Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Author Gayle Rosengren

I'm celebrating this blog's fourth birthday with author Gayle Rosengren. We chatted about Esther, school libraries, my favorite bookseller, reading, and her forthcoming book. I wrote the words in red, and Gayle wrote the words in black. Many thanks, Gayle! 

Here are three things you should know about Esther

1. The character Esther in the book was inspired by a real person, my mom.  Her name was Esther and she really did move from Chicago to a farm in Wisconsin.  In fact, she moved from city to country and back again several times during the first five years of the Great Depression (1930-1935).  Times were hard.  Jobs were few.  Her father was doing his best to keep his family fed.  Even so, sometimes they went to bed hungry.

2. The real Esther was a passionate reader just as Esther was in my book,  and she instilled a love of books in me at an early age.  If she hadn’t done such a great job at this—if I hadn’t loved reading so much as a girl--I might not be writing books for kids now.  Stepping inside the world of a book and sharing adventures with the characters who would soon become my best friends was a joyful, magical experience!  I couldn't imagine anything better than creating that kind of experience for other kids.

3.   The Esther of my story found it impossible to hurt her friend, despite her desire to please her mother.  The real Esther was a tender-hearted person who probably would have made the same decision if confronted with it.  She would have risked punishment herself in order to protect a friend.

I hope What the Moon Said resonates with children of today, many of whom may have experienced, or know someone who has experienced, some of the same difficulties as Esther’s family—loss of jobs, loss of homes, having to learn to live without many of the things they once took for granted, be it a room of their own, cool clothes, or writing long letters to Santa they feel confident will be answered on Christmas morning.  I hope reading about Esther’s experiences opens a window to the past that shows not just the ways in which life was different then, but the ways in which it was the same.  I hope it demonstrates the strength and resiliency of families, and demonstrates what is truly important—not things, but the people we love, and that love isn’t always shown by giving someone what they want, but by unselfishly giving them what they need.

Explore Gayle's website. 
When I was Esther’s age I lived in an apartment in Chicago and wished I could live on a farm.  I wanted a dog and a horse more than anything!  I did finally get the dog, thanks to my older brother who brought home a puppy for me one Christmas Eve, but sadly I never did get the horse—at least not in reality.  I had plenty of them in books, though, and they were an enormous comfort, filling the place in my heart that was carved out especially for those beautiful creatures with flowing manes and tails!  Books about horses were at the top of my reading wish list for years.

School libraries are HUGELY important!  Every child doesn’t have the ability to walk to their public library on their own; they have to rely on adults to take them, and some parents are too busy to make this a priority. Perhaps they’re working two jobs and they’re exhausted at the end of the day.  Perhaps they aren’t readers themselves and don’t understand the importance of exposing their child to a world of books and starting them down the path to being lifelong readers.  But kids always have access to books in their school libraries.  At least, this has been the case in the past.  Unfortunately, school budget cuts in some school districts are threatening this heretofore most reliable source of books.  They don't see how vital school libraries are to education.  Schools without libraries would be like a daily diet of only meat and potatoes--no fruits, no whole grain breads, no fresh vegetables or yummy desserts.  The meals would keep hunger at bay, but they wouldn't result in a healthy, well-nourished child.

Jan Dundon (Image Credit: Anderson's Bookshop) 
Jan Dundon and I have been friends for more than twenty years.  I remember the first time I saw Jan.  She was browsing the shelves at Fountaindale Library, where I was heading up the Young Adult Department. I grinned as she kept adding books to the stack that eventually reached her chin. It wasn’t long before we were talking about those books and exchanging titles of other favorites.  Jan was the first person I met who was as familiar with and passionate about children’s literature as I was, and when I was able to hire an assistant, I knew she was far and away the best person for the job.  As an added bonus, not only did Jan know books, she had a great sense of humor.  We were a perfect match and worked happily side by side until I moved to Madison, Wisconsin, where I began seriously writing for children.

Jan and I maintained our friendship over the years that followed by way of long phone calls during which “must read” titles were shared and scribbled down on either end of the phone.  She also read the first draft of What the Moon Said and loved it.  From then on she was more than a friend; she was my personal cheerleader as I trudged along the bumpy road toward publication.

Jan eventually left the library to take a position at Anderson's Book Shop that greatly expanded her reach to readers and introduced her to literally hundreds of authors who appeared at the store--from J.K. Rowling to Julie Andrews (Edwards).  But she was never too busy for our friendship.  She even devoted a precious day off to researching newspaper archives for my second book.  When she learned that I had been offered a contract from Putnam for What the Moon Said, she was elated, and she immediately added my book launch to Anderson's event calendar!

Despite suffering a major health crisis just months before my book was published, Jan was determined to attend my Anderson's launch, and she did.  She sat in the front row and applauded as loud as anyone.   

Jan was among the first people to believe in my writing talent.  Even more importantly, her faith in me never flagged, even when my own sometimes did.  She will always be a very special and treasured friend.

Reading is fundamental.  I know this isn't a very creative answer.  It's been around a long time.  But I can't think of a better word to capture reading's power and magic.  Fun--YES!  Definitely. And fundamental, as in basic to learning anything/everything.  We read for entertainment, but also for information. Reading enables us to understand other people, other cultures and beliefs, and to learn everything from algebra to physics. 

What is more powerful than the ability to read?  Absolutely nothing.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me if I have another book coming out.  Then I could have told you about Cold War on Maplewood Street, which is being published in August. It's the story of 12 year-old Joanna, who is living in Chicago during the week of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.  Her brother Sam recently joined the navy and she's missing him terribly.  Then President Kennedy makes an announcement on TV about Russian missile launchers being built in Cuba, and he tells the Russians to take them down immediately OR ELSE.  Sam's ship is in nearby waters. He could be in danger!  On top of that, Joanna is suddenly facing the very real possibility that war--which up to now has only occurred in other, far away countries--could come to America, to Chicago, even to her very own street! Although the tension level is always rising, this is an ultimately hopeful story about confronting fear and embracing life even in the most uncertain times. 

Rules for the Giveaway 

1. It will run from 12/31 to 11:59 p.m. on 1/2. 

2. You must be at least 13. 

3. If you win, please pay it forward. 

Borrow What the Moon Said from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops. 


  1. I have totally entered the giveaway for what sounds like a very compelling, moving story. I'd never heard of it before now, but leave it to you to be sure we DO hear! Thank you :D

  2. Thanks Mr. Schu! What a wonderful interview with the fabulous Middle Grade fiction author Gayle Rosengren ("What the Moon Said" 2014 and the upcoming Aug. 2015 "Cold War on Maplewood Street," which I have read and is just perfectly done!). And Gayle's tribute to Jan Dundon is so heartfelt and so well-deserved---Jan is an amazing human being as well as the best friend book lovers, authors, and publishers could ever hope to find.

  3. Reading WHAT THE MOON SAID made me want to hug the main character, Esther. I felt her pain when her superstitious mother forbids her from being with her best friend and when she throws away Esther’s beloved doll. Esther endures hardships, hunger, and heartbreak but at the end, we’re left feeling hopeful.