The Copycat by Wendy McLeod MacKnight

Happy Friday! Author Wendy McLeod MacKnight dropped by to chat with me about The Copycat, Erwin Madrid, Ali, school librarians, story, and New Brunswick. I wrote the words in purple, and she wrote the words in black. Thank you, Wendy! 

Illustration Credit: Erwin Madrid | Art Director Credit: Paul Zakris

Erwin Madrid’s cover illustration for The Copycat is so much fun! I love Ali’s shadow, the fog, and the Victorian house in the distance. He really sets the stage for what’s inside! And it also blew me away, because in the book, I based my main character’s house on the house where my grandparents used to live, When I saw the final cover art I squealed, because Erwin had recreated the house perfectly thanks to Google! 

The Copycat tells the story of twelve-year-old Ali, who’s spent her whole life trying to fit in by copying the kids at whatever new school she’s enrolled in this year. At least she isn’t like her father, who is a real Copycat and can actually change into anything. When her family moves in with her great-grandmother, Ali hopes she’ll finally put down roots and make real friends. But when she suddenly inherits the family powers, she has to worry not only about being the new kid, but about changing into someone or something else at the wrong time! Thanks to her new powers, Ali can be anything, but what she really needs to learn is how to be herself. At the heart of it, The Copycat is finding your place in the world and believing you’re enough. 

Ali is spunky, sentimental and insecure, three words I would have used to describe myself at the same age!

New Brunswick is so beautiful and friendly! It’s one of the Atlantic Canadian provinces, to the right of Maine, and is bordered by a massive river to the west and the ocean to the east! We’ve got world class scenery and a thriving culture: if you love the arts, great food, vibrant music, hysterical comedians and want to speak both French and English, we’re waiting for you. But be warned: one kitchen party, one lobster roll, one small town fair and you’re done for. You’ll want to move here! And we’d love to have you!

School librarians are magical and indispensable! If I could wave a magic wand, every school would have a school librarian and every government would understand that cutting those positions impedes our ability to instill the love of reading and literacy in our kids. One of my heroes growing up was my elementary school librarian, Mrs. Smythe. She, along with the librarians at my public library, was my guide to worlds far beyond the small town I grew up in and helped sow the seeds for the writer I am today!

Story is our way of connecting to one another and the world around us. It is the greatest of all human creations, and it is inexhaustible. Story can change the world.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me why I set the book in Saint John. It’s where my mother grew up and a place I visited regularly and loved. There was something magical about the fog and the ocean, the city lights and narrow streets; it’s a place where anything can happen. In the book, Ali’s great-grandmother was friends with Walter Pidgeon, a famous actor originally from Saint John. In real life, my mother grew up with Donald Sutherland! I have a picture of them together on the wall in my dining room. Who knows? Maybe one of Ali’s friends will grow up and be a famous actor, too!

Look for The Copycat on March 10, 2020. 

A funny, unpredictable, and heartfelt new novel from Wendy McLeod MacKnight, the author of The Frame-Up. Ali has always acted like a copycat to make friends, but when she unexpectedly inherits the ability to change her appearance at will, fitting in seems impossible! Luckily, with the help of her family, new friends, and a touch of magic, Ali might just survive middle school after all. A great pick for fans of Dan Gemeinhart, Erin Entrada Kelly, and Diana Wynne Jones.

Ali and her parents have moved at least once a year for as long as Ali can remember. She’s attended six different schools, lived in dozens of apartments, and never really felt at home anywhere. But Ali’s parents say living in Saint John, New Brunswick, will be different. They’ve moved in with Ali’s great-grandmother—a spunky 99-year-old with a quirky old house that has room for all of them. Ali wants to believe this will be their last move, but everything seems too perfect to be true.

To Ali’s surprise, things are different this time, but not in the way she hoped. She’s finally inherited the Sloane family powers—the ability to change her appearance into any living thing. Ali is a Copycat. Literally. And being the new kid at school is hard enough without worrying about losing control of your powers and turning into your teacher. Luckily, Ali’s new friends are eager to help her use her newfound power. But as Ali soon learns, being a Copycat is no substitute for being yourself.

Wendy McLeod MacKnight’s The Copycat is an imaginative and surprising middle-school story about friendship, family, and self-confidence that is perfect for fans of John David Anderson’s Posted and Katherine Applegate’s Wishtree.


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