By Janet Pinto, Chief Academic Officer, Curriki
I had a great chat with Young Adult Author Brenda St. John Brown, whose popular novels are about teens and twenty-somethings. One thing she’s really good at is enticing reluctant readers to actually read!
Her latest book, Swimming to Tokyo, is a New Adult Contemporary set in the tangled streets of Tokyo, in which a girl and a guy find each other and learn that love, letting go, and language lessons make for an unforgettable summer.
Why are you drawn to writing Young Adult novels?
The awkwardness! And the roller coaster of excitement/angst, excitement/angst. First love/young love is especially prone to this and it’s so fun to write without having to relive it, myself. I also love how intense everything is at this stage of life — even friendships. As a writer, it forces me to stay on top of the story and really hone in on the characters. Otherwise, I end up writing on a tangent about the dog down the street and barely realize I lost my audience two chapters ago.
How can we inspire children to read more?
This is tricky because you have to inspire them without them actually realizing what you’re doing! Let them see YOU enjoying reading. Encourage them to talk about what they’re reading. Literature circles are terrific for this and sparks fly when kids are in a group talking about a book in common. Encourage their passion through print, but also realize that quality reading isn’t always on paper. There’s a lot of great stuff online, too!
Advice to parents to encourage a love of reading?
Start while they’re young! Set aside reading time every day. And don’t be afraid to investigate further if they’re struggling with reading. They may need extra help and that’s okay. It’s better to get it and set them up for success than wait and realize when they’re older and they’ve already decided they hate reading.
What is Swimming to Tokyo about, and what inspired you to write it?
Swimming to Tokyo is a contemporary romance aimed at older teens and early twenty-somethings. The story focuses on Zosia and Finn and it’s about two people who find each other — and themselves — as they explore the temples and the tangled streets of Tokyo.
I was initially inspired to write it after looking at my own photo album from Japan. I lived in Tokyo for a couple of years and it was an amazing experience I was able to revisit through my writing.
Who is the book’s most memorable character?
Lots of readers say they really like Babci, Zosia’s grandmother, and she’s definitely a favorite character of mine. Finn also gets a lot of “book boyfriend” nods. He’s good-looking and more than a little bit damaged, but readers are drawn to him because for all of that he’s not a jerk!
What do you hope readers will learn or remember?
Zosia and Finn both have difficult things to overcome in their pasts. I hope people read the story and think about how their own pasts influence their present and realize they can move beyond the “before” they’ve let define them to create a truer version of themselves. That sounds preachier than it comes across in Swimming to Tokyo, but that was consciously in my mind as I was writing it. Finn has a line in the story: “Honesty is easy. It’s trust that’s hard.”, which is probably my favorite line in the whole book because it is the journey he’s on. In a way, it’s the journey we’re all on.
What was the last book you read?
I read at least two books per week, so whatever I say now will inevitably be out of date by the time this hits the web. Three books I’ve read recently that I recommend 1000% are:
- THE INFINITE SEA by Rick Yancey
- WONDER by RJ Palacio
- THE BEGINNING OF EVERYTHING by Robyn Schneider
What are some of your favorite books from childhood?
I loved THE SECRET GARDEN and THE LITTLE PRINCESS. The Judy Blume books were a big hit with me and I’m pretty sure I read A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN at least 10 times.
Preference: eBooks or “real” books?
I love the instant gratification of eBooks and the ease of taking my Kindle everywhere, but I’m also a huge fan of libraries. I think eBooks probably win, but just barely.
Name your favorite guilty pleasure.
I don’t know if Doritos are considered a guilty pleasure, but if so…I could live on them, I swear! If Doritos don’t count…I’d say the TV show Nashville. I love my weekly fix of that show!
Check out more books by this author and pass along word to a young adult you know!