This interview originally appeared in the March/April 2017 Horn Book Magazine as part of the Spring Publishers’ Preview, a semiannual advertising supplement that allows participating publishers a chance to each highlight a book from its current list. They choose the books; we ask the questions.
Orphan Island has nine inhabitants. No more, no less: every year a new, young child arrives, and the oldest departs via the same little green boat that mysteriously navigates itself to…somewhere. But now it’s Jinny’s turn to leave, and she doesn’t want to go.
1. How did you decide to make nine the magic number of orphans?
Initially, I imagined ten kids, not nine. But the math didn’t work out, because Ess (the kid who arrives at the beginning) needed to be a girl, and girls and boys arrive on alternating years. There was actually a surprising amount of logistical math required to write the book.
2. Are they orphans?
What do you think, I wonder?
I’m a big believer that every book is a collaboration between reader and author, and so in each book I leave certain things ambiguous for the reader to interpret. For Orphan Island, that’s especially true.
So often, we expect kids to follow our rules without explanations. They’re just sort of stuck wandering through life with unanswered questions. I wanted my readers to experience some of the same frustration Jinny does as they followed her through the story.
3. Open ending or lead-in to a sequel?
I have a very clear sense of other storylines, both on the island and in the world beyond the mist. For now the book is a standalone, but I suppose anything’s possible!
4. Would you be up for the adventure offered by the little green boat?
I absolutely would be! I’m someone who likes new beginnings; I tend to jump at them, to thrive on change. The challenge for me is usually staying put. I get antsy when I sit still too long.
5. What’s your favorite island in children’s literature?
Oh, that’s a tough question! There are so many good ones. The Island of the Blue Dolphins, and Abel’s Island, but my favorite is maybe Rass Island, from Katherine Paterson’s Jacob Have I Loved. I grew up in Baltimore, and spent a lot of time on the Eastern Shore as a kid. I fantasized about living on the water that way.