Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Writer's Brew . . . by Ellen Potter

Good morning, and Happy Autumnal Equinox from all of us at The Little Crooked Cottage! We're happy to welcome award-winning author Ellen Potter to the Cottage this morning, as she introduces us to her new early chapter book series, Piper Green and the Fairy Tree, and provides us with The Story Behind the Story. Take it away, Ellen!

Kids ask it.

Adults ask it.

Heck, given the chance, I’ll ask it too.

Any yet, it’s the one question that many writers have the hardest time answering: How did you get the idea for your book?

Like the contents of a witch’s cauldron, books are often the alchemy of this and that—the memory of a girl in 5th grade who never brushed her hair; an overheard conversation about heartache; a belief in improbable connections; and a dozen other things more difficult to name.

Every so often, though, I know exactly how I got the idea for a book. I do love when that happens! This occurred for my most recent series, Piper Green and the Fairy Tree (Knopf), about a little girl growing up on a Maine island that’s so tiny she has to take a lobster boat to school. Also, there is a magical Fairy Tree in her yard. For Piper Green’s  inspiration, the witch’s cauldron contained only three items. Recipe for the brew is as follows:

1. One silver maple stump:
A friend of mine told me about a tree in her neighborhood. It was a silver maple, a very large and much beloved tree. Unfortunately, the city decided that it posed a danger and needed to be cut down. After the tree was cut to a stump, a local man carved a hole into it and it became know as the Gnome Tree. People would leave things in the hole that they no longer wanted—books, toys, clothes—and anyone could take out whatever they liked, with the caveat that they needed to leave something in its place.

That's me at work, holding hands with my dog, Charlie.

2. To the silver maple stump, add a moss-covered path:
After moving to a tiny coastal village in Maine, I quickly found that there was a stretch of woods near my house where I could walk my three dogs. Each morning I took them for a stroll in those woods, and each morning I came to a strange little path. Here the ground was covered with a wonderfully bright emerald-green moss and the trees were stunted. The whole place had a silent, watchful feel. My dogs acted strangely here, too, tipping up their noses and smelling the air. Each time we were on that path, the same thought crept into my mind: If there is such a thing as fairies, this is exactly where they would live.

This is the harbor of Vinalhaven Island, one of the prettiest islands in Maine.

3. Finally, add in a very tiny island:
Some of the islands off the coast of Maine are so tiny—with year-round residents of forty or less—that they don’t have a school for the children. One day, my friend told me about island kids who had to take a lobster boat to a school on a larger, neighboring island, which seemed like one of the most wonderful things I’d ever heard of! 

Lobster boat

One-room schoolhouse on Isle Au Haut, a small Maine island. There are currently only two students enrolled in the school.

Stir ingredients together. Let it soak for a few days, then simmer at a low boil until done. Leave plenty of time for getting stuck on Chapter Four, a week-long bout of the flu, getting stuck again on Chapter Seven, and watching reruns of Sherlock (I mean, Benedict Cumberbatch, right?).

Voila! Now you not only have a book, but the next time someone asks that dreaded question, you can look them in the eye and say, “Well, here’s how it happened . . .”

The End

Ellen Potter is the author of many award-winning children’s books, including the Olivia Kidney series, SLOB, The Kneebone Boy, and her new early chapter book series, Piper Green and the Fairy Tree (Knopf). She lives in Maine with her family. Visit her at or follow her on Twitter @Ellenpotter

  • by Ellen Potter, illustrated by Qin Leng
    Knopf Books for Young Readers
    Pub Date: August 4, 2015 
    ISBN-10: 0553499262
    ISBN-13: 978-0553499261

  • "With its intriguing setting, sympathetic characters, and hint of magic, this new chapter-book series should charm fledgling readers." —Kirkus Reviews 

  • "Piper is brave and tough on the surface, and her sense of loss lies at the heart of the conflict. Written with humor as well as pathos, the first-person text shows her confused emotions and her resiliency as well. An appealing debut for the series." —Booklist

★"Skillfully blending humor, pathos, and warmth with an atmospheric setting, Potter has created an honest, empathic slice-of-life story, laced with a touch of magic. Piper has a winning combination of stubbornness, loyalty, and independence, which Leng ably portrays in her loosely inked, gently humorous artwork." —Publishers Weekly, starred review

  • by Ellen Potter, illustrated by Qin Leng
  • Knopf Books for Young Readers
  • Pub Date: August 4, 2015
  • ISBN-10: 0553499270
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553499278

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