Just over a little more than a year ago, I had the delight of reading The Dragon Warrior. I have a very fond memory of sitting in bed in my hotel room during a work trip, feeling alone and only having the company of my ARC copy of The Dragon Warrior by Katie Zhao. And when I read Katie’s middle-grade debut, about a young Asian girl who was The Chosen One and wielded the power of dragons and went on this incredible adventure – I didn’t feel alone anymore; I felt excited, empowered, and like I had gone on an incredible journey.
Sprout is stargazing tonight when you visit the Pond.
You find them lying on the grass, a tiny bird in a field of green, looking up at the sky. Their eyes brighten as they see you approach.
“Oh, hello friend! You made it today!” Sprout sits up and smiles at you. “I’m so glad you’re here. We’re expecting a very exciting guest today, and I’d love for you to meet them!”
At the mention of a guest, a soft breeze picks up — gentle at first, and then stronger. As the leaves rustle, from beyond the canopy of trees overhead, you hear the flapping of wings. A sooty owl emerges, starry as the night. A wreath of orange roses adorns their head, with a few skulls peeking through the flower crown. The owl flies down to join you and Sprout on the grass.
“Right on time!” Sprout exclaims happily. “Friend, this is Reimena! She’s here to talk to us about her newest book that’s coming out next week.”
Sprout hops closer, and confides in a quieter voice, “Xiaolong told me that she cried for a whole morning reading it!”
You chuckle, and sit down on the grass next to Sprout. Curiously, you also ask them about their stargazing while waiting for you.
“Oh! Yes, I was stargazing.” Sprout says sheepishly. “The book that we’re talking about today is about what it means to grow up, and I was thinking about when I was a fledgeling before I came to the Pond. But that’s a story for another time. Let’s welcome our guest!”
I love comics. I think they’re a brilliant storytelling format, and I’m always so eager to devour graphic novels in a way I rarely am with more prose-heavy stories. They’re such an accessible medium to return to over and over again — I’d honestly argue that a lot of my own formative reading experience was shaped by warm, sticky afternoons spent cramming down local comic serials by the bundle. I’m sure comics have led many more people to reading too, just like it did for tiny 7-year-old me.
And friends, Reimena’s comics are incredible. I’ve known about Reimena’s books since she first published The Carpet Merchant of Konstantiniyya through a partially crowdfunded platform, and I’m constantly awed by all the incredible stories she tells through her art. Her comics are smart, heartfelt, and filled to bursting with lush and evocative imagery. It’s such a delight and honor to have her at the Pond today, and I’m so excited to share this conversation I had with her about her upcoming middle-grade release Séance Tea Party next week!
Today is a very special and exciting day, friends! I have the spectacular Julie Abe, author of Eva Evergreen, Semi-Magical Witch visiting us at the Pond for our very first Let’s Go on a Pond-cation guest feature, where we explore the real places that have inspired fictional places and worlds!
The stars are bright in the sky tonight as you lie down on the grass, the Pond around you restful and serene. It’s been a long day, and you nearly fall asleep in the lull of the surrounding cricketsong, but just as you begin to drift off, the ground beneath you moves with a faint tremor.
And then—a smell. It is light and sweet, a whisper of fragrance blooming against the fresh grass.
From the nearby bushes emerges Sprout, their little sapling glowing faintly verdant, and a familiar friend that you’ve seen before: it’s Hanna the elephant!
Sprout hops with excitement, “Hanna is here to talk about her new book, friend! Both Xiaolong and I have read it already, and we both really love it! Would you like to join us?”
You begin to nod yes, but then remember the sweet smell from before. You ask Sprout if they smell it too, and their eyes light up. “Oh yes! I picked some frangipani along the way here!” They hold up a handful of small, white flowers. “Did you know, friend, that frangipanis are associated with spirits and ghosts in Malaysia? Hanna’s new book is all about Malaysian spirits too!“
You smile as you sit down with Sprout and Hanna: ghosts are certainly fitting for a nighttime story!
It’s no secret that we here at the Pond absolutely adore Hanna’s stories, and her most recent middle-grade fantasy The Girl and the Ghost definitely lived up to all my expectations and more! I absolutely devoured the book, and friend, I cannot express how positively heartwarming to see my own Malaysian childhood and upbringing reflected in the pages of Suraya’s story. It felt like coming home.
So if you’re in the mood for a creepy, lushly-written tale about friendship and growing up set in a tiny kampung where a girl encounters an inherited ghost that changes her life, this is absolutely the book for you. We’re so honored today to have Hanna here at the Pond to talk about her story and her craft, and what it means to be true to who you’re writing for.
But before that, let me formally tell you what the book is all about too!
Eva Evergreen is determined to earn the rank of Novice Witch before she turns thirteen years old. If she doesn’t, she’ll lose her magic forever. For most young witches and wizards, it’s a simple enough test:
ONE: Help your town, do good all around.
TWO: Live there for one moon, don’t leave too soon.
THREE: Fly home by broomstick, the easiest of tricks.
The only problem? Eva only has a pinch of magic. She summons heads of cabbage instead of flowers and gets a sunburn instead of calling down rain. And to add insult to injury, whenever she overuses her magic, she falls asleep.
When she lands on the tranquil coastal town of Auteri, the residents expect a powerful witch, not a semi-magical girl. So Eva comes up with a plan: set up a magical repair shop to aid Auteri and prove she’s worthy. She may have more blood than magic, but her “semi-magical fixes” repair the lives of the townspeople in ways they never could have imagined. Only, Eva’s bit of magic may not be enough when the biggest magical storm in history threatens the town she’s grown to love. Eva must conjure up all of the magic, bravery, and cleverness she can muster or Auteri and her dreams of becoming a witch will wash away with the storm.
If you think the cover for Eva Evergreen, Semi-Magical Witch is delightful, wait ‘til you read its story. Eva Evergreen, Semi-Magical Witch is a stellar debut, filled with empowering messages for readers of all ages (but especially for younger readers!), an imaginative story filled with sweets and friendships and overcoming, and a memorable heroine who you won’t help but adore.