Friday, March 29, 2019

Q&A with Jennifer Robin Barr

Jennifer Robin Barr is the author of Goodbye, Mr. Spalding, a new novel for kids. It takes place in Philadelphia in the 1930s. Barr is based in the Philadelphia area.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Goodbye, Mr. Spalding?

A: Back in 2009 I was reading Bruce Kuklick’s book To Every Thing a Season, which outlines the history of Shibe Park. I was taken by a chapter on the Depression Era, and specifically a wall that was built in right field to block the view from the neighborhood rooftops, nicknamed the Spite Fence.

When I dug a little deeper, I realized that almost everything I read was from an adult perspective – and I wondered what it would have been like for the kids on that street when that happened.

Q: What did you see as the right blend of history and fiction as you wrote the novel?

A: For this book it was very important for me to get the history correct – especially since baseball is so well-documented.

From my perspective, as long as it was moving the story forward, I tried to capture as much history as possible. So I’m not sure I'd call it the right “blend,” but rather making sure I wasn't dumping historical facts into the story for no actual purpose, and that every historical element helped to authenticate the era. My editor, Carolyn Yoder, was great at helping to identify these areas.  

Q: What kind of research did you do to write the novel, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?

A: The research was extensive – from days spent in the Free Library of Philadelphia in the newspaper archives, to scrolling through pages of photos, to talking with people who remember Connie Mack Stadium, and a few who even remembered it as Shibe Park. While it was still open, I visited the Philadelphia Athletics museum a few times.

I think it was eye opening to see the Great Depression from a daily lens – where one dime makes a real difference. I’ve often read of the era from a broad perspective – soup lines, etc. Reading about hardships in newspapers and seeing how it affects the day-to-day - in such a specific way - was remarkable.

Q: What do you hope kids take away from the story?

A: While the baseball might draw in girls and boys, in the end this is a story about growth and friendship. I hope that kids are able to take away something they didn’t expect!

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I am very excited about the project I’m working on right now! It’s another middle grade historical fiction, but it’s very early and so I’m not quite ready to share. I will tease that it’s back in Philadelphia, but a departure from baseball (but who knows, maybe that will change!).

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Thank you to for the opportunity to share a little bit about Goodbye, Mr. Spalding. I’m grateful to the teachers, librarians, and entire Kidlit community who has been so supportive!

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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