We just can’t get enough of books that take place in school!
Stories have taken place in school for as long as children’s literature has been around, offering roadmaps for kids who may be a little lost. It’s always a gift to see how authors put their own spin on school stories. We invited Cynthia Lord– author of Because of the Rabbit and Rules– to meet us at The Lamp-Post, and are happy to share her insights about how school settings present unique opportunities for writers.
That upper elementary school, heading into middle school time is so fraught for so many kids. What do you remember from that time of your life, and how does that inform the stories you write?
I remember fifth grade as a wonderful, exciting time, but also a hard one. I liked school and all the things we were doing and learning. It was fun to be one of the “big kids” finally in elementary school.
But it was also a time when some of my friendships changed. Some friendships became more complicated, a few were left behind, and others evolved and grew stronger. It was hard to balance wanting to belong with needing to be myself. All those remembered feelings went into Because of the Rabbit.
We consider Because of the Rabbit a “school story” because so much of the dramatic tension from the story happens around Emma’s experience in school. Many of your other books take place outside of school. What opportunities does writing a school story bring? What challenges? Does your approach differ when writing a school story versus other types of stories?
I’ve always been inspired by nature. As a child, I grew up on a lake in rural New Hampshire. When I think back to those years, some of my happiest memories happened outside: finding toads, listening to loons and owls at night, playing with my sister, swimming and going for bike rides with my friends. So that’s why my books are often set in summer—it’s when many kids have the most opportunity to spend time outdoors. Family also plays a big part in all of my books: grandparents, parents, siblings, and pets.
So it was both fun and challenging to write a school story. A book that takes place in school means a bigger cast of characters and many scenes are set indoors. It also meant having twice as many conflicts. Some conflicts with family at home and some with people at school, but both sets had to work together and affect the other.
Because of the Rabbit is part of a specific type of school story – the new kid at school story. Emma is a particular kind of new kid. She is new to the school, but not new to the community having been homeschooled until fifth grade. Why did you decide to use that particular spin on the New Kid theme? What opportunities and challenges did it present?
I homeschooled my own two children for many years. My novels are fiction, but they were always inspired by real things and experiences.
Writing something inspired from real life means you know the full experience, including the tiny details. Those details make the story feel real to a reader.
The challenge is that real things are complicated. They have good parts and hard parts. To write honestly about real things often takes more courage.
Both Emma from Because of the Rabbit and Catherine from Rules have to decide what kind of friend is important and what kind of friend they want to be. Both girls have to do some real soul searching about that question. Do you see parallels between the two girls and their friendship journeys? Differences?
Absolutely. Both girls are learning what makes a good friend—how to recognize those traits in someone else and how to be a good friend themselves. Having the courage to give and receive forgiveness is an important part of friendship, even though each character comes to that realization in her own way.
The title of Because of the Rabbit might lead readers to think it is a book about rabbits, but of course, it really isn’t. We have other books with rescued animals – A Boy Called Bat and Saving Winslow – that also aren’t really about a skunk or a donkey. Why did you choose to use a rabbit in your book?
I love animals, and we have pet rabbits ourselves. I also foster for a rabbit rescue. My first foster bunny was a lovable rascal, and he inspired Lapi.
This story really began with the idea of a rabbit. Everything else came after that.
One of our favorite parts of the book are the Monsieur Lapin stories. What was your inspiration for those stories?
My husband’s family is French Canadian and my father-in-law was a great storyteller who loved nature. He spoke to wild animals as if they were his friends, and I loved to hear him tell stories. Many cultures have folktales or fables that include clever rabbits. So it was fun to create my own trickster rabbit.