Mischief, Joy, and Grief: Senior Editor Mallory Kass on editing "Otherwise Known as Possum"

Scholastic Senior Editor Mallory Kass stops by OOM today to share her experience editing the middle grade novel Otherwise Known as Possum by Maria D. Laso.

A few years ago, a very special 11-year-old came into my life. Her name is Possum Porter, and she’s the most charming, hilarious bundle of mischief who’s ever stolen my heart. I fell hard for Possum, and felt a deep kinship with her creator, a dazzlingly talented debut author named Maria D. Laso.

The book opens with Possum, who’s always been taught at home, learning that her recently widowed father is sending her to school for the first time. A real school, where you have to wear shoes. (The horror!) Where they don’t even let you bring your dog. And where some stranger will try to erase all the useful things Mama taught Possum before she passed away. Naturally, Possum is horrified. But the spunky 11-year-old is not one to give up, and she devises an outlandish scheme to protect her beloved Mama’s memory.

Working with Maria was an absolute joy. Only the kindest, wisest, and funniest of people could’ve crafted a story like Otherwise Known as Possum, and Maria radiated the same warmth and humor that made her manuscript such a pleasure to read. The editorial process was a delight. I’d send Maria notes, and a couple of months later, she’d deliver an even more hilarious, life-affirming draft.

What I didn’t know was that Maria was struggling with serious health issues. But even as she grew weaker, her focus remained on perfecting Possum’s story. I later learned that she completed the final draft by dictating changes to her good friend Dawne when she no longer had the strength to type. Tragically, Maria passed away in September 2015, weeks after submitting her final revision.

It breaks my heart that Maria never got a chance to hold her debut novel in her hands. But I find great comfort in the fact that it is a marvel—the type of book that makes children fall in love with reading . . . and reminds adults of the power and magic of storytelling.

Out of this tragedy came a story with a miraculous amount of hope, love, compassion, humor, and wisdom. It’s a great privilege to send Maria’s unforgettable book out into the world. I know that her legacy will live on through this tale of friendship, determination, and a hefty dose of mischief.