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Capture the Flag
by
Kate Messner


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Check out the Sweet on Books Interview with

Jane Schoenberg

Author of The Stuey Lewis Series


Have you or anyone in your life struggled with learning to read?
I was a teacher for many years and worked with kids that struggled with reading. Some of those kids had learning challenges that didn’t make the process of reading come easy, but many of them just decided that reading was hard, or boring, and they couldn’t do it. I get it. I was kind of like that with math, when I was a kid. And Stuey, at least until some point in second grade, is like that, too. I used to tell my students, if you make up your mind that you can’t do something, then you really won’t be able to, even if you can. Someone, or something has to change that mindset. Stuey is a great example of that. After he gets over the “reading hurdle,” he continues to tackle challenge after challenge, and by the end of third grade, he’s beating all the odds!

Was there a specific inspiration for the Stuey character?
Not really. I knew I wanted to write a series with a boy protagonist. One day I woke up with a very strong voice in my head saying, “I wake up and decide to have a stomachache that’s so bad I have to stay in bed.” Well, I didn’t stay in bed. I jumped out, sat down at my computer, and encouraged that voice to keep on talking. I was lucky he had so much to say..

Was there a specific teacher that inspired the character of Ginger?
When people ask me which character is most like me, I answer Ginger. So I guess Ginger is a bit like I was, all the years I worked with kids. I have a profound respect for children, and always felt I was learning as much from them as they were hopefully learning from me. Like Ginger, I didn’t want to be called Ms. Schoenberg, so kids called me Jane.

You are also a lyricist, how is writing lyrics different than writing books?
When I’m crafting a lyric, which I tend to do before it’s set to music, I have to adhere to a far stricter writing code that involves rhyme, meter, accents, and form, which is more confining than when I’m writing a book. Of course, each genre has a story to tell, and if the song is part of a musical it also has dialogue. Because I write for young kids, I’ve learned to tell a story in a limited number of words, which is just what a successful lyric needs to do. I love writing lyrics, because I get to work with my husband Steven Schoenberg, who is an incredible composer. I really enjoy the process of collaborating, which is far less isolating than writing.

Can you tell us about your next book?
I’m working on a YA novel that’s set in the south in 1969. The protagonist is a fourteen-year-old girl named, DB, and the story is told in her voice. There’s a bit of magical realism in it, and a look at the Gullah culture.

What made you want to be a writer?
My passion for books and kids, I guess. When I think back on my life, I was always reading or writing something. It felt completely natural and comfortable, so I never attached much thought to it. I’ve always had a fierce admiration for writers and when I initially thought that maybe I could be one, too, it was a little daunting, but mostly exciting. It still is.

How do you get your ideas?
Sometimes ideas just pop into my head, but usually I spend time looking for them. Because much of my work is voice driven, with the protagonist telling the story in his or her own words, I’ve learned to pay close attention to that voice, and to trust it. And yes, I’m researching things all the time, so I can be more knowledgeable about whatever I am writing.

Where do you prefer to do your writing?
When I’m at home I write in my “studio,” which is my son’s old bedroom. I don’t really have a schedule. When I’m in “the zone” I feel like I could write forever. When I get stuck, I go in the garden, or do other chores, or read, but my mind is always working to get unstuck. If I wake up in the middle of the night with a solution, then I get up and write.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Read a lot. The more you read, the more you develop as a writer. Do not get too attached to what you write, because more than likely, you will be rewriting what you wrote, a lot.

What would you be if you weren't a writer?
I’d be a floral designer for all the huge arrangements at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

If you could have lunch with any writer whom would you choose? Why?
Arnold Lobel. I’ve always had a soft spot for Frog and Toad.

WOULD YOU RATHER...

Read or write?    Read

Call or text?    Call

Fly or drive?    Drive

Beach or ski?    Beach

Time travel back or time travel forward?    Time travel back

E-book or traditional book?    Traditional Book

TELL US YOUR FAVORITE...

Children's book:    So many, but my all-time favorite series as a kid were The Mary Poppins books, by P.L.Travers.

Song:    This one is way too hard to answer. I love Broadway music, songs by Cole Porter, the Gershwins, Sondheim, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Marvin Gaye, I could go on…

Sports Team:    True confession…I’m not really into sports, but I did have fun at my first-ever Red Socks game at Fenway Park a couple of summers ago.

Travel destination:    All time favorite is Italy.

Super Hero:    Harriet Tubman… Okay, I know real people aren’t “super” heroes, but she pulled off amazing feats that were super, and I’ve always had a thing for her, even as a kid.

Magic power:    Healing power, and to be able to communicate with the plant and animal world.

We are Sweet on Books, so we have to ask – what is your favorite sweet treat?

Chocolate, but if you offered me a slice of authentic key lime pie, I wouldn’t turn it down!

Bio:
Jane Schoenberg is a lyricist and the author of My Bodyworks, Songs about your bones, muscles, heart and more, The Baby Hustle, The One and Only Stuey Lewis, Stories from the Second Grade, and Stuey Lewis Against All Odds, Stories from the Third Grade. She lives in Western Massachusetts. You can visit her on her website: www.janeschoenberg.com