Joining us on The Mixed-up Files today is author Trudi Trueit who has been on the road all week visiting blogs in support of her new tween novel Stealing Popular. Trudi is the author of more than 80 books of fiction and nonfiction for children, including the Julep O’Toole books and the Secrets of a Lab Rat series. To be in the running to win a signed advanced reader’s copy of Stealing Popular, leave a comment below. The winner will be announced tomorrow. Before we begin, though, a bit about the book from Indiebound:
At Briar Green Middle School, you are either a Somebody, a Sorta-body, or a Nobody. Twelve-year-old Coco Sherwood falls directly in the Nobody category—the kids who are considered the misfits and outcasts of the school. It’s not fair. It’s not right. And it’s time to even the score.
With clever planning and sneaky tactics, Coco becomes the Robin Hood of Briar Green. Girls who never thought they had a chance to be noticed are now making cheer squad and turning into beauty queens. But when Coco takes on the ultimate challenge—taking down Popular Girl#1 Dijon Randle—her dream of equality on the middle-school social ladder may turn into a nightmare. Can Coco and the rest of the Nobodies triumph in a world where popularity is power? Or will the Somebodies win—again?
Welcome to the Mixed-up Files, Trudi, and congratulations on the release of your new book.
Thanks, Laurie! It’s a treat to be here. I’m a big fan of the blog.
Thanks! I wish I’d had a friend like Coco Sherwood when I was in middle school. Actually—correction—I wish I’d been more like Coco when I was in middle school. Can you tell us what inspired her story?
Me, too! I was inspired to write this story by my own experience in middle school. When I was young, I was bit on the shy side. I often conformed to the social rules set by others, even when I disagreed with them. It’s something I’ve regretted – giving other people so much control over my path, and that’s what it was. It was me giving my power away. I wanted to write a character with the courage to say many of the things I wished I had said back then. I tend to do that in my writing; deal with issues I didn’t handle well in my own life or try to right the wrongs of the world.
One of my favorite lines comes from Chapter 2. Coco reflects, “We were three Nobodies treading water in the vast, stormy ocean of middle school. The best we could do was hold onto one another, kick like mad, and pray for a miracle.” What was your experience of middle school like? Do you think the social hierarchy has changed much?
That line reflects how I felt in middle school – swept along with the tide. I was the A-student (with glasses and uncooperative hair) that always had her head in a book. Although I wasn’t quite as much of a misfit as Renata is in Stealing Popular, I certainly felt the sting of the occasional insult. Kids have a tendency to take digs at each other and not think anything of it, but I can tell you that when someone makes a cutting remark to you, it hurts. You remember it for a long time. If the insults continue, they can start to chip away at your confidence and self-esteem. It was my friends who helped me navigate some of those stormy seas, just as Coco’s first real friends help her discover how friendships can be the life saver you hold onto when the waves come.
From what I observe, it doesn’t seem like the social hierarchy has changed much. I think that there will always be Somebodies, Sorta-bodies, and Nobodies. But I do see more kids willing to cross boundaries and reach out to kids outside their circle, and that’s a positive step. I also think young people are becoming more aware that there are different degrees of bullying. Bullying doesn’t have to be extreme. What might seem to be “just teasing” can cause more pain than you realize.
Coco’s not a whiner. Once she recognizes the unfairness of the social order she’s determined to change it. In fact, she’s so focused on helping her friends she doesn’t even notice that she’s fixing her own problems as well. What a cool role model for girls! Were you thinking along those lines as you wrote the story – or was all of that Coco’s doing?
It was always in the big picture to have Coco work through some of her own issues even as she help other kids, but of course, once you start writing a strong character, she wants to hop in the driver’s seat and take off! Just like all of us, Coco wants to be accepted and loved for who she is and I had planned for her to come that realization as she develops the first real friendships of her life. What I was less sure about was how she would handle her mom’s abandonment. Once Coco came through the fog of denial, I gave her the freedom to respond in her own way. And she stunned me with her candor. I thought she would defend her mother to the bitter end, but she didn’t. That’s always my favorite part of writing – those little unexpected surprises that come straight from the heart of a character.
As funny as the story is — a detention monitor who forces kids to knit booties for her bulldogs! — Stealing Popular takes on some serious issues, including a scene where we see how adults help perpetuate the social order. My 8th grade daughter hadn’t given much thought to popularity or most-favored status until she tried out for her first sports team this year, and it’s been eye opening. What do you think teachers and coaches can do to help both the Coco’s (the Nobodies) and the Dijon’s (the Somebodies) of the world?
When I was in middle school, I had a soccer coach that had certain favorite players. There was a clear division on the team. Even though we were talented and won nearly all of our games, nobody was very happy, even the favored kids. I got so frustrated I nearly quit a sport I loved. A year later, another parent took over the team. Her style was completely the opposite of the old coach. She made each of us feel as if we were an integral part of the team. No one player was more or less valuable than another. We began to look at each other differently. With the wall torn down, we started, for the first time ever, to play cohesively. We had fun. Most important, we became friends.
I think it’s key for adults to recognize that a student’s personal growth is more important than winning a soccer game or looking like a model in a cheerleading uniform. Every child deserves encouragement, respect, and kindness, regardless of their ability, appearance, or social standing. Teachers and coaches who are inclusive, those who draw out the shy kid in the back of the room or let an uncoordinated girl play basketball, can change lives.
Coco’s heart is in the right place, but her means can be questionable…or downright stinky as a half-composted sweat sock. (Sorry guys, you’ll just have to read the story to get the joke.) Stealing Popular would make a great conversation starter about whether the ends justify the means. Have you been able to have that discussion with any of your readers yet?
I’ve had a few readers already share their thoughts, especially because Coco does get a bit carried away with her mission. And that’s an important element to discuss. Coco thinks that as long as her mission is a noble one, it’s okay to cross certain lines. It isn’t, of course, and she discovers the dangers of getting so focused on a goal you don’t realize the high price you are paying to achieve it.
I think a lot of girls are going to fall in love with Coco. Have we heard the last from her or will there be more stories from Briar Green Middle School – a.k.a. Big Mess?
I would LOVE to write more stories about Coco and her friends. It would be fun to write from the point of view of Fawn (the fashion designer), Adair (the dancer), Liezel (the rock musician) or maybe even the popular girls, Dijon or Venice! If readers want more and ask for more, I would definitely be up for it.
Sounds great, Trudi. Thanks again for stopping by.
Thanks, Laurie! It was my pleasure.
* * *
For more about Trudi Trueit, visit her at www.truditrueit.com. Trudi is available for Skype visits through OnlineAuthorVisits.com and is a regular contributor to Smack Dab in the Middle, another group-authored middle-grade blog that Mixed-up Files fans should check out.
Laurie Schneider is a reader, writer, library go-fer, and scone connoisseur in North Idaho.