Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Q&A with Elaine Dimopoulos




Elaine Dimopoulos is the author of the new middle grade novel The Perilous Performance at Milkweed Meadow. Her other books include The Remarkable Rescue at Milkweed Meadow. She lives in Massachusetts.


Q: This is your second book featuring the Milkweed Meadow characters--did you know when you started the first book that there would be a sequel?


A: No. I was certainly not thinking of a series when I began the first novel. As I neared the end of writing it, I had a brainwave of a way I could continue the story.


I’m so fortunate that my publisher, Charlesbridge, offered me a two-book deal when they acquired The Remarkable Rescue at Milkweed Meadow, so there was a natural opening for me to pitch the idea for book 2. Fortunately, they liked it!


Q: What inspired the plot of The Perilous Performance at Milkweed Meadow?


A: In The Perilous Performance at Milkweed Meadow a troupe of wild turkeys arrives in the meadow and engages the creatures in putting on a big theatrical performance.


Butternut the rabbit, who comes from a family of storytellers, isn’t cast in the show, and she struggles with feelings of inadequacy. She wonders how a single storyteller like her can ever compete with a dazzling performance.


But then the playhouse in the oak forest burns down on opening night, and the reader must guess which creature is behind the fire.


Growing up, I did a lot of theater, so writing about a show felt natural. I had a lot of fun thinking about how a bunch of meadow animals could put together a performance with scenes, songs, sets, props, and costumes. Butternut’s creative self-doubt is also something every writer faces, so I wanted to include that.


As it came together, I figured out that this is a story about trust: trusting yourself and your talents, trusting family and dear friends, not trusting those who don’t have your best interests at heart, and being willing to forgive if trust is broken.


Q: How did you create your character Butternut?


A: The Eastern cottontail rabbits that hop in our yard all year long inspired me. I knew I wanted to write an animal story, and I selected a rabbit for my main character for two reasons.


First, there are already so many incredible rabbit stories written for children, so I’m following in a long, well-trodden tradition. Second, I wanted my main character Butternut to suffer from anxiety, which she describes as “brambles” growing and twisting in her mind. Since rabbits are naturally skittish, I thought that a rabbit would be a convincing choice of an animal with anxiety!


Q: The Kirkus Review of the book says, in part, “Dimopoulos is as gifted a storyteller as her endearing hero, and she deftly folds in alliteration, theater terms, nature facts, and sparkling humor. Butternut’s musings and observations are thought provoking and perceptive.” What do you think of that description?


A: Clearly, Kirkus is the most eminent and accurate review journal out there—ha ha! This is incredibly flattering praise, and I was overwhelmed with gratitude and much embarrassment when I read it. I do think it captures the way Butternut and I are truly telling this story together, hand in paw.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Next, I’ve got another middle-grade animal story called Catch the Cat Burglar. It’s a whodunnit set in an apartment building on a boarding school campus filled with humans, cats, and possibly a ghost. One of the cats is a thief. So readers not only have to guess who the thief is but also wrestle with the question of whether stealing might sometimes be justified.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I do want to mention that the Milkweed Meadow books are illustrated by Caldecott Medalist Doug Salati. He does a beautiful job bringing the animal cast of characters to life. His pictures are full of action and drama, and he gives each character such tender facial expressions.


The art adds a beautiful layer to the story, and I feel so lucky that Doug signed on to this project.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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