Saturday, February 24, 2024

Q&A with Grace Ly



Grace Ly is the co-author, with her father, Marty Ohlhaut, of the new memoir Tent for Seven: A Camping Adventure Gone South Out West. She has worked for the American Red Cross and the CIA, and she lives in Cherokee, North Carolina.


Q: What inspired you to write Tent for Seven, and how did the two of you collaborate on the book?


A: Marty started writing Tent for Seven as a way to sort through the trauma of a disastrous camping trip our family took to the Canadian Rockies. After lying awake for several nights thinking about the events, he decided to write everything down. It took him about eight months to get the whole story on paper.


At that point he wasn't sure what to do with it: put it on the shelf, shred it, or ceremoniously burn it in a campfire. Luckily, he decided to put it on the shelf, which is where I found it 15 years later. When I read it, I thought, "This should be a book!" I spent the next several years reworking his manuscript.


Once we had a publishing contract, Marty and I collaborated on the book together. Up until that point, it was very much an individual effort for each of us. We spent two years working very closely with each other and our publisher to make the book what it is today. 


Q: Did you need to do much research to write the book, or was most of it from memory?


A: Marty began writing only a few weeks after the trip, so everything was fresh in his mind. The flashbacks throughout were based on Marty’s memories as well as on the memories of his traveling companions and the journals a few of them kept.


I actually did a fair amount of research while revising the manuscript, mostly to ensure the accuracy of the facts we presented: places we visited, the driving distances, and costs, along with the names of campsites and tidbits about the towns, mountains, and geography. For the opening chapter, we even confirmed the phases of the moon. 


Q: How was the memoir's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: Titles are very important to me. I think they are second only to a cover in terms of motivating a reader to pick up a book. I love a good play on words, so our goal was to come up with something catchy and clever. We also wanted to convey the humorous tone and subject of the book.


I think we did all of those with Tent for Seven: A Camping Adventure Gone South Out West. It is a clever play on words and lets the reader know the book is a funny camping story. 


Q: What impact did it have on you to write the book, and what do you hope readers take away from it?


A: For Marty it was cathartic. Through the process he realized just how crazy, and dangerous, some of his adventures really were. He can sleep at night now, but it's still very difficult for him to talk about the events of the trip, especially what happened to his wife.


First and foremost, we want readers to be entertained.


Second, we hope they learn some interesting facts and tidbits that will encourage them to learn more about the world around them.


Third, with everything that happened during this trip and the people who miraculously appeared out of nowhere to help us, we hope readers take away that there is kindness in this world, possibly divine intervention, and that whenever they have the chance, to lend a helping hand.


And, of course, we hope our book inspires readers to head out on an adventure of their own, whatever that might be.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: We have had so much positive feedback from Tent for Seven and requests to write another book. So we are working on a very rough manuscript based on the flashbacks in Tent. We want to tell the story of Marty and his friends’ 10-week, 13,000-mile trip across the American West as one continuous story.


I am also in the process of putting together a draft of my time working for the American Red Cross on military bases in South Korea, Iraq, and Germany and my travels through 30 countries, as well as my time working at the White House and the CIA. 


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: We really enjoy hearing from readers and appreciate their feedback. We do spend time reading reviews, and honestly those reviews and requests to write another book are huge motivators to continue our writing careers.


So please leave us a review, send us an email through my website, or follow us on social media @grace.ly_author. We love to hear from our fans.


Lastly, we absolutely love attending book clubs! We have had so much fun meeting readers, sharing our story with them, answering questions—and laughing a lot! We would be happy to travel to local book clubs or attend virtually. Please reach out to us. We’d love to schedule a time to meet!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Lily Wade Napier




Lily Wade Napier is the author of the new children's book Albert Mittens vs the Aliens. She is 9 years old and she lives in England.


Q: Why did you decide to write Albert Mittens vs. the Aliens?


A: I chose to write about Albert Mittens vs the Aliens because I love cats and have lots of friends that love cats too. I wanted to a funny, entertaining story for people my age to read. 


Q: How did you create your character Albert?


A: Albert is based on my real 3-year-old cat, Albert. I imagined Albert as a superhero and I decided to make a book about him. (I have four other cats too, Violet, Malcolm, Mr. Bottomsley, and Leo.)


Q: Did you know how the story would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: Before writing the book I had the basic idea, but I came up with the aliens along the way. It developed as it went along.


Q: What do you hope readers take away from your book?


A: I hope it will make people laugh and inspire kids my age who read my book to maybe write their own story. 


Q: What are you working on now?


A: The next thing I am working on is a book called Grace and the Lost Treasure, about a girl who lives in the woods. She finds a log cabin that a man lives in who used to be a historian, and he tells her about the treasure. No more spoilers, hehe...


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I also love painting and drawing. In fact I was drawing a tiger just before writing these answers. Thanks for the great questions!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Feb. 24



Feb. 24, 1943: Kent Haruf born.

Friday, February 23, 2024

Q&A with Vivian Kirkfield




Vivian Kirkfield is the author of the new children's picture book biography Pedal, Balance, Steer: Annie Londonderry, the First Woman to Cycle Around the World. Kirkfield's other books include From Here to There. She lives in Bedford, New Hampshire.


Q: What inspired you to write a children's picture book biography about bicyclist Annie Londonderry (1870-1947)?


A: Thank you so much for inviting me to your blog, Deborah. I appreciate the opportunity to chat about my newest book.


Usually, my books spring from an online image or a snippet someone shares with me. But this book started as a request from HMH editor Ann Rider in 2018 when I was working on the manuscripts for From Here to There.


She asked me to write a stand-alone book about how the bicycle helped women gain more independence. When we sent the manuscript to her, she didn’t fall in love with it. And so, my agent sent it out on a wider submission – and Calkins Creek editor Carolyn Yoder saw promise in it.


Which just goes to show how subjective this industry is – and we should have faith that if we have a really strong manuscript, it will eventually find a good home.


Q: How did you research the book, and what did you learn that especially surprised you?


A: To research the story, I followed my usual process: checking online articles, viewing YouTube, and following up with any books I can find on the topic. And that’s where I got lucky!


Peter Zheutlin, Annie’s great grandnephew, had written a book about her, Around the World on Two Wheels. The book was fascinating and the research he did was amazing. I emailed to thank him and to ask if he’d be willing to look at the manuscript when I was finished.


His response was better than I could ever have hoped for. He was excited there would be a children’s book about Annie. And he told me that the very next weekend, he was giving a presentation at a bike shop about an hour from my home where they’d be viewing a documentary about this intrepid cyclist.


Of course, I went. It was lovely to meet Peter and learn more about Annie. Plus, he offered to read the manuscript when I was finished writing it. He’s been a fabulous asset to the project and was our authenticity expert when the color layouts were done.


It's always a plus when you can connect with family when you are writing a nonfiction biography.


Peter was able to share insights I wouldn’t find in a book or online article and what I discovered really surprised me. His family had never spoken about her – Peter, an avid cyclist, started doing research for his book about her – and that’s when he learned that she was his relative!


Q: What do you think Alison Jay’s illustrations add to the book?


A: Alison Jay’s art is perfect for this story – and her illustrations bring the story to life! The research she does is meticulous – and her quirky style is exactly right for the intrepid traveler and forward-thinking woman that Annie was.


Q: The Horn Book review of the book says, in part, “Perseverance and a willingness to try new things win the day in this lively picture-book biography.” What do you think of that description?


A: I love the description – perseverance is key to the success of any project or undertaking. In fact, perseverance/persistence is one of the five Ps I’m so fond of talking about at conferences and school visits. If we don’t give up, we WILL succeed. And Annie definitely did NOT give up.


Regarding trying new things…I was a timid child…and never wanted to try new things. But when I turned 64, my son gave me a very unusual birthday gift. He took me skydiving.


And the very next year, I jumped into writing for children the same way I jumped out of that plane…with my whole heart…because I knew that if I could jump out of a perfectly good airplane, I could probably do anything.


And now, 12 years later, I have six published books…and more on the way. Like Annie, we have to be willing to try new things.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Thank you for asking, Deborah. And I love how the question before segued right into this one.


I do have several books in the pipeline…One Girl’s Voice: How Lucy Stone Helped Change the Law of the Land, illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon (Calkins Creek/Astra, Spring 2025).


Plus a sequel to Pippa’s Passover Plate for Fall 2025 with Holiday House, but it hasn’t been announced yet.


And also, a board book called Friends Count with PJ Publishing, also unannounced. I tell people that I am living my dream…and it’s true.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I host a contest for writers every March called #50PreciousWords – last year we had 756 submissions. Quite a few of the stories have become real books…and last year, Federico Erebia’s 2021 entry morphed into a 50,000-word YA novel, Pedro & Daniel (Levine Querido, 2023).


Over the past two years, the #50PreciousWords Literacy Initiative has donated over 700 brand new children’s books to local schools in need.


Also, every May during Children’s Book Week, I invite children from all over the world to send their 50-word stories to me – and on Mother’s Day, I post all the #50PreciousWordsforKids entries and every child receives a Certificate of Participation that can be printed out and personalized. What a great way to encourage young people to discover the storyteller that lives in their hearts.


Thank you so much for having me, Deborah. It was a pleasure visiting with you. 


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Jon Chad


Photo by Gina Gagliano



Jon Chad is the author and illustrator of The Solvers: The Divmulti Ray Dilemma, The Solvers: The Shrinking Setback, two new graphic novels for kids focusing on math skills. He lives in Sacramento, California.


Q: What inspired you to create The Solvers?


A: The work that I make seeks to present nonfiction concepts (history, science, and, in this case, mathematics) in a way that is imaginative and engaging. I’m really passionate in my belief that there doesn’t need to be a delineation between “learning” and “a good story.”


I use different narrative frameworks throughout the years in order to help elevate a topic and compliment it. The stories can be fun and fanciful, but they need some sort of connective tissue with the topic at hand.


For example, I made a book about the periodic table that was structured as a dungeon crawler. The reader was made to feel like they are entering and exploring the periodic table, and discovering all the mysterious elements within. The connective tissue in making a periodic table book that is framed in the story of a surfing competition might have been a harder sell.


When I started working on the Solvers, I thought about the sort of role that math plays in our world, and how I might find a narrative framework that connects to that.


Without a knowledge of math, humans could never build skyscrapers, figure out how to withstand the incredible pressure of the deep sea, chart the movement of the stars, and so much more.


The versatility and power of mathematics in itself really feels like a sort of superpower. It made sense to me to use superheroes and traditional superhero stories as the narrative device to couch mathematical instruction into.


When I was creating the Solvers’ world, I was inspired by different superhero teams like the Power Rangers, the Justice League, and the Sailor Scouts from Sailor Moon. The world of the Solvers has stakes, but is profoundly campy and silly. It’s a world where being who you are and being open to learning are the most powerful traits you can possess.


Q: Did you focus more on the text or the illustrations when you began to work on the books?


A: Overall, I spent far more time working through the story visually. I like to say that I write my outline with pictures.


I start by taking a couple large pieces of paper and drawing little 1” by .5” sketches of what each page in the book might look like. I’m not aiming for any high level of detail with these initial sketches; I’m just trying to work out how many panels a page might have, what the pacing of a certain moment might be, etc.


I’m a visual thinker and learner, and it’s easier for me to parse the whole book when I can look at groups of sketches for pages and move them around, make the sequence longer or shorter, etc.


Making sure that I work out the design of my characters was another big part of my initial work on the books. Over the course of many, many sketches the characters’ expressions, their body language, and their personalities began to emerge. That informs parts of the story, and I found myself going back to a couple scenes and tweaking things.  


Q: Who do you see as the perfect audience for this series?


A: I see my perfect reader for this series as someone who loves math, someone who struggles with math, or someone who loves stories about superheroes!


I also think that these books will connect with readers who are more visual learners. The visual language of comics is very successful at relaying information to readers, and can be used to pace out and explain ideas in a fundamentally different way than prose resources, or spoken instruction.


Q: What do you hope kids take away from your books?


A: There’s three things I hope kids get out of these books. First, I want readers to have a better understanding of the why (is it useful), the when (do we use it), and the how (do we do it) of the mathematical concepts that I cover in the books. I want them to be able to see the value in these concepts and how math will intersect with their everyday life.


Secondly, I hope that these books will give readers confidence wherever they are in their math-learning-journey. I purposely made my characters imperfect when it comes to their knowledge of math.


Sometimes the Solvers fail to see the value of the concepts, or don’t slow down and take their time when solving equations. They get the answers wrong sometimes, but are always eager to learn from their mistakes.


I really wanted to make sure that the books are crystal clear that you can be a part of the Solvers adventures even if you are still struggling with the concepts, since the Solvers struggle with them too, sometimes!


Lastly, I want them to have a fun time with the story. I know I’m not pulling the wool over the eyes of the readers. They aren’t going to read the book and think, “hold on a second…I just learned something!?”


The learning is front and center. Part of the unspoken agreement I feel like I have with the readers of my books. I won’t try to fool them, and in return for them trusting me and coming along for the ride, I’ll deliver an interesting story.


Q: What are you working on now? Will there be more books in the series?

A: I became a stay-at-home dad a little more than a year ago now, so the time that I have to work on writing and comics is much different than it was when I started on these books.


With the time I have I’ve been in ideation mode, and am working on some more nonfiction stories as well as something about my experience growing up very hairy and the ensuing conversation with masculinity that it created with myself.


I would love to make more Solvers books, and have a lot of fun ideas of how I can relay the math in interesting, visual ways! There’s also a lot of lore about the world of the Solvers that I would love to get into; parallel to all the cool math topics there are out there.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Thank you so much for your wonderful questions! Readers can stay up to date with what I’m up to by following me at Instagram @jonchlaunch, or check out my website at


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Glenn Hileman




Glenn Hileman is the author of the new novel A Yellow House in the Mountains: A Story of Love and Refinement. It is based on his parents' lives; they died in the 2020 East Troublesome Fire in Colorado. He is the CEO of Highmark School Development, and he lives in Bountiful, Utah. 


Q: Why did you decide to write a novel based on the lives of your late parents?


A: In a word, inspiration. Six days following the fire, I was mowing the lawn in an attempt to channel my grief. While pushing the mower, I was humming a tune over and over again. I paused long enough to go inside, grab a guitar, and figure out the chord progression. I then returned to the yard. Within 30 minutes I had assembled lyrics and recorded the song that night.


No, I'm not a musician, but the song has brought peace to our family. After the memorial service I recorded stories told, some I'd heard for the first time. I later decided to weave this series of short stories into a novel.


Q: How did you research the book, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?


A: One of the great joys in writing the story was striving to understand the reason behind Lyle and Marylin’s choices.


For example, I knew my mom dropped out of high school after becoming pregnant at the age of 15. Shortly after learning of the pregnancy, my father enlisted in the Marine Reserves. I discovered that in 1952, the Korean War led to a draft with a six-year enlistment.

As an alternative, the U.S. government implemented a military reserve act. It required basic training of two months and then one weekend per month of duty. All reserves could be called up but until that occurred, they stayed in their communities.


After a shotgun wedding, my father left for training. While difficult, I imagine it was a far better alternative than a six-year commitment.


Q: What did you see as the right balance between history and fiction as you wrote the book?


A: I leaned on the historical stories as much as possible. This helped in creating the setting and timing of events. However, I needed to embellish a lot of the dialogue and guess at the motivation of many actions.


The process was fulfilling and brought me closer to my parents. It was also fun to get responses from my family, often confirming details and occasionally correcting specifics.


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?


A: It is a story of refinement. My father was a troubled teenager. Upon meeting my mother, he determined he would change and win her affection. Together, they were able to overcome adversity and I hope their story inspires others to realize their dreams.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I've been working on a screenplay and hope to convert the story into a film. I had a lot of help organizing the content and am now refining the story to better align with the key elements of the book.


I should also mention, I've spent three years working to restore my parents’ property. My website contains a video clip of the journey of recovery.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Surprisingly, the county wouldn't let us reconstruct the yellow house. They now have design standards and updated codes. We appealed their decision and lost. We chose to focus on what we could control and it turned out to be a blessing.


It took two years just to remove debris, replant fields, improve damaged roads, and most importantly, fulfill my mother's desire for a park and pavilion. That's another incredible story to explore as she gave us her marching orders on Oct. 4. Three weeks later, she was gone.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Feb. 23



Feb. 23, 1868: W.E.B. Du Bois born.