Gayle Rosengren (and Fiona)
About Gayle: Gayle Rosengren grew up in Chicago and majored in creative writing at Knox College. She never outgrew her passion for children’s books, and she worked in the children’s and young adult services departments of her local library for several years, enthusiastically sharing her love of books with young people. After moving to Madison, Wisconsin, she worked first in the reference library and later as a copyeditor at American Girl. She also published short stories in Cricket, Ladybug, Jack and Jill and Children’s Digest. Now Gayle writes full-time in her home outside of Madison, where she lives with her husband Don and their slightly neurotic rescue dog, Fiona. She is living her dream, she says, writing books she hopes will make the same difference in children’s lives as her favorite books made in hers. What the Moon Said is her first novel.
From Indiebound: Thanks to her superstitious mother, Esther knows some tricks for avoiding bad luck: toss salt over your left shoulder, never button your shirt crooked, and avoid black cats. But even luck can’t keep her family safe from the Great Depression. When Pa loses his job, Esther’s family leaves their comfy Chicago life behind for a farm in Wisconsin.
Living on a farm comes with lots of hard work, but that means there are plenty of opportunities for Esther to show her mother how helpful she can be. She loves all of the farm animals (except the mean geese) and even better makes a fast friend in lively Bethany. But then Ma sees a sign that Esther just knows is wrong. If believing a superstition makes you miserable, how can that be good luck? Debut author Gayle Rosengren brings the past to life in this extraordinary, hopeful story.
What the Moon Said is a Junior Library Guild Selection.
Here is what the reviewers had to say:
“Rosengren, in her first novel, offers an intimate account of a family’s adjustment to country life and the hardships of the Great Depression. It’s easy to root for Esther, who makes the most of each day, wants little, and gives much.” Publishers Weekly
“A coming-of-age tale gets to the heart of family dynamics in the face of drastic life changes in the earliest days of the Depression.” Booklist
“…the story triumphs in its small vignettes…” School Library Journal
“… Sensitive and tender.” Kirkus
What kind of research did you do about depression-era Chicago and Wisconsin? What was the hardest part?
I had heard a lot of stories about my mother’s life on the farm while I was growing up, but it was all in very broad strokes. I needed to fill in lots of details, about life on a farm and especially about farm and city life during the Great Depression. I first reached out to my mother and she was able to provide a few really nice details, but for the most part her memories were cloudy and unreliable. So I moved on to books for a general sense of the times, and then I went to my computer to research more nitty-gritty details online. The hardest part was not taking anything for granted. For example, I originally planned to have the two teachers at Esther’s school distribute candy canes on the last day of school before Christmas. I suddenly wondered if they would have been wrapped in cellophane at the time, or if perhaps the teachers would have wrapped them in waxed paper. Asking my mother led to a vague, “They must have been…it wouldn’t have been sanitary if they weren’t.” Unconvinced, I went to my laptop to research candy canes only to discover they weren’t even available to the public until the 1950’s! Who knew? So a quick change from candy canes to gingerbread men was immediately made to the manuscript. I was incredibly relieved I’d caught the error before it made it into print. All my careful research was nearly undermined by a candy cane! But this taught me a lesson about research that I won’t soon forget: Never assume!
Esther’s mother seems to have a superstition for every possible situation. Do you have any superstitions of your own?
My grandmother lived with us from the time I was eight years old, so she instilled in me the same superstitions that “Ma” drummed into Esther. Even as a child I had my doubts about the connections between my actions and good or bad luck, but there was no getting around the required actions: you spill salt, you toss it over your shoulder; you never tell a bad dream before breakfast or –eek!–it will come true; you never put a hat on a bed or someone is going to die(!); and, of course, you never EVER bring an open umbrella inside the house. There were lots more, but you get the idea. To this day, I won’t bring an umbrella inside the house until it’s closed, even if I get wet in the process of closing it outside. It’s silly, and intellectually I know this but even though I don’t really believe in them, I “honor” them rather than tempting fate. (Which I guess sort of undoes my denial of belief!) In terms of my own superstitions, I do have a few. The most significant one is that I always wear my mother’s ring when I do an event about What the Moon Said. Although my mom knew I had written a book inspired by her childhood and had even read an early draft, she passed away before it was accepted for publication. Wearing her ring makes me feel as if she’s with me, seeing how well her story is being received and how many readers have fallen in love with the character of Esther. She’d be so happy to know that.
If there was one single thing that you wanted readers to get from What the Moon Said, what would it be?
That you should follow your heart–trust it to guide you when you must make difficult decisions, as Esther did in the book.
Why do you write middle-grade?
I write middle grade because I think it’s the most fertile ground for planting and nurturing a love of books. So much is new to middle grade readers. They’re wide open to all kinds of stories–fiction, non-fiction, biographies, fairy tales, historical fiction, contemporary, mysteries, suspense, silliness. This time in their lives is when the vast majority of them will discover the joy and excitement of entering the world of a book and be started down the path to being life-long readers. I love being a part of that very important adventure and discovery.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to write middle-grade fiction?
As with writing for any genre, but especially writing for children and young adults, the first step is always to read, read, read what has been published in recent years. Especially read the award winners and the books on recommended reading lists at libraries. The children’s publishing market is evolving nearly as quickly as everything else. Read to get a sense of what is out there already and to get some sense of the terrain. Then forget about what you read and write your own story–not with the thought of making a fortune or a getting a movie deal. Just with the hope that it will resonate with young readers. Write from your heart with no other goal than to touch theirs.
Gayle is giving away a signed copy of What the Moon Said. Enter here: a Rafflecopter giveaway