Book Nerd Interview
I have been writing for intelligent children of all ages for almost 20 years, helping create educational books, documentaries, and online content for Discovery Networks, National Geographic, the Library of Congress, Scholastic, and Time-Life Books. Ever since seeing puffins at the Baltimore Aquarium, I have wondered why penguins are so much more celebrated than their equally adorable northern counterparts.
For NEVERSINK, my first book, I conducted extensive research at the legendary walrus library at Ocean's End. I currently live with a walrus-sized cat named Charlie in Memphis, Tenn.
What was the greatest thing you learned at school?
How to seek shelter among the socially awkward.
As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
Hmm, during the early years, when one’s aspirations are pure fantasy, I wanted to be either a cowboy or a baseball player. Then I wanted to be an accountant. Go figure.
What fiction most influenced your childhood, and what effect did those stories have on your writing?
I would say anything my mom read to me or with me, just because that relationship of sharing books when I was young had so many consequences in my life.
What made you decide to write books for children?
By chance I ended up doing a lot of nonfiction writing for middle-school-age kids when I lived in DC. I wrote web and TV content for Discovery Channel’s education group, Scholastic.com, and Time-Life Books., among others. I liked and felt comfortable writing to that group — old enough to relate to, young enough to not be too cynical.
You read a lot of middle-grade fiction. Please name a few of your favorite books and tell us why they inspire you.
I really love secondary-world and alternate-history fiction, like the Bartimaeus books or N.D. Wilson’s 100 Cupboards trilogy among recent work and British classics like Susan Cooper’s Dark is Rising and Joan Aiken’s Wolves of Willoughby Chase series. Neversink was certainly heavily inspired by the Jungle Books and nonsense classics by Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear.
For those who are unfamiliar with your novel; Neversink, how would you introduce it?
I used to say, imagine if P. G. Wodehouse had written Watership Down. But so many people were unfamiliar with either of those that I had to stop! Neversink is an epic animal saga that both honors and has some fun with the grand tradition of talking animal tales. And in many ways it’s a story about the importance of stories, which fits well with such a classic, even somewhat old-fashioned genre like animal fantasy. At its heart, though, it’s a hero’s journey with an unlikely hero and even more unlikely allies.
Why do you feel you had to tell this story?
Penguins are ubiquitous in children’s entertainment. Puffins are almost nonexistent. I felt like I had to correct this admittedly minor injustice.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your characters?
I am not a big believer in this idea of characters coming to life on their own or taking over the story, like some authors say. But I was surprised that some characteristics came into being without a lot of premeditation. Ruby, the hummingbird, has this sort of absurdist dialogue that involves anachronisms. I have no idea why I wrote that into a story that otherwise was supposed to be grounded in natural science, in a pre-human world. It was a polarizing element among some readers, and I started to remove them all. But I felt like she wanted to be that way, even though I couldn’t articulate why. I finally realized (or rationalized, if you prefer) that she was poking fun at this rather regrettable trend in animated movies and contemporary comedy of getting cheap laughs from pop-culture references (which will badly date them eventually). She tries to make these witty remarks, and none of the other animals have any idea what she’s talking about.
What were your feelings when your first novel was accepted/when you first saw the cover of the finished product?
Almost disbelief when my agent emailed me to say we had sold the book. We tried for so long. It was a bad time to be shopping animal fantasies, especially one that was a bit offbeat and pushing the upper age range of middle grade. So while I never truly gave up hope, there was a part of me that never expected to get that good news.
What do you normally eat for breakfast?
Where is your favorite place to read/write?
To write, a coffee shop. To read, outside in nice weather.
Bugs Bunny/Looney Tunes, with a particular fondness for Foghorn Leghorn.
Where can readers stalk you?
www.barrywolverton.com, where they can find links to my Facebook and Twitter pages.
Along the Arctic Circle lies a small island called Neversink, whose jagged cliffs and ice-gouged rocks are home to a colony of odd-looking seabirds called auks, including one Lockley J. Puffin. With their oceanfront views and plentiful supply of fish, the auks have few concerns—few, save for Lockley's two best friends, Egbert and Ruby, a know-it-all walrus and a sharp-tongued hummingbird.
But all of this is about to change. Rozbell, the newly crowned king of the Owl Parliament, is dealing with a famine on the mainland of Tytonia—and he has long had his scheming eyes on the small colony to the north. Now Neversink's independence hangs in the balance. An insurgence of owls will inevitably destroy life as the auks know it—unless Lockley can do something about it.
Barry Wolverton's debut is an epic tale of some very un-epic birds, a fast-paced and funny story of survival, friendship, and fish.
The delightfully entertaining and educational book, Neversink, by Barry Wolverton is an inspiring tale of two groups of birds, with the Auks standing up to the group that makes up the ruling class, the Owls. This is an excellent book to introduce children to the meaning and ideas of equality and the importance for standing up for what you firmly believe in. Barry had done an exceptional job of creating a story that will interest younger readers about the concept of class.
Barry creatively developed a well-formed group of characters, in this case--birds, which I would think is difficult to channel in their animal-like and human-like behavior. He also presents believable political conspiracies and ethical quandary. All readers will value the themes of companionship and family and the main character’s aspiration to always do what is right. There is a great lesson in this book about following orders and why standing up for yourself is important even if no one agrees.
The title of this book will appeal to readers as young as 8, but it will take to likings to many adults as well. Adults will find appropriation to the well-written plot, and children will enjoy the lively colorful characters. The writing style of Barry perfectly fits this kind of book. It is just right for young readers, yet sophisticated enough for older ones. Readers will thoroughly enjoy and be entertained by the story plot and the lessons within. Cute little story that packs a powerful message. Get ready for a great adventure for this is one of my top reads of 2012. A storytelling you do not want to miss.
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