Monday, May 2, 2016

COUNTING THYME and Q&A with Melanie Conklin




Counting Thyme by Melanie Conklin (April 12, 2016, G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers, 320 pages, for ages 10 and up) 

Synopsis (from the publisher): When eleven-year-old Thyme Owens’ little brother, Val, is accepted into a new cancer drug trial, it’s just the second chance that he needs. But it also means the Owens family has to move to New York, thousands of miles away from Thyme’s best friend and everything she knows and loves.

Thyme loves her brother, and knows the trial could save his life—she’d give anything for him to be well—but she still wants to go home, although the guilt of not wanting to stay is agonizing. She finds herself even more mixed up when her heart feels the tug of new friends, a first crush, and even a crotchety neighbor and his sweet whistling bird. All Thyme can do is count the minutes, the hours, and days, and hope time can bring both a miracle for Val and a way back home.

Why I recommend it:  This is one of the clearest, strongest middle-grade voices I've read in years. You'll find yourself believing Thyme is a real 11-year-old girl telling you her story. Also, I've lived in Manhattan (in a third-floor walk-up) and the details about the city are spot-on. A sad but sweet and even humorous novel with a lot of heart and a lot of hope.

Melanie's website

I'm thrilled that author Melanie Conklin agreed to answer a few questions. Here's our Q&A:


Melanie Conklin, from the author's website


1) Tell us a little about neuroblastoma and especially why you decided to have a character with this form of cancer.

Neuroblastoma is a cancer that is primarily found in developing nervous tissue. It can manifest in many different areas, and children ages five and younger are most commonly affected. I first became acquainted with neuroblastoma in 2007, when a child in my Brooklyn neighborhood was diagnosed with the disease. I followed his family’s story closely through their blog, and ended up joining another local mom’s effort to raise funds for pediatric cancer research through baking and selling cookies—which became Cookies for Kids’ Cancer. Several years later, when I started writing, the stories of these families fighting cancer in such young children still resonated with me, in part because the treatments for the disease are very difficult to endure. When I decided to write a character who had a younger sibling facing an illness, neuroblastoma was the illness I wanted to portray.

2) My kids were on the Lighting and Sound crew in their school theater department, so I loved your scenes about figuring out how to make the sounds for The Wizard of Oz. Were you involved in theater yourself? If not, what kind of research did you so?

I’m glad you enjoyed those scenes! I was involved in theater on the periphery in both high school and college. While I never had the urge to perform, I really enjoyed working on the sets and painting backdrops, and once you’re back stage you end up exposed to the whole world of theater! Also, a friend of mine is a sound producer and foley artist, and I’d been acquainted with his work over the years, so between those two influences I had a feel for the scenes I wanted to create for Thyme’s school play. I researched children’s theater productions and watched quite a few performances on YouTube to fill in the gaps, and had a lot of fun inventing sounds, which in many ways related to my work as a product designer. Having worked with all kinds of materials to produce household goods, I have a feel for their various properties, which helped me mock up my ideas for different sounds to test out in our kitchen.

3) What are some of your favorite MG titles? And what's your favorite snack while reading them?

Ooh, snacks! I am a snacker. I prefer salty over sweet…so most often you’ll find me with a bag of bagel chips or some slices of cheese with olives. I don’t eat much while I read, though, because I love books in print and I’m still horrified at the idea of leaving a fingerprint on the page! Childhood habits die hard. I love the variety of titles in middle grade, and I love so many of them. One for the Murphys and When You Reach Me are two of my favorites. I also love verse novels, like Brown Girl Dreaming and Blue Birds. I’m reading Mayday right now, and the voice in it is amazing!

4) I love verse novels too. What's next for you? Will there be another novel about Thyme and her family? Or are you working on something new? Can you give us a hint?


Next up for me is another middle grade novel! I’m drafting the story right now, so it’s a very exciting time of discovery and surprises. It stars a whole new cast of characters, and I can tell you that it’s about family and friendship, and though it’s a very different world from the one in Counting Thyme, it’s also about finding your place in the world after life throws you a curveball. In many ways, this story is even more personal for me, and I can’t wait to share it one day soon!

And I can't wait to read it! Thank you for visiting, Melanie. Readers, have you read COUNTING THYME? What about any other MG novels about a sibling with cancer?


18 comments:

  1. This sounds wonderful. Thanks for the spotlight and the interview!

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    1. Certainly, Faith. Thanks for stopping by.

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  2. It's such a strange (and great) feeling to see a writer I know on a blog I adore. What a combination!!!
    Thanks for the feature and interview, Joanne! :)

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    1. How cool that you know Melanie, Akoss! And aww, thank you for the kind words.

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  3. I just started reading this one. I enjoyed the interview and couldn't agree more with her selection of other MG titles.

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    1. Great timing, Greg. I love all her favorites too.

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  4. Great interview. I loved learning more about where Melanie got the idea for her book and her theater connections. Sounds like a fantastic book from your review too!

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    1. It's wonderful, Natalie. Someday, I hope you'll have time to read it.

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  5. Thanks for the great interview! I'm looking forward to reading this one.

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  6. I have been wanting to read this one since I first saw it. It sounds sad, but I am glad it is funny too. I really liked the interview and finding out about some of the background of the story. Thanks for sharing!
    ~Jess

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    1. I was pleasantly surprised by the humor in what could have been a sad book, Jess.

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  7. This one has been on my reading list ever since I came across it, since I like Melanie had a friend whose son had childhood cancer. A different type and thankfully a battle he's won (seven year survivor at this point!) but I've seen the toll fighting this battle takes on a family and of course the kids at the front lines. Thanks for the feature, and for the awesome interview!

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    1. So glad to hear your friend's son is a survivor, Suzanne.

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  8. Good interview and review of what sounds like a wonderful book. That definitely goes on my TBR list.

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  9. YAY! So excited for Melanie! I loved finding out more about what motivated her to write this story. Thanks for the interview, Joanne!

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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.