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Fall 2015 Publishers’ Preview: Five questions for Laura Amy Schlitz

Publishers' PreviewsThis interview originally appeared in the September/October 2015 Horn Book Magazine as part of the Fall 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.

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Newbery Medalist Laura Amy Schlitz takes readers to early twentieth-century Baltimore in her latest novel, The Hired Girl.

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Photo: Joe Rubino.

1. A kind teacher gives our heroine Joan some soul-nourishing and much-appreciated books. What books might you give a girl in similar straits today?

LAS: Joan is a girl with powerful feelings and a strong desire for independence. So I’d still want to give her Jane Eyre. I’d also introduce her to Cather’s Song of the Lark. Since Joan is fourteen, she’s not too old for The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate or Brown Girl Dreaming. And while she was in line at the circulation desk, I’d make a dash at her with A Solitary Blue, The War That Saved My Life, and The Perilous Gard.

2. The Hired Girl was inspired by your grandmother’s journal. What is the most significant deviation you made from her story?

LAS: For a start, my grandmother was never a hired girl. She lived a comfortable, sheltered life. Her journal was not so much an inspiration as a good source for period slang and social customs.

hiredgirl_210x3003. Religion plays an important part in the novel. Why don’t we see more expressions of faith in children’s books today?

LAS: Religion’s been stood in the corner for being a troublemaker. History and current events might tempt one to believe that religion has nothing to offer in exchange for the trouble it’s caused. But I disagree. I also think contemporary writers are terrified of being preachy and didactic. Of course, didacticism is a shape-changer. We are still didactic, though the virtues that were so dear to the Victorians — thrift, piety, and Doing One’s Duty — are out of fashion.

4. Without giving too much away, were you at all tempted by a different ending?

LAS: Never. That ending was my point on the horizon. I was steering for it from day one.

5. What is the most important thing being a librarian has taught you about being a writer?

LAS: As a school librarian, I tell a lot of myths and folktales. As I narrate, I watch the children’s faces. G. K. Chesterton talks about “the ancient instinct of astonishment,” and I see what it is to touch the nerve of that instinct. I witness the power of children’s sympathy with the underdog, their passion for justice, and their satisfaction when the story ends happily. Working with children reminds me that stories are essential.

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Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.

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Comments

  1. I just wanted to write to say how much I love this book and how grateful I am for a story with a Roman Catholic main character. There were many times that I cringed for Joan’s lack of education, but I so appreciate that she *was* Roman Catholic. I still experience prejudice today as a Catholic, and firmly believe that books can help us to understand each other better. A book like this can only help in that regard. I’ve read a lot of children’s books (about 800 as I am a children’s bookseller) and a children’s book with even a Roman Catholic secondary character is hard to find. Thank you, Laura, for providing a “mirror” for me and for Roman Catholic children. Thank you, thank you!

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