A Snicker of Magic is your first book and it’s already charmed kids and adults alike. It’s currently voted #1 on this Goodreads 2015 Newbery prediction list and received this stellar review in the New York Times. Was this success foreseen in your childhood daydreams? When and how did you decide to become a writer?
Since I’ve been old enough to daydream, I’ve wanted to be a writer. But actually being a novelist definitely seemed like the kind of dream that was too good to ever come true. I still can’t believe I get to do this. I’m grateful anyone would take the time to read Snicker and overwhelmed (in a good way) by the creative ways readers have taken the book into their hearts.
I always tell students that I became a writer because I love to read. Reading was a fun escape for me that brought so much joy. But books also helped me find courage and find my voice. When I was in elementary school, I started writing short stories and poems. I’m so lucky that my parents and teachers encouraged me to keep writing. Writing gave me room to unpack my heart, to wonder and daydream in a new way. Then (and now!), I was shy about sharing my work with anyone. But I enjoyed that part of it too; I liked the thought that something I’d written could give someone a little burst of joy.
When I graduated from college, I think I believed *any* kind of writing would scrape the creative longing in my heart. I studied Journalism in college and wrote non-fiction after that. I worked at a church for a bit writing curriculum. I worked at a small publisher writing press releases. I’m grateful for all those opportunities. But writing fiction was always my first love. This sounds cheesy, but I finally realized life was too short not to at least try to share my fiction. Middle-grade novels have long been my favorite, so I’m not surprised I like writing from a young character’s perspective. I like writing hopeful, geeky characters who are brave enough to wear their hearts on their sleeves. And I like vibrant, playful language. I think both of those elements make writing middle grade fiction so creatively satisfying. Plus, I vividly remember my middle-school years. I remember the awkwardness and anxiety, and I remember the way wonder seemed to flutter at the edge of every situation.
Sometimes young readers ask me if I believe in magic. In some ways, I do. I believe love is better than magic. Or maybe I should say love is the best magic. And I believe in the kind of magic that enables you to crawl inside a book and live there for a few hundred pages. I know how to tuck memories into books like bookmarks. I know what it’s like to find courage in a story, and then press that courage against my heart, permanently, once the story is finished. Reading is an amazing magic that I’ve felt and love. And sometimes, every now and then, writing feels like magic, too.
The inspiration behind A Snicker of Magic came from one spectacular evening of seeing the Avett Brothers perform in concert. What about that experience gave you what you needed to weld together the wonderful world of Felicity Pickle and Midnight Gulch? (Bonus question: Do you have a favorite song? Mine is “January Wedding”)
I love meeting other Avett fans! And “January Wedding;” my word. My favorite lyric is: “I was sick with heartache, and she was sick like Audrey Hepburn.” The Avetts have been my favorite band for years, and I was thrilled when I finally got to see them live. As soon as the lights dimmed and the first lick of a banjo singed the air, I felt chill bumps ripple up and down my arms. The music started, and people began dancing in the aisles. They were dancing with each other. They were raising their hands and spinning in circles. People screamed out beautiful, meaningful lyrics. And it was a sweet thing to see; people who were so different, who believed different things, with so many different backgrounds, all coming together under this magical banner of music. I told my brother it felt more like a magic show than a concert, which is where an early seed for A Snicker of Magic was planted.
It wasn’t until later that I realized I’d also written Snicker because I missed my grandparents. They’ve all passed away now, but I was so close to them. My grandfather played a guitar and a banjo. Whenever my brother plays those instruments now, it’s never just music I hear. I hear sunlight and summer days and cowboy boots tapping the porch. And I remember how happy I felt whenever I was around them; what it felt like to be totally, unconditionally loved. One of my grandmothers was a talented quilter. I remember stitching together a quilt with her (she called it a “cobblestone” quilt). Then we looked through old black and white pictures, ate oatmeal cakes, and watched Double Dare. My other granny loved poetry. For Christmas one year, she gave me a stack of her favorite poetry books. She left notes in the margins about why she liked some of them, and I remember thinking it was like she’d pressed memories in the book for me to find.
Ultimately, I wrote A Snicker of Magic because I was homesick for people I love and miss. In the story, Felicity gets to experience what it’s like to hear the word “home” and think of people, not just a place. I felt that way while I was writing.
Oh! My favorite Avett Brothers song is “Swept Away.” And my heart breaks (in a good way) anytime I hear, “If it’s the Beaches.”
In A Snicker of Magic (and in life!), magic happens if we will it and believe in it. In my opinion, you have willed magic into being by writing this story. Can you share some of the responses you’ve received from kids reading your book?
Thank you so much! When a young reader tells me they actually finished the book and enjoyed it, I’m thrilled. I know readers have so much competing for their time and attention. I’m amazed they’d take the time to read Snicker, and that teachers are bringing it into their classrooms.
Several students have shown me their word collecting notebooks. One reader sent me a poem she wrote from Felicity’s perspective. A girl told me that she asked her teacher to draw Oliver’s bird tattoo on her wrist during a spelling bee, and it gave her courage. I was doing a Q&A via Skype last week, and a student said, “I don’t have a question. I just wanted to say thank you because the story gave me confidence.” That’s the sweetest thing to hear. Felicity (my main character) and I both have this in common: we’re quite shy, and fearful about many situations. And we love words, but we both know what it’s like to be afraid to share those words. I love when readers leave Midnight Gulch excited to share their voice. When they’re encouraged by the fact that their words are so important.
One of the sweetest surprises that came out of this process has to do with The Beedle. In A Snicker of Magic, The Beedle is an anonymous do-gooder who has been doing nice things all over town for 50+ years. Readers have really connected with that character. A class I met at a library presentation in Ohio told me they had a Beedle in their classroom who leaves sweet notes around the room and new books in the classroom library. When their teacher took a group photo, someone whispered in my ear, “I’m the Beedle.” Another reader emailed to tell me she was The Beedle in her hometown one weekend, and sent me pictures of some of the sweet things she did. I heard from a teacher in California that the Beedle came to her classroom this week, leaving notes and a quarter on each student’s desk so they could buy suckers. I shouldn’t be surprised young readers connect to that character; kids are kind and creative and have a way of looking for the best in a person. But I am absolutely floored by it. I love those stories so much.
If you were to submit an ice cream flavor recommendation to Dr. Zook’s Ice Cream Factory, what would the flavor be?
Fun question! I think Dr. Zook’s needs an “ice cream” for dogs. Dogs can’t have dairy, of course, so it would have to be some sort of funky concoction that looked like ice cream but was super healthy for K-9’s. I’d call it Biscuit’s Peanut Butter Banana Smash. My flavor would probably be Natalie’s Neon Strawberry-Pistachio Surprise. And it would make your smile glow in the dark for a few hours after you finish eating it.
What books did you read as a child that have stayed with you and influenced who you are today?
So many! The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe is one of my forever-favorite books. The Narnia series is so special to me. I’m a big fan of Roald Dahl, especially The Witches. And I still have the entire Anne of Green Gables series in a special place on my bookshelf. I love that series so much that my parents saved up and took my family on a road trip to Prince Edward Island when I was in college. I also adored The Babysitters’ Club. That series made me a voracious reader.
What books are currently on your TBR pile?
Some books on my TBR mountain include: Amber Turner’s Circa Now, Aaron Starmer’s The Riverman, and Jess Keating’s How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes Are Untied. I’m also so lucky to have read an early copy of Mike Curato’s picture book Little Elliot in the Big City. It’s a dreamy, beautiful book about friendship (and how just one true friendship can make you feel at home in an intimidating place). I can’t wait to share it with people I love. What about your TBR pile?
RDZ: I haven’t read any of those yet! They all look awesome! A few days ago I finished Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful book. Up next is Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms by Katherine Rundell and The Turtle of Omar by Naomi Shihab Nye.
When you close your eyes and imagine the most fantastical, spindiddly library, what does that dream library look like?
My mind always goes to a fairytale place, like the library in Beauty and the Beast. I imagine rolling ladders and spiral staircases. I imagine a library where shelves hide secret rooms … with even more books to discover. The library would have painted murals of my favorite scenes in books. And a few dogs who live in the library, of course, and cuddle beside patrons while they read. And window seats where you can hide away on a rainy day.
Really though, I think any library is magical. I love small-town libraries with creaky doors and cracked windows. And I like big-city libraries with mile-high shelves and worn-out books. I think library cards are as precious as passports.
You and I are going to be neighbors soon! I’m moving to your hometown of Chattanooga, Tennessee in June. Is there any magic I should be aware of that lives in those city streets?
There’s so much magic in this city! You’ll see golden dance steps embedded into the sidewalks downtown. You’ll find quirky, delightful treats at places like Milk & Honey, Clumpies, and Rembrandts (I also think the Banana Bread French Toast at Food Works is magical). One of my favorite magical spots is the carousel in Coolidge Park. It’s truly a work of art.
And not everybody will agree with me, but I’m a total nerd for Rock City. I have a yearly pass. It’s so fun; especially around the holidays. They open it at night and string it with thousands of lights. You’ll feel like you’re surrounded by stars.
If you had Felicity Pickle’s sight of words hanging in the air, what words are hovering over you this very moment?
Pioneer is actually my word for this year. I don’t do New Year’s resolutions, but my sister and I always pick a word to embrace for the year. We usually don’t know it on January 1 … we wait and watch for the *right* word. A word that seems to echo in books, conversations, just random places. This year my word is pioneer. As I said, I’m quite shy and fearful (like Felicity Pickle). But I love the idea of bravely stepping into new places, and new adventures. My friend Kristen just made me this funky little art out of old typewriter keys:
She dug through a barrel in an antique store trying to find the letters she wanted. She said it was so exciting, to have ink up to her elbows. Like she was covered in stories. I love that image.
How can the lovely people reading this interview keep follow all things Natalie Lloyd in internetland?
I have a blog (currently functioning as my website) here: http://natalielloyd.blogspot.com
And I love to tweet pictures of my dog, Biscuit: twitter.com/_natalielloyd
And I also have an author page on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Natalie-Lloyd/488497067936134
Thank you for taking time to chat about all things writing, books, and magic!
Thanks so much for inviting me over to your blog, Rebecca! I can’t wait to have coffee with you! Welcome to Chattanooga!
A Snicker of Magic
by Natalie Lloyd
Published: Scholastic (February 2014)
Recommended reading age: 8 & up
In a nutshell: Two nights ago, there was a lightning storm like nothing I’ve ever seen. The sky was flashing as fast as a strobe light. So much electricity flying around up in those dark clouds. Reading A Snicker of Magic was like watching that night sky.
“They say some people could catch stars in Mason jars. And some people could sing up thunderstorms and some could dance up sunflowers. Some people could bake magic into a pie, make folks fall in love, or remember something good, or forget something bad. Some people had a magic for music…”
I first read A Snicker of Magic before moving to the south back in March. It was a coincidence when I picked it up form the library before we had decided to move to Chattanooga. So, it was serendipitous to find out the author, Natalie Lloyd, hailed from there. It was also served in a lot of ways as a tiny catalyst in deciding to move. Twelve-year-old Felicity Pickle, along with her mom, sister, and dog have had their fair share of moving around. Their next home-place-of-the-moment is Midnight Gultch, Tennessee, a place of magical origins and also her mother’s hometown. But the magic no longer lingers in the streets. It’s lost. A curse removed all the magic, and what remains is a town of the ghosts of what was. But there is more magic in that small town than meets the eye and it starts with it’s residents. This is especially true of newcomer Felicity who can see words hanging, buzzing, spinning, dancing and what have you in places or over people’s heads and keeps them in a notebook. The Beedle, the mysterious town do-gooder who leaves gifts and tokens with the townspeople when least expected. And the delicious Dr. Zook’s ice cream that stays cold for 24 hours and a flavor, Blackberry Sunrise, that has a curious way of surfacing old memories.
Reading this book is like listening to a ballad. The writing is magic itself, and as I read more and more about Felicity, her family, and Midnight Gultch I fell in love with the characters and the story.
I fear this review does not do this book justice. It is something you have to experience yourself.
Extras: Visit Natalie Lloyd at her blog home!
This blog post about the incredible response from kids and adults who have read A Snicker of Magic.
BEST PART! TOMORROW! On the blog: An interview with the wonderful Natalie Lloyd!!!
I can hardly wait!
Less than a week after moving to Chattanooga (with a rendezvous family wedding in Michigan miraculously pulled off in between) I started my first day of work. It was a Monday. My husband drove me to work with both kids in the back. It was my first time going back to work since having Mira, so I was feeling a bit sad about leaving them and also excited for everything the day held. “Here we go!”I said more to myself than anyone as I hopped out of the car and kissed my family goodbye. That morning, I was asked if I would help host a maker party for the mayor in celebration of National Maker Day on The 4th Floor on Wednesday.
And that happened.
My first week pretty much sums up what it’s been like working at Chattanooga Public Library this past month.
A lot happens. Fast.
The next week, I opened up the shades as wide as the would go in the Kids Room and looked at the space with fresh eyes. I’ve been talking with the people who visit and doing my best at digesting everything that comes my way. Justin, my manager, is my translator and cheerleader.
As a way to introduce and immerse myself, I started doing Spontaneous Storytime. When I have a spare moment, I wear a sign around that says, “Ask me to read you a story!” The moments have been sporadic with so much going on lately, but every time I wear the sign a child or caregiver takes me up on the offer. To be continued.
Sure I have times I miss my friends. I doubt myself. I miss being home with my kids. I feel like THIS on occasion.
But then I have days that I feel confident and gutsy and more at ease in my new library home.
Our End of Summer Party, wrapping up CPL’s Make.Play.Read.Learn program, was a hit. Hundreds of patrons came out to visit the Downtown Library’s 2nd Floor. On the tween/teen side, there was a full out “Fancore Finale” with cosplay, My Little Pony, Disney, Tim Burton… All the good things run by Megan and Jessie. The Kids Room had science experiments, games, a dance party disco with the Frozen soundtrack on repeat, a “Make a Thingamajig” table with various recycle items, among many other fun and engaging activities.
I organized a “Spin Art” station, which included record player art (an idea I borrowed from my daughter’s former preschool in Lawrence) and salad spinner art (a tried and true favorite project).
With summer in the rear view mirror I’m finally able to start digging into the programming goals I hope to implement. The other day I covered for my coworker’s Lego Club at the last minute. I started having the kids dictate their stories of what they were making to me. I have done this with my daughter for awhile now and my co-conspirator and library soul sister, the brilliant Cate Levinson (Storytiming) has been doing something similar in her library. As I wrote down these imaginative narrations, magic happened. The kids who were playing individually, started playing as one, blending their stories into one. In that moment, I felt connected to my young patrons and full of possibility. A librarian I very much look up to said something I think about every day at work. She said, “Start with the community and their points of need and let that guide the agenda.”
Here we go.
My intention was to write this before leaving, but as many of you know… When you move NOTHING ever goes according to plan. And once you get to where you are going, it takes awhile to find your footing. We moved in early June to Chattanooga and this is me finally sitting down to write my farewell to Lawrence. Or as so many of us from the area endearingly refer to it, LFK.
What I will miss…
The best part of Lawrence. Hands down. Compassionate, creative, laid back, and proud of where they are from. We fell in love with our friends here.
Summertime in Lawrence
When the students leave town for the summer and the dust settles, the townies come out full-throttle. The Annual Sidewalk Sale mob scene, Tad’s shaved ice, Play Days at The Replay, cooling off at the Wading Pool in South Park, the farmer’s market, Wednesday evening music in the park, cold ginger beer from the new soda shop… It’s my favorite time of the year in Lawrence.
Locals walk the alleys to get to where they are going. It’s our own secret passage to get to where we are going without having to mingle with the “other folks”.
Free State Beer
Oldest brewery in Kansas. Best beer ever. Hands down.
This Sunflower Field
The anticipation of waiting for that perfect day in September when Gritner Farm’s sunflower field is in bloom.
The Local Bookstores & Literary Scene
Lawrence has an awesome presence of indie bookstores. The Raven, The Dusty Bookshelf, Signs of Life, The Toy Store, Astrokitty… All stellar in their own right. My buddy Rachel wrote a great article a month ago for Bookriot about the literary scene in Lawrence.
My hood. Where people prefer dandelions and chickens running around to neatly mowed yards. This pretty much sums up East Lawrence.
For being a town of a little under 90,000 residents, Lawrence sure does have a lot of awesome museums. The Lawrence Arts Center, The Watkins Museum of History, The Spenser Art Museum, The KU Natural History Museum are just a few of the favorites we’d often visit on cold or rainy days.
Mass Street Culture
This could probably be an umbrella for a lot of the above. But I’m going to list it here anyway. Mass Street is the heart of Lawrence. Everything you need is in several blocks and neighboring streets. Liberty Hall, the Pig, Love Garden, AstroKitty, 715, The Toy Store, The Sandbar, stellar bookstores, The MUSIC! The ART! All of it! I could drink it up in one big gulp!
The place where college basketball was born. The energy that fills the air in February and March (and let’s be real, October, November, December, January too). Rockchalk Jayhawk.
This goes up with the first category of “the people”. There are some really incredible people with good hearts that work in this joint. I’ve been cheerleading from a distance as the remodel comes to a close and Lawrence Public Library will welcome the community back into it’s building for the first time in a couple years. I wish I could be there to see the patrons’ faces. Good luck to you all on the new venture! Not a day goes by that I don’t think of you or the library families that are so incredibly supportive.
I will end this by quoting Pooh. The Winnie the Pooh. That silly old bear has a way of summing up all my feelings into one thought.
“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”
And the Langston Hughs words that are in front of City Hall:
“We have tomorrow / Bright before us / Like a flame.”
I love you, LFK.
Hi there! I’m here! It’s been a bit of a whirlwind the past few weeks! Moving to Tennessee, family wedding, new job, first time getting back to work after having a baby… The whole kit and caboodle. There will be catch up time here on the blog in the future, but for now a brief post. I had the absolute pleasure of speaking in Vegas at the ALA Annual Conference with Library as Incubator Project and Jessica Pigza, author of Bibliocraft, for our session about book inspired art programs in the library, Create & Connect @ your library. The fine folks at LAIP and Jessica Pigza are pure gold when it comes to inspiration, and I find them to be such incredible resources. During the session I shared a bit about my Pages to Projects initiative to introduce kids to art through picture books and projects, and I have included the slides from my part during that session here. For those of you who were there, thank you so much for the conversation and kind words. It was wonderful meeting so many fabulous folks! Library people are the best.