Have I mentioned how much I love the children's author Rebecca Stead, winner of the 2010 Newbery Medal for When You Reach Me? (Why, yes—I have.) I loved everything about that book—setting, main character, the drama surrounding family and friendships, the puzzle at its heart. I was so happy when the book won the Newbery. So I was thrilled when I learned that Stead has a new book out in August!
When seventh grader Georges (the "S" is silent) moves into a Brooklyn apartment building, he meets Safer, a twelve-year-old coffee-drinking loner and self-appointed spy. Georges becomes Safer's first spy recruit. His assignment? Tracking the mysterious Mr. X, who lives in the apartment upstairs. But as Safer becomes more demanding, Georges starts to wonder: how far is too far to go for your only friend?
Just about everybody on the BookPage staff who has read Rebecca Stead's Newbery-winning novel When You Reach Me has raved about it. (I am most guilty, posting here and here—and don't miss our post-Newbery Q&A with Stead.) I loved spunky sixth-grade narrator Miranda. I loved how Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time was subtly integrated into the plot. I loved how Stead depicted a realistic relationship between mother and daughter. And I loved the combination of mystery and fantasy.
So, I was thrilled to read this morning that Amber Entertainment won a bidding war to produce a movie version of the novel. Both Stead and Ileen Maisel (The Golden Compass) will produce.
I can't wait to see New York City of the 1970s come to life, and the scenes that take place on game show "The $20,000 Pyramid" should be fabulous.
When A Wrinkle In Time was made into a TV movie in 2003, L'Engle said of the adaptation, "I expected it to be bad, and it is." Let's hope the movie of When You Reach Me doesn't get a similar reception—but how could it, since Stead is involved?
Do you think When You Reach Me will translate successfully on the screen? Are you looking forward to this movie?
By the way, we shared this news in Wednesday's Reading Corner, but in case you don't subscribe—this weekend a couple of our editors are off to attend the Newbery Caldecott Banquet in Washington, D.C. When they return, they'll post a full report of Stead's and Jerry Pinkney's speeches on this blog.
On January 18, Rebecca Stead won the Newbery Medal for When You Reach Me, a middle-grade novel that’s part mystery, part touching family comedy. The plot centers on Miranda, a sixth grade New Yorker who saves her friend’s life; preps her mom to appear on a game show; and holds down a part-time job at the neighborhood sandwich shop. Fans of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time will love this book; Miranda carries it around, and time travel figures into the story.
Because we couldn’t imagine the excitement Stead felt upon learning of the award, we contacted her for an e-mail Q&A. Below, she describes the moment of receiving a call from the Newbery committee, growing up in New York City and why she writes for kids.
Describe the moment when you were awarded the Newbery Medal.
I was standing in the kitchen of my apartment. [Chair of the Newbery committee] Katie O’Dell introduced herself on the phone and then said something like, “I’m about to tell you something that will change your life.” I think that’s when my feet fused to the floor. She had the whole committee on speaker phone, and there was this wonderful cheer. I couldn’t seem to move. I remember Katie saying, “it’s okay, you don’t have to talk.” But I hope I managed to tell them how grateful I felt—still feel.
What were your favorite books to read as a child and teenager?
I loved all kinds of fiction. I read books by Edward Eager, Madeleine L’Engle, E.L. Konigsburg, Judy Blume, Norma Klein, Bette Greene, Paula Danziger, Anne McCaffrey, Louise Meriwether, Robert Heinlein and Louise Fitzhugh. I also loved Grimm’s Fairy Tales, D’Aulaire’s Myths and Sydney Taylor’s All-of-a-kind Family books.
What do your children read today?
My sons read a lot of fantasy, including Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Artemis Fowl, and Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain books. But they also love the Hank Zipzer books, Hillary McKay’s Casson Family novels, Judy Blume’s Fudge books, and many others.
When did you first read A Wrinkle in Time? At what point did you decide to feature the novel in your own book?
I read A Wrinkle in Time when I was 11 or 12. My main character, Miranda, was carrying the book around from day one, but I wasn’t sure for a long time that it would be part of my final story. Wendy [Lamb] and I talked about that, and decided that I would try to deepen the connection between the two books. If it seemed to work, wonderful. If not, I would have to take Wrinkle out.
What’s the best part of writing books aimed at a younger audience?
Middle-grade kids are blossoming intellectually, and they’re less jaded than adults. I think they’re more open to big ideas. Also, kids generally root for a story to succeed, and they’re willing to do what I call “the reader’s work.” I find it much easier to write knowing that I have them for partners.
What were your favorite things to do as a kid growing up in New York City?
Eat Chinese food, see plays, go skateboarding, eat pizza, go ice skating and read. We used to have great block parties in New York City, and I loved those too. I also watched a heck of a lot of television.
Miranda’s mother appears on “The $20,000 Pyramid.” If you could go on any game show, which would it be?
I would be terrified to be on any game show, because I don’t like being put on the spot. But if I had to go on one, it would absolutely be Pyramid.
Do you identify with any specific character in When You Reach Me?
Miranda. Her brain works the way my brain worked at her age.
Have you read or listened to past Newbery acceptance speeches? Are you excited (or worried!) about your own speech?
I’ve read a couple of past speeches in The Horn Book, but that was before I ever dreamed I might be writing a speech myself. I’m excited. And worried.
I’m working on another novel for children. It’s unrelated to either of my first two books, and it’s coming together pretty slowly. I have a feeing that lots of people will write three books before I finish this one.
And a question for readers: What's your favorite Newbery winner?
There are a few narrators that stick out in my mind as being foundational personalities in my tween identity: Claudia Kincaid, Meg Murry, Vicky Austin, Polly O'Keefe, Margaret Simon, Harriet Welsch, Sal Hiddle. . . the list goes on.
When I recently finished Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me, the winner of the 2010 Newbery Medal, I felt like I had met a girl who deserves a spot on that list of superstars: Miranda, the spirited protagonist of Stead’s novel, named for both Miranda warnings and Miranda of “The Tempest.” Miranda is a natural fit between Claudia (From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler) and Meg (A Wrinkle in Time). She is savvy on the streets of New York City, curious, thoughtful—but not without a bit of attitude, interested in time travel.
Her story takes place in the late 1970s, but young readers today will identify with her life. When the novel beings, Miranda is helping her single mom, a paralegal who wears funky tights and blue nail polish, study to win big on “The $20,000 Pyramid.” In an opening funny moment, Miranda explains that she’s creating study guides for her mom “instead of watching after-school TV, which is a birthright of every latchkey child.”
Over the course of Stead’s 200-page middle-grade novel, Miranda deals with changing friendships, bullying, racial prejudice directed toward a classmate, a first crush, different income levels within her school—all while solving a mystery that could save her friend’s life. There are clues sprinkled throughout the book, not least of all Miranda’s love for A Wrinkle in Time, which she carries around and reads compulsively.
In a review for BookPage, Dean Schneider summed up the merits of When You Reach Me: “What could be better: a great setting, believable characters and a mystery deftly woven by a fine writer.” He couldn’t be more right. Read the book and see for yourself.
What characters will you always remember from childhood favorites?
With the announcement of the American Library Association's children's and teen book awards coming up soon (on January 18), it's prediction season in the children's book world. English teacher and children’s book reviewer extraordinaire Dean Schneider, a member of the 2008 Newbery Committee, shares some of his predictions, a number of which he reviewed for BookPage:
Newbery Medal: When You Reach Me (Rebecca Stead)
Newbery Honors: Marching For Freedom: Walk Together Children and Don't You Grow Weary (Elizabeth Partridge); Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice (Philip M. Hoose); The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate (Jacqueline Kelly)
Caldecott Medal: The Lion & The Mouse (Jerry Pinkney)
Caldecott Honors: All the World (Elizabeth Garton Scanlon)
Printz Medal: Marcelo in the Real World (Francisco X. Stork)
Printz Honors: Lips Touch by Laini Taylor; Fire (Kristin Cashore)
Sibert Medal: Charles & Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith (Deborah Heiligman)
Sibert Honors: Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice (Philip M. Hoose); Marching For Freedom: Walk Together Children and Don't You Grow Weary (Elizabeth Partridge); Truce (Jim Murphy); A Savage Thunder: Antietam and the Bloody Road to Freedom (Jim Murphy)
Do you have any other predictions? Also, be sure to bookmark the Children's Page on BookPage.com. In the bottom left corner, we highlight award winners from the past. This week we're featuring 2006 Caldecott Honor Book Rosa, by Nikki Giovanni and Bryan Collier.