Our next middle grade spotlight is directed on a book brimming with adventure, intrigue, and culture. And it’s written by an incredibly sweet author! Let’s meet her now.
Jess Butterworth – As a child Jess wanted to be many things, including a vet and even David Attenborough, but throughout all of those ideas, she always wanted to write. She studied creative writing as a BA(hons) at Bath Spa University, where she won the Writing for Young People Prize in 2011. She then completed a Master’s in Writing for Young People, also at Bath Spa University, and graduated in 2015. Her first two novels, RUNNING ON THE ROOF OF THE WORLD and WHEN THE MOUNTAINS ROARED are set in the Himalayas. Find her on Twitter & her Website.
Welcome to our Mixed-Up site, Jess! So glad you stopped by.
Thanks for having me here.
Let’s begin with when you were a child. Did you have a special someone read to you? And was reading a big part of your life as a middle grader?
As a young child, my grandmothers and parents would read to me often, which I adored. Apparently I refused to go to bed without having several stories read to me beforehand. My absolute favorite books were The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Dear Zoo and Where the Wild Things Are.
When I was a middle grader, it was Matilda by Roald Dahl that accelerated my love of reading. Just like in Matilda, books transported me to different worlds and countries from the comfort of my own home and you’d often find me in the library in search of adventure stories.
You chose great reads as a child!
What motivated you to write this story? Where did you find your inspiration?
As a child, I grew up between India where my dad’s family lived, and the UK, where my mum’s family lived. In India, our home was in Dharamsala in the Himalayas, where the Dalai Lama and a Tibetan community in exile live. Growing up I had lots of friends who were Tibetan and whose family had made the journey over the mountains from Tibet into the safety of India. Writing has always been my way of making sense of the world around me and when I was visiting my dad in the Himalayas in 2013, I learnt about the current abuse of human rights within Tibet. Tashi’s voice soon appeared in my head and I started writing.
Wow, what an intriguing childhood environment to grow up in. It’s very touching how Tashi’s voice came to be.
Speaking of Tashi, there’s a violent act that plunges her into a new story and completely changes her world. How did you decide to use this act and the oppression of her people, and did the violence of it give you concerns for your readers?
I try not to avoid the difficult situations within the world in my writing, but rather make sure that there’s a sense of hope in the story. I aim to show that it’s possible to go on, even after a terrible thing has occurred, by focusing on universal aspects such as friendship, kindness and love. Running on the Roof of the World is grounded in real events and settings which made me feel it’s important to keep that moment in. I also included moments of lightness and laughter and even though there are political undercurrents throughout, it’s very much a middle grade adventure story too.
I really love this answer.
This story gives vivid insight into the Tibetan daily life and culture. How much research did you do and how much of that research made it into the book?
When I realized I wanted to write this book, I returned to Dharamsala and did six months of research. During that time, I studied Tibetan Buddhism, attended Dalai Lama teachings, trekked into the Himalayas and went in search of yaks. I also interviewed many Tibetan people. There was definitely a lot of research that got cut along the way, but I think it still helped to have that knowledge in the back of my mind, especially with writing in a first person viewpoint. My favorite research moment was spending time with the yaks!
Very cool! And your efforts in research definitely show throughout this book. What do you hope readers take away from this story?
A small insight into a part of the world they not have been aware of before, and a sense of hope and wonder.
Are you working on anything new? What can your readers expect from you next?
My second book is another middle grade adventure called When the Mountains Roared and is inspired by my Grandma, who in the 1960s rescued a baby kangaroo joey as she was leaving Australia, and took it with her by boat to India. The story is set in the present and follows Ruby, who’s devastated when her dad uproots her from Australia to set up a hotel in the mountains of India. Not only are they living in a run-down building in the middle of the wilderness surrounded by scorpions, bears and leopards, but Ruby is sure that India will never truly feel like home—not without her mum there. Ever since her mum died, Ruby has been afraid. Of cars. Of the dark. Of going to sleep and never waking up. But then the last remaining leopards of the mountain are threatened and everything changes.
Your family has lived such interesting lives! I love that you’re touching upon that to share them with the world through your books. It’s been such a pleasure having you visit. Thank you!
RUNNING ON THE ROOF OF THE WORLD
There are two words that are banned in Tibet. Two words that can get you locked in prison without a second thought. I watch the soldiers tramping away and call the words after them. ‘Dalai Lama.’
Tash has to follow many rules to survive in Tibet, a country occupied by Chinese soldiers. But when a man sets himself on fire in protest and soldiers seize Tash’s parents, she and her best friend Sam must break the rules. They are determined to escape Tibet – and seek the help of the Dalai Lama himself in India.
And so, with a backpack of Tash’s father’s mysterious papers and two trusty yaks by their side, their extraordinary journey across the mountains begins.
Join 12-year-old Tash and her best friend Sam in a story of adventure, survival and hope, set in the vivid Himalayan landscape of Tibet and India. Filled with friendship, love and courage, this young girl’s thrilling journey to save her parents is an ideal read for children aged 9-12.
Readers, do you know any fun facts about Tibetan life? Have you read any other stories about it?
I cannot wait to read your books! My son spent a little while in Dharamsala, and his stories of the magic and squalor of that time both fascinate and amaze me. Putting your books atop my TBR pile. Best of luck.
Wow, this is some seriously devoted research–six months in Tibet! I love when middle grade doesn’t flinch from serious political themes. Thanks for this post (and for writing these wonderful books).
Great interview as always, S.A. Butterworth’s book sounds fascinating!