Author Archives: Katharine Manning

Interview with Caroline Starr Rose

Today we welcome to the blog Caroline Starr Rose, whose rollicking adventure story, Jasper and the Riddle of Riley’s Mine, comes out tomorrow!

Desperate to get away from their drunkard of a father, eleven-year-old Jasper and his older brother Melvin often talk of running away, of heading north to Alaska to chase riches beyond their wildest dreams. The Klondike Gold Rush is calling, and Melvin has finally decided the time to go is now—even if that means leaving Jasper behind. But Jasper has other plans and follows his brother aboard a steamer as a stowaway.

Onboard the ship, Jasper hears a rumor about One-Eyed Riley, an old coot who’s long since gone, but is said to have left clues to the location of his stake, which still has plenty of gold left. The first person to unravel the clues and find the mine can stake the claim and become filthy rich. Jasper is quick to catch gold fever and knows he and Melvin can find the mine—all they have to do is survive the rough Alaskan terrain, along with the steep competition from the unscrupulous and dangerous people they encounter along the way.

In an endearing, funny, pitch-perfect middle grade voice, Caroline Starr Rose tells another stellar historical adventure young readers will long remember.

Why do you write historical fiction? Why do you think kids like to read it?

I always enjoyed history in school, but never felt particularly smart when it came to “knowing” history. There was just too much to master. Historical fiction was my true entry point into understanding the past. It went deeper and wider than a handful of paragraphs in a textbook and made history come alive for me. I’d like to think it does the same for young readers today!

I had never heard of the Klondike gold rush before reading this book. How did you first learn of it, and where did you go to research it?

I didn’t know much about it myself, honestly. When I was researching frontier women for my novel, May B., my mom loaned me a book called Women of the Klondike. My interest was piqued. News that gold had been discovered in this far-off corner of Canada inspired 100,000 people from around the world to try and make the treacherous journey to the goldfields. Somehow, my only school memory connected to this piece of history was Jack London’s short story, “To Build a Fire.”

I start all my historical research by checking out children’s non-fiction on a particular subject. These books provide a quick overview and often point me to more detailed reads through their bibliographies. Jasper represents the very first time I’ve visited a place connected with my fiction. My husband and I took an Alaskan cruise during the summer of 2015. My only request was that we stop in Skagway, a town which is featured in the story. We were able to take a tour around town led by a Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park ranger. Talk about a meaningful moment!

How cool! What are some fun stories or facts you found in your research that you weren’t able to include?

Oh, man. There were so many. I included a good number of real Klondike nicknames in the book, but I collected a whole lot more: Snake Hips Lulu, Limejuice Lil, Billy the Horse, Hamgrease Jimmy, and the Evaporated Kid, who was “so small he looked like a bottle with hips.” Cannibal was the nickname of a man who ate raw moose meat. Old Maiden carried fifty pounds of old newspapers with him because “they were handy to refer to when you get into an argument.”

Swiftwater Bill Gates was so rich he occasionally bathed in wine and presented a dance hall girl with her weight in gold. It’s also been said Swiftwater Bill had only one shirt and had to go to bed while it was being washed. (I’m sure Jasper would have had an opinion on that!)

Those names are fantastic! There are a few scary scenes in this book, and I’m sure in your research you uncovered some tales of violence. How did you decide what was appropriate to include in a middle grade novel?

I can say I wanted to be truthful to Jasper’s experience while also being aware of my audience — what I felt would be appropriate. I know at one point my editor asked me how “dark” I wanted to go, that it would shape the tone of the story, but that I needed to go deeper, whatever direction I chose. My intention was to be truthful but to use a light touch and to always, always end with hope. I hope I’ve accomplished that.

You have written two beautiful novels in verse, Blue Birds and May B., and a poetic picture book, Over in the Wetlands. Jasper is a rollicking, voice-driven prose story. Why did you choose to tell this story in this way?  

I’ve kindly heard people describe my books as beautiful (thank you, by the way!), though this made me chuckle while writing Jasper. This book is decidedly not pretty, but homespun. While the specifics of the story were murky and changed over many drafts, Jasper’s voice was loud and clear. He’s based on Huckleberry Finn, so I knew I wanted to reflect Huck’s colloquial speech, his sharp observations, sweet gullibility, and tendency to speak his mind.

I knew from the beginning verse wasn’t the right fit. The book also wasn’t meant to be epistolary, as I first thought it would be. Jasper didn’t go in much for schooling, so having him write long letters to communicate the story just didn’t feel right. A traditional prose structure felt best.

How was writing this book different from writing your previous books? And how the same?

There are so many ways I could answer this! I’ll keep it simple by saying writing prose was like learning a new language, one I didn’t know very well. Scenes in prose have limitless space. I felt a little at loose ends until my editor reminded me not to rush through the story but to stay present in each moment so the reader could do the same. There was a steep learning curve with this one, and I’m so grateful for the way my editor helped direct my work.

Similarities would be my desire to make the past feel relevant, real, and interesting and to create everyday characters who are nevertheless brave. And full of heart. I love heart.

Did you have a general writing routine for this book?

My general routine for Jasper could be summed up as “write and destroy.” No writing is efficient, and this is the least efficient book I’ve ever written. I tossed two-thirds of it twice and added fifty pages right at the end. Unfortunately, my writing process seems to include understanding the story in the eleventh hour of the eleventh hour. This doesn’t make for easy work, but if I can remember I will connect the dots at the end, it keeps me believing it’s possible!

The voice here, with that striking dialect, is so strong. How did you maintain that?

All I can say is Jasper’s voice was my guiding light. I’m thankful that wasn’t subject to change as the story grew and shifted. Sure, I shaped specifics along the way — making rules for his grammar, picking certain Jasper-y expressions to use throughout, borrowing a Huck Finn word or two as a nod to Jasper’s inspiration (“disremember” is my favorite) — but his voice remained largely the same. It’s easy to slip into, like a worn, warm coat.

The relationship between Jasper and his brother Melvin is central to this story and drives much of the action. What made you want to focus on a sibling relationship? Are there sibling stories that you have enjoyed or that influenced you?

My boys, plain and simple. My husband and I are the babies in our families by a lot. I’ve always described myself as a semi-only child. So it has always been special to watch our boys, who are two years apart, interact with each other. Even when they’re annoyed, it doesn’t last long. They’re a team. They’re friends. They’re brothers. It’s a beautiful thing.

Honestly, I can’t think of any sibling books off the top of my head outside of Ramona and Beezus. In one sense, I had to pave my own way. I wanted devotion and commitment to be key to Mel and Jasper’s relationship and wanted these to remain strong, despite the conflict that comes with being siblings. Mel, as the older brother, has a deep sense of obligation for Jasper’s safety. Jasper wants to prove himself to his brother, first as someone deserving to travel to the goldfields but finally as faithful to his word. The Johnson boys are pretty great, if I do say so myself!

We agree! Thanks so much for sharing your story with us, Caroline!

Caroline Starr Rose is an award-winning middle grade and picture book author whose books have been ALA-ALSC Notable,* Junior Library Guild, ABA New Voices,** Kids’ Indie Next, Amazon’s Best Books of the Month for Kids, and Bank Street College of Education Best Books selections. In addition, her books have been nominated for almost two dozen state awards lists. In 2012 Caroline was named a Publishers Weekly Flying Start Author for her debut novel, May B. She spent her childhood in the deserts of Saudi Arabia and New Mexico and taught social studies and English in four different states. Caroline now lives with her husband and two sons in New Mexico.

*American Library Association – Association for Library Service to Children
**American Booksellers Association

Katharine Manning will henceforth be known as “Snake Hips Lulu.” She blogs here and at The Winged Pen, and is a 2016 Cybils judge for Poetry and Novels in Verse. You can find her online at www.katharinemanning.com, on Twitter, and on Instagram. Her middle grade book reviews are at Kid Book List.

On the Road? Find a Bookstore

Having recently made a voyage to Ann Patchett’s Parnassus Books, I was tickled to see this week’s New York Times article, Ann Patchett’s Guide for Bookstore Pilgrims. Patchett is one of my favorite authors, and I had been dying to see her famous bookstore. I reveled in the light and airy feel, the healthy children’s book section, and the entire wall of signed copies of her new book, COMMONWEALTH. I came home with a few goodies.

My trip wasn’t a pilgrimage per se. I was visiting Nashville anyway, and made a stop in to the store. That’s one of my favorite things to do when traveling. There’s nothing like a good independent bookstore to get a feel for the unique personality of a town (the cookbook section and community message boards are particularly good for this). Wandering through a well-curated bookstore is also the perfect antidote for the disorientation of travel. I come out calm and refreshed, my bag filled with thought-provoking entertainment for the trip and gifts for those back home. And no matter where I am, I always find my people in a bookstore.

In the past year, I’ve discovered The Galaxy Bookshop in Hartwick, Vermont, and Sherman’s Books & Stationery in Portland, Maine. In Chicago, I found Andersonville’s Women and Children First, and in Baltimore, The Ivy Bookshop.

Patchett’s article has inspired me. I’m putting on my bucket list a trip to an independent bookstore in every state. Our Indie Spotlights are a great place to start. I’ll check in from time to time on my progress. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your stories of stumbled-upon or sought-out bookstores. I’ve got trips planned to Providence, Rhode Island; Philadelphia; and maybe Anchorage. Any recommendations?

Katharine Manning is a middle grade writer who is eager to visit your local bookstore. Until then, you can find her at www.katharinemanning.com, on Twitter, and on Instagram, where she posts lots of pictures of books and bookstores. Also cats. 

Middle Grade Farm Stories

I recently read Rebecca Petruck’s excellent STEERING TOWARD NORMAL, the story of a boy raising a prize steer for the state fair. Not long afterward, I went to my local county fair, where I fell in love with these beauties:

chicken-4 chicken-3 chicken-2

It’s possible I became briefly chicken-obsessed.

All of this got me thinking about the way that farm stories are so perfect for kids—the combination of hard work, a beautiful setting, and animals (with all the comic opportunities they provide), as well as the chance to explore big issues like life and death, as in CHARLOTTE’S WEB. I decided to go looking for more middle grade farm stories. Here is what I found. (All descriptions and images are from IndieBound, which is also linked.)

moo

MOO by Sharon Creech

Fans of Newbery Medal winner Sharon Creech’s Love That Dog and Hate That Cat will love her newest tween novel, Moo. This uplifting tale reminds us that if we’re open to new experiences, life is full of surprises. Following one family’s momentous move from the city to rural Maine, an unexpected bond develops between twelve-year-old Reena and one very ornery cow.

When Reena, her little brother, Luke, and their parents first move to Maine, Reena doesn t know what to expect. She’s ready for beaches, blueberries, and all the lobster she can eat. Instead, her parents volunteer Reena and Luke to work for an eccentric neighbor named Mrs. Falala, who has a pig named Paulie, a cat named China, a snake named Edna and that stubborn cow, Zora.

This heartwarming story, told in a blend of poetry and prose, reveals the bonds that emerge when we let others into our lives.

unusual-chickens

UNUSUAL CHICKENS FOR THE EXCEPTIONAL POULTRY FARMER by Kelly Jones

Fans of Polly Horvath or Roald Dahl will love this quirky story of a determined girl, and some extraordinary chickens.

Twelve-year-old Sophie Brown feels like a fish out of water when she and her parents move from Los Angeles to the farm they ve inherited from a great-uncle. But farm life gets more interesting when a cranky chicken appears and Sophie discovers the hen can move objects with the power of her little chicken brain: jam jars, the latch to her henhouse, the “entire” henhouse….

And then more of her great-uncle’s unusual chickens come home to roost. Determined, resourceful Sophie learns to care for her flock, earning money for chicken feed, collecting eggs. But when a respected local farmer tries to steal them, Sophie must find a way to keep them (and their superpowers) safe.
Told in letters to Sophie’s “abuela, ” quizzes, a chicken-care correspondence course, to-do lists, and more, “Unusual Chickens” is a quirky, clucky classic in the making.

roll-of-thunder-hear-my-cry

ROLL OF THUNDER, HEAR MY CRY by Mildred D. Taylor

Winner of the Newbery Medal, this remarkably moving novel has impressed the hearts and minds of millions of readers.

Set in Mississippi at the height of the Depression, this is the story of one family’s struggle to maintain their integrity, pride, and independence in the face of racism and social injustice. And it is also Cassie’s story – Cassie Logan, an independent girl who discovers over the course of an important year why having land of their own is so crucial to the Logan family, even as she learns to draw strength from her own sense of dignity and self-respect.

wolf-hollow

WOLF HOLLOW by Lauren Wolk

Growing up in the shadows cast by two world wars, Annabelle has lived a mostly quiet, steady life in her small Pennsylvania town. Until the day new student Betty Glengarry walks into her class. Betty quickly reveals herself to be cruel and manipulative, and while her bullying seems isolated at first, things quickly escalate, and reclusive World War I veteran Toby becomes a target of her attacks. While others have always seen Toby’s strangeness, Annabelle knows only kindness. She will soon need to find the courage to stand as a lone voice of justice as tensions mount.

Brilliantly crafted, Wolf Hollow is a haunting tale of America at a crossroads and a time when one girl’s resilience and strength help to illuminate the darkest corners of our history.

hattie-big-sky

HATTIE BIG SKY by Kirby Larson

This Newbery Honor winning, “New York Times” bestseller celebrates the true spirit of independence on the American frontier.

For most of her life, sixteen-year-old Hattie Brooks has been shuttled from one distant relative to another. Tired of being Hattie Here-and-There, she summons the courage to leave Iowa and move all by herself to Vida, Montana, to prove up on her late uncle’s homestead claim.

Under the big sky, Hattie braves hard weather, hard times, a cantankerous cow, and her own hopeless hand at the cookstove. Her quest to make a home is championed by new neighbors Perilee Mueller, her German husband, and their children. For the first time in her life, Hattie feels part of a family, finding the strength to stand up against Traft Martin’s schemes to buy her out and against increasing pressure to be a loyal American at a time when anything or anyone German is suspect. Despite daily trials, Hattie continues to work her uncle’s claim until an unforeseen tragedy causes her to search her soul for the real meaning of home.

This young pioneer’s story is lovingly stitched together from Kirby Larson’s own family history and the sights, sounds, and scents of homesteading life.

a-day-no-pigs-would-die

A DAY NO PIGS WOULD DIE by Robert Newton Peck

Originally published in hardcover in 1972, “A Day No Pigs Would Die “was one of the first young adult books, along with titles like “The Outsiders “and “The Chocolate War.” In it, author Robert Newton Peck weaves a story of
a Vermont boyhood that is part fiction, part memoir. The result is a moving coming-of-age story that still resonates with teens today.

orbiting-jupiter

ORBITING JUPITER by Gary D. Schmidt

The two-time Newbery Honor winner Gary D. Schmidt delivers the shattering story of Joseph, a father at thirteen, who has never seen his daughter, Jupiter. After spending time in a juvenile facility, he’s placed with a foster family on a farm in rural Maine. Here Joseph, damaged and withdrawn, meets twelve-year-old Jack, who narrates the account of the troubled, passionate teen who wants to find his baby at any cost. In this riveting novel, two boys discover the true meaning of family and the sacrifices it requires.

steering-toward-normal

STEERING TOWARD NORMAL by Rebecca Petruck

Eighth grade is set to be a good year for Diggy Lawson: He’s chosen a great calf to compete at the Minnesota State Fair, he’ll see a lot of July, the girl he secretly likes at 4-H, and he and his dad Pop have big plans for April Fool’s Day. But everything changes when classmate Wayne Graf’s mother dies, which brings to light the secret that Pop is Wayne’s father, too. Suddenly, Diggy has a half brother, who moves in and messes up his life. Wayne threatens Diggy’s chances at the State Fair, horns in on his girl, and rattles his easy relationship with Pop.
What started out great quickly turns into the worst year ever, filled with jealousy, fighting, and several incidents involving cow poop. But as the boys care for their steers, pull pranks, and watch too many B movies, they learn what it means to be brothers and change their concept of family as they slowly steer toward a new kind of normal.

chicken-boy

CHICKEN BOY by Frances O. Dowell

Meet Tobin McCauley. He’s got a near-certifiable grandmother, a pack of juvenile-delinquent siblings, and a dad who’s not going to win father of the year any time soon. To top it off, Tobin’s only friend truly believes that the study of chickens will reveal…the meaning of life? Getting through seventh grade isn’t easy for anyone, but when the first day of school starts out with your granny’s arrest, you know you’ve got real problems. Throw on a five-day suspension, a chicken that lays green eggs, and a family feud that’s tearing everyone to pieces, and you’re in for one heck of a ride.

Katharine Manning hasn’t eaten lamb since she saw one born at her parents’ farm in West Virginia. She blogs here and at The Winged Pen, and is thrilled to be a 2016 CYBILS judge for poetry. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram, and at www.katharinemanning.com.