Publishers' Preview: Books in the Middle: Five Questions for Lisa Yee and Dan Santat

This interview originally appeared in the January/February 2024 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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What happens when you get a group of misfits together? Yes, you could start a band, or, as in A Royal Conundrum, the first volume in the Misfits series, you could just unleash them to fight crime.

1. Lisa, what could be your unique contribution to a band of misfit crime fighters?

I took a private investigator class, plus I’ve had ninja training, which makes me qualified to write this book. Snort! I love mystery and adventure stories; creating a team of underdog crime fighters allowed me to channel my awkwardness and eccentricities plus skills that I never managed to master.

2. Lisa, why five?

Originally there was an entire school of undercover agents. The concept morphed into a series with five main characters. This offered a nice assortment of configurations and pairings. Most K-Pop bands have an odd number of members because with one person in the middle, a balance is created. Here, Olive Cobin Zang anchors the story and stands center stage.

3. Dan, how did the two of you become friends, anyway?

Arthur Levine, who published our first books, introduced us at an SCBWI conference. I also met Lisa’s young daughter, Kait Feldmann, who would eventually go on to edit my book The Aquanaut.

4. Lisa, what’s your favorite secret-school book?

Does Harriet the Spy count? She’s in school! She has secrets! Harriet is brilliant at sleuthing, though at interpersonal relationships, not so much. I related to her being an outsider, observing classmates for clues on how to fit in. Books like Harriet and the Nancy Drew and Encyclopedia Brown series taught me that sometimes when you’re looking in from the outside, you’re in a position to see more.

5. Dan, what classic novel would you most like to illustrate?

Treasure Island or War of the Worlds.


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Photo of Lisa Yee: Emi Fujii.

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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