This is not your school's summer reading list

Hannah Barnaby

Hannah Barnaby headshot  1. How did you come to the story, Wonder Show? I had just graduated from the Vermont College program on writing for children and young adults, and I was working at Houghton Mifflin as a children’s book editor. I was planning to take a break from writing but a friend told me about an opportunity at the Boston Public Library (right down the street from my office). They were offering a grant for a Children’s Writer-in-Residence, giving time and money to an unpublished writer to work on a specific project that used the BPL’s special collections and resources. When I looked at the list of their collections, I saw that they had a lot of material on circus and carnival history, and something in my mind just clicked. I’d had an image in my head for a long time, a half-dreamed picture of a girl riding a bicycle, panicked, running away from someone terrible. That girl became Portia, and the research I did at the BPL (oh yeah, I won the grant!) helped me create the characters she was running away from and the ones who became her new family. When I visit schools and writing groups. someone always asks me, “Where do your ideas come from?” Wonder Show is an example of how a book evolves from a very small idea–the image of a girl on a bicycle–and becomes layered through the writing process with other ideas drawn from many different sources.

2. What makes Portia a strong girl? Portia possesses several qualities that make her strong by nature: she is smart, she is stubborn, and she is a survivor. She’s been left behind over and over again but she still manages to have faith in her future, and she’s brave enough to take chances. But Portia is also vulnerable, and that conflicts with her stubbornness, makes it hard for her to let people connect with her.

3. Please finish this sentence: Strong girls ... Strong girls are complicated creatures. Strength in girls is often mistaken for something else, and it’s often given the wrong name. It’s labeled in ways that are meant to hurt us, punish us for being strong in the first place. But strong girls always manage to find each other, and strong girls tell their stories.

4. What are you working on right now? I recently finished another young adult novel — this one is contemporary, and features another strong girl named Tallie, who is trying to find the people who received her brother’s organs after he was killed in a car accident. The manuscript is just going out into the world, so keep your fingers crossed and hopefully it will be a book soon!

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