|Tina L. Peterson, by Xaviet Bonet|
Tina L. Peterson is the author of the new children's book Oscar and the Amazing Gravity Repellent. She is on the leadership council of the National Association for Media Literacy Education, and she lives in Texas.
Q: How did you come up with your main character, Oscar, and with the idea of gravity repellent?
A: Oscar has a little bit of me in him. I’m kind of klutzy myself—I’ve never been that physically coordinated. I really relate to Oscar’s frustration—dropping things, messing things up.
Then the idea for gravity repellent came when about 10 years ago, I was living in Boulder, I saw a truck outside my house. The truck said “Gravity Services” on the side. There was a long vacuum tube on the side going into a manhole. I started giggling, thinking, What if I forgot to pay my gravity bill?
I started thinking about it. Gravity repellent went through several iterations before it became repellent. What if it was a switch [that Oscar pulled]? What if he made gravity repellent by accident? I don’t want to encourage kids to do random stuff in the kitchen!
Eventually, he discovered a bottle of gravity repellent, in a spooky place.
Q: Did you know how the book would end before you started writing, or did you make many changes as you went along?
A: It’s my first book. After maybe three or four chapters, my characters started taking over and telling me where the story was going to go. It was so rewarding as a writer! You’re just following them around and describing what they’re doing…
I didn’t know exactly how the book would end, but I knew Oscar would attain some physical control over himself without the help of the gravity repellent. The gravity repellent gave him the little boost he needed.
Q: What age do you think would especially enjoy this book?
A: I really enjoyed third grade, and I like interacting with kids at that age. They’re so curious about the world, and popularity hasn’t reared its ugly head. It’s a fun, curious, still kind of innocent age….
It hits upon approximately a third grade reading level…Capstone technically lists it as 8-11. I had a precocious 7-year-old tear through it in two afternoons.
Q: Which authors have inspired you?
A: I love Roald Dahl. With so many of his books, I wanted to read them over and over when I was a kid. [Illustrator] Quentin Blake did such a wonderful job bringing the characters to life. I even read some of [Dahl’s] short stories for adults. James and the Giant Peach is one of my favorite books—the idea that you could go inside a peach and meet these crazy critters…
I loved Judy Blume as I got a little older. Her characters are so real. I enjoyed The Baby-Sitter’s Club, by Ann M. Martin—I read them pretty religiously when I was a kid. And Anne of Green Gables—I loved the character of Anne…she seemed as if she’d be one of my best friends.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: Right now I’m working on my son! This book was published a week after I gave birth. Capstone set the publication date a year and a half before it came out. And you don’t have much control over when you become pregnant…I consider the book his twin. It’s challenging to give both as much time as they need.
Besides that, I’m working on book two [about Oscar], because my imagination is full of whatever amazing wonders Oscar and [his friend] Asha might find. I’m thinking about a story with a little bit of a time travel element to it—yet another magical device they find in the caboose.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: This book has a very subtle element of multiculturalism in it. Asha is Indian-American. That’s by no means the focus of the book. I didn’t describe her ethnicity because kids don’t label each other as that.
I’m thinking about drawing more attention to Asha’s cultural identity in book two. My husband is Indian—write what you know!...
--Interview with Deborah Kalb