Today, I’m interviewing Jacqueline Houtman and giving away a
copy of her book The Reinvention of Edison Thomas. Jacqueline stopped by Ink
Spells back in January, when we were discussing Point of View in Kidlit,
and shared her insights on using big
words in middle grade books:
Excellent post. Middle grade is not about
vocabulary (and EDDY is a perfect example: diagenesis? monotreme? prescient?).
I never thought about it the way you said it, but it’s true. MG is all about
possibilities, discovery, opening the door to adulthood. Boundless! Love it!
(bless her!), and she also tackles the issue of kids on the autism spectrum. Here’s
an excerpt from Jacqueline’s many glowing reviews:
Reinvention of Edison Thomas accurately portrays one way in which Asperger
Syndrome can play out in an individual, in this case in a middle schooler as he
navigates the social environment that is the fabric of his life. Without
ever naming or even alluding to Eddy’s diagnosis, Houtman weaves the
story of a unique young man struggling with and outsmarting the challenges his
differences visit upon him while at the same time using the blessings of who he
is to challenge the status quo, to develop some true friendships and
to ultimately become comfortable enough in his own skin to begin
making his mark in the world in his own unique way.” –Judy Endow, Autism
Me: This is Autism
Awareness Month. I know a couple of friends with kids on the spectrum, and
I’ve watched Adam (charming,
heartbreaking), but it would take a lot of research for me to begin to write a
book from the POV of someone on the spectrum. What inspired you to take that
Jacqueline: There were a couple of things that converged in my life at
- I was working as a freelance science writer and
got a chance to write for middle school kids. First WORLD BOOK, and then some
short fiction with science content. I was hooked. I could write dialogue and
humor, and I could make stuff up (well, not the science, but the characters and
- My son brought HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S
STONE home and asked me to read it to him. I did. Then I had to read the rest
of them. To see if it was OK for my son ;-). I rediscovered middle grade
fiction. I had stopped reading fiction in high school, because grown-up fiction
was tedious. Not so middle grade. Hooked again.
- I read THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE
NIGHT-TIME by Mark Haddon. The
protagonist is a 15-year-old boy who is evidently on the autism spectrum. I
thought a character like that would be interesting to write about, but there
were things I would do differently. I wanted a younger protagonist, in middle
school, who had to deal with his peers. I also decided to write EDDY in third
on how someone on the autism spectrum experiences the world. The autism
spectrum is wide, and there are a lot of different ways to “be autistic.” The
spectrum also has very fuzzy edges. I identify very closely with a lot of
Eddy’s personality traits, and I hang around with a bunch of people who are,
officially or not, on or near the spectrum.
labels to identify ourselves and others. Can you tell us why you decided not to
label EDDY as having Asperger’s, and what the impact of that has been?
notion of what autism and Asperger’s “look like,” whether it’s the Rain Man
stereotype, or one of the Aspergian characters on TV. I wanted readers to get
to know Eddy as an individual character, to be able to relate to him based on
shared characteristics. When you give someone a label (especially a label you
don’t share), it can make that person seem more “other,” and maybe prevent you
from seeing your similarities.
maybe even empathize with real-life kids who are a little “different,” whether
they are diagnosed or not. On the down
side, I think the lack of a label has made it harder for people to find EDDY
when they are looking for books with Aspergian protagonists. That’s one reason
I’m doing a marketing push during Autism Awareness Month.
Besides the book giveaway on your blog (and a
couple of other blogs), I’m doing a Twitter experiment. The more followers I get (@jjhoutman), the more books I will
add to the prize, a classroom set of EDDY advance reader copies. My goal is to
bring autism awareness to the classroom.
charming, award-winning book, The
Reinvention of Edison Thomas! Just leave a comment to enter, either today or tomorrow (Tuesday). Stop back on Wednesday for more Q&A with Jacqueline about her small publisher Front Street and the difference between science and fiction writing. And the winner announcement!