Having a GREAT GOOD SUMMER with LIZ GARTON SCANLON

~ post by children’s book buyer Meghan G.

Local author Liz Garton Scanlon has been giving us beautifully written picture books to sell for years, so I was intrigued to hear she was coming out with her first novel for kids. And, with an enchanting blend of science, faith, dreams, and adventure, I’m happy to tell you that The Great Good Summer doesn’t disappoint, and just might embolden young readers to ask some big questions (which is a pretty great thing in my book)!

I recently had the chance to asked Liz a few questions about her book, and here’s what she had to say:

Meghan G.: What strikes me about The Great Good Summer is that, like your beloved picture book All the World, this novel seems very expansive in its view of the human experience. It feels like each book speaks to the idea that each of our lives is both small and personal and yet simultaneously part of something broader and universal. Is that a theme that you connect strongly with as a writer?

Liz Garton Scanlon: Oh, wow. Thank you. I love that reading of the novel — and I love that you connect it to All the World that way. And yes, I think that’s not just a theme I connect to as a writer, but it actually kind of defines my larger understanding of being a person on this planet. That every little thing (or person or bird or breath) is unique and worthy of notice and, at the same time, is connected to a larger, lovely, roomy whole. That sort of addresses everything that matters to me — human and civil rights, environmentalism, ego and humility, being present — it’s all in there, right?

MG: Your novel builds strong ties between the scientific impulse to delve into space and the religious impulse to seek spiritual guidance. Ivy, her Mama, and Paul all have different relationships with the church, with God, and with science, but they all seek meaning from the heavens. What do you hope kids take away from this variety of perspectives?

LGS: I’d love to contribute to really human conversations about faith and science, leaving plenty of room for crossover and murkiness, complexity and ambiguity. In today’s world, these discussions become so polarized, so black-and-white, that most of us get left out. Only the shrillest voices and opinions get heard. It’s as if faith and science are on opposite ends of a sharp stick, instead of being all mixed up together in some great big boiling wonderment stew.

MG: While your story presents a very positive, nuanced look at how different people seek meaning and guidance from their faith, you also paint portraits of preachers whose influences are not as positive. How did you see their role in this story?

LGS: This story is really Ivy’s coming-of-age, and it’s about how hard it is for a girl to come of age without her mother being a model of sorts. But we discover that it’s also liberating — to realize that we have to get to know ourselves — our quirks and characteristics, our strengths and weaknesses — in order to find and follow our own paths. So it made sense to me that while Ivy’s mama was missing, the traditional leaders — in this case, from the church — should be not-quite-right for her either. Otherwise how would she get the guts to strike out on her own? The exception in this book is Ivy’s teacher Mrs. Murray. She is so wise and loving, but she basically tells Ivy that she needs to get to know and trust herself. And I think, by the end of the book, that she’s well on her way.

MG: Ivy calls herself “brave and crazy” for her leap of faith in leaving home to find her mother, a leap she compares with someone being brave and crazy enough to fly into space. A few pages later, Ivy’s mama describes her impulsive decision to leave home to follow Hallelujah Dave as going off “half-dumb and crazy.” What do you think is the difference between the two, and how were you hoping kids might compare them?

LGS: Ha! You’re a close reader! Crazy is a tricky word, isn’t it? It’s used in an off-hand way all the time to refer to all sorts of mental illness, but also to describe risky behavior, creative thinking, maybe even ecstasy. I think Ivy is kind of reclaiming the word to mean some of those things — yes, what she’s done is risky but it’s also creative and passionate and loving and brave! Ivy’s mama isn’t quite there yet — she’s still thinking of crazy as something pretty negative, which I guess in her case it was. Although who’s to say what she’ll learn from her wild adventure in the long run — who she’ll become and how her relationships with her husband and with Ivy might grow? I tend to sort of side with Ivy here — I think doing “crazy” things is kind of brave, and generally pays off. But that doesn’t mean I hope any of my young readers will hop a Greyhound bus to Florida! Just that I hope they’re willing to go all out sometime for the things that really matter.

MG: Did you see the Space Shuttle Endeavor fly over Texas when it retired? What was the significance of the shuttle’s retirement to you personally; did you ever dream of going into space?

LGS: I did! I saw it from right here in Austin! It looked like doll furniture on top of that 747. What a humble last flight. I was sad about the end of the Space Shuttle program — I still am. I grew up in the 60s and 70s when space flight was considered the ultimate adventure. Every single blast-off was noted and celebrated. I hate how blase and almost indifferent we all grew over time, so I loved being with Paul as I wrote this book. He brought back the awe that I think belongs in our understanding of the cosmos.

The Space Shuttle Endeavour flew over Austin on Thursday, September 20, 2012 . Photo by Marco Hansen/AP.

Liz’s next book, In the Canyon, illustrated by Ashley Wolff, is a picture book celebrating the natural wonder and beauty of the Grand Canyon. The book comes out August 18, and is available to preorder now. We also have signed copies of The Great Good Summer and some of Liz’s other books on our shelves now.

Visit Liz’s website for more information about her, her books, educator guides, and more.

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