Kathie: Welcome to MG Book Village, MaryLou! I’m so glad I have a chance to chat with you about your upcoming book, SIXTIES GIRL, which comes out April 11th from Heritage House. Can you give us a brief synopsis of it, please?
MaryLou: Thanks for having me Kathie. I’m a big fan of MG Book Village and I’m so excited you wanted to talk about my new novel with me.
Sixties Girl has two narrators, Will and his grandma, Laura. Will is a nearly twelve-year-old boy whose parents have decided he needs to spend Wednesdays after school at his grandmother’s apartment. Will is not happy about this arrangement. But when his grandma starts telling him stories about her childhood in the 1960s, he is intrigued. Will is experiencing friendship troubles at school and Grandma’s stories just might inspire him to find a way to work them out.
Kathie: Will’s grandma shares several stories with him throughout their Wednesday afternoons. Is there a story that your own family enjoys hearing about your childhood?
MaryLou: One favourite story is about how an aunt of mine responded when she encountered a mouse during a family holiday at my grandparents’ lakeside cottage. Another is about a big April snowstorm we had in Manitoba when I was ten years old. I wrote a report about it as a class assignment and my grade five teacher submitted it to the local paper and they published it! It was the first time I felt like a real writer! I use bits of both of those stories in Sixties Girl.
Kathie: I really loved reading local references and related to many of the details from Laura’s early life (so much has changed!!) What are some ways you think we can make historical fiction engaging and interesting for young readers?
MaryLou: I don’t think we need to worry kids won’t be engaged with stories from the past. If we tell those stories in a direct and personal way, the very fact that so much HAS changed will intrigue children. At the beginning of the pandemic when we couldn’t see our two grandsons in person, my son asked my husband and me if during our FaceTime chats we would tell the boys stories from our childhoods. We couldn’t believe how interested and attentive our grandsons were as we shared our memories. Even now, three years later, they still often mention those stories because they made such an impression. I was working on Sixties Girl when the pandemic started and our experience with our grandsons affirmed my hunch that kids might be really interested in stories from half a century ago.
Kathie: Will’s relationships with his friends and his grandma grow stronger by the end of the novel. What do you hope that middle-grade readers take away from that?
MaryLou: Will has come through some really bad experiences with friends in the past and that has led him to doubt his own ability to make new friends and keep them. I want readers to know they can always make new beginnings with new friends who will appreciate them.
I’m hoping the book might prompt kids to ask their own grandparents to tell them stories about their childhood and that sharing those stories will provide a meaningful way for the generations to connect.
One other thing I hope kids learn is that relationships with older relatives aren’t necessarily exclusive. In the book, Will’s friends end up having a great relationship with Grandma Laura too.
Kathie: What can you tell us about the book’s cover, and were you involved in the design process?
MaryLou: The cover was designed by Setareh Ashrafologhalai. Although she is not the same designer who created the cover for my first novel, Lost on the Prairie, the team at Heritage House wanted to maintain a similar kind of look and feel for the Sixties Girl cover since some characters in the two novels overlap. I did get to have some involvement in the design process. Initially, the cover showed Laura holding a stack of books in her arms. I asked Setareh to replace the books with a suitcase since each of the stories Laura tells her grandson Will are associated with an object he chooses from a suitcase filled with his grandma’s sixties’ souvenirs. I think Setareh did a great job of giving the suitcase a real Sixties look.
Kathie: You mention a teaching/reading guide on your website for educators to use. Can you give us an example of one of the ideas we’d find in it?
MaryLou: One of my suggestions is making a book bento. In the study guide for Sixties Girl, I share some of the terrific teaching ideas I’ve discovered while visiting classrooms where students and teachers were using my first book Lost on the Prairie for novel studies. One class at John W. Gunn Middle School in Winnipeg had made a book bento for my novel. A bento is a Japanese lunch box with the food items arranged creatively in different sections. You make a book bento by selecting objects that are meaningful to the story and placing them artistically around a novel. Students nominate objects and then debate which four or five best convey the events and themes of the story. They design a book bento with the winning objects.
Kathie: What’s something Will would want me to ask him about this book if I was interviewing him?
MaryLou: What did you learn about your Grandma Laura from her Sixties stories that you never knew before? How did hearing those stories change the way you thought about your grandma and thought about yourself? After hearing your grandma’s stories, are you glad you live in 2023 or do you think it would have been better to live in the 1960s? In what ways is your childhood the same and in what ways is it different from your grandmother’s?
Kathie: Where can we go to learn more about you and your writing?
MaryLou: I have a website for my books maryloudriedger.com but I also have a daily blog called What Next? You can find it at https://maryloudriedger2.wordpress.com. It has sections for both my first novel Lost on the Prairie and for Sixties Girl. I am also on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
Kathie: Thanks so much for telling us more about SIXTIES GIRL, and all the best with your book’s release.
MaryLou: Thanks so much for inviting me to be included in the MG Book Village and thanks for all these great questions Kathie. They really made me think about my book in new ways.
MARYLOU DRIEDGER’s curiosity and love of learning have taken her to some fifty
destinations across the globe. As an educator, she has taught in three different countries and
is the recipient of a Manitoba Teacher of the Year award. She is the author of Lost on the
Prairie, and has been a columnist for Winnipeg Free Press and The Carillon. Her freelance
work has been published in numerous periodicals, anthologies, travel guides, institutional
histories, and curriculums. MaryLou chronicles her adventures on her popular daily blog,