Cover Reveal: The Secret of the Dragon Gems by Rajani LaRocca & Chris Baron
Hi Nerdy Book Club friends!
It’s Rajani LaRocca and Chris Baron here with the cover reveal of THE SECRET OF THE DRAGON GEMS, our middle grade novel coming on August 29!
Here’s what it’s about:
Eleven-year-olds Tripti Kapoor, a feisty “word nerd” from Massachusetts, and Sam Cohen, a shy, imaginative, budding geologist from California, are both miserable at their summer camp, Camp Dilloway. On the last night of camp, after following a shooting star to a quiet creek, they find two glowing, silvery rocks. They each take one home, and their long-distance friendship begins, corresponding by letters, e-mails, instant messages, and video chats. They dub their rocks Opal and Jasper, after the rocks in their favorite book series, The Dragon Gems.
It’s soon clear that these are no ordinary rocks, and others are interested in the stones too—including the owner of Camp Dilloway, who hides a secret of his own. Tripti and Sam must crack the Dragon Gems’ code and keep them out of Dilloway’s clutches, all while navigating the rocky road of middle school friendships and learning to stand up for what is right.
1. How did you start writing this project?
Rajani: Chris and I had talked about an idea for an epistolary novel. Then, in the summer of 2020, we decided to write it for real. We talked on the phone and then made a Google doc with notes, calling it the “Rajani and Chris Project of the Century.” We knew that it would be an epistolary novel full of humor and heart, and it would begin with two kids finding some interesting-looking rocks at summer camp.
First we started writing and emailing chapters to each other, saying “Tag!” when we were done. Next we made “writing dates” where we would get on the phone and either outline or write our characters’ chats together on Google docs. It was so much fun!
Chris: We really had a blast writing this book and immersing ourselves in the world we created. Once we started, we knew we had something really special. We wanted the narrative to have depth, and we also wanted to play with form and format to help tell this unique story. Once we got started, it felt like we couldn’t stop until we finished it! We knew we wanted to write a story together that “young us” would have loved. So we did!
- What was it like to co-write a novel with a friend?
Chris: I remember being a kid and writing stories with my friends, then once we wrote them, we played and acted out the stories. It was a kind of joy sparkling with creative energy, enthusiasm, and a feeling of never wanting it to end. That’s what it feels like with Rajani—we are dear friends who love to be nerds about all things writing, fantasy, sci-fi, storytelling, you name it—so we just had the best time ever writing this novel.
Rajani: I absolutely loved writing with Chris. We’ve been friends since 2018, when we met in person at the Highlights Foundation with other members of our debut novel group, the Novel Nineteens. Chris is a tremendous writer and person. I love his poetic sensibility, his love of fantasy and sci-fi, and his sense of fun. Writing a book with him felt like a wonderful adventure!
- Why the epistolary format?
Rajani: I’ve always loved epistolary novels—I love the idea of figuring out what happened based on “clues” from letters, and I think that letters, emails, and texts can reveal a lot about a character. Two kids from across the country writing messages to each other and becoming great friends parallels how Chis and I became friends ourselves.
Chris: There is something so special about letters. The idea of a complete thought carefully crafted and sent to someone important to you, combined with a sense of urgency, feels poetic! Of course, I love poetry, and similarly to poetry, every word in the epistolary format has to carry and convey the right meaning, but still leave some things to the imagination of the reader. This provides suspense and action, making the story move along at a fast pace!
- What are your favorite parts of this book?
Chris: I love so many parts of this book: the epistolary format, the video chats, the books within the book, the many voices telling the unexpected story of Tripti and Sam, and the “rocks” that change everything. I love how Sam and Tripti come from different backgrounds and yet they connect and have a very deep friendship. I also have to say that I love how Sam’s Bubbe is such an important part of the story!
Rajani: This book is pure joy. I love the different formats, which include letters, emails, texts, chats, video chats, book excerpts, journal entries, and “MeTube” videos. I especially loved writing the excerpts from the fantasy book-within-our-book, THE DRAGON GEMS.
- How do you feel about the cover and Sam Dawson’s work?
Rajani: Sam Dawson did such an incredible job with the cover! I love the way he depicted Tripti and Sam, as well as the way he conveyed a sense of fun and intrigue—from the comet in the sky to the way the kids are looking at something that glows mysteriously. I feel like this cover screams “READ ME!”
Chris: I agree—Sam’s whimsical style captures so much of the mystery of the story and starts the adventure just right! We are so happy to have his incredible artwork in this book!
Rajani LaRocca was born in India, raised in Kentucky, and now lives in the Boston area with her wonderful family and impossibly cute dog. She earned a BA and an MD from Harvard and spends her time writing novels and picture books, practicing medicine, and baking too many sweet treats. She is the author of Midsummer’s Mayhem, Much Ado About Baseball, The Secret Code Inside You, Seven Golden Rings, and Red, White, and Whole, which was a Newbery-Honor winner. Find her online at RajaniLaRocca.com, and on Twitter and Instagram @rajanilarocca.
Chris Baron is the award-winning author of The Gray, All of Me, an NCTE Notable Book, and The Magical Imperfect, a Sydney Taylor Book Award Notable Book, a SLJ Best Book of 2021. He is a professor of English at San Diego City College and the director of the Writing Center. He grew up in New York City, but he completed his MFA in poetry in 1998 at SDSU. He lives in San Diego, California, with his family. Find out more about him at chris-baron.com.
I love the sparkles in their eyes… so cute!
Congratulations!! I see good science curriculum tie-ins with this book.