Tag Archives: fiction

AN OCTOPUS IS BORN

The Benefits of Being an OctopusWe Emus are fluffing our feathers in proud excitement to announce that Ann Braden’s MG novel The Benefits of Being An Octopus will celebrate its book birthday tomorrow, September 4th.  If only we had tentacles to wave in joy as well!

Read on to learn more about the book’s amazing author and her axe-shaped necklace, about how teachers can’t wait to use it to help students expand their empathy, and how librarians can advise patrons on its appeal factors. We’ll also have a whole ‘nother post about the benefits of being an actual octopus!

 

An Interview with Ann Braden

by Anna Redding

Anna: This book is written in first person. To do that, you really have to know your character.  Zoey’s voice comes through crystal clear, illuminating her world

and way of thinking right out of the gate. It’s so well done, I have to ask, was that something yVersion 3ou focused on crafting or did Zoey’s voice come to you with this kind of clarity?

Ann: Zoey’s voice came to me like that. It’s hard to describe, but in my heart I was Zoey when I was writing the book, so I just wrote down what I knew she would say or think.  For me, it wasn’t about craft, it was just about listening.

Anna: When we first step into this incredible story, we step into a Zoey’s fascination with Octopuses (which we learn from her, doesn’t have to pronounced octopi, thank you very much). What is so brilliant, is that you suck us right into her irresistible curiosity, her enthusiasm, her lovable personality. The connection between reader and Zoey is immediate and as deep as when you bump into a new true best friend. Which is important, because this makes it possible for us to really go “there.” And, in this case,you are illuminating a story that often goes untold in America. Tell me about your decisions in crafting this aspect of the book.

Ann: When I was in the very early stages of conceptualizing the book, I read The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery, and I was utterly captivated. I loved that octopuses were so much like us –they form relationships,have different personalities, and are super intelligent – yet they had evolved in such a different way. I think there are parallels of that amongst people, too: we all have different experiences growing up (some vastly different), but at the end we’re all trying to do the best we can. And the more I explored the connection between octopuses and Zoey, the more she became just as obsessed with octopuses as I was. 

Anna: At the same time, this story will be familiar to many readers who see themselves and their families in these pages… and yet their lives and experiences are often not on the subject of books. Have you heard from readers or teachers about what an important story this if for readers to be truly ‘seen’?

Ann – Yes. For kids growing up outside of the white, middle class culture, books that also take place in that culture can be an extra reminder that they don’t belong. (And of course, on the flip side of this, kids who are growing up in that culture can too easily ignore the range of other experiences if that’s all they see.) When I was teacher myself, I taught in several different schools, and I knew that there were kids like Zoey in every single one of them. My gut told me this had to be true on a broader scale, and the feedback I’ve been getting from teachers has confirmed that. And too often those kids have become so good at making themselves invisible that they fall through the cracks. But when we have books that discuss the issues that are central to their lives (but are rarely talked about in school) we are creating an opportunity for those students to see themselves as valued and to potentially connect in a way they hadn’t before. And EVERY SINGLE STUDENT deserves to feel valued and connected. 

Anna: I loved what School Library Journal had to say about THE BENEFITS OF BEING AN OCTOPUS in their starred review: “Heartbreaking, beautifully written…Braden’s story raises many thought-provoking and timely questions about the difficulty of escaping poverty and the prevalence of fun violence.” That is such a powerful summary of a powerful book. What do you hope readers will take away from the pages of your book?

Ann: I hope that they come away recognizing their own strength (even if it’s not something that can be seen by others)and realize that how much money someone has has nothing to do with how hard they are working. And that no matter how powerless you feel, you always have the power of your voice.yelling emu

Anna: This is a ‘must-read’ for schools and classes. How can teachers tie this into curriculum and for students, who are inspired to take action in their own communities, what ideas do you suggest or resources can you point them to?

Ann: I’m really excited about the conversations this book has already started. And since the book brings up topics that aren’t often discussed, it can be good to have supports in place. Here is an Educator’s Guide that I put together in partnership with Equity Solutions, a non-profit focused on leading powerful conversations about economic class with people from all kinds of class backgrounds. Besides discussion questions, it includes extension activities, such as analyzing a budget of someone who only gets paid minimum wage and working to find the common ground of a controversial topic in the community. I also created a Flipgrid where educators can reflect on key questions in the books and discuss. Plus, the introductory video on the Flipgrid highlights a few key ways to make sure that discussions of the book are empowering for kids. 

Anna – Lastly, sometimes in life, in the most difficult of circumstances, you can see a lifeline emerge from the fog. For Zoey, it’s joining the debate club. What would you say toreaders about paying attention to those unexpected lifelines?

Ann – We never know where a choice will lead us, and it’s amazing what can happen when we say “Yes” to things. Even a small step forward can shift the ground beneath us in the best of ways. Still, sometimes if your head is down and you’reworking as hard as you can, no matter how many steps forward you try to take it seems like nothing will ever change. That’s when we need to be able to rely on allies who are ready to listen and those who are ready to team up and work to change the  underlying systems that make it so hard for some to make end meet. We all have to look for the opportunity to be lifelines for each other. Because when you’re in that fog, it’s often not possible to do it on your own. We have to remember that we’re all in this together.

Anna – Okay, one more question. For all readers (of all ages), there is a message about taking hold of your own potential, which is why this book is hopeful. What would you say to us about this idea of claiming your own power as your hope?

 Ann – Our own power is the tool that is ALWAYS with us, whether we can see it or not, and it’s up to us whether we wield it. When I was about two years into leading a movement in support of common ground gun laws in Vermont, something that I had never thought I would do and something that taught me I was far stronger than I had thought, I was catching my breath in the midst of months of 60-hour weeks. And in that quiet moment I was reminded that way back in middle school I had also discovered that I was stronger than I thought because that was when I first got into chopping wood. In that moment, I splurged on a small axe charm and I hung it around my neck because I knew there were many more steps I needed to take to help get gun laws passed, and I wanted to make sure I always remembered my own strength – and most importantly, remembered to wield it.Silver-Axe-Accessory

 I kept that necklace around my neck in am-packed statehouse committee rooms and when I was the target of online bullying. And those people who were trying to intimidate me into silence weren’t able to. Because at the end of the day, my eyes were focused on the kind of civil discourse I believed the issue deserved and I had faith in myself that I could help make that happen. That’s why I had hope, and, ultimately, landmark legislation was able to get passed. Zoey’s situation is similar. She had hope because she had memories of what her mom used to be like, and she found a way to keep her eyes focused on what she loved. And when that hope was combined with her courage to use her voice, it shifted the ground beneath her. Maybe all kids get that same chance to find their voice and use it.

 


The Realities Students Face: A Discussion with Teachers

by Kat Shepherd

Ann Braden’s long-awaited debut, The Benefits of Being an Octopus, is a powerful read that is sure to be a staple for schools and libraries for years to come. It received a starred review from School Library Journal, and it’s gone into a second printing before it’s even been released. Following the story of seventh-grader Zoey, it is a deftly-told tale that is both heartbreaking and hopeful. Octopus highlights struggles faced by students living in poverty, and takes an honest and compassionate look at how those struggles play out both inside and outside the classroom. Zoey’s teacher, Ms. Rochambeau, plays an important role in Zoey’s life, so I decided to invite some educators to share their thoughts on this beautifully-written novel.Octopus123

Q: When I read Zoey’s story I so wanted her to have that fairytale ending where everything works out perfectly, but the ending of this book, while hopeful, isn’t that perfect fairytale. Why is it important for kids to have books that don’t always have the perfect happy endings we want for characters?

Erin Varley: There are so many books out there that already have the fairy tale endings, so it’s just as important to have a lot of books that don’t have that ending. Life isn’t fairy tale perfect and kids figure that out really fast. In fact, for kids like Zoey, they figure it out too fast. For a kid to see that life, while not perfect, can still offer hope, well that’s just as important. Kids know when they are being lied to, and sometimes fairy tales can seem like that. They don’t buy the lies. Books like Octopus offer an alternate path that still is positive, but also realistic.

Kristin Crouch: I love the ending and agree that it not being perfectly wrapped up is a strength of the novel. In my school, I have so many fifth graders in transition. I’ve taught children in shelters, children who’ve moved several times through a year, children who move in with friends (resulting in 14 people in one two bedroom apartment), children in houses that have been condemned, children living in hotels until a new apartment is found (and those are just housing transitions!). Ending the book with Zoe in transition shows my students that transition is not, in and of itself, an ending… It proves what the teacher tries to convey to Zoe~ that she is not the product of her circumstance. She can, and will, make more of her experiences, but that doing so is not a quick, easy fix. It will take years of working hard to overcome her challenges.

Jennifer Druffel: I loved that it was not a fairytale ending! Kids need realistic books that mirror their own lives and see characters that can be strong despite their circumstances. Also, for kids who have never experienced such hardships, it helps them put themselves in someone else’s shoes and be less judgmental about their peers’ circumstances.

Cassie Thomas: Real life is not perfect, in any way. It’s so important for kids to be able to relate to stories, and if every student just reads books where everything turns out good in the end then in their life they may feel defeated and unsure. Every year I read Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson out loud to kids and the ending is not happy, it’s not perfect, but it’s real, and it leaves my students with jaws dropped and questions. Then they realize that in life they don’t get happy endings for every single thing. It’s a great message to have discussions over.

Q: Many adults have concerns that books dealing with issues like poverty and domestic violence are “too adult” for children to be exposed to. As a teacher, how do you respond to those concerns?

EV: Well, first I like to make sure each parent is heard. To be honest, I defer to the parent. If a parent tells me they don’t want a certain title being read by their child, I respect their wishes. However, I don’t remove the book from my library. Just because the book isn’t right for one certain child, doesn’t mean the same thing for every child. There might be another child in that same class that finds that book to be a lifeline, as I know Octopus might be.

KC: While I’m on the bandwagon that yes, these topics and concepts are too tough for kids, the fact is the kids who are exposed to it must know they are not alone. They are not invisible, they should not be hiding, and they will get through it.

JD: I would never force a student to read such a book. And if a parent is concerned, I’d ask them to read it first before they let their child read it so they can be the judge for their own child, but NOT for other people’s children!

CT: I teach 5th grade, and this comment irks me in a lot of ways. These students are SO mature and they truly know so much already. If they don’t, they are so eager to learn. When discussing social justice last year I had some outside people say this exact same thing, and my response was Do you know what your child is watching on TV? On their iPad? What the lyrics in their music actually say/mean?  Because they do, they totally know. They are smart and they want to be treated like an adult, especially at this age. I make sure I choose my words wisely, but we do have discussions. The reality is that some kids in class ARE experiencing that life, who are we to act that it doesn’t happen when it is reality for some.

(Name Withheld): When I read Octopus I immediately said… “THIS is what my kids deal with.” Honestly… this book is exactly what some of my kids go through on a daily basis. The trailer park, watching their younger siblings, new boyfriends/girlfriends all the time. Not that this makes any of the parents bad people or bad parents, and I know that everyone is doing the best they can, but I know that some of my students deal with a lot and have a lot of responsibility that I never had as a kid. Which makes this book even more important to include in my library!! It is the first book I’ve read that I really felt MY student’s struggles come through.

Q: When you read this book how did you envision it as a teaching tool in your own classrooms?

EV: I’m not sure I plan to read this book as a read aloud, but def as one to include and book talk in my classroom. I thought perhaps an excerpt would work as a discussion tool. Many tough topics are written with grace and hope, and kids need to see that tough times are not the end of the world, that things can get better, and that sometimes people need help or are doing the best they can in that moment.

KC: I was hoping to use this book to spark a discussion about verbal abuse. What it is, what it can sound like, and how it can affect your own thoughts about yourself and your abilities. From there, I was hoping to discuss negative and positive self talk as well. Even the character of the boyfriend’s father who lived in the house added to the stress. While he was less insulting toward the kids, they were living in a home in which people didn’t adore them~ they barely tolerated them. This affects the psyche, and I want my students to be able to recognize it so they can try to protect themselves any way they need to.

JD: I would book talk this book to my classes and then students can choose to read it if they wish!!

CT: As an educator I can’t even begin to explain to you the quiet importance that Ms. Rochambeau plays in this story. This will be a book that will not only be a very vital window for students to look in, but also a mirror to know they aren’t alone. Ann has touched on topics that I know for a fact students experience, or something similar, on a day in, day out basis, but are not quick to speak up. I feel as though all middle grade students and teachers need to read this book, and soon… One of our school wide behavior expectations is empathy and this book provides the opportunity to teach and understand empathy in Zoey’s life.

Q: I love that Ann views books as means of bridging the divides between people, as is evidenced in her excellent podcast with Saadia Faruqi. One thing I loved about Octopus is that it delves into the the complexity of issues that are often painted as simple black-or-white answers in the cultural narrative. What can educators do to help students find the complexity in these hot-button issues?

JD: It would be awesome to have a book club of students discuss this and their opinions on those issues!

CT: A way that I foresee us bringing up the complexity is giving multiple experiences and then having discussions, constantly. Everyone’s story isn’t the same in real life and Zoey’s story is one that some may relate to in SOME ways but not all ways, or the entire way. Another way is that I love for students to start figuring out solutions. What could we do as a community to help make these situations better.

Q: My husband, who grew up poor, talks often about how profoundly his life was impacted by a teacher who encouraged him to apply to a free Jesuit high school in Manhattan. He is still moved when he talks about what it meant for him to have an adult see him and believe that he had something great to offer the world. Jarrett Krosoczka still remembers being in school and having an author visit from Jack Gantos. Jack complimented Jarrett’s drawing of a cat, and it’s part of what encouraged him to become an author/illustrator. Zoey has Ms. Rochambeau. Who were those adults in your lives that encouraged you, and how do you see your role as teachers in helping kids reach their potential?

Octopus123 EV: I think about coaches first, actually. I was so involved with swimming and my coaches were the ones who stick out in my mind. They believed in me and saw potential in me that I didn’t always see. Encouraging kids and helping them see their good and their successes are what I try to do as a teacher. Always staying positive and helping develop a growth mindset are also things I try to encourage.

JD: I strive to let EVERY child I teach know they are valued for who they are. I notice strengths in each child and point them out often. I listen to let them know their voice is important. I can only hope that this will make a difference!!

CT: One of the educators who played the biggest role in my life was my middle grade creative writing teacher. I was going through a lot. Bullying was unbearable (to the point where we moved my 8th grade year), but Mrs. Ward helped me learn to write, how to escape that reality that I was dealing with and get thoughts out on paper through poetry. I was published. I was proud. I was finally happy. I knew that at that moment I wanted to be that light for students. There were a lot of teachers who weren’t there for me because they were friends with the parents of the students who were being ugly, so they just brushed my stresses aside. I knew then what I did NOT want to be as an educator. I feel that it has helped me significantly in building relationships and also with helping place that heart print book in the hands of a child who needs it. I don’t ever look at myself as a “savior” but an extra mom so to speak. I have told them I wear many hats as a teacher and I want nothing more than our classroom to be a safe place for them. So far it has proven to be just that.

Many thanks exceptional educators like Erin, Kristin, Jennifer, Cassie, and others for taking the time to chat with me and celebrate the debut of The Benefits of Being an Octopus. We are so excited to help welcome this wonderful book into the world!  For teachers who want to join this discussion, please visit Ann’s Octopus Flipgrid.


The Appeal Factors of Being An Octopus

by Christina Uss

Let’s not forget how librarians are going to get this tender, tough, many-tentacled story into the hands of readers. I was lucky enough to get some training as a library assistant last year and learned about successfully matching a reader with their next read as a reader’s advisor.  One of the keys to advising wisely is ferreting out a book’s APPEAL FACTORS, which turns out to be way cooler than solely recommending titles by t

200px-Easy_cheese2

he same author or the pushing the newest thing in the same genre. Thanks to the metadata librarians at NoveList, we’ve got a whole list of potential appeal factors, and I consider it an honor to be the first to point out to all librarians how they might describe The Appeal Factors of Being An Octopus:

  • Character – the main character is believable, relatable, courageous, likeable, spirited, strong, and well-developed. Kids are going to wish Zoey was their big sister, especially those who already know all about the eight-armed juggling that comes with taking on caregiving tasks for siblings (and sometimes parents) at a young age.
  • Writing Style – candid, compelling, engaging, with well-crafted dialogue. The book satisfyingly fills our minds’ eyes with rich details that make Zoey and her friends and family come alive (and our minds’ mouths with the comforting scrunch of Easy Cheese and crackers.)
  • Pace – intensifying. Will everything work out for Zoey and her family? How??
  • Storyline – both plot- and character-driven, mixing uncertainty in plot with Zoey’s determination
  • Tone -often intense with an emotional edge, moving from heartwarming to heart-wrenching, hopeful, sobering, eye-opening, thought-provoking, with a strong sense of place.

I can’t wait until Tuesday when my library system will load in its first copies of this fabulous and I can start advising readers to check it out!


Ann Braden writes about kids struggling to find their voice despite the realities of life, and about cultural divides and possibilities for bridges across.  She writes because even when life is throwing the entire kitchen at you…there is HOPE.  Come chat with her on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.


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Historical Fiction? Tell Me Another!

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Baby Adolf?

When my debut novel comes out next year, it’s probably going to be categorized as historical fiction. Understandable. The story takes place in the 1930s so, yeah, it is historical. And I do love history, but history wasn’t the driving force behind my writing the book. Fiction was. And family.

Consider the photograph at left, supposedly a snapshot of Hitler as a baby. (Cute, ain’t he? Gads, no.) This photo was making the rounds back in the 1930s (way before anyone had heard of Photoshop or Internet memes, or WWII for that matter.) It’s a fake, of course. A fiction. It’s doctored. Were people fooled? Yes. Would you have been fooled?

OK, here’s a true confession: If I had been around in 1938 and had seen this photo, I would have been fooled, I just know it. ::blush:: As a kid, I thought the articles I read in my grandmother’s National Enquirer mags were 100% true. I know, I know–I was a doofushead, but I was under the impression that newspapers wouldn’t dare print lies. After all, that’s against the law.

Well, folks, let me tell you, for this gullible girl the world was quite a strange and fascinating place, thanks to those far-out articles in the pages of the tabloids. Later, when I learned the truth about their fake stories and air-brushed photographs, I felt tricked and betrayed–and embarrassed–and I didn’t like that one bit. Consequently, as an adult, I’ve developed a sort of fascination for the ways in which people persuade, manipulate and fool others. I love a good hoax, just as long as I’m not caught up in it.Image

And that’s where my as-yet-untitled middle grade novel (Holiday House, Fall 2013) comes in. It’s the tale of a girl who sneaks off to work for a radio station with hopes of landing a role as an actress. When she finally finagles her way into the recording studio, she ends up becoming part of what some still call the greatest hoax ever unleashed upon the American public.

Seventy-four years ago last week, thousands of radio listeners were misled by actor/director Orson Welles’s dramatization of H.G. Wells’s novel The War of the Worlds. True story. My father-in-law was one of them. While a young man living in Newark, New Jersey, in 1938, he was one of many CBS listeners on the Sunday night before Halloween who became convinced that Martians had invaded Earth and were marching toward Newark. Little green men were reportedly on a course heading directly for his family’s apartment on South Orange Avenue.  He panicked. Lots of people panicked.

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South Orange Ave., Newark, New Jersey in 2006. That’s my character’s building there, the gray one in the middle. 🙂

Orson Welles’s so-called “panic broadcast” of 1938 is an extreme example of what can happen when people believe an authoritative voice without question and react before having all the facts. I loved the War of the Worlds story as a young adult. When I found out later on that my own father-in-law had experienced it, I knew I had to write a story around this extraordinary event.

That’s what I set out to write–a story that hangs upon a true event in history. So, yeah, it’s historical. And it’s fiction. But it’s not historical fiction, not to me. It’s my way of exploring hoaxes and lies, belief and deception. And it’s my way of honoring my father-in-law, Henry Brendler, a great storyteller in his own right, who died in 2009 at age 90, when I was in the middle of working on this novel.

The panic broadcast wasn’t history or fiction to him–he had lived through it. Many of the details in the story come directly from his memories of Newark as a kid. I wish I could present him with a copy when it comes out. It’ll be 75 years after the fact. I think he would have enjoyed it–a slice of his true story, written as fiction.

As my character would say, “And how!” I can’t wait to hold the book in my hands. Thanks, Pop.

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Come to think of it, We’ve All Got A Job!

When I discovered it was my turn to blog immediately on the heels of Cynthia’s release party for WE’VE GOT A JOB, I realized at once that I had a tough act to follow. What a fabulous week of interviews, contests, and information it was! And speaking of Cynthia’s release party, she has asked me to share this message:

Thanks to everyone—EMUs and EMUs followers alike–who helped celebrate the release of We’ve Got a Job. The two winners of a free signed book will be announced on Thursday. Everyone who commented last week is entitled to an “I can be a hero, too!” badge. Email Cynthia off-line with your address if you’d like one. And, if you bought a copy of We’ve Got a Job last week, let Cynthia know so she can send you a signed bookplate.

This is some bling you don't want to miss out on!

I didn’t contribute a post last week during the big event, but I did feel the excitement. I’ve been feeling the excitement for months, as Cynthia’s wonderful book has earned starred reviews, been handed out as an ARC at national events, and even been mentioned on a Newbery watch list–and all before its release.

I’m just tickled pink for Cynthia. Pink. Not green with envy. Tickled Pink. Really.

Me? jealous? Why would I be jealous, I've got a zombie chicken!

Okay, so maybe there’s a little hint of green. I’ve always had an olive complexion, but maybe it’s looking a little more chartreuse lately.

It’s not Cynthia’s stars, or sales figures, or loving reviewers that make me envious. I know how hard she has worked and how committed she is. She deserves every single second of joy and success this moment can hold.

Her book, though, that’s what’s turning me ever-so-slightly green. It is beautiful, and beautifully written, but more than that, it’s socially powerful. It’s a story that NEEDED to be told, and that we should never, EVER stop telling. And I can’t think of a better way to tell it. I want my book to be that meaningful and important, but how can anyone live up to that standard with a fluffy bit of frou frou fiction?

I decided this was a question that needed an answer, so I queried my fellow EMUs (except I tricked them into responding by phrasing it more like “the significance of what we do.” I’m crafty that way.)

Here’s what they said (I leave it to you to figure out who said what):

GEEKS GIRLS AND SECRET IDENTITIES is a big, sloppy, affectionate ode to the fringe kid. My editor said it is essentially about a boy who feels unlovable, incapable, and undeserving of acceptance and respect, but eventually realizes that he is eminently lovable, highly capable, and undoubtedly worthy of acceptance and respect. And if even one of my future readers walks away from my book with the tiniest scrap of belief that those feelings are attainable, well then – that would be significant, wouldn’t it?

I want NERVE to offer readers a page-turning story, but I’d be thrilled if it also generated conversation about privacy. The main character in my book is seduced into a game of dares, which takes advantage of information she’s given away freely online. Loss of privacy may be the currency we pay for a greater sense of community, but the Internet has greatly magnified that equation. I’d love it if my book gets folks talking about where they’d draw the line.

HENRY FRANKS is young adult horror so on the importance scale from SEE SPOT RUN to WE’VE GOT A JOB I’d have to say that HENRY FRANKS is probably closer to Spot…it’s escapism I guess, a way for readers to get a little creeped out and have some fun. The important part would be the search for identity, which I believe everyone can relate to. Trying to find yourself, find your friends, find your future. Those are the over-arching themes, all tied up with a pretty bow (if, by ‘pretty bow’ one includes a serial killer, a hurricane, a love story and a joke or two…).

FLYING THE DRAGON is for the kid who has just moved to a new school, who feels out of place in his or her own skin, or who is dealing with a relative who is terminally ill. It’s for a kid who is dealing with culture shock, or the kid who has a non-English speaking classmate and doesn’t know how to reach out. It’s for kids who are curious about other cultures. And it’s for kids who feel caught between two cultures.

For LEAGUE OF STRAYS, I feel the importance is to let teens know the dangers in following others blindly. My character, Charlotte, ends up in a new school Senior year and gets caught up in “friendship” with several kids, one of whom is a sociopath, who she follows until it becomes very challenging for her to repair her life. It’s also tangentially about revenge and bullies and the damage they do. Lastly, it’s about developing your own dreams and holding onto them.

While FANGIRL is primarily a fun and funny novel, the main character, Blaze, must deal with intense bullying after her evil ex posts a ‘sext’ photo of her online. Instead of giving up, Blaze fights back and refuses to lose her sense of humor despite feeling utterly defeated.  Unfortunately, most of us have experienced being the subject of gossip and it always hurts. I hope that readers will be able to draw strength from Blaze and realize that they cannot be defined by what others think of them. Oh, and also, Gossip Mongers Suck!

Every reader is going to get something different out of THE WICKED AND THE JUST. It’s going to be important in more ways than I can imagine. So here’s why it is important to *me*. At its heart, it’s a story about power and its exercise. Having power and knowing how to use it are two different things, and kids live in a world of uneven power that is uncomfortably hierarchical at times. The medieval world is similar, and I hope I capture that and make it familiar, relatable and survivable.

I’ll tell you right up front—WATER is devastating. My characters endure trauma that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. But I don’t think this book is important because of the suffering. It is important because of the hope that rests beneath the parched surface of this story: the idea that you can find family if you are brave enough to let down your defenses; you can make a home for yourself, even out of the dust.

HOLY COW!!!!  And to think all this time I’ve been writing about chickens and a fish with whiskers! (Although actually, my book KATERINA’S WISH does address issues of immigration, prejudice, and choosing between fighting for what you believe in or settling for second best. Its only a little bit about chickens.)

What I really love about all these answers, is the passion behind them. The messages of hope and strength and comfort with which all these authors are marching forward. Some of these stories are fun, some are scary, some are serious or adventurous. All of them offer kids a chance to go somewhere or be someone different for a short time, and learn important things about themselves and the world while they are at it. The strength and solace we all hope kids find in our books is truly awe inspiring, and makes me proud to be part of this community. Like Birmingham’s civil rights marchers, we’ve got a job, too!

And that’s a pretty wonderful job to have, even if there is some frou frou fluff along the way.

I'm wearing my badge, 'cause I've got a job, too!

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