|Tracie Vaughn Zimmer||An Interview with Tracie Vaughn Zimmer|
Sketches from a Spy Tree
By Tracie Vaughn Zimmer
Illustrated By Andrew Glass
Perched in the branches of her favorite tree with her sketchbook, Anne-Marie watches the world go by. While recording her observations of neighbors, friends, and family, she thinks about her father, who left two years before; about Mike, who seems to be trying to take his place; about her twin sister, Mary Anne, who looks like her (at least to adults) but sees things very differently. Poems in Anne-Marie's voice, sometimes humorous, sometimes poignant, and always honest, take readers through a year of change in the life of a family and in Anne-Marie's heart. Illustrations that include paintings, drawings, and collage capture the text's emotional range and Anne-Marie's own artistic vision.
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Josie Wyatt knows what it means to be different. Her family’s small farmhouse seems to shrink each time another mansion grows up behind it. She lives with her career-obsessed mom and opinionated Gran, but has never known her father. Then there’s her cerebral palsy: even if Josie wants to forget that she was born with a disability, her mom can’t seem to let it go. Yet when a strange new boy—Jordan—moves into one of the houses nearby, he seems oblivious to all the things that make Josie different. Before long, Josie finds herself reaching out for something she’s never really known: a friend… and possibly more. Interlinked free verse poems tell the beautiful, heartfelt story of a girl, a family farm reduced to a garden, and a year of unforgettable growth.
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JoEllen's parents divorced when she was very young, so she was used to splitting her time between them, shuttling four blocks from one Cincinnati apartment to another. But when her dad moved to the old family farm last year, her life was suddenly divided. Now on weekdays she's a city girl, called Ellen, who hangs out with her friends, plays the sax, and loves old movies. And on weekends she's a country girl, nicknamed Joey, who rides horseback with her cousin, Hayden, goes fishing, and listens to bluegrass. So where do her loyalties lie? Who is the real JoEllen?
Linked free-verse poems, illustrated with a quirky array of found objects and mementos, create the vivid, realistic portrait of a young girl at a defining moment in her life.
ETC: What's the story behind the-story for Sketches from a Spy Tree?
ZIMMER: At first the collections was a series of poems about a neighborhood but when my extraordinary editors (Dinah Stevenson and Marcia Leonard) prodded me to answer the question: Who was this girl with the attitude- (like in the poem "Across the Back Fence") I suddenly knew. The revision took less than a month and Anne Marie's story just poured out.
ETC: What's your favorite part about the book?
ZIMMER: I'd say that it's the weaving of the illustrations and the text. Andrew Glass' world is so complete that I gasped at some of the details that brought Maple Street to life. The picture where Anne Marie is sketching out her father's face in the poem "What She Sees" is an example. Also, the fact that we're both twins- me, identical, Andrew, fraternal- brought another dimension to the story. At least, I like to think so.
ETC: Why poetry?
ZIMMER: I started writing poetry when I was about Anne Marie's age. It is a perfect outlet for emotion (like all the arts) and I think kids know this intuitively. It seems adults often spoil poetry for kids- over-explicating everything and identifying each poetic element. Listen to any group of kids on a playground and you'll hear poetry bouncing around between them.
ETC: I notice in your biography that you write lesson plans and book club guides. Can you explain the process and are they available online?
ZIMMER: Sure! I write guides directly for a couple publishers who are promoting particular titles each season. But I also try to make time for individual authors- especially new authors who may not get the marketing money they need to support their book. I develop discussion questions, lesson ideas, interviews or activities that can be used in classrooms or books clubs for picture books through young adult titles. Often the authors and publishers post these on their websites (where they get many hits, as I understand). They are also great giveaways at book signings, conferences, teacher nights and school visits. Sometimes they are printed in the back of paperback releases- like my recent one in Shannon Hale's brilliant novel, The Goose Girl. I post the guides on my site too which is visited by thousands of teachers each month. With my experience and education in the classroom this all comes quite naturally for me, but it is the chance to read the latest titles and interview some of my favorite authors that is just a thrill!
ETC: What are you working on now?
ZIMMER: I'm revising another middle-grade poetry collection that tells the story of JoEllen Courtney- a daughter learning to define herself between the two very different worlds in which she navigates. I'm also a little obsessed with elephants. Hopefully it will turn into some type of manuscript.
ETC: What advice would you give to young writers?
ZIMMER: Write for yourself. Sure, you'll have to write for your teachers but make sure you take the time to write what you'd like to find on the library shelves. Keep a journal, write email, get a pen pal, make a scrapbook, or write the lyrics for a garage band! Just write. A lot. Don't worry about publication either. That's a whole other mess to figure out and what's important for now is that you fall in love with writing itself. And most importantly: Read, read and re-read. Every writer I know is a voracious book fiend.
Tracie Vaughn Zimmer has taught students of nearly every age and ability in her years in the classroom. She attended The Ohio State University where she majored in special education, and received a master's degree in reading from Miami University of Ohio. Tracie has lectured to hundreds of students in the last ten years, in classrooms, festivals and church groups. Besides speaking, Tracie also freelances for publishers and other children's authors writing book club guides, teacher guides and Internet content. Getting paid to read (and write) is better than any wish she ever made over a birthday candle.
In this collection of free-verse poems, inspired by Walt Whitman's I Hear America Singing, Tracie Vaughn Zimmer celebrates workers and the doing of work. The poems are short and direct, with strong, fresh images, and readers can easily imagine themselves in the roles she portrays: welder, librarian, surgeon, retail clerk, camp counselor. The illustrations are as original as the text---amazing multilayered collages made of paper, found objects, ephemera, photographs, dried flowers, and archival images. Steady Hands is sure to inspire discussion, creative writing, art projects, and new answers to the old question: What do you want to do when you grow up?
This book is a celebration of these remarkable animals: their huge size, their affectionate parenting, their loyalty to one another and sometimes to humans, their voracious appetites, their amazing trunks, their enjoyment of mud baths. The poems, some in the voices of the elephants themselves, are richly varied in form and tone. Each is accompanied by a brief sidebar explaining, or expanding on, the information it contains. Distinctive illustrations incorporating painting, collage, and found objects are a rich and playful counterpart to the text and may inspire young readers to create their own visual and poetic tribute to their favorite animals.