The Queen Bee and Me - Gillian McDunn Interview!

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“McDunn portrays the intertwined emotional lives of middle-school kids with sensitivity and precision. An insightful story of friendship and change.”—Booklist, starred review

“Readers will identify with the pitch-perfect middle school dynamics and cheer for Meg as she navigates a toxic friendship.”—Publishers Weekly
“The dynamics of shifting middle school friendships ring true, and readers will recognize themselves and their friends in Meg’s struggle with her loyalty to Beatrix, her budding friendship with Hazel, and her need to be true to herself.”—School Library Connection
“Meg's first-person narration is emotive and candid. . . . Refreshingly genuine.” ―Kirkus Reviews
“Fully realized characters and high-stakes yet realistic middle school dilemmas with real-world applications make this a royal addition to shelves”—School Library Journal
***Praise for Caterpillar Summer***
An Indies Introduce Pick
Parents Best Book of the Year
Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year
An Amazon Best Book of the Year
“This absorbing, heartfelt novel seamlessly blends the challenges of life with a neurodivergent child into a story of one tween’s burgeoning self-awareness as she figures out how to reclaim her childhood.”—New York Times Book Review
“An engrossing, heartwarming, beautifully written debut about building and rebuilding family ties.”—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“McDunn’s poignant, gratifying debut about friendship and family encourages both empathy and hope.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review
Meg has been friends with confident, self-assured Beatrix since kindergarten. She's always found comfort in Beatrix's shadow—even their families call them Beatrix-and-Meg. But middle school has brought some changes in Beatrix, especially when Meg tries to step outside her role as sidekick. Upsetting Beatrix means risking The Freeze—or worse.

Meg gets into a special science elective and wants to take the class, no matter what Beatrix thinks. But when quirky new girl Hazel becomes Meg's science partner, Beatrix sets her sights on Hazel. At first, Meg is taken aback at how mean Beatrix can be—and how difficult it is to stand up to her friend. But as Meg gets to know Hazel while working on their backyard beehive project, she starts to wonder: What's it really like to be the Queen Bee? And more importantly: Is being Beatrix's friend worth turning down the possibility of finding her own voice?

Q: How did you get started in the author profession? 
From a very young age, I loved reading and writing. I did a lot of different kinds of writing professionally, but always dreamed of becoming a children’s book author. When I got the idea for Caterpillar Summer, I made a deal with myself that I would write the whole book without giving up. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done! I really love being an author and feel incredibly fortunate to be able to do so.
Q: What inspired you to become a middle grade author? 
A: I love the middle grades because it’s such an important time. Kids are growing up and gaining an understanding of the world around them while still being very much tied to their families. I also think kids ages 8-12 are one of the best audiences imaginable. I love hearing about kids who read even while brushing their teeth or sneak extra reading time at night ... that’s the kind of reader I was too!
Q: What was your influence for The Queen Bee and Me? It’s a situation that is so common, but isn’t discussed as much I feel necessary. 
A: I wanted to explore “tricky” friendships. So often kids (and adults!) find themselves in a difficult situation when a friendship dynamic changes. I’m hoping that kids and adults will read this book together and discuss what a healthy friendship should look like.
Q: Can you describe your revision/editing process for students? Also, do you start writing on paper/computer/etc?
A:  I often do early notes on paper, then switch to the computer to write my first draft--I can type a lot faster than I can write! I go through a few edits with peer reviewers and then send to my editor at Bloomsbury, Mary Kate Castellani. We usually do a few rounds of revision--this can look like long editorial letters (I think the standing record is eight pages long!) or comments/track changes on the electronic document. One of my final steps is to print the manuscript and read the whole thing out loud. Middle grade books are often read out loud, so it’s especially important for me to pay attention to the rhythm of language. I did this process recently for my third book THESE UNLUCKY STARS and came across a phrase that was a total tongue-twister. Can you say “Oak Branch Books booth” five times fast? Or even one time, semi-fast? I couldn’t, so I ended up rewording!
Q: How do you make time to read since you are also writing full time?
A: I make time to read every day because I love it so much. Also, I’m very lucky to have many writer friends who keep making incredible books and so I need to keep reading them!
Q: What advice would you give to middle grade students who are writing? 
A: My advice for all writers is to read and write as much as they can. Sometimes writers can fall into a trap of waiting to write, wanting to think out everything in their head perfectly. This is a trap! It’s much better to write a messy first draft (or several messy first drafts) and then go through the process of revision. Revision is where the magic happens!
Q: Future middle grade projects that you are currently working on? 
A: I’m currently revising my third book THESE UNLUCKY STARS, which is about a girl named Annie who believes that she has terrible luck. But after a summer with a ding-dong-ditch prank gone wrong, she starts to believe that luck is what you make of it. I really love this main character, who tries hard but feels like she is a magnet for trouble. It takes place in a town called Oak Branch in the North Carolina mountains. I’m hoping readers will love reading about this town and its people--they really stole my heart!
Q: What were your favorite books as a kid? Are there any upcoming books you are especially looking forward to?
A: As a child, I was a voracious reader (and re-reader) but of all my books these were the three I re-read the most: Where The Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls, Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl, and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis.

There are so many wonderful books coming soon! I’m very excited to read Something to Say by Lisa Moore Ramee (Balzer + Bray), which is about a girl who faces her fear of public speaking in order to speak out about what matters to her most. I had a chance to read Jess Redman’s upcoming Quintessence (FSG Books for Young Readers) and it is absolutely stunning. I’m also very excited for Sandy Stark-McGinniss’s upcoming The Space Between Lost and Found (Bloomsbury) about a girl dealing with her mother’s early-onset dementia.

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