Author Natalie Bahm unearths the excitement of exploration in THE SECRET UNDERGROUND, a novel with lots of dirt and blisters to accompany danger and adventure as a group of sixth-graders dig forbidden tunnels.
One of the fabulous things to know about Natalie is her heart is so big she is donating all proceeds from the sale of this book to the family of a very sick little boy. In this post, I interview Natalie and add a mini-review at the end, along with some significant links to learn more about this extraordinary publishing tale.
So for this Q&A, I had to ask Natalie about her personal relationship with shovels and got a surprising answer.
Me: So, shovels?
Natalie: To me shovels mean only one thing: yard work. When I was ten my family moved to a new house with a big weed-filled yard. I can't even tell you how many hours I spent with my parents and brothers digging up weeds and laying sod and planting plants. My brothers and I always joked that the only reason my parents had kids was so they could have cheap yard laborers. :)
By the time I went to college the yard was amazing. Seriously. It was full of thick green grass and colorful flower beds and big pretty trees and a big playhouse that we'd built with dad. The next year they moved again and had to start all over.
Me: (taking that a shovelful deeper) Where did the idea about kids digging underground tunnels come from, and did you need to consider safety issues when tackling it?
Natalie: My dad used to tell us stories about him and his buddies digging tunnels in a vacant lot by his house. It was obviously an EXTREMELY dangerous thing to do, and he made sure to tell us about the scary stuff that happened because of their digging. In the book I tried to show that tunneling is treacherous. The kids build supports to make them safer, but they aren’t ever really safe.
I really don’t think it would be possible to dig tunnels like the ones in the book in real life (thank goodness!)
Me: What is it about writing for middle grade readers that excites you to write?
Natalie: Middle grade is such an interesting time in kids’ lives. I love trying to capture that transition between being a kid and being a teenager. There’s still sort of a dependence on parents and family, but there’s also a longing for freedom. I also love writing about the changing dynamic between girls and boys at that age. When I was that age I only liked to read things that had a bit of a love story, so I make sure to include one in all of my books.
Me (looking over shoulder and listening for creeping sounds): The villains in this story are scary and dangerous how did you decide how far to go with them?
Natalie: When I first wrote the book (three years ago) the villains weren’t nearly so scary. Then I started reading some scarier MG, like Neil Gaiman’s THE GRAVEYARD BOOK and Suzanne Collins GREGOR THE OVERLANDER series and realized scary is good. The story got a little scarier every time I revised. I hope that it’s just scary enough now, but I suspect it will be too scary for some kids and not scary enough for others.
Me: Do you have a favorite line in the book?
Natalie: This is sort of a random one, but it’s always been one of my favorites.
The main character, Ally, is home alone when the doorbell rings. She expects to see a door-to-door salesman and has a speech all ready for him.
“Sorry, we are vegetarians who would never think of killing bugs and have nothing worth stealing. Our vacuum works fine, we just bought knives, and all of our charity money goes to Greenpeace.”
Me: What do you want kids to take away from this story, especially from the actions and relationships of your characters?
Natalie: For me, the story is about friendship and loyalty. I hope that shows through.
This is an excerpt from my Goodreads review: A mystery is brewing in Grantsville. Ally thinks it odd that her younger brother, Eric, is digging in the backyard every free moment, and the boys at school all have dirt caked under their fingernails. They whisper and pass notes. Something is up, and Ally decides to snoop.
THE SECRET UNDERGROUND by Natalie Bahm is a fun, spooky middle-grade novel about the adventure and also trouble kids dig themselves into when they sneak around behind their parents’ backs, trying to gain access to the secrets and wonder of a long-closed steel mill.
Ally has more to worry about than tunnels. She likes Paul, the cutest boy in her sixth-grade class and the one who the most popular girl, Taylor, has called dibs on.
Ally is also plagued by nerves ever since she witnessed a bank robbery by the dangerous and not-yet-apprehended Gauze Men (they cover all but their eyes with gauze).
Ally’s curiosity and fearlessness gets her admitted to the all-boy, secret-tunnel project, but they get in over their heads digging to a place where real danger lurks.
There is mystery, intrigue, mortifying middle-grade moments, best-friend fights, mean-girl betrayals, and the wonder of friendship, loyalty and family love in this story.
Natalie is donating the proceeds of this book to help the family of a little boy who's had the odds stacked against him since before he was born and still puts up a mighty fight to survive. Meet Jayden in his Mr. Cool Spidey mode:
Help Baby Jayden blog
Roni Loren's interviews with Natalie, Sara Megibow about publishing
Where to buy (eBooks and print books available Sept. 28, check Natalie's blog for additional sites):