Today I get to share a sweet story called CALL ME OKLAHOMA, written and illustrated by Miriam Glassman (Holiday House). I met Miriam at this year's Kindling Words conference and couldn't wait to feature her and her latest book on my blog!

Q. Congratulations on your newest book - a chapter book called CALL ME OKLAHOMA! I love the theme of trying to reinvent yourself - who hasn't ever wanted to do that? Did you? Where did the inspiration come from?
A. Thanks, Elizabeth! I always saw the start of a new school year as the chance to reinvent myself, even in subtle ways, like changing which side I parted my hair. The feel of a cool new pen in my hand also had the power to make me feel like a slightly cooler, more improved me.
      The seed of this story came from my younger daughter years ago when she referred to a friend at camp named, Oklahoma. “Hold on,” I said. “Her name is Oklahoma?” And my daughter said, “Of course not. That’s just what she told everyone to call her.” That got me wondering: Why would anyone choose to be named for our forty-sixth state? And could a radical name change bring about a whole new personality? Further more, what would prompt a person to want a new personality? That’s when Paige Turner stepped into my life.

Q. Oklahoma (a.k.a. Paige) is very superstitious - rubbing her light bulb eraser for luck. It reminded me of how superstitious I was at that age too. Do you think most kids are?
A. Yes, I think kids enjoy the thrill of superstitious thinking, of allowing the possibility that our actions have magical consequences, or that objects are endowed with magical properties.

Q. Truly, CALL ME OKLAHOMA! put me right back in my 4th grade shoes. How'd you get that mind-set so right?
A. I’m so glad to hear that it zapped you right back there! For me, that was the easy part. For some reason, I remember almost everything about my elementary school years. And fourth grade was an important year. On the first day, our teacher impressed upon us that we were no longer in the “primary” grades, and onto the road to Big Kid Land. It’s a turnstile age. Fourth graders straddle the comfort and familiarity of childhood and the excitement of the future. It’s still acceptable to think a rubber light bulb brings good luck. And at the same time, these kids are negotiating the complexities of relationships. The importance of friendship and compassion is stressed, and they’re beginning to define their identity to themselves and others. For me, this is what makes writing for the middle-grade audience so enjoyable.

Q. I love that Paige's teacher urges her to find the different people she is inside. How can kids find their inner stars?
A. I don’t know that I think of it so much as inner stars, as inner selves. We have different sides to us, and most of us wish we could beef up some and play down others. Or try on a slightly different persona. Often, people experience different parts of themselves depending on who they’re with. For kids to explore their different selves, it often takes an understanding adult in their lives--a teacher, relative, camp counselor, babysitter--someone who recognizes certain qualities and encourages those parts that might not initially reveal themselves.
      In my book, Paige is a somewhat shy, tentative kid who wishes to be to be gutsier, and a bit more flamboyant. In their own ways, her best friend and teacher help her explore these parts of herself. Later in the book, Paige encourages Viveca, who puts other kids down to make herself feel better, to refocus her energies on her artistic talent, a side that Viveca had been reluctant to value.

Q. Is this the first book you've illustrated too? How was that experience!?
A. This is the first book I’ve illustrated that isn’t for the educational market. When I first sent in the manuscript, I held back the sketches I’d done because for years, my focus had been exclusively on being a writer. But this story seemed to call for some humorous, visual extension of the text. I wanted most of the spots to represent Paige’s emotional state of mind rather than just a literal visual interpretation of the text. But it had been years since I’d illustrated, so I was feeling pretty insecure. At the last minute, however, I said, “What the heck?” and told my agent to send them along. The editor had already accepted the ms. but felt the drawings made it even stronger. When I sat down to do the art, I was very anxious about it, and don’t even want to say how much tracing paper I went through! But as I found the character's face, and the right medium to work in, it became enjoyable. For the jacket art, I learned how to draw digitally on a tablet, which opened up a whole new world to me. I love the little paint bucket that automatically “spills” color into a whole area!
(Photo of Miriam's office.)

Q. This isn't your first book. You also wrote BOX TOP DREAMS (Delacorte) and HALLOWEENA (Atheneum). Can you share your path to publication?
A. I started out working in children’s book marketing at Little, Brown. A lot of my work revolved around Marc Brown’s Arthur books, so I used to tell people I was Arthur’s personal secretary. During that time, I decided I wanted to create my own books, and began illustrating for an educational publisher. When my first daughter was born, I left publishing and reviewed picture books for Publishers Weekly. Around the same time, I got an idea for a novel. So I hired a babysitter to watch my daughter while I typed away in the basement. I sent the novel to a contest at Random House. It didn’t win, but it attracted the attention of editor, Wendy Lamb, and became BOX TOP DREAMS. At the same time, I sent out HALLOWEENA. It never even dawned on me to illustrate it, and I was incredibly lucky to be matched up with New Yorker cartoonist, Victoria Roberts. She had just the right whimsical, quirky sensibility for the book. Her illustrations are hilarious. After writing those two books, I decided I wanted to spend some time learning more about the craft of writing, and enrolled in the MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. For me, VCFA was a life-changing experience, and where I found a wonderful community of writers, many of whom became dear friends.

Q. Please share any special dates or events to celebrate CALL ME OKLAHOMA!
A. Wellesley Books in Wellesley, MA will be hosting my book launch party on April 4th at 7 p.m. There might even be a little lasso-twirling!

Sounds fun! Thanks for stopping by Miriam!

Miriam is offering a free, signed and dedicated copy of CALL ME OKLAHOMA to one of my lucky subscribers! (Must live in the continental US to win.) Sign up below...

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Rhonda Miller said...

This sounds like such a fun book. I would share it with my kids. They love stories like this.

Geo Librarian said...

This sounds like the kind of book I love the best, a contemporary 4th grader looking to find out where she belongs.

apple blossom said...

I love children's books and would share with my nieces

Anonymous said...

Call me lucky! Would love to win this book. I'm yearning to attempt a chapter book, and have read a few lately to get my nerve up enough to write one. Maybe Oklahoma can help me!