Today I’m shining the Author Spotlight on Emily Whitman and her middle grade novel THE TURNING.
Title: The Turning
Genre: Middle-grade novel
Age Range: 8-12
Launch Date: July 24, 2018
Please tell us a little bit about your book.
Aran is a selkie and lives on the open sea with his clan. All he’s ever wished for is a pelt, which will turn him into a sleek, powerful seal like the other selkies. Then Aran discovers that his clan has been keeping a secret from him. And the secret means Aran may never get his pelt. That he’s a danger to the entire clan. That maybe he doesn’t even belong to the sea at all. Aran’s desperate quest for a pelt lands him in the bewildering and dangerous world of humans. He has to learn their strange ways to pass as one of them. Land holds wonders: trees and birds’ nests and cookies and, most surprising of all, friends. Yet the land is dangerous, too. When the unimaginable happens, Aran will be forced to choose: Will he fight for his place on land, or listen to the call of the sea?
What inspired you to write this story and/or these characters?
I’ve always loved mythology and folklore. They’re truth and magic tangled up together! I was on a boat to Ireland’s Skellig Islands when an image of selkies flashed into my mind. In Celtic lore, selkies can slip off their seal pelts to take human form. I started to wonder what would happen to a selkie boy living at sea who’d never had a seal pelt. It grew into a story about belonging, bravery, and self-discovery. I’m also fascinated by cusps, those thin edges where one thing is about to turn into another and you can step in either direction. A selkie tale is the cusp of our human nature and our animal nature, of ocean and land, magic and reality. Pretty cool!
Everyone says writing is a process. Could you share a little about your writing and/or research process?
I start with a spark that’s pure imagination. Something on the page surprises me and I decide to follow up. The story takes surprising turns. I’ll do bits of outlining as I go, but mostly I uncover flashes of character and story as I write, and then I do what my friend Amy brilliantly calls “Frankenstein-ing it together.” As I write, I’m always researching, and the research keeps feeding me new insights. I love adventure research: going out in search of sense perceptions and experiences that feed the story. For The Turning, I visited a seal colony, and spent time on the shore and in aquariums. When I found out that orcas will work together to splash a seal off a rock, I knew that had to become a scene in the book!
We know no writer is created in a vacuum. Could you tell the readers about a teacher or a librarian who had an effect on your writing life?
This is such a good question! I’m grateful for the wonderful guides along my way. I can start all the way back in first grade, when Mrs. Johnson had us write nonstop. Every Monday we’d write what we did over the weekend. We listened to Peter and the Wolf and wrote our own versions—maybe that was the start of my lifelong love of retellings and making a classic tale my own! And then there was the Whittier school librarian Mrs. Wolzien. I was a library helper from 4th-6th grades. When I graduated I got to choose any book I wanted. Here’s a picture of the one I chose, The Animal Family.
What makes your book a good pick for use in a classroom? Is there any particular way you’d like to see teachers use it with young readers/teens?
Take a great adventure story, set it in a magical, atmospheric ocean world, and give kids someone they connect with as they struggle with what it means to belong, and with finding the courage to face new situations. Then give teachers tools that make it easy to use the book in the classroom—discussion questions, activities, lesson plans, and links to great sites where kids can explore marine mammals, ocean life, and folktales. The Teaching Guide and links on my website will give you lots of ideas!
I love interdisciplinary approaches where kids’ interest in one area pulls them into others. I’m really excited how The Turning can enrich units on myth and folklore, ocean science, and writing with all your senses.
I’m a little dog obsessed here at www.patriciabaileyauthor.com. Would you tell the readers about your favorite dog (real or imaginary)?
Jake! Wonderful Jake! When I was in high school we got a German Shepherd puppy with floppy ears and gigantic paws. He grew into a gigantic, loving, playful, and very poorly trained dog. He’d jump up and put his paws on my tiny grandmother’s shoulders. I can still hear her saying “Down Jakie!” He could catch a line-drive tennis ball like you wouldn’t believe. After all these years I still miss him.
Elsie, my cat and writing partner, asked to be mentioned, too. I told her you were interested specifically in dogs, but as a proudly independent creature she thought you’d like to see her picture anyway! (I’ll allow it – even though it will make my cats terribly jealous 🙂 ~ trish)
In Emily Whitman’s novels, myth and magic are part of everyday life. The Turning is her first novel for kids. Her YA novels are Radiant Darkness, #1 on the IndieBound Kid’s Next List, and Wildwing, winner of the Oregon Book Award and a Bankstreet College Best Children’s Book. Emily teaches writing workshops and lives with her family in Portland, Oregon. Come say hi at www.emilywhitman.com, facebook.com/emilywhitman, and instagram.com/emilywhitmanbooks.