Welcome Dana Reinhardt, author of the The Things a Brother Knows (my review), the Winner of the Sydney Taylor Award for Teen Readers!
Dana: My first book, A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life was a Sydney Taylor honor book, and thrilling as that was, I have to confess, with some degree of embarrassment, that I’d never heard of Sydney Taylor. I’m not really sure how this happened… I was a real reader as a kid, and her books are just the kinds of stories I’d have loved. But now, five years later, all of that has changed. My oldest daughter is eight, and I recently watched her burn her way through the entire All of a Kind Family series, so this time around, winning The Sydney Taylor Award is particularly meaningful to me. For one thing, as was the case last time, the quality of all the nominated books is staggering and I’m so flattered to have won, and for another, my daughter thinks I’m cool.
Liz B: After reading The Things a Brother Knows, two things in particular stay with the reader. First, the family and friends of Levi Katznelson are amazing. I want to go his house for Friday dinner. Second, there are no easy answers, but much to think about, when it comes to sending young people to fight wars. What inspired this story? In creating such a complex world, were you a “plunger” or “plotter”?
Dana: For better or worse, I’m a plunger. This does tend to get me into trouble when I reach a certain point in my writing, as I inevitably do, where I have no idea where the story is going next. I start with characters. I begin at the beginning. I usually have some sense of where they’re going, and often I find out later that it’s somewhere I didn’t imagine.
With this book I started with listening to the radio and hearing the voices of the mothers of returning soldiers telling the stories of their changed and damaged sons, and I started to wonder about the other son, the brother who didn’t go. What has his life been like the last few years? What will it be like now that his brother is back? This is where I found Levi and the rest of the Katznelsons. They’d love to have you over for Friday night dinner, by the way.
Dana: In addition to listening to a ton of radio stories and reading the newspaper, I watched documentaries and news reports. It would be difficult to have lived in our country for the last decade and not come up against these stories about the personal cost of fighting in a war. I read many memoirs and war novels like The Things They Carried (my title is a not so veiled tribute to that amazing book), If I Die in a Combat Zone Box Me Up and Ship Me Home (wow, what a title) both by Tim O’Brien, A Rumor of War by Philip Caputo, Jarhead by Anthony Swofford, Catch 22 by Joseph Heller, and Blood Brothers: Among the Soldiers of Ward 57 by Michael Weisskopf, to name only a few.
Ultimately, this is Levi’s story because what happened while Boaz was at war is a mystery to him– all he knows about is what it’s like to see his brother come home again—and for that sort of research I just placed myself in the role of bewildered younger sibling, which wasn’t too much of a stretch for me.
Liz B: Two brothers take a road trip… but without the car! Not only does the trip provide a way to get from “here” to “there,” it helps the two brothers to start to connect. Was “Boaz won’t get in a car” always part of the plot and Boaz’s character? Have you ever done any hiking like Boaz and Levi?
Dana: Originally the book opened up with some lines about how Bo wouldn’t get in a car or on a bus or a train or a plane (that sounds a little Seussian—not on a train, not on a plane—but that wasn’t how it read), so yes, that was very much an idea from the early beginnings of this book. I didn’t know why, exactly. It was one of the mysteries I had to untangle, but such is the plight of the plunger.
And no, I haven’t done any kind of long hike like the brothers, but I do try to take a long walk most days. It’s good exercise, but it’s also good for thinking and plotting and figuring out endings that still are shrouded in mystery.
Liz B: What are you working on now?
Dana: I have a book coming out in July called THE SUMMER I LEARNED TO FLY. It’s about a girl who hangs out at her mom’s cheese store and the boy who collects the day-old bread from the alley, and what happens when they find each other. It’s about taking risks, embracing life and searching for miracles. I’m really, really excited about it.
Liz B: I can’t wait to read it!
Thanks so much!