Monday, September 23, 2013

Loved to Pieces . . . with Sarah Sullivan

We have a very special guest at the Cottage today! Author Sarah Sullivan is here to share her first favorite middle grade novel.

Sarah is the author of the forthcoming middle grade novel, All That's Missing (Candlewick Press, October 2013). She's also written four picture books, including Dear Baby: Letters from Your Big Brother, Once Upon a Baby Brother, Root Beer and Banana, and Passing the Music Down, an N.C.T.E. Notable Children's Book in the Language Arts. She holds an MFA in Writing for Children from Vermont College, where she won the Harcourt Post-Graduate Scholarship.

To learn more about Sarah, visit
Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown is the first middle grade novel I remember falling in love with. It was a monthly selection of the Weekly Reader Book Club and it was the first book I ever read where the main character was a girl about my age who dreamed of becoming a writer. That was my dream.

Our family had moved from Huntington, West Virginia to Littleton, Colorado at the beginning of my third-grade year and, while I had plenty of friends, I still felt like a new kid. When I opened that book and stepped into a turn-of-the-century town modeled after Mankato, Minnesota, I felt like I had found a home-away-from home. It was a magical place in which a girl named Betsy had a treehouse in her backyard where she wrote novels on lined tablets from her father’s shoe store. She had an uncle who was an actor and her mother had transformed his old theatrical trunk into a writing desk for her room. Could there be anything more wonderful that that?

Maud Hart Lovelace beguiled me with stories of growing up in the early years of the twentieth century. How could you not love a girl who made solo trips to the new Carnegie Library on Saturdays where she informed the children’s librarian that she intended to read all the classics so that she could become a writer when she grew up.

Then there was the chapter where Betsy, Tacy, and Tib were invited to attend a performance of Uncle Tom’s Cabin at the Opera House. Afterwards, Betsy wrote a poem about it. I dreamed of doing all these things in my 1960’s version of everyday life. I spent the better part of one weekend in my room with my nose pressed against those pages. I went on to read other books in the Betsy-Tacy series, but Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown remained my favorite. I read it until the pages fell out of the binding.

Years passed. During the summer between my sophomore and junior years of high school we moved from Colorado to Wilmington, Delaware and I found myself again a new kid. At Christmas that year, there was a small package under the tree. I could tell it was a book. When I opened it up, there was a new copy of Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown. Inscribed on one of the front endpapers was this message from my mother:  For the little girl who used to come to tea with me on Bancroft Parkway – M.  

For the little girl who used to come to tea with me on Bancroft Parkway – M.
When I was four or five years old and we had been living in this same town of Wilmington, Delaware, my mother and I used to have “tea parties." I would go outside and come down the front walk and ring the doorbell. Then my mother would answer the door and invite me inside for tea. We had “tea” and cookies and chatted the way proper ladies were supposed to do. (Ack. I know. I’m showing my age. It was a long time ago.)

Flash forward forty-some years and that book still sits on my bookshelf and yes, I still read it at least once a year. 

By this time, I know much of the text by heart, but the memories it brings back as I read it are more precious than ever and the book itself remains one of my most treasured possessions. I’m sure it has a lot to do with why I now write middle grade fiction.
Don't miss Sarah's middle grade novel, All That's Missing ~ coming this October! 

When his grandfather’s dementia raises the specter of foster care, Arlo flees to find his only other family member in this genuine, heartening novel.

"In a novel laced with mystery and a hint of the supernatural, picture book author Sullivan (Passing the Music Down) creates a strong small-town atmosphere through Edgewater’s citizens, young and old. A quietly affecting coming-of-age story about finding family and confronting change." --Publishers Weekly

Candlewick Press
Pub date: October 8, 2013
ISBN-13: 978-0-7636-6102-1

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