Archive for jimmy

A Conversation with Judy Bradbury — former Classroom Teacher, Reading Specialist, and Author of the New “Cayuga Island Kids” Series

“I was deep in the trenches with kids
who struggled with learning.
We all rolled our sleeves up
and dug in
to make sense of what they had trouble grasping.
I’ve spent years around learners of all ages
and it’s the joy
of seeing someone’s eyes light up
when they achieve a goal
or nail a concept
that wins the day for a teacher.”
— Judy Bradbury

 

I love it when a classroom teacher steps out and decides to write for kids. I mean, teachers know, right? All the research that I do to try to get things right, these teachers experience on a daily basis. Judy Bradbury began her professional life as a classroom teacher. Since that time, Judy’s rich and varied career has centered around reaching and teaching learners of all ages (from adults all the way up to preschool). Today we’re celebrating the launch of Judy’s new chapter book series for young readers, “The Cayuga Island Kids.”

 

 

Welcome, Judy! We met at the Rochester Children’s Book Festival some years ago. At the time, I thought of you as primarily a professional books writer. An educator more than, say, a fiction writer. Forgive me if I got that wrong. 

I am actually both (and I make a mean mushroom risotto, too). 

Risotto? Wait, did you say . . . mushroom risotto? Cancel the interview! I’m hungry NOW!

Sorry, Judy, I kind of lost my head there. So, um, what were you saying?

As long as I can remember, I wanted to teach. I had an entire classroom set-up in our basement, from a chalkboard, to a plan book, to a row of those wooden desks with ink bottle holes that my father snagged when the school down the road was remodeling. I’d get all the neighborhood kids to play school, and they knew going in that I was going to be the teacher. I also wrote throughout my childhood—a letter to convince my dad to let me take more dance classes (that was probably my first persuasive essay), a “book” for my younger sister about the twin dolls she received for Christmas, letters to the editor, and more. I began my teaching career as an elementary teacher at the age of 20 and eventually became a reading teacher. I taught struggling readers in high school for many years. I also have taught at the college graduate level. My first books for children were picture books in a series that featured math in each story. I’d say that project perfectly blended my love of teaching with my desire to write for children.  

I’m always interested when a children’s writer has an academic background. You have a real sense of how children learn and what they need to succeed.

I like to think that’s true, though I don’t see myself as an academic. I was deep in the trenches with kids who struggled with learning. We all put our sleeves up and dug in to make sense of what they had trouble grasping. I’ve spent years around learners of all ages and it’s the joy of seeing someone’s eyes light up when they achieve a goal or nail a concept that wins the day for a teacher. For authors, it’s when readers connect with characters, are tickled by text, or find another solution to a problem they’re facing—one they might not have thought of had they not read that book. In many ways, books and teachers can be game changers and maybe life savers for kids.  

Though I’m eager to discuss your new chapter book series, first I’d like to learn more about your background with professional books. 

I have always had a passion for reading and reading aloud to kids. Even as a high school teacher I read to my students every day. These kids, who wouldn’t have opened a book if you promised them there was gum inside, would beseech me to continue reading when I stopped. Gradually, they’d start asking me to read stories with certain themes. I’d notice them perusing the magazines and books in my classroom library. (I had a couch in the room and I used a big portion of my yearly budget on trade books and an array of magazines that teens would be interested in reading.) As a mom, reading together with my daughter was a treasured time. We still talk about books with one another. It’s a lifelong bond we formed before she could talk that has carried on through her life. So it is sort of natural that the professional resources for educators I have written center on reading aloud to kids. They offer methods, materials, activities, book recommendations, poetry connections, and ways to connect kids with books and develop a love of reading. 

How can a parent encourage “the reader” in their child?

My advice is simple: read to your kids. Read widely. Enjoy the experience with them daily. 15-20 minutes is all you need. Have reading materials available everywhere—from bedrooms to bathrooms, to seat pockets in your car. Visit the library. Buy books as gifts. Encourage your children to explore books on their interests, and also widen their horizons by choosing books they might not have thought to pick up, but that you feel certain they will enjoy. Oh, and I tell parents this. Reading with your children goes beyond just reading picture books when they’re young. Your books for older readers, for example, would be ideal. They are excellent conversation starters. So, I say to educators and parents alike, read to kids, even when they’re in college. 

I’m curious about your work as a former “character education columnist.” You wrote about issues that centered on emotional learning? 

I did. Before it was known as social-emotional learning, this realm of interpersonal skills was called character education. Each month I wrote a column focusing on trade books that related to the month’s theme and also had a strong SEL component. I absolutely loved writing for LibrarySparks. Those articles were very satisfying to pull together. My Children’s Book Corner blog is an outgrowth of that experience. Each month I interview an author and/or illustrator of a new release and offer resources for using the book with kids. I choose books with strong SEL themes that also connect in some way to curriculum.

It seems like kids are going through so much right now that it’s almost impossible to measure the impact of their Covid experience.

I think that’s true, and it’s why I am buoyed by the reports that sales of books—especially children’s books—have risen during this unprecedented time. As readers we know that books can transport us to other places, offer us fresh perspectives, and lighten our spirits.  

Anxiety appears to be at an all-time high.

It does, and I like to think that books have helped, as have all the authors and illustrators who reached out to offer readings, virtual visits, activities, and more to schools and home-schooling parents scrambling with the new normal this past year. The kidlit community—including publishers—came to the aid of educators and families in a big way; it was heartwarming to witness such a meaningful and well-executed expression of support. It demonstrated solidarity and a willingness to assist. Uplifting moments such as these help us breathe. I hope as 2021 moves forward we are able to move away from such high anxiety and that with distance we are able to look back and find solace and takeaways in some of the silver linings in the Covid cloud. I hope we can focus on how positive expressions are an option even in distressing times: they lift us all up—those who give as well as those who receive.

So now you’ve made this exciting shift. You are the author of a new mystery series. Would it be fair to say that this series is a dream come true for you?

It is indeed a dream come true. I was always writing for children, working on my craft while I was deep into creating resource books for educators. But in reality, I didn’t have enough time to do both. I decided a few years ago to put all my energies solely into writing for children. I turned down a few requests to write another educational resource, and that was hard to do, but I had spent some time assessing my priorities. My heart was in writing for children. That gives me the most joy. So I committed to that fully. 

That’s impressive. And a great lesson in persistence and following your bliss. Please tell our readers about the books.

I’m very excited for this series! The seed of the idea for The Mystery of the Barking Branches and the Sunken Ship resulted from a feature article published in the Niagara Gazette in 2015. It detailed the discovery of a cannonball in the backyard of a resident of Griffon Avenue on Cayuga Island. He was installing a fence when he unearthed it. Cayuga Island is a small residential island a few miles upstream from Niagara Falls. Griffon Avenue is named for the Griffon—a treasure ship built in the 1600’s by Niagara Frontier explorers in the area where the cannonball was discovered. It is at the center of one of the most intriguing mysteries of the Great Lakes. The ship sank in 1679 and was never recovered. Well over a million dollars has been spent trying to locate its remains. With the backyard find, the question was, Could the unearthed cannonball be from the Griffon?

My cousin sent the Gazette article to me because I grew up on Griffon Avenue on Cayuga Island. (So did she. I guess you could say we are Cayuga Island Kids). She figured the article would interest me, and she was right! I found myself thinking about whether there was a story there for kids. Finally, I contacted the owner of the cannonball—a high school teacher in Niagara Falls with five kids. He was gracious enough to meet with me, show me the cannonball, and detail the discovery. I began to think about writing a story for kids centering on the discovery of a cannonball. I wanted it to be realistic fiction: part mystery, part adventure. The Mystery of the Barking Branches and the Sunken Ship is the result. It is set in present time on Cayuga Island and features five diverse, resourceful, likeable, and lively friends who love a good mystery and are always up for adventure. 

These kids are kind to each other. They are bright and interested in the world. How important was that to you?

You nailed it, Jimmy. It was everything to me that the overarching common quality in these diverse kids would be kindness. I am so pleased when readers get this. Yes, these kids have different interests and skills, attention spans and insights, but above all and in spite of their differences, they care about each other, support each other, have fun together, and work to solve problems together. They are friends. And they care about their world—which continues to be evident in Book 2, The Adventure of the Big Fish by the Small Creek, in which they organize a community event, and in Book 3 The Case of the Messy Message and the Missing Facts when they tackle misinformation, jumping to conclusions, glitter pens, and chocolate chip cookie recipes.

I think the illustrations capture that feeling. 

I absolutely adore the illustrator of the Cayuga Island Kids series! Gabriella Vagnoli is amazing; she “got” these kids from the first sketches she submitted when being considered by our publisher to work on the Cayuga Island Kids series. She is intuitive, fun to work with, and smart. She brings life to my characters and overall warmth to the series. I am grateful to be working with her.

You didn’t go into this thinking “series,” did you?

No, the idea to make this story book 1 in a series (The Cayuga Island Kids) grew from conversations I had with my terrific publisher Marti Gorman of City of Light Publishing. After she acquired it, she asked me to consider making it into a series. Of course I said yes. The second book, The Adventure of the Big Fish by the Small Creek, will be out in September 2021, and the third book, The Case of the Messy Message and the Missing Facts, follows in Spring 2022.

Well, Judy, thank you for stopping by. I wish you good fortune with this lovely series. Thank you, too, for all the work you’ve done supporting teachers and children in the classroom. 

Thank you, Jimmy, for inviting me to talk with you about reading and writing, The Cayuga Island Kids, and my mushroom risotto!

 

James Preller is the author of the Jigsaw Jones mystery series and many other books, including Bee the Change (from the “Big Idea Gang” series), All Welcome Here (a picture book of connected haiku), and Blood Mountain (wilderness thriller for middle-grade readers). Look for Upstander, a prequel/sequel to Bystander, coming this May.  And then buy it. Cheers!

Interrupting Racism

Passing this along . . .

 

Sylvia Plath’s “The Bell Jar” as It Figures in My Book, “The Fall”

It began almost twenty-five years ago when I first started writing the Jigsaw Jones Mystery Series. I’d drop quick references to actual books that my characters were reading. Bunnicula, Shiloh, Nate the Great, and so on. Sometimes I’d do more with it, as in The Great Sled Race, where Jigsaw’s class is reading Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner. In another example, The Case of the Buried Treasure, the students in room 201 had to do a “story maps” assignment based on Wolf in the Snow, the 2018 Caldecott Medal Winner by Matthew Cordell. This strategy was a nod of appreciation and a  way to connect the real world with Jigsaw’s fictional world. Maybe a reader would think, Hey, I read that book, too

I carried on that tradition over to longer works for middle-grade readers and beyond. It wasn’t a plan, exactly, it just sort of happened. In some ways, it poses a good question for a writer to ask of any character: What book would this person love? In Blood Mountain, there’s a former marine with PTSD. He’s living off the grid in the mountains. The dog-eared book he carries around is Lau Tsu’s Tao Te Ching. The fact of that book served as an entrance point into the struggles and mindset of the character.

For The Fall, I used Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. There was a time in our world when seemingly everyone read that book — I remember grabbing it off an older sister’s bookshelf. I decided to make The Bell Jar an important book for Morgan Mallen. It was fascinating for me to read it again through the eyes of that character. After Morgan’s death, by suicide, the book finds its way to The Fall’s narrator, Sam.

Here’s one passage where Plath’s book comes into play:

Morgan had marked up The Bell Jar here and there, little checkmarks and passages underlined.

The evocative, transcendent cover of the Japanese translation of THE FALL.

I never found my name in it. There was no secret message. Believe me, I looked.

“I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead” was underlined in red.

There was a loopy star next to “I wanted to be where nobody I knew could ever come.”

(Oh, Morgan.)

Another star: “I had nothing to look forward to.”

It was that kind of book, and I guess Morgan was that kind of girl. There was a sadness inside her, a darkness I couldn’t touch. Strange as it seems, all the while I imagined her reading those words, dragging her pen under important sentences, drawing stars in the margins.

Reading is the most along thing in the world.

But she was with me the whole time.

Weirdness. The book brought us closer, across time and impossible distance. We shared this.

=

 

ABOUT THE FALL . . . 

 

 “Readers will put this puzzle together, eager to see whether Sam ultimately accepts his role in Morgan’s death, and wanting to see the whole story of what one person could have, and should have, done for Morgan. Pair this with Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why (2007).” — Booklist.

“Told through journal entries, Preller’s latest novel expertly captures the protagonist’s voice, complete with all of its sarcasm, indifference, and, at the same time, genuine remorse.” — School Library Journal.

“With its timely, important message and engaging prose style, Sam’s journal ought to find a large readership.” (Fiction. 10-16) — Kirkus.

 “It was 2:55 am as I finally gave up on the notion of sleep.  Having started reading THE FALL by James Preller earlier in the day, I knew sleep would not come until I had finished Sam’s story.  Now, having turned the last page, it still haunts me and will for quite some time.”Guys Lit Wire.

“I didn’t realize the emotional impact this book had on me until the very last sentence when it brought tears to my eyes. This was a heartbreaking and beautiful story about friendship, bullying, and the aftermath of all of it.” — Expresso Reads.

NOMINATED FOR THE SAKURA MEDAL IN JAPAN!

YALSA “QUICK PICK” FOR RELUCTANT YOUNG ADULT READERS!

 

Revisiting THE FIVE CHINESE BROTHERS — A Chinese American Perspective with Phoebe Yeh, VP and Publisher at Crown Books

We recently witnessed the kerfuffle regarding Dr. Seuss Enterprises’ decision to no longer publish six titles that it deemed offensive. It brought to mind an experience I had back in the late 1980s when I worked at Scholastic. So I reached out to my old friend, Phoebe Yeh, to ask her about it. Like me, Phoebe was young at the time, an editorial assistant for our beloved friend, Craig Walker. These days Phoebe is kind of a big deal, a widely respected VP/Publisher of Books for Young Readers at Crown, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books.

Honestly, I’m just grateful she answered my email. 

Jimmy? Jimmy who?”

 

 

Phoebe, thanks for taking some time out for this topic. I know that it’s close to your heart. We met in 1986, back when I was a junior copywriter at Scholastic and you were hired as Craig Walker’s editorial assistant. We were both earning salaries in the (barely) five figures. I remember talking with you about the 1938 book, The Five Chinese Brothers by Claire Huchet Bishop. It was your mission in life, it seemed, to produce a new, authentic retelling of that ancient Chinese folktale. You were deeply offended by Kurt Weise’s illustrations. Can you remember what your feelings were at the time?

Yes, indeed.  And even though more thirty years have passed, my opinion about The Five Chinese Brothers hasn’t changed. Full disclosure: I grew up reading this book. As a child, I took the illustrations for granted, the slanty eyes, the yellow skin tone.

Fast forward. I’m basically in my first real job after college. I think I must have had a lot of nerve. I marched myself into my boss’ office even though I knew I was going to complain about a book that sold like crazy for See Saw Book Club (kindergarten/first grade readers).

I shared my reservations with Craig Walker — also sharing that it wasn’t like the author, Claire Bishop, had even come up with the premise. I had read Chinese versions of the story about the brothers with the super powers but Bishop had added whipped cream or some such to her version. And everyone knows, many Chinese people are lactose intolerant so adding this detail made no sense.

 

Craig was incredibly supportive and felt that we should bring up the idea of publishing a new version with our editor-in-chief, Jean Feiwel.  The Seven Chinese Brothers by Margaret Mahy, illustrated by Jean and Mou-sien Tseng, became my first acquisition as an editorial assistant (still virtually unheard of -– usually you don’t start acquiring until you are, at least, an assistant editor).  And prideful though it sounds, this version is still in print.

What was challenging for me was that I LOVED that book as a kid. It was such a great story. One brother drinking the whole ocean! Another brother with the unbreakable iron neck! I read it over and over again. And I wasn’t the least bit offended by any of it! So talking to you, on one level, I could intellectually understand where you were coming from . . . but I didn’t feel you, if you know what I mean. It was a long time ago, I had a lot to learn (still do!), and I wondered at first if perhaps you might be over-reacting. What was I missing?

Jimmy, you weren’t missing anything.  How would you know?  How could you know? I didn’t know either, when I was reading the book as a kid.  But by the time I was at my first job, I had read Maxine Hong Kingston and Zora Neale Hurston, other women writers who weren’t “taught” in high school, poetry and novels about the European exploitation in African and Caribbean nations.  I subscribed to a weekly newspaper, Asian Week that enumerated crimes and other discriminatory incidents against Asian Americans.  My second encounter with The Five Chinese Brothers was informed by this context.

I knew that there was a way to retain the humor, the absurdity without ridicule.  And since I don’t have slanty eyes, there should be a way to show the brothers more authentically. To be fair, an educator colleague who was raised in Taiwan, doesn’t have the same issue with The Five Chinese Brothers.  But she also recognizes that Chinese Americans have a problematic history: we are the only immigrant group who had not one but two exclusion acts forbidding entry; the trauma of building the Transcontinental Railroad, etc etc so in the mid 80’s,  I was interpreting the Bishop book from a vastly different lens.

I’m curious. Do you think your version of Seven Brothers could be criticized by today’s standards for going with a white author from New Zealand? In today’s world, would you have worked harder to find an “authentic” retelling by a Chinese American author?

We signed up Margaret Mahy, a non-Chinese American author after a fruitless search to find a Chinese American who was interested in writing a children’s book. I tried everyone — Maxine, Bette Bao Lord, Nien Cheng, etc and I think this was before Amy Tan. I didn’t approach Larry Yep because I erroneously thought he only wrote MG. So I found an author who could do justice to the humor. To her credit, Mahy was worried about authenticity/sensitivity but I knew I could walk her thru it because of my background. I didn’t speak a word of English until I was 3. I took Chinese (language) classes in college and lived in Taiwan for a year after college. And I felt confident that I had context and resources if questions arose. So besides being a gifted writer, Mahy knew what she didn’t know, a key, I believe, to writing about a protagonist who isn’t from your background. The illustrators had enormous context and experience. This also made me feel that we could do justice to this new version.

I remember your great pride and deep satisfaction when you signed up a new, updated retelling. That was a book you fought for. And I can still see the pleasure on your face on the day when the Tsengs’ art came into the office. As a Chinese American, can you express what it meant to you then — and what it means to you today — to make that kind of difference in a children’s book?

 

I was thrilled (and relieved) when The Seven Chinese Brothers received critical attention. And that it sold, proving my point that a new version would resonate. I loved seeing it in bookstores. But even better, finding it in libraries and school classrooms.

Fast forward to a midpoint in my publishing career, when I signed up Ellen Oh to write her first children’s book, Prophecy (Ellen  later became a co-founder of WE NEED DIVERSE BOOKS). But guess what book was the first time she saw Asian characters: The Seven Chinese Brothers.

 

Recently I had a similar moment with another Asian American who was creating children’s books for MOMA.  Unlike Ellen, who grew up in Brooklyn, this gentleman was raised in New England.  He told me the same thing.  Until The Seven Chinese Brothers, he hadn’t seen a children’s book with Asians depicted without mockery.  Who knew that one book could have this kind of impact?

Things are so much better now but in the mid-80’s when I started in children’s publishing, there was a dearth.  I’m profoundly grateful to Craig and Jean for giving me a chance, one that has pretty much informed the rest of my children’s book career.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Phoebe — and for the  meaningful, important work you continue to do. Proud of you!

 

FUN FACT: The food at Phoebe’s wedding, somewhere in Chinatown, was amazing. On long winter nights, I still think about that meal thirty years later. But also: Jigsaw Jones has a best friend and a partner named Mila Yeh. So, yeah, that’s where I borrowed that name. A direct lift from Phoebe — because I was seeking something that evoked for me the qualities of tough, smart, loyal, fierce, kind.

A Conversation with Alexandria Giardino, Author of “Tree + Me”

“Telling stories is a way to bond, to share
and connect emotionally,
even across great differences and divides
of time and space.
When I write, I am asking the reader
to really see something with me —
to share our imaginations.”

— Alexandria Giardino

 

I’m happy to say that I made a new friend recently. Yeah, true fact! It’s not always easy in these Covid times. Her name is Alexandria Giardino, and she’s the author of a new picture book, Tree + Me, gorgeously illustrated by Elena and Anna Balbusso. In a starred review of the book, Kirkus concluded, “Lovely—a perfect segue into discussions about loneliness, empathy, refugees, and more.” So I reached out to Alexandria because I was eager to talk about this book and learn more about its author. It turns out that we shared a lot in common — trees, dogs, nature, poetry, art, music — and found it remarkably easy to talk about our interests and passions. So, yeah, we’re pals now. Five bucks says you’ll like her, too.



You mentioned elsewhere that this book was, in part, a reaction to Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree.

This is definitely my reply to Silverstein’s work. I hadn’t read The Giving Tree since I was a child, and I had really fond memories of it. When I read the story to my son, I was completely conflicted. Old feelings of being touched by the bond between the boy and the tree were mixed up with new feelings of despair that the book’s true message is about taking, not about giving. Like, it could be called The Taking Boy.

But you did something refreshing, in that you brought it to a positive place.

I know there are important feminist readings of the story and also environmental ones. I wanted my own reply to be about mutual giving. To me, that is a basis for a true bond.

And so you got the idea that this lonely young girl would tell her story to the tree.

Telling stories is a way to bond, to share and connect emotionally, even across great differences and divides of time and space. When I write, I am asking the reader to really see something with me — to share our imaginations. I imagined a girl who was sensitive enough to know that a tree has a story to tell too, and that her story and its story might be deeply bonding.

I think talking to trees is a good thing to do, anyway.

I confess that I’ve always loved trees, too. It’s probably what drew me to your book. Peter Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate, was a powerful, illuminating text that explored the science behind tree-to-tree communication. And in fantasy literature, we have a great tradition of “magical” trees — Tolkien’s Treebeard at Isengard! — and so on. It’s nice to see those notions supported by hard science.

Science is always challenging the word fantasy. Like, what once seemed fantastical is actually quite explicable! Oh, science, I love you. I admire Wohlleben’s book, and I still need to read The Overstory.

Yes! The Overstory was one of my favorite books of the past decade. Loved it.

This year there are four other tree-related picture books coming out, and I reached out to those authors/ illustrators, saying, hey, let’s be forest friends. And being awesome and generous kidlit people, they said, yes, let’s! So we have some fun things brewing to share our love of trees, including a bundled give-away for teachers and librarians that we are doing in March-April. Stay tuned for that.

While looking at your website, it strikes me that the act of “a creative response” is important to you. Your book Ode to an Onion was inspired by one of Pablo Neruda’s poems. And on March 13, you are presenting an online craft workshop, “Countering the Classics,” encouraging participants to seek way to counter classics by using their own voices. It becomes a living, and inclusive, conversation.

I love talking. Some of my happiest memories are times when I took a long walk with someone, and we got into a deep talk. So, that passion is definitely part of my creative life. I also believe we have every right to claim a literary heritage and have conversations in it, with our ancestors and our descendants too. Neruda is part of my heritage, and so is Silverstein. Who ever thought they’d be in the same family tree?

For a picture book writer, there’s always that –- gulp – moment when the art comes in. I guess that was a good day?

Ok, so there is a twist to my “gulp” moment because it is not as simple as seeing artwork and being happily surprised, or possibly disappointed. When I saw the early artwork that the Balbusso sisters sent in, I was shocked. I felt like they “saw” something in me, or sensed something about me, that led them to create art that just truly blew me away.

Specifically, what I mean is that I am a major Santana fan. And their earliest drawings looked like the Abraxas album cover. Even the book’s opening page — with the colorful tree rings — looks like a vinyl record. And the palette they chose had a very late Sixties vibe. My editor, who does know how much I love Santana, called me and said, “Alex, you are NOT going to believe your eyes when you see this artwork.”

Honestly, that gulp moment was like, well, we are in tune.

The art is stunning. And mind-blowing in that they are not only sisters, but twins. Talk about communication! Those two must have some serious telepathy going.

I’m a deep believer in some abilities that we can’t yet fully understand yet. But, you know, science will eventually show us. Also, I so look forward to the day I can meet them. I bet they are fascinating women. We’ve been emailing back and forth, dreaming of the day when I get to Milan, so we can go out for a meal together.

Is there anything of you in our heroine’s story?

Loneliness and longing for deep connection and true friendship. I have lived in a lot of different places, and I have often been an outsider, even unable to speak the local language. I have often taken refuge in nature because of that. I would have totally talked to a tree stump as a lonely kid.

I love that crucial moment when she whispers, “I see you.” To be honest, I have a similar moment, in a very different context, in my upcoming novel, Upstander. A mother says it to her daughter. Honestly, I think that’s all anyone really wants. Just to be recognized, seen, valued.

Thank you for telling me about your book. As I mentioned earlier, I think most of us long for that deep sense of being understood and loved. That is, to be seen. That actual line came late in revisions. But where this story started in my imagination is with the image of the final moment. I always saw the sprout breaking through. I felt that moment in my heart.

Actually, that is how I seem to write. I am one of those writers who sees the last scene first, and then has to write back from it to the beginning — that green shoot at the end of the book is everything. It is life coming back after such loss and despair.

I’d love to learn a little more about you, Alexandria. Where did you grow up?

As a kid, I moved around a lot, but my heart belongs to my first home, Oakland. As an adult, I continued to move quite a bit, including living for a long time in Mexico and Chile, and even a little time in Italy.

How did you come to children’s books?

I wrote my very first children’s books while living in Mexico City in the late 1990s. I am so glad I found my way to picture books because I love the marriage of story and art so much. And now I am also writing verse novels. I feel I have found my even truer voice there.

Can you tell us more about that verse-novel project? 

Oh yes! I am having the most profound experience writing this new novel. I have always felt like a poet, but I was just too shy to say so. This story is pouring out in verse, so I am going with it. It’s supernatural historical fiction, based on a woman whose story has never been fairly told. She deserves better.

Lastly, you are a “major” Santana fan. Does that mean you have Carlos Santana’s head tattooed on your back?

I saw him once live. I was able to get right up to the stage. He expressed so many emotions! At one point, he turned away from the crowd, lost in the music, channeling something divine. Now, I have tickets to see him in a concert with Earth Wind & Fire. The show was scheduled for last June, then COVID hit, and now it is rescheduled for some future date. I can think of no better place to be with people outdoors again, dancing while Santana and Earth Wind & Fire play. Please, lord, let that concert happen one day.

Thank you, Alex, we share many interests. I feel like we could talk for days. Before we go back to the real world, should I cue up “Soul Sacrifice” — or do you have a different suggestion?

Ah, I love that song. But you know which one is really great too? “The Calling.” I get chills. The guitar talks straight from his heart. Thank you for this conversation. I feel so grateful for the ways we have connected here and for your willingness to connect.

 

 

Alexandria keeps up a clean, neat, tidy, informative website.

Also, you can learn more about her by using this amazing resource called Google. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As for me, James Preller, I’m the author of the Jigsaw Jones mystery series. Coming this Spring, look for my new middle-grade novel, Upstander, which is a stand alone, prequel/sequel to Bystander. Both are Junior Library Guild Selections (along with Blood Mountain, below). Thanks for stopping by. Onward and upward with the ARTS!