Freaky Friday meets Downton Abbey in this middle grade mystery that features a modern day twelve-year-old switching bodies with a Gilded Age heiress in order to solve a famous art heist.
We are thrilled to have with us today Kristine Asselin and Jen Malone, authors of THE ART OF THE SWAP, which comes out tomorrow. I am gobsmacked to be able to report that Kris, Jen, and Simon & Schuster are giving to one reader of our blog an ENTIRE CLASSROOM OF HARD COVERS of this book! Can you believe that? It’s for classes in the U.S. only, and up to 25 books. To enter, leave a comment with your email address below by 5pm Eastern on Thursday. You can get an additional entry if you tweet about the giveaway (just leave a link to the tweet in your comment). If you aren’t a teacher, you can designate any school for the donation, or Jen and Kristine can suggest a worthy recipient.
What a fun story! Can you share with us the inspiration?
Kris: Thanks so much for having us here at the Mixed Up Files. We are so excited to have this book out in the world. We can’t wait for kids to read it!
The origin story: About four years ago, I was visiting Newport, Rhode Island, with my family. My daughter and my husband and I have always really enjoyed historical properties, and we tour them as often as we can. On this particular trip, we were on a guided tour and the tour guide pointed to a mysterious door as we walked by and said, “that’s the caretaker’s apartment.”
I turned to my daughter. “Wouldn’t it be cool to live here and take care of all of this?”
She replied, “That would be a great story, mom. You should write that.”
When I got home, I did a bit of research and found out that The Elms (the house in our story) had a real life caretaker who raised his daughter in the house. He’s still there, in fact. His name is Harold Matthews. I was immediately intrigued.
About a year later, Jen and I were carpooling to SCBWI New Jersey and got to talking about our works-in-progress. When I mentioned this middle grade idea of a caretaker’s daughter, we began to brainstorm. Through the course of our drive, it became this amazing dual voice, Freaky Friday, time travel story that we absolutely had to write together.
I love getting to see what it is like for girls from two different centuries, living in the same house. What kind of research did you do for the book?
Jen: Kristine had a lot more experience doing research since she also writes nonfiction titles for the school/library market, but my fiction research to date had been more along the lines of “Where are all the penny press machines in NYC?” and “How much paper mache would it take to build a 50-foot hedgehog float,” so this was a new and welcome challenge for me. The best was our in-person research—we made visits to The Elms together and solo, and spent an amazing day trailing the caretaker, Harold Mathews, into spots not normally accessible to the public and listening to him speak about his adventures as a single dad raising his young daughter in the converted servant quarters-turned-caretaker apartment. That was magical insight we couldn’t have gotten from any textbook (though we relied on those plenty as well). Most fascinating to me was a mysterious opening ¾ of the way up a wall between the furnace rooms and the coal tunnel (pictured here). Harold told us they once filmed a Victoria’s Secret commercial in this space, but that in the 30-plus years he’s managed the property he’d never once investigated that space. Kris and I were dying to pull a ladder right up to it! Alas… he didn’t offer.
Kris: The Elms was a private home until the early 1960s when the Newport Preservation Society saved it from the wrecking ball and turned it into a museum. It’s still hard for me to believe that someone actually lived in the house, it’s so huge. It truly has its own story! It was one of the first properties saved from destruction by the Preservation Society—and today it looks a lot like it did in the early 1900s.
You can visit The Elms and tour it–so if you’re ever in Newport, you can actually see the places in the house where Hannah and Maggie live!
You two have created a fabulous Educators’ Guide for Art of the Swap that is Common Core-aligned for grades 4-7 and includes special activities for Women’s History Month. Can you tell us some about what you’ve included?
Jen: Thank you! Maggie’s character arc was always focused on the differences between how girls are treated in her time (1905) versus in Hannah’s modern day, but after participating in the Women’s March last year, we revised the manuscript to make some big changes to Hannah’s character arc that allow her to realize there are still many strides to be made in the fight for true equality. We’re hopeful the book can be a springboard to classroom conversation about this! Our Educator’s Guide offers several discussion points on this topic, as well as focused activities, such as a timeline of events in the women’s rights movement between the two time periods highlighted in the story.
My daughter and I are in a book club together, and so I was thrilled to see the Activities Guide for Troops, Book Clubs, and Organizations, as well. What are some of those activities, and why did you decide to create that guide?
Jen: Both Kristine and I are moms to young girls (my daughter is eleven and Kristine’s is fifteen). As we took a deeper dive into feminism with this book, we were also doing the same in our personal lives. We wanted SWAP to be a starting point for discussions on equality, but we also hoped those discussions would lead to action. We created this Activities Guide for Young Activists to offer a script for ways tweens and teens could turn awareness into activism. We have a series of experiments kids can conduct to see where imbalances still present. For example, one has them watching commercials and tallying lines of dialogue and examining the roles in which women were cast. Did you know the average girl has seen 77,546 ads by the time she turns twelve and only 5% of those ads feature women without a man present? Men speak seven times as often as women in commercials and are 62% more likely to be shown in an intelligent role, such as doctor or scientist. From this awareness-building, we offer suggestions for concrete action steps to bring about change—with the idea that girls (and any boy allies who want to join in!) can do most of them in a fun group setting and benefit from that bonding time too. I think every author wants their stories to put more good into the world, even if that’s by simply offering a few hours of escape to our readers, but this book’s subject matter, coupled with our passion for the topic, really made us want to go bigger here! We’re including a sample exercise from the guide below, and it’s available for download on our author sites and on simonandschuster.net/books/the-art-of-the-swap. We’d love to contribute to the movement!
Can you describe the process of writing collaboratively? How did you share ideas and writing?
Kris: First and foremost, we were (and are!) both super excited about this story. Our love for our characters and the themes in the book really drove the process. Once we realized we were actually going to do this, we started by brainstorming most of the plot in one sitting back in August of 2015. We created a very detailed outline which included almost every detail of the plot. This was important because each of us were writing a different voice and character arc, so we needed to have an outline to keep us on track. Can you tell which girl each of us wrote?
As far as nuts and bolts, we had a shared Google Doc in which we wrote the whole story. We would meet (or talk on the phone) periodically to share ideas, but we each wrote our own parts.
Once we had the words in the Doc we could critique each other’s work and then revise. It worked out really well, I think!
We agree! Thanks, Kristine and Jen, for the interview. Now, dear reader, go enter to win all those awesome books!
Kate Hillyer wants to move to an old mansion in Newport, R.I. In the meantime, you can find her in our nation’s capitol, where she reads and writes middle grade, wrangles three kids, and is sure she’s going to start training for that 10k she signed up for any second now. She blogs here and at The Winged Pen, and is a Cybils judge for Poetry. She’s online at www.katehillyer.com and on Twitter as @SuperKate.