Sarah Mackenzie on favorite authors, Little Women, and her upcoming picture books
I recently had the delightful opportunity to interview Sarah Mackenzie, author of The Read-Aloud Family and host of the popular Read-Aloud Revival podcast. I’ve listened to Sarah’s podcast for several years now, and I love her book recommendations, author interviews, and the wonderful way that she helps homeschooling families connect and discuss great stories! In this Q&A, I asked Sarah about her new picture books in the works, favorite authors, Little Women film adaptations, and more!
First of all, I’ve really enjoyed your book The Read-Aloud Family and, of course, your podcast! What’s the most fun thing about helping families find great books to read?
Thank you so much! I think my favorite part is when I hear from either a parent or a child that one of my book recommendations turned them into a reader, or helped them fall head-over-heels in love with books. As you know, I’m a big believer in helping kids find the books that light them up … and sometimes that takes a little trial and error! But once you’ve found a book to capture your heart and your mind, everything changes. Sometimes the biggest change isn’t in falling in love with books (because maybe they already did love books), but reading aloud has helped their family relationships grow stronger and more delightful. I love being a small part of that process.
I’ve heard that you have a couple of picture books in the works! Can you tell us a bit about them?
Yes! I have a couple picture books coming out each year over the next several years, and I couldn’t possibly be more excited about it.
The first is called Lou Alice and the Girl Who Noticed, about an old woman who makes life a little more beautiful for everyone around her, but whom no one really sees. Well, no one except our little heroine. She not only helps the woman, but also finds something beautiful only she can offer the world. It’s a book about carrying on the important work of those who’ve gone before us, about noticing the invisible women in our lives who make the world more beautiful, and about finding a small way to add beauty, wherever we find ourselves. It’s being illustrated by Breezy Brookshire, and if all goes according to plan, it will be out in the world Summer of 2022.
The second is a bedtime story called Moonflower Song, about a small shrew who follows her curiosity out into the night to find a flower that blooms by the light of the moon. My hope for this one is that it just begs to be read aloud. That’s what I was going for, anyway! It’s being illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard, and will be released Fall of 2022. The sample illustration I’ve seen is just gorgeous. I can’t wait.
There are a couple more slated to come out in 2023, including a picture book biography about Barbara Cooney, but I’ll save telling you about those for later.
What are some read-alouds you’ve enjoyed with your children recently?
We recently listened to the entire Zoey and Sassafras collection on audio (written by Asia Citro) and my kids just loved them. I was surprised by how many of the scientific nuggets have stuck with them, as well! We’ve also just loved A Place to Hang the Moon, Kate Albus’s debut novel set during WWII, and Sweet Home Alaska by Carole Etsby Dagg, about a family settling in Palmer, Alaska, during the Great Depression.
What are your favorite historical time periods to read about in MG fiction? What time periods do you feel are underrepresented?
I love reading WWII stories and Great Depression stories. And then some of my favorite historical fiction pieces have been set in times I haven’t learned much about, like Inside Out and Back Again, which is set during the Vietnam War.
I’m not sure which time periods are particularly underrepresented in historical fiction, but I will say that I love reading books set in times and places I know very little about. For example, I recently read When Stars are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed (it’s a graphic novel, but I listened to the audio version) and learned so much about the lives of Somali refugees. I love it when a book does that— gives me a window to peek through, and opens my heart up in a surprising new way.
I’ve heard that you like the Little Women series! Little Women is one of my top three favorite novels, and I love both the 1994 and 2019 films for different reasons. Do you have a favorite film adaptation?
Oh, I love them both, but I think I like the newest version, directed by Greta Gerwig, best. My teens and I just re-watched it a few weeks ago, in fact! I was surprised by how many new layers Gerwig was able to uncover in this story. Those of us who love books like Little Women are fanatic re-readers, right? And then a new adaptation like Gerwig’s comes along and shows us that there is even more to be seen and loved than we had realized. While watching this newest movie, I felt like I was visiting my familiar friends, the March sisters, but seeing them for the first time, as well. I loved it.
Who are your very favorite authors?
Oh my, what a question! There are so many ways to answer this. I’ve got favorite authors for reading aloud (E.B White, Maria Parr, Gary Schmidt), favorite picture book authors (Tomie dePaola, Mary Ann Hoberman, Robert McCloskey, Barbara Cooney, Barb Rosenstock, Chris Van Dusen, and at least a dozen more), favorite authors to read on my own (Susan Meissner and Julie Berry), and then there are authors who make me want to write. Those are some of my favorites of all, because a book that makes you want to write is MAGIC. Karina Yan Glaser and Jeanne Birdsall come to mind right away. Classic favorites like L.M. Montgomery, E. Nesbit, and Edward Eager make me want to write. And every time I read the picture book, Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen, I want to write a new picture book. That book feels perfect to me.
I’m a huge proponent of re-reading books—in fact, I spent most of my childhood reading a handful of favorites, rather than discovering new books. Can you tell us why re-reading is an important factor for children in their reading life?
I couldn’t agree more—re-reading gets a bit of a short shrift, because we tend to prioritize reading new stories over re-reading those we’ve read before. But it’s helpful to remember that when we read a story for the first time, our brains want to know what happens next. We’re reading for plot, so we miss a lot of what’s going on— the nuanced language, the beautiful turns of phrase, those deeper levels in the storytelling. When we re-read, we already know what happens next, so now we get so much more of the language and so much more of the story. I also firmly believe that if we want books to become our children’s companions, we’ve got to give them the time and space to reread those they love best. That’s how a book becomes part of us.
There’s some interesting research that shows that kids retain more knowledge and vocabulary from a book when they’re reading it for the second or third time (not the first!), which is a strong case for re-reading favorites, rather than always reaching for something new.
Are there any particular stories you’d love to see told by current authors? What would be your dream children’s book to read aloud to your family?
I want to see homeschooling families show up in middle grade fiction! I also think the world needs more stories where siblings band together to get their family out of a pickle—where sibling relationships aren’t perfect or saccharine, but they’re healthy and uplifting. Where the family members are all better for banding together and supporting each other, even when it’s hard, as opposed to a main character who needs to ditch the family in order to reach his/her potential, which is happening a lot in modern fiction these days.
Many thanks to Sarah for participating in this interview!
Photo of Sarah Mackenzie by Audrey Menck
On Revisiting Little Women and Parallels to the Penderwicks
My interview with Karina Yan Glaser, author of The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street