Natalie Standiford was kind enough to stop by and discuss The Only Girl in School (out January 26)!
If The Only Girl in School were a movie, which would it be?
That’s a tough one! I would like it to be its own movie.
You’ve written YA and middlegrade. Is one easier/more rewarding, however you would phrase it?
I love them both, and in a way, they’re not different at all. Whatever I’m writing, I try to put myself inside the head of the narrator (or the main point-of-view character), and whatever the limits of that narrator’s understanding might be–whether she is ten, and only knows what a ten-year-old would know, or 17 and seeing her life through a filter of hormones–those are the limits of my story. I suppose the world is smaller in most middle grade books, and that can make writing it easier or harder, depending. Less information to juggle, but also less freedom and flexibility.
When a YA novel really connects with readers, they take that connection to heart, which is very rewarding. On the other hand, there is something about that age of 8-12 that is a sweet spot for reading. They get very excited about books. My most absorbing reading experiences happened at that age, so it’s thrilling to write for middle-grade readers too.
What was the inspiration for The Only Girl in School? (Being the only girl in MIDDLE SCHOOL sounds like a major level of hell.)
That would be horrible! Luckily, this story is set in elementary school, not middle school (there is an incorrect plot summary floating around somewhere out there). Claire, the narrator, is in fifth grade. The inspiration for the story was one of those “What if …” scenarios, talking things over with my editor, David Levithan. The first step was figuring out how someone could realistically end up being the only girl in her school in the first place. I finally settled on having Claire live on a small fishing island in the Chesapeake, with such a tiny population that the demographic fluke of being the only girl would be believable. My brother lives part time on an island on the Eastern Shore and his son went to a small elementary school there, so that was the inspiration for the setting.
Then I had to think deeply about what it would mean to be the only girl. What does it mean to be a girl in the first place? Every girl or woman I know has had the experience of being overlooked or not taken seriously because she’s female, but Claire’s situation could apply to anyone of any gender who feels like an outsider, who is not being heard or seen or accepted for who they really are.
Can you share the first sentence/paragraph?
Claire is writing to her best friend, Bess, who has moved to California, leaving Claire alone as the only girl in the whole school. The book is told in letters and illustrated with drawings that Claire has ostensibly made on the wall of the girls’ bathroom (which she now has all to herself, of course). The drawings are actually by Nathan Durfee, the brilliant young artist who has done all my middle-grade covers (for The Only Girl in School, The Secret Tree, and Switched at Birthday). Anyway, here’s the first paragraph or so:
Yucky Gilbert Sits Next to Me
To: Bess Calhoun
San Francisco, California
From: Claire Warren, Foyes Island, Maryland
Here’s how I imagine your first day of school:
You hated it. The kids are mean. Your teacher is mean. And boring. It’s very strict with lots of dumb rules that make no sense, like No one is allowed to go to the bathroom without a buddy. Which means you can never go to the bathroom at school, ever, because there is no other girl IN THE WHOLE ENTIRE SCHOOL to be your bathroom buddy.
Oh, wait. That was MY first day.
If you could make one book mandatory, what would it be?
I’m not bossy that way (I AM bossy in other ways), but if forced to choose something I’ll decree that everyone must read I Capture The Castle by Dodie Smith, because why not? It’s pure pleasure.
What are your five favorite books? You can do authors, if that’s easier.
This is kind of random, but some books that I love are:
Stuart Little by E.B. White (Charlotte’s Web is too sad for me!), Frederick by Leo Leonni, and Little Bear by Else Holmelund Minarik (They’re short so I’m allowing them to take up only one slot on my list)
Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger
The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante
Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote
Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block
Emma by Jane Austen
That’s more than five but it’s hard even to stop there.
What 2016 releases are you excited for?
To be honest I have not been keeping up with what’s coming out next year. Maybe you can tell me what to look forward to?
(Me: stay tuned for the rest of this feature, but if you have suggestions for Natalie, leave them in the comments!)