Jonathan Auxier was raised in Canada and obtained his MFA in Dramatic Writing from Carnegie Mellon University. His book Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes was named a BookPage Magazine Best Book of 2011. His next novel, The Night Gardener was named a Best Book of 2014 by Kirkus, SLJ, Publisher’s Weekly, NPR, and Quill & Quire, and it won the ILA Children’s Book Award and the TD Book Award. His new novel, Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard arrives Spring 2016. He lives in Pittsburgh with his family and their adorable pet umbrella.
The following interview has been excerpted from an interview at Word Spelunking. Read the whole story »
Q: What three words best describe your book, Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard?
A: Mysterious, wonder-filled, bookish
Q: Can you give us your best one sentence pitch to convince young readers, especially reluctant readers, to give Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard?
A: Sophie Quire is a swashbuckling adventure about a girl who must hunt down and protect a set of mysterious books that can answer any question asked of them. I was a reluctant reader growing up, and wrote Sophie because it’s the book I wish someone had given me when I was that age. Also, it has a ton of monsters in it.
Q: Grab a copy of Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard and answer the following:
A: My favorite chapter might be “Highway Robbery” in which Sophie finds herself being kidnapped in a carriage on a moonlit road—only to have a highwayman show up and kidnap her again. Needless to say, things do not turn out as planned for said highwayman!
A: I don’t want to spoil anything, but I think my last page is pretty swell. I still get a little shiver when I read the final lines.
A: My favorite setting has got to be the Lighthouse at the End of the World. The lighthouse is a huge, rickety structure, cobbled together from dozens of derelict ships that sit at the literal edge of the world. The place entirely populated with creatures and characters from fairy tales that Sophie has grown up reading about—never once realizing that they were actually real.
Q: Flip to a random page and give us a 1-2 sentence teaser:
A: From an early chapter, when Sophie first discovers The Book of Who:
“Hello,” Sophie said, and for a moment, she almost thought she could feel the book vibrating beneath her fingers. As if it wanted to say “hello” back to her.
Q: What inspired the series? How did the idea for Peter Nimble and Sophie Quire come to be?
A: All of my stories come from sketches in my journals. In the case of Sophie Quire, the whole story was sparked by a drawing of a girl mending books in a city that was determined to burn all of its stories.
Q: Can you tell us a bit about your heroine, Sophie? What makes her unique, what do you love about her?
A: Sophie is sort of a tribute to every girl I’ve ever known who grew up loving to read. She is a true outsider in her world—the only person who cares for stories that other people would rather cast aside. One of the exciting challenges in the story was seeing how heroic I could make her without actually giving her “powers” of any kind: figuring out how a smart-but-ordinary twelve year old girl be able to contend with monsters and wicked villains.
Q: If you could visit ANY world from ANY book, which would you choose and what would you do there?
A: I recall crying actual tears as I finished reading the last pages of Watership Down as a kid. At the end of that breathtaking epic tale, I wanted nothing more that to live with those rabbits forever.
Q: What is your all time favorite middle-grade book and/or character?
A: Those who know me know that I am a huge fan of Peter Pan, which to me is an almost perfect story. As for favorite character, I might say Matilda Wormwood from Matilda (a character who played a major inspiration for Sophie Quire).
Q: What do you love about writing middle-grade books? Why do you think middle-grade literature is so popular and important?
A: My favorite children’s books are often about those last moments of childhood right before you pass into the next phase of life. The themes in those kinds of stories—nostalgia, loss of innocence, finding home, discovering one’s true self—are things that I will never outgrow because they appear again and again in my life.
Q: If you were to create and bake a cupcake inspired by Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard, what would it look like and taste like and what would you call it?
A: Sophie Quire ventures down a long river called the Wassail, named after the spiced beverage sung about in that old Christmas carol “Here We Go A-Wassailing.” So the cakes would probably taste like hot wassail. They would have dark purple frosting that glittered slightly under direct moonlight, and when you bit into them, they would be unexpectedly warm. People would call them Wassail Cakes.
The following interview has been excerpted from the September issue of Book Page Magazine. Read the whole story »
Q: What difficulties did you have writing this novel from the point of view of Peter Nimble, a blind orphan?
A: I am a pretty visual storyteller, and cutting away all visual descriptions added another layer of work to every scene. There were several moments where I found myself wishing I could just describe the way things looked instead of having to think through what they must also have smelled and sounded like. On the other hand, how often will I get the opportunity to write an entire story through the senses of smell, taste, touch and hearing—that’s pretty cool!
Q: Tells us about the world Peter Nimble finds himself in after discovering the Fantastic Eyes.
A: Peter Nimble & His Fantastic Eyes takes place in a moment of history when the lines between magic and science were being blurred. Strange, exotic lands were being discovered and becoming known—but with that comes a loss of mystery. The central metaphor in the book is that of a half-finished map: the moment a new island or country gets charted by cartographers, it becomes reduced in some indefinable way … and that’s sad. In the story, I wanted to take that map metaphor and make it literal. So when Peter Nimble sets out for uncharted waters, he finds himself in a place where the rules of logic and science still don’t apply—a place where the impossible is still possible.
Q: Many of your characters are incredibly unique—Peter Nimble, Mr. Seamus, Sir Tode, Princess Peg. Where did you get your inspiration for these characters?
A: Where didn’t I get inspiration? Pretty much every book I’ve ever read has worked its way into this story. I’ve always thought of nasty Mr. Seamus as a combination of Bill Sikes from Oliver Twist and Mr. Wormwood from Matilda—a vicious brute who can also be crafty and disarming. Peg is pretty much all the Lost Boys from Peter Pan rolled into one awesome 10-year-old warrior—kind of what I had always wished Wendy had become once she arrived in Neverland! Sir Tode is a knight who has been cursed into an unfortunate combination of human, horse and kitten, which was inspired by a desire to fuse Don Quixote with his nag Rocinante.
Q: Parts of your book are quite dark, even unsettling. Why did you think it was important to include this type of writing in Peter Nimble?
A: I actually think a whiff of darkness is essential to children’s literature. From Peter Pan to Magical Monarch of Mo by Frank Baum to The Witches by Roald Dahl—these books create a safe place for a child to explore dangerous subjects. That play between darkness and light is what drew me in as a young reader, and it’s still what draws me in today.
Q: The Vanished Kingdom and the characters who live there are so rich that it’s hard to leave them behind. Have we seen the last of Peter?
A: Peter Nimble & His Fantastic Eyes was meant to be a complete story in and of itself. That said, I am currently writing another book that brushes up against the world of Peter Nimble. Who knows? Maybe those characters will find themselves in need of the greatest thief who ever lived!