Tag Archives: Tonya Engel

Exclusive Cover Reveal: In the Key of Us by Mariama J. Lockington

I have been anticipating this book for about a billion years (like, you truly cannot imagine how closely I have stalked this book on Goodreads to look for a pub date), so I am extremely excited to be revealing the cover today for In the Key of Us by Mariama J. Lockington, a contemporary Middle Grade novel releasing April 26, 2022 from FSG BYR! Here’s the story:

Thirteen-year-old Andi feels stranded after the loss of her mother, the artist, who swept color onto Andi’s blank canvas. When she is accepted to a music camp, Andi finds herself struggling to play her trumpet like used to before her whole world changed. Meanwhile, Zora, a returning camper, is exhausted trying to please her parents, who are determined to make her a flute prodigy even though she secretly has a dancer’s heart.

At Harmony Music Camp, Zora and Andi are the only two Black girls in a sea of mostly white faces. In kayaks and creaky cabins, the two begin to connect, unraveling their loss, insecurities, and hope for the future.

And as they struggle to figure out who they really are, they may just come to realize who they really need: each other. From the author of the critically-acclaimed novel, For Black Girls Like Me, comes a lyrical story about the rush of first love and the power of one life-changing summer.

And here’s the dreamy, beautiful cover, illustrated by Tonya Engel and designed by Mallory Grigg!

And here’s Mariama with three things she wants you to know about In The Key Of Us and this stunning cover:

1. I’ve been a big fan of Tonya Engel’s work ever since I saw her beautiful art on the cover of Kacen Callender’s Hurricane Child. While my publisher worked with Engel on the initial drafts, I did get to give input on the cover along the way. I wanted the cover to convey the way that a Black girl’s skin is radiant during summer and also make it clear that this is a first-love story full of adventure. I think Engel has nailed my vision here and I love that Andi and Zora are holding hands, that they are floating in a kayak and staring into all that the sky has to offer.

2. This book is written in the voices of my two main characters— Andi and Zora, and writing a dual POV story was a huge challenge. Initially, Andi’s voice came to me clearer than Zora’s, but I think that’s because Zora and I share more similarities to one another and it was harder to distance myself from her. In many ways, I was and still am a Zora when it comes to being a perfectionist and not wanting to let people down. As much as I think the trumpet is an amazing instrument, like Zora I grew up playing the flute. Andi in many ways is a mash-up of the kind of girl I wanted to be.

3. In the Key of Us is my ode to Queer, Black girls who love music, art, and the outdoors. It was important to me to write a story about first love, but also about friendship, artistic passion, and what it means to grieve and grow-up. I hope that this book will provide those who find it with validation, a sense of adventure, and permission to make or listen to music often, love themselves fully, and know that even when life gets hard, they are never alone.

Preorder: Amazon | B&N | IndieBound

Mariama J. Lockington is a transracial adoptee, author, and educator. She has been telling stories and making her own books since the second grade, when she wore shortalls and flower leggings every day to school. Her debut middle grade novel For Black Girls Like Me (FSG BYR 2019) is an ALA Notable Middle Grade Book, a Booklist Editors Choice title, a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard title, a Project LIT Book Club 2019-2020 selection, and has earned five starred reviews from Shelf Awareness, Publisher’s Weekly, BookPage, School Library Journal, and Booklist. Mariama’s second middle grade novel In the Key Of Us (FSG BYR) will be out in April of 2022 and her debut YA novel Forever is Now (FSG BYR) is also forthcoming. Mariama calls many places home, but currently lives in Kentucky with her partner and her little sausage dog, Henry. You can find her on Twitter @marilock and on Instagram @forblackgirlslikeme.

Exclusive Cover Reveal: King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callender

I don’t know what we did to get so lucky, but queer kidlit seriously struck gold when it got Kacen Callender, who seems to be multiplying their glorious catalog every five minutes. Their first MG, Hurricane Child, is both a Lambda and Stonewall award winner, so you know this newest, King and the Dragonflies, which releases from Scholastic on February 4, 2020, had better fly onto your TBR ASAP! Here are the details:

In a small but turbulent Louisiana town, one boy’s grief takes him beyond the bayous of his backyard, to learn that there is no right way to be yourself.

Twelve-year-old Kingston James is sure his brother Khalid has turned into a dragonfly. When Khalid unexpectedly passed away, he shed what was his first skin for another to live down by the bayou in their small Louisiana town. Khalid still visits in dreams, and King must keep these secrets to himself as he watches grief transform his family.

It would be easier if King could talk with his best friend, Sandy Sanders. But just days before he died, Khalid told King to end their friendship, after overhearing a secret about Sandy—that he thinks he might be gay. “You don’t want anyone to think you’re gay too, do you?”

But when Sandy goes missing, sparking a town-wide search, and King finds his former best friend hiding in a tent in his backyard, he agrees to help Sandy escape from his abusive father, and the two begin an adventure as they build their own private paradise down by the bayou and among the dragonflies. As King’s friendship with Sandy is reignited, he’s forced to confront questions about himself and the reality of his brother’s death.

The Thing About Jellyfish meets The Stars Beneath Our Feet in this story about loss, grief, and finding the courage to discover one’s identity, from the award-winning author of Hurricane Child.

And here’s the incredibly stunning cover, with art by Tonya Engel and design by Baily Crawford!

Preorder: Amazon | B&N | IndieBound

But wait, there’s more! Keep reading for a guest post by author Kacen Callender on the inspiration behind the book!

Elizabeth Gilbert has a beautiful TedTalk on the expectations of artists, and the concept that there’s a source of ideas and creativity that we humans are sometimes granted access to. It’s a thought that’s stuck with me for years now: that writers are only tools who tap into some sort of stream of energy and creativity, gifted with stories by the universe—stories that the divine wants us to tell.

It may seem a little too New Age-y for some, but I feel this is true even more after my experience with King and the Dragonflies. I had a deadline approaching and sat down to write the novel, nervous and unsure of where the story would go, or what I wanted to say. As if I’d heard a whisper, I suddenly knew that the main character was a boy named King, and that he thought his brother Khalid had turned into a dragonfly. Almost the entirety of King and the Dragonflies came to me as though a dream over the next few weeks after that, spilling onto the page—the fastest manuscript I’ve ever drafted.

When the novel begins, King’s brother Khalid has already unexpectedly and tragically passed away. King has also decided that he can no longer speak to his best friend Sandy because he’s gay, and King is afraid others will think he’s gay as well. It doesn’t help that King is questioning his identity and is afraid that others will learn his secret. As the novel progresses, King struggles with his identity as a gay black boy in the south, centering around something I myself had been told as a child: “Black people can’t be gay. If they are gay, it’s because they’ve been around a white gay person too much.”

It sounds ridiculous, but after writing and sharing this novel with some early readers, I’ve learned that other black people have been told the same thing. We’re in a society that usually only celebrates queer people who are white. Black queer people tend to be invisible, to the point that others have tried to speak us out of existence. If there aren’t enough stories showing black, queer people, then where is the proof that we do exist—not only for ignorant folks, but for the black queer people who need to know that they aren’t alone?

Beyond the idea that black people can’t be queer, there’s also the fear of facing two stigmas: bad enough that we’re black in a racist United States, but to have to face homophobia from all sides, regardless of race, as well? It’s a real fear that many black, queer people struggle with, and one that I explore in King and the Dragonflies for any young reader who worries about the same things.

By the end of the novel, King has evolved, both due to grief for his brother, and for the courage he must find to face his identity. I’ve always been super interested in symbolism in dreams, so months after finishing the first draft and working on revisions, I suddenly had the urge to look up the dream meaning of dragonflies. Change, transformation, self-realization. I can’t think of a stronger symbol for this novel.

Writing King and the Dragonflies was an emotional, raw experience, exactly like waking up from a vivid dream, one that I’m still reeling from in some ways. I can’t take the credit for being a transmitter or antennae of some kind, passing along messages and stories from the beyond, but I can be grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to help share King and his story with the world.