Monday, June 16, 2014

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes are Untied by Jess Keating--plus Interview and Giveaway

How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes are Untied (by Jess Keating, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky June 2014)

What it's About (from Goodreads): Ana didn't ask to be named after an anaconda. She didn't ask for zoologist parents who look like safari guides. And she definitely didn't ask for a twin brother whose life goal seems to be terrorizing her with his pet reptiles. Now, to make matters worse, her parents have decided to move the whole family INTO the zoo! All of which gives the Sneerers (the clan of carnivorous female predators in her class) more ammunition to make her life miserable-and squash any hope of class tennis stud, Zack, falling in love with her. Ana tries to channel her inner chameleon and fade into the background, but things are changing too quickly for her to keep up.

Opening Lines: "Don't. Freak. Out.
It was the day before my twelfth half-birthday, and I was spending it holding the business end of a crocodile."
What I Liked About It:  Did I say 'liked"? I meant LOVED! This is one of my fave reads of the year, because it's the sort of book I myself would love to write. It's funny, the characters are compelling, and Jess Keating utterly nails the middle grade voice.

And she utterly nails middle grade concerns as well. Ana is not an extrovert like her parents and grandfather. The last thing she wants to do is be in front of a TV camera because, well, what if everyone--particularly the mean girl clique (so beautifully named the "Sneerers"--judges her? What if her best friend, who's gone to live in New Zealand, no longer wants to be best friends? What if her crush looks at her when she's doing something stupid? As Ana would say: Oh. My. God.

I think middle grade readers are going to love this novel. The cover is immensely eye-catching, and there's going to be a series!!! (The next book is called How to Outswim a Shark Without a Snorkel.) And furthermore, Jess Keating is a zoologist and totally knows her animal stuff. I mean, didn't you know that armadillos sleep for an average of eighteen hours a day?! [Each chapter begins with an animal fact such as this.]

Speaking of Jess, she is really good at Twitter (so go follow her), really fast at replying to e-mail, and lives in Canada. So three Mafioso cheers for her!

Jess took some time to answer the usual Mafioso questions. Please enjoy:

Middle Grade Mafioso: Hi Jess

Jess: MG MAFIOSO! Thank you for having me!

1) Who are your favorite (middle grade) writers?

Ack! It's cliché, but the truth is I just have too many favorite authors to choose just one! I think books are like vitamins. Sometimes, you're low on Vitamin Kate DiCamillo, so you pick up one of her books. Then one day you wake up and you find you need some Linda Urban, so you go for that instead.

I learn so much from nearly every book I read, so I truly do see many authors as mentors in a way. I will say that while I don't have a favorite, I often find myself turning to Meg Cabot, Rachel Renée Russell, and Judy Blume when I need something really voicey. I'm also inspired by Katherine Applegate, Jennifer Nielsen, Tom Angleberger, Jenni Holm, Eliot Schrefer, and the two ladies mentioned above!

There are also several picture book writers whose books constantly inspire me, such as Mo Willems, Ame Dyckman, Bob Shea, Molly Idle, and Oliver Jeffers. I know, I know, you said middle grade authors only, but I think that MG writers can learn a lot by studying picture books—it takes a lot of skill to distill that much voice and story into so few words!

Do you like how I turned what should have been a two word answer into several paragraphs?

MGM: Love it! But hey, the floor is yours, so be my guest.

2) What's on your nightstand now?

A TBR pile that's taking over the rest of the room. I just finished THE CABINET OF WONDERS, by Marie Rutkoski, which features the best fictional spider since Charlotte. I'm also rereading THIS JOURNAL BELONGS TO RATCHET, by Nancy Cavanaugh, along with THREATENED by Eliot Schrefer. There's also a tattered copy of WE ARE IN A BOOK!, by Mo Willems, just for good measure.

MGM: I love Charlotte! So now I've gotta find THE CABINET OF WONDERS!

3) Pick a favorite scene from your novel, and say why you like it

My favorite scenes to write were the ones where Ana suffers the most. That's pretty terrible, isn't it? I'm learning now that these are also the scenes where readers laugh and cringe the most! I love the scene where she botches her live television interview. I also loved the night time caveman scene with Daz, mainly because he's an absolute nutjob. (MGM: He certainly is!)

On the flip side, my favorite scene to read is the ending. Without spoiling things, I can say that I thought about this ending a lot, and knew I was opening a can of worms for Ana. I already can't wait to surprise readers in book two! (MGM: Hooray!)

4) Fill in the blank: I'm really awesome at.... finishing sentences! I'm also great at making popcorn in fun flavors like caramel apple, and lime parmesan. (MGM: Well, the Don will like the lime parmesan...)

5) My favorite breakfast is... second breakfast.

6) If you could visit any place, where would it be?

If we're talking real places, I'd love to visit Australia! I was lucky enough to travel through New Zealand, but never got a chance to skip across and visit the Land of Oz. There are so many amazing animals there (most of which can kill you by simply looking at you), that's hard to pass up!
If we're talking fictional places, I would visit Hogwarts, so I could take Hagrid's Care of Magical Creatures class.
What about YOU, Mr. Mafioso? Where would you visit?

MGM: I've lived in Australia, and it is all that it's cracked up to be. Hey, I've even held a koala. I do think now that I'd like to revisit Italy. I haven't been there since I was about 9. And I really want to check and see if the gelato is as good as I remember it. Thanks for asking, by the way.

About the Author: You can catch Jess at her great website, which has a ton of good things. And, as I said, she's an ace at Twitter.

One More Thing: I'm giving away my ARC of How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes are Untied. All you need to do is comment. International entries welcome, seeing that Jess is an international author. If you tweet, let me know--and I'll give you an extra entry.

Until next time, ciao!


  1. I've run into Jess at either #MGLitChat or #KidLitChat -- possibly both! *waves at Jess*
    Putting Crocodile on my summer TBR list right now!

  2. Sounds great and with the added bonus of learning unique animal facts, I'm in. Enjoyed the interview, too.

  3. Best answer ever on who your favourite middle grade authors are! Loved THIS JOURNAL BELONGS TO RATCHET.

    Loved this book, too, Michael. Great title, great cover, great first line followed to solid middle grade voice and like you said concerns. In other words the author nailed it!

  4. p.s. already have a copy of this book so no need to enter me in draw. thanks!

  5. This is on my reading list so I'd love to win your ARC! Thanks, Michael.

  6. This sounds like such a fun read. And I love Jess' places real and fictional to visit. I'm going to sadly let someone else win as I'm really behind in my reading right now.

  7. Sounds like a great story. Hard to go wrong with animals and MG readers.

  8. You sold me. If I don't win the giveaway, I'm going to have to track down my own copy of this book. Sounds like a lot of fun.

  9. I love the title. That will grab a lot of readers. The book sounds terrific. Thanks for telling me about it.

  10. This sounds like I book I have to read! Thanks for this interview. Jess, I really liked what you said about learning a lot from reading picture books. I find that writing middle grade has helped me with my picture book writing (and I'm hoping that as I get back to revising my middle grade this summer, it will work the other way around too).

  11. Great first line. Recently started following Jess in Twitter. Will repost

  12. This book has been on my to-read list way before it was released. Can't wait to read it! I'm a little behind in my reading (and everything else), but I'll get to it! Winning an ARC would help... Great interview, by the way! I enjoyed reading it.


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