Over Olympia and Leah's heads, Americans race the Russians to the moon; on their television sets young men fight and struggle in the mud of Viet Nam; and America holds its breath between heartbreaking tragedies.
But on Miss Brinker's school bus, in the seat with the rip in the green plastic, Olympia and Leah fall in love, the way children do: immediately, completely, and without knowing or caring why they shouldn't. Olympia Crooms, with her happy hair, and Leah Breck, with her silly red dog, are two smart girls.
Olympia's father works other men's orange groves in rural Central Florida and tells his daughter that school is the best way to reach for the stars. Leah's father moves his family from the Space Coast to the country where she and her brother can climb orange trees, imagine lions in the tall grass, and learn to feed baby cows milk from a bottle.
At Evegan Elementary, two smart girls find each other and have to decide if they will learn the hardest lessons of all: the false traditions of their fathers.About the author:
A reviewer said: “There are several moments in the book that hit me as a reader like a punch to the chest and subsequently ripped my heart out.” Having in view that the book is for middle school readers, did you felt the need/wish to leave room for hope? Why so?
Your observation about the “heart ripping” aspect of the story is actually my observation. Often, my first question to reader’s is, “Is it too sad?” And I’ve been surprised by their focus on the love between the main characters, rather than the tragedy of it all. Several readers of that age group have said to me, “But they loved each other.” That surprised me, but that seems to be what they are taking away from the book, for the most part. However, one of my readers did comment, “I liked them so much I just wanted them to go off and make a baby sitters club or something.” Alas, it’s not that kind of story, but more importantly, it wasn’t that kind of time in our history.
The most of Amazon reviewers (if not all of them) are adults and they enjoyed the book. How different is to write a book for young / middle grade readers and to send them a deeper message?
It’s a little book about big hard issues. As for the deeper themes and messages, I was hoping to tell a story that could be read on several levels--crazy I know. My granddaughter (4th grade) sees a story about bullying, on the school bus, at school, etc. Older children seem to be able to bring more to the table as they read, focusing on the dynamic between the adults and the children, because, grownups sometimes get it wrong, the little calf encapsulating that hard fact. And adults tend to key in on the societal aspects of passing racism on to the next generation through the metaphors of the orange grove and grafting.
My personal opinion is that many authors of our day forget to use figures of speech. What do you think about these? Are they obsolete, do the contemporary stories still need them?
I agree with you about modern literature. I was raised on The Yearling, Where the Red Fern Grows, and Sounder. Books that left me shocked and shaken and changed. These were stories that touched my soul, and I have never forgotten them. I would like to believe that our children are still capable of being taught the power of symbol and metaphor. I would like to believe that our children still need books that touch their souls, rather than just entertain for a time. But let’s face it. Literature has become a hard sell.
What do you think about young adult literature trend in our day?
A lot of young adult literature is fun, and I love escapism as well as the next reader, but I hope that society isn’t ready to completely abandon little books about big hard issues.
Do you have a message for parents?
Yes, I have a message for parents: read with them, not at them; read with them and then discuss. Buy two copies or more, so that everyone has their own book. Start a family book club and make it a tradition.
What is the significance of the title?
I love words. Mooncalf is a word that brings so much to the table. Once upon a time, mooncalf was a term used by farmers and ranchers to describe malformed or stillborn animals. Over time, the word morphed to mean someone who is overly trusting, even ridiculous. Who has not been a mooncalf at one time or another?
Linda Zern is a native of Florida where she learned to be moonstruck. She wrote her first children's chapter book, The Pocket Fairies of Middleburg, in 2005. Writer's Digest called "the perspective of these tiny beings [the pocket fairies] refreshing, enchanting, and intriguing." Florida Publisher's Association was kind enough to award her little book the President's Book Award for best children's book of 2005. Mrs. Zern has since published an inspirational book, The Long-Promised Song, serving as both writer and illustrator. Three collections of her humorous essays (ZippityZern’s Uncommon Nonsense) can be found at Smashwords.com, and her award winning essays have been recognized and published at HumorPress.com.
Her current project, Mooncalf, is her first work of historical fiction for Middle School readers. Set in rural Central Florida, the author tells the story of two misfit girls and the hard lessons they must learn about friendship and love from their friends, their families, and their world. The mystical state of Florida remains an enchanted and delightsome place for both Mrs. Zern and her husband of thirty plus years, and so they continue to make their home among the palmettos and armadillos in the historic town of Saint Cloud.
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