Catherine Stine's IDEA CITY

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Interview with Renée Watson about What Momma Left Me

Before I interview Renée, here’s my quick synopsis of her new novel, What Momma Left Me, from Bloomsbury Press (for 8 to 11 year-olds)

Following the death of their mother, and disappearance of their father, thirteen year-old Serenity and her brother Danny move in with their grandparents. At first, Serenity is put off by their rules and insistence on her attending long hours at church. There's the added challenge of attending a new school, and trying to make all new friends, all while missing her mother. Things start to brighten when Serenity meets Maria, also in the youth ministry group at the church. But as her brother falls in with a sketchy crowd, and Serenity finds herself drawn to a boy in that same clique, Serenity is faced with tough choices, which will test her faith, and sense of right and wrong. It’s a page-turner with real heart!

CS: In What Momma Left Me, the church is central to the plot. Can you talk about that?

RW: I write very close to reality and I grew up in the church. It was a normal part of life that was not separate from my school or friends. I wanted to show that fluidity and connection, and how so much good can emerge from that sort of tight-knit community.

CS: People often say that even though a novel is fiction, parts of characters come from the author and her experience. How much of the Serenity character came from you?

RW: *Laughs* I was always questioning everything, just like Serenity! My journal was my best friend too. And as Serenity looks out for Maria, I really looked out for my friends in school, particularly a new girl, who seemed overwhelmed. Also, when I was little, my mom was a lot like Serenity’s grandma. She prayed with me through troubled times and always had time to listen to me.

C: I thought one of the big questions in Momma was what is real peace? Do you agree?

R: Yes. There was so much chaos in Serenity's world that she was worried she might not find peace until she went to heaven, or that it didn’t exist at all. Her grandma helped her see that it was about making peace with the ups and downs of life: “You know how many times I’ve cried?... So many I can’t count.” Grandma smiles. “But guess what? I can’t count the laughs either!”

C: I love how each chapter begins with a poem. I especially love your Ode to Cake! Have you considered writing a poetry book for kids?

R: Sure. Poetry was my first love. I read at open mic poetry readings around the city, and do poetry workshops with my students.

C: What are you working on next?

R: I have a picture book forthcoming with Random House called Harlem’s Little Blackbird, about Florence Mills, a Harlem Renaissance performer. And I’ll be doing a reading and book signing in New York City at Bank Street on November 4th, from 5:30 to 7:30, so come on down! I invite you to visit my website for upcoming events and info.

C: Thanks so much for stopping by.

RW: Anytime.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Husky Mascots, Brooklyn Book Festival and Extreme Cuteness Alert

Let’s talk Husky puppies, shall we? One of the main characters of A Girl’s Best Friend, the book I penned for American Girl, is a frisky Husky pup named Pepper. Coincidentally, the college mascot at my son’s new college, Northeastern, in Boston, is… guess what? A Siberian Husky! You know, the soft white fur ridged with smoky black, the topaz eyes, the pointy ears that perk at everything?

So, to adorn my booth at the Brooklyn Book Festival, booth #77 to be exact, I bought two mascots to cheer the book on, and to thrill the kids who stop by. Who knows, maybe the adults too.

Major cuteness in the house!!!

And, if you want to see feisty Pepper in all his glory, check him out in the American Girl shop by clicking into the link here:

You can also see his pals: Sugar and Coconut, who kick up some serious dust at Pet Palooza in A Girl’s Best Friend.

The book festival's this Sunday, September 12th from 10 am to 6 pm, so if you’re anywhere near Brooklyn, come on down and say hi! My friend, and colleague, Vicki Wittenstein, will be sharing the booth. Her new nonfiction picture book, Planet Hunter reveals the method that Geoff Marcy, an astronomer, uses to detect planets that may support life. Great photos too.

I’ll have my YA, Refugees; Be Careful What You Wish For, a middle grade anthology of super-fun stories, and this latest romp, A Girl’s Best Friend. I may even have a few copies of my earlier AG book about the dark side of Greyhound racing.

Look for us near the Youth Pavilion, and in front of the sculpture garden. We’ll be the ones with the Husky pup mascots! At booth 77. WOOOF!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A Girl’s Best Friend; New Book, New fall Season!

Today is more the first day of September, it’s the debut of A Girl’s Best Friend the book I wrote for the fabulous, new Innerstar University series from American Girl. You’ve heard of those “Choose Your Own Adventure” tales, where you interact with the story, and have a say in where you venture off to. Traditionally, most were adventure stories aimed at boys, where it was a matter of creeping into the snake-infested cave, or choosing to stay on the path, only to be confronted with a growling Grizzly bear.

A Girl’s Best Friend is more about friends and school and figuring out what it is to be really loyal. All of this, with a major scoop of pure fun… and a ton of puppies—cuddly, spunky and just plain dashing off faster than you could ever catch them!

Innerstar University has an online gaming aspect too. There are more than twenty endings, which was a challenge to write—like figuring out a jigsaw puzzle--and refreshing that readers to get to choose. Some of the endings go online, where the party continues!

Don’t take my word for it, read and explore for yourself.

I’ll be at the Brooklyn Book Festival, in the vendor section, Sunday, September 12th, so come on down and say hi, and check out A Girl’s Best Friend, while you’re there!