Mae Respicio’s new book, How to Win a Slime War caught my interest because of that bold cover (look at the slime!). I loved the story more than I thought I would. It’s a perfect blend of culture, fun, and the sweet middle grade theme of belonging. Alex Manalo is a sensitive male protagonist you can’t help but love. I chatted with Mae about her book, writing about slime, letting kids find their rhythm, and Filipino culture. I know you’ll enjoy this interview.
Mae is also giving away a copy of How to Win a Slime War to one reader. You can enter this giveaway at the end of this interview.
Interview with Mae Respicio
Hi Mae! It’s so good to be chatting with you again two books later! Congratulations on How to Win a Slime War. A book about a young slime aficionado? What inspired you to write this story?
Thanks, Afoma, I always love chatting with you! And thank you for the congratulations. Like all of my books, this one’s inspired by everything close to home from my childhood to parenting life. But the very initial spark was one summer when I found a glob of goo in my refrigerator! It turns out my younger son had been making slime. Pretty soon all his friends were coming over to slime and we were constantly going to the dollar store for ingredients. I ended up keeping a notebook of my observations, their conversations, what the slime felt like—those were the sparks that helped start developing the story. So I had fun researching this book… except for all the clean-up!
Alex really wants to make his dad happy, but his dad seems stuck on making Alex into a certain kind of kid. Did you experience this as a kid or is this something you’ve felt as a parent yourself?
I’m very lucky that my parents have always been supportive of my choices and I try to parent in that same way. In this book, Alex’s dad desperately wants Alex to play soccer, even though Alex isn’t super into it. I think that aspect of the story came a lot from being a mom whose kids have been involved in sports—seeing how parents act both on and off the field, and the kinds of pressure and expectations some families put on their kids. I thought that would be interesting to explore.
I love the strong Filipino culture present in all of your stories. What would you say is most central to Filipino culture?
I love this question. You know, I don’t think there’s really just one thing central to Filipino culture, and also it’s so largely dependent on an individual and their experiences. However, growing up, what was central to my culture for me was (and still is) simply being close to my family. And I would say that I know many Filipino American families who are large and close-knit. My family is such a cornerstone of who I am. Their roots in the Philippines to their immigration journey to who my family is today—that’s all part of my lens and how I see the world. It’s something very inseparable in my writing.
Alex’s new friend Logan is trying to get back with his former best friend and Alex is just trying to find one good friend. My heart went out to all the kids in this story looking for a sense of belonging. Why do you think finding a tribe is such a popular middle grade book theme?
I think that trying to feel out where you belong is such a normal part of adolescence. In middle school kids are still very tethered to their families, but they’re also trying to find some sense of independence, they’re testing the waters in that way. I see it in my own kids, who are both in middle school now. That feeling of belonging—finding where you feel comfortable just being yourself—I think is one real step toward maturing and toward independence.
I really worried about Alex’s dad trying to change up the store too much. Would you consider yourself someone who loves to try new things or one who prefers traditional choices like Alex does?
I’m definitely a person who can be averse to change! (I have one favorite local restaurant and I order the same favorite dish every. Single. Time!) But I know how important it is to stretch yourself, and that’s one thing I really wanted for both Alex’s journey and his Dad’s journey, too. Change can be hard for kids no matter how small, and I love it when middle grade books weave that into their storylines. It gives young readers ideas for what resiliency can look like, and assures them that change is totally natural and a very real part of life.
Alex and Meadow are competitors in the slime market. Were you entrepreneurial as a kid?
Oh, yes! One memory I had when I wrote this book was when my cousins, friends, and I tried to start our own business in our neighborhood called Pizza Pizzaz, and our “pizza” was basically an English muffin topped with sauce and cheese. I had called my cousin when I remembered this to see if she could confirm and share some of her memories, too, and she actually thought that we used ketchup! That’s pretty gross, but I’m sure it’s not untrue. I couldn’t stop laughing.
Which middle grade books have you read and enjoyed lately?
There’s so much wonderful middle grade out right now, it fills my heart (and empties my wallet!). I loved Better with Butter by Victoria Piontek and I’m about to dig into Just Be Cool, Jenna Sakai, by Debbi Michiko Florence (I loved the first one in that series called Keep it Together, Keiko Carter).
I feel like so many authors have a book out next year! Do you? And if so, is there anything you can tell us about your next middle grade book?
I have another middle grade novel coming out around a year from now! The title is still up in the air, but it’s a story within a story. It’s all about a twelve-year-old girl whose summer is turned upside-down when she discovers some mysterious poems hidden behind a wall, and she and her friends try to track down the owner. The poems tell the story of another twelve-year-old girl from 1999, who’s unexpectedly separated from her mother. There’s a lot of heart-filled adventure in this book, but just as many“get your tissues ready” moments. Of all my stories this one’s my favorite so far (please don’t tell the other books!), and I can’t wait to eventually share more.
What do you hope kids learn from Alex’s story?
I hope that kids learn to dream big and that winning can take on many different forms. Also to speak up, speak out, and find your voice!
Thanks so much for your time, Mae!
Thank you so much, Afoma, I’m such a fan… whenever friends ask what they should read next, I tell them too check out your blog!
Enter below to win a copy of Mae Respicio’s How to Win a Slime War. US only, closes October 5, 2021.a Rafflecopter giveaway
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Meet Mae Respicio
Mae Respicio grew up in Northern California and like the main character in her debut middle grade novel, spent many childhood summers dancing in a Filipino folk dance troupe. Mae is a past recipient of a PEN Center USA Emerging Voices Fellowship. She’s been a writer-in-residence at Hedgebrook and Atlantic Center for the Arts and has published a variety of musings on parenthood. She lives with her family in the San Francisco Bay Area, not far from the ocean and the redwoods. Visit her online at www.maerespicio.com