Monday, September 16, 2013


A warm welcome to Kathy Erskine, whose kind spirit and sense of social justice shines through all her novels, including National Book Award winner Mockingbird.  I’ve long known Kathy and admired her nuanced characterizations of young people trying to create positive change.  Her latest novel, Seeing Red (Scholastic, 2013, ages 10-14), continues in that tradition.

Set in 1972, Seeing Red explores themes of individual and social responsibility.  The rich historical details ground the reader in this changing place and time.  Protagonist Red Porter’s Virginia world is rocked when he discovers a long-held family secret.  How will he ever be able to right the terrible wrong committed by his great-great grandfather?  See Kathy’s website for Common Core connections and teachers’ guides and try her writing prompt below.

What was your greatest joy in writing Seeing Red?  Your greatest challenge?

The greatest joy, as always, was bringing the characters to life.  This book has a long history and lay dormant for quite a while but the characters kept calling to me. When I opened the story and revived them, it really was a joy.  I think the greatest challenge was waiting -- waiting for it to gestate, develop and become the book I want to publish.

You are a popular speaker at schools and conferences, Kathy. Do you have a writing prompt or suggestion that might connect with the book?

I think it'd be great to have writing prompts that help readers understand and connect with the time period (1972), and particularly to see that things aren't all that different.  Kids are still kids.  We all still make mistakes.  We all have power over our own actions.  I'd say comparing your school to Red's school would be an easy one, or which TV shows today are actually a social commentary (like M*A*S*H in 1972), or how songs today address racism and inequality and how that compares with the songs of the early 1970's, or what political events were happening in 1972 that are only lightly mentioned in Seeing Red (Vietnam War, Presidential election and Watergate, Women's Liberation).  I could go on but I'll stop now!

What are you working on now?

I'm working on quite a few books right now (picture books, a young middle grade, and a teen road trip novel) but the one I'm finishing up at the moment is a middle grade adventure set in the Middle Ages.  It'll be out next September but we don't have a good title yet.  I'm going to follow the journey of Adrian, the main character, in a few weeks as I walk along Hadrian's Wall in England.  I'm hoping I'll "find" the title while I'm walking in his shoes.

Wishing you an inspiring walk with your character in England, Kathy, and thanks for visiting Pencil Tips!

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