There are nannies, and then there’s Nanny X, a peanut butter and anchovy sandwich crime fighter, whose young charges, Alison and Jake (and baby sister), join her adventures. To rescue their friend, save their favorite park and free some luckless chimpanzees, Allison and Jake will need every bit of pluck and daring they can muster, along with a few clever devices from Nanny X. Can you say diaper phone?! (To read Chapter 1, go here.)
Where did the idea for Nanny X come from?
I’d been thinking about some of the au pairs I’d met – young, smashing au pairs with exotic accents – and that started me thinking about someone who might be the opposite. I’d already come up with some nanny gadgets, like a diaper phone (think Maxwell Smart with a Huggie). I started thinking about who might be talking on it. Nanny X just sort of opened the diaper and answered. Her voice was New York Grandma instead of Girl from Ipanema, and after years of proving herself, she had to prove herself again.
One of my favorite lines in Nanny X is when Alison asks Nanny X asks her to do a homework problem, and Nanny X tells her that to give the answer would be “irresponsible.” I use that with my kids now! How did you develop a sense of WWNXD? (What Would Nanny X Do?)
She definitely has a lot of opinions — about food and homework and exercise. And they’re not always the same as my own. (I would never send my kids to school with anchovies, at least.) This is going to sound lame, but I almost feel like she came fully formed. Some of it has to do with her age. She is sure enough of herself to believe that most of what she thinks is correct and she is ready to impart that wisdom to others.
Did you have a favorite babysitter or nanny when you were growing up? Did you ever babysit yourself?
I was more obsessed with governesses than nannies, but I never had either one. I did have babysitters (shout out to Lael, Ginny and Robin, who helped me build a town out of oatmeal boxes). And I did babysit for other families. I was not as brave as Nanny X. In fact, I was generally a nervous kid, to the point where I once woke up an 14-month-old to keep me company while I freaked out over a series of bizarre noises in the middle of the night. It turned out the people had squirrels in the attic. Guh! Thanks for letting me know. Babysitters made a lot less money in the 70s and 80s when I was watching kids, so I probably got $3 for what I’m sure took years off my life.
Yeah, I think I got paid a buck an hour! The story takes place through the alternating viewpoints of Ali and Jake, Nanny X’s charges. What is the hardest thing for you about writing with alternating viewpoints?
The hardest thing about writing alternating viewpoints was making sure they were actually different. I think I’m a little bit of each character I write (the bad guys, too) so it’s tricky, especially in first person, to make sure they don’t all sound like me. That took me a while. And when I’d write, I’d think: what does Jake want? What does Ali want? When I was editing, I did all of one POV one day and all of the other POV the next. That helped.
As a member of NAP, the Nanny Action Patrol, Nanny X comes armed with several spy devices disguised as child/baby care items. What’s your favorite one?
It’s probably the baby book Moo, Sweet Cow. When my own kids were small, we tried like crazy to avoid baby toys that made noise. And we ended up with a house full of them. (I still haven’t forgiven my dad for giving us the Laugh and Learn Puppy. http://www.toysrus.com/buy/interactive-toys/fisher-price-laugh-learn-learning-puppy-c6325-2265219) Moo, Sweet Cow takes all of that noise and uses it as a weapon.
I think you’ve really hit on something there – there are a few of my own kids’ toys that qualify as weapons. You’ve accomplished the children’s book author equivalent of hitting for the cycle, by publishing in all three major genres: picture book, middle-grade and young adult. You even have a feature on your blog for genre-jumpers. What is special to you about writing middle-grade fiction?
For a lot of kids, middle-grade fiction seems like the first fiction that they’re choosing and tackling all by themselves. They’re seeking out (Star Trek alert – I’m full of them this week) new life and new civilizations. I know the worlds I discovered on my own were insanely special to me when I was growing up. The chance to create a book that a kid might choose? I can’t think of anything more special than that.
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