Today we are very excited to share an interview with author Margaret Finnegan (New Kids and Underdogs)!
Read on to learn more about her, her book, and a giveaway!
Meet the Author: Margaret Finnegan
Margaret Finnegan is the author of We Could Be Heroes and Susie B. Won’t Back Down, both Junior Library Guild Selections. Her other works have appeared in FamilyFun Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, Salon, and other publications. She lives in South Pasadena, California, where she enjoys spending time with her family, walking her dog, and baking really good chocolate cakes. To learn more, and to download free discussion guides, visit MargaretFinnegan.com.
About the Book: New Kids and the Underdogs
When perpetual new kid Robyn signs up her special needs dogs for agility training, she gets an unexpected lesson in friendship in this funny and moving novel from the author of We Could Be Heroes and Susie B. Won’t Back Down.
Robyn Kellen has been the new kid six times. She’s practically an expert on the subject and has developed foolproof rules to help her get by: Blend in, don’t go looking for trouble, and move on. Unfortunately, Robyn’s mom has a rule, too: Robyn must do an after-school activity.
When Robyn discovers a dog agility class, she thinks she’s found the perfect thing—but then her dogs, Sundae and Fudge, are rejected from the class. Sundae won’t do anything without Fudge, and Fudge is deaf and blind, and the instructor refuses to change the rules to fit their needs. Luckily, the instructor’s grandson, Nestor—a legend at Robyn’s new school—offers Robyn a deal: If she helps him with math, he’ll train Sundae and Fudge. Problem is, Robyn isn’t so great at math herself, so she’s forced to recruit the class outcast, Alejandra, to help.
Suddenly, Robyn finds herself surrounded by people who do anything but blend in—and sticking to her rules becomes harder than ever. But as Robyn learns how to adapt the rules of agility for Sundae and Fudge, she will find that some rules are worth breaking altogether.
YABC: What gave you the inspiration to write this book?
I started out wanting to write something about agility training for dogs. My previous dog and I took classes years ago, and I was always struck by how diverse the dogs and their people were.
The more I committed to a book that dealt with agility training, the more I thought about that word, “agility.” It’s a funny choice of word for the sport. It means to move effortlessly and with ease, but—of course—there is nothing effortless about agility dog training. Even dogs who excel at it train hard. The term agility masks everything that happens behind the scenes.
That reminded me of my own childhood. I went to a different school almost every year of my life until high school. Perpetual new kids like that? They perform their own kind of agility. They sometimes make it seem like they are effortlessly blending into their new neighborhoods and schools, but I know from experience that there is a lot going on behind the scenes. Constantly being the new kid can make it hard to connect with others, especially if you think you’re looking at a very short-term friendship.
So New Kids & Underdogs became a way to explore what it means to be agile, and what it means to be vulnerable, and what it means to face adversity and still a find a way to thrive.
YABC: Who is your favorite character in the book?
I try to tackle big, contemporary issues in my work, but I also like to find the humor in life. Humor is what helps me, at least, face those big issues! For that reason, my favorite character is a rather minor one. It’s the ferocious, sneaky, empanada-obsessed, balanced-challenged poodle Bruce. He just makes me laugh, and I love him.
YABC: Which character gave you the most trouble when writing your latest book?
That would be the main character, Robyn. Of all the books I’ve written, I think she is the most like I was as a kid. I had an unwritten list of rules that I tried to live by. They included: Blend in, laugh it off, and stay tough (but not so tough that you burn everything down). It’s a narrow tightrope, and it can sometimes make one hard to know. But readers need to know your main character, so I had to find a way to balance Robyn’s instinct to hide her true self and avoid risks, while also helping readers understand why Robyn was behaving the way she was behaving.
YABC: What is the main message or lesson you would like your reader to remember from this book?
Hard things happen. If we are lucky, they teach us compassion and grace. It is not always the best of things to have lived a problem-free childhood.
YABC: What do you like most about the cover of the book?
Everything! It’s by Karyn Lee, who also designed all three of my books. She is so talented, and I love the way the book yells “The dogs! They’re adorable! And they’re going to live!”
YABC: What’s a book you’ve recently read and loved?
So hard to choose! There is much good stuff out there. I do love everything by Frances O’Roark Dowell. Her new novel in verse Hazard is amazing and poignant and beautiful. But I have a real soft spot for the warm and slyly humorous Falling In, which I recently re-read.
YABC: What advice do you have for new writers?
Neuroscientists have found that the same parts of our brain are activated when we perform an action as when we read about someone performing that action. Make the most of that information. Use good verbs.
YABC: What’s up next for you?
Next is an interesting word. Publishing moves at a slow pace, so I just turned in the draft of my fourth middle-grade novel, which won’t be out until Spring 2024. It’s about girl who lives in the one affordable housing complex in an affluent town. When the town begins to mobilize against a proposed second affordable housing complex, she and a friend rally to the project’s defense. It was inspired by my own experience living in affordable housing in Palo Alto, CA as an adolescent. While I wait for feedback on that, I’m starting my fifth middle-grade book. It’s about what we remember, what we forget, and how we spell it all.
YABC: Is there an organization or cause that is close to your heart?
There are a lot, but since New Kids & Underdogs features lots of dogs, I’m going to tell you about LA Love & Leashes. That’s the rescue society where I got my dog, Walt. What’s great about this organization is that it works directly with city shelters to find families for abandoned and stray cats and dogs. They pick up the dogs from the shelter in the morning, then they show them off in a terrific retail space during the day. The space is quiet and full of volunteers, so the animals get walked, they get love, and they are simply less stressed and more likely to show off their true, adorable selves. At nighttime, volunteers take the dogs back to the shelter. I love that LA Love & Leashes works directly with LA’s understaffed and underfunded shelters to give animals a real chance for finding a loving home, like Walt did! Here he is below.
Title: New Kids and Underdogs
Author: Margaret Finnegan
Release Date: 10/25/22
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Age Range: 8-12
~ Giveaway Details ~
Three (3) winners will receive a copy of New Kids and Underdogs (Margaret Finnegan) ~US ONLY
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