A ROUNDUP OF THE BEST NEW HANUKKAH BOOKS FOR KIDS 2023 REVIEWS: LATKE'S FIRST…
THE FANTASTIC LIBRARY RESCUE
AND OTHER MAJOR PLOT TWISTS
Written by Deborah Lytton
Illustrated by Jeanine Murch
(Sourcebooks Jabberwocky; $7.99, Ages 8 and up)
Read Our Q & A With Author Deborah Lytton
On today’s post I’m excited to share a recent interview I had with author, Deborah Lytton, about book #2 in the Ruby Starr series, The Fantastic Library Rescue and Other Major Plot Twists, which came out earlier this month. Having thoroughly enjoyed this chapter book for middle grade readers* that includes illustrations of Ruby’s active imagination at work, I can see how much tweens and bibliophiles will gravitate to the series, and this new book in particular, especially since it tackles two important issues: libraries losing funding and friendship predicaments. I especially like that Ruby’s friend Will P is also in a bookclub, something I don’t usually see depicted in stories. Here’s how Sourcebooks Jabberwocky describes Lytton’s latest:
The second book in this fun series that’s perfect for younger fans of the Dork Diaries and Story Thieves series. Ruby Starr is an older Junie B. Jones with a big imagination and a love of reading.
Ruby Starr’s life is totally back on track. Her lunchtime book club, the Unicorns, is better than ever. And she and Charlotte, her once arch enemy, are now good friends. The only thing that’s really causing any drama is her upcoming poetry assignment. She’s a reader, not a poet!
But disaster strikes when Ruby learns that her most favorite place in the world, the school library, is in trouble. Ruby knows she and the Unicorns have to do something to help. But when Ruby’s plans end up hurting a friend, she’s not sure her story will have a happy ending after all.
Q & A:
GOOD READS WITH RONNA: Ruby is a charming, book-loving outgoing yet introspective fifth grader. And while she is not perfect she certainly is someone any parent would be proud of. Do you happen to know any Rubys? And if not, how did you wind up with her as a main character for your series?
DEBORAH LYTTON: I do know a Ruby. My inspiration for this series came from my younger daughter who was in fifth grade when I began writing the first book. My YA SILENCE had just been released, and my older daughter was reading it. My younger daughter wanted me to write something for her to read. She asked for a story that would make her laugh. I based the character of Ruby on her initially, but then as I began to write, the character took on her own qualities. My favorite part of writing is when the characters begin to shape themselves. That definitely happened with Ruby Starr.
GRWR: What do you love most about her?
DL: I love that Ruby makes a lot of mistakes, but always tries to fix them. My favorite thing about Ruby is her kindness. She thinks about other people and their feelings and tries to help them when she can. This is a quality I truly admire. I also enjoy writing Ruby because she is so imaginative.
GRWR: I realize this is book #2 in the series but yet I felt fully up-to-speed. Can you please tell readers briefly what happens in book #1?
DL: I am so happy to hear that you felt up-to-speed! It was really important to me to write a second book that would let readers jump right in. Book #1 establishes Ruby’s character and her love for reading. The story centers on friendship troubles. When a new girl joins Ruby’s fifth grade class, she begins pulling Ruby’s friends away from her. Then she threatens to destroy Ruby’s book club. Ruby has a difficult time, and then she learns something about the new girl that changes everything. Ultimately, books bring the friends together.
GRWR: Is there a book #3 on the horizon?
DL: Yes, I am really excited about Ruby’s third adventure. I have just finished the manuscript and I can tell you that Ruby and her friends get into a little bit of a mix-up and that it all begins with a very special book.
GRWR: As a kidlit reviewer I love that Ruby is in a book club (The Unicorns), and as a writer I love Ruby’s vivid imagination. Did your own childhood inform these traits or did you feel she’d need these qualities to be a role model for tweens or someone many young readers could relate to?
DL: Growing up, my sister and I were like Ruby. We loved reading. Both of us cherish books and have saved many of our favorites from when we were young readers. My own daughters also love to read. In spending time helping out in their school classrooms and libraries, I have seen how many students enjoy books. I loved the idea that a fifth grade student would be independent enough to start her own book club at school to celebrate reading. Then I thought it would be fun to see where her imagination would take her, especially since she would be inspired by all the books she had read and loved. I hope young readers who have stayed up late just to read the next chapter of a book will connect with a character who is like them.
GRWR: The hero’s journey that Ruby embarks on is to save the school library where the hours have been reduced and new book purchases have been shelved due to funding cutbacks. Was this plot line inspired by stories you’ve seen in the news or even closer to home here in L.A.?
DL: I have volunteered in the libraries at my daughters’ schools so I have seen first-hand the way that budget cuts have impacted the libraries. I have also helped students search for the perfect book to read and then watched their faces light up when they discover something really special. Libraries are so valuable to our youth. I wanted to highlight that message in this story.
GRWR: Can you speak to Ruby’s supportive family life? I’m not sure every family is as wonderfully tight and high functioning.
DL: In my previous books, I have written about very dysfunctional families which was necessary in order to shape the main characters and their journeys. When I began writing the Ruby Starr series, I wanted to tell the story of a close family with supportive parents and siblings so that the drama in the stories would be centered on friends at school rather than in the home. Even with an ideal family situation, kids can have a lot of drama with friends. I wanted to focus on some ways to navigate through the difficult fourth and fifth grade years when friend groups are forming and the opinions of peers become more important.
GRWR: A friendship issue arises in The Fantastic Library Rescue and Other Major Plot Twists, namely between Ruby and her pal Will P which feels very believable. Is creating a conflict in a story hard or did it feel natural to take the characters in this direction?
DL: Ruby makes a lot of “lower case m mistakes” as she calls them and these “mistakes” create conflict naturally. When I was writing, the conflict with Will P came from setting up situations that would arise in the classroom setting. It seemed natural that Will, due to his strength in leadership and his interest in being involved in school activities, would want to help—and just as natural that Ruby would reject his offer because of Will’s friends. The resulting drama came out of that dynamic. In the first Ruby book, the central plot revolves around great conflict with friends so in this book, the issue with Will P became more of a subplot.
GRWR: It’s great that you’ve got both parents in this story working. I know Ruby’s dad is a journalist which works in particularly well in this book. I’m not sure if I missed it, but what does Ruby’s mom do?
DL: Ruby’s mom has gone back to work a few days a week and she works in a law office. I wanted her to be a working mom because so many moms work outside the home, but I also wanted her to be able to pick up Ruby a couple of days a week so I could have conversations between mother and daughter. Sharing her ideas outside of school allows Ruby to reflect on her thoughts and her actions.
GRWR: Pickles? Yes! Pickle-flavored cupcakes? Uh … have you tried one?
DL: I actually have tried one! My older daughter loves pickles as much as Ruby loves them. For her eleventh birthday, I had a cupcake baking competition party for her. She made pickle cupcakes. They were pretty delicious, believe it or not!
GRWR: The first Fifth Grade Poetry Read plays a major role in your book. I was so happy there was a poetry component to the story. Are you a fan?
DL: I love poetry and I am a big fan. There is so much freedom in writing poetry and I wanted to share that with readers and show Ruby exploring this in her class poem. There is a common thread of poetry in all the books I have written. I used poems in my YA SILENCE to connect the characters and build their romance. I also used a poem in my upper MG JANE IN BLOOM to express the perspective of Jane’s sister and her powerful emotions. When I speak to groups of students, I recommend experimenting with creative writing in all forms—short stories, novels, poetry, even song lyrics.
GRWR: Would you call The Fantastic Library Rescue a chapter book or a middle grade novel?
DL: I would call this a *chapter book for middle grade readers. I think the series is for the independent reader who can take the book to a comfy chair and read alone. I also think it would be a fun book to read out loud or with a book club.
GRWR: Are there any other characters in the story you are partial to?
DL: I really enjoy writing Will P because he is that student everyone wants to know or be. I have fun with his made-up words and his many talents. (Also, his fantastic sock collection!) I love writing the imagination bubbles as well. They are a departure from the story into Ruby’s imagination and are boundless in terms of ideas and settings. It has been wonderful to challenge my own creativity in that way.
GRWR: As you switch your mindset from writing YA to writing for a younger audience, what is the hardest thing you have to do?
DL: I always do my best to allow the characters to speak honestly through the words on the page so that they can connect with readers. This goal is the same for me no matter what age the reader. My YA and upper MG novels focused on difficult subject matter. But by far, the hardest thing to do is to write humorous scenes for a younger audience. It’s not easy to be funny
GRWR: Ruby’s mom is in a book club that is a big influence on Ruby. Are you in a book now or have you ever been? Why are they good to join?
DL: I have a book club with my daughters. We choose each book together and then take turns reading out loud. We discuss the themes, characters, and the plot along the way and then have a bigger discussion when we reach the end of the book. I really love reading together because the stories become part of our experiences and our memories. We enjoy laughing and crying and the book club allows for more bonding than watching television. I highly recommend book clubs because they connect us to one another through our love for the written word.
GRWR: Is there anything I haven’t asked about that you’d like to share?
DL: The Ruby Starr series is a celebration of reading and this includes classic literature, poetry, libraries, teachers, and writers. I hope readers enjoy the adventures and fall in love with Ruby.
Thank you, Ronna, for hosting me today on your blog! For more information about me and my books, visit www.deborahlytton.com.
And thanks to Deborah for her time and insightful answers. See a book trailer from The Fantastic Library Rescue and Other Major Plot Twists below: