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Lulu in LA LA Land by Elisabeth Wolf: Giveaway & Interview

Lulu in LA LA Land (Sourcebooks/Jabberwocky, $6.99, ages 9 and up) by Elisabeth Wolf

I haven’t read a book so quickly in ages. Was it the fun script format or was it the main character? Both! In 10-year-old protagonist Lulu Harrison, author Elisabeth Wolf has created an immensely likable and relatable character despite her being the daughter of two Hollywood celebrities. Lulu narrates the story using a screenplay she has written rather than a traditional journal, but before that readers get a good feel for what Lulu’s all about in a prologue Wolf’s provided.

Lulu in LA LA Land by Elisabeth Wolf from Sourcebooks/Jabberwocky.

Lulu in LA LA Land by Elisabeth Wolf from Sourcebooks/Jabberwocky.

In that prologue Lulu explains that she’s not your typical L.A. tween. In fact she calls herself a “Not Fitter Inner.” Despite living in posh Bel Air, California, Lulu says her life’s not all “pampering and parties.” This alone drew me into the story, but then what kept me reading was how genuine Lulu felt. Unlike her trend-crazed older sister, Alexis, Lulu really just craved her busy parents’ attention, the one thing she found most difficult to get. Certain to get even the most reluctant readers engaged, Lulu in LA LA Land is the kind of novel I imagine one friend passing along to another so they can share and discuss it like they do with an episode of their favorite TV program.

This delightful romp around L.A. includes lots of well-known boulevards and boutiques, perfect for locals and L.A. wannabes. The descriptions of shopping jaunts seem spot on although frankly, I’ve only ever been inside one of the “in” stores Wolf mentioned. I’m still traumatized by the memory of the three figure price for a t-shirt! What works with Lulu in LA LA Land is that Lulu is also not into all the glam of the Hollywood scene despite it being her parents’ profession. Instead, Lulu enjoys her garden, the simple pleasures in life like baking, devouring a delicious taco, and spending time with her best friend, Sophia.

The premise of Lulu in LA LA Land is that Lulu decides, on her sister’s urging, to throw a SPA-tacular birthday party for herself to get her parents interested in showing up. What Lulu didn’t plan on was her party’s date conflicting with the movie industry’s biggest event, the Oscars. Add in the fact that Alexis wanted Lulu to invite only a certain type of girl and that type did not include BFF Sophia and you have two major dilemmas Lulu must handle so her party doesn’t become a SPA-disaster!

Today’s interview is with L.A. local author, Elisabeth Wolf, who has also signed a copy of Lulu in LA LA Land for our giveaway. The giveaway begins today, Friday, October 11, 2013 and runs through Sunday, October 20th ’til midnight. One winner of (1) one copy of Lulu in LA LA Land  will be selected via Random.org and notified on Monday, October 21st. Send your name and address to Good Reads With Ronna by clicking here. Be sure to write Lulu Giveaway in the subject. For an extra entry, please LIKE our Facebook page by clicking here.

Q & A With Elisabeth Wolf 

GRWR: When did the story idea first hit you?

EW: The idea of writing Lulu hit me twice. First, during the countless hours reading to my children, I realized that New York had Eloise. Paris had Madeline. Los Angeles, however, didn’t really have anyone!  I checked in bookstores and only found a book about a dog in LA. Second time happened thanks to my daughter visiting the set of TV show Sonny With A Chance and watching an episode tape.  Before she left, the producer gave her a copy of the script signed by the actors. For the next week, she sat in bed reading and re-reading the script. Late one night, prying it from her hands, I had my Eureka moment!  What better way for a girl to write about her life in LA than to write it as a screenplay?!

GRWR: At your book launch you mentioned that you and Lulu Harrison, the book’s protaganist, shared some common traits. What are they and why did you choose those in particular?

Elisabeth-Wolf

Author of Lulu in LA LA Land,
Elisabeth Wolf.

EW: I made Lulu a little like me and, of course, a little better! Here’s what Lulu got from me:  love of gardening, especially growing native plants, fruits and vegetables without using too much water or any chemicals; love of nature, bird watching, protecting trees, and keeping beaches clean; love of spicy, cheesy foods, especially Mexican food; and a love of baking and experimenting in the kitchen. She also has a healthy disinterest in keeping her hair looking picture perfect (to put it mildly).  I chose those traits because gardening, nature, and creative cooking are all, actually, very LA; however, when girls hear or read about LA, it’s mostly focused on shopping, celebrities, Hollywood Boulevard, and grooming and glamming (which is, of course, why I had to add the part about never bothering to brush her hair).

GRWR: Have you always wanted to be a writer or did you do something else before you decided to write Lulu in LA LA Land?

EW: I just talked to the librarian at Warner Avenue Elementary School to arrange a visit. She and I chuckled because I attended that school, but spent most of my time there daydreaming about being a writer. The problem for me, however, is that I really never knew how to be one.  So, I worked for many years in politics and government as a communications director and press secretary. Finally, one day I decided, “Hey, if I could write for politicians, I’ve got to also have the ability to write for children.” Both types of writing require clear, straightforward ideas, simple sentences, and a point of view.

GRWR: Is it hard to pick out all the different names of the characters and their hobbies or jobs?

EW: Actually, it wasn’t hard.  I read lots and spend time listening to children and grown-ups from all backgrounds and places. I store up information from conversations.  Things like names and activities or hobbies that make people happy or sad, swirl around my head all the time.

GRWR: When you were growing up, did you know any kids who felt ignored by their parents and who tried outrageous ways to get their parents’ attention like Lulu has to do to make her parents stop and take notice?

EW: Sadly, I knew lots of kids whose parents were too busy doing things to notice when their son or daughter needed more than superficial parenting.  Once I was at my friend’s house, and she suggested that I cut her hair.  I told her I didn’t really know how (I’d only given my dolls haircuts), but she said it didn’t matter. I thought she better check with her mother, who was home though we had not seen her all afternoon. My friend came back after a few minutes and said that her mother said, “fine.” I snipped per my friend’s instructions and the result was a botched bob. Needless to say, her mother had never approved the plan and the mother’s first look at her daughter’s new hair got her full attention.

GRWR: What part of the book did you enjoy writing the most? Which was the hardest part?

EW: Actually, the part I liked writing the most was when Lulu repairs her relationship with her best friend. Apologizing is difficult at any age so learning how to say you’ve done something wrong when you’re young is important. I had fun figuring out how Lulu should apologize, but not make it so heavy that fixing a mistake was something kids wouldn’t ever try.

The hardest part to write was making a mean girl turn nice. Writing about children acting unkindly to each other is difficult but necessary because it happens daily. Bullies come in all shapes and sizes. Turning a bully into a buddy took some reorganizing of plots and scenes. It also required me to think very hard about why children act in mean ways to each other.

GRWR: Did your daughter help you get a lot of the tween vernacular correct?

EW: One afternoon I was driving my daughter, Emmie, and my friend’s daughter, Amelia. I asked them for words and expressions they used at school. They hurled so many at me, I had them stop and start texting them to me asap!

There is NO way I would know the expression, “Totes Adorbes” without their help.

GRWR: Who were your favorite authors when you were a kid?

EW: My favorite writers then are still among my favorites now. I would still read any of their books. Enid Blyton. She wrote the Famous Five series. The fact that the stories took place in the wild English countryside made them even more fantastic. E.B. White. His imagination and his language made me want to be a writer.

GRWR: Which of your contemporaries is your go-to author today?

EW: Jeanne Birdsall. The Penderwicks Series. Sheryl & Carrie Berk. The Cupcake Club.

GRWR: How long did your entire writing and publishing process take from concept to finished book?

EW: At first, everything took a LONG time. I did not treat writing like my job. Once I decided to focus on this project and really work, everything went quickly. It was about a year from the time Sourcebooks wanted Lulu to the when they released it.

GRWR: What is Lulu’s next adventure?

EW: Lulu in Honolulu.  Her parents are making a movie on location and Lulu just may have to save the entire production.

GRWR: What tips can you share with kids interested in writing, but with no story idea in mind? How do they choose what to write about? Where should they look for inspiration?

EW: Deciding what to write can be so hard it keeps you from starting to write. Either you have too many ideas or none at all. If you have NO ideas for a story, come up with a feeling. Mad. Scared. Fun. Sad. Think about that feeling. Think about what causes that feeling in you or others.  Doing that, can help you come up with a story idea.

I have always had the opposite problem. I have too many ideas floating around. Always was and always will be a daydreamer.

For a long time I wanted to write a story about a girl who sells make-up in New York. Her brother is a spy and is kidnapped in India. She goes to rescue him. I could never start. I realized the problem was: I’d never been to India. I’d never lived in New York. My brothers are the most honest, open people and couldn’t spy a sleeping puppy without giggling. Oh, and when it comes to make up, I don’t know the difference between blush and eye shadow. One day, rather than linger over a story based on things I knew nothing about, I decided to write what I knew:  being a girl in LA can be tough for the Not-Fitter-Inner.

– Review and interview by Ronna Mandel

 

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Cinderelephant by Emma Dodd

Coming to bookstores this October is a really terrific retelling of a most beloved fairy tale, Cinderella, this time starring none other than the perfectly plump and pleasing pachyderm known as Cinderelephant (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic, $16.99, ages 4-8) written and illustrated by Cinderelephant by Emma DoddEmma Dodd.

Parents, it’s likely that by the time you read this to your child, he or she will have already heard this classic or watched the Disney version. That’s definitely a plus because it will allow you more time to spend pointing out all the humorous touches Dodd’s included in the colorful and cheerful illustrations. And if your youngsters are new to the tale, they’re still in for a tremendous treat.

You know the plot and to Dodd’s credit, her economy of words keeps the story fun and flowing for those of us for whom the tale is not new. Cinderelephant is bossed around by the Warty Sisters, two unattractive Wart Hogs who are “horrible, mean, and smelly,” plus they clearly lack table manners.

When an invitation to Prince Trunky’s ball arrives, young readers get their first clue as to what this Prince might look like considering the king is called King Saggy and the queen is Queen Wrinkly.  Calling her “Cinder-irrelavant,” the Warty Sisters slough off Cinderelephant’s hope of also attending the ball.

I love how Dodd features a Furry Godmouse who’ll save the day and get the gigantic gray gal to the Prince’s party. She even manages those appropriately placed superlatives and the occasional big but (you’ll see what I mean) joke with both her text and artwork.

Parents and kids will be entertained by the humor, whimsical illustrations and happy ending (pun intended) because, let’s face it, we all know one pink size 20+ shoe can only belong to one palatially-sized pachyderm!

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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Sticks and Stones

Author Christy Jordan-Fenton got the inspiration for her true stories When I Was Eight ($9.95, Annick Press, Ages 6-9) and Fatty Legs: A True Story ($12.95, Annick Press, Ages 9 and up) from her mother-in-law, Margaret Pokiak-Fenton. Both books are based upon the story of Margaret’s experience at a residential school as a child – When I Was Eight is a picture book, while Fatty Legs is a chapter book.

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The Story

Margaret is a tall, curious Inuit girl from Banks Island, situated high above the Arctic Circle. After her older sister, Rosie, returns from a year at a residential school far from home in the Inuvik Region of the Northwest Territories, Canada, Margaret begs her parents to let her attend school, too. She so desperately wants to learn to read, but Rosie warns Margaret of the cruel nuns who cut her hair and made her do chores relentlessly. Yet still, Margaret eventually talks her parents into letting her attend the school after her eighth birthday.

On her first day there, Margaret quickly learns her sister was right, as the nuns make her cut off her braids and do chores. She misses her family desperately, hates the food and wonders why she ever wanted to attend in the first place. One witch-like nun in particular, named the Raven, singles strong-willed Margaret out and makes her do more chores than the others girls and is very unfair and cruel to her. Part of the girls’ uniform requires that they wear thick stockings to keep their legs warm. But one day, the Raven passes out grey stockings to all the girls in the school except for Margaret, who is forced to wear bulky, bright red stockings. The other girls laugh and torment Margaret, calling her, “Fatty Legs.” But rather than suffer any longer, Margaret does something unusually brave to stand up for herself.

When I Was Eight

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The picture book offers younger readers a simpler, less detailed version of the story, yet depicts Margaret’s fears and challenges at the school incredibly well. I like that the book introduces different cultures and places to young readers and shares the universal theme that we all experience both as children and adults – fitting in.  It also delves deep into the importance of being able to read well. The illustrations by Gabrielle Grimard are excellent and original in style, adding great dimension to the story.

Fatty Legs

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The more I read the chapter book, the more hooked I got on the story. Without sugar-coating the truth about Margaret’s emotional abuse by the Raven, the author tells the story in a way that’s easy to understand, so real, yet not too terrifying for the targeted age of the readers. Margaret’s courage and determination to learn will make readers feel extra close to this likable protagonist and will be able to relate their own personal challenges to hers in some way.

It would be extra special to buy both of these affordable books for your child so he or she could read the picture book in early elementary school and the chapter book when a bit older. The fact that these wonderful, culturally rich books are based upon a true story make them treasures worth keeping.

– Reviewed by Debbie Glade

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