Recently, Middle Grade Mafia featured a debut MG novel, The Unlikely Story of a Pig in the City, by Jodi Kendall. This wonderful tale of a little pig in the big city won us over. We were lucky to steal a few moments of the busy author’s time for an interview. Hope you enjoy!
The Writer’s Block: An Interview with Jodi Kendall
Middle Grade Mafia: This is your debut MG book. Please share with us your path to having THE UNLIKELY STORY OF A PIG IN THE CITY published.
Jodi Kendall: I was a freelance writer for about ten years before I found representation from a literary agent. I dabbled in everything from app content writing to digital media to magazine articles, with a variety of clients. I also first-drafted children’s stories for an online serialized platform for two years as a contract writer. Over the years, I wrote young adult, middle grade, and picture books, trying to figure out my “voice” in the literary space while I actively pursued traditional publication. I queried six different manuscripts over seven years and received over a hundred rejections before I received my first offer of agent representation for a manuscript (ultimately I received four offers). While I was very active in SCBWI for many years, I was “discovered” in the slush pile by all offering agents. I had a picture book on submission that didn’t sell, but the THE UNLIKELY STORY OF A PIG IN THE CITY was picked up very quickly – within weeks – and sold at auction in a two-book deal.
MGM: That’s a great story. Over a hundred rejections… shows what a little perseverance can do! What has been the most surprising/remarkable thing that has happened since your book launched on October 3rd?
JK: I knew it’d be amazing to hear from young readers, but it’s different knowing something and then really feeling it. Whenever I get tagged in photos of kids reading my novel or read messages from parents, booksellers, librarians and educators about how much THE UNLIKELY STORY OF A PIG IN THE CITY means to a young reader, I get emotional. I’m just returning from Denver now, where I did an author visit with about 60 fourth graders. Afterwards this girl came up to me and asked to give me a hug, and she slipped me a folded paper with hand-drawn hearts all over it. She’d written a note about how much she loves me and my book. It was so sweet. Connecting with young readers is the best!
MGM: You can dream about the day, but nothing prepares you for seeing your book in kids hands. I read on your blog about the little piglet your brother saved (very Charlotte’s Web-like!), what about that experience stuck with you and inspired you to write this story?
JK: I grew up in a suburb of Columbus, Ohio, and having a farm pig live in your house was absolutely, definitely not normal. Our piglet Ellie grew from the cutest little thing to around 180 pounds in six months. We even created a make-shift stall for her inside of our house after she tore up all the floor tiles! It was an adventurous chapter in my childhood and became a bit of a family (and neighborhood) legend.
MGM: Whoa! That must have been “some pig.” In the book, you dig deep into the main character, Josie, as she navigates her way being a part of a big family. What message do you hope kids take away from what Josie learns along her journey?
JK: Josie is grappling with who she is, dealing with anxieties and insecurities. It’s a book that celebrates the less-than-perfect messiness of a large family by exploring situations where Josie feels like no one understands her, she’ll never succeed at what she loves to do, and that she won’t be able to save Hamlet the pig despite her devotion. I hope young readers will take-away that even though people don’t always get things right the first time, you can try again, and that love is the strongest bond of all. Is it too much to wish readers will want to hug the book when they’re finished? I do hope that.
MGM: I totally can see some kids doing just that. In all of your adventures (click here to read her bio), was there a time where you thought “this is amazing, but what have I got myself into?”
JK: Great question – Ha. Absolutely. Several times, but one experience sticks out the most. Once I was harnessed inside a unique two-person open top airplane called an “AirCam”. It was just me and the pilot. Before we took off on a grass runway, she gave me a little Flight School 101 in case an emergency situation required me to take over the controls. I always felt safe because the pilot was experienced and reassuring, but it was definitely one of those “what have I gotten myself into?” moments. We flew off the Florida coast to survey wild manta ray populations. I had this huge, heavy, expensive camera around my neck, and I had to take photographs of wild manta rays during our flight and then quickly mark down the counts on a clipboard. Imagine flying at 500 feet over open water in a motorcycle… It felt a bit like that. Windy, loud, cool and fast. We ended up recording 90 manta ray sightings. We actually had to abort our flight path early because of approaching storm clouds. It was certainly a once-in-a-lifetime experience, scary and thrilling and awe-inspiring all at once!
MGM: I can totally visualize this – sounds like something out of a movie. I may want to be you when I grow up! 🙂 Are there any recent MG books you’ve read that you absolutely loved? We’re always looking for more great reads.
JK: Yes! I’m constantly sharing and gifting copies of ONE SHADOW ON THE WALL by Leah Henderson, which published earlier this year. It’s a middle grade novel about an orphan boy named Mor who lives in a tiny village in Senegal. The story is completely immersive, and Leah’s writing is so lush and beautiful. I will read anything Leah writes! Oh, and WISHTREE by Katherine Applegate… Wow, what a special book. I was enchanted with Red’s story from page one. I’m a huge Katherine Applegate fan. And Sara Pennypacker! I could go on and on here….
MGM: Your book has received some comparisons to some of these great authors. Not bad company, huh? What’s next for you?
JK: I just wrapped up the sequel for THE UNLIKELY STORY OF A PIG IN THE CITY, which will publish with HarperCollins Children’s Books in Fall 2018, and I’m working on a third (unrelated) middle grade novel now. With any luck, I’ll have good news soon!