INTERVIEW with MG Author Gayle Rosengren:
WHAT THE MOON SAID
Published by: Putnam Juvenile
Pub. date: February 20, 2014
Buy it here:
Thanks to her superstitious mother, Esther knows some tricks for avoiding bad luck: toss salt over your left shoulder, never button your shirt crooked, and avoid black cats. But even luck can’t keep her family safe from the Great Depression. When Pa loses his job, Esther’s family leaves their comfy Chicago life behind for a farm in Wisconsin.
Living on a farm comes with lots of hard work, but that means there are plenty of opportunities for Esther to show her mother how helpful she can be. She loves all of the farm animals (except the mean geese) and even better makes a fast friend in lively Bethany. But then Ma sees a sign that Esther just knows is wrong. If believing a superstition makes you miserable, how can that be good luck?
Debut author Gayle Rosengren brings the past to life in this extraordinary, hopeful story.
An outstanding MG novel that I’m sure will become a favorite of students and teachers alike. I was completely captivated by this historical fiction novel, which takes place during the Depression. Esther is a young girl struggling to get her mom’s approval and love. Her mom is very superstitious and these superstitions guide Esther’s enter family, determining the good luck and bad luck they’ll have. At times, it’s frustrating, hurtful, and confusing for Esther, especially when she is forbidden to play with a girl she really likes as a friend.
Readers will move with Esther and her family from Chicago to a farm in Milwaukee. They’ll experience hunger, they’ll celebrate the holidays with them, they’ll go through Esther’s illness and recovery. Even though the novel takes place a good eighty years ago, readers will be able to relate to the characters. Family, friendship, and being neighborly are some of the bigger themes of this novel. It’ll has a timeless appeal like Little Women and Little House on the Prairie.
This MG novel is a winner!
1. In your debut MG novel, WHAT THE MOON SAID, it’s my understanding that your mom’s life had a deep influence. What are some of the most important lessons she taught you?
I was the youngest child and the only girl so my mother and I were very close. She often told me stories about her experiences growing up. I think the one that made the deepest impression was the lesson she learned about the importance of being honest–not just in terms of always telling the truth but in always behaving truthfully as well. For example, the chapter about cheating in WHAT THE MOON SAID was based on a true experience from my mother’s girlhood. Mom couldn’t see the blackboard because her vision was poor and her family couldn’t afford glasses, so a friend used to copy the problems for her and my mom, as thanks, would provide the answers. She didn’t feel that she was doing anything wrong, since she wasn’t receiving answers, but one day her teacher caught on to what was happening. My mother and her friend were both accused of cheating and made to stand in front of the class as punishment. My mother, who’d only received praise from her teachers before, was mortified! The lesson stayed with her forever. She told it to me as a cautionary tale, and it obviously stayed with me forever, too. So the most important lesson my mother taught me was honesty, but also kindness. My mother was a gentle soul who was always kind and generous, especially to children.
2. Superstitions are definitely prevalent in WHAT THE MOON SAID. Do you have any superstitions? If so, what are they? What’s your general opinion on superstitions?
I’m going to answer these questions in reverse order. My opinion on superstitions is that they are absolutely not true. That being said, I also believe that if we believe in them, they become true and can have impacts on our lives. Good moments and bad ones happen in the course of every day. If we believe in superstitions, we’ll connect the bad moments to the mirror we broke or the salt we spilled earlier. Conversely, when something good happens we’ll connect it to the lucky shirt we’re wearing or the wish we made on the first star the night before.
I don’t believe in superstitions, yet, as a result of the beliefs planted in me as a child, I confess to tossing salt over my shoulder and never opening an umbrella in the house or putting shoes on a table. Logic, it appears, only extends so far when it comes to tempting Fate. 😉
3. One thing that struck me about your novel is that it’s timeless, even though it’s set during The Great Depression. How were you able to achieve this?
That’s a lovely compliment, thank you! If the story feels timeless I think it’s because it’s so centered in the main character, Esther. We get drawn into her world very quickly so everything feels very real.
But looked at another way, all the things that happen to her really ARE timeless. Parents still lose their jobs, forcing families to move to places that are not as nice as the homes they left behind. Money is tight, and it gets tighter as things don’t improve. Food becomes less plentiful. The same families are forced to move again, this time to live with friends or relatives. Sadly, this is an all too real experience for many children today in the United States since we experienced our own economic crash in 2008.
5. What personality trait do you share with your main character?
Esther’s desire to please and her love of animals are the two most significant traits I share with her. I really loved being able to give her a dog and horses to make up for the movie theaters and ice cream shops she had to leave behind when the family moved from Chicago to the farm.
6. Who has influenced your life the most and why?
I would have to say my brother Dennis. He was a wonderful big brother–protective, and also willing to take time to teach me things, from tying my shoes to playing chess, riding a two-wheeler to doing yo-yo tricks. When I was about eight years old he told me to think about how my actions or words might make someone else feel; to always try to put myself in their shoes. This advice was really taken to heart and I believe that it–combined with my love of reading–is why I’m a writer today. The ability to put myself in someone else’s shoes has enabled me to make even very flawed characters somewhat sympathetic. But more than that, putting myself in other people’s shoes has also been a great maxim to live by and made me a better friend and a better person than I might have been otherwise.
Coffee, tea, or hot chocolate? COFFEE!!!
Winter, spring, summer, or fall? It always used to be spring but as I get older it’s shifting to fall. Do you suppose there’s some hidden significance in that? J
Sci-fi thriller or romance movie? Sci-fi thriller.
Fiction or non-fiction? Fiction
Folding laundry or doing dishes? Doing dishes.