Happy Poetry Friday, everyone! I am super excited to welcome my friend, verse novelist Chris Baron to speak with us today.
Chris is the author of the verse novel ALL OF ME. His follow up middle grade book, THE MAGICAL IMPERFECT, come out on June 15.
Chris is very generously giving away *not only* a hot-off-the-presses copy of THE MAGICAL IMPERFECT, but he also has a brand new paperback edition of ALL OF ME for one lucky Poetry Friday reader.
Leave a comment saying which book you would like to win (or if you’d be happy with either one). I will do a drawing before next week’s Poetry Friday.
5 Questions for MG Verse Novelist Chris Baron
THE MAGICAL IMPERFECT is set in San Francisco, around the time of some important events in the city’s history. Can you talk about that? I’m curious to know if you constructed the plot around the 1989 World Series or if the idea for that setting came later.
I love this question! Living in San Francisco (I lived there for a few years) made such an impression on me (clearly–since this is the second book I’ve written inside this setting). It’s such a rich environment to write about. I love the cultural diversity of The Bay Area, so with this story I wanted to explore the roots of this. I’ve also thought of earthquakes as such a powerful metaphor for (well everything) but especially adolescence, and I knew that I wanted to write about earthquakes–that’s when things started adding up and then it made sense that the year 1989 would be the year! Baseball became an obvious center of the story–the idea of something as solid as baseball-and especially the WORLD SERIES!? suddenly coming undone created the environment for a very human story.
We never fully learn what happened to Etan’s grandfather and the other families that traveled to the US on the ship Calypso and entered through Angel Island. What kind of research did you do for that element of the story?
So much research inspired this story. Since I recently learned that my own grandparents came through Ellis Island, I became very interested in the idea that Angel Island had its own, very unique story. I found this website: https://www.aiisf.org/history. This was a great start, and it was here that I learned that while the majority of people coming through Angel Island were Chinese (who deserve many more books and poems about this experience) there were small groups of others, Russians, Filipinos, and even small groups of Jews fleeing the Holocaust.
I spent a lot of time reading books like PAPER SON by Helen Foster James and Virginia Shin-Mui Loh. I also was in contact with the Filipino American History Society based in the Bay Area. They guided me through some of the laws and regulations that affected so many, and they provided so much information. My foundational piece of research was also this book: Angel Island: Immigrant Gateway to America, by Erika Lee and Judy Yung, Oxford University Press.
But the hardest work of all was researching baseball. Maybe all of the world’s problems can be solved if we keep historical records on everything like we do for baseball. Finally, researching Earthquakes, fault lines, and watching countless 1989 news clips and reading articles about the Loma Prieta Earthquake helped me to at least try to make this work of fiction as historical as possible.
Golems are a magical creature out of Jewish folklore. What do you find fascinating about golems? [Never heard of golems? Check out this article.]
I love that there are so many stories that circle the core tales of the Golem. It’s fascinating to think about how these tales of ancient magic can still capture our imaginations so powerfully. The idea of the Golem as a creature who protects us when we can’t protect ourselves is fascinating to me. We often build things for the sake of control, but those things become out of control. It’s such an incredible metaphor for childhood–especially MG-aged kids who are in a constant state of growth-trying to understand the way the world is growing all around them. I also love the idea of the golem, this ancient and powerful magic–suddenly mixing together with the modern world–and exploring what happens.
You’ve written a lot about mental health in your books and through your guest posts at sites like A Novel Mind. How is verse a good fit for stories where the character’s mental health is part of their growth through the book?
I know you and I have talked quite a bit about this sort of thing–that verse is such a powerful tool for unlocking and exploring the internal landscape of a character. The imagery and figurative language provide a way to articulate these enormous concepts our characters face. Abstractions like, fear, pain, and love, become visceral as the verse describes the spooky forest, the aching skin, or the joy of laughter in friendship. The verse provides structure for the action, the thoughts, and then even provides the white space–a chance for readers to breathe and imagine. I think this draws a reader more deeply into the story in an interactive way.
For issues of mental health this can be especially helpful because I think it grows empathy. A reader is more involved with that internal landscape through the verse–and this creates the pathway for understanding and empathy.
There are moments of maybe-magic in the book, but there are also real places that feel magical. Malia’s home in the woods and Grandpa’s shop both have an otherworldly feel. Are these settings based on real places?
Thank you for noticing these very special places in the story. They are based on real places. My grandfather fixed watches in Brooklyn, and I would visit him in his shop. It smelled like old leather and metal. I always stood in wonder around thousands of trinkets strewn about–and him putting this back together.
And of course, I believe that trees do talk–and spend time in the forests as much as I can. The redwoods have always been a magical place for me. One of the greatest hopes I have for the stories I tell is that they will help readers young and old to recognize the magic that is always around them.
Chris Baron is an award winning author of the Middle Grade novels in verse, ALL OF ME, and THE MAGICAL IMPERFECT (2021) from Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan . He is a Professor of English at San Diego City College and the director of the Writing Center. Learn more about him at and on Twitter: @baronchrisbaron Instagram: @christhebearbaron