I recently had the pleasure of interviewing acclaimed author Amy Hest about her new novel, The Summer We Found the Baby.
Read all about Amy and the inspiration behind the novel. And for a chance to win a copy, drop us a line below. I’ll pick a winner from the comments section on Saturday at noon.
Here’s a bit about The Summer We Found the Baby: On the morning of the dedication of the new children’s library in Belle Beach, Long Island, eleven-year-old Julie Sweet and her six-year-old sister, Martha, find a baby in a basket on the library steps. At the same time, twelve-year-old Bruno Ben-Eli is on his way to the train station to catch the 9:15 train into New York City. He is on an important errand for his brother, who is a soldier overseas in World War II. But when Bruno spies Julie, the same Julie who hasn’t spoken to him for sixteen days, heading away from the library with a baby in her arms, he has to follow her. Holy everything, he thinks. Julie Sweet is a kidnapper. Of course, the truth is much more complicated than the children know in this heartwarming and beautifully textured family story by award-winning author Amy Hest. Told in three distinct voices, each with a different take on events, the novel captures the moments and emotions of a life-changing summer – a summer in which a baby gives a family hope and brings a community together.
Amy Hest is the author of many beloved books for young readers, including Remembering Mrs. Rossi, Letters to Leo, and the Katie Roberts novels. She is also the author of many picture books, including Kiss Good Night, When Jessie Came Across the Sea, and the Baby Duck books. Her more recent titles include Buster and the Baby, On the Night of the Shooting Star, and Are You Sure, Mother Bear? Amy lives in New York City.
What was the inspiration behind this book?
This story is loosely based on some family history. Think New York City, 1942. My Aunt Harriet, age 18, goes to a party. Meets a boy, also 18. Love happens. And war. Harriet’s boy enlists and off he goes, to Biloxi, Mississippi, for basic training. Letters are written. Promises are made. Tears flow. Time passes. One night, Harriet packs a small bag and sneaks off on a train to see her boyfriend in Biloxi. A few days later, her soldier goes to war.
As for Aunt Harriet, she returns to the city married. That story (I heard it from a reliable source, my mother) about two young people getting married on the brink of war has always spoken to me. Romance! Of course, they were young. Very, very young, but still. Romance! I wasn’t there, of course, in 1942, but if I had been, I surely would have been rooting for them, cheering them on.
Perhaps, all these years later, that’s what I’ve done by writing The Summer We Found the Baby. It starts with a soldier going off to war. I add a baby to the mix, a beach, and three kids. A dog. A jeep. A library. I add layer upon layer of pain and joy, friendship and promises, broken hearts, and healing hearts. A love story, for sure.
What a great story! What do you hope readers take away from reading this book?
I would like my readers to care about Julie, Martha, and Bruno, and to understand that their points of view are all valid. I would like my readers to leave the book with a feeling that they have just made three new friends, and maybe even to think every now and then: “Hey, I wonder what’s happening these days with Julie … Martha … Bruno …”
How did writing a middle-grade novel differ from writing picture books?
The hard part is sitting down. I work at home, so I have this need to make sure all the household stuff is in place before I sit down. Bed made! Dishes washed! Laundry in dryer! Dog walked! That kind of thing. Also, I’m an early riser and I swim lots of laps every day in a nearby gym. So, before sitting down to write, I make sure that’s done, too. Coffee, bagel, and finally – miracle of miracles – I’m there. At my desk.
The actual process of writing a book is pretty much the same for me, whether it’s a chapter or picture book. It goes something like this: I type a while. Read what I’ve typed. Delete what I’ve typed. Type for a while. Read what I’ve typed. Delete what I’ve typed. Three little words: Type. Read. Delete. That goes on for minutes … hours … days on end, even years! But occasionally, very occasionally, I delete less. And while my computer screen might be filled with a lot of terrible sentences that don’t amount to anything resembling a decent story, I get the feeling that maybe, just maybe, there is a story in there. Somewhere. So, I keep at it. Type. Read. Delete. Delete less, type more, read out loud to hear how it sounds. Rewrite. Rewrite. Rewrite. And then one day – and this often is years after my first attempt (yes, even the picture book that looks so easy to write can take more than a year to write) – a viable story!
What is one of your favorite writing exercises?
I do not do actual writing exercises. Ever! I just write. Pretty much every day. And every single day, I strive to be a better writer than I was the day before. For me, the act of writing is an act of love. And since I love what I do, I don’t think of it as work. I love getting to know my characters, and the only way to do that is to just keep Writing. Deleting. Rewriting. I am constantly going back to the beginning and starting all over again. I rewrite and rewrite and rewrite, but that’s okay. With every word or sentence or paragraph or chapter that I delete, I can go back and try again and again, to make it better. I always want to make it better, so that in the end, it is the best possible story it can be. There are no shortcuts!
What is your process for writing dialogue?
Basically, I write it. Read it out loud. Rewrite it. Delete it. Then start all over again. Write. Read out loud. Rewrite. Delete. Start all over again. The reading out loud is so important. If it doesn’t sound natural, delete, delete, delete!!
Thanks so much, Amy, for taking the time out for the interview!
Readers: Don’t forget to leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of The Summer We Found the Baby.