Wednesday, April 16, 2014

GIVEAWAY + INTERVIEW WITH MICHELE WEBER HURWITZ, AUTHOR OF THE SUMMER I SAVE THE WORLD...IN 65 DAYS


I was lucky enough to get my hands on an ARC of THE SUMMER I SAVE THE WORLD...IN 65 DAYS by Michele Weber Hurwitz...I absolutely fell in love with this read (as my questions for Michele reveal).  I'm a sucker for realistic, contemporary reads, and this one's a gem.  A breath of fresh air in a sea of magical or fantasy-based MG reads...


Where did the idea come from?

I wove many thoughts together for this story. First, we hear so much about paying it forward and random acts of kindness, but sometimes the amount of problems in our world overwhelms me, and I wondered -- does doing good really do any good? Is it making a difference? Second, I wondered how people truly react when random good comes their way. Is it always positive? I also worried about how technology has altered family life and neighborhoods, and how we live in this era of a sort of "disconnected connection." Lastly, I read about a class at the University of Iowa where the professor had students write down each day three positive events or experiences -- no matter how big or small -- and how this changed their perspectives. I started doing that too. We tend to focus on the negative, or what goes wrong, instead of recognizing small, good things that go right every day.


Did your own grandmother have a set of STs (simple truths)?

While Nina's grandmother isn't based on anyone in particular, my grandmother was a very no-nonsense type of woman. She never wore makeup or had her hair done. She lost her husband very young and worked in a factory, then later, as a bank teller. She certainly had a number of beliefs that she felt strongly about. Most had to do with not wasting money and living a sensible life. And keeping a very clean home :)


In this era of iPhones, iPads, etc, we’ve become more isolated.  Is that true of your own neighborhood?  Would your own neighbors call the police at the sight of a good deed?  Is the neighborhood of your adult years different from the neighborhood where you grew up?  Do you still have any girlhood friends from your old neighborhood?

I actually do live in a cul-de-sac, but it's only four houses, as opposed to the eight houses in the book. There definitely has been a shift as the kids in my neighborhood have gotten older. You see people outside less, but I do think that also has to do with our i-world. It's really strange, when you think about it, that I will email my neighbor who lives two houses away, instead of walking over. I do have a nostalgic fondness for the neighborhood I grew up in, as many people do. I remember kids and parents being around more, and just knowing each other more. One of my best friends lived on the block behind mine, and we're still close, although we don't live near each other now. The idea for the book about one panicky neighbor calling the police after a few of Nina's good deeds actually did come from real life! There was an item in my local paper's police blotter about a woman calling the police when a girl she didn't recognize was distributing homemade cookies in her neighborhood. So it definitely can happen!


Nina describes her family as being “separated” but also living in the same house.  Do you think this is typical today?  Do you think this also makes for a greater desire for kids to find someone who “gets me,” as Nina says?

There are some things going on with Nina's family that result in the separateness that Nina describes, but yes, I think families can easily slip into that type of pattern, especially as kids reach their teen years. I have actually texted my younger daughter to come downstairs for dinner! (She had her headphones on, okay?) With the Internet, people answer emails around the clock, and kids are online at night. Because of this, there probably isn't the same family time of years ago. As for friendship, I think that's such a universal desire -- to connect with someone who "gets" you. Don't we all long for that kind of friend?


Where did the Kumiho, or nine-tailed fox idea come from?

My writing desk looks out on my backyard, and a few years ago, two red foxes ran into my yard. I live in a regular suburban neighborhood so this was pretty unusual. I remember just stopping what I was doing and staring out the window. I was transfixed by their beauty and wildness. The idea for the fox in the story came from that encounter, even though I wasn't even writing TSISTW back then.


Nina is called an “old soul”—a phrase I haven’t heard in a long time.  People have said as much of me.  Who in your life has been referred to as an “old soul”?

Well, me. An astrologer once told me that. I'm not sure if I believe in those kinds of things, but I do think there are certain people with a deeper sense, a heightened understanding. I'm glad to meet another old soul :)


The suspicious Mrs. Millman is quite a character.  Is she based on anyone?

I have to admit there was a neighbor on my block growing up that all the kids were scared of. It seemed she was always peeking out her window, waiting for us to do something wrong. My little brother wrote his name in chalk all the way down the sidewalk to her house, and she called my mom about it! My mom always joked that she wanted to pretend it wasn't him, but there wasn't anyone else in the neighborhood named Joey, especially one who wrote his name with a backward J.


In this era of “princessification” of young girls, I really loved the fact that  you depicted a girl who was more concerned with her actions than her looks.  Was that a conscious choice as you built Nina, or just part of creating a fully fleshed-out character?

It was a conscious choice, but also, I happen to love girl characters who are interested in things other than clothes and makeup. I'm happy to see girls and women speaking out now about how photo-shopped images of models can undermine self-esteem and send a damaging message, and how strength and leadership should be encouraged in girls. I hope we continue to see more dynamic, intelligent girl characters in middle grade novels.
  

The story builds beautifully—the ending becomes a page-turner.  Are there more Nina stories to come? 

I'd love to write another Nina story! It's hard to say goodbye to a character after you turn in that last draft. We'll see...


You masterfully weave your 65 deeds into Nina’s extraordinary summer.  What’s 66?

I guess we'll have to find out number 66 if there's a sequel :)


How would Grandma have summed up Nina’s summer?

Grandma would be so proud of her, no doubt about that. And I think Grandma was right there with her the whole time. If she summed it up in a Simple Truth, it probably would have been: You get back what you put in, so make it count.


One of my favorite scenes is Nina planting the forget-me-not seeds.  It seems that in writing this book, you’re also planting a few seeds in your readers’ minds.  What do you hope readers take away from this story?

I hope readers will realize that small good things are much bigger than they seem. And, that doing good doesn't have to be about raising tons of money or spending a Saturday cleaning up a park (although those efforts are certainly wonderful). But more just about being a good person. Cliché, I know, but ask kids or teens what they like best about their teachers. Invariably, they'll say: "she's nice." Ask yourself what stuck with you from your day. Maybe someone held a door open for you when your arms were full of grocery bags, or shared tomatoes from their garden, or made you laugh. That's what is important in the long run. We all know it. We just have to do it more.

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Michele Weber Hurwitz is also the author of Calli Be Gold (Wendy Lamb Books 2011), which was named a Best Book by the Bank Street College of Education and was nominated for a 2014 Bluestem Readers' Choice Award. She lives in a suburb of Chicago with her husband and three children, and loves to walk and eat chocolate (not at the same time). Find her at micheleweberhurwitz.com and on Twitter @MicheleWHurwitz.

Michele has also provided a signed copy of her fantastic book for our readers.  US / Canadian residents are encouraged to fill out the form below; the contest runs through Monday, April 28.

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6 comments:

  1. Empowering girls is one of the noblest things we can do as writers. Thanks for an inspiring post. I look forward to reading ...65 Days.

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    1. I couldn't agree more, Darlene! Thank you for commenting!

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  2. I loved Michele's CALLI BE GOLD, and this one sounds equally enticing. I totally agree about the electronic world disconnecting us from the "real" one of face-to-face interactions. I too have been tempted to text my child to come to dinner (and yes, he also has headphones almost permanently attached to his ears.)

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    1. Thanks, Michael! Crazy, isn't it? I can't imagine how my kids' kids will be communicating...

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  3. This sounds adorable. I love feel good books like this.

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