TELL ME TUESDAY!!! TMT is put on by La La in the Library. Check out our blogs and tell us what you have been reading this week. Here is what I have been reading.
The first book I read by Ms. Knowles was Read Between the Lines. I have to admit that the cover cracked me up so yes I did choose a book to read based on its cover. It was a great read and I have been anxiously waiting for her next book.
(“Read Between the Lines” is available in paperback October 11. Click here to order.)
So with that said, I was excited to read her latest book, Still a Work in Progress. As before, the cover intrigued me. There was a cat wearing a sweater on the front and the spine of the book! And if you are wondering, yes the cat has an important role in this book but I am not going to give it away!
Here is the summary of Still a Work in Progress from the front flap of the book. “Please stop standing on the toilet seats” is one of many requests found in the Suggestion Box at Noah’s small school. Here, life seems pretty simple, especially for Noah’s two best friends. Their biggest problems are avoiding girls and figuring out how to dance…but they both agree that Noah’s older sister, Emma, is perfect. But Emma is far from perfect. The family tiptoes around the issue, afraid that the Thing They Don’t Talk About could happen again. When it does, it’s clear nothing is going to be simple any time soon…”
I loved this book. Ms. Knowles did such a great job capturing middle school and middle schoolers. There were laugh out loud moments like Noah and his friends trying to learn how to slow dance, hiding in the bathroom to avoid girls, or cleaning out a locker that had a rotten tuna sandwich in it. There were also heartbreaking moments. Noah’s sister, Emma, is battling an eating disorder and he feels guilty that he didn’t see it sooner so he could help her. Noah is embarrassed by the attention at school and isolates himself from friends and teachers. “I don’t want to walk in… and have everyone look at me and feel sorry for me or wonder how my family could have been so stupid not to see how sick Emma was.” Noah finds solace in making his clay sculptures in art class and his only friend seems to be Curly, the school cat.
Since I am a huge fan of Ms. Knowles and I wanted to share her new book with you all, I asked if I could interview her and she graciously agreed.
Jolene: How did Still a Work in Progress come about?
Ms. Knowles: It was inspired by the kids in my son’s middle school carpool, actually. Every week I couldn’t wait for school meeting day to find out what topic had been pulled from their own “complaint box” to discuss. They were so clever and funny that I started to write them down. Then I thought about how they would make great chapter headings, and started to think of the stories that might have inspired the suggestion/complaint in the first place. While many made it into the book, the heart and purpose of the story very quickly took over, but it was those initial discussions in the car that were the spark.
Jolene: I loved the chapter titles! I like knowing they are actual “complaint box” topics.
Jolene: What inspires you to write?
Ms. Knowles: I tend to see stories everywhere I look, and sometimes they just latch onto my heart and become so dear to me that I can’t stop thinking about them. It sometimes takes years for me to figure out how to write the story, but if it’s strong enough to take hold, eventually it finds its way into a book.
Jolene: I am so glad that this story took hold and made its way to a book.
Jolene: Do you listen or talk to your characters?
Ms. Knowles: No, I wouldn’t say I listen or talk to them. It’s more like I inhabit them. When I’m writing, I tell the story as if I am the character. I see what he or she sees, feels, etc. I wouldn’t say I am my character, but I’m inside somehow.
Jolene: What do you want your readers to get from your books?
Ms. Knowles: Most importantly, to think about how their perception of the characters change from start to finish, and how everyone has a personal story that explains why people behave a certain way. I hope, as with all stories, they inspire readers to try to understand others rather than judge them. I firmly believe that if more of us did this, it would go a long way to make the world a kinder place.
Jolene: I agree. I have learned so much about anxiety, depression, etc through characters in books.
Jolene: Did you always want to be an author?
Ms. Knowles: No, not at all. I have always been a bit of a wallflower so the idea of choosing a career that might put me in any sort of spotlight was not something I would have considered. I hoped to be a children’s librarian or an editor. It was in college that I first began to fall in love with writing. As a quiet person who never spoke in class, writing gave me a voice for the first time. Just as reading books as a teen made me feel less alone, sharing my own stories with others made me feel the same way. After reading my work publicly and connecting with others, I realized a tiny spotlight wasn’t necessarily so awful, especially when it meant making connections with people like me. In graduate school, I took a course on writing for children and it was the encouragement of my instructor who planted the seed of possibility, simply by telling me “You are a writer,” that set me on the path.
Jolene: I am so glad you chose to be a writer. Thank goodness for your instructor.
Jolene: What advice do you have for other writers?
Ms. Knowles: Write the stories of your heart, and try not to compare or measure your journey against others. Rather, embrace other writers and walk the path together.
Jolene: That is very good advice.
Jolene: How has having a published book changed your life?
Ms. Knowles: I’ve learned that my words can be just as powerful as anyone else’s. That sounds a bit heady to say, but what I mean is, you never know how your story might resonate with someone else. We read stories to feel less alone, and I think we tell stories for the same reason.
Jolene: What kind of books do you read?
Ms. Knowles: As many types as I can. I love everything, honestly. You never know what might move or inspire or change you.
Jolene: That is so true! Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to let us get to know you more.
About the Author
Jo Knowles is the author of Living With Jackie Chan, See You At Harry’s, Pearl, Jumping Off Swings, and Lessons from a Dead Girl. Her newest book, Read Between The Lines, was called “masterfully woven” in a starred review by Kirkus. Some of her awards include two SCBWI Crystal Kite Awards, a New York Times Editor’s Choice and Notable Book, the PEN New England Children’s Book Discovery Award, an American Library Association Notable, Bank Street College’s Best Books for Children (Outstanding Merit), and YALSA’s Best Fiction for Young Adults. Jo has a master’s degree in children’s literature and teaches writing for young adults in the MFA program at Southern New Hampshire University. She lives in Vermont with her husband and son.
To learn more about Jo, visit http://www.joknowles.com/Home.html or follow her on
To order Still A Work in Progress you can order on Amazon.com Click Here!
The Sunday Post is put on by The Caffeinated Book Reviewer, Stacking the Shelves is put on by Tynga’s Reviews, and Saturday Situation is put on by Candace’s Book Blog. Check them out to read what we have been reading this week.