Fans of the Baby-Sitters Club series will be happy to know that author Ann M. Martin has started a new series. In the Family Tree books, Martin introduces readers to four girls again, but unlike the Baby-Sitters Club series, these girls are more than friends—they’re family. The books explore the highs and lows that each girl faces as she grows up during a different period of history.
The first book, Better to Wish, focuses on Abby Nichols, 8, who grows up in the 1930s during the Great Depression. Money is tight for Abby’s family. To add to her worries, she is not allowed to befriend anyone outside of her own religion or ethnicity. The title of the book is explained when Abby recalls: “Pop once said it’s a good thing we don’t know what’s around the corner… It’s better to wish than to know.”
Family Tree: Better to Wish is in bookstores now. The second book of the series will be released in November. Here, Martin talks to TFK about her work.
How do you get your ideas?
Some of the best ideas have come either from my family or my own life. A Corner of the Universe was based loosely on an uncle of mine. He was mentally challenged and his story was somewhat similar to Adam’s. A Dog’s Life came from my own dog Sadie. Sadie was such a shy dog, I wondered if she would have even survived on her own the way that Squirrel did. Everything for a Dog started with my nephew’s Christmas list one year when he asked for a dog. Ideas can come from lots of places. Sometimes they are suggestions from other people.
What inspired you to write Family Tree: Better to Wish?
The initial idea for the Family Tree series was given to me by my editor David Levithan, who is a wonderful author. I guess it was my idea for the books to be set in the 1930s, 1950s, 1980s and finally contemporary. I really wanted the first one set in Maine, which is where my grandparents spent their summers. I spent a little bit of time there while I was growing up.
I used a lot of family memorabilia and letters when I was writing the book. Some of it was used directly in the book and other things just helped me get the atmosphere of that time period.
We have a lot of letters that my grandparents wrote. One was from my great-grandfather to my grandmother around 1918. My grandmother was about 21 and her boyfriend was serving in WW1. He had just proposed. My grandmother wrote to her father to tell him about it. His response letter says that he wanted them to wait until her fiancé finished his service and could provide for her better. She completely ignored him. They married and lived happily ever after.
What are some themes in the Family Tree series?
There’s a couple themes that ring true back then and now, like family, friendship and loss. But I think what sets the first book apart is that Abby is dealing with these things against the historical backdrop of the Great Depression and war. She has a life in this small town in Maine as her family fortune changes. I think readers will be able to identify with a lot of things she’s facing.
What made you decide to be an author?
I grew up in a family surrounded by books. My mother was a preschool teacher and we went to the public library and our school library every week. We came home with mountains of books. As I got older, I wanted to give back to kids what I got from books.
If you want to write, be a reader. Familiarize yourself with all different kind of writing—fiction, nonfiction, poetry and journalism. Practice writing. Keep a journal. The complaint I hear most from kids is that they don’t know what to write about. I think a journal is a really good source of story-starters.