Wednesday, October 14, 2020

National Bullying Month and a Conversation with Cat Michaels and Rosie Russell, authors of "Just Between Sam and Me"

Congratulations to Lois Bartholomew who won Bionic Beasts from last week's blog. 

As promised in the last post about Cat Michaels and Rosie Russell's collaborative process, this is the third blog leading up to the release of their book, Just Between Sam and Me on December 2. Since October is National Bullying Prevention Month, Cat, Rosie, and I decided to talk about bullying, which is a major theme in their middle-grade novel.


Carol: I understand Olivia is your protagonist and the ME in your story of Just Between Sam and Me. Tell us more about Sam and his relationship with Olivia.

Cat: Sam is Olivia’s cat! He’s a big orange tabby. Tough on the outside but a soft heart for his Human. 


Shy Olivia is ashamed to let people know she’s being taunted by a mean girl clique at school. Instead, she pours out her problems by writing to Sam in her journal, who’s usually purring beside Olivia as she writes.



Rosie: We want to show children that talking about bullying with a trusted adult or friend (or even writing in a journal to a cat!) helps them feel they’re not alone and often leads them to stop bullying behaviors.


Carol: Got it! Olivia’s journal is what stays “between” Sam and Me in your title! Why did you decide to add that epistolary element to your story?

Cat: We wanted readers to dig deeper into our main character’s head through her journaling. And honestly, the 13 journal entries are sprinkled with kid-speak, different fonts, and funky graphics to break up lines of text. More fun for kids and less overwhelming. 


                           Just Between Sam and Me, by Cat Michaels and Rosie Russell

Carol: What kind of research did you do about bullying before you started writing?

Cat: We’re no experts on bullying, but from the years we worked in the classroom, Rosie and I saw firsthand what happens when kids are excluded and mocked. We also consulted several trusted online sources that we include in our back-matter.


Carol: Why did you decide to make your main character a child who is bullied?

Cat: When plotting our book, Rosie and I brainstormed different kid-sized obstacles to throw at our 11-year-old protagonist. We wanted to keep tweens engaged while adding subtle social messages.

Social bullying became personal when my fourth-grade niece was taunted by mean girls at school. She was devastated. Fortunately, her parents and teachers immediately picked up on the bullying behaviors and stopped them. Yet, my niece still remains anxious about approaching new school experiences. 

Olivia’s character arc quickly became her struggle to overcome the taunts of a trio of mean girls at school. In fact, several social bullying incidents in our book, and especially the seminal event that causes Olivia’s greatest heartbreak, are based on encounters that actually happened to my niece. 

Carol: Do you include any upstanders to help Olivia and show young readers how people can prevent bullying? 

Rosie: Absolutely! We have two characters in the book who support her. One is an unexpected source. However, our main character’s BFF, Isabella, squashes bullying behaviors when she observes them:

“What do you think about this writing contest?” Brooke asked at lunch, scooting next to Candace and Bethany at their table.

Candace glowered. “I have to write about moving to this stupid, boring town.” 

Isabella held up a slice of pizza. “I’m writing about spring harvest and how it should be required for school to serve pizza every day.”

“Just eat already, Isabella,” Olivia laughed.

“What’s your essay about, Olivia?” asked Bethany.

“I bet she’s going to write about that stinky horse of hers,” Candace said.

Olivia’s face turned red. “Well, yes. My essay is about getting Star ready for the halter competition at Spring Daze.” 

Candace whinnied and pawed at the table with her hands as pretend horse hooves. Bethany and Brooke giggled and joined her. 

“Really? Imitating farm animals, Candy? We did that in kindergarten,” Isabella cut in. 

The new girl snapped and stopped her mischief. “Don’t call me Candy! My name is Candace.” 

Her stony glare didn’t bother Isabella one bit. 

Excerpt: Just Between Sam and Me, by Cat Michaels and Rosie Russell


Carol: How do you make your readers empathize with your antagonist, Candace, and perhaps feel sympathy for her, despite being the mean girl?

Cat: We want kids to boo at our baddie but not hate her. Plus, we show that kids who bully often act out of their own despair and trouble. Doesn’t excuse those actions, but it helps children understand why:

Candace set her phone alarm for early Saturday morning. Last night, Dad had promised to make his special waffles from Grandma Nettie’s recipe and top them with strawberries, whipped cream and maple syrup. It would be a breakfast for the two of them together.

She didn’t care about his waffles, although they were delicious. She wanted to spend time with her father. Dad spent every Saturday morning showing his clients homes for sale in Spring Hope. But this Saturday, he had pushed back his appointments and promised a father-daughter meal. 

Candace threw on a bathrobe and walked past Dad’s bedroom on her way to the kitchen. She noticed his bedroom lights were on. He was probably up already and getting ready for her! 

Knocking softly, she entered when he didn’t answer. Dad was propped against his pillows with his laptop, sound asleep. Candace sighed. He had been working late again. She gently removed the laptop and tucked the covers around him. 

Excerpt: Just Between Sam and Me, by Cat Michaels and Rosie Russell


Carol: What do you want your young readers to take away about 


Rosie: Olivia’s teacher says it best after she privately admonishes 

Candace for making fun of Olivia in class:

We have zero tolerance
for children who make fun of others 
or who are cruel in any way.


Cat: We want kids to reach out for help and look for upstanders. We 

say this upfront in our dedication page:

For upstanders, who break the cycle of bullying. 

For teachers, parents, and grown-ups, who step in to help. 

Most of all, for every child, who has experienced cruelty from others: You are brave, amazing, and wonderfully unique inside and out. There is someone waiting to help you. Reach out to them now! 


Be one of the first to read Between Sam and Me! Leave a comment with your name and email address (if you are new to my blog) or send me an email and I'll enter your name to win an ARC. The winner will be drawn on October 16. 


Award-winning author CAT MICHAELS has an M.S. degree in special education from the University of Kansas plus decades of teaching experience. Her books for young and reluctant readers have been recognized for excellence in writing children’s literature with three Purple Dragonfly Awards, a first-place honor from the Children’s Literary Classics Book Awards, and a silver medal by the Readers’ Favorite International Book Awards. Her last book, Sweet T and the Turtle Team, also won the Wind Dancer Films competition and was considered for adaptation to movies or TV.

Cat and her family live in North Carolina, where she creates a fairy garden for her neighborhood children, enjoys photography, devours British mystery novels and period TV series, works out most days, and writes.











ROSIE RUSSELL is the author and illustrator of nine books for young readers. After her studies in early childhood education, she taught in elementary and middle schools for fifteen years.  She enjoys sharing her books with students and encouraging them to write and illustrate their own stories.  

Rosie now writes and illustrates full-time in her Kansas City, Missouri, hometown.  As an avid reader, baseball fan, and crafter, her greatest joy comes from spending time with family and friends.  

Learn more at Books by Rose


Facebook: Books by Rose 





Joan Y. Edwards said...

Dear Carol,
Thanks for posting this interview and information about Cat Michaels, Rosie Russell, and tjeor book "Just Between Sam and Me." A delightful post.

Never Give Up

Rosie Russell said...

What fun it has been visiting with you these past months, Carol.
Cat and I really appreciate you featuring these posts for our new book, "Just Between Sam and Me." This post in particular, is such an important one. We hope it helps someone out there.

Thanks always, Carol.

Unknown said...

As a former elementary teacher,I would think this book will be very helpful to teachers who wish to use it as a conversation starter. There's so much good stuff here, Cat. It reminds me of Patricia Polacco's work, a bit. But we can always use another good book on this challenging topic. Kudos to you and Rosie Russell on this important collaboration.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thank you Joan, Rosie, and Unknown. UNKNOWN__please make your self known so I can enter your name!

Jana Leah B said...

Enjoyed the interview.
turtle6422 at gmail dot com

Carol Baldwin said...

Thank you, Jana Leah!

Cat Michaels said...

Hey, Carol! Thanks for spreading the message about kindness....something we need now more than ever in these trying Covid times. Can't wait to see who the lucky winner will be of our new tale -:D!

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