I asked two of my favorite authors, Audrey Vernick & Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, to talk about their new MG book TWO NAOMIS, which was a first time collaboration for both. Here they are.
How it All Began: by Audrey Vernick & Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich
We met at a New Jersey SCBWI conference in New Jersey and became fast friends. A few years later we co-taught a humor workshop at another NJ SCBWI conference and Darlene was one of our wonderful students.
What books that you read when you were of middle-grade age stayed with you the way memories of time spent with good friends do?
Olugbemisola: This is a hard one, because I read a lot of not-MG books when I was MG-age, especially in order to read as much as possible that featured Black characters. So the African Writers Series was one of my favorites in those days, but those books were meant for adults. I loved I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings from 5th grade on. And I was remembering recently that when I was ten I thought Burr by Gore Vidal was one of the best books EVER. I need to read it again to see what I think now. In 6th grade, a friend introduced me to “Harlequin Presents” romances. I remember that she brought a huge trash bag full of them onto the school bus for me to take home; it felt so illicit. Then I read the Flowers in the Attic books for a while…But, between 2nd and 6th grades, a few MG favorites were…all of the Streatfeild Shoes books, Elizabeth Enright’s Melendy books, Black Folktales, A Wrinkle in Time, The Friends, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, Harriet the Spy, Ramona and Her Father, Pride & Prejudice, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler, David Copperfield, Jane Eyre. Oh! I loved books by Norma Klein, Hila Colman, and Hilma Wolitzer…There were a lot more. I can’t really do this sort of thing, it’s too hard.
Audrey: I know I was a reader and a rereader, and yet I can’t think of more than a dozen books I read, which feels like heresy. Harriet the Spy, about a character who was fantastically imperfect. I loved the friendship between Victoria North and Marcia Sherman in Ursula Nordstrom’s The Secret Language. I think of many Judy Blume characters as people I kind of went to summer camp with–I knew lots of things about them and remember them fondly. The same with Paula Danziger’s The Cat Ate My Gymsuit. I loved Freaky Friday and A Billion for Boris and I wrote to Mary Rodgers to tell her and she sent me a letter back. The closest thing I had to a trash bag of Harlequin Presents romances was a book my mother bought for me that delved into territory she had no idea I’d be reading about–They’ll Never Make a Movie Starring Me by Alice Bach. I remember sitting at the kitchen table, reading, while she was talking to my aunt, and asking questions that were, at the time, quite shocking for her. It opened the door to books for older kids–I was possibly a little obsessed with Paul Zindel, especially The Pigman, for some time.
Have you ever been out in the world and seen someone who reminded you of one of your characters? Or has it ever worked the other way—do you develop a character based on people you know?
Olugbemisola: Absolutely! I’ve seen a lot of boys who remind me of Reggie in 8th Grade Superzero, and I know a lot of lit-from-within, socially conscious girls like Naomi Marie (Two Naomis) and Ruthie (Superzero).
I think I base just about all of my characters on people I know or have met, a lot of the time I don’t do it consciously. I love to eavesdrop (or, as I like to call it, pay attention), and a lot of writing about kids for kids requires me to recall my own memories, so a lot of that is layered in there. Sometimes there are actual people, places, things, and situations that are rendered very much as they are/were, and sometimes it’s more of the sensibility, or the emotion, or mood.
Audrey: I think I’d enjoy it if I saw someone random out in the world and felt inspired to use something about that person for a character but it hasn’t happened yet. And I haven’t based a human character on anyone I know. The only time someone from my life showed up in one of my books was in my first novel, Water Balloon. The dog in that book, Rig, is based on our beloved dog who died in August, Rookie. But I also had another crazy Water Balloon experience in the old Yankee Stadium. A girl with very cool sneakers was waiting in line for the women’s room and I thought, “There’s Marley!” In the few waiting minutes we had left, I just stared. I wonder if she saw. And was terrified. I hope not.
Hey blog readers! We’d be interested in your answers to these questions too (if that’s okay with Darlene). Absolutely OKAY!
Audrey Vernick is the author of Brothers At Bat: The True Story of An Amazing All-Brother Baseball Team, a New York Times Notable Book. In addition to Two Naomis, her 2016 picture book releases are The Kid from Diamond Street, I Won a What? and Unlike Other Monsters. Audrey visits dozens of schools and is a frequent speaker at conferences for writers, librarians and teachers. A two-time fiction fellowship recipient from the NJ Arts Council, she lives with her family near the ocean. Visit her online at www.audreyvernick.com.
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich is often asked about her name; she is the daughter of a Nigerian father and a Jamaican mother, and married to a man of Croatian descent. She was born in New York City, and was the ‘new kid’ many times over, in more than one country. Her first novel, 8th Grade Superzero, was named a Notable Book for a Global Society by the International Reading Association, and a Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People by the National Council for the Social Studies and CBC. She has contributed essays and stories to The Journey is Everything: Teaching Essays that Students Want to Write for People Who Want to Read Them, Open Mic: Riffs on Life Between Cultures in Ten Voices, Imagine in Better: Visions of What Schools Might Be, and other collections. She has a MA in Education and holds a Certificate in the teaching of writing from the Reading and Writing Project at Teachers College/Columbia University. She lives with her family in NYC where she writes, makes things, and needs to get more sleep. Find her online at olugbemisolabooks.com.
To be in the running for a copy of TWO NAOMIS, leave a comment at the end of this post. I’ll put your name in a basket and pull out the winner on 10-19-16.