What a pleasure it is to once again host Jo Watson Hackl for Friend Friday. Jo is not only a lovely person and fabulous writer with a fondness for blackberries, she has a huge heart. Her concern for others lead her to find a way to stretch the story of Smack Dab in the Middle of Maybe (Random House Children’s Books/Yearling Adventure) beyond its pages, to discover ways it could connect kid readers with adventures of their own. But Jo tells this story way better than I can — so, read on!

Jo Watson Hackl

Smack Dab in the Middle of Maybe: Springboard for Building Grit and Resiliency with the “Building Grit Kit”

Q: What have you been doing since Smack Dab in the Middle of Maybe came out?

The book has taken me on a joyous journey.  I’m a first -generation college student and I’ve always been passionate about the power of books to change lives.  I’ve had the opportunity to present to over 16,000 students and educators. Everywhere I go, I ask that, in lieu of an honorarium, the budget be used to purchase copies of the book for students in need selected by the school.  I also grew up in the country and experienced the benefits of time in nature.  Years ago, I founded www.Outdoorosity.org to provide information and encouragement and to share the science supporting the physical and mental health benefits of spending time in nature. The book has enabled me to extend that outreach. Everywhere I visit (virtually or in person), I offer free sessions to school faculty about bite-sized ways to incorporate nature into the school day.  I also wanted to offer readers the opportunity to extend their reading experience into the real world, and I’ve worked with educators to develop a bounty of free resources including a series of outdoor challenges, writing and revision tools, an interactive map and clue trail, book club questions, a book-inspired book club menu, and a “Building Grit Kit.”  These can be found at www.JoHackl.com.

Q: What inspired the ”Building Grit Kit?”

I needed to earn scholarship to be able to attend college and law school I was fortunate to have supportive parents and mentors. They taught me the importance of setting goals and helped me hone skills to anticipate and navigate around challenges. These skills were invaluable when I left the tiny ghost town where I grew up and went to Millsaps College and then Yale Law School.  

With the challenges facing our country and our students, grit and resiliency are more important now than ever. I wanted to create an experience that invites readers to develop these skills in a fun way.  

Q: Can you tell us more about the Building Grit Kit?

It’s completely free and can be downloaded here. I worked with experienced educators and a neuroscientist in developing the kit. It contains over 25 activities and many can be used whether or not you’ve read Smack Dab in the Middle of Maybe. The kit includes activities designed to help students identify things that they’re interested in and characteristics of the person they’d like to become. Through the kit, students also set goals, identify their strengths and things they’d like to work on, anticipate potential obstacles and develop strategies to help overcome them, recruit a group of allies who can help them along their path, and make tweaks to their workspace to help support their journey.  The kit also includes fun group challenges and games, and a template for collecting class or family memories and for creating new family or class traditions and creating a family or class motto.  The activities can be performed in family, classroom, and community settings.

Q: What is the role of nature in the kit?

Science supports the importance of spending time in nature to refresh and recharge, so I made sure to include plenty of outdoor activities to help students reap those benefits.  Students can find additional nature activities on my Youtube channel.  

 Q: What are you working on now?  

I love combining outdoor adventure with an art mystery clue trail and I’m at work on another book that does just that.  This time the main characters are two cousins from feuding sides of the family.  They have to figure out how to survive in the woods, solve the clue trail and not kill each other in the process.

Smack Dab in the Middle of Maybe by Jo Hackl

Jo Watson Hackl is the author of Smack Dab in the Middle of Maybe (Random House Children’s Books/Yearling Adventure), which takes readers on a journey with 12-year old Cricket, who sets out to live in an overgrown ghost town and try to solve an art mystery clue trail to find a secret room that may or may not exist.  With the help of a poetry-loving dog, maybe, just maybe, she can do it.  The book is a Publishers Weekly best-seller and was awarded the Southern Book Prize.