A new book from Sharon Creech is always a treat. The author has delighted thousands of readers with titles such as Walk Two Moons, which won the Newbery Award, Bloomability, Love That Dog, The Wanderer and A Fine, Fine School.
In her new novel, Ruby Holler, Dallas and Florida, the "Trouble Twins," are sent away from a Dickensian establishment called the Boxton Creek Home for Children to a temporary foster home. They are to live for several months with an eccentric older couple, Tiller and Sairy, in a lush, green hidden valley called Ruby Holler. Just as in the classic tale, The Secret Garden, the mystery and natural beauty of the place begins to work miracles for the twins in this engaging story for young readers.
The place itself is as much a character in this novel as any of the people, so it's no surprise that the idea for the novel began with the setting. Creech got her inspiration for Ruby Holler by hearing a family story about her father having grown up in a "holler." The idea of a beautiful, mysterious hollow intrigued her. As a child, she had often visited her cousins in their home in the mountains of Kentucky. "It was a place where the hills were green, the streams were clean and you could run and shout all day long in the hills," Creech recalled in a recent interview.
The image grew and evolved in her mind for several years before she was ready to begin working on the book. "I had to wait until a character arrived to inhabit that place, and one day two characters arrived twins, rather rough-edged and full of spunk."
Full of spunk indeed! Mr. and Mrs. Trepid, who run the Buxton Children's Home, are constantly sending Dallas and Florida to the "Thinking Corner," a stool in the dark, cobweb-covered basement. Dallas and Florida are therefore astonished by their first few days in their new foster home. There is plenty of food, for one thing. They are sleeping, not in a cupboard, but in an airy loft with a view of deep blue mountains, and infractions aren't punished by "whuppings." Creech enjoys doing research for her books but says, "I have discovered that I work best when I trust my imagination to conjure up people and places and details. Too often research roots things too stubbornly in reality, and the story will not sing for me then."
A good example of this occurred while she was writing Ruby Holler. Foster parents Tiller and Sairy are each preparing for one last adventure: Tiller wants one twin to paddle with him on the Rutabago River, and Sairy will take the other to go bird-watching on the island of Kangadoon. But in the original draft of the book, Sairy's trip was supposed to be to China and Tiller's to the Mississippi. Creech spent three months researching those places before determining that the sections just didn't work with the rest of the story.
Young readers are often amazed when they hear that three months of work can end up being cut. But Creech is no stranger to revision. For Ruby Holler, she wrote her first draft in six months, then spent another year revising it. "A couple of my favorite chapters came to me late in the revision process probably at the stage of fourth or fifth drafts," says Creech. "It always amazes me that whole scenes can emerge after you think you might be finished with a book!"
Creech advises young readers to "read a lot, and write a lot and have fun with both!" Her many fans will be glad to know that she takes her own advice: now that the Trouble Twins' story has come to a satisfying end, she's currently working on a new book inspired by her Italian grandmother. Watch for it!
Deborah Hopkinson's latest book for young readers is Pioneer Summer, Book One of the Ready-for-Chapters series Prairie Skies.