age range: 10-12 years
genre: contemporary fiction
Please tell us about your book.
A Rambler Steals Home is the story of Derby Christmas Clark, an eleven-year-old girl who travels around in an old Rambler with her dad and little brother. This summer, a return to Ridge Creek, Virginia reveals how much has changed since the previous summer’s stop—a best friend who’s hiding a big new responsibility, two cousins who are even less friendly than usual, and most importantly, a legend in town who is missing. All of that leaves Derby running into the arms of the older June Mattingly, whose sadness needs the most changing of all. It’s a story about making a family with who you’ve got around you, whether or not those are the people you’ve been wishing for the most.
What inspired you to write this story?
This story came to me in snippets of setting and character and feeling. I drove past a pop-up Christmas tree lot at a gas station and wondered what the sellers did during the summer. I pictured an old food truck strung with twinkle lights and smelling of onions. A seen-better-days baseball stadium that hosted a beloved hometown team. A girl who fiercely loved her small family but longed for a bigger one. A turtle. For me, the fun of writing a story is to chase the threads of slight ideas and figure out how they all connect.
After a while, it was pretty clear I was writing a story about homesickness and hope, two things that I hold close, always.
Could you share with readers how you conducted your research or share a few interesting tidbits you learned while researching?
Even though this book takes place in a made-up place rooted in the real world, there were a lot of tidbits I stuck into my pocket that I might not have otherwise needed to learn: how Queen Anne’s Lace got its name, the nitty-gritty details of RV plumbing, and the best way to mow stripes into a big field of grass.
What are some special challenges associated with writing middle grade?
For me, plotting a story is the most slippery thing of all. I could get lost in characters and sentences that sound lovely, or special details that might be entirely inconsequential. My editor gently told me once that my writing was great—but in a book, something needs to happen. This was sound and encouraging advice, and I’m still learning how to turn all the touchstones that begin a story into an actual story story. And yet, if there’s nobody to champion and nothing to root against, you’ve just got a nice little lump of words.
What topics does your book touch upon that would make it a perfect fit for the classroom?
Derby and her crew throw themselves into taking care of a beloved community member, and yet none of their efforts are Herculean. Empathy and kindness can start small and grow. Everyone likes to be seen, and everyone can play a part. That’s how communities work.
There are also themes in this book about unconventional family structures, schooling, and loss.
Craft-wise, I think it would also fit nicely into discussions about how setting can become a character itself, and how a series of small moments can make up a story.
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