I’m often asked by parents for book recommendations for their children. One that tops my list is Fortune Falls by Jenny Goebel. The world of Fortune Falls is so wonderfully creative and features something kids love to explore—luck and superstitions.
JG: At first, the research for Fortune Falls was simply a matter of reaching back to the superstitious days of my youth. Twelve-year-old Jenny never passed a penny without picking it up, and hopping over sidewalk cracks was an absolute must. When I’d exhausted all the playground chants and sleepover whispers I could recall, I scoured the internet for any mention of good luck and bad luck. I also pressed family and friends to share any irrational beliefs they held, or had at least heard of. Many superstitions I encountered didn’t quite work for this book, such as the most ill-fated time of month to make mayonnaise, and the medical benefits of bathing in warm chicken blood in the light of a full moon. No doubt, it was some of the most curious research I’ve done for any project.
MGM: This story must make for some fun school visits. What’s the most interesting or surprising question you’ve received from a student?
JG: Yes! This story has made for some fun school visits. I think what has been most interesting, though, wasn’t a single question, but a certain type of question I seem to get asked repetitively. At nearly every event, a kid will raise his or her hand and then proceed to test the parameters I set for Fortune Falls. “What if the sidewalk cracks are covered in snow and you’re stepping on the snow instead of the cracks? Why do they have sidewalks in Fortune Falls at all? How close can you get to a cemetery without holding your breath and still be safe? Why doesn’t Sadie do X?” (X being any number of solutions for Sadie’s dire predicament.) There’s something about a world where luck has so much bearing on everything that seems to really resonate with young readers. I think it’s because many of them feel powerless in their own lives, so they identify with Sadie and want to find loopholes for her; they want to find a means of escape. Kids have a strong sense of justice, and that inspires me. It gives me hope.
MGM: You’ve published three middle grade books. What advice do you have about writing for this age group?
JG: Even though middle grade seems to be my sweet spot, I never set out to write a book for a particular age group. I have an idea, and then I search for the best, most truthful way to tell it with the most believable characters I can come up with. I feel like if I do anything other than that—if I’m trying to hit all the right beats instead of listening to the way the story wants to be told— I’ll end up with book that feels formulaic and readers will see right through it. I’m being vague, though, aren’t I? And what I just said doesn’t sound very advice-like. I’ll try again. Middle grade readers are smart and savvy. Don’t underestimate them.
MGM: Will we see any more stories about Fortune Falls or perhaps about the students at Banes School for Luckless Adolescents (which I personally would like to read about)?
JG: This is yet to be determined. I’m not contracted to write any other books set in a world where superstitions are real, but if the demand is great enough . . . I could only be so lucky! In other words, if you’re reading this and you’d like to see a sequel, please please please help spread the word about Fortune Falls. Also, a little finger crossing never hurts!
MGM: What new projects can we look forward to seeing next?
JG: I wish I knew! My creative well was sucked dry while working on two books simultaneously. Fortune Falls and Mission Hurricane (The 39 Clues: Doublecross Book 3) were both released this past January. I then spent a large portion of the spring promoting the books and visiting schools, which didn’t leave much time for dreaming up new worlds and characters. I’m back at it now, but my ideas are in the early fragile stages and I don’t want to say too much about them and jinx myself. Apparently, writing Fortune Falls has rekindled my superstitious nature.
Thank you to Jenny for spending time with the mafia family. To learn more about all of her books, visit her website at http://www.jennygoebel.com
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