I’m pleased to welcome two special guests to the Mixed-up Files today: award-winning author Julie Crabtree, whose second novel, The Crepe Makers’ Bond, was released this spring, and guest interviewer Noemi Hill. Noemi is in the seventh grade, an avid reader of realistic fiction, and a crepe maker extraordinaire (as witnessed in the photo below). She is also—full disclosure—my daughter. Noemi loved Julie’s first book, Discovering Pig Magic, which won the 2008 Milkweed Prize for Children’s Literature, and leapt at the chance to chat with one of her favorite authors.
Discovering Pig Magic introduced readers to Ariel, Nicki, and Mattie (nicknamed M), three fast friends facing the pitfalls of life at thirteen. The Crepe Makers’ Bond continues their story, taking the girls through 8th grade, their final year of middle school. Kirkus Reviews called Crepe Makers’ Bond “a highly entertaining and multilayered sequel” and noted that “Crabtree is particularly adept at capturing the emotional life of teens.” As my son, Noemi’s 10th grade brother, says, “When you get to junior high everything changes, especially your friends.” Julie’s books are deft and true-to-life explorations of those changes.
Before we begin, here’s a bit about The Crepe Makers’ Bond from the book jacket:
Ariel is the head chef in her family kitchen. Cucumber salads, fettuccine carbonara, fish tacos, and peanut butter pie are just a few of the dishes she crafts when she’s feeling frustrated by the world. And it’s turning into a frustrating year. Ariel, Nicki, and Mattie have been inseparable friends since they were little kids, but now Mattie’s mom has decided to move away. It’s the girls’ last year in middle school, and they can’t fathom being separated. The friends concoct a plan that will keep Mattie in the Bay area—she’ll move in with Ariel and her family. But before you can say “bff,” the party is over. Everything Mattie does gets on Ariel’s nerves, and it’s not long before the girls are avoiding each other. This was supposed to be their best year ever, but some painful lessons are threatening to tear their friendship apart. Can the girls scramble to make things right before the bond crumbles?
Leave a comment below to be in the running to win a set of Julie’s books. The winner will be announced Sept. 11. And now, without further adieu, take it away Noemi….
Hi, Julie! I was wondering what inspired you to write your first novel, Discovering Pig Magic?
My oldest daughter has always been an avid reader. When she was about ten, we found it a struggle to find books that she enjoyed. She never liked fantasy or sci-fi, and certainly not talking animals. She wanted to read slice-of-life fiction that would resonate with her in her own life. I felt like there was a shortage of fiction for her, and probably for others. That motivated me to begin writing Pig Magic. I also felt drawn to writing for this age group because of my own memories and experiences being a tween.
I think the years when kids are caught in between childhood and adolescence, about 10 – 13, are pivotal and strange and difficult and wonderful. I remember well the incongruity of that age and the struggle to self-define. I remember one afternoon in fifth grade, my mother took me shopping for my first bra. I was feeling so mature and sophisticated. Yet on the same trip, I talked her into buying me an inflatable Barbie pool. I remember feeling embarrassed about the childishness of the toy, but I really wanted it too…it’s that feeling I try to capture…a bra in one hand and a Barbie pool in the other. Discovering Pig Magic was my attempt to express that feeling.
That sounds pretty awkward! What made you keep going and write The Crepe Makers’ Bond?
By the time I finished Pig Magic the three girls were alive and real to me. I knew I had to give the other two girls a chance to narrate and tell their own stories. Crepe Makers’ is, as you know, Ariel’s chance to talk. In the third and final book, Nicki will have a chance to narrate.
That makes sense. Whenever I’m done reading a book, I always wish it would keep going. Your books are about M, Nicki, and Ariel’s friendship. Did you have really good friends when you were in middle school?
I had a rocky time in sixth grade. I was bullied, and the friends I’d been close to since first grade no longer wanted to be my friends. By seventh grade I had a new group of friends, and things got better. My best friend to this day is the girl who I met in seventh grade.
I recently went to my high school reunion and talked to the two girls who bullied me so much in sixth grade. They had such different memories of that year. They told me that they remembered being jealous of me because I got good grades. They thought I felt like I was too good for them, and that the bullying was just teasing. That was shocking to hear. Their perceptions were so different. At the time, I felt they saw me as worthless, but they hadn’t at all. It was so interesting. I realized that I had carried wounds, little pockets of hurt, around with me since sixth grade. It was nice to let them go. That incident reinforced my belief that middle school experiences—good and bad—have a profound impact on us, sometimes even into adulthood.
Yeah, everyone has a different point of view and you can never really know what others are thinking. Also, I think it’s really cool your friend from seventh grade is still your friend now. It’s hard to keep track of people over the years. I had a friend from when I was really little that moved away and I never heard from her again. In The Crepe Makers’ Bond, M has to move away from her best friends in the Bay Area when her mom takes a job in Crescent City. Ariel and Nicki come up with a plan for M to move in with Ariel so they can finish their last year of middle school together. Have you ever had to move away from your friends?
We were in the middle of a big move when I wrote that book. I watched my daughters struggle with the move, with starting a new school, with leaving good friends. I thought it was a great topic for Ariel to tackle in Crepe Makers’. I watched my girls live through the experience and that definitely informed the book.
I moved once, in first grade, and never had to move again, so I have not had the experience myself. I did have a friend who lived with us a lot because of her own troubled family situation, so that sub-theme is drawn from my own childhood. I remember thinking it would be a lot more fun to have my friend live with us than it turned out to be.
I really hope I never have to move; I don’t know what I’d do without all of my friends! M’s mom has agoraphobia, which makes M’s life difficult. She worries about her mother but also gets annoyed with her. Why did you choose to make her mom an agoraphobic?
I think agoraphobia is a growing problem that is not addressed enough. In today’s world, one can order groceries, work full time, live a “full” life without ever stepping out the door. I have known two mothers who struggled with this problem. I do not believe they saw themselves as agoraphobes, but they rarely left their homes. It was very difficult for their children. I wanted to explore this issue from a child’s perspective.
Nicki keeps secrets from her friends throughout both books. How do you feel about keeping secrets?
Ooooh, that’s a big question! I feel like everyone has them. I believe that some secrets are protective and necessary, while others are destructive and hurtful. I feel like middle school is all about secrets. They are particularly powerful during that time in life.
Nicki’s secrets aren’t healthy, I can tell you that. She knows it too. That clichéd “little voice” that tells us right from wrong, good secrets from bad, is ignored by Nicki.
I agree. Her secrets are the kind of things you should tell your friends. I can’t wait until Nicki’s story comes out and I can read it. Is it finished yet?
Nicki’s story, tentatively titled Eight Dollar Mountain, is already completed and in the editorial process. It’s a bit more mature, both subject-wise and in terms of writing style because the girls are fifteen in the story, and I wanted them to mature realistically. I’ve tried to grow the three girls up in “real time,” but it’s tricky because the publishing process is slow, but my readers are growing up at a steady rate! Nicki’s story focuses on what happens when her secrets explode and her best friends are dragged into a mess because of her.
That sounds interesting. That’s something that happens a lot in real life. If you could go back in time and talk to your middle-grade self and your friends what would you say?
I actually got to, kind of, at my high school reunion! I realized how different my perceptions of myself were compared to how others saw me. I would tell myself that it gets better, that the braces and headgear were worth it because my teeth would turn out great, that the freckles would fade, that my brother and I really would be good friends one day. I would hug the me-her, tell her to stop crying every day after school because those girls would stop taunting her if she did. I would give her a hug and tell her not to worry so much.
Those are good things to say—the kind of thing anyone would want to hear. (By the way, I love my freckles! My friend’s brother has a saying on his wall: “Having no freckles is like having no stars in the sky.”)
One last question. I love how the recipes in The Crepe Makers’ Bond reflect how Ariel is feeling, such as “Lighten-Up Therapy Pound Cake,” “Achy Breaky Artichoke Hearts Dip,” and the “Crepes of Wrath.” Do you ever find your emotions reflected in your cooking?
Hmm. No one has ever asked me that before! I think what I decide to cook is a direct reflection of my emotional state. For me, making a very complicated, demanding recipe is therapeutic, so you’ll find me doing that when I have a thorny issue to think through. I think my cooking also reflects my family’s emotional state. When one of my girls is having a rough week, I’ll make her favorite comfort foods for dinner (chicken soup and homemade bread for my younger daughter, Chinese Chicken Salad and mashed potatoes for the older one).
I had a lot of fun with the recipes in Crepe Makers’—naming them gave me a chance to express my corny side—but it also allowed me, as you perceived, to connect food and emotional experience. I feel that the two are quite bound together.
Thanks for the great questions, Noemi!
Thank you for the great answers! I love your books and hope you’ll keep on writing!
Thanks again to Julie and Noemi for being here today. Don’t forget to leave a comment to qualify for Sunday’s giveaway. For more about Julie and her books, visit www.julie-crabtree.com.
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Noemi Hill lives in North Idaho with her dad, hockey-obsessed older brother, and Mixed-up Files mom, Laurie Schneider. She has red hair like Ariel in the Crepe Makers’ Bond and loves cooking. “Some of my favorite things to make are crepes and pizza,” she says, “but I like to experiment and I’ll cook just about anything. I also play violin, ice skate, and do hip hop dance. I enjoy reading, and my favorite genre is realistic fiction.”