Cover Reveal: Sweet & Sour

I’m thrilled to share the cover of my next middle grade novel: Sweet and Sour!

Sweet and Sour, Scholastic/September 6, 2022

I love everything about this cover – how Mai and Zach are looking at each other, Bank Square Books in the background, the BT21 Cooky plush keychain on Mai’s tote bag, the clothes Mai and Zach are wearing. I love the manga vibe, the font and the bright colors. Huge thanks to talented illustrator Jacqueline Li and awesome cover designer Stephanie Yang (who has done ALL my fabulous Scholastic covers to date). I’m so lucky! A big shout-out to the entire Team Sweet and Sour at Scholastic!


For as long as she can remember, Mai Hirano has spent every summer in Mystic, Connecticut visiting family friends. And hanging out with her best-friend-since-birth, Zach Koyama, was always the best part.

Then two summers ago everything changed. Zach humiliated Mai, proving he wasn’t a friend at all. So when Zach’s family moved to Japan, Mai felt relieved. No more summers together. No more heartache.

But this year, the Koyamas have returned and the family vacation is back on. And if Mai has to spend the summer around Zach, the least she can do is wipe away the memory of his betrayal…by coming up with the perfect plan for revenge!

Only Zach isn’t the boy he used to be, and Mai’s memories of their last fateful summer aren’t the whole truth of what happened between them. But how can she forgive Zach for a betrayal she’ll never forget?

Niki Nakayama: A Chef’s Tale in 13 Bites News, Reviews, and Interviews

This is where you’ll find links to all the news, reviews, and interviews for our picture book biography Niki Nakayama: A Chef’s Tale in 13 Bites

by Jamie Michalak and Debbi Michiko Florence

illustrated by Yuko Jones

Farrar Straus and Giroux, September 2021


  • “Determined heroine, delightful story, delectable illustrations: Both young readers and their adults will be inspired and charmed by every spread of this book.”   –Linda Sue Park, Newbery Medalist and New York Times-bestselling author
  • Starred review from Publishers Weekly
  • Starred review from Booklist
  • A Mighty Girl’s 2021 Best Books of the Year (ages 6-8)

Book review from The Horn Book

Interview with the co-authors on True Story Blog

School Library Journal Fuse 8 Betsy Bird Interview with Jamie Michalak and Debbi Michiko Florence

Nerdy Book Club: Tasty Books & Big Dreams A Recipe by Debbi Michiko Florence and Jamie Michalak 

Picture Book Builders: An interview with Jamie Michalak, Debbi Michiko Florence, and Yuko Jones

Snack Time with MacKids: NIKI NAKAYAMA with Debbi Michiko Florence and Jamie Michalak – video with the authors cooking the wonton pizza recipe from the back of their book!

Book Review: A Tasty Review on Jama’s Alphabet Soup

Book Review from How Useful It Is


Just Be Cool, Jenna Sakai, a companion novel to Keep It Together, Keiko Carter, publishes on August 3, 2021.

First heartbreaks. Fierce competition. Family Drama.

Who knew middle school would be so hard?

I’m pleased to announce that you can pre-order the book now. If you pre-order from my local independent bookstore Bank Square Books/Savoy Bookshop & Café, you will receive a personalized signed book and swag: Jenna Sakai bookmark, a limited edition Heartbreak is for Suckers button, a cover sticker or Leigh’s Diner sticker, and one of four of Jenna Sakai’s doodle stickers.


Additionally, for each pre-order, you will be entered into a drawing for a grand prize of a lavender backpack, a limited edition Leigh’s Diner mug, a package of Jenna’s favorite Japanese curry mix, chopsticks, and items from the actual cover shoot: 2 notebooks (one w Inuyasha stickers), coin purse, 2 enamel pins, and a set of pens. (Thank you to cover designer Stephanie Yang and to Scholastic for donating the cover items!) Winner will be drawn the morning of August 3. US mailing addresses only for grand prize.


Thank you, as always, for all your support. I hope you will love Jenna’s story as much as you loved Keiko’s!


If you’d like the book personalized, just leave the name in the comments when you check out.



Just Be Cool, Jenna Sakai: News, Reviews, & Interviews

This is where you’ll find updated news and links to reviews and interviews. I’ll be updating regularly. Thanks for all your support!

Just Be Cool, Jenna Sakai is available now!

August 3, 2021 (Scholastic)

“Heartbreak is for suckers.”

When Jenna Sakai gets dumped over winter break, it confirms what she learned from her parents’ messy divorce: Relationships are risky and only lead to disappointment. So even though she still has to see her ex-boyfriend at newspaper club, Jenna is going to be totally heartless this semester — no boys, just books.

But keeping her cool isn’t always easy. Jenna’s chief competition for a big journalism scholarship is none other than her ex-. Her best friend Keiko always seems busy with her own boyfriend. And cute-but-incredibly-annoying Rin Watanabe keeps stealing her booth at the diner she’s been hiding at every day after school. Rin is every bit as stubborn and detached as Jenna. And the more Jenna gets to know him, the more intriguing a mystery he seems. Soon Jenna is starting to realize that being a loner is kind of, well, lonely. And letting people in might just be a risk worth taking.

This book is full of family drama and first crushes, independent girls, and friendship.

Starred review from Kirkus!

“Florence offers a tightly written narrative that is as fearless as it is balanced, diving into complicated feelings of distrust and isolation while still offering glimmers of friendship and hope. Jenna’s honest voice shines with clarity, portraying a flawed but relatable protagonist whom readers will root for. This entertaining read is as complex as it is delightful.”

From award-winning author, Jo Knowles: “Fans of Keep it Together, Keiko Carter will love this beautiful companion novel about Jenna Sakai and her struggle to “stay cool” when life gets messy. Jenna’s determination to avoid heartbreak by building walls between herself and those who love her comes at a lonely cost, but the journey leads to a deeper understanding of her own heart, and her capacity to love and be loved. A beautiful story about healing from heartbreak, and discovering the strength that comes from opening your heart to others. Jenna is a gem!

NEW! Montclair Baristanet: 21 Hot Summer Reads for All Ages – “…a layered, thoughtful, and light exploration of how middle schoolers respond to dramas big (family divorce) and not-so-big (academic competition, friendship changes).”

My interview on Reading Middle Grade about writing interesting dynamic characters, art, and bringing friendships to life on the page.

Q&A with The Nerd Daily about books, writing and more!

YAYOMG! Jenna Sakai Shares Five Ways to Just Be Cool When Things Aren’t Going Your Way

Interview with Debbi Michiko Florence on Bee The Love

Imagination Soup: Writing The Stories I Looked for as an Asian American Reader

A Bookish Home Podcast: Debbi Michiko Florence on Just Be Cool, Jenna Sakai

This One Is Dedicated To with Chris Barton and Jennifer Ziegler

Book Review from Reading Middle Grade

Book Review from Juanita Giles, NPR – Are You There God? It’s Me, Juanita

Book Review from Youth Services Book Review

Book talk by Read with Val

Book Review from Bridget and the Books

Color of Us: The 50 Best Multicultural Middle Grade Novels of 2021

Book Riot: 14 Must-Read August Book Releases

Just Be Cool Jenna Sakai Book Talk

The galleys of Just Be Cool, Jenna Sakai are landing in mailboxes! This is always an exciting and nerve-wracking time for an author. It’s like letting your baby go into the world. The story and characters went from being in my head, in a file on my laptop, to printed pages – from being mine to becoming yours.

Many thanks to Val of Read with Val who just posted a cover recreation and a book talk on her YouTube channel! Make sure to check it out for her review and who her favorite character is and why. Readers are the best!

Didn’t Val do an amazing job? She even colored her hair to channel Jenna! Thanks also to cover model Zoe Manarel, cover designer Stephanie Yang, and Michael Frost Photography, and of course to Scholastic!

Project LIT

I am thrilled that Keep It Together, Keiko Carter is a 2020-2021 Project LIT Book Club selection!

Knowing that teachers and librarians will be sharing my book with their students brings me so much joy. Thank you Project LIT for this honor!

Just Be Cool, Jenna Sakai Cover Reveal

It is an absolute thrill to be able to share with you all the cover of Just Be Cool, Jenna Sakai, the companion novel to Keep It Together, Keiko Carter. For those of you who have read Keiko Carter, you know that she’s a bit of a people pleaser, so it was a fun change of pace to write a story about Jenna who is a confident straight-shooter. This book is full of family drama and crushes, independent girls, and of course friendships. Jenna’s motto is “heartbreak is for suckers” and though she’s dealing with her parents’ divorce, her dad moving out of state, and her first boyfriend dumping her, she’s an expert at avoiding her feelings. When a cute but annoying guy shows up in her booth at her favorite diner, Jenna is determined to ignore him, but will she succeed? This is a story about learning to let people in and be vulnerable.  Oh and while Keiko Carter readers craved chocolate and boba tea, this time get ready to crave milkshakes and Japanese curry!

I love this cover SO much! Thank you to the talented team at Scholastic and to cover designer extraordinaire Stephanie Yang. Thank you also to photographer Michael Frost and to the cover model Zoe Manarel who is truly a perfect Jenna. I hope you love this cover as much as I do!

Just Be Cool, Jenna Sakai by Debbi Michiko Florence

Scholastic Press/August 3, 2021

Stay tuned ARC giveaways and pre-order campaign information. It would be wonderful if you could go to GoodReads and mark this book as “want to read.”



Tweens Read

I’m super excited to be a participating author in Tweens Read 2020 which is going virtual this year.

The event will take place October 19 – 24. More information coming soon!

Junior Library Guild

I am overjoyed and so filled with gratitude that Keep It Together, Keiko Carter is a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard selection!