True (…sort of) by Katherine Hannigan
Middle Grade Fiction
April 26, 2011
True (…sort of)by Katherine Hannigan is the author’s newest book and it is another hit! Every middle grade teacher should consider purchasing it for a new read aloud for their classroom. Your students will love the characters, and you will be provided with some great discussion points. (kids who look like boy/girl, sibling rivalry/love, good secrets vs. bad secrets,
Main character Delly Pattison is endearing and as a former teacher, really hit true. Delly isn’t a bad kid, but she’s been told she is so many times, she has given up on herself. With just a little encouragement and some help from her younger brother and another unlikely friend, Delly realizes that she does have good in herself and that she doesn’t always have to be ‘bad’.
In the back of the book there is a Dellyictionary to define all the words that Delly has invented. I think my favorite is Dellyventure (an adventure of the best sort) but its an awfully close tie with the Nocussictionary (a dictionary of words to replace cuss words).
Ferris Boyd is not like anyone Delly has ever met before. Ferris doesn’t talk and it’s awfully hard to tell if Ferris is a boy or girl. The confusion over Ferris’ gender causes more than one person to embarrass themselves and get in trouble.
I love every single character in this book. Delly Pattison, Ferris Boyd, brother RB, Officer Tibbets, and others are so believable that I was able to imagine them as people I might know or meet. There are no perfect people, everyone has their foibles, and these characters are no different. From Delly’s father to the busy-body grocery clerk, Hannigan has captured their quirks and the essence of them in such a way that any reader can’t help but want to know them better.
Below is the Q and A with author Katherine Hannigan on the Amazon site that I really enjoyed reading as well.
A Q&A with Author Katherine Hannigan
In your debut novel Ida B
, Ida B declares, “There is never enough time for fun.” I suspect Delly, your protagonist in True (…Sort Of)
would say the same thing—except fun for Miss Pattison often leads to trouble. What draws you to such fun-loving characters such as these two?
Hannigan: First, there’s this: In my experience, most children expect life to be fun, and they are constantly on the prowl for it. Delly and Ida B are just experts at finding it.
But there’s this, too: When I’m writing a story, I spend a long, long time with the characters—Ida B took one and a half years to write, True (…Sort Of) took longer. So if I’m going to spend that much time with somebody, she has to be fun.
And finally, there’s this: Life can be tough, and there are some tough times in these stories. Fun helps temper the tough times. A lot.
Q: Ida B was written in first-person, but in True (…Sort Of) you write from a third-person-omniscient perspective—and on top of that you’re focusing on two characters, Delly and Brud. How was the experience of writing this time around different from writing Ida B?
Hannigan: There’s something wonderful about writing in the first person—knowing a character so completely, and seeing the world through her eyes and with her heart (especially if she’s someone like Ida B). There’s a real flow to the plot, too, when I’m only considering one character’s point of view. But that’s the limitation of writing in the first person—the world is only as big as that character’s perception.
The great thing about writing a story in the third person is that the world is as big as you want it to be. You can go wherever any of the characters go, you can understand what any of them is feeling. The hard thing about that, though, is it can get pretty complicated. In True, I wanted the reader to know a town, and lots of the people in it. I especially wanted the reader to know four kids: Delly, Brud, RB, and Ferris Boyd. And I wanted to show how the four of them, with all their troubles and their talents, could come to be friends and sort of save one another. To do that really well, I needed to write True in the third person. It was harder than writing in first person, and it sure took longer, but it was worth it.
Q: In both novels, a favorite teacher plays a significant role in the course of the story—offering wisdom and encouragement at important times. Is there a teacher from elementary school that filled that role for you?
Hannigan: I write about great teachers like Ms. Washington (in Ida B) and Lionel Terwilliger (in True) because I know how important teachers are. On any weekday, many children will spend more time with their teacher than with their parents. And so much learning is happening in school—not just cognitive or motor stuff, but social and ethical stuff, too. When a teacher’s really good, kids are learning things like how to be decent people, how to do the right thing after doing lots of wrongs, and how to help one another be their best. Not all the teachers in my stories are great, or even good. I focus on the wonderful ones, though, because that’s what I’d wish for every kid, every day.
I also write about teachers like Ms. Washington and Lionel Terwilliger because while I’m writing, I get to spend time with them, and they are wonderful to be around. That’s one of the gifts of writing.
Q: You don’t shy away from tough issues (abuse, cancer) in your novels. Do you ever struggle with how to approach such troublesome issues for a younger audience?
Hannigan: Not really. Maybe because I don’t see them as “issues.” I see them as hard things that have happened to lots of people, including me and the folks I know. I realize that kids have hard things happen in their lives all the time.
What I am careful about is making sure that my characters’ reactions to difficulties are genuine. They all struggle, and handle things imperfectly, just like me and everybody I know. But they all have hearts that help them figure out what’s right and good, as I believe we all do. And I’m careful to surround all the hard times with humor and with love, because I think that’s what saves us.
Life is beautiful and wonderful and amazing. And sometimes it’s awful and ugly. In my stories, I hope I’m showing kids (and maybe grownups, too) some of the ways we can be more aware of the wonderful, and come away from the awful better than we were before.
Q: In Delly’s world a “surpresent” is a present that is a surprise (the best ever, she says). What would be your best “surpresent” ever?
Hannigan: Well, I was going to answer, “My cats,” because there are five of them, and all of them started as strays. So they were all surprises, and they are all presents (although sometimes I wonder about Tinken, who is 3/4 cat and 1/4 hellion). But I think the best surpresent ever was learning that I could write stories, because I didn’t know that until I was almost 40-years-old. Then I wrote Ida B and it was one of the best times of my life. So that was a great and wonderful surprise.