I’m so excited that I got the opportunity to talk with Janet Sumner Johnson about her Contemporary Middle Grade novel, THE LAST GREAT ADVENTURE OF THE PB&J SOCIETY – now in paperback!
Please tell us a little bit about The Last Great Adventure of the PB&J Society.
The Last Great Adventure of the PB&J Society is about two best friends, Annie and Jason, trying to find a way to save Jason’s house from foreclosure. Because foreclosure means Jason will have to move, and that is just not okay with either of them. Their plans range from the pretty decent (like finding Jason’s dad a new job), to the pretty crazy (like selling an appendix on ebay). But even more, this story is about friendship, and what that really means.
What inspired you to write this story and/or these characters?
Much of this story was inspired by my own childhood. I had a best friend named Jason who had to move away when we were five. It was horribly tragic! But the foreclosure aspect came from the big housing crash that happened around 2009. I had a friend who faced losing her house, and I can still remember the haunted looks on her kids’ faces. I wondered what it must be like to go through foreclosure as a kid, and that question was the driving force of this story. I wanted to help kids see that even if we can’t control everything in our lives, we are never powerless. THEY are never powerless.
What do you hope readers will take away from Annie and Jason’s adventure?
Haha! Oops, guess I got ahead of myself with the last question, but in addition to the whole not being powerless thing from above, I hope that readers will think of their own best friends. That they will remember all the good times, and also remember that sometimes, if we are being a true friend, we won’t get what we want. And that’s okay. Because helping a friend feels so much better than getting what we want.
We know no writer is created in a vacuum. Could you tell the readers about a teacher or a librarian who had an effect on your writing life?
I have known so many great teachers and librarians in my life, but one in particular gave me the encouragement I needed to think that maybe, just maybe I could succeed with writing. English was always my weakest subject. I had to work hard in it, but I always loved my English classes best. My 10th and 12th grade English teacher was Mrs. Johnston. She made me look at literature in a new way, and learn to appreciate even the things I didn’t love (A Tale of Two Cities, I’m looking at you!).
When I got to college, one class required me to interview someone who worked in a field that interested me, and I chose her. Honestly, I don’t remember much of what I asked her, but I do remember that at one point, she told me how she’d always been so impressed with my writing, and knew I would do well if I decided to go that direction. Such a simple thing, but her words were what I needed to hear. Because of that interview I majored in English, and allowed myself to believe I could write a book. Thank you, Mrs. Johnston!
What makes your book a good pick for use in a classroom? Is there any particular way you’d like to see teachers use it with young readers/teens?
The Last Great Adventure of the PB&J Society is a great pick for use in the classroom because it’s a quick, humorous read that deals with some serious topics. It is a gateway to discussion of important issues that affect so many students (poverty, friendship, bullying, dealing with stress, keeping secrets). In addition, there is a discussion guide that is geared for use in a classroom. Not only are there some great discussion questions that encourage social skills, self-confidence, and empathy for others, but there are a lot of fun extension activities across all subjects (math, economics, science, etc.). I would love to see classes using these questions and activities to enrich their learning.
What was your favorite book growing up? How did it influence you as a person and/or as a writer?
I went through phases. Ramona by Beverly Cleary and Tales of the Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume really spoke to me when I was in 4th grade. The whole Narnia series by C.S. Lewis was my go to in 6th. L.M. Montgomery was my author in Junior High (Anne of Green Gables, Emily of New Moon, Pat of Silver Bush (my favorite!), and everything else she wrote). Robin McKinley’s Beauty, Outlaws of Sherwood, and more filled what little free reading time I had in High School.
I don’t know that any one book influenced me more than another, but all of these stories taught me that reading was more than just something I enjoyed. These stories helped me cope with my own stresses. They made me feel like I wasn’t alone. Like I was good enough just the way I was . . . even if I got into trouble a lot (Ramona), or if I didn’t like a certain aspect of how I looked (Anne), or if life didn’t go the way I wanted (Robin of the hood, Beauty). I still love escaping into books, and it really means so much to me when I hear from kids who have had a similar experience with my book.
Janet Sumner Johnson lives in Oregon with her husband and three kids. She bakes a mean cinnamon twist and eats way more cookies than are good for her, which explains her running habit. Though her full-time occupation as evil tyrant/benevolent dictator (aka mom) takes most of her time, she sneaks in writing at night when her inner funny bone is fully unleashed. You can learn more about her on her website, on Facebook, on Instagram, and Twitter.
To celebrate the paperback release, I have 4 signed paperbacks of
The Last Great Adventure of the PB&J Society to give away!
Enter to win a signed copy by commenting below! Winners will be chosen randomly and announced on this post on Tuesday, Oct. 24th.