Cover Reveal and Chat with Kekla Magoon About THE SECRET LIBRARY
Yesterday, I was talking about THE LOST LIBRARY.
Today? It’s SECRET LIBRARY time, my friends!
I tell you, libraries are not only the place to be these days, they’re infiltrating our books as well. And who better to put her pen to paper (in the proverbial sense, of course) than the one and only Kekla Magoon?
Coming out in March of 2024, Kekla’s latest is being discussed by her publisher as one of a kind. But don’t take my word for it. Here’s the description proper:
Since Grandpa died, Dally’s days are dull and restricted. She’s eleven and a half years old, and her exacting single mother is already grooming her to take over the family business. Starved for adventure and release, Dally rescues a mysterious envelope from her mother’s clutches, an envelope Grandpa had earmarked for her. The map she finds inside leads straight to an ancient vault, a library of secrets where each book is a portal to a precise moment in time. As Dally “checks out” adventure after adventure—including an exhilarating outing with pirates—she begins to dive deep into her family’s hidden history. Soon she’s visiting every day to escape the demands of the present. But the library has secrets of its own, intentions that would shape her life as surely as her mother’s meticulous plans. What will Dally choose? Equal parts mystery and adventure—with a biracial child puzzling out her identity alongside the legacy of the past—this masterful middle-grade fantasy rivets with crackling prose, playful plot twists, and timeless themes.
And we even have the cover for you! But first, let’s talk to Kekla herself a bit about this book:
Betsy Bird: Kekla! How absolutely delightful to talk to you today. So you’ve done a fair share of middle grade novels for kids before but this is the first time I’ve seen you dive deep into fantasy/time travel elements. Tell us a little bit about THE SECRET LIBRARY. Where did it come from?
Photo Credit: Alice Dodge
Kekla Magoon: Years ago (seriously, a decade or more) I read a blog post by author Holly Black in which she discussed having a secret library in her house. In Holly’s case, that meant a hidden library behind a door disguised as a bookcase, but my brain immediately leaped to a more imaginative place: what if it wasn’t a secret LIBRARY but a SECRET library? A library of secrets. What would such a library be like? I imagined entering a room full of glorious volumes, each containing a secret that could be read and explored. This led me to the time-travel element—in the Secret Library, you don’t just read about the secret, but you actually travel to the moment the secret occurred or to a time and place where it was shared. The idea was too teasing to ignore, so I began writing. In THE SECRET LIBRARY, eleven-year-old Dally Peteharrington receives a mysterious map in her grandfather’s will. It leads her to the Secret Library, where she embarks upon a series of adventures, guided by the Secret Librarian. Dally’s secret travels are fun, but they also lead her on a journey of self-discovery as she explores her family’s past and considers her own future.
BB: Shoot. Now I wanna be a Secret Librarian. So your publisher is calling this KINDRED meets WHEN YOU REACH ME which is a rather delightful combo. Did you have any trepidation working on something that touched on more fantastical themes than a lot of your past books or were you fairly certain you knew where it was going?
KM: I love that description! The connection to Octavia Butler’s KINDRED, in particular, is important to me. Dally’s time travel takes her into her own family’s past, just like the characters in KINDRED. As much as I’ve always loved the idea of time travel, imagining it for yourself as a Black person has all of these layers. It’s impossible to decouple the fun of exploring a different era from the trauma and suffering our Black ancestors experienced. It was very instructive to see how Octavia Butler dealt with that question and challenge, and it definitely inspired me to consider how I could honor that painful history without plunging my character so directly into an experience of enslavement in that era. I wanted to write a fun adventure story that didn’t erase or ignore reality. The fantasy elements are indeed quite different from what I usually write, but THE SECRET LIBRARY still very much explores the themes of identity and social justice that unite my body of work. I felt both excited and nervous to tackle those themes in a new genre.
BB: Did you have a plan for the plot from the start or did it come to you as you wrote?
KM: Oh, I’m not much of an advance plotter. I have to write my way into things. That’s part of why it took so long for me to complete the novel after the initial spark. For many years, I had only the concept and the character; I didn’t know the story. Then, toward the beginning of the pandemic, during the initial months of lockdown, I pulled out some files of older ideas that had always stuck with me, and I used the isolation time to play and to explore. It was funny—the moment I pulled up THE SECRET LIBRARY and printed it out, new ideas started flowing. Plotting and outlining tends to occur as part of the revision process for me, but for time travel, plotting early on is really important because of all the leaps and jumps and twists and turns. I sketched a rough outline based on the scene fragments I had, and within a few days I had this lightning strike moment when I realized how the novel needed to end. My first draft was still rather haphazard, but that lightning strike moment about the ending gave me something to write toward, and that allowed me to continue drafting and finding my way.
BB: Awesome! And were there any books or movies with time travel themes that you’re fond of and inspired you in any way?
KM: Definitely KINDRED and WHEN YOU REACH ME, as mentioned above. I also love A TIME TRAVELER’S THEORY OF RELATIVITY by Nicole Valentine, THE MAGIC IN CHANGING YOUR STARS by Leah Henderson, and classics like A WRINKLE IN TIME by Madeline L’Engle and TIME AND AGAIN by Jack Finney. A slightly tangential book that I loved as a teen was BEING OF TWO MINDS by Pamela F. Service. The two main characters don’t time travel, but they share the unique ability to “mind travel” into each other’s worlds and I always loved the sense of that shared secret between friends leading them to adventure.
BB: Was there anything you initially wanted to include in the book and weren’t able to for one reason or another?
KM: Overall, I added a lot more in revision than I cut out, because as I dove deeper into the concept, more tiny, fun aspects of the world-building came to light. One of my favorite additions was the costume closet in the Secret Library. In her present-day life, Dally goes to a school with uniforms, so in the first draft of the novel, I had her time traveling to the 1800s wearing her pleated skirt and vest, and having to scramble to change clothes when she arrived inside each secret. She goes on many different trips and it became rather one-note for her to have to worry about how she was dressed all the time. Later I realized that the library would know that this was a problem for travelers and thus might give her the opportunity to change to period-appropriate clothing in advance. This way, Dally starts each adventure with fewer logistical complications. Also, a big chunk of the story takes place on a pirate ship in the 1850s, and ensuring the historical accuracy of that experience required some deletions. I really wanted to have a rambunctious scene in a pirates’ port, but historically the heyday of pirates had ended by then, and such places had become few and far between. I had written a fun scene that made reference to the Bermuda Triangle, too, assuming it was an old sailor’s legend. My research later revealed that no one talked about the Bermuda Triangle as a phenomenon until an article written in the 1960s. I was sad to have alter that scene and I still wanted the concept of a suspicious part of the ocean to be part of the story, but I had to make the reference much more oblique.
BB: Aww. Mindful research strikes again. Finally, what are you working on next? What’s coming up for you?
KM: THE SECRET LIBRARY comes out in May 2024 from Candlewick. I also have a middle grade graphic novel coming out in March: MISSION ONE: THE VICE-PRINCIPAL PROBLEM is the first book in THE BLUE STARS SERIES, written by Cynthia Leitich Smith and me, beautifully illustrated by Molly Murakami, and published by Candlewick. I’m up to the copyedit stage on PROM BABIES, an intergenerational YA novel about three girls who got pregnant at their prom eighteen years ago and their three now-teenaged kids who are preparing for the prom in present day (Henry Holt). I’m also drafting a non-fiction historical middle grade, and working with Cynthia on the script for the next book in the Blue Stars Series. I am always busy writing something!
Fantastic! Big thanks to Kekla for taking so much time to answer my questions today.
And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for . . . the cover:
This book jacket comes to you courtesy of cover designer Maria Middleton and cover artist Bea Jackson. Thanks to Stephanie Pando and the folks at Candlewick for helping put this interview and reveal together. THE SECRET LIBRARY will be on shelves everywhere March 7, 2024.
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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