Interview with Maribeth Boelts, Author Happy Like Soccer
Maribeth Boelts is the author of more than twenty books for children! In Happy Like Soccer she tells a story that is both tender and fierce. At the center of the story is a family of two: Sierra and her aunt. I’m partial to stories about aunts and nieces and the unique closeness that often exists between them. That’s the tender part. I’m also partial to stories that show girls fiercely advocating for themselves because that is a really hard thing to do. Sometimes, I think it’s easier to stand up for animals and other people than to advocate for yourself. In Happy Like Soccer, Maribeth Boelts gives us two strong girls to root for – Sierra and her aunt. – Gigi
I’m so amazed at the depth and texture of your story! Does the picture book form take a lot of practice? How many drafts did you write of Happy Like Soccer?
Ah, such kind words, Gigi. Thank you. I find a traditionally structured, third person picture book difficult to write and I admire people who can write them. What works best for me is writing in first person and making the character and voice as real as it can be. In the early stages, I write “broadly”—hoping to capture the hot point of what the main character wants. Having studied picture books, I do have a basic structure in mind in terms of opening hook, story arc, word count and resolution, but while I’m writing the first drafts, I try to set the more detailed parameters aside and focus on the heart and trajectory of the story. After completing the manuscript, I begin to test it—blocking up the text in chunks to see if there’s enough there to support a picture book. For “Happy Like Soccer”, I believe there were 5-6 drafts.
There’s so much in the story that remains unspoken and that invites readers to ask and answer questions in their own ways. For example, the relationship between Sierra and her aunt is certainly tender and special – one of my favorite parts of the story! And, yet that relationship itself raises questions about Sierra’s parents and family life. As the writer, do you know a lot more about the family than what you’ve written?
In any family—the love, security and support that the child receives from his/her parent, guardian or caregiver is what matters most. While I do know more than what I’ve written, I’ve tried to focus on the immediate story while still lifting up an example of an intimate, caring, but non-traditional family.
I really loved so much how Sierra knows what she wants and finds a way to clearly state and ask for what she wants and needs. It’s not like she solves the problem all by herself – we all need others to help us be our best and achieve our dreams – but her dream couldn’t have been realized had Sierra not had the courage to speak the dream aloud and ask for help. What would you say makes Sierra and her aunt strong girls?
They love each other fiercely, and are willing to put that love into action, though it requires sacrifice and courage.
What are you working on now?
I am in the throes of a middle grade novel, and hope (no, plan) on finishing it soon.
Complete this sentence: strong girls have flying dreams!