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Q&A with Suzanne Selfors

Spirit coverSpirit Riding Free: Lucky and the Mustangs of Miradero

 

By Suzanne Selfors

Genre: Middle Grade Fiction

Curriculum Subject: Animals, Character Development, Friendship

Grades: 3–7

 

 

In Spirit Riding Free: Lucky and the Mustangs of Miradero, we see Lucky and the town preparing for a big winter storm.  How did this concept develop?  What research and preparation did you do on this time period in order to portray the theme of winter in the wild west?

Since the first book takes place in the spring, I thought it would be fun to have the second book take place in winter. I had to do a lot of research. I live in the Pacific Northwest, so I had to find out what sorts of plants and animals are native to the Arizona high desert (which is basically where the story takes place in my mind.) I had to study weather patterns. I’d already been doing a lot of research on wild mustangs but now I needed to find out what sorts of plants they’d eat in the winter. When Turo is putting winter shoes on the horses, that’s based on an old article someone wrote about how his great grandparents prepared their horses for winter. I also had to research sleighs and how they work. It was fun, like being a detective.

 

The chapters from Spirit’s point of view, give the reader a chance to read about Spirit when he’s not with Lucky in Miradero.  In this book, we get to read about not only Spirit, but, Spirit’s sister and another family member.  Was it hard to craft Spirit’s feelings and perspective during these chapters?  Did you enjoy introducing more of Spirit’s family to the story?

The main job of every writer is to get into the character’s head. So for me, not only did I need to try to understand Lucky’s feelings, but I also had to imagine what it would be like to be a horse. I can’t really know how a horse “thinks”, but I can know how a horse feels. Because as mammals, we have the same feelings of fear, of love, or curiosity. So when I write the story in Spirit’s voice, I simply tap into those emotions. It was fun giving him a sister and showing the bond between them. It doesn’t matter if you have two legs or four, we all want to take care and protect those we love.

 

Lucky continues to keep in touch with her friend Emma from back east, through letters. Did you have a pen pal or friend that lived far away that you kept in contact with as a kid?

When I was in second grade, and a Blue Bird (similar to being a Girl Scout), the members of my troop were assigned pen pals with another troop all the way across the country. And so, for that year, we wrote letters back and forth. We didn’t have computers in those days, or cell phones, so everyone wrote letters. Her name was Karen and I kept writing to her until middle school, so in some ways, we grew up together. We never met but getting her letter ever month was always something I looked forward to.

 

Jim is a single man in Miradero which many people in the town are noticing.  Why is Lucky so upset that her father is consisted an eligible bachelor?

For most of Lucky’s life, it’s been her and her dad. The two of them, side by side, a true team. And that is what Lucky is used to. That is what makes sense to her. So when various people start using the term “eligible bachelor” Lucky’s first reaction is fear. She knows that if her father falls in love and gets married, then it won’t be just the two of them anymore. She doesn’t want things to change with her father. She wants to keep him all to herself. I think that’s a natural reaction. As the story progresses, Lucky begins to feel less afraid and realizes that even if her father begins to love someone new, his love for his daughter will never change.

 

Pru and Maricela have a rivalry going on between them. We learn that one of the reasons for the rivalry is because Maricela is struggling with feelings of being left out.  What advice would you give to kids who feel like Maricela?

Everyone feels left out. That’s the big truth. Even the popular kids. Even the star of the school play. Even the kid who wins an award in an art contest. Even I feel left out sometimes! It’s a natural feeling.

What we need to remember is that it doesn’t matter how many friends we have, what matters is that the one best friend, or the two best friends, are people we enjoy being with, people who are kind and who we can laugh with. It was natural for Pru and Abigail to be friends because they are both crazy about horses. I think the best way to make a friend is to find someone who likes doing the same thing you like doing. Most of my friends are writers!

 

Lucky is a bit of a risk taker, especially when she goes off after Pru and Abigail in the first book, and now, she runs off to help Spirit, when she’s told to stay in town.  Why do think Lucky takes these big risks?  Would you consider yourself a risk taker like Lucky?

I don’t think Lucky is saying to herself, “Wow, I’m taking a big risk.” She’s the kind of person who doesn’t always worry about herself and she often listens to her heart, which guides her to help people or animals in need, even if the situation is dangerous. So she acts with her heart, before she thinks with her head.

I don’t think I’m a risk taker. I don’t ride wild horses across the prairie. But I sure like writing about people who do!

 

The book has a strong message of friendship between people and people to animals.  What other messages do you hope readers will take away from this series?

I hope my readers will embrace the truth that kindness can change world. Being kind to animals makes you a better person. Being kind to the school bully might be the simple act that changes that bully’s life. If we treat all living creatures with kindness, then can you imagine what possibilities await us?

 

Brandy Colbert on Writing Little & Lion

Little & Lion cover

I was having dinner with my cousin last year when she asked what my book Little & Lion is about. I gave a disjointed pitch, but she said it sounded interesting and circled back to my description of the main character, Suzette.

“Black, bisexual, and Jewish?” she asked.

I waited for her to question my choice to write about a character that represented several marginalizations. She never did.

“Cool,” she said. “My cousin on the other side of my family is black, lesbian, and Jewish. I’ll tell her to check it out.”

My eyes widened immediately. I knew that although my Suzette was fictional, more than a few people had to share her specific collection of identities in the real world. But I never expected to be so closely connected to someone who could “validate” the inclusiveness of my book.
I didn’t set out to write a highly diverse novel, which is how Little & Lion is often described. My only goal was to depict the Los Angeles that I live in and that very much exists.

I’ve talked a lot about how I grew up in a Midwestern town with a very small black population; there weren’t many people who looked like me, and especially not at the schools I attended. But I also craved meeting people from different cultures and ethnicities. I wanted to learn what it meant to have brown skin but not be black. I wanted to meet people who were part of the LGBTQ community, because by the time I was in high school, I’d met only one gay person—an adult man—who was out in my hometown, and I knew that number, even in a city as small as ours, was abysmal.

I grew up in a Baptist church, and I can’t remember when I first realized there were other religions, but I was instantly fascinated. Almost everyone I’d ever known had been Christian. My hometown has an overwhelming number of churches; on a recent visit, I counted about four within a two-block radius, and that’s not uncommon. I wanted to know about other religions and what millions of people around the world believed, even if it wasn’t reflected where I grew up. I finally took a Judaism class after high school, which was one of the most interesting courses in my college career, by far. It was taught by a woman, the rabbi at the only synagogue in town.

Moving to Los Angeles after college, I was astounded by how different it was from my hometown. People wore what they wanted and their outfits didn’t all look the same. They had varying shades of brown skin and diverse backgrounds to go with them. They spoke multiple languages and observed various religions—or, sometimes, they practiced nothing at all. They were gay and lesbian and bisexual and transgender and queer. They talked openly about their physical disabilities and mental illness. Sometimes one person claimed several of these identities at once.
I was surprised, and tremendously pleased. I’d lived for twenty-two years in a place where I was often ridiculed and judged for the color of my skin, and now there were so many people with identities that weren’t white and Christian and straight and able-bodied living and working among me. Los Angeles is the sort of city that celebrates the diversity of its inhabitants with neighborhoods like Chinatown and Little Ethiopia and West Hollywood and Boyle Heights, and I finally felt like I was home.

Sometimes people seem taken aback by a character that is Jewish, black, and bisexual, or a black and Korean-American boy who wears hearing aids, or a pansexual Latina. And some people are especially troubled by the fact that these identities can all exist in one novel. They believe that exploring these intersections is trying too hard to be politically correct, or that it’s just a tad too much diversity for one story. And I believe that to be insulting to people who are actually living these lives.

In Little & Lion, Suzette is made to feel ashamed about parts of her life and thus feels compelled to hide them. I grew up with people who believed they needed to hide their sexual identities because it made them too different in our small, homogenous town. And I’m certain there are people in several generations of my black Southern family who have felt the same, either keeping their romantic lives private or disengaging completely from the family to avoid potential judgment. I also know people whose bilingual parents didn’t teach them Spanish because they feared it would make them too different to be accepted.

Telling others that their identities are too diverse to be believable is erasure. It perpetuates the idea that we should all think and look and act the same, and that people can and should only concentrate on one aspect of their identity. Identity is at once private and also quite public in some instances.

Novels are fiction, but we know they can act as windows—a glimpse into the lives of people who look or act or believe differently than us. Too many children and teens don’t have the good fortune of growing up in diverse or inclusive neighborhoods and towns, and a book might be the closest they can get to learning about unfamiliar cultures and communities. Which is only a good thing, because books that serve as windows foster empathy.

I’m hopeful for the future of children’s literature and grateful that kids and teens have the chance to read a much more diverse array of books than I had when I was young.

And I hope there will be a day in the near future when people don’t find it unusual or unrealistic to read about a girl who just happens to be black, bisexual, and Jewish

 

Brandy Colbert photoABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brandy Colbert was born and raised in Springfield, Missouri. Her debut novel, Pointe, won the 2014 Cyblis Award for young adult fiction and was named a best book of 2014 by Publishers Weekly, BuzzFeed, Book Riot, and more. She was chosen as a Publishers Weekly Flying Start for spring 2014. Brandy works as a copyeditor and lives in Los Angeles, California.

 

ABOUT THE BOOK

★ “Subtle, neatly interwoven exploration of intersectionality.” –Booklist

★ “Colbert sensitively confronts misconceptions about mental illness, bisexuality, and intersectional identity.” –Kirkus

★ “Moving.” –School Library Journal

 

When Suzette comes home to Los Angeles from her boarding school in New England, she isn’t sure if she’ll ever want to go back. L.A. is where her friends and family are (along with her crush, Emil). And her stepbrother, Lionel, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, needs her emotional support.

But as she settles into her old life, Suzette finds herself falling for someone new…the same girl her brother is in love with. When Lionel’s disorder spirals out of control, Suzette is forced to confront her past mistakes and find a way to help her brother before he hurts himself–or worse.

 

Want to know even more about Little & Lion? Listen to our LB School Podcast interview with Brandy Colbert here.

Shine!

Shine coverShine!

By Patrick McDonnell

Illustrated by Naoko Stoop

Genre: Juvenile Fiction

Curriculum Subject: Self-Esteem & Self-Reliance; Emotions & Feelings; Animals: Marine Life

Grades: Pre-K-3rd

 

Hoshi the sea star looks up in the sky and sees the stars shining. She wishes that she too could be in the sky amongst the brilliant stars—and as she imagines how much better it would be up in the air, she fails to appreciate the beautiful world that surrounds her underwater. It takes Hoshi’s friends, old and new, to help her realize that her shine comes from within. With gorgeous illustrations depicting colorful underwater life, Shine! teaches about the wonders that can be found inside ourselves.

 

Naoko’s gorgeous use of plywood as the canvas for her work offers the perfect texture and pattern to evoke waves and sea currents in the underwater scenes.

 

 

PRAISE

“Stoop’s art imbues Hoshi with humor and a sweet appeal…  This title will be useful in helping children identify and resolve difficult feelings.” —Booklist

 

“Stoop’s mixed-media artwork adds richness and depth. The many sea creatures, painted on wood grain, are identifiable—scarlet coral, a green crab—and the scenes gain beauty from graded washes of sky and water.” —Publishers Weekly

 

“The use of a plywood canvas—to which acrylic, pencil, pastel, and ink have been applied and digitally manipulated—cleverly allows the grain of the wood to become the irregular lines of the ocean current or the heat radiating from the sun. The artist employs pattern, color, and scale to create surprises as the pages turn when Hoshi is imagining the wonders in the heavens (while missing the school of minnows, the vibrant coral, and the enormous whale passing by)… Lovely.” —School Library Journal

 

VIDEO

The Three Billy Goats Gruff

Three Billy Goats Gruff coverThe Three Billy Goats Gruff

By Jerry Pinkney

Genre: Juvenile Fiction

Curriculum Subject: Adventure: Animals, Folk Tales/Fairy Tales/Classics: Animals, Personal Development: Conflict Resolution, Adventure: Monsters

Grades: Pre-K-3rd

 

Jerry Pinkney puts his indelible stamp on another beloved folktale in the same vein as the Caldecott Medal-winning The Lion & the Mouse and the highly acclaimed The Tortoise & the Hare and The Grasshopper & the Ants.

 

When the three billy goats Gruff are hungry, they see bountiful grass to eat across an old bridge. But the bridge is home to a terrible troll, who is peckish himself, and looking for a tasty morsel to gobble up. In his interpretation of the timeless tale, Jerry Pinkney shows there’s little good to come from greed–but in the end, redemption for even the most trollish bully is possible. A dramatic gatefold heightens the climax of this brilliant rendition.

 

PRAISE

★ “Pinkney’s creative interpretation adds drama and a touch of morality to this well-known tale… Beautiful, exciting, and memorable retelling.” —Booklist

 

★ “This will be a sterling introduction to a classic for young kids—the human kind. An excellent and informative note explains Pinkney’s adaptation choices, and the closing endpaper gives a peek at the new goat-friendly troll. ” —The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

 

★ “Pinkney’s graceful note invites readers to ponder issues of forgiveness, redemption, and peaceful coexistence in a terrific tale well-suited to family and group read-alouds.” —Kirkus

 

★ “Pinkney is generous with his gifts; his paintings are splendid, nuanced, and unfailingly entertaining.” —Publishers Weekly

 

★ “With a seasoned storyteller’s ear for language and an extraordinary mastery of his medium, this wise and gentle bookmaker helps readers see that cleverness, community, and confrontation all have a time and place in dealing with a bully. Sure to become a storytime staple.” —School Library Journal

 

VIDEO

Little & Lion

Little & Lion cover

Little & Lion

By Brandy Colbert

Genre: Young Adult Fiction

Curriculum Subject: Mental Illness; LGBT; Alternative Family; Siblings; Girls & Women; Prejudice & Racism

Grades: 10 & up

 

When Suzette returns to Los Angeles from the boarding school where she was forced to spend the past semester, she’s uncertain of whether she wants to return to Massachusetts or stay in California. CA is where her friends and family are (as well as her crush, Emil); and her step-brother Lionel, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, needs her emotional support. When Suzette and Lionel begin to fall in love with the same girl, however, Lionel’s disorder takes a turn for the worse and spirals out of control, forcing Suzette to confront her own demons. Having betrayed a secret girlfriend in her boarding school, allowing her to take the brunt of homophobic bullying, Suzette must face her own past mistakes, come to terms with her bisexuality, and find a way to help her brother, before he hurts himself–or worse.

The Secret Keepers

The Secret Keepers coverThe Secret Keepers

By Trenton Lee Stewart

Genre: Juvenile Fiction

Curriculum Subject: Adventure: Mysteries, Adventure: Magic/Fantasy, Family Life: Neighbors/Neighborhoods

Grades: 3-7

 

Listen to Author Interview Educator Guide

When Reuben discovers an extraordinary antique watch, he soon learns it has a secret power and his life takes an intriguing turn. At first he is thrilled with his new treasure, but as one secret leads to another, Reuben finds himself torn between his innately honest nature and the lure to be a hero.

 

Now he is on a dangerous adventure–full of curious characters, treacherous traps, and hairsbreadth escapes–as he races to solve the mystery before it is too late. Even with fearless Penny, mighty Jack, and the wise Mrs. Genevieve on his side, can Reuben outwit and outmaneuver the sly villain called The Smoke and his devious defenders the Directions and save the city from a terrible fate?

 

In this ingeniously crafted novel, acclaimed author Trenton Lee Stewart invites readers to join the adventure, decipher the clues, and ask themselves the question: Is knowing a secret a gift or a curse?

 

PRAISE

★ “Stewart has created an exciting, fully imagined world filled with mystery and danger, where children can have real adventures without parental supervision. He doesn’t shy from putting the children in true danger, both physical and moral, keeping readers on tenterhooks until the final page.” —Publishers Weekly

 

★ “Children will be caught up in the mystery, trying to decipher the clues as they follow Reuben and his new-found friends in their race to save the town from a dreadful future…  All in all, this is another winner from Trenton Lee Stewart.” —School Library Connection

 

★ “Fans of Stewart’s ‘MysteriousBenedict Society’ and series like it will devour his latest novel. This epic story filled with adventure and twists and turns is certain to keep readers’interest from beginning to end.” —School Library Journal

 

secret-keepers

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