Please tell us about your book.
Some things are better together. Like peanut butter and jelly. Or Annie and Jason. So when her best friend’s house is threatened with foreclosure, Annie Jenkins is bursting with ideas to save Jason’s home. She could sell her appendix on eBay. (Why not?) Win the lottery. (It’s worth a shot!) Face the evil bankers herself. (She’s one tough cookie, after all.) Or hunt down an elusive (and questionably real) pirate treasure. Whatever the plan, it has to work, or this is undoubtedly The Last Great Adventure of the PB & J Society.
What inspired you to write this story?
I originally started writing this book based on memories from my own childhood. However, that version of the book was all over the place and not very good, so I shelved it. When I read through it many years later, Annie and Jason were so much fun, I couldn’t let them go.
Around that same time, the housing crisis was in full swing, and foreclosures were becoming all too common. I had some friends facing this, and I wondered how it affected their children. It was an easy connection to have Annie and Jason face this conflict, and the book grew out of that.
Could you share with readers how you conducted your research or share a few interesting tidbits you learned while researching?
My book, while not historical in and of itself, does have bits of history which required research here and there. Most of my research came after the first draft on an as-needed basis. For what I needed, simple internet-based searches worked fine, and I would usually fact check across various sites. However, I did use my Dr. Husband for some medical questions. Very useful to have an expert in the house!
One interesting thing I learned in my research is that Peanut Butter used to be called Peanut Paste. Sounds gross, right? John Harvey Kellogg (Yes, that Kellogg) patented a peanut-butter-making process in 1898. However, even though most information that I found credited Mr. Kellogg as the first patent-holder, a Canadian gentleman named Marcellus Gilmore Edson actually received a U.S. patent for his own peanut-butter making process in 1884. Maybe they ignore him because he’s Canadian? Maybe because his name isn’t as recognizable? I don’t know. But I thought that was interesting.
Another thing I learned is that peanut butter, apparently, wasn’t as tasty back then. It was invented for people with bad teeth who couldn’t chew. Who knew?
What are some special challenges associated with writing contemporary middle-grade fiction?
I love writing contemporary fiction because it is easy to identify with the characters and their circumstances. They face stuff we deal with in a very recognizable way. But one of the challenges is that time marches on and things change very quickly.
For example, in an earlier draft of my book, I made some references to Twinkies. And then BOOM! Hostess went bankrupt and Twinkies were gone. Just like that. I had to do an emergency edit and cut those references all out.
Of course, we all know that Twinkies are now back, but I decided it was better to keep them out.
Also in an earlier draft, I referenced iPods a lot. My editor rightly suggested that those are now out-dated, and kids have moved on to iPhones. Really, what I should be learning is not to use brand names in my writing!
But even then, you can’t always know what to avoid. In another book, I had one character telling another to “Let it go.” After a certain Disney movie was released, I couldn’t read the passage the same anymore, and had to change it.
In short, it can be tricky to keep a contemporary feel to a contemporary book when it takes years to write and publish it.
What topics does your book touch upon that would make it a perfect fit for the classroom?
There are quite a few discussion topics in my book, both serious and fun.
On the serious side:
-making/being a friend
-parent’s job loss
On the fun side:
-ways to earn money
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