Interview with “Water Balloon” author, Audrey Vernick

WATER BALLOON is a wonderful coming-of-age story about 13-year-old Marley Baird who finds the easy life of her childhood is slipping away. With the pending divorce of her parents, a tough summer job, strained relationships with her two closest friends, and a summer with a father who struggles to relate to her, Marley feels “stretched as tightly as an overfull water balloon.” With her world quickly changing and a budding first love in the picture, Marley must reach deep inside to let go of the past and embrace her future.

Kirkus wrote, “Preteen female readers will eat this up and learn a wise and wistful thing or two about friendships.”

From the Mixed-Up Files is thrilled to present an interview with the author of WATER BALLOON, Audrey Vernick. Learn more about her at


Audrey, thank you for visiting with us! You’ve been very successful as a picture book writer and non-fiction writer. What made you decide to step into middle grade novels?

I wrote the first draft of WATER BALLOON years before I wrote any of the picture books I’ve published recently. At the time I had co-written one picture book that was published by a small press. I had also published about a dozen short stories (for adults) in literary magazines. I was taking the turn from literary short fiction to children’s, and I believed the best way to find representation was to write a novel.

When I started the book that ultimately became WATER BALLOON, I believed I was writing a young adult novel. It took a long time and a few readers to make me realize I was treading in the waters of upper middle grade.

I love middle-grade fiction—from that first proud stride out of chapter book terrain all the way through that final stepping stone into YA. I think it’s the most delicious and profound territory there is.

One thing I really liked about WATER BALLOON is how true to life it reads. I think a lot of girls will be able to see their own lives in many of Marley’s experiences. Did any of her story come from your growing up years?

None of the plot came from my growing up years, but probably all of the emotion did. I remember feeling traumatized when friends treated me and each other terribly. I felt everything deeply, wholly. I think the same could be said for Marley.

Marley learns a lot over the summer, about friendship, boys and first loves, and her own father. But her greatest lessons are the things she learns about herself. Not only her strengths, but also her weaknesses and vulnerabilities. As an author, was it ever difficult to let those lessons unfold naturally for her, knowing how tough the consequences might be?

I am terrible at letting my characters suffer. I know, as a writer, that it’s necessary, but that doesn’t mean it comes easily. In earlier drafts, I protected Marley from almost every bad thing that happens. Draft by draft, I layered in some of the harder stuff. I had to ease myself into it—slowly, gently, bit by bit.

What do you hope young readers will take away from this story?

I hope they will find, in Marley, a character they feel they know, care about, think about, and feel close to. A literary friend.

Finally, I know you have a lot of other literary gems still to come. Can you give us any hints at what we’ll see from you next?

In 2012, I have two picture books coming out. SO YOU WANT TO BE A ROCK STAR, illustrated by Kirstie Edmunds, a guide to finding your inner rock star, will be out in late February. In April, BROTHERS AT BAT: THE TRUE STORY OF AN AMAZING ALL-BROTHER BASEBALL TEAM, illustrated by Steven Salerno, will hit the shelves.

Both were probably the most challenging texts I’ve written, in terms of illustration. ROCK STAR is a direct-address text intended to encourage reader participation. BROTHERS AT BAT features twelve main characters. Both illustrators rose to and beyond the challenge in unexpected and amazing ways.


Jennifer Nielsen’s most recent release is “Elliot and the Pixie Plot” (Sourcebooks), and she will soon release “The False Prince” (Scholastic). Learn more about her at

Jennifer Nielsen