Author Spotlight: Sonja Thomas
March 25, 2022
We are excited to feature author Sonja Thomas and her debut middle-grade novel, SIR FIG NEWTON AND THE SCIENCE OF PERSISTENCE illustrated by Brittney Bond (Aladdin), which came out on March 22.
Enter to win a copy!
|Cover design is by Tiara Iandiorio|
Tell us about yourself and how you came to write for children.
Thanks so much for having me on Kidlit411! My name’s Sonja Thomas and I write all kinds of stories for kids of all ages. I’ve always loved reading, even before I could actually read, so I’d just stare at the illustrations and make-up my own stories. My favorite authors growing up were Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary and my all-time favorite book is Charolette’s Web. In college, I wanted to do everything creative: writing, photography, and cartooning. But I got scared that I wasn’t good enough and ended up graduating with my MBA focused on accounting instead.
Fast forward over a decade later and I rediscovered my love of writing. I took writing classes and wrote my first young adult book through the Institute of Children’s Literature (a writing correspondence course). Unfortunately, it didn’t sell, but it proved to myself that I can finish writing a book. I kept working on my craft, writing picture books, another YA, and eventually I sold four short stories. Then I finally found my sweet spot with middle grade when I wrote Sir Fig Newton and the Science of Persistence.
Congrats on debut middle grade novel, Sir Fig Newton and the Science of Persistence! Tell us about the story and what inspired you
Sir Fig Newton and the Science of Persistence is about a twelve-year-old scientist named Mira Williams who will stop at nothing to save her sick cat when her parents can no longer afford to treat his diabetes. It’s a story about friendship, family and the power of persistence.
The story is loosely based on the struggles my cat Whiskey and I went through when he was diagnosed with diabetes. Thankfully, I was an adult with a great paying job so I could afford the large vet bills. A co-worker had shared with his young son about my cat having to get daily insulin shots. His son has Type 1 diabetes and smiling big had replied, “If a cat can get insulin shots, then so can I!” In that moment, I knew I had to write Whiskey’s story.
Was your road to publication long and winding, short and sweet, or something in between?
Definitely long and winding. Although I rediscovered my love of writing in 2004, I didn’t seriously start querying until 2009. After many, many rejections, I sold my first young adult fantasy short story in 2014, followed by three more in different genres. I started writing Sir Fig Newton around 2010. At first, I tried to write it as a picture book, but it never quite worked. I set it aside and three years later while reading Kate DiCamilo’s Flora and Ulysses, I realized the story needed to be a middle-grade novel. That night, I wrote several scenes that are still in the book today!
It wasn’t until I won the 2016 Oregon Literary Fellowship for Young Readers Literature with the first 25 pages of an earlier version of this manuscript (formerly titled Mira & Whiskers) that I finally focused on revisions from beta reader feedback and eventually queried and signed with my amazing agent, Ronald Gerber. We went on submission in late January 2020 and less than a month later received an offer from my wonderful editor at Aladdin.
What are some of your favorite classic MGs? recent ones?
As mentioned above, Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White is my all-time favorite, followed by Holes by Louis Sachar, and I love EVERYTHING by Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, Kate DiCamillo, Rebecca Stead, and Jacqueline Woodson.
Recent middle-grade novels I’ve read and loved are Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly, When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller, From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks, Ways to Make Sunshine by Renée Watson, The Unforgettable Logan Foster by Shawn Peters, and The House That Wasn’t There by Elana K. Arnold. There are so many more that are favorites, but I’ve already gone on long enough!
What projects are you working on these days?
I just wrapped up a fun freelance chapter book project and have started another one, which unfortunately I can’t talk about yet. I’m also working on a proposal for my next middle-grade novel that I’ve been daydreaming about since 2020.
What advice would you give your younger self? Is this the same that you'd give to aspiring authors?
The advice I would give to my younger self is the same I’d give to aspiring authors: Keep writing!
We face many obstacles in this industry, from lots of rejection to self-doubt. So often we get caught up comparing ourselves to other writers. While building a writing community is great, remember that every path to publication is different. The more you write, the more you’ll improve your craft. The stronger your writing and the more you query, the greater your chances of getting published. So never give up and keep writing!
What is one thing most people don't know about you?
The one thing most people don’t know about me is that I once did the flying trapeze. It taught me to push through my fear, be open, and trust in myself and others. If I could climb a shaky rope ladder to a teeny-tiny platform twenty-three feet in the air and jump, then I can do anything!
Where can people find you online?
Sonja Thomas (she/her) writes stories for readers of all ages, often featuring brave, everyday girls doing extraordinary things. She's a contributing author for Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Real-Life Tales of Black Girl Magic. Raised in Central Florida—home of the wonderful world of Disney, humidity, and hurricanes—and a Washington, DC transplant for eleven years (Go Nats!), she’s now “keeping it weird” in the Pacific Northwest. Sir Fig Newton and the Science of Persistence is her debut novel.