Monday, April 20, 2015

BLUE BIRDS by Caroline Starr Rose for National Poetry Month and MMGM

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday is the brainchild of Shannon Messenger. Be sure to visit her blog for links to other MMGM posts. Today, for National Poetry Month, I'm recommending Caroline Starr Rose's Blue Birds. 





Blue Birds by Caroline Starr Rose (March 10, 2015, Putnam's, for ages 10 and up)

Synopsis (from the publisher): It’s 1587 and twelve-year-old Alis has made the long journey with her parents from England to help settle the New World, the land christened Virginia in honor of the Queen. And Alis couldn’t be happier. While the streets of London were crowded and dirty, this new land, with its trees and birds and sky, calls to Alis. Here she feels free. But the land, the island Roanoke, is also inhabited by the Roanoke tribe and tensions between them and the English are running high, soon turning deadly.
 
Amid the strife, Alis meets and befriends Kimi, a Roanoke girl about her age. Though the two don’t even speak the same language, these girls form a special bond as close as sisters, willing to risk everything for the other. Finally, Alis must make an impossible choice when her family resolves to leave the island and bloodshed behind.


Why I recommend it: This book is gorgeous. And I'm not just talking about that beautiful cover. With the two voices of Kimi and Alis, young girls from different cultures who nevertheless form a lasting friendship, Caroline Starr Rose has created a novel in verse that is more like two sweet voices singing. They sing of bluebirds, the sun, and the sky, they sing of the fragile tendrils of friendship, and they sing of the many hardships in their lives. Before I was a third of the way through this I'd forgotten I was reading a novel in verse and I was simply pulled in by Kimi and Alis and their story. Despite the thickness of the book, I read this in one day. At the same time, I didn't want to leave their story, and it has stayed with me for weeks now. I had far too many favorite lines to choose from, but in this example, from p.192, you can see how every word counts:

                         In my mind,
                         there are no barriers.
                         My words and hers
                         make perfect sense between us.

Bonus: This would be excellent for classroom discussions. Includes an Author's Note with historical information.


Caroline Starr Rose from her website
Caroline was kind enough to take time from her busy schedule to answer three questions:

1)    The dual point of view works so well here; it's almost like singing in two voices. What made you decide to write the book this way?

Thank you so much!

Having Alis and Kimi share the story was not my original plan. But once I realized Blue Birds hinged on their forbidden friendship, I knew I couldn’t tell just one girl’s side of things. And that sort of terrified me. There are some people within the writing community who feel you must live a culture in order to write about it. I’m a non-Native author. What right did I have to speak for a Roanoke child? I had to trust my ultimate qualifications came from having once been a child and from my understanding of the beauty and security that thrives in friendship. Once I got to this place, each girl’s voice felt distinct and clear and strong.

As far as verse goes, I find it a really in-the-moment way to write historical fiction. It’s immediate, spare, and lets us into a character’s inner life very quickly. For Blue Birds, verse became a wonderful way to tell a story in two voices. Readers move quickly from Kimi to Alis and back again. And when the girls share a poem, I was able through line and stanza placement to “speak” their story visually, adding one more layer of communication. Verse is magical that way!

2) My favorite parts were the shared poems. Was BLUE BIRDS harder or easier to write than MAY B.?

Much harder. Because it was the first novel I wrote after publishing a rather successful first book, I had an invisible audience I had to learn to ignore. The stakes felt higher. I worried about comparisons between May B. and Blue Birds.

The process was also very different. For May B., I was only responsible for being familiar with an era. With Blue Birds, I had to learn about an era, an event with spare records, and two Native American tribes that no longer exist. This is the first time I’ve included real people from history in something I’ve written. While they only had minor roles, it felt like a big responsibility. Then added to this was the realization the story needed to be told in both girls’ voices. I felt utterly unqualified to write as a Native American child.

3) I think you did an excellent job. Are you a "pantser" or a "plotter" or something in-between?

I fall somewhere in between — a plotster, as a kid during a school visit once dubbed me.

I start with a historical event or era that interests me and read broadly, trusting some sort of story idea will bubble up to the surface in the midst of my research. I keep a notebook filled with quotes, questions, maps, lists, and the like. I need a firm sense of my setting and a general sense of my key characters before I begin (though these things often change). Writing at this point feels a bit like a science experiment: This setting + this character x this event = this outcome. Before I begin, I have a sense of some key turning points. Often I know the final scene but have no idea how to get there.

Then I draft painfully and slowly. I fret a lot. I’m sure I’m a fraud. I have the awful habit of comparing my fledgling ideas to my finished work and easily convince myself I’ll never be able to do it again. This is when I lean hard on my writing friends who tell me they believe in me. I borrow their belief and keep moving forward. Getting to the end of a first draft is a relief. Even if it’s awful, even if I trash half of it, the “making something from something” stage is infinitely less scary than the “making something from nothing” stage.

Thank you, Caroline! You are definitely not a fraud. And I feel the same way about first drafts. What about you, readers? Do you fret over a first draft and enjoy revision? Or the opposite?

Visit Caroline's website

Follow Caroline on Twitter



23 comments:

  1. I enjoyed Caroline's previous books so can't wait to get this one. Very interesting storyline with diverse characters. Great setting and time period too.

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    1. The Lost Colony has always intrigued me, Greg, and I'm impressed with Caroline's interpretation of what happened.

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  2. Thank you! This interview was wonderful, and I can't wait to read BLUE BIRDS now.

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    1. Thanks for your kind words. Great to see you here again, Myrna.

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  3. Thank you so much for hosting me, Joanne. I love this idea of singing.

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    1. I loved having you here, Caroline. Thanks so much.

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  4. I don't know why I hesitate to read verse novels, because I love poetry, and Love That Dog by Sharon Creech is amazing. You've convinced me to give this one a try. (Gorgeous cover!)

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    1. Kim, I used to feel the exact same hesitation... until I read MAY B., also by Caroline Starr Rose.

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  5. Great interview. I loved Caroline's answers. I really want to read this if I can get back into my reading more.

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    1. I hope you get a chance to do that, Natalie. It's a gem.

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  6. I've been wanting to read this ever since I heard about it. This sounds like a wonderful follow up to MAY B. And I really enjoyed reading about how Caroline overcame her insecurities about writing from a culture other than her own.
    Great interview, Joanne!

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    1. Thanks, Jenni. I thought Caroline did an excellent job of overcoming that insecurity and creating characters we can all relate to.

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  7. I loved May B. and I really want to read this one! Thank you so much for this interview.

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    1. In response to your question, I fret over both first drafts and revision! For me, writing the first draft is hard -- there are always so many choices about which way the story can go and I'm never sure which one is right. But revising is hard too, because after I convince myself it's okay to change some of the choices I've already made, the story collapses and I have to build it again.

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    2. Ah, I feel for you, Andrea. Of course, both first drafts and revision are super hard for me, although I much prefer revision to the terror of that first draft. I'm a pantser (or is it pantster? I've seen it spelled both ways) who wishes she could be a plotter. And I know what you mean about a story collapsing and needing to be rebuilt.

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  8. Fantastic review! I've always found the lost colony incredibly interesting, so I'm excited to read this :). Thanks for the rec!!

    ~Paige

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  9. Great interview! I loved May B. and look forward to reading Blue Birds when it arrives in the mail in a few days!

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    1. Lucky you! Thanks for stopping by, Rebecca. I'm so looking forward to seeing What About Moose in book form. A couple of months, right?

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  10. This is a book that I really want to read. The San Francisco Book Review requested a copy from the publisher for me, but, sadly, it never arrived. I hope to get to it one day soon. I really liked May B.

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    1. Oh, that breaks my heart, Rosi. Hope you get a copy to review (and you'll want to keep this one, believe me).

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  11. I am definitely going to read this one! Sounds so good. I love that the two voices sound almost like singing. :) This is a wonderful choice for National Poetry Month. I loved hearing from the author and wish her the best of luck.
    ~Jess

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    1. It felt like singing to me, Jess. I wanted to do something for Poetry Month and this book came along at just the right time.

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YAY for comments! I read and appreciate each one and I always try to answer. All opinions welcome. Let's have a conversation.