Book cover of Elana K. Arnold's new children's book "Just Harriet" is illustrated by artist Dung Ho. Courtesy photo.

Elana K. Arnold’s name is no stranger to the literary world. An accomplished writer in both the Young Adult and Children’s story spheres, the Long Beach author has published 13 books since her career launched nearly a decade ago, with many garnering critical acclaim.

Her last children’s series, “A Boy Called Bat,” about a third-grade boy on the autism spectrum who resolves to keep and nurture a baby skunk was a particular high point for Arnold, earning the author a 2018 Global Read Aloud and One Book One School honor that placed her novel in school districts and books stores across the country.

After wrapping up the “A Boy Called Bat” trilogy in 2019, Arnold pivoted back to YA fiction and released “Red Hood” 2020. But now, Arnold has set her focus once again on enriching the imaginations of children with her newest book “Just Harriet” set to release with HarperCollins Feb. 1.

“I wanted to write another book that had the same sense of gentle loving kindness that The Bat books have, a book that centers on a real kid’s big emotional life and doesn’t make fun of or take the adults sort of perspective on the things that are big deals to kids, the big emotions kids have,” Arnold explained. “I’m hopeful that Harriet delights children the way she delighted me.”

“Just Harriet” is a novel that peers into the mind of third-soon-to-be fourth grader, Harriet Wermer, a spontaneous, spunky girl who, admittedly, doesn’t have the greatest track record with being truthful. On Harriet’s last day of third grade, her world us unexpectedly shifted when she learns that she’s to be shipped off to her grandmother’s bed and breakfast on Marble Island, a move that not only ruins her plans with her parents, but her mood as well.

Local readers may find delight knowing that this fictional world of Marble Island that Harriet is, in her mind, so unfairly sent to, was actually inspired by a very real island not so far away from the Long Beach coast: Catalina Island.

The similarities are distinct, from the harborside ice cream shop (inspired by Scoops Homemade Ice Cream) to the glass bottom boats to discussions of the tiny bird predators, the Island Loggerhead Shrikes, endemic to the island. And then, of course, there are the golf carts.

“It’s just always been a place I’ve loved. It’s so interesting to me that we have that resource so close. It’s such a unique, odd thing to have a populated island just 22 miles off the coast like that,” Arnold said. “For me, Catalina is almost like a magical portal, to this little island off our coast, how wonderful and strange.”

Long Beach author Elana K. Arnold to release new children’s novel, “Just Harriet” with HarperCollins on Feb. 1. Courtesy photo.

Despite growing up in Long Beach, Arnold said she had only visited Catalina Island once in her youth, but as an adult had enjoyed many camping trips with her husband and two children. But to really capture the feel of Catalina Island, Arnold said she returned for some time to sight-see and research.

The island she described is warm and cozy, a place that feels as if it’s always been the way it is. For Arnold, this particular landscape lent itself to crafting a story that incorporated a mystery for Harriet to solve, one that offers Harriet an opportunity to learn more about her father and herself.

As writers often do, Arnold pulls from her personal experiences and imagination to create her works. Harriet Wermer’s character came to her by a strike of inspiration, “she just showed up all voice and just delightfully funny and wry,” Arnold said, later fleshed out by the author’s own experiences growing up.

“I was a kid with a lot of big feelings and anxiety and social awkwardness, and that is a characteristic with autism. I myself am a neuro-atypical person,” Arnold said. “Harriet has her own quirks that she’s working through and her difficulties as well.”

Though not diagnosed like her protagonist in the “A Boy Called Bat” series, Arnold said Harriet is a character who is dealing with anxiety and processing differences.

“She struggles with telling the truth. She’s impulsive,” Arnold explained. “She doesn’t really set out to lie, usually she’s covered up embarrassments, or she’s just dealing with impulsivity issues, so that’s often where that comes from.”

What’s refreshing about “Just Harriet” is that there isn’t any grand lesson Arnold imposes on the reader or her character. Instead, we’re presented with the inner dialogue of a child with behavior that might appear to be problematic or difficult to adults, but in actuality is experiencing the world and her emotions as any other child. What’s more, Harriet is surrounded by a cast of kind and patient adult characters who not only love and accept Harriet for the person she is but allows her the space to express herself.

“My core belief that my job as a writer isn’t to teach lessons,” Arnold said. “I think that if you’re setting out as a writer to write children’s books that teach a lesson, sometimes that book can come off didactic and preachy. My job is to tell a good story that reveals the humanity of characters and the truth of children as much as the truth of people—that we’re complicated animals. We don’t always act in a way that reflects our best and highest selves but that doesn’t mean we are unworthy of love.”

The adventures of Harriet Wermer are only beginning. “Just Harriet” is slated to be a three-part series and Arnold said she’s currently writing “Just Harriet’s” second installment.

Just Harriet is marketed as a middle-grade novel (ages 6 -10) and is available for pre-order online on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop and HarperCollins. Locals can also pre-order with Bel Canto Books, and catch the author speak during a virtual conversation, hosted by Bel Canto, with Newbery-winning author Erin Entrada Kelly on Feb. 13. Click here for more info.

Arnold also intends to hold a book signing for “Just Harriet” at Bel Canto Books store by the end of February, but dates are to be determined.