Check out my novels, nonfiction, comics and more!
Thank you for stopping by! I'm the author of 18 books for young people, including the middle grade Holocaust book I Will Protect You (Little, Brown), which I created with survivor Eva Mozes Kor. Eva and I worked closely together on this book, and she passed away right after we accepted Little, Brown's offer. It has received universal critical acclaim and been voted by children as one of the top-rated middle grade books in the Children's Book Council's "Children's and Young Adult Favorites Awards List." A free book club guide from Little, Brown is available here, and would be great to use in classrooms.
I'm also the author of the Minecrafter novels Escape from the Overworld, Attack on the Overworld, The Rise of Herobrine, Down Into the Nether, The Armies of Herobrine, Battle with the Wither, Adventure Against the Endermen, Mysteries of the Overworld, Danger in the Jungle Temple, Clash in the Underwater World, Last of the Ender Crystal, and Return of the Ender Dragon; the how-to-draw manga books Manga Art For Beginners and Manga Art for Everyone and first-of-its kind manga chalk book Chalk Art Manga; the comic book Barbie Puppies: Puppy Party; and "Picture Perfect" in the graphic novel Tales from the Crypt.
I have two lesson plans around my Minecrafter books available to classrooms around the world through the official Minecraft: Education Edition site. The first is a language arts lesson around my book Escape from the Overworld called Reading and Writing Minecraft. The next is a lesson plan around my book Attack on the Overworld called Saying No to Cyberbullying to help kids be safer online. In June 2018, Microsoft also flew me to Brussels, Belgium to speak before members of the European Union and their children about Minecraft's educational potential and how my Minecrafter books discuss issues like cyberbullying, cultural differences and critical thinking.
My books have been called "EXCITING" by Forbes, "RECOMMENDED READING" by School Library Journal, and have been spotlighted by The Today Show, Sci Fi Magazine, Barnes & Noble Kids Blog, MTV and more. Escape from the Overworld and Attack on the Overworld are both available from the Scholastic Book Fair for second through sixth graders.
I was one of a small group of writers to receive a Webby honor at MTV for Best Youth Writing. More than two thousand articles of mine have been published by MTV, The Onion, CNN, the Los Angeles Times, Publishers Weekly, Booklist and about fifty other publications.
What order do you read the Minecrafter books in?
Each book is a self-contained story, so you can start anywhere. But the stories also build one after another, so I recommend reading them from the beginning to get the most out of them. They go in this order: Escape from the Overworld, Attack on the Overworld, The Rise of Herobrine, Down Into the Nether, The Armies of Herobrine, Battle with the Wither, Adventure Against the Endermen, Mysteries of the Overworld, Danger in the Jungle Temple, Clash in the Underwater World, Last of the Ender Crystal, and Return of the Ender Dragon.
After the first six books, my publisher wanted to stop the series and put it into a box set (this is all the business side of writing). But I still had more ideas, so I pitched a spinoff series that takes place right after the first series ends. That’s where we get to Adventure Against the Endermen, etc. So it’s really just a continuation of the first series, but it has a brand-new story arc and new villains and challenges.
Do you play Minecraft?
Sure do! I was introduced to it by my boyfriend, who always played with Legos as a kid and then got totally into Minecraft because it’s like unlimited Legos. He got me playing. I mainly like to play in Peaceful Mode and build.
What ages are your books for?
Whatever age wants to read them. But to be more specific, the Minecrafter books are aimed for ages 7-12. Barbie is aimed for preschool through early elementary. Tales from the Crypt is aimed for teens and up. The manga art books are YA, but they're really for any age that wants to study manga-style drawing.
You write books involving Minecraft, manga, Tales from the Crypt and . . . Barbie?! How does that work?
Actually, pretty easily. I like writing in different styles and on different topics. Always have. Writing helps me understand life, and life has moments of being adventurous, fun, sad, confusing, infuriating, scary, cute and everything else. Writing about all these different experiences and emotions just feels natural to me. Writing on different subjects also lets me use my imagination and explore ideas more than if I stuck with one topic. So far I’ve just been publishing kids’ books, but I’m interested in expanding more and writing for all ages and on all sorts of subjects.
When did you start writing?
Waaay back. When I was three, I used to dictate stories to my parents. Or follow them around and ask how to spell every single word in the epic one-page story I was writing. I started writing picture books for myself in first grade, and I wrote my first chapter book in second grade (it is, and will remain, unpublished). I started writing novels in middle school and submitting to agents and editors. I would get turned down because of my age. In high school I began writing for the local paper, and used that to get into magazines. This led me to being a journalist.
I started out writing entertainment articles (which were fun) and later got more into writing breaking news articles (not-so-fun). I covered anime and manga a lot, and I had a freelance gig for a while adapting manga into English. All the while I was still submitting to agents and editors, and then I sold my first book, Manga Art for Beginners.
Where do you get your ideas?
Short but honest answer: Beats me.
Longer and more thoughtful answer: I pull from real life experiences and am inspired by old mythology, archetypes, and epic storytelling. Often ideas come to me while I'm listening to music and it feels as if I go into another zone.
In Escape from the Overworld, I just pictured this boy from Minecraft going through a portal to Earth, and the rest came from there. I don't know how that first image came into my head. Some of Maison's experiences were based on me being nervous about going to a new middle school (a lot of my friends went to the other middle school), feeling intimidated by eighth graders (though it turns out they mostly weren't that bad), liking to be creative, and remembering sixth grade shop class and how careful the teacher was about us not getting hurt there.
All of those experiences made their way into the book.
For Barbie: Puppy Party, I was inspired by my love of animals. All my pets are rescues, and I thought it would be cool to have a story where Barbie helps shelter animals find homes. My beagle Porthos (a shelter pet) approves.
My story "Picture Perfect" in Tales from the Crypt was inspired by a combination of watching cyberbullying online, getting harassed online myself, and remembering a nasty fight in the locker room in ninth grade where one girl really lit into another (verbally, not physically).
I usually take these different things and mix them together into stories. When I see ways I can connect different ideas, I get really lost in thought.
How did you get published?
Years and years of effort, rejection letters, writing, rewriting, networking and submitting.
Most publishers require an agent before they’ll read your manuscript. Agents ask for query letters, which is where you basically say, “This is what my book is about and why it will sell and this is why I’m a good client for you to pick up.” Agents are extremely hard to get. I had one for a while who really didn’t do anything, so I had to start the process all over. About fifteen years passed between my submitting to agents in middle school and then selling my first book. During this, I was improving my writing and adding to my writing credentials by publishing in different websites and magazines.
There are many author websites out there that can show examples of query letters, plus lists of agents and what sort of books they represent. For example, if an agent only represents thrillers and you send them poetry, that’s going to be an automatic rejection. You want to find an agent who represents your type of book; otherwise you’re wasting their time and wasting your time.
Why do you think your books are good for literacy?
I liked books and stories from a very early age. They got me to where I am today. Oftentimes when kids say they don’t like to read, I think they’re just not being introduced to the right books, the ones that interest them. I remember that many of the books that adults and teachers wanted us to read in elementary school were boring to me. They just didn’t click or feel real to kids. They talked over us instead of to us. But when I went to the library and got to choose on my own, I found plenty of books that excited me. I grew up in a house where there were books and I was read to, but what if a kid doesn’t come from a household like that and the only books they’re introduced to in elementary school bore them?
When I write my kids’ books, especially my Minecrafter books, I go back to my early writing to make sure I get the voice right, the authentic voice. I remember what books entertained me and what bored me. When I write my Minecrafter books, I want them to blend exciting fantasy and chapter cliffhangers with real issues kids face. I hear from kids and parents who really get into the books, including kids who don’t think they like to read but pick up the books because they like the game Minecraft. And then they find themselves wanting to read more. I think literacy is incredibly important, but to get kids into reading, we need to get them exciting books. I hope my books can be a gateway to get many I-don’t-like-books feelings to change into realizing there are many fun books out there. My advice is to listen to kids and see what interests them. Then find books that fit their needs instead of trying to make all kids like certain books.