First my updated "elevator pitch" review of Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman.
Book Scavenger is a gripping multi layered mystery best suited for ages eight and up based in San Francisco. This amazing series is for anyone who is brave enough to be open to secret discoveries about San Francisco while they rediscover the infinite joys of books, ingenious codes, the crucial role of games, baffling puzzles and a love of the art of language in this quirky, funny, empowering and insightful series.
Now, It is my distinct honor to finally be interviewing one of my youth literature heroes, Jennifer Chambliss Bertman, author of the Book Scavenger series.
Oh wait, you have a chance to see the brilliant Bertman, and yours Drewly in person!!!
Unfortunately the scavenger hunt is only for kids not yet in high school, what a hella major bummer.
Let me scavenge a memory from my recent past, all the way Back in 2015 Yours Drewly, was part of the American Bookseller Association Indies Introduce New Voices panel. The panel and I surveyed over 40 debut author advanced reader books (books before they are published)! The one that I loved most by far was Bertman's debut story aptly named Book Scavenger!
When the panel was done and Book Scavenger won unanimously and was picked a top ten finalist, I somehow got the chance to call her. I left a bewildered and amazed message on her voicemail. When she called me back I about lost it with joy.
I don't remember much about the content of the conversation just the special context and the awesome memories of that time and panel. That panel was full of interesting converstations about 43 books that haven't had much "staying of shelves power", only Book Scavenger and a little soap opera queen book called Everything Everything came out worthy of reading after the panel. Weeks of reading and one book was worthy of my time. Weird. Luckily kids books for all ages have become super worthy of my time since! The book also marked a turn around in my personal view on life, and I have been a more enthusiastic Book Scavenger (in my case bookseller) ever since.
Proof I was on the panel (though at a different bookstore) is here.
Without further rambling, (I will save that rambling for later) i will now have my first and hopefully not last interview with Jennifer Chambliss Bertman.
My questions are in bold.
Please introduce Book Scavenger in your own words.
Book Scavenger is an adventurous mystery set in San Francisco about two friends who discover an Edgar Allan Poe book that they think was hidden as part of the Book Scavenger game they play, but they soon realize is actually the beginning of a brand-new game designed by the eccentric book publisher and creator of Book Scavenger, Garrison Griswold. Mr. Griswold was attacked and hospitalized before he could announce or launch his latest game, and once Emily and James realize what they've found they attempt to solve the trail of puzzles Mr. Griswold left behind, not realizing his attackers know about the hidden Poe book and are after it too.
What were the top three influences for Book Scavenger?
I spent ten years writing Book Scavenger so as you can imagine I had a lot of different things influencing me over that span of time, and it would be impossible for me to rank them. But here are three:
1. Favorite books from my childhood, in particular: The Westing Game, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and The Egypt Game. I loved adventurous mysteries set in a contemporary real world with characters who were fairly average kids like me. I loved how puzzles were incorporated into The Westing Game, I loved how a famous location and historical facts were part of the story in From the Mixed-Up Files, and I loved how siblings and friends banded together for both their game and then solving their problems in The Egypt Game. You can find all of those elements in Book Scavenger as well, and I’d credit those stories as the influence.
2. Masquerade by Kit Williams. This was a picture book published in 1979 that had clues hidden within the pages that led to a golden hare that was hidden somewhere in England. The book started a treasure-hunting phenomenon as people attempted to figure out what the clues were and where the treasure was located. I learned about this during the course of writing Book Scavenger and it was a big influence for me in how I imagined Garrison Griswold and his plans.
3. Goonies. This is one of my favorite movies, both as a kid and a grown-up, for similar reasons to why I liked the books listed in #1. During moments working on Book Scavenger when I felt like I’d lost my way or steered the story off course, I played the theme music to Goonies on repeat and it always brought me back to the tone and spirit I was trying to capture.
How did you create book scavenger? What are some highlights from that process?
It was a long process that involved eight different drafts. The first four drafts were like writing an entirely new book, really, but using the same concept and characters each time. After the fourth draft, I had a handle on the characters and story I was trying to tell. Then it was a matter of finessing my storytelling by scrutinizing my pacing, working on character development, questioning each scene and the purpose it served in the story. Getting feedback from trusted readers along the way was also integral to my process, as well as reading books that I adore and that inspire me, like Shakespeare's Secret by Elise Broach.
How did you create the dynamic duo of Book Scavenger’s young protagonists Emily and James?
For me, writing characters is a lot like making friends and, as it can be with friends, getting to know each character is its own process. Sometimes you fall so easily into a friendship you don't even realize it's happening, other times it takes patience and dedication. With Emily and James, I had an idea of who they were in the beginning but it took me awhile to feel like I really understood them.
Now that I know them, I would say James disarmed Emily with his humor and lack of self-consciousness--she didn't get a chance to put up the guards she's used to having in place when she moves somewhere new. Emily also can't resist an intriguing puzzle or mystery and that's what James represented to her, at first. Literally--he presented her with a puzzle--but she'd also never met anyone quite like him, a person who delivers messages via a pail-and-pulley system and who has anthropomorphized his cowlick. I think they formed such an immediate and strong bond because they have the right balance of shared interests to provide a common ground, and differences that challenge each other to grow and keep things interesting.
How would you compare Willy Wonka and Garrison Griswold?
I would say Willy Wonka is more mischievous and childlike than Garrison Griswold. I also can't imagine Willy Wonka mixing very well in society outside his chocolate factory setting. Garrison Griswold is very rooted in the real world--he turned a small publishing venture into a successful company that he continues to run to this day. But he has a big heart and a strong spirit of play. Amidst a life of grown-up responsibilities and pressures, he has remained attached—and stubbornly so--to his childhood self. I think he feels it’s essential for his own well-being, and I think part of why he plans such elaborate games is that he feels it’s essential for everyone else’s well-being too.
Why is San Francisco the setting for Book Scavenger?
The simple answer is I was living there, in Emily and James's neighborhood, when I started writing the book. I also grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and have always had a connection and fascination with the city. San Francisco has always struck me as a setting rich with potential for adventurous mysteries, but I hadn't seen it used very often in middle grade books.
Life is a game and books are the tokens. Garrison Griswold, please explain this quote?
Greetings, scavengers! What these words boil down to, for me, is this: READ! Whether you read for pleasure or knowledge or distraction or inspiration or a myriad more reasons, it will enrich your life in ways you cannot imagine.
Please List and explain your favorite two passage (quotes) from book scavenger?
I love the exchange Emily and James have when they first meet. It makes me laugh, and I feel like it captures them and their relationship well:
Emily didn't know what to make of this guy. He wore reindeer antlers and delivered puzzle challenges via a rusty old sand pail. He seemed genuinely offended that she might have thought he'd stolen her notebook, but he still seemed friendly. Even the cowlick on the back of his head stuck up like a wing waving hello.
"Are you hypnotized by my hair?" James asked.
Emily felt her face heat up, but James waved her off.
"It's cool. He likes the attention."
"His name is Steve."
"Your cowlick is named Steve?"
"I was going to name him Geronimo, but that seemed ridiculous," James said.
As for a second passage that I like, well, writing these lines was very satisfying both because it's the end and I also feel like they subtly wrap up the arc of personal growth Emily goes through in the story:
"You ready, Em?"
And she was. She was ready to lean into their next adventure.
Your book is a clever literary love letter to books and indie bookstores as well as a love letter to San Francisco that is a fantastic book for readers of all ages. What is it that makes your stories so relatable to readers of all ages?
I'm happy to hear you think my stories are relatable to readers of all ages! I imagine this question would best be answered by readers themselves rather than me speculating, but I will speculate nonetheless. J While writing Book Scavenger and The Unbreakable Code I was attempting to write something that would have been the ultimate book for me when I was young--not just a story I would have liked, but a story I would have obsessed over. And also, with everything I write, I always try to please my present-day, grown-up self, so perhaps it's because I had both the adult and child me in mind as I was writing the story?
How do you write? What is your relationship with writer’s block?
That's interesting that you used the word "relationship" because that's really what writer’s block is like, for me at least. It's an evolving back-and-forth dance that will change depending on the day, my mood, what part of a story I'm working on. Many, many years ago when I felt stuck in a story, I thought that said something negative about me as a writer. I must not be a "real" writer. "Real" writers have this all figured out, therefore, no writer's block. Now I don’t take it personally and plunge forward and eventually I find my way.
What do you want the legacy of Book Scavenger to be?
Well, "legacy" is a big, intimidating word, but I do hope that Book Scavenger stays published for a long time and readers continue to discover it and connect with it.
Book scavenger has found its way into the hearts of many yet far too few kids. I've heard there is a real game based on the book and several tools online. How can we spread Book Scavenger love most effectively?
Yes, there is a version of the game being played by readers across the country, and the website was recently updated to accept entries around the world too! (Visit www.BookScavenger.com to find out more.) In the future, I’m hoping I’ll be able to add a forum to the website to help foster a community among Book Scavengers. In the meantime, anyone can spread Book Scavenger love by doing exactly what I know you are already doing, Drew: Share the book and your enthusiasm with others, either in real life or via social media or both. Book scavenging events have been organized in many communities by bookstores, schools, and libraries using either the official Book Scavenger website or their own means. If you'd like your community/school to do something like that as well, reach out to a local librarian, teacher, or bookseller to help make it happen. Or plan a book scavenging event yourself! And I’m open to other ideas for spreading Book Scavenger love as well!
You talk in previous interviews about the desire to write a book your kid-self would love. What would your little girl self say to the book scavenger community today?
My kid-self would probably be too self-conscious and anxious that she might say the wrong thing to a group of more than four people, let alone a community at large, so she probably wouldn’t say anything at all. But she would write me, as the author of Book Scavenger, a very nice note, probably including her best bubble letters as well as a drawing of her cats, and she’d ask me to please keep writing more books.
Here is a collage of me and the brilliant Jenn Bertman, The Unbreakable Code, book 2 of Scavenger and the most humbling credit ever given to me, my name in a kids book!
You once said indies feed the soul of their communities, the Book Scavenger series is one of the most scrumptious feasts of stories ever told. But don't take my word for it, take a close look at this elaborate meal full of courses of fun today!!!
What are some parting words to your readers?
"Thank you for being readers, and thank you for choosing my books!"
For more i formation here are more links.
BOOK SCAVENGER (Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt)
New York Times Bestseller | Best Book of the Year: Bank Street, Amazon | NCTE Notable Book
New York Times Bestseller | Junior Library Guild selection
"Readers who loved the first volume will find this follow-up even more satisfying. Purchase extra copies where there are fans." --School Library Journal
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