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When We Say YA: May Edition

Each month on the OneFourKidLit blog, those of us who love YA answer a question about our reading and writing. In honor of the recent movement for diversity in YA, this month’s question is: “Which diverse YA book has been most influential to you, and why?”

Monster MyersMONSTER by Walter Dean Myers. This book blew me away. The idea that we judge, react, criticize, and demean without even realizing made me consider how I respond to all people. In MONSTER, the main character is accused of a crime but realizes that the jury and even his lawyer don’t look at him as innocent until proven guilty, but as African American and therefore guilty, needing to prove innocence. If we look at our penal system, this certainly appears to be the case. All young adults should read books like this and reevaluate how they respond and react, even subconsciously, to those of different ethnicities.–Chris Struyk-Bonn, author of Whisper

MockingbirdTO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee. As a young reader, TKAM was perhaps the first place I consciously encountered the idea of the “other” through Boo Radley. He is damaged and creepy and easy to fear. But he is also good. Being able to see his ultimate goodness through Scout’s eyes was really important to me as a child. It gave me the strength to be kind to people who deserve kindness, despite the fear they may instill–like the hulking, brain-damaged man who lived down the street from me when I was young. When he rang the bell and grinned his strange, other-worldly grin, I wanted to hide. But because of Scout, I opened the door. I let him in.–Mary Crockett, co-author of Dream Boy

everworldThe EVERWORLD series by K.A. Applegate. It’s been so long since I read it that I don’t even recall how well the various characters were handled, but I do remember vividly one scene in the first book where a black character was insistent on leaving the scene of an incident before the police came, because he knew they’d suspect him regardless of what he did and didn’t do. Reading the book as a young white girl, that was the first time I realized that racism was a lot more complex than the belief that “certain people are inferior,” which was the impression I’d gotten up to that point. I might’ve read other books later that handled the topic of racism better, or with more nuance, but this was the first to really stick with me.–Corinne Duyvis, author of Otherbound

adaptationI’ll go with a couple of recent books, the ADAPTATION series by Malinda Lo. The point of view character comes to identify as bisexual, and the books features a love triangle among her, a nice guy, and a “bad girl.” I’d never seen either in YA before. I’d read a similar scenario in maybe one adult book. Everything about ADAPTATION and INHERITANCE felt so refreshing. The series totally revitalized the love triangle trope, and it gave me a new perspective. I’ve talked with bisexual friends about their experience but never really put myself in their shoes in terms of thinking about how that might complicate relationships or how societal perceptions on bisexuality might hurt them. Reading this series, I felt such freedom as a writer because when I grew up, those subjects would have been taboo, and I kept internally cheering, yes, our culture has arrived! At least enough of it that these characters are rocking it out in a mainstream YA sci-fi. It made me feel like no human experience was out of bounds–it just takes great authors with the courage to write true.–Rachel M. Wilson, author of Don’t Touch

left handTHE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS by Ursula K. Le Guin blew my mind as a teen–though it’s not YA. (I didn’t have a massive amount of YA as a teen.) Not only is the MC, Genly Ai, black without such a big deal being made over it (much like some of Le Guin’s other characters, e.g. in the EARTHSEA books), but Genly visits an entire society that is asexual–until they’re occasionally not asexual, and then they can either adapt male or female attributes. This book flexed my mind in terms of gender, sexual orientation, and relationships more than any other book had, at the time.–AdriAnne Strickland, author of Wordless

pantomimePANTOMIME by Laura Lam. The MC, Micah Grey, is intersex, but was raised as a girl. The bulk of the novels I’ve read where the character has questions about sexual identity have been contemporary, so it was really fantastic to come across an epic fantasy novel with a hero facing those challenges.–Danielle L. Jensen, author of Stolen Songbird

cameron postNot really YA, and not a diverse MC, but TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD was the first book that really spoke to me as a young person about racial inequality in the deep south. I’d lived there my whole life and that book opened my eyes in ways my parents never would have. A recent favorite was THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST by Emily M. Danforth, a literary coming-of-age, coming-out story about a small-town girl who’s sent away from home to be “healed” of her sexuality. The part I loved most about it was Cameron’s eventual total acceptance of self.–Jaye Robin Brown, author of No Place to Fall

douglassThis isn’t really YA–as the category didn’t exist when the book was written–and it’s not fiction, but it is the story of a young adult learning to overcome severe challenges, which is the basic plot of all YA. I’m speaking of NARRATIVE OF THE LIFE OF FREDERICK DOUGLASS, AN AMERICAN SLAVE, which was profoundly influential to me when I first read it in high school. Douglass’s ability to provide a vivid first-hand account of slavery, and to peel back the institutional racism that existed not only in the South but in the North, demonstrated to me the power of diverse voices to shock white readers like me out of their complacency, while affirming for readers of color the validity of their experience.–Joshua David Bellin, author of Survival Colony 9

 

Joshua David Bellin has been writing novels since age eight (though his first few were admittedly very short). His debut YA science fiction novel SURVIVAL COLONY NINE will be published in September 2014 by Margaret K. McElderry Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. Josh likes (in no particular order) gorillas, frogs, monsters, and human beings.
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Why We Believe in YA Romance

As a writer of YA Romance, I’m familiar with all the tropes and cliches, all the things that render a couple “shippable” or “unbelievable.” How crazy it can seem that all these storylines seem to suggest that Happily Ever After begins in high school.

And don’t get me started on instalove.

But a funny thing happened as the OneFours and I discussed the romances in our various books, and how they fit in to those tropes and cliches. Turns out, there’s a reason so many of us fall into the “traps” of instalove or HEAs.

They were our reality.

And maybe that’s why we write YA, and the romance within—because we, above all, believe in it, as true and real and magnetic and eternal.

I’m only one of the OneFour authors who met her partner as a teen. In my case, I was nineteen (now-husband was eighteen), and it was my first day of freshman orientation. (So, still YA by the rules of Fangirl and Just One Day, basically.) I was hanging out with another freshman friend, and we bumped into a sophomore guy she knew, and went back to see his room. He turned out to be my cousin’s suitemate, and as I was leaving my cousin a note, said cousin’s roommate walked in. I introduced myself, and he said, “Oh, I’ve heard of you.” Having known this guy had gone to school with another guy who did not talk kindly about me when he was drunk, I promptly flipped out to make clear that everything that other guy had said was a lie and he was mildly deranged.

Aaaand it turned out he’d actually heard of me from a very sweet rabbi at his yeshiva I’d done a favor for.

So, not so much instalove as the enemies-to-lovers trope, but two months later we were dating, and now we’re coming on eleven years together.

Can you guess who else are eighteen and nineteen when they get together? If you guessed Ally and Liam from my debut, Behind the Scenes, you win a prize 😉

Not convinced in YA love yet? I asked the other OneFours who met their partners as teens to share their real-life YA Romances, and whether their stories would work on the page:

It was straight out of High School Musical: I was a junior and he was a senior. He’d injured his knees playing football and decided to go out for Guys and Dolls. No one knew he could sing, but oh, could he croon. After the show, my best friend suggested we ask him to sing “Let It Snow” with us for the Christmas concert. For some reason, she dropped out of the trio, and Bobby and I have been a duo for the last 26 years (plus a houseful of kids). Would it work in YA? There were plenty of people that tried to tear us apart, so maybe?

—Louise Galveston (By the Grace of Todd)

I met my husband the summer before my senior year of high school. He spotted me at a sports tournament. It was awkward, because I didn’t like him like that at first, but we eventually agreed to be friends. Of course, after a couple months, I began to realize I cared about him as more than a friend, but I wasn’t ready to commit to a relationship with him. I put the poor guy through months of indecision.That New Year’s, I decided enough was enough and told myself that if I was going to be with him, then I had to stop waffling. There was even a brief love triangle (love caret actually!) wherein the second guy effectively eliminated himself. By the time he returned and asked to spend time with me again, it was too late. I had committed to being in a relationship with the man who would become my husband. We’ve been together ever since 🙂

—Lori M. Lee (Gates of Thread and Stone)

My husband, Scott, and I met freshman year of high school, but we didn’t really get to know each other until senior year when we were put into a small group together for a weekend “get to know you”-type retreat. I left that weekend thinking he was a cool guy but, alas, we ran in different social circles back then and that was basically that. (In case you’re wondering, he was pretty popular, and I was…decidedly not.) Flash forward to our high school reunion. I was the first of my friends to show up, and the only person I saw who I even kinda sorta knew was Scott. I said “what the hell” and went over to talk to him, and I knew. I instantly knew this was it for me. On the ride home later that night, I called my BFF and told her I’d met the man I was going to marry. And I was right. (This was almost 9 years ago, btw). So put me in the instalove camp!

Meredith McCardle (The Eighth Guardian)

I was 17 when I met my husband…but, of course, I had no idea he would become my husband at the time. We were just friends. Good friends. My mother would ask me “Hey, why don’t you date that nice boy Andy?” and I would groan and say “Jeez, Mom, can’t you just let a guy and a girl be friends?!?!”  I guess that we wouldn’t have made very good protagonists for a YA novel, since by the time we got together six years later we would have aged right out of that genre. But even if the timeline was shorter, critics probably would have called our
love story a cliche. I mean, what could be more predictable than the best friends realizing they’d been perfect for each other all along? 🙂

Tara Dairman (All Four Stars)

I met my fiancé when we were freshmen in high school, but it wasn’t until our senior year, when we were both cast in the school production of Arsenic and Old Lace, that the sparks began to fly. (I played Elaine, he played Einstein. So the sparks were off set.) There were some complications (he liked someone else, someone else liked me, you know, stuff that could fill a YA novel), but eventually, after a depressing prom night and a boring graduation party and the 4th of July, we got together. It was strange, because he wasn’t the kind of person I usually went for. But now I can’t imagine myself with anyone else. So I don’t scoff at YA or MG romance, because in my experience, IT TOTALLY WORKED OUT.

Robin Herrera (Hope is a Ferris Wheel)

The summer I turned sixteen, I met the boy I’d eventually marry. We were not friends first. The night we met, I swear I saw zaps in the air between us, blue and green specks like electricity. So, no–we were never going to be friends first. If our early months were written into a YA story, I don’t know if readers would understand the attraction, the pull we both felt. How believable is it to write this about a character: she felt a hum in her blood, a whisper that said: I know I’m supposed to know you. But I did feel that. (I do.) We work because we balance and buoy each other, because we laugh and talk for hours. Because there is no one I admire more in this world. But I didn’t know that then–couldn’t have. At first, all I knew was my pulse like beating wings and the words this, this this every time he looked over at me in the car.

Emery Lord (Open Road Summer)

My husband and I met on AOL Instant Messenger when I was 19…in 1998. It wasn’t exactly common to meet online back then. In fact, it was downright weird. But I was bored online one day and so was he, and we just started talking. We didn’t have too much in common, but we enjoyed talking to each other. (Online insta-love?) We liked talking so much so that he gave me his pager number (hey, it was 1998!), and we started talking on the phone for hours. Eventually we met in person, and we’ve been pretty much inseparable since then. However, we didn’t tell people we met online until recently. We’ve had a fake “how we met” story for years.

Jessica Love (Push Girl)

I met my husband 20 (<–a whole score!) years ago as a rising high school senior at “Geek Camp,” where we quickly became an unlikely pair of best friends: I was artsy and garrulous and dramatic; he was math-y and cerebral and had that quiet, still-waters-run-deep thing going on. Our best-friendship lasted throughout senior year (during which we wrote letters that spanned the 60+ miles between our respective hometowns) and into our university years, but it wasn’t until after college graduation (and years of criticizing one another’s various significant others, go figure) that our friendship, um, graduated into something else. It was terrifying, putting our friendship on the line like that…but also thrilling! That moment of no-going-back, falling headlong into a love that had quietly been there all along: That’s the kind of thing YA books and movies are made of, right? I even remember thinking how much I felt like Mary Stuart Masterson’s character in Some Kind of Wonderful…and some kind of wonderful it has been, more than a decade of marriage and two kids later.

Sarah Combs (Breakfast Served Anytime)

I met my husband in the Fall of 1991 at a party. I was eighteen and had just sworn off dating. He was painfully shy. We sat on opposite ends of the sofa and made polite conversation until an attractive flirty girl plopped down purposely between us. At that moment, I figured our conversation was over, but he continued talking around her. We left the party without asking each other’s names. Later, I would find out we both went home and inquired about each other to friends, each of us searching the “Who’s Who” school catalog until we found each other. That was 23 years and two children ago. Call it insta-love. Call it instinct. Something clicked between us — a series of brief and subtle clues — and I knew (and our friends knew) we would be something to each other.

Elle Cosimano (Nearly Gone)

I met my partner when I was 15. The day we met, I confessed to my journal that I’d found my “soul mate,” and by “soul mate” I absolutely meant “BFF.” We were the children of Navy parents, living in Japan during our freshman year of high school, and our friendship formed over a mutual appreciation of Star Wars. We didn’t key into the fact that we’d be spending the rest of our lives together until college. So, if our story were a YA novel, we’d be the stealth couple, too blind to see what was right in front of our eyes until well past the last page.

Natalie C. Parker (Beware the Wild)

Dahlia Adler is an Assistant Editor of Mathematics by day, a Copy Editor by night, and writes contemporary YA and blogs at the Daily Dahlia and YA Misfits at every spare moment in between. She lives in NYC with her husband and their overflowing bookshelves. Her debut novel, BEHIND THE SCENES, releases from Spencer Hill Contemporary on June 24, 2014.
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Next Book News!

We’ve debuted, we’re debuting and we’re selling more stuff! Check back on the 28th of each month to find out all the awesome Next Book News!

 

Corinne Duyvis sold another book!

OTHERBOUND author Corinne Duyvis’s ON THE EDGE OF GONE, about an autistic teenager in the near-future Netherlands, trying to hold her family together while weathering the impact of a devastating comet, as she struggles to find her place in the new reconfigured world, again to Maggie Lehrman at Amulet, by Ammi-Joan Paquette at Erin Murphy Literary Agency (World English). 

 

Heidi Schulz sold another book! 

I sold my second MG! HOOK’S REVENGE: THE PIRATE CODE, sequel to my September 2014 middle-grade adventure HOOK’S REVENGE. The book continues the Neverland adventures of Captain Hook’s daughter, Jocelyn, as she competes with a malevolent pirate captain to find her deceased father’s treasure.  Fall 15, Disney*Hyperion

 

 

Robin Constantine is a born and raised Jersey girl who moved down South so she could wear flip-flops year round. She spends her days dreaming up stories where love conquers all, well, eventually but not without a lot of peril, angst and the occasional kissing scene. Her YA debut, THE PROMISE OF AMAZING, is out now! Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins Publishers.
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Juggling Multiple Points of View

I tried to learn to juggle in high school because I heard it improved concentration skills. While I could keep two objects moving at once, it was that third one that got me. After beaning myself in the head for the umpteenth time, I gave it up. I just couldn’t master the technique.

giphy

So how does one master juggling several points of view in a manuscript? These are the methods I used in writing By the Grace of Todd, which has four POV characters: Todd, Lewis, Persephone, and Herman.

First, I established that even though the book opens with a prologue told from the Lewis the Toddlian’s POV, Todd was the main narrator. For my book, it worked best to have a central protagonist and use the other three character’s chapters to give insight into the story happening inside “the story.”

Then I had to establish each character’s distinct voice. This became complicated with the Toddlian’s Lewis and Herman, who both spoke rather formerly. To distinguish them from each other, I had Lewis refer to Todd’s mom as “The Mother,” while Herman, a scientific fellow, called her “The Maternal Person.” Lewis also quotes TV, which is how he learned English, while Herman quotes poetry and facts he gleaned from encyclopedias.

Here is a sampling of each character:

Todd: Life was a lot different on the other side of puberty. The Zoo Crew guys were loud and crude and didn’t care what anybody thought, and being with them was kinda awesome.

Lewis: On QVC, the shipping alone on the hottest pair of this season’s suede pumps with bows on the toes is only $9.97! I am not sure what shipping means, but are we not worth more than ten dollars to you, Great One? Will you not do something to right these wrongs, or must we appeal to Judge Judy?

Persephone (the cowgirl Toddlian): Wooo doggies, I thought. I checked out my cowgirl getup in the long reflecting glass in Spud’s water closet. “Howdy, pardoner. Yer gussied up awful purty tonight.”

Herman: Alas, neither the climb nor the paper could warm me. I would perish betwixt the pages, alone and unsung. Goodbye, Herman. You must be brave.

Another way I included an additional viewpoint was to have Lewis recount what Todd’s baby sister, Daisy mutters (she speaks fluent Toddlian). This makes it seem like the reader hears her inner thoughts.

Daisy: “That imbecilic brother of mine has lost so many pieces, I’ll never be able to build the DAISYNATOR THREE THOUSAND as I’d planned. There aren’t even enough pieces to construct the Binkie Boomerang. Succotash!”

Now for the juggling: Whenever possible, I write one storyline at a time, keeping the characters separate when they narrate a chapter. If I need to write two character POVs in a session, I break it up and go back and reread previous chapters for voice. But it’s definitely easier for me to only write one character at a time. I also have individual playlists for the characters, to help me focus and set the mood.

What about you? What books have you read that do more than one POV successfully? Are you a writer with any words of wisdom?

Louise Galveston is the author of BY THE GRACE OF TODD (Penguin/Razorbill Feb. 27, 2014). She and her husband live in the Midwest with their eleven kids and a parrot. When Louise isn’t writing or folding laundry, she directs her local children’s theater, where she’s playwright in residence.
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Diversity in YA: Lessons from History

Did you hear the one about the future president and the slave poet?

It’s not that funny, actually. And it’s true.

It appears in Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia, a guidebook to Jefferson’s home state published in 1785. In the chapter on Virginia’s laws–and in the larger context of justifying slavery–Jefferson comments on what, to him, is an obvious proof of African-American mental inferiority:

“Comparing [blacks] by their faculties of memory, reason, and imagination, it appears to me, that in memory they are equal to the whites; in reason much inferior, . . . and that in imagination they are dull, tasteless, and anomalous. . . . Misery is often the parent of  the most affecting touches in poetry. — Among the blacks is misery enough, God knows, but no poetry. . . . Religion indeed has produced a Phyllis Whately; but it could not produce a poet. The compositions published under her name are below the dignity of criticism.”

Phillis_Wheatley_frontispieceHaving disposed of Phillis Wheatley, an African-born slave poet whose Poems on Various Subjects (1773) was the first work of literature published by an African-American woman, Jefferson concludes: “the blacks, whether originally a distinct race, or made distinct by time and circumstances, are inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind.”

The spectacle of Thomas Jefferson, one of the post powerful men in America, taking aim at a lone female slave poet is sorry enough; the failure of Jefferson to recognize that the nearly universal illiteracy enforced by slave laws might account for the small number of slave poets demonstrates that this was not (to say the least) one of his finest moments. But systems of privilege will perpetuate themselves however they can, and if that involves constructing tortuous arguments to discredit a racial group’s literary achievements, so be it.

I was thinking about Jefferson and Wheatley in the context of the current movement for diversity in YA literature. What roadblocks stand in the way of a full recognition of diverse YA voices? What gatekeepers will seek to diminish the achievements of underrepresented groups in the field?

Orleans_comp12.inddThere are many answers to that question, but let me provide a single example. Recently I read Sherri L. Smith’s YA dystopian novel Orleans (2013), which narrates a young black woman’s harrowing adventures in a New Orleans that has been separated from the United States both politically and physically in the wake of catastrophic flooding and epidemic disease. A brilliant book, written in a rich language that vividly describes narrator Fen’s experiences in a society divided by blood type and ravaged by a new form of slavery, I’d put Orleans among the top YA novels of the past decade. But according to today’s gatekeepers—namely, many of the reviewers of the book on Goodreads—the virtues of Smith’s book are outweighed by her decision to adopt Fen’s patois in the first-person narration:

“It made [me] wonder, didn’t people speak proper English in Orleans before they were shut off from the world?

“Fen’s chapters are written with poor English and use the helping verb ‘be’ a lot.”

“Biggest problem I had was the language. Fen, while obviously educated, spoke what is referred to as ‘tribe’ in the book. It was mostly some reversed parts of speech and dropped words, but my brain had a hard time following along.”

“Fen’s narration was really hard for me to get into, and most of the time had me stumbling over sentences trying to parse her dialect. I understand that it needed to be written like that since it’s in first-person, because that’s how Fen speaks, but to me it just felt like a barrier. Instead of adding to the story, it held me back from it.”

That’s just a sampling. But the final review speaks volumes. Fen’s distinctive language, this reviewer writes, is a “barrier”; since it’s not the kind of language s/he’s accustomed to, it “held me back.” That Smith’s story is specifically about overcoming such barriers—the barriers of blood, the barrier of the Wall erected to separate Orleans from the United States—seems not to have occurred to the reviewer.

Obviously, there are differences between the historical example and the present-day one. But what both cases demonstrate is that the movement for diversity in literature is going to meet resistance; social forces that like to keep the barriers intact are going to line up to do so. Sometimes, those forces will have the power of the state behind them; other times, the power of industry or custom. But the barriers won’t fall on their own; barriers never do.

Which means that, if we truly believe we need diverse books, we’re going to have to be prepared to fight for them.

 

Joshua David Bellin has been writing novels since age eight (though his first few were admittedly very short). His debut YA science fiction novel SURVIVAL COLONY NINE will be published in September 2014 by Margaret K. McElderry Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. Josh likes (in no particular order) gorillas, frogs, monsters, and human beings.
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The Author’s Voice: interview with OneFour author Chris Struyk-Bonn

“On the very first day of my existence, hands pushed me into the cold water and held me down, waiting for me to drown, but even then I was quiet and knew how to hold my breath.” ~ Whisper

Chris Struyk-Bonn speaks with us about her novel WHISPER (Orca Books, April 2014).

Chris Struyk-Bonn previously detassled corn, worked in a small motor-parts factory, framed pictures, served in various and sundry restaurants and sorted eggs in an egg factory. She is currently a high school English teacher in Portland, Oregon, and has at last discovered a job she thoroughly enjoys. WHISPER is her first book. Please visit Chris on Goodreads.
Kate Boorman is an independent artist and writer from the Canadian prairies. She was born in Nepal (where she was carried up the Himalayas in a basket) and she grew up in a small Albertan town (where she rode her bike to Girl Guides). She is fond of creepy things. Speaking of! Her YA fantasy WINTERKILL debuts September 9th, 2014 (Abrams/Amulet and Faber & Faber).
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Yum! Chatting about food in kidlit

The rise of the “foodie” book is one of our favorite new developments in kidlit, and this spring/summer is seeing the launches of two foodie-themed OneFour titles! Cupcake Cousins by Kate Hannigan (Disney-Hyperion, May 13) tells the story of fourth-graders Willow and Delia, two cousins who are hoping that their skills in the kitchen will earn them a promotion from flower girls (bleh!) to pastry chefs (yum!) for their aunt’s wedding, and All Four Stars by Tara Dairman (Putnam/Penguin, July 10) introduces sixth-grader Gladys Gatsby, who secretly becomes a restaurant critic for the all-powerful New York Standard newspaper.

Kate and Tara came together to answer four questions about food, writing, and the celebrity chefs who changed their lives. What could be more delicious?

All Four Stars by Tara Dairman CoverWhy are your characters so interested in food?

Tara: Gladys’s interest in food definitely springs from my own experiences. When I conceived of her character, I was in my mid-20’s, living in New York City, experimenting with recipes in my apartment’s tiny kitchen and trying new restaurants whenever my budget would allow. It felt like quite the culinary adventure compared to my suburban childhood in a family of microwave and take-out addicts–and I thought that the tension between those two worlds might be an interesting backdrop for a kids’ story.

Kate: And it’s funny because with the popularity of cooking shows, today’s kids are more exposed to the idea of good food and wonderful recipes. So food is definitely a popular topic. My characters are so interested in food because my kids are. They want to experiment with the things they see on Cupcake Wars  or Chopped. I found that when my daughter was in third and fourth grades, when friends came over, they wanted to bake cupcakes together. So a lot of what happens to Willow and Delia in my book comes from watching my own kids and their friends.

Why did you focus on food with your book?

Cupcake Cousins Cover medium fileKate: I wanted to create strong and interesting girls who are deeply engaged in their interests. Girls “making and doing” and really living life. And I think cooking and food are easy access points for engaging kids. Who doesn’t love a cupcake?

When kids get in the kitchen and start understanding what goes into the food they eat, they begin to take ownership of things. Not necessarily in big ways, but it’s laying a foundation for so much. Dumping in a quarter cup of this, one-third cup that, doubling recipes. Suddenly, they’re a whiz at fractions! When they see what binds together in a recipe, they’re gaining a sense of science in action.

And there is so much pride in a dish well-served. I think cooking is an easy and fun way to help kids gain a sense of self – self-identity, confidence, and all those great traits that come with feeling competent in something. Plus, it’s fun.

Tara: I love your reasons, Kate! I agree that kids have a great capacity for becoming deeply engaged in specific areas that intrigue them, so making Gladys somewhat obsessed with food and cooking was an easy choice. And on the reader side, well, we all have to eat, right? So a food-driven plotline seems to be something that any kind of reader can connect with, even if they’re not chefs or foodies themselves.

Who has been the most influential person in your food life? 

Tara: Mark Bittman–author of How to Cook Everything–literally taught me how to cook everything. I was 20 years old and had never boiled a pot of water when a friend recommended that cookbook to me as a good place to start learning. I still use it today, though its dust jacket is long gone and its binding is totally cracked. I probably should have dedicated All Four Stars to him….well, there’s always the sequel. 🙂

Kate: My influences are more like a salad bar – I pick and choose this and that. So it’s hard to think of one person who had the most impact. But I will say that I am most inspired by Chicago restaurateur Stephanie Izard. She’s not only the executive chef of one of the city’s very best restaurants, Girl & the Goat, but she was also the first woman to win Bravo’s “Top Chef.” I have so much respect for her as she’s risen to the top in a male-dominated field. Anytime I have a reason to celebrate, I dine at Stephanie’s Girl & the Goat. She’s a remarkable woman and a great role model for girls who want to be chefs when they grow up. And she was nice enough to read Cupcake Cousins and comment on it for the book cover.

Tara: A blurb from a real-life chef—how awesome, Kate! 🙂


What’s the coolest thing you’ve ever made/eaten?

Whoopee Pies w Olivia

Kate’s whoopee pie coming at ya!

Kate: I’ve gone dessert crazy in recent years, making a malted milkball cake I saw on Pinterest, insane chocolate-raspberry cakes at Christmastime, and Halloween cakepops for my kids (two October birthdays in our house). Plus I test all the recipes that are in Cupcake Cousins on my family over and over again. But the dish I’m most proud of making has to do with Julia Child. After watching the movie Julie & Julia, which featured Irma S. Rombauer (author of The Joy of Cooking) together with Julia herself, I was inspired to try Irma’s Boeuf Bourguignon. So in the same red French oven as in the film, I made the most amazing dish, complete with a French accent. It was a hoot, and I am still very proud of it. Though I’ve never attempted it again. . . !

Tara: Kate, you’ve got me drooling! When can I come over for dinner (and dessert)??

Green tea cupcake batter! It's green!

Tara’s green tea cupcake batter–it’s green!

I’ve also been testing recipes inspired by All Four Stars on my family and friends over the past year (and will be sharing the results soon on my website). One of the wackier recipes I had to “invent” was green tea cupcakes with sesame icing. Matcha green tea powder and tahini (ground sesame seed paste) both have strong flavors, so it definitely took some experimenting to get the balance right.

As for coolest thing I’ve ever eaten…well, I was lucky enough to spend two years backpacking around the world, so I sampled quite a few interesting dishes in that time. I’m not sure what to award the “coolest” crown to—hippo jerky (Zambia)? Fermented camel’s milk (Mauritania)? Donkey (China)?

I’ll go slightly less exotic and choose pan de yuca—Colombian cheese bread. Found in Colombia, Ecuador, and a fantastic little bakery in Chelsea, Manhattan called Big Booty Bread (where they’re also called “cheese rocks”). If mac and cheese were a gluten-free bread, it would be pan de yuca. Yum.

Hungry for even more?

Find Kate Hannigan at her website, on her blog, or on Twitter!
Find Tara Dairman at her website/blog, on Facebook, or on Twitter!