Today, it’s an absolute pleasure to welcome Sheila Agnew to The Roarbots as we take part in a blog tour for her new book from Pajama Press, Evie Brooks is Marooned in Manhattan.
Previously published in the UK, the book was recently released here in the States and is the first in the Evie Brooks series. The second book, Evie Brooks in Central Park Showdown, is scheduled to release in April 2016.
We’re delighted to take part in this blog tour and to have Sheila provide a guest post for you all. Please be sure to check out the previous stops on the tour:
- Review, interview, and giveaway at Geo Librarian
- Guest post, interview, and giveaway at Caught Read Handed
When her mother passes away, twelve-year-old Evie reluctantly moves from Dublin to New York to spend the summer with her veterinarian uncle, Scott. Evie barely knows her uncle; she’s never been to the U.S. before, and she’s never had a pet bigger than a goldfish. Nothing about New York is how Evie expected—it’s a whirlwind meeting new friends, a certain boy with an attitude, and Scott’s eye-roll inducing girlfriend. Plus, Evie is intrigued by her uncle’s veterinary practice, and before long is working as an assistant in the clinic and getting caught up with the eccentric pets and their more eccentric owners. Maybe New York isn’t so bad after all—but as the summer comes to a close, she has a huge choice to make. Will she stay in New York, or return to live in Ireland?
Writing For and By Children
by Sheila Agnew
In the movie Shadowlands, C.S. Lewis, the author of the Chronicles of Narnia is ridiculed by one of the other professors at Oxford University for writing for children when he has no children himself. And C.S. Lewis replies: “I was a child once and so was my brother.”
I’m tempted to use that line when I’m asked how I wrote the Evie Brooks novels even though I’m not a parent. But I don’t because although yes, I, too, remember being a child, the truth is, I don’t find children that different to adults. We’re all just people with our different struggles and challenges and idiosyncrasies and hopes and fears; children just tend to be shorter, and they have less life experience. It works both ways: I think that one of the reasons books for teenagers are so popular with adults is that adults aren’t that different from kids!
I was inspired to write the Evie books by James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small, a series of books about the life of a Scottish vet living in England in the 1930s. In one of the books, James is delighted to be asked to judge the children’s pet competition at the local fair. But he’s dismayed when he arrives at the field where the competition is being held because it is packed with all different kinds of animals. He thinks to himself: how on earth am I supposed to judge between a white rabbit and a Golden Retriever puppy and a Shetland pony and a pair of budgies and a goldfish in a bowl etc. So James decides that he will test the children on their knowledge about their animals. He’s pleased with himself for coming up with this idea, thinking that it is fair and clever. Although he personally favors the magnificent Old English Sheepdog that offered him a dignified paw every time he passed by, James stuck to his plan. He announces the winner – the boy with the goldfish – because that kid knew an awful lot about the care and treatment of fish. There’s a horrible silence. Nobody claps or cheers. Later in the day, James discovers that the boy with the goldfish was the son of a local aristocrat home for the holidays from boarding school and he overhears people badmouthing him, saying that he would have picked that kid as the winner even if he’d turned up with a stuffed teddy bear.
Last year, I was thrilled to be the judge of a creative writing competition for 5th and 6th graders at a school in Manhattan. But when I received the entries, I felt an awful lot like James Herriot. Oh no! How was I supposed to judge between a six line poem, a 27-page fantasy story, a mini-play, etc? Initially, I thought, much like James, that I would create an equal playing field by giving a lot of weight to technical competence: grammar, spelling, that kind of thing. But I decided against it. I think that the test for writing is whether you are a slightly changed person after having read it. I chose the entry that I liked best, not the one with the fewest spelling mistakes. I chose the winner because it made me think and it made me smile and it made me a little bit sad. And here’s something that might surprise some people about the entries: unless you had been told, you would not have known that they had been written by children! These kids didn’t set out to write “children’s stories.” They just wrote the stories and poems that came to them. I think that’s good advice for any writer. And I think that’s why my own stories are written in different forms, sometimes for children, sometimes teenagers, sometimes adults, because the story comes first and the form fits the story, not the other way around. I think it’s also a pretty good idea for living your life; instead of trying to make yourself fit into a certain box, be who you are first and let that determine the fit.
Thanks very much for having me visit your blog!