Spring 2015 Publishers’ Preview: Five Questions for Jeanne Birdsall

Publishers' Previews
This interview originally appeared in the March/April 2015 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.

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The Penderwicks in Spring is Jeanne Birdsall’s fourth book about four inimitable sisters — who now reckon with a younger stepbrother and new baby half-sister.

birsall_jeanne1. The Penderwicks series follows in a grand tradition of family stories for children. Which one kept you company as a young reader?

JB: Among others, E. Nesbit’s Bastables, because they made me laugh.

2. The family’s town in western Massachusetts feels like a real place. What do you think that particular setting brings to the Penderwick books?

JB: Here’s what I want the setting to bring: a balance of specificity — so that visiting western Massachusetts feels like entering the world of my books — and a generality that allows children to plug pieces of their own world into the story.

birdsall_penderwicks in spring3. Previous books in the series have all had their serious moments, but this one brings Batty to an especially dark place. How did that come about, and did you know how you were going to bring her back from it when you started out?

JB: I’ve known from the very beginning about the family fissure that takes Batty down, and that it would have to be dealt with before I could finish the series. Bringing her back wasn’t a matter of how as much as in what order, since there were several parts. It was a puzzle and a struggle — thank goodness for Michelle Frey, my excellent editor.

4. What’s your take on the health of publishing for nine- to twelve-year-olds?

JB: This is a marvelous time to be a middle-grade writer. Editors are continuously on the hunt for strong MG books, and every year produces more and splendid ones. But the world outside our charmed circle finds it expedient to cram middle-grade books into the YA category. If I understood their motive, I might be able to fight it better, but mostly I’m left feeling befuddled.

5. I see that The Penderwicks in Spring is the penultimate volume in the series. Can you give us any clues about what will happen in the last book?

JB: There will be another leap in time. The family will be back at Arundel, the setting for the first book. There will be sheep, I think. The sheep part could change.

Sponsored by
Random House

Roger Sutton
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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