The Truth Behind the Photo that Tricked the Internet into Hating on Kids Today

If you spend any time on Facebook, you’ve probably seen this 2014 photo, which periodically makes the rounds to disgusted clucks of disapproval.

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There it is, the end of the world as we know it. A metaphor for our times.

One thing we’ve learned about the internet, people love to pile on. It makes us feel better about ourselves. Read the comments under this photo when it is shared and you’ll find the overwhelming majority of people are appalled by “kids today.” This shot, for many people, represents all of society’s ills in a nutshell: this is why we’re going to hell in a handbasket. Those darn kids and their stupid phones!

And yet to me it never looked quite right.

Maybe that’s because I’ve spent time in schools, have teenagers of my own, or perhaps I’m just not so ready to believe the worst about this generation. In fact, I incline toward the opposite direction. I look at young people today and feel hope.

And I also believe in teachers — that they wouldn’t be so ready to allow students to stare vacantly at phones during an educational field trip to a museum. Right? That’s obvious, isn’t it?

Earlier this morning I saw that photo come around again. I typed out a quick response, but didn’t post my comment. Instead I saved it.

I had written this:

“My two cents: I’ve seen this photo before and I don’t like it. Very easy to shame these kids for using their phones, and the reality is we don’t know what’s going on here. It may be as bad as it looks, or something else entirely. They might be bright, thoughtful, intelligent, creative young people who are using those amazing computers in their pocket to enhance learning. They may even have been instructed to do after viewing the artwork. I know the idea here is to portray these students as brain-dead zombies and for us all to feel smug and superior about the younger generation. It doesn’t seem fair or accurate.”

I didn’t post those thoughts because these days I am trying to stop myself before unloading on innocent victims. But it did spur me to do some research, and I discovered this:

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It turns out that these students were, in fact, on a field trip. The museum allowed them to download a free app onto their phones — you know, those useful, instructive computers they carry around in their pockets.

Reports indicate that the students were active, engaged, inspired.

The lesson here is don’t be fooled by one photo.

And more importantly, don’t be so ready to judge.

You don’t want to be this guy:

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5 QUESTIONS with Bruce Coville, author of “Hatched”

 

Big day here at James Preller Dot Com. Nevermind the mess. Kick those balloons out of the way, pick the confetti out of your hair later. We’re thrilled for today’s visit from the nearly-legendary author Bruce Coville! Or should I say the impossibly prolific? The glistening-domed scribe? Words are so hard sometimes. Anyway, I’m glad to have Bruce here, an author of wit and wisdom and unfailing good cheer (so long as he doesn’t open a newspaper). 

Bruce Coville - credit Charles Wainwright

 

Bruce, welcome. I’m eager to discuss Hatched, the second book in your “Enchanted Files” series. I should let readers know that each title in the series is a stand-alone, they don’t have to be read in any order. Or at all, I suppose!

Hey, don’t let people off the hook that easily. Of course they should read them all!

I guess the literary term for this book is “epistolary,” in the broadest sense. Not limited to letters, but inclusive of documents, cell phone photos, newspaper accounts, journal entries, and so on: multi-textural. It’s a highly entertaining way to deliver a story. Tell me about what attracted you to this narrative device.

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Actually, I’ve been trying for some months now to remember how I first thought of it! I think what happened was that when I was working on the proposal for the first book in the series, which was originally titled Diary of a Mad Brownie (long story there!), I realized I had a lot of information I needed to convey that the main character would not put into his diary, for example things about his world that he would take for granted but that would not be common knowledge for a young reader. Once I started down that path, I realized what a good source of humor such documents could be, especially with ironic juxtapositions.

It seems like you are having fun. It comes through in the book. I can imagine you giggling to yourself as you typed.

Totally! When kids ask if I like writing, I always explain that there are days when my head feels like oatmeal, and I think the only way I can get something out of the keyboard is if I plant a geranium there.

Other days I’ll write something so fabulous it makes me laugh out loud and hug myself. Naturally, I have a lot more oatmeal days than I do scream and hug myself days. Thing is, you have to live through the oatmeal to get to the hugs.

Or something like that . . .

I think someone on the interwebs needs to create a meme right now with your face and the words, “You have to live through the oatmeal to get to the hugs.” Back to the book — the design is fresh, clean, and inviting. Fabulous covers, especially. As a hot-shot author, did you have input into that aspect of the publishing process?

In this case it’s rather a long story.

That seems to be a trend with you. Try to hurry it up, I rent by the column inch.

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The first book (born Mad Brownie, but called Cursed in paperback) got great reviews, but did not do as well as we had hoped. In retrospect, I think the title was all wrong for the audience. It made adults laugh, but mostly just baffled kids.

Random House, bless its collective heart, believed in the project enough that rather than drop it –- which some other publishers might have done -– they literally went back to the drawing board and came up with an entirely new look that everyone seems to love. (Which shows what I know; I thought the art for the first cover was great!)

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That original cover artist had actually already done a crackerjack cover for Hatched, but it was replaced with the cover you’ve seen, and quite rightly described as “fresh, clean, and inviting.”

Because of the “epistolary” aspect of the books, I have indeed been involved in the design aspects of the interiors, much more so than usual. Much discussion of typefaces has ensued. And the artist, Paul Kidby, has been wonderful at coming up with different illustration styles, as the documents are supposed to be from a wide variety of sources.

You’ve long been interested in the magical, fascinated by the fantastic, always with a healthy dose of humor and playfulness. Publishing trends may come and go, but that’s always been your sweet spot. You’ve been ahead of the times and you’ve been behind the times, inhabiting your own planet, yet always working away, doing your own thing. Writing Bruce Coville-type books.

As the great Popeye so often said, “I yam what I yam.”

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Where did that interest come from? Is it something that goes back to your childhood?

Oh, definitely. But, changing styles aside, I think the mix of a compelling story with goofy humor is something that all kids love, always. Whatever is currently in style has as much to do with publishers seeking the next big thing as it does with actual kids. Okay, that statement is less true for YA fiction, where there are definite trends and fads. But for a large subset of the 8–12 year audience fantasy, science fiction, and adventure –- all leavened with humor –- will never go out of style.

This may sound silly, since this is a book about an imaginary creature, but what kind of research went into it? You are writing within a tradition, after all. You can’t just make it up. Can you?

Oh, I do a vast amount of research for these books. Obviously studying the creature that will be at the center of the story is vital. And not just because you’re writing about a figure for which there is a lot of existing lore. The delicious side-effect is that the research actually sparks all kinds of plot ideas. A good example would be the armband worn by Alexander the Great that plays an important part in the resolution of Hatched. That whole strand of the story came about because in the initial research I learned that there is a story about Alexander harnessing a pair of gryphons in an attempt to reach the heavens.

But the research isn’t restricted to the magical aspects of the story. I needed a place for Gerald, the griffin, to stay where he could avoid being seen. Once I decided that the Catskills would be perfect for my purposes, I had to research the area and its lore.

And doing a backstory for the gnomes that are also key to the book led to studying some Dutch history. I was fairly amused when the translator working on the Dutch edition queried me about naming their colony New Batavia, since Dutch kids learn that Batavia was the original name for Jakarta. I was able to tell her in return that the reason that city was called Batavia to begin with was in honor of the Batavi, a tribe that led a revolt against Rome in the first century AD, and that in the 1500’s there was a movement (“The Batavian Revival”) to claim the tribe as the forebears of the Dutch people as part of a nation-building/myth-making effort.

Really, I become a fountain of useless information when I am working on something like this!

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It took you all the way to page five before your first “stinky fart” joke. I believe “unicorn poop” is mentioned on the same page. Get a hold of yourself, Bruce! How in the world are you going to win a Newbery with this kind of attitude?

Brief story: The late, great Paula Danziger was a close pal of mine. She once told me about a snot joke she had put in one of her Matthew Martin books. Her editor wanted her to take it out. Telling me about it, Paula said, “I told him it stays. And that’s why I’ll never win the Newbery!”

But she sure had a lot of readers!

Seriously, you are willing to go there. The facile answer is that you’ve never grown up. But I wonder if you have anything to say about the place of “low humor” in children’s literature? Besides uproarious laughter, you must have gotten a few complaints over the years.

Actually, I used to have an entire speech called “The Importance of Bad Taste in Children’s Literature.” The essence of it was that as a writer I believe you have to start where the child is, not where you want to take them.

urlLook, if you say to a kid, “This book provides a deep and meaningful meditation on the meaning of life, and will prove to be important to you and the person you are to become,” the kid’s response is likely to be “That’s nice, but I have an important video game to play.”  

But if you start the book with some slightly naughty humor, then catch them with the story, they will follow you anywhere. And that is when you can also provide something deeper and more meaningful. On the other hand, if you gain the gift of a child’s attention but don’t go on to also feed his or her heart, I count that as a failure.

I like that, Bruce, well said. If you gain the gift of a child’s attention . . . .

Another meme!

The book is built upon the relationship of Brad –- a human boy -– and a Griffin, Gerald Overflight. Obviously, characters from different worlds. You like to write about that nexis where the magical and the modern world come together.

Absolutely!

Tell us your thoughts about Brad. Are you an author who has it all mapped out beforehand, or are you discovering him as you write?

Oh, I was totally discovering Brad as I wrote. One day when I was only partway into the book the editor contacted me and asked for a description of Brad to give the cover artist. (This was before the style change.)

To be honest, describing the main character is not a strong point with me . . . I mostly like to leave room for readers to imagine themselves in the lead roles.

In Elmore Leonard’s classic phrase, you leave out the parts that readers tend to skip.

But it is important for most covers. They asked if Brad could have dark hair and eyes, and maybe despite his Scottish heritage (something that later changed anyway) be not too fair-skinned.

My reply was that as far as I was concerned he could be black. I was being a bit flip. But that email exchange led to me deciding to make Brad of mixed race, which in turn helped make him a much richer and more interesting character in the final version.

Ah, that opens the door an entirely different conversation about diversity and representation in children’s books — a topic we can’t possibly due justice to today. Maybe we can tackle it another time. Because look: we made it through to the end without you jumping on a chair and screaming about Donald Trump. You’ve shown admirable restraint.

That’s because I’m tired of having to replace keyboards after I pound out a message that sets them on fire!

51SX43Um+qL._AC_UL320_SR216,320_BRUCE COVILLE was born, raised, and still lives in the Syracuse, New York, area, where he is king of all he surveys. He has written many books and enjoys visiting schools, because that’s where they keep the kids.

 

Authors and illustrators previously interviewed in my “5 Questions” series include: Hudson Talbott, Hazel Mitchell, Susan Hood, Matthew McElligott, Jessica Olien, Nancy Castaldo, Aaron Becker, Matthew Cordell, Jeff Newman, Matt Phelan, Lizzy Rockwell, Jeff Mack, London Ladd, and John Coy. To find past interviews, click on the “5 Questions” link on the right sidebar, under CATEGORIES. Or use the “Search” function. 

Coming soon: Elizabeth Zunon, Matt Faulkner, Robin Pulver, and more.

Stories Behind the Story: The Case of the Snowboarding Superstar

 

UPDATE: I am reposting this from six years back. This book — like every Jigsaw Jones title — subsequently went out of print. Hard to find. I’m told that dedicated fans have success on eBay and Craig’s List. The good news is that Macmillan has contracted to bring eight classic titles back into circulation, beginning this August. I’ve also written a brand new mystery, The Case from Outer Space. And I’d gladly write another if anyone asks. To date, there are no plans for Snowboarding Superstar. 

 

As part of a continuing (read: sporadic) series of posts, I take a look back at old Jigsaw Jones titles with the intention of providing my Nation of Readers with more “extra juicy” background info.

If you are like me, you might gag at the thought of yet another writer describing his “creative process.” There is something oh-so-wearying about it. The phrase, “Don’t be a gasbag,” leaps to mind. But let’s see if I can pull this off without too much self-aggrandizement. The simple truth is that I am proud of this series and I sometimes (often?) wonder how much longer they’ll be around. I see this blog as document, as archive.

Today’s title is seasonally appropriate, Jigsaw Jones #29: The Case of the Snowboarding Superstar. It begins with Jigsaw chatting with two of his brothers, Daniel and Nick, as they prepare for a family ski vacation.

Some background: My father was a veteran of World War II, who returned home, got married, went to college on the G.I. Bill — a great investment by the Federal Government, by the way — and looked with my mother for a nice place to settle down and raise a family. Suburbia, preferably. He found a newly-built home in Wantagh, Long Island, designed after the Levittown model (for a fascinating history on that, click here). They bought a three-bedroom house for somewhere along the lines of $12,500.

One problem: My parents kept having children. Seven in all. It got crowded. At one point when I was still quite young, my folks slept in the back bedroom, my two sisters (Barbara and Jean) shared a small room, three boys had the front room (John, Al, me), and my father turned the garage into a bedroom for the oldest boys (Neal and Bill). I have strong memories of those early childhood days, sharing that crowded room with two big and somewhat mysterious brothers.

Below, here’s my whole family except for Mom, 1967. We always dressed that way! I shared a bedroom with the two goons on the right — don’t let the ties fool you.

The dynamic in the book’s first chapter, with two older brothers schooling Jigsaw, springs directly from my sense of those times.

They are teaching Jigsaw how to talk cool, in the snowboarder’s hipster jargon:

“Let us quiz you, Jigsaw,” Nick said. “What do you call someone if you don’t know their name?”

I thought for a moment. “Dude,” I answered.

“Excellent!” Nick cheered. “What’s a face-plant?”

“It’s when you fall into the snow face-first.”

“Awesome, Jigsaw,” Daniel said. “Totally gnarly!”

“Gnarly?” I asked. “What’s that?”

“It means very, very cool,” Nick explained. “Do you smell me?”

I sniffed, confused. “What?”

“Do you smell me?” Nick repeated. “It means, do you understand?”

“Not exactly,” I groaned.

In the next chapter, Jigsaw gets to try out his new language skills on Mila Yeh, his partner and best friend:

“I’m jealous,” Mila complained. “I wish I were going  on a ski trip.”

“Snowboarding,” I corrected her.

“It sounds hard,” Mila said. “I hear that beginners fall down a lot.”

“Maybe,” I said. “But I think it will be sick.”

“Sick?” Mila asked. “Who’s sick?”

“Not who,” I said. “It. Snowboarding will be sick.”

Mila frowned. “I don’t get it.”

“It’s the opposite of wack,” I explained.

Okaaay,” Mila murmured.

“Do you smell me?” I asked.

Mila sniffed. “Well, now that you mention it, you do smell a little ripe.”

Don’t they have a nice friendship? Anyway, some random things:

* I loved the setup for the book, with Jigsaw away from Mila for the first time. It gave the book a different shape — and put Jigsaw in a tough situation. After all, this was #29 in the series, so I was eager to find new ways to keep it fresh. I know that some successful series, like The Magic Tree House, tend to follow a more rigid formula. And I understand the reasons why that’s appealing and reassuring for young readers. But it just wasn’t me. For better and for worse, I kept trying to mix things up.

* Mila mentions to Jigsaw that she’s practicing for a piano recital. Her song will be “The Maple Leaf Rag.” This comes from my son, Gavin, who also played that song in a recital.

* Grams and Billy are left behind to “mind the fort.” This expression, used by Mr. Jones, was something my father commonly said. I love his old verbal habits, the phrases he often used, and I try to keep them alive as best as I can — more than ever now that he’s gone. It’s a way of keeping that connection alive. I hear those phrases and think of Dad, all the more so when his words come out of my mouth.

* I once edited a book on snowboarding, written by Joe Layden. I learned a lot about the sport in the process, so it was comfortable territory for me to explore in the context of a Jigsaw Jones mystery.

In my story, a star snowboarder named Lance Mashman (love that name!) is at the lodge for an upcoming exhibition. However, someone steals his lucky bandanna — and with it, his confidence. While working on No Limits, I was impressed by many of the top female snowboarders, such as Shannon Dunn and Victoria Jealouse. They had a vitality and strength that inspired me, qualities I love to see in my own daughter. Also, they conveyed a refreshing take on competition, much different than you normally hear in the context of traditional athletics. So I invented the character of Tara Gianopolis, a rival to Lance, and a very cool young woman:

Illustration by Jamie Smith — crudely scanned.

“But you two compete against each other,” I said. “You are enemies . . . .”

Tara shook her head. “Man, you don’t know much about snowboarders, do you? This isn’t like football or basketball. We’re athletes, but we’re just trying to be the best we can be. It’s about nailing a backside rodeo or pulling off a perfect McTwist. It’s not about winning medals or beating people. It’s about freedom and creativity.”

“So you don’t care if you win?” I asked.

“I care, I guess,” Tara said with a shrug. “But as long as I ride well, I’m okay with whatever happens.”

* One of the suspects turns out to be Lance’s manager, Bubba Barbo, named in honor of my former editor, Maria Barbo. Once again, that’s a great aspect of writing mysteries. The genre forces the detective out into the world, this moral compass encountering life, making observations, going places, meeting new people all the time. As a series writer, that holds tremendous appeal — new characters in every book. Here’s a snippet from a conversation between Jigsaw and Bubba:

“It sounds like you think Lance is annoying,” I commented.

Bubba growled. “I don’t think he’s annoying. Lance is annoying. He’s always late. He drives me up a wall and across the ceiling.”

“You don’t like him?” I asked.

Bubba made a face. “Whaddaya, kidding? I love the kid,” he said. “Lance has talent. He’s a genius on a snowboard. A great athlete. And besides that, Lance has heart. He’s good people. You know what I’m saying?”

Yes, I knew what Bubba was saying. “I heard that he fired you this morning,” I said.

Bubba stepped back, surprised. Then he laughed out loud. “Lance fires me every week and twice on Sunday,” Bubba claimed. “It doesn’t mean anything. We’re a team.”

 

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #243: From Johanna in CT

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I recently turned 56. That’s 8 in dog years, or time you start thinking about getting a new puppy. You know, to ease the transition. It’s disconcerting to discover that I’ve been getting a little weirder over the years. A tad stranger. Or maybe that’s just the liberation of time, of caring less what might be misconstrued, of feeling free to speak my (scattered) mind. It might be a good thing, writing-wise. Anyway, I sometimes feel a little sorry for the poor kid who sends me a beautiful letter and receives whatever I might dash back. When it comes to answering fan mail, I’m not a machine. There’s no brilliant strategy here. I just start typing and try to keep it real. For better and for, I’m sure, worse.

Here’s the opening of Johanna’s two-page letter, followed by my reply:

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< snip >

 

I replied:

Dear Johanna,

Thank you for your well-written (typed!) letter.

While reading it, I found that I admired you quite a bit. Not because you liked my book. I’m not that shallow. But because your words revealed a pensive, inquisitive, open mind. An admirable brain & spirit!

I don’t know. I’m fumbling. What am I trying to say?

I’ll never forget when a friend in college said to me, in a casual, offhanded sort of way, “Oh, I learned that question yesterday.”

41m-cvcfcxl-_sx337_bo1204203200_It struck me as funny. The idea of learning a question. Aren’t we supposed to learn answers? Figure stuff out? Know things? And now I think . . . well, yes and no. A big part of life is learning the questions. And one of the biggest is, What do I do with time here on Earth? How should I spend my days? How do I treat others? What does it mean?

I don’t think a book, or an author, or anyone else can provide us with the answers. We find those inside ourselves. We discover, we learn, we grow. And it all begins with the search -– the seeking, the quest! –- the quest/ions –- the inner desire to think and learn. You’ve got that, I could instantly sense it, and that’s a great quality to have. It’ll take you far.

Anyway, I’m sorry; feeling weirdly philosophical today. Maybe it was the tone of your letter. You seem to be the kind of person who enjoys that sort of conversation.

Oh, hey, not to turn this into a commercial, but you might also very much like my book, The Fall, which touches on some of these same themes but goes to a darker place. Check it out at your school or town library. Or hey, go buy it in paperback for $6.99 and line my pockets with gold.

I really appreciate your (deep!) thoughts, thanks.

James Preller

 

5 QUESTIONS with JOHN COY, author of “Their Great Gift”


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I don’t know what it is with Minnesota, but there’s a lot of great children’s book people from that state, and John Coy is a shining example of all that is great and good in the land of lakes. Each year John quietly adds new quality work to an already outstanding career. Ask anybody in the business about John Coy, and you always hear the same thing: Big Respect. But on the basketball court, they say: No Hops. Today I’m happy to talk about his timely book, Their Great Gift: Courage, Sacrifice, and Hope in a New Land, featuring the photographs of Wing Young Huie.

 

John and Wing.

John and Wing.

 

Hi, John. In a way, this book began on a basketball court twenty-five years ago. That is, through friendship. Give us a little bit of background on your relationship with photographer Wing Young Huie and the genesis of this book.

Wing and I met each other playing pick-up basketball in St. Paul. We were often on the same team and he’s got a deadly outside shot. I learned quickly that getting him the ball with the game on the line was a good way to keep the court. Later I played with him in a weekly game for years and we’d go out afterwards as a group. I’ve been a fan of Wing’s extraordinary photography for a long time.

That’s great. I share that in common with you. I play in an old men’s baseball league — hardball, still — and I value so much that companionship of men from assorted backgrounds. It’s an escape and a release and a pure joy. But tell me. Why did this particular topic of immigration speak to you?

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This book had a much different process than any of the other picture books I’ve made where I have not known the artist. I was having lunch one day with editor Andrew Karre and he said, “I’ve always wanted to do a book with Wing Young Huie.” I told him that Wing and I were friends and that I’d love to do a book with Wing. Andrew suggested I write something that would work with Wing’s photographs. Wing has over 35,000 photographs, but I knew he had many of recent arrivals in Minnesota and I’d always wanted to do a book about arriving in a new land.

For Their Great Gift, the photos came first. It was your task to write something that pulled it all together. Is that right?

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Actually, the text came first. I wrote it thinking about the stories I’d heard of different people in my family coming here. After Wing saw the text, he and I got together and he suggested changes to make it broader and more inclusive. I talked with people who had come here from other countries and incorporated their suggestions as well. Our goal early on was to make the story open so people could bring their own thoughts, experiences, and questions to it.

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In order to write this, you had to think deeply about the nature of America, and the role that immigration has played in our country’s development. What did you discover in the process of writing this book? Did anything surprise you? Did you feel sadness? Inspiration? Pride?

This is a subject very close to me. My uncle didn’t speak any English when he started school and I was brought up hearing stories about how difficult it is to give up a life in one country and start anew in another one. I also heard about
how hard the immigrant experience could be and how some people were not welcoming to new arrivals. As I got older I read more about it and realized this is a very old story in the United States — who is welcome and who is not. I also became interested in how often aspects of being an immigrant are passed down in families, often without us even being aware of them. In terms of emotions, yes sadness, inspiration, pride, but most of all a deep appreciation of the struggle so many people go through to get here, so often so the children and grandchildren will have greater choices. Just typing that sentence about sacrifice brings tears.

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I don’t think most people can fully appreciate how difficult it is to write simply about a topic of great complexity. What was the process of winnowing down like for you? I mean, after you removed your forehead from the plasterboard.

I’ve been thinking about this story for twenty years. I’m sure some of that winnowing was going on in my mind, but I also knew the power of Wing’s photographs.

You had that ace up your sleeve.

Right away, I knew the less text the better so that people could bring their own family stories to the topic by seeing the photographs.

Same spread.

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Interesting, so the text had to be sparse, leaving an open space for readers to enter with their own stories. But even so, you still had to try to arrive at the essence of the immigrant experience. And that means throwing away a lot of images and pages and pages of text.

Yes, that’s exactly the process. Wing and I would discuss a single word for over an hour trying to get it right. Once Wing and I settled on text, he began the process of choosing images for particular pages. We had a wonderful team with his gallery director Stephanie Rogers and editors Andrew Karre and Carol Hinz and designer Danielle Carnito at Lerner. Since we all live in Minnesota, we could get together and discuss text, images, fonts, and design. Together, we went through many discussions before arriving at the place that felt right.

There’s a great power to Wing’s photographs, the simplicity of just “giving face” to the contemporary immigrant experience. Do you think that’s the ultimate takeaway for this book? A recognition that these are real people seeking the same basic things for their families?

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I always want readers to choose their own takeaways. I will say that when I read this book, I have never had kids and adults pay more attention than I do with Their Great Gift. Wing’s images are so powerful that they speak directly to us and cut through so much of the noise around us.

Okay, let’s address it. Were you ever concerned, in this time of heightened sensitivity to “cultural appropriation,” that this wasn’t your story to tell?

Yes, this was a discussion that Wing and I had from the beginning. I started out telling the story from my own personal experience and then tried to move outwards to make it as broad and open as possible so that others could see themselves in the story. I am very grateful to all the people who shared their stories in the process.

Did you any have specific sources you went to for inspiration? Books, speeches, images? I’d guess that you started writing this book . . . by reading?

This book started in listening to people’s stories. The more we’re able to listen to other people’s stories, the more we’re able to understand who we are.

As a writer, I had this experience only once, when I wrote Bystander. I could imagine the book being discussed, to the point where I thought of it as a “talking book.” I saw the novel as a means rather than an end, sensing that the conversations after would be more important than reading the book. I feel that way about your book too, John — a good way to begin an important conversation.

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I think that there are a number of conversations happening that are long overdue. Sometimes the conversations aren’t easy, but that’s what happens when there are things we haven’t been talking openly about for a long time. I’m appreciative of people who’ve made their own sacrifices to bring these conversations forward.

Your book ends with a question. Did you always know that’s where you were going to end up?

That question was there in the first draft. I’d given a talk at a young authors’ conference and discussed the people who’d come before me that allowed me to be in the position I was. I asked students to think about who in their family had made a significant sacrifice to provide them the opportunity they had. And then I asked them to think about what they were going to do with this gift.

UnknownYou’re a good man, John Coy. Before I let you go, could you please tell us a bit about Gap Life, your new book for YA readers?

Thanks for asking. It’s the story of Cray Franklin whose parents will pay for college but only if he studies what they want. That’s not what Cray wants and he struggles to find his own way. I’ve been fascinated by how many people have told me stories about not being able to study what they wanted and how deep this goes. Cray meets some remarkable people who help him get to places he didn’t expect.

I’ll add it to the reading list. And again, congratulations on Their Great Gift.

Thanks for asking me to answer these questions. I really enjoyed thinking about it. Very glad to be on the same team with you making books.

 

The “5 Questions” Interview Series is a side project I’ve assigned myself, hoping to reach 52 authors & illustrators in the course of a year, always focusing on one book. To find past interviews, click on the “5 Questions” link on the right sidebar, under CATEGORIES. Or use the “Search” function, which works swimmingly. 

Authors and illustrators previously interviewed include: Hudson Talbott, Hazel Mitchell, Susan Hood, Matthew McElligott, Jessica Olien, Nancy Castaldo, Aaron Becker, Matthew Cordell, Jeff Newman, Matt Phelan, Lizzy Rockwell, Jeff Mack, and London Ladd. 

Coming soon: Elizabeth Zunon, Bruce Coville, Matt Faulkner, Robin Pulver, and more.