Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Curious Kids and Middle Grade Mystery: An interview with Christian middle grade author Dana Rongione

Today I'm talking with Christian middle grade mystery author Dana Rongione about her book, The Delaware Detectives.


1) Please tell us about your book.

The Delaware Detectives is a Christian mystery for readers between the ages of 8 and 14 (although younger and older readers can certainly enjoy it as well).  It is the story of Abby and Jamie Patterson, who spend the summer with their grandfather (Pop-Pop) in Delaware and discover an old stamp collection that contains a clue to a hidden treasure.  The problem is that no one is sure if the treasure truly exists or not because the clue was left by a crazy old woman.  The story is filled with hidden clues, secret passageways and strange creatures, but subtly woven into the mix are moral lessons about honesty and getting along with our brothers and sisters.

2) What was your inspiration for writing this book?

As a child, my brother, sister and I spent many hours exploring my grandfather's attic.  It held such wonders, and I don't think I'll ever get over the excitement of discovering unique items that I had never seen before.  The book actually began as an assignment for one of the courses I was taking with The Institute of Children's Literature.  As I thought about what to write for a children's fiction novel, the memories of my grandfather's attic came to me.  I figured if I enjoyed the mysteries contained in that attic, maybe other children would too.

3) Tell about your two lead characters.

Abby is a headstrong young girl, stuck in the age of no longer being a child, but not yet being a woman.  She is a perfectionist, a reader and a history lover.  Everything she does is organized and well-planned.  She loves her brother but tires of his immature antics and feels she no longer has much in common with him now that she is "grown up".  She has a tender heart and truly desires to please.

Jamie is a typical young boy.  He is fun of energy and grandiose ideas.  He is eager for attention and will often do whatever it takes to gain that attention.  In the process, he tends to drive others crazy.  He is fun-loving and smart, although he'd much prefer to watch television or play video games rather than sit down and read a book.  Deep down, he's a good kid.  He's just struggling to find a way to fit in.

4) What was your favorite part of writing this book?

Reliving old memories was such a thrill.  Since the story was based on my childhood days in my grandfather's attic, I was able to mentally re-visit my childhood.  I saw the room where my sister and I once stayed.  I felt the cool air as I made my way up the narrow steps.  I pictured that creepy, stuffed owl that hung on the wall and seemed to stare at me no matter where I went.  I recalled how we crawled into the stuffy attic through the little white paneled door and stared in wonder at the many items surrounding us.  Having the opportunity to put these memories on paper was a rewarding experience.

5) Kids often complain about adults not understanding them. You've written an entire book with children as the main characters. How did you go about developing their psychology? Was it difficult to write from a younger perspective?

For starters, I based my two main characters on real people:  my niece and nephew.  That helped to really flesh out their characters and to be certain that I wasn't getting too "adult" in my dialogue or descriptions.  Another thing that helped is that I taught kindergarten and first grade for nine years before becoming a writer.  Additionally, I've worked with our church youth for a number of years, so I am well-acquainted with how children think, talk and act.  It was just a matter of putting that knowledge on paper.

6) Do you have any sequels planned?

My initial plan was to end the book in such a way that I could go either way with it -- have a sequel or just leave it as a stand alone book.  However, since its release, I've received a number of requests for the next book, so it looks like there will be at least one sequel.

7) With all the myriad activities out there for young people these days, it can sometimes be hard to get them to read. What do you think parents can do to get their children more interested in reading?

That's an excellent question.  The first thing parents can do is read themselves.  Children are watching, and in many ways, they are going to mimic the behavior of their parents.  If the parents are always filling their time with other things (television, games, computers, etc.), the children will do the same.  It's important for children to see adults reading and getting excited about reading.  One thing I always did in my classroom was to read to my students, and often I would read a book that was beyond their reading level.  Before beginning the book, however, I would tell them a little about it and describe some of my favorite parts.  By the time I was done, they couldn't wait for me to read to them, and when we'd reach the chapter's end, I always received requests like "Please, can't we read just one more."

Another thing parents can do is to allow children to choose their own books as long as those books are acceptable to the parents.  (Note to the parents:  Always know what your child is reading, and if at all possible, read it before your child does!)  Children who are forced to read stories in which they have no interest will quickly learn to dislike reading altogether.  Parents should take advantage of the library and bookstores and surround their children with good literature.  Instead of buying a new toy or video game, how about a book?


Thanks, Dana.

If you'd like to see more from Dana, check her site out at http://www.danarongione.com/.

The Delaware Detectives can be purchased at Amazon.


Bk Walker said...

Excellent interview. I love that it's based on your childhood. It's so much easier to write it when you've actually experienced it. That's great you're working on a sequel.

Thank you for hosting Dana today :)

Susan said...

I love that it's based on your childhood too - I understand how it can be fun to write about your own memories :) Have you started the sequel?

Dana Rongione said...

Thanks, BK.

Susan, I apologize for taking so long to answer your question. My husband and I were out of town for our 15-year anniversary, and believe it or not, we were staying in a cabin that had no cell phone signal and no Wi-Fi. We felt a little cut off from the world, but in many ways, that was great.

Anyway, to answer your question, the sequel is currently in the planning stage, meaning I haven't written anything yet. I'm still rolling ideas around in my head and reading a variety of books to spark some inspiration. Once I have a pretty good idea how I want the plot to progress, I'll start putting things on paper.