Hi Kid Lit friends,
This Tuesday, the last book in The Penderwicks series will be released. I had the opportunity to interview author Jeanne Birdsall about how she feels about finishing her bestselling series, her pets, and what’s next.
Sponsored by Candlewick Press
Judy Moody is the perfect protagonist for today’s early chapter book readers. The curious, exuberant third-grader is smart but not a great speller; she loves science but is also artistic; she is caring but cranky; and she’s honest. She is as multifaceted and complicated as the children who read about her. The award-winning series by Megan McDonald and Peter H. Reynolds was first published in 2000, there are now 34 million books about Judy and her little brother, Stink, in print worldwide, in twenty-eight languages. With an exciting series relaunch in 2018, a whole new generation of readers can discover this plucky heroine.
- Congratulations on The Penderwicks at Last, the final book in the Penderwicks series! I am a huge fan. When you were writing this one, how did it feel knowing that this would be the last book you wrote about the Penderwick family?
There were a few sad moments, like when I realized I was writing about the very last Meeting of the Penderwick Siblings (MOPS). But the characters aren’t leaving me. They still, and always will, live on in my imagination.
- The first three Penderwick books are set in the same general time period, the fourth one jumps in time to Batty being ten, and the fifth one jumps in time again to Lydia (who is two in the fourth book) being eleven. Did you always know you wanted to jump in time to tell Batty’s and Lydia’s stories?
Here’s what I knew from the very beginning: there were going to be five or six books, the original four sisters would age throughout the series, and the point of view would always be that of a character the same age as middle grade readers. I had no interest in getting inside the heads and emotions of teenagers, even when those teenagers were my beloved Penderwicks.
The jumps in time, though, weren’t necessarily to tell Batty’s and Lydia’s stories, but to move the plot forward to the next part of the family story I wanted to tell.
- The final book is set in Arundel, the setting of the the first book. Was it always your plan to revisit Arundel, and what was it like for you to go back to that setting?
When I finished writing the first book, I intended not to go back to Arundel, where I’d have to deal with Mrs. Tifton all over again. But at some point, I realized that Jeffrey would want the Penderwicks to return to his old home, and the last book was the right time for that to happen.
It ended up being lots of fun going back, particularly when I could contrast Lydia’s (and Ben’s) new impressions of Arundel with the older sisters’ memories. Memory is one of the themes of this last book—how fluid it can be, the richness it can add to a person’s life, how it allows us to live in the present and the past simultaneously. All those layers of experience.
- I am a huge fan of animals, and I subject Book Riot newsletter subscribers to weekly photos of my pets. I know you are also a huge animal person. Can you tell us about your current pets, and maybe send us a photo of you with them?
Unfortunately, we’re now down to just one dog, our beloved, ancient, and blind and deaf Cagney (named after the Arundel gardener). He no longer likes having his picture taken, thinking his days should consist only of naps, meals, and walks. I agree with him.
But here’s a photo of a puppy in our life. Illustrator Jane Dyer, friend and neighbor, brings young Phineas over most days to visit. Here he is on his three-month birthday.
photo credit: Jeanne Birdsall
- If you can share, what are you working on now?
A middle grade novel with a backstory in Scotland. I visited Edinburgh for research! But the real story takes place in the Boston area, including in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, one of my favorite places. (And no, the book isn’t like From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler—I wouldn’t dare try!)
- What are three recent favorite children’s books (picture books or middle grade) that you have read?
Because I need to protect my imagination and voice, I don’t read a lot of contemporary children’s books. I especially stay away from books that have similar themes to mine, ones that might confuse me, and make me second-guess my own writing and decisions. It’s much safer to re-read the books I loved as a child — they’re already part of my inner landscape.
But I do treat myself to books my friends write. (Getting to know other writers is the best part of being one.) Last fall I read Rita Williams Garcia’s Clayton Byrd Goes Underground and, yes, I was intimidated by the way she bends language to her will, how she makes you hear the music in her words. But Rita’s voice is so distinctly her own that I couldn’t, even sub-consciously, imitate it. Adam Gidwitz’s latest, the first volume in The Unicorn Rescue Society series, has everything we expect from Adam, and always get – excellent writing, fun, delightful characters, and a touch of the mysterious. Most recently, I’ve read an early version of Susan Hill Long’s next book. Even unpolished, the book grabbed me and wouldn’t let me stop until I’d finished reading it. A month later, the characters are still floating around in my head and making me laugh. I can’t tell you more, but I sure can’t wait for it to be a real book.
And I’m about to dive into N.D. Wilson’s final volume in his Outlaws of Time series. It will be an outstanding adventure and a lot of fun to read, because everything Nate writes is. He combines the classic adventure tale—think Kipling, Haggard, Tolkien, Dumas—with his own passionate love of America’s landscape. Deserts, prairies, swamps, and mountains are all fodder for his stories. Reading them always makes me feel braver and stronger, like I can do anything.
The Penderwicks at Last is out this Tuesday, May 15th from Penguin Random House.
All of these books release this Tuesday unless otherwise noted. The book descriptions are from Goodreads, but I’ll add a if I particularly loved a title.
Picture Book New Releases
The Hyena Scientist by Sy Montgomery, photographs by Nic Bishop (HMH Books for Young Readers)
Timely and inspiring, The Hyena Scientist sets the record straight about one of history’s most hated and misunderstood mammals, while featuring the groundbreaking, pioneering research of a female scientist in a predominately male field in this offering by Sibert-winning duo Sy Montgomery and Nic Bishop. As a scientist studying one of the only mammalian societies led entirely by females, zoologist Kay Holecamp has made it her life’s work to understand hyenas, the fascinating, complex creatures that are playful, social, and highly intelligent—almost nothing like the mangy monsters of pop culture lore.
How to Code a Sandcastle by Josh Funk, illustrated by Sara Palacios (Penguin Random House)
All summer, Pearl has been trying to build the perfect sandcastle, but out-of-control Frisbees and mischievous puppies keep getting in the way! Pearl and her robot friend Pascal have one last chance, and this time, they’re going to use code to get the job done. Using fundamental computer coding concepts like sequences and loops, Pearl and Pascal are able to break down their sandcastle problem into small, manageable steps. If they can create working code, this could turn out to be the best beach day ever!
My Mindful Breath by Nick Ortner and Alison Taylor, illustrated by Michelle Polizzi (HarperCollins)
Do YOU have the magic breath?
Let’s see…Take a deeeeeep breath in…and BLOW it out…
…and like magic, you can feel better just by breathing! Sometimes it’s hard to feel happy. But with this interactive picture book, children breathe along as they learn how to make angry or sad thoughts disappear. In a world that is sometimes too busy, with too many things going on, My Magic Breath will help steer children into a serene space of mindfulness, self-awareness, and balance.
Rock ‘n’ Roll Soul by Susan Verde, illustrated by Matthew Cordell (Abrams)
With the school talent show coming up, a young music lover spends most of her time daydreaming about the perfect act. She notices the sounds around her, like the brrrrring of the school bell or the rappa-tappa-tap of rain on the windowpane. But the talent show is the place to reveal her own voice. Will she mix up some hip-hop beats? Will she command an orchestra of dozens, bringing the classics to life? Or, will she go electric, Jimi Hendrix style? Marching out on the talent show stage to the beat of her own drum, this sweet and sassy musician ultimately chooses to be herself and sing her own song loud and proud, “I’ve got a rock ’n’ roll soul!”
Middle Grade New Releases
Secret Sisters of the Salty Sea by Lynne Rae Perkins (HarperCollins)
Alix and her sister, Jools, have never seen the ocean. When their parents pack them up for a week at the shore, Alix is nervous about leaving home, but excited, too. At the beach, the girls make friends, go exploring, and have adventures both big and small. They pick periwinkles, spot crabs, and discover that the beach is full of endless possibilities. As the week comes to an end, Alix is surprised to find she doesn’t want to leave!
You Are Mighty: A Guide to Changing the World by Caroline Paul, illustrated by Lauren Tamaki (Bloomsbury)
Being a good citizen means standing up for what’s right-and here’s just the way to start. From the author of The Gutsy Girl comes a book for those with a fierce sense of justice, a good sense of humor, and a big heart. This guide features change-maker tips, tons of DIY activities, and stories about the kids who have paved the way before, from famous activists like Malala Yousafzai and Claudette Colvin to the everyday young people whose habit changes triggered huge ripple effects. So make a sign, write a letter, volunteer, sit-in, or march! There are lots of tactics to choose from, and you’re never too young to change the world.
Hyacinth and the Stone Thief by Jacob Sager Weinstein (Random House)
Now that Hyacinth Hayward knows about the enchanted rivers under London, she’s determined to find out more. Unfortunately, London isn’t cooperating. Instead, Hyacinth stumbles on a new adversary–a girl who is trying to steal all the ancient stones that keep the city in balance. A girl with glowing, magical fingers, whose entire body is tattooed with spells. A girl called Minnie Tickle. (What? Were you expecting something more . . . fearsome?) To stop her, Hyacinth will need help from stone itself–specifically, a giant talking lion statue and his talking statue friends. Can this enthusiastic but scattered company defeat Minnie before London sinks like a stone?
I read some awesome books this week! I picked up The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson from the library, and I was intrigued by the compelling plot and mystery. When Candice finds a letter in an old attic in Lambert, South Carolina, she isn’t sure she should read it. It’s addressed to her grandmother, who left the town in shame. But the letter describes a young woman. An injustice that happened decades ago. A mystery enfolding its writer. And the fortune that awaits the person who solves the puzzle. I loved the way the story jumps back in time to describe the backstory and how it seamlessly relates to the current plot line.
I have been looking forward to Sophie Blackall’s Hello Lighthouse for the past few months. It is a gorgeous story about a lighthouse keeper and the course of his life and work in a remote lighthouse. The days and seasons pass as the wind blows, the fog rolls in, and icebergs drift by. Outside, there is water all around. Inside, the daily life of a lighthouse keeper and his family unfolds as the keeper boils water for tea, lights the lamp’s wick, and writes every detail in his logbook. Blackall is the illustrator of the Caldecott-winnter Finding Winnie, and a middle grade follow-up is planned called Winnie’s Great War by Lindsay Mattick and Josh Greenhunt, illustrated by Sophie Blackall. Winnie’s Great War is out September 18, 2018.
I loved The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty. It is about twelve-year-old Lucy who was hit by lightning when she was eight. The zap gave her genius-level math skills, and ever since, Lucy has been homeschooled. Now, at 12 years old, she’s technically ready for college. Then, Lucy’s grandma decides that Lucy needs a change in routine. She insists that Lucy do four things: Go to middle school for 1 year. Make 1 friend. Join 1 activity. And read 1 book (that’s not a math textbook!). I adored Lucy and found her so endearing and funny. This book is entertaining from beginning to end.
Children’s Book Festivals!
Did you know there are book festivals happening nearly every weekend in some part of America? Book festivals usually consist of various author panels and writing workshops plus a book sales area and author signings. It’s a fun way to meet and interact with your authors as well as support your local indie bookstores! There are two book festivals that I know of happening this Saturday, May 19.
One is the second annual OMG (Oh Middle Grade!) Book Fest at Tattered Cover Bookstore, 2526 East Colfax Avenue, Denver, Colorado from 1pm – 3pm on Saturday, May 19th. Tween readers will experience themed activities with all of the OMG authors, including local author, Newbery Medalist Avi. More information can be found here.
The second book festival is the Gaithersburg Book Festival in Maryland on Saturday, May 19th from 10am – 6pm. It is located at the Gaithersburg City Hall Grounds and consists of both children’s book authors and adult book authors. Check out the full line-up of authors and the schedule on their website.
Until next week!
Nala and the library book bin!
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