There is no rest for the weary in Kwame Mbalia’s highly anticipated follow-up to Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky. With the title character returning from a grand adventure, Tristan Strong Destroys the World (Disney/Rick Riordan Presents, Oct.) finds Strong in an unsettled position, as he’s simultaneously fighting outward battles while grappling with the PTSD that has followed him home.
The subject of mental health is one that Mbalia—a 2019 PW Flying Starts author—takes on unflinchingly, and will speak about as a panelist at BookExpo’s Children’s Book & Author Dinner. “On the one hand, I’d say making sure I am treating the efforts of coping with trauma and anxiety with sensitivity and the seriousness it deserves was and is always at the forefront of my mind while writing,” Mbalia says. “But the other side of it is normalizing these discussions and conversations so that readers continue to see that acknowledging and talking about issues they, you, and I face on a daily basis is valid and important.”
Mental health is also a personal issue for Mbalia, who recalls James Baldwin’s observations on the endemic structural racism that impacts him as a black man in America. That racism means that Mbalia is, in his words, “in a never-ending battle with my anxiety. Some days are better than others.”
In Tristan Strong Destroys the World, Mbalia builds on the creativity and richness of the first volume in the series as a way to convey such challenging experiences, especially through the book’s fabled land of Alke. “It is a land of symbolism and story,” he says. “Parts of stories that I read and listened to while growing up went into its construction, and other parts are just pulled from my imagination—a work of fantasy inspired by history. Traditionally, we’ve seen books, art, and film use landscapes, mythology, and iconography associated with other cultures, and so for me, building Alke was a love letter to my people.”
He hopes readers experience the love that comes through the story: “One they can keep for themselves for days when returning to it brings comfort,” he says, “or one they can take, adapt, and share.”
Thursday, May 28, 5:30–7 p.m. Kwame Mbalia is a panelist at the Children’s Book & Author Dinner, live online at facebook.com/bookexpo.