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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Interview: Wendy McClure, author of Wanderville

I'm thrilled to have the lovely Wendy McClure stopping by today to chat about her new middle-grade historical fiction, Wanderville...

(Wanderville #1)
by Wendy McClure

Jack, Frances, and Frances’s younger brother Harold have been ripped from the world they knew in New York and sent to Kansas on an orphan train at the turn of the century. As the train chugs closer and closer to its destination, the children begin to hear terrible rumors about the lives that await them. And so they decide to change their fate the only way they know how. . . .

They jump off the train.

There, in the middle of the woods, they meet a boy who will transform their lives forever. His name is Alexander, and he tells them they've come to a place nobody knows about—especially not adults—and "where all children in need of freedom are accepted." It's a place called Wanderville, Alexander says, and now Jack, Frances, and Harold are its very first citizens.


What three words best describe Wanderville?

Orphan train escape!

Can you give us your best one sentence pitch to convince readers, especially reluctant readers, to give this book a try?

Four kids escape from a fire, an orphanage, a cruel work farm, and a moving train, and they start their own town in the woods.

Grab a copy of Wanderville and answer the following:

Favorite chapter? Chapter 17, “The Liberation of Merchandise,” where Jack and Frances and Alexander have to steal things from a store.

Favorite page? Page 28, when Frances lies and claims that Jack was in a New York street gang called the Ugly Rabbits.

Flip to a random page and give us a 1-2 sentence teaser:
Page 85: “Clearly he’s touched in the head! Also, he wants to start his own town. He’s about twelve years old, he’s got nothing but a barrel and a suitcase full of eggs, and he wants to start his own town.”

There are some really likable and memorable characters in Wanderville, do you have an absolute favorite? What do you love about him/her?

I love Harold. He’s Frances’s younger brother, and he’s sort of like the younger sibling I never had. I guess I was the Harold in my family. Harold always speaks up when he’s not quite supposed to, but he winds up saying really important things.

Did you have to do a lot of research when writing Wanderville? How much of the story is based on historical fact?

 I read a lot about the orphan trains and how they traveled from the East Coast, taking thousands of kids from big cities and relocating them in homes out west. I also read a lot about life in New York City in the 1800s and early 1900s, where lots of kids lived the way Jack and Frances and Harold did.  Kids worked in factories and lived in dark, crowded tenement buildings with their families, and many kids, like Frances and Harold, lived on the street or in orphanages. The orphan trains were meant to help get children out into the country where they could have better lives, but sometimes kids didn’t wind up in happy homes and were made to work as servants or farmhands. That’s what the kids in Wanderville are afraid of, so they escape from the train… then I imagined the rest. I don’t know if any orphan train  riders ever jumped off a train in real life, but sometimes kids ran away from the homes where they were placed.

What do you hope readers, especially young readers, will walk away with or learn from Wanderville?

I hope readers get a better sense of life around the turn of the 20th century. I hope they also think about what it means to be on your own. And maybe they’ll get a sense of how history works. The orphan trains were supposed to help kids, but sometimes it didn’t work that way, and history is like that—things happen that are both good and bad.

As a middle-grade author, why do you think MG books are so important? What do you love most about reading and writing MG?

Middle grade books help kids think who they are right now, not who they’re supposed to be when they get older. When I write MG, I feel like there’s a homing instinct—like I’m returning to this place where my mind started, when I first started thinking about life’s big questions, and I know that happened when I was a kid reading middle grade.

Who are your all time favorite male and female middle-grade characters (that aren’t yours)?  

Stanley Yelnats from Holes and Laura Ingalls from the Little House books. They both have to deal with a lot.

Fill in the blanks:

I’m really awesome at making omelets.

I’m really embarrassed to admit that I am writing this in pajamas even though it’s only 8pm.

The last great book I read was Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald

If you were to create and bake a cupcake inspired by Wanderville, what would it look and taste like, and what would you call it?

The cake would be an old-fashioned shortcake with a wild berry filling, since the kids pick berries in the woods! It would be frosted with buttercream and sprinkled with bits of broken sarsaparilla hard candy. There’d be two pretzel sticks stuck in the top holding up a tiny fondant hammock. I would call it  “Home in the Woods.”

Thank you SO MUCH, Wendy, for stopping by and giving us a chance to get to know you and your book!

Wendy McClure is an author, a columnist, and a children’s book editor.  She is the author of  The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie, which won the Midwest Booksellers Choice Award for nonfiction in 2011, received a starred review from Publishers Weekly, and was a Barnes & Noble Discover Pick. Her 2005 memoir, I’m Not the New Me, was featured in publications such as Time Magazine, USA Today, Elle, and the San Francisco Chronicle. Her infamous online collection of vintage Weight Watcher recipe cards and commentary was published in the 2006 humor book The Amazing Mackerel Pudding Plan.  Since 2004 she has written the pop culture column for BUST Magazine. Additionally, her work has appeared in publications such as The New York Times Magazine, Glamour, The Chicago Sun-Times, and on the radio program This American Life. She has an MFA in poetry from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. Her work in children’s books includes her historical fiction series, Wanderville, and she has edited over fifty novels and picture books for children as a senior editor at Albert Whitman & Company. She was born in Oak Park, Illinois, and now lives in Chicago with her husband, Chris, in a neighborhood near the river.


Brenda said...

This looks just like the kind of historical fiction I've been meaning to read.

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