Publishers' Preview: Diverse Books: Five Questions for Sharon G. Flake

This interview originally appeared in the May/June 2023 Horn Book Magazine as part of the Publishers’ Previews: Diverse Books, an 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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In Once in a Blue Moon, past history and present danger send James Henry and his sister on a quest through a perilous landscape.

1. Who would you want with you if you were lost in the woods?

My older brother Gregory. He was a bus driver for the city of Philadelphia — he could figure a way out of the woods. Greg is hilarious, curious, a news junkie. We would have conversations about politics, books, television programs, and any wild animals peering at us. I’d be too busy laughing to be afraid.

2. Could you eat (have you eaten) a worm-and-mushroom canapé?

Sitting at home warm and cozy, I’d likely say no. But under the right circumstances, I hope I would eat whatever it took to keep me alive until I could return home safely.

3. What was the greatest challenge of writing your novel in verse?

I am not a poet; I occasionally write poetry. So going outside my comfort zone was the biggest challenge. I had a poet friend read my work; she knows exactly what it takes to write a great poem. When I came up short, she pointed it out. I learned to value poetry and verse novels in a new way.

4. What did you read as a child that most resonates with you today?

I read Langston Hughes’s stories in middle school, and they still resonate. His characters spoke to me in ways I recognized from home and my neighborhood. It was as if Hughes was giving me permission — as my family and neighbors had done — to be my own authentic Black self. Hughes was a counterweight to what the news and much of the world said about people like us. I was forever changed by his work.

5. I want to visit Seed County, although I know it is imagined. What’s the closest place I can go in real geography?

Any place where there are miles of deep, rich earth surrounded by trees and animals. Where children are permitted to be brave and adventurous and can learn from their mistakes. Where adults love fiercely and apologize when necessary. Glimmers of this world can be found in our own homes if we open our eyes a bit wider, give young people space to breathe, to dream, to believe in themselves and in happy endings.

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Photo: Hannah Price.

Roger Sutton
Roger Sutton

Editor Emeritus Roger Sutton was editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc., from 1996-2021. 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 MA in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a BA from Pitzer College in 1978.

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