Math is a super power: Constance Lombardo talks to Stacy McAnulty
Stacy McAnulty beautifully captures the struggles of middle school from finding and making friends to embracing and celebrating differences to learning to let your own light shine. I found myself unexpectedly emotional at the end - I wish I could send it in a time machine to my younger self.
-- Beth, Bookmarks in Winston-Salem, NC
When Stacy McAnulty sat next to me at a librarian conference dinner a few years ago, her friendliness and sparkly personality immediately won me over. She's written 8 wonderful picture books, including Excellent Ed (an Ezra Jack Keats honor), Earth! My First 4.54 Billion Years, and my personal favorite, Brave, along with the chapter book series The Dino Files. Her middle-grade debut, The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl, hit the shelves on May 1st. - Constance Lombardo
CL: Hey, Stacy, congratulations on all the buzz surrounding your novel. It's received starred reviews from Kirkus, School Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly. What made you decide to write for middle-grade readers?
SM: I blame my children. They continue to grow up, and we don't read as many picture books as we once did. I also get to witness their middle-grade life, both good and bad. Brings back a lot of memories, mostly agonizing.
CL: The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl has a generous helping of math. Are you a math geek?
SM: Not a hardcore math geek, but yes, I like numbers, word problems, algebra, geometry, and Sudoku. I went to college for engineering, so I took a lot more math classes than English classes. And when 1 of my kids yells, "Mom, I need help with homework!" I'm always hoping they're referring to math homework.
SM: 371,277. I answered that question in less than 2 seconds, and I didn't use scrap paper or the calculator app on my cell phone. (It's also not correct. I just picked 6 random numbers.)
CL: What was your most awkward moment in middle school?
SM: There were so many. Too many. The first that comes to mind is basketball try-outs in 8th grade. It was 2 hours a day for 2 weeks, and I wore the same gym clothes every day. Just balled them up and threw them in my locker at the end of each session. It never occurred to me to wash them until girls started making jokes about my odor. BTW, I made the team and brought clean clothes and deodorant to practice every single day. Another time, in 7th grade gym while doing a backbend, I farted loudly. I thought I'd never be able to return to school.
CL: If you went to school with your protagonist, Lucy, would you be friends?
SM: I'd like to think so. Perhaps I would have overcome my shyness and talked to Lucy, who's the new girl. We would have bonded over a love of junk food (Oreos and Twizzlers after school every day), the challenge of reading aloud in English class, and the joys of math homework. Math homework has always been my favorite because I can do it with music blaring. I can't read or write with songs playing.
CL: If Miscalculations had a sound track, what would it be?
SM: The main character's best friend loves musicals. Hamilton, Wicked, Les Mis, The Sound of Music, and Dear Evan Hansen would all be on the MLG mixed tape. And, of course, we'd have to have the song Greased Lightning. Showstopper!
CL: I know you love indie bookstores. If you opened one, what would you name it?
SM: I'd call it The Famous People Clubhouse, because I'd have all the coolest characters there. Harry, Pippi, Matilda, Winnie, Nancy, Bruce, Ramona, George, Augie, Mr. Puffball, Peter, Charlotte, the Pigeon, Astrid, Charlie, and Hermione… to name a few. Or maybe I'd name it Your Best Friends Live Here. And you could bring your dogs. We would have treats!
CL: Tell us about "Easter Eggs"—little hidden treasures in your book.
SM: Here's one. The math teacher is named Mr. Stoker after a favorite teacher in middle school. But the real Mr. Stoker taught social studies and English, not math.
CL: What's something you've heard from a reader that absolutely made your day?
SM: A mom sent me a video of her first-grade son's school project. He picked me as his favorite author and did a report. As an author, it's easy to focus on sales and reviews, and those are ways we measure success. But I was one kid's favorite author (at least at that moment in time), and that's what it's really all about.
CL: Your characters volunteer at an animal shelter and help get dogs adopted. Then, they fall in love with a special dog. What's with all the dogs? Mr. Puffball wants to know, why no cats?
SM: Admittedly, I'm a dog person. We have three. I'd add a cat to my book and my house, if it weren't for the need for a litterbox. I hate a litterbox. Blech!
CL: Your main character becomes a math genius after being struck by lightning. Have you ever been struck by lightning?
SM: Ha! Kids love to ask me this question. No, I have not, and I hope to keep it this way.
CL: So what made you inflict this pain on Lucy?
SM: Lucy has acquired savant syndrome, which means she needed a major head injury to rewire her brain and make her a math savant. I read about people who've had spikes impaled in their skull or been involved in devastating car accidents or hit their head while diving into the shallow end of a pool. A lightning strike seemed less messy and kid-relatable. Thunderstorms are real and scary!
CL: Her math genius is referred to as a "super-power". What super-power would you like if you could choose?
SM: Assuming I don't have to endure a major zap of electricity, I'd pick mind control. To get my kids and dogs to bend to my will would make my life easier. Set the table. Do your homework. Stop chewing on the couch. I could use my power on the general public too. Be kind to each other. Don't text and drive. Read more books.
Stacy McAnulty is a children's book author, who used to be a mechanical engineer, who's also qualified to be a paleontologist (NOT REALLY), a correspondent for The Daily Show (why not), and a Green Bay Packer coach (totally!). She is the 2017 Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Honor Recipient for Excellent Ed, illustrated by Julia Sarcone-Roach. Her other picture books include Earth! My First 4.54 Billion Years, illustrated by David Litchfield; Brave and Beautiful, both illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff; Mr. Fuzzbuster Knows He's the Favorite, illustrated by Edward Hemingway; and 101 Reasons Why I'm Not Taking a Bath, illustrated by Joy Ang. She's also authored the chapter book series Goldie Blox, based on the award-winning toys, and The Dino Files. Her debut middle grade novel, The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl, will publish in May 2018. When not writing, Stacy likes to listen to NPR, bake triple-chocolate cupcakes, and eat triple-chocolate cupcakes. Originally from upstate NY, she now lives in Kernersville, NC with her 3 kids, 3 dogs, and 1 husband.