Author Nikki Loftin
Happy Friday, everyone!! I'm celebrating this beautiful spring day with author Nikki Loftin. We chatted about Wish Girl, school libraries, reading, and Roxaboxen. I wrote the words in orange, and she wrote the words in black. Thank you, Nikki!
Annie Blythe is based on two real students of mine! Both of them were (and are) incredibly full of life and energy, and made me a better person for having known them. They also both had been diagnosed with very aggressive childhood cancers, and overcame their illnesses, but at a cost.
Their sparkle and resolve in the face of great obstacles, and the transformational effects knowing them had on me and on others around us, is at the heart of Annie’s character and the book itself.
I knew Peter needed a place like that, where he could finally learn to be himself, and a friend like Annie who could show him just how wonderful he was, even if the rest of the world called him weird and strange. I wish every child like Peter, who feels misunderstood and peculiar, could experience that valley, that deep peace and contentment with self that he learns there.
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When I was writing Wish Girl I went for a lot of walks. I still live in the Texas hill country, and so when it was time to write those valley scenes, I would step outside and hear the birdsong, feel the wind, listen to the rustle of the leaves.
I even went back to the real valley, just to make sure I got it all right! (Yes, I had to cross a few strands of barbed wire and ignore more than a few “No Trespassing” signs to do so. It was worth the risk.) Back when my parents owned that tiny piece of hilltop, it was completely uninhabited, or close to it. Now, there are more houses and people… but the wind, the trees, the turkey vultures circling above and the smell of sage and cedar is still there. When I went back out to the limestone ledge that was mine, and closed my eyes, I was a kid again, feeling pebble-small and sky-big at the same time.
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I hope Wish Girl finds its way into the hands of the reader who needs it. It may sound strange, but I have this feeling as I write my deeper stories, that there is a reader – one person, one child – out there who is waiting for this particular story, who needs this book to be able to navigate their world. I had the incredible privilege of meeting that reader in person for my first book. She was a girl in Japan, who had never read a book before until she picked up mine. That book lifted her up, and she lifted me up as well -- to an understanding that this work I do can have great value, and is a very serious undertaking. I hope I honor my readers with all my books.
Nightingale’s Nest tells the story of my heart. I’m not sure who coined the phrase, but I read somewhere that every author has a “book of the heart” and Nightingale’s Nest was that for me. I never thought it would get published actually. I didn’t write it intending to submit it at all! I wrote it because a story about a little girl (very much like the one I had been) who climbed a tree, built a nest, and sang all day long, kept following me.
School libraries would be better if we could just live in them. Sleeping bags, lanterns, kitchens, the works! Then we could go inside and never have to stop reading, never have to enter the loud, harsh, mundane world outside.
Can you tell I love school libraries? I spent more hours than I should have in my elementary school library*, with the unforgettable Mrs. Crabb leading me from treasure to treasure as she handed me the books that helped me find my place in the world.
In order to spend those hours there, it is possible I misbehaved atrociously in my classroom, knowing the “punishment” was to be sent out to the library to think about my misdeeds. And read.
Reading is how I spent all the very best years of my childhood. When I couldn’t understand the turmoil of my home life, when I had to escape, reading gave me a tunnel, a secret passage, a doorway into Narnia and beyond. I could go anywhere, be anyone, learn everything I needed to come back into my real life and be stronger.
|Read Margie Myers-Culver's review of Wish Girl.|
Mr. Schu, you should have asked me my favorite book to read out loud to my own kids! It probably won’t surprise you to learn it’s Roxaboxen, by Alice McLerran. Okay, so maybe my kids have to finish it because Mom is crying over those last few pages… but it’s so wonderful. A setting that sticks with you forever!
Borrow Wish Girl from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops.