I’m always on the lookout for fresh new middle grade books and I found one!
This Journal Belongs to Ratchet has a fresh story, a fresh character, a fresh format.
Eleven-year-old homeschooled Rachel Vance, aka Ratchet (because of her flair for fixing cars), yearns to go to school like the other kids in the neighborhood; to buy new clothes, not clothes from thrift stores; to have a “normal” dad, not a wild-haired grease monkey of a father with a passion for environmental causes, and most of all, to know if the contents of a mysterious box will tell her more about the mother she never knew.
Cavanaugh adeptly lays out the story through Ratchet’s writing assignments, using a variety of formats, including free verse poetry, freewriting, descriptive essay, list poetry, journal writing.
The story flows like a well-tuned engine – at a pace that will keep middle-grade readers turning the pages like a double overhead cam V-12 and enough action to jumpstart their interest like a fresh spark plug. Okay, okay….my car engine references are lame, but Ratchet’s story is anything but.
From the book jacket:
If only getting a new life were as easy as getting a new notebook. But it’s not.
It’s the first day of school for all the kids in the neighborhood. But not for me. I’m homeschooled. That means nothing new. No new book bag, no new clothes, and no friends – old or new.
The best I’ve got is this notebook. I’m supposed to use it for my writing assignments, but my dad never checks. Here’s what I’m really going to use it for:
RATCHET’S TOP SECRET PLAN
Turn my old, recycled, freakish, friendless, motherless life into something shiny and new.
This year, I’m going to make something change.
And now, I’m pleased to introduce author Nancy Cavanaugh:
I’m a former teacher, so for us teachers, it’s easy to come up with writing assignments. The difference this time was that I was the one coming up with the assignments, and I was the one who had to do the assignments. Most of them are assignments I used while teaching, but I did eventually run out of ideas. When that happened, I used one of my old language arts textbooks and checked out other writing textbooks from the library to get more ideas.
As for deciding which assignment to use for each part of the story, I have to say the story sort of decided that for me. It seemed that each part of the story was best told through a specific writing form, and this was really just something I figured out as I went along.
Which type of writing in the book is your favorite?
Though I love it all, I have to say that the poetry is my favorite – not because I think it’s better than the other writing assignments and not because I necessarily like poetry better than the other formats. I like the poetry best because in most cases, I used poetry to tell the most emotional parts of the story. Each word in the poetry seems packed with Ratchet’s passion, and that somehow makes the poetry more powerful.
As the wife of a car enthusiast, I related to the car repair aspects
Well, here’s the thing. I’m married to a former industrial arts
teacher. He taught me how to take apart a small engine and put it back together again, and the two of us taught elementary and middle school students how to do the same thing. It was great fun and super satisfying to see how capable kids can be when it comes to this kind of stuff. When working on engines, what it really comes down to is understanding how they work, and kids are certainly capable of understanding that. As a result, a kid like Ratchet would have no trouble helping her dad the way she did in the story.
I know that like most authors, you’ve probably put bits and pieces of your real life into your story, such as the car repair work. Can you give us any other examples of how you’ve used real life tidbits and/or some that you tweaked a bit to fictionalize it?
The best example of that in this story is Ratchet’s father. All of his “Good Lord” antics come from my Grandma Cavanaugh. She used to always say, “The Good Lord says this . . . The Good Lord says that . . . .” So I had fun using that part of her personality to make Ratchet’s dad the passionate person that he is.
I’m always interested to know: a plotter/outliner or a go-with-the-flow kind of writer?
My ideas for stories almost always start with a character. I think about who that character really is inside and what their problems might be. As I do that, the character’s voice begins to emerge. The character and voice come much easier than the plot. When I have to determine the direction of the story and start figuring out the plot, the writing gets more difficult for me.
What can you tell us about your relationship with your editor at Sourcebooks?
My editor is Aubrey Poole, and first I’ll tell you that she’s amazing! Through lots of revision, she has done so much to make RATCHET the beautiful book that it is. I’m so grateful for her vision of what the book really could be, and I’m thankful for her insights and her patience as we worked together to take the story to another level.
Can you tell us anything about what’s next?
My next book, ALWAYS, ABIGAIL, will be coming in fall 2014 from Sourcebooks/Jabberwocky and will be another alternative format. The entire story is told in lists, letters, and writing assignments, in which a girl named Abigail uses her language arts class’s Friendly Letter Project to cope with the worst school year ever – and in the process turns it into the best year ever.
A great classroom guide to This Journal Belongs to Ratchet is HERE.
Visit Nancy's website HERE
Read Nancy's chat with Augusta Scattergood HERE.
Read about Nancy at Smack Dab in the Middle HERE.