“Middleview” Interview with Debut Author Josanne LaValley

Posted by Tamera Wissinger

Today, Josanne LaValley is joining Smack Dab In The Middle Blog for a guest “middleview” interview. Josanne’s debut middle grade novel THE VINE BASKET (Clarion Books), released last Tuesday, on 4/02/2013! Congratulations, Josanne!

Here is Josanne’s biography:

Josanne La Valley never had any thoughts of writing children’s literature.  She grew up on a farm in western New York State, but moved to New York City right after college where she pursed careers as a singer, a teacher and a fundraiser for arts organizations.  The young people in her life reopened the door to children’s books and a new passion was born.

It took a few years and hundreds of rejections before an agent finally said “yes” and an editor said “yes.”  The Vine Basket is her first published novel.  During her years of writing and learning Josanne attended many conferences and workshops, received an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College, and met weekly with her writers group.  Now she can proudly call herself an author.  
The Vine Basket author Josanne LaValley
Josanne still lives in New York City with her husband who shares her love of music and theater and literature. Importantly, they love to travel and try to cross an ocean at least once a year.  Please visit her website at www.josannelavalley.com

Here’s a description of THE VINE BASKET:

Fourteen-year-old Mehrigul feels trapped.  She wants to go to school but must stay home to help on the family farm.  Uyghur girls in their teens who aren’t in school can be sent to work in factories in the south of China, and Mehrigul knows she is being eyed by government officials with a quota to fill.  Whether she is sent away or tied to farm work, her future looks bleak.

Then, a ray of hope.  A basket she wove to decorate the family donkey cart is bought by a foreign women who comes to the local market where her family sells their goods.  She wants to buy more of Mehrigul’s baskets and will return in three weeks.  Many obstacles block her path as she tries to make more baskets.  How Mehrigul takes a hand in shaping her own destiny is at the heart of the story.

Kirkus Reviews said of the book: “In her debut novel, La Valley paints a memorable picture of this faraway people . . . . A haunting tale of artistic vision triumphing over adversity.”

Here are the links to Josanne online: Website, Goodreads  

Now it’s time to hear from our guest:

Smack Dab Middleview with THE VINE BASKET author Josanne LaValley
1. What does your main character, Mehrigul, want?

Mehrigul longs to live freely in her own land, on the farm where her beloved grandfather and his forefathers have lived for generations.  She longs for the freedom to speak freely in her Uyghur language and to help preserve the Uyghur culture.  Her family is poor.  She wants to help them to survive these hard times.

2. What is in Mehrigul’s way?

In the past few decades, the communist Chinese have tried to repress the Uyghurs in much the same way they are overwhelming the Tibetans.  They want control of the Uyghur’s land which is rich in oil and minerals.  The government sends young girls away to work in factories so they will not stay home, marry Uyghur men and have Uyghur children.

3. How did the story evolve?

I visited northwest China with a guide who took us into the homes of local Uyghur craftsmen.  I saw the way they lived and worked and visited their local outdoor markets.  I kept a journal and took many photos.  Later I learned that Uyghur girls were recruited to work in factories in southern China.  I kept remembering the young girl who offered me a peach from the family farm as we stood in the yard watching her grandfather weave a willow basket.  The girl became Mehrigul and I imagined what her life might be.  I knew I wanted it to be a story of hardship and hope.

4. Was The Vine Basket always for middle grade readers?

I did not consciously write a middle grade novel, but it seemed to fall naturally into that category.  It is a “window” book into another culture, told from the point of view of a young girl.  The content is not edgy or romantic; it could not be called YA, yet the issues Mehrigul has to struggle with could easily be of interest to someone beyond the nine-twelve age group. 

5. What is the best part of writing for middle grade readers?

The best part is knowing the voraciousness, the intensity and involvement that especially young girls in the middle grades have when they read.  They get involved in story and are free to laugh and cry with the characters.  It’s hard sometimes to get young girls to put down a book to eat and sleep.  That’s wonderful to see.

6. A question that Josanne has asked herself: Why do we have to call a book middle grade and seem to limit it to a restricted age group?

As an adult reader I love middle grade books.  Who could not read Paterson’s The Great Gilly Hopkins without welling up in tears, read Palacio’s Wonder and not be moved, read Zusak’s The Book Thief and want to keep it on the shelf to read again?  Books with universal themes transcend categories.  Even though designations help to organize book stores, we may be restricting the audience.  

Thank you for joining us for a Middleview at Smack Dab Blog, Josanne. Again, congratulations on the release of THE VINE BASKET! We’ll look for it on bookshelves!


  1. Thanks for visiting Smack Dab, Josanne! Love your description of MG readers...And congrats on THE VINE BASKET!


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