An Interview with Judy Young: A Pet for Miss Wright

Michael F. Shaughnessy – My newest book is A Pet for Miss Wright, about an author. She’s lonely writing her stories in her quiet office so she decides to get a pet. But not any pet will do.

Michael F. Shaughnessy
Eastern New Mexico University
Portales, New Mexico

1. Judy, you have written yet another book. Who is the heroine and what seems to be her problem?

My newest book is A Pet for Miss Wright, about an author. She’s lonely writing her stories in her quiet office so she decides to get a pet. But not any pet will do. Miss Wright tries out many different animals and, in one way or another, they interfere with her writing. Then, she finds the perfect pet. Not only is it her companion, but becomes a great asset to Miss Wright’s career, guiding her through the writing and publication process.

2. As a writer myself, I often rely on my pets for inspiration. How often do you seek out the muse in your pets?

Like Miss Wright’s dog, my dog goes for long walks with me almost daily to help me think of ideas. In addition to A Pet for Miss Wright, I’ve “sprinkled” my dogs in a poem in R is for Rhyme, A Poetry Alphabet, and in a story called “Dogwood,” which is embedded in The Missouri Reader.

3. Miss Wright seems to need her pets to inspire her to write. How do you get kids writing on your various trips to the schools?

One of the things I encourage students to do to come up with ideas is to ask “what if?” and follow up with other questions. For example, with The Lucky Star, I asked myself, “What if a kid’s school is closed due to the Great Depression?” With Minnow and Rose, “What if a pioneer kid and an Native American kid meet on the Oregon Trail?”

4. Your books seem to charm while at the same time develop kids’ vocabulary. Is this intentional?

Most definitely. One of the main purposes in writing is to take readers to a different world, the world in the eyes of the story’s characters, and by doing so, the writer is expanding the minds of her readers. They are possibly learning of a different time period, or a trying situation in which the character has to triumph, or of a different point of view. I feel that expanding vocabulary is also part of the purpose of my children’s books. A perfect example is in The Lucky Star, which is set during the Great Depression. I had my main character win a spelling bee by spelling the word “perseverance.” This could possibly be a new word for my young readers, so I immediately defined the word and then used it in a sentence, by saying “Ruth knew all about perseverance. It meant to keep trying, even if things were hard. These times required a lot of perseverance.”

5. Judy, I have to tell you that I have reviewed one of your previous books, A Book for Black Eyed Susan, and I have to say it was the best children’s book that I have read in the last ten years. How hard is it for you to come up with new ideas?

Thank you. I’m glad you enjoyed it! As I tell students, it’s not hard, but I do have to think, and most importantly, take the time to think. As I said in an earlier question, I am constantly asking myself questions, often about things I read. With A Book for Black-Eyed Susan I happened to read a roadside historical marker in NE about Narcissa Whitman, the first woman to cross the mountains on what would become the Oregon Trail. I went home and researched about her life and learned that she established a missionary and took in children orphaned on the trail, which led to my “what if” question: “What if a mother dies in childbirth on the Oregon Trail? How would the family cope with a newborn and no mother?”

6. Who did the illustrations for “A Pet for Miss Wright “?

Andrea Wesson illustrated A Pet for Miss Wright, and she did an excellent job! I love the way she divides the pages in an offset manner with strips of “wallpaper,” and I especially like the expressions on the dog. He has such a dignified look when he is waiting for Miss Wright to revise, and is rather goofy (to use the name of another famous dog) when they are celebrating the acceptance of the story for publication. With her illustrations, Andrea made my Miss Wright and her dog come alive.

7. Why is finding the perfect companion not always easy?

As Miss Wright found, some pets are better suited for different people. I’ve always had dogs, and prefer large ones that I can romp around with and take hiking with me. Dogs are intelligent and loving, but are also obedient. My daughter, on the other hand, loves her cat. She doesn’t mind if it walks across her desk or snoozes on her keyboard or printer, which is irritating to me (as well as Miss Wright). So, when deciding on the perfect pet, it’s important to keep in mind your lifestyle.

8. Will we be hearing more about the man in the pet store in the future? Perhaps there will be a follow up book?

There won’t be a follow up to A Pet for Miss Wright in the near future, but I won’t say we’ll never see Miss Wright and her dog again. I have an idea for a follow up book, but have not put pen to paper with it yet. In the interim between the acceptance and release of A Pet for Miss Wright, I was working on another, totally different idea. My next fiction story is about a boy and is set in the Amazon Rainforest. The manuscript was just accepted last week, so it will be a little while before its release. You can keep up with my book news on my website at www.judyyoungpoetry.com as well as on Facebook.

9. What have I neglected to ask?

I frequently visit elementary and middle schools nationwide. Information about my programs for students can be found on my website at www.judyyoungpoetry.com. I also speak at educational conferences and am currently scheduled to speak at the 2011 Louisiana Reading Association Conference, 2012 South Dakota Reading Council Conference and 2012 PA Keystone State Reading Association Conference.

 

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Monday

May 23rd, 2011

Michael F. Shaughnessy EducationNews.org Senior Columnist

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