kimberley griffiths little

 Today at the Chained Library, we welcome an alligator, a castle cake, and, best of all, middle grade and young adult author Kimberley Griffiths Little. Kimberley’s latest book is Circle of Secrets, the companion to 2010’s The Healing Spell. School Library Journal says, “Little’s rich, vivid prose and characterization create an intriguing universe in which realism and mysticism intertwine as the story’s secrets unravel.”

  Both books are middle grade stories of girls who desperately want what, pretty basically, we all want: intact and happy families. Not the kind of happy families that are all alike, but the kind that involve Cajun healing spells, gumbo, and the evocative backdrop of Louisiana bayou country. Welcome, Kimberley, and congratulations on that starred review in School Library Journal!

You have such an engaging narrative voice in both The Healing Spell and Circle of Secrets. What do you like best about writing for the middle grade age group? What do you think makes a good middle grade voice?

Well, thank you, Rebecca! The reason I like to write for this age group is that I believe it is the most powerful and influential age to write for—which can be extremely scary in its responsibility, but also extremely satisfying. The years of reading between 8-12 years of age are the most memorable for most people, too. When you ask an adult what their favorite book was while a child and 99 times out of 100 it will be a middle-grade book that has imprinted itself on them! The years between eight and twelve are very formative years in terms of just becoming aware of the world and people around us. Teens have angst, but so do elementary kids. Problems are big and scary and friendships and family are so important at those ages. Those are years that we’re learning so much and growing up and becoming little adults, but we’re very much dependent on parents and teachers and other adults who are meaningful in our lives. 

 A good middle-grade voice is one that makes you feel like you’ve transported back into your ten and eleven year old self again—experiencing fears about growing up, about making meaningful friendships, finding our talents and interests, and developing good, strong character traits. It’s about starting to figure out how the grown-up world works, where problems are often not so easily solved. It’s an age where your worst day is when your best friend goes off for lunch with someone else and your mom is mad at you for being late to piano lessons. A good middle-grade voice captures those feelings authentically, and yet even serious MG books have humor in them, too. Emotions are often mixed and mixed-up. Kids that age want to love and be loved. They’re smart and capable in so many ways and yet they are still so vulnerable.

Family is an important theme for middle grade stories. Both Livie and Shelby Jayne have uneasy relationships with some family members, for various reasons. What inspires you to tell family stories?

 Family is really important to me and home is the place I like to spend most of my time—and my family are the people I like to spend my time with! Family is so very integral to that middle-reader age. Family is the satellite that kids hover around. Even though they’re becoming more independent, they still need their moms and dads very much. It’s easy to get hurt feelings, to not understand why the people around us do and say the things they do—and those emotions are tender.

 Often kids feel like they are the outsider, even within their own family, or they might question their parent’s love. So I like to write about those topics, as well as the relationships between siblings. I believe that the parental and sibling relationships we have are a more critical, lasting, and powerful role than the relationships between kids and their friends. Friends can’t hurt us as deeply as our families can—because they don’t love us as deeply as our family does.

 Families are evolving, changing, crazy things! I enjoy exploring various family dynamics and writing about them. I especially like to ponder and write about how families can help and heal each other through tough times. And I want to show that unconditional family love does win in the end—if we never give up on each other and continue to work hard at strengthening those relationships.

You show that strong family relationship so nicely in THE HEALING SPELL and CIRCLE OF SECRETS. I know that one of your family members in particular makes a mean castle cake to support you at your readings! Can you tell us about one memory you have from your childhood that influenced your writing?

 When I was ten my mother actually *did* make me a castle cake for my birthday. It boasted turrets and a moat and lots of pink frosting. I was delighted that she did that for me—and yet I also took it for granted. A child that age asks for something and they pretty much expect their parents to do it/or get it for them. Adding the cake to CIRCLE OF SECRETS worked well within the context of the turbulent Mother/Daughter relationship in the story. After being promised the castle cake a year earlier and never getting it, the cake becomes a way to show the past between Shelby and her mother—as well as the reasons Shelby’s mamma finally makes the cake for her and Shelby’s subsequent resentful reaction to it—even as she secretly loves it!

Probably the most vivid writing-related memory I have is from 8th grade when I turned in a thirty page novel I’d written on my dad’s typewriter to my English teacher. His eyes popped out of his skull. He read my *novella* and immediately created a special semester program for me to read more of the Classics, analyzing them, discussing the story issues, and then writing much longer and more advanced projects for my homework assignments. He encouraged my writing very much and nurtured the desire that had already bitten me—which served me well—especially after taking a college writing class that was FAR less than encouraging!

I also have to add that the books I read while growing up greatly influenced me in my dream of becoming a writer. As a painfully shy person, books were truly my best friends. By the age of ten I already knew that I wanted to one day create the same magic I found in my favorite books. Books were the seed—and the sun and water—that nurtured the growing dream!

Thank you, Kimberley!

We’ll finish the interview in the next post. In the meantime, links!

1. The book trailer for Circle of Secrets.

2. Kimberley’s website.