Tag Archives: Authors

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!

Guys Read: Funny Business

30 Nov

Let’s go back to May of this year. I was looking at the panels for the Book Expo of America conference and my eyes landed on the panel for Guys Read, and I thought, hey, this could be interesting. Then I saw the panelists: Adam Rex, Mac Barnett, Jon Scieszka, Jeff Kinney, and David Lubar! How could I not go to this thing?

The panel was amazing, hilarious, and informative. They spoke about why they wanted to participate in this short story compilation and it was simple: They wanted to do this because guys reading humor doesn’t mean that it has to be gross—it can be, but it doesn’t have to be. Needless to say, I was hooked. Then (as if I wasn’t already dying to read this book) they showed the audience a book trailer featuring all the authors.  I’ll let the trailer speak for itself:

This book, which you can find in December’s Arrow catalog, is perfect for not only reluctant readers, but anyone who loves a funny story. From a story about a kid who has no superpowers in a class where everyone does, to a story about a kid whose parents give his bedroom to a biker, this book has everything.

And if that’s not enough, check out the list of authors that have stories in this book: Mac Barnett (Brixton Brothers), Eoin Colfer (Artemis Fowl), Adam Rex (Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich), David Lubar (Nathan Abercrombie, Accidental Zombie; the Weenie books), Kate DiCamillo (The Magician’s Elephant; The Tale of Despereaux), Jon Scieszka (Spaceheadz; The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales), David Yoo (Stop Me if You’ve Heard This One Before), Jeff Kinney (Diary of a Wimpy Kid), Christopher Paul Curtis (Bud, Not Buddy; Elijah of Buxton), Paul Feig (the Ignatius MacFarland series), and Jack Gantos (Hole in My Life; the Joey Pigza books).

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: IT’S ALMOST HERE!

15 Oct

Fall is my favorite season of all. Every year I wait with budding anticipation for the temperature to drop, the leaves to turn their vibrant reds and oranges, and the first Arrow catalog to mail. But, this fall, there’s something that excites me even more than apple picking and Halloween haunting. This fall, Diary of a Wimpy Kid #5: The Ugly Truth hits Book Clubs! It’s so top secret that even I haven’t gotten a sneak peek, and I am DYING to know what happens! But one thing’s for sure: It is guaranteed to be as fun and hilarious as the first four books.

When we last left Greg, he was embarking on a lazy summer vacation that turned out to be anything but. A ruined birthday, a rainy trip to the water park, a campout at The Game Hut, two fish, and one dog later bring Greg to the end of summer and the precipice of adolescence. It is here that we anticipate the release of The Ugly Truth, which promises the memorable characters and silly schoolyard antics that have come to define the series and a new generation of readers. Will Greg and Rowley still be friends? Will Fregley ever get a clue? Will the dreaded cheese touch make its reappearance? There’s only one way to find out…read The Ugly Truth. It’s not available until November 9, 2010, but you can pre-order your copy on Arrow Book Club TODAY! Can’t wait for November 9 to get here? Be sure to check out the Jeff Kinney fan page where you can watch interviews with the Diary of a Wimpy Kid author and also find out what books he recommends while waiting for The Ugly Truth to come out.

As always, happy reading!

This post was brought to you by our very own Arrow Editor, Ann Marie.

Seven Half-Bloods Shall Answer the Call…

12 Oct

Last month, we mentioned how excited we were about the imminent release of the first book in Rick Riordan’s latest series. Well, now it’s finally here! The Heroes of Olympus, Book One: The Lost Hero hits bookstores and Scholastic Book Clubs book boxes. We’ve already read the first two chapters of The Lost Hero, and we can’t wait to get our hands on a freshly printed copy to find out what happens to Piper, Jason, Leo, and the rest of the newly discovered Half-Bloods.

To refresh your memory, what we know so far is that a new generation of demigods from Camp Half-Blood will be called upon to take up a quest:

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.

What will happen and who they’ll meet along the way is anybody’s guess—will these heroes quarrel with the gods like Percy did? Will they find out who their godly parents are? WILL PERCY APPEAR IN THIS SERIES? What about the prophecy and the new Oracle, Percy’s friend Rachel Elizabeth?! So many questions left unanswered. I’m looking forward to meeting these new characters, but I’m really hoping that this first book will include some familiar faces from the first New York Times best-selling series!

If you pre-ordered The Heroes of Olympus, Book One: The Lost Hero from Scholastic Book Clubs, you should be receiving it soon! If not, you can still purchase it from the Arrow or TAB October or November catalogs.  Visit our Rick Riordan Fan Page to learn more.

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!

The 39 Clues® Book 10 Is Here!

27 Aug

When The 39 Clues® series launched in September 2008, we just couldn’t wait to read the first one! But when we found out that the series was not just made up of ten adventure-filled novels written by seven of the best children’s authors today, but that it was also a multiplatform series that combined books, collectible cards, and an online game, we were absolutely floored! There was nothing like it on the market and we just knew that kids were going to go wild for this interactive way of reading–we were right!

Two years later, the groundbreaking series comes to an end with Book 10, which releases nationwide next Tuesday, August 31. In it, Margaret Peterson Haddix picks up the quest of Amy and Dan Cahill as they face their final challenge on a mysterious lost island. Margaret, who is also the author of the exciting Shadow Children series, agreed to speak to Book Talk about her experiences writing this final installment of The 39 Clues®. We can’t wait to get our hands on this one!

One-on-One with Margaret Peterson Haddix:

BT: What branch of the Cahill family do you belong to?

MPH: Ekaterina.

BT: Which member of the Cahill family would you team up with on the hunt?

MPH: Oh, definitely Amy and Dan!

BT: If you could change the identity of the man in black from Book 9, who would he be and why?

MPH: Interesting question! I think if the man in black weren’t…uh…who he really is, I would want him to be Amy and Dan’s grandfather. Partly this is because I feel so bad for Amy and Dan that all their closest relatives (except each other) are dead. I’m not sure how it could be explained why everyone thought the grandfather was dead—or where he’s been for most of Amy and Dan’s lives—but it might be fun to try. Or, possibly the man in black could have been their grandfather on their father’s side, so it would turn out that they have Cahill connections on both sides….

Photo Credit: The Backstage Studio

MPH: Still having exciting adventures.

BT: If you could join Amy and Dan on one of their adventures, which one would it be and why?

MPH: The one in Book 10. Because they know the most about what’s going on then.

BT: Did you work with the other authors of The 39 Clues® series in planning/writing Book 10?

MPH: Rick Riordan, who wrote the first book in the series, also wrote brief outlines for all the other books, including Book 10. But, given that he wrote it before the other books were finished, that outline was fairly sketchy, and I was happy that it left a lot of room for me to use my own imagination. I had a lot more contact with Linda Sue Park, who was writing Book 9 about the same time that I was writing Book 10. Linda Sue and I—and The 39 Clues® editor, Rachel Griffiths—had a long conversation early on to make sure that our character development and plotlines would work together. And then while Linda Sue and I were both in the writing process, we occasionally exchanged e-mails along the lines of, “Someone’s going to need to address this particular issue before the end of the series. Are you handling that in your book, or should I take care of it?”

BT: Did you have any input in the planning/writing of Books 1–9?

MPH: None at all with Books 1–8. But, as I mentioned in my last answer, Linda Sue and I did compare notes while we were writing Books 9 and 10.

BT: How was writing Book 10 different from writing other books you’ve written?

MPH: This was the first time I’ve ever written a book based on a situation and characters that someone else came up with. I was a little worried about being able to write from the perspective of certain characters who were very different from me—for example, the Holts or Jonah Wizard—but it turned out that their scenes were some of the ones that I had the most fun writing.

The other big difference was that this had to be a much more collaborative process than I’ve ever been involved in before. In one sense, this made me less decisive than I usually am as a writer, because certain things were outside of my control. But I also felt a huge sense of responsibility, because I absolutely did not want to mess up anything when so many other people were also working hard to make The 39 Clues® project great.

BT: How long did it take you to write Book 10?

MPH: It took two months to write the first draft of the book, then about another two months to revise. Then, for a couple months after that, I worked on the book for a few days at a time, here and there, to deal with line editing, copy editor questions, etc.

BT: Was it more difficult to write the last book of this EPIC series after so many other great authors (besides yourself, of course) had contributed to it?

MPH: Absolutely! After nine books of incredible, dramatic, heart-stopping action, it was really hard for me to think of something that hadn’t already been done!

We want to thank Margaret for so graciously agreeing to stop by our blog and Book Talk with us!

You’re invited to a LIVE GLOBAL WEBCAST EVENT for the release of The 39 Clues®, Book 10 on August 31, 2010!

The 39 Clues®, Book 10: Into the Gauntlet and the complete boxed set of Books 1–10 are being offered this September in the Arrow, TAB, and Teachers’ Picks catalogs! If you haven’t already, join the hunt!


Duck and Goose Have a New Friend! Meet Rocket!

26 Aug

There is a very special new character on Firefly this October and we have some very special friends who want to introduce you to him! Take a gander at the letter, and be sure to download the exclusive Book Clubs’ “I Can Read Like Rocket!” certificate for your classroom!

Click here to download our exclusive “I Can Read like Rocket” certificate! You can see a sample below:

Don’t forget you can find Duck and Goose themselves on Firefly September in a brand new adventure, Duck and Goose Find a Pumpkin!