I was intrigued by this middle grade historical novel from award-winning author Amy Hest. Debuting August 4, this is a book that librarians should definitely get their hands on and add to their collections:
On the morning of the dedication of the new children’s library in Belle Beach, Long Island, eleven-year-old Julie Sweet and her six-year-old sister, Martha, find a baby in a basket on the library steps. At the same time, twelve-year-old Bruno Ben-Eli is on his way to the train station to catch the 9:15 train into New York City. He is on an important errand for his brother, who is a soldier overseas in World War II. But when Bruno spies Julie, the same Julie who hasn’t spoken to him for sixteen days, heading away from the library with a baby in her arms, he has to follow her. Holy everything, he thinks. Julie Sweet is a kidnapper.
Of course, the truth is much more complicated than the children know in this heartwarming and beautifully textured family story by award-winning author Amy Hest. Told in three distinct voices, each with a different take on events, the novel captures the moments and emotions of a life-changing summer — a summer in which a baby gives a family hope and brings a community together.
What are some of your current projects?
I’m working on a couple of picture books at the moment. And a longer book, about five kids and a snowstorm in New York City.
Sounds exciting! What do you feel are the necessary elements of a good story?
Relatable, sympathetic characters with clear voices! For me, that’s the heart of any good story. What follows (meaning plot) can only be interesting if you are invested in the characters, if you want to hang out with them. I also strive to write simple, clean, uncluttered sentences. The dialogue should be authentic, not stilted. Real people saying real things!
And that can be a lot more difficult to capture than people think. Many of your stories feature similar settings and items. What is the significance to these callbacks, such as wagons that are taken to libraries, Manhattan scenes, beach havens away from the city, and references to war and soldiers?
I guess I don’t have a terrific imagination, after all! Seems I’m most comfortable writing stories about people I know, places I know, and situations that are familiar. Most of the people in my stories, frankly, are some version of me. I disguise myself, of course: I take a new name, different address, that kind of thing. I write about families a lot. And relationships within families. Because that’s what I know a lot about. Families. I pepper my stories with things I love. Certainly, for example, I love New York City – I live here — so that’s why a lot of my books take place in New York City. I love libraries and beaches and bicycles and red wagons, and ice cream, so those pop up a lot, too! References to war and soldiers, that’s because my father was a soldier in World War II. He actually never spoke much about his experiences overseas, but my mom used to talk about what it was like to be here, on the home front, waiting for him to come home. Speaking of treasures, I have all the letters he wrote to her during that period of time.
That’s so lovely that you have those family artifacts. What was one of your favorite books to read as a child?
My mom read more books than anyone I’ve ever known. She loved the library, and one of my earliest memories is going to the library with her. We went a lot! I don’t actually remember what I read, just the warm feeling of being there with her. Later on, I started riding my bike to the library. Independence! And as soon as I was old enough to get working papers, I went to work at that same library. (I was – and I say this in all humility – an amazing page.) Years later, I became a children’s librarian. And then, of course, I started writing. Children’s books, of course. I wouldn’t dream of writing anything else!
As a former children’s librarian myself, I have to agree! Did you envision writing THE SUMMER WE FOUND THE BABY from the different perspectives of each character from the start, or did the format change over time?
Right from the start, I knew I needed to tell this story in an unusual way, and my operating word was perspective. We all see the world through a different lens. Same event, different points of view, that to me is very lifelike. Writing three different points of view was totally fun for me. Plus, it kept me on my toes! Each entry had to be very personal; plus, it had to advance the story; plus, I couldn’t be repetitive. I loved the challenge, and boy was it a Challenge with a capital C! (*It should be noted that I recently found the very first sentence of this book, which was typed in 2005! I suppose 15 years is a world record, even for a slowpoke writer like me.)