February 23, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

What Makes Mini Run? | Under Cover

Author-illustrator Mini Grey on birth, books, and her infatuation with food

Your name comes from being born in the front seat of a Mini Cooper in South Wales. Did you name your son, Herbie, after the Volkswagen bug in the Disney film?

I don’t know whether the film had any influence. But at one point, when I was about to have Herbie, our car was a Rover, and I thought, if he’s born in the […]

Super Sad Love Story: Ruta Sepetys’s ‘Between Shades of Gray’ is a heartbreaking tale of courage | Under Cover

Few people know that Stalin deported more than 300,000 Lithuanians, including many women and children who were shipped to Siberia in cattle cars and left to die. That was Stalin’s plan. There’s this quote which is just chilling, where Stalin says death is the solution to all problems—no man, no problem. What’s even more tragic, though, is that the Soviets occupied Lithuania, but then later, in 1941, the Germans kicked the Soviets […]

Young Adult Friction: Chris Lynch’s ‘Angry Young Man’ examines a fragile psyche on the edge | Under Cover

Photograph by Tsar Fedorsky/Getty Images for SLJ

In your new novel, Alexander and Robert are two teenage brothers being raised by their struggling mom. Can you give us a thumbnail sketch of them?

Sure. Alexander calls himself Xan because he likes the more exotic, outsiderish sound of it. He’s a guy like a lot of guys we know. He’s just a couple of ticks off of making his way in the world. Things just […]

Altar Ego: In Ally Condie’s ‘Matched,’ the government dictates who you marry | Under Cover

Photograph by Matthew Turley.

Matched takes place in a dystopian society that controls who you marry, what you eat, and when you die. But 17-year-old Cassia challenges the established order when she falls for two guys—her state-approved match and someone a computer glitch accidentally reveals. I heard the story was inspired by a high school prom that you and your husband, Scott, chaperoned.

We used to chaperone dances on the weekend […]

Dancing with the Stars: What’s Brian Floca doing illustrating a brand-new book about ballet? | Under Cover

Photograph by Matt Peyton/ Getty Images for SLJ.

Ballet for Martha, by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan, tells the story of how Martha Graham teamed up with composer Aaron Copland and sculptor Isamu Noguchi to create Appalachian Spring, a modern dance masterpiece. No offense, but it doesn’t seem like you’d be an obvious choice to work on this book.

I was obviously not obvious. [Laughs]

You excel at illustrating detailed, technical topics, like the Apollo 11 […]

Power to the People: Rita Williams-Garcia’s latest novel, ‘One Crazy Summer,’ is full of heartbreak and hope | Under Cover

It’s 1968, and 11-year-old Delphine and her sisters are flying to Oakland to visit their mother, Cecile, who abandoned them seven years ago. They soon discover that she’s involved with the Black Panthers and couldn’t care less about her own daughters. Since you and your mom were such supportive parents, did it surprise you when a character like Cecile popped onto the page?

First of all, I have to disabuse you of a few notions. My mother is actually more Cecile […]

It’s a Long Story: Poet Joyce Sidman’s ‘Ubiquitous’ celebrates evolution’s winners | Under Cover

Photograph by Steve Niedorf.

Ubiquitous features poems about some of nature’s most successful survivors, including bacteria (which are almost four billion years old), sharks, and squirrels. I was stunned to learn that 99 percent of all species that have ever existed are now extinct.

I know. When I found that out, I felt the same way. There have been so many books about endangered species and why they die out. I was interested in why certain groups of organisms thrive.

Did you […]

Born to Be Wild: Sick of boring science books? Try Pamela S. Turner’s ‘The Frog Scientist.’ | Under Cover

Photograph by David Paul Morris/Getty Images for SLJ.

Your latest book opens with Tyrone Hayes, a biologist at UC Berkeley, and some of his grad students trying to catch frogs in Wyoming. What was it like hanging out with those guys?

It was pretty funny. I was in Southern California at a conference, and they were up in Montana. They were going to these really remote lakes and trying to take some water samples and find some frogs. They went on […]

The Odd Couple: An Interview with Author-Illustrator Jerry Pinkney | Under Cover

Jerry Pinkney’s ‘The Lion & the Mouse’ is the cat’s meow

You’ve won five Caldecott Honors and five Coretta Scott King Awards. But a lot of folks are saying this is your best book yet.

You often hear authors and artists say, “I respond to and I’m inspired by the child within me.” And a lot of my career was about that. I was reaching down to find that part of me that spoke not only about my childhood but what I […]

Wrench in the Works: An Interview with Kate Thompson | Under Cover

Kate Thompson’s ‘Creature of the Night’ is raw, uncompromising, and winning

Photo by Patrick Henaghan

Your latest novel is about a 14-year-old punk who steals cars, does drugs, and gets into fights. When Bobby’s family moves from Dublin to the country to start over, they soon discover that their lives may be in peril. What inspired you to write such a gritty story?

I had this idea kicking around in my mind for about five or more years. It was a […]

Upper West Side Story: An Interview with Rebecca Stead | Under Cover

Rebecca Stead’s stellar new novel, When You Reach Me, is mysterious, funny, and fresh

Twelve-year-old Miranda is receiving mysterious notes, one of which says, “I am coming to save your friend’s life, and my own.” To make matters worse, the sender seems to know exactly what’s going to happen before it occurs. How did you come up with the idea for When You Reach Me?

The idea came from an article in the New York Times about a guy who was walking […]

Father Knows Best: An Interview with Fran Cannon Slayton | Under Cover

Fran Cannon Slayton’s tribute to her dad’s younger days is a treasure

When the Whistle Blows follows the adventures of Jimmy Cannon, a boy growing up in a rural West Virginia railroading town. Jimmy’s family has worked on the railroad for generations, and that’s what he dreams of doing. But the times are changing, and the town’s old way of life is in danger of disappearing. What inspired you to write your first novel?

It was inspired by my dad’s stories of […]

Saint in the City: An Interview with Francisco X. Stork. | Under Cover

Photo by Tsar Fedorsky/Getty Images for Reed Business.

Marcelo is a bright 17-year-old who works with therapy horses, is wild about religion, and stumbles humorously into his first romantic relationship. You once lived at a home that was part of L’Arche, a faith-based community in which so-called normal adults live alongside those with developmental disabilities. What did you learn from that experience?
When you live with the disabled, you learn more from them than, frankly, they learn from you. The people […]

Blue Bayou: An Interview with Kathi Appelt | Under Cover

Kathi Appelt’s inspired first novel, ‘The Underneath,’ brims with heartache and hope

The Underneath, set in East Texas’s bayou country, features two intertwined stories. One’s about a cat who befriends a mistreated dog, and the other is about a vindictive ancient shape-shifter—half serpent, half human—who longs for her daughter’s love. What most surprised you about the story?

It originated from a short story I had written. I never intended to write an animal story. I resisted having talking animals.

That’s ironic, since there’s […]

The Woman Warrior | Under Cover

Kristin Cashore’s marvelous new fantasy features a killer with a heart of gold

When readers of Graceling first meet Katsa, she’s working as a hit man for her ruthless uncle, King Randa. That reminds me of the Corleone family, in The Godfather.

That might have been my Sicilian roots coming out. My mother’s family is a Sicilian family. So we like to joke about the Mafia now and then.

You use the word “grace” to describe a tremendous talent or gift for doing […]

A Killer Story: An Interview with Suzanne Collins, Author of ‘The Hunger Games’ | Under Cover

Suzanne Collins’s ‘The Hunger Games’ has plenty of blood, guts, and heart

Thanks to a cruel futuristic government, 24 children are chosen by lottery to compete in the annual Hunger Games—a fight to the death that’s televised live. How did you come up with that idea?

It’s very much based on the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur, which I read when I was eight years old. I was a huge fan of Greek and Roman mythology. As punishment for displeasing Crete, […]

Going, Going, Gone! | Under Cover

Kadir Nelson hits a home run with ‘We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball’

Photograph by Marshall Williams.

The Negro leagues thrived from 1920 to 1947—the year Jackie Robinson became the first African American to play major league baseball. But given the segregation and racism the players encountered, We Are the Ship is more than a sports story.

Since African Americans were banned from playing in the majors, they created their own leagues. I think of We Are […]

Girl with Two First Names: Interview with Alison McGhee | Under Cover

Alison McGhee’s bighearted first novel for young readers is irresistible

Julia Gillian (and the Art of Knowing) is a charming story about a precocious nine-year-old who makes papier-mâché masks and is crazy about her dog. But on a deeper level, the story tackles some of life’s grittiest challenges. Did you plan to write such a serious story?

Before I began writing Julia Gillian, I treated myself to rereading the Ramona books and I read a couple of the Betsy-Tacy books for the […]

Picture Perfect | Under Cover

Dilys Evans on life, luck, and—oh, yeah—her terrific new book, ‘Show & Tell’

Photograph by Wendy McEahern.

As an art director and, more recently, an agent for children’s book illustrators, you’ve had an incredible knack for spotting new talent. For example, you essentially discovered David Wiesner, which was almost like finding Elvis. How did you develop such a great eye?
It may help if I explain a little about my […]

High-Wire Act: Sue Stauffacher | Under Cover

Sue Stauffacher’s Wireman’ is a huge hit with kids who had given up on reading

Photograph by
Mitch Ranger

You’ve written a number of well-received children’s picture books and novels. Why did you create a series of high-interest, low-vocabulary comics aimed at urban kids?
In the mid-’90s, I started volunteering in the Grand Rapids Public Schools [in Michigan]. And I also volunteered at our community college, doing literacy stuff with VISTA […]