How is writing a chapter book for young readers different from writing a middle grade or young adult novel?
There are more similarities than differences. I still have to write a good story with interesting characters. To me the biggest difference is the problem. Piper’s problem is serious to her, but the problem is not as heavy as those explored in middle grade and young adult literature.
Also, although I always try to use humor in my stories for older readers, I used a heavier dose of it in Piper Reed, Navy Brat. I loved being able to do that.
What are the challenges of writing for this age group?
They are the same as writing for older readers. In the revision process, I question each word and each plot point. I do not feel a need to “dumb down.” In other words, young readers deserve the same attention to detail that older readers get from their stories.
Talk a little about your source of inspiration for Tori, Piper, and Sam Reed. Are these sisters based on your own family growing up?
Yes, although most of the book comes from my imagination, the setup is very autobiographical. My dad was a Navy chief and I am one of three girls. However I’m the oldest. Growing up I was the serious one, the bossy one, the one who worried about her weight. I didn’t think that point of view would be as interesting as my middle sister’s. She was the funny one, the confident one, the clever one.
Being the middle sister has its advantages and disadvantages but ultimately Piper seems stronger as a result of her position in the family. Do you agree?
I do. Although all the sisters are planners, Piper has the most guts. She’s not afraid to speak her mind and she does what she sets out to do. She doesn’t always get the results she hoped for, but she goes for it.
Piper’s spirit seems to get the best and worst of her. But it is her spirit, and a sense of humor, that makes her so endearing. What do you think?
I hope readers find her endearing. I tried to give her a fresh outlook on life. For example when I realized that Piper was going to be dyslexic, I didn’t want that to hold her back in a way that many readers would have expected. I didn’t want the story to be about that. And I love that she accepts that part of her and gets on with living. I think that’s because of her spirit.
As a child, you lived on many different Navy bases since your father was stationed all over the world. What did you like most and least about being a “Navy Brat”?
I don’t think I truly appreciated what a military life offered me while I was growing up. I hated moving. I was shy and didn’t make friends easily. About the time I would start to feel at home, we moved, again. Now I look back on that experience and realize how rich a childhood I had. I was exposed to many cultures. And I learned to be adaptable and tolerant. I’m interested in people. Even though I was shy growing up, now I feel like I can talk to anyone. I believe that is because of my childhood.
Piper Reed is set in contemporary times, but has a timeless feel. What are some of the ways in which the life of a Navy family is different today than it was back when you were growing up?
One major difference is that when the parents are away on an assignment, military kids today can stay in touch with them more easily. I interviewed several groups of Navy kids whose parents were serving on a ship. They told me how they e-mailed their mom or dad every day. A couple of kids even played internet games with their military parent. Now that’s a huge improvement. I can remember when my dad was away we looked forward to the mail -- snail mail.
Another difference is that there are a lot of kids with moms serving in the military today. That wasn’t common when I was a kid. That’s why I wrote about two of Piper’s friends having their mom serve on the same ship as Piper’s dad.
Is there really such a thing as Sister Magic?
Sure. I think it really has to do more with shared life experiences than genes, though. My sisters and I might laugh at something that no one else would think was funny.
Can you tell us a little about Piper’s next adventure?
Piper’s dad is away on ship duty for most of Piper Reed, the Great Gypsy. The story covers how the family passes their time until Chief returns -- staying at a spaceship beach house for Christmas, going to New Orleans on spring break, visits from family members. Also Piper and the Gypsy Club decide to have a Pet Show. Piper is determined that she and Bruna will win. If only she could teach her a trick.