Zinnia and the Bees, An Interview with Debut Author Danielle Davis

Posted on

MEET DANIELLE DAVIS,
AUTHOR OF
ZINNIA AND THE BEES
Written by Danielle Davis
Illustrated by Laura K. Horton
(Capstone Young Readers; $14.95, Ages 9-12)

 

Cover image from Zinnia and the Bees written by Danielle Davis

 

Yesterday, August 1st, was the debut of local L.A. author Danielle Davis’s new middle grade novel, Zinnia and the Bees. Today I’m totally tickled (but not stung mind you!) to share my recent interview with Davis as she weighs in on the who, what, when, where and why of her delightful magical realism story. But first I’d like to share some of my own thoughts. If you’re eager to get to the Q&A with Danielle, please feel free to scroll down. Below that you’ll also find a trailer for the novel. 

REVIEW

Zinnia, the main character in Danielle Davis’s Zinnia and the Bees, struggles with several relationships throughout this introspective, humorous, and totally absorbing book. It’s filled with many of those confusing, sometimes immobilizing emotions that I recall experiencing in middle school (which was called junior high back then). Added to that are accounts of several uncomfortable situations Zinnia finds herself immersed in which will surely resonate with today’s tweens. And though she may seem to avoid friendships, she ultimately realizes that those connections are what she really needs. Her mom, a widow, dentist and community activist, always seems otherwise occupied. She practically lives at her practice, leaves impersonal post-it notes and is more into her rescue dog than her daughter. Then there’s Zinnia’s brother Adam. The book opens with a wacky and wonderful yarn bomb episode that pulls readers into the story and demonstrates the siblings’ close relationship, despite the six years age gap.

Zinnia and the Bees book with wool and some beesOn that very same day, Adam skips out on Zinnia and her mom, no warning, no note, nothing to let her know where he’s gone. That, after all they’ve shared, hurts more than also losing her group of friends NML, Nikki, Margot and Lupita. When they were pals they were NMLZ, but now Z was on her own. That is until a clever and curious neighbor’s nephew comes to town for summer. Far from perfect, yet not easy to push away, Birch demonstrates to Zinnia the magic of nature and the transformative quality of a good friend. His timing couldn’t have been better because after a visit to the local ice cream parlor, where some ice cream got in her hair, Zinnia has attracted a colony of crazed and kooky honeybees who find what they hope will be temporary accommodations in her long curly hair.

As Zinnia tries to make sense of her brother-less world, she’s also trying to figure out a way to get the bees off her head. We get vivid glimpses of a close relationship Zinnia has with her aunt, without which would make her mom’s indifference more intolerable than it already is. After all, it was her mom who pushed Adam away.

The humor shines through when reading the perspective of the hiveless bees hanging out in Zinnia’s hair. They get a chance, every several chapters or so, to share their thoughts on being homeless. This gives readers a chance to get into the bee narrator’s head and think about bees in a whole, hysterical new way. I now bravely scoop dive-bombing bees out of my pool instead of letting them drown thanks to Zinnia and the Bees! (No bees were hurt in the making of this novel, but do not attempt a rescue if you are allergic to bees!)

Davis has crafted a quirky and creative story where the presence of yarn in many ways can be seen as a connector of people, as well as something safe and comforting. The bees represent a longing for home, and Zinnia’s need to be heard and loved unconditionally, like her brother. There are truly many layers to the story of Zinnia and the Bees making this debut novel from Danielle Davis such a sweet, satisfying and thoughtful read.

  • Review by Ronna Mandel

INTERVIEW

Photo of Zinnia and the Bees author Danielle Davis

Author of Zinnia and the Bees, Danielle Davis

Good Reads With Ronna: What was the genesis for Zinnia and the Bees

Danielle Davis 🐝: The idea for this book came from an image my husband passed along to me that had come to mind of someone with bees on and around their head. I was interested in fairy tales and stories that contained an element of the bizarre and even wacky, so the idea appealed to me immensely. With his permission, I ran with it (this is one of many reasons the book is dedicated to him). I wanted to know more about the way the bees might be a stand in for anxiety and navigating difficulties. And I wanted to know more about the person who found themselves in this predicament.

GRWR: Zinnia struggles with several relationships throughout the book and, after her brother Adam’s abrupt departure, she feels completely abandoned and alone. Then a swarm of hiveless honeybees takes up residence in her curly hair. Since the bees feature prominently in your story, can you talk about the significance of this magical realism element and how you decided to have two different perspectives recount the story?

DD 🐝: I was curious about Zinnia, but I was also curious about those insects. Disappearing bees were in the news quite a bit when I was first writing this story, and I’d heard about agricultural bees who traveled around with beekeepers to pollinate fruits and vegetables for humans (it’s a real thing!). So, I dreamed up a colony of bees who, while happy enough in their existence, felt like something was missing and yearned for freedom. I wanted to hear from them, and hoped readers would too. Writing the bee sections was really fun for me—they’re communal and existential and, I hope, hilarious (they always made me laugh!).

GRWR: A yarn bombing episode propels the plot line forward. Zinnia finds comfort in knitting and it feels like there is some symbolism with yarn. Was that intentional? Also, Zinnia has practically yarn bombed every item in her bedroom. As a child, were you a knitter like Zinnia? Is there any particular reason you chose knitting versus another craft since I know you share a lot of crafts on your picture book blog, This Picture Book Life?

DD 🐝: While the yarn symbolism was, admittedly, unintentional, it’s certainly there since yarn can provide comfort and so relates to the concept of home, which is at the heart of the novel. For me, I’d made Zinnia a knitter in the vein of any artist or maker (or writer) who experiences that sensation of flow when immersed in their preferred activity (plus, I’d recently learned about yarn bombing). For Zinnia, knitting is a way she soothes her anxiety, helps make sense of her world, and takes her mind off, well, everything. It’s a way for her to both focus and escape.I was certainly not a knitter—Zinnia is way more talented than I am! But for me, reading was similar to what knitting is for her. As a child, books were a way to soothe my anxiety, focus, and escape. Stories also, subconsciously I imagine, helped me make sense of the world.

GRWR: Your sense of place, your characters, voice, dialogue and plot all come together seamlessly to create, like the knitted lens covers for Birch’s binoculars, a cleverly crafted story. What was the easiest part for you to write and which is the hardest?

DD 🐝: Thank you, and what a neat question! Once I crafted this for a middle grade audience (I started it as something for adults—what was I thinking?), the first draft was pretty easy to write. I was emerging from a very challenging period in my own life, so writing the first draft of Zinnia and the Bees felt sort of effortless and full of joy as an extension of that unburdening. The interactions between Zinnia and Birch were natural and fun to write, as were the bee sections, where I could be as wacky and dramatic as I wanted. But all the revisions that followed, which were numerous and spanned years, were probably harder in general. And then working with my editor, Ali Deering at Capstone, was a little of both. She had brilliant ideas for making the story better in important ways and I got to prove to myself that I could create under her amazing direction and necessary deadline. The harder part was that having an editor meant I also had the pressure of knowing this was going to be a real, published book and that someone might actually read it someday. 

GRWR: Though I really like Zinnia and her aunt Mildred, I’m especially fond of Birch who is visiting his Uncle Lou, the neighbor, for the summer. The friendship that slowly grows between Birch and Zinnia is so satisfying. Is there one character you relate to the most or is there a little bit of you in each one?

DD 🐝: I’m super fond of Birch as well—such a patient, loyal friend. While I’m confident there are parts of me in Zinnia, she feels to me like her own person (yes, these characters totally feel like real people to me!). I have a real soft spot for Birch’s Uncle Lou and both he and Zinnia’s Aunt Mildred are examples of the positive, caring adults every kid deserves to have in their lives.

GRWR: Dr. Flossdrop, Zinnia’s mom, is a memorable character. She’s distant, domineering and definitely not warm and fuzzy like the wool Zinnia knits with or her brother Adam whom she adores. How did you develop this dentist who relates better to her rescue dog than her own daughter?

DD 🐝: I knew I wanted Zinnia and her mom to start out feeling as different as possible and then learn that, emotionally, they have a lot in common even if it’s hard to tell from the outside. As for a neighborhood activist dentist who adopts a terrier and brings it to her office? I guess I was going for zany, and someone who would be as infuriating as possible to Zinnia.

GRWR: Do you have a preference when it comes to picture books and middle grade novels and which one do you read more of yourself?

DD 🐝: As in childhood, in adulthood I first fell in love with picture books, and then found middle grade novels. I read and enjoy both consistently, but I’m a bit more immersed in picture books in terms of quantity because of my blog.

And The Red Tree by Shaun Tan is my very favorite book.

GRWR: Where is your favorite place to write?

DD 🐝: I usually write in my apartment. I like the ease and comforts of home (like having neverending cups of tea when working), but I can still hear the sounds of the city and know it’s there. I like to revise out somewhere, preferably a coffee shop.

GRWR: How long did Zinnia and The Beestake you from concept to completion?

DD 🐝: I began the story in 2008, wrote the first middle grade draft in 2010, I believe, and sold it to and edited it for Capstone in 2016, and now it’s out in 2017.

GRWR: Can you talk about your passion for literacy and your volunteer work?

DD 🐝: I’ve been lucky enough to have the ability to volunteer with both WriteGirl and Reading to Kids respectively here in Los Angeles. The former is an organization that mentors teen girls through weekly one-on-one meetups to write together. Plus, the monthly workshops are epic and full of working writers sharing strategies and stories with teens. (And, an amazing WriteGirl who’s headed to college this fall is interning with me over the summer!)

The latter holds reading and crafting events at L.A. area elementary schools one Saturday a month. It is a total joy to participate and each child gets a free book to take home as well. That’s around 800 books given to 800 kids each month! It’s a privilege to be a small part of what the organization is doing to serve kids in my city. I wrote about the experience a couple of years ago here.

GRWR: Can you think of anything else I haven’t asked about that you’d like to share with readers about either Zinnia and the Bees or you?

DD 🐝: Thank you so much for having me. It’s a huge treat to be featured on Good Reads With Ronna!

Visit Danielle’s website here.
Find her at Twitter here.
Find her at Instagram here.
Click here to see Danielle’s Facebook page
And click here to for her Pinterest boards.
Visit illustrator Laura K. Horton’s website here.

 

SaveSave

SaveSave


An Interview with Raymie Nightingale Author Kate DiCamillo

Posted on

AN INTERVIEW WITH KATE DICAMILLO

ABOUT RAYMIE NIGHTINGALE

by Hilary Taber

Raymie Nightingale book cover by Kate DiCamillo

 

We’re back again today with more on Kate DiCamillo’s latest middle grade novel, Raymie Nightingale. Hilary Taber’s got some terrific questions lined up for a chance to get the author’s insights about writing this moving story.

INTERVIEW

Hilary Taber: Raymie is a character that is dear to my heart. She’s going through such a hard time, and at the same time she’s looking for what is true about life, what is real, what can be counted on. Is Raymie like you in this way or is that a particular facet of her character?

Kate DiCamillo: Raymie, oh Raymie. Raymie is very much like me. In particular, she is very much like me as a child.

HT: Raymie’s father’s secretary, Mrs. Sylvester, is such a sweetheart. It’s sort of like Raymie gets to have a very practical, straightforward mentor and encourager on the phone whenever she needs someone. Mrs. Borkowski is almost like the opposite of Mrs. Sylvester. She says such mysterious things that make you wonder if they are true somehow. Are these characters based on someone you know or are they both a symbol of the archetypal wise woman?

Novelist Kate DiCamillo, author of Raymie Nightingale

Children’s book author, Kate DiCamillo, National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature for 2014–2015 and winner of a Newbery Medal and a Newbery Honor.

KDC: I had the great good-fortune of growing up on a dead-end street in a small town. One side of the street was families with young children; and on the other side of the street there were three widows: Mrs. Lucas, Mrs. Lindemann and Mrs. Broadfield. These ladies all kept their doors and hearts open to the kids on the street. I could also go and sit on Mrs. Lindemann’s porch and talk with her. Mrs. Sylvester and Mrs. Borkowski are fictional characters, but they are also a way of thanking those ladies.

HT: Raymie, Beverly and Louisiana each have a problem of their own. Their shared suffering seems to unite them until they are almost a little family. Are these three friends going to make it? I believe that Raymie will make it, but I worry about Beverly and Louisiana. You’ve got me so invested in them!

KDC: I believe—absolutely—that all three of them will make it. I have no doubt about this.

HT: I’m fascinated by Louisiana’s bunny barrettes. They seem like Louisiana herself – present but also little, a tiny bit removed from reality. Did you make those up or did you ever see anyone who wore those?

KDC: Oh boy. And: bless you. I had bunny barrettes. I lost them in Mrs. Lucas’ backyard.

HT: As a child, did you have a book about a larger than life hero like Raymie did? Was there a particular person that you considered your hero when you were a child?

KDC: Librarians were my heroes. Teachers were my heroes. Anybody who put a book in my hand was my hero.

HT: Marsha Jean. Marsha Jean haunts me. Marsha Jean is not real, but yet she is. She’s the, “…ghost of what’s to come.” She’s a person that Louisiana’s grandmother has made up to keep her granddaughter on her toes. What made you think of writing about Louisiana who is pursued by the unknown?

KDC: Hmmm. I don’t know. So much of what happens in a story is not planned out by me, but is rather a surprise to me. So I don’t know how this happened. I do know that I am familiar with that feeling of being pursued by the unknown.

HT: Beverly is initially such a gritty realist, but she can be very sweet. Louisiana is more vague and kind initially, but she can be strongly adamant about how there is room to hope. Where do you see Raymie to be? Is Raymie somewhere between these two?

KDC: Raymie is somewhere in the middle, yes. She is an introvert, a hoper, a watcher. Like me.

HT: The more I read Raymie Nightingale, the more I realized that wisdom and truth are ever present in everyday life. Raymie is someone who listens for it. She listens for people to say something true, something wise. Were you like Raymie when you were a child? Did you listen for a certain phrase or words of truth like Raymie does?

KDC: I did. I still do.

Many thanks to Kate DiCamillo for answering my questions, and to the entire team at Candlewick! As Kate is my writing hero I treasure this chance to interview her. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity I will not soon forget. Summer reading is coming up! Be sure to go to your local indie bookstore and get a copy of Raymie Nightingale today. I can’t imagine anyone else that I would rather spend the summer with than Raymie, Beverly and Louisiana a.k.a. The Three Rancheros!
Click here to read Hilary’s review of Raymie Nightingale from Monday, May 16th.
Click here for Kate DiCamillo’s Facebook page.
Click here for Kate DiCamillo’s website.

  • Interview courtesy of Kate DiCamillo and Hilary Taber

 

Kate DiCamillo Raymie Nightingale Tour


A Talk With The Tiara on the Terrace Author Kristen Kittscher

Posted on

An Interview With Middle Grade Author Kristen Kittscher
&
A Special Mystery-Themed Giveaway

 

THE TIARA ON THE TERRACE
By Kristen Kittscher
(HarperColllins; $16.99, Ages 8-12) 

 

Tiara_on_the_Terrace

 

Fans of The Wig in the Window eagerly awaited the arrival of its companion book, The Tiara on the Terrace, and were rewarded this past January with its release. But even if you’ve never read Kittscher’s first book, her latest, The Tiara on the Terrace, can most certainly be read as a stand alone and is terrifically entertaining and awash in the adventures of Young and Yang.

Here’s a blurb from HarperCollins’ website:

In this funny, clever novel, perfect for fans of Pseudonymous Bosch and Gordon Korman and a companion to The Wig in the Window, tween sleuths Sophie Young and Grace Yang go undercover at Luna Vista’s Winter Sun Festival to catch a murderer before he—or she—strikes again.
Sophie Young and Grace Yang have been taking it easy ever since they solved the biggest crime Luna Vista had ever seen. But things might get interesting again now that everyone is gearing up for the 125th annual Winter Sun Festival—a town tradition that involves floats, a parade, and a Royal Court made up of local high school girls.
When Festival president Jim Steptoe turns up dead on the first day of parade preparations, the police blame a malfunctioning giant s’more feature on the campfire-themed float. But the two sleuths are convinced the mysterious death wasn’t an accident.
Young and Yang must trade their high tops for high heels and infiltrate the Royal Court to solve the case. But if they fail, they might just be the next victims.

INTERVIEW WITH THE TIARA ON THE TERRACE AUTHOR, KRISTEN KITTSCHER

Good Reads With Ronna: Are detective stories what you read growing up?

Kristen Kittscher:  I was a voracious reader. I read all kinds of things so detective stories weren’t the only things I read but they were some of my favorites. I was a big big Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys fan as I’m sure many people are. I love Encyclopedia Brown. I just loved solving the puzzles that were involved. One of my very favorite books as a kid was From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and that kind of mystery [where] they’re locked in a museum. I always loved solving puzzles but really I read widely. Judy Blume was an absolute favorite of mine. I think Blubber was a one of my all-time favorite books growing up. And Cynthia Voigt’s Homecoming was another book I loved.

GRWR: Empowerment is prevalent in both novels. Was this a goal of yours?

KK: It’s interesting. After the book was out in the world I’d hear that a lot and it wasn’t an actual focus of mine when I was writing … I think it’s because I taught at an all-girls school many years and I was swimming in girl power without realizing it. I was teaching 7th grade where girls are starting to become more self-conscious. But at that school they were very much themselves and not worried about how they were coming across. And I think I was definitely trying to write a story for them and was very influenced by their joie-de vivre and general sense of fun and curiosity and smarts as I was writing. I didn’t think about it. It just came out that way.

GRWR: What qualities do Sophie, Grace and their quirky pal, Trista have in common with you?

KK: Well maybe I’ve given them qualities I don’t have because that’s the fun of writing fiction, right? I’m definitely very curious myself and always loved a sense of intrigue. I’m pretty silly and they’re pretty silly. I think in a way they probably have more attributes of my students but Trista’s practicality and her kind of ability to just sort of, kind of plug on no matter what. I definitely have a bit of that as well. She’s a bit like my father was and I’m a bit like him so I always think I definitely have a little bit of Trista in me. The other quality definitely is the lack of confidence that Sophie has in coming into her own. I just started writing late in life – this is the first thing I ever wrote – or ever finished – and I really was focused on teaching and not writing. So, the thought of saying I want to be a writer is like saying I want to become a rock star or something like that. The story of The Wig in the Window is a mystery but it’s also kind of paralleling my journey in finding my voice as a writer.

GRWR: Getting into the heads of two twelve year olds isn’t easy. What helped you?

KK: Well, it helps to kind of be 12 in my head mostly! Well I think it goes back to my teaching middle school for a long time. I can’t remember what I was like before I was teaching 7th grade, whether I was also still 12 or if they helped me get back in touch with my youthful self. But definitely having that be my world day in and day out for a long time definitely rubbed off on me. As to Sophie and Grace, their perspective was relatively easy for me to access. The other part that makes it easy for me is having moved a lot as a kid. I moved almost every two years when I was growing up. So each place at each age I was, I remember it really vividly. I’s a very separate point in time and it’s relatively easy for me to go back to a certain place geographically in my mind and get back in touch with the feelings I had at that time. So it was a blessing in a way having moved so much because then I can remember each place individually.

GRWR: Where were you at age 12?

KK: At age 12, I was in the South Bay so basically Torrance, Palos Verdes area. For those people who don’t know, it’s this beautiful peninsula at the bottom of Los Angeles. It’s one of the most beautiful places I ever lived. You’re right by the beach. I think at the time as a kid you don’t realize how beautiful it is so when I set out to write something that came back to me very much and I knew it would be a fun setting for other people to read about too.

GRWR: Was there any pushback from the Tournament of Roses organization to change the similarities?

KK: No. But definitely the fictional town of Luna Vista is a combination between Pasadena and the place I just described, Palos Verdes and Torrance area. It’s my observing my students here in Pasadena and my own memories back when I was 12. And the town of Luna Vista has AmStar (which is very similar to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory) so we have a great deal of scientists, actual rocket scientists as Pasadena does, and that makes it lots of fun to explore lots of technological things. That’s where the idea of Trista having such technological savvy comes from but as far as pushback from the tournament, no. One of my former students was on the royal court and she sat down with me and told me all about her experience as a princess so I actually had a lot of cooperation. Other former students told me about the audition process, other colleagues, longtime Pasadena volunteers and parade goers definitely helped me with all of their memories and observations. And then when the book was finished the Tournament House was considering even doing a launch there as well. Unfortunately the launch of the book came three days after the Rose Parade itself.  So I don’t know if their lack of cooperation after the fact had more to do with the fact that they were focusing on their event because, as you know, it’s a huge operation and requires thousands of volunteers and all kinds of things. I haven’t experienced any direct pushback, but there is of course some gentle fun that I’m poking at the parade so we’ll see.

GRWR: How did you know the Wrigley Mansion so well?

KK: Well, for those who don’t know there’s a mansion in Pasadena called the Wrigley Mansion, which is the tournament headquarters and it was donated by Mr. Wrigley, the chewing gum magnate you all know so well. So I thought it would be fun to create this sort of parallel world where Mr. Ridley who is a root beer magnate has his whole thing because basically I wanted a literal root beer float in the parade. Right? That makes it much more fun. I definitely had that outside of the mansion in my head as I was writing. Also you can take tours of the mansion and while it’s been renovated into offices, some of the rooms I definitely had in mind as I was writing so maybe that helped add a little flair to the setting.

GRWR: What else did you do for research?

KK: I was also an embedded undercover agent in float decorating. Every year in Pasadena before the parade begins, students pour out to volunteer in what are called the Float Barns which are these huge warehouses where the floats are. Actually before ever writing the story the inspiration where it comes from is my volunteering as a float decorator on the Trader Joe’s float one year. I was there gluing on flowers and climbing around on scaffolding so in the opening of the novel, Sophie, the main character, nearly falls from the scaffolding. Well that’s directly related to my own fear of heights crawling around on the scaffolding which I thought was highly unsafe for a 12-year-old. I also would constantly be Googling and referring back to different news articles just to get more inspiration and details. I don’t know a lot about flowers and obviously flowers are a very important part of the float decorations.  So all the different kinds of things that are used to create different colors I would constantly be having to check back on, and say oh they used cinnamon for the brown part. I only knew what my tasks were as the decorator. I didn’t know what other flowers are used and I’m sure I messed it all up.

GRWR: Do they use a lot of different flowers?

KK: Oh, no they’re endless- I mean that’s part of their creativity – every single bit of surface area of a float needs to be decorated with some sort of living material. Even the tires of the float – they’re black, right? But we need to keep them black so they cover the tires with sheets of sea weed. Those little squares of seaweed that you got – that is really what they do. In order to win any of the prizes everything needs to be organic material of some kind.

GRWR: And there are people underneath the float?

KK: Yes, a major plot point of The Tiara in the Terrace is Trista working on a driver-less float because she finds that it would revolutionize the festival not to have people in these cramped compartments. One of the other things that is also very true about the parade is the need for what they call the pooper scooper brigade of kid volunteers who shovel up after the horses. The reason for that isn’t just to keep the parade route clear it’s because if they don’t clean up after the horses the wheels of the float kick up the remains of the horse poop into the eyes of the float drivers and gets in the ventilation system of their float. We’re getting right down to the nitty gritty.

GRWR: Because The Tiara on the Terrace is for middle grade students and includes murder, did you have to diffuse it with humor? How do you go about bringing that into a story?

KK: It’s true. It’s pretty hard to write a murder mystery for kids. You have to make it silly in some cases, but you know that kids also love the stakes being potentially high or real. In this case, you have what’s a potential murder. All the adults believe that the Winter Sun Festival president has been the victim of a tragic accident – a giant dancing animatronic S’more on a parade float has swung down and killed Mr. Steptoe. So you have this really really silly situation but also this tragic accident and that gives that distance and silliness that makes it kind of okay. And also it’s maybe a bit silly that the kids think that this could possibly be murder. Right? As the kids say, seriously? murder by marshmallow? … By giving that distance it helps explore a dark er side.

GRWR: How hard was it to put your red herrings into your story because there are a bunch of them?

KK:  Thank you for recognizing that! The Wig in the Window was not hard, because well, it was hard to write for other reasons, but there’s always something, right? But mystery-wise it’s much more of a thriller, like a psychological thriller for middle schoolers where [the questions are] is this person bad, or is my imagination running away with me or not? So that’s a very simple structure, really. The Tiara in the Terrace is much more like an Agatha Christie novel or a typical cozy mystery as they call it, where you have many suspects in a large cast. It was really hard to trickle in all the clues at the same time that we’re exploring all the social dynamics in friendships. I think as you’re reading you can think oh, gosh, here we have some sort of detour, some sort of social friend detour and you don’t realize oh, wow, all the clues are being laid out at the same time. And so it’s kind of hard pacing-wise to keep the tension going at the same time, your reader might not realize that all of those red herrings are being placed in that sense. It takes a lot of outlining and even reverse outlining. Really knowing the crime, if there is a crime.

GRWR: You totally got me … I love being tricked!

KK: And I love tricking people. I think in this one you might know who it is but you might not know why. And then all the why is very, I think, very satisfying and very fun. (Ronna talking). One thing I know about kids is they often don’t just read a book once unlike adults and so it’s very important to me to make sure that everything matches up. That if you’re going to read this again, you’re going to see everything a second time and have just as much fun figuring out how it’s constructed as the reading itself. Also, my favorite scene is the parade scene at the end which of course has to be bombastic and spectacular and I really had the most fun writing that.

GRWR: Do you ever find, when you hear from young readers, that they’re inspired to write their own mysteries after reading yours? Afterall it is inspiring to see these three young girls go about solving mysteries in their own communities.

KK: Oh definitely … I also run some workshops in writing mysteries so I get kids going that way as well. Last summer I was at The James Thurber House in Ohio and they have a summer writing camp and they also go out in the community. All the kids would love trying to create their own mysteries after reading so I had a great time teaching those workshops. I think kids love the idea of uncovering secrets, I mean we all do, but particularly adult secrets because they don’t have full access to that world. It’s fun to imagine what could be happening in worlds they don’t know about.

GRWR: Will the girls be back for another adventure?

KK:  Each book was separate. I like that a lot because they stand alone. If you read carefully there might be mild spoilers that you probably wouldn’t remember but each of those books can stand by itself so I didn’t sell The Wig in the Window as a series.

GRWR: So your publisher came back to you after book #1?

KK: Right. So that’s a good transition to say, ” Buy The Tiara on the Terrace, everybody, so there can be a third Young and Yang adventure.

GRWR: Can you speak briefly about the TV show that’s been optioned?

KK: Yeah, I’m really excited that both books have been optioned by a producer and I’m co-writing the first season – the pilot right now. It’s really exciting to be able to imagine giving Young and Yang new life in this form because they can be much more equally represented. You know, both The Wig in the Window and The Tiara in the Terrace are from Sophie Young’s point of view. Now we can step back and look at these families from the outside a little bit and also get much more access to Grace Yang’s point of view and possibly the worlds of the villains. So I’m having a really good time figuring out how to adapt the story and getting a lot of help with it as well. The first season is The Wig and the Window stretched out over 12 episodes so you almost have strangely more opportunity to see more elements of their school life and family life within that kind of episodic structure as opposed to the three act structure of a book. So The Wig in the Window the ongoing mystery travels over the course of the season, but each episode has its own exploration of things that are going on between Young and Yang and their families and school and love interests.

GRWR: Did I leave anything out that you would like to add?

KK: I don’t know if I can think of a direct question but something I really like to get across about why I write in general and especially The Wig in the Window and The Tiara on the Terrace is that I love giving kids a sense of adventure and wonder. In my observations as a teacher, kids can be like little business people these days. They have their rolling back packs and their schedules they have their playdates, they have their extra-curriculars. And their world is very constricted much more so then mine was growing up, and I feel that through books or through these adventures you can kind of restore that sense of wonder but also the feeling that kids can have real power and trust themselves to go on all kinds of fun adventures so I like opening that up to them through books and that’s something that I don’t get asked about much but I love to get across. That books have this power to open up some avenues of freedom for kids in their otherwise sometimes overly scheduled world.

  • Interview by Ronna Mandel (with special thanks to Armineh Manookian for all her help!)

 

Kristen_KittscherThe_Tiara_PrizeKRISTEN KITTSCHER is the author of bestselling tween mystery The Wig in the Window (Harper Children’s, 2013) which garnered a starred review from School Library Journal and was on ten Best of the Year lists. A graduate of Brown University and a former middle school English teacher, Kristen was named the James Thurber House Children’s Writer-in-Residence in 2014. She lives with her husband in Pasadena, home of the Rose Parade—the inspiration for her latest novel, The Tiara on the Terrace. Visit kristenkittscher.com or follow her on Facebook and Twitter (@kkittscher).

Enter below to win a copy of The Tiara on the Terrace by Kristen Kittscher plus an exclusive spy kit with Moleskine notebook. spy pen, magnets and book marks. Receive an extra entry for following Good Reads With Ronna on Facebook.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


CELEBRATING WOMEN’S HISTORY MONTH AND MOLLY WILLIAMS

Posted on

CELEBRATING WOMEN’S HISTORY MONTH

AND MOLLY WILLIAMS,

FEMALE FIREFIGHTING LEGEND

 

A GUEST POST/Q&A BY DIANNE OCHILTREE

 

“Each time a girl opens a book and reads a womanless history, she learns she is worth less.”

~ Dr. Myra Pollack Sadker, researcher, educator, and author of Failing at Fairness: How America’s Schools Cheat Girls (Scribners)

 

 

Molly_By_Golly

 

Knowing our history helps us discover who we are, and where we want to go. But when we don’t know our own history, or ‘herstory,’ this is a difficult task. Not knowing our past can limit our power today, and hinder our dreams for tomorrow. The National Women’s History Project initiated Women’s History Month 35 years ago to address this issue, and their mission remains to ‘write women back into history.’ In honor of Women’s History Month, I’d like to re-visit an author interview focused on a heroic woman whom I am very glad to have discovered and why I HAD to record her story for young readers.



When my picture book, Molly, by Golly! The Legend of Molly Williams, America’s First Female Firefighter, was released, I did several interviews for bloggers. One of the nicest was this one with Debbi Michiko Florence for her blog DEBtastic Reads. It was a pleasure ‘talking’ with her about this book of mine, which went on to win the bronze medal in the 2013 Florida Book Awards, was named to the 2012 ALA Amelia Bloomer Book List for Feminist Literature, and more recently, was included as a 2016 Selection on the Top 100 Recommended African-American Children’s Books by AALBC.com (African-American Literature Book Club).

 

Q: Congratulations on the release of your newest picture book, MOLLY, BY GOLLY! The Legend of Molly Williams, America’s First Female Firefighter (Calkins Creek), fabulously illustrated by Kathleen Kemly.  You first became interested in Molly when you came across her legend while researching another book.  What inspired you to turn this into a picture book?

 

A: First, it was the great spirit of volunteerism that is at the heart of Molly’s legendary tale.  What Molly lacked in experience she more than compensated for with her courage and strength.  It was a great opportunity to inspire future firefighters and other community helpers.  Second, it was a chance to show kids how fires were actually fought in early American times.  I was meticulous in my research of these details, and so was illustrator Kathleen Kemly—the firefighting history experts who double-checked our efforts were equally meticulous—because we all wanted to present as accurate a picture as possible. Kids will certainly get an appreciation for the modern equipment we have today. Third, Molly’s legend was filled with the type of action and emotion sure to inspire fabulous illustrations…which is just what happened!

 

Q: I was fascinated to learn how intensive and exhausting firefighting was in the 1800s! What part of your research for this book surprised you the most? 

A: The biggest surprise was learning that the earliest pumper engines were not transported to the scene of a fire by a team of horses as I’d always assumed—PEOPLE did.  The cobblestone streets were very narrow and bumpy, and it was often easier and safer for humans to maneuver the heavy pumper in tight spots. Also, since there were no paid fire companies at the time, there were no funds for buying, feeding and housing horses to help fight fires.  There were no firehouses as we know them today, either.  The volunteer companies only had equipment sheds for their very basic tools. No “sliding-down-a-fire-pole” fun for these early firefighters!

 

Q: Molly was a cook for firefighters.  You share some delicious-sounding dishes in the book!  What are some of your favorite comfort foods? 

 

A:  My favorite comfort foods:  Pad Thai Noodles, Salted Caramel Ice Cream and Carolina Pulled Pork—but not all in the same meal!  I had a wonderful time researching early American cookery, and just loved the quaint-and-quirky names of dishes that Molly might have fixed for her ‘fire laddies’.

 

 

Author Dianne OchiltreeMolly, by Golly! The Legend of Molly Williams, America’s First Female Firefighter

Written by Dianne Ochiltree

Illustrated by Kathleen Kemly

Calkins Creek/Boyds Mills Press

Ages 7+ / $16.95-Hardcover / ISBN: 978-1-59078-721-2

 

  • 2016 Selection, Top 100 Recommended African-American Children’s Books by com(African-American Literature Book Club)
  • Winner of the Bronze Medal in the Children’s Literature category of the Florida Book Awards
  • 2013 Book Award Honor for Language Arts Grades K-6 from International Society of School Librarians
  • 2012 ALA Amelia Bloomer Book List for Feminist Literature

 

 

 


An Interview with Megan McDonald, author of Judy Moody & Stink Books for Kids

Posted on

The Sweet Smell of Stink … Stink Moody, That is!
A Q & A With Megan McDonald

meganmcdonaldheadshot

I had the privilege of sitting down with popular and inimitable author, Megan McDonald, at the L.A. Times Festival of Books last month. She’s the brains (and humor) behind the successful Judy Moody and Stink Moody series. We met to discuss the 10 year anniversary of the STEM-oriented Stink Moody books being celebrated by her publisher, Candlewick Press.

Meet Megan McDonald

Good Reads With Ronna: If Judy’s an exaggerated version of you, who have you modeled Stink on, or is he a conglomerate of your sisters, or totally from your imagination?

Megan McDonald: Well it’s interesting because Judy and I have so much in common with our messy hair and all of our moods, but really in a way, Stink is the one who is close to my heart because he’s the youngest. And even though he’s a boy, and I had four older sisters, and a lot of the funny stories I tell are based on the stories growing up with all these sisters, I imagined a boy because I never had a brother. And then, because he’s the youngest, I know what it’s like to have that bossy big sister. You know, who sort of thinks she’s in charge and knows it all and wants to boss you around.

I empathize a lot with Stink. And making him be the shortest kid in the class; in the first book he’s very sensitive about his height, and he wants to grow, that was all coming from my empathy for Stink being the youngest.

GRWR: Is it difficult for you to switch from being in the head of Judy to being in the head of Stink? In other words, does keeping their individual perspectives get tricky when both characters are in a story?

StinkSharkSleepover.tiffMM: Yes. At the beginning it really was because even when I go to write other books, the voice of Judy will be in my head and start to take over. So with Stink, whatever the book is going to be about, like if he’s going on a shark sleepover or he’s going to save the planet Pluto, I sort of just immerse myself in that universe and learn about Pluto or go to the aquarium and watch the sharks and really try to set an atmosphere for Stink just to get my head out of the Judy thing. At the beginning it was really hard because even when Judy would come on stage, so to speak, in a chapter, she would start to take over and I had to keep reigning her in and letting Stink have his say.

GRWR: I thought you did a terrific job, especially in Stink and The Shark Sleepover because Judy is never domineering.

MM: At first I was going to have Stink go on the sleepover without his family. But then I thought it would be really fun to see Judy in the older sister role in a different capacity. So when the kids are kind of scared, and they want to know what’s behind the big KEEP OUT door, and they see the light under the crack, it’s the perfect thing. You wake up the older sister and say, “C’mon, we’ve got to go find out what’s behind the door!” Then she can go fall back to sleep leaving Stink to think about putting toothpaste in her sleeping bag or whatever.

GRWR: What are the qualities in Stink that you admire the most?

MM: I guess I really admire his passion. You’ll notice there are not a lot of electronics and computers and things in the books … so from the very first book Stink is always reading the encyclopedia. I had a nephew who always did that. I don’t know if it was because it’s just what was around, but he’d pick up a volume of the encyclopedia and he’d disappear. It kind of started with that, with Stink picking up the S volume and he’d be reading about Skinks or Saturn or whatever the S word of the day was. And then I realized I never set out to make it about science, but I realized he really had the passion for all these things, whether it was animals, or Pluto, or sharks or saving the guinea pigs or whatever it is, and I love how this passion comes through.

GRWR: What do you do to find inspiration for your stories? Tell us about connecting with your inner child – how do you do it so convincingly?

MM: Well growing up with four sisters really helped. In the first book, especially in Judy Moody, I did tell actual stories. The famous story of the fake hand in the toilet, in the first Judy Moody book, is a real joke that I played on my sisters. And that really happened where they went to the White House and I stayed home. So it started out with the idea of using some of these funny stories of growing up with all these sisters, but Judy really took on a personality of her own. And Stink was his own person from that first book, so it’s sort of branching out more into my imagination. And people say to me, “But how do you go back? How do you remember all these things? It’s like you know, you remember everything from when you were eight years old!” I really don’t. I love the Mark Twain quote where he says, “I remember everything whether it happened or not.” That’s kind of how I feel. I remember certain things and feelings from childhood, but whether it happened or not, I can easily add imagination and embellish and make it into a funny story.

BigBadBlackoutcvr.jpgRonna: So in Judy Moody & Stink: The Big Bad Blackout, did that hurricane really happen?

MM: Ah, that’s interesting. I got the idea because I was on tour in the state of Virginia where Judy and Stink are from. I just happened to be there right after a hurricane, I think it was hurricane Isabella. So all these people, this was more in the early days of Judy Moody, were coming through my signing line and telling me we found Judy and Stink, we discovered Judy and Stink in the hurricane. I thought, “What, the books washed up?” And they would say no, all the lights went out, there was no electricity.” They couldn’t watch TV, they didn’t have computers, laptops, iPads. They had flashlights, or they lit a candle and they read books. The whole family would get out a Judy Moody or a Stink book and they’d read aloud by candlelight. That just gave me goosebumps. So many people told me this. They would talk about playing board games, going back to the things of my childhood. This really made an impression on me and I thought I would love to have Judy and Stink experience a blackout. You know, have a hurricane come, not a scary one, but the electricity’s out and they have to find ways to be entertained, I guess. You don’t have all the electronics if you take away the lights and the electricity.

So of course Grandmas Lou comes. She shows up with an entourage of all these animals with her and then the lights go out. What do you do? You roast marshmallows in the fireplace and you tell stories, right? That was really fun because I got to tell several stories within a story.

GRWR: What’s the most meaningful or hilarious response from a kid regarding your Stink books?

JudyMoodyMoodMartianMM: It’s funny you ask, because I was just Skyping the other day because Pizza Hut had a reading month and they chose Stink as their mascot for the month of March. One of the prizes, it was for teachers and their classroom, was to win Stink books and they got a Skype visit with the author. So I was just Skyping with the fourth grade classroom who won the prize. The teacher told me ahead of time that the kids all had prepared questions. It’s their questions. She didn’t weed them out or anything. They each had to come up to the camera and they got to ask a question.

One little boy came up and he asked, “What do you do when you’re angry?” I think he was thinking about Judy and all her moods and so he wanted to know how I handled being angry. I told him all about the newest Judy Moody book, Judy Moody Mood Martian and in that book Judy tries to stay in a good mood for one whole week, but it’s very difficult. So, when she feels a bad mood coming on she gets out her finger knitting. It’s knitting you can do without needles. And I’m there on Skype explaining finger knitting to the kids, showing them my fingers and how you can wrap yarn around them and everything. And that’s what Judy does. I said for me, I usually go walk the dog, or go take a swim, or just do something to help get that energy out, but finger knitting was a way Judy found she could channel some of those feelings. He said thank you and he went to walk away from the camera and said, “Well I guess now I have to go home and take up knitting.” (Laughter) It was very cute, sweet and very funny. He really took it to heart.

stinkandgreatguineaPigExpresscvr.jpgGRWR: Do you have a favorite Stink book or situation that remains outstanding in your mind after 10 years?

MM: Oh gosh! So many favorites. One that I really love is, it was probably the most difficult to write, is the one about Stink where he rescues all the guinea pigs, Stink and The Great Guinea Pig Express. I had read about these guinea pig rescues that had happened. And there was a woman in the Bay Area who heard about these guinea pigs in a lab that were being mistreated. They shut down the lab and she brought all these guinea pigs home. And she thought. what am I going to do with 101 guinea pigs? She got a bus from the Humane Society, then went online, found homes for these guinea pigs all over the country, loaded them up in her car and went on a guinea pig rescue tour, giving away the guinea pigs to good homes. When I read this I was so inspired that I had this inspire Stink. He finds out about these guinea pigs at the pet store and with the help of the woman from the pet store, they get a bus, outfit it and they go all over Virginia and  find homes for all of these animals. So it was a really fun one because it has such heart. You just want these guinea pigs to be well and be safe and find good homes; also it’s hilarious because you can just imagine being on this little van or bus with 101 squealing little guinea pigs and all of the antics that would go with it.

GRWR: That’s super. I just love how you come up with things like squeals on wheels and you have asteriod and then the blasteroid. Does it come easily or do you spend a ton of time thinking those up?

MM: I love to play with language, and I grew up with a lot of nonsense poetry and even at the dinner table my mom and dad we would have pun contests. I’ve always loved that word play and that language play. Sometimes it just comes naturally when ryhming or something will pop in my head. Other times it’ll just be almost be like a gift. I’ll be doing some research or something and exactly the thing I was looking for just sort of lands in my lap. So when that happens those are really special moments for a writer.

GRWR: If you were asked to create a “me” collage, like in Judy’s first book, what would you include in it?

MM: Oh, gosh, um. Well, I don’t have the Barbie Doll heads and scabs I collected as a kid, but I do have a lot of collections. Judy and I are both collectors. So I collect things like erasers, sock monkeys and mood rings, so some of the Judy Moody things you’re probably familiar with  go in my collage.

GRWR: BAND-AIDS®?

MM: Yes, of course. I have a killer BAND-AIDS® collection including bacon strips.

GRWR: Oh I like the bacon strip ones!

MM: Now of course people know that I collect them they send me all these funny ones. Pirate ones, sock monkeys and all sorts of neat ones.  Yes, definitely the BAND-AIDS®, and a grouchy pencil or two. And other than that, probably just things, you know from my own life, pictures of me with my sisters when we were little. We have a lot of those black and whites from when you used to go in photo booths and make funny faces. You know, that sort of thing. But a lot of the things in Judy’s world are things from my own childhood, too.

GRWR: What can we expect to see Stink getting up to in his next book?

MM:  Okay, well the next book is Stink and the Attack of the Slime Mold. It’s bringing Riley Rottenberger to the forefront. She’s sort of the Stink nemesis of it. He gets to Saturday Science Club and Riley Rottenberger is there and it turns out in this club that they were going to learn how to grow slime mold. So they each take home their little samples of slime mold and it begins to grow. And it’s really gross and slimy. Stink starts to imagine that this slime mold, you know you only feed it like one Cheerio or one oat flake, but he starts to imagine that’s it going to take over his room and begin to take over the whole house and the whole planet. So that’s a fun one. There’s a lot of science in it where you can learn about the actual slime mold which is an amoeba. It’s a one celled organism. But it’s also very science fiction-y. It opens with Stink and Judy going to a drive-in with their parents -they’ve re-opened an old drive-in, and the Blob movie is playing. That kind of gets Stink’s imagination going, so the comics will feature, you know how there are comics after each chapter, some of the more fantastic, science-fiction-y aspects of the book.

GRWR: Is it done? Or if not, when is it due out?

MM: Yes, my part is done. Peter [H. Reynolds] is working on the drawings right now. It comes out, I think, spring of next year, 2016.

GRWR: Okay, and what about Judy’s book, the one you mentioned earlier?

MM: That one is out. That came out last fall and is called Judy Moody and the Mood Martian. It’s still in hardback; it should come out in paperback this summer.

GRWR: What contemporary kids books are you reading now?

MM: Well, right now I’m reading Pam Muñoz Ryan’s book called Echo. And I almost couldn’t even come to Los Angeles because I only have 20 pages to go, and I’m like I can’t carry this thick 600 page book … that I just have to finish now.. It’s in 3 different time periods, 3 different stories, and I just have to know how they all weave together. It’s a fascisnating historical novel.

I’m a huge Katherine Paterson fan so I went back and I’m filling in all the holes in my Katherine Paterson collection because I discovered there are books of hers I’ve never read. Some of the ones that are set in Japan that were some of her early ones.  And Come Sing, Jimmy Jo. So I’m going back and reareading some of those. But The Great Gilly Hopkins is probably one of my most all time favorite children’s books – for children.

GRWR: Wow! Good to know.

MM: And from my childhood, Harriet the Spy, of course.

GRWR:  Of course, of course. Which reminded me, you used an expression which tells me that you and I are of the same generation, the Screamin’ Mimi’s Café, where they go for the ice cream, but I don’t know if kids of this generation know it. I don’t even know where it comes from, but I grew up knowing about screamin’ mimis.

MM: I know and it’s funny because I have a real Screamin’ Mimi’s in my town. In Sebastopol,  there’s an ice cream shop called Screamin’ Mimi’s but that’s not her name or anything. She also is of my generation and knew it [the expression]…

… I was so drawn just by the name Screamin’ Mimi’s. And then in the early days I asked her if I could use the name of the shop in the book since it was going to be an ice cream shop. She said sure but don’t use any of the flavors I make because I might want to trademark them. Well now, the poor woman, kids come from all over the country and go to Screamin’ Mimi’s and they ask for the flavors that are in the book that I just made up! She said, “Oh I wish I would have let you use my flavors!”  Now she makes the actual flavors for special occasions that are flavors from the Judy Moody books.

 ###

Right, who’s ready for a big scoop right now?
A huge thanks to Megan McDonald for generously giving of her time during such a busy book fair day, and to Candlewick Press for giving Good Reads With Ronna the wonderful opportunity to chat with Megan McDonald.

Don’t forget to visit the websites:

Judy Moody
Stink Moody
Megan McDonald
Candlewick Press

Interview by Ronna Mandel with special thanks to Armineh Manookian for her huge help.

 

 

 


An Interview With Susan Lendroth, Author of Old Manhattan Has Some Farms

Posted on

OLD MANHATTAN HAS SOME FARMS

95729Local L.A. Author, Susan Lendroth, Shares Her Insights About Neighborhood Gardens in a Clever Play on the Beloved Children’s Song.

– A Junior Library Guild Selection

Lendroth’s new read aloud, sing aloud picture book, Old Manhattan Has Some Farms, (Charlesbridge, $16.95, Ages 3-7) is a clever way to introduce urban farming to youngsters while also encouraging interaction with the enjoyable and catchy E-I-E-I-Grow! refrain. The places highlighted in the story are (Manhattan) New York, Atlanta, Chicago, Toronto, Seattle, and The White House in D.C. Little ones will get a brief tour of North America while learning all the different ways to grow food in lots of different locales.

Whether you’ve got a windowsill or a rooftop, Lendroth’s included a variety of garden venues that should make getting started a looked-forward-to adventure. Illustrator Endle’s bold, primary colored art is cheerful and warm like the sunshine, but she even makes a rainy Seattle inviting with swirls of clouds against a lavender sky. Best of all, Lendroth’s included in the end pages what she calls Green Matters with more info on all the ins and outs of urban gardening such as beekeeping, hydroponics and worms. There are links to additional resources and a free song, too, from Caspar Babypants.

Good Reads With Ronna: Old Manhattan is quite different from your other books. When did the seed of this story begin germinating?

Susan Lendroth: Thanks for asking that question, Ronna; I really hadn’t thought about it before now. The truth is that my books — published and unpublished — are all over the map, but yes, the first four that were published all dealt with the past in one way or another, while Old Manhattan Has Some Farms is definitely current. The rhyme just popped into my head when I read an article about a rooftop garden in New York and sort of hummed to myself, Old Manhattan Has a Farm … It’s a bad habit of mine, singing and/or rhyming without warning. I have fought my tendency to write in rhyme because the market for rhyming books is smaller than for picture books in prose. However, sometimes, a rhyme just breaks free, and there is no corralling it.

GRWR: Why do you think the public is experiencing a renewed interest in urban farming and is this a passing trend or here to stay?

Author Photo

Susan Lendroth, author of Old Manhattan Has Some Farms, Charlesbridge Publishing, 2014.

SL: Unless we find a more efficient way to clean the air than plants do as a by-product of photosynthesis, I hope making our cities greener is now the norm rather than the exception. Throughout human history until the last 100-150 years, it was commonplace for householders and market gardeners to grow produce in urban areas. Before the advent of fast transportation and refrigeration, it was the only way to put fresh fruits and vegetables on the table. We moved away from that system when it became possible to mass produce food and truck it in. However, another product of our fast-paced age, the internet, has made accessible a great deal of information about the harmful effects of certain pesticides, and people are concerned about the source of the foods that they are eating. Buying from reputable local growers and growing their own foods gives consumers more control. I like to think that our last 100 years of totally separating food sources from consumers was the aberration rather than the norm, but I can’t predict the future.

GRWR: The farm to table movement is something I’ve noted in more restaurants of late. To what do you attribute this?

SL: Fresher produce tastes better. Restaurant patrons can visit farmers markets just like chefs do so they are becoming more savvy about what is available and more discerning about what they want to eat.

OldManhattan_Spread1_300website

Interior spread from Old Mahattan Has Some Farms by Susan Lendroth with illustrations by Kate Endle, Charlebridge Publishing, 2014.

GRWR: I just visited Manhattan where The High Line on the West Side was attracting scores of visitors who want to be surrounded by nature. There’s something similar in Paris, too. Do you think this is the next phase in cities around the world?

SL: Oh, I hope so. As cities and their satellite suburbs cover larger and larger stretches of land, it pushes the “countryside” further away. No one should have to commute an hour or two to find a shady nook. And the green spaces are also the cities’ lungs, helping to clean the air and lower the temperatures.

GRWR: Old Manhattan Has Some Farms is a great idea to get kids excited about growing fruit, vegetables, herbs, and getting honey from beekeeping. Did you grow up in a city and do this as a child? And if not, do you do it now with your daughter? 

Daughter with container gardenSL: I grew up in a suburb of L.A. where we had a nice-sized backyard. My parents planted a few veggies for us to tend as children, but Mom was more into roses than radishes. I do remember corn and tomatoes, but unfortunately, recall a bumper crop of tomato worms more than our harvest. My daughter and I live in an apartment with a private patio, but it’s shaded for most of the day which means that while tropical plants thrive there, when it comes to sun-loving produce — not-so-much. When my daughter was three-years-old, we planted a few seeds in containers lined up against a sunny wall in the carport. I don’t know if the bees failed to find and pollinate the blossoms or (more likely) the pots were far too small for the plants, but we raised lots of leaves and one watermelon the size of a walnut. Now I stick to herbs on the windowsill. Basil is hearty enough to survive even my poor gardening abilities.

GRWR: You’re so knowledgeable on the subject of sustainable gardening and even include great resources in the back matter of the book. How can parents, schools and even our government encourage more Americans to go green?

SL: Many organizations exist with just that mission. There are foundations dedicated to promoting gardens in schools, neighborhood groups reclaiming city lots for community gardens, architects devoted to designing green buildings, etc. I think anyone interested in any aspect of urban agriculture will be able to find like-minded individuals in their own community with a quick search on the internet. The best encouragement we can all give is to support the movement with our efforts and our funding:

– buy food from co-ops, farmers markets and supermarkets that promote locally grown and organic crops
– make donations to community organizations that reclaim lots, plant school gardens, etc.
donate books, DVDs and other materials about urban greening to local schools
– buy a few potted herbs at the market and let your children tend a windowsill garden, and then cook with them — sprinkle basil on pizzas, dill in a salad, etc. Let everyone taste how fresh makes foods pop.

Atlanta Page

Interior spread from Old Manhattan Has Some Farms by Susan Lendroth with illustrations by Kate Endle, Charlesbridge Publishing, 2014.

GRWR: What else would you have liked to have included in the book that space simply did not permit?

SL: Actually, this is one of the first times I wrote a book where I didn’t feel constrained by the word count. One of the benefits of rhyme is that it serves as a kind of shorthand where much is packed into a few words. Plus, I was allowed a section for back matter to explain concepts further so I was satisfied. However, I am sure that there are many elements other people may have wanted me to include, such as backyard chicken coops or cities of different syllable counts, like Portland or Dallas, that just didn’t fit my rhyme pattern.

GRWR: In your opinion, which city or state is doing the best job of promoting urban farming?

SL: I have no way of ranking the efforts. What I do find amazing is how many of them are taking place, from city officials greening up rooftops to municipal codes being changed to allow beekeeping to an edible garden being installed at AT&T Park, the baseball stadium of the San Francisco Giants. Whether a city or state’s efforts is large or small, the fact that any effort is being made should be applauded. I’ll leave the measurement of those efforts to someone else.

GRWR: Can you tell us about the free song by Caspar Babypants readers can get with your picture book?

SL: The amazingly talented Kate Endle, who illustrated Old Manhattan Has Some Farms, is married to the equally talented musician, Christopher Ballew, A.K.A Caspar Babypants. He volunteered to record the book’s text as a song. I’m tempted at readings to just whip that out and play it for the audience while I turn the pages, but in the interests of being more interactive, I gamely sing book with my less-than-professional voice. And audiences are great about singing the refrain with me: E – I- E – I – Grow!

GRWR: Is there anything else you’d like to add before we all head off to buy some seeds?

SL: How about a healthy tip? Right now is a great season to buy organic grapes. My favorites are the black seedless. Pluck them off the bunch, wash them and let them dry on a baking sheet or paper towels spread out on a table. Once they are dry, bag the now clean, ready-to-eat grapes and freeze them. They are the most terrific snack. My daughter says they’re better than ice cream. And they will last long beyond grape season.

Thanks, Susan for this enlightening interview. You can find Susan on Facebook or at her website here: www.postwhistle.com


The Lost Planet by Rachel Searles

Posted on
LostPlanet-cvr.jpg

The Lost Planet by Rachel Searles, Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan, 2014.

The Lost Planet (Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan, $15.99, Ages 9-13 ) is the first novel in a series by Venice, CA author Rachel Searles. I met this friendly and imaginative debut fiction author earlier in the year at a local event sponsored by Flintridge Bookstore and Coffeehouse where Searles read from her book and explained its premise.

Readers will be introduced to Chase Garrety, a 13-year-old boy who wakes up on another planet with a head wound. Chase soon meets Parker and though they start off fighting, the boys realize they need to take care of each other. Together Chase and Parker meet an android named Mia who becomes a huge help to them in this fast-paced, sci-fi adventure.  The story unfolds in the course of a week in which Chase, without giving any spoilers, learns some unusual stuff about himself. So, if you’ve got a child who thrives on the science fiction genre that’s packed with action and adventure as well as interesting characters such as assorted aliens, a mysterious benefactor, and a Federation-like organization, then this is the book for them.

I asked Searles about when she began writing. She told me that she’s been writing since she was six years old. The Lost Planet actually took her four years to write, but the good news is that the second book in this series has already been written! “Writing a book,” according to Searles, “is like putting lots of puzzle pieces into the right spot, with lots of re-writing.” In fact she said her original outline for the novel changed so much since she had her first idea for the story. That’s not hard to imagine when you learn that the idea for a space story was first planted in her mind in 2006. It then took her two years to write the first 100 pages. In 2008 Searles came up with The Lost Planet concept, and in 2010 she tried to write 1000 words a day. She then spent a year and a half revising. And which character, I wondered, did Searles most relate to? Parker. Now you’ll just have to read it for yourself to understand why.

– Ronna Mandel