I had the pleasure of meeting middle grade author Elizabeth Atkinson at the Library United Conference and she graciously agreed to be interviewed for the blog. Here are her thoughts on the struggles of growing up, the challenges that today’s tweens face, and her favorite snack: popcorn.
At the beginning of “I, Emma Freke” the main character is very insecure about her appearance (especially her height and her bright red hair). I think tweens will relate to Emma’s awkward “growing pains.” As a tween, did you have any physical features or personality traits that made you feel like you stuck out like a sore thumb? If so, how did you overcome these insecurities?
I did! I was very small – and for many years, I was shortest in my class. (I figured that felt pretty similar to being the tallest in a class, how I related so easily to Emma.) I was also quite shy, a bit plump, and blushed easily, which other kids (and some clueless adults!) always teased me about… making the blushing worse. It’s not easy, but the only way to overcome insecurities is to focus on your strengths and your assets. Get out there and participate in life and be successful at something so you’ll feel really good about your whole unique self! Eventually, you’ll outgrow those superficial worries. And you may even discover some special people actually cherish your little quirks and vulnerabilities.
During your MLA conference workshop, “Empowering Tweens though Story” the group discussed the challenges that tween girls are facing in today’s world. What are some examples of challenges that are new for this young generation?
I think the intense social scrutiny has to be the hardest. Kids seem quite pre-occupied with judging their physical selves and each other at school and through social media sites. Consumerism – clothes, cars, homes, technological gadgets, accessories, etc – holds such a high, distorted value these days. There are so many other issues affecting tweens and teens today, such as, rampant bullying, dating and sexuality, diverse family dynamics, intense competition, too much homework, too much structure, over-scheduling, inept parenting…. no wonder so many kids are struggling with self esteem and identity issues.
How do you think the ubiquitous nature of the Internet (social networking in particular) influences tween girls?
Oh my, this is a huge question 🙂 but, generally speaking, I feel it’s a very unfortunate cultural development for tweens and teens. Luckily, my daughter was almost in college when MySpace and Facebook appeared. If I were a parent of a middle school girl now, I wouldn’t allow her to participate or it would be very limited participation (family and maybe a few close friends). In a nutshell, these sites grossly magnify one’s insecurities… even adults have difficulty coping with online social media pressures, so how can children be expected to cope in a healthy way? (Plus they encourage such narcissism among already overly-popular, narcissistic individuals… do these people really need their own online platform to brag more??) But unfortunately for children, these sites are here to stay. So I hope schools will begin to deal in health classes with the effects/consequences and myths created by social media.
Having recently discovered my favorite snack to eat when I curl up with a good book, I like to ask people: do you have any favorite reading (or writing) snacks?
Popcorn! I’ve discovered this delicious organic popcorn called Quinn. I’ve been telling everyone I know about it: http://www.quinnpopcorn.com
What is your next project?
I recently finished my new tween novel with the “working title,” Mountains of Sugar, which is told in two very different voices of two best friends…. I’m so excited about it and really hope it will be out next year! I, Emma Freke came out in paperback this year and is available electronically too. You can follow my news, blog, and schedule of school visits on my website: www.elizabethatkinson.com Thanks for the great questions, Abby!
Thank you, Elizabeth! I can’t wait to read Mountains of Sugar when it comes out 🙂