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An Author Joins Us: Meet Jacqueline Harvey and “Alice-Miranda”

June 25, 2012

Jacqueline Harvey is currently at the tail end of a three month tour of the USA, UK and Hong Kong.  While her journey has taken her to 37 schools in total, 24 of them were in the United States, in seven states from the West Coast to the East.  She spoke to over 4500 children there, many of whom were meeting her perpetually positive character, Alice-Miranda for the first time.  Here Jacqueline shares her thoughts about children, books, education and Alice-Miranda in the United States.

Planning a five week tour of the United States was a big undertaking, a lot like the United States itself BIG!  How was my tiny girl with her cascading chocolate curls and brown eyes as big as saucers going to be received across the country? 

It was April 1 when my husband and I set off from our home in Sydney Australia, bound for San Francisco.  We were very excited about the prospect of meeting thousands of children, teachers, librarians and parents on our journey, but could not have anticipated the amazing welcome we received everywhere we travelled and the incredibly positive responses that have followed since. 

I hoped that my character, Alice-Miranda Highton-Smith-Kennington-Jones would make an impression and from the feedback I’ve had to date, it seems that she has.

Her first adventure, Alice-Miranda at School was released in hardback in April 2011 with the second book Alice-Miranda On Vacation following in April 2012.  My visit to the US coincided with the release of the second book and also the release of the first as a paperback.

Alice-Miranda began as an idea for a picture book, but it soon became apparent that this little girl had a lot more to say.  Before planning the first story I took some time to reflect on what I would have wanted to read as a middle grade student.  I came up with a list; adventure, mystery, great characters, really nasty baddies, children in charge, animals, school (likely boarding school), humor and lots of yummy food.  So with this in mind, the Alice-Miranda series (a total of ten books in all now) was born. 

The first book sees her starting at boarding school and while the place looks perfect, she soon realizes that all is not well.  Everyone she meets is utterly miserable; throw in a nasty bully in the form of the Head Prefect and an even meaner Headmistress and Alice-Miranda soon finds herself having to negotiate some herculean challenges to be allowed to stay at the school.

Alice-Miranda on Vacation sees her heading home for the term break.  She takes a friend from school and soon enough the mysteries begin.  There’s a nasty boy, who takes an instant dislike to her, a mysterious black car is zooming about on the family estate, there’s a visit from a handsome movie star and ultimately a kidnapping and case of mistaken identity that I hope nobody sees coming.  Of course Alice-Miranda is on a mission to set things to rights.

I wondered what children in the United States would make of her – this tiny girl with a big heart and an adventurous spirit.  Children frequently asked me what I love about her the most.  It’s definitely her capacity to see the good in people, no matter how poor the behavior – she’s all about second chances and I think that’s such an important thing for all of us. 

As a former teacher and Deputy Headmistress, the tour gave me opportunities to visit schools in some really diverse areas.  In locations from California to South Carolina, teachers proved time and again to be incredibly dedicated and while I’ve always been pretty sure about this, the tour just confirmed for me that that kids are kids wherever you go.  They want to be heard, they want to know that they matter and that ultimately that the adults around them care.  The greatest difference I witnessed is the range of opportunities available – and it’s not always about the money either. 

While in new York I was fortunate to do an interview with Amy Bowllan, who writes Bowllan’s Blog for the School Library Journal website.  Amy asked me what children thought of Alice-Miranda, considering her privileged background.  How did children relate to her?  Was that an issue or a negative factor?  Something I’ve always been conscious of is that Alice-Miranda is challenging the stereotype of the spoilt little rich girl.  She may come from an affluent background but it’s not something she ever shows off about.  Her life is just her life and she needn’t apologize for it either.

During the tour, many teachers had read sections of the books to prepare their students, or children had read the first book for themselves.  When I talked about Alice-Miranda and asked the children what sort of a girl they thought she was, kids invariably saw Alice-Miranda’s kindness, her friendships and ability to see the best in people, not her wealthy background.  They saw how she handles the bullies too.  Bullying is a big issue around the globe, and while we were in the US there was a great deal of coverage on this topic in the media.  In one school we visited, the teachers told me that they had used Alice-Miranda to work through a bullying issue with some students.  They read Alice-Miranda at School together and frequently asked, ‘what would Alice-Miranda do?’  It wasn’t long before the children were coming up with all the answers.  Choosing to be kind and take the higher road was what the children themselves decided best in the end.

Alice-Miranda inhabits a world few of us (myself included) live in.  Apart from her privileged lifestyle, she attends boarding school, which in itself I think holds a great fascination for the fact that most kids don’t have that experience.  Children have some really interesting ideas about what boarding school means – mostly they think that children are sent there because they’ve done something wrong, or their parents don’t care about them.  It was fun talking about what boarding school is really like and while I didn’t attend boarding school as a student either, I have worked my whole career as a teacher in boarding schools in Australia, so it’s a story I know well.

One of the things I love about writing Alice-Miranda’s stories is spending time with characters I have really come to adore – the bad guys included.  As a writer I think it’s so important to care deeply about the characters, good and bad.  It lends authenticity to situations that, although bordering on the ridiculous, are believable just the same.

It was interesting to see how boys related to Alice-Miranda too.  While I visited several girls’ schools, mostly I talked to students in coeducational settings.  I was thrilled by how many boys bought the books and there were emails from teachers telling me how they thought it was wonderful to see little boys getting hooked on the stories.

Travelling across the USA for five weeks will be a memory I will treasure forever.  People have asked me, ‘what was the best thing?’ and hands down it was meeting the people; children and adults alike – wonderful people, who value reading and education, who love a good story, some who want to be writers, others who just want to be entertained.  But above and beyond all else, the best thing was the people.  And kindness.  We encountered so much kindness. 

 I’ve included some emails I’ve received since the visit – these mean so much to me as a writer and teacher, but more than anything, as a human being hoping in some small way, to make a difference. 

One of the best surprises I’ve had ALL year was when author Jacqueline Harvey came to our school. We had 0 notice about her coming and we still LOVED her. I learned a lot about being a writer, which is my life goal, from Ms. Harvey. I also found a new favorite book series, which is saying something because I’ve read so many books over the years. I’m already waiting for the rest of the Alice-Miranda books to come out in the U.S! Jacqueline Harvey is, and always will be one of my favorite authors. 

Julia (via email), Grade 5, South Carolina

++++++++++++++++++

Hi Jacqueline,

I just wanted to thank you for taking the time to talk to my son, Brian, today at Steck Elementary School. I have written a novel and am working on getting it published so he was thrilled to meet ‘an actual published author’. He came home, threw his bag on the floor and absolutely gushed about you for a half hour. As I write this, he is trying to make his opening paragraph ‘super terrific’.

Thank you. You made a difference today.

Regards,

Brent (via email), Illinois

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Dear Jacquie,

Glenwood is still buzzing about meeting Alice-Miranda’s author!  They loved your stories about your books, as well as your school in Australia.  Now I have a long list of kids wanting to check out my copies of both the Alice-Miranda books.  Other students are ordering the books, to keep.  Maybe you can return for an encore when a third Alice-Miranda adventure appears.

Thanks for giving your time and energy to Glenwood School.  I wish you a successful and fun US visit.

All the best,   

Holly Kuhlman (via email)

Librarian at Glenwood School

San Rafael, CA

 

++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Jacquie,

Thank you for your fabulous presentation; students and staff are still raving about it and we already have several holds on both Alice Miranda books!  I hope you have a safe and enjoyable rest of your tour! 

Sincerely,

Kristin Kaye (via email)

LRC Director, Munhall Elementary School

St. Charles, IL

+++++++++++++++++++++++++

Girls from Grade 5 & 6 at The Hewitt School in Manhattan wrote their responses to Alice-Miranda:

‘Be small, think big!’ Molly

‘Alice-Miranda is an ideal heroine…courageous, intelligent, kind and inspirational.’ Madeline

‘Alice-Miranda is an inspiring book for all ages and shows the true meaning of ‘girl power’.’ Sophie

Many Thanks to Jacquie Harvey for joining us today! We’re really looking forward to the next Alice-Miranda adventure!

Please share your thoughts and feedback in our comments section.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Joan harvey permalink
    June 25, 2012 7:35 pm

    My friends and I (all grandmothers) love the books send them to our gradchildren who love reading about Alice Miranda. We have followed Jacquie’s travels and are amazed at her capacity for involving the children with her talks on books and reading. Joanjjharv

  2. July 27, 2012 8:19 pm

    Jacquie was a joy to have in our store (Books Inc. in San Francisco). We set up school visits for her AND had an in-store event. Some of the students couldn’t get enough so they came to the evening event as well! Proves we all need a little of Alice-Miranda’s go-girl attitude. Can’t wait for more in the series.

  3. November 25, 2012 3:42 pm

    Sweet blog! I found it while surfing around on Yahoo News.
    Do you have any tips on how to get listed in Yahoo News?

    I’ve been trying for a while but I never seem to get there! Cheers

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