Gail Gauthier recently had a blog tour for her new chapter book A Girl, A Boy, and Three Robbers (published July 3, 2008, and sequel to A Girl, a Boy, and a Monster Cat). I enjoyed following the tour, and most especially reading Gail’s honest and detailed answers about her book, writing technique, getting books into kids hands, and much more. If you missed out on her blog tour, see the bottom of this post for links.
Gail agreed to an interview with me. I love her thoughtful, honest responses. Read on to find out her tips on getting kids to read, whether kids find books through the internet, and more about her new book A Girl, A Boy, and Three Robbers:
Cheryl: What was the spark or inspiration for A Girl, A Boy, and Three Robbers?
Gail: Well, the inspiration for A Girl, a Boy, and Three Robbers was the first book in The Hannah and Brandon Stories series, A Girl, a Boy, and a Monster Cat. What I needed a spark for in this second book was a situation to use as a sort of story arc, a character other than Hannah and Brandon who could be included in these stories inspired about stories. I originally was thinking of having Hannah’s parents build an addition and using the builders as foils for her, but that didn’t work. I thought of including an older cousin somehow. I really can’t remember any longer how I came up with the kids next door, though I may have been concerned about having too many adults in the stories and started looking around for a child antagonist.
Cheryl: You said, in a few interviews, that you draw on your family and your life when you write. What did you draw from your own experience (emotional, actual) for A Girl, A Boy, and Three Robbers?
Gail: My own reading (or reading my children did when they were young) is a fictional trigger for some of the stories, or at least for parts of them. For instance, one story involves Hannah and Brandon playing war. My older son read a lot of books about children’s experiences in World War II, and I read books with my kids about children in London who were evacuated during that war, so that’s where that came from. The last two chapters in the book cover a questing story, and that comes from something in my younger son’s life. When he was in seventh grade, he had to write this incredibly elaborate questing story that involved a main character bringing three items with him that he would use on his journey. So Hannah and Brandon bring three things with them–the jump rope, the chocolate coins, and the flashlight–that they use on their quest. I decided I wanted to do a puppet story, but I couldn’t recall reading any. So I actually read Pinocchio while I was working on this book. It was a very interesting experience.
Cheryl: Why is humor important to you in writing?
Gail: I think humor has to do with a person’s psychological make-up. Just as you have your glass half full people, who cannot help viewing everything positively, and you have your glass half empty people, who cannot help viewing everything negatively, you have your humor people who cannot help viewing everything in a way that makes them laugh. Humor is a way of looking at the world. I read recently that it’s a different way of viewing the world, but that raises the question “Different from what?” Thus, it’s unlikely that I could write without including at least some humor. I consider myself a situational humorist because I like humor that comes out of a situation or, you could say, life. I’m not interested in isolated jokes. Humor can be a great coping mechanism. It can level the playing field. It can cut the powerful down to size. I think that’s one of the reasons children like humor. Humor in a children’s book can make a child reader feel powerful.
Cheryl: What was your favorite thing about writing this book?
Gail: Working on the personalities of the children and working on the games.
Cheryl: What was the hardest thing for you to write in this book (a character, the beginning or ending)? Why?
Gail: Coming up with someone outside Hannah’s world for the children to interact with. Because the kids stay in their yard, it has to be someone nearby. Coming up with a realisitc situation is difficult.
Cheryl: What are some of your favorite children’s books (any age group)?
Gail: I’d have to say that for my own reading pleasure my favorite age group for children’s books is middle grade. At the upper end of the middle grade range you can find yourself reading about some interesting situations. (A Drowned Maiden’s Hair, for instance.) Middle grade protagonists can dabble in adult world situations, but they’re still outsiders because they’re not adults, which can give those books a great spin. While I think chapter books are important, that age reader really is living in a different world than I do, so reading their books isn’t going to give me as pleasurable an experience as reading books for older kids will. And while I like and read YA, I think it’s become formulaic. You’ve got lots of rich girls gone wild stories and Holden Caulfield wannabes. You’ve got your diary stories. You’ve got your vampire and other types of supernatural books. It’s getting harder to find something unique in YA.
Cheryl: Kids these days are increasingly internet savvy. I’m wondering if the internet is one way to get books into kids hands–or at least let them know about books that might interest them. What do you think? Do you have child readers finding your site, your blog, and emailing you?
Gail: No, I don’t get a lot of child readers contacting me by way of the Internet. We are led to believe that young people are Internet savvy, but I don’t know if they–or even twenty and thirty somethings–use it much as far as books and their reading are concerned. Almost every time I do a school presentation I hand out hundreds of bookmarks with my website printed on them. Yet I rarely see any kind of bump in my webstats after a school presentation or receive e-mails from kids I’ve spoken to. Of course, children shouldn’t be e-mailing strange adults, but you’d think parents would be curious about who was speaking to their kids and take a look at the website. I know I sure would be checking out authors who had visited my children’s school. But I have little evidence that that is happening. The same thing is true when I’ve spoken at professional conferences. Are teachers and librarians encouraging YA readers to go to sites like Colleen Mondor’s YA column at Bookslut? She often covers nonmainstream titles that kids aren’t necessarily going to find at the school library. So many young students are interested in writing these days. Does anyone refer them to author websites and blogs where they might find articles on writing process or read about a writer’s daily life? I know that some YA authors, such as Scott Westerfeld, see a lot of traffic at their blogs. (He gets what must be an overwhelming response.) But when I talk with adults at schools–or in general–they don’t seem to be aware of everything that’s so easily available on the Internet.
Cheryl: Do you have any tips on how to get kids interested in reading?
Gail: I think it’s going to be a lot easier to get kids interested in reading if reading is part of daily life in the home. It’s like trying to raise a bilingual child. You can send your kids to as many classes as you can afford, but it’s going to be really hard for them to grow up speaking two languages if two languages aren’t spoken in the home. The parents don’t have to be reading classics and John Updike to create a reading culture in their home. We have a techie dad at our house, and he always has a stack of professional journals and general science and nature magazines on the stand next to his chair in the living room. He buys his sci-fi paperbacks by the armful. His boys know he reads. His Christmas list always includes books from his favorite series, and one of his sons always buys him some.
You can’t treat reading like work, like something you escape from when you’re on vacation. Make a trip to the library part of your vacation preparation, just like buying up extra sunscreen or making sure everyone has enough clean socks and underwear. Get psyched about what everyone is going to read on the trip. We started a tradition of hitting a bookstore while on vacation to buy some kind of comic anthology, such as Fox Trot. Dad and the kids all read the same book.
Staying up on what’s written in children’s literature is important. Kids will pick up on the fact that their literature has little value to you if you can’t be bothered to pay attention to it. Know your children’s tastes, and respect them. “Shop” for the kids at the library even when you’re there by yourself. Help them move on to titles for older readers, but don’t rush them. When my kids were young, it was very cool for parents to be able to say that their second grader was reading Michael Crichton or their sixth grader loved John Grisham. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with kids reading those authors, but they also need to read about kids their own age. Exposure to characters like ourselves dealing with situations like the situations we deal with (or would like to deal with) helps us. I’m not talking problem books or bibliotherapy. Just in general, we all want to connect with others like ourselves or the selves we want to be. It gives us a chance to think about our own lives. Rushing children out of children’s literature means they won’t get opportunities to do this. I don’t think we do them any favors hurrying them out of kidlit.
Thank you so much, Gail, for this interview.
Want to read more about what Gail has to say? Check out her blog Original Content.
Read more about Gail Gauthier and A Girl, a Boy, and Three Robbers in these great blog interviews: