Down below, please read my interview of Kathryn Erskine, the author of five children’s novels including National Book Award winner, Mockingbird and the recent Jane Addams Peace Award honor book, Seeing Red. She draws on her life stories and world events in her writing and is currently working on several more novels and picture books. In this interview, she tells us about her most recent book, The Badger Knight, a Junior Library Guild Selection.
In a couple of sentences, please tell me the main plot of your book?
Small, sickly Adrian wants to prove to his father and his village that he is a man. Going off to battle the pagan Scots seems the perfect way until he actually arrives and begins to see his world through new eyes.
What is the genre of your book? Do you have a favorite genre?
Historical fiction. Realistic fiction, whether historical or contemporary, although I like some fantasy / sci-fi, too. And mysteries, of course. And verse novels. OK, I’ll read anything.
Tell us an interesting or fun fact about this novel.
May I tell two? The idea started at a Renaissance festival-watching archers. Adrian’s father is a bowyer and Adrian is an excellent archer. I knew that, with his father’s status, his small size and weakness would be protected … but, of course, I also knew I’d send him on a journey to really test him. Another fun fact is that I really did crawl under a pew in Carlisle Cathedral so I could see the huge stained glass window from Adrian’s perspective. People give you a wide berth when you act strangely.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Travel, explore, walk in the woods, anything creative and fun (cooking, strategy games), reading, hanging out with family and friends, and laughing.
Which is your favorite moment in this book and why?
Gosh, it’s hard to say but one of my favs is when Adrian’s cousin, Bess, dresses as a boy and goes on her own journey to find him, even attacking a soldier in order to save him.
How did you do your research for this book?
Apart from the usual books and historical websites, I was fortunate to find a professor who literally wrote the book on disability in the Middle Ages (Adrian has albinism) and get input from him and his colleagues about how people might have treated Adrian. That was incredibly helpful. I also got to travel to the U.K. a couple of times to do research — I followed Adrian’s trail from the standing stones to Carlisle, then Lanercost Priory, Hadrian’s Wall, including fields of sheep (and sheep poop!). I even got to see the whistle like the character Donald has when I visited the Scottish Museum in Edinburgh. And Oxford University has put the earliest map of Britain, dating exactly from Adrian’s time, online — and it’s searchable! I really wanted to see how Hadrian’s Wall would’ve been depicted on a map he would see rather than my Michelin map, and guess what? They look exactly the same! The best research event was probably sitting in the cloister of Lanercost Priory, reading their only copy of the history of the priory that dates back to the 12th century. It was magical.
Who is your favorite character in this book? Why?
Adrian because he’s so spunky and determined.
Donald because of his supreme kindness.
Bess because she has, and realizes, her own strength.
Nigel because he wants to find the truth.
Sir Geoffrey because he does what’s expected of him, even though he didn’t want to be a knight, and takes great risks.
Henry because he really is, as Adrian says, a noble knight.
OK, I’ll stop there because I already cheated by giving half a dozen instead of one.
Who is your least favorite character?
Good Aunt. She is so mean to Adrian and dismissive of her younger daughter, Bess.
What is the best thing about being a writer?
Variety! I research, explore, and travel. I visit and talk with young readers, teachers, librarians, other writers and all lovers of literature. I give speeches (about writing or books so it’s fun instead of scary). And I get to sit and think and create entire worlds and stories, and then write.
What is your favorite comment from a reader?
There are so many from hilarious to poignant. Here’s one of the funny ones from a boy regarding The Absolute Value of Mike where the community is helping to adopt an orphan, Misha, from Romania and it looks like that’s going to happen but the book ends before it does.
“I really loved this book and I would’ve given it an 11 out of 10 except you didn’t say if Misha got adopted so I can only give it a 10.”
What would you like readers to understand about your book?
That people are basically the same no matter the century, the country or the religion. Except for the Medieval world where the story is set, the human factor is the same — a 13 year old boy trying to prove he’s a man, a 14 year old girl struggling with limitations placed on her because she’s female, soldiers who don’t want to see children hurt even if it means putting their own life in danger.
Where can readers buy your book?
Over the Moon, New Dominion, Barnes and Noble, Indiebound, Amazon, etc.
How can readers find out more about you and your book?
My website is in the process of being professionally redesigned but will be at the same address, www.kathrynerskine.com. Until then you can see the unprofessionally designed (by me) version. I’m also on Facebook and occasionally remember to check Twitter (@KathyErskine).
Would you give us a tantalizing excerpt from your book?
This is the end of the chapter where Adrian has befriended a group of homeless boys in the city of Carlisle, and they’re challenged by older boys. An older boy, Simon, has taken a knife from Adrian’s friend, Henry:
I see the look in Henry’s eye. That knife is a symbol that he’s a hero not a scoundrel, even though he must live on the street.
I don’t hesitate for a moment. Grabbing the coin in my pocket, I hold out the groat. “If it’s payment you want, then here it is.”
Simon’s eyes flick from delight to doubt to anger. “You said you had nothing.”
“It’s all I have in the world.” This time I’m not lying. “If you give him back his knife, this silver coin is yours.”
His eyes widen again, closer to delight, as he eyes the coin. I see the henchmen loose their grip on Henry in their delight, as well.
“Give him the knife,” I repeat.
Simon drops the knife but puts his foot on top of it. “Give me the money.”
He has unwittingly given me an idea, so I toss the coin behind him and he turns, lifting his foot from the knife, and the two henchmen scramble after it as well.
Henry loses no time grabbing his knife and running with his small gang, but not before he grabs my arm and pulls me with them and we run out of the building at full speed.
After a while, we stop to catch our breath, hiding under a cart in the street.
Simon’s voice is close, too close. “Of course he has more! He wouldn’t toss a silver coin on the floor if it were his only one! Check every alley.”
The crowd of boys takes off in different directions.
“Where can we hide?” Otto whispers.
“They know all the places,” Ned points out, “even our nook.”
And then I realize there’s one place they don’t know. “This way!” I hiss.
Is there anything else you would like say that we haven’t covered?
My first picture book! Mama Africa is about South African singer and civil-rights activist Miriam Makeba, who brought global attention to the injustice of apartheid through her music. Artist Charly Palmer (http://charlypalmer.com/gallery/) is illustrating and I think it’s going to look fabulous! I’ve also just finished a novel in verse which, like the picture book biography, is a different genre for me and it has been exhilarating to stretch my writing self and create something new. I’m currently working on a novel that’s a bit of a departure for me but I can’t really say any more than that. :o)