Reading Middle Grade is proud to reveal the cover of Honestly Elliot by Gillian McDunn, in partnership with Bloomsbury Publishing.
I’m a huge fan of Gillian’s work and have read all three of her middle grade books: Caterpillar Summer, The Queen Bee and Me, and These Unlucky Stars. Today, Gillian is here to tell us a bit about her forthcoming middle grade book, Honestly Elliot. I know you’ll love this interview — and the adorable cover!
Interview with Gillian McDunn
Hi Gillian, what a thrill to reveal the cover of your newest middle grade book, Honestly Elliot!This is the first time you’ve written from a male perspective. Why did you decide to try that this time? How was that experience for you? Any major differences from your previous three books?
Hi Afoma! Thank you so much for having me. I am such a big fan of your site, and I’m so excited to reveal the cover for Honestly Elliott here!
I’d been thinking for a while that I wanted to write from the POV of a male character, but I didn’t have a plan to do so until a young reader made a point to tell me how much it would mean to him if I would do so. Not long after, the idea of Elliott — a sweet, flustered, creative food-loving kid popped into my head, and the story followed from there!
How would you hand sell Honestly Elliot to a group of fifth graders?
Elliott wants to be a world-famous chef. The only problem is that Elliott’s dad does not think this is a good career — he doesn’t even think it’s a good hobby! After all of Elliott’s academic difficulties earlier in the year, Dad thinks Elliott should buckle down and focus on school.
When Elliott is partnered with Maribel for a schoolwide project, he doesn’t think he’ll have much in common with Maribel, the smartest and most popular girl in the school. But soon he learns that Maribel has struggles of her own. Maybe this school project will be their chance to show the world exactly who they are.
Elliot’s story also includes Maribel, his super popular baking contest partner. In The Queen Bee and Me, you write about a mostly unhealthy friendship situation. How is that different for Elliot and Maribel?
Elliott and Maribel are both having some friendship difficulties. Elliott’s best friend recently moved away, and he hasn’t found his footing at his new school. He hangs out with a group of boys who tolerate him at lunch, but don’t always include him socially or in group chats. When the schoolwide project is assigned, the boys tell Elliott that he can’t be part of their group. They’ve seen him struggle academically due to his ADHD and don’t want their grade to be affected on this group project.
Maribel has recently been diagnosed with celiac disease, which means she can’t consume gluten in any form. Although she appears to have a large friend group, one of the girls is annoyed that Maribel has to be careful about remaining gluten-free. Her group tells Maribel that she can be a part of their cupcake project, but they will have to be wheat cupcakes because gluten-free is “gross.”
Maribel’s situation was inspired by experience — I also have celiac disease. One of the biggest effects of having this disease is the social difficulties. Not only is it more difficult to go to restaurants with friends, but some people hear “gluten” and they immediately think that celiac disease is not a real thing and that it must be all in my head.
I hope that readers will root for Elliott and Maribel to find friendship and acceptance with each other. At one point, they connect over their experiences with ADHD and celiac disease and say that they’re tired of those conditions being a punch line. I think that everyone can relate to wanting to be taken seriously and accepted for who we are.
There’s no way I could miss out on the fact that Elliot likes to cook! What did you love about writing a foodie character?
I had so much fun writing Elliott in the cooking scenes. He feels most at home in the kitchen — it’s there that his ADHD brain, which “goes in six directions at once” is actually an advantage. That’s how he can keep track of each element of the dish — the flavor and texture and if the protein’s been cooked just right.
In my family, we all love to cook, so we spent a lot of time cooking the same dishes that Elliott makes. We also worked together to develop the recipe for the Desperation Pie that Elliott and Maribel end up making for their project. The recipe is included in the book and it’s absolutely delicious!
What is your favorite thing about Elliot? And who is one other character in the story that you really enjoyed writing?
My favorite thing about Elliott is that he wears his heart on his sleeve. He’s an emotional kid, working hard to understand himself and his world. These emotions are a strength, but can sometimes be overwhelming, and sometimes he cries. Elliott is certain that when Tear Tanks were being handed out, he got one that was a few sizes too small — that’s why it’s always threatening to overflow.
I also really liked writing Maribel, who is the kind of kid who seems to have it all together, and Elliott’s mom, dad, and stepmom — they all love him very much and interact with him in different ways. I also really liked writing the scenes with Elliott and his pet guinea pigs!My favorite thing about Elliott is that he wears his heart on his sleeve. He’s an emotional kid, working hard to understand himself and his world. These emotions are a strength, but can sometimes be overwhelming, and sometimes he cries. Click To Tweet
And now, the moment we’ve all been waiting for: the cover reveal!
I adore this cover! Could you share a bit about the design process and how you feel about this cover?
I completely LOVE this cover, illustrated by Mirelle Ortega and designed by Jeanette Levy. I was blown away from the moment I saw the first sketch — Mirelle definitely captured Elliott and his sincere, nervous, happy, hesitant, messy-haired self!
I love the details — the cooking utensils, the scattered papers, and Elliott’s beloved guinea pigs, Denver and Omelet, peeking out of the back pocket. I also love that we get a glimpse of Elliott’s city, Avery — a place that Elliott adores.
When readers see the cover, I hope they feel drawn in and want to know more about Elliott and his world.
Gillian, I cannot wait to read Elliot’s story! Thank you so much for sharing the cover with us. When can readers get their hands on this story?
Honestly Elliott will be out on March 1, 2022 and can be preordered now. Thank you so much for having me here, Afoma! I loved celebrating with you!
Pre-Order Honestly Elliot
Meet Gillian McDunn
Gillian McDunn is the author of These Unlucky Stars, The Queen Bee and Me, and Caterpillar Summer, which received two starred reviews, and was selected for the Texas Bluebonnet Award Master List, and Kirkus Reviews and Parents magazine Best Books of the Year lists. When she isn’t reading or writing, she is probably baking gluten-free treats, traveling, or spending time with her family. She lives near Raleigh, North Carolina, with her husband and children, and a very silly dog named Friday. Find out more at www.gillianmcdunn.com or follow her on social media @gillianmcdunn.
Many thanks to Bloomsbury Publishing for sponsoring this post. Thank you for supporting the brands and authors who keep Reading Middle Grade running.