A Word from the Author or Illustrator

Uncovering Universal Truths in a Mystery Novel

by Maria José Fitzgerald, author of Turtles of the Midnight Moon

Mysteries have always captivated young readers through their suspenseful scenes, puzzles, red herrings, and whodunnits. The mystery genre in children’s literature transports young minds to realms of adventure and discovery. From Harriet the Spy and Nancy Drew to more recent novels like Greenglass House and Hoot, mysteries keep kids engaged and turning the pages, yearning to discover the truth. As young readers reach the end of the book, they might wonder: Were my suspicions correct? What clues did I miss along the way? What information led me astray?  If they’re like me, they might even start the book over and try to find the hints they missed.

But beyond the thrill of cracking a puzzling case, mysteries also offer authors the ability to weave profound universal truths into their narratives. As readers dig for evidence, they may also find that they are simultaneously digging within themselves, asking questions unrelated to the novel’s “main” mystery. Because the truth is, what matters even more than the puzzle, are the connections readers make with the characters in these stories and the sometimes-difficult truths they discover about being human.

In my debut middle-grade eco-mystery, Turtles of the Midnight Moon, I strived to craft a classic whodunnit that also delved into truths about friendship, compassion, conservation, forgiveness, identity, and even the importance of art. While young readers immerse themselves in the beaches of Honduras, trying to figure out who the egg-poaching villain(s) might be, it is my hope that they also connect to the protagonists’ struggles, hopes, and the questions they are grappling with:

  • What does it mean to be a real friend?
  • How do I show compassion towards the natural environment and its creatures?
  • Why is forgiving so hard? Why is it important?
  • What does it mean to be of mixed race or culture? What is identity anyway?

While fiction might not always answer these questions directly, stories—including suspenseful mysteries—can guide readers to come up with their own answers. Stories shine a light on the complicated truths about being human and the struggles we all share. They help readers navigate this complicated world. Even high-paced, action-packed mysteries can open doors for readers to foster new relationships with not only others but also with themselves and our planet.

Readers will find their own hidden truths within stories, perhaps even some that the author may not have consciously thought of. Here are four that I kept in mind as I created the characters, world, and plot for Turtles of the Midnight Moon.

Truth 1: Compassion is the heart of connection:

Compassion is like the bright moon in the darkness, lighting our way and illuminating the beauty around us. Compassion, the capacity to understand and share the feelings of others, lies at the core of human connections (and our connection to the natural world).  It is also at the heart of any compelling children’s novel. E.B. White did this masterfully in one of my favorite books of all time, Charlotte’s Web. In Turtles of the Midnight Moon, Barana shows great compassion for the sea turtles that nest on her beach. She has a special connection to one turtle in particular, Luna, with whom she shares a mysterious scar. Through Barana’s example, Abby also develops compassion for these creatures. As both girls work together to unravel the mystery, they must also learn to empathize with those who have wronged them and, eventually, find compassion for them.

Readers might uncover the universal truth that when there is compassion, friendships can truly bloom. When there is compassion, our natural world can thrive. And when there is compassion, communities can grow stronger. Is it always easy to be compassionate? No, but if we are able to channel it within us, the results might be magical!

Truth 2: Forgiveness is the door to healing:

Forgiveness is the path to healing and the only way forward, even when an act seems unforgivable. In Turtles of the Midnight Moon, forgiveness emerges as another powerful force and essential virtue in human relationships. As Barana and Abby contend with suspects and clues, they also face conflict with each other. The girls learn that if they are to ever find the answers they are seeking, they must learn to forgive each other and move forward. Abby’s father also contends with forgiveness. In his case, he must forgive himself for years spent neglecting his past, his pain, and his relationship with his father. We also witness forgiveness at the community level. When Barana and Abby finally solve the sea turtle poaching mystery, they and the entire village of Pataya face the difficulty of finding forgiveness in their hearts for the poacher(s). How do you forgive someone you know is inherently good but has done something “bad?”  Barana and Abby encounter individuals who have made mistakes, acted out of fear, or succumbed to their flaws but have also done much good in the past. By forgiving these characters, Barana and Abby bring closure to the mystery, showing young readers that there is great power in forgiveness. Letting go of resentment and embracing second chances can seem impossible, but young readers might consider that–perhaps– it is worth trying.

Truth 3: Identity is who we are in our own eyes:

Today more than ever, kids are exposed to the whole world in the palm of their hands. While this blog post is not about social media and its effects on young readers, we can probably all agree that we live in a time when stories and their messages might be more important than ever. While our technology has evolved and changed the very fabric of our society, young readers’ questions around identity haven’t. Who am I? Who do I want to be? How do people see me? These questions have been around for a long time. As a GenXer, I recall quite vividly how between the ages of about ten and twenty-something, I was constantly seeking to define who I was. In some ways, I still am. Perhaps we all are.

There is a line in one of the poems in Turtles of the Midnight Moon that reads: The answers are within. I love this verse because it speaks to the core of identity: it is within us, and it can only be defined by us. The opening poem in Turtles begins with this stanza:

I am from the ocean, vast and cold.

From the heart of the Atlantic.

Swimming miles away from home,

Until I return again.

Home can have many meanings. It is a place, or many places, and it is also something many of us carry with us, especially if we have moved or immigrated from our place of birth.

Abby longs to visit her father’s homeland. The urge to know where he, and therefore where she, comes from, motivates her to insist on joining him to Honduras. It is through this journey that Abby is able to begin to look inward. By traveling far from her home in New Jersey, she begins to strengthen her sense of identity and belonging.

Truth #4: Friendship is not easy, but when it is real, it can transcend anything.

I am in my mid-forties, and friendship is still somewhat of a mystery to me! In Turtles, Abby’s best friend has moved far away. Abby is having a difficult time navigating middle school, feeling alone and unseen, and she isn’t sure she’ll ever make another friend. Hiding behind her camera, Abby counts down the days for summer to begin. By the end of the novel, she has learned that she is still capable of not only creating, cultivating, and thriving in new friendships, but that it is sometimes okay to let go of past ones. While Barana and Abby don’t exactly get along at first, as they get to know each other and work together, they realize that their relationship is special. They see each other for who they are, and they support each other’s interests. The two totems the girls find are a sort of metaphor for their friendship. Sometimes the totems are warm, sometimes they shine bright, and other times, they fade and become cool. Like these carved talismans, friendship shifts over time too, but even old friendships remain with us, like a tiny turtle charm that we can carry inside our pockets wherever we go.

What are some universal truths you have uncovered while reading children’s mysteries? I’d love to connect and hear from you! You can find me at www.mariajosefitzgerald.com or @mariajosewrites on Instagram and @MariaJoseFitzg2 on Twitter



Turtles of the Midnight Moon

An eco-mystery with an unforgettable friendship story!

Twelve-year-old Barana lives in a coastal village in Honduras, where she spends every spare minute visiting the sea turtles that nest on the beach.

Abby feels adrift in sixth grade, trying to figure out who she is and where she belongs after her best friend moves away from New Jersey.

When Abby’s papi plans a work trip to Honduras, she is finally given the opportunity to see his homeland—with Barana as her tour guide. But Barana has other plans: someone has been poaching turtle eggs, and she’s determined to catch them! Before long, Abby and Barana are consumed by the mystery, chasing down suspects, gathering clues, and staking out the beach in the dead of night. Will they find a way to stop the poachers before it’s too late?

A heart-pounding mystery with a hint of magic, María José Fitzgerald’s debut novel explores the power of friendship, community, and compassion to unite all living creatures.

Author Created Resources

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Young Adult

Hear from the Creators of the Misty the Cloud series!

Misty the Cloud: A Very Stormy Day

Hear from the collaborators behind Misty the Cloud: A Very Stormy Day

Dylan: Mr. and Mrs. Happyman-Thirstyburger. That’s the first thing that came to mind when my husband, Brian, and I looked at our two suitcases sitting at the airport, mine with a bow and his without. We daydreamed about this dynamic duo traveling the world together and the children’s book it could become. But once we were on board our plane, flying above the clouds, we quickly realized that I know a little bit about traveling the world, but I know a whole lot more about clouds and weather . . . I am a meteorologist, after all. After that, all we could think about was this world we could create in the sky: childlike clouds full of emotions and feelings, excitement and fun. The more we thought about it, the more we realized how much weather affects our own feelings. It snowballed (ha!), and we came up with story idea after story idea about these clouds in the sky and how we could tie them into the world of kids, and how kids could understand and relate to them. We were so into it, we commissioned some artwork and Ollie was born. Wait . . . who’s Ollie? Ollie is now our second child, but it was also one of literally hundreds of names we came up with for this sky-high series. Now we know her as Misty the Cloud.

While this idea was all we could think about, getting someone else on board with the idea was harder than I thought. As this pitch was coming from me (a female meteorologist), I was often told I should come up with an idea about a little girl who wants to become a meteorologist, a strong-headed girl who wouldn’t take no for an answer. So I did just that . . . I didn’t take no for an answer. I teamed up with the witty and kind (and experienced) children’s book author Alan Katz. We became a perfect team, and we each used our individual knowledge to bring Misty the Cloud and her world of Horizon to life. Combining my talents with Alan’s was a match made in the clouds. But I wonder what he thought about it . . .

Alan: I’m not sure I’ve told Dylan this story, but when I was in kindergarten, I played a cloud in the class play. Dressed head to toe in white, I proudly proclaimed, “Hello, friends, I’m a cirrus cloud.” (I probably pronounced it “serious.”) Little did I know my stellar performance would serve as research for a truly special project.

I’m proud to be the father of four incredible kids, and I’ve borrowed liberally from their real-life exploits to create more than fifty lighthearted, humorous books for young readers. But creating Misty the Cloud has been a whole different experience; Dylan and Brian’s characters—indeed, their world—have led me to a new form of creative expression.

From day one, this collaboration has been an absolute joy; I’ve written books and TV scripts with others before, but Dylan’s true sense of give-and-take has allowed us to weave a story that melds real feelings, real science, and a really engaging sense of humor. Misty and her friends are clouds, but their actions and emotions are childlike and genuine. I’m very excited to be part of a book series that will help that kids learn a lot about the weather (I definitely did!) and a lot more about themselves (I did that, too!). There were plenty of laughs during the creative process, and I’m so glad many of them made their way onto the pages, which were so wonderfully illustrated by another collaborator, Rosie Butcher.

And as Misty the Cloud: A Very Stormy Day is released into the world, one thing is abundantly clear: Dylan Dreyer is now a children’s book author, and I am still not a meteorologist.

Misty the Cloud: A Very Stormy Day

Misty the Cloud: A Very Stormy Day By Dylan Dreyer; illustrated by Rosie Butcher


TODAY Show co-host and meteorologist Dylan Dreyer launches a new picture book series featuring Misty—a little cloud with big feelings! The author combines her extensive weather knowledge with her experience as a mom in this very special social-emotional learning franchise.

When Misty the Cloud wakes up feeling stormy, nothing seems to make her day better! And Misty’s grumbly mood affects everyone when her big emotions cause a thunderstorm to rumble across the sky.
But with help from friends and family, Misty accepts that sometimes she’s just going to be a little stormy—and it will always pass.
Read the first book in a sky-high series about how to deal with good days, bad days, and everything in between!

Even More Misty the Cloud Books

Dylan Dreyer

Dylan Dreyer is a meteorologist for NBC News, a co-host of the 3rd Hour of Today, and the host of Earth Odyssey with Dylan Dreyer. She’s covered hurricanes with 130 mph winds, but she loves a nice breeze when she walks her dog, Bosco. She’s stood out in six-foot snowstorms (which is taller than her!), but she loves to go sledding with her sons, Calvin and Oliver. She’s watched roads turn into rivers during strong thunderstorms, but she loves to splash in puddles. She’s traveled the country (and has been to 49 states!) and the world…she’s even been to the North Pole! She loves the weather and thinks the world is a fascinating place. She lives in New York City with her husband, Brian; their sons, Calvin and Oliver; and their dog, Bosco.

Find her on Instagram and Twitter at @DylanDreyerNBC.

Rosie Butcher

Rosie Butcher is the illustrator of the bestselling Misty the Cloud. She has illustrated many other projects, including Cat Deeley’s The Joy in You and Vanessa Bayer’s How Do You Care for a Very Sick Bear? Rosie lives in England.

Hope Jahren Author Post

The Story of More (Adapted for Young Adults)

Dear Educator,

First of all, thank you for reading books! In a world full of distractions, you are giving your time and energy to written ideas, thoughts and feelings … and teaching others to do the same.  What would the world be without you?  While we’re on the topic, I’d love for you to take a look at my new book for young people, “The Story of More” perhaps there is something inside that would interest you – and the students that you teach!

Like many of the people that I meet each day, I have plenty of questions about Climate Change: mostly along the lines of What should I believe? and Should I be afraid? Because a teacher’s job is to answer questions, I did my research and wrote a book entitled “The Story of More.”  It is the book full of the answers that I found for the questions above.  I’ve now re-written the adult version to a version that will be more accessible — and more interesting — to young people.  It’s full of simple explanations, personal stories, our shared history of Global Change and what we can do to bring forward a brighter future – what it doesn’t contain is preaching and propaganda.  It is the science that I needed to write, and maybe — just maybe — it contains answers and solutions that your students want to consider.  It is a book on Climate Change that is truly for everyone, regardless of their “politics.”

I’ll close this note with my very best to you, from one book lover to another!

Hope Jahren

Hope Jahren

Hope Jahren is an award-winning scientist who has been pursuing independent research in paleobiology since 1996, when she completed her PhD at University of California Berkeley and began teaching and researching first at the Georgia Institute of Technology and then at Johns Hopkins University. She is the recipient of three Fulbright Awards and is one of four scientists, and the only woman, to have been awarded both of the Young Investigator Medals given within the Earth Sciences. She was a tenured professor at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu from 2008 to 2016, where she built the Isotope Geobiology Laboratories, with support from the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy and the National Institutes of Health. She currently holds the J. Tuzo Wilson professorship at the University of Oslo, Norway. hopejahrensurecanwrite.com jahrenlab.com

More Books on Climate

Q&A with Alice Wong, editor of DISABILITY VISIBILITY

Disability Visibility (Adapted for Young Adults)

Disability Visibility (Adapted for Young Adults) By Edited by Alice Wong

Disabled young people will be proud to see themselves reflected in this hopeful, compelling, and insightful essay collection, adapted for young adults from the critically acclaimed adult book, Disability Visibility: First Person Stories from the Twenty-First Century. The seventeen eye-opening essays in Disability Visibility, all written by disabled people, offer keen insight into the complex and rich disability experience, examining life’s ableism and inequality, its challenges and losses, and celebrating its wisdom, passion, and joy.

The accounts in this collection ask readers to think about disabled people not as individuals who need to be “fixed,” but as members of a community with its own history, culture, and movements. They offer diverse perspectives that speak to past, present, and future generations. It is essential reading for all.

Enjoy this Q&A with anthology editor Alice Wong!

In addition to writing Disability Visibility, you are the founder of the Disability Visibility Project. What prompted you to start the online community, and how can young readers interact with it to find community of their own?

I originally started the Disability Visibility Project (DVP) in 2014 as an oral history campaign encouraging disabled people across the country to record their stories in the lead-up to the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 2015. I was tired of not seeing disability history taught in school, with the exception of the same small handful of famous disabled people like Helen Keller and FDR. The DVP grew quickly into an online community with a podcast, guest essays, and more. There’s a lot of content people can find on my website or by following me on Instagram and Twitter. The DVP is my attempt to create work by us and for us.

What advice do you have for young people looking to write or start their own entrepreneurial projects?

Knowing what’s out there is a start, and seeing other projects that are good examples of what to do and what not to do is helpful, too. Before you launch a name or hashtag, check if it’s already in use by others. If you’re working on a project, figure out how much time you have, what budget you’ll need, how you can make it sustainable, and what will set you apart. Are you filling a need? Will this give you joy? Is it a good use of your time? If you are interested in writing, start with what you care about. Journal writing can help you develop your voice and a place for your thoughts. It’s private so you don’t have to edit; you can just write without any rules. I also try to learn from my past work and try to challenge myself. I’m still figuring stuff out and cringe at some of my essays from a few years ago. So maybe that’s a sign of growth?

Can you talk about the process of selecting essays to be included in Disability Visibility? How did you find authors of the essays, and how did you decide what to keep in the young adult adaptation?

I bookmark a lot of great articles, essays, and websites for my own use. When I wrote the book proposal for the adult version of Disability Visibility, I had a spreadsheet of over fifty essays I wanted to include. During the manuscript phase, my editor, Catherine Tung, and I narrowed it down to thirty-seven because each was singular and covered an issue or perspective that is important to me. I knew most of the authors already from social media or as acquaintances and friends. It helped that I spent many years developing these relationships so people knew and trusted me. Beverly Horowitz and Rebecca Gudelis of Delacorte Press reached out to me and suggested the seventeen pieces that are in the young reader version because of length and content.

Are there any stories of disability you feel are yet to be told and would have liked to include?

There are always a ton more stories to be told! Universes upon universes! I want to hear from young disabled people, disabled artists, activists, and people from all walks of life. I want to see more work by disabled queer people, disabled gender-nonconforming people, and Black, Brown, and Indigenous disabled people. Publishing has barely scratched the surface when it comes to the richness and diversity of disabled lives.

As you were editing the essays, what were some things that really struck you?

It is a great responsibility to be an editor, and my role was to give the authors another perspective, to ask questions, and to make suggestions. I took a lot of care with their words. The contributions excited me because they were all very different, yet all were personal, political, and powerful. I appreciated the contributors’ participation in this anthology and the efforts they made in the editing process, which can be time-consuming and difficult. (I say this as a writer who understands the pain.) There wouldn’t be an anthology without them. I continue to love the essay form, since the contributors were able to express themselves clearly and concisely. Longform works seem more daunting to me!

Can you share some memories you have of being in school?

I am “an old,” as the kids say. I attended grade school in Indianapolis in the 1980s and loved reading, writing, social studies, art, and going to the library. One of my favorite places was the Nora Branch of the Indianapolis Public Library, where I attended summer reading programs. Good times. Later, I became a volunteer and got to listen to kids talk about books at the Carmel Public Library in Carmel, Indiana, when I was in high school. By the way, support your local library and volunteer or donate if you can!

Do you have hopes for how this book will be received and used in schools and libraries now?

With any anthology, I hope there is something for everyone, and the length of the essays make them ideal for short assignments and readings. It would be awesome if teachers used this in English, cultural studies, or history classes. I’d love to see libraries or student groups form book clubs or use it as a springboard to encourage students, especially disabled students, to tell their stories. There’s also a free plain-language summary and discussion guide, both by disabled writers, available as resources for teachers, students, and librarians.

Time for a fun rapid-fire round!

Name a book or books you won’t ever part with.

Let Papa Sleep by Crosby Bonsall

What’s your favorite food or snack?

Coffee and pie (or cookies, or doughnuts)

Who is a person/group doing amazing work that you admire?

I think Sandy Ho, the founder and co-organizer of the Disability & Intersectionality Summit, is pretty awesome! Full disclosure: I am on their steering committee.

Name something that brings you joy.

Group texts with friends, fancy snacks, and Netflix

What’s next for you after finishing Disability Visibility?

Thank you for asking! I am about to turn in the manuscript for my memoir, Year of the Tiger, which will be published by Vintage Books in 2022. I have a few other fun projects lined up next year, and if I’m really organized, I’ll start outlining a proposal for another anthology I want to edit.

Alice Wong

Alice Wong is a disabled activist, writer, and editor based in San Francisco, California. She is the founder and director of the Disability Visibility Project, an online community dedicated to creating, sharing, and amplifying disability media and culture. From 2013 to 2015, Alice served as a member of the National Council on Disability, an appointment by President Barack Obama. You can follow her on Twitter: @SFdirewolf. For more: disabilityvisibilityproject.com

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