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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Soaring 20's August 2023 Releases

The Soaring 20’s High Flying Books for Kids and Teens is a group of authors and illustrators hailing from California to New York (and Canada!), who’ve joined together to help promote their books.

Soaring 20's Logo - a guinea pig flying on a trapeeze reaching for a falling book.

Be sure to visit their website to “discover kidlit talent on the rise.” Their website includes “behind-the-scenes posts about how these books were made; resources for using these books in your classroom or library; places you can meet these talented authors and illustrators in person; and of course, GIVEAWAYS!”

Welcome Vicky & Rajani,


Tell us a little about yourself. (For instance, where/when do you write or illustrate? How long have you been writing or illustrating? What is your favorite type of book to write or illustrate?)

Vicky Fang's author photo.

Vicky Fang The Boo Crew Needs You (Source books 8/2/2023) – I used to be a product designer creating kids’ technology experiences for both Google and Intel, often to inspire and empower kids in coding and technology. I began writing seven years ago to support the growing need for early coding education, particularly for girls and kids of color. Now, I write (and sometimes illustrate!) a range of books to inspire kids in STEAM, SEL, and creativity.

Rajani LaRocca's author photo.

Rajani LaRocca – The Secret of the Dragon Gems (little bee books 8/29/2023) – My first career is as a doctor, and it was only after about a decade of practicing medicine, when my kids were in school, that I returned to writing in about 2011. At first, I took some online and then in-person classes, and intended to write only for myself. But then I met other writers and formed critique groups, and once you have friends asking you what happens next, it makes you go and write the next chapter. Around 2013, I thought I might want to try to get published someday. After years of working on craft and gathering rejections, I signed with my agent in late 2017, and my first book released in 2019. Now, I can’t imagine not having writing as part of my life!

As a working mom, I’ve never been too precious about where I write. I’ve written early in the morning, late at night, parked in a lot waiting for my kids to come out, and in the lobby while they had their piano lessons. Once they grew older, I coopted their old playroom as my office, and last year we renovated it with built-in, beautifully lit bookshelves, a new desk, and a gorgeous light shade made from the pages of Red, White, and Whole. It’s a wonderful, restful, inspiring place to write, and I love it!


What is something that helps when you are feeling uninspired?


Vicky Fang – Taking a break, enjoying art of any kind, or chatting with another creative person!


Rajani LaRocca – I love spending some time outside in nature, especially with my family. If I still feel uninspired, I might read a book (any book I want!) or watch a good movie or TV show. Sometimes, feeling “uninspired” is a sign I need a break.


Now that we know a little more about both of you, what made you wonder about this topic or inspired you to write your book?

Cover of the Boo Crew Needs you - witha little ghost, dracula, and skeleton in halloween costumes.

Vicky Fang The Boo Crew Needs You (8/2/2023) – I wanted to write something about a team that collaborates to solve problems, and I loved the idea of making the reader a part of that team. The Boo Crew is an adorable team of Halloween monsters that need help to save Halloween, and every page has a call to action that invites the reader to actively help them! Because of my background in product design, I particularly love thinking about how readers will interact with the books, so it was a lot of fun coming up with the interactions for this one.

Cover of The Secret of the Dragon Gems - a boy and girl looking a glowing rocks.

Rajani LaRocca – The Secret of the Dragon Gems ( 8/29/2023) – My friend Chris Baron and I met online in 2018 as part of a debut novel group. We got together with six other fellow middle grade novelists for a retreat at the Highlights Foundation, and our friendship was cemented — especially because we share a love of fantasy and sci-fi books. We got the idea for an epistolary novel in which a couple of kids find some interesting rocks at the end of summer camp and start writing to each other when strange things start to happen, and they begin to wonder whether the rocks are actually just rocks.


Then, during the pandemic summer of 2020, we decided to go ahead and write this story.


What do you like to do outdoors - either by yourself or with your family and friends?


Vicky Fang – I love going to the tide pools with my kids. We have a special spot where we set up our tent, and then we spend the whole day there watching the pools change with the tides and spotting creatures hiding in the rocks. We’ll bring a picnic and eat snacks, take walks, and hunt for shells. It’s one of my favorite things to do!


Rajani LaRocca – We love to hike and visit national parks! Most of the time, though, we walk in the woods with our little dog.


Is there anything special you want your readers to know about your book? Do you have a favorite spread or moment in the book?


Vicky Fang The Boo Crew Needs You (8/2/2023) – The Boo Crew will be coming back for a Book 2! There are some really fun interactive moments in Book 1, including tapping the page to mend broken pumpkins or turning the book to set a toppling haunted house back upright, and I’m hoping Book 2 delivers just as much interactive fun!


Rajani LaRocca – The Secret of the Dragon Gems (8/29/2023) – This book is so much fun! Not only is it epistolary — written in letter, emails, and chats — but it features other formats as well, including video chats, journal entries, MeTube videos, Wonkipedia articles, Miscord messages, and excerpts from the book within the book, THE DRAGON GEMS. Can you tell we had a great time coming up with all this? Illustrator Sam Dawson created the cover as well as some artwork inside the book.


What was the hardest, or most challenging, part of writing your book? How long did it take from first draft to publication?

Internal spread - potion spill, mummy unraveling, and a coffin looking emergency phone.

Text © Vicky Fang, 2023. Image © Saoirse Lou. 2023.


Will this wreck the Monster Ball?

This will ruin our great night!

There's disasters left and right!

It's a zoo, too!


Nothing's going right at all!

Will his wreck the Monster Ball?

Quick, PRESS HERE

to make a call

to the Boo Crew.


Vicky Fang The Boo Crew Needs You (8/2/2023) – I had never written in rhyme before, and my first version of the book had only one interactive moment! When my agent suggested that I weave the interactivity throughout, I threw up my hands and the manuscript sat untouched for a year. I finally picked it up again and tackled it like a word puzzle, which was actually really fun! But making sure the interactivity told a story, highlighted new interactions, and worked in rhyme was definitely the hardest part. From first draft to publication, it took three years.

Internal images - first pages of each of Tripti & Sam's letters to each other.

Text © Rajani LaRocca and Chris Baron. 2023.

Dear Sam,

This is Tripti from camp - the girl you found the rocks

with on Campfire Night. ...


Dear Tripti,

I've never written a letter before. Well, I have for

school stuff, and of course to my Bubbe - that's what I

call my grandmother. ...


Rajani LaRocca – The Secret of the Dragon Gems (8/29/2023) – One would think that having two authors working on one book would be challenging, but it was so easy to write with Chris. We had a lot of fun brainstorming, drafting, and revising. One challenge was the physical distance between us (I’m on the east coast, and he’s on the west coast), since there were some parts, like the chats, that we had to write together — thank goodness for Google Docs! But we managed to juggle work and family obligations and schedule times to work on this book—and it was so fantastic to do so.


Who was a favorite/special author, illustrator, and/or your favorite book as a child?

Cover of The Island of Adventure by Enid Blyton.

Vicky Fang – I loved Enid Blyton books - I couldn't get enough of their adventures and snacks.

Cover of the Westing Game by Ellen Raskin.

Rajani LaRocca – My favorite childhood book was The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin. I loved the mystery, the big cast of characters, and the heart of the book—that people who seem very different on the outside can work together and understand and help each other.


What’s something you can’t do without either for your writing or for yourself?


Vicky Fang – My critique partners are my support system. The entire kidlit community is so amazing, but in particular, Christine Evans (The Wish Library, Dear MR. G) and Faith Kazmi (Box of Dreams) have been with me from the very beginning and we’ve become great friends along the way. They motivate, support, and inspire me all the time.


Rajani LaRocca – I can’t do without my writing friends and critique partners. They read all my words (often many, many times) before they’re ready to show anyone else and help me believe in myself when I’m feeling unsure. I love writing because it connects me to other people, and I couldn’t write a thing without my friends.


Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?

Images of covers for AlphaBot (mix and match robots) and Best Buddies (cat and dog trying to steal a pie)..

Vicky Fang – Yes! I have more books coming out this year: Alphabot, an interactive mix-and-match robot book from MIT Kids Press, and Best Buddies, a new early reader series from Scholastic about two friends, a dog named Sniff and a cat named Scratch! I hope you’ll check them out. I also can’t wait to share my latest chapter book series, Ava Lin, coming from Candlewick in Spring 2024. It’s about an optimistic and creative six-year-old Chinese American girl with a knack for getting into—and out of— trouble. I’m finishing up the illustrations for book 1 now, and I am so excited to share these funny, relatable books with the world! [Those look so fun!]

Cover of Masala Chai, Fast and Slow - kid and grandfather cooking

Rajani LaRocca – My 6th book of 2023 is a picture book, Masala Chai, Fast and Slow, which releases September 5. This story is about Aarav, a boy who likes to go fast, and his thatha, or grandpa, who likes to take things slow. Every evening, they make masala chai together. When Thatha sprains his ankle and can’t make masala chai, Aarav decides to try making it himself—with hilarious results. This is a book about slowing down, enjoying time with those you love, and masala chai, of course! [You read that right - her 6th book releasing in 2023!]


In 2024, I will release my first middle grade fantasy, called Sona and the Golden Beasts. Set in an Indian-inspired fantasy world, the story involves magic and music and animals, but also contends with colonialism and who gets to tell history.

I can't wait to see these books! Last question, what is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why?

© McMarshall - Mountains surrounding the turquoise water of Lake Louise at Banff.nad

Vicky Fang – I’d love to visit Banff one day! It looks so beautiful and peaceful.


Coastal water, beach and woods in Acadia National Park.  © NPS

Rajani LaRocca – We’ve been to a lot of parks out west. I would love to go to Acadia National Park in Maine — I hear it’s beautiful!


These are both stunning places to visit. Thank you all for giving us a little peek into you and your books. Wishing you both enormous success.


To learn more about Vicky & Rajani, as well as many other awesome writers and illustrators, visit Soaring 20’s High Flying Books for Kids & Teens @ https://www.soaring20spb.com/.

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Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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