Chapter 16
A Community of Tennessee Writers, Readers & Passersby

Five Times the Fun

Jessica Young talks with Chapter 16 about her book for young readers—and the four other books she’s bringing out this year, too

Last year was a good one for children’s author Jessica Young, whose debut picture book, My Blue is Happy, received the 2014 Marion Vannett Ridgway Award, given annually to an author or illustrator whose first picture book is deemed an “outstanding” one. But this year is set to be even better: Young will debut a chapter-book series about Finley Flowers, a third-grader never short on ideas. Finley Flowers: Original Recipe, the first volume, will be on shelves February 1. Prior to her launch party at Parnassus Books in Nashville, Young answered questions by email about the new series and what else she’s cookin’ up.

Chapter 16: Let’s start with the reception to your debut picture book, My Blue is Happy. What did it mean to you to receive so many awards for your writing, including the Ridgway Award, the 2014 Charlotte Zolotow Highly Commended Title, and inclusion on Bank Street’s 2014 Best Books list?

Jessica Young: I’m so honored to have my book recognized and included on lists with books I love and admire. While I was writing it, I tried to focus on the story. I hoped readers would respond to it, but I couldn’t think about that too much—I would have been paralyzed in the process if I had. As with a lot of things I attempt, I had to keep telling myself, “Don’t look down.” But having people read the book and connect with it and respond positively made me think, “Maybe I can do this.”

Chapter 16: Finley Flowers is your first chapter-book series. What were some of the challenges, if any, of moving from picture-book texts to longer stories for young readers?

Young: Thinking in terms of chapter arcs and chapter endings rather than page turns, and keeping in mind that the book would be read by independent young readers (at least a lot of the time), was different. The seeds of each Finley book started in what I’d thought was a single book. Every chapter had a different setting and plot—it was totally packed! Thankfully, a critique partner suggested that Finley might be better as a series, prompting me to break up the chapters into distinct books, which made a lot more sense. I have vivid memories of being Finley’s age, so it’s been really fun getting to spend a lot of time with her and her friends.

Chapter 16: Finley is exceedingly creative. Did you base the character on any creative girls or women you know?

Young: I didn’t set out to intentionally, but I’m surrounded by a lot of creative people who’ve definitely influenced me. I’ve been an art teacher for a long time, and over the years I’ve seen students come up with so many great ideas. And my own kids are a constant source of inspiration. Every day they’re thinking up inventions, stories, drawings, and games. They’ve always got a new product, book, or building in development.

Chapter 16: Can you talk about the series as a whole—or at least what adventures await Finley in Book Two and when that one will be released?

Young: The second book, Nature Calls, comes out April 1. Finley and her friends go to summer camp for the first time. Finley can’t wait to make crafts, eat s’mores, and prove to her older brother that she’s tough and outdoorsy. But she has to share a cabin with a classmate, Olivia Snotham, who’s not a big fan of nature. When the girls get lost on the way to the restrooms, Finley’s spooky ghost story comes back to haunt them. As they work together to find a creative way home, Finley comes to appreciate Olivia in a new way and discovers that there’s more than one way to be “tough.”

The third book and fourth books will be out in the fall. New and Improved takes place during a class Invention Convention. Finley and her classmates are challenged to invent “something new that will make the world a better place.” In the fourth book, Art-rageous, Finley’s class takes a field trip to the art museum, and she and her friends create a group art project.

Chapter 16: You’ve got another picture book coming in May. What can readers expect from Spy Guy: The Not-So-Secret Agent?

Young: Spy Guy is about a sneaky little spy who keeps blowing his own cover. He’s determined to learn the secret to spying so he consults The Chief (dad). Ultimately, he learns that he has to discover the secret for himself. The wordplay was really fun to write, and I love the illustrations.

Chapter 16: What was it like to see those illustrations from Charles Santoso for the first time?

Young: It was like opening a fantastic present! I’m a really visual person, and it’s so incredible seeing my ideas brought to life visually, combined with someone else’s and interpreted with vision and skill. Charles’s interpretations were surprising in the best way possible. I feel really lucky to have had the opportunity to collaborate with him.

Chapter 16: As if publishing five books in one year weren’t enough, I have to ask: what’s next for you?

Young: I have an illustrated early chapter-book series called Haggis and Tank Unleashed, coming out in January 2016 from Scholastic Branches. In the first book, All Paws on Deck, a clumsy Great Dane and her best friend, a dapper Scottie, head out on an imaginative pirate adventure. It’s got a lot of wordplay, and it’s a new format for me, so it’s been exciting to work on. I can’t wait to see James Burks’s illustrations. His character sketches made me laugh out loud. I’m also looking forward to returning to several half-finished picture-book manuscripts and a new one that’s been calling my name.

[This interview originally appeared on January 28, 2015. It was updated to include new event information.]