Eileen Moskowitz-Palma is the author of Camp Clique, a new middle grade novel for kids. It's the first in her Popularity Pact series. A former elementary school teacher, she teaches at Sarah Lawrence College's The Writing Institute. She lives in Westchester, New York.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for Camp Clique, and for your characters, Bea and Maisy?
A: Over the years as a teacher and mom, I noticed that many children are socially accepted in one part of their life but struggle in another.
There’s the travel soccer player who is well liked by their teammates but has no one to sit with in the school cafeteria, the fifth grade class president who can’t figure out how to make friends at sleepaway camp, and the kid who gets along with all the adults at the dinner party but has trouble interacting with anyone their own age.
An idea came to me about the school queen bee who ends up the most hated girl at sleepaway camp, with her fate landing in the hands of the camp queen bee who is invisible at school.
Once I came up with the concept, I decided to amp up the tension even more by making the girls ex-best friends.
Bea has just spent all of sixth grade invisible after Maisy dropped her for the popular clique, the M & Ms. She can’t wait to go away to camp where she feels safe and accepted, until she finds out Maisy will be there
Meanwhile, the last place unathletic and unadventurous Maisy wants to be is at adventure camp for the summer with Bea. I had a lot of fun thinking about how different I could make both girls, while showing the love they still have for each other buried underneath all of the tension.
Q: Why did you choose a summer camp as the book's setting?
A: Summer camp is the exact opposite of school, which made it the perfect setting to explore the reversal of fortunes both characters have. That setting was an organic way to illustrate to the reader how many kids feel accepted and comfortable in one environment while struggling in another.
Sleepaway camp was the vehicle to pluck both girls out of the environment where their friendship ended. This allowed them to build that friendship back up because they were away from the things that pulled them apart in the first place.
Summer camp also lends itself to a summer read, while the school setting of book two works out well for a back-to school fall read.
Q: What do you think the novel says about friendship, especially among middle school girls?
A: The through line of the series is the message that authentic friendship is more important than fitting in. Maisy learns that lesson in Camp Clique, and Bea learns it in the sequel, School Squad.
I was also hoping to get across that sometimes we think we have a person or situation all figured out, but that when you look beneath the surface you will find more layers.
It’s important for kids to see that sometimes we need to give another person grace and other times we need to give ourselves grace for the way we treated someone or handled a situation.
The reason I wrote these books, in both Bea and Maisy’s viewpoints, was so that the reader could see that most things in life are complicated, and no one is perfect.
Q: This is the first in a series--did you originally plan out an entire series, or did you start out picturing it as a stand-alone novel?
A: I originally wrote this as a stand-alone book called The Popularity Pact. The entire story took place at camp and ended with Maisy and Bea learning that authentic friendship is more important than fitting in.
But my agent Lauren was the one who saw this as a series. She pointed out that the first book is about Bea helping Maisy fit in at camp, and the second book should be about what happens when it’s Maisy’s turn to hold up her end of the bargain and help Bea fit in at school.
As soon as she said it, I knew she was right. I had written one half of a whole, not a stand-alone book. After writing two books with Maisy and Bea, I have become so attached to them that I wonder if there are more books to this series...
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m revising the last set of page proof copy edits for School Squad, which will be published on October 6, 2020.
The second book follows what happens after Bea kept up her end of the bargain, getting Maisy "in" with the girls at camp. Now it's Maisy's turn to fulfill her promise to ingratiate Bea with the popular girls.
When Bea is accepted into this new inner circle, she begins to lose sight of what true friendship is all about.
As Bea seems prepared to sacrifice anything to be "cool," Maisy realizes there's more to life than hanging out with a bunch of mean girls. Can she convince Bea that the popularity pact was a mistake? Can these former friends find their way back to each other?
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: As a former elementary school teacher, I couldn’t wait to connect with middle grade readers during school visits for my book tour. When all of my events were cancelled due to COVID-19, I was devastated.
But then my social media feed filled up with overwhelmed parents who were suddenly thrust into working from home and homeschooling. I realized I could help. I set up a free online virtual writing camp and in the first three weeks I worked with almost 100 kids from all over the country.
I am continuing to offer writing camps for children in grades two through eight through the rest of the 2019-2020 school year and into the summer. I am also offering online book clubs, online school visits and printable writing resources. Visit eileenmoskowitzpalma.com for more info. Also see Facebook and Instagram.
Camp Clique purchasing links: To support local bookstores, purchase Camp Clique at Bookshop. It's also available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Target.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb