Interview With Barbara Dee (Unstuck)

Today we are very excited to share an interview with Author Barbara Dee (Unstuck)!




Meet the Author: Barbara Dee

Barbara Dee is the award-winning author of fourteen middle grade novels, all published by Simon & Schuster. Her books have earned several starred reviews and have been named to many best-of lists, including The Washington Post’s Best Children’s Books, ALA Notable Children’s Books, ALA Rise: A Feminist Book Project List, School Library Journal’s Best Middle Grade Books, and the ALA Rainbow List Top Ten. Her books appear on numerous state awards lists as well. Barbara graduated magna cum laude from Yale with honors in English. She has a MA degree from Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf School of English and a JD degree from the University of Chicago Law School, where she was an associate editor of the law review. She has taught high school English and has practiced law. Barbara is one of the founders and a former board member of the Chappaqua Children’s Book Festival, now the largest children’s book festival in the country.

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About the Book: Unstuck

From critically acclaimed author Barbara Dee comes a middle grade novel about a girl whose struggles with anxiety and writer’s block set off unexpected twists and turns, both on and off the page.

Lyla is thrilled when her seventh-grade English language arts class begins a daily creative writing project. For the past year, she’s been writing a brilliant fantasy novel in her head, and here’s her chance to get it on paper! The plot to Lyla’s novel is super complicated, with battle scenes and witches and a mysterious one-toed-beast, but at its core, it’s about an overlooked girl who has to rescue her beautiful, highly accomplished older sister.

But writing a fantasy novel turns out to be harder than simply imagining one, and pretty soon Lyla finds herself stuck, experiencing a panic she realizes is writer’s block. Part of the problem is that she’s trying to impress certain people—like Rania, her best friend who’s pulling away, and Ms. Bowman, the coolest teacher at school. Plus, there’s the pressure of meeting the deadline for the town writing contest. A few years ago, Lyla’s superstar teen sister Dahlia came in second, and this time, Lyla is determined to win first prize.

Finally, Lyla confides about her writing problems to Dahlia, who is dealing with her own academic stress as she applies to college. That’s when she learns Dahlia’s secret, which is causing a very different type of writer’s block. Can Lyla rescue a surprisingly vulnerable big sister, both on the page and in real life?




~Author Chat~


YABC:  What gave you the inspiration to write this book?

Whenever I visit schools, kids always ask, “How do you deal with writer’s block?” I realized that many kids struggle with writing anxiety, or writer’s block. And I think it’s often the kids who are the most passionate readers, the ones who feel like they need to measure up to authors they love. I wanted to write UNSTUCK to show these kids that writer’s block is normal, and that there are many different paths through it. I also wanted to encourage kids to develop their own voices as writers, and to focus on enjoying the process instead of stressing about the end product.

YABC: Who is your favorite character in the book?

 I have to say I adore several characters in UNSTUCK—the protagonist Lyla (of course), her quirky and loyal friend Journey, and her dramatic and vulnerable teen sister Dahlia. But my favorite may be Lyla’s seventh grade ELA teacher, Ms. Bowman, who provides Lyla with exactly the kind of writing support she needs. Every kid deserves a Ms. Bowman!

YABC: What scene in the book are you most proud of, and why?

Just as Lyla is “stuck” in her writing, she’s also “stuck” in a best friendship that’s basically over. I’m proud of Lyla’s scenes with Rania, because I think they capture something truthful about the volatile, complicated nature of middle school friendships, which can be hard for kids to let go of, even when they’re no longer working.

YABC: What do you like most about the cover of the book?

It’s gorgeous, isn’t it? Once again the artist is Erika Pajarillo, who also did the covers for MAYBE HE JUST LIKES YOU, VIOLETS ARE BLUE and HAVEN JACOBS SAVES THE PLANET.  What I love is how Erika captured Lyla’s wistful expression as she thinks about writing her fantasy story. I love the scribbles in the background, which convey something about the writing process. And I love the cute dragon!


YABC: What’s a book you’ve recently read and loved?

Lately I’ve been lucky to read MG books by authors whose work I admire—The Fire, the Water, and Maudie McGinn by Sally Pla and The Grey by Chris Baron. I’ve also loved reading advance copies of Gut Reaction by Kirby Larson, Keeping Pace by Laurie Morrison, and The Color of Sound by Emily Barth Isler.

In my non-MG reading, I’ve loved Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin and Hello, Beautiful by Ann Napolitano.

YABC:   How do you keep your ‘voice’ true to the age category you are writing within?

The main thing is to strive for authenticity.  You can’t worry about sounding beautiful or grammatical; your goal is to sound and think like a kid. Sometimes this means being inarticulate. You have to be able to convey a complicated, contradictory, ever-changing emotional landscape without having the vocabulary.

It’s not easy. If you write for middle schoolers with an adult sensibility, using an adult voice, game over.

YABC: What is your favorite snack when writing?

My snacks vary with each book. Right now I’m partial to Drizzlers—dark-chocolate-coated pretzels. When I’m writing I like snacks that crunch!

YABC:   What do you do when you procrastinate?

I check out baby-naming websites! They help me imagine my characters. One of my favorite scenes in Unstuck is when Lyla goes on a baby-name website to research flower names for a character in her story. She gets some hilarious results!

YABC:   What’s up next for you?  

In February 2025, Aladdin/Simon & Schuster will publish my fifteenth book, TEAR THIS DOWN. It’s about a girl who discovers that her town’s famous historical figure didn’t believe women should have the right to vote. She wants to tear down his statue and replace it with one of a local suffragette.

YABC: How do you know when a book is finished?

You don’t, really. Even after a book is published, you find things you’d change. But of course it’s too late. So you deal with it by writing the next book!




Title: Unstuck

Author: Barbara Dee

Release Date: February 27, 2024

Publisher: Aladdin / Simon & Schuster

Genre: Middle Grade Fiction

Age Range: 9-13