Meena Meets Her Match - Review and Interview with author Karla Manternach
Meena Meets Her Match by Karla Manternach is a sweet treat of a read that I highly recommend for young readers and their parents. Meena is a relatable main character with her own set of quirky traits that make her instantly likable. From the ups and downs of friendship and the misunderstandings of elementary school to an even bigger worry, this story takes us on Meena’s journey in a skillfully written way. The vivid descriptions will transport grown-ups back to the classroom! The illustrations of Rayner Alencar give us Meena in her full-color glory and add a flair that makes this book an extra-special kind of fun.
ABOUT THE BOOK: Meena’s life is full of color. She wears vibrant clothes, eats every shade of the rainbow, and plucks eye-catching trash from the neighborhood recycling bins. But when Meena’s best friend, Sofía, stops playing with her at recess and she experiences an unexpected and scary incident at breakfast, nothing can fight off the gray. That’s when Meena comes up with a plan to create the BEST and most COLORFUL Valentine’s Day Box in the class. With the help of her cousin, Eli, and her stuffed zebra, Raymond, Meena discovers that the best way to break through the blah is to let her true colors shine.
ORDER YOUR COPY TODAY! (Relase date is 1/29/19! Link will take you to the pre-order page prior to that date.)
Note: The interview below contains book spoilers!
I’m so pleased to share an interview with Karla Manternach, the author of Meena Meets Her Match. Congratulations on your debut book, Karla. As you can see from my review above, I really adore Meena. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your writing adventure so far.
Thanks, Valerie! I took the long road to becoming a writer. I loved writing when I was growing up, but by the time I got to college, I had this feeling like it was something I had already mastered (ha!), so I focused on other things. I studied ancient languages and civilizations then did an MA in Theology. It wasn’t until I was working in the nonprofit world that I realized my favorite parts of the job were writing correspondence and newsletters, so I switched to doing freelance writing for nonprofit and religious groups, along with experimenting with a novel. I continued my freelance work while I was home with young children, but I also spent hours and hours reading children’s books with them. That’s when I really fell in love with the genre and got the bug to write one myself.
What was your inspiration for creating Meena?
In general, I was inspired by the books we read together about scrappy, imaginative girls like Clementine and Junie B. Jones. But specifically, I was inspired by my daughter Amelia. She’s always had big ideas and a big personality, a lot like Meena. She also has the same love for beautiful trash! She’s sixteen now, but she still drags home empty drink containers and interesting pieces of plastic that she thinks are too pretty to throw away.
I could completely relate to Meena and the troubles she has navigating through elementary school and feeling different but wanting to fit in. But this book is about more than that—it’s also about a health issue that comes up for Meena. Do you have some experience with epilepsy that made you want to address that in your writing?
Amelia has a history of convulsive seizures, which she started having as a fourth grader. Many of the medical details of Meena’s story come directly from that experience. It was terrifying for all of us, but what stayed with me the most was how Amelia dealt with the whole ordeal. She was thoughtful and philosophical about what was happening to her and incredibly empathetic about how it affected other people. She also struggled to just stay a kid—to play and make art and hang out with friends and be left alone. She couldn’t ever forget what she was going through, but she also didn’t focus on it, and neither does Meena. Even though her story is about a new diagnosis, to me it’s first and foremost a friendship story. It’s about how everybody deals with difficult things, and how when we do, we have a choice about what kind of people we’re going to be and how we’re going to treat others.
You wrote very sensitive scenes about the fear Meena feels waking up in the hospital. Was it difficult to achieve the balance of worry and fear without making those scenes too scary for your readers? (I think you did a great job with this—by the way.)
The first version I wrote of Meena’s story was very dark—too dark. One of the members of my critique group who’s also a good friend practically staged an intervention with me and said, “You can’t give this to children.” That was hard to hear, but she was right. I have a deep respect children’s ability to deal with difficult subjects, but they need to feel safe first. The scary parts of Meena’s story are still there, but now they’re situated within a narrative that’s fun—even funny! I hope that gives young readers breathing room and lets them approach the tough stuff with a feeling of safety.
The illustrations by Rayner Alencar are such an important part of telling this story. Did you get to see illustrations as they progressed through the development process or do you only see the illustrations when they are complete?
I did get to see preliminary art, and Simon & Schuster was very open to feedback. We made some tweaks, but overall, there wasn’t much to change. Rayner captured the spirit of the characters beautifully. He hit it out of the park!
Below is a short video from Rayner Alencar showing the process of creating an illustration.
My first job was detasseling corn. That’s a very Iowa occupation! I also pruned branches on a Christmas tree farm. After college, I worked at a center in Baltimore that provided emergency services to people in crisis. I also spent a few years at a nonprofit lobbying organization in Washington D.C. that advocates for people who are food insecure. Since then, I’ve worked as a freelance writer for nonprofit and religious organizations and publications. Now I get to say I’m an author, too!
(Ha-that's so funny. Detasseling corn was my first job, too.) If there’s anything that you wish you could go back and tell your “unpublished” self, what would that be?
Don’t spend so long trying to make your first book perfect. You learn more about the process from finishing than from getting it just right.
What sort of books do you like to read as an adult and what were some of your favorites as a child?
I read quite a variety, but I always go back to character-driven novels that explore the connection between beauty and suffering. I don’t mean that suffering is inherently beautiful, but I think we have this incredible capacity to let suffering turn us outward, toward empathy and connection and gratitude. I love anything that deals with those themes.
The truth is, I loved those books from the beginning. As a child, I adored "A Wrinkle in Time" and "Bridge to Terabithia." As a teenager, I mostly read Star Trek novels, but my favorites were the ones that dug deep into character backstories and motivations. I didn’t know it at the time, but it turns out they were all written by women authors like Vonda N. McIntyre and A.C. Crispin.
Can we look forward to another book from you in the coming months?
Yes! I got to write another Meena story! It’s scheduled to come out in 2020.
Before we move on to the Super Six list, is there anything else you want to tell readers about yourself or your books?
Come find me online! I’d love to connect with you.
Super Six List:
Fav Pizza Topping: hmmm…maybe feta cheese
Book You’re Reading Now: I just stared HURRICANE SEASON by Nicole Melleby. It’s another middle grade contemporary novel by a fellow debut author coming out this spring. I was lucky enough to get my hands on an advance copy, and it’s just beautiful.
Coffee, Tea, or Both: I drink a lot of both, but coffee. Definitely coffee.
Fav Activity as a Child: I loved playing with my Star Wars action figures!
Most Interesting Place You’ve Lived: My husband and I did some long-term house-sitting for a relative when we were first married, on a lake in rural Wisconsin. Everybody who ever visited said how beautiful and peaceful it was, but for me, it was incredibly isolating. It was a relief when we moved to a neighborhood again.
Best Place You’ve Vacationed: Positano on the Amalfi Coast in Italy.
How can readers discover more about you and you work?
Thanks so much, Karla!! We will be excited to see what Meena does next.