7 Questions with Anna Rose Johnson

Anna Rose Johnson’s debut novel The Star That Always Stays is an NPR Best Book of 2022, 2023 Michigan Notable Book Award, Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection, Parnassus Books Spark Book Club Selection, and a Cybils Award Middle Grade Fiction Nominee. You can visit her on her website, Twitter, and Instagram.

1. If you could travel back in time, (assuming there’d be no risk to yourself or changing the course of history) where and when and why would you go?

I would travel back to 1910s Michigan to get a little glimpse of my great-grandmother Norvia’s life and her family at the time I wrote about in The Star That Always Stays!

2. The Star That Always Stays is set during 1914. What fascinates you most about this time period?

I have always loved the Edwardian era and was drawn to it as a child, mainly because I loved all the gorgeous costumes in period films. When I began to write The Star That Always Stays, I grew especially interested in the 1910s as a time that felt both old and new.

3. What elements of this time period are still with us today?

This era is fun because despite the obvious major differences in lifestyles, fashion, careers, and major events, so many of the things that the kids do in my book are still normal activities: going to the movies, looking forward to holidays, eating cereal for breakfast, keeping up with the news of the world, and reading L.M. Montgomery novels (🙂)!

4. Is there an historical tidbit that didn’t make it in the book, but is super interesting?

I really would have liked to include more about Norvia’s extended family and the stories of her ancestors—which are so fascinating—but there just wasn’t enough space in the story to explore them further. I did the best I could to include interesting research where I could!

5. Your book is partially based on the experiences of your great-grandmother. What was it like to write historical fiction based on family history?

It was such a remarkable experience. There is something incredibly special about your beloved characters also being your ancestors! It was always a delight to try and incorporate real-life details into the story, but it was also challenging because I had to alter other things to make the plot work. The result is a blending of fact and fiction that I’m proud of.

6. What’s your favorite historical fiction (any age!)

Two historical novels I love are Whose Waves These Are by Amanda Dykes (a dual timeline adult novel), and Rosetown by Cynthia Rylant (a middle grade set in the 1970s). I’m also a huge fan of the Betsy-Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace, which were written mainly in the 1940s but were set at the turn of the century.

7. What are you working on right now?

I’m actually working on several projects in various stages, but I can’t reveal anything more than that at the moment!


7 Questions with Annemarie O’Brien

Annemarie O’Brien is the author of Lara’s Gift. She has an MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She teaches creative writing courses at UC Berkeley, Stanford, and Pixar and is the founder of the blog, Best Dog Books. You can visit her on her website, Twitter, and Facebook.

1. If you could travel back in time, (assuming there’d be no risk to yourself or changing the course of history) where and when and why would you go?

What a great question! There are so many places I’d love to see and experience. If I had to pick one, I’d travel to Greece in the early 1900s to learn more about my great grandfather and his family. They were famous shipbuilders from Galaxidi just down the mountain from Delphi. My great grandfather left Greece when he was a teenager. He had been captain of one of his family’s merchant ships and decided to stay in Philadelphia where he got married and raised a family. He always wanted to go back to Greece. He missed his mother. He never managed to go back. It was his biggest regret. My great grandfather was a humble, elegant man who knew how to treat all people, despite the prejudice he endured upon immigration for not looking more British. I’ve always wondered what his family was like to raise someone who was so remarkably kind and good.

2. Lara’s Gift is set during the Imperial Era in Russia in the early 1900s. What fascinates you most about this time period?

The history and the changes that took place because of the 1917 Revolution.

3. What elements of this time period are still with us today?

The Russian soul and its people.

Unfortunately, Soviet politics tried to erase history prior to 1917. This period of history where Tsars reigned wasn’t taught in elementary schools, as if it never existed. When Gorbachev opened things up in the mid-to-late 1980s with policies like glasnost, the Soviet people gained access to information that had been hidden and denied to them. Many Soviets had to relearn their own family history from the Stalin era. I fear that many of the freedoms that Gorbachev gave to the people have been taken away by the current political leadership.

4. What kind of insights do you think young people from this time period have?

Life on a Russian country estate in the early 1900s was limited. News took time to reach from one end of the country to the other. Entire worlds existed just within the large boundaries of the estate, especially for those who worked on the estate. They likely did not leave, and if they did, it was not far. Kids from this era had to be strong physically to survive past birth and worked hard to support their families.

5. Is there an historical tidbit that didn’t make it in the book, but is super interesting?

In my research for Lara’s Gift, I needed to understand what life on a Russian country estate in the late 1800s/early 1900s was like. I found a study written in Russia by an anthropologist about midwifery and the tactics they used to speed up the birthing process. Some of the things women had to endure were painful and based on superstitions. Here’s an example. Women were tied to beams of wood and hung like slaughtered pigs in hopes the baby would just drop out of the woman.

6. What’s your favorite historical fiction (any age!)

This is a tough question. I tend to like reading books set in Russia or Europe. If I had to pick one book, it would be Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. I love the premise and how we are planted in the story as if we, the readers, had just as much at stake as the main characters.

7. What are you working on right now?

I am working on a companion novel to Lara’s Gift. My nearly completed manuscript is set during the Gorbachev years, specifically 1989, and is based on some of my experiences living and working in Russia when he was Soviet Premier. Lara is much older in this new story. Her grand niece, Zoya, is the protagonist and on a mission to reunite Lara with her brother who also happens to be Zoya’s grandfather.

7 Questions with Alan Gratz

Alan Gratz is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of seventeen novels for young readers, including Two Degrees, Ground Zero, Refugee, Allies, Prisoner B-3087, Projekt 1065, and Ban This Book. You can visit him on his website, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

1. If you could travel back in time, (assuming there’d be no risk to yourself or changing the course of history) where and when and why would you go?

I’ve thought about this question a lot! I think I would most like to visit the United States in the 1920s, after World War I and before the Great Depression and World War II. There’s so much about the culture and innovation of this era that intrigues me, from sports (particularly baseball), to the early days of film, to inventions and progress in transportation (cars and street cars and airplanes). I’d mostly like to visit cities, particularly New York City, but I’m also fascinated by what smaller towns like my own city of Asheville, North Carolina were like back then. I’m also really interested in 1930s, both in America and all around the world. But I think I would most like to start with the Roaring 20s!

2. You’ve written many historical fiction books for young people. Is there a particular time period you’ve written about that really captured your imagination?

In The Brooklyn Nine, I wrote about nine different kids in nine different time periods, beginning in the 1840s and working my way up to what was then the present–2009. Of all those time periods, one that really intrigues me is the 1890s. That pre-turn-of-the-century is wild, with early automobiles and vaudeville and the beginnings of what we think of as American pop culture. I wrote a story about King Kelly, a baseball player who was sold from one team to another for a whopping $10,000 (a fortune in 1894, and a record at the time!) King Kelly was, as far as we know, the first athlete to sign his autograph for fans, the first one to license his image for advertisements and entertainment, and the first to retire from baseball to become a performer–here not TV or movies, but the vaudeville stage! It’s an era where so much of what we think of as set rules in baseball were being tested and codified too. King Kelly popularized the hit and run and the hook slide, was one of the first catchers to wear a glove and chest protector, and pulled stunts like substituting himself in for the catcher off the bench DURING PLAY because he was closer to catching a foul ball than the active catcher. He was a real showman! But King Kelly was a tragic figure too–he spent money as quickly as he earned it, drank a lot, and ultimately died from pneumonia at the age of 36. I’m totally fascinated by the early days of baseball in America, and early popular figures like King Kelly. I wrote a story about him in The Brooklyn Nine, but I’d like to write a whole book or TV show about him!

King Kelly

3. What do you think young people King Kelly’s time could teach us/show us today?

Oh boy. From that time period? Resilience. Perseverance. Struggle. This was a time when child labor laws didn’t exist, and you had many kids working in horrible conditions in factories and mines and fields from very young ages. It was a tough time for workers of all ages, as the industrial revolution was in full swing and laborers worked strenuous jobs for long hours and little pay. Things would get better soon with the rise of unions and voting rights and child labor laws, but the 1890s were a tough time to be a kid if your family didn’t have money.

4. Which comes first for you…character, story, or research?

Story first. I have an idea of the story I want to tell when I go into a project. Then I look for research to support that story. If the research doesn’t fit, I have to change the story, obviously. But I try to come up with an exciting idea right off the bat, and then find research that will support that as much as possible. If I can’t see an exciting story angle to begin with, I won’t write about it! Character comes last for me, alas. Partially because that’s one of the things that doesn’t come naturally, and is the hardest for me. I have to do a lot of work on the back end to make sure my characters aren’t just ciphers who run around making the story happen, but are instead people that you believe are living, breathing people who have lives off the page as well as on.

5. You recently wrote a book about 9/11. What’s it like writing historical fiction…for history you remember?

Yes, discovering that something you lived through now counts as “historical fiction” is both humorous and crushing. 🙂 But it’s a fact. I remember reading about the Civil Rights Era when I was a kid, which to me was historical fiction, but to my parents and all the other adults in the United States was living memory. And today’s kids are living through COVID, and will be telling their own kids about “the old days” in just twenty or thirty years’ time. The challenge when you’re writing about something you remember is to make sure you treat it the same way you would something that happened before you were born. That is, remembering that your readers won’t have touchstones for the events of your book the way you do, and that everything has to be explained the same way you would explain a battle in World War II or baseball at the turn of the century. Just to use one example: in 2001, I didn’t own a cell phone. Many people didn’t. They existed: they were those old Nokia brick phones, with a small digital screen and physical buttons and a small antenna at the top. So archaic now! But while I have particular memories of those early phones–I got my first cell phone in 2002, when my wife was pregnant and we wanted to make sure we were always in touch–I have to explain early cell phones to kids in my fiction the same way I’d have to explain rotary phones, or telegraph lines. You just have to question everything when writing about “history” from your own life, the same way you would for a time before you were born. Because any year you write about before a kid is born might as well be 2000 BCE to them!

6. What’s your favorite historical fiction (any age!)

My book crush is the Aubrey/Maturin novels by Patrick O’Brian. These are tales of British Naval Captain Jack Aubrey and his particular friend and ship’s surgeon, Stephen Maturin, set during the Napoleonic War. If I could only read one book series for the rest of my life, this would be it. O’Brian wrote twenty complete novels in the series before he died, and over the last fifteen or so years I’ve read them all, stretching them out as much as I can to savor them. I read the last of them this year, and now I will return to the beginning and reread my way through again–and I am usually NOT a rereader! But in this case I will definitely make an exception. 🙂 Another series that isn’t so much “historical” as “written from the 30s through the 60s and always set in the era in which it was written” is Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe mysteries. If those count as “historical fiction,” I love those almost as much! But O’Brian was writing about the 1800s in the 1960s to the 1990s, so his are officially historical fiction–and my all-time favorites.

7. What are you working on right now?

I have a graphic novel coming out in January 2023 with illustrator Brent Schoonover called Captain America: The Ghost Army, which is about Cap and his sidekick Bucky Barnes fighting Nazis in World War II! I’m pretty excited about that. Meanwhile I’m researching and outlining a novel about the attack on Pearl Harbor, which I hope will become my next prose novel, due out in spring of 2024!

7 Questions with Giano Cromley

1. If you could travel back in time, (assuming there’d be no risk to yourself or changing the course of history) where and when and why would you go?

If I could choose any time to visit (risk-free), it would probably be the Jurassic period — sometime when dinosaurs roamed the earth. This is a fantasy I’ve harbored my entire life, going back to my childhood fascination with dinosaurs, so nine-year-old me is right now saying thanks for remembering me.

2. Your book is set in during the fall of 1990. What fascinates you most about this time period?

This time period fascinates me because I believe it’s a secretly pivotal moment in history that few people recognize. The United States stood on the brink of war in the Persian Gulf. A few months later, the country plunged into a conflict that heralded a deeper entanglement in that region. The consequences of U.S. involvement in the Gulf has echoed from that point to this very day.

3. What elements of this time period do we still see today?

So much has changed since 1990. Technology has wildly altered the ways we communicate and interact. So much of life now is plotted out and calculated. Our lives are measured and circumscribed. All of which makes those few moments of serendipity even more important. Whenever we can throw off the constraints of technology, meet face-to-face, randomly encounter friends and strangers, I think those are our best, most alive moments. And while they’re much more rare now than they were in 1990, they thankfully still do occur.

4. What kind of insights do you think young people from this time period have?

Kids from that time period had no idea what the internet was, and cell phones were only something rich people had. There was a certain level of self-reliance we had to adopt. We had to be creative with how we entertained ourselves. And we also had a high level of autonomy. This comes through in my novel because with none of those things, the main character, Kirby Russo, is more easily able to disappear from military school without anyone knowing where he is. Plus, life without GPS has given him the wherewithal to navigate his way from Bismarck, North Dakota, to Chicago, Illinois, in search of his long-lost girlfriend.

5. Is there an historical tidbit that didn’t make it in the book, but is super interesting?

There is a historical tidbit that did make it into the book, though I doubt most readers will catch it. At a certain point, Kirby finds himself in Chicago and encounters two people in a band whose names are Billy and D’arcy. Though it’s never stated in the book, they are two of the founding members of the band Smashing Pumpkins, who were on the brink of breaking out onto the worldwide stage just a few short years later.

6. What’s your favorite historical fiction (any age!)

Jay Parini’s book, The Last Station, is about the final year of Leo Tolstoy’s life. Even though I’ve never been a huge Tolstoy fan, I found myself absorbed by this story, and it stuck with me long after I finished reading the book.

7. What are you working on right now?

I’m putting the finishing touches on a book that’s not historical fiction and isn’t Young Adult. It’s about two men who have devoted their lives to looking for Bigfoot in the Elkhorn Mountains of Montana. It’s also about myths, magic, love, and the healing power of friendship.

Visit Giano’s website, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook.


7 Questions with Vanessa Torres

1. If you could travel back in time, (assuming there’d be no risk to yourself or changing the course of history) where and when and why would you go?

I love this question! And yet, it’s so hard to choose. Off the top of my head, I’m going to say the 1950s. I love the fashions of the time. I am a sucker for dresses with the cinched waists and circle skirts. The dance world was riding on the coattails of the 40s swing movement, melding with the dawn of rock and roll. Because I am so into music and dance, I imagine I would’ve lived on the dancefloor in the 50s.

2. Your book is set in 1983 Minneapolis. What fascinates you most about this time period?

I lived through the 80s, so it was super nostalgic to write The Turning Pointe. Almost every character is inspired by someone I once knew. All the businesses in the book were real places at one time, places I used to hang out in. I am drawn to the time period because growing up in Minneapolis, the music scene in the 80s was changing and heavily influenced by Prince and his Minneapolis sound. I feel very lucky to have witnessed it first-hand.

3. What elements of this time period do we still see today?

I feel like 80s fashion came back several years ago and never left. Those high-waisted jeans, people! I should’ve kept all my clothes, I swear. Let’s hope the ratted bangs stay in the past though.

4. What kind of insights do you think young people from this time period have?

The digital movement was just starting to happen. I remember feeling like the world was on the brink of getting a whole lot bigger. And it did. That aside, with the lack of cell phones and such, we had to forge friendships and intimate relationships face-to-face. People were more conscious of how much words could hurt with the inability to hide behind a profile photo.

5. Is there an historical tidbit that didn’t make it in the book, but is super interesting?

Hmmm…The Turning Pointe tackles a lot of issues of the time, but I wish I could’ve included more movies of the 80s. The kind we had to go to the video store to rent along with the VCR on which to play them. ☺  And though some did not age well and are a bit cringy, there are so many great 80s movies that are still fun to watch today.

6. What’s your favorite historical fiction (any age!)

I don’t really have a favorite. I love reading about other decades. My historical TBR is huge.

7. What are you working on right now?

I am working on my second book, to be released in 2023. It is another YA novel but will be contemporary. I can’t say too much about it yet, however, I will share that it draws inspiration from my other job as a firefighter/paramedic.

Visit Vanessa’s website, Twitter, Instagram, Goodreads.


7 Questions with Betty Yee

1. If you could travel back in time, (assuming there’d be no risk to yourself or changing the course of history) where and when and why would you go?

I would love to travel back to the late 19th century, early 1900’s. There was such tremendous energy all over the world. Times were changing, the world was becoming a smaller place, and new ideas were emerging. In so many fields (math, science, arts, social sciences), great paradigm shifts were starting to take hold.

2. Your book is set in China and America during the construction of the transcontinental railroad. What fascinates you most about this time period?

Gold Mountain is set in 1867, when thousands of Chinese workers came to America to help build the American transcontinental railroad. The main protagonist, Tam Ling Fan is a fifteen year old girl who disguises herself as a boy in order to earn enough money to save her father. She goes to work for the Central Pacific Railroad Company which is tasked with building the western portion of the line through the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

As I conducted my research, I was amazed at the enormous hardships the Chinese workers endured. Everything I learned: from the backbreaking labor of digging through a granite mountain range, to the brutal winter months, to enduring the indignity of bigotry, and exploitation, all added up to an incredible story that needed to be shared with the world.

3. What elements of this time period do we still see today?

The desire to find a better life in America is still a dream held forth by many people all over the world. Unfortunately, some Americans still have strong negative feelings about immigrants entering the United States in search of a better life. There is still a tendency to fall back on negative stereotypes and fear that “others” are coming to steal American jobs. At the same time, because many immigrants are desperate, they put up with work conditions that are unsafe, or accept low wages/benefits.

4. What kind of insights do you think kids from this time period have?

I think that many young men and boys felt that this was a time of tremendous opportunity for people who were willing to take risks. In America, the west was opening up, and people could literally make their fortunes just by working hard. While opportunities were not the same for women, I do believe that women and girls began to see the inequities and began asking themselves why/why not, and what they could do to change things.

5. Is there an historical tidbit that didn’t make it in the book, but is super interesting?

One of the most difficult aspects of writing historical fiction is finding the balance of fitting in fascinating historical facts with the needs of the novel. I regretfully had to cut out some of the remarkable technical details surrounding the building of the railroad, including some creative engineering feats used on Tunnel 6. In addition, the Chinese workers attempted a historic but unsuccessful strike for better wages in the summer of 1867. My hope has always been to open the door to this fascinating period and that readers continue the journey themselves.

In light of that, I encourage interested readers to learn more about the Chinese railroad workers at Stanford University’s Chinese Railroad Workers in North America Project.

6. What’s your favorite historical fiction (any age!)

My all time favorite historical fiction is Kimberly Brubaker Bradley’s The War That Saved My Life and its sequel, The War I Finally Won. I also adore Pam Nunoz Ryan’s Esperanza Rising and Echo. These novels were an inspiration to me while I wrote Gold Mountain.

7. What are you working on right now?

I’m drafting a MG fantasy novel based on some Chinese folk tales. I’m also starting to research a MG historical novel that is still under wraps 😉

Visit Betty’s website, Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads


7 Questions with Susan Azim Boyer

Susan is the author of Jasmine Zumideh Needs a Win out November 2022.

1. If you could travel back in time, (assuming there’d be no risk to yourself or changing the course of history) where and when and why would you go?

If I could travel back in time, I’d visit Tehran, Iran in the early 1920s, when my grandmother, Navob was a princess in the Qajar Dynasty, which ruled the Persian Empire from 1742 – to 1925. To be clear, she was not Princess Kate with a tiara or anything. Her father, Ahmad Shah Qajar, had many wives and children, but she did reside on the grounds of the Golestan Palace with him.

2. Your book is set during the fall of 1979. What fascinates you most about this time period?

My book is set in the year the Iran Hostage Crisis exploded across the nightly news and made Iran — which had once signed a Treaty of Friendship with the United States in the late 1860s — and Iranians into pariahs. After the country’s revolution, during which the last king (or “shah”) was overthrown by a religious leader (called the “ayatollah”), dissident students seized the United States embassy in Tehran and took all the American employees hostage. Their rationale: the U.S. had accepted the despised Reza Shah Pahlavi for cancer treatment. Following a failed rescue attempt in 1979, all the hostages were finally released in 1981.

In fact, the 2012 movie Argo was about the rescue of several hostages holed up in the Canadian embassy! The movie was based on an article in Wired magazine entitled, “The Great Escape: How the CIA Used a Fake Sci-Fi Flick to Rescue Americans from Tehran.”

I chose this time period so that my lead character, Jasmine Zumideh, would have to reckon with her heritage in a way she never has before when her opponent for senior class president stirs up anti-Iranian hysteria at school following the crisis.

3. What elements of this time period do we still see today?

Anti-Middle Eastern and Iranian sentiments are still with us, as well as the 24-hour news cycle, which was ushered in by Nightline, a nightly newscast that delivered daily, breathless updates on the hostage crisis; it stayed on the air for twenty years.

Plus, bell-bottom jeans, hoop earrings, and platform shoes.

4. What kind of insights do you think teens from this time period have?

Teens of the late 70s/early 80s did not have the helicopter parents of today. They had to figure most things out for themselves, which did foster a certain amount of independence and self-discovery. There was no social media, so they didn’t see highly curated online personas to which they might have felt they could never measure up. And because they weren’t online, they had to connect more IRL — or spend hours talking on the phone…like, a landline with a cord and everything!

5. Is there an historical tidbit that didn’t make it in the book, but is super interesting?

There were a string of kooky, 1970 fad diets I omitted because they might send the wrong message to young readers, but they were hilariously ridiculous: The Stewardess Diet, which consists of a hard-boiled egg and a piece of Melba toast, plus all the coffee, tea or Sanka you can stomach; or the Grapefruit Diet in which a half a grapefruit is eaten with every meal to burn away unwanted fat (it doesn’t).

6. What’s your favorite historical fiction (any age!)

I loved The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed, about a black student at an elite, white high school during the 1993 Los Angeles uprising; The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton, about a young women’s attempt to survive a loveless arranged marriage in the late 17th century Netherland’s; I, Claudius by Robert Graves is a classic, and I didn’t read it but adored the Wolf Hall limited series. And a very funny Netflix series with a lightly satirical tone and political backdrop similar to Jasmine Zumideh (but set in Ireland during the Irish “troubles”) is Derry Girls.

7. What are you working on right now?

Sadly, I’m not working on another book of historical fiction but a YA contemporary about a brother and sister who have never met, joining together to find the father they never knew — coming Fall 2023 from Wednesday Books.

Visit Susan’s website, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok

7 Questions with Alda P. Dobbs

Visit Alda’s website, Instagram

1. If you could travel back in time, (assuming there’d be no risk to yourself or changing the course of history) where and when and why would you go?

I would love to go to Mexico City or New York City during the late 1930’s/early 1940’s because of the great big band music and swing dancing. I also would like to spend time in Cuba during the early 1950’s, again, because of the music and dance. If you can’t tell, I love to dance!

2. Your book is set during the Mexican Revolution. What fascinates you most about this time period?

There are many reasons why the Mexican Revolution fascinates me. For one, many family stories, nursery rhymes, music, and dances I grew up with came from the Mexican Revolution. I also admire the fortitude and resiliency of the women and children during this time. I appreciate the universality of this drive to survive and how it transcends eras and cultural lines.

3. What elements of this time period do we still see today?

Unfortunately, many elements of that period are still with us today. People are still escaping violence in their homelands and searching for refuge in a foreign land. The economic disparities from back then are becoming more prevalent not only around the world but also here in the United States. Refugee camps, like the ones my great-grandmother lived in, are part of our daily news. But people always come together to help others. We see this in our borders and in countries like Poland, just as we’ve seen it throughout history.

4. What kind of insights do you think kids from this time period have?

Children from that era were resilient. Many of them were orphaned and had younger siblings to care for. They displayed immense fortitude and an unquenchable drive to survive the war and overcome the oppression surrounding them.

5. Is there an historical tidbit that didn’t make it in the book, but is super interesting?

I grew up listening to many stories of Pancho Villa. To my family, he was a hero. I was fascinated to learn how despite his strict military discipline and short temper, he had a soft spot for children, especially poor ones. If he ever came across a group of poor children he’d say, “We should build a school here.” During his time governing the state of Chihuahua, he opened 200 new schools. He also tripled the wages of all educators, stating that teaching was the most “noble” of all jobs. He believed an educated society was essential for the success of a country.

6. What’s your favorite historical fiction (any age!)

I have many favorites but one of them is Crispin by Avi. Despite the story taking place in medieval England, I was intrigued to learn how the agonizing and miserable conditions that the common folk endured during that time were very similar to what my own family lived through in Mexico hundreds of years later.

7. What are you working on right now?

I’m preparing for the launch of my second book The Other Side of the River. This book follows Petra Luna’s story in the United States as a refugee after having escaped the Mexican Revolution. I have also started a new middle grade novel that may or may not be historical…I’m still deciding, so stay tuned.

Amber and Clay


Title: Amber and Clay

Author: Laura Amy Schlitz

Setting: Ancient Greece

Recommended Age: Middle Grade

 What it’s about…

Amber and Clay is a part-verse, part-prose novel about two young people’s whose destinies are linked by fate and a mother’s love.  Rhaskos is a Thracian slave boy who longs to draw horses. Melisto is an Athenian citizen’s daughter who wishes to run wild and free as a bear. Divided by distance and separated by the bounds of privilege, Rhaskos and Melisto know nothing of the other’s greatest dreams and deepest secrets.  But the two children’s lives become intertwined when Rhaskos’s mother is sold to Melisto’s father, and their destinies are sealed when tragedy strikes. Told from multiple perspectives (including gods), Amber and Clay is an epic story of bonds broken and oaths kept.

My hot take…

This book reads like it sprung from the brain a citizen of ancient Athens.  Characters speak and opine with the sensibilities of another civilization which deepens the already impressive verisimilitude of Schlitz’s world. Schlitz seems to trust her audience implicitly and offers a wonderful author’s note on the time period and her choices for that extra curious reader. Multiple viewpoints provide insight and humor, whether we’re watching Rhaskos mourn the loss of his mother, or listening to Hermes make fun of everything humans hold so dear. Perhaps the most unexpected viewpoint is that of the nameless academics whose pontifications on the meaning of ancient artifacts frame the story. With each shard of pottery they pour over we’re reminded that the objects that stand the test of time only tell one iota of the story of the people who once held them.

You might like this book if you enjoy: Ghost stories, antiquities, and thunder storms.

7 Questions with Anita Jari Kharbanda

Visit Anita’s Website, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok

1. If you could travel back in time, (assuming there’d be no risk to yourself or changing the course of history) where and when and why would you go?

I’d definitely travel to Punjab in the 1700s and meet the main character of my book, Mai Bhago. I wish I could say I’d fight beside her, but she is the battle warrior, and truly my pen is my sword. I’d love to learn about her battle strategies, and what motivates her. This discussion would have to take place after I faint when first meeting her! 😂

2. Your book is set in the late 1600s and early 1700s in Punjab, India. What fascinates you most about this time period?

I’m fascinated by this time period because it marks the birth of Sikhism. This is my religion and Mai Bhago’s religion. During this time period India was not actually a country. It was a subcontinent with border skirmishes and invading groups. At the same time, however, it was full of vivid cultural traditions and celebrations. This was the time period before, and leading up to colonization. It is important to understand everything that led up to colonization, so we can connect with South Asia’s evolution. History is key to helping us understand why certain events happened. History also teaches us to learn from the past, and make better decisions in the future.

3. What elements of this time period do we still see today?

We still see some of the same foods, the language and clothing. The language is Punjabi, and a staple meal includes roti, a wheat flat bread.

4.     What do you think young people from this time and place could teach us today?

I think they could teach us the importance of bravery and fighting for what you believe in.

5. Is there an historical tidbit that didn’t make it in the book, but is super interesting?

I did not include historical details about Banda Singh, a brave soldier of the Sikhs. He avenged the tenth Guru’s murder and laid the foundation for a Sikh kingdom. The tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh Ji, was the final living guru of Sikhism. Sikhism is the fifth largest religion in the world, and our tenth guru named our Holy Book the final Guru, within which lay the teachings and beliefs of those before him. Banda Singh was an ascetic who lived in hermitude, and who the Guru met when living near the Godavari River. The Guru saw a special fire in Banda Singh, and charged him with avenging the men who persecuted the Guru’s Sikhs and sons. The Guru was then fatally injured, and Banda Singh went on to kill the man responsible, as well as build a Sikh Empire.

6. What’s your favorite historical fiction (any age!)

I have too many to count! I love reading books about partition era India, and the Nazi era. I’ve also enjoyed stories about the Texas Dust Bowl or the Transcontinental Railroad or the California Gold Rush. Give me good writing and an interesting piece of history and I’m hooked!

7. What are you working on right now?

I can’t tell you that. It’s a secret. 🙂