Today at the Mixed-Up Files, we’re delighted to introduce you to Monica Sherwood and her debut novel The Ice House, which was published by Little, Brown Books For Young Readers on November 16.
Monica is a former elementary school special education teacher in New York. She holds a master’s degree in Childhood and Special Education and currently works in edTech, designing digital products for teachers and students.
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Click on the title of the book to order from Bookshop.org.
For more about Monica, check out her website.
Dorian: Can you tell us a little bit about The Ice House?
Monica: The Ice House tells the story of twelve-year-old Louisa, whose life has been upended by the Freeze, a dangerous global climate event that caused her grandmother’s death. She’s been snowed-in to her apartment for months with her grieving mother, her annoying little brother, and her firefighter father, who is increasingly stressed by the Freeze’s treacherous conditions. Her downstairs neighbor (and former friend) Luke is the only kid her age in the building, and when his dad is seriously injured, she’s forced to keep him company.
A mutual desperation to escape their scary new realities brings Louisa and Luke outside, where they build a massive snow fort in their yard. In the ice house, they share with each other what they want most: for Louisa’s mom to recover from her grief, and for Luke’s dad’s memory to return. When they begin to see visions of their families happy and healed, they embark on a mission to stop the Freeze and bring about this better future they’ve envisioned.
Inspiration and Influences
Dorian: What was the inspiration for the story?
Monica: I started writing The Ice House during an especially freezing winter that felt never-ending. I began wondering what life would be like if the snow never melted. I was teaching in Brooklyn at the time, and I started imagining what it might be like for a kid to be snowed-in with no end in sight.
The emotional turmoil Louisa and Luke are facing was inspired in part by my own personal experiences with grief as a child. When I was a kid, I didn’t have a book that represented what I was experiencing. If I had, I think I would have felt less alone.
(The trees to the left, which provided much inspiration, are what Monica looked out at as she began writing The Ice House.)
Dorian: What middle-grade books inspired you to become a writer, and what about these stories did you appreciate most?
Monica: The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin, Lily’s Crossing by Patricia Reilly Giff, and PS. Longer Letter Later by Paula Danziger and Ann M. Martin were some of my favorite books growing up, and each of them inspired me to want to be a writer.
Although each of these books are very different, they are all clever and handle serious subject matter thoughtfully. They each have their own charm, uniquely capturing the nuanced details that captivate kid readers. I distinctly remember getting lost in each of these books, a feeling I still chase when I read today.
Dorian: You’ve mentioned that you wrote The Ice House before the pandemic, but I’m wondering if there were similarities between the events in the book and how you later got through the pandemic?
Monica: Yes, definitely. One of the biggest similarities between Louisa and Luke’s experience during the Freeze and my own during the pandemic was the sense of camaraderie that formed in the face of the unknown. I definitely forged closer bonds with the people in my life I quarantined with and was comforted by the desire we shared to have life as we knew it return.
Dorian: What kind of research did you have to do for the authenticity of the novel?
Monica: I researched the Inuit people and the origins of the igloo, as well as the science behind igloo formation. To create the theories proposed by climate experts in The Ice House, I researched some aspects of climate science. I also did research into memory loss associated with traumatic brain injuries.
Writing for the Middle-Grade Audience
Dorian: What made you want to write for the middle-grade audience? And how has your background in education influenced you?
Monica: Middle grade readers are some of the best to write for because of their passion and their curiosity; when they love a book, they really love it. I so appreciate their hunger for strong, nuanced characters, and meaningful stories.
As a teacher I always wanted to lead with honesty, because, in my experience, kids have a strong ability to tell when someone is keeping the truth from them. It’s why I didn’t want to shy away from the darker realities tackled in the story. My time as an educator taught me that kids deserve truthful depictions of the experiences they have had or one day might have. Sadly, kids do experience grief every day, and I hope that those who do can point to Louisa and Luke’s story to feel less alone.
Dorian: What do you hope readers take away from the novel?
Monica: Many kids find themselves in circumstances where they lack agency, or feel as though they have no control over their lives. I hope that The Ice House helps kids see that this feeling won’t last forever, and that they can make decisions that have a positive impact even though they aren’t adults yet.
I would also love for readers to realize that whatever they’re going through, they aren’t alone. We don’t talk to kids enough about what grief, trauma, or depression can be like, which makes it easy for them to feel isolated.
Most of all, I hope readers walk away with the knowledge that envisioning a better future and working to achieve it, even if their dreams feel out of reach at first, is brave.
Dorian: What are two of your best writing tips?
1. You are your book’s first audience member. If you aren’t writing a book that you would enjoy, it will eventually become very challenging to complete your manuscript.
2. One tactical piece of editing advice that was enlightening while editing The Ice House is to search for the high frequency words you’ve reused in your manuscript. It’s easy to repeat certain words or terms way too many times without realizing it. Chances are you can cut out about half of the instances of repetition (if not more) which can strengthen the clarity of your prose.
Thanks so much, Monica, for taking the time out to talk to us! We look forward to hearing about your future work.
For a chance to win a copy of The Ice House, click on the Rafflecopter link below and follow the directions. A winner will be chosen on Sunday. (U.S. Only)