April is National Poetry Month.
I can hear your internal monologue right now… “Hey word nerd, what does that even mean?” or “Sure, for seventh graders studying common core state standards.” Or “Ugh. Poetry is soooo boring.”
Calm down. Lend me your eyes and attention for 8 minutes will ya? I promise to lead you safely to the other side and possibly even change your mind by the time we reach the end. Deal? Okay, let’s go.
So, what is National Poetry Month?
And I’ve decided to join in the fun.
During the month of April I read When My Sister Started Kissing, the new release from award winning author Helen Frost. I had previously read Hidden and Crossing Stones by this author and knew my choice would not disappoint.
A novel is verse is a fictional story told through a series of free verse poems.
When My Sister Started Kissing is the story of two sisters and the time they spend at their cabin each summer. Situated directly next to a lake and full of memories of their deceased mother, the cabin is a place both ten year old Claire and thirteen year old Abigail love fiercely. But this year their new step-mom is coming for the first time. Not only that, but their new baby brother will be born while they are staying there. All this change affects the girls in different ways. Claire clings to the past and Abigail starts kissing.
The story is told in alternating viewpoints, sometimes with Claire’s childhood voice of innocence, sometimes with Abi’s teenage angst and occasionally through the eyes of the ever present Lake.
I would quickly slap my self-appointed title “word-nerd” on Helen. Not only is her word choice impeccable, but she also is a formatting genius, creating lines with shape and form that add oodles to the overall message and meaning to the collection. Not only is Helen a word nerd; she is a generous one. I emailed her to ask if I could interview her for today’s post and she graciously agreed.
The Word Nerd: When My Sister Started Kissing is set at a lake home. Is this something your family did in the summer? How much of your own life experiences did you draw on for this book?
Helen Frost: We went to a cabin on Lake Kabekona in northern Minnesota for several summers when I was around 8-11. Then we moved to Massachusetts and couldn’t go there anymore, so my parents sold their share of it to my aunts and uncles. One of my cousins still owns it and has rebuilt it into her year-around home, which means I can still go there. Yay!
We all, of course, draw on our life experiences in our writing, and When My Sister Started Kissing includes a lot of details of different lakes I’ve enjoyed—the book is dedicated to them, in fact!
The Word Nerd: The relationship between sisters can be a terrifically ugly wonderment that a woman (at times) struggles to fully understand. What is your relationship like with your sister(s) and again, did it influence any parts of this book?
Helen Frost: I grew up in the middle of a family of ten children, including seven sisters, and we were, and still are, close. Part of the closeness comes, I’m sure, from the things we fought over when we were kids, and that comes into the book in the characters’ voices—the sisters rely on an underlying love, even when they are disagreeing, or mad at each other.
The incidents of sneaking out, lying, kissing just for the fun of it, etc., may or may not have any basis in memories of my sisters and myself. I’m glad to have so many sisters so there is no danger of damaging any one sister's reputation.
The Word Nerd: Often NATURE plays a role in your books. Can you explain your pull to include the natural world in your storytelling?
Helen Frost: Memories of loons, pine trees, fishing—that sort of thing—remain very clear to me, and I think they ground the story in something that feels real
One memory that remains very clear to me is hiking around a lake in Scotland (Loch Mannoch) and coming upon a swan’s nest. It was huge, and the swans were a powerful presence as they swam around the loch. In a lovely unplanned co-incidence, When My Sister Started Kissing had the same publication date as a picture book, Wake Up!, that features Rick Lieder’s beautiful photographic images of new life. The cover, and several photographs inside the book, depict a family of swans at the time the cygnets are hatching, just like in the novel. The two books companion well together.
I enjoyed this experience so much that I think I started a new tradition for myself. Maybe I will read a novel in verse every April! Seriously, if you have never given one a try, do it! Maybe you already have a favorite novel in verse? Share it in the comments below so we can all benefit from the great recommendation. Until next time, happy reading my word nerds.