Tricia Springstubb is the author of The Most Perfect Thing in the Universe, a new middle grade novel for kids. Her other books include Khalil and Mr. Hagerty and the Backyard Treasures. She lives in Cleveland Heights, Ohio.
Q: What inspired you to write The Most Perfect Thing in the Universe, and how did you create your character Loah?
A: I wanted to write about a girl who is timid and shy, a homebody who suddenly finds herself more or less alone in the world. How would she manage? What hidden resources would she discover in herself? Who would help her--or not?
I also wanted to interweave the beauties and mysteries of the outside world--Nature--with my character's inner life. Loah's mother has taught her about the interdependence of all living things, and when Loah reaches out to help others, they help her too, setting up a gentle but strong chain of support.
Also--I love birds! (One of the upsides of the pandemic has been how many people have begun watching and appreciating birds--the internet brims with beautiful photos.)
Birds have appeared in many of my other books, but this time I wanted to give them starring roles. Though the Loah bird is fictional, it represents the many other species that are endangered and threatened today.
Loah is a composite of many quiet, steadfast children I have known. As with every character I write, she carries a piece of me inside her.
Q: The Publishers Weekly review of the book says, "Through metaphor and imagery, Springstubb’s tender, sensitively written story captures the essences of places and characters, including frequently dismayed, brave Loah." What do you think of that description?
A: I am very grateful for the lovely, perceptive reviews the book has received. (Kirkus called it "a perfect thing in the universe of juvenile literature"!)
I especially like that PW mentions metaphor. As I wrote, I kept thinking of Loah as a small chick getting ready to hatch. What hard work to peck out of that shell, how scary to leave the safe, snug nest for the unknown, and yet how wonderful to fly!! This seemed to me the perfect metaphor for growing up.
And yes, Loah is frequently dismayed, but she still struggles to protect the places and people she loves. That is the definition of bravery!
Q: How would you describe the relationship between Loah and her mother?
A: Loah is an anxious homebody and Dr. Londonderry is a risk-taking adventurer.
While Dr. Londonderry adores Loah, her work saving endangered species is extremely important to her and the planet, and she sometimes chooses it over Loah. This leaves Loah feeling hurt and angry but also guilty, because she knows how crucial her mother's work is.
I think many kids today cope with feeling their parents privilege work over family, and parents increasingly have to deal with trying to create a work-life balance. It's not easy for anyone!
Over the course of the story, Loah learns to find support in unexpected places, and she discovers what a good friend she herself can be. While she'll always be a homebody, she's begun to find her place in the wider world.
I'm not sure Dr. Londonderry changes at all--she is eager to set off on her next expedition ASAP.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?
A: I hope readers will think about how life's expeditions can be big and bold, like Dr. Londonderry's, but also small and quiet, like Loah's. One of the most important things we can do in life is to nurture and protect the places and people we love.
I also hope The Most Perfect Thing in the Universe will make readers notice the natural world of their own neighborhoods. We can all do our part to conserve species and their habitats.
Also--readers can have fun deciding what THEY think the most perfect thing in the universe might be!
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I'm editing my next middle grade novel, True Blue, which will publish in fall 2022.
I'm excited about it for many reasons, but maybe the biggest is that I have finally written from the point of view of a boy, something I've tried to do many times but always failed. Can't wait for readers to meet Jude (and of course his dog, True Blue).
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: The Most Perfect Thing in the Universe has an afterword that discusses ornithology and conservation efforts, as well as a bibliography.
Readers can find out more about me and my other books, including picture books and chapter books, on my website triciaspringstubb.com. Teachers using the books in their classrooms can find suggested discussion questions and activities. I hope you'll visit me there.
Meanwhile, happy reading!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb