For a self-described “dork,” Nikki Maxwell sure has a lot of followers.
Over the past decade, the middle-school protagonist of Rachel Renée Russell’s blockbuster “Dork Diaries” series has starred in more than a dozen books that collectively have sold 45 million copies in more than 40 different languages.
Russell will be in Austin this week with “Dork Diaries 14: Tales From a Not-So-Best-Friend Forever” (Simon & Schuster/Aladdin, $13.99). She’ll be at BookPeople at 11 a.m. Sunday along with her daughter, Nikki, who now illustrates the books and whose middle-school years partially inspired the series.
“Tales” follows Nikki and her bandmates as they plan for an exciting summer on tour opening for the band Bad Boyz. But Nikki’s nemesis, school snob MacKenzie, manages to score a spot on the tour as its social media intern. Worse, MacKenzie will be Nikki’s roommate throughout the tour. Or, as Russell might write in the distinctive mix of chatty all-caps, traditional text and illustration that marks her diary-based series, WORSE!!! (Ages 8-12)
The “Dork Diaries” event is one of just several noteworthy author appearances this month in the Austin area. On March 13, Patrice Caldwell will be at Lark and Owl Booksellers in Georgetown with her new anthology, “A Phoenix First Must Burn” (Viking/Penguin, $18.99). Billed as “Beyoncé’s ’Lemonade’ meets Octavia Butler,” the collection’s 16 short stories share threads of science fiction, fantasy and magic, focusing on black women and gender-nonconforming individuals.
Caldwell is a Fort Worth native who founded People of Color in Publishing and edited children’s books before turning to writing. The authors collected in “Phoenix” include luminaries such as National Book Award and Carnegie Medal winner Elizabeth Acevedo (“The Poet X”) and National Book Award finalist Ibi Zoboi (“American Street,” “Pride”) as well as emerging writers.
“Raised on a diet of ’Twilight Zone,’ ’Star Trek’ and ’Star Wars,’ I preferred to create and explore fictional universes than live in my real one,” Caldwell explains in her introduction. “But whenever I went to the children’s section of the library to discover more tales, the novels featuring characters who looked like me were rooted in pain set amid slavery, share-cropping, or segregation. Those narratives are important, yes. But because they were the only ones offered, I started to wonder, ’Where is my fantasy, my future? Why don’t black people exist in speculative worlds?’”
Caldwell will appear with anthology contributor Karen Strong, the author of “Just South of Home,” which was named one of the best middle-grade books of 2019 by industry journal Kirkus Reviews. The event begins at 6:30 p.m. at Lark and Owl, 205 W. Sixth St., Georgetown.
Can’t make it on March 13? Caldwell will also showcase “Phoenix” at BookPeople on April 11 at 2 p.m. (Ages 12 and older)
Later this month, Austin author Christina Soontornvat (“Diary of an Ice Princess”) reinvents Victor Hugo’s “Les Misérables” for middle-graders with the thought-provoking “A Wish in the Dark” (Candlewick, $17.99), set in the Thai-inspired world of Chattana. Her story focuses on a young prison escapee, Pong, and Nok, the warden’s daughter, who chases Pong.
“Dark” explores class and privilege through these characters in a propulsive story with magical elements. Soontornvat – whose first picture book, the counting-themed “The Blunders” (Candlewick, $16.99), published last month – will discuss and sign “Wish” at BookPeople at 2 p.m. March 29. (Ages 8-12)
Chris Barton story time and more appearances
Fans of Austin author Chris Barton’s 2010 picture book “Shark Vs. Train” have a new matchup to ponder: “Fire Truck Vs. Dragon” (Little, Brown, $17.99). The powers of fire and water occupy center stage in this story that travels to a camp-out, a birthday party and more, inverting expectations with Barton’s words and Shanda McCloskey’s energetic illustrations. “Fire Truck vs. Dragon” arrives on shelves Tuesday, and Barton will be at BookPeople at 10:30 a.m. March 14 for a read-aloud storytime. (Ages 4-8) … New York Times-bestselling young adult author Ally Carter brings her first middle-grade tale to Austin with “Winterborne Home for Vengeance and Valor” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $16.99), a fast-paced, funny mystery. Carter appears at 2 p.m. Sunday. (Ages 8-12) … David Levithan offers a varied selection of love-fueled tales in “19 Love Songs” (Knopf, $17.99), a young adult exploration of love both requited and thwarted. Many of the selections feature gay men; the collection includes stories with characters from Levithan’s bestselling fiction, including 2013’s “Two Boys Kissing.” Levithan will be at BookPeople at 7 p.m. Tuesday. (Ages 14 and older)