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A Review + Interview – Karol Silverstein Interviews Author Elaine Dimopoulos

AN INTERVIEW WITH

MIDDLE-GRADE AUTHOR ELAINE DIMOPOULOS

BY KAROL SILVERSTEIN

 

The Remarkable Rescue at Milkweed Meadow (Book #1)

Written by Elaine Dimopoulos

Illustrated by Doug Salati

(May 16, 2023, Charlesbridge, Ages 8-11)

 

The Remarkable Rescue at Milkweed Meadow cover bunnies fleeing.

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The Perilous Performance at Milkweed Meadow (Book #2)

Written by Elaine Dimopoulos,

Illustrated by Doug Salati

(May 21, 2024, Charlesbridge, Ages 8-11)

 

The Perilous Performance at Milkweed Meadow cover rabbit chased by birds.

 

 

INTRO + REVIEWS:

I came to these wonderful books a little backwards—that is, I read book 2 first! The good news is you do not need to have read the first book to thoroughly enjoy the second. The even better news is that both books are equally enchanting!

 

The Remarkable Rescue at Milkweed Meadow int1 Rabbits in Root Room.
Interior art from The Remarkable Rescue at Milkweed Meadow written by Elaine Dimopoulos and illustrated by Doug Salati, Charlesbridge ©2023.

In The Remarkable Rescue at Milkweed Meadow, we’re introduced to expert storyteller Butternut. Storytelling is a way of life for her colony of rabbits, led by the wise Grandmother Sage. Along with storytelling techniques, Butternut and her many siblings are taught to stick to their own kind and avoid unnecessary danger.

The Remarkable Rescue at Milkweed Meadow int2 Fierce Owl Flying
Interior art from The Remarkable Rescue at Milkweed Meadow written by Elaine Dimopoulos and illustrated by Doug Salati, Charlesbridge ©2023.

All that changes when Butternut befriends a joyful robin named Piper. Her new first and best friend believes that all creatures have good in them and crave one another’s company. Butternut’s anxieties—which she calls her “brambles”—spin into overdrive when Piper suggests they befriend a wounded faun, but the more she pushes past her fears, the more confident she becomes. When the need for the titular remarkable rescue arrives, Butternut must convince her family to be as brave as she’s become to help save a litter of coyote pups. The experience changes life in the meadow for the better.
 Starred reviews – Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly

 

The Perilous Performance at Milkweed Meadow welcomes back Butternut and all her meadow friends. But exciting new creatures, a traveling theater troupe of wild turkeys, enter stage right. The talented turkey thespians are marvelous storytellers, which makes Butternut a bit jealous. When the troupe enlists the meadow dwellers to put on a fabulous play, Butternut’s brambles tell her that something’s not quite right with these grandiose gobblers. She senses her friends and family are in danger but struggles to figure out what, exactly, the wild turkeys are up to and how thwart their plans.   Starred review – Kirkus Reviews

 

The first-person storyteller style employed by author Dimopoulos for both books is pitch-perfect, as are Salati’s delicate illustrations. Butternut herself spins her tales with dramatic precision, utilizing tension, foreshadowing, plot twists, and character building as any great writer would. And though the books’ characters are animals, their emotions and motivations are very relatable to human listeners. In particular, Butternut’s “brambles”—which sometimes are overwrought and hold her back and sometimes grant her heightened and accurate insights—are a wonderful metaphor for young readers who are learning to navigate and interpret their own inner thoughts.

INTERVIEW:

I asked Elaine Dimopoulos to tell me a little more about the creation of this delightful duology. Here’s what she had to say:

Karol Silverstein: The tradition of storytelling, begun by Butternut’s Grandmother Sage, is a way of life for the rabbits of Milkweed Meadow. Why rabbits and why storytelling?

Elaine Dimopoulos: In 2017 I moved to a suburban home near a meadow and saw rabbits frolicking on our lawn every morning and evening. They delighted me and my family. I decided to write about a young rabbit who lives on the border of a lawn and a meadow and who grows curious about the human family in the house although her elders have told her to stick to her own kind. The emphasis on storytelling came from my many years teaching writing. I had been rolling craft concepts around in my head for so long—conflict, tension, voice, character growth—and wanted to create a narrator who was an expert storyteller and who commented metafictively on the story as she was telling it. I had a lot of fun creating Butternut’s narrative voice.

 

The Perilous Performance at Milkweed Meadow int1 Butternut and Piper.
Interior art from The Perilous Performance at Milkweed Meadow written by Elaine Dimopoulos and illustrated by Doug Salati, Charlesbridge ©2024.

 

KS: Butternut’s “brambles”—which readers will likely recognize as similar to their own worries and anxieties—are an important part of her character. Was her anxiety a characteristic you set out to explore from the beginning or did it develop as she revealed herself to you?

ED: I knew Butternut would have anxiety from the very beginning. I’d noticed an increase in anxiety in the students I taught and began to think about how many children out there were having anxious thoughts these days. I wanted to create a character they might see themselves in, who learns to manage her anxiety, act bravely, and live a full life.

 

KS: In the second book, a traveling theater troupe of wild turkeys comes to the meadow, and the Gobblers entrance the inhabitants with their theatricality. Why wild turkey and why theater?

ED: In addition to rabbits, I have gorgeous wild turkeys on my lawn! The Perilous Performance at Milkweed Meadow is a sequel, and I really wanted to get turkeys into the first novel, but there wasn’t room. I’m so thankful I got the chance to include them in Book 2. Here’s a photo I snapped. They’re such divas!

 

Wild Turkeys in yard of Elaine Dimopoulos

 

 

As for theater, I acted through middle school, high school, and college. I love performing and knew I could write about it with expertise. I also loved the idea of the meadow creatures putting on a midsummer show.

 

KS: Redemption—and characters who change and/or turn out to be different than they first seem—is featured in both books. Why is it important to explore this theme in kids’ books?

ED: It seems to me these days that we are quicker than ever to criticize and slow to forgive. We all make mistakes, adults as well as children. If we change our mind about something and apologize, we should be able to earn forgiveness. This is an important part of human connection. We ought not to lose the ability to extend kindness to each other and to turn the page on the past.

The Perilous Performance at Milkweed Meadow int2 Turkeys and Piper.
Interior art from The Perilous Performance at Milkweed Meadow written by Elaine Dimopoulos and illustrated by Doug Salati, Charlesbridge ©2024.

 

KS: Was there always going to be a second book (or more)? If so, how much of the plot for The Perilous Performance at Milkweed Meadow did you have set in place before publishing the first book? If not, how did you and Charlesbrige decide to continue Butternut’s story, and what sort of decision-making went into creating the storyline of The Perilous Performance at Milkweed Meadow?

ED: I wrote the first novel wishing that I could continue the story of these characters. Nothing was guaranteed, however, so I didn’t focus on setting anything up for book 2. The sequel was happily greenlighted before the first book came out, so I was able to influence, of all things, the map endpapers. I figured out that there would need to be a little clearing in the oak forest where the performance in the second novel would take place and also a swing set clubhouse where Butternut and the little female human from the house would meet. Doug Salati was kind enough to add these elements to the endpapers of book 1 so there would be continuity.

I knew I wanted to include a theatrical troupe of turkeys in the sequel, but I was struggling with Butternut’s central conflict. My editor, Julie Bliven, helped me see that Butternut ends the first novel confident in her storytelling abilities, so it would be interesting if this confidence was shattered when a new art form entered the picture. I ran with this idea!

I hope to write even more stories set in Milkweed Meadow. The first two books are set, respectively, in spring and summer, so I’d love to complete a seasonal quartet and write an autumn and a winter book. We’ll see!

 

Huge thanks to Karol and Elaine for this informative interview!  – Ronna

 

BUY THE BOOK:

Belmont Books (signed & personalized): https://www.belmontbooks.com/book/9781623544270

Bookshop.org: The Perilous Performance at Milkweed Meadow a book by Elaine Dimopoulos and Doug Salati (bookshop.org)

Publisher’s Page: The Perilous Performance at Milkweed Meadow – Charlesbridge

 

Elaine Dimopoulos Headshot Photo Credit Ars Magna Studio
Elaine Dimopoulos Photo Credit: Ars Magna Studio

AUTHOR BIO:

Elaine Dimopoulos is the author of several novels for children, including the critically acclaimed Milkweed Meadow series, Turn the Tide, winner of the Green Earth Book Award in Children’s Fiction, and the young adult fast-fashion dystopia, Material Girls. Elaine served as the Associates of the Boston Public Library Writer-in-Residence and has taught writing at Simmons University and GrubStreet. She lives in Massachusetts. She lives in Massachusetts with her spouse, two children, and a Balinese cat named Plato. www.elainedimopoulos.com

 

 

 

SOCIAL MEDIA:

• Author Elaine Dimopoulos

https://twitter.com/ElaineDimop

https://www.instagram.com/elaine_dimopoulos/

• Illustrator Doug Salati

https://dougsalati.com/

Doug Salati Photo Credit: Erin V Carr

ILLUSTRATOR BIO:

Doug Salati is the creator of the picture book Hot Dog, recipient of the Randolph Caldecott Medal and Ezra Jack Keats Award. His first book was In a Small Kingdom by Tomie dePaola, and his second, Lawrence in the Fall by his partner, Matthew Farina, was an Ezra Jack Keats Illustrator Award Honoree, a Society of Illustrators Original Art Show selection and Junior Library Guild Gold Standard selection. Doug lives and works in New York City.

 

 

 

INTERVIEWER BIO:

Karol Ruth Silverstein (she/her/disabled) is an award-winning children’s book author and longtime SCBWI member. Her debut young adult novel, Cursed (Charlesbridge Teen, 2019), was loosely drawn from her experience of being diagnosed with juvenile arthritis at thirteen and won the Schneider Family Book Award in 2020. Originally from Philadelphia, Karol now lives in West Hollywood, California, with two unmanageably fluffy cats. Find her online at
Author Karol Ruth Silverstein.

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Mr. and Mrs. Bunny – Detectives Extraordinaire! by Polly Horvath

Hopping Good Fun! Mr. and Mrs. Bunny – Detectives Extraordinaire! by Mrs. Bunny (Schwartz & Wade, trade paperback, $8.99, Ages 8-12), Translated from the Rabbit by Polly Horvath, illustrated by Sophie Blackall and reviewed by Hilary Taber.

Madeline has had a very rough time lately. Her hippie parents have been kidnapped! The only lead Madeline has is a note left on the refrigerator written in code. She’s also been the witness of a most amazing thing. She thinks she saw a car full of foxes, with a fox for a driver, leaving her small hometown around the time that her parents went missing. With only these leads to go on, Madeline meets Mr. and Mrs. Bunny who are just as astonished as Madeline to learn that she can understand Rabbit. Madeline, amazingly enough, understands every word Mr. and Mrs. Bunny say!

Bunny-Detectives-cover.jpg
Mr. and Mrs. Bunny – Detectives Extraordinaire! By Mrs. Bunny. Translated from the Rabbit by Polly Horvath with illustrations by Sophie Blackall, Schwartz & Wade.

The story takes many amusing detours, and Madeline learns something wonderful about her parents. For all their annoying candle making, jewelry making, and general hippie ways, she loves them dearly. Madeline misses her parents so much that she is willing to trust two sometimes muddled, always adorable (and even occasionally correct) fedora-wearing rabbits in order to get them back.

Mr. and Mrs. Bunny have their own story, of course, as to why they are interested in solving crimes. One day Mrs. Bunny said to Mr. Bunny, “I think we should be detectives!” Mr. Bunny, she firmly believes, should give up his job, they should immediately go buy fedoras, and therefore be detectives. Mr. Bunny does bring up a sore point though, which is that they have no license to prove that they are, in fact, detectives. To that bit of logic Mrs. Bunny replies, “I think fedoras are enough. Anyone who sees a bunny in a fedora will not feel the need to see a license.”

At this point in the story I was more than amused. I was laughing and reading parts of it aloud to my family. Although it is extremely funny, this book delves down deeper. It seeks to answer the eternal question, “Why do I put up with my crazy family? Why do I love them so much that I would do anything for them?” while adding detective bunnies on the side. You just can’t ask much more than that from a book. There is a sequel out now titled Mr. and Mrs. Bunny-Almost Royalty, which I am looking forward to reading very much! Well done, Polly Horvath!

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Lord and Lady Bunny – Almost Royalty! By Mr. & Mrs. Bunny. Translated from the Rabbit by Polly Horvath, Schwartz & Wade, 2014.

This book would unquestionably make an adorable gift to fans of Mr. Roald Dahl’s or even Mr. Lemony Snicket’s books. Horvath is just as clever, but infinitely sweeter. Additionally, her characters are just as much fun. Mr. and Mrs. Bunny-Detectives Extraordinaire! won a Parent’s Choice Gold Award, and got starred reviews from The Horn Book Review, Booklist, and Publisher’s Weekly. As if that were not enough, there is a bonus to these books because Mrs. Bunny has her very own blog! It’s not a mystery why your children should be reading these books now, is it? No, it’s more a mystery why we aren’t all reading these books because they are so much fun! Case closed!

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