Lindsey Stoddard is the author of Just Like Jackie, a Winter/Spring 2018 Indies Introduce middle grade debut and a Winter 2017–2018 Kids’ Indie Next List pick centered on Robbie Hart, a middle school student who loves helping her grandfather fix cars and tap maple syrup, but also has to help him remember which key opens their front door.
Kathleen Carey of Little Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza in Albany, New York, who participated in the panel that selected Stoddard’s book for the Indies Introduce program, called it “a heartfelt and unflinchingly honest story of what defines, challenges, and bonds together family. Robinson Hart is a firecracker!”
Like her main character, Stoddard grew up in Vermont but now lives in New York City. Here, Stoddard and Carey discuss how the author used her own experiences to breathe life into her characters.
Kathleen Carey: What inspired you to write Just Like Jackie?
Lindsey Stoddard: When I write for kids, I think back to that middle grade age in my life and focus on the times I really felt something intensely. For Just Like Jackie, I reflected on the discomfort and confusion and sadness I felt because my grandpa had Alzheimer’s, and on the anger I felt when a neighborhood boy knocked a nest of robin eggs out of my backyard tree with his whiffle ball bat. I had been watching and waiting for those eggs to hatch. These emotions are what give Robbie her tender side — the side she shows when she’s with her grandpa as his right hand — and the tough, quick-to-fight side — the side that punched Alex Carter’s nose on the first page (I bet you can guess how little Lindsey dealt with that neighborhood boy). It’s my hope that even if the issues are different, these big emotions will resonate with my middle grade readers, and they’ll recognize the discomfort and the sadness and feel the rage and injustice.
KC: There are so many different and authentic family dynamics among the (YAY!) diverse cast of characters. How did those develop?
LS: I grew up in a traditional-looking family — mom, dad, brother, me, golden retrievers — but also understood from a young age that what makes up family is different for everyone. I wanted to be sure that various versions of family were represented in my book simply because they exist in the world and are real. There are so many Harold-and-Pauls and Grandpa-and-Robbies. The family dynamics were surprisingly easy to develop, even if the family I grew up in and the family I’m creating now don’t look exactly like any of the families in Just Like Jackie. They were easy to develop because they’re made up of the same stuff: loyalty and love, and sometimes challenge and heartbreak.
KC: You write so movingly, carefully, and authentically about Grandpa’s decline and Robinson’s handling of it. Having been the primary caregiver for a number of years to a parent with Alzheimer’s, this touched me deeply. Did this come from firsthand experience?
LS: Yes, much of Robbie’s experience with Grandpa came from the feelings I remember having when I would sit with my grandpa and listen to him forget the ends of his sentences. As a little girl, I didn’t know whether I should finish his sentence, or change the subject, or just pat his hand to let him know I understood. Many of the details of what Grandpa forgets in Just Like Jackie — and what he remembers — come from my real Vermont-maple-sugaring grandpa. My mom also works with families who are affected by Alzheimer’s so I have learned a lot about how the disease progresses in stages and the common signs. So while my grandpa wasn’t my guardian and I wasn’t his caretaker, I was able to imagine details that Robbie might see as someone who is his right hand.
KC: Author Chris Bohjalian frequently uses his home state of Vermont as a setting, and it often becomes like another character. I recognized that same thing in reading Just Like Jackie. As a Vermont native, how important was it to use Vermont as a setting, and will you continue to use it as a setting for future novels?
LS: They say that a writer is really writing her first book all her life. For me, that was certainly true. Little bits of Grandpa and Robbie and sugaring and small-town Vermont life have been collecting in me for as long as I can remember and before, and in Just Like Jackie, I really felt like I was writing my way home. I may write another Vermont novel in the future, but my next novel is set in the Hamilton Heights/Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City, where I live now and where I taught middle school English for 10 years. I’m excited to share more about it soon!
Just Like Jackie by Lindsey Stoddard (HarperCollins, 9780062652911, Middle Grade, $16.99) On Sale Date: 1/2/2018.
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