Deborah Wiles’s third novel in her trilogy about life in the South interweaves an unofficial Little League baseball team, the poetry of Walt Whitman, and a dog named after Eudora Welty into a story about the redemption of unlikely friendships and the trials of growing up. She talked to PW about what it’s like to tour for a YA novel, saying, It’s not just about selling books— it’s about getting kids interested in reading them.
What’s the kids' fiction scene like these days? Where do you read, who comes and how do they respond to your reading?
We’re doing a combination of things on this tour—bookstores, schools, and libraries, because in children’s books, those are the ways you get your books into young people’s hands. For instance yesterday I was in two different schools, and then I was in the bookstores that had sponsored each of those school events. At the Barnes & Noble signing I did, baseball players come—boys came in their uniforms with their caps on, because they had heard I had a baseball book and it had been promoted that way. Girls and boys who have read my previous novels and have loved them brought their dog-eared copies to be signed and their parents come. A lot of times teachers come with their students, because they’re using my books in their classrooms.
What’s it like going to the schools? Do you give an assembly?
Yes. It’s an extension of what I do also as part of making my living—I go into schools and work with kids on writing, and I do assembly programs often. Each one is different because each school has different requirements. I was at Stevens Creek Elementary School in the Bay Area, and they brought in first, second and third graders, so I talked about my picture books, I introduced the novels to them and read from each one. But mostly what I say to them is, “You have stories to tell too: What are your stories?” I’m trying to make connections with them; it’s not just my particular book that we’re promoting. So then they brought in the fifth and sixth graders, and you can do something different with that age group. Some schools say, “Can you do Powerpoint?” and I can, and some say, “I just want you to sit in this chair with the flowers on the table next to you and read and let them ask questions.” You have to suss out your audience.
What kinds of questions do the kids ask?
They ask me how long it’s taken me to write a book, how I got it published, when I knew I wanted to be a writer. What I know from these questions is that they’re curious because they have stories to tell, and they don’t know how to tell them or how to get started. Kids as young as the fourth grade ask me, “What’s your inspiration?” Younger kids ask funnier questions: “Did you get a million dollars? Did you come here in a limousine?”
As a children’s author, you get to advocate for reading and writing in general, in a way an adult author might not be able to…
It’s a really interesting dance we do to get literature into the hands of young people, and to help them to become literate and become readers; we want them to grow up reading and continue to do so when they’re adults. There are so many varied ways that we do it, and this is just one of them. It’s actually touching to see the ways we’re all working to get stories into the hands of young people.