“Middleview” Interview with Debut Author Gayle Rosengren

Posted by Tamera Wissinger

Today, Gayle Rosengren is joining Smack Dab In The Middle Blog for a guest “middleview” interview. Gayle’s debut middle grade novel WHAT THE MOON SAID, Putnam Young Readers Group, releases today, 02/20/2014! Congratulations, Gayle!

Here is a bit about Gayle:

Author Photo: Robert Beaverson
Gayle grew up in Chicago.  Like Esther, she enjoyed school, was an avid reader, and loved dogs and horses.  She attended Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, where she majored in Creative Writing and was the editor of the literary magazine. Gayle never outgrew her passion for children's books, and she worked as a children's and young adult librarian at a public library for several years in the late 1980's and early 1990's, enthusiastically sharing her love of books with young people.

Also like Esther, Gayle eventually moved to Wisconsin, but by then she was a mother with three children.  She worked in the reference library, and later as a copy-editor, at American Girl.  During this time period she published short stories for children in Cricket, Ladybug, Jack and Jill and Children's Digest magazines.

Now Gayle writes full-time in her home just outside of Madison, Wisconsin, where she lives with her husband, Don, and slightly neurotic rescue dog, Fiona.  Gayle is living her dream, she says, writing books she hopes will make the same difference in children's lives as her favorite books and authors made in hers.  What the Moon Said is her first novel.

Here’s a description of WHAT THE MOON SAID:

What the Moon Said is the story of 10 year-old Esther and her family and how their love makes good times better and bad times bearable during the Great Depression.

Their move from the big city of Chicago to a small ramshackle farm in Wisconsin is full of changes for Esther.  Some of them are good, like being able to have a dog at last.  But some of them are bad, like having to use an outhouse because there is no indoor plumbing!

Join Esther on her "great adventure" and find out if she ever earns the hug she yearns for from her mother.   Find out what Esther discovers about luck—good and bad—and about the superstitions so important to her mother.  Find out what the moon said.

Here are the links to Gayle online: Website, Twitter, Goodreads

Now it’s time to hear from our guest:

Smack Dab Middleview with WHAT THE MOON SAID author Gayle Rosengren

1. In a nutshell, what does your main character, Esther, want?

Ever since Esther saw her friend Shirley's mother hug and kiss her and tell Shirley that she loved her, Esther has yearned for the same proof of love from her mother.  But Ma doesn't give hugs, let alone kisses and "I love you's".  Being a determined girl, however (we won't call her stubborn), Esther vows to find a way to make Ma love her and give her the gestures of affection that she craves.  

2. What is in Esther's way?

Ma is not just undemonstrative, she's full of superstitious beliefs that she brought with her from Russia as a young woman.  The harder Esther tries to impress Ma, the more she seems to anger her instead--by bringing an open umbrella into the house, putting new shoes on the table, killing a spider before breakfast, or committing any number of other wrong-doings that, according to Ma, call bad luck into their home. 

3. Did you know right away that this was your story, or did you discover it as you wrote? How did the story evolve? 

I knew I wanted to write a story that explored a "different" kind of mother-daughter relationship and how it compared to a demonstrably loving one, because I'd always been fascinated by the difference between my mother's way of mothering and my grandmother's far more restrained style.  I imagined that my mother had always wanted more affection than she received and that was why she was so extra-loving with my siblings and me.  I felt as if we got all the hugs and kisses and declarations of love that she wished she could have had.  And so the idea for this book was born.

Of course, like most stories, it changed quite a bit as I wrote it.  I realized I needed something specific in Ma's past to explain her rigid behavior, and then I needed a realistic way for Esther to find out about it.  But even when this part of the work was done, what I had was a sweet but "quiet" story that had great characters and setting but not enough tension.  What to do…what to do..?  The obvious, of course; I put it in a drawer for several years and worked on other manuscripts.  But I took Esther's story out and dusted it off a few years ago when I participated in a novel retreat with an editor from Putnam.  She loved the characters and the setting, but (ahem) thought it was a bit  too quiet. (Arghh!)  However, she had a suggestion for heightening the tension and action by adding more superstitions and increasing their significance to the story.  It was the perfect advice.  The story took off.  The editor took the novel. And I finally took the long-awaited leap from being a writer to being an author.

4. Was WHAT THE MOON SAID always for middle grade readers or not? If so, why did you choose middle grade? If not, what had to change for it to be considered a middle grade novel? 

In my mind it was always a middle grade story.  I wanted Esther to have one foot still in childhood and the other foot stepping out of it.  A doll, Margaret, was the tangible sign of this transition.  Esther is unable to set Margaret aside despite Ma's insistence that she's too old for dolls, and this sore point between them ultimately leads to an intense climactic scene. But realistically speaking, I think it's during this 8-12 year old period that kids start looking more closely at other families and comparing them to their own, so that Esther's suddenly noticing Ma's refusal to show (or speak of) her love is believable.

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

The best part is knowing that as a middle grade book it has such potential for making a life-long impression on its readers.  Middle grade is the sweet spot in children's literature.   These readers are youngsters who've  only recently discovered the amazing places that a book can take them. The books I read when I was that age are still as vivid in my mind today as they were when I first read them. I had no way of knowing it at the time, but the characters I met between those book covers (who were like real friends then) were destined to be "forever friends" and are still every bit as dear to me now.  I'd love to think that Esther's story might resonate that way for young readers of today.

Thank you for joining us on Smack Dab in the Middle Blog, Gayle. Again, congratulations on the release of WHAT THE MOON SAID!


  1. Congrats, Gayle! And thanks for stopping by Smack Dab!

  2. I will be adding this book to my growing shelf of ones to read. Love historicals. Great interview!

  3. Exploring mother-daughter relationships is becoming even more intriguing as my mother and I age and our roles change. This sounds like a wonderful book!

  4. Gayle' s What the Moon Said is an absolutely terrific Middle Grade historical fiction book, with one of the best main characters, vibrant & lovable Esther, in recent Middle Grade literature. And so skillfully written, with just the right voice for someone of Esther's age, a perfect structure (flows seamlessly from scene to scene, chapter to chapter), and truly beautiful use of language. A great mother-daughter relationship book. Also, because it is written so well and at an age-appropriate level for Middle Grade minds, would be an excellent read out-loud book for home or the classroom. Just a terrific book!


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