Publishers' Preview: Books in the Middle: Five Questions for Karuna Riazi

This interview originally appeared in the January/February 2023 Horn Book Magazine as part of the Publishers’ Previews: Books in the Middle, an advertising supplement that allows participating publishers a chance to each highlight a book from its current list. They choose the books; we ask the questions.

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Quoting Frances Hodgson Burnett right in the title, A Bit of Earth reimagines The Secret Garden for a contemporary American landscape.

1. Do you garden?

I do not — yet — but I am related to some awesome green thumbs, and I dream of trying it out in the future. Currently, I tend to two lovely, thriving houseplants and play a lot of farming sims on my Switch. (That counts, right?)

2. Tell me about your first encounter with The Secret Garden.

I believe I first read the book when I got it for my seventh or eighth birthday — it was that beautiful paperback packaged with the key necklace. Before then, though, I’d grown up watching the Hallmark movie (the one with Colin Firth playing adult Colin), so I already knew (and loved) the story.

3. How much is Maria Latif you and how much is she Mary Lennox?

I think Maria Latif contains the parts of me — well, specifically, my middle-schooler self — that I recognized and felt reassured to find in Mary Lennox. So she’s both my contemporary homage to Mary and a manifestation of the me that Mary spoke to.

4. How did you decide which moments called for poetry and which called for prose?

My second-semester advisor at Hamline University’s MFAC program — the incredible Laurel Snyder — encouraged me to pursue the little verses I wrote from Maria’s perspective in the margins of my first draft. Once the book landed in my editor Martha Mihalick’s hands, she identified the verses as introspective, emotional insights for the reader, and the prose as maneuvering the plot forward. It all fell into place from there.

5. Where do you go to see nature at its most transformative?

I am an equal-opportunity nature lover — I am as happy walking down the street and watching the leaves change color as I am on a day trip to a local arboretum or greenhouse, or sprawled on the lawn with friends.

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Photo: S. Uddin.

Roger Sutton
Roger Sutton

Editor Emeritus Roger Sutton was editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc., from 1996-2021. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his MA in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a BA from Pitzer College in 1978.

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