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

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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.

 

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Glitter Girl – A Guest Post by Authors Toni Runkle & Stephen Webb

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WHAT PRICE POPULARITY?
GLITTER GIRL GUEST BLOG & GIVEAWAY

Glitter Girl Book Cover

Glitter Girl by Toni Runkle and Stephen Webb, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2013.

I’m delighted to turn this post over to guest bloggers,
Toni Runkle and Stephen Webb
(click here for website), authors of Glitter Girl
(Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, $7.99, ages 10 and up, also available as an ebook). 
Runkle and Webb, writing partners for close to a decade, and parents of young daughters, also call Los Angeles home. Today they’ll be addressing an all too common tween topic which incidentally is the premise for their terrific debut middle grade novel, Glitter Girl, featuring Kat Connors. There’s lots of great stuff to glean from this post so read on.

Friendship and loyalty vs. popularity – what works, what doesn’t and why is this such a big issue for girls?

Now I ask you readers and parents of girls, who amongst you has not had to deal with this troublesome tween dilemma? Ahhh, if only I’d had this book to hand to my daughter when she went through the trials and tribulations of tweendom. But you can have it!

Click here now to enter for a chance to win a free copy of the book courtesy of Sourcebooks Jabberwocky. Giveaway ends December 16, 2013 at midnight PST. Be sure to write GLITTER GIRL in the subject line and include your address. You can also enter on Facebook by posting a comment, but you’ll need to LIKE us for entry to be valid. Good luck! – Ronna

LIFE IN THE FAB LANE

Hi! I’m Kat. Welcome to my blog. I may be from a small town but I’m also Glitter Girl Cosmetics’ newest trendsetter. Thanks to my flair for fashion and my popular style blog, I’ve been chosen to be an Alpha Girl, which means I get to try out all the Glitter Girl products before they hit the stores.

Forty-eight hours after she blogs about the goodies in the new line, every girl at Kat’s school is sporting the gear. Kat’s popularity skyrockets, but Jules—Kat’s BFF—seems to be the only one who’s not buying into the Glitter Girl lifestyle. Is Kat willing to sacrifice her friendship for life in the fab lane?

 

RUNKLE & WEBB: Ah, the friendship and loyalty vs. popularity question. The age-old decision faced by adolescent girls since the beginning of time. We’re pretty sure there are cave drawings in northern Spain depicting this struggle.

We are parents of young daughters so we have seen this struggle first hand. Also, despite what our daughters  may think, we used to be young once, and while that was many moons ago, the scars of adolescence still linger. It’s an exceptional person who doesn’t have them. Mythical, in fact.

This is because as kids reach adolescence, an emotional drama begins to unfold. They become more – no, actually they become painfully, self-aware.  They examine every detail of their being, down to the pores on their noses. They are trying to figure out who they are, where they belong – if they belong.  It can be a very difficult time. There is a great deal of insecurity. Add to the mix the emergence of the “mean girl mentality” that begins at about age 11 or 12 and continues into middle school and girls have a particularly rough road into their teen years.

So of course, what adolescent girl wouldn’t want to be popular? The allure of everyone knowing your name, looking up to you, even liking you – the idea of not only fitting in, but standing out – not only is it intoxicating, it allows you bypass all the angst that comes with being the misfit.
Continue reading »


NOT YOUR MOTHER’S PRETEEN MYSTERY & GIVEAWAY

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HOLY PEEPING PRETEENS!
IS THERE A KILLER ON THE BLOCK?

12848132The Wig in The Window (Harper Collins Children’s Books, $16.99, ages 8-12) by local L.A. author (and friend, so that’s my disclaimer) Kristen Kittscher, is the book I wish I could write. In fact most writing classes instruct novice writers that to pen a successful novel you need to enjoy reading the type of book you want to write. Well I sure do! Mysteries are right up my alley and this tween mystery’s got it all. Kittscher kills with just the right blend of BFF drama, emotion, suspense, and terrific tween vernacular peppered with plenty of fart and boobs humor.

Want to win a book of your own? Enter today by clicking here. We’re giving away one copy of The Wig in The Window, but enter soon and be sure to LIKE us on Facebook to be eligible. You must include your name and address, too. The giveaway ends at midnight next Friday, June 28, 2013. And remember to write WIG in the subject line. Please click here for the rules. Good luck!!

This action-packed middle grade mystery cum friendship tale cleverly combines all the elements young readers seek and manages to keep even an adult mystery fan turning the pages ’til the satisfying conclusion. Not only is the cover image inviting but it introduces readers to the partners in crime so-to-speak. Seventh graders Sophie Young and Grace Yang are not just neighbors, but best friends and stealth sleuths spying around their town of Luna Vista, a suburb of Los Angeles. Young and Yang are fanatics, the former into Feng Shui and the latter into all thing FBI, hence the part-time detective work. Together these two manage to uncover a secret about their suspicious and just plain awkward school counselor, Dr. Charlotte Agford, that could lead to danger.

There’s an engaging cast of characters that add to the book’s appeal, one of whom I especially adored, Trista Bottoms. A social outcast, Trista may weigh tons, but she’s also full of techie tricks and surprises and maintains a fierce loyalty to new pal Sophie. The S.M.I.L.E. crew, doting on their crazy commander-in-chief, Dr. Agford, composed of several “issas” led by the pushy and PC Marissa, will make readers’ hairs stand on end. And speaking of hairs standing on end, plenty of hairy, wig-inspired scenes abound where pulses will race and fear will flow. Watch this trailer for just a hint of what’s to come:

In addition to a love interest named Rod (he may not have spiky hair or be a Brit, but he sure sounds sexy), gassy Grandpa Young and his war stories, Sophie’s references to The Art of War by Sun Tzu, Grace’s parents and Jake, Sophie’s brother, add a depth to the story while also enlightening. While their methods may not be Sherlockian, Young and Yang’s L.A. sleuthing style will surely hook tween readers.

This debut novel by Kristen Kittscher is out today. Watch this space for The Tiara on The Terrace, the next installment in the Young and Yang series.

Find more details about Kristen’s blog tour here.