Author Interview: Ben Guterson

Books by Ben Guterson

Pictures from inside the book:

Q: Tell us about your book, specifically the story behind the titles?
Winterhouse (and its sequels The Secrets of Winterhouse and The Winterhouse Mysteries) is a book about an eleven-year-old girl named Elizabeth Somers who lives with a cruel aunt and uncle in a little house in a small town. When mid-December arrives and her school goes on break, Elizabeth--much to her surprise--is sent to the mysterious Winterhouse Hotel far from her home for a three-week stay. At Winterhouse, Elizabeth makes a good new friend named Freddy Knox, discovers a strange and magical book in the enormous Winterhouse library, and comes to realize that the hotel may be endangered by a shadowy sorceress who has a connection to the family that's run the hotel for over a century. The title of the book came to me when I first thought of the idea for the story--I imagined an enormous hotel set amidst snowy mountains, and the name "Winterhouse" just popped into my head.
Q; What is your inspiration behind Winterhouse’s storyline?
A:I first seriously considered writing a children's book when my youngest daughter encouraged me to do so one spring day when she was eight or nine. I remember it clearly.  My daughter suggested we walk to the small lake near our house and bring notebooks with us—she thought it would be fun for both of us to draw pictures and write stories beside the water. Once we settled in, I sketched an enormous hotel in the mountains and called it Winterhouse—I don’t know why I chose that name, but I thought it sounded nice. I pictured a grand hotel set beside an ice-covered lake in some snowy, northern location. On the back of my drawing I started to write a story about a girl who lived with a cruel aunt and uncle but had somehow ended up visiting the fabulous Winterhouse Hotel for Christmas vacation. I read my three or four paragraphs to my daughter as we sat together, and she urged me to write a whole book about Winterhouse. We returned home and I put my drawing in my desk—never quite forgetting about it, particularly because, over the years, my daughter kept prodding me to continue the story. By the time she was in high school I decided to take her advice; and after a few more years and several drafts, the book ended up being published!
Q; What are some challenges unique to writing mysteries?
A:It's difficult to create a satisfying mystery, because the clues have to be hard enough or tricky enough that they can't be solved quickly, but they can't be so difficult that the solution relies on knowledge or abilities few people would actually possess. Also, I don't think it's very interesting when a mystery is solved just on a hunch or some chance event or discovery--that feels sort of like cheating, to me. Finally, the mystery at the heart of a good mystery story has to be something that people really care about or find compelling: figuring out an ancient code is interesting to most people, I think, whereas locating a missing hat most likely won't hold a reader's attention.
Q; What makes this book a perfect fit for middle grade classrooms?
A:I think Winterhouse has a nice mix of friendship and mystery, as well as a lot of puzzle solving and some magic. Those are the sorts of elements I like in stories, so maybe middle-grade readers will like all of that, too. Plus, the story takes place in an enormous hotel in the mountains, which is a setting that allows for a lot of discoveries to be made and adventures to be pursued.
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: When I'm really working hard on a book, I typically write from about 8:00 to 11:00 in the morning and then again from about 7:00 till 10:00 at night. I aim for 3,000 words a day, but if I find that's too ambitious, I'll lower it to 2,000. I have a little office (my older daughter's former bedroom) where I like to write, and it's a very rare day when I don't write at all. I love to write and feel sort of "off" if a day passes and I haven't spent a few hours at it.
Q: What’s the best thing about being a writer?
A; The best thing for me about being a writer is that I'm able to spend my time dreaming up stories and putting sentences together. I've always loved to read and I've always been enchanted by books, so it's a real thrill to be able to devote my days to creating stories. I think everyone enjoys being creative, and I'm no different in that regard. Being a writer allows me to be creative for several hours a day.
Q: Future projects you are working on?
A:I'm working on two more middle-grade novels that will be coming out following the release of the third Winterhouse book, The Winterhouse Mysteries, this December. Here are the details of those two books from a recent announcement released by my book company, Macmillan: "The first book, The Vista Point Einsteins, is a mystery featuring a grieving family eager to start fresh by relocating to a remote bed-and-breakfast; it's scheduled for 2021. The Hidden Workshop of Javier Preston, scheduled for 2022, is a mystery layered with art, puzzles, friendship, and family."
Q: What else would you like us know?
A: If you really love to write, always remain focused on the writing itself rather than the fruits of your efforts.  Any degree of financial reward or public attention--or even publication itself--is outside of your control, so if your happiness and self-worth is based on the external rewards, you could be setting yourself up for dissatisfaction; stay devoted to the pleasure of putting words together and telling good stories. I've always loved to read and I've always loved to write--I'm sure I would have kept writing for the rest of my life even if I'd never been fortunate enough to have anything published.

Thanks for stopping by!


Naked Mole Rat Saves the World

Hi Friends!

No, it's not Kim Possible here with a naked mole rat, it's a just a new release by the amazing Karen Rivers through Algonquin Young Readers!

*Affliate Link

Advanced Praise:

“A warm coming-of-age story populated with a cast of memorable characters.”
Kirkus Reviews

Called  “witty and stylish” by The Horn Book

Naked Mole Rat Saves the World 

Can Kit’s super-weird superpower save her world?

Kit-with-a-small-k is navigating middle school with a really big, really strange secret: When she’s stressed, she turns into a naked mole rat.

It first happened after kit watched her best friend, Clem, fall and get hurt during an acrobatic performance on TV. Since then, the transformations keep happening—whether kit wants them to or not. Kit can’t tell Clem about it, because after the fall, Clem just hasn’t been herself. She’s sad and mad and gloomy, and keeping a secret of her own: the real reason she fell.

A year after the accident, kit and Clem still haven’t figured out how to deal with all the ways they have transformed—both inside and out. When their secrets come between them, the best friends get into a big fight. Somehow, kit has to save the day, but she doesn’t believe she can be that kind of hero. Turning into a naked mole rat isn’t really a superpower. Or is it?


As I read a lot of middle grade books so that I can recommend to my students and I definitely have the quirkiest kiddos sometimes and they LoOoOoVEEEE the weirdness that comes from Naked Mole Rat Saves the World, I mean they knew by the title it would be fun, and it was. I have had a few students read with me to leave reviews. 

Student A: "I did feel like I became friends with the characters so it was sad to end, but I loved it. I really enjoy stories that are magical, but feel real, and I definitely felt like this was real a lot of times." 

Student B: "Unputdownable. (That's a word, right Mrs. Thomas ;) haha)" 

Student C: "It was kind of slow at first, but I kept up with it and I am so glad I did. The end of the story makes it ALL worth it. So stick with it!!!!! The characters make you want to be friends with them so much! It was so much fun!" 

Overall, I think it's a good idea to add to your classroom library! It's a great book to book talk and get those who love magical realism into a new story. Karen's stories are all ones I have in my library and they are all very well loved every single year. 

Out: Tuesday, October 15! :)

About the author:

Karen Rivers's books have been nominated for a wide range of literary awards and have been published in multiple languages. When she's not writing, reading, or visiting schools, she can usu­ally be found hiking in the forest that flourishes behind her tiny old house in Victoria, British Columbia, where she lives with her two kids, two dogs, and two birds. Find her online at and on Twitter: @karenrivers.

Karen Rivers has been celebrated for her “darkly humorous [and] original” (New York Times Book Review) stories that “revel in life’s nuance and complexity” (School Library Journal). Her previous middle grade novels, The Girl in the Well is MeLove, Ish, and A Possibility of Whales, have been called “masterful” by the Buffalo News, “immensely relatable,” by Cleaver Magazine, and “remarkable” by School Library Journal.  Rivers now brings her signature voice, wit, and heart to an extraordinary new book for young readers. Naked Mole Rat Saves the World (Publication date: October 15, ages 8-12, $16.95) follows Kit-with-a-small-k as she deals with friendship drama and her mother’s deteriorating mental health, all while keeping a ginormous secret: when she’s anxious, she turns into a naked mole rat.

“I am an anxious person who is raising two anxious kids and two anxious dogs,” writes Rivers. “So naturally I was drawn to writing a story about a twelve-year-old girl with an anxious, single mother, a story that landed pretty close to home for me. I also wanted to write a book that explored all different types of common fears, and somehow this all gelled in my head with: a naked mole rat, a Rottweiler, a thief wearing a Batman mask, failure on a massive public stage, and also the fears we all carry that we are somehow not good enough, that we aren’t who we are meant to be.”

Hailed as a writer who “doesn’t shy away from the dark places but explores them with heart, humor, and light” (Kate Messner, author of Breakout), Karen Rivers delivers a truly hilarious and heartfelt middle great novel that tackles mental health, complicated friendships, and growing up. I hope you received this moving and quirky novel and look forward to your consideration for coverage this fall.


IMWAYR: 10.7.19

IMWAYR 2015 logo

I don't know about everyone else, but today was the Monday-est of Mondays. It's been a dark and dreary day in Ohio, and I just wanted to curl up and finish Capturing the Devil! If you haven't check out Keri Maniscalco's gothic series, add it to your list ASAP. Her murder mysteries will have you looking over your shoulder as you read. 

The other book I'm currently reading is Noise. Although, I'd almost label it as a comic, rather than a graphic novel. Many of my students who tore through Guts last week were asking for a similar story. Noise is a short, 30 page story of an introverted girl who crosses paths with a talkative boy. Have the tissues ready!


Author Interview: Bobbie Pyron

I had the privilege of receiving a copy of her newest book, Stay, and review for Teachers Who Read - I then developed some questions for Bobbie to help get in her mind as the author a little more. First I want to give some praise to Stay.

My Review: 
What a great heart print story. I loved the different characters point of view throughout the story, and I especially liked that Baby's point of view was told in verse. The resilience of the characters provides such a brave insight to what homelessness entails and how positive those experiencing have to be. Piper is inspirational as a young girl and one that I know boys and girls alike will look up to.

Piper’s life is turned upside down when her family moves into a shelter in a whole new city. She misses her house, her friends, and her privacy—and she hates being labeled the homeless girl at her new school.

But while Hope House offers her new challenges, it also brings new friendships, like the girls in Firefly Girls Troop 423 and a sweet street dog named Baby. So when Baby’s person goes missing, Piper knows she has to help. But helping means finding the courage to trust herself and her new friends, no matter what anyone says about them—before Baby gets taken away for good.

Author Barbara OConnor reviewed Stay and said: 
"What's not to love about this book? A heart-tugging story that kids will love."

And she's right. This was a story that was told in a way that I loved and devoured. It opened your eyes to experiences that I know a lot of my students don't and won't experience, but Bobbie wrote it in a way that allowed you to develop empathy so easily. I was so excited to share with my students after I read because I truly felt at peace after finishing. 

Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself as an author and everyday person?
What are your likes/dislikes? 
A: I am an author who finds it very difficult to sit down and write because
I LOVE to be outside! I’m a passionate hiker and forest wanderer. I’d
rather do just about anything than sit at my computer. Fortunately, I have
many ways of encouraging myself to write. Once I get started, I love it. I
also love dogs and most all animals, popcorn, peanuts, reading, going to
movies, and making things from clay. I don’t like ticks, mosquitoes,
and beets.
Q: When did you know you had a gift for writing?
A: Ha! There are many days I question whether I have that particular
gift or not. But I passionately wanted to be a writer from the time I was
about nine years old. It was my love of reading and books that led to me
wanting to write. I do see how readers connect with my books, though,
and hold them to their heart. That makes me very happy!
Q: Where did the inspiration come for Stay?
A: One cold spring day, my husband and I were running errands
around the city (Salt Lake City, UT). We stopped at an intersection.
There I saw an older woman in a thin flowered dress holding up a
cardboard sign asking for help. Then I noticed a little dog sitting next to
her. The woman looked so desperate and distraught, but the little dog?
He looked calm as toast. The light changed. We drove on. But I couldn’t
stop thinking about that woman and her dog. I kept wondering what their
story was.
Q: How do you think being a librarian impacted your career as an author? 
A: I think being a librarian for so many years really helped me
understand how powerful books can be, especially to kids. They can
help us make sense of the world, or escape the world, or make us feel
less lonely. Talking with kids about why they kept reading the same
book over and over, why they loved it so much, helped me strive for that
kind of connection with readers in my own books. I have no doubt being
a librarian made me a much better author than I would have been
Q; What was the hardest scene to write? 
A: Wow, that’s a good question! I think writing the scene when Jewel
gets taken away from Baby was hard emotionally to write. I knew
deep in my soul how connected those two were and how shattering
it would be for them to be separated. And I felt terrible for how
very confusing I’d just made Baby’s world!
Q: What are you currently reading? 
A: I just finished reading a new middle grade book called
STREET SHADOWS by Claire Gilchrist. It’s about two young
coyotes living near a city. It’s very good! I’m also reading a nonfiction
book called THE SOUL OF AN OCTOPUS, by Sy Montgomery.
Octopus are amazing!
Q: How do you get started on your writing, and what advice would
you give to middle grade students who are writing?
A: When I have an idea for a story, I think about it for a long time
before I start writing. If it stays interesting to me after thinking
about it for a few weeks, then I figure it’s got possibilities. When
I write the first draft, I try not to think too much about what I’m writing,
and I try not to edit as I go along. I just try to get that first draft written
as fast as I can so I have something to work with, so I can see how the
story and the characters go along. The best advice I can give to
anyone--middle grade or otherwise--who are writing is don’t try and
write like anybody else. Only YOU can tell a story your way! And
read, read, read. To be a great writer, you need to be a great reader.
You need to read all kinds of things, not just the kinds of books you
normally like to read. That way, you can see all the different ways there
are to tell a story.
Q: Can you describe your revision/editing process for students?
Also, do you start writing on paper/computer/etc? 
A: As I said, I try not to edit as I’m writing the first draft. But then,
once I start work on the second draft, I pay close attention to the
characters and scenes. Every character and scene has a job to do:
1) move the story forward or 2) increase tension/conflict or
3) help us understand the main character better. If your scenes/characters
aren’t doing this, you have to get rid of them. I also read my first draft
OUT LOUD (usually to my very patient dog). This really helps me see
where I use a particular word too often, hear the awkwardness of a
sentence, or when something doesn’t make sense. I can’t recommend
doing this strongly enough! When I’m  thinking about a story (once I
know I want to pursue it), I make a lot of notes on paper. Then, before
I actually sit down at my computer to write the first draft, I write on paper
all the things I know about the setting, the main character
(what does he/she want more than anything and why does
he/she think they can’t have it?), and conflict.
Conflict, whether internal or external, is crucial to story!
Q: Future projects that you are currently working on?  
A: Always! I have a new middle grade book I’m writing completely in
free verse. I also have a couple of nonfiction ideas.
Q: What else would you like teachers and young readers to know? 
A: Whatever you are passionate about, whether it’s writing, playing
soccer, being an artist or musician, don’t be afraid to take risks and
possibly “fail.” I truly believe we learn more from our so-called failures
than we do from our successes. That’s when we learn perseverance,
belief in ourselves, and to improve. J.K Rowling, the author of the Harry
Potter books, had her first HP book rejected over THIRTY TIMES!!! She
didn’t see those rejections as failures, she saw them as opportunities to
improve her work. Through that, she learned to believe in herself and to
not give up on her dream. I’d say it worked out pretty well for her,
wouldn’t you?

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