age range: 10 and up
genre: contemporary fiction
setting: New York City
Melanie Conklin’s website
“Debut author Conklin writes with a pitch-perfect middle-grade voice… A nice choice for middle-grade readers who enjoy heartfelt and emotional novels.”—Booklist
“Thyme’s remarkable perseverance and resilience will inspire readers of Conklin’s compassionate tale.”—Kirkus Reviews
“[A] sweet book that will strum the heartstrings of readers.”—School Library Journal
“Conklin successfully weaves together the shifting dynamics of a loving family under crisis with the less dramatic but equally heartfelt turmoil of coming of age in a new environment.”—Publishers Weekly
Please tell us about your book.
Counting Thyme is the story of Thyme Owens, an eleven-year-old girl whose family moves across the country for her little brother’s cancer treatment. It’s a story about family, friendship, and finding your place in the world when life throws you a curveball.
What inspired you to write this story?
The idea for this story came to me after I read a bunch of middle grade books with protagonists who were facing serious illnesses. I wondered what it would be like to be the sibling of a gravely ill child. I wondered how the conflicts at home would influence the conflicts at school. I thought it would be especially tough if you were just starting middle school, with all of the social pressures involved at that time in life. Thyme’s story grew from there!
Could you share with readers how you conducted your research or share a few interesting tidbits you learned while researching?
In my past life as a product designer, I did a ton of research at the outset of every new project. It’s no different for me with books. Once I have an idea, I conduct an audit—which is a fancy way of saying that I cast a wide net and gather research from all of the reputable sources in that subject area. With Counting Thyme, I gathered a tremendous amount of information online, because research hospitals are very interested in sharing knowledge. I also read countless blogs posted by parents of pediatric cancer patients to gain insight into their everyday lives and the ups and downs of treatment. When I had questions, I posted them on discussion forums and parents graciously answered, helping me understand the intricacies of their world.
What are some special challenges associated with writing middle grade?
My favorite thing about MG fiction is the way it explores tough topics in an honest way, while preserving a safe space for young readers. It’s tough to nail that balance. It took many passes of revision to balance the emotion and the information in Counting Thyme, so that readers can understand what’s happening without being bogged down by too much medical information. My favorite books are the ones that manage this balance effortlessly (although I now know that a lot of effort goes into that!).
What topics does your book touch upon that would make it a perfect fit for the classroom?
Because Counting Thyme is set in New York City, there’s a lot going on in the story. Thyme’s family moves into a multiple story apartment building, so she experiences living with close neighbors for the first time, which is a great touchstone for talking about the different ways that people live. There are also characters of many different backgrounds and ethnicities, which is what makes NYC so wonderful. This theme provides an opportunity to talk about different family traditions and cultures. Other themes touch on sibling relationships, honesty versus secrets, what it means to be a friend, and what it means to be counted (in your family, and in the world at large).
I love this book. It really shows how it’s like in Thyme’s life. It gives great definition.