Jennifer Holm is the author of the recent Newbery Honor winning book, Penny from Heaven. Her other books include Our Only May Amelia (which also won a Newbery Honor) and the Babymouse graphic novel series. Visit her online at: www.jenniferholm.com
Congratulations on winning your second Newbery honor! Tell us your reaction when you won this time around.
First of all, I couldn't believe it! And second of all, I missed the call (doh!)
Here's what happened. It snowed here on Monday. The minute my three-year-old son saw the snow, he wanted to play outside. Somehow, our old cat, Leia, escaped out of the house and so we spent the morning looking for her (which shouldn't have been *that* hard considering Leia is a black cat.) My son kept saying the cat went inside, but I didn't believe him. When we finally went into the house, there was the escapee cat--happily asleep on a warm heating vent. Typical.
While we were outside the Newbery Committee had called twice and left a message. I couldn't believe this was happening again (I missed the call for OUR ONLY MAY AMELIA, too!) But, luckily, they called back. We celebrated with peanut butter-and-banana sandwiches and Leia got an extra helping of Fancy Feast.
When in your life did you know, "I'm going to write a novel!"?
I was always a big reader as a kid, but I was very intimidated by the idea of being a writer. My dad's a pediatrician and my mom's a nurse--those are pretty practical jobs. So I don't think I ever thought being a writer was a realistic career--more like a fantasy or a dream. I wrote OUR ONLY MAY AMELIA in my early twenties, and after it won a Newbery Honor, my very practical farm boy-doctor father called me up and said, "I think you should take this writing more seriously." So I did!
What was the biggest challenge in writing Penny?
Well, it took three years to write. That's a long time to live in 1953. The research was never-ending (I'm kind of obsessive.) Part of the problem was that I really got into it. For example, I listened to the box set of FIBBER MCGEE & MOLLY, the radio show mentioned in the book. It's pretty hilarious.
Which character did you have the most fun writing?
Frankie! I love him. We've all known boys like him.
You obviously did a huge amount of research for this book. What did you like best about your research?
I loved talking to people. I interviewed my family extensively, but also talked to all sorts of historians--Italian American professors, Brooklyn Dodgers experts, car aficionados, polio physicians, etc. One of my favorite historians was to a man who wrote the definitive book on wringer washing machines. He knew everything about them and had a whole wringer washing machine museum!
How did you decide to write Penny in first person present? (It worked so wonderfully!)
Because this is historical fiction, I really wanted readers to connect to Penny. I think the immediacy of first person present helped a lot.
Who are some of the authors that have influenced you the most?
My biggest influence was probably Lloyd Alexander who I loved from an early age. THE BLACK CAULDRON is still one of my favorite books.
What are you working on at the moment?
I'm reviewing proofs for a new book that will be out this summer. It's called MIDDLE SCHOOL IS WORSE THAN MEATLOAF. (I really hate meatloaf in case you were wondering.)
To close, what is your favorite thing about being a writer?
Spending all day in my pajamas. :)
So fun to get your insights. Thank you, Jenni!