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Odd is the New Normal: Meet Cecil Castellucci

Ronna Mandel interviews Odd Duck author Cecil Castellucci. Odd Duck, published by :01 First Second Books, $15.99, ages 6-10, is illustrated by Sara Varon.

mail-3Cecil Castellucci, an L.A. author, has written everything from picture books to young adult novels. Her latest projects are Odd Duck and Letters for Kids, a bi-monthly subscription program through The Rumpus. In Odd Duck we meet Theodora and Chad, neighbor ducks who both waddle to the beat of a different drum yet actually have tons in common. Although the two become BFFs each one thinks the other is the strange one. Upon overhearing someone call one of them, odd, Theodora and Chad clash over which duck was being referred to. This winning picture book is a salute to individuality and uniqueness, a recurring theme for Castellucci.

mail-2How much of you is in Theodora?

I think all of me is in Theodora and Chad. It took a long time for me to figure out that my oddness was also what made me interesting.

Why do you think opposites Theodora and Chad attract?

I have always been a big fan of opposites. Some of my favorite friendships are the ones where we see the world in a similar way but we like radically different things. In Odd Duck, Chad and Theodora might move through the world very differently, but I think fundamentally they feel the same way about things.

Why do people shy away from what they don’t consider “normal”?

It’s hard to be odd. I’m no psychologist, but I think that we tend to gravitate toward groups to feel safer and that is what “normal” means. But I think that being odd is normal to other odd people. So I say, find your odd tribe and you will be “normal”! Because I think really there is no such thing as normal. And I think that everyone on the entire planet is a little odd about something.

Learn more about Cecil Castellucci and her other books at For info about Letters for Kids and more about Odd Duck, read the extended interview at

Find the extended interview at and remember to pick up their new May issue.

Click here for the link to my review of Castellucci’s First Day on Earth, a fantastic YA novel from 2011.

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Close Encounters Cecil Castellucci Style

A Profound Story of Pain, Alienation and Planetary Travel

YA author Cecil Castellucci has the rare ability to say so very much to so very many with so few words. In her latest novel, First Day on Earth ($17.99, Scholastic, ages 12-18), I read in amazement how she painted such a moving and complete picture in prose of Mal, the main character in just 150 pages.

The story introduces Mal Leighter, an insightful yet lonely and hurting high school student who rescues animals and has two friends. Mal’s mom is an alcoholic (he takes care of her) and his dad ditched the family years before.  While Mal feels disconnected from the other students at his school it doesn’t just stem from his troubled home life.  Not long after his father departed, Mal was abducted by aliens and wishes they would return for him. In Rocket Man Elton John sang “It’s lonely out in space,” but Mal doesn’t mind and is willing to take that risk. Anything has to be better than his pain-filled time on Earth. When he becomes friends with Hooper at his abductee support group, he thinks he’s found his ticket to ride, that is if Hooper will take him. Hooper claims to be an alien but Mal thinks the guy might just be crazy. Either way, their friendship blossoms and together they learn what home means to different people.

What sets this book apart from so many other middle grade novels is the depth of emotion conveyed so succinctly that any more words or chapters would have been superfluous. Some chapters, like #26, “I want to be taken away from here,” and #32 “Why is the hardest question in the world to answer,” consist of only one line. Simple yet powerful. The characters of Posey, Mal’s classmate whose overtures of friendship he continually rejects, her mom the vet, Dr. Manitsky and Darwyn, a tag-along whose past continues to haunt his present, drew me into the story and kept me turning the pages. I read the book in two sittings and while immensely satisfied, I really did not want the book to end. It truly was out-of-this-world and I’d encourage kids to consider this for one of their book club’s selections.

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