are so few children’s books that mirror the lives of Filipino-American children. I wanted to change that.”
Short and Skinny (Little, Brown, Oct.)
“This is my graphic novel memoir of the summer of 1977, when I was going into eighth grade. I was tired of being bullied, and so, determined to bulk up and get taller, I used mail-order gimmicks from my comic books. But then Star Wars came out and changed my life in a way I never saw coming. I was inspired to create my own version of the movie on paper, and in doing so found my confidence.
“I hope my struggle for confidence resonates with readers who feel like they, too, are coming up short, and shows them that clarity and purpose can arrive when they least expect it. What surprised me most about examining my middle grade years was my cathartic reaction to things I hadn’t thought about in a very, very long time.”
I’m Ok (Atheneum, Oct.)
“Ok Lee is one stressed-out boy. After he loses his father to a freak accident, his mother must take on multiple jobs. Ok tries to help out by starting a hair-braiding business. Then Ok’s mother starts dating a man with a shady reputation, and life gets way more complicated than Ok can handle.
“In middle school, I braided hair, and it gave me a sense of identity, purpose, and belonging. Those memories, I realized, held rich fiction potential. And what if the hair braider were a boy? Onto the benign scene of one kid braiding another’s hair, I painted a backdrop of struggling with poverty, coping with death, searching for belonging, and being an immigrant. Immigrant stories never cease to inspire me. It’s my own family’s story. They are stories of obstacles being transformed into opportunities.”
Sanity & Tallulah, Book 1 (Disney-Hyperion, Oct.)
“Sanity and Tallulah live on a space station and are constantly getting into weird trouble. In this book, Sanity’s latest science project (a three-headed kitten) escapes from the laboratory and causes mayhem. The characters originated in a zine I made with my friend Andrea Tsurumi a few years ago. I envisioned Sanity and Tallulah as a kind of Nancy Drew/Star Trek/buddy-cop mashup: close friends who banter and bicker and work together to find clever solutions to problems—some of which they’ve caused themselves.
“I love telling stories. Nothing gives me joy like designing the puzzle of a plot and the careful trail of imagery that will guide readers through it. Creating my first graphic novel was a lot of work and at times super frustrating, and I hope I get to keep doing it forever.”
Monstrous Devices (Viking, Nov.)
“In this old-school adventure tinged with magic and the macabre, Alex, a 12-year-old in a humdrum British town, receives an old tin robot from his globe-trotting grandfather. He quickly realizes there’s something different about this toy. And possibly deadly. Soon, he and his grandfather are on a breakneck chase through a snowy Europe, pursued by assassins of various kinds.
“There were two key inspirations. I got thinking about the books, comics, TV shows, [and] movies I loved as a kid. And I remember trying to write stories something like this story at the kitchen table when I was eight, but I got distracted for 30-odd years. Monstrous Devices traveled a long road before finding a publisher, but it found absolutely the perfect publisher in the end. I’m from Glasgow, and we have a saying in Scotland: ‘Whit’s fur ye’ll no go by ye,’ which roughly translates as que sera sera.”