We Are Not Eaten By Yaks: Part 3

PART THREE!

JEN: We’ve talked about how Oliver and Celia, the two main characters in We Are Not Eaten By Yaks, are hysterical characters. I think London does a great job of bringing them to life. All they want to do is watch cable TV but their parents keep signing them up for wild adventures. Last week we talked about how intense they are about wanting to watch TV but you brought up the fact that London is effective in writing characters kids can look up to even if they only want to watch endless amounts of TV. How do you think London is able to do this?

COLBY: I think that it is very important that we don’t glorify the amount of television that kids watch today. I don’t think that London does this. Oliver and Celia love television and they would watch as much as possible, but London portrays this character trait as a flaw. Reading We Are Not Eaten By Yaks, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Oliver and Celia because they were missing out on so much life because they would rather be watching television. They seem to be completely oblivious to this, but I don’t think young readers will see it that way.

JEN: When it comes to stories, I think it’s all about how the characters deal with situations and problems. It doesn’t really matter what the situation or the problem is, it’s how the characters respond. I highly doubt I will ever be thrown into the outlandish situations Celia and Oliver find themselves in – but I can think about how they use what knowledge they have and how they work together to deal with their situations and think about how I will deal with situations that are hard for me.

COLBY: I think that it would be so much fun to talk with students about how they would handle some of the situations that Celia and Oliver find themselves in.

JEN: What I think I love the most about Oliver and Celia is that they don’t really realize how smart they are. They are super smart. They know a lot and they are able to apply the information they know to help themselves survive. It isn’t until they are put to the test that they are forced to use what they know. It’s the same for kids, regular kids shouldn’t be afraid of new situations or experiences. They should be confident in what they know about the world and that they can figure things out if they have to.

COLBY: Don’t you feel like this as an adult as well? I never thought I could handle raising children, yet after 5 years I have managed to keep them fed, clothed, and alive.

JEN: Now that you say that, yes! When I was a kid, I went to my dad a lot of time for advice. He would tell me again and again: “Anything is possible, if broken down into manageable segments, stabilized by balance and purified by belief.” I heard that countless times, so much that it’s just part of who I am. I was afraid of new things when I was a kid but my dad helped me realize I shouldn’t be afraid. Today, anytime I am faced with a new challenge, I just take it step by step.

I also love that Oliver and Celia have each other. I truly believe it’s important to have at least a few people in your life who you can trust explicitly and who always have your best interest at heart. You know that when it comes down to it, they will stick by you and work with you to do what needs to be done. Oliver and Celia show readers how if they trust in themselves and each other, they can get things done.

COLBY: Don’t YOU call those type of people something like “balcony people”?

JEN: I do call those people balcony people! After listening to Steven Layne speak at IRA in Chicago this year that is. His whole speech focused on balcony people: how we each have balcony people and how we need to be balcony people for our students. Balcony people are there for you and cheer you when you need it. Oliver and Celia are there for each other, my dad has always been there for me, your parents are there for you. I also think balcony people are the people we cherish most because it feels pretty awesome when someone believes in you.

Doesn’t that make you want to be in your students balcony more than ever? I try to support my students and help them feel like they can tackle any problems and they can go after their dreams. I think there are times when kids – or adults –  need someone else to have confidence in them in order to help them build their confidence. The power of someone saying, “Why don’t you try this…” or “I think you would be great at…” is huge. It might take hearing it from one person or from many people depending on who you are. (For me, it can be one person making a suggestion, and I take off with an idea. For others, it takes time to embrace a new idea.) Either way, having someone believe in you does make a difference.

COLBY: I feel that I do my best to always be in the balcony of my students. This makes me think of the importance in helping them see what classmates they have in their balcony. It’s one thing for me to be in their balcony for fourth grade, but if they find a couple of great friends they might be in their balcony for life.

One Comment
  1. Thanks so much for this wonderful conversation! I love “balcony people”!

    In a way, Oliver and Celia don’t even realize how many of these “balcony people” they have out there who believe in them (their parents, the President of the Explorers Club, some Tibetans…and more folks as the series goes on). They have each other of course, but also, in their own way, their parents, who believe the twins are capable of great things. In fact, they believe it to such an extreme, that they are constantly putting their kids in mortal danger! I based this in part on the Victorian era explorers, who often brought their children (granted, usually older children) on their deadly adventures. It seemed to me, a bizarre parenting technique and I wondered how two modern kids might get through it. When I started writing the series, the parents had a smaller role, but I quickly realized that Oliver and Celia needed more ‘balcony people’ than just each other. Left to their own devices, they could often bring out the worst in each other, but with a little prodding, they manage to bring out the best in each other and in themselves. In a sense, these are books about family and the unique perspectives every family member can bring to bear, even if it seems at first glance, they’ve nothing to offer (this was a theme of my own childhood; I often felt, through no fault of my parents, that I was the weakest link) That, to me, is really the heart of the stories. How, even the most seemingly uninspired kid (think Milo from the Phantom Tollbooth) has the capacity for great discovery and accomplishment. Hopefully, however, most kids don’t need to be attacked by a Yeti to realize it.

    As to too much TV, I have a lot of ideas at work about this in the stories. Definitely their excess and their lack of curiosity beyond TV are presented as flaws. At the same time, when they are compelled to think critically about their TV watching, when they are compelled to engaged with it in an active way, make use of it, synthesize the knowledge into the real world, it becomes useful to them. For me, it’s about the active experience of receiving stories vs. the passive. There are all kinds of literacy in the book–visual literacy, written, and oral literacy, and they hear stories in all kinds of ways–myths, rumors, actual books, and television. All these modes of story have a valid role to play in Oliver and Celia’s adventure, because, in life, all kinds of storytelling can play an active and positive role (even TV). My hope (and you’ll have to read on in the series to see if this works out) is not that Oliver and Celia will give up TV altogether, but that they will give up passivity and cynicism. Of course, the conflict between their passivity and their cynicism and all the wonderful and dangerous things that happen to them is where most of the comedy comes from, so you know…it ain’t going away so easily!

    Also, as a formerly reluctant reader, I wanted to celebrate kids like I had been. At 11, it would have taken a lot more than a Yeti attack to get me to read a book for fun. But, through twists and turns of my own, I found my way to a reading life. I wonder what twists and turns it will take for Oliver and Celia to get there?

    Thanks for the chat. I’m glad you enjoyed the book! Look out for book 3 in the series, We Give a Squid a Wedgie, in March 2013!!

    Happy Summer everyone!

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