I don’t usually read early chapter books, but I thought the premise for Michael Scotto’s book Latasha and the Little Red Tornado sounded intriguing, and ended up being a great little story about a girl and her dog. Michael was more than willing to sit down (metaphorically), and answer a few questions about writing, reading, and Latasha. You can find out more at his website.
The book is on shelves today.
MF: This is your first novel! Congrats! What are the differences, for you, between writing picture books and novels?
MS: Each presents its own particular challenges. You have to be especially economical with words in a picture book, which for me is tough. That said, the writing of a novel requires a much greater time commitment, and also demands more complex storytelling. In my experience, novels have been been a more difficult undertaking. Of course, my illustrator would disagree!
MF: What inspired you to write about Latasha and her dog?
As for Latasha herself — she came from an exercise that I did when I first began to write the book. I sat down at my favorite coffeeshop with a pen and pad, and began to free write, just to see what would come out. What came out, almost fully formed, was Latasha’s voice. The voice came to me so quickly that I knew I had no choice in the matter; she was going to be my protagonist.In fact, a lot of the opening of the book was drafted that day.
MF: Was it difficult to get into the character of an 8-year-old African American girl? What kind of research did you do?
MF: You packed a lot into an early chapter book — working single mothers, making friends, cheating, loss — and yet it didn’t seem overwhelming for an 8-year-old reader. How did you achieve that balance?
MF: Do you have a favorite character or moment in the story?
MS: I absolutely loved writing Mrs. Okocho. The scene where she drives Latasha around to hang signs near the end of the book is one of my favorites.
MF: What was the last book you’ve read and why did you love it?
MS: I just finished Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata, which won the Newbery Medal in 2005. A librarian friend of mine recommended it to me. It tells the story of a young Japanese girl growing up in Georgia. The book was gorgeously written, it featured a voice I’d never read before but found instantly relatable, it was emotional but never maudlin — I could go on and on. Suffice it to say, I adored it. The only trouble now is that now I’ve got to find an equally wonderful book to suggest to my friend! (I may lend her my copy of Wonderstruck.)
MF: Both are excellent books! And you can’t go wrong with Brian Selznick. If you don’t mind telling us, what can we expect from you next?
MS: I’ve got a lot on the horizon. The first big thing has to do with my picture book series. At the end of January, five titles from my “Tales of Midlandia” series will be released to the general public. These are humorous stories with a character-building or social element to them. They could be compared to the Berenstain Bears books in that way — only with much more detailed, rich illustration work. At the same time, my publisher is developing storybook apps for the iPad from these books, which I have been tapped to narrate! It’s a real thrill for me.
I also have a second novel in the pipeline, due out around Memorial Day 2012. It’s called Postcards From Pismo, and it tells the story of boy in California who strikes up a penpal friendship through letters with a soldier in Afghanistan. I’ve gotten to see some of the preliminary art and design work for it — it’s going to look awesome.
Lastly, I’m in the middle of drafting a sequel to Latasha and the Little Red Tornado. I don’t want to give away any details yet, but it follows Latasha through fourth grade and a whole bunch of new challenges. Thanks so much for your questions!
MF: All of which sound fascinating! Thank you so much for your time.
MS: Thanks again!