In the Middle with Jen Swann Downey

Hey, hey, hey! Today we are In the Middle with the hilarious Jen Swann Downey, debut author of The Ninja Librarians: The Accidental Keyhand. Take a look:


When Dorrie and her brother Marcus chase Moe – an unusually foul-tempered mongoose–into the janitor’s closet of their local library, they make an astonishing discovery: the headquarters of a secret society of ninja librarians. Their mission: protect those whose words get them itno trouble, anywhere in the world and at any time in history. Petrarch’s Library is an amazing, jumbled time-traveling base that can dock anywhere there’s trouble — in the middle of the Spanish Inquisition, Socrates’ Greece, or…Passaic, New Jersey. Dorrie would love nothing more than to join the society, fighting injustice with a real sword! But when a traitor surfaces, she and Marcus are prime suspects. Can they clear their names before the only passage back to the twenty-first century closes forever?

Available at Indiebound, B&N, Amazon, and bookstores near you.

Q&A with Jen

What draws you into writing for a middle grade audience?

I feel like I’m at least 71% MADE of middle grade fiction. That, toffee, hyperactivity, and water. I read so much of it as a kid. In fact, I never really stopped reading it. I didn’t set it aside for YA even during my teenage years. Honestly, I think I actively avoided so-called YA books, especially problem novels and contemporaries. I added adult books in along the way, but I never left Middle Grade behind. Perhaps because I think the best ones speak to kids and the kids in adults. And of course, the very best ones speak fluently to the adults in adults as well.

So there’s that appreciation for and familiarity with MG, but beyond that, I heartily agree with Madeline L’Engle’s well known advice, that “…if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.” I think lots of kids care deeply about bigger things, and take in quite a bit from the news and adult conversations about what is going on in the world, in the broad strokes, if not the details. I remember as a kid feeling as though most adults were quite unaware of how much we kids were noticing and thinking about. I love talking to those kids.

If you had a time machine and could visit middle-grade you, what would you tell him/her?

Oh, gosh. Well I could go back and tell 11 year old Jen that she really could start taking the school bus again because after a week, young Beth Pasquilichio has most definitely forgotten about her promise to give young Jen a black eye, but I’m not going to since it’s because of the many more months to come of NOT taking the school in order to continue avoiding Beth Pesquillichio that young Jen developed her lifelong love of walking, and got in the habit of making up stories in her head while she walked even if she never wrote them down until, um, recently.

Choose your own adventure: Is there an interview question you’d love to answer, but haven’t been asked?

Who does your hair? My pillow, the wind, and my six year old. Not necessarily in that order.

I could use a six year old to come do mine. Does your child take walk-ins? Thanks for being here today, Jen, and congrats on your debut!

Jen Swann Downey’s non-fiction pieces have appeared in New York Magazine, the Washington Post, Women’s Day, and other publications. Her debut novel, The Ninja Librarians, will leap onto bookstore shelves in Spring 2014. Jen has never visited a library in which she didn’t want to spend the night. She lives in Charlottesville, Virginia with her husband and three children and feels very lucky they have not yet fired her.

Connect with Jen at, on Twitter, and on Facebook.

Let's chat, shall we?

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