Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Discussing the Books We’ve Loved: Déjà Vu

Heather Vogel FrederickAs I ready this arti­cle for pub­li­ca­tion, I am sit­ting in the cof­fee shop where I first met Heather Vogel Fred­er­ick, now a much-admired author of some of my favorite books. I still enjoy get­ting caught up in a series, accept­ing the like­able and not-so-like­able char­ac­ters as my new-found cir­cle of friends, antic­i­pat­ing the treat of stay­ing with the book as I open the pages of the sec­ond and third and fourth vol­umes in the series. Not so dif­fer­ent than any read­er who enjoys series, I think.

Heather has engaged her char­ac­ters in a moth­er-daugh­ter book club that feels com­plete­ly nat­ur­al. Dis­cussing the clas­sic books is a believ­able part of the sto­ry about these five girls, their moth­ers, their fam­i­lies, their boyfriends in the lat­er books, and the dra­ma that springs up around them.

In my ongo­ing look at why series books fas­ci­nate us far into adult­hood, and espe­cial­ly those we loved as chil­dren (and re-read today), Heather’s series is a must-dis­cuss because it is a mir­ror and a door­way.

Q: When you first wrote The Moth­er-Daugh­ter Book Club, did you have a series of books in mind?

A.  Not at all!  I thought I was just writ­ing one book.

Q. As a moth­er of two, now-grown sons, what brought you to write a book about a book club for moth­ers and daugh­ters?

Little WomenA.  Iron­ic, isn’t it?!  The book was actu­al­ly my then-edi­tor Alyssa Eis­ner Henkin’s idea. She recalled that I spent my mid­dle school and ear­ly high school years in Con­cord, Mass­a­chu­setts, where Louisa May Alcott lived when she wrote Lit­tle Women. “You could set a sto­ry there,” she said, “and have a fic­tion­al moth­er-daugh­ter book club read Lit­tle Women.”  Total catnip—how could I resist? When I was grow­ing up and dream­ing of being a writer, Louisa was one of my heroes. I used to ride my bike fre­quent­ly past Orchard House, the his­tor­i­cal home where she lived and wrote, and I saved up my babysit­ting mon­ey for the entrance fee so I could take the tour at least once a sum­mer. I loved look­ing at all the arti­facts famil­iar to fans of Lit­tle Women, and hear­ing sto­ries about the Alcott sis­ters, and see­ing the desk where Louisa sat when she wrote. So real­ly, when my edi­tor dan­gled the bait, there was no way this fish wasn’t going to bite.

Q. At what point in your writ­ing plans was the deci­sion made to extend The Moth­er-Daugh­ter Book Club to a series?

A.  Not until after the first book was pub­lished. It was warm­ly received, and I was asked if I’d be inter­est­ed in writ­ing a sequel.  I don’t recall at what point we real­ized that we had a full-fledged series on our hands.

Q. Did you know right away which books you would fea­ture?

A.  As I said, Lit­tle Women was Alyssa’s bright idea. With the excep­tion of the Bet­sy-Tacy books (more on this in a moment), the rest of the books I chose were child­hood and teen favorites of mine, and yes, I knew almost right away which ones I’d fea­ture. I loved being able to intro­duce these clas­sic books to a whole new gen­er­a­tion of read­ers.

Q. Of all the books you chose, Dad­dy-Long-legs is per­haps the most for­got­ten of the books. Because of your Moth­er-Daugh­ter Book Club book, Dear Pen Pal, Chap­ter & Verse Book Clubs chose it as our annu­al “clas­sic” for dis­cus­sion. Book club mem­bers had a lot to say about this book. Why did you select it?

A.  I have loved this book since I first dis­cov­ered it as an ado­les­cent. It has everything—an under­dog hero­ine, humor, romance, mys­tery. Plus it’s as fresh and live­ly as the day it was first pub­lished over a hun­dred years ago. I’m always sur­prised that more peo­ple don’t know about it.

Q. For Book 5, Home for the Hol­i­days, you fea­tured the Bet­sy-Tacy books, which delight­ed legions of active fans who read and re-read these books, which were orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in the ‘40s and ‘50s. How did you come to choose them over any oth­er pop­u­lar series?

Betsy Tacy & TibA.  There’s a fun­ny sto­ry behind this. I was on a book tour for Pies & Prej­u­dice in the Mid­west, and it seemed as if every­where I went, women would sidle up to me and implore me to think about fea­tur­ing the Bet­sy-Tacy books. I’d nev­er heard of them! Some­how, Maud Hart Lovelace’s clas­sic series nev­er man­aged to make it onto my radar screen as an ado­les­cent, which still bog­gles my mind. How could I pos­si­bly have missed a series of ten fab­u­lous books? At any rate, after about the fourth or fifth such encounter (includ­ing one with you, I might add!), the mes­sage got through, and I real­ized that I need­ed to check this series out. A book­seller in St. Louis actu­al­ly pressed the first two titles into my hands, after extract­ing a promise that I would read them on the plane home. I did, and I was imme­di­ate­ly hooked. The legions of Bet­sy-Tacy fans were right—the series was per­fect for my fic­tion­al book club.

Q. Were you pre­pared to meet the enthu­si­as­tic fans when you spoke at the Bet­sy-Tacy Con­ven­tion in the sum­mer of 2012?

A.  It was quite over­whelm­ing, and I mean that in the best pos­si­ble way. I was tremen­dous­ly touched by the num­ber of atten­dees, includ­ing quite a few moth­ers and daugh­ters, who’d learned about the Bet­sy-Tacy books through read­ing my series, and who came to the con­ven­tion both to cel­e­brate all things Bet­sy-Tacy, and to meet me. It was humbling—and incred­i­bly fun. Those Maud Hart Lovelace fans real­ly know how to have a good time!

Q. Why do you feel so many adults con­tin­ue to be fas­ci­nat­ed by books they read as chil­dren?

A.  Inter­est­ing ques­tion. There’s some­thing spe­cial about the books we fall in love with when we’re young. We car­ry them with us in our hearts for the rest of our lives. I remem­ber once years ago I was at the gym, and there was this huge fel­low with a shaved head and tat­toos work­ing out next to me.  He looked quite intim­i­dat­ing, and I imag­ined he prob­a­bly worked as a bounc­er at a bik­er bar or some such. At any rate, we even­tu­al­ly struck up a con­ver­sa­tion, and he asked me what I did for a liv­ing. When I told him that I wrote children’s books, his face lit up. “Frog and Toad!” he cried. “I loved Frog and Toad!”

Velvet RoomMaybe re-read­ing or think­ing about these books serves as a bridge back, at least for a moment, to who we were when we were young. Books stir deep emo­tions, and chil­dren read with their hearts, los­ing them­selves com­plete­ly in a sto­ry, falling into a fic­tion­al world and liv­ing it right along­side the char­ac­ters. It’s a heady feel­ing, and no won­der we want to step back in time and expe­ri­ence it again. Per­haps re-read­ing our child­hood favorites offers a key to that door.

I recent­ly re-read Zil­pha Keat­ley Snyder’s The Vel­vet Room, a book I loved as a tween, and expe­ri­enced a flash of déjà vu, I guess you’d call it. For a brief moment, I could prac­ti­cal­ly reach out and touch the me-who-was-10-or-12 as she was read­ing that sto­ry for the first time. I almost was her, to the point that the hair on the back of my neck stood up. The mem­o­ry was so vivid! It was uncan­ny. And also exhil­a­rat­ing.

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Mother-Daughter Book Club

For your read­ing enchant­ment, be sure to read each of the Moth­er-Daugh­ter Book Club books and share them with read­ers ages 8 to 14 (and their moth­ers). They’re ide­al for a book club dis­cus­sion (a book with­in a series fea­tur­ing avid read­ers and reluc­tant read­ers as book club mem­bers).

The Moth­er-Daugh­ter Book Club, fea­tur­ing Lit­tle Women, Simon & Schus­ter, 2007

Much Ado about Anne, fea­tur­ing Anne of Green Gables, Simon & Schus­ter, 2008

Dear Pen Pal, fea­tur­ing Dad­dy-Long-legs, Simon & Schus­ter, 2009

Pies & Prej­u­dice, fea­tur­ing Pride and Prej­u­dice, Simon & Schus­ter, 2010

Home for the Hol­i­days, fea­tur­ing the Bet­sy-Tacy books, Simon & Schus­ter, 2011

Wish You Were Eyre, fea­tur­ing Jane Eyre, Simon & Schus­ter, 2012

Heather has anoth­er series, too, about spies who are … mice. It’s great fun and irre­sistible.

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Stay tuned. We have anoth­er arti­cle in our Anato­my of a Series next week, fea­tur­ing Kur­tis Scaletta’s Topps League books about a minor league base­ball bat­boy.

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