|Jennifer S. Burrows
|Today I have the privilege of interviewing the author of a middle-grade book, for a change! Jennifer S. Burrows wrote Most Beautiful: A 9/11 Novel to share the experience of September 11th with children at a level they could process (more info on her book here: http://www.rfwp.com/book/most-beautiful-a-911-novel). I truly admire her for taking on such a project–it’s such a difficult thing to explain to children. Here’s a little more info on Jennifer:
I was born in Rochester, New York and I grew up in Penfield, New York. I have an older brother and a younger brother. I am the wonderful middle child.
When I was young, I wanted to do three things; be a teacher, write children’s books, and bake. I’ve managed to do all of those things. I taught fifth grade before my husband and I started our family. I feed my family and friends fresh baked breads, muffins, and cookies all the time. And now, I write books for children.
When I was in sixth grade, Steven Kellogg visited my school. I went home that day and started writing books. I found that it was a lot harder than he made it look, but I was inspired.
The thing I like most about writing fiction is creating the characters. I love imagining what a character might do in different situations.
I have many favorite authors. I enjoy reading C.S. Lewis, Elizabeth George Speare, Katherine Patterson, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, and E.L. Konigsburg to name a few. But I really enjoy reading any of the Newberry Award winning books. My favorite picture book is The Napping House by Audrey Wood. My favorite character in a book is Junie B. Jones.
Now for a few questions!
HG: You’ve said that you wrote Most Beautiful: A 9/11 Novel to share the experience of 9/11 with children without being gruesome. How did capture that with your story?
JB: In order to let the character “live” through the experience of 9/11 in a non-frightening way, I had her move away from the city just prior to the event. This allowed me to separate her from the brutality and horror of actually being at ground zero, but also allowed me to make her very familiar with and connected to New York City in a meaningful way.
HG: I know you were a teacher for years. How did that affect how you wrote this middle grade novel?
JB: My teaching experience gave me an excellent understanding of a girl this age. I felt I knew about her hopes, dreams, fears, priorities, etc. based on the many 10 year old girls I had taught over the years. Basically, I was comfortable with this character and I owe that to my teaching experience.
Also as a former teacher, I wanted to write a story that a teacher could use in the classroom. When I was teaching, I always hunted for books that would allow my students to see what it was like to live in a different time period. I said these books gave us a “glimpse into the past” which is better than simply hearing facts about the past.
HG: Did you write this book right after 9/11? How long did it take from start (rough draft) to finish?
JB: My first draft happened organically as I lived through the 9/11 experience myself. I literally started my first draft on 9/11. I watch the news coverage and wrote details into the plot as I heard about them. I grieved for the situation as I was writing about my character grieving over the situation. I watched how our country showed its inner beauty and I knew I had my theme. Then for the next 9 years, I revised and submitted…and revised and submitted…and revised and submitted. You get the picture. Start to finish, this manuscript took 11 years.
HG: Do you have an agent in this process?
JB: No, I did not and do not have an agent. However, a couple agents played a part in that they gave me feedback. I used that feedback to improve the manuscript.
HG: Finally, I know this book emphasizes inner beauty. How would you define inner beauty?
JB: That’s simple. My definition of inner beauty is – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Thank you so much, Jennifer! I really appreciate this book and I know I have many readers with middle-graders, as well. Also love your definition of inner beauty.
****What are your experiences with explaining horrifying events to children, such as 9/11 or school shootings? How do you process them yourself?****