Thursday, June 4, 2015

Reaching Readers: Through EXTRAORDINARY with author Miriam Spitzer Franklin

Today, Kidliterati welcomes middle grade author Miriam Spitzer Franklin to the blog! Miriam's debut novel, EXTRAORDINARY, just recently came out. This interview is special for me because waaaaay back when I first started writing, Miriam and I connected on Verla Kay's Blue Boards (which are now SCBWI's message boards). Miriam was one of my very first beta readers. I sent her the first book I'd written, and she sent me an early version of EXTRAORDINARY. Although a lot has changed in her book, it's still a lovely, heartfelt story about friendship.

First, a little about the book . . .

EXTRAORDINARY by Miriam Spitzer Franklin (Sky Pony Press, May 5th, 2015)

Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Indiebound

Last spring, Pansy chickened out on going to spring break camp, even though she’d promised her best friend, Anna, she’d go. It was just like when they went to get their hair cut for Locks of Love; only one of them walked out with a new hairstyle, and it wasn’t Pansy. But Pansy never got the chance to make it up to Anna. While at camp, Anna contracted meningitis and a dangerously high fever, and she hasn’t been the same since. 

Now all Pansy wants is her best friend back—not the silent girl in the wheelchair who has to go to a special school and who can’t do all the things Pansy used to chicken out of doing. So when Pansy discovers that Anna is getting a surgery that might cure her, Pansy realizes this is her chance—she’ll become the friend she always should have been. She’ll become the best friend Anna’s ever had—even if it means taking risks, trying new things (like those scary roller skates), and running herself ragged in the process.

Pansy’s chasing extraordinary, hoping she reaches it in time for her friend’s triumphant return. But what lies at the end of Pansy’s journey might not be exactly what she had expected—or wanted.

Extraordinary is a heartfelt, occasionally funny, coming-of-age middle grade novel by debut author Miriam Spitzer Franklin. It’s sure to appeal to fans of Cynthia Lord’s Rules and will inspire young friends to cherish the times they spend together. Every day should be lived like it’s extraordinary.

Gail: Extraordinary is such a heartfelt book. What was the inspiration for writing Pansy and Anna's story?

Miriam: I was originally inspired to write about Pansy and Anna because I had a niece who suffered a brain injury when she was little. A high fever led to a stroke and brain injury, which changed her life permanently. Although it was a difficult transition for her family, I've always been inspired by the way they accepted the challenges and focused on the joy Anna brought to everyone. Although my niece's brain injury took place when she was only two, I decided to write a story about how it would affect a ten-year-old if this happened to her best friend. I had already written a manuscript about a girl who considered herself average but wanted to become an extraordinary person, and I combined the stories with a new motivation: Pansy wanted to become an extraordinary person because of her best friend.

Photo credit: CamellaTWU
Used under a Creative Commons License
Gail: I love that you had real-life inspiration! What is it about middle grade that drew you to write for this age group?

Miriam: I taught 4th-8th grade for 20 years and my favorite age is upper elementary. These years are so vivid to me and I think of it as a time of innocence, a time when life was slow enough to notice things, a time of hope and optimism even in difficult situations. When I'm writing middle grade, I love stepping back in time and getting into the head of my younger self, before life became so complicated!

Gail: The book has so many great scenes. Which was your favorite one to write?

Miriam: I loved writing some of the funnier scenes--the one about being pulled by dogs while on roller blades, the Abraham Lincoln performance toward the end of the book. But my very favorite scene is the one where Pansy carries the box of photos out to the magnolia tree. I love this scene because I feel as if I got to the heart of Pansy's emotions, and it was one that flowed naturally and once the words were out, I didn't have to rewrite any of it!

Photo credit: Scott Ableman
Used under a Creative Commons License
Gail: My favorite scenes to write always seem to be either the funniest or the most touching, too. (And that Abraham Lincoln scene had me laughing out loud!) Since you've been a teacher, I'm going to ask a question I'm dying to know the answer to -- what do you say to a class of kids to convince them to read a book – any book – right this second?

Miriam: Do you want to travel somewhere new? Go off on adventure? Be someone else? Make some new friends? Or even better: Do you want to escape the world for 30 minutes? Then pick up a book NOW! (Those always motivate me, anyway)

Gail: I think those sum up exactly why I fell in love with reading! What are your favorite MG books?

Miriam: Fave MG of all time: Charlotte's Web, Shiloh, Bridge to Terabithia, Walk Two Moons, Rules, the Ramona books. Fave MG/YA: Harry Potter

Gail: Those are some good ones! What do you like to do when you aren't writing?

Miriam: I love to read, of course! Also, I'm a figure skater and I try to get to the rink twice a week to see if I can still do any of those moves I used to do when I skated as a teen. And I coach my daughter's Odyssey of the Mind team, which is great fun.

Gail: I'd ask you to show us your double axel, but, well, this is a blog and not a rink! In the meantime, how about some fun either/or questions . . .

Lemonade or Iced Tea? Iced tea

Amusement Park or National Park? National Park

Singing or Dancing? Singing

Cake or Cookies? Cookies

Summer or Winter? Summer (though I like fall or spring best!)

Thanks for joining us today, Miriam!

Miriam Spitzer Franklin is a former elementary and middle school teacher who currently teaches homeschooled students and is a writer in residence with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. Extraordinary, her debut middle grade novel, was inspired by a niece who suffered a brain injury after a high fever led to a stroke. Miriam lives with her husband, two daughters, and two cats in Charlotte, North Carolina.

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