Saturday, November 28, 2020

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 98 Author Melissa de la Cruz

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Melissa de la Cruz and I discuss the differences between writing original stories such as her newest, NEVER AFTER: THE THIRTEENTH FAIRY, and her best-selling series THE NEW BLUE BLOODS COVEN, and writing for established intellectual property, such as THE DESCENDANTS and GOTHAM HIGH. She also shares how she built her author career by first writing for magazines, how she keeps continuity in her many series, how being married to a writer influences her writing life, how to manage a writer’s ego, how to market a book in the time of COVID-19, and so much more.







Melissa de la Cruz is the #1 New York Times, #1 Publishers Weekly and #1 IndieBound bestselling author of Isle of the Lost and Return to the Isle of the Lost as well as many critically acclaimed and award-winning novels for readers of all ages. Her books have also topped the USA TODAY, Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times bestseller lists and have been published in more than twenty countries.


A former fashion and beauty editor, Melissa has written for the New York Times, Marie Claire, Harper's Bazaar, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Allure, the San Francisco Chronicle, McSweeney's, Teen Vogue, CosmoGirl! and Seventeen. She has also appeared as an expert on fashion, trends and fame for CNN, E! and Fox News.

Melissa grew up in Manila and moved to San Francisco with her family, where she graduated high school salutatorian from the Convent of the Sacred Heart. At Columbia University, she majored in art history and English. Today she lives in Los Angeles and Palm Springs with her husband and daughter.


Real life and fairy tales collide in Never After: The Thirteenth Fairy, book one in the new middle-grade Never After series from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Descendants series, Melissa de la Cruz.


Nothing ever happens in Filomena Jefferson-Cho’s sleepy little suburban town of North Pasadena. The sun shines every day, the grass is always a perfect green, and while her progressive school swears there’s no such thing as bullying, she still feels bummed out. But one day, when Filomena is walking home on her own, something strange happens.

Filomena is being followed by Jack Stalker, one of the heroes in the Thirteenth Fairy, a series of books she loves about a brave girl and her ragtag group of friends who save their world from an evil enchantress. She must be dreaming, or still reading a book. But Jack is insistent―he’s real, the stories are real, and Filomena must come with him at once!

Soon, Filomena is thrust into the world of evil fairies and beautiful princesses, sorcerers and slayers, where an evil queen drives her ruthless armies to destroy what is left of the Fairy tribes. To save herself and the kingdom of Westphalia, Filomena must find the truth behind the fairytales and set the world back to rights before the cycle of sleep and destruction begins once more.


Saturday, November 21, 2020

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 97: Author Hena Khan

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Hena Khan and I discuss her career thus far in children’s publishing and her wide range of books from IT’S RAMADAN, CURIOUS GEORGE to ZAYD SALEEM, CHASING THE DREAM to her most recent MORE TO THE STORY and the upcoming AMINA’S SONG. We discuss how she strives to create the representation in children’s literature that was lacking when she was a young reader and the importance of writing stories about Muslims rather than stories solely about being Muslim. All this and so much more await Esteemed Audience.








Hena Khan is a Pakistani-American who was born and raised in Maryland, where she still lives. She enjoys writing about her culture as well as all sorts of other subjects, from spies to space travel. She is the author of the middle grade novels Amina’s Voice, Amina’s Song, and More to the Story and picture books Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns, Under My Hijab, and It’s Ramadan, Curious George, among others.






From the critically acclaimed author of Amina’s Voice comes a new story inspired by Louisa May Alcott’s beloved classic, Little Women, featuring four sisters from a modern American Muslim family living in Georgia.

When Jameela Mirza is picked to be feature editor of her middle school newspaper, she’s one step closer to being an award-winning journalist like her late grandfather. The problem is her editor-in-chief keeps shooting down her article ideas. Jameela’s assigned to write about the new boy in school, who has a cool British accent but doesn’t share much, and wonders how she’ll make his story gripping enough to enter into a national media contest.

Jameela, along with her three sisters, is devastated when their father needs to take a job overseas, away from their cozy Georgia home for six months. Missing him makes Jameela determined to write an epic article—one to make her dad extra proud. But when her younger sister gets seriously ill, Jameela’s world turns upside down. And as her hunger for fame looks like it might cost her a blossoming friendship, Jameela questions what matters most, and whether she’s cut out to be a journalist at all…




Saturday, November 14, 2020

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 96: Author John Gallagher

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John Gallagher and I nerd out about comics, action figures, Batman and all the best things in life, including his new comic book-ish novel, MAX MEOW: CAT CRUSADER. We also talk about his role as art director for RANGER RICK MAGAZINE, our mutual childhood dreams of being Robin, outlining while leaving room for fun, the importance of creating fast, launching a book series during a pandemic, the importance of a meatball from space, a possible ghost story, and so much more.








John Gallagher is the art director of the NWF’s “Ranger Rick” magazine, cofounder of “Kids Love Comics” (an organization that uses graphic novels to promote literacy), and leads workshops teaching kids how to create their own comics. John lives in Virginia with his wife and their three kids. Visit him at MaxMeow.Com, on twitter @johnBGallagher, on facebook @MaxMeowCatCrusader and on instagram @johngallagher_cartoonist.





Meet a secret superhero with CAT-ITUDE–Max Meow, Cat Crusader–in this purr-fectly awesome, hiss-sterically funny new graphic novel series!

Max is just a regular cat in Kittyopolis, trying to make it big as a podcaster UNTIL he accidentally takes a bite of an RADIOACTIVE SPACE MEATBALL at his best friend, scientist Mindy’s, SECRET LAB. Then before you can say MEOWZA, Max becomes…(drum roll!)…The CAT CRUSADER! Being a super hero is fun (Super strength? Check! Flying? YES!!!)–but not if you get so cocky, you forget your best friend! Will Max learn to listen? Will he and Mindy make up? And together, can Max and Mindy save Kittyopolis from the evil Agent M and BIG BOSS?! Find out in Max Meow: Cat Crusader-a laugh out loud, furr-ociously funny, action-packed new series filled with so many twists, turns, and terrific jokes it makes bad guys FLEA and kids cheer with glee! BONUS: Includes how to draw Max Meow!

“Funny, furry and fantastic!” —Judd Winick, New York Times Bestselling Creator of the Hilo series

“Max Meow’s super heroics will have kids meow-ling with laughter!” –John Patrick Green, creator of the InvestiGators series





Saturday, November 7, 2020

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 95: Author Victoria Bond

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Victoria Bond and I discuss ZORA AND ME: THE SUMMONER, the third book in her trilogy with coauthor T.R. Simon, and the collaboration that made it possible. We talk about Zora Neale Hurston, writing historical fiction, and depicting the ugly truth of America’s racist past in literature for younger readers. We also chat about zombies, money in publishing (and the lack thereof), Vicky’s time as an assistant in a literary agency, Stephen King, John Keats, actual ghost stories, and so much more.







Victoria Bond is a writer and professor. Her novel, Zora and Me, co-written with T.R. Simon, won the John Steptoe/Coretta Scott King Award for New Talent and was nominated for an Edgar Award in the category of Juvenile Fiction. Zora and Me was also a Junior Library Guild Selection, ABC New Voices Selection, SIBA Okra Award Winner, Fall Indie Next Top Ten Pick, Kirkus Best of 2010 Children's Books, Booklist 2010 Editor's Choice, The New York Public Library 2010 list of 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing, the Winner of an AudioFile Earphones Award, and a 2014 World Book Night U.S. pick. 

Victoria holds a MFA in poetry. The occasional essayist on issues both personal and pollical, she teaches first-year writing at John Jay College, The City University of New York. Victoria lives in New Jersey a short drive from where she grew up with her husband, son and their beloved pit-bull.




In the finale to the acclaimed trilogy, upheaval in Zora Neale Hurston’s family and hometown persuade her to leave childhood behind and find her destiny beyond Eatonville.

For Carrie and her best friend, Zora, Eatonville—America’s first incorporated Black township—has been an idyllic place to live out their childhoods. But when a lynch mob crosses the town’s border to pursue a fugitive and a grave robbery resuscitates the ugly sins of the past, the safe ground beneath them seems to shift. Not only has Zora’s own father—the showboating preacher John Hurston—decided to run against the town’s trusted mayor, but there are other unsettling things afoot, including a heartbreaking family loss, a friend’s sudden illness, and the suggestion of voodoo and zombie-ism in the air, which a curious and grieving Zora becomes all too willing to entertain.

In this fictionalized tale, award-winning author Victoria Bond explores the end of childhood and the bittersweet goodbye to Eatonville by preeminent author Zora Neale Hurston (1891–1960). In so doing, she brings to a satisfying conclusion the story begun in the award-winning Zora and Me and its sequel, Zora and Me: The Cursed Ground, sparking inquisitive readers to explore Hurston’s own seminal work.



Saturday, October 31, 2020

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 94: Author Tonya Duncan Ellis

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Tonya Duncan Ellis and I discuss her SOPHIE WASHINGTON series and I convince to give away all her indie publishing and marketing secrets for free. In this Halloween-ish episode,  we discuss “mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors, specifics for writing a successful middle grade series, why it’s important for characters of color to star in stories about everyday kid stuff, Bigfoot, processing trauma through fiction, and so much more. And, added bonus, you can download both our books for free. Happy Halloween!







Tonya Duncan Ellis has had her nose in a book since she learned to read, so it’s no surprise that she’d one day become a writer. She is author of the Amazon best selling Sophie Washington children’s book series, a former journalist, and a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). Fluent in French, Tonya loves learning about other cultures and has traveled to 49 states and 20 countries. She lives in Houston, Texas with her husband and three children.


An entertaining story that celebrates friendship, diversity, environmental awareness, and anti-racism. This engaging, illustrated, middle grade chapter book is a great addition to classroom and homeschool libraries and should appeal to fans of Ramona Quimby, Jada Jones, Judy Moody, and Junie B. Jones.


There is no such thing as Big Foot! Or is there…

Sophie Washington and her classmates are on their way to Camp Glowing Spring for a class retreat. It’ll be two full days of swimming, eating s’mores around a campfire, tug-of-war, archery, and more! Sophie’s been looking forward to the trip all school year and can’t wait to spend extra time with her friends. It will also be great to get away from her bratty younger brother, Cole, and his constant stories about Big Foot. If Cole warns her about what to do if she sees the hairy ape man on the retreat one more time, she’ll put in ear plugs. Everybody knows Big Foot is a hoax!

Once the kids arrive at the retreat site things are as exciting as Sophie imagined. She has fun exploring nature with her besties, Chloe, Valentina, Toby, Nathan, and Mariama, and meeting new friends too. Then the kids see a giant footprint during a nature hike in the woods and the adventure really begins!


Saturday, October 24, 2020

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 93: Editor Elizabeth Law

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What don’t legendary editor Elizabeth Law and I chat about in this far-ranging conversation that only begins to scratch at the surface of her vast publishing knowledge? We discuss her interactions with literary agents, working with Stephen King, her “cameo” in GERALD’S GAME, her work for Roald Dahl, the origin story of previous guest, Dan Gutman, lessons learned from Robert McKee, and a kiss with Hamilton’s Jonathan Groff. Elizabeth Law shares incredible insights on writing dialogue, description, characterization, theme, and an overview of so much of what’s she’s learned during her distinguished career. Hear her blow my mind by telling me word count isn’t nearly as important as I think it is, and then she shares the secret of what every publisher is looking for.








Elizabeth Law is a children’s and young adult publisher and editor with over three decades of experience. In her own words: "I worked at Viking Penguin, and at Penguin’s divisions Puffin Books and Frederick Warne and Co, for 18 years, leaving to become Associate Publisher of Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers.  And in 2007 I left there and became the first publisher of Egmont USA.  At Egmont I got to help create a company from the ground up, which taught me, among other things, to think creatively about ways to get attention for books when you’re competing against other books' huge marketing budgets.  From 2013-2017 I worked as a consultant, with writers and artists and people who just love children’s books as much as I do.  I’ve kept that work up as I took a role at Holiday House Books for Young Readers as their backlist and special projects editor. I continue to acquire and work on terrific books, including the recent debut title Itch by Polly Farquhar, which has received starred reviews from Kirkus and Booklist."

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 92: Author Marcella Pixley

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Marcella Pixley and I talk about her new novel TROWBRIDGE ROAD, currently on the long list for the National Book Award. We discuss the many parallels between that story set in 1983 (now considered historical fiction!), her own similar childhood and how she separated the two to create a “soul book” We also chat about editing, teaching 8th grade language arts during the time of COVID-19, launching books virtually, being visited in your dreams by the dead, flying saucers, simulation theory, and so much more.








Marcella Pixley teaches eighth grade Language Arts at the Carlisle Public Schools. Her poetry has been published in literary journals such as Prairie SchoonerFeminist StudiesSow’s Ear Poetry Review and Poet Lore, and she has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Ms. Pixley has written three acclaimed young adult novels: FreakWithout TessReady To Fall. and most recently, Trowbridge Road. Freak received four starred reviews and was named a Kirkus Best Book of the Year, Without Tess was a Junior Library Guild Selection, Ready to Fall was named a Bank Street Best Book of the Year. Her forthcoming novel, Trowbridge Road is a Junior Library Guild Selection and has been named a Best Book of the Year by Prenille Ripp.

Ms. Pixley lives in an antique farmhouse in Westford, Massachusetts with her husband and two sons. She is a graduate of Vassar College, University of Tennessee and Bread Loaf School of English.


A 2020 National Book Award Long List Selection

In a stunning novel set in the 1980s, a girl with heavy secrets awakens her sleepy street to the complexities of love and courage.


It’s the summer of ’83 on Trowbridge Road, and June Bug Jordan is hungry. Months after her father’s death from complications from AIDS, her mother has stopped cooking and refuses to leave the house, instead locking herself away to scour at the germs she believes are everywhere. June Bug threatens this precarious existence by going out into the neighborhood, gradually befriending Ziggy, an imaginative boy who is living with his Nana Jean after experiencing troubles of his own. But as June Bug’s connection to the world grows stronger, her mother’s grows more distant — even dangerous — pushing June Bug to choose between truth and healing and the only home she has ever known.

Trowbridge Road paints an unwavering portrait of a girl and her family touched by mental illness and grief. Set in the Boston suburbs during the first years of the AIDS epidemic, the novel explores how a seemingly perfect neighborhood can contain restless ghosts and unspoken secrets. Written with deep insight and subtle lyricism by acclaimed author Marcella Pixley, Trowbridge Road demonstrates our power to rescue one another even when our hearts are broken.


Saturday, October 10, 2020

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 91: Author Hayley Chewins

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Hayley Chewins and I discuss her newest novel, THE SISTERS OF STRAYGARDEN PLACE, and our mutual love for the greatest singer, composer, and writing muse extraordinaire, Tori Amos. We also talk about writing intuitively, the joy of language, motivations to write, fixing common plot problems, working with her literary agent, Patricia Nelson, revising without removing your story’s heart, making writing a priority, writing what you love, and so much more.








Hayley Chewins writes books about magical girls with secrets. Her debut, The Turnaway Girls (Candlewick Press, 2018) was a Kirkus Best Book and made the 2019 Amelia Bloomer Book List. Her second novel, The Sisters of Straygarden Place, is forthcoming from Candlewick Press in September2020. Hayley lives in Johannesburg, South Africa, with her husband and a very small poodle. She is represented by Patricia Nelson at Marsal Lyon Literary Agency.






A riveting middle-grade fantasy about sibling bonds, enchanted houses, and encroaching wildness, lyrically told in eerily beautiful prose


The grass grew taller than the house itself, surrounding it on all sides. It stuffed the keyholes and scraped against the roof. It shook the walls and made paintings shiver.

Seven years ago, the Ballastian sisters’ parents left them in the magical Straygarden Place, a house surrounded by tall silver grass and floating trees. They left behind a warning saying never to leave the house or go into the grass. “Wait for us,” the note read. “Sleep darkly.” Ever since then, the house itself has taken care of Winnow, Mayhap, and Pavonine—feeding them, clothing them, even keeping them company—while the girls have waited and grown up and played a guessing game: Think of an animal, think of a place. Think of a person, think of a face. Until one day, when the eldest, fourteen-year-old Winnow, does the unthinkable and goes outside into the grass, and everything twelve-year-old Mayhap thought she knew about her home, her family, and even herself starts to unravel. With luscious, vivid prose, poet and author Hayley Chewins transports readers to a house where beloved little dogs crawl into their owners’ minds to sleep, sick girls turn silver, and anything can be stolen—even laughter and silence.



Saturday, October 3, 2020

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 90: Author Margi Preus

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Margie Preus and I chat about the path to publishing HEART OF THE SAMURAI and being a Newberry Honor as well as the final book in her ENCHANTMENT LAKE series, THE SILVER BOX. She shares some lessons she learned from legendary writing instructor, John Gardner, and how she overcame the success of her first novel to complete SHADOW ON THE MOUNTAIN. We also talk about writing and producing children’s theater, rules for writing historical fiction, why some triumph over adversity when others are crushed by it, having a separate writing house, meeting Joe Biden, sharing a bed with a ghost, horse breaking, and so much more.





Margi Preus enjoys traveling, speaking, and visiting schools all over the world. Her books for young readers have won multiple awards, including a Newbery Honor, landed on the New York Times bestseller list, been honored as ALA/ALSC Notables, selected as an NPR Backseat Book Club pick, chosen for community reads, and translated into many languages. When not writing, she likes to ski, hike, paddle, or sit quietly with a book in her lap. 



In the final Enchantment Lake mystery, Francie’s search for the truth about her mother—and herself—plunges her into danger during a North Woods winter. 

Everything depends on a small, engraved silver box. If only Francie can follow its cryptic clues to the whereabouts of her missing mother she may finally understand the truth about who she really is. But one ominous clue after another reveal that Francie possesses something so rare and so valuable that some people are willing to do anything to get it. When her pursuit leads her into the snowy north woods, It is only to find out that she, herself, is being pursued.







Saturday, September 26, 2020

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 89: Editor Mari Kesselring and Author Patrick Hueller

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Editor Mari Kesselring and author Patrick Hueller share with me the story of how they met, each a set of identical twins with a love of literature, and how they work together now as writers, parents, and spouses. Mari tells me about her publisher, North Star Editions, and Patrick tells me about his newest book, READ AT YOUR OWN PERIL. We also talk author submissions, editorial styles, launching books in the time of COVID-19, reaching reluctant readers, how pantsers and plotters can apparently learn to love one another, and so much more.






Mari Kesselring is an editor with experience working on many fiction and nonfiction books aimed at children and young adults. Some fiction books she’s edited have earned the following honors: YALSA Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, Junior Library Guild Selection, and ALA Rainbow List. She enjoys YA novels with compelling narratives and distinct, diverse voices. Mari is also the author of several books, including the middle-grade series, Bridget Gadget.


Patrick Hueller has an MFA from the University of Minnesota. Through various pen names, he has written several YA and MG novels. Foul, a sports-horror story written under the name Paul Hoblin, was described by Booklist as “the strongest entry yet in the Night Fall collection” and “unbearably tense.” The Beast (also as Paul Hoblin) was a School Library Journal selection. Wolf High and The Wish (as P.W. Hueller) both made SLJ’s list of “Accessible Reads for Struggling Reluctant Readers.” As himself, Patrick is the author of the STU STORIES series, which, according to award-winning author Geoff Herbach "hits on pretty much every topic I cared about when I was a kid (love, Jedis, severed legs, etc.). National Book Award finalist Charles Baxter described KIRSTEN HOWARD'S BIGGEST FAN as "beautifully written, with a concert-hall perfect pitch for adolescent speech and idiom and ways of feeling."



Kevin shouldn’t be writing this. And you shouldn’t be reading it. After all, reading is now a crime--and for good reason. After the Coma Outbreak, everyone knows what happens to people who read. Their eyes slam shut. And they never get out of their desks again.
















Saturday, September 19, 2020

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 88: Literary Agent Jim McCarthy

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Jim McCarthy and I discuss how he became a literary agent and his career in publishing so far. We chat about COVID-19 and its impact on the industry, the excitement he felt when his first client’s book took off, how he falls in love with a submission, the sorts of projects he’s interested in, how he woos a potential client, what a writer can expect when they sign with Dystel, Goderich and Bourret LLC, a haunted apartment, finding an agent that’s worthy of you, and so much more.








Jim McCarthy interned for Dystel, Goderich and Bourret while studying urban design at New York University. Upon graduating, Jim realized he would much rather continue working with books than make the jump (as he had originally intended) to the field of city planning. Eighteen years later, he remains at DGandB as a VP and agent. As an avid fiction reader, his interests encompass both literary and commercial works in the adult, young adult, and middle grade categories. He is particularly interested in literary fiction, underrepresented voices, fantasy, mysteries, romance, anything unusual or unexpected, and any book that makes him cry or laugh out loud. In addition to fiction he is also interested in narrative nonfiction whether it be memoir, historical, science, pop culture, or just a darn good polemic.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 87: Author Daniel Kraus

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Daniel Kraus and I discuss his newest book, THEY THREW US AWAY, a wonderfully dark middle grade novel written by an author of horror. We get along famously. We talk briefly about prequel possibilities for THE SHAPE OF WATER and at length about his collaboration with George Romero on THE LIVING DEAD. We also chat about plotting, the benefits of working on multiple projects at once, creating consistent rules for a fantasy world, the importance of writing without an audience, how to write dark children’s stories without being too dark, and so much more.







DANIEL KRAUS is a New York Times bestselling author. With Guillermo del Toro, he co-authored THE SHAPE OF WATER, based on the same idea the two created for the Oscar-winning film. Also with del Toro, Kraus co-authored TROLLHUNTERS, which was adapted into the Emmy-winning Netflix series. Kraus's THE DEATH AND LIFE OF ZEBULON FINCH was named one of Entertainment Weekly's Top 10 Books of the Year, and he has won two Odyssey Awards (for both ROTTERS and SCOWLER) and has been a Library Guild selection, YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults, Bram Stoker finalist, and more.


His newest books are THEY THREW US AWAY and THE LIVING DEAD, a posthumous collaboration with legendary filmmaker George A. Romero. Kraus's work has been translated into over 25 languages. He lives with his wife in Chicago. Visit him at danielkraus.com.




"A deliciously macabre fairy tale, full of snuggles.” ―Holly Black, award-winning author of Doll Bones and co-creator of The Spiderwick Chronicles

Welcome to The Teddies Saga, a gripping new middle grade trilogy from New York Times-bestselling author Daniel Kraus and illustrator Rovina Cai.

Buddy wakes up in the middle of a garbage dump, filled with a certain awareness: he’s a teddy bear; he spent time at a Store waiting for his future to begin; and he is meant for the loving arms of a child. Now he knows one more thing: Something has gone terribly wrong.

Soon he finds other discarded teddies―Horace, Sugar, Sunny, and Reginald. Though they aren’t sure how their luck soured, they all agree that they need to get back to the Store if they’re ever to fulfill their destinies. So, they embark on a perilous trek across the dump and into the outer world. With ravenous rats, screeching gulls, and a menacing world in front of them, the teddies will need to overcome insurmountable challenges to find their way home.

Equal parts Toy Story and Lord of the FliesThey Threw Us Away is the unforgettable start of a captivating series.