Tea with a Young Reader

Yesterday  morning, I got an email from my friend Cheryl, who lives up the road from us. Her granddaughter Iris is visiting, and they had had a conversation about my YA fantasy novel Maya and the Book of Everything. Cheryl had gotten Iris the book for Christmas, and Iris really enjoyed the novel.  Cheryl wondered if she and Iris could come for a visit.

Yes, yes, and yes! As it turned out, Sam—Iris’s dad and Cheryl’s son—came, too, and what a delightful time Clif and I had talking with the three of them, book lovers all. We chatted a bit about Maya and the Book of Everything. Cheryl wondered where my ideas came from. I couldn’t give her much help on that one. Somehow, the ideas just come.  Iris hoped that Andy and Maya would eventually wind up together. (I gave her the answer, but you, dear readers, will have to wait and read Library Lost to discover  Andy’s and Maya’s fate.) Sam wondered how long it took me to write the book. My answer: About a year, but there was a lot of editing and tinkering with the story after that.

Then the conversation turned to other books.  Iris told me what she was reading, and as I knew I wouldn’t remember—oh, the aging memory!—I jotted them down. When I’m through with the current batch I’ve borrowed from the library, I’ll request Iris’s recommendations through interlibrary loan. The list includes the Percy Jackson books by Rick Riordan and the Pendragon series by D.J. MacHale.

When asked what I was reading, I replied, “The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly.” This slice-of-life novel centers on a young girl—the Calpurnia of the title—who lives in Texas in the late 1800s. She’s a budding naturalist at a time when young women aren’t supposed to be interested in such things. But Calpurnia has an ally in her grandfather, an amateur naturalist who teaches her how to look, draw, record, measure, and do research. Calpurnia is a spunky, satisfying heroine, but the pace of the novel is deliberate, and I was wondering how young readers would like it.

Today, I found out. It seems that Iris has also read Calpurnia Tate. She liked it very much, and this caused me to have an epiphany, of sorts. That is, young people who love books are patient readers, and it’s a mistake to think they need an explosion a minute to keep them interested.  It’s not that plot and narrative flow aren’t important, but well-developed characters are what keep young people interested in a story. If a novel’s pace is leisurely, then that’s perfectly fine as long as the characters are interesting.

So, all in all a terrific day. Tea with a wonderful, bright family and insight into the patience young people bring to reading books.

You might even call it a finest kind of day.

Iris and me

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