FAQ #9: Inspired

What do you read for inspiration?

I tend to read novels set in whatever time period I am writing about. I like to see how other authors tackle the tricky problems involved in writing historical fiction: authenticity vs. info dumps, history vs. imagination, how they invent the past.  

During the years I worked on the medieval books, I read a heap of Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael books. Fabulous books. 

I also read a lot of middle grade novels since that’s what I write.

At the moment I’m reading the delightful Bob by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead about Livy and her friend, Bob, a short, greenish creature dressed in a chicken suit, and Catherine Gilbert Murdock’s The Book of Boy, in which a Medieval child named Boy discovers his courage, his skills, and his wings—literally. I’m loving it.

Brother Cadfael, Bob, The Book of Boy

FAQ #2: Read-alouds

How Tom Beat Captain Najork and His Hired SportsmenDo you recall a particular book that your family enjoyed reading out loud when your daughter was young?

Yes!  The brilliant, subversive How Tom Beat Captain Najork and His Hired Sportsmen by Russell Hoban, with fabulous illustrations by Quentin Blake, in which Tom teaches the Captain and his sportsmen about the value of fooling around.  My husband could, and probably still can, do all the voices. His Captain Najork was splendid, though he excelled at Aunt Fidget Wonkham-Strong. For years “Fool around, Tom!” was a watchword around our house.

Have a listen to Quentin Blake, the illustrator, about why he enjoys this book so much

How Tom Beat Captain Najork and His Hired Sportsmen

I’d like to add that Fungus the Bogeyman and Leo the Late Bloomer tie for second.


FAQ #1: Childhood Books

This month, I’m answering frequently asked questions.

Here’s the first:

What’s the one book that pops into your mind first when you think of books you read when you were young? What do you remember most about that book?

One book? No way. It has to be a three-way tie: Blue Willow, by Doris Gates, the story of a migrant girl who longs for a permanent home;  Cotton in My Sack, Lois Lenski, about migrant pickers in the cotton fields; and Strawberry Girl, also by Lois Lenski, wherein a family moves to Florida to start a strawberry farm

Blue Willow, Cotton in My Sack, Strawberry Girl

I remember these books to this day. They opened my eyes to another world: other times, other places, and other lives. I could see beyond the boundaries of my own experiences and relate to characters much different from me. Apparently my family, my neighborhood, my problems, were not the only way of life. At ten, that blew me away! And each book is a coming of age story concerned with the search for home, topics that I seem to write about over and over myself.

What I’ve Been Reading

You Bring the Distant Nearfor young adult readers

You Bring the Distant Near
Mitali Perkins

I was just writing this post about Mitali Perkins’ terrific new book, You Bring the Distant Near, when I saw that it is on the long list for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. Of course! It’s fabulous, with romance, humor, and gorgeous writing. Five women in three generations of an Indian family struggle to adjust to life in the US. I’m not going to repeat what reviews say. You can read those. Just know this—I loved every word.

A list of fantasy books, part four

The False PrinceHere’s the next title in my list of favorite fantasy novels: The False Prince (and sequels) by Jennifer A. Nielsen. A runaway boy pretends to be a prince—or does he? Great story and characters.  Lots of surprises.

A list of fantasy books, part three

The Goblin EmperorHere’s the next title in my list of favorite fantasy novels: The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison. After a tragedy strikes, the half-goblin youngest son of an emperor has to learn whom to trust, how to rule, and how to survive, in a hurry. I loved the world building and Maia, the goblin emperor, who is much smarter and more lovable than he thinks he is.

Dear Karen Cushman

Catherine, Called BirdyThis young woman not only read Catherine, Called Birdy, she thought about it and then put her thoughts into action.

Good for Kendra and the other TAG (Talented and Gifted) Girls from Central Decatur!

Dear Karen Cushman


A list of fantasy books, part two

SeraphinaAs part of my list of favorite fantasy novels, I offer Seraphina by Rachel Hartman. A gifted musician, Seraphina is also part dragon. Intriguing story with great characters and the wonderful image of her silver scales. Beautifully written.

Here’s Rachel Hartman’s website, where you can learn more about this book and her newest, Shadow Scale.