“I Did It for The Money” – Mother-Son Bonding During THE GREAT PEACH EXPERIMENT by Erin Soderberg Downing
When I visit schools to talk about writing, one question I get from kids almost every time is, “Which of your books is your favorite?” For many years, I couldn’t answer this question. Because my books are like my own kids: each is special and loved in its own, unique way. I can’t pick a favorite book, just like I can’t pick a favorite kid (full disclosure: everyone in my house is pretty sure my two dogs are my favorite children and would easily beat out my three human kids in any kind of favorites-contest).
But this FAQ answer changed when THE GREAT PEACH EXPERIMENT rolled into stores last spring. Now, whenever anyone asks, I can easily tell them this series is my favorite. Partly because writing the first two books in this fun, heartwarming series (as well as the family-adventure-based research that went along with the process) is what kept me sane and creative through the Covid-years.
But even more importantly, I love this series because the kids in the Peach family are totally based on my own kids. Milla is a lot like mature, level-headed, book-loving Lucy. Ruby is a lot like loving, joy-seeking, hopeful Herb. And Henry? Well, Henry is random-fact-loving, big-thinking, creatively-zany Freddy Peach.
So, when it came time to find someone to draw some of 10-year-old Freddy Peach’s sketches for the pages of the GREAT PEACH EXPERIMENT series, there was an obvious choice for the job: Henry Downing. I love getting to tell people that my own kid has helped create Freddy’s sketchbook entries that are included in all three of the books in the series (yes, I said three…there is a third Peach book in the works!). In the first book, When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Peach Pie, Henry drew Freddy’s ideas for how he would spend the money if their family suddenly had a million bucks.
But even more fun, in the second book in the series – The Peach Pit – Henry helped me develop a series of sketches for the rooms inside Freddy’s dream treehouse (an art project that was inspired by one of our favorite book series: The 13 Story Treehouse).
As I was preparing this Nerdy Book Club post, I decided that—since this has been a fun family project—it would be fun experiment to ask my kid a little bit about his experience working with his mom to create the art for this series. Henry’s answers will give you a pretty good idea of what this kid/character is like in real life, and will hopefully help you understand why the people we know in real life are often the best possible characters to pull traits from for our fiction. You can’t make this kid up!
INTERVIEWER (aka Mom): Why did you decide to help draw some of Freddy’s art for THE GREAT PEACH EXPERIMENT series?
HENRY DOWNING: I took part in this book solely for the money. My mother asked me to do it, so I said, “how much will you give me?” We haggled for a bit, and she finally settled on $100 per book, plus room and board, of course. Working with my mother is definitely a challenge. She’s loud, she sings a lot, requests some very strange things, but she always inspires me to do my best work.
INTERVIEWER (aka Mom): Did you learn anything while you were working on this project?
HENRY DOWNING: I learned how to deal with a Michael Scott-level boss and found that is not an ideal working environment. The best part in my experience was the money, and the worst part was drawing the pictures.
INTERVIEWER (aka Mom): Can you share a few fun moments?
HENRY DOWNING: Do you want me to lie? I did it for the money.
INTERVIEWER (aka Mom): Really? That’s what you’re going to give me? (Gives kid a meaningful look…)
HENRY DOWNING: I will admit, I enjoyed thinking up ideas for the illustrations, and bonding time with my mom.
There you have it. A true family experiment that has obviously been a treat for all of us. (But for real, it’s SO fun to work with my kid…even if getting him to actually buckle down and draw Freddy’s art on a deadline is sometimes more difficult than getting my dogs to wear a handsome sweater or go out to pee in the pouring rain).
THE GREAT PEACH EXPERIMENT 2: THE PEACH PIT landed in stores this week. In addition to The Peach Pit, Erin Soderberg Downing has written more than seventy-five books for kids, tweens, and young adults, including several series for young readers: The Great Peach Experiment (a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection), Puppy Pirates, The Quirks, and Disney’s Daring Dreamers Club. She has also written many other novels for middle-grade readers, including Controlled Burn (Fall 2022), Just Keep Walking (Spring 2024), and Moon Shadow. Erin’s favorite hobbies are reading, swimming, baking, exploring the woods, traveling with her family, and walking around Minneapolis lakes with her fluffy and mischievous dogs, Wally and Nutmeg. More information can be found at http://www.erinsoderberg.com.