Saturday, October 16, 2010

Kid Konnection: Emily of Deep Valley & Interview with Mitali Perkins

Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. Today, I'm going to share with you a delightful book called EMILY OF DEEP VALLEY.

Summary: Emily Webster, an orphan living with her grandfather, is not like the other girls her age in Deep Valley, Minnesota. After graduation, she longs to join the Crowd and go off to college—but she can't leave her grandfather alone at home. Resigning herself to a "lost winter," Emily nonetheless throws herself into a new program of study and a growing interest in the local Syrian community, and when she meets a handsome new teacher at the high school, Emily gains more than she ever dreamed possible. 

Maud Hart Lovelace's only young adult stand-alone novel, Emily of Deep Valley is considered by fans of her beloved Betsy-Tacy series to be one of the author's finest works. -- Harper Perennial Modern Classics

It probably comes as no surprise to many of you that I am a huge fan of Maud Hart Lovelace. I discovered the Betsy-Tacy books last year (thanks to Book Club Girl), and both Booking Daughter and I have enjoyed reading them. So when I found out that Harper Collins was re-issuing a few more of her books this fall, I could barely contain myself. I decided to pick up EMILY OF DEEP VALLEY first, largely because Mitali Perkins (another one of my favorite authors and all-around fabulous person) wrote the foreword -- but more on that later!

Can I just tell you that I absolutely loved EMILY OF DEEP VALLEY? I think it's my favorite Maud Hart Lovelace book so far (although I do hold a special place in my heart for Betsy!) I honestly was expecting to enjoy this novel, but I had no idea just how much I would love it! Ms. Lovelace wrote a wonderful story about a truly memorable character -- Emily, and I can't stop thinking about this novel.

One of the main reasons why this book made such a lasting impression on me was the character of Emily. Emily isn't your typical happy-go-lucky girl who was growing up in the early 1900s. Emily was much more complex than that. She lost her parents and then her grandmother, and she was living with and taking care of her elderly grandfather -- this was all before she even graduated from high school. As a result, Emily felt as if she were different than her classmates, and often times, she was left out of their fun activities.

When EMILY OF DEEP VALLEY begins, Emily is preparing for her graduation from high school. Since she feels responsible for the care of her grandfather, she can't attend college like most of her classmates and friends. To be quite honest, her future didn't look very optimistic My heart truly went out to Emily because in so many ways, her life was so unfair. Even though I respected her for sacrificing so much, I still wanted her to have the opportunity to be "normal."

I actually loved how Emily was portrayed in this novel. She definitely had feelings of resentment and guilt, and I found her reactions to be very realistic. At one point in the novel, it was clear that Emily was suffering from some pretty serious depression. And I have to admit that I was rather surprised that the author spoke so freely about Emily's feelings in a time when people really didn't talk about depression.

Now before you think this book is a total downer, I have to tell you what I liked best about this novel. I mentioned before how much I loved Emily and it wasn't just because I felt bad for her. Emily was truly a remarkable girl because of how she dealt with the setbacks in her life. As her friends were having fun at college (and writing her less and less), she realized that she didn't have as much in common with them anymore. Some girls might have given up, but Emily made new friends and started creating her own social life. In addition (and perhaps more importantly), Emily learned that she still had so much to offer people despite not being able to continue her education. She discovered her passion for helping others in need and found ways to make actual  improvements in their lives. EMILY OF DEEP VALLEY was truly a heartwarming story about a very special girl who overcame her obstacles and truly made a difference.

What truly amazes me about Maud Hart Lovelace's books, and especially EMILY OF DEEP VALLEY, is how applicable they are in today's world. EMILY OF DEEP VALLEY was first published in 1950 and actually takes place almost a century ago, yet Emily is still a character who will resonate with many young girls. She experiences feelings of insecurity, guilt, jealousy, love, and loyalty which I'm pretty sure every tween/teen girl can relate to. In addition, EMILY OF DEEP VALLEY delves into some topics that were pretty much taboo when she wrote this book, namely depression and racism. Maud Hart Lovelace was definitely ahead of her time in some ways, and she had the special ability to touch readers' lives with her stories.

I highly recommend EMILY OF DEEP VALLEY (and truly all of Maud Hart Lovelace's books.) In fact, I think they are absolutely perfect for tween/teen book clubs and especially mother-daughter ones.

And now for the real treat.... Mitali Perkins, one of my favorite people and also the author of the foreword to EMILY OF DEEP VALLEY, took time from her very busy schedule to answer a few of my questions. I was fortunate enough to meet Mitali last month at the Lititz Kid Lit Festival hosted by Aaron's Books. She was everything I was expecting and more -- she's smart, beautiful, talented, and kind!

Booking Mama: You wrote the foreword to the reissue of EMILY OF DEEP VALLEY -- what an honor! What was your reaction when you were asked?

Mitali Perkins: I was sampling veggie burgers in a Costco aisle when I decided to check my email. My phone uploaded a message from Jennifer Hart of HarperPerennial; here's part of what she wrote:

... I was wondering if you would be interested in writing the foreword to the new edition of Emily of Deep Valley. I’m thrilled to be bringing this one back especially as so many fans cite it as among their favorites of Maud Hart Lovelace's books. I also think it touches on so many interesting themes that are still relevant today ...

I re-read the email, heart racing, tears blurring my eyes. The veggie burger guy watched with a look of concern as I managed to word this response on my iPhone:

Do you know how much I love Emily of Deep Valley? I have re-read it countless times since I discovered it as a newcomer to this country years ago in the Flushing library.

I am honored, thrilled, ecstatic, over-the-top, doing-a-Bollywood-Dance delighted.

I accept with gratitude and humility as I consider Ms. Lovelace's impact on me through the years.

I couldn't believe it! I wanted a time machine so I could find nine-year-old Mitali scouring the Flushing Public Library shelves for anything Maud Hart Lovelace. I'd love to tell that little version of me this amazing news! 

Booking Mama: Like so many writers, you fell in love with Maud Hart Lovelace's books as a child. Did these books influence you as an author? If so, how?

Mitali Perkins: Here's an excerpt from the foreword where I start to explain how much she influenced me as a child:

Ms. Lovelace's classic novels served as a superb orientation for a newcomer eager to understand the history and heritage of a new world. They took me back to the early 1900s, a time when America shared many of the values that resonated in my old-world home, but they also sparkled with timeless humor that made me laugh out loud on the fire escape.

I did love the values Mrs. Lovelace felt free to share in her novels--strong friendships, familial tenderness, loyalty, love, laughter, and faith. But also, first and foremost, Mrs. Lovelace mastered the art of good storytelling. To uplift and entertain--how I want to be remembered as a writer able to do both!

Booking Mama: Do you have a favorite Maud Hart Lovelace book from your childhood? Is there a particular character that resonated with you?

Mitali Perkins: By far, Emily is my favorite character, and EMILY OF DEEP VALLEY is my favorite book. Why? Because while I was delighted to know Betsy, Tacy, Tib, Carney, and Winona as dear friends, Emily was ... me, with her desire to find love, a battle with loneliness and sadness, her commitment to do her duty, and a dream of helping those less fortunate.

Booking Mama: When you read these books again as an adult, what was your reaction? Was it similar to when you were a child or was it an entirely different experience?

Mitali Perkins: I re-read EMILY OF DEEP VALLEY every winter, and each time I see something new. The book's subtle message (to "muster your wits; stand in your own defense") continues to inspire me as I apply it in fresh ways to my changing life. But it also is the same comfort fare as when I first read it, and I'm always a bit sad when the story ends.

Booking Mama: Unfortunately, I never experienced Maud Hart Lovelace's books as a child. However, my daughter and I are recent converts and just love these books! Why do you think Maud Hart Lovelace's books are still relevant today?

Mitali Perkins: First, Mrs. Lovelace understood girls. I've crossed cultures all around the planet, and see so many things girls share across geographical borders--tears and laughter, joy and sorrow. The same is true across time--we girls have always loved our friends and families, dreamed big dreams, and, last but not least, enjoyed flirting with guys. Second, Mrs. Lovelace created characters who dance off the pages of her novels into our hearts. They are unforgettable! We care about their adventures as if they were our own. And third, she created a wonderful sense of place. I'm heading to Mankato, Minnesota next year for the first time to visit the Betsy-Tacy Society in person, and I know that town will feel like home, thanks to one of my favorite authors' skillful pens.

Can I just express what an honor it was to interview Mitali Perkins about EMILY OF DEEP VALLEY? It's evident to me that this novel resonated with Mitali and holds a special place in her heart. I hope my review convinced you that you must read EMILY OF DEEP VALLEY, but if you are still on the fence, then I know Mitali's interview answers will push you right over the edge!

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this novel.

If you'd like to participate in Kid Konnection and share a post about anything related to children's books (picture, middle grade, or young adult) from the past week, please leave a comment as well as a link below with your name/blog name and the title of the book! Feel free to grab the little button too!


Beth F said...

What an great story about how Mitali found out she was asked to write the introduction. I haven't read Emily, but now I think I've missed out.

bermudaonion said...

Wow, you're absolutely gushing - your enthusiasm for this book is so evident in your review. I love the interview with Mitali Perkins as well - it really sounds like this book has stood the test of time.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I don't know - I couldn't stand the whole Betsy-Tacy thing. But I enjoyed reading the interview with Mitali Perkins!

Laura at Library of Clean Reads said...

It seems that Lovelace was ahead of her time with her writing. This book seems like a perfect book for me and my daughter, especially because of the theme. Actually, I haven't read any of this author's books and now I will. Thanks for such an honest and great review! And Mitali Perkins is a lovely person. Her answers to your questions were beautiful.

Anonymous said...

Julie - I'm so glad that you met - and love! - Emily! I'm off to the Boston Book Festival where I hope to meet Mitali, as well as press Emily, Carney and Winona into the hands of every tween/teen girl I see!

Anonymous said...

My daughter and I loved Betsy-Tacy but never really read any of the other MHL books. Thanks to you and Book Club Girl I've had to add it to my TBR list right away.

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CLM said...

Wonderful review. I am already a fan of Emily and of Mitali, but now also of you and your writing! I am so glad you and your daughter can enjoy books together as that was a very meaningful part of my life as a child and teen. My mother and sisters read Maud Hart Lovelace's books along with me from the first time I checked one out of the library in 1969. My mother later introduced me to Georgette Heyer and Elswyth Thane who remain my other favorite authors.