Discovering the Wonder in S.E.M. Ishida’s Nick Newton

Excited to have S.E.M. Ishida on the blog today talking about her wonderfully inventive, middle-grade steampunk series about a boy named Nick Newton.

Welcome, S.E.M.! For those unfamiliar, please tell us about Nick and his story.

Nick Newton Is Not a Genius and its sequel, Nick Newton: The Highest Bidder, are both speculative fiction middle grade books.

When you live with a family of geniuses, a normal day involves ancient robots, flying baby carriages, and mysterious millionaires. All before lunchtime. Meet Nick Newton, a merely average boy from the country of Thauma. Nick’s not brilliant like his mom and dad or a child prodigy like his sister, but he won’t let that stop him from uncovering the mysteries of a clockwork factory or revealing a war hero’s greatest secret. With help from two new friends and his butler named Jude, Nick embarks on an adventure that will change his life forever.

Nick’s mechanical friend, Plink.

In all of the story, do you have a favorite line?

“Always, always, always ask your mother before borrowing her welding torch.”

That’s an awesome line! Definitely solid advice. ;)

So what’s the story behind this story, what inspired you?

As a child, I watched cartoons like Dexter’s Laboratory and Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius. When I got older, I read Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. While I can enjoy stories with genius protagonists, I’m not a genius myself, and, thankfully, being a genius isn’t a prerequisite for fulfillment and making an impact on the world around you. Thus, I decided to write a “reverse boy genius” story in which the protagonist comes from a family of geniuses, but he is “average.”

Nick is such a fun character, and the world certainly needs more stories with everyday kids doing extraordinary things. More heart. More grit. It’s one of the reasons I love your series.

Tell us about the research that went into this story, did you venture into any new areas or topics?

I’ve had an interest in science since childhood, but I still have so much more I want to learn about technology. Although the technology in the story is fantastical, technology is a field that continues to challenge and inspire me.

The ever changing landscape of technology is really something. In the process of writing this story, what would you say is the most interesting discovery you made?

I originally sent a shorter version of Nick Newton to the publisher and pitched it as an early chapter book for younger readers. The editor suggested making it longer and for an older audience, which I did. I think seeing Nick Newton as a middle grade book helped me realize how much I enjoy middle grade. Although I’m exploring writing in other genres and for other ages, I also plan to continue writing middle grade stories.

Any Easter eggs readers should keep an eye out for?

The winged toilet in chapter twenty might seem totally random, but it comes from my childhood memories of visiting the electronics store and looking at the computers. My favorite screensaver featured flying toilets flapping their wings across the monitor. It was delightfully bizarre.

So that’s where the winged toilet idea came from!

Any other behind-the-scenes information you didn’t already mention that you can share with us? :)

I didn’t meet my illustrator, Dana Thompson, until after the completion of the book, but I think his art style and the finished illustrations fit the story so well! The illustrations for Nick Newton demonstrate the skill of the illustrator and also the importance of having a publisher and editor with the right understanding of the heart of your book. With this understanding, they can find the right illustrator and design the book in a way that complements your story.

Nick Newton Is Not a Genius is available from BJU Press, or on Amazon. Don’t forget to check out the book trailer below!

I’ve really enjoyed learning more about your Nick Newton series. Thank you for taking time to give us a backstage tour, S.E.M.!

About S.E.M. Ishida

Sarah Ishida enjoys good stories in a variety of forms, including books, graphic novels, and video games. With a Master of Science in technical communication, she is a technical communicator for a multinational technology company. Besides writing, she also likes to draw, sew, and collect toys.

You can connect with her at her website, or on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter.



*** View past features here. ***

A Review of “Vincent in Wonderland”

Vincent van Gogh meets Alice in Wonderland—literally.

C.E. White’s Vincent in Wonderland is a middle-grade fantasy reimagining of Alice in Wonderland. We follow an eleven-year-old Vincent van Gogh through a burrow into Sian. There he encounters the white rabbit who introduces him to Alice. With their special abilities awakening, Vincent and Alice learn they have been brought to the newly created Sian to use their gifts to defeat the Jabberwock.

A delightful tale, Vincent in Wonderland sweeps the reader away into a world awash with vibrant color. Stunning imagery and inspiring words breathe fresh life into an adventure that includes a few familiar faces.

While the beginning pace was a little slower than I expected for a modern tale, it is quiet reminiscent of the original classic in that respect—moving along in a dream-like state. The excitement increases as the final battle scenes approach, culminating to an end ripe with heartfelt intensity and meaning.

It’s a tale fans of the original classic are sure to love. And each chapter offers a Vincent van Gogh.

Vincent in Wonderland is available on Amazon.

Content Guide

Romance (low)
Hand holding.

Violence (low)
Characters encounter death. Two battle scenes with the Jabberwock. Nothing graphic.

Language (low)
Four instances of stupid, one instance of idiot, and one instance of imbecile.

Sensitive Topics (low)
Death and grief. Suitable for intended audience.

About Vincent in Wonderland

A prequel to The Worlds Next Door.

11-year-old Vincent van Gogh discovers a curious new world through a tunnel on the moor. A mysterious white rabbit introduces Vincent to Alice, and their quest begins—defeat the dreaded Jabberwock before it consumes all of Wonderland. 

A slithy tove, an ill-tempered caterpillar, and the Cheshire cat meet them along the path as their adventures take them through fields dancing with flowers, tangled forests, and looking-glass pools.

But all is not what it seems in Wonderland, and Vincent may not have— and may not want— what it takes to succeed. Destroying the Jabberwock may cost more than he’s willing to give.

Visit Amazon for more details and reviews.

About C.E. White

C.E White is an author and collage artist living in the mountains of North Georgia with her husband and two cats. She loves whimsy, fairy gardens, and the Oxford comma. She also delights in rainy days spent on her porch with long books and large cups of coffee. Vincent in Wonderland is the prequel to her first book, The Worlds Next Door.

“One of the most impactful things I’ve learned from reading other-world stories is contentment. So many of my favorite characters had to travel to other worlds to find that what they wanted most was right in front of them. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis taught me about faith and perseverance and forgiveness. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, which I remember reading in one sitting as a child, taught me about hope and resilience and friendship. Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie taught me that we all have to grow up, and that maybe that’s not a bad thing. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeliene L’Engle taught me to be OK with not fitting in. I don’t think I ever read a story that made me a worse person.” – C.E. White

​Connect with C.E. White on Instagram (@cewhitebooks), Twitter (@cewhitebooks) or on her website (

Tangled up in Kendra E. Ardnek’s Hair We Go Again

Please join me in welcoming Kendra E. Ardnek to the blog today. She’s the author of the Bookania Quests, a fantasy fairy tale mashup series for preteens. The fifth book in the series, Hair We Go Again, releases in August.

Welcome, Kendra! Before we journey into the Bookania world, tell us about your upcoming release—Hair We Go Again.

Still reeling from recent trauma, Robin and Eric struggle to find stability in the midst of increasing tension both at home and with others. When friends ask their help to rediscover their castle, lost during their hundred-year sleep, Robin and Eric agree to help. But this castle holds secrets of its own—including what may be the fate of Eric’s long-lost brother—launching them on another quest. Meanwhile, Maryanne’s busy on a much more important mission of her own: find a jackalope. Yet no one’s ideas seem to coincide with hers, and family disagreements muddy everything. Can healing ever be found when people refuse to communicate?

A jackalope? Those don’t pop-up in too many stories, nowadays. I really want to ask why she has to find a jackalope, but that seems like a rabbit hole best left for readers to discover. ;)

What kind of world is Bookania?

Learn about the mythological jackalope on

Discover the jackalope lurking in the Smithsonian’s collection on Smithsonian Insider.

Bookania is a psedo-medieval Europe-esque world spun out of the legends and stories that we of the real world tell. Important countries to the north are Fronce, Briton, Germaine, Locksley, and the Broken Country that lost its king three hundred years before, Just south of them are Winthrop, Normandy, and Scotlund. A large desert known as the S’Thera covers the southern part of Winthrop, and Normandy is home to Skewwood forest, once known as Sherwood, where things aren’t always as they seem…

How does Bookania compare to our world—how is it similiar or different?

It’s based on our world, but possibility is reality, and there’s altogether more magic. Its purpose is to contain the stories that we, as society, tell, and as such, it’s home to fairy tales, myths and legends—and even some historical figures who’ve attained legendary status. The stories play over and over, generation to generation, never quite the same way twice. 

It actually exists inside a book—I only described one page for you. There are hundreds more—each with fairy tales playing out differently.

Such a unique story world! What inspired you to create the Bookania series?

My love of fairy tales and the desire to cram all of them into one world. It’s evolved from there. 

Jackalope sighting!

Tell us about some of the research you did for these stories.

Mostly just reading fifty bajillion fairy tales and their retellings! And a lot of medieval books. I don’t think too hard when it comes to the logistics of this world. It’s made of story, after all.

I did research the proper uses of you’s archaic forms, ‘cause I had characters using them in the first couple of books. It also made me sad because we’ve lost a lot of nuance by reducing “You” to just one word. 

Anything else you can tell us that readers may be interested to know?

I actually focus on a page of Bookania that is just coming out of a hundred-year period without magic, which is a lot of fun to play with. 

Hair We Go Again is available for preorder on Amazon.

And, you can grab the first book in the Bookania Quests series—Sew, It’s a Questhere, on Amazon for free.

Great to have you here, Kendra! Thanks for giving us a tour of the Bookania world and introducing us to your latest release, Hair we go Again.

About Kendra E. Ardnek

Kendra E. Ardnek loves fairytales and twisting them in new and exciting ways. She’s been or acting them on her dozen plus cousins and siblings for years. “Finish your story, Kendra,” is frequently heard at family gatherings. Her sole life goal has always been to grow up and be an author of fantasy and children’s tales that glorify God and His Word.

You can connect with her at her website or blog, or on Instagram, Facebook, or YouTube.



*** Want to know which author will be featured next?
View the full schedule here. ***

*** Want to be a featured author?
Learn more here. ***