|Jane Kurtz during the acceptance|
luncheon for the 2010 Kerlan Award.
McBookwords: Jane I know that in Jane Kurtz and YOU, you talk about your growing up days in Ethiopia and how those experiences influence your writing. Since Jane Kurtz and YOU was published in 2007, Pleasant Company's Book of the Year - Lanie, and Lanie's Read Adventures have been published. So:
McBookwords: What bits and pieces from your life in Ethiopia made the way into the Lanie books?
JK: When I met with the American Girl team, I took pictures of my childhood in Ethiopia. They already knew they wanted a girl who cared about the earth. I showed them that my desire to help save the earth comes from a childhood spent outside (in Ethiopia) and suggested that Lanie be an outside girl.
McBookwords: How did the idea for Lanie evolve? Does the basic idea come from the editors or did you have latitude in developing the story?
JK: Of course, once I decided I wanted Lanie to be an outside girl, I had to figure out what her obstacles were to getting herself outside. Without conflict, we don't have a story. All of that hard work of figuring out Lanie's family (with the inside genes) had to come from my brain, including that she'd turn her back yard into a garden and have a pet bunny and have a best friend who was getting a chance to save orangutans and realize that she, herself, could save plants and animals in her own backyard. My editor gave me suggestions as I sent her plot outlines.
McBookwords: Are the Lanie books still available?
JK: Definitely! I've been a little surprised to not find them in schools that have a big monarch butterfly or garden or ecology curriculum. If I may modestly say so, I think they bring big issues many families and classrooms are talking about down to a child-sized understanding.
McBookwords: I see that you are slated to have a new book published, by Greenwillow. What can you tell your readers about it?
JK: I seem to always write books about kids on the move! The protagonist of this one has to move from Colorado to Kansas, and she finds herself terrified of the Great Plains and all the potential disasters from tornadoes to blizzards to feral hogs and locusts. It's also an exploration of faith and what it means to have trust even in a scary world.
McBookwords: Is Lemon Sand THE title, or only the working title? And in either case, what is the inside story of the title?
JK: That's only the working title. I was with my Midwest in-laws when I saw a lemonade stand that had some of the letters worn away. It made me think of things I'm exploring--how Midwest communities can be a little worn out and how everyone can know the meaning of things that might not be obvious at all to an outsider.
McBookwords: What do you have in the works at this moment? Anything you can tell us about?
JK: I'm still working hard on revising the novel I was just talking about. E.B. Lewis and Chris Kurtz and I are also bringing out a new edition of the picture book that was called Only a Pigeon. I'm very excited about that--and looking into a new edition of the young middle grade novel set on the Oregon Trail, I'm Sorry Almira Ann now that I live in Oregon.
McBookwords: As an adult, back in the United States you have lived many years in the Midwest. Now you are back in the Northwest. Do you miss us?
JK: Definitely! Although I was born in Portland, my adult life has been shaped by the Midwest. I hope people will bring me back for school visits and conferences so I can get a shot in the arm of good Midwest connections now and then.
McBookwords: Just for fun, to give us a snapshot of a writer's REAL life -- where were you and what were you doing TODAY at 9:00 a.m., 12 noon, and 5:00 p.m.
JK: I took my mom to Westminster Presbyterian Church in the morning--and I was still helping her get ready at 9:00. While I sat in church, I was thinking about my novel since several of its scenes take place in church. By noon, I was doing some writing. I'm revising chapters that have been revised many times, adding and changing details as my understanding of what needs to happen grows deeper. At 5:00, I was talking to Frew Tibebu, an Ethiopia Reads board member, about our efforts to get books to Ethiopian children.
McBookwords: And what is on your writing agenda for "tomorrow?"
JK: Revision, revision, revision. I imagine I'll work most of the day on that. E.B. Lewis and Chris and I also need to come up with our new title for Only a Pigeon. And I'll pick up my rug from Ethiopia that is being repaired right now.
McBookwords: Those who read your website http: www.janekurtz.com" and your blog "The Power of One Writer" know that you are a tireless supporter and advocate for building literacy in your childhood home -- Ethiopia. If you could ask each reader of this blog to do one thing to help Ethiopia Reads in its mission -- something each of them would likely be able to do to help, what would that one thing be?
JK: Honestly, I wish every reader would hop on line and donate $5.50. (The 50 cents would help with credit card fees.) Readers love to share good stories. How many books have you read because someone said, "You've GOT to read this?" The joy of knowing that readers can put small amounts of money together and get books to kids who are hungry to read them is such a delight. I think in our own communities, the problems to be solved are often pretty intractible ones (because the U.S. is made up of good problem-solvers so the easier problems have been addressed). But in Ethiopia, brilliant kids who have a fierce determination to learn are just waiting for a library. What we need most right now is to buy more books in local languages in Ethiopia, thus the $5.50.
McBookwords: Does Ethiopia Reads have a facebook page where readers can hook-up to keep up-to-date regarding the donkey libraries, and progress toward making Ethiopia a literate society?
JK: Yep. Our Ethiopian staff has been doing a good job of sending pictures fairly often. I look for them eagerly, myself.
McBookwords: Jane, thank you for taking the time to "speak" with us today. Is there anything about books, writing, or anything in general that you want to tell the readers here?
JK: My experience growing up in a country where children learn to read and sometimes never have a book TO read shows me what a treasure we have in the U.S. I want us all to be passionate advocates of libraries and access to stories and the love of reading. What else do you know that can turn poverty around in one generation, as happened with my parents and millions of other Americans? Most authors fall into the category of "starving artists" but I'm proud to at least be part of Team Reading!
Thanks again Jane for appearing, courtesy of Provato Marketing, for other stops on the tour please check www.provatoevents.com.
Jane Kurtz and YOU
Kurtz, Jane. Jane Kurtz and You. Libraries Unlimited/ABC-CLIO, 2007. ISBN 978-1-59158-295-3