Monthly Archives: November 2008

Author Interview: Katia Novet Saint-Lot and Amy Lundebrek


Today I am very happy to present a double-feature type interview with two Tilbury House debut authors: Katia Novet Saint-Lot, author of Amadi’s Snowman, and Amy Lundebrek, author of Under the Night Sky. (It’s a little like listening in to a pair of writing pals chatting at the local coffee shop). Take it away, Katia and Amy!

Lots of people have this idea that the writing life is pretty romantic.  What’s one thing that’s completely unromantic about being a writer?

Katia: Well, it is 2:45pm and I’m sitting at the computer, still wearing my pajamas, feeling thoroughly frustrated because my children will arrive in 15 minutes and I have not showered, have not done all I wanted to do because I wasted far too much time answering my emails, doing research, and what not, and because anyway, I’m not creative in the mornings, and, oh, did I mention that I forgot to have lunch? So, now, I only have a few minutes to shower, get dressed, and if I’m lucky, grab a piece of cheese in the fridge, and…dring! the door bell rings, and that’s basically it for the day, at least until late in the evening when both ladies [Katia's daughters] are asleep.

Amy:  At first glance, your unromantic scenario looks like my romantic scenario…I literally can’t remember the last time I was able to remain in my PJ’s until 2:45! My alarm goes off at 5:30am.  I let the dogs out, pack a breakfast and lunch for myself and my husband, take a quick shower, make some coffee, and try to get myself out the door by 6:45.  I get home from work between 4:30 and 5:00, make dinner, read a little bit and email/facebook/websurf… and then by 9:30 I’m winding down. We do have a strong similarity in our lives, though… and that is that at our most creative times of day, we have other responsibilities. My most creative time is from about 8am to lunch time, but I’m at work then, and it’s not the kind of job where I could sneak in a little writing. I accept though, that this is the way it is for me in my journey at this time, and that it will not always be this way.  I am also happy for anybody who has created space and time in their lives to focus on being a writer, which it seems that you have done.

Katia: Well, I’m a translator by profession, which means I work from home. In February of this year, I found myself not only alone to look after my 3 year-old in the afternoons, but also trying to tutor my other daughter in French—we were hoping to move to a Francophone country, and so I wanted her to be at the right level for school. So, all of a sudden, I was left with only about three to four hours of free time a day. I thought about it long and hard and then decided to take a break from translating for a few months. But then we didn’t leave India, and now the little one goes to school until 3pm…but I haven’t yet gone back to a full-time translating schedule. So, being able to write until 2:45 is totally new. Funny how we get into a routine and forget about the old ones!

What’s one thing about the writing life that measures up in every way to people’s fantasies?

Katia: I’m not sure what people’s fantasies about the writing life are, but one real high for me is to feel that a story is taking shape. I could be frustrated, worry about the emotional arc not working, spend hours changing one word, and then, suddenly, something shifts, or I have an idea, and things seem to fall into place. Wow, that’s totally worth all the frustrations before, and all those still to come.

Amy: The romantic part for me is actually strongly connected to the difficult part.  Being so busy, and still driven to write, I often have to shelve my ideas in the back of my mind for long periods of time, only taking them out and looking them over once in awhile.  The secret is, even if I haven’t thought about a story idea for a long time, when I pull it back out from wherever it was hiding…  it’s different.  It has grown and changed and developed more or less without me, often becoming more relevant.  This has happened to me so frequently that now I trust the process, and something about the way that works makes me feel connected to the universe. Is what I’m describing similar to what you mean when you talk about how “something shifts” and “things seem to fall into place?”

Katia: Yes, absolutely. I hadn’t articulated it that way, though. For me, it feels as if ideas, thoughts, concepts, need a time of incubation. When they’re ready to come out, they do. I think it has to do with one’s personality, at least in my case. I process things very slowly. Pretty much everything. And I’ve learned to accept it – I’m not sure I do it as graciously as you seem to :) – and try to trust the process more, and not fret so much about getting things done right now. It helps that I usually work on several projects at once. When I reach a plateau with one story, I just put it away and get another one out.
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Amadi’s Snowman


As a teacher, I’m ever on the look out for quality picture books that will support my aim to infuse social justice and equity issues into our work across the curriculum. Sometimes it can be tricky to find stories that suggest the complexity and reality of a difficult issue without becoming scary, overwhelming or didactic. Amadi’s Snowman, by Katia Novet Saint-Lot, illustrated by Dimitrea Tokunbo, is a story I’m eager to take into the classroom because it gets the balance of teaching and strong story-tellying just right.

In Nigeria, Amadi plans to grow up to be a successful Igbo businessman, earning as much money as he needs cleaning cars, delivering items in the market, or being a merchant. His mother (like mother’s everywhere), wants Amadi to stop complaining about having to go to free reading lessons with Mrs. Chikodili. He can’t see the use in them, he doesn’t like them and (like children everywhere), he does his best just to ignore his mother’s nagging.

As with so many kids, and adults too, all it takes to turn Amadi into a reader is one special book, in this case, a picture book about a snowman. He is captivated by this book that tells him about something he has never seen before, let alone imagined. He discovers the magic of books and becomes inspired to learn the secrets of reading.

You’re sure to love this touching book. It’s made for the classroom and for gift-giving. There is real lightness in Katia Novet Saint-Lot’s writing that will draw children into Amadi’s world and make his experiences seem all the more real. She tells the simple story of a boy’s journey through his day, and readers are left to infer the challenges that a person might face in a life without reading. This is subtle work that leaves room for conversations to happen before, during and after reading. Rural life in Africa is gorgeously depicted throughout by Dimitrea Tokunbo. Her illustrations – bold and intensely coloured – make you feel transported to Amadi’s community and add vitality to the story.

Teachers will find some excellent resources for using this text in the classroom at Tilbury House. I plan to incorporate Amadi’s Snowman into my unit of study on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Here are a few other reviews, as well as the link to the author’s wonderful blog (check out her awesome Global Virtual Tour for Amadi’s Snowman while you’re there):

Scribbly Katia (author’s blog)
Saffron Tree review
The Picnic Basket review
Bees Knees Reads review
Paper Tigers Blog review

Katia Novet Saint-Lot will be here at Shelf Elf for an interview this Saturday. So be sure to pop by!

Elf Envy: Random Round Up

A few goodies around the kidlitosphere:

As if we needed further proof that the divas at readergirlz are an unstoppable force. Now they’ve launched a readergirlz blog. Awesome. Also – there’s a new diva in town… Melissa Walker, author of the Violet on the Runway series.

I almost feel like just linking to Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast and saying, “Go look around.” There’s so much juicy goodness over there on Jules and Eisha’s site. I must say though, that I particularly enjoyed their Seven Questions Over Breakfast with David Ezra Stein. He’s seems like a cool fella.

Mother Reader offers us a trio of picture books with a Presidential theme. (Go America. Go Barack! Woo hoo!)

Be sure to keep a close eye on the Cybils blog for lots of great reviews of some of the nominated books, interviews with authors and roundtables introducing the fab first-round panelists. It just keeps getting better and better!

Jen R’s recent review of Laurie Halse Anderson’s Chains should inspire just about anyone to grab a copy. Sounds like just the right book to mark this historic day.

That’s it for now!

I’d Tell You I Love You But Then I’d Have to Kill You

Chances are most avid teen readers out there have already gobbled up this first title in Ally Carter’s girl spy series, but just in case you missed it, I’m here to tell you why it should be high on your TBR list.

15 year old Cammie Morgan goes to an elite, all-girls private school where she receives an education that is second-to-none – no surprise given that she’s studying subjects like Covert Operations, Advanced Encryption and Culture and Assimilation. That’s right. The Gallagher Academy is no ordinary girls’ school. It’s a school for spies. You have to be a genius to attend, and it sure helps if mom or dad is “in the business.” For Cammie, it’s certainly all in the family. Her mom is Gallagher’s headmistress with a resume any spy would envy. Her father died mysteriously while working on assignment. So Cammie and her mother have made Gallagher their home, and it’s a given that Cammie will continue the work her parents were trained for. Life is complicated enough for a spy-in-training, but things get even crazier when Cammie falls for a local boy, Josh, who can never know about her true identity. With the help of her friends Bex and Liz, Cammie uses all of her spy smarts to romance the normal guy-next-door, with hilarious and sometimes dangerous results.

In my view, the world cannot have enough girl spies. Smart. Sassy. Gorgeous. Loaded with intuition. For sure I’d want a Gallagher girl in my corner if ever I found myself in enemy territory. These ladies rock. But trust me, Id’ Tell You I Love You But Then I’d Have to Kill You is not just rah-rah, girl-power fluff. Ally Carter can write, and she’s created a winning story that feels part boarding-school drama, part spy-thriller, part Get-Smart hilarity, part romantic-comedy, and 100% fun. This is fine entertainment, with characters you’re eager to learn more about. You will love the descriptions of the academy itself, with its secret passageways, rich history and ivy-covered walls. The odd-ball teachers with mysterious and complicated pasts added real richness to the narrative. If you love a Potter-esque boarding school setting, you will appreciate what Carter is doing here.

With all of the mad-cap adventuring and spyware gadgets, you’re probably thinking this isn’t exactly a book you could “relate to.” Au contraire, mes amis. Cammie and her pals seem more or less like real girls, aside from their genius abilities and extraordinary knowledge of um… just about everything. Cammie just wants something wonderfully normal in her life. Like all non-spying teens out there, she struggles to come to terms with the difference between what’s expected of her and what she hopes her future will be. She takes risks and she pays for those risks. She doesn’t want to let her mother down. She’s usually not sure if she’s making the right decisions. All of these themes will make it easy for readers to connect to Cammie’s story.

Highly recommended – for fun, for escape, for sweet romance and friendships, for action, for spy-gadgets, for fine writing. By the way, I recommend the audiobook. The narrator is spot-on and her performance really brings out the humor and poignancy in Cammie’s story.

You like Alex Rider? Kiki Strike? The Princess Diaries? Then run, don’t walk to get your own copy of I Tell You I Love You But Then I’d Have to Kill You. And when you’re done, there’s the sequel, Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy. #3 to follow in June 2009. Lucky us.

Other reviews:

Little Willow interviews Ally here
Little Willow’s review
Em’s Bookshelf
Turning the Paige
Sassy Monkey Reads