Tracie Vaughn Zimmer's first juvenile novel, Reaching for Sun, came out on March 6th, as winter turned to spring. The publication date suits the story, in which a young girl tends to her family's garden, makes an unexpected friend, and overcomes her physical limitations. ( Read my full-length book review. )
Tracie spoke to me at length about poetry, writing, teaching, and the importance of libraries and librarians.
When did Josie first speak to you?
I had this image of a girl twirling hens and chicks and wishing she lived inside a kingdom where this was the size of their trees (they kind of look like miniature palm trees). I started writing down her observations of the garden and followed where it lead.
Did you write the poems in chronological order? If not, which poem did you write first?
Absolutely the most out of order thing I've ever written. The first poems were all the flower poems the story part came in layers.
For details and viewpoint I really relied on friends and students I have known with CP but of course I had to do some extra research.
Josie and her grandma spend a great deal of time in the garden, and the book is full of floral descriptions and analogies. Do you have a green thumb?
My gardening has shrunk down to pots on my porch but I love plants and being in the woods. Someday I'll plant another perennial garden.
What's your favorite flower? Mine is alyssum, because my cat Twinkie loved to eat it!
Poppies! Once they became a part of Josie's story, I fell in love. I'll have to get my cat, Mickey, some alyssum too!
How did you come to be a teacher and a reading specialist?
I knew I wanted to be a teacher from the fifth grade on. A reading specialist for my master's degree seemed inevitable.
Your website offers many teacher and reading group guides, including those for Reaching for Sun, all of which are free for public use. What prompted you to create these guides?
I started writing the guides for friends in exchange for their books when I couldn't afford to buy all the ones I wanted (my kids were little and I wasn't teaching). Eventually those same authors told their publishers about me and now I mainly write for the houses themselves. I still schedule in guides for new authors (and do some free ones) as my way of giving back to a community that has been so generous to me.
Your first published story, Sketches from a Spy Tree, was also told in poems. It features twins, and you have an identical twin sister named Trish. Growing up, were any twins in children's lit similar to you two, or were they mostly off the mark?
Interesting question! I don't remember ever reading a book with twins as main characters though I'm certain they existed. I know lots of TV shows and movies depicted twins as one human with two bodies. I wrote about us not because I wanted to make any kind of statement I was just doing what everyone said- "write what you know." And I know how lucky I am to have been born with my best friend.
Trish is an artist. Will you ever collaborate on a project?
We would LOVE to collaborate on a project sometime. She's a busy mom of three in nursing school though so it's not great timing for now. She is also not huge into revision. I respect how she just likes to do her art for HER and if other people like it, fine. Writing and quilting have a lot of things in common, actually. We find a reason to talk about it daily.
You were fortunate enough to have family members and teachers who encouraged you to keep a journal and read, read, read. What advice do you have for young writers who have yet to find that kind of support? Where can they go and what can they do to cultivate their craft?
I believe a library (and a librarian) is all you'll ever need to be a writer. Read a book once for pleasure and again as a writer, studying the details that made it work. Read biography and memoir (esp. of writers) for inspiration, as needed.
When are your new poetry collections due to hit the shelves? What are their titles and themes?
Thanks for asking. Poetry is my first kiss in literature... and I'm thrilled with the bloggers' Poetry Friday* idea.
42 MILES - a poetry collection with a narrative thread (similar to
TREE) will be out Spring 08.
STEADY HANDS: Poems about Work - snapshots of people doing their jobs (including teens) will be out FALL 08
COUSINS of CLOUDS: Poems about Elephants will probably be out some time in 2009.
I just sold my first historical fiction novel to Bloomsbury. It's called THE RIVER PALACE, it's prose, and it will be out next summer!
I usually ask authors to name their ten favorite books. Feel free to do so, or to name your top ten poets and poems instead.
I'm going to take your favorite poetry book challenge!
TAP DANCING ON THE ROOF by Linda Sue Park and illustrated by Istvan Banyai (I read this book forever-ago in manuscript form and fell in love! Just saw the finished art in New York and it's amazing. To be released this fall!)
ALL THE SMALL POEMS and FOURTEEN MORE by Valerie Worth (EVERY kid should own this book)
19 VARIETIES OF GAZELLE by Naomi Shihab Nye (Nye makes my heart pound and my imagination soar)
SOMETHING PERMANENT by Cynthia Rylant (everything Rylant writes is poetry, in my humble opinion)
FOOTPRINTS ON THE ROOF poems about the earth by Marilyn Singer (no one plays with words like Marilyn)
OLD ELM SPEAKS by Kristine O'Connell George (the best poet to get kids to love poetry)
SWING AROUND THE SUN by Barbara Juster Esbensen (Personification here is unmatched)
SONG OF THE WATERBOATMAN by Joyce Sidman (stunning AND informative)
A WREATH for EMMETT TILL by Marilyn Nelson (and all Nelson's other books too, but I'm playing fair here)
ALUETIAN SPARROW by Karen Hesse (my favorite of her wonderful free verse novels)
I could keep going and going . . . 811.54 is my favorite section in the library! I didn't even mention an anthology, and I LOVE anthologies (like all Lee Bennett Hopkins collaborations) to introduce kids to a variety of poets and free verse novels are perfect for reluctant readers. Okay, I'll step off my poetry soapbox now . . .