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Author Interview: Kathryn Erskine

6 Jan

This January, Book Talk was lucky enough to pose a few questions to Kathryn Erskine, author of the National Book Award–winning Mockingbird. (You know how excited we are about this book!)

Read on to find out how Erskine came up with Caitlin and the whole Mockingbird story, as well as her own history as a reader.

Book Talk: You just won the National Book Award; are you going to Disney World after this?

Kathryn Erskine: Well, I came home from New York to a broken fridge-freezer and rotten, stinky, dripping food, so I got to clean my fridge! Woo hoo! Actually, I thought it was pretty funny—no chance of the award going to my head when I was on my hands and knees scrubbing out the fridge!

BT: How does it feel to win the National Book Award?

KE: Pretty amazing. It’s still sinking in. When I read an article about it in my local paper, that’s when it felt real. I guess I’m such a reader that I have to read something to believe it!

BT: After you finished the book, did you know you had written something special?

KE: Because Asperger’s is so much a part of my life, I thought it might be too ordinary, but others who don’t live with it every day assured me that it was something quite different and special. People seem so touched that I think there must be something special about it.

BT: When you first conceived of the idea of this book, which came first for you—the plot or the characters?

KE: The characters always come first for me. They have conversations in my head and whole scenes take place. The plot is often hard to pin down. After the Virginia Tech shootings, however, I knew I had to incorporate a school shooting aspect into the plot and, since it’s a book for kids, I wanted that event to have already occurred before the book opened, so it wouldn’t be so scary.

BT: In your mind, is this a book about a girl with Asperger’s or a family dealing with an unspeakable act of violence?

KE: It’s more about a girl feeling alone in dealing with her brother’s death. To her, the fact that it was a school shooting is not as huge as it is to the rest of the community. For Caitlin, the bottom line is that she has lost her brother who was her link to the outside world. And, because she has Asperger’s, she has a particularly tough road to travel to make connections with her community again.

BT: Caitlin is so endearing. Was there an inspiration for her character?

KE: As always, my characters contain bits and pieces of people I know. Caitlin, in particular, was inspired by a close family member, but mostly she’s a made-up character. She is, so to speak, her own person.

BT: How did you manage to get inside Caitlin’s head in order to write from her point of view? Did you have much prior knowledge of Asperger’s?

KE: I do have experience with Asperger’s, but I also did a lot of research. Just as every kid is different, every kid with Asperger’s is different, so I needed to look at a wide variety of personality traits, behaviors, and habits in order to create an authentic character on the autism spectrum. I went to seminars and workshops, read a lot of books and articles, talked with teachers and parents who interact daily with kids on the spectrum, and I know kids with Asperger’s, too. For me, it felt perfectly natural to be inside her head, and the story just flowed.

BT: Caitlin starts the book by looking up the word “closure.” Language is a big aspect of Mockingbird with certain syllables of words being capitalized and Caitlin’s own infatuation with language. Did this evolve naturally from Caitlin’s character or did you want language to be a part of the book from the beginning?

KE: It’s really a part of Caitlin’s character and I wanted to preserve the unconventional way she wrote throughout the book as a constant reminder to the reader that she sees things differently. Also, words and books are a source of comfort to Caitlin because they don’t change. She can rely on them because they’re constant. Finding a definition is another way for her to hold on to something and have control over her world.

BT: This is such a heartbreaking story; did you cry while writing it at anytime?

KE: Yes, particularly at the end. I needed to rewrite the final chapter because it wasn’t quite working, and my editor told me that when I was crying at my keyboard, I would know I’d hit the right ending. And that’s what happened.

BT: When you hear from kids, what do they tell you they’ve learned or thought about as a result of reading Mockingbird?

KE: Younger kids tend to be very pragmatic about it. They say that now they get people like Caitlin and they think she’s funny—but ha-ha funny, not weird funny. Older kids, teens, and adults feel the poignancy and are grateful to have a chance to understand those like Caitlin. And people, young and older, with Asperger’s have thanked me for “nailing it” and telling this story.

BT: Were you a big reader as a kid? If so, what books?

KE: I’ve always loved reading and read a lot as a kid. I went through phases: series, biographies, mysteries, adventures, encyclopedias (really!), nonfiction on specific topics (horses, Australia, earth sciences, etc.), and specific authors like Enid Blyton and Arthur Ransome. I tended to pull books off our shelves at home, so I read Nevil Shute and Graham Greene when I was 10 and 11. We were allowed to read anything, encouraged to, actually. That’s why I read To Kill a Mockingbird at 8. I don’t think any of the books scarred me; in fact, they helped me look at the world from viewpoints I’d never imagined…sort of like Caitlin does.

You can find Mockingbird on TAB this January!

Knuffle Bunny Free

18 Nov

It’s the end of an era! Knuffle Bunny is back for one last adventure. Now, we’ve been through a lot with Trixie and Knuffle Bunny (pronounced “ka-nuffle,” by the way)—Knuffle Bunny’s gotten lost at the Laundromat, had a case of mistaken identity at school, and this time he’s flying with Trixie to the other side of the world. In the wonderful closing chapter of the Knuffle Bunny “saga,” Willems covers growing up and moving on in a way that both children and adults can relate to. You can find Knuffle Bunny Free on SeeSaw November! Don’t miss this one, it’s definitely a keeper.

Check out Mo Willems talking about Knuffle Bunny Free:

My Mommy Hung the Moon

26 Oct

When you hear the name Jamie Lee Curtis, you may think of her role in the horror film Halloween or, in a personal favorite, Freaky Friday. However, here at Scholastic Book Clubs, we know her name is also synonymous with best-selling children’s books that feature common childhood experiences and feelings. Together with Laura Cornell’s expressive illustrations, Curtis has written nine wonderful books. Their latest, My Mommy Hung the Moon, does not disappoint. Currently #9 on the New York Times Best Sellers list, it celebrates the unconditional love between a mother and her child. While children will surely agree with the sentiment (Mommy is best at everything!), parents will appreciate the humor in the story.

This is what I like so much about Curtis’s books—how they can be enjoyed by children and adults alike. In her first book, When I Was Little, a four-year-old remembers all the things she did “as a child” and how she is changed now that she’s “big.” In Today I Feel Silly & Other Moods That Make My Day, a young girl talks about her ever-changing moods from angry to excited. Always written from a child’s point of view, Curtis truly captures the nature of young children. Her books are also great discussion starters, as children will love sharing their own experiences and memories after reading any of her stories.

Find My Mommy Hung the Moon in Firefly November! Watch below to hear Jamie talk about the book in her own words:

This post comes to you from Laura, Editor of Firefly.

Picture the Dead

14 Oct

A few months ago, I was wandering around Book Expo America in New York and as I passed by the Source Books booth, a book cover caught my eye. It was gothic, full of deep reds, blacks, and silvers, and it was called Picture the Dead

…I had to have it. I was actually lucky enough to happen upon the booth just as the line was starting for the author and illustrator signing! Adele Griffin and Lisa Brown were both lovely and hilariously dressed like this:


Adele is the one in the moustache. Lisa's in the corset.


At the time, I didn’t realize how perfectly their attire tied in with the book. Picture the Dead turned out to be a terrifying and romantic tale—part mystery, part ghost story—set in the Civil War era. Check out what Kristin, our very own TAB/TeenRC Editor, had to say about it:

“A spy sees everyone, but is seen by no one. Remember that, Jennie.”

Jennie Lovell has lost everything: her parents, her twin, her fiancé…even her home. Forced to depend on uncaring relatives, Jennie tries to find a way out of her shattered life. When she meets a spirit photographer who claims to take ghostly pictures of the departed, she is sure he is a charlatan. But when the photographs begin to unveil clues to her fiancé’s death, Jennie finds herself in the middle of a chilling mystery. A haunting tale with amazing illustrations about the dark secrets kept by the living…and the dead.

Want to know more? Watch this clip of Lisa and Adele talking about the genesis of Picture the Dead:

Definitely pick up Picture the Dead on TAB October!

Get Ready to Go Back to Camp Half-Blood!

16 Sep

Rick Riordan may have finished up his best-selling Percy Jackson series last year, but that doesn’t mean he’s just sitting at home and relaxing. Incredibly, Rick is launching not one, but TWO new series this year, and we just couldn’t let that go without a big celebration!

Starting today, you can visit to check out all things Rick! There you’ll find special sneak peeks at chapters from the new series; character profiles; polls; pre-order information for his latest book, The Heroes of Olympus, Book One: The Lost Hero; and three exclusive videos featuring Scholastic Book Clubs’ Q & A’s with Rick!

The first book in his Egyptian mythology series, The Kane Chronicles, entered the world with a bang last May with the publication of The Red Pyramid. In it, we were introduced to Sadie and Carter Kane—who take up their family’s quest and find themselves in a world where ancient Egyptian gods continue to exert their power over us puny mortals. We already can’t wait to read the next book in the series!

In Rick’s latest series, The Heroes of Olympus, Rick returns to the world of Camp Half-Blood where demigods struggle to understand who they are, and what their purpose is in this mortal world. The first book in the five-book series, The Lost Hero, is set to release nationwide on October 12, when a brand-new set of demigods will inherit a quest. But to be successful, they’ll need the help of some familiar demigods along the way….

Seven half-bloods shall answer the call,
To storm or fire the world must fall.
An oath to keep with a final breath,
And foes bear arms to the Doors of Death.

Scholastic Book Clubs is now offering The Lost Hero for pre-order in Arrow and TAB October.

Authors Go Back to School!

14 Sep

This past weekend Book Talk went to the Brooklyn Book Festival for books, fun, and…rain (boo!). Despite the rain, we got a chance to catch up with some of our favorite authors! Since it is September and everyone is back in school, there was one thought burning in our collective Book Talk minds when we were speaking to these authors: What do you remember about going back to school?

We’d really like to thank Tad Hills (How Rocket Learned to Read); Judi Barrett (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs); Michael Rex (Goodnight Goon, The Runaway Mummy); Jon Scieszka (the Spaceheadz series); Michelle Knudsen (Library Lion); and Mac Barnett (The Brixton Brothers series) for taking the time to talk to us!