Wendy McLeod MacKnight is the author of The Copycat, a new middle grade novel for kids. She also has written the middle grade novels The Frame-Up and It's a Mystery, Pig Face!. She lives in New Brunswick, Canada.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for The Copycat, and for your character Ali?
A: I moved around quite a lot when I was a kid, and it was hard starting over and trying to make friends. Sometimes, the first friends I’d make wouldn’t stick, especially when I wasn’t being the “real” Wendy. Ali is struggling with the same issues at the beginning of the book. And then I thought it would be cool to make her a real copycat, able to shapeshift into whatever she wants. There was so many fun options!
Q: What do you think the novel says about the idea of fitting in?
A: I hope that the kids who read my book think about whether they’re truly being their authentic selves with their friends. We all put on a mask from time to time, but until you find the people who like/love you no matter what, you never feel entirely comfortable. You need to find YOUR people, and that’s hard to do when you’re acting like everyone else in order to fit in.
Kids especially struggle with this, because they’re going through so many changes biologically, emotionally, and socially. It’s hard. But not being true to yourself is way harder.
Q: You begin the book with a poem by Carl Sandburg. Why did you choose to include that?
A: First of all, I’ve always loved that poem! And the fog is a real character in the book, and causes a lot of things to happen, things Ali doesn’t see coming. I thought the poem was a great metaphor for how change can catch us unaware! And really, it is perfect for the book!
Q: What do you hope kids take away from the story?
A: I hope they think about self-esteem, about what it means to be a real friend, and understand that most of us are doing our best, even if it doesn’t always seem like it. Ali’s father Digger is the perfect example of that: he’s a damaged person, but that doesn’t make him a bad person.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m just completing two different middle grade novels, one set in the early 1800s and a contemporary magical realism novel!
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: It really is foggy in Saint John, but it is also beautiful!!! And honestly, if I could turn into anything, I’d probably choose a bird. I’d love to fly!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb