You don’t need a big travel budget to have adventures—just ask Ingrid Law. The author has taken many a day trip from her home in Boulder, Colorado, to nearby small towns, excursions that inspired the settings for her Newbery Honor book, Savvy, and the new companion novel, Scumble.
“When I was writing Savvy, I’d [already] cut back my hours working for the government so I could spend time with my daughter,” Law recalls. “I had chosen a certain level of poverty, so we didn’t travel much, and certainly not on planes!”
But road trips suit this author’s tastes just fine. “There’s really so much around us, and I’m not a terribly demanding person when it comes to seeing the sights,” she says. “We went to Kansas and Nebraska, saw the largest porch swing, added twine to the largest ball of twine. . . . I have great memories of these trips, and the people I met.”
In Scumble, the Kale family travels to Uncle Autry’s Flying Cattleheart ranch in Wyoming—just nine days after Ledger’s 13th birthday (and nine years after his cousin Mibs’ adventures in Savvy). It’s an auspicious time for any young person, but a particularly challenging one in this family: The new teens learn what their savvy, or special power, will be, and things tend to get a little wild before they get their new abilities under control.
Ledger’s new power seems to be a destructive one, and he inadvertently turns the sheriff’s truck into a pile of rubble (oops!). Once at the ranch, the hijinks continue, thanks to twin cousins who can levitate objects, among other fantastical goings-on.
Young readers will eagerly turn the pages of Law’s magical novel to find out what will happen next—just as 13-year-old Sarah Jane Cabot is eager to share the story via her newspaper, The Sundance Scuttlebutt. Ledger’s struggles to keep his family secret, figure out why he finds Sarah Jane both annoying and irresistible, and scumble (or manage) his savvy into something positive keep him more than a little frustrated.
The challenge of fielding life’s curveballs is one every reader can relate to, but in Law’s hands, it becomes the stuff of tall tales. This mix of quotidian and outrageous has always intrigued her. “I knew early on, before Savvy, that I wanted to write about magical kids without using the word magic. Not necessarily to create a new kind of magic, but to create something that reflected a sense of Americana,” she recalls.
To create a uniquely American sense of magic, she explains, “I use a lot of small towns, and fall back on the tradition of tall tales, stories that are larger than life, with a conquering-the-wilderness idea. It’s an emotional element of becoming a teenager, needing to tame the external and internal.”
Thanks to a summer stay at his uncle’s ranch, and assists from his quirky extended family, Ledger realizes there’s another side to making things fall apart: He has a gift for putting them together—and a knack for creating new and beautiful things, too.
It’s no coincidence that Ledger’s artistic awakenings emerge as he learns to scumble his savvy. Law, who’s long been interested in linguistics, says, “I stumbled across the word scumble in a writing book. I loved the way it sounded, and one of the definitions seemed appropriate for the idea of controlling this element that’s taking over.” In this definition, scumbling is a painting technique that tones down a bright color so that the hues are more evenly balanced.
The art-infused nature of Ledger’s journey can be traced back to Law’s own creative background. “I come from a family that always appreciated and was involved in the arts,” she says. “So I grew up drawing and painting, and learned about fiber arts and quilt arts.”
Law says she found her writerly voice when, after a decade of ill-fated manuscripts, she decided to ignore her doubts and go where her characters took her: “I decided I would pull out all the stops, not judge what I wrote, and push my voice to the limit.”
It worked—she wrote Savvy in just over four months, an agent offered representation, three weeks later she had a book deal, and soon after, film rights sold. “My life was turned upside down,” she recalls.
When Savvy received a Newbery Honor, Law says, it was “a wonderful, amazing thing, but also really frightening for the next book!” Although writing and revising Scumble was a much longer process, the author’s voice remains steady and true.
Or, in the loopy language of her fun and funny books: It’s clear that Ingrid Law has scumbled her savvy.