February 20th, 2012

wings, believe

Interview: Cecilia Galante

When I first met Cecilia Galante, she was preparing for the release of her first two novels, The Patron Saint of Butterflies and Hershey Herself. Now, four years later, she's released five more novels, including Willowood, The Sweetness of Salt, and The Summer of May. Her latest two stories, Little Wings #1: Willa Bean's Cloud Dreams and Little Wings #2: Be Brave, Willa Bean!, were released simultaneously, kicking off a sweet series recommended for ages 6-9. These easy chapter books revolve around a young cupid named Willa Bean Skylight, the middle kid in a busy family who lives up in the sky on Cloud Four.

The story begins on Willa Bean's first day at Cupid Academy and follows her through her early attempts to fly, her struggles to stay still in class, and her daily fight with her "crazy, curly mess of brown hair" that grows "sideways instead of straight down." My favorite thing about Willa Bean is that she likes who she is and how she looks:

Looking different was not what bothered Willa Bean. In fact, she liked it quite a bit. She had decided that it made her one-in-a-bajillion. And being one-in-a-bajillion was one of the most marvelous things she could think of. - Page 4, Little Wings #1: Willa Bean's Cloud Dreams

These fun books celebrate Willa Bean's energy and emotions, and her attempts to stay polite when she has to deal with cupids who are bossy or stubborn (namely, her classmate Vivi and her older sister, Ariel). Ramona Quimby would appreciate the ants-in-the-pants feeling Willa Bean often gets when she's in class, and Pippi Longstocking would approve of her unique hairdo and the treasures she hides inside her curls!

I recently caught up with Cecilia, who spilled the beans on Willa's world.

What inspired your new series, Little Wings?

I always write my books as a gift for someone, and Little Wings was no exception. I have an eight-year old daughter on whom Willa Bean is based, and the entire series is really an homage to all the troubles and predicaments she continually finds herself in!

Have you always been intrigued by cupid myths and stories?

I don't know that I've been intrigued by cupids per se, but I've always found the concept of angels to be endearing, especially when it comes to children. The thought of every child having an invisible protector nearby is something that at times, makes the ills of the world feel slightly more manageable.

While your previous novels have been for tweens and teens, the Little Wings series is for early elementary school readers. What were the highlights (and/or drawbacks) of writing for such a young audience?

The highlights of writing early chapter books (which coincidentally, can also be drawbacks) are numerous: First, the stories have to be much shorter than any of the novels I've written, which means that much of the action has to be condensed and tightened. Secondly, the language needs to be simpler, which when you think about it, is really where the art of writing begins in the first place. I think it was E.B. White who said that writers should always strive to find the simplest way to tell something, and that has never been more apparent than when I am writing these books. Finally, writing a story that will be accompanied by illustrations forces you to create vivid, tangible scenes, and characters that not only your readers can "see," but your illustrator too!

Did you ask Kristi Valiant to illustrate your books, or did your publisher/editor pair you up? Did you two discuss the look of the characters and the placement of the art?

The series was sold to Random House first, and then an illustrator was found. I had some say in who the illustrator would be, meaning that the people at Random House sent me a list of potential illustrators and their work, and asked me to pick my favorite three. Kristi Valiant was in my top three, and I was so thrilled when they chose her. The first time I saw Kristi's rendition of Willa Bean, I literally filled up. It was more than I had hoped for; her visualization of the characters and Willa Bean's world was uncannily accurate. Kristi and I have never collaborated one-on-one - I think that's a no-no in the publishing world, just in case of personality clashes - but I've been kept abreast of all the ensuing artwork as the books go through the editing process, and asked if I would change anything, etc. It's been an incredibly easy - and rewarding - process.

What inspired you to make the little cupids help Earth kids, rather than the typical cupid-pairs-up-humans love story?

The idea of cupids helping Earth children instead of being matchmakers kind of goes back to that wishful idea I have of all children being given some sort of invisible guardian to help them navigate all the ups and downs of childhood. I remember reading a story in the news once about a feral child, a little girl who had been kept in a closet for eight years. She had been barely fed and rarely bathed, but the most horrific part of her situation was that she had never been held or hugged, never been touched in a loving way, or had kind things said to her. And yet she survived all those years, days and months and minutes and seconds, in the dark, alone, dirty and unloved.

And I thought to myself, there had to have been something there, a presence, a guardian angel, SOMETHING, that kept her company, held her heart, so that she could keep going. I don't know; maybe I'm a dreamer. Maybe I hope and wish and think too much. But that was how I made sense of that situation. And that was how I began to think of the idea of little cupids helping Earth children. How lovely would it be if a bullied child suddenly found a way out of that situation - but never knew how or why the answer came? What might happen if a child whose parents fight and scream all the time found comfort through a little helper cupid?

Will Willa Bean make Earthbound friends?

Willa Bean is definitely on her way down to Earth in later books - and coming to the rescue!!

Willa Bean has purple wings with silver tips. If you were a cupid, what would your wings look like?

My wings would be white with green polka-dots!

Mine would definitely be purple. And sparkly. I really liked Willa's best friends, a bespectacled girl named Harper and a talking owl named Snooze. Who do you consider to be your best friends? Have they inspired characters in any of your books?

I am lucky enough to have two amazing best friends who make me feel as though I can do anything. Neither of them appear in any way in the Little Wings series, but they do - in various forms or another! - in several of my novels.

How many books have you written for the series so far?

Currently, there are six books slated in the Little Wings series. Book #3: Star Bubble Trouble will be coming out in May of 2012, and Book #4: The One and Only Willa Bean will arrive in stores this summer. I am in the throes of working on Books 5 and 6, as well as finishing up a (very scary!) new young adult novel.

Best of luck with your future stories, Cecilia!

Visit Cecilia's website.

Related Posts at Bildungsroman
Interview: Cecilia Galante
Book Review: Hershey Herself by Cecilia Galante
Book Review: Have a Heart, Cupid Delaney by Ellen Leroe
fly, look up

See You at Harry's by Jo Knowles

See You at Harry's by Jo Knowles broke my heart, then put it back together again.

Fern's lucky, even if she doesn't realize it. She has a family that loves her, people she can confide in, and a place she can call home (two places, if you count their family's restaurant as a second home).

Then the worst thing imaginable happens. Something she'd never, ever imagined. Something no one saw coming. Something no amount of wishing can undo. And nothing will ever be the same.

Twelve-year-old Fern is the third kid, the youngest girl, eight years older than her little brother. She sometimes bickers with her older sister, Sara, and she is sometimes bothered with the amount of attention that's paid to her toddler brother, Charlie. While both of her parents work hard, she knows that the restaurant they own is really more her father's passion than her mother's. Fern's closest confidants are her older brother, Holden, and her best friend, Random Smith. Ran, with his don't-worry-be-happy attitude and his brightly colored T-shirts, is one of the most positive people Fern knows. If only some of that positivity would rub off on Holden.

All in all, Fern's world is mostly okay - until the day it's turned upside down. When tragedy visits the household, each family member reacts in a different way. Their house becomes filled with every kind of sad emotion: Guilt. Anger. Regret. Fear. Helplessness. Worry.

It's hard to think about moving forward when all you want to do is change what happened. You can imagine a million different scenarios. You can drive yourself crazy with "what if" until you cry or scream or both. Sometimes, the crying and the screaming can help. But blaming yourself can't help, not when there's no one to blame - and that's what Fern has to learn. In order to be happy again, the members of her family will have to learn that leaning on each other doesn't make you weak - it makes you stronger, individually and collectively.

While reading this book, my heart went out to the family, and it stayed with them for the duration. I especially wanted to hug Holden, who was coming to terms with the fact that he liked boys but he didn't know how to tell his family about it, not in so many words. Fern loves her brother and wishes that she could help him truly be himself. Whenever Sara made rude remarks about Holden, I wanted to stand up for him. The scenes at the dinner table and the scenes in Holden and Fern's secret hiding spot were highly realistic.

The title of the book comes from Harry's Homemade Ice Cream and Family Restaurant. Anyone who has ever had to hang out at their parents' workplace - especially a family-owned business - will appreciate the after-school scenes that take place there.

Each of the kids in Fern's family was named after a different character out of a book. Fern got her name from Charlotte's Web by E.B. White. Holden was named after the protagonist of The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, while Sara comes from A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. When their mom was pregnant for the fourth time, the kids got to pick out a name, and Fern's favorite book at the time was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. I love how Fern considers their namesakes vs. their real selves:

We all agreed that if we had to have a new brother, one like Charlie would be OK. We thought he'd be destined to be the kind of kid who'd get picked to ride in the great glass elevator. The sweet kid. The smart kid. The quiet kid. So far, it seemed like our Charlie wasn't quite fitting the bill. - Page 5

I wish Sara could be more like the Sara she was named after from A Little Princess. That Sara is nice to everyone. Even the mice in the attic. This Sara seems to find it necessary to look for everyone's weak spot. And then stomp on it. - Page 24

I wasn't supposed to read [The Catcher in the Rye] until I'm older, but I snuck my mom's paperback copy out of her room last year. [...] I understand why my mom likes the book and all, but I personally think it was a big mistake to name your kid after a boy who tries to kill himself, even if he is thoughtful and brilliant. - Pages 25-26

Fern thinks of herself more like Phoebe, Catcher-Holden's little sister, than of Web-Fern:

My mom always thought I'd be a good friend. A hero, like the Charlotte's Web Fern. I would like to be Holden's hero. I really would. I would like to stay his Phoebe forever, so he always has someone to come back to. But when he moves away from me this way, I feel like he's taking a step toward leaving us for good. - Page 56

I have attempted to write this review in such a way that I don't spoil anything for potential readers. I hope you'll read the book, and that you find it to be as sadly beautiful as I did.

See You at Harry's by Jo Knowles will be released on May 8th, 2012.

Related Posts at Bildungsroman
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Interview: Jo Knowles
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