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All Middle Grade Coverage

Natasha Farrant’s Voyage of the Sparrowhawk whisks readers away on an enthralling and heartwarming adventure helmed by two young orphans, set in England in the aftermath of World War I. 

Feisty, impetuous Lotti and steady, determined Ben meet by chance and become fast friends at the very moment each needs a friend the most. Lotti is desperate to avoid being shipped off to another dour boarding school by her aunt and uncle. Ben, still grieving the loss of his adoptive father and awaiting news of his brother, Sam, a soldier declared missing and presumed dead, is at risk of being sent back to an orphanage.

The two hatch a plan to take Ben’s narrowboat, the Sparrowhawk, to France, where Ben hopes to find Sam and Lotti hopes to reunite with her grandmother. With a handful of extra clothes, some canned soup and their adoring dogs, Elsie and Federico, Ben and Lotti embark on the perilous journey. The Sparrowhawk, a canal boat, is totally unsuited for navigating the swells of the Thames, let alone for crossing the English Channel. Powered by hope and sheer nerve, the pair navigate river locks and crushing storms, all while being stalked by Lotti’s mean-spirited uncle and a police officer who is determined to turn the children over to the proper authorities.

With a light and skilled hand, Farrant stays attuned to the emotional pulse of her winning characters. Ben and Lotti are endearing heroes: courageous, unyielding and committed to doing what’s right and good for each other. As the story’s stakes increase, so does Ben and Lotti’s determination. Farrant lets the novel’s many adult characters play second fiddle, allowing her young protagonists’ pluck and steadfastness to shine in the spotlight. Sometimes poignant, sometimes funny but consistently gripping, Voyage of the Sparrowhawk presses forward with all the purpose and beauty of a small, slim boat on fast-flowing waters. 

Poignant, funny and gripping, Voyage of the Sparrowhawk presses forward with all the purpose and beauty of a small, slim boat on fast-flowing waters.

Marya Lupu’s parents are sure that a great destiny awaits her brother, Luka. They’re convinced that he’ll become a powerful, prestigious sorcerer. He’ll grow up to battle and maybe even defeat the mysterious force known as the Dread, which has threatened the kingdom of Illyria for centuries. And of course, the entire family’s fortunes will rise with Luka’s inevitable success.

Compared to Luka, Marya has never felt valued by her parents. Nothing she does pleases them, and her destiny appears cloudy at best. When Marya makes a crucial mistake on the day that the Council for the Magical Protection of Illyria comes to test Luka and determine whether he has the ability to wield magic and become a sorcerer, she puts all of their futures in jeopardy. The very next day, a letter arrives inviting Marya to attend Dragomir Academy, “a school dedicated to the reform of troubled girls,” and it seems Marya has even less control over her future than she thought possible.

As Marya bonds with her classmates—girls just like her, who have been told their entire lives that their only purpose is to serve the men whose magic supposedly keeps Illyria safe—they begin to realize that the threat posed by the Dread is not what they’ve been led to believe, and it may be up to them to expose the truth.

The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy is a story of secrets and sisterhood, and a powerful depiction of how people who have been marginalized can find collective power and fight back against systems that have worked to silence them. Readers who enjoyed author Anne Ursu’s acclaimed middle grade novels The Lost Girl, Breadcrumbs and The Real Boy will find much to love here. Marya is a strong-willed and inspiring heroine, and Ursu places her in an expertly constructed fantasy setting. Witty and wise, this is a satisfying and feminist fantasy that will leave readers begging for a sequel.

In this wise and witty fantasy novel, the fate of a kingdom may rest in the hands of a group of “troubled girls” at a mysterious magical school.

YA author Kate McGovern’s first novel for younger readers is the story of a girl who has been keeping a big secret: She can’t read very well. When her secret is discovered and she is held back a year, she struggles to conceal the reason from her friends and classmates.

Secrets are an important theme throughout the book: why we keep them, how hard it is to continue them, the effects they have on our friends and family. What drew you to exploring the power and peril of secrecy?
I was interested in exploring the question of how and why we keep secrets from ourselves as much as from other people. Maple obviously knows she has a hard time reading. But she has also been hiding from this reality, by finding tricks to avoid facing her struggles head-on. I think when we don’t want to tell other people something about ourselves, it’s very often because we are afraid that saying that thing out loud will make it more real—even though of course that isn’t usually true! So keeping this secret from other people is really Maple’s way of protecting herself from dealing with her own emotions about how hard it is for her to do something that she perceives other people can do more easily.

In your acknowledgments, you note that you’ve worked in education for many years, including as a reading tutor for young people, and that this book is “the meeting of my worlds.” Will you share a bit more about that with us?
I’ve always loved working with kids. Even as a high school and college student, I gravitated toward opportunities to volunteer with younger kids, to babysit and to work as a camp counselor, that kind of thing. One of my first jobs out of college was with an incredible organization called the Harlem Children’s Zone. I should be clear that I was not a certified or even particularly well-trained reading interventionist! But I was hired to help middle school students who were struggling with reading, so that’s what I tried to do. And that kicked off a deeper passion for working within education. After graduate school, I spent a year as a teaching assistant at an elementary school in London, and when I came back to the U.S. I started working in education nonprofits. 

For the last decade or so, I’ve been writing fiction for kids in my “spare time” and working directly with students or writing about education in my “work time.” There hasn’t been much overlap. With Maple, I’ve had the chance to tell a story that deals with issues I’ve been exposed to through work, such as how and why students can get to older grades without fluent reading skills, which is really much more common than you might think.

“I want readers to understand that Maple’s experience is truly just one person’s experience.”

You do a wonderful job of immersing readers in Maple’s mind so they can experience her reading challenges, from how words and pages appear to her to her feelings as she struggles to comprehend what she sees. Can you tell us about the research you did that helped to ensure these moments felt true and real?
Since I’ve been working in education for a while, both in and out of schools, I’m lucky in that I have a lot of colleagues and former colleagues who know a lot more than I do about reading instruction! I started there, just asking them to talk to me about what Maple’s struggles might feel like, tricks she might use to hide them, what types of interventions her teachers could use to support her and that kind of thing. There are also a lot of online resources that I found incredibly useful, such as understood.org, which has these great videos that show students talking about what it feels like to have different kinds of learning disabilities. 

Through one of my former colleagues, I was introduced to an amazing reading interventionist named Trish Geraghty, who was generous enough to read the entire manuscript, give me notes and make sure everything rang true based on her and her students’ experiences. I also drew on my own experiences with students. I thought a lot about how they were gifted in so many ways, but how often they didn’t have a chance to show off those gifts in school because reading had become a barrier. I was really inspired by my former students and how wonderful and special they each were in their own ways.

Learning differences are quite common in children and adults, especially dyslexia. What stood out to you most as you learned about the range and scope of reading challenges?
That’s a really important point. I want readers to understand that Maple’s experience is truly just one person’s experience. We often tend to think of dyslexia as that thing where you flip letters around, but it’s much, much more than that. It was eye-opening to me when one of the reading experts I spoke with used the phrase “characteristics of dyslexia” to refer to this huge umbrella of reading challenges. She helped me see it as much more than just a single diagnosis.

Maple’s parents are very interested in her life and sincerely care about her happiness, so they’re disappointed with themselves when they realize they missed how much trouble she’d been having with reading. Why was it important to you to include their perspective?
I wanted to explore how Maple’s parents might have missed this big thing that was going on for their child—not to blame them for missing it, but to show how parents are human, too. We make mistakes, and sometimes we are guilty of putting our own expectations on our kids without recognizing who they really are as their own people.

Maple and her parents refer to her as a “Hin-Jew” because she’s Hindu and Jewish, and as “Whindian,” white and Indian. You’ve said that Maple’s family reflects your own. Why was it important to you that the Mehta-Cohens reflected your family? Did basing this aspect of these characters on personal reality make writing them easier, or more challenging?
I wanted to write a book that my own kids could (eventually) pick up and see themselves in. It’s a wonderful thing to watch children’s literature diversifying so rapidly, but biracial and multiracial protagonists and families are still a little bit less common. I especially wanted to write a story in which the family looked like ours, but in a narrative that wasn’t all about being a multicultural family, because in our house, our lives are made richer by our mix of cultures, but we have a lot of other things going on, too. 

Using our family as the jumping-off point definitely made the writing process easier. I was able to pull in very familiar details, and I also had readily available readers (i.e., my husband) who could fact-check for me! (I should add, though, that Maple’s family isn’t exactly ours. They’re still fiction! One fun way that we’re different is that my family has grandparents raised in four different traditions—Judaism, Catholicism, Hinduism and Jainism. I simplified!)

Read our review of ‘Welcome Back, Maple Mehta-Cohen.'

Some characters are mean to Maple when they find out she was held back a grade, but Maple’s harshest critic is often herself. Will you share a bit about why reading challenges might be so central to her identity and to how she feels about herself?
I think Maple feels conflicted internally because she identifies as a person who loves books and stories, so she feels like she should be able to read well. Her reading struggles don’t fit with her idea of who she is. Of course, her challenges with reading independently have nothing to do with her love for great stories and her own gift of storytelling. There’s no reason you can’t love stories and also have a hard time with reading fluently! But it takes time for Maple to recognize that and to embrace all the parts of who she is.

Will you tell us a little about fifth and sixth grade Kate and who she was as a reader? Do you think your teachers would be surprised to learn that you grew up to become a published author?
I don’t think they’d be surprised at all. I was a lot like Maple, actually, although I did not personally struggle with reading fluency. I used to tell myself stories out loud in my room, pacing back and forth. For years and years, my mind was constantly spinning stories. I was and still am very much a nose-in-a-book kind of person.

YA author Kate McGovern’s first novel for younger readers is the story of a girl who has been keeping a big secret: She can’t read very well.

Maple Mehta-Cohen is a bright 11-year-old with an impressive vocabulary whose artistic parents encourage her creativity. Last year, she loved her fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Littleton-Chan, whose enthusiasm for teaching was genuine and whose cool bicultural surname was similar to Maple’s own “Indian-Jewish hyphenated situation.” Even so, as the school year wound to a close, Maple was raring to start sixth grade—middle school, at last!—alongside her two BFFs, Marigold and Aislinn.

But Maple’s been keeping a secret, and last April, Mrs. Littleton-Chan became the first person to notice: As Maple puts it, “I can’t really read. . . . A whole page is like an ocean. When I look at it, I feel like I’m drowning.” Diagnosed with “characteristics of dyslexia,” Maple must repeat fifth grade in Mrs. Littleton-Chan’s class to bolster her reading skills and build a better foundation for success in sixth grade.

Maple sees the logic behind this decision, but she still feels frustrated and embarrassed. She keeps the news a secret all summer, only telling her besties right before school begins in the fall. When she’s assigned to show around the new kid, Jack, she tells him she’s back in fifth grade as part of a hush-hush budget measure so she can serve as a special assistant to overworked teachers.

Alas, as the days pass, Maple’s hilariously clever fib proves difficult to maintain amid the hard work she’s putting in with her new reading group, her worries about disappointing her parents, her deep investment in the mystery tale she’s dictating into her digital recorder and her inability to decide on a subject for the big class project. Phew!

McGovern, the author of two previous YA novels, notes in her acknowledgments that dyslexia is “by far the most common language-based learning disability” and describes consulting with reading experts to ensure the book’s authenticity. Mission accomplished: Maple’s learning challenges and their impact on her emotional health are carefully and realistically rendered. So, too, is her heartwarming journey to shedding her secrets and embracing her true, flawed, wonderful self. Maple is a character that readers of all stripes will relate to, and McGovern surrounds her with kind, supportive adults who are appealing in their own right. Warmly compassionate and often funny, Welcome Back, Maple Mehta-Cohen is an inspiring and comforting read.

In this compassionate and often funny novel, Maple has been keeping a big secret, and when it’s discovered, she must repeat fifth grade.

Educator Tiffany Jewell’s book for teen readers, This Book Is Anti-Racist, became a #1 New York Times and indie bestseller in 2020. In her next book, The Antiracist Kid, Jewell brings her expertise as an antiracism and anti-bias facilitator to middle grade readers eager to discover how they can learn about and take action against racism. The book also includes illustrations by Eisner Award-nominated artist Nicole Miles.

Here’s the official description from Versify, Jewell’s publisher:


What is racism? What is antiracism? Why are both important to learn about? In this book, systemic racism and the antiracist tools to fight it are easily accessible to the youngest readers.

In three sections, this must-have guide explains:

  • Identity: What it is and how it applies to you
  • Justice: What it is, what racism has to do with it and how to address injustice
  • Activism: A how-to with resources to be the best antiracist kid you can be

This book teaches younger children the words, language and methods to recognize racism and injustice—and what to do when they encounter it at home, at school and in the media they watch, play and read. 


The Antiracist Kid hits shelves at libraries and bookstores everywhere on August 16, 2022, and BookPage is thrilled to reveal its amazing cover below! The cover was illustrated by Nicole Miles and designed by Samira Iravani. Be sure to check out our Q&A with Jewell after the reveal. Just scroll down!

How did you feel the first time you saw the finished cover for The Antiracist Kid?
I was totally excited to see this beautiful and fun cover! I immediately showed my children, who were equally as excited. Nicole Miles is brilliant and I’m so excited she’s illustrating the book! I can’t wait for everyone to see it!

After the success of This Book Is Anti-Racist, what drew you to create a book for younger readers? What excited you about the idea and was rewarding as you worked on it?
I’ve been wanting to write a book for younger readers since I first started working on This Book Is Anti-Racist! I love working with young learners and honestly, it’s the group I feel most comfortable teaching, working and collaborating with.

One of the things I love most about this new book is that it’s a series of questions that kids have asked me, their caregivers, teachers, librarians, other adults in their lives and each other. Questions like: Why do people have different skin colors? Where did race come from? Is it OK to talk about differences? Why do some people have more power than others? And so, so, so many more! This book is like a conversation between me and the reader where we get to do some big work around understanding what racism is and how to actively work toward a just community and world! I’m so excited there will be a book like this for younger kids, because you are never too young to learn about racism and to start the lifelong work of antiracism!

One of the things you bring to both of these books is years of experience in the classroom, working with young people. Can you talk a little bit about that experience and how it shaped The Antiracist Kid?
The Antiracist Kid grew out of the work I’ve done with kids for over almost two decades. Young children are curious. They want to know who they are, who the people around them are, what is happening in their lives (and beyond) and why things happen the way they do. They are so creative and such amazing problem solvers. They’re great observers, but they don’t always have the vocabulary and language to fully understand what it is they are witnessing and experiencing. 

In my classroom, we spent our time learning about our own identities and those of our classmates and peers, and building community. We did this alongside learning how to read and write, building our mathematics skills, exploring science and diving into history, and it was so exciting and purposeful and necessary! My students always shared with me what they wanted to know and it is because of them—and ALL the young people with big questions—that I continue to do this work. All of my years of teaching and working with children and their families have led me to the work I am doing now, and I’m so grateful I get to do this. 

Can you talk a little bit about your hopes for this book? How do you hope a young reader who reads it feels when they turn that last page and finish reading it? What do you hope they do next?
I hope this book becomes a go-to book for all young readers and their caregivers! I hope they’ll see themselves in this book and know that they are not too young to talk about, learn about, understand and stand up against racism. I hope The Antiracist Kid becomes a well-loved book and is in every home and classroom and library around the country. I hope all readers will pick it up without fear. I hope this book will inspire everyone who reads it to share it, to work collectively and to work together to eradicate systemic racism and injustice!

The Antiracist Kid will be published in August 2023. That's a long time from now! Can you recommend some books for kids to read in the meantime?
Yes! There are so many amazing books! I’ll share some of our family favorites and the ones students I’ve been working with are enjoying right now too!

  • Eyes That Kiss in the Corners by Joanna Ho, illustrated by Dung Ho
  • Stamped (for Kids) by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi, adapted by Sonja Cherry-Paul, illustrated by Rachelle Baker
  • Jo Jo Makoons by Dawn Quigley, illustrated by Tara Audibert
  • You Matter by Christian Robinson
  • I Am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Gordon C. James
  • Where Are You From? by Yamile Saied Méndez, illustrated by Jamie Kim
  • What Will You Be? by Yamile Saied Méndez, illustrated by Kate Alizadeh
  • We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom, illustrated by Michaela Goade
  • Not My Idea by Anastasia Higginbotham
  • You Hold Me Up by Monique Gray Smith, illustrated by Danielle Daniel
  • Dreamers by Yuyi Morales
  • Black Boy Joy edited by Kwame Mbalia
  • The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Rafael López
  • My Two Border Towns by David Bowles, illustrated by Erika Meza
  • Change Sings by Amanda Gorman, illustrated by Loren Long

Photo of Tiffany Jewell © James Azar Salem.

Photo of Nicole Miles © Danielle Hamilton.

Educator Tiffany Jewell’s book for teen readers, This Book Is Anti-Racist, became a #1 New York Times and indie bestseller in 2020. In her next book, The Antiracist Kid, Jewell brings her expertise as an antiracism and anti-bias facilitator to middle grade readers eager to discover how they can learn about and take action against […]

Kate DiCamillo and Sophie Blackall are two of the most decorated children’s book creators working today, so their first collaboration qualifies as a major event. The Beatryce Prophecy is an illustrated fantasy tale about a girl, a goat and the power of the written word, and DiCamillo’s and Blackall’s many fans are going to adore it. BookPage spoke with the author and the illustrator about the surprises and joys of working together for the first time.


Kate, you’ve said that you wrote this story by “following the goat and the girl.” Can you introduce us to Beatryce and Answelica? Did this story begin with them?

Author photo of Kate DiCamilloKate DiCamillo: Beatryce is a girl who can read and write in a time and place when it is against the law for a girl to do either. And Answelica is the hardheaded, large-souled goat who becomes Beatryce’s friend and protector.

OK, that’s the introductions—now, on to the thornier question of where the story began. I’ve gone back through my notebooks, and all I can find is a few words right before I started to write: monk, moon, goat.

Two of those words became central to the book. Which is to say, I started with the goat, and she led me to the rest of the story—a story that was a complete surprise and wonder to me.

You began writing it in 2009, then you put it away for almost a decade, only to rediscover it while cleaning out a closet. Do you remember why you initially put it away? How do you think the years between impacted the book?

Author photo of Kate DiCamilloDiCamillo: I don’t know why I put it away. I can’t find any notes about that. My guess is that I wanted a story that was lighter, funnier (my mother had passed away at the beginning of the year), and I had this story about a squirrel and a vacuum cleaner and poetry that seemed funny to me.

When I did unearth the early draft of Beatryce, it had been so long that I was able to read it as something that I didn’t write—and that helped me see that there was something there, a story that needed to be told. Does that make sense?

“I feel like I became my true self when I learned how to read.”

Kate DiCamillo

As to how the years in between impacted it—I guess just that. There was this sense of urgency. As if the story had been waiting, as if Answelica and Beatryce had been waiting. They needed me to tell their story.

And all the closets (and drawers and file cabinets) have been cleaned now!

You’ve dedicated The Beatryce Prophecy to your mother. Beatryce’s mother, Aslyn, plays a critical role in the novel, instilling strength, courage and a love of books and stories in her daughter. Are there connections between your mother and Beatryce’s mother?

Author photo of Kate DiCamilloDiCamillo: It wasn’t until the book was done that I started to think about my mother’s impact on me as a writer, but most importantly as a reader. I struggled to learn to read. Phonics didn’t make sense to me. And I was so desperate to read. I remember crying to my mother in first grade about how I didn’t understand phonics. And she said something like, “Oh, for the love of Pete, don’t get so upset. You’re smart. We’ll just work around it.” And then she made me flash cards. A word on each flash card. And she had me memorize the words. And that worked for me.

Word by word, my mother gave me the world. She taught me to become myself.

This isn’t the first of your novels to function as an ode to reading, writing and storytelling. Why do you return to these themes?

Author photo of Kate DiCamilloDiCamillo: I feel like I became my true self when I learned how to read. I felt, then, as if anything was possible. I still feel that way about books and stories. They let us be ourselves, discover who we are and who we can become. I guess I keep returning to this thematically because I can’t get over the wonder and gift of books, stories, the written word.

I think readers love your willingness to ask big questions and to explore big ideas and emotions. “Who could understand the world?” and “How much could a heart hold?” are two of the questions posed by The Beatryce Prophecy. What does it feel like when you’re writing and a question like that comes out?

Author photo of Kate DiCamilloDiCamillo: What does it feel like? It feels like a cry from my 8-year-old heart. I remember doing an event in Boston and a boy raised his hand and said something like, “Why do you pose all these philosophical questions in books for kids?” And I said, “Because kids are the ones who are brave enough to ask those questions. When you’re an adult, you stop asking, you stop wondering.”

“When my editor sent a new piece of Sophie’s art, I couldn’t resist emailing her directly and saying, ‘This art, this art. What a gift in such a dark time. You are drawing my heart.'”

Kate DiCamillo

Did you always envision The Beatryce Prophecy as an illustrated novel? How did Sophie come to be involved with the book?

Author photo of Kate DiCamilloDiCamillo: I knew as I was working on it that it had to have (at least) illuminated letters. And when I was done writing, I asked my agent and Candlewick, my publisher, “Is there any way that Sophie Blackall could illustrate this?” And miracle of miracles, it happened. Sophie said yes.

Author photo of Sophie BlackallSophie Blackall: In Iate 2019, I received an email from Chris Paul, the creative director at Candlewick Press, with Kate’s manuscript for The Beatryce Prophecy attached, along with an outline of the publishing plan for the book. It mentioned a special slipcase edition. The words slipcase edition are hypnotic to an illustrator. But even without the slipcase, I would have said yes on the spot.

Sophie, you were probably one of the first people to read The Beatryce Prophecy ever, in the whole world. What did you think the first time you read it?

Author photo of Sophie BlackallBlackall: When the email with the manuscript arrived, I was about to step out the door, on my way to somewhere or other. I read the first page. I put down my bag, took off my coat, canceled the something or other and, with goosebumps on my arms, read The Beatryce Prophecy from beginning to end. I felt a rush of gratitude for these characters. I felt I already knew them like dear friends. The honor of being one of the earliest readers is not lost on me, but I have also been impatient to share this book with the world. Keeping it a secret was almost too much to bear.

Authors usually don’t communicate directly with illustrators. Sometimes they don’t even meet each other! But you emailed back and forth as Sophie worked on the illustrations during the pandemic. What was this correspondence like?

Author photo of Sophie BlackallBlackall: I can’t remember who emailed first. I know I was bursting to talk to Kate. I tried to be restrained, but my messages tumbled out, all essentially thanking her for this gift. The gift of a story that brought me solace and comfort and joy during an otherwise uncertain and worrying time. The gift of Beatryce and Answelica, Brother Edik and Jack Dory and Cannoc. The gift of beautiful things to draw: a mermaid and a wolf, seahorses and bees, meadows and moons.

“Kate DiCamillo writes up. Her sentences, which are full of beautifully arranged, interesting and even challenging words, are honest, fearless and clear.”

Sophie Blackall

Author photo of Kate DiCamilloDiCamillo: I had already written the text and Sophie was working on the illustrations during the pandemic, and technically (as you say) we shouldn’t have communicated directly, but we already knew each other. Every once in a while, when my editor sent a new piece of Sophie’s art, I couldn’t resist emailing her directly and saying, “This art, this art. What a gift in such a dark time. You are drawing my heart.”

And things like that.

You both realized, independently of each other, that you were thinking about Joan of Arc as you developed Beatryce’s character and appearance. What impact did this historical figure have on Beatryce?

Author photo of Kate DiCamilloDiCamillo: I was working on Beatryce’s story when I took a trip to Washington, D.C. I was in the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and I walked into a room with this huge Joan of Arc triptych (“The Adoration of Joan of Arc” by J. William Fosdick), and it just kind of . . . undid me. I took a picture of it and kept the art nearby. It just felt like the story to me, like Beatryce.

Author photo of Sophie BlackallBlackall: I think the image of Joan of Arc popped into my head at the moment when Brother Edik cuts Beatryce’s hair. Beatryce, like Joan of Arc, is a girl who defies expectations. Like Joan, she is determined, brave and resourceful. Like Joan, she carries hope in her heart and faith that “we shall all, in the end, be led to where we belong. We shall all, in the end, find our way home.”

Sophie, what other things did you research as you worked on these illustrations? How did that research find its way into your work?

Author photo of Sophie BlackallBlackall: I worked closely with the creative director, Chris Paul, who had a detailed vision for the way the book would look, inspired by wallpaper, textile and type patterns of the designer William Morris, who in turn was inspired by medieval paintings and illuminated manuscripts. This was another gift, because after reading the manuscript I found myself strolling through museums and poring over books on Morris and medieval manuscripts, making involuntary sounds of delight, and so we were very much on the same page.

Can you tell us about the nuts and bolts of illustrating the book?

Author photo of Sophie BlackallBlackall: Considering we were hundreds of miles apart and in the midst of a pandemic, Chris and I worked very closely on the art direction for this book. It is a beautiful object and we considered every fraction of every inch of every page. There are stories within stories, which gave us many creative opportunities. Ordinarily I work with Chinese ink and pencil and watercolor, but because we were all sheltering in place and I wasn’t sure about sending physical art, I decided to work digitally. The beauty of this was that once I had found what the characters looked like, I could direct them in a scene as though they were actors in a film. I would find myself talking to Jack Dory, for instance, asking him to lift his chin a little. Raise his arm. Look a little more pleased with himself. And I could move the images around and experiment with scale and perspective far more efficiently than if I was using pencil on paper.

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our starred review of The Beatryce Prophecy.

I have to ask about goats. Kate, there are a number of prominent animal characters across your body of work, from Ulysses the squirrel to Despereaux the mouse and Winn-Dixie the dog. Was Answelica always a goat? Did you know much about goats before beginning to work on the book? Did you spend time with goats as you worked on it?

Author photo of Kate DiCamilloDiCamillo: Ha! I wish that I could spend some time with goats. I didn’t. I haven’t. But this character of Answelica arrived so clearly, so emphatically, that it really was just a matter of following along behind her. I did spend quite a bit of time gazing at goat eyes in various books. They’re spectacular, those eyes, and I’ve always been fascinated by them.

Author photo of Sophie BlackallBlackall: I hold a special affection for Answelica. When I was 10, I had a goat. Her name was Josephine and her ears were like velvet. I had to give her away when we moved (we moved a lot), but the Josephine year was a good one. All children should have a goat year.

Kate, what do you love most about Sophie’s illustrations in the book? Do you have a favorite illustration in the book?

Author photo of Kate DiCamilloDiCamillo: There’s a two-page spread of Beatryce being spirited away and a story in the sky above her (like a constellation) that literally makes my heart skip a beat.

Every piece of art that Sophie did is so heartfelt, luminous. It’s a gift to me and to the reader.

Sophie, what do you love most about Kate’s storytelling in the book? Do you have a favorite passage you could share with us?

Author photo of Sophie BlackallBlackall: E.B. White once said, “Anyone who writes down to children is simply wasting [their] time. You have to write up, not down. Children are demanding. They are the most attentive, curious, eager, observant, sensitive, quick, and generally congenial readers on earth. They accept, almost without question, anything you present them with, as long as it is presented honestly, fearlessly, and clearly.”

Kate DiCamillo writes up. Her sentences, which are full of beautifully arranged, interesting and even challenging words, are honest, fearless and clear.

As for a favorite passage, I might choose a different one tomorrow, but right now I am going to give you one that arrives quite early on. Brother Edik has discovered Beatryce, sick and lost, guarded by a fearsome goat. He tells the goat, Answelica, his plan to care for the child, which gives us a sense of the transformative relationship between the three. The way he feels at the end of the passage is how I felt while reading this book.

Brother Edik bent and gathered her in his arms. Her skin was hot to the touch. She was burning with fever.

“She is very sick,” Brother Edik said to the goat who was staring up at him. “The first thing we must attempt to do is to bring the fever down. And we must wash her. We must remove the dirt and blood. She has come from some war, I suppose. Do you not think it so?”

Answelica nodded.

“Lord help me,” thought Brother Edik, “I am conferring with a goat.”

He walked out of the barn and into the light of day carrying the child. The frost had melted. The world no longer shone, but it was very bright.

Answelica was at his heels.

He turned and looked back at her. He saw that the goat’s eyes were gentle, full of concern.

Strange world! Impossible world!

Brother Edik felt his heart, light within him, almost as if it were filled with air.

At one point, Beatryce tells Brother Edik, “Stories have joy and surprises in them.” What surprises did you encounter as you worked on this book? What joys?

Author photo of Sophie BlackallBlackall: While making the drawings for the book, I was so immersed in illuminating the world of Beatryce’s story that there were times I would look up and not remember making the lines on the page. It was as if the images appeared fully formed. When I wrote to Kate about this phenomenon, she reported something similar as she was writing The Beatryce Prophecy. As though this story and its characters already existed. That’s magic right there.

Author photo of Kate DiCamilloDiCamillo: The surprise for me was discovering (when I was done) how much my mother’s spirit is in these pages.

The joy? The joy was in getting to do it—getting to tell the story—and then to watch Sophie tell the story again in art. Talk about joy.


Author photo of Kate DiCamillo courtesy of Catherine Smith Photography.

Kate DiCamillo and Sophie Blackall are two of the most decorated children’s book creators working today, so their first collaboration qualifies as a major event.

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