Children’s Books

Author Interview: McKenna Reubush

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McKenna Ruebush

 

I’m so happy to be able to bring to you an interview with McKenna Reubush, author of Enter a Glossy WebShe was a fantastic guest and has released her debut novel recently, a beautiful and interesting children’s book. You can find her on her website or on twitter (@McKennaRuebush).

Watch my review of Enter a Glossy Web: 

So let’s start with the basics. Can you give a quick summary of Enter a Glossy Web?

Oh that’s actually a hard one, I’ve always had trouble with being brief as I’m somewhat relentlessly thorough. 

Enter a Glossy Web is about three kids who come together when they most need each other, and then set out to save the worlds, as there‘s nobody else but them to do it.

The story follows George, a girl who’s moved in with her aunt and uncle. Is George based on anyone in particular?
Not at all.  George developed independently of any external influences I think.  I can’t say the same about other characters, like Nero, who is partially based on my cats.

No, that’s not correct exactly.  She developed independently of any living external influences, but she was of course influenced strongly by other books I’ve read I’m sure. I’ve never personally known anyone like George, but she’s probably a conglomeration of different traits that I’ve admired in other characters.

What authors do you consider influential to your reading and writing life?
Piers Anthony was one of the first fantasy authors I read, and as a result I’ve developed a weakness for puns. 
That’s a difficult question because whereas certain authors inspire me greatly, such as J. R. R. Tolkien, William Goldman, Patrick Rothfuss, and so on, I can’t say that I am anywhere near that level of creativity and writing.

Though I suppose they count, as they do influence and inspire me.

Do you mind telling me more about Nero and your cats?
smiling-newt
Snoot wearing a mischievous smile.

When I first began truly developing Nero as a character and a person, rather than a catch-all villain, I remember writing a note down about the behavior of my cats and how it might apply to Nero.

“A character who does something just to see how it turns out, just to see if the same awful thing happens every time.”

Which is how my cat, Snoot, operates in general. 

So Nero was inspired partially by my cats in that he has a truly scholarly and curious purpose behind some of his misdeeds. There’s actually a scene near the beginning of Enter a Glossy Web where Nero knocks some things over just to see them fall, which is a direct homage to Snoot.

Ha! That’s really funny
 

I think one of the really interesting things is that Nero should in theory be a good guy. He’s fundamentally a Judge. But you go into giving more complexity to that role. Were you doing this on purpose? How did you imagine that playing with kids?

Nero is a person who has been influenced by his past and the things that have happened to him, often due to his own decisions.  Nero has been good in the past, and part of him is still good, I’m sure, as few people (I hope) are ever 100% truly evil.  Having a character like that was important to me because any of us at any time could be a single decision away from being somebody else’s villain.  I think kids know that.  Being on the playground someone can be your best friend one day, and the next day they can be your worst bully.  Sometimes you can be the best friend/worst bully combination.  It all depends on how you decide to proceed.
I really loved George’s friends in the story, especially Caleb and Mikal. The three of them all work together to make one another stronger and do it very consciously. Did you mean to target this? and what kind of “weaknesses” did you want to draw on?
I wanted them to be a team, and I wanted each of them to be important and to bring something unique to the group.  I think the main “weakness”, the one that all three experience, is fearfulness.  George is afraid of messing up, of the consequences of messing up; Caleb is afraid of not being loved; Mikal is afraid of most things.  Of course, fear isn’t a weakness, but it’s dangerous to let fear make your decisions for you.
How old were you when you started to write? 

 

The answer I always give is eleven.  I have a bad memory, but I think that’s about right as it was in between living with my father in Illinois and my mother in California.
My grandmother told me I was writing stories as young as four, but I have no memory of that.
So eleven is the safe and most honest answer in my opinion.
I told you I was ridiculously thorough!
This is your debut novel, though. But you’re contracted for more. How many books are planned? And are you using the same artist for the next book?
Only one more book is planned to follow Enter a Glossy Web.  As far as I know we are using Jaime Zollars again.  I absolutely love what she did with Enter a Glossy Web, and can’t wait to see what she does with the next book.
I’m so excite for the sequel. I’m glad that Zollars will be working with it again. It must have been so exciting. 
It was incredible.  I think I actually cried when I saw the first mock-ups.  I don’t have kids, but seeing that first picture of George, in black and white, was like seeing my own children for the first time. I had been working with these characters for almost fifteen years, and had never seen them.
Oh, and the way Jaime imagined George was more perfect than I could have dreamed.  She took everything that had been happening in my head and made it real and better.  She’s amazing.
Where are you in the process of book 2?
I’m about 1/3rd of the way through the first draft. I should be finished with the first draft in about three months, and then we’ll move on to revisions. 
Awesome! So, the last thing I always ask is what you’re reading at the moment. 
I’m currently in the middle of The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch, and about to start The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett, though my inner perfectionist is insisting I start properly at the beginning of DiscWorld with The Colour of Magic. 

Book Review: The Julian Chapter: A Wonder Story by R.J. Palacio

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Title: The Julian Chapter: A Wonder Story*
Author: R.J. Palacio
Publication Date: May 13, 2014
Genre: Children’s Fiction

When I finished Wonder by R.J. Palacio, I didn’t love it, but I did like it. I thought the characters were surprisingly complex for a children’s book and that the character development was well handled. Wonder had a good sense of timing and humor, and Palacio dealt with some very touchy subjects well. The only real exception to this was Julian, the antagonist.
Julian was cruel to August in the book and Palacio made a point of showing his mother as an enabler. Unfortunately, Julian is rather flat as a character, even in his own novelette.

The Julian Chapter: A Wonder Story

I thought Palacio did a great job of showing complex family dynamics in Wonder, but it didn’t transfer over to The Julian Chapter. Julian’s family is your archtypical Upper East-siders. His mother is a hovering busy-body who thinks that her child’s every cry is a mandate for fulfillment. His father is stern, but distant. He even has a grandmother in France.

Julian’s story begins by explaining that from a very young age Julian has been terrified of zombies and other creatures with malformed faces. He’s had to see a therapist and has only recently recovered from it when August comes to school. Julian is instantly thrown backwards into nightmares.

I know that Palacio is doing this to make Julian’s fear more sympathetic. It didn’t come across very successfully. It was drawn in such a manner as to make Julian come across as a brat rather than a kid who has been haunted by nightmares. Part of this is because of the lack of actual struggle we see and part of it is because of the way Julian’s voice is written.

For most of the other characters in the Wonder universe, the characters go in depth about their worries and emotions. Julian’s story doesn’t get this. We are told that he’s sent to see a “feelings” doctor and that he often had to be taken home at night when he saw scary movies. We don’t hear how he actually felt during those times. We aren’t told how the panic felt or what the embarrassment must have been like. We aren’t told how relieved he felt when the nightmares finally went away or how he eventually came to embrace horror films. Though it is a children’s story, and we should expect some simplification, it lacks the empathy of Palacio’s other narratives.

Palacio compounds the problem by making Julian blow it all off when he’s talking about it. There’s none of the candidness that makes the other narratives resonate.

Julian’s story doesn’t give much credence to his mother’s influence on his behavior. Multiple times throughout the story, we’re told that his mother tries to alter the world around her to be how she wants to remember it (She even alters the skies in their vacation photos so that she’ll remember them blue). This should have some serious effect on a kid. Palacio doesn’t show how this has rubbed off on Julian, potentially contributing to his anxieties, or how it continues to change his behavior, rejecting the undesirable.

The rest of his family, with the exception of his grandmother, who has a very interesting and detailed backstory, really doesn’t seem to interact with any of Julian’s growth or current existence. Though his father shows promise, that falls through, and he has a weird role reversal with Julian’s mother in the last few pages that made no sense.

Overall, there were some good points. Namely, the time Julian spent with his grandmother was well done. The rest left something to be desired.

Rating: 3
Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/The-Julian-Chapter-Wonder-Kindle-ebook/dp/B00IBZ5YKW

* The copy reviewed was obtained courtosey of Random House Kids and Netgalley.com