Dana Alison Levy is the author of The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher (Delacorte Books for Young Readers), a Summer/Fall 2014 New Voices title for middle grade readers and a Summer 2014 Kids’ Indie Next List pick.
After studying English literature and marketing in school, Levy worked for various business and nonprofit organizations. Several years ago, she started writing full time for corporate and academic clients and also began writing fiction. Levy lives with her family in Massachusetts.
The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher, which features two dads and four adopted brothers, “is a laugh-out-loud story of a patchwork family that balances zany antics with heartfelt moments,” said Sara Hines of Eight Cousins in Falmouth, Massachusetts. “Peppered with a few life lessons about learning to admit you were wrong, trying something new, and standing up for your family, this book will make you feel like the inside of a group hug.”
What was your inspiration for The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher?
Dana Alison Levy: This story grew organically. I wanted the kind of book I grew up loving, like Elizabeth Enright’s The Melendy Quartet or Sidney Taylor’s All-of-a-Kind Family, but I wanted it to reflect our modern world. It grew from a very basic what-if: what if there were a household of all boys and men, where there was no finger-wagging, apron-wearing “mother knows best” figure (a trope that I hate and that’s seen all too often in sitcoms and laundry detergent advertisements). What if they were as traditional and shenanigan-filled as the families in the books I loved, but they looked more a modern family? So the Fletchers were born.
Why didn’t you want this to be an “issue” book?
DAL: Multiracial and same-sex families definitely still have to deal with difficulties that conventional families do not. We don’t live in a colorblind world, or one blind to sexual orientation. And I don’t want to ignore or erase those realities. But I did want to write a book about a group of very lucky, very loved kids, who were, for this moment in time anyway, dealing with the same struggles and problems that so many kids deal with — losing a friend, trying to define themselves as they grow up, navigating their place in their family. My hope in writing this is that all kinds of kids will find themselves in this story.
Do any of the novel’s “misadventures” stem from personal experience?
DAL: Maybe. Maybe our 17-pound cat fell in the bathtub on my son. Just possibly.
Can you tell us a little about the next (eagerly anticipated) Fletcher adventure, A Fletcher Family Summer?
DAL: The sequel picks up soon after this book ends, during summer vacation. The family is on Rock Island, a beloved place where everyone crams into the two-bedroom shack that the family has been going to since Papa was a kid and where they basically live on the beaches and in the sea. But this year things are different on the island, and a nefarious real estate developer (masquerading as a visiting artist), petitions to have the old lighthouse torn down. With the help of the kids next door, the boys need to find a way to save their island, while navigating changes in both themselves and the place they love.
Were books an important facet of your childhood? What book(s) did you read as a child?
DAL: Oh yeah! I come from a family of heavy-duty readers, and I have always read voraciously and omnivorously. As a kid, I was fairly indiscriminate — if it was in front of me, I’d read it. (That included cereal boxes, magazines that I didn’t particularly understand, and so on).
Some of my most memorable reads were books I found on old dusty shelves during family trips. I distinctly remember discovering That Quail, Robert and Five Little Peppers and How They Grew in an abandoned room at a dude ranch in Wyoming. I was a huge fan of the classics, from all of Louisa May Alcott to the Little House books. But I also devoured what I now know is contemporary fiction: often paperback books set in summer camps or middle schools with spectacularly bad 1980s hair on the covers. Some childhood favorites that I still reread frequently are Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising series, Norton Juster’s Phantom Tollbooth, and Robert McCloskey’s Time of Wonder. There are literally hundreds more. But I’ll stop now.
What advice would you give a young reader interested in writing?
DAL: Read. It sounds trite, but honestly, I think writing comes (relatively) easily to me because of all the reading I did, and still do, in the age categories and genres I write. Think of it this way: if you are learning a language as a native speaker, you grow up surrounded by it, and it becomes a fluency. You might still need to learn the mechanics of grammar, but overall you grow up knowing it. Compare that to learning a language later in life: there are many more rules to memorize and it’s harder to make it seem natural. If you grow up immersed in stories, I truly believe you can become a native story-speaker, in a way.
When you travel, do you stop at bookstores? Any particular indies make a lasting impression?
DAL: Hah! That is probably my first stop in every city or town I travel in, around the world. I’m lucky enough to live near two great independent bookstores, Jabberwocky Bookshop and The Book Rack, so they are my local go-to shops. I also adore Nantucket Bookworks, which I’ve been spending money in every summer since I was little. An inordinate amount of my summer paychecks went to that store. My favorite shop I haven’t been to yet is definitely Eight Cousins in Falmouth, Massachusetts, and I am going this week! I’ve met and loved both the outgoing owner and one of the new owners, and I cannot wait to get down there! And, of course, there’s Shakespeare & Company in Paris, and the used English bookstore in Kathmandu, both of which kept me afloat in books during my various walkabouts.
If you were to hand each of the boys in the Fletcher family a book, which ones would they be? And why?
DAL: That’s a really hard one! There are dozens of books each of those boys should really read. But here goes: I would give Jerry Spinelli’s Hokey Pokey to Sam because he is on the edge between childhood and adolescence; to Jax, I’d give Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals because it’s hilarious and informative and because he’d start nagging his parents to take them to Greece; for Eli, it would be Linda Mullaly Hunt’s One for the Murphys. It is a heartbreaking but ultimately redemptive story that might offer him a little perspective. And finally Frog! So many great books for him. I think I’d say Grace Lin’s Where the Mountain Meets the Moon as a read-aloud with Papa or Dad, because he would like Minli and would love the dragon. But if it’s one for him to read himself, I might go with Curious George. Because really, Frog and that monkey have quite a lot in common.
If you could invite three authors (past or present) to a dinner party, who would they be? What do you think would be the topic of conversation?
DAL: Another hard one! Well, my first thought is Jo Rowling, though after the whole Ron-Hermione-Harry scandal last year maybe I should think twice. But no, she’d definitely be in. We would talk Harry, of course, but also other books, writing process (I would take notes), and politics. Also Maggie Stiefvater, so we can talk about the Raven Boys series and also about how awesome Susan Cooper and The Dark Is Rising are. And finally, I’d invite Armistead Maupin, because his Tales of the City books were, and remain, some of my favorite books in the world.
The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher by Dana Alison Levy (Delacorte Books for Young Readers, Hardcover, 9780385376525). Publication Date: July 22, 2014.
To learn more about Dana Alison Levy, visit danaalisonlevy.com.
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