I am thrilled to welcome beloved children’s book author Patricia Reilly Giff to the Mixed-Up Files! She is the best-selling author of many children’s books, including the Newbery Honor winning books, PICTURES OF HOLLIS WOODS and LILY’S CROSSING. Her most recent books are the middle-grade, STORYTELLER, and a new series, THE ZIGZAG KIDS.
STORYTELLER summary from IndieBound: While staying with her aunt, Elizabeth finds something remarkable: a drawing. It hangs on the wall, a portrait of her ancestor, Eliza, known as Zee. She looks like Elizabeth.
The girls’ lives intertwine as Elizabeth’s present-day story alternates with Zee’s, which takes place during the American Revolution. Zee is dreamy, and hopeful for the future—until the Revolution tears apart her family and her community in upstate New York. Left on her own, she struggles to survive and to follow her father and brother into battle.
Zee’s story has been waiting to be rediscovered by the right person. As Elizabeth learns about Zee, and walks where Zee once walked and battles raged, the past becomes as vivid and real as the present.
What’s special about middle-grade books?
Middle-grade is particularly special because it’s the beginning of kids reading more complex, more complicated plots. As a writer, I love to explore and unravel a problem for my character.
How has children’s publishing changed since you first began writing? (First published in 1979-FOURTH GRADE CELEBRITY)
When I first began to write, there were fewer books on the market. THE KIDS OF THE POLK STREET SCHOOL was the first series for that age. It started that genre [chapter book]. The market has expanded quite a bit.
A peek into my point of view as a writer: When I began to write, I had a typewriter. I had to submit an original and two copies. I had to buy Wite-Out. You couldn’t cross out more than three times on a page. There were two pages of carbon paper, which smudged. [laughs] The meticulousness of it all.
How have middle-grade books changed since you were first published?
Middle-grade has become more sophisticated. If you compare the world of the ’50s with the 21st century, the world was simpler. Life revolved more around the neighborhood. Compare RAMONA THE PEST to some current day titles. Today’s books are much more adult in a way, now anything goes—alcohol, drug, parent issues—less openly than in young adult, but it’s there. A wonderful book, THE NINTH WARD by Jewell Parker Rhodes, about Hurricane Katrina has a child that sees her dead mother’s ghost. I don’t think you would have seen that in middle-grade before.
How much should authors do for book promotion?
I see some young writers do so much. When I began, I did nothing. Now I do talks, though that is not generated by me. The first, important thing is the review from places like School Library Journal, Kirkus, and Booklist. That’s what sells it to librarians and schools. I think publishers do more than they’re given credit for, in terms of sending out ARCs and trying to get your book sold.
All of my grandchildren, ages 6 to 23, live within 8 miles of me. I’m very lucky that way. Also, I speak to kids all over the country. And I get so much mail from kids. They tell me what they like and don’t like in my books.
What advice would you give to an aspiring middle-grade writer?
My husband likes to tell the story about an aspiring writer who came into our bookstore [The Dinosaur’s Paw] saying she wanted to write, but didn’t have the time. He told her: when Pat started writing she had three kids, she worked as a full-time teacher, and I worked long hours away from home, but she did it. If she could find the time, you can.
Write every day, no matter what. You can’t let it go. Even if it’s just 20 minutes a day. That’s what I’ve done for the last 30 years.
Karen B. Schwartz is working on her latest middle-grade novel, JAKE GLICK STANDS ALONE, about a shy seventh-grade boy who discovers that his girl best friend is growing up and leaving him behind.