Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Author Interview with Laurel Snyder

Today I bring to you an interview with Laurel Snyder. Laurel is from Baltimore, Maryland and now lives in Atlanta, Georgia. She graduated from the Iowa Writers Workshop and has a background in journalism, in addition to being an award-winning author. Kidlit books by Laurel I have read include several of her middle grade novels-ORPHAN ISLAND (Walden Pond Press), BIGGER THAN A BREAD BOX (Random House), and SEVEN STORIES UP (Random House), early readers CHARLIE & MOUSE (Chronicle) and CHARLIE & MOUSE & GRUMPY (Chronicle), and the picture book THE FOREVER GARDEN (Schwartz & Wade).

ORPHAN ISLAND deeply intrigued me from the start all the way to the last page. In this story, nine children live independently on an island without adult supervision. Each year, a toddler joins the group and the oldest child must leave. The backstory and epilogue is left up to the imagination of the reader. What kind of homework did you do to create the untold backstory and epilogue of ORPHAN ISLAND?
Oh, interesting question! This was a book that materialized very gradually. I knew I wanted to write a sort of allegorical story, and I knew I wanted to write about parentless kids. But it took awhile to arrive at the island.

Once I did, the job was all about creating the world and its rules, and I spent about a year on that. I painted a lot of it-- the foods and animals, the map and the kids. Designing their clothes and laying out the houses and other places they spent time in.

And then a lot tweaking had to be done. Figuring out how many kids had lived there in the past (counted in shoes), and how many could live there at once. (initially there were ten, but the math didn't work out that way, for Ess to be Jinny's Care kids).

So while there was very little traditional research, I spent a lot of time in prewriting.

Will readers get to see these details of ORPHAN ISLAND in any future projects? (I hope it’s “yes!”)
My next book (MY JASPER JUNE) isn't about the island-- I had something else in line first. But I'm working on a prequel. One never knows whether a book will work out well enough to be published. (I have lots of unpublished messes in a drawer, trust me). But I'm hopeful. The question is whether the second book is going to make the experience of the first better, or simply tie up the loose ends. I'm not interested in just answering people's questions. It needs to stand on its own.

In BIGGER THAN A BREAD BOX, readers meet Rebecca, 12, who is struggling with her parents’ separation. Living with her grandmother, she stumbles across a bread box that grants her wishes. At first, this magic box seems like a dream come true, until Rebecca realizes that the box has a sinister method of producing the things she wants. It almost felt that this bread box was its own character. How did you create a character out of an inanimate object?

The bread box was actually the beginning of the book! I often begin a story with a question or a catalyst, and then I have to build the characters who will serve as the engine for the actual plot. That's exactly what happened in this case.

I wouldn't say I thought of the box as a character, while writing. But it makes sense you read it that way. Rebecca certainly has a relationship with the bread box, a struggle. It's teaching her something, and she's fighting with it.

You know what's interesting? Originally, that book had another character, a boy named Japheth. He became Rebecca's friend in Atlanta, and shared the adventure with her. But I had to remove him, because it felt like he was keeping her from getting lonely/sad enough to really do what she needed to do. I wonder if maybe I channeled that friend-energy into the box, when I took Japheth away. Hmmm.

In SEVEN STORIES UP, Annie accompanies her mother to meet her dying grandmother, a hotel heiress, for the first time. It seems that Annie’s mother and grandmother have never been close. Then Annie time travels to 1937 and befriends her grandmother as a young girl. In doing so, she alters history where it matters the most.

In the Author’s Note at the end of the SEVEN STORIES UP, you shared that you had to check all your facts about history, from finding out the price of a candy bar to learning about Ferris wheels. How did you research these historical details?

Oh, wow. It took forever. I'm not really a researcher or nonfiction writer by nature, and I seriously underestimated the amount of effort involved. My hat is off to people who write historical fiction for real! This book actually fell behind schedule and was published late because of all the time involved.

I used Google a lot, to be honest. And I kept a Pinterest page with maps and old ephemera I found, that helped me with the visuals and world-building. But in the end, I had to go to the library. Because there's just too much online, and I found myself falling down rabbit holes. At the end of the day, an Encyclopedia is a very useful tool. Sometimes, less is more.

In your middle grade books (e.g. ORPHAN ISLAND, BIGGER THAN A BREAD BOX,and SEVEN STORIES UP) are an element of magic and fantasy. What rules do you adhere to when you incorporate magical realism into your work? (I hope magical realism is the right term to use.)

People call my books Magical Realism a lot, and I don't think that's exactly correct, from an academic standpoint, but it works.

I think the main thing is that you need to establish a logic to the individual magical system in the book. And you need to deal with any consequences that arise. If you bring a unicorn in through the window, you need to know how it got there, whether there are more unicorns waiting in the wings, and what, exactly, a unicorn is. Then you need to then feed the unicorn, deal with the unicorn poo, etc. I actually really love that part of the job-- figuring out that other world/logic.

THE FOREVER GARDEN tells a sweet story about how a garden can grow on even when its original owner leaves it behind. The CHARLIE & MOUSE books detail the experiences and musings of two young brothers.

How does your writing style differ between writing a picture book such as THE FOREVER GARDEN and early readers, such as the CHARLIE & MOUSE books? 

Hmmm. I'm not sure it does, really. I mean, the CHARLIE & MOUSE books are about my own kids, and so I have a sense of them as ongoing. I could write them forever, because my kids have adventures that inspire me daily. But I'm not sure the actual process of writing them is different.

Though, now that I've said that... I might say that Charlie and Mouse are character-driven (more like a novel). And my picture books typically aren't. So much of the character in a picture book comes from collaboration, from the art. So they tend to be more situational, more about the idea of the story. And less about the character as a person.

7. What books/authors did you enjoy reading when you were younger?

Oh, so many! I loved really gritty human books like DICEY’S SONG and BRIDGE TO TEREBITHIA. I loved magic books like HALF MAGIC and the NARNIA CHRONICLES. I loved old fashioned stories like BALLET SHOE and A LITTLE PRINCESS, books that painted a picture of another time and place. And I loved high voiced and comic stories, like MRS. PIGGLE WIGGLE or THE THIRTEEN CLOCKS.

A lot of these books, I realize now, need context if kids are going to read them today. The world has changed, and we now recognize the problematic elements. I feel strongly about that. But it doesn't change the fact that I loved them.

8. Are there any upcoming projects you’d like to talk about?
I'm always working on something! My next novel, MY JASPER JUNE, will be out in September. (https://nerdybookclub.wordpress.com/2019/02/10/writing-for-the-middle-by-laurel-snyder/)And I have two new CHARLIE & MOUSE stories coming out this year too, and a picture book with Chuck Groenink, called HUNGRY JIM. Right now I'm working on my first graphic novel, a memoir called FAIRY HUNTER. And then the prequel to ORPHAN ISLAND which is Abigail's story, mostly.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Oldie But Goodie: THE SNOWMAN by Raymond Briggs

HAPPY 2019! This year, I'd like to share more about books. So I'll continue to post author interviews and tweet about stuff I've read. (On Twitter, find me @CynthiaSociety). I'd also like to interview some illustrators too.

To recognize literary blasts from the past, I decided to start an "Oldie But Goodie" series to recognize memorable books I read that were published back in the day. Since it's still winter, I thought Raymond Briggs' THE SNOW MAN would make a good debut post.

"I don't believe in happy endings. Children have got to face death sooner or later. Granny and Grandpa die, dogs die, cats die, gerbils and those frightful things - what are they called? - hamsters: all die like flies. So there's no point avoiding it." -Raymond Briggs 

THE SNOWMAN (Random House) is a picture book told without words. On each page are square and rectangular boxes, similar to the layout of a comic book, with an illustration inside each one. The images tell the story of an unnamed boy who builds a snowman with meticulous care. After his mother tucks him in at night, the boy gets back up to check on the snowman. The snowman tips his hat and comes to life. When the new friends go outside, the snowman takes the boy's hand and together they fly through the dark and vast snowy sky for a glorious night on the town. Eventually, the snowman returns the boy back to his home. The boy heads back to his room, and the snowman goes back to the spot outside where he was constructed. The boy goes to sleep. In the morning, he sees that the snowman has melted.

Indeed this story doesn't have the cheeriest of endings. But not all hope is lost. If I were the boy, I would build another snowman. Sometimes the figurative snowmen that we build in our lives melt into meaningless slush. But we need to consider what we could do better and find the strength to build another one.

THE SNOWMAN was published in 1978, years before CALVIN AND HOBBES, a comic that I LOVE, became syndicated in 1985. The idea of a child befriending a seemingly inanimate object that comes to life for them really stirs something inside me.

Tell me about about a "snowman" you had to rebuild.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Author Interview with Barb Rosenstock

Here's an interview with Chicago-born author Barb Rosenstock (barbrosenstock.com),who has over a dozen books in print. I’ve enjoyed three picture books written by Barb-VAN GOGH PAINTS THE NIGHT SKY: VINCENT CAN’T SLEEP (Alfred A. Knopf, Illust. by Mary GrandPr√©), THE COLORS AND SOUNDS OF KANDINSKY’S ABSTRACT ART: THE NOISY PAINT BOX (Alfred A. Knopf, Illust. by Mary GrandPr√© ) and THOMAS JEFFERSON BUILDS A LIBRARY (Calkins Creek, Illust. by John O’Brien).

VINCENT CAN’T SLEEP (non-fiction) reveals Vincent Van Gogh’s lifelong insomnia, the glimpses of light the darkness brought him, and how his restlessness led him to paint the famous “Starry Night.” THE NOISY PAINT BOX (historical fiction) shows how, from a young age, Vasily Kandinsky would paint the sounds he heard from the colors of his paints to create his polychromatic abstract art. The author’s note explained that it is believed Kandinsky had synesthesia, a genetic condition where one bodily sense can activate another sense. In THOMAS JEFFERSON BUILDS A LIBRARY (non-fiction), I followed the story of the third president of the United States, a voracious reader and book collector who went on to organize the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. 

How did you start writing books?
I studied pre-law at the University of Illinois; but switched to psychology and graduated from Loyola University. Much later, I got my Master’s Degree in education and student-taught 2nd grade. I started writing books in order to do my lesson plans and wound up with a writing career instead of teaching full-time. Writing and school visits are the ways I teach. 

I find it interesting that in the author's note in THE NOISY PAINTBOX, it's suggested that Vasily Kandinsky had synesthesia and this condition could've triggered his artistic sensibilities. And in VINCENT CAN'T SLEEP, Vincent Van Gogh's insomnia is a driving force in his story. What are your thoughts about the idea that there could be a connection between artistic brilliance and conditions that affect the processes of the brain?

Wow! Well that is a question best left to brain scientists! But in my opinion, not so much. Reading Van Gogh’s letters it struck me how much he was struggling against his mental or physical illness(es) but still working on his art through his pain. He might have even produced more, and grown more artistically, had he more effective treatment in his day. It is my view that all people (certainly children!) are intrinsically creative and our most brilliant artists are just people who can hang onto that openness and express it in some way.

I was intrigued to learn more about the beginnings of Washington D.C.'s Library of Congress in THOMAS JEFFERSON BUILDS A LIBRARY. While you celebrated Jefferson's achievements in the course of the story, you shared in your author's note that Jefferson was a slaveholder. Here, you expressed the irony that the man who wrote the Declaration of Independence also withheld human freedom to African Americans. What were the challenges of writing a biographical story of an admired historical figure who was also responsible for unnoble deeds? 

I started the book with a note on his family’s slaveholding and ended it with one. But the book’s narrative itself was about his library, not his plantation or his gardening or his politics or his wine collection, only his library. That is the biggest challenge of writing a picture book vs. other genres: the author must stick with a tight theme or the book won’t work. Though obviously his slaveholding affected everything and everyone around him; it wasn't expressly the topic of this short narrative. Jefferson was notoriously private about his books, no one else was allowed in his library. So, working with experts, there wasn't an authentic way to write about individuals enslaved by Jefferson working with his books. Throughout the illustrations, John O’Brien had more leeway to show Jefferson’s slaves working and living their lives. But yes, it was a challenge and is hopefully handled as well as the author, illustrator, editor and publisher can at the time.

As I scan the list of books you've written, I notice you have an interest in history and art (also subjects I'm interested in). How did you start writing books on these subjects? Did you work in another industry before becoming a published author?

I had a long career in marketing and advertising management before even thinking of writing. But I’ve always loved history. I don’t think I really write about anything else because I’m not always sure there IS anything else. Everything's story, everyone’s story is hi-story, whether it's about art, science, music, politics, nature, athletics, construction, etc. My grandpa loved to tell stories about Chicago’s past, the people he met, and his immigrant family’s experiences. One of my latest books, OTIS & WILL DISCOVER THE DEEP, is about science history, and I can hear my grandfather’s voice in the writing choices I made. If you ask a group of kids if they like history, maybe two hands go up; but if you ask them if they like when someone in their family tells stories about the past, like 98% of the hands go up. I’m trying to do the latter.

I like the way you made history come alive in your books. What are your tips for presenting history or historical fiction in a way that engages young readers?

See Grandpa above. I really just try to “tell” a story, the way I would say it out loud. I find something that engages me— like that a poor, cross-eyed kid started a whole genre of music (BLUE GRASS BOY) or that a refugee rebuilt his village with recycled materials and hid it in the jungle for years (THE SECRET KINGDOM.) I hope that my engagement translates to kids. Though I know kids (and teachers) are my typical audience, I never want to be writing “down,” since I hated that as a child. I remember wanting to hear the “real story" and then just having the opportunity to ask questions if there was anything I didn’t understand. I think kids are way more capable than adults assume.

What books/authors did you enjoy reading when you were younger?

I don’t know if it was my own interest or because both my public and school library did not have many new children's books, but they’re all old historical fiction titles: The BETSY-TACY series by Maud Hart Lovelace, BALLET SHOES/ THEATRE SHOES by Noel Streatfield and THE FIVE LITTLE PEPPERS AND HOW THEY GREW by Margaret Sidney. I still have the few childhood favorites I was lucky enough to own, such as: HARRIET THE SPY (Louise Fitzhugh), CANDY FLOSS (Rumor Godden), JUDY’S JOURNEY (Lois Lenski) and MAGIC ELIZABETH (Norma Kassirer).

Are there any upcoming projects you’d like to talk about?

I always like to learn new things and share them with the students and teachers who read and use my books. I have a new baseball book coming out, YOGI! THE LIFE, LOVES AND LANGUAGE OF BASEBALL LEGEND YOGI BERRA (Calkins Creek, February, 2019) That’s followed by PRAIRIE BOY (Calkins, September, 2019) about the shapes that influenced American architect Frank Lloyd Wright and FIGHT OF THE CENTURY (Calkins, Spring, 2020) on the struggle for women’s voting rights for the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment. LEAVE IT TO ABIGAIL (Little Brown, Fall, 2020) on Abigail Adams' contributions to our country. And finally Mary Grandpr√© and I have teamed up for a fourth artist biography called MORNINGS WITH MONET (Knopf, Spring, 2021) I hope everyone enjoys them!

Friday, July 13, 2018

Author Interview with Maurene Goo

Today I bring to you an interview with YA author Maurene Goo (maurenegoo.com). Maurene was born in L.A. and raised in Glendale. At U.C. San Diego, Maurene studied Communication and at grad school at Emerson College, she studied Publishing, Literature, and Writing. I’ve read two of Maurene’s novels- SINCE YOU ASKED (Scholastic) and I BELIEVE IN A THING CALLED LOVE (Farrar, Straus and Giroux).  

In SINCE YOU ASKED, Holly, the candid protagonist, pens a high school column where she gets to vent about her school and offend the student body with her words. Holly also tries to find balance between living as both a carefree American girl from Southern California and being a dutiful daughter of a traditional Korean American family. When Holly rebels against her strict upbringing, she must face the consequences...

In I BELIEVE IN A THING CALLED LOVE, Desi, a love-struck teen, schemes with her friends to win the affections of the artistic Luca. Desi’s guidelines for her plan come from her self-composed guide “K-Drama Steps to True Love,” derived from Desi’s observations of the Korean dramas that her single father watches. From faking a love triangle with a complicit guy friend to staging a car accident, Desi is rewarded when Luca falls for her. But Desi’s reward is short-lived when her plans are exposed...

From the sarcastic and cynical Holly in SINCE YOU ASKED to the dreamy and optimistic Desi in I BELIEVE IN A THING CALLED LOVE, the female leads in both books were credible characters whose antics were often entertaining to follow.

In SINCE YOU ASKED, you offer a candid perspective of Holly's adolescent experience as a Korean American teen who is making her way through high school. What experiences and feelings did you have growing up, if any, that inspired this story? (And if this story wasn't conceived from your past, feel free to share how you were inspired to write this.) 

Maurene: I was definitely inspired by my own personal experiences. SINCE YOU ASKED was my first book and I initially wanted to write YA because I wanted to see a book that was close to my own high school experiences. So a lot of what Holly was going through—figuring out your place in high school, crushes, and family angst—came from a very personal place.  

While reading I BELIEVE IN A THING CALLED LOVE, there were times when I was feeling concerned with how Desi could redeem herself after her dishonest scheme to attract Luca comes to light. What advice do you have for crafting a flawed and sympathetic character that readers can care about, the way I cared about Desi?

Maurene: A lot of times, when I draft, my characters are pushed to the most extreme version of themselves, so that I can fully figure out their “archetypes.” Then as I work on revisions, I really figure them out. With Desi, I think she became fully sympathetic and undeniable once I figured out where all the overplanning, controlling nature came from. And the reason was a very sweet one, something that endeared her to the reader. Think about the best villains—the ones that stick out in the best stories are the ones that we can relate to on some level, to see where their major malfunctions came from.

Since you have named a number of your books after songs, I take it that you're into music. How does music inspire you as a writer? Do you listen to music as you write?

Maurene: I always have to listen to music when I write! Especially writing YA novels—I have to channel teenage feelings and there’s no better way to do that than with music. I make playlists for each book and pretty much listen to that on repeat the entire time I work on it. 

What books/authors did you like reading when you were a kid?

Maurene: I loved reading series books like THE BABY-SITTERS CLUB and ANNE OF GREEN GABLES. I also went through a horse phase (THOROUGHBRED, THE SADDLE CLUB), a pen pal phase (PEN PALS), all the phases. Anything in series form about girls, I gobbled up. 

Tell me about your new book, THE WAY YOU MAKE ME FEEL. Feel free to share about any other projects you are working on. 

Maurene: THE WAY YOU MAKE ME FEEL is about an irreverent prankster named Clara Shin who takes one prank too far and, as punishment, she has to run her dad’s food truck with her nemesis over the summer. Over the course of this summer she becomes friends with her enemy, meets a cute boy named Hamlet, and learns to feel all the feelings. It’s also my love letter to LA, where I was born and raised!

Next year I have another YA coming out, SOMEWHERE ONLY WE KNOWIt’s a romance about a K pop star who spends one life-changing day with a boy she meets in Hong Kong. I can’t wait for everyone to read it! 

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

IWSG: Tips for Getting through the Blogging from A to Z Challenge

Welcome to Insecure Writers Support Group Day (IWSG Day), or for some of you, Day 4 (a.k.a. D Day) of the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. I'm not doing the challenge this year but I've been an avid participant for several years. This month, I might just visit a few A to Z blogs to say hello.

I want to wish those doing the A to Z challenge stamina and the rewards of making new connections. Perhaps these three quick tips might help you through this month:

1. Visit as many blogs as you feel comfortable visiting each day. When I did A to Z, I visited many blogs on some days, and other days, not so much. On days when I didn't visit as many blogs, I was usually busy with other responsibilities in my non-blogging life. Understandably, you want to get the most out of this challenge. But remember to take care of yourself and your non-blogging priorities as well. 

2. Realize when it's time to give up on a blog. I remember visiting certain blogs on multiple days to leave comments without receiving any comments back from the authors of these blogs. Try not to take it personally when this happens. It might be that this blogger is simply overwhelmed by the challenge or that they're inexperienced with the etiquette that accompanies blog hops such as this. But still, I advise moving on to A to Z bloggers who show interest in your blog and what you're about as opposed to investing your energies in those who do not. 

3. Enjoy exploring new subjects. My blog focuses mostly on my creative aspirations, literature, and the kidlit industry. I follow many bloggers who blog in a similar vein. Through the A to Z Challenge, I've also learned from other bloggers who have shared their knowledge on a variety of additional subjects, including but definitely not limited to cooking, food, crafts, arts and culture, history, music, and people, places and things from all around the world. I hope you can learn something new this month too. 

Moving onto this month's IWSG question: When your writing life is a bit cloudy or filled with rain, what do you do to dig down and keep on writing? My short answer is that I look for the silver linings and rainbows. 

Are you doing A to Z this month? If so, how is it coming along? How do you carry on when you encounter "clouds" or "storms" in any area of your life?

Friday, March 23, 2018

Author Interview with Deborah Hopkinson

Today I am bringing you an interview with award-winning author Deborah Hopkinson (deborahhopkinson.com)
who lives near Portland, OR. I read Deborah’s recently published picture books INDEPENDENCE CAKE (Schwartz & Wade Books, illustrated by Giselle Potter) and ORDINARY, EXTRAORDINARY JANE AUSTEN (Balzer & Bray, illustrated by Qin Leng). INDEPENDENCE CAKE offers a “made-up tale” about Amelia Simmons, the author of America’s first cookbook who lived during the Revolutionary times. In Deborah’s story, Amelia makes 13 Independence Cakes, one for each colony. In ORDINARY, EXTRAORDINARY JANE AUSTEN, Jane Austen proves that the ordinary world can be written about in an extraordinary way. The reader sees how Jane Austen’s keen observation skills, simple English home life and upbringing, and her passion for books and writing contributed to her future success as an author.

The stories and illustrations in both books engaged me as a reader and brought me to two different historical regions- one in New England, and the other, England. 
From reading the preface of INDEPENDENCE CAKE, I could see there isn’t a lot of information out there about Amelia Simmons. So how did you venture out to write a story about her?
I wanted to write about that time period, and I love stories about little-known figures in history. Since historians have uncovered very little about Amelia Simmons, it seemed the perfect opportunity to underscore the difference between historical fiction and nonfiction, something I try to emphasize in my author visits in schools. I read articles by culinary historians including the late Karen Hess, who, in an introduction to the second edition of AMERICAN COOKERY, published in Albany in fall 1796, speculated that Amelia Simmons may have lived near the Hudson Valley and been influenced by Dutch settlers. Simmons used terms such as “slaw” based on the Dutch “sla” for salad, and “cookey,” from “koekje.” 

When I share the book with young readers, I also use it as a chance to talk about gender roles. I like to say that in our time, everyone helps at home, but who did the housework in 1789? We also look at Giselle Potter’s lovely spot art pages illustrating the various chores Amelia did, from picking apples to washing clothes, to spinning, sewing, and quilting and use that as a chance to talk about past and present and how technology has (or hasn’t) had an impact on daily life.

Unlike Amelia Simmons, there’s more out there about Jane Austen. How were you able to write an interesting book such as ORDINARY, EXTRAORDINARY JANE AUSTEN and make it unique from other books out there about Jane Austen? How did you research Jane Austen for your picture book?
I’ve read quite a bit about Jane Austen, but to research this book I splurged and purchased Deirdre Le Faye’s masterful book, A CHRONOLOGY OF JANE AUSTEN, which delves into basically everything we know about Jane and her family. Although another picture book, BRAVE JANE AUSTEN, was published at the same time as my book, there haven’t been, to my knowledge, any picture books about Jane until 2018.

The most difficult part of writing this book was to try to capture elements of Jane’s life that would be of interest to young readers. When I speak to students, I always emphasize that anything hard – whether it’s sports, playing a musical instrument, or writing– takes determination. What’s wonderful about Austen is that she began practicing her writing craft from the time she was a child. She embraced revision, and she persevered in the face of rejection.

I like how you shared historical details of how people lived in the past, from how young ladies would play cards and trim their bonnets with lace in ORDINARY, EXTRAORDINARY JANE AUSTEN to what food people ate during the Revolutionary times in INDEPENDENCE CAKE. How do you research the setting for the historic places and time periods in all your books? (I see you have written a lot of books with historical themes.)
The short answer is that I read a lot, and depend heavily on scholarly works as well as memoirs and first-person accounts, or, sometimes, fiction written during the time period in which my books are set.

I write both nonfiction and fiction, and sometimes find myself more stymied by research questions when writing historical fiction. In nonfiction, first-person accounts can guide the narrative. But in fiction you suddenly find yourself spending hours tracking down some seemingly insignificant detail that doesn’t seem to be mentioned in any secondary source.

Since you wrote a book about dessert and another book about Jane Austen (both things I love), please tell me what is your favorite dessert (besides Independence Cake) and what is your favorite Jane Austen novel.
Alas, since developing food sensitivities that require me to be gluten free, I don’t get to indulge in dessert much these days. However, I will say I am partial to an excellent gluten-free chocolate cookie.

As far as Austen novels, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE is still at the top of my list, with PERSUASION and SENSE AND SENSIBILITY right up there too.

What books did you enjoy reading while you were growing up?
I loved THE SECRET GARDEN. I believe I first read Austen and Charlotte Bronte by the sixth grade, and also loved mysteries and read a lot of Dickens. (Whether I understood much about what I was reading then is another question!) In high school, I also read a lot of World War II books, adventure stories, and long historical fiction.

What upcoming book projects would you like to announce here?
Speaking of World War II, two of my new books are set in that period. D-DAY: THE WORLD WAR II INVASION THAT CHANGED HISTORY is a nonfiction title to be published by Scholastic in Fall 2018. In Spring 2019, my middle grade spy novel, HOW I BECAME A SPY, will be out from Knopf.

In addition, I am part of a YA project entitled FATAL THRONE: THE WIVES OF HENRY VIII TELL ALL, released in May 2018, and a picture book biography of the Buddha, UNDER THE BODHI TREE, coming this fall.