Sally J Pla: Warmest of welcomes to A Novel Mind, Karina! I'm a massive fan of your writing, always filled with kindness and a social-emotional richness that many young readers truly yearn for. Thank you for all you write, all you do, all you contribute.
And now some questions!
You are renowned for your wonderful series, The Vanderbeekers, which details family life in a big, harmonious, comfortable old house. Now, this is a new standalone story of a different sort of house, where children in need seek refuge. Can you talk about what appeals to you about using busy large 'houses' and households as the settings of stories? :-)
Karina Yan Glaser: Hi, and thank you so much for having me on A Novel Mind! I love the work you do!
You've definitely caught on to a theme in my books! I love using big, busy homes in my stories because it gives a lot of energy to the story. I also love writing dialogue, so having lots of characters is very satisfying to me as a writer. My father is an architect, and I think he instilled in me an appreciation for buildings and how they are constructed. To me, a building holds so many stories and I love to include that in my books.
Sally: Tell us about June and Tyrell. These are children who have experienced significant trauma in their young lives. How are they alike, and different? How did they come to you? Why will their stories be important to young readers?
Karina: June and Tyrell are both sixth graders and live at Huey House, a homeless shelter in the Bronx. The book begins when June first enters Huey House; Tyrell has been living there for three years. June is Chinese-American and Tyrell is biracial. June's circumstances mimic mine in many ways, and I had to travel back to my sixth grade life to capture some of the emotions and feelings of that time. Tyrell very much reminds me of one of the kids I worked with at a homeless shelter many years ago. He was charming, mischievous, and smart. I think about him all the time and wonder where he is now.
Sally: Before becoming a children's author, you worked at an organization that provided transitional housing to homeless families in New York City. Can you tell us a little about what that experience was like? What was a typical day like for you? What about that experience most inspires your storytelling now?
Karina: My first full time job out of college was at New York City's largest provider of transitional housing. I worked as an assistant for the CEO of the organization, and I was involved in many aspects of the administration: writing grants for programs, providing training, doing research, helping with budgets, among many other duties. I also went to our shelter in the Bronx once a week to work in the after-school program.
That was the best part of each week for me. I would read to the kids and they would read to me. Most of the kids I worked with had never owned a book, and I would save my meager paycheck to buy books from the Barnes and Noble discount table for them. Hearing their stories and reading together with them was one of the most important experiences of my life.
Sally: Tell us about the importance of classical music to you and to this story. It's not something most kids know much about... why should that change?
Karina: If you're read the Vanderbeeker books, you know that I love classical music! My older daughter is a violinist, and I've learned so much from her these past ten years. In A Duet for Home, classical music plays a huge part in the story. I would love to see more people of all backgrounds learn to play and appreciate classical music.
Sally: Children today face many mental-health challenges. What concerns you the most, when you think about the emotional needs of children today? How can stories help?
Karina: The emotional needs of children today are so important, especially given the turmoil of the past couple of years. I think mental health needs to be prioritized as much as physical health is.
Stories help because they tell children that they are not alone. When I was growing up, stories gave me hope, and gave me a window into what I wanted my future to be.
I hope that my stories do the same for kids today.
Karina Yan Glaser is the New York Times bestselling author of the Vanderbeeker series and the forthcoming A Duet for Home. She is a contributing editor for Book Riot and lives in Harlem with her husband, two daughters, and an assortment of rescue animals and houseplants. One of her proudest achievements is raising two kids who can’t go anywhere without a book. Find her online at www.karinaglaser.com.