Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you! And you are very lucky, indeed, today because my guest is Julie Bowe. Sadly, she and I have never met in person; we have to be contented with a cyberspace friendship. I know from her work, however, that she and I would be very good friends indeed. Join me in celebrating Julie and her new book, Big and Little Questions (According to Wren Jo Byrd), (Dawson/Penguin).
Ever since my first book, My Last Best Friend, published in 2007 I’ve been visiting with young readers at schools, book festivals, and conferences throughout Wisconsin and Minnesota. My Last Best Friend stars a nine-year-old girl whose best friend has moved away, so I always ask kids if they have ever lost a best friend because someone had to move. Lots of hands go up when I ask that question. As I listen to them tell their stories, I marvel at their resilience in navigating such a big change in their lives. Often they tell me that the move was due to a divorce. I know from personal experience that divorce can be scary and sometimes it feels safest to keep it hidden. So to hear kids talk about it with such grace and acceptance inspires me. It makes me want to explore how they get to that point in their young lives.
I love writing about the transitional years between childhood and adolescence. That timeframe seems to be a good fit for me as a writer. I like to joke that it’s because I have the mind of a fourth grader, and maybe that’s partly true, but I think it’s also because I have such respect for kids who are learning their way through so many changes that are unique to that age level.
When I began writing my new book, Big & Little Questions (According to Wren Jo Byrd), I knew my main character, Wren, would be from a divorced family. I wanted to see how she would traverse the gap between her parents’ marriage and their divorce. What would change for her at home? At school? With her friendships? How would she deal with the changes? What would happen if she hid her scary feelings? Would things go back to normal if she kept the divorce a secret? Plus, I wanted to play around with the notion of ‘big and little’ – how something can be a big deal to a child, but that same thing can be less significant to adults, or vice versa. What would seem like a big deal to Wren now that her dad had moved out? How would things that once seemed ordinary, like his favorite hat hanging on a hook by the door, suddenly loom large when she realized the hook would stay empty now. Eventually, the story began fitting into the framework of big and little questions. Wren likes to ask lots of questions. Apparently, I do too! Together, we kept looking for answers as the story progressed. Along the way we discovered that friendship can grow where you least expect it, little lies can lead to big complications, and families come in all shapes and sizes.
Wren’s story took some twists and turns (and a few “do overs”) along the way, but with my editor’s patience and guidance it finally all came together. I’m so happy it did! I love Wren’s story and I can’t wait to share it with others.
Julie Bowe lives in Wisconsin where she writes popular books for children, including My Last Best Friend, which won the Paterson Prize for Books for Young People and was a Barnes & Noble 2010 Summer Reading Program book. In addition to writing for kids, she loves visiting with them at schools, libraries, conferences, and book festivals throughout the year. www.juliebowe.com