Anne: Hello, James! Welcome to MG Book Village. I’m excited to chat with you about your new novel, The Second Chance of Benjamin Waterfalls. The book hit shelves on April 19th and I loved reading it. Would you please give readers a super-brief summary of the story?
James: Hello Anne! This book is about second chances. Not only getting them, but also giving them. Benny receives a second chance to turn his life around, and in turn, ends up giving his dad a second chance to become the father he needs to be.
Anne: Great. It’s such a heartfelt story. And there’s a lot of humor here! Characters tell jokes and riddles and play good-natured tricks on one another. What about you? Are you a jokester? Do you have a silly sense of humor? Are any of the characters based on you?
James: I guess I am a bit of a jokester. I try to find the humor in all situations. Sometimes that’s very difficult and nearly impossible, but the point is too look for it, not to find it. I think most problems, not all, but most problems would be solved if we approached them with humor and a sense of trying to find a common ground with people. And now that I am a dad, I see that humor is one of the most precious qualities we are born with, and as we grow up, some of it fades away. With this book, I am trying to reel it back towards the adults in this story. We should not only learn to laugh more, but we should make a huge effort in trying to make other people laugh more.
Benny, in a way, is based on me. I stole a lot as a kid. And like him, I was given a second chance to straighten up.
Anne: Oh, interesting. And it’s lucky for all of us that you straightened up and started writing fiction! Now, Benny is Ojibwe but grew up speaking English, and as he learns a few Ojibwe words, so do readers. Did you grow up speaking Ojibwe, or did you have to research the language to write this novel?
James: I grew up speaking only English, but as I got older, I really wanted to reconnect with my blood. So I made it a mission to learn anishinaabemowin. Now, I am teaching it to my son, Wolf. But he has a young spongy brain, so it’s more like he is teaching it to me.
Anne: Somewhere I read that you were raised in California and now live in Massachusetts. Why did you set the story in Minnesota? What is it about the city of Duluth and the remote area of Grand Portage that made Minnesota the right setting for Benny’s story?
James: The book is set in Minnesota because that is where all my relatives are from. My mom was born and raised there, so now I try to go back as often as I can. It is a part of me now.
Anne: One of the story’s themes is that inside each of us we’ll find both a superhero and a villain; Benny must struggle to wake up his inner superhero. When you started writing, did you set out to incorporate this theme, or did it emerge along the way? How long did it take you to write Benny’s story?
James: I have always believed that each person has a superhero inside of them, as well as a villain. As we grow up, we tend to listen to one and ignore the other. My hope is that people will read my book and decide to listen to their superhero.
Writing this book was rather quick. A few months is all it took. I had a lot of superhero experiences to pull from, and I admit, I also had a lot of villainous experience to draw from too.
Anne: Love it. Before we end, I want to tell readers that your first MG novel was titled The Brave and came out in 2020.
Readers who like The Second Chance of Benjamin Waterfalls will like that one, too. It’s a great story! And my question is: will you be writing more novels for middle grade readers? What are you working on now?
James: Yes. I will be writing many more middle grade books. My third book, No Place Like Home, will be out in spring 2023.
Anne: Awesome. Can’t wait to read it! Finally, please tell readers where they can go to learn more about you and your work.
Anne: Thank you so much for stopping by MG Book Village, and for writing such heartfelt novels for middle grade readers!
James: Great to be here!
James Bird is an Ojibwe author (The Brave, The Second Chance of Benjamin Waterfalls) as well as an award winning filmmaker (Eat Spirit Eat, From Above, Honeyglue, We Are Boats, Wifelike). But in his words, his greatest accomplishment is being a father to his son, Wolf. When he’s not writing, he spends most of his time rescuing animals and painting in the basement with his son. He lives in Massachusetts with his wife, fellow author Adriana Mather. His next book will be released in spring, 2023, and is titled No Place Like Home.
Anne (A.B.) Westrick is today’s MG Book Village interviewer. She’s the author of the older-MG novel Brotherhood. You can learn more about her at https://abwestrick.com/