MacKids Spotlight: Jenn Reese

Meet Jenn Reese, the author of the middle grade novel A Game of Fox and Squirrels! Jenn shares more about her inspiration for this book, her most memorable teachers and librarians, her creative process, and more!

When describing A Game of Fox and Squirrels, what’s your elevator pitch?

Jenn Reese: A girl struggling to make sense of a changing family situation meets a charming fox from a magical card game. The fox promises to give her everything she wants if she can win his game… and then the rules start to change.


What inspired you to write A Game of Fox & Squirrels?

Jenn: I had two separate ideas when I started. First, I wanted to write the book I wish I’d found when I was young — something that offered hope to readers who might need it. But I also wanted to write a book involving a game, because I love games and wanted an excuse to invent one. A Game of Fox & Squirrels finally came together when I realized I could combine those two ideas.


Tell us about a librarian or educator who made an impact on you.

Jenn: When I was young, I wasn’t reading at the same speed as my classmates. Every day while the rest of the class read, I worked with a very patient librarian who not only helped me catch up, but who got me excited about books in general. I wish I remembered her name, because she changed the entire course of my life. 


Is there a book that you wish you wrote?

Jenn: I love far too many books to name, but I don’t wish I’d written any of them. Stories are so personal! It’s hard to imagine making the same exact choices as another author, or trying to spark the same exact resonances. But do I secretly wish I’d written A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin? Absolutely!


What is the first step in your creative process?

Jenn: I used to spend months filling notebooks with character spreadsheets and world-building diagrams before I even started writing. Nowadays I’m trying to jump in and bring out my character’s voice first. But in both cases, I start with theme — what the story is about for me. That’s what keeps me interested and informs all other decisions. 


What was your favorite book when you were 10 years old?

Jenn: The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin was — and still is — one of my all-time favorite books. I love games and puzzles of all kinds, and the mystery at the heart of The Westing Game fascinated me completely. I also love the character of Turtle, who would rather kick people in the shins than be the sort of quiet, accommodating girl that she thinks her parents want. She was one of my first role-models.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Jenn Reese writes speculative fiction for readers of all ages. Her first novel, Above World, was a finalist for the 2012 Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy. She lives in Portland, Oregon, where she revels in the rain, plays too many video games, and works as a freelance graphic designer.


ABOUT THE BOOK:

A Game of Fox & Squirrels by Jenn Reese

Andre Norton Award finalist Jenn Reese explores the often thin line between magic and reality, light and darkness in her enchanting middle grade standalone.

After an incident shatters their family, eleven-year old Samantha and her older sister Caitlin are sent to live in rural Oregon with an aunt they’ve never met. Sam wants nothing more than to go back to the way things were… before she spoke up about their father’s anger.

When Aunt Vicky gives Sam a mysterious card game called “A Game of Fox & Squirrels,” Sam falls in love with the animal characters, especially the charming trickster fox, Ashander. Then one day Ashander shows up in Sam’s room and offers her an adventure and a promise: find the Golden Acorn, and Sam can have anything she desires.

But the fox is hiding rules that Sam isn’t prepared for, and her new home feels more tempting than she’d ever expected. As Sam is swept up in the dangerous quest, the line between magic and reality grows thin. If she makes the wrong move, she’ll lose far more than just a game.


Praise for A Game of Fox & Squirrels:

★ “Beautifully written…Reese’s pairing of a realistic depiction of lived trauma with its allegorical-fantasy reflection proves stunningly effective.” —Kirkusstarred review

★ “A poignant fantastical allegory… that presents generational trauma and its echoes unflinchingly.” —Publishers Weeklystarred review

“Reese spins a tale about child abuse that is touched with fantasy…a powerful tool for working through trauma.” —Booklist

“An engaging blend of genres…dealing with realistic issues that will be a solid addition to elementary or middle school libraries.” —School Library Journal


Read more author Q&As here!