Calling all adventure seekers, monster lovers, and quiet kids searching for their voice, The Midnight Brigade by Adam Borba is here, and is packed with quirk and charm! When Carl Chesterfield finds a flyer for a mysterious monster-hunting team, the Midnight Brigade, he sees a path to finally finding answers for what he believes to be monsters ravaging his hometown, Pittsburgh. Not only does Carl find his answers, but he discovers some unlikely friendships and a whole lot of bravery along the way.
We hung out with author Adam Borba—virtually—to ask a few of our burning questions on this heartwarming tale:
First of all, congrats on you debut novel, The Midnight Brigade! Your background is in film and you’ve produced a number of well-loved family movies, such as A Wrinkle in Time (2018). Has writing books for children always been something you’ve wanted to do?
Thank you! I’ve always loved middle grade. Since the age of seven, I don’t think there’s been a year in my life where I haven’t read at least a few mg novels. It’s a category that has consistently gotten better year after year for decades. I wish I had access to the amazing stories and voices that are being published today when I was a kid. That said, I’m so grateful for the books I had. They played a huge role in shaping who I am and what I do.
Honestly, I didn’t set out to write a novel. I stumbled into it. I was visiting Pittsburgh, admiring one of its many bridges when I started thinking about how amazing it would be to be a kid who discovered a troll living under that bridge. Then I thought about how much fun it would be a kid keeping that troll a secret with your friends. I made some notes, which I figured would become an outline for another movie, but what I was writing quickly became much more detailed than the outlines I typically created. I soon realized I had started a book, and I just kept going, a little more each day. I wasn’t sure if I could finish, so I didn’t even tell my wife what I was doing until I had draft to share with her.
The Midnight Brigade has been compared to Roald Dahl’s The BFG, for your adorably cranky, misunderstood troll who’s inadvertently wreaking havoc on the bridges of Pittsburgh. Did you have a favorite literary monster or legend growing up?
Well, I was certainly a fan of The BFG. Aunt Beast from A Wrinkle in Time was another. And—not a monster—but I adored Aslan from The Chronicles of Narnia. I also loved rodent-lit as a kid: Mrs. Frisby & the Rats of NIMH, Ralph S. Mouse, the Redwall series, Stuart Little.
Always being the “Quiet Kid” myself, I related to Carl a lot. Is there a character you found yourself really connecting to as they unfolded onto the page?
To some degree, I connect with all of my characters. I think it’s important to not only understand what motivates a character and why, but to relate to those motivations. So I put a bit of myself into everyone in the book. But like you, I think I’m closest to Carl. I was a quiet kid who was afraid to speak up. And I spent a lot of time wanting to say more but worrying that I’d say the wrong thing. I’m often surprised by how many people identify as introverts. Even folks that seem like the biggest extroverts in the room. I guess it’s easy to forget that everyone has their own internal monologue constantly running, and even if a person talks “a lot” they’re almost certainly not saying everything that pops into their head.
*THE BRIDGES.* How do you know so much about the bridges of Pittsburgh? Bridges are Frank’s and Carl’s passion—what’s yours?
My wife is from Pittsburgh, and we go every year to visit her family. I picked up a ton on those trips and then filled in the rest with Google.
I guess I’d have to say my passion is story. Reading, writing, watching, and talking story both for work and for fun. I luckily fell into a career where it all overlaps.
Why is Frank’s encouragement of Carl, Bee, and Teddy to be bold and not to be average a message you wanted to convey to kids?
It’s not always easy to go against the grain and stand up for others or even yourself. For our kids’ self-confidence, independence, and future success in life, it’s important that they learn to stand up to (and for) peers, and become upstanders. It’s possible to teach assertive skills. It’s just about messaging early, clearly, and as often as we can. We can be tremendously influential in helping kids deal with uncomfortable choices and make wiser decisions, and by teaching these skills we can nurture the crucial leadership traits of assertiveness and confidence that kids will need for the rest of their lives. But while it’s crucial for us to message this to our kids consistently, they don’t necessarily always want to hear it from us—at least not exclusively. That’s one of the great powers of story—we immerse ourselves in adventure and fun, and it infuses us with its lessons, sometimes without us even noticing. To paraphrase Frank, let’s look for ways to encourage kids to add value and make the world better.
If you were to start your own food truck, what sort of food would you serve?
Unlike Carl’s father, I’m wise enough to know that I’m not the right person to start a food truck. One of the ideas that runs through this story is that we’re living in an incredible culinary age. Cities like Pittsburgh provide access to so many cuisines. And going out to eat and trying new things is such a fun way to be introduced to other cultures, and to bring families, friends, and total strangers together. But if you’re putting my feet to the fire, I guess I’d open a pizza truck? Even bad pizza is pretty good.
And finally, do you think the Midnight Brigade has more adventures in their future? Do you have any more stories itching to be put on paper?
I like to think that The Midnight Brigade will never stop finding trouble to get into and problems to solve. But next up is a new middle grade novel with my editor at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, Alexandra Hightower. It’s another nearly grounded story driven by heart, humor, and a little bit of magic. We’re working hard and hoping readers will love it as much as this one.
by Adam Borba
Harkening to classics such as Roald Dahl's The BFG, this heartwarming story highlights the power of friendship and the importance of finding your voice.
Carl Chesterfield wishes he could speak up—whether that means being honest with his father about the family's new (and failing) food truck, reaching out to a potential friend, or alerting others to the fact that monsters might be secretly overrunning his hometown of Pittsburgh. There's plenty to fret over. And plenty to question.
When a flyer about a mysterious monster-seeking group called the Midnight Brigade catches his eye, Carl sees an opportunity to find answers. Little does he know, his curiosity will lead him to find an incredible discovery under one of his city's magnificent bridges and to be bolder than he ever imagined. Chock-full of humor and heart, this is the quirky tale of three unexpected friends and the crankiest troll with a heart of gold.