Author Spotlight: Helen Rutter

I’m thrilled to have the privilege of interviewing Helen Rutter today for our latest Author Spotlight! Helen is a playwright, actor, and author of The Boy Who Made Everyone Laugh, which is releasing here in the States next week. She lives in the UK with her comedian husband, two children, and two dogs. You can find her online at helenrutter.com.

Thank you so much for joining me for this interview, Helen! To get us started, would you like to introduce yourself to our readers and tell us a bit about The Boy Who Made Everyone Laugh?

Hello! Thank you so much for having me! My name is Helen Rutter and THE BOY WHO MADE EVERYONE LAUGH is about eleven-year-old Billy Plimpton. He loves jokes and dreams of becoming a stand-up comedian but, because of his stutter, doesn’t think it’s possible.

What inspired you to write The Boy Who Made Everyone Laugh? 

The book was inspired by my son Lenny who stutters, I wanted to write a book starring a character like him. We had never read anything about someone who stutters before and so I thought it was a story that needed to be written, at that point I had no idea if it would be published!

Billy Plimpton is such a delightful main character. He’s funny, kind, and lovable, even when you want to tell him he’s making a mistake. Is Billy based on your son at all? If so, how has he reacted to the success of the book, and the way people tend to adore Billy?

I am so happy that people seem to love Billy as much as I do. He very much started out being heavily based on Lenny but, as time went on and the editing continued, Billy’s personality developed and grew further away from Lenny’s and he became his own unique character. There is still a lot of cross over, both Billy and Lenny love playing the drums, are great at maths and have a similar love of lists, facts, and detail! Lenny has been so chuffed with the success of the book and has even done TV interviews over here in the UK to celebrate its launch!

It must be hard, but extremely rewarding to write a story that you’re so personally connected to. What was the most challenging part to write? And which part was the most fun?

I loved writing this story so much, it helped me to understand Lenny a bit more and reading it out to him every bedtime was a real bonding experience. I think the thing that was the most challenging to write was the Granny Bread strand as that felt particularly emotive as my mum is now 82 and the character was firmly based on her. The most joyful scene was the talent show. As I wrote that scene I could almost hear the music swelling in the background and could totally imagine every second of it. I wanted to get up and cheer for Billy after writing that scene!

Title: The Boy Who Made Everyone Laugh
Author: Helen Rutter
Publisher: Scholastic
Published: August 3, 2021
Format: Hardcover



The supporting cast is made up of several other children in Billy’s school who are all finding their way in life with their own individual “issues”. I love that this cast really illustrates how we all have something that makes us “different”, and that there really is no “normal”. Was this a point you wanted to highlight from the beginning or did it come to you through writing the book?

Absolutely! I think that everyone feels different in some way, whether it is something that the world can see or something that’s hidden away. The characters all deal with their situations in a unique way and ultimately all of them are more empathetic because of what they are going through. From the start I wanted his friends and the supporting cast to be a celebration of uniqueness and a starting point for conversations about empathy.

If you could spend the day with one character from The Boy Who Made Everyone Laugh who would you choose, and how would you spend the day?

That is a tough question! I guess I’m not allowed to have a board game-based party with all of them?! If not then I will go for taking Mr Osho to Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club… I would LOVE that! Ask me tomorrow though and I may choose drawing with Skyla… No, snorkeling with Granny Bread… No, cheerleading with Chloe… No, watching stand up with Billy. IT’S TOO HARD!!

Not to spoil anything, but I absolutely loved that Billy finds a happy ending without compromising himself or making any dramatic changes. I love that he simply learns he was good enough all along. As a parent of a child with a stutter, what advice would you give to parents hoping to help their child find the confidence in themselves that Billy finds?

Gosh every journey is so personal. What has helped us may not mean much to anyone else but I guess looking back at our journey with a bit of perspective I would tell my former self that, as with most things in life, stutters and the emotions that are attached to them are forever changing so don’t cling onto one idea of how it is or how it feels.

I hear that you’re working on another novel now. Can you tell us a bit about that?

Yes! It’s a story about a boy called Archie Crumb whose wishes start coming true and he doesn’t know if it is all just a crazy coincidence or whether maybe he has a bit more power over his life than he first thought. It’s a story about positive thinking, self-belief and hope.

Do you have any plans to revisit Billy Plimpton’s story or maybe any of the other children in Bannerdale?

I would LOVE to revisit Billy and everyone at Bannerdale. Watch this space!!

Is there anything else you’d like to share with Mutually Inclusive’s Readers?

I am doing a virtual launch of the book on Tues Aug 3rd @ 5pm EST where Gordon Korman will chat all things writing, reading, and Billy Plimpton with me! You can sign up to join us both here: https://www.rjjulia.com/event/virtual-helen-rutter-boy-who-made-everyone-laugh-gordon-korman-linked

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Last Gate Of The Emperor

If you’re looking for a book for a middle grader, I have a treat for you today.

Last Gate of the Emperor by Kwame Mbalia and Prince Joel Makonnen could be described as Black Panther meets Ready Player One set in a mythical Ethiopia in outer space. With elements of both science fiction and fantasy, this page turning Afrofuturist tale follows a young boy named Yared as he joins the Hunt for Kaleb’s Obelisk – an augmented reality game that will change his life forever.

Yared lives a lonely life in the city of Addis Prime. He was raised by his nervous Uncle Moti, who moved them around a lot growing up. Uncle Moti tells him tales of an empire called Axum and war that spans the galaxy. Yared’s only friend is the bionic lioness Bessa gifted to him by his uncle when he was a small child. Despite his isolated life, Yared is a typical quick-witted kid, full of bravado.

Our story begins as Yared sneaks out of school to join The Hunt For Kaleb’s Obelisk. He learns that some of the rules have changed – not only is he required to enter his real name into the game to play, but he is also forced to partner up with his biggest rival in the game, a young girl called the Ibis. Suddenly, nothing goes according to plan, and instead of jumping to the top of the leaderboards, Yared and the Ibis find themselves in the middle of an attack on the city.

The stories Uncle Moti has been telling Yared for years seem to be coming to life, but as Yared starts putting puzzle pieces together, he realizes his Uncle has disappeared. Yared and the Ibis decide to work together to find Uncle Moti, and along the way, Yared learns that his life as he knows it may not be exactly what it seems.

I don’t want to give everything away, but I have to tell you: this book as fantastic. I can easily see this becoming a very successful series, and even having comics, cartoons, or movies. The characters are all very relatable and likable (for the most part anyway).

With nods to Prince Joel Makonnen’s childhood experiences growing up as the great-grandson of the last emperor of Ethiopia, His Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie I, readers will learn about Ethiopia’s rich history in unexpected ways. I specifically appreciated the afterword that sheds light on that history and points out all the ways it influenced the book.

Last Gate of the Emperor is available now wherever books are sold, including Bookshop and Amazon. (Please note: Some links provided are affiliate links. Affiliate links allow me to receive a small commission for recommendations at no cost to you. This commission is used to maintain this site and to continue bringing content to you. I always appreciate your support!)

Kwame Mbalia is a New York Times bestselling author who lives in North Carolina with his family. Please visit his website at kwamembalia.com to learn more about him and his work.

Prince Joel Makonnen is a direct descendant of Ethiopian royalty, Co-Founder and CEO of Old World // New World, and a lawyer based in Washington DC. To learn more about him, please visit his website at princeyoel.com.

Thank you so much to Scholastic Books for sending a review copy of Last Gate of the Emperor. I can’t wait to see if the adventure continues in a sequel!

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Allergic – A Coming Of Age Story of Friendship, Family, and Allergies

Some of you may not know this about me, but I am a sucker for a good graphic novel. Allergic by Megan Wagner Lloyd and Michelle Mee Nutter definitely fits the bill.

This sweet middle-grade graphic novel follows a young girl named Maggie, who finds herself the odd one out at home.

With her parents preparing for a new baby and her younger brothers off in their own twin world, Maggie can’t help but feel a bit left out. She believes a new puppy will be the answer to her problems, only to find she’s severely allergic to anything with fur.

Luckily, this is just the beginning of Maggie’s story. She sets out on a journey of self-discovery as she tries to find the perfect pet to be her companion. Maggie faces many trials familiar to real world fifth graders, like a new school, new friends, and a new sibling, making her story completely relatable to young readers. The illustrations by Michelle Mee Nutter are absolute perfection. They bring Maggie’s whole world to life, capturing all the emotions of her journey.

I absolutely loved Allergic. I read the entire book in one sitting, and I’m honestly thinking of rereading it right now because I enjoyed it so much. It’s one of those pure and wholesome stories that tugs at your heartstrings.

Allergic officially releases next week, but I would highly recommend you run (not walk) to preorder it today at Bookshop, Amazon, your local bookstore, or wherever you normally buy books. (Please note: Some links provided are affiliate links. Affiliate links allow me to receive a small commission for recommendations at no cost to you. This commission is used to maintain this site and continue bringing content to you. Your support is always appreciated!)

Megan Wagner Lloyd is a children’s book author based in Washington DC. To learn more about her and her other books, please visit her website at meganwagnerlloyd.com.

Michelle Mee Nutter is an illustrator and designer based in Boston, MA. To learn more about her and her work, please visit her website at michellemee.com.

Thank you so much to Graphix and Scholastic for providing me with a review copy of Allergic. This is my favorite graphic novel of the year so far, and I look forward to reading it again.

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