Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Q&A with Michelle A. Barry




Michelle A. Barry is the author of the new middle grade novel Moongarden, an updated version of the classic children's novel The Secret Garden. Moongarden is the first in a new series. Barry lives in Connecticut.


Q: What inspired you to write this updated version of The Secret Garden, and how did you create the world in which your novel is set?


A: The Secret Garden has always been a favorite of mine, and I wanted to capture the magic of that story, but in a new setting, and with actual magic!


As a kid, my dream was to be an astronaut, and I’ve always been fascinated with outer space, so I was excited to blend these two treasured aspects of my childhood passions into one book, and really enjoyed getting to explore a little more of our corner of the galaxy through this story, even if just in my imagination!


Q: The Kirkus Review of the book says, “Debut author Barry smoothly incorporates contemporary—and perhaps perennial—issues of elite education, pressure to succeed, corporate corruption, class divides, systemic prejudice, and environmental depredation while delivering a boarding school story in a believable off-world setting.” What do you think of that description?


A: I’m thrilled that the off-world setting felt believable and that the various issues and conflicts I wanted to highlight came through on the page as well. There is a lot going on in the book besides just the central focus of the garden and it was important to me that all facets of the story, and the characters’ journeys, resonated. 


Q: What did you see as the right balance between the classic Secret Garden story and your own version as you were writing the book?


A: My goal in writing Moongarden was to include some of the central themes from The Secret Garden, like the transformative power of nature, but put my own spin on them so that the story still felt fresh and new.


I hoped that readers familiar with The Secret Garden would catch my nods to the original book and cast of characters, while feeling like Moongarden’s story was still captivating and unpredictable. 


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


A: As we grow, we don’t always end up how we expect to, or how other people expect us to be. Interests can change, friendships can change, and that’s completely okay. However, while it’s happening, it might not always feel that way.


I hope that kids can see themselves in Myra’s journey and know that their magic, whatever it is that makes them special, is important and valued. And even if the people surrounding them don’t appreciate that magic like they should right away, they will come around, or you will find people that do.  


Q: This is the first in a series--what's next?


A: After Moongarden, the kids’ adventures will take them off the Moon to new parts of the solar system. There, the kids will have a bit of a “we’re not in Kansas anymore” moment as they find that the world they grew up in is very different from the other settlements, in particular, the applications of science.


I’m excited for the magic to branch out into new areas and explore how the kids will handle that. 


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: In addition to exploring new settlements, I’m excited for Myra to experience more dimensions of friendship. In the first book, she is learning who she wants to be friends with and how to make those kinds of friends.


In the next book, her challenge will be learning how to keep a friend, and how to handle new people joining their friend crew, something I think is really common for kids in middle school, when friendships can really start to evolve and change.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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