Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester is happy to shine our Friday spotlight on middle grade author Debbi Michiko Florence. Debbi Michiko Florence is the author of middle grade novels Keep It Together, Keiko Carter, a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection and New England Book Award finalist and Just Be Cool, Jenna Sakai, starred review from Kirkus, Amazon Best Books, and a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection. Her newest novel is Sweet and Sour . She is also the author of three chapter books series including Jasmine Toguchi (JLG selections, the Amelia Bloomer and CCBC Choices lists, and a Cybils Award winner) and co-authored a picture book biography, Niki Nakayama: A Chef’s Tale in 13 Bites which received starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly and Booklist.
A former classroom teacher, Debbi has spoken on panels at conferences and book festivals, taught writing workshops for children and adults, and loves doing author visits at schools and libraries. She is on the faculty of The Highlights Foundation.
Before becoming a full-time writer, Debbi was a raptor rehabilitator, outdoor educator, and a zoo educator. A third-generation Japanese American, born and raised in California, Debbi now lives in Connecticut with her husband, rescue dog, and bunny where she writes in her studio, The Word Nest. She enjoys running and hiking, and loves to travel with her husband and daughter. Her favorite foods are sushi, ramen, and chocolate.
Debbie, my first question to you is, where can people find your work? (Besides Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester–though they should totally check here first!)
I always encourage people to buy from their local independent bookstore. I love indie bookstores! To keep up with my latest books, best place to check is my website: https://debbimichikoflorence.com/books/
How can we follow your work and share your awesomeness?
What was the inspiration for Jasmine Toguchi Brave Explorer? What were the steps you took to bring it from initial inspiration to the finished book?
As you may know, the first two Jasmine Toguchi books in the chapter book series, Mochi Queen and Super Sleuth, published in 2017. I was inspired to write Mochi Queen after reading a newspaper article about a multi-generational Japanese American family that got together every New Year’s to make mochi (a Japanese chewy sweet treat) the traditional way. I knew that traditionally, there was a man’s job (pounding the sweet rice into mochi) and a woman’s job (rolling the mochi into shapes). I wondered what would happen if a girl in a family that adhered to tradition wanted to pound mochi. That’s how I came to write the chapter book Mochi Queen and how eight-year-old Jasmine Toguchi was “born.” I wrote four books for the series that came out between 2017 and 2018. After that, I switched to writing middle grade novels. A couple of years ago, I came up with an idea for a new set of Jasmine Toguchi books – Jasmine and her family travel to Japan on summer vacation. Each book takes them to a different part of Japan. Brave Explorer has Jasmine embarking with great excitement to Tokyo where she discovers that things are a little different in Japan than in California. And her older sister, Sophie, is being grumpy! Will Jasmine have the great adventure she hopes for?
I always knew I wanted to write more Jasmine Toguchi books – I adore Jasmine and her spirited sense of adventure! I had spent many childhood summers and adult vacations visiting Japan and I wanted to share some of those memories and experiences through Jasmine. I’m thrilled to get to work with my editor and the team at FSGBYR/Macmillan again!
What draws you to the particular genre or style that you write? What do you think draws readers to these kinds of books?
Chapter book readers are the best! These are newly independent readers, usually between the ages of 6 – 9, and there’s nothing like the feeling of pride, success, and joy of reading an entire book yourself, alone, for the first time. And because of this, these readers are extremely loyal and enthusiastic. I get the best reader mail from readers who fall in love with Jasmine Toguchi. Jasmine is an eight-year-old Japanese American girl living in Los Angeles, and all readers can relate to her sense of fun, her loyalty to her family and friends, and her love of making messes and climbing trees.
What else can we expect from you in the near future?
There are four new books of the Jasmine Toguchi chapter book series coming out between October 2022 and 2023. Jasmine Toguchi Brave Explorer (Oct 18) and Jasmine Toguchi Peace-Maker (March 2023) are both available for pre-order.
Just released in September is my newest middle grade novel, Sweet and Sour (Scholastic), and coming in January 2023 is another middle grade, This Is How I Roll (Scholastic) about a girl named Sana Mikami whose father is a famous sushi chef, and all she wants to do is learn how to cook like him, but when she feels like he’s discouraging her, she and a very cute boy start a food vlog in secret.
What is/are your passions when you’re not writing? How do you make time for your non-writing hobbies/things you love?
To be honest, I am usually writing or reading most of the time. They bring me the most joy! But I am also an animal lover, I have had so many pets, and used to work as a raptor rehabilitator and as an educator at a zoo (my degree is in zoology). I have a rescue dog named Kiku and a rabbit named Aki and both keep me company in my writing studio. My other passion is food – eating it. My husband, Bob Florence, does all the cooking. He, myself, and chef James Wayman are co-founders and partners of Moromi, a company that makes small batch, handcrafted soy sauce, miso, and hot sauce.
Thanks so much, Debbi, for taking the time to answer our questions.