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Jo Watson Hackl

I grew up just outside a real ghost town in rural Mississippi where storytelling is a favorite form of entertainment. I spent my childhood exploring the piney woods, inventing characters, and creating tiny worlds out of acorns, rocks, and moss.

Today I live with my husband, children, and Pupper, who just happens to closely resemble the character of Percy in the book, in Greenville, South Carolina. I write next to a window overlooking the woods. I love the outdoors and spend as much time there as possible. To help others get outside more, I founded Outdoorosity, a free resource that provides information and ideas for outdoor adventures. You can find it at

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In the book, you, the reader, get to solve the clue trail right alongside the main character, Cricket and I’ve included lots of activities and resources on my website, There, you can find:

- An Activity Guide with activities that you can do in your home, classroom, or community gathering;

- An interactive map with a links to the real places that inspired parts of the book;

- A “hidden objects” search featuring items from the clue trail in the book;

Book Club Discussion Questions;

- A series of “Cricket Challenges” so you can extend your reading experience into the real world;

- Bookmarks with fun, free things to do outdoors and ways to make reading more adventurous; and

- An interactive clue trail that you can solve using things that you learned in the book; once you solve the clue trail, you can print out a clue solver badge.


One of the many great things about being a writer is that you can collect unusual and interesting facts and, if you can make them work, you can put them in your clue trail. Fun things I learned while researching Smack Dab in the Middle of Maybe:

- How to build a fire from scratch at least five different ways. You can read about one of them in the book – it’s called “fire out of water.”

- About a secret room that a mysterious Southern artist left when he died. I used it as inspiration for the “Bird Room” in the book.

- About the secret code Leonardo da Vinci used to write some of his notes- look for it in the clue trail.

- About a rare, color-changing bird called the scarlet tanager. If you pay attention to this detail, it just might help you solve the clue trail.

- How to use a madstone;

- How to get water out of a birch tree; and

- How to make rope out of a honeysuckle vine.

I’m always on the lookout for more unusual and interesting facts. If you have any to share, you can contact me through my website.  Find more at

Smack Dab in the Middle of Maybe

Eleven days. Thirteen clues. And one kid who won't give up. Smack Dab in the Middle of Maybe is "part treasure hunt, part wilderness adventure, and all heart."--Alan Gratz, New York Times Bestselling author of Refugee

How far would you go to find something that might not even exist?

All her life, Cricket's mama has told her stories about a secret room painted by a mysterious artist. Now Mama's run off, and Cricket thinks the room might be the answer to getting her to come back. If it exists. And if she can find it.

Cricket's only clue is a coin from a grown-over ghost town in the woods. So with her daddy's old guidebook and a coat full of snacks stolen from the Cash 'n' Carry, Cricket runs away to find the room. Surviving in the woods isn't easy. While Cricket camps out in an old tree house and looks for clues, she meets the last resident of the ghost town, encounters a poetry-loving dog (who just might hold a key to part of the puzzle), and discovers that sometimes you have to get a little lost . . . to really find your way.

2020 Mississippi Library Association Children's Author Award
2019 Southern Book Award Winner--Children's Category
2020-2021 Young Hoosier Book Award Nominee

"Told in the easy, laconic tone of good, Southern storytelling, Hackl's debut rolls off the tongue and into the heart easy as warm butter on a biscuit. Lyrical and endearing, this debut is a genuine adventure tale."--Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review

"A tale of adventure, full of mystery." --Robert Beatty, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Serafina and the Black Cloak

"Smack Dab in the Middle of Maybe is part treasure hunt, part wilderness adventure, and all heart."--Alan Gratz, New York Times Bestselling author of Refugee

"A heartwarming coming-of-age story." --Kirby Larson, Newbery Honor-winning author of Hattie Big Sky

"A masterful debut. Cricket is my new hero, brave and funny and full of heart. I couldn't put it down."--Augusta Scattergood,  author of Glory Be

"A brilliant, utterly absorbing debut. I couldn't get enough of Cricket's adventures. Totally unputdownable."--Carrie Ryan, New York TImes Bestselling author of The Forest of Hands and Teeth

Jo Watson Hackl

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