age range: 8-12 years
genre: contemporary fiction
setting: North Carolina
“A moving and realistic story . . . Sunflower shines with emotion, convincing dialogue, and relatable characters.” ―Atlanta Journal-Constitutional
Please tell us about your book.
Call Me Sunflower is about what makes a family, how to learn to accept things we can’t change, how creative thinking can help you look at situations in different ways, and discovering your place in the world.
Here’s a brief summary:
Sunny Beringer hates her first name—her real first name—Sunflower. And she hates that her mom has suddenly left behind her dad, Scott, and uprooted their family miles away from New Jersey to North Carolina just so she can pursue some fancy degree. Sunny has to live with a grandmother she barely knows, and she’s had to leave her beloved cat and all her friends behind. And no one else seems to think anything is wrong.
So she creates “Sunny Beringer’s Super-Stupendous Plan for Romance”—a list of sure-fire ways to make her mom and Scott fall madly in love again, including:
- Send Mom flowers from a “Secret Admirer” to make Scott jealous and make him regret letting them move so far away.
- Make a playlist of Scott’s favorite love songs—the mushier the better—and make sure it’s always playing in the car.
- Ask them about the good old days when they first fell in love.
But while working on a photo album guaranteed to make Mom change her mind and rush them right back home, Sunny discovers a photo—one that changes everything.
Sunny’s family, the people she thought she could trust most in the world, have been keeping an enormous secret from her. And she’ll have to reconcile her family’s past and present, or she’ll lose everything about their future.
What inspired you to write this story?
My original draft written years ago focused on the animal rights aspect which I feel strongly about, but is now a subplot. I decided the bigger focus needed to be on the family issue–how someone in a non-traditional family handles things when the structure changes, and all she wants is to have her mom, dad, and sister together in one place, where they belong. I actually have a single mom friend in a similar situation, and while the relationship with the person the children considered their dad wasn’t a mystery to them, I began to think about possible scenarios and the impact it could have. Throw in a bunch of other changes to adjust to like moving in with an estranged grandmother and leaving your best friend and cat far behind, and I imagined how I would feel in this situation–just like Sunny, with a burning to desire to get my old life back.
Could you share with readers how you conducted your research or share a few interesting tidbits you learned while researching?
I didn’t conduct much research while working on this project because I drew from my own experiences. The story takes place in the mountains of North Carolina; I’ve spent most of my life in this state and went to college in a small NC mountain town. I’ve been an activist for animal rights since I was a teenager and participated in my share of fur protests, so those scenes were straight from my experience. I wove in the Odyssey of Mind subplot because I’m passionate about the program and have coached my daughter’s team for the past five years. I wanted a main character who thinks outside the box and uses creativity to approach problems, and I wanted the OM skit to parallel her journey during the book. So I did a Google search for the OM problems from previous years, and I found one about a character who discovers that taking the easy way out won’t solve your problems.
What are some special challenges associated with rewriting and reinventing a book?
My main challenge in rewriting and reinventing a book so many times over the years is making sure all the story threads are woven together. Animal-lover Sunflower moves in with a grandmother who owns a store that sells fur and leather, and I needed to show her inner conflict in wanting to speak up for the animals without angering a grandmother who had let her distant grandchildren move into her house. I needed to somehow connect this with Sunny’s driving need to get her parents back together, and I also needed to tie in the challenges she faces when moving to a new place and making new friends. Many rewrites later I realized, or Sunny realized, that the fur protest was her ticket home after she discovers that her parents had split up for good. When protesting against her own grandmother’s store doesn’t bring the results she’d hoped for and she ends up hurting people who care about her, she’s the one who has to stop taking the easy way out and make things right again.
What topics does your book touch upon that would make it a perfect fit for the classroom?
Sunny joins an Odyssey of the Mind team at her school, which is an international program where students work together in teams to creatively respond to problems, write a script and design sets and costumes. In Sunny’s case, the problem they solve is called “To Be or Not to Be” so there are many opportunities to pull in Shakespeare parallels.
The book explores animal rights themes, including the fur industry and vegetarianism. This could lead to research and a great discussion about how animals should be treated in society.
Other important themes to discuss are definitions of family, self-growth, friendship, forgiveness, and learning to take responsibility for your mistakes.