A Q&A with Rebecca Stead and Wendy Mass, Authors of September/October Kids’ Indie Next List Top Pick “The Lost Library”

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Independent booksellers across the country have chosen Rebecca Stead and Wendy Mass’ The Lost Library (Feiwel & Friends) as their top pick for the September/October 2023 Kids’ Indie Next List.

The Lost Library follows eleven-year-old Ethan, who stumbles across a mystery when a Little Free Library suddenly appears in his small town.

“This was a good ghost story with polite ghosts, a mouse-sympathizing cat, and some adventure-seeking fifth graders. A great story for kids to read by themselves or out loud — I can’t wait to share it!” said Angela Burns of Little Bean Books in Antioch, Illinois.

Here, Stead and Mass discuss their work with Bookselling This Week.

Bookselling This Week: This is a beautiful story that captures all the different ways to love books, as well as all the magical and mundane ways a book can change your life. Every book lover is going to connect somehow to this tale, but what are you hoping your middle-grade readers take away from this?
Rebecca Stead and Wendy Mass: First and most important: We’re hoping this is a book that people really enjoy reading or listening to — one of those stories that you are truly excited to pick up again after lunch. So our biggest hope is that readers will find pleasure in it. We also loved the idea of genre-crossing, and had a lot of fun on the phone, planning a story that’s a mystery and a ghost story and a cat and mouse story. And we kept our eyes open for chances to talk about all the ways of being a great reader, to sort of bust the myths that all great readers read “big books” or join book clubs or write the longest book reports. Great readers are the ones who read with open hearts. And we hope that idea is sort of baked into this story.
BTW: We see three narrators in The Lost Library — Mortimer, the feline guardian of the library, Al, the ghostly assistant librarian, and Evan, the fifth-grade detective. Which was your favorite to write? Or which came easiest to you?
RS: This was a semi-magical book because all of the characters felt real and distinct from the start. Sometimes you have to write in the dark for a long time before a character really emerges, but these three were pretty forthcoming. I miss them, actually. Al and Mortimer both have secrets. Evan is slowly and gently bringing those secrets, and an old town mystery, to light. 
But all three of them have such big hearts. (This is a story with no bad guys.)
WM: I got to write from the point of view of a mysterious little green creature in an ill-fitting chicken suit in BOB, our last collaboration, so the storyline with another non-human (Mortimer the cat) made me very happy. Al (not actually the character’s name, but short for ‘Assistant Librarian’) was originally much more of an omniscient narrator, able to know things about what was happening in the other storylines, but as the writing process went along, she became such an independent character on her own that we pulled back on the omniscient part so that she felt more grounded in her own story. 
BTW: For all three narrators, we see themes of community, coping with change, and even hope. Can you talk a little more about these themes or how you decided to include them?
RS and WM: Our first seed was the idea of a town where a Little Free Library pops up overnight, full of old books. The library means something different to each character, but each of them has to stretch, become vulnerable, or show themselves to the world in an honest way before the story ends. Meanwhile, the town responds to the Little Free Library, finding community in ways it didn’t know it was missing. We’re both interested in ways that people (and non-people) are connected, sometimes without even knowing it. We hope this story will make readers think about that in ways that feel good.
BTW: I especially enjoyed the way Evan and Rafe’s friendship is portrayed. Were you more of an Evan, cautious but curious? Or more like Rafe, with boundless bravery?
RS: I was definitely an Evan, hesitant about the future, hesitant about myself. The best thing about Rafe is that his fearlessness includes showing people his love and excitement. Unlike the three main characters (and me), he never feels that he has to hide himself in any way.
WM: I’m more of an Evan now, but was a Rafe when younger, with his determination and interest in exploring—once when I’d wandered off in the grocery store my mom had me paged over the loudspeaker “Harriet, come to the information desk your mother is looking for you.” And I knew it was me—a reference to Harriet the Spy since not only was it one of my favorite books, but I did have a tendency to spy and be a little sneaky.   
BTW: Obviously, your love of libraries, books, and stories shines through The Lost Library. Can you talk a little about the impact books or indie bookstores have had in your lives?
RS: I was an indie bookstore kid. Growing up in New York City, I spent a lot of time reading on the floors of small bookstores all over the west side. I can still conjure certain corners and what felt to me like the “secret places” in those stores. The first time I met a writer whose books I loved I was in an independent bookstore (I was eleven, and it was Madeleine L’Engle). And when I was first trying to write a book for kids, my mom and I went to an indie bookstore so that she could make me find the “S”s and put my hand on the place where my book might be someday. So the world of independent bookstores is at the very core of my experience as a reader and a writer. When I’m in a bookstore, I sometimes start talking to whoever is innocently standing nearby, I guess because I assume a kind of kinship. 
WM: I love all those stories, Rebecca, so sweet! I worked at both a library and a bookstore during high school and college and I can’t think of a better education for a writer. I’d see firsthand not only what kinds of books people were buying, but what kinds of books didn’t yet exist. Those were the ones I felt determined to write one day. (As for the “M” shelf, if I happen to wander over…and it happens to be a shelf that also has part of the “L”’s on it, and if any of the Narnia books by C. S. Lewis happen to be there, well, that’s a really good day!)