Author Interview: Elly Swartz

My Review: Smart Cookie
Frankie wants to have a family just like everyone else. She wants her family to be complete and her dad to be happy again. She wants a mother. She creates a secret dating profile for her dad online. But, all of that gets side track when there might be a ghost hanging around the bed and breakfast. This is a heartwarming story of what family really means with a twist of mystery and adventure. When you fall in love with Smart Cookie, go and check out Molly's story in Finding Perfect and pre-order Give and Take to read Maggie's story! You will love them all! :) 

Q: Tell us about your book, specifically the story behind the titles (Finding Perfect, Smart Cookie, Give and Take).
In GIVE AND TAKE (FSG/Macmillan 10/15/19), you meet twelve-year-old Maggie who knows her new baby sister who smells like powder isn’t her sister for keeps. Izzie is a foster baby awaiting adoption. So in a day or a week, she’ll go to her forever family and all that sweetness will be gone. Except for those things Maggie’s secretly saving in the cardboard boxes in her closet and under her bed. Baby socks, binkies, and a button from Bud the Bear. Rocks, sticks, and candy wrappers. Maggie holds on tight. To her things. Her pet turtle. Her memories of Nana. And her friends. But when Maggie has to say goodbye to Izzie, and her friend gets bumped from their all-girl trapshooting squad to make room for a boy, Maggie’s hoarding grows far beyond her control, and she learns that sometimes love means letting go.

Who’s got my back? How many people do I get in my life? Those are the questions that eleven-year-old Frankie asks in SMART COOKIE (Scholastic 2018). Frankie’s mom died many years ago, and she feels like a piece of her is missing. So, she secretly puts an ad online to find her dad a wife.

No spoilers, but what she finds instead, with the help of her ghost-hunting best friend Elliot and Jess, her friend-turned-not-turned-something-else, is her herd. The people in her life who love her and all of her idiosyncrasies unconditionally. Her teacher, her neighbors, the people at Mills Senior Center, even Mabel, her gram’s best friend who cheats at cards. We all have one. And this herd is often so much bigger and wider than those with whom you share a name or childhood.

To Molly Nathans, perfect is:
                     The number four
                     The tip of a newly sharpened number two pencil
                     A crisp, white pad of paper
                     Her neatly aligned glass animal figurines

What’s not perfect is Molly’s mother leaving the family to take a faraway job with the promise to return in one year. Molly knows promises are often broken and hatches a plan to bring her mother home: Win the Lakeville Middle School Slam Poetry Contest. The winner’s honored at a fancy banquet. Molly’s sure her mother would never miss that. Right…? 
But as time goes on, writing and reciting slam poetry become harder. Actually, everything becomes harder as new habits appear, and counting, cleaning, and organizing are not enough to keep Molly’s world from spinning out of control.
Ultimately, Molly learns there’s no such thing as perfect.

Q; What is your inspiration behind Give and Take storyline?
A: GIVE AND TAKE is about loving big because it is the most beautiful gift we have to give. Maggie learns that loving Izzie, the foster baby her family cares for, is not about being remembered. In a world filled with manicured moments memorialized in Snap stories, filtered selfies on Instagram and curated videos for TikToc, there are some experiences that are simply about digging deep and loving big. Fostering Izzie is one of those moments.

With Maggie’s big heart also comes a heap of anxiety. The same anxiety that has crept into the lives of so many of our kids. For Maggie, this anxiety takes the form of hoarding. She collects knickknacks and saves objects that most would toss and many would call garbage. She fears if she throws these items away, the memories tied to these keepsakes will disappear forever. Like they did for Nana. Who forgot her love of chocolate donuts, where she lived, and even her granddaughter, Maggie, when her dementia worsened.

Kids hoard. And kids have anxiety. The more we talk about it. The more we share their experiences on the page. The more we breakdown the stigmas and stereotypes associated with mental health. And the sooner all kids, can feel seen, heard, and respected.

I want my readers to know they’re strong. Empowered. And I want them to know they’re not alone.

Q: What are some challenges unique to writing realistic fiction?
A: When I write realistic fiction, it’s so important to me that the story stems from a place of true authenticity. And to do that well, I need to wrap myself around my character, embody her emotions, and connect to her heart. And when she’s in a dark place or her heart is shattered into a million tiny pieces, I need to embrace that, too. Like when Maggie’s nana forgot her. Or the day Maggie said a forever goodbye to Izzie, the foster baby she loved like a sister for keeps. Or the times she had to let go of the objects she cherished and hoarded. If I’m doing it right, those moments should feel hard. Because if I’m honoring Maggie’s true emotions, those moments are hard.
Q; What makes this book a perfect fit for middle-grade classrooms?
A: GIVE AND TAKE touches on topics of fostering and dementia and hoarding, as well, as universal themes of love and family, loss and anxiety. Maggie’s story is a way in. A way to talk about topics that can, at times, feel difficult or scary or emotional to discuss. Her story can give kids the language they need to identify what’s tugging on their hearts. The truth is, kids feel deeply. Hurt deeply. Experience deeply. Maggie’s journey honors that. And allows readers to connect through Maggie’s experiences. To see themselves in Maggie’s life or to better understand and empathize with others.

Middle grade is a time of change and self-discovery. A time to honor our readers. All of our readers. And all of their experiences. Maggie’s story can be a catalyst for conversation, connection, and change.
Q: What does your daily writing life look like? (Do you set a word count for yourself daily? Or a page goal? Where do you write? How often if not daily?)
A: I try to write every day. I write wherever and whenever I can. To me, writing is a gift. A huge gift I give myself. So, I take my laptop with me everywhere. When my sons were younger, I’d write in the parking lot of their schools, on the side lines of their games, in doctors’ offices waiting rooms. When I’m at conferences or away for school visits, I write in the hotel room in the morning. And when I’m home, I write with my beagle Lucy.

I don’t write by word count. I write until the words stop flowing and feeling authentic. My best writing days are when I feel wholly connected to my character and the line between my emotions and thoughts is blurred with my character’s emotions and thoughts. When my heart and her heart are one.

Meet Lucy – My writing partner!
Q: What’s the best thing about being a writer?
A: Everything! I love writing. I love being in the schools. I love connecting with readers and educators and librarians.

But, maybe most of all, I love hearing from young readers who so bravely share their heart with me. What an honor to be trusted with those emotions. To be told the words I put on the page have changed their life, made them feel seen, heard and respected. Made them feel like they belonged. Like they were not alone. That is a true privilege. One I am most grateful for. Every day.
Q: Future projects you are working on?
A: I have a few projects in the works. And I’m super excited about both. One is a new middle grade. And while it’s a work-in-progress, what I can share is that there will be a guinea pig named Cheetos, a girl named Autumn, and a lot of heart.

The other project is a nonfiction book about bravery. How bravery is found in the small moments of our lives. How kids are brave every day. When they walk into school, raise their hand, speak in class, step into the cafeteria. I’m collaborating with schools around the globe on this project. Truly, it’s all about the kids. I want them to see what I see – the superhero within all of them.
Q: What else would you like us to know?
A: I love connecting with readers. And love school visits. Community reads, large assemblies, smaller writing workshops, I love it all. Want more information about what I offer, head over to my site at

And I love hearing from you. So let’s stay in touch! You can find me at, on Twitter @ellyswartz, on Instagram @ellyswartzbooks or on my webseries #BooksintheKitchen with Victoria J. Coe.
I also wanted to share that in GIVE AND TAKE, Maggie’s dad has a podcast called, Go On, Change the World! I’m partnering with Bonnie Thomas of Indigo North Counseling, a licensed, clinical, social worker, to create a journaling activity for readers and educators. The activity will prepare educators to talk about the book, anxiety, making change despite anxiety, and journaling, as well as, provide what’s needed to transform any notebook into a “Go On, Change the World!” journal. Like Maggie, I want readers to see they are strong, brave, and not alone. I want them to love big. And then, to Go On, Change the World!

So, if you want a sneak peek of Give and Take, check out this clip of me reading chapter 1: I can’t wait for you to meet Maggie, Baby Izzie, and Bert the Turtle.  And, happy news – you can pre-order it today.

Before I say goodbye, I want to thank all the teachers and librarians for making a huge difference in the lives of young readers every day. You are my heroes.

With so much admiration, respect, and gratitude,

Happy Reading! 

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