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Dara Palmer’s Major Drama
By Emma Shevah
July 5, 2016
Dara Palmer longs for stardom—but when she isn’t cast in her middle school’s production of The Sound of Music, she get suspicious. It can’t be because she’s not the best. She was born to be a famous movie star. It must be because she’s adopted from Cambodia and doesn’t look like a typical fraulein. (That’s German for girl.)
So irrepressible Dara comes up with a genius plan to shake up the school: write a play about her own life. Then she’ll have to be the star.
What three words best describe your book, Dara Palmer’s Major Drama?
Funny, rectangular, and yellow.
Can you give us your best one sentence pitch to convince readers, especially reluctant readers, to give Dara Palmer’s Major Drama a try?
You should absolutely definitely read Dara Palmer’s Major Drama because it’s hilarious and about a lot of things, including adoption and acting and fame and where home is and toast stealing and sisters who don’t get on and big brothers who are lovely and dads who are boring accountants and Cambodia and orphanages and even nuns, and there are NO OTHER BOOKS ON EARTH which combine all of those elements – that I can PROMISE you – so read it, yes read it, go ahead and read it, go on, give it a try and wow have you noticed what an impressively long sentence this is and I haven’t even finished it yet, except OK, fine, I think I have now.
Grab a copy of Dara Palmer’s Major Drama and answer the following:
Do I have to choose just one? Argh! OK OK Chapter 30 then.
Oh, this is horrible, just horrible. Favourite page? Are you serious? Fine then, pg 269
Cambodia. Or the park. Or Felix’s room. Or maybe drama group.
flip to a random page and give us a 1-2 sentences teaser?
“Now I had Cambodia on my mind, I couldn’t help but wonder. Maybe Dad was right. Maybe I couldn’t be Maria because I had the wrong face. And that was something I could never fix, not unless I had major surgery, and even then there were no guarantees.
What inspired Dara Palmer’s Major Drama? How did the idea come to be?
When I was visiting my Italian cousin in Rome, I met a family with an adopted Cambodian daughter who was eleven at the time. Later, on that same trip, I shared a dorm room in a youth hostel in Milan with an American student who’d been adopted from Korea as a baby and had grown up in the States, and the idea of writing about a girl who was adopted got planted like a seed in my fertile head. I knew I wanted to write about an adopted Asian girl, but I didn’t know whether to write about a Chinese girl, a Thai, or someone from somewhere else. But in the end, I read about Cambodia and thought, no, she has to come from there. The acting idea came from my daughter and her friends, who used to talk all the time about being famous when they were little, so most of the dreams of fame came from their conversations. And as for the other parts, well, I know what it feels like to look different to my family, and to wonder where home is and where I belong, so that was easy enough, and I’m bothered that orphanages in Asia are full of girls, because those girls don’t deserve to be there. I’m also bothered about Asians being underrepresented in films, media and even in books, so I felt compelled to write about that.
Can you tell us a bit about your heroine, Dara? What makes her unique, what do you love about her?
Dara is loveable for lots of reasons: she’s funny, determined and a total drama queen, which you’d think would come in useful, seeing as she wants to get the main part in a play, but she doesn’t have the first clue about acting and thinks it’s all to do with pulling faces. She was also adopted from an orphanage in Cambodia as a baby, so she looks nothing like her family, and doesn’t get on at all with her younger sister who was adopted from Russia. Dara wonders how she’ll ever become famous and win an Oscar when there are no parts for people who look like her, and if she wants to get a lead role in any play ever, then she’s going to have to do something about it. But when her friend Vanna, who was adopted from the same orpahange, decides to go back to Cambodia to see it for herself, Dara has to choose between following her dream and finding out about the place she came from. I love Dara because she’s spontaneous, spirited and full of fun, plus she wears tutus and sparkly cardigans at weekends.
What do you hope readers will walk away with after reading Dara Palmer’s Major Drama?
I hope readers will enjoy it, of course, first and foremost, and that after reading it, they’ll have more understanding of how adopted children might feel, I hope they’ll learn that orphanages in Asia are full of girls, most of whom are not orphans but who are put there simply because they were born girls. I hope readers will want to grow up and do what they can to help change situations like that, or at the very least, be grateful for the myriad choices and chances they have but those girls will never have. I hope my readers will learn about the world beyond their borders and see life through a wider lens, and as if that’s not enough expectation already for one little itty bitty book to achieve, I hope they’ll start to notice that films, TV and books don’t represent and reflect the wide spectrum of people that they should, which needs to be corrected, and realise that it takes hard work and determination to make your dreams come true.
What is your all time favorite middle-grade book and/or character?
I love love love Pippi Longstocking. She’s a feminist, an optimist and a free thinker, and is utterly individual, completely comfortable with herself and wildly eccentric. She doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her; she’s seen the world and doesn’t have to go to school and lives with a horse and a monkey in a house on her own, and does acrobatics outside her friends’ window when they’re sick. The books are so funny. I’d love to be friends with Pippi. Actually, I’d like to BE Pippi.
What do you love about writing middle-grade novels? Why do you think middle-grade literature is so popular and important?
I have a weird sense of humour and writing middle grade means I can sit down to write and when crazy things come into my head, I can let them fly out and no one tells me to grow up or be serious or stop fooling around. In fact they like it, which is a relief. I also think this is a great age because it’s the pivot between being a child and being an adult and has its own joys, adventures and confusions. And for an author, to be able to encourage a love of reading and books among this age group, and to be able to write entertaining stories that also have an important message that might make young readers think, well, that means a lot to me.
Fill in the blanks:
I’m really awesome at talking to absolute strangers and making friends in five minutes. I talk to taxi drivers, people next to me on planes, people cleaning toilets – anyone really. I’m fascinated with people and their stories.
I’m really embarrassed to admit that I’m a truly terrible singer. Like Lacey in Dara Palmer’s Major Drama, I sound like a cat with its head stuck in a lawnmower blade.
The last great book I read was ‘The Road’ by Cormac McCarthy. I had to read the first sentence about five times because it was so beautiful and so perfectly weighted, and I wondered at that point if I’d have to read every sentence five times because then I’d never get through it. Not that I cared: it’s worth reading every sentence five times. Ten times, even. He’s a master. It utterly blew me away.
If you were to create and bake a cupcake inspired by Dara Palmer’s Major Drama, what would it look and taste like, and what would you call it?
Mmm…cake. It would probably be a mango and coconut sticky rice cake, with chocolate on top so it would be dark and glossy like her skin and it would have a red tutu around it for decoration and a frangipani flower on top. I’d call it ‘Dara’s Drama’ and it would be delicious because sticky rice and mango is one of my favourite foods ever. It’s heaven on a plate.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Emma Shevah is half-Irish and half-Thai and was born and raised in London. She has lived in Australia, Japan, India (her first child was born in the Himalayas), and Jerusalem before moving back to the UK. Visit Emma at emmashevah.com
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Dara Palmer's Major Drama!
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