WNDMG Wednesday: Author Interview with Christina Matula


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WNDMG Wednesday: Author Interview with Christina Matula

I’m so excited to be able to introduce you to author Christina Matula today. Christina’s newest title is The Not-So-Simple Question (HarperCollins), which is the third title in her Holly-Mei series, launched on April 23, 2024.

I absolutely love the description of this book. It sounds so interesting, with themes on what it means to belong, and immigrant child identity. I cannot wait to dive into this series!

I encourage everyone to buy a copy for themselves and their classrooms and libraries.

About The Not-So-Simple Question:

Description taken from online:

Return to Hong Kong in the third book of this charming Middle Grade series starring Holly-Mei, a girl navigating her new city, new school, and new friendships.

Holly-Mei is caught in the middle.

Holly-Mei Jones has finally settled into her new friend group in Hong Kong–that is until suddenly everyone starts talking about dating. Which Holly-Mei is not ready for.

At least she has her school’s Experience Week to look forward to. Holly-Mei can’t wait to show off Taiwan, where her beloved Ah-Ma is from, to her friends. The trip is going to be perfect…right?

Maybe not. On top of the pressure to date, Holly-Mei starts to wonder if maybe being half-Taiwanese isn’t enough. In the face of these big questions, will Holly-Mei be able to finally feel like she belongs?

Interview with Christina:

I loved getting to talk to Christina about her new book and I think you will enjoy meeting her and Holly-Mei as well.


SSS: What a wonderful description. I was interested right away! What is the inspiration behind The Not-So-Simple Question?

CM: I really wanted to write a book where Holly-Mei delves into her mixed-race identity. Like me, she is half Taiwanese, born and raised in Canada. Growing up, I never saw books with mixed-race characters, and I wanted to write a book that touched on this topic, including the richness of coming from a multi-cultural household and the journey of self-discovery. In a nutshell, I wanted to write the book I wish I had as a child, a book that would let me know that it’s okay to sometimes feel unsure and to push back on expectations, but at the same time celebrate my heritage.

SSS: As a mom of three girls, I love stories about girls and especially diverse girls. How is Holly-Mei as a character? Is she sassy and spunky, or shy and introverted?

CM: I’d say she is spunky and sporty, fun and approachable, with a competitive streak. She has her flaws, such as not always thinking before she speaks, but we see her grow over the series into a more thoughtful and kind-hearted friend.

SSS: As a Syrian-American, I think often about the themes of multi-cultural identity. Can you expand on what it means for Holly-Mei to be half-Taiwanese?

CM: Holly-Mei has always loved being mixed-Taiwanese and having two cultures to call her own. Even though she was raised in Canada, she always had her Ah-ma, her Taiwanese grandmother, by her side to pass down traditions. In the book, as she and her classmates prepare to go on a cultural trip to Taiwan, someone asks her a seemingly simple question “So you’re only half?” This sows some doubt in her mind about whether she can claim this part of her heritage, particularly as she’s not lived in Taiwan and her Taiwanese language skills are nonexistent. She needs to navigate internal questions about what being mixed means to her considering these seeming contradictions. In the end, she learns that her identity is what she feels in her heart and the power to define it rests in her own hands.


SSS: The subject of dating is one that seems to be increasingly explored in Middle grade. How does Holly-Mei view dating and how does her view inform how she views her friends and peers when they start dating?

CM: Holly-Mei has good friends who are boys and is perfectly content with that dynamic. She’s not ready to think about anything different, particularly at only twelve years of age, so she finds the pressure to date that comes along unwelcome. She sees how dating and crushes amongst her friendship group can sometimes lead people to be distracted or act less thoughtfully, as well she witnesses the stress and heartache her cousin goes through when faced with a breakup.

In this age of social media, kids may feel pushed into relationships or situations they are not ready for. I wanted to remind readers that it’s okay to not want these things, that they can just be kids.

SSS: Will there be more Holly-Mei (or other middle grade novels) in the future?

CM: The Not-So-Simple Question is the final book in the Holly-Mei series. I feel like the series has come to a natural conclusion. Her character grows in confidence and comes to understand that she’ll be just fine, whatever direction her life may take her. The end circles back to Book 1, The Not-So-Uniform Life of Holly-Mei, where her Ah-ma teaches her a saying “ku jin, gan lai”, bitterness finishes, sweetness begins. At the end of Book 3, Holly-Mei knows she’ll be able to make sweetness wherever she is in the world.

I would love to keep writing middle-grade books. It’s such an amazing space in which to contribute and make connections with young readers.


Link to order here.

Writing Process


SSS: When did you start writing the series of Holly-Mei and was the process a long one?


CM: I started writing the first book in 2019 as a YA and it was sort of a mash up of Crazy Rich Asians and Pride and Prejudice set in an elite Hong Kong high school. (I was living in Hong Kong at the time). However, I was told that Holly-Mei’s voice felt more naturally middle grade, so I ended up aging her down and completely revising the plot, while keeping her voice almost the same.


SSS: How is the process of writing a Middle Grade SERIES different from writing a stand-alone do you think? Is it harder or easier? Or both?

CM: I originally wrote the first Holly-Mei as a standalone but was thrilled to be offered a three-book series. At first, I was a bit stressed because I wasn’t sure what else I could write about. But the fact that middle-grade books generally have a short timeframe, around 2-3 months, meant that I could use the school calendar as inspiration for different plots, while having her personal growth occur over the year. I think it would have been hard for me to say goodbye to Holly-Mei after only one adventure.

SSS: Any advice for fellow middle-grade authors?


CM: Surround yourself with other writers and don’t be afraid to share your work and get feedback. My SCBWI critique group was invaluable to me for improving my writing and the stories I wanted to tell.


SSS: Bonus question! Is there anything I haven’t asked that you’d like to share with us?

CM: There’s a bit of me in Holly-Mei, from the character flaws and competitiveness, to the relationship with her younger sister, Millie, and her love of field hockey, which I still play. And when I wrote the books, I made a list of all my favourite places, activities, and foods in Hong Kong, and sprinkled them throughout the series as a bit of love letter to the city I called home for so many years.

Thank you so much Christina for answering my questions! I hope everyone picks up a copy of your beautiful book.

For more Diverse Author Interviews, check out this recent one by Aida Salazar

About Christina Matula:

Christina Matula grew up in Ottawa, Canada. Being a child of immigrant parents, she has always been curious about other cultures and far-off places. Dumplings are her favorite food, especially her mother’s savory Taiwanese jiaozi and her father’s sweet Hungarian gomboc. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Hong Kong and now lives in Finland with her husband, two children, and puppy.


Twitter: @MatulaChristina

Instagram: @christinamatula




STEM Tuesday– Survival Science — In the Classroom


When we talk about animals, we are usually talking about their biological make-up: How they look, what they eat, where they live, and how they interact with other animals. But this month we are focusing on a different topic. It’s more about how animals survive in the wild. This is an important idea and one that is a good to explore with your students. Especially because as climates change and humans move into their habitats, animals are needing to work harder to survive.

There are many great books to use in the classroom on our Species Survival  list this month. Here are a few activities that you can use in your classroom:


Hopping Ahead of Climate Change book

Hopping Ahead of Climate Change: Snowshoe Hares, Science, and Survival

by Sneed Collard

This book takes a look at whether animals are able to adapt to climate change to survive. The snowshoe hare is white because normally it is found in areas with a lot of snow. But if those areas have shorter snow periods, its white coat, which normally allows it to hide in plain sight, becomes a very big hindrance. So much so, that it makes itself stand out amongst the greens and browns of the trees, grass, and dirt. This is makes it easy prey for a predator!



Classroom Activity

What traits do animals have that allow them to blend in with their surroundings. Have the students do some research to discover three animals that use their colors as camoflauge  They can start with the snowshoe hare, but come up with two more. There are many of them to choose from. If they can’t think of any, prompt them with: Snake, shark, giraffe, tigers, etc.  Using these animals, have students answer the following questions:

  1. How does the color of the animal help them to blend in with their surroundings?
  2. Does this animal have a pattern that also helps? and if so, how?
  3. Do you think these colors and patterns help them during specific times of the year?
  4. Would their colors and patterns help more in particular seasons of the year or not?
  5. How would that change if the seasons were lengthened or shortened due to climate change?

Have a discussion with the class. Maybe even have the students draw their animals in their original habitat before and after climate change effects to see the difference.


History Comics: The American Bison: The Buffalo’s Survival TaleThe American Bison book

Written and illustrated by Andy Hirsch

While some may be familiar with the history of how great herds of bison roamed across the plains, it might come as a surprise that these creatures not only benefited Native Americans, but also the land on which they lived. This book explores the fascinating ecologicial “triangle” relationship between bison, the prairie grasses of the West, and the Native Americans that lived there. The graphic novel form makes this book easily accessible and fun for kids to read and offers great imagery for teachers to use in their classroom.

Classroom Activity

How can animals actually benefit the environment in which they live? Bison used their own mucus (or snot) to reseed grasses across the prairie. Read the book to learn more about this fascinating trait that allowed bison to also digest the grasses and eat them. Without the bison, the prairie grass had a difficult time growing and expanding across the land. How did the Native Americans help? They provided places with lots of grass for the bison to graze. Discuss how this worked for that environment.

  1. How exactly did the bison use their mucus to eat food?
  2. How were the microbes in the soil beneficial to the bison?
  3. What is cellulose and why is it so hard to digest?
  4. How did the Native Americans use the grasses to bring bison to their area?

Have a discussion with the class about what they have discovered. Can you think of other animals that might have a similar relationship to their own environment?


The Nocturnals Explore Unique Adaptations of Nighttime AnimalsUnique Adaptations of Nighttime Animals

Written by Tracey Hecht

This book takes a look at species survival from the point of view of nocturnal animals. But it presents lesser known animals like the pangolin, woylie, tuatara, aya-aye, and jerboa. It not only features facts but also includes narrative stories about each animal so children can learn about the animals’ nocturnal habits and special adaptations.







Classroom Activity

Have a discussion about nocturnal animals and how they interact with their environments. The cool thing about this book is that it allows for a discussion about nocturnal animals that students may not be familiar with.

  1. What traits make an animal nocturnal?
  2. How are nocturnal animals different from diurnal or crepucular?
  3. Why do you think it might be more difficult for an animal that comes out at night to survive?
  4. Learn about two or three unusual nocturnal animals that you may not have known

Have students pick one nocturnal animal, unknown to them, and draw it, give 3 clues about its habitat, and discuss how it might survive. Have them present their animals to the class. You could even do this as a “Name that animal” type of game and have the student give clues while the other members of the class guess what it is.


The other books in this list all lend themselves to wonderful discussions in the classroom about how animals survive in the wild. Many of these authors also have more information on their websites. So be sure to check them out! This is a great topic for getting your students excited about animals, and getting them to explore unusual environments as they consider how they have a impact on the world.



Jennifer Swanson author

Jennifer Swanson is the award-winning author of 50 books for kids. She is passionate about STEM/STEAM and is the creator of  STEM Tuesday, STEAMTeam Books, and the Solve It! for Kids Podcast. Her views on writing are “For me, writing STEM/STEAM books is about having a conversation with a young reader. It’s about getting them excited about the topic so that they get curious, ask questions, and want to explore more on their own.”

Interview with Author/Illustrator Caroline Palmer

Today, I’d like to extend a warm, Mixed-Up welcome to Caroline Palmer, author and illustrator of Camp Prodigy, a debut graphic novel about two nonbinary kids who navigate friendship and identity at summer orchestra camp. Touted by Kirkus as “an immersive and affirming story that hits the right notes,” the novel is perfect for fans of Victoria Jamieson and Raina Telgemeier. It’s out tomorrow, June 11, from Atheneum Books for Young Readers/S&S.

But first…

Camp Prodigy: a Summary

After attending an incredible concert, Tate Seong is inspired to become a professional violist. There’s just one problem: they’re the worst musician at their school.

Tate doesn’t even have enough confidence to assert themself with their friends or come out as nonbinary to their family, let alone attempt a solo anytime soon. Things start to look up when Tate attends a summer orchestra camp—Camp Prodigy—and runs into Eli, the remarkable violist who inspired Tate to play in the first place.

But Eli has been hiding their skills ever since their time in the spotlight gave them a nervous breakdown. Together, can they figure out how to turn Tate into a star and have Eli overcome their performance anxieties? Or will the pressure take them both down?

Interview with Caroline Palmer

Melissa: Welcome to the Mixed-Up Files, Caroline! It’s great to have you here.

Caroline: I’m very glad to be here!

Melissa: First and foremost, congrats on Camp Prodigy! Can you share the inspiration behind your MG debut?

Caroline: I pretty much took lots of ideas from my own life and threw them together. The main characters being nonbinary violists, orchestra camp, the awkwardness of making connections as a kid… All of those bits, at least, were drawn from personal experience!

Similarities and Differences

Melissa: Camp Prodigy, which focuses on two nonbinary tween violists, Tate and Eli, is loosely autobiographical. (In addition to being nonbinary, you studied the viola.) What are the main similarities between you and the main characters? The main differences?

Caroline: I’d say that Tate and I are similar in how we struggle to open up to others–but for different reasons. For Tate, it’s because they don’t have a lot of confidence. In contract, I’m pretty at ease with myself, but that doesn’t come naturally to me. Eli struggles when they have to play music solo, but by the end of the book they find enjoyment in playing as a part of the orchestra. This is something I relate to. I guess the main difference between us is that I’m not competitive, haha!

Hard Work Pays Off

Melissa: At the beginning of the novel, Tate and Eli seem to have little in common. Eli is a high-achieving viola prodigy; Tate loves to play but isn’t particularly talented. What were you trying to say about achievement—and perseverance—in general?

Caroline: I really liked the idea of this dynamic. A prodigy and a beginner who are worlds away in skill but very similar in motivation. And while Tate’s journey from worst violist in camp to best violist (according to the seating arrangements) is a bit unrealistic, I don’t doubt it can happen in real life. When you’re starting out, even little adjustments can make a big difference in how you play music. Mindful practice and guidance from someone who can see opportunities for you to improve, and then communicate them to you on your level, goes a long way.

This isn’t exclusive to playing music, either! Anyone learning a new skill can go far with it. Hard work really does matter more than natural talent. I’m a lucky person–my personal talents and interests are in alignment–but there are people who have more technical skill than I do, in areas they had to work for.

The Stress of Secret Keeping

Melissa: The theme of secret keeping looms large in this story. Tate is afraid to come out to their family as nonbinary, while Eli hides the trauma they suffered as a result of their quest to be an accomplished violist. What is it about secrets that provokes so much anxiety, particularly for tweens? And what advice would you give to young readers who are struggling with a secret themselves—coming out or otherwise?

Caroline: I think there’s some correlation with hitting puberty, in a way. This could be influenced by my experience with gender, but suddenly, you have to deal with uncomfortable changes to your body. I could always speak freely with my parents, and I knew what was coming, but I still felt the urge to lie by omission. By saying nothing, it’s as though your problems and worries won’t be real. Unfortunately, they still are.

My advice? It’s always a relief to share a secret with someone you trust. It may be scary, but the people who care about you should always be able to help, even if they can’t do anything but listen. It’s up to you whether or not you share a secret, but it’s always easier to carry something with help, rather than alone.

Nonbinary rep

Melissa: As above, your novel features two main characters who are nonbinary. How is this novel specific to the nonbinary experience? What is universal?

Caroline: There are several scenes that center on the feeling of being misgendered. In my experience, for those first few months and years after you’ve realized that you’re not cisgender, you tend to be the most sensitive about incorrect pronouns or gendered terms. It’s like a fresh wound that needs to heal. Tate, a kid who’s recently begun to explore their nonbinary identity, is deeply uncomfortable not just with being misgendered, but also with hearing other people misgendered. And sometimes, cis people who are well intentioned still don’t give the concept a second thought.

This experience feels pretty specific to me, but I think everyone can understand the feeling of having something important to you completely dismissed, even by kind people who just don’t understand. The feeling of being queer is not so  alien if people give it some thought!

Challenges and Rewards of MG

Melissa: Since this is your first foray into middle-grade fiction, what was the biggest challenge you faced when writing and illustrating this novel? The greatest reward?

Caroline: It was tricky trying to create satisfying stakes. When you write fantasy or sci-fi, for instance, it’s easy to create tension. Maybe the world will be destroyed if the bad guys aren’t stopped! But Camp Prodigy was an entirely different genre, so the stakes had to be personal. It was also pretty tough to draw realistic backgrounds consistently!

For the reward, I’d say getting to hold the book in my hands. Getting to read it from front to back as a professional, physical story. It was so satisfying to see everything come together just the way I knew it would!

Caroline: The Versatile Creator

Melissa: In addition to writing middle grade fiction, you create comics, storyboards (including those inspired by The Simpsons, Star Wars, and Hamilton), and have done a TV-show pilot based on the BETA version of Regular Haunts, where you produced all the art, editing, sound design, and voice acting. What is the secret to being such a versatile creator?

Caroline: It all stems from the same source for me. I want to tell stories with words and art. The many facets of animation and comics aren’t too different in that regard; I’ve always seen them as points on the same scale of visual mediums. You have prose novels–all words, animation–all art, and comics in the middle of both.

For me, there’s very little that compares to the feeling of telling stories with words and art. I’d try out any medium to bring what’s in my mind to reality in the most fulfilling way! So I guess the secret would be…if you want to try something new, do it! There’s nothing more exciting than creating art without holding yourself back.

Creative Process

Melissa: What does your creative process look like? Do you have any particular rituals or routines?

Caroline: I try to stick to a vague schedule in terms of work projects, but I’m always thinking up stories in my mind. It’s so embedded in my life that there’s no removing it. Because of that, it’s hard to think of my actions as routines, but I suppose I draw almost every day. It’s not even something I try to do, it’s something I’m compelled to do. If I don’t draw for too long, I’ll get an itch under my skin.

Some people do warm-up drawings before starting important art pieces, but I usually don’t do that either, hah! If you draw often, it gets easier to jump right in. And if you draw comics, you’ll be compelled to practice depicting complicated backgrounds, props, and poses that you might normally avoid.

Melissa: What are you working on now, Caroline? Can you give Mixed-Up Files readers a sneak peek?

Caroline: I have another pitch in the works, but I can’t share much about it now. Maybe soon! Aside from that, I’m still updating my long-running webcomic “Talent de Lune” on tumblr and webtoon. If you like action, consider checking it out!

Lightning Round!

Melissa: And finally, no MUF interview is complete without a lightning round, so…

Preferred writing snack? You can never go wrong with apples! I’ve also been snacking on these things called Yoggies from Costco.

Coffee or tea? Neither! But here’s my favorite soda–root beer!

Favorite piece for the viola? I’ve been chipping away at Suite Hébraïque by Ernest Bloch for ages. It’s very eerie and beautiful.

Zombie apocalypse: Yea or nay? I would be bitten, sadly. I would definitely be bitten.

Superpower? Bringing my drawings to life, of course!

Favorite place on earth? If I’m having a good time with friends or family, everywhere is fun! But I did get to visit Korea last year, and the food is delicious, no matter where you go.

If you were stranded on a desert island with only three things, what would they be? A fully stocked and manned ship to sail away on. Gotcha! (Or, if perhaps that’s unavailable…some sort of satellite radio, a fire-starting kit, and a pot?)

Melissa: Thank you for chatting with us, Caroline. It’s been a pleasure, and I’m sure MUF readers will agree!

Caroline: Your questions were great! I had a lot of fun, thanks for inviting me!

About Caroline Palmer

Caroline Palmer (they/them) is a nonbinary comic creator who tells action-packed stories with heart. Visit them at

Melissa Roske is a writer of middle-grade fiction. Before spending her days with imaginary people, she interviewed real ones as a journalist in Europe. In London she landed a job as an advice columnist for Just Seventeenmagazine. Upon returning to her native New York, Melissa contributed to several books and magazines, selected jokes for Reader’s Digest (just the funny ones), and received certification as a life coach from NYU. In addition to her debut novel Kat Greene Comes Clean (Charlesbridge), Melissa’s short story “Grandma Merle’s Last Wish” appears in the Jewish middle-grade anthology, Coming of Age: 13 B’Nai Mitzvah Stories (Albert Whitman). Learn more about Melissa on her Website and follow her on  TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.