Author Archives: Katharine Manning

Middle Grade Books on Imperfection

My kids are blessed with many grandmas, one of whom has a wonderful habit with the younger grands of saying “Oops! I goofed!” at any mistake. I dropped a glass? Oops! I goofed! You stepped in dog poo? Oops! You goofed! She says it with a kind smile and an easy manner, showing that mistakes are part of life; something to smile at and shake our heads over rather than lose our temper about or try to hide.

I’m reading Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly right now, and so have been thinking a lot about how we respond to mistakes. You have probably heard of Brown. Her TED talk, The Power of Vulnerability, has been viewed more than thirty million times. She is a shame researcher and has written three books on the subject, with a fourth due out this fall.

Brown writes that it is essential to differentiate guilt from shame. We feel guilt over our actions. We feel shame for who we are. Thus, “Jen made a bad choice,” rather than “Jen is bad.” The former is something we can work on, while the latter is immutable.

When we make a mistake—a joke that falls flat, for instance—and we feel shame over that, we use it to carve out a new understanding of our identity. From then on, we hesitate to make a joke, because we just aren’t funny. We won’t sign up for a race, because we aren’t athletic. We don’t introduce ourselves to someone new, because we’re socially awkward. Shame makes us smaller—less willing to reach out, to be creative, to try new things.

All of this, of course, is the opposite of what we want for the kids in our lives. We want kids to be bold, unflappable, willing to try anything. So what can we do to encourage kids to be willing to take those scary steps? Talking the talk is not enough, unfortunately. To encourage the bravery that is essential for living a full and daring life, we must model an ease with our fallibility, and a love of ourselves that outstrips our size, our salary, and our spelling ability.

That means admitting that we make mistakes. Sometimes those mistakes are minor (oops!), and sometimes, they are devastating. Final. Cruel. And yet we must continue to live with our horrible, imperfect selves. We must strive to be open about our own infernal fallibility, so that the kids in our lives to know that they are good, and worthy, even when—especially when—they try and fail.

To help along this road, here is a selection of middle grade novels where the kids make mistakes. Big whoppers. I don’t want to spoil them for you, so I won’t go over what the mistakes are, or the ramifications of them, but each of these books shows a character having to come to terms with mistakes and shame. Because I am imperfect, I know this list is incomplete. Please comment with other books that would fit with this theme. All links, images, and descriptions are from IndieBound.

The Turn of the Tide by Roseanne Parry
When the biggest mistakes of their lives bring them together, Jet and Kai spend the summer regretting that one moment when they made the wrong decision. But there’s something about friendship that heals all wounds, and together, Jet and Kai find the one thing they never thought they’d have again–hope.

Every Single Second by Tricia Springstubb, illus. by Diana Sudyka
From acclaimed author Tricia Springstubb comes a poignant and topical middle grade novel about the effects of an accidental shooting on family, friendship, and community. Perfect for fans of Rebecca Stead and Rita Williams-Garcia.

As Brave as You by Jason Reynolds
When two brothers decide to prove how brave they are, everything backfires–literally–in this “pitch-perfect contemporary novel” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review) by the winner of the Coretta Scott King – John Steptoe Award.

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.

Bigger than a Bread Box by Laurel Snyder
A magical breadbox that delivers whatever you wish for–as long as it fits inside? It’s too good to be true Twelve-year-old Rebecca is struggling with her parents’ separation, as well as a sudden move to her gran’s house in another state. For a while, the magic bread box, discovered in the attic, makes life away from home a little easier. Then suddenly it starts to make things much, much more difficult, and Rebecca is forced to decide not just where, but who she really wants to be. Laurel Snyder’s most thought-provoking book yet.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling
The book that took the world by storm….In his fifth year at Hogwart’s, Harry faces challenges at every turn, from the dark threat of He-Who-Must-Not-Be- Named and the unreliability of the government of the magical world to the rise of Ron Weasley as the keeper of the Gryffindor Quidditch Team. Along the way he learns about the strength of his friends, the fierceness of his enemies, and the meaning of sacrifice.


Eight Keys by Suzanne LaFleur
Elise and Franklin have always been best friends. Elise has always lived in the big house with her loving Uncle and Aunt, because Elise’s parents died when she was too young to remember them. There’s always been a barn behind the house with eight locked doors on the second floor.
When Elise and Franklin start middle school, things feel all wrong. Bullying. Not fitting in. Franklin suddenly seems babyish. Then, soon after her 12th birthday, Elise receives a mysterious key left for her by her father. A key that unlocks one of the eight doors upstairs in the bar . . .

Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea
It’s the start of fifth grade for seven kids at Snow Hill School. There’s . . . Jessica, the new girl, smart and perceptive, who’s having a hard time fitting in; Alexia, a bully, your friend one second, your enemy the next; Peter, class prankster and troublemaker; Luke, the brain; Danielle, who never stands up for herself; shy Anna, whose home situation makes her an outcast; and Jeffrey, who hates school. Only Mr. Terupt, their new and energetic teacher, seems to know how to deal with them all. He makes the classroom a fun place, even if he doesn’t let them get away with much . . . until the snowy winter day when an accident changes everything–and everyone.

As a bonus, here are a few lovely picture books on this topic:

The Book of Mistakes by Corinna Luyken
Zoom meets Beautiful Oops in this memorable picture book debut about the creative process, and the way in which “mistakes” can blossom into inspiration.

s

The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires
For the early grades’ exploration of character education, this funny book offers a perfect example of the rewards of perseverance and creativity. The girl’s frustration and anger are vividly depicted in the detailed art, and the story offers good options for dealing honestly with these feelings, while at the same time reassuring children that it’s okay to make mistakes.

Katharine Manning lives and writes imperfectly in Washington, D.C. She was a 2016 Cybils judge for poetry and novels in verse. She blogs here and at The Winged Pen and Kid Book List. You can also find her on Twitter, Instagram, and at www.katharinemanning.com.

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Happy Pride Month!

 

June is LGBTQ Pride Month, and across the United States, cities, towns, businesses, and schools celebrate with an array of special events. It’s a great opportunity to highlight some wonderful middle grade books featuring LGBTQ characters. All descriptions, images, and links are from Indiebound.

Books Where a Main Character is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Questioning

The House You Pass on the Way by Jacqueline Woodson

Thirteen-year-old Staggerlee used to be called Evangeline, but she took on a fiercer name. She’s always been different–set apart by the tragic deaths of her grandparents in an anti-civil rights bombing, by her parents’ interracial marriage, and by her family’s retreat from the world. This summer she has a new reason to feel set apart–her confused longing for her friend Hazel. When cousin Trout comes to stay, she gives Staggerlee a first glimpse of her possible future selves and the world beyond childhood.

Star-Crossed by Barbara Dee

Mattie is chosen to play Romeo opposite her crush in the eighth grade production of Shakespeare’s most beloved play in this Romeo and Juliet inspired novel from the author of Truth or Dare. Mattie, a star student and passionate reader, is delighted when her English teacher announces the eighth grade will be staging Romeo and Juliet. And she is even more excited when, after a series of events, she finds herself playing Romeo, opposite Gemma Braithwaite’s Juliet. Gemma, the new girl at school, is brilliant, pretty, outgoing–and, if all that wasn’t enough: British. As the cast prepares for opening night, Mattie finds herself growing increasingly attracted to Gemma and confused, since, just days before, she had found herself crushing on a boy named Elijah. Is it possible to have a crush on both boys AND girls? If that wasn’t enough to deal with, things backstage at the production are starting to rival any Shakespearean drama In this sweet and funny look at the complicated nature of middle school romance, Mattie learns how to be the lead player in her own life.

Better Nate than Ever by Tim Federle

Nate Foster has big dreams. His whole life, he’s wanted to star in a Broadway show. (Heck, he’d settle for seeing a Broadway show.) But how is Nate supposed to make his dreams come true when he’s stuck in Jankburg, Pennsylvania, where no one (except his best pal Libby) appreciates a good show tune? With Libby’s help, Nate plans a daring overnight escape to New York. There’s an open casting call for E.T.: The Musical, and Nate knows this could be the difference between small-town blues and big-time stardom.

Five, Six, Seven, Nate by Tim Federle

Armed with a one-way ticket to New York City, small-town theater geek Nate is off to start rehearsals for E.T.: The Broadway Musical. It’s everything he ever practiced his autograph for But as thrilling as Broadway is, rehearsals are nothing like Nate expects: full of intimidating child stars, cut-throat understudies, and a director who can’t even remember Nate’s name.

Now, as the countdown to opening night is starting to feel more like a time bomb, Nate is going to need more than his lucky rabbit’s foot if he ever wants to see his name in lights. He may even need a showbiz miracle.

Letters in the Attic by Bonnie Shimko

Lizzy McMann, the narrator, is a feisty 12-year-old who moves to a new town with her Mother, recently divorced, and experiences puberty and teenage love, including falling for a 13-year-old girl down the street who is dyslexic, smokes, and looks just like Natalie Wood.

Marco Impossible by Hannah Moskowitz

Best friends Stephen and Marco attempt a go-for-broke heist to break into the high school prom and get Marco onstage to confess his love for (and hopefully steal the heart of) Benji, the adorable exchange student and bass player of the prom band. Of course, things don’t always go according to plan, and every heist comes with its fair share of hijinks.

Drama by Raina Telgemeier

Callie loves theater. And while she would totally try out for her middle school’s production of “Moon over Mississippi,” she can’t really sing. Instead she’s the set designer for the drama department’s stage crew, and this year she’s determined to create a set worthy of Broadway on a middle-school budget. But how can she, when she doesn’t know much about carpentry, ticket sales are down, and the crew members are having trouble working together? Not to mention the onstage AND offstage drama that occurs once the actors are chosen. And when two cute brothers enter the picture, things get even crazier.

Lumberjanes by Noelle Stephenson and Grace Ellis, illus. by Brooke Allen

Five best friends spending the summer at Lumberjane scout camp…defeating yetis, three-eyed wolves, and giant falcons…what’s not to love? Friendship to the max Jo, April, Mal, Molly and Ripley are five best pals determined to have an awesome summer together…and they’re not gonna let any insane quest or an array of supernatural critters get in their way.

Princess Princess Ever After by Katie O’Neill

When the heroic princess Amira rescues the kind-hearted princess Sadie from her tower prison, neither expects to find a true friend in the bargain. Yet as they adventure across the kingdom, they discover that they bring out the very best in the other person. They’ll need to join forces and use all the know-how, kindness, and bravery they have in order to defeat their greatest foe yet: a jealous sorceress, who wants to get rid of Sadie once and for all. Join Sadie and Amira, two very different princesses with very different strengths, on their journey to figure out what “happily ever after” really means–and how they can find it with each other.

My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger

Best friends and unofficial brothers since they were six, ninth-graders T.C. and Augie have got the world figured out. But that all changes when both friends fall in love for the first time. Enter Al. She’s pretty, sassy, and on her way to Harvard. T.C. falls hard, but Al is playing hard to get. Meanwhile, Augie realizes that he’s got a crush on a boy. It’s not so clear to him, but to his family and friends, it’s totally obvious. Told in alternating perspectives, this is the hilarious and touching story of their most excellent year, where these three friends discover love, themselves, and how a little magic and Mary Poppins can go a long way.

So Hard to Say by Alex Sanchez

When Frederick shows up at school, Xio is thrilled. The new boy is shy, cute, and definitely good boyfriend material. Before long, she pulls him into her lively circle of friends. Frederick knows he should be flattered by Xio’s attention. After all, she’s popular, pretty, and a lot of fun. So why can’t he stop thinking about Victor, the captain of the soccer team, instead?

Husky by Justin Sayre

Twelve-year-old Davis lives in an old brownstone with his mother and grandmother in Brooklyn. He loves people-watching in Prospect Park, visiting his mom in the bakery she owns, and listening to the biggest operas he can find as he walks everywhere.
But Davis is having a difficult summer. As questions of sexuality begin to enter his mind, he worries people don’t see him as anything other than “husky.” To make matters worse, his best girlfriends are starting to hang out with mean girls and popular boys. Davis is equally concerned about the distance forming between him and his single mother as she begins dating again, and about his changing relationship with his amusingly loud Irish grandmother, Nanny.
Ultimately, Davis learns to see himself outside of his one defining adjective. He’s a kid with unique interests, admirable qualities, and people who will love him no matter what changes life brings about.

Books Where a Main Character is Transgender

Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart

Lily Jo McGrother, born Timothy McGrother, is a girl. But being a girl is not so easy when you look like a boy. Especially when you’re in the eighth grade.

Dunkin Dorfman, birth name Norbert Dorfman, is dealing with bipolar disorder and has just moved from the New Jersey town he’s called home for the past thirteen years. This would be hard enough, but the fact that he is also hiding from a painful secret makes it even worse.

One summer morning, Lily Jo McGrother meets Dunkin Dorfman, and their lives forever change.

George by Alex Gino

When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she knows she’s not a boy. She knows she’s a girl.

George thinks she’ll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte’s Web. George really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can’t even try out for the part . . . because she’s a boy.

With the help of her best friend, Kelly, George comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte — but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all.

Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky

Grayson Sender has been holding onto a secret for what seems like forever: “he” is a girl on the inside, stuck in the wrong gender’s body. The weight of this secret is crushing, but sharing it would mean facing ridicule, scorn, rejection, or worse. Despite the risks, Grayson’s true self itches to break free. Will new strength from an unexpected friendship and a caring teacher’s wisdom be enough to help Grayson step into the spotlight she was born to inhabit?

The Other Boy by M.G. Hennessey

Twelve-year-old Shane Woods is just a regular boy. He loves pitching for his baseball team, working on his graphic novel, and hanging out with his best friend, Josh. But Shane is keeping something private, something that might make a difference to his friends and teammates, even Josh. And when a classmate threatens to reveal his secret, Shane’s whole world comes crashing down. It will take a lot of courage for Shane to ignore the hate and show the world that he’s still the same boy he was before. And in the end, those who stand beside him may surprise everyone, including Shane.

Books Where a Main Character has Gay or Lesbian Parents

The Lotterys Plus One by Emma Donoghue

Sumac Lottery is nine years old and the self-proclaimed “good girl” of her (VERY) large, (EXTREMELY) unruly family. And what a family the Lotterys are: four parents, children both adopted and biological, and a menagerie of pets, all living and learning together in a sprawling house called Camelottery. Then one day, the news breaks that one of their grandfathers is suffering from dementia and will be coming to live with them. And not just any grandfather; the long dormant “Grumps,” who fell out with his son so long ago that he hasn’t been part of any of their lives.
Suddenly, everything changes. Sumac has to give up her room to make the newcomer feel at home. She tries to be nice, but prickly Grumps’s clearly disapproves of how the Lotterys live: whole grains, strange vegetables, rescue pets, a multicultural household… He’s worse than just tough to get along with — Grumps has got to go But can Sumac help him find a home where he belongs?

The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher by Dana Alison Levy

The start of the school year is not going as the Fletcher brothers hoped. Each boy finds his plans for success veering off in unexpected and sometimes diastrous directions. And at home, their miserable new neighbor complains about everything. As the year continues, the boys learn the hard and often hilarious lesson that sometimes what you least expect is what you come to care about the most.

The Family Fletcher Takes Rock Island by Dana Alison Levy

The Fletchers are back on Rock Island, home of all their best summer memories. But from the first day they arrive, it’s clear that this year, things have changed. FIRST, a giant fence is blocking their beloved lighthouse. SECOND, they have new neighbors. THIRD, who the heck is the weird artist guy who’s never actually painting? And FOURTH, there’s now an ice cream truck Can the island stay the same even with these crazy transformations? Over the course of the summer, the Fletchers will learn that sometimes, even in a place where time stands still, the wildest, weirdest, and most wonderful surprises await.

This Would Make a Good Story Someday by Dana Alison Levy

Sara Johnston-Fischer loves her family, of course. But that doesn’t mean she’s thrilled when her summer plans are upended for a surprise cross-country train trip with her two moms, Mimi and Carol; her younger sister, Ladybug; her older sister, Laurel; and Laurel’s poncho-wearing activist boyfriend, Root. And to make matters worse, one of her moms is writing a tell-all book about the trip . . . and that means allllll, every ridiculous and embarrassing moment of Sara’s life. Sara finds herself crisscrossing the country with a gaggle of wild Texans. As they travel from New Orleans to Chicago to the Grand Canyon and beyond, Sara finds herself changing along with the landscape outside the train windows. And she realizes that she just might go home reinvented.

My Mixed-Up Berry Blue Summer by Jennifer Gennari

Twelve-year-old June Farrell is sure of one thing–she’s great at making pies–and she plans to prove it by winning a blue ribbon in the Champlain Valley Fair pie competition. But a backlash against Vermont’s civil union law threatens her family’s security and their business. Even when faced with bullying, June won’t give up on winning the blue ribbon; more importantly, she won’t give up on her family.

Luv Ya Bunches by Lauren Myracle

What do Katie-Rose, Yasaman, Milla, and Violet have in common? Other than being named after flowers, practically nothing. Katie-Rose is a film director in training. Yasaman is a computer whiz. Milla is third in command of the A list. And Violet is the new girl in school. They’re fab girls, all of them, but they sure aren’t friends. And if evil queen bee Medusa–‘scuse me, Modessa–has her way, they never will be. But this is the beginning of a new school year, when anything can happen and social worlds can collide.

The Popularity Papers by Amy Ignatow

Lydia and Julie are best friends with one goal: to crack the code of popularity. Lydia’s the bold one: aspiring theater star, stick-fighting enthusiast, and human guinea pig. Julie’s the shy one: observer and artist, accidental field hockey jock, and faithful recorder. In this notebook they write down their observations and carry out experiments to try to determine what makes the popular girls tick. But somehow, the harder Lydia and Julie try to imitate the popular girls, the farther they get from their goal and each other.

Double Play by Sara Cassidy

Allie loves baseball. It’s the one thing that has been consistent in her lately complicated life. Allie’s father left recently, and now Allie has a new family — her mother’s new girlfriend, Phyllis, and son Miles have moved in. It’s taking some adjustment, mostly because Miles seems determined to get under her skin. Things start looking up when Allie gets invited to join the boy’s baseball team as their new pitcher. But then Miles announces he’s quitting the boy’s team and tries out for Allie’s old team — a girl’s team

Allie is sure he’s doing it just to annoy her, but Miles insists that he just likes the girl’s style of play better. As Allie struggles to find her place on the boy’s team, she starts to see that Miles is just trying to fit in as well, and that it may be even harder for him than it has been for her.

Best Friend Next Door by Carolyn Mackler

Meet Hannah. Her name is a palindrome. Her birthday is on New Year’s. She wishes she had a cat. She’s medium height and a little awkward. Her life has NOT been fun lately — her dad and stepmom are having a baby and, worst of all, her best friend next door just moved away. Now a new girl is here, taking over her best friend’s bedroom . . . and her own identity.
Meet Emme. Her name is a palindrome. Her birthday is on New Year’s. She loves her enormous orange cat. She’s so short that last week she was mistaken for a kindergartner. She’s found moving hard . . . but at least there’s the girl next door, Hannah. Maybe they’ll become friends?
While Hannah and Emme are alike in so many ways, they’re also different in some wrong ways, too. Is this the perfect friendship . . . or a recipe for disaster?

Katharine Manning has somehow managed to add to her tottering to-be-read pile in putting together this list. She reads, writes, and drinks tea in Washington, D.C. You can find more of her middle grade book recommendations at Kid Book List. She blogs here and at The Winged Pen, and was privileged to serve as a 2016 Cybils judge for poetry and novels in verse. You can find her on Twitter and at www.katharinemanning.com. 

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.