Phyllis Reynolds Naylor has written about beagles and boys, about the supernatural and the supersilly. The 78-year-old author, who lives in Gaithersburg, is probably best known for her novel “Shiloh,” which won the Newbery Medal in 1992. But the character who may be most dear to Naylor’s heart is a girl named Alice McKinley from Silver Spring. The 28th — and final — book in the “Alice” series will be published next year, but this year the series has been republished to appeal to today’s readers. KidsPost’s Whitney Fetterhoff recently spoke with Naylor about Alice, writing and her advice for kids.
Alice is such a vibrant character; is she based on a real person, or is she completely fictional?
Alice is fictional, though she is like the daughter that I never had. I had no idea that she would become a series, but she was wildly popular. I wanted her to be a girl without a mother raised by her father and older brother who knew nothing about raising a girl. That is what makes the series funny. Kids really took to Alice and wanted her to become a series. When my publisher called, I said I would only do it if Alice could grow older with each book. The first book I wrote was “The Agony of Alice,” where she enters sixth grade, but then I wrote three prequels for my younger readers. I recently finished the final two books in the series.
What is it about Alice that has made her so relatable for past and current generations of readers?
The comment I get most from readers is that Alice is so real and so much like them. . . . I try not to think too much about what makes Alice so special because I fear that might ruin the realism. I write her as I feel her, and I think that is why she comes across as so realistic. I really try to avoid references to the news or current events when I write so that readers of all ages and generations can relate to Alice.
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
My parents read aloud to me when I was young, and I loved listening to their stories so much that that I thought writing might be just as fun. I also had a wonderful kindergarten teacher who would sit us in a circle on the floor and ask us to make up stories. . . . I remember the teacher often saying, “Phyllis, you’ve had enough turns, let someone else go.” When I was 16, a former Sunday school teacher asked me to write a story for a children’s magazine, and the job paid $4.
What advice do you have for kids who love writing and want to become authors?
If you really enjoy writing, go ahead with it, but make sure it is because you really love to write and not because someone else tells you that you are good at it. . . . Kids always tell me they love to write but don’t have anything to write about. I tell them to think about the time when they were most happy, sad or embarrassed and then write a few sentences about those feelings. Then start changing things like the main character, the location or even the ending to make the story fun and exciting. Then you have started with something personal, and it really grew with the help of your imagination!