Friday, October 10, 2014

Three Times the Magic

What happens when you get three popular fantasy authors for kids together in the same place? We found out last night at my library when authors E.D. (short for Elizabeth Dawson) Baker, Annie Barrows and Jessica Day George gathered to discuss their just-published books at a program we co-sponsored with Politics & Prose Bookstore.
From left: Annie Barrows, Jessica Day George & E.D. Baker
 Although the program wasn't scheduled to begin until 7:30 p.m., excited young fans -- pretty much all girls ages 7-12 and their assorted grown-ups -- started gathering in our library's Children's Room around 6:30 p.m.
Costumed fans
 Some of these fans had driven an hour or more to get to the program, while others even went to the trouble of making their own costumes, based on characters created by one or other of the trio of authors. By the time the program began, our Children's Room was packed, we had run out of places to add chairs, and the excitement in the room was truly palpable.

Well, the fans certainly weren't disappointed. There was a real synergy with this trio of authors, each of whom spoke about how they started writing and why they particularly love magic and fantasy. There are many common threads, including the fact that all three are big on writing books about princesses who are strong females. They all also love to leaven their books with humor.

E.D. Baker (Photo by Kimmy Bender)
 But each author has her own interesting back story. E.D. Baker, for example, lives on a horse farm, where she raises Appaloosas and spends lots of time every day "doing horsey things." Although E.D. has been a writer most of her life, she was a psychology major in college and then worked in business and as a teacher before taking the plunge into full-time writing.  She published her first book, The Frog Princess, in 2002; some years later, it was made into a Disney movie, The Princess and the Frog, although -- as is often the case -- the book and movie don't much resemble each other.

The just-published The Fairy-Tale Matchmaker is E.D.'s 15th book, and launches a new series. The book stars a tooth fairy who ditches her job and discovers some marvelous new magical talents. E.D. already has completed a sequel, which will be published next year.

Last night, E.D. told the audience that she's always enjoyed fairy tales "but I never liked the way young women were portrayed in them." That's exactly why none of E.D.'s protagonists are damsels in distress -- she wants to show her young readers that princesses definitely don't have to wait to be rescued but can go ahead and rescue themselves, and others too!

Annie Barrows, meanwhile, has written books for both kids and adults. Her adult book, written with her late aunt Mary Ann Shaffer, is the best-selling novel, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which has been published in 37 countries and in 32 languages. Annie also has struck gold with her first children's series, the Ivy + Bean books.

Annie Barrows
Annie came late to the job of full-time author, however.  After studying medieval history in college (her online bio notes that Annie "knows more than the average person about 3rd century saints"), Annie worked for a publisher, Chronicle Books, rising through the ranks to become senior editor there.

But Annie really wanted to write, and so left publishing to try to write full-time. The first Ivy + Bean book was published in 2006, and the 10 books in the series have become best-sellers and favorites of kids at the early chapter stage. While the Ivy + Bean books are realistic fiction, Annie longed to try writing a fantasy novel and so, in 2008, she published The Magic Half. Her newest book, Magic in the Mix, is the much-awaited sequel.

Jessica Day George says her life has revolved around the phrase "it's all about the books." She's serious; as she writes on her website: "My criteria for choosing a purse is that it must be able to fit a paperback book inside. I took books on my honeymoon, and bought more while we were there."
Jessica Day George

Jessica collects books about dragons and studied Old Norse in college so she could read the Viking sagas in the original language. Her first book, Dragon Slippers, was published in 2007, and immediately hooked readers with its humor and strong-willed protagonist. Since then Jessica has published nine more books, despite the fact that she has to fit her writing time in around caring for her three young children.

 Jessica's latest book is Thursdays with the Crown, the latest in the Castle Glower series featuring Princess Celie and a moving castle. At our event, Jessica stressed that she writes "the kind of book I would have liked to read when I was younger."

After their presentations, the authors took questions from the audience. One of my favorites was asked by a little girl, tagging along with an older sister but still clearly spellbound. She asked the authors why they were holding up books. After getting over their initial laughter,  the three explained that "this is what we do for work" and the books are the product of that work.
Tired but happy young fans.

 Then it was time for the book signing, with many young fans moving from author to author to have their books signed. And then, sadly, it was time for the program to come to an end, but it was -- fortunately -- a happy ending, with young readers leaving with their noses already buried in their new books.

End notes: Thanks so much to Kerri Poore in the Children's Department of Politics & Prose for organizing the event, and to Lizzy Mason, associate director of publicity at Bloomsbury Children's, for offering us a program with such a great trio of authors. Thanks also to Lizzy for providing review copies to me of The Fairy-Tale Matchmaker, Magic in the Mix, and Thursdays with the Crown.

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