Fighting for Libraries, On and Off the Page: A Conversation Between the Co-Authors of the "Blue Stars" Series

Co-authors Kekla Magoon & Cynthia Leitich Smith in conversation about the inspiration behind The Blue Stars Series: Mission One: The Vice Principal Problem: "When we set out to write a middle grade graphic novel series about cousins who became superheroes to save their school library, we couldn't have imagined how timely our story would become."

Cover art and illustrated author photos by Molly Murakami. 

When we set out to write a middle grade graphic novel series about cousins who become superheroes to save their school library, we couldn’t have imagined how timely our story would become.


At the beginning of Mission One: The Vice Principal Problem, cousins Maya and Riley move in with their Grandma Gayle and start sixth grade at a new school. The very different girls struggle to get along at first, but when both grow concerned about problems at their school, they join forces to save the day.


We intentionally designed our antagonist, Vice Principal Balderdash, to be an exaggerated villain, in classic superhero comic book style. His fiendish plot to end extracurricular activities and defund the library felt hyperdramatic—which is what we wanted so that the heroes had something clear and solid to battle. Now, a few years later, we’re launching this series into a world with real-life Balderdash-style foes who are likewise hellbent on pulling funding from our libraries, taking power from librarians, and homogenizing bookshelves.


Recently, we reflected on our writing process for the "Blue Stars" series, and the surprising parallels between our story and the real world today. 


Artwork by Molly Murakami.

CYNTHIA: This project started with creative play. We were goofing around, pretending to be superheroes and imagining ourselves as 12-year-olds. On the page, Riley and Maya's story is joyful and fun. Off the page, it is a call-to-action for young readers to find ways to use their own voices—be it by saving their library, joining after-school clubs, protecting the environment, running for student office, or signing up for the school newspaper.


KEKLA: There was always an undercurrent of social justice. We spoke a lot about how people band together when things get tough, and we wanted child readers to have multiple empowering examples on the page.


CYNTHIA: The themes we landed on—community, collaboration, standing up for what is right—are deeply important to us.  


KEKLA: We come from different backgrounds and perspectives, but we have so much in common underneath the surface. We encourage kids to read widely because it promotes empathy—learning about people from different walks of life can be enriching, not just because it shows you how you differ, but because it illuminates striking commonalities.


CYNTHIA: Our collaboration made us both stronger. It was fun to bounce ideas off each other and let the dialogue play out in real-time as we were drafting. We based the characters on ourselves but added a few twists. 

Artwork by Molly Murakami.

KEKLA: Maya’s quiet and tech-savvy. She loves solo projects. Her parents are in the air force, and she grew up on military bases around the world. She understands what it means to fight for something you care about.


CYNTHIA: Riley’s outgoing. She loves to talk and connect. She originally hails from Muscogee Nation, and community is vitally important to her. She can’t imagine NOT getting her friends together to make a difference. 

Artwork by Molly Murakami.

KEKLA: Grandma Gayle is an activist, too, and she encourages the girls. She reminds them that as students, they’re huge stakeholders in the school. They can speak up. That’s what democracy allows.


CYNTHIA: That’s what democracy is supposed to encourage. It’s concerning that we’re having to fight to keep stories by diverse voices in schools and libraries. As grown-up readers, it’s just as important for us to remember that when we work together, we can make a positive difference. 

Artwork by Molly Murakami.

KEKLA: We’ve both experienced challenges to our books or have been disinvited from a school visit because someone got nervous about our content. It’s painful.


CYNTHIA: We have to remember that it’s as easy for us to speak in support of books and programs as it is for others to speak against them. We have to pay attention to what’s happening, and when the time comes, make our voices heard.


KEKLA: As children’s writers—together with librarians, teachers, parents, students, and communities—we do have the power to impact these discussions.


CYNTHIA: The "Blue Stars" series is about collaboration and teamwork, and we can be, too. It’s easy to feel powerless in the face of these challenges, but we can’t give up. Together, we’re stronger and better able to advocate for young readers.


KEKLA: As Grandma Gayle would say…


CYNTHIA: Be the stars you are! 


Leitich Smith (left) [photo by Christopher T. Assaf] and Magoon (right) [photo by Alice Dodge].

Kekla Magoon is the renowned author of numerous fiction and nonfiction titles for young readers. She has received the Margaret A. Edwards Award, the John Steptoe New Talent Award, an NAACP Image Award, the Boston Globe–Horn Book Award, a Michael L. Printz Honor, and four Coretta Scott King Honors, among other accolades. Kekla Magoon lives in Montpelier, VT, and teaches at Vermont College of Fine Arts.


Cynthia Leitich Smith (Muscogee citizen) is an acclaimed New York Times best-selling author, the 2024 Southern Mississippi Medallion Winner, an American Indian Youth Literature Award winner, and the 2021 NSK Neustadt Laureate. Cynthia is also the author-curator of Heartdrum, a Native-focused imprint of HarperCollins, and was the inaugural Katherine Paterson Chair at the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program.  

Cover artwork by Molly Murakami.

Blue Stars: Mission One: The Vice Principal Problem is out March 5, 2024, and can be found in libraries and on bookshelves everywhere.

Publisher: Candlewick
ISBN: 9781536204995


BLUE STARS: MISSION ONE: THE VICE PRINCIPAL PROBLEM. Text Copyright © 2024 Kekla Magoon and Cynthia Leitich Smith. Illustrations Copyright © 2024 Molly Murakami. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA. 

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