Heartprint Books and Ba-Bump Moments: The Way to Bea by Kat Yeh – Review and Interview by JoEllen McCarthy

“There is this thing I do when I’m deciding about a book.  Waiting to see if I’ll connect with it.  If I’ll feel that bah-bump in my chest.  —-“

Bah- bump. Bah-bump.  You know that moment when you truly connect to something? Your heart starts racing.  Whether it’s a book or a poem or a friend, sometimes it feels like our hearts are going to come right out of our chests.  Award winning author, Kat Yeh knows how to create and capture that feeling in her latest middle grade novel, The Way to Bea.  Bah-bump. Bah-bump.  And there is no time more filled with bah-bump moments than middle school.

Nerdy readers will love “meeting” Bea, (Beatrix) Lee, an avid reader and writer of poetry, who, like Kat, knows, “A blank page is a place where just about anything can happen.” Bea measures poems by the beats in her heart. Bah-bump. Bah- bump. She comes from a loving family with strong ties to culture and the arts.  Mom is an artist, dad writes graphic novels of epic proportions.  Both creative, artistic, rock stars in their fields, but more than a little distracted parents. After spending the summer with family in Tawain, Bea returns home to struggle with her bah bump moments,  feeling the pressures and anticipation of no longer being the only child in her family and of course, dealing with middle school madness. When three (or more) elementary schools come together in the same middle school, (bah-bump, bah-bump) that’s hard enough to navigate on its own, but,  being dropped from one’s friend group, takes things to a whole new level of anxiety.   The tensions of her isolation, fear, and exclusion is palpable.  Thanks to Kat’s well crafted writing, we get a very real sense of the awkwardness as evident through Bea’s/Kat’s reference to the “former” friends by initials only: S and L and L and A (as in the-shes-who-must-not-be-named).  Feeling rejected and lonely, Bea finds comfort in writing poems- albeit in invisible ink. Thanks to an influential teacher, she joins the school newspaper club, meets a cast of characters, including Briggs, (bah bump- bah bump), and Will, a socially awkward, complex character obsessed with labyrinths.  

For so many of our students, school can be like a maze. Wondering which way to turn or what path might be best.  Sometimes the hardest thing is to know how to turn back or reroute.  What happens if we get lost or hit a roadblock?  What happens when we try a new direction? What if we don’t make the best choices when we come to a fork in the road? It may be hard not to panic.  But when we have outlets, like writing, or getting lost in a book, then we can start to believe that maybe the best path to take is one that we are not afraid to create for ourselves.

Like Truth about Twinkie Pie, Kat Yeh delivers another #heartprintbook with tremendous voice and feeling. Heartprintbooks and heartprint authors know how to find those “bah- bump moments” leaving footprints in our heart.  We come to know Bea in a powerful middle grade  story that is sure to resonate with students on the journey of life.  What would happen if one felt invisible? If your students were feeling lost, could they find a safe zone?  Would your students know they have a place to go? An ear to listen. What if they were aware of others cruel behaviors? How might they help? For Bea, maybe it’s a book, a poem or her love of words that will help her navigate this difficult time.  Kat Yeh’s use of a maze is a perfect metaphor for life and will serve as a great vehicle for classroom conversations about the choices we make and how our choices impact ourselves and the lives of others.  Kat Yeh  gives readers  an opportunity for sensitivity and understanding about complex crossroads, crushes, and compassion to survive all of the above. In her attempt to avoid the messiness of middle school, Bea also hides behind her headphones, which for the readers, means a bonus playlist at the end of the book! For a song to make the list, “It has to make you want to laugh and dance or it has to touch your heart in a way that you know-you just know that something inside you has changed from the first moment you hear it.” Can’t wait to a create playlist of theme songs that speak to students hearts and minds. Another bonus and personal favorite is the setting.  Being someone who lives on LI as does, Kat  (a #nErDcampLI friend), love that Bea’s stomping grounds are all fictitious versions of real places found on Long Island.  Especially loved seeing Westside School (which is where I taught when I left NYC schools and moved to LI).  Be still my Nerdy-On-LI heart.

Books are my co-teachers and CIOS, Chief Inspiration Officers in the classroom, they help  deepen and expand hearts and minds. Stories have been proven to inspire changes, not only for a single individual but for an entire school or community.    Students can discover together as a group, what possible solutions and choices they have in real life. “How would you feel?” and “What would you do?” You can be curious, concerned, compassionate. Like a perfect maze, books can connect us and hold us up in difficult times,  helping to  inspire  connections, reactions and actions along the journey. Books, like Way to Bea, can teach us how to be better.  Through stories I believe we can affect kinder, caring, more compassionate learners who can in turn impact our world.  Reminds me of my tribe and co-teachers connected to nerdy book club.

 

Can’t wait to share and discuss The Way to Bea with readers this fall!

 

Here’s part of a recent conversation with Kat:

 

How did you come up with the maze metaphor?

           It’s sort of funny how the maze metaphor came to be such a big part of this story. When I was drafting my first novel, The Truth About Twinkie Pie, I happened to scribble down a sentence that (in the most off-hand way!) mentioned Revlon’s Cherries in the Snow lipstick. I didn’t realize at the time that this drugstore lipstick would become a central part of the story. The same thing happened with mazes in The Way to Bea. It all started when I was trying to figure out the character of Will. I was endeared to him from the start and I knew that I wanted him to have an interest that was worthy of his journey in this story. I played around with a few different things and nothing really seemed to work. Then I had a sort of an ugh- I don’t know what to do – I’ll just write down mazes – moment. When I went back and started really digging into the story, I couldn’t believe how perfect it was and how well it suited his path through this story. No matter what age you are, life is a maze.

What made you choose the songs for the playlist?

           Most of the choices became my favorite go-to songs. It wasn’t hard to come up with music that matched the emotions I was writing at the time. I’ve always been one to cry or laugh or dance or just completely embrace how a song makes me feel. It felt like a natural next step to attach music to specific scenes and make them part of Bea’s story. And many of the songs did more for than just help show the emotion of the moment. While writing the scene with the Sara Bareilles’ song, Brave, I played it over and over again, feeling those opening beats in my heart and using the lyrics to put me in the place I imagined Bea to be.  Same with the song I used for the final scene. Which I won’t give away now – but I will say that upon every revision of that scene, I’d listen to that song and time it — hitting play so it would start halfway through the first line — so I could hear it the way Bea did for the first time.  And then I would write and write and write, letting it carry my emotions through to the last sentence.

How might you be connected to the character Bea or other?  To whom do you feel most connected to or most like?

Hmm. I think there’s some of me in all of my characters – which makes sense right? I mean they all came out of my heart and head. But there really is something about Bea that I feel a special kinship with. We’re both so in our heads and so puzzled by how to present our inner selves to the outside world. We both worry that we’re “too much.” We both worry that if we are brave enough to be utterly and completely true to ourselves, will we then find ourselves all alone. Even though these feeling may seem extreme, I think it’s so important to explore those really vulnerable parts of yourself when writing. It’s how you get to the kind of story that a young, tender-hearted kindred spirit may be out there looking for.

MS can be awful for a lot of kids, but can also be a time for renewal.  Thoughts on those trials and tribulations for MS students in general or for Bea?

           It’s so hard to believe that things will get better – particularly when you are young and do not have the luxury of a lifetime of lesson-learning. All we can do as writers is continue to tell stories that can help and heal and inspire and hopefully let readers know that they are not alone. There is never one single Renewal in life. There are and will be many. Consistently showing our readers and students the many options and paths they have and will always have before them may be something they don’t always believe at first. But that’s exactly why we’re here. To keep repeating it. To keep thinking of new ways to show and share. Because for every kid out there who needs to connect to something, one of us is out here, working as hard as we can to create it. And we will always be so grateful to the teachers and librarians and advocates who get the books we make to the kids who need them.

Bah-bump. Bah-bump.

 

Kat Yeh is the award-winning author of middle grade novels, The Truth About Twinkie Pie and The Way to Bea, published by Little Brown Books for Young Readers, as well as the picture book, The Friend Ship from  Disney-Hyperion.  Kat currently lives on Long Island with her family. Follow Kat @yehface or visit her website at www.Katyeh.com.

JoEllen McCarthy is a proud #NerdyOnLI and, like Kat, believes, “Life is sweet when you read.” A literacy specialist, passionate about collaborating with teachers, students, and kid lit rock stars to celebrate reading, writing, and learning as lifework.  Follow @JoEllenMcCarthy or visit her at The Educator Collaborative.