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If you’ve been in children’s publishing for any length of time, then you know Margery Cuyler. Margery served as an executive editor for decades, at Holiday House, Marshall Cavendish and finally Two Lions before recently retiring. But she’s also a very accomplished author in her own right. Margery has published over 50 books for children, including the popular THAT’S GOOD! THAT’S BAD! series and one of my favorites, THE BIGGEST, BEST SNOWMAN, with frequent collaborator, illustrator Will Hillenbrand.

She also seems to be quite fond of skeletons. Perhaps you’ve heard of this Halloween classic?

A couple of years ago, Margery came on the blog with her newest skeleton character, Bonaparte, illustrated by Will Terry.

Bonaparte is a skeleton whose loose bones occasionally fly off. In the first book, BONAPARTE FALLS APART, Bonaparte is reluctant to start school because he worries that the other “kids” (different monsters) will make fun of him. His friends try to help ease Bonaparte’s worries, but none of their suggestions work. Bonaparte finally adopts a dog named Mandible who retrieves his bones and accompanies him to school. They both turn out to be popular!

And now…Bonaparte is back in a second spine-tingling adventure.

Margery, why did you decide the follow-up Bonaparte book should be about baseball?

Before writing  the second book, I thought of different situations that would be challenging for Bonaparte, even with Mandible’s help. At the same time, I was hearing from bookstores that there weren’t enough sports stories for the picture-book set. Bingo! Why not put Bonaparte in the middle of a baseball story? Surely he’d be stressed if he had to bat and run.

What was the most challenging aspect of writing a baseball story?

Learning about baseball! There are a lot of rules that I had to bone up on. Also, baseball has its own language. For example, “moon shot,” “bouncer,” “slider,” “shutout,” “pop-up,” “dinger,” and “swing for the fences.” I worked them into the text whenever possible. In addition, I tried to include puns if they made sense. For example, the Mighty Aliens “orbit” the bases. All in all, it was quite a challenge to hold it all together, but my editor, Emily Easton at Crown/Random House, was very helpful.

What do you think makes Bonaparte a better baseball player than soccer star or basketball champ?

Well, truthfully, Bonaparte would have been anxious playing any sport. I picked baseball because I thought it would be cool to have a game in the World Series which became the Weird Series in my new book.

The Weird Series! My kind of championship! Which teams are playing?

The Little Monsters (Bonaparte’s team) vs. The Mighty Aliens.

OK, I’m rooting for The Little Monsters!

Is Bonaparte nervous for the big game? What does he do to calm his bones? 

You bet Bonaparte is nervous! He’s a “jittery jumble of bones.” And so he practices the drills assigned by the coach to get prepared, but that isn’t enough to calm his nerves. Maybe if I were to rewrite the book, I’d have him do some mindfulness exercises! Or yoga. Or drink some herb tea (which would go right through him). In any case, most of the book is about what happens during the game.

As you know, a lot of kids can’t play baseball with their teammates right now. What words of wisdom do you have for them?

There’s no substitute for being outdoors and playing baseball! My heart goes out to all baseball players, no matter what age, who have to self-isolate and/or postpone games till the virus calms down. My advice would be to continue with drills, just like the ones Bonaparte does, to stay fit. There are also plenty of videos on game strategy that would be helpful to watch. Or, players can have vicarious pleasure reading BONAPARTE PLAYS BALL!

What else will Bonaparte be doing to keep busy?

Bonaparte is considering starring in a third book in which he discovers that his house is haunted. Is it being haunted by a ghost who wants to be accepted into his group of friends? Or does the spirit have something else in mind? Whatever the case, the ghost’s presence makes Bonaparte rattle and shake, losing bones along the way until he discovers that his bones can be useful.

OK, finally I have to ask about your interest in skeletons!

When I was five years old, I had several ribs removed during an operation. I remember becoming fascinated by the fact there was this invisible, bony frame under my skin and I started drawing skeletons. It’s actually quite amazing I didn’t grow up to be an orthopedic surgeon! Then as an adult, I wrote a children’s book called SKELETON HICCUPS which generated and continues to generate mail from children. Often I received requests to write another skeleton book and that led to SKELETON FOR DINNER. (The paperback edition will be released in August 2020). The BONAPARTE books came about because I made a life-sized skeleton as a Halloween decoration and it fell apart. Rattle-clatter! (I’m really not very good at crafts!) That’s when the name “Bonaparte” popped into my head, a character begging for a story.

Margery, that’s an awesome story-behind-the-story! I love that your five-year-old self is still fascinated and I’m thankful that curiosity brought us such a winning character.

Blog readers, you can win a copy of BONAPARTE PLAYS BALL!

Leave one comment below to enter.

A random winner will be selected in two weeks.

Good luck!

Let’s play ball!


Margery Cuyler’s career has been devoted to children’s books. She has written more than 50 books, served at the executive level in the children’s divisions of several publishers, and continues to enjoy interacting with children, teachers, and librarians on school visits. She and her husband, the parents of two grown sons, live in Lawrenceville, NJ. Visit her at margerycuyler.com and on Twitter @cuylermargery.

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HarperCollins
July 2021

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Sourcebooks eXplore
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Little, Brown
2022

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