Mass Goes to Space in Her Latest

By SLJ Staff

Wendy Mass’s latest middle grade novel takes on the final frontier: space. Set in “The Realms,” which are located in the dark matter of the universe, Pi in the Sky is a story about a boy who wants to be more than the seventh son of the Supreme Overlord of the Universe and a feisty girl who wants to save the Earth so she can go home. We pulled Mass down from the stars to ask her about astronomy, humor, and Red Hots.

NOTE: This editorial content was sponsored by Little, Brown.

You have written about candy, the meaning of life, and Synesthesia. Now, with Pi in the Sky you’re focusing on astrophysics and astronomy. Why did you decide to tackle such potentially difficult topics?

Well, the only difficult thing about writing a book about candy was making sure I didn’t eat too much of it in the process! (I totally did, by the way.) But with the other things, I love presenting kids with ideas and concepts that they haven’t seen before, or that most people would think were too advanced for them to understand. And then I work really hard at presenting the information in such a way that it feels integral to the story. Because who wants to feel that they’re being taught something when reading a novel for pleasure?

There’s a lot of science and imagination in Pi in the Sky. What kind of research did you do?

I basically spent three years researching the book while I was writing other ones. My research included watching hours of documentaries about the universe, taking trips to planetariums and observatories, and bugging physicists and astronomers for hours with questions like, “If a race of people were to live inside dark matter, what would they look like?” I hunted through library shelves, where I’d leave with arms loaded down with books on astronomy, the origin of the universe, evolution, physics, astrophysics, you name it. And Astronomy for Dummies was a great help!

Each chapter begins with a thought-provoking quote from physicists, authors, philosophers, and great thinkers. How do you go about collecting them?

In the midst of research, whenever I came across an idea that really thrilled me and sent my head buzzing I wrote it down. When it was time to start outlining the book, I transferred all the quotes onto post-it notes and spent two days on the floor organizing them into what felt like a natural progression. Originally, I thought they were just for me to use as a guideline, like a way to frame the story. Then my husband came in and thought they were the start of each chapter. I realized that of course that’s what they had to be.

Each of the sons of the Supreme Overlord of the Universe, including your protagonist, has a job (creating new species, inspiring artists, etc.). If you lived in The Realms, what would your responsibility be?

It would be great to have the power to make sure everyone spent more time embracing their sense of wonder. I’d go around giving people kittens and laughing babies and sunrises. And chocolate.

Why do you choose to write funny books?

I think when your readers are laughing they pay more attention to the serious things you’re trying to get across—even if they don’t realize it. My hope is that if readers can laugh at the characters’ predicaments, maybe when they experience something similar in real life, they will go easier on themselves.

And, finally, do you really enjoy bagels with cream cheese and Red Hots like your character Annika Klutzmann?

Totally! I’ve been eating them since I was a kid. I don’t remember how it started, but I know it horrified my mom. The key is to only put four or five Red Hots on each half of the bagel so you don’t overpower it with the cinnamon flavor. Yum!

Wendy Mass is the New York Times best selling author of fourteen novels for young people (which have been translated into 14 languages and nominated for 68 state book awards), including A Mango-Shaped Space (which was awarded the Schneider Family Book Award by the American Library Association), Leap Day, the Twice Upon a Time fairy tale series, Every Soul a Star11 BirthdaysHeaven Looks a Lot Like the MallJeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life, and Finally. Her most recent books are The Candymakers and 13 Gifts.