Author Spotlight: Jaime Berry
Sept. 17, 2021
We are excited to feature author Jaime Berry and her debut middle grade novel, HOPE SPRINGS (Little Brown Books for Young Readers), out now. Enter to win a copy!
|cover art by Oriol Vidal; cover design by Karina Granda|
Tell us about yourself and how you came to write for children.
I grew up in a small town in rural Oklahoma called Antlers. After college, I couldn’t wait to move somewhere exciting. So, I saved up and moved to Brooklyn, New York. I taught elementary school there for a long time but now live in suburban New Jersey with my husband, three sons, and an ornery Australian Shephard name Arlo.
I always loved reading and telling stories, but being a writer seemed like an unattainable goal, so it never occurred to me to want to be one. It wasn’t until my third year of teaching that I began keeping a writer’s notebook like I encouraged my students to do. At first, my entries were for my lessons, designed to illustrate a technique I wanted kids to try. But then one of those entries became too long for my notebook and eventually turned into a whole novel. It was a novel for adults with multiple points of views, one being a 12-year-old girl, and her chapters were my favorite to write. So, my next book featured her and was for children. After many years and a few more novels, finally, here I am!
Congrats on your debut middle grade novel, Hope Springs! Tell us about the story & what inspired you.
Thank you! Hope Springs is about 11-year-old Jubilee Johnson and her grandmother Nan. They are constantly on the move, searching for their “perfect place.” They live by a set of Relocation Rules, but after yet another move, Jubilee starts to wonder if their number one rule, just the two of them is all they need, leaves them a little too close to alone.
She convinces Nan to move to the small town of Hope Springs, Texas, the hometown of Jubilee’s crafting idol, a TV personality named Arletta Paisley. Once in Hope Springs, Jubilee starts to break one Relocation Rule after another and finds herself settling in, making friends, and for the first time ever, she begins to wonder if Hope Springs might be just the place she’s been searching for. When the town is threatened by a superstore fronted by none other than Arletta Paisley, Jubilee is faced with a tough decision: take up Nan on her offer to skip town like they always do or stand up to her one-time hero and fight for the town she’s come to love.
I wrote a draft of this story a long time ago, right after my small family and I moved from the first place I ever thought of as home other than my hometown. We moved out of a cozy apartment I loved into a far less homey one. I was unpacking dishes in a sweltering kitchen with a view of an airshaft and pictured a girl on a beat-up bike riding down a dirt road finally feeling like she’d come home. I drafted Hope Springs in a couple months, faster than I’d written anything novel-length before.
Was your road to publication long and winding, short and sweet, or something in between?
Do you see that long, winding road in the background on my book’s cover? That detail has a double meaning for me! My journey was not short at all, though there have been some sweet spots along the way. I mentioned that I drafted Hope Springs quickly, but I knew something was missing. So, after a few rejections I put it aside and worked on something else. That next novel got me my agent but then didn’t sell.
A few years ago, we left Brooklyn and relocated just outside New York City in a New Jersey suburb. While I love my little town now, at the time I felt very disconnected and lonesome. In Brooklyn, I taught elementary school in the neighborhood I lived in. I saw kids or family members of kids I taught all the time. A short trip to the grocery store and I’d collect at least one hello, hug, or high-five.
I hadn’t realized how connected I felt to my community in Brooklyn, mostly because it was a perk of my job. It was an untethered feeling after my move to the suburbs that brought me back to my draft of Hope Springs but this time with a clearer sense of what was missing. I rewrote it and shared the first page at a local event with an editor and agent. The editor was Sam Gentry who would eventually become my editor at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. It was love at first page! And so, even though the journey was long, it worked out in the end.
What projects are you working on?
My next project is another middle grade contemporary called The Heartfinds of Mabel Cunningham. It’s about 12-year-old pun-loving loner, Mabel, who doesn’t quite fit in at school or at home. Only with her grampa does she really feel like herself. Their favorite thing is extreme treasure hunts—thrift store scouring, pawn shop perusing, and the occasional dumpster dive. To her nothing is better than their amazing finds and the maybes she encounters when rummaging with Grampa. But she discovers that real-life maybes are harder to handle than imagined ones. It’s due to publish in Fall of 2022 and I’m so lucky to be working again with Sam Gentry and the amazing team at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.
What are some favorite classic MGs? And newer ones?
Some classics I love are Because of Winn Dixie; the small town depicted in that book reminds me so much of my own quirky hometown. The Underneath is another favorite. I’d never read a middle grade book like that one before and I still think it’s phenomenal. I have a special place in my heart for Anne of Green Gables and Charlotte’s Web. Even now, whenever the world gets too unpredictable, I can reread the beginning of either of those books and feel comforted.
Lately I’ve been reading mostly middle grade from my fellow debuts, all with books coming out in 2021. A Place to Hang the Moon by Kate Albus and The Verdigris Pawn by Alysa Wishingrad are two that come to mind because, while they are very different, they both feel like classics to me. Journey Beyond the Burrow by Rina Heisel and The Last Windwitch by Jennifer Adam are also two I loved; on the surface they are very different as well, but both kept me on the edge of my seat! And I loved Take Back the Block by Chrystal Giles and can’t wait for her follow-up novel. There are just too many to list! But I’d encourage all who are interested to check out the site https://the21ders.com/ where there is more information about all the wonderful authors with debuts coming out this year.
What advice would you give to your younger self? Is this the same advice you'd give to aspiring authors?
This is a tough one. Maybe my advice to my younger self that also might work for aspiring authors would be Surround yourself with people who encourage you to pursue goals you think of as unattainable.
What is one thing most people don't know about you?
I was once in a band called Boat vs. Plane. We were wildly unsuccessful (as one could probably guess from the name), but we had a ton of fun!
Where can people find you online?
I’m on twitter @jaime_berry3 and my website is jaimeberryauthor.com.
Jaime Berry is a native of rural Oklahoma and a former New York City public school teacher. After years with two small boys in a too-small Brooklyn apartment, Jaime and her husband moved to the wilds of suburban New Jersey and added another boy and a dog to the mix. Hope Springs is Jaime’s debut novel.
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