genre / form: contemporary verse novel
age range: 10 and up
Joanne Rossmassler Fritz’s website
An insightful exploration of a girl’s inner tickings.
Maddie’s quiet courage shimmers like the flash of a butterfly’s wing.
—Caroline Starr Rose, author of May B.
A lyrical novel that makes you feel the chill in your bones but also gives you hope and beauty and lightness, like watching Maddie’s beloved butterflies open and soar.
—Kathryn Erskine, National Book Award–winning author of Mockingbird
Today’s post is a full-circle celebration story. Joanne and I have known each other for years from the blogging world. She read May B. when it released — the first verse novel she’d read that she loved so much, she wanted to try to write her own. Joanne began work on her own verse novel and a few years ago sent it to me to critique through my Writing One-to-One editing service. That book sold! It’s a beauty! I got to blurb it, too! Let’s celebrate EVERYWHERE BLUE!
Please tell us about your book.
Everywhere Blue is a novel in verse for middle grade readers, about a 12-year-old girl named Madrigal (nicknamed Maddie) who plays the oboe in her school orchestra, excels at math, and loves everything in its place.
When Maddie’s older brother vanishes from his college campus, her carefully ordered world falls apart. Nothing will fill the void of her beloved oldest sibling. Drowning in grief and confusion, the family’s musical household falls silent. After her parents fly out to Strum’s college to search for answers, Maddie is left in the care of her sixteen-year-old sister, who seeks solace in rebellion and ignores Maddie.
Though Maddie is the youngest, she knows Strum better than anyone. He used to confide in her, sharing his fears about the climate crisis and their planet’s future. So, Maddie starts looking for clues: Was Strum unhappy? Were the arguments with their dad getting worse? Or could his disappearance have something to do with those endangered butterflies he loved . . .
Scared and virtually on her own, Maddie picks up the pieces of her family’s fractured lives. Maybe her parents aren’t who she thought they were. Maybe her nervous thoughts and compulsive counting mean she needs help. And maybe finding Strum won’t solve everything–but she knows he’s out there, and she has to try.
What inspired you to write this story?
I played the oboe in school and grew up in a family who listened to classical music. We all played the piano too. I’ve also suffered from anxiety for most of my life (and didn’t seek help for it until I was in my mid-20s, which I don’t recommend doing! If you have issues, please seek help!).
In 2014, my husband and I went to St. Maarten for a vacation and visited The Butterfly Farm. Seeing those blue morpho butterflies struck me. I never forgot them.
But the similarities end there.
As I began to write the earliest version of this story in 2015, I realized I needed a conflict. A real-life missing person case inspired me, but to protect the family’s privacy, I’ve changed all the details.
And of course, the climate crisis is all around us.
In the end, many different subjects came together and fell into place to create EVERYWHERE BLUE.
Could you share a few interesting tidbits you learned while researching?
Because it had been decades since I’d played the oboe, I decided to buy a used one on Ebay in 2016 and learn to play it all over again. That was fun, although I didn’t become very good at it. The first time I tried to play a note, no sound came out of the oboe at all! Eventually, I could play a wobbly version of the Duck’s Theme from Peter and the Wolf. Getting the feel of the keys and the reed again brought back a lot of memories, though, which was my goal. However, my second aneurysm rupture in Sept 2017, put a stop to that. I haven’t touched the oboe since.
And I thought I knew a great deal about the climate crisis, but I had to do quite a lot of research. One interesting tidbit I learned was about frozen methane hydrates (sort of like icy cages holding the methane) in the Arctic sea. When I first started researching methane hydrates in 2015, the prevailing theory claimed that warming Arctic seas would soon melt the methane hydrates, spewing methane into the atmosphere. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, worse than carbon dioxide! But by 2017, scientists had realized the frozen hydrates would need centuries of warming to melt and release the methane, not just a few decades. So I deleted any mention of that in the book.
What are some special challenges associated with writing a novel only in verse?
As you know, yourself, Caroline, when writing in verse, authors have many fewer words to work with! It can be a challenge to fit in enough characterization and description in only 25,000 words, instead of 50,000 or more that a prose MG novel might have. I worried that the reader wouldn’t get to know my characters very well, or be able to picture what was happening. The version accepted by Holiday House was 20,000 words and my editor worked with me to add 5000 more.
Another special challenge with this particular verse novel was the character of Strum, the older brother who vanishes. My editor, Sally Morgridge, encouraged me to write more flashback scenes, since the reader only gets to know Strum through the other characters’ memories of him. Her suggestions made the story richer and fuller. Siblings don’t always get along! And before Sally suggested it, I’d never thought of adding a few poems to show that Strum and Maddie didn’t always have a special bond, especially when Maddie was little. I hope Strum comes to life as much as the other characters do!
What topics does your book touch upon that would make it a perfect fit for the classroom?
Everywhere Blue explores several themes, including mental illness, family issues, and the climate crisis.
Maddie’s growing awareness of the climate crisis would be a perfect jumping-off place for middle-school students who are learning about it themselves. What can kids themselves do to help our planet? This is addressed in Everywhere Blue. I also mention endangered species, rising seas, and the disparity between the wealthy countries that produce the most carbon and the poorer countries that suffer the most effects.