When I heard the title of this book during a writing conference panel, I immediately knew I had to feature it. HOW TO BECOME A PLANET by Nicole Melleby is not only a necessary addition to any library shelf, it captures the bifurcation that comes with mental illness. The book comes out on May 21, 2021:


For Pluto, summer has always started with a trip to the planetarium. It’s the launch to her favorite season, which also includes visits to the boardwalk arcade, working in her mom’s pizzeria, and her best friend Meredith’s birthday party. But this summer, none of that feels possible.

A month before the end of the school year, Pluto’s frightened mom broke down Pluto’s bedroom door. What came next were doctor’s appointments, a diagnosis of depression, and a big black hole that still sits on Pluto’s chest, making it too hard to do anything.

Pluto can’t explain to her mom why she can’t do the things she used to love. And it isn’t until Pluto’s dad threatens to make her move with him to the city—where he believes his money, in particular, could help—that Pluto becomes desperate enough to do whatever it takes to be the old Pluto again.

She develops a plan and a checklist: If she takes her medication, if she goes to the planetarium with her mom for her birthday, if she successfully finishes her summer school work with her tutor, if she goes to Meredith’s birthday party . . . if she does all the things that “normal” Pluto would do, she can stay with her mom in Jersey. But it takes a new therapist, a new tutor, and a new (and cute) friend with a checklist and plan of her own for Pluto to learn that there is no old and new Pluto. There’s just her.


Hurricane Season was your debut novel. How did you know this was a book you needed to write?

In spring 2017, my cousin was studying abroad in London. My aunt and uncle were planning a vacation to go out for a week to see him, and I basically invited myself along. I was coming out of a pretty bad depression period, and hadn’t really been writing anything much, but I was ready to try something new. I knew I wanted to explore the relationship between a father and daughter…but that was pretty much all I had. While on the trip, I adjusted to the jet lag pretty quickly, and my family didn’t, so I had my mornings to myself. I knew that the National Gallery in London was free so I decided to check it out.

When I got to the Van Gogh paintings, there was a tour guide talking about Van Gogh’s mental illness, and there was something so unbelievable relatable about what he was saying, particularly since I was just coming out of my own depression. I ended up going to the gift shop and buying a book of Van Gogh’s letters and read them all on the plane ride home. I say myself in those letters, and by the time we landed, I knew exactly what I needed to write.


It’s so amazing when inspiration comes from unexpected places! In HOW TO BECOME A PLANET, Pluto deals with mental illness. What do you hope kids can remember after they share in Pluto’s journey?

Mental illness is often seen as an “adult issue” and that’s just not true. There are many, many kids who struggle with depression and anxiety and other mental illnesses. You’re not alone if that includes you.


So true! And I love your website. What do you feel are the necessary parts of an online presence, especially for children’s authors?

I think it’s important to be true to yourself, to be honest, and to be aware of your audience. Not just in a, “Don’t curse online because kids may be watching!” way, but in a, “these kids are looking at you sometimes for guidance” way. I want to seem comfortable and confident with who I am, while acknowledging that sometimes, particularly when it comes to my sexuality, I struggle. I want them to know that they can be proud of who they are and still struggle sometimes, too.

I get asked a lot by kids when I do school visits, particularly with GSAs, “Do you have advice for kids who haven’t come out yet?” I ended up putting that as an FAQ on my website because a lot of my books deal with LGBTQ+ kids discovering their sexuality and understanding their identities—and sometimes that means they end up coming out to their family and friends. I want my kid readers to know that if they aren’t ready to be out yet, that’s perfectly okay! I want them to know that they can do it on your own terms, that they don’t need to come out until *they* are ready, no matter what.


Absolutely. What are some of your current projects?

Next up, I have This Is Our Rainbow: 16 Stories of Her, Him, Them, & Us, which is the first LGBTQIA+ anthology for middle-graders featuring short stories, poetry, and comics about LGBTQIA+ characters and experiences, that comes out from Knopf on October 19th.

I’m currently working on line edits for my fourth book with Algonquin Young Readers called The Science of Being Angry, out spring 2022. It’s about an 11-year-old girl named Joey who has anger issues she’s trying to understand. She throws temper tantrums and sometimes gets violent and gets in trouble a lot in school and at home because of it. She’s a triplet, and her brothers never get angry like she does, and neither does her mama, the one of her moms she shares DNA with. In her search to figure out why she is the way she is, she and her best friend (and crush) end up turning to 23-and-Me to try and find out information on the sperm donor her moms used to conceive the triplets. It’s a messy story about family, as Joey tries to fix things so that her mom (the one she doesn’t share DNA with) will love her anyway, and Joey won’t keep hurting the people she loves most, either.

And, I just sold a project I’m really excited about—it’s called Camp Quiltbag* and it’s co-written by my best writer friend A.J. Sass. It’s a classic summer camp story, with an all queer cast that we cannot wait to bring into the world!

Buy: Bookshop.org ~ BookPassage ~ Amazon ~ Barnes and Noble ~ Indiebound


For Nicole Melleby’s other books, go to https://www.nicolemelleby.com/middle-grade

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