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Q&A with Author of “Night of the Zombie Chickens” Julie Mata

Copy of the book was provided on behalf of Disney
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My children love to read, and I love to read to them. One of the best ways to encourage children to have a love for reading is for them to see their parents read. I read one chapter a night out of a book to the kids before they go to bed every night. I always tend to select a comedy book to read to the kids because I like to have fun with the different voices, and “Night of the Zombie Chickens,” is the current book that we have been reading together.

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The book has a great story with a lot of good lessons including the importance of friendship, kindness and making good choices. The book is recommended for children ages 9-12, but my seven-year-old has also been enjoying the book. What seven year old doesn’t like a story about zombies?

The book has been such a hit with my children, that my daughter has selected it for her fourth grade book report project! Since my kids have enjoyed this book so much, we wanted to learn more from the author Julie Mata. Mata co-owns a film and video production company, who lives with her husband and two daughters in Wisconsin. Enjoy reading more about this talented author and the new children’s book “Night of the Zombie Chickens.”

Julie Mata

Julie Mata

1. What was your inspiration for the story—did your children have any influence?

My two daughters and their friends were a big influence on Kate Walden Directs: Night of the Zombie Chickens! I wanted Kate, my main character, to sound real, so I worked to capture both this age group’s style of talking, and that universal tween outlook on life: the world revolves around me! This is also a time where I think kids develop a great sense of humor. My daughters started coming up with one-liners that would make Jay Leno jealous! Of course, middle-schoolers can be mean at times, both to each other and to their parents, as they navigate the choppy waters between childhood and adulthood. So Kate isn’t always nice, either. She gets caught up in the social Who’s Who at school. She gets mad at her mother. She quarrels with her little brother. I tried to create a real character, who possesses that wonderfully sharp preteen humor and, most importantly, has a good heart despite her faults.

2. What lessons do you hope that children will take away from the book?

First, I hope kids gain the courage to dream big. Kate is only twelve, but she’s already set her sights on being a Hollywood movie director. And Hollywood could use some more female directors! I hope kids also learn that dreams don’t just happen. They’re hard work. A lot of setbacks befall Kate. They’re funny but they pose real challenges. She gets dumped by her best friend, who also stars in her movie. She becomes a laughingstock at school after an embarrassing incident. And her mother’s organic hens seem determined to ruin her social life and her movie. Kate makes some big mistakes as she sorts things out, but she doesn’t give up!

Lastly, I hope my book spurs kids to make their own movies with friends. I even created an Instagram account—KateWaldenDirects—where kids can find fun, 15-second filmmaking tips, like how to use their skateboard as a camera dolly. Making movies is fun, it’s creative, and it doesn’t involve TV, video games or social media!

3. Did you have any challenges when working on the story?

I really struggled with the ending. Kate intends to own up to accidentally ruining a wig for the school play. After some chance events make her confession unnecessary, she decides not to say anything. It was important to me to portray her as a girl struggling with real-world decisions, and this ending felt more authentic. Still, I also wanted my character to model the right thing to do. One of my daughters gave me some helpful advice! She felt that children’s stories were often too predictable because the character always does exactly the right thing at the end. But life isn’t always that black and white. So in my story, I emphasize the lessons Kate learns from her mistakes but I also keep her real, which means—imperfect.

4. Do you have any plans to expand on the story with more books?

Yes, Disney Hyperion envisions this as a series where each book focuses on a different film that Kate makes with her friends. I recently finished writing the second book, Kate Walden Directs: Slug Man from Mars. In this story, Kate’s classmates can’t wait to be in her next movie…until a know-it-all new boy shows up, who also likes to make films. Kate hopes to impress him with her vast movie-making knowledge. Instead, they become rivals. But can Kate’s slime-spewing sci-fi flick beat the new boy’s gritty crime drama? The film wars are on!

5. As an author, young children who enjoy the book will look up to you. Do you have any advice for young children who want to aspire to become an author like you?

My advice is to read, read, read! I had some wonderful teachers and writing classes over the years. Nevertheless, I think the reading I did as a child helped me more than anything else to learn the rhythms of sentence structure and word patterns. The best part is, I absorbed it all without even trying. My next best piece of advice is to write. You can’t improve if you don’t practice. And, like Kate, don’t give up. Learn to love the process. Then, you won’t mind working hard at it, because it will be fun!

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