Posts Tagged Beth Kephart

The Great Upending: Beth Kephart Interview

Oh, have I got a treat for all of you today–an interview with National Book Award finalist Beth Kephart. In a time when so many words we hear are sharp and scary and full of darkness, her new book, The Great Upending, is a celebration of truth, bravery, language, and hope. And pies. And pigs and chickens. And … it’s also an adventure. I can’t wait for March 31, when it drops and all of you get a chance to share my excitement.

About The Great Upending

“In The Great Upending (A Caitlyn Dlouhy Book, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Simon & Schuster, March 31, 2020), Sara Scholl and her brother, Hawk, live with their parents on a family farm among pigs and goats and fabulous chickens, vegetables, and housecats. It’s a happy family, a beautiful place, but there are problems. A drought has set in, money is short, and Sara, who has Marfan syndrome, has been told that her future could depend on her getting medical care that her family cannot afford. Into this world moves an old man, a picture-book artist the children call The Mister, who is renting the family’s renovated silo. The Mister has mysterious troubles all his own, though the children are cautioned against getting involved. Soon the challenges all the characters face merge into a single, life-changing adventure.”

School Library Journal highly recommends The Great Upending! “With exquisite language, the author vividly conveys the beauty of a family farm full of life. Dialogue is spare, which fuels the narrative’s emotional arcs and imbues each character’s purpose with urgency. VERDICT Readers will be drawn into the lush descriptions of setting and moved by the characters’ devotion to their passions whether they be land, art, or one another. Highly recommended purchase for school and public library collections of all sizes.”

The Great Upending


Interview with Beth Kephart

HMC: First of all, I want to say how much I LOVE Sara. Oh, this GIRL – she’s full of heart and love and stretch …. More on that word later … you’ve written a character I just want to HUG (gently.)

Okay – so I promised we’d talk about the word “Stretch.” Your main character, Sara, is “a body built out of stretch” and describes her beating heart as  “stretch and pull.” Because Sara has Marfan syndrome, “stretch” is loaded with literal meaning as well as figurative. Did you always know this was part of how you’d describe her?

BK: What an interesting question. I’m not sure that I ever know anything for sure. Words occur, images, metaphors, but every language decision I finally make reflects my desire to get both the character right (vivid, true, meaningful) and the sentences alive with sound and sense. So that “stretch” very much captures the condition that Sara lives with, but it is also a word that snaps those particular sentences to attention.

Origin Story

HMC: Sara is based on someone you know—can you tell us more about her and about the origin story for The Great Upending?

BK: Sara is indeed inspired by a young woman I know, a dark-haired beauty named Becca Weust. I had been asked, by a client company named Accolade, to interview Becca by phone about her life and experiences for a planned story. Well, we got on the phone, she started talking, and I was in love. Becca is so smart, so funny, so gracious, and so loving—and she is also living with a very extreme form of Marfan syndrome that has left her spending much of the past six years in bed (and not in college or at work, where she would love to be). Marfan syndrome has forced Becca to undergo seemingly countless surgeries and procedures, much pain, extended isolation, save from family and close friends. Long after my client work was done, Becca and I stayed in touch, sending gifts through the mail, funny emails, pictures.

There are two other origin stories here. One is that the story takes place on a farm where my husband and I led our inaugural memoir workshop; the landscape, the animals, the hill and the big look-out tree are all borrowed from that experience. The other is that the old man in the story, The Mister, is inspired by my own beliefs about publishing in general, but if I say more than that, I’ll ruin the story for readers.

((THE GREAT UPENDING takes place in the middle of a drought. To read another book set during a time of drought, click here.))

Writing For and Not About Becca

HMC: You were committed to writing this book for Becca and not about her. Can you talk about that a little more—and how you were able to support Becca in all of her personhood as opposed to defining her by her condition?

BK:  Becca might have been a student on the college campus, where I work. She might have been a daughter; I’d always imagined having one. I didn’t know what to do with the deep affection she stirred, and so I promised her a story.

Not a story about her, but a story for her. Not a biography or an explanation, but a fiction that borrowed the fog of Becca’s tea and the name of her cat and the power of her ambition to live free of the pain riveting her connective tissues. When we write a story for another, we shift the landscape, the community, the weather—translating situation into scene, essence into gravity, pause into momentum. When we write for, we dare to imagine alchemical circumstances—overcome obstacles, emphatic pivots, triumphs of the lasting kind, the might of the right and the good.

For Becca Weust. That’s how my book, The Great Upending, begins. The most important three words in the novel that would not exist but for the young woman who lives half a country away from me, who answers my notes when she can, who did not mind when I promised her a story. Real time tocks. Imagination takes us elsewhere—allowing us to preserve the things we cannot envisage losing and to write the endings that we desperately want for those who, in their many ways, continue waiting.

Writing With Emotional Balance

HMC: Two of the lovely themes TGU investigates are: 1) the need for hope and belief; 2) the concept of tomorrow, which for most children is a given, but for a child who faces devastating health challenges, it’s a dark question mark. No child should ever have to grapple with the worries Sara has to face. You handle her grief and uncertainty with a deft touch, never minimizing it, but also balancing that gravity with delicate and sometimes laugh-out-loud humor. How did you find that balance?

BK: The answer to this beautiful question is that it took me a very long time—years—to strike the right balance. At first, Sara was too grim and her voice too adult. Then she was too young and not sufficiently introspective. I think that when I decided to give Sara her museum of seeds, to really develop that as an image and metaphor, I began to strike a better balance between the time we live right now and the time we hope to have tomorrow.

Blending Writing Styles

HMC: Your writing is stunningly lyrical and begs to be read out loud… “ Catch a bird, catch a beating heart. Catch a bird, catch another day’s eggs. Catch a bird, catch a friend, catch a squawk. Catch a bird, and the fire burns, but it burns less now.” I loved the rhythm and cadence of your sounds and sometimes the unexpectedness of your word choice. For our readers who are also writers and thus always studying craft, I’d love to know a little more about how you blended those two styles without sounding like we were suddenly transported to a different book!

BK: Another great question (they are all great questions). I think I will say this (for there is so much that I could say): My first sentences are always lousy. They are uneven as heck—some too jolly, some overly repetitious, some too insular, as if I’m talking to myself, in my own language. I allow myself to write poorly. I do as much as I can to fix the pages. In this case, my editor, Caitlyn Dlouhy, took out her green pen after many drafts, put loving question marks and comments where they needed to be, and then I started, in so many ways, all over again. By the time I hit the tenth or eleventh draft, I could read the book out loud to myself without experiencing grave disappointment. (Caitlyn kept helping—fewer question marks, always the green pen.) Reading it out loud at that point gave me another whole round of sound fixes.

Truthfully, though, I’m revising my books in my head even after they are published. Can’t stop. Nothing is ever perfect.

Staying Calm During Covid19

HMC: TGU comes out in the midst of Covid19-forced school shutdowns, when so many parents are scrambling to learn how to homeschool their children. You’ve graciously provided us with some lesson plans to go along with this book – thank you so much! I was wondering what you are doing to stay calm and cope right now?

BK: Oh, gosh. Well. Our son has suddenly moved home with us, and we’re all working on this together (in our small house). My father, whom I visited frequently at his retirement village, can no longer be visited. My University of Pennsylvania classes—I had two courses and one research fellowship this semester—have all gone remote. Everyone is looking for answers. My focus has been on finding positive solutions. What can we do in the house that we’ve been meaning to do? How can I stay in touch with my students—and keep them in touch with each other—so that we can keep each other strong? How can I keep my father engaged and active, even at a distance? I tell those with whom I’m speaking that this is a time in history when we are called on to lead—quietly, in our homes (by not panicking), helpfully, in our communities (by keeping our eyes on our neighbors), and consistently with the stories we tell and share. We have hit a wall, all of us have. But we will stand up. We will build ladders. We will find new ways. We have no choice.

(Also, I’m doing lots of baking. Also, I’m taking lots of walks. Also, I, an admitted news junkie, am limiting my intake of news; watching 24 hours a day isn’t going to help.)

About the Title

HMC: Can you tell us about the title “The Great Upending” – without spoilers can you tell us how you came up with that?

BK: This title was a happy dance between my editor, Caitlyn, and myself. We kept circling titles with words like Ending in it, because, well, SPOILERS—I can’t really say. But one day it just became obvious. How about The Great Upending?, I wrote to Caitlyn. And she nodded electronically, as she does.

HMC: What was your favorite part of this book to write?

BK: The end, but I can’t say more than that. The end, because it took me so long to figure out, and then when it was there, when it appeared, like magic, I burst out crying. You’ve been here all along, I said out loud. My characters had known just what they were doing.

Last Thoughts

HMC: Do you have any last thoughts you’d like to share?

BK: It is my great hope that this time of tremendous uncertainty and sadness and upendings can also be a time where broken bonds can heal and communities come together. Books have always been, and can continue to be, a salve. Let’s all become even more committed readers willing to enter into the lives of others during this time.

HMC: Thank you, Beth, and congratulations!

You can listen to Beth Kephart read the first few pages of THE GREAT UPENDING, plus see some wonderful pictures of the farm that inspired the story here.

About Beth Kephart

Beth Kephart

As the author of more than thirty books in multiple genres, Beth Kephart has been named a National Book Award finalist as well as a winner of the Pew Fellowships in the Arts grant, a National Endowment for the Arts grant, a Leeway grant for Creative Nonfiction, a Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Top Fiction grant, and the Speakeasy Poetry Prize, among other honors. Her books have received multiple starred reviews, been named to Best of Year lists, and been translated into more than fifteen languages.  You can find Beth’s website here.

Twitter: @BethKephart

To buy:




Below are some questions you and your family might consider as you read this book.

  1. Sometimes, when Sara and Hawk sit outside, they listen to the sounds of their world: “The farm noises There are cows in the cow barn, goats in the goat barn, cats in their cuddle, and the old horse Moe, who snorts like a warthog.” What are the sounds of your world? Make a list, then write a poem so that others can hear what you hear.
  2. Hawk loves the book Treasure Island so much that he carries parts of it around with him in his Name the book that you love best, then write a letter to the author (even if the author is no longer here) to tell them why.
  3. Sara has her own private seed Why? What do the seeds mean to Sara? What is your private, or personal hobby? Find a way to document that hobby with just four photographs.
  4. Sara’s mom can do a lot of things—fix a fence, fight a fire, bake delicious In fact, every member of the Scholl family has special talents. What are they? What do they contribute to the story?
  5. Kalin is a very special librarian. Draw your version of the World’s Best Library—and the world’s best librarian.
  6. When you first meet The Mister in this book, what do you believe his story is? How does your impression of him change as the story unfolds?
  1. Sara and Hawk have been asked, very clearly, not to interfere with The Why? Do you think they were wrong to get involved with him? Should they have told their parents what they were up to?
  2. The Mister is the creator of famous wordless picture books. Create your own wordless picture Now create a version of this book with words. What is the power of a story without words?
  3. What do you think the red shoes in The Mister’s picture book symbolize?
  4. Marfan syndrome is a connective tissue disorder that has affected many famous Research the condition to find out more about its symptoms and the studies now being undertaken to help those who are diagnosed with it.
  5. The author, Beth Kephart, dedicated this book to a young friend named Becca Weust, who has Marfan. To whom would you dedicate a poem or story of your own? Write and illustrate that poem or story. Write the dedication.

Read this interview with the author, Beth Kephart. What other questions do you have? Email your best one to:

info (at) junctureworkshops (dot) com

March New Releases

The month of March not only brings us spring, but also brings us a plethora of new books about spies, stars, wizards, and giants. For a taste of what the month has to offer, read on!


City Spies 

By James Ponti

Sara Martinez is a hacker. She recently broke into the New York City foster care system to expose her foster parents as cheats and lawbreakers. However, instead of being hailed as a hero, Sara finds herself facing years in a juvenile detention facility and banned from using computers for the same stretch of time. Enter Mother, a British spy who not only gets Sara released from jail but also offers her a chance to make a home for herself within a secret MI5 agency.

Operating out of a base in Scotland, the City Spies are five kids from various parts of the world. When they’re not attending the local boarding school, they’re honing their unique skills, such as sleight of hand, breaking and entering, observation, and explosives. All of these allow them to go places in the world of espionage where adults can’t.

Before she knows what she’s doing, Sarah is heading to Paris for an international youth summit, hacking into a rival school’s computer to prevent them from winning a million euros, dangling thirty feet off the side of a building, and trying to stop a villain…all while navigating the complex dynamics of her new team. No one said saving the world was easy…



What Stars are Made Of

By Sarah Allen

Twelve-year-old Libby Monroe is great at science, being optimistic, and talking to her famous, accomplished friends (okay, maybe that last one is only in her head). She’s not great at playing piano, sitting still, or figuring out how to say the right thing at the right time in real life. Libby was born with Turner Syndrome, and that makes some things hard. But she has lots of people who love her, and that makes her pretty lucky.

When her big sister Nonny tells her she’s pregnant, Libby is thrilled―but worried. Nonny and her husband are in a financial black hole, and Libby knows that babies aren’t always born healthy. So she strikes a deal with the universe: She’ll enter a contest with a project about Cecelia Payne, the first person to discover what stars are made of. If she wins the grand prize and gives all that money to Nonny’s family, then the baby will be perfect. Does she have what it takes to care for the sister that has always cared for her? And what will it take for the universe to notice?



The Wizenard Series: Season One

By Wesley King (author), Kobe Bryant (creator)

Reggie has never felt destined for greatness. He dreams about basketball brilliance all day and night, but the hard truth is that he’s a benchwarmer for the West Bottom Badgers the worst team in the league. Even their mysterious new coach, Rolabi Wizenard, can’t seem to help them end their losing streak.

Reggie is willing to train tirelessly to improve his game, but the gym itself seems to be working against him in magical ways. Before Reggie can become the player he dreams of being, he must survive the extraordinary trials of practice.

This is the illuminating follow-up to the #1 New York Times best seller The Wizenard Series: Training Camp―a story of strain and sacrifice, supernatural breakthroughs, and supreme dedication to the game.



If We Were Giants

By Dave Matthews and Clete Barrett Smith, illus. Antonio Javier Caparo

Kirra, a curious, agile, and outgoing girl, lives in an idyllic community hidden inside a dormant volcano. She and her father are the only two people allowed to venture beyond its walls. Kirra is in training to become a Storyteller like him, and together they travel from village to village spreading fearsome tales designed to keep outsiders away from their secret nest.

One day, after hearing rumors of strangers called the “Takers,” Kirra leaves the volcano by herself, hoping to discover her own story. But she unknowingly leads the Takers back to her doorstep, and they rob her of everything she has ever held dear.

A devastated Kirra is found by a boy named Luwan and adopted into his family, which lives among others high in the trees of a dense forest. Now quiet and withdrawn, Kirra hides her dark past from everyone and never wants to leave the safety of her tree dwelling. Luwan, on the other hand, loves to explore. One day it leads to trouble: He is captured while spying on a group of strangers. The Takers have returned. To save the Tree Folk, Kirra must face her inner demons and summon all her storytelling to weave the most important tale of her life.



(Wings of Fire: Legends)

By Tui T. Sutherland

Ivy doesn’t trust the Dragonslayer. He may be her father and the beloved ruler of Valor, but she knows he’s hiding more than the treasure from the sand dragon he killed two decades ago.

Leaf doesn’t trust dragons. They’re the reason his favorite sister, Wren, is dead, and now he’ll do whatever it takes to slay even one.

Wren doesn’t trust anyone. She swore off humans after her village tried to sacrifice her to the dragons. She only has one friend, a small, wonderful mountain dragon named Sky, and they don’t need anyone else.

In a world of dragons, the humans who scramble around underfoot are easy to overlook. But Ivy, Leaf, and Wren will each cross paths with dragons in ways that could shape the destiny of both species. Is a new future possible for all of them . . . one in which humans can look to the skies with hope instead of fear?



Tyrannosaurus Wrecks

By Stuart Gibbs

Teddy was all set for a campout at his friend Sage’s family ranch—but then Sage gets terrible news: The skull of a rare dinosaur that was being excavated on his property has mysteriously vanished overnight in the middle of a rainstorm, even though it weighed 500 pounds. Not a single footprint has been left behind. Since the dinosaur was top secret, the police don’t believe anyone outside the dig could have stolen it.

A T-rex skull can sell for millions of dollars, and everyone is a suspect—including J.J. McCracken, the owner of FunJungle.

Meanwhile, Teddy’s old foes, the Barksdale twins, have gotten into trouble with an illegally purchased anaconda, and Teddy’s girlfriend Summer wants to find out who’s behind the local trade in black market reptiles. The two cases will drag Teddy into more danger and chaos than ever before, in this mystery that’s stranger than fiction.



Emily Windsnap and the Tides of Time

By Liz Kessler

When Emily makes a wish on a magic stone, she gets a glimpse of what the future holds — and it’s a disaster! She tries to make things right, but each trip through time takes Emily to a future where things turn out badly for either the humans of Brightport or the merpeople of Shiprock.

Plastic pollutes the ocean, garbage overflows the landfills, and the two towns are no longer getting along. Emily realizes she can’t save her hometown and the ocean alone, but with help from her best friends, Shona and Mandy, she’ll have to find a way to get humans and merpeople to work together.

Will Emily be able to create a better future for everyone, including herself? This new adventure gives readers a glimpse at what Emily and her friends could be like as grown-ups, with a fresh story that explores how uniting communities can make a future that’s bright for everyone.



Wayside School Beneath the Cloud of Doom

By Louis Sachar, illus. Tim Heitz

Welcome back to Wayside School!

Your favorite students and teachers are all here. That includes Sharie, who loves her striped-and-spotted umbrella more than anything; Kathy, who has a bad case of oppositosis; Jason, who has to read the longest book in the world; and the rest of Mrs. Jewls’s class on the thirtieth floor, who are busily collecting toenail clippings.

Everyone is scrambling to prepare for the all-important Ultimate Test, but meanwhile, there is a mysterious Cloud of Doom looming above them …



Black Brother, Black Brother

By Jewell Parker Rhodes

Sometimes, 12-year-old Donte wishes he were invisible. As one of the few black boys at Middlefield Prep, most of the students don’t look like him. They don’t like him either. Dubbing him “Black Brother,” Donte’s teachers and classmates make it clear they wish he were more like his lighter-skinned brother, Trey.

When he’s bullied and framed by the captain of the fencing team, “King” Alan, he’s suspended from school and arrested for something he didn’t do.

Terrified, searching for a place where he belongs, Donte joins a local youth center and meets former Olympic fencer Arden Jones. With Arden’s help, he begins training as a competitive fencer, setting his sights on taking down the fencing team captain, no matter what. As Donte hones his fencing skills and grows closer to achieving his goal, he learns the fight for justice is far from over. Now Donte must confront his bullies, racism, and the corrupt systems of power that led to his arrest.

Powerful and emotionally gripping, Black Brother, Black Brother is a careful examination of the school-to-prison pipeline and follows one boy’s fight against racism and his empowering path to finding his voice.



The Great Upending

by Beth Kephart

Twelve-year-old Sara and her brother Hawk are told that they are not to bother the man—The Mister—who just moved into the silo apartment on their farm. It doesn’t matter that they know nothing about him and they think they ought to know something. It doesn’t matter that he’s always riding that unicycle around. Mama told them no way, no how are they to bother The Mister unless they want to be in a mess of trouble.

Trouble is the last thing Sara and her brother need. Sara’s got a condition, you see. Marfan syndrome. And that Marfan syndrome is causing her heart to have problems, the kind of problems that require surgery. But the family already has problems: The drought has dried up their crops and their funds, which means they can’t afford any more problems, let alone a surgery to fix those problems. Sara can feel the weight of her family’s worry, and the weight of her time running out, but what can a pair of kids do? Well, it all starts with…bothering The Mister.