Aloha, friends! We're in middle grade paradise with the release of Anne Bustard's Anywhere But Paradise, out now from Egmont/Lerner Publishing Group!
It’s 1960, and Peggy Sue’s move from Texas to Hawaii, the newest state, sounds like a dream—palm trees, blue skies, big waves. But her cat has to be put in quarantine like he’s a criminal, and Peggy Sue is worriedly counting the days until Howdy will be released—if he can survive. Then her first encounter with a girl at Hanu Intermediate School is shocking. Kiki, an older student, takes an instant dislike to Peggy Sue, warning her that the last day of school is “kill haole day.” Peggy Sue’s only hope of being spared is to help Kiki with her home ec sewing project.
Things get better when she meets neighbor Malina and starts hula lessons, but it takes a tsunami, a missing dog, and an intervention from the vision of Pele herself to help Peggy Sue understand that even though her new home in paradise isn’t perfect, she’d rather be in Hawaii with her family and new friends than anywhere else.
Welcome, Anne! So, tell us . . .
What was the spark that ignited this book?
Simply put, Hawaii itself. Peggy Sue’s story is not my personal story, but it was informed by it. If I close my eyes and imagine a beautiful, serene place, the same image always comes to mind—Kailua Beach. I was born in Hawaii, moved to California when I was two, and returned for sixth grade. Hawaii was and is my paradise. Conversely, if I close my eyes and recall a pivotal and painful childhood experience, I return to my first day of seventh grade. So, I wondered, what if . . .
Probably all of my research questions are weird. Only not to me. Though I’ve found that Google cannot answer many of them, that’s never stopped me from asking. Here’s one that stumped Google: Did the Honolulu Zoo house a snake in 1960?
When I couldn’t unearth the answer, I turned to a staff member at the Zoo. Yay, email! Then when she couldn’t verify a snake’s presence one way or another, she took the next step and called the retired zoo director! The generosity of strangers is amazingly fabulous!
Oh, and in case you’d like to know the answer: no snake.
A great reminder that Google is not all-powerful -- and that it can be fun to talk to strangers about things they love!
What other middle grade authors do you love? Any favorite books of theirs?
Rita Williams-Garcia. One Crazy Summer. I cannot wait until Gone Crazy in Alabama comes out later this month! [Update: It's here!]
Jeanne Birdsall. The Penderwicks in Spring.
Jacqueline Woodson. Brown Girl Dreaming.
I am thankful every day for Ellen Howard, Sharon Darrow, Martine Leavitt and Shelley Tanaka. I will forever apply their wisdom to my work.
From Ellen, I learned the importance of starting-from-the-very-beginning-over. It’s what she challenged me to do with a draft she’d read of Anywhere but Paradise. It’s what I did then, and again a few years ago. And no, it wasn’t easy.
From Sharon, I discovered the unbridled joy of a first draft and the fun of immersion into all things French for the sake of research, including croissants and language lessons. I realized the importance of always knowing what your characters are thinking and feeling.
From Martine, I learned that anything is possible. Plucking a character out of a fantasy story and setting her in a historical fiction novel? Why not? And sometimes, the end of story is the beginning.
Shelley Tanaka taught me to trust the reader and the delete key. Less is more. Always.
Great advice; thanks for sharing. And thank you for stopping by! Welcome to the world, Anywhere But Paradise!
Learn more about Anne and all her books at her website, www.annebustard.com.