Dana Alison Levy and ‘This Would Make a Good Story Someday’ by Kate Hannigan
What I wouldn’t pay to be a fly on the wall at Dana Alison Levy’s house. Because clearly this author has witnessed some thrilling family dynamics in her day. Nobody does hilariously complicated home life for middle-graders better than Levy, author of The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher (Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 2014), a Junior Library Guild Selection, and its sequel The Family Fletcher Takes Rock Island (Delacorte 2016). And that she populates her tales with nontraditional families—same-sex couples and their ethnically diverse children—presented in the everyday, ordinary chaos of living is a bonus. For anyone interested in the #WeNeedDiverseBooks efforts, Levy’s books are a must.
With her latest, This Would Make a Good Story Someday (Delacorte, May 2017), soon-to-be seventh-grader Sara Johnston-Fischer, who has decided to go by what she considers to be the much more interesting-sounding name “Rae,” is ready for a transformation. Middle school looms large on the horizon, and Sara and her best buds draw up lofty blueprints for reinventing themselves together over summer vacation. But wacky families sometimes have a way of tripping up our plans for greatness, and Sara’s is no different. Her mother Mimi wins a prized fellowship that involves riding the rails and producing a book from the family’s adventures, so before Sara knows it, bags are packed and the family is off for endless miles of together-time.
While Mimi is thrilled for the writing opportunity, for Sara, nothing could be more embarrassing than her clan of two helicopter moms; a crunchy but admirably opinionated college-age sister, Laurel; Laurel’s poncho-wearing “partner,” Root; and a cute-when-she’s-sleeping, frenetic little sister, Ladybug, who is Chinese. Ladybug won’t go anywhere without her beloved action-figure Bruce, a Roman centurion that the family photographs at every opportunity.
Add to this another family with a National Rail Fellowship winner—the suspiciously peppy biracial Texan, Travis; his writerly father; and two free-spirited but endearing old aunties—and it’s a laugh out loud free-for-all. The story unfolds through Sara’s journaling, Ladybug’s postcards to her buddy Frog from the Fletcher books, and notes from Sara’s moms, Laurel, and Travis. As the families’ train journey takes them across America, Sara records her own observations about what she sees in stops like Atlanta, New Orleans, Chicago, even the Grand Canyon. Eventually Sara begins to get over her resentment that she’s not hanging out with her best friends back home, and after an unfortunate run-in with blue hair dye, she quickly discovers herself changing too.
I wanted to know more about Dana’s creative process, so I reached out and asked her a few questions. What follows is a little insight into her imaginative mind!
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Question: Where do you draw your inspiration for the families you write about? The Fletcher and now the Johnston-Fischer clans are hilarious, interesting, and emotionally layered. Do they spring fully formed in your mind?
Dana Alison Levy: The inspiration for the families definitely comes from my own family and my extended family and friends. We are a weird and hilarious bunch. I have an ongoing note on my phone entitled “Random Funny,” and I will jot down bizarre and amusing things that happen, then refer back to that as I’m writing. Clearly the relationships among siblings matter a lot to me. I’m a younger sister, and I’m very close with my older sister, though she tormented me BADLY for a few years. (She made up for it by being amazing and protective during my angsty teens and beyond, and we are now BFFs. But I still sometimes make her feel guilty for how much she teased me.) Anyway, there is an endless source of inspiration when you write about families!
Question: Sara is a wonderful balance of surly, independence-seeking pre-teen and sensitive sister capable of generosity and love. How hard is it to hit that balance with your characters?
Dana Alison Levy: For better and worse, I remember VIVIDLY what it felt like to be twelve and teetering in that in-between place. Like Sara, I kept journals, but unlike Sara’s, mine—which I recently pulled out and reread—are just awful! An endless litany of whining and self-pity. Current-me wants to go back in time and offer past-me a swift kick. Anyway, it wasn’t hard to put myself in Sara’s shoes and remember how intensely I felt about everything…intensely frustrated one moment, intensely grateful the next. We should all remember to be gentle with our tweens and teens…it’s a weird developmental moment, and they can be so awesome it’s easy to forget just how volatile the whole chemical hormonal soup is!
Question: The middle-grade years are awkward and painful, yet your books are full of humor and sincerity. What do you hope to achieve with your writing? What do you want readers to take away from your books?
Dana Alison Levy: I want them to laugh, I want them to really think about how we look at ourselves and how we look at others, and most of all I want them to have their world open just a little bit wider, so that after they’ve finished my books they have a slightly different perspective.
Question: What can we look forward to from you?
Dana Alison Levy: I am working on another middle grade novel, which will come out in 2018. It’s for slightly older kids again, but definitely still in the upper elementary/middle school wheelhouse. I love writing for this age…kids are developing and growing into the adults they will be. And we need to offer any guidance and support we can — they will be running our world!
Kate Hannigan writes fiction and non-fiction and loves researching people forgotten by history. Her middle-grade history-mystery The Detective’s Assistant, inspired by America’s first woman detective and the Pinkerton Detective Agency, received a coveted Nerdy Book Club Award. Visit her online at KateHannigan.com.