Juman Malouf earned an MFA from the Tisch School of the Arts in set and costume design, and has previously designed elements in Wes Anderson’s films, including the middle-grade books prized by the protagonist of Moonrise Kingdom. Like those novels, Malouf has written and illustrated her own middle-grad book, The Trilogy of Two, which features 12-year-old twins Sonja and Charlotte, raised in the circus, who discover they have magical powers. PW spoke with Malouf about her literary influences from childhood, her fascination with twins, writing for children, and what makes the circus alluring literary material.
What made you want to write for children?
It’s something I always dreamed of doing. When I was little, I wanted to be a librarian. I still love the books I loved as a child. There is a special kind of freedom of imagination in them that you don’t so often find in adult books.
What drew you to write about the circus?
I first thought of the character of a Tattooed Lady with a secret about her tattoos, and she led me to the circus, and that became home to Charlotte and Sonja, the heroines of the book. In the story, the girls leave the circus, but it remains in their thoughts as a constant reminder of home and the family they left behind.
What books did you like to read as a child?
When we were little, my brother and I were allowed to buy 10 books for the year. I loved the ones with illustrations: Alice in Wonderland and Shel Silverstein. I also liked a writer named Leon Garfield, who did historical fiction for children. I can’t forget the All-of-a-Kind Family series.
Why did you want to tell a story about twins?
My closest friends in middle school were identical twins. They loved one another, but were always struggling to find their own identities. I was always fascinated by their closeness, but also their desire to push each other away. I think many people have a “non-biological” twin in their lives – I think I’m part of three sets! Also, maybe it has something to do with the phenomenon of how we sometimes have two competing personalities within ourselves fighting each other for dominance.
The Trilogy of Two by Juman Malouf. Putnam, $17.99 Nov. ISBN 978-0-399-17114-7