I have a strong memory of being sent a Linda Oatman High book or two by my editor when I was first published at Holiday House, as examples of what to strive for. She was one of many authors I read as I tried to figure out how to be a writer. So it is especially delightful to host Linda today, for Friend Friday in celebration of her newest middle grade novel, As Far as Birds Can Fly (Koehler Books). I love the hints Linda provides (below) as to the origins of this particular story. Enjoy!
As Far As Birds Can Fly, my new middle-grade novel, is a story about a lost bird. It’s also a story about grief, love, loss, healing, hope and racism. It’s about finding acceptance, friends, family, and faith. It’s about a girl who lost both her father and her bird.
Set in Murdock, Mississippi, a fictional town, the book is about Magnolia, who comes “from a long line of beauty queens.” It’s a southern story, a sparse tale of a spunky girl finding that when she goes searching for one thing that she lost she finds what she really needs.
The seeds of the story were planted when I visited a friend, a southern gentleman named Wayne Yonce, who gave me a tour of his home. There was a beloved pet cockatiel chattering away in a cage, and Wayne introduced me to the bird.
“This is Third Bird,” he said in his soft drawl. “First there was Bird. Then there was Bird-Bird. And now . . . Third Bird.”
I loved that. Wayne has since passed away, but his memory remains, within me and my newest book.
The main character, Magnolia, is me. She’s me as a child; she’s me as an adult. She wears bib overall shorts and Converse sneakers, which is still my summertime wardrobe at the age of 62. She likes to read, she likes to ride her bike. She doesn’t waste time worrying about beauty on the outside; Magnolia is all about the insides of people. Magnolia, “a baby beauty queen against my will,” is tired of beauty pageants, makeup, and hair. Her mother owns the Delilah’s Delightful Hair, Teeth, Tans, and Nails Salon, though, so Magnolia’s summer job is “wiping down tanning beds after ladies have sweated like stuck pigs.” (I worked in a tanning salon in the late ‘80s, so I know all about that job.)
Magnolia finds a best friend in Jeremiah, an African American boy who also lost his dad. The two form a search team that goes looking not only for Third Bird, but for healing of Magnolia’s grief for her father.
Published by independent publisher Koehler Books, the book was released on New Year’s Eve, 2020. My hope is that this slim little book, published in the midst of a pandemic and political unrest, finds readers who discover exactly what they need. I hope that they find bravery and faith and forgiveness and fortitude. I hope that they find an escape from the real world for just a little bit.
I hope that they realize that they, too, can fly As Far As Birds Can Fly.
Linda Oatman High is an author/journalist/playwright who lives in Lancaster County, PA. She holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College, and she teaches and presents both nationally and internationally. Her awards include being shortlisted on the Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award, the only American on the list of six, as well as many honors and awards for her books for children and teens. Linda is available for school visits both virtually and in-person, and she loves to travel. www.lindaoatmanhigh.com