age range: middle grade
genre: contemporary fiction
(School Library Journal, January 2014)
Please tell us about your book.
It’s only natural to have silence and secrets in your family when you’re born on the same day that your brother died. At least, that’s sure what it seems like for twelve-year old Jewel. Add to that the fact that you’re the only mixed-race family in your rural Iowan town, and well, life can get kind of lonely sometimes. But when a boy named John moves into her town, his courage and charisma immediately stand out and the two kids instantly click.
John’s presence, however, has an unsettling effect on her family. As the thick layers of silence in her family begin to unravel, Jewel finds that her life is not as stable nor her family’s cultural expectations as certain as she once thought. Suddenly, Jewel needs to choose whether to stay loyal to the person her family wants her to be or to claim her own identity, no matter the cost.
Could you share with readers how you conducted your research?
I did tons of research! First, I looked up anything I could on Jamaican spirituality, religion, and (what we here in the West call) superstitions. Then, since Jewel, the protagonist, wants to be a geologist, I got a couple of geology textbooks. And since John, her sidekick, wants to be an astronaut, I picked up the book Astronomy for Dummies (I’m not a science person, can you tell?). Later, when the draft was completed, I conducted two interviews with Jamaicans and had two Jamaicans read the book cover to cover and give feedback. And, of course, I made a trip to Iowa to get the lay of the land.
What were some special challenges associated with writing Bird?
The research took some time, and believe it or not, I had trouble finding Jamaicans to interview – I called the Jamaican consulate, went into restaurants, tried to locate Jamaican associations here in Chicago – and all were a no-go. So, that was rougher than expected, especially since there are a lot of Jamaicans in Chicago. But a good number of folks didn’t want to be interviewed.
I’m also really, really not a science person – but my two kids (in the book) both wanted to be scientists! So I had to put on my science hat and plow through geology and astronomy books.
What topics does your book touch upon that would make it a perfect fit for the classroom?
- cultural differences of immigrants (Jamaican and Mexican)
- mixed-race families
I can’t help wondering how the book’s title ties into the story. Are you curious, too? Leave a comment with your ideas below. One commenter will be selected to win a copy of the book. Contest closes Sunday, 26 January.