I read and LOVED Jamie Sumner’s debut middle-grade novel, Roll with It last month. You can read my review here. But the first thing that grabbed my attention was something that’s rare on middle-grade book covers — a character in a wheelchair! Then, of course, when I read the synopsis, I knew I had to get my hands on this one.
In this interview, Jamie and I discuss her choice to write about a child with cerebral palsy, the inclusion of a grandparent with Alzhiemer’s, baking, and how she makes time for writing despite a busy schedule. We also talked about how others can show more consideration to people with a disability. Enjoy!
Hi Jamie, thank you so much for agreeing to do this interview! As you know, I absolutely adored your debut middle-grade novel, Roll with It.
Your protagonist, Ellie is so close to my heart. What inspired you to write about a child with a disability who is obviously much more than that one part?
It’s a pleasure to get to talk with you about ROLL WITH IT. Thank you for loving Ellie! I wrote this novel for my son, Charlie, who also has cerebral palsy. As his mother, I’ve fought his entire life for him to be seen beyond his wheelchair and his extra needs. He is so much more than that and I knew if I were to tell a story from someone like his or Ellie’s perspective, I would want to share all sides.
Ellie and her mother make a solid team, but the love she has for both her grandparents shines through. Her grandfather is struggling with Alzheimer’s. Why was it important for you to write about that situation and how it affects Ellie?
My grandfather was also diagnosed with Alzheimer’s when I was young and I remember being confused as to which “Pa” would greet me from day to day. It’s a hard thing to understand as a child and especially for Ellie whose disability is so “visible” while her grandfather’s is not.
I also wanted to show what it’s like to live in a multi-generational family who all take care of each other’s vastly different needs. Also, Mema, Ellie’s grandmother, is a rockstar in this novel and pulls the whole family together in such a lovely way. She is the epitome of top matriarch.My grandfather was also diagnosed with Alzheimer’s when I was young and I remember being confused as to which “Pa” would greet me from day to day. It’s a hard thing to understand as a child and especially for Ellie whose disability is so… Click To Tweet
Baking is Ellie’s dearest hobby. From your acknowledgements, I discovered it’s yours too. What does baking do for you and what’s your favorite treat to bake?
I do so love to bake. Because what I do as a writer is so cerebral, it’s nice to get out of my head and use my hands. It’s therapeutic for me and results in something everyone can enjoy. We have two favorite recipes in our house. One was passed down to me from my grandmother — a recipe for thumbprint cookies written in the margins of a church cookbook. Nothing beats those cookies. Second is Deb Perelman’s challah bread from The Smitten Kitchen. It is perfect. And makes excellent french toast!
Ellie’s new friends, Bert and Coralee are as different as night and day and yet the trio make a perfect band of friends. Coralee was one of my favorite characters. What inspired her character?
Truthfully? She came out of nowhere fully formed! I never knew anyone like Coralee but I imagined the kind of friend Ellie would need and there she was — in all her glitter and spandex and fearlessness.
Throughout the book and Ellie’s experiences, I certainly learned a thing or three about the experiences of a child living with a disability. Are there any specific considerate things people (strangers/in public places/general public) have done for you and your family that you wish more people would do?
The best thing I could ask for is acknowledgment. So often, people think the polite thing to do is smile and look away. But if you see us in the park or the grocery store or Target, please stop, say hello, ask Charlie about his wheelchair or let your kids ask. Kids are always curious and I love that. They haven’t been taught the social codes to be polite and keep walking and it’s wonderful!So often, people think the polite thing to do is smile and look away. But if you see us in the park or the grocery store or Target, please stop, say hello, ask Charlie about his wheelchair or let your kids ask. – @jamiesumner_ Click To Tweet
You’re a superwoman to me — you write freelance, you’ve written books, you manage a newsletter, AND you’re active on social media, all in addition to caring for your family. Do you have any tips that help you stay afloat with such a busy schedule?
You make me sound so much more with it than I am! It’s easy for me to do this work, because I love it. But yes, sometimes it can get overwhelming, especially if you’re a writer who has young children.
I learned to work in small doses — before they wake up, in the car during soccer practice, after dinner, etc. I also think knowing what projects to work on when is a key factor. For example, I can’t write a novel in the summer when my kids are out of school. I just can’t. But I can edit books, works on freelance essays, and other shorter projects.
I think that’s my best advice: know how to manage the time you have to your full advantage. If twenty minutes a day is all you have to write, then protect that time and feel proud of what you’ve done with it!Know how to manage the time you have to your full advantage. If twenty minutes a day is all you have to write, then protect that time and feel proud of what you’ve done with it! – @jamiesumner_ on writing with kids Click To Tweet
Which books have you read and loved recently?
What can readers expect from you next?
My next novel with Atheneum Books for Young Readers will be coming out October 2020! THE SURVIVAL PLAYLIST is the story of 12-year-old Lou Montgomery, a talented singer with a flighty, fame-hungry mother and an undiagnosed sensory processing disorder that makes performing nearly unbearable.
Thanks again for your time, Jamie!
Meet Jamie Sumner
Jamie Sumner is the author of the forthcoming middle-grade novel, Roll with It. Her second and third middle-grade novels with Atheneum Books for Young Readers will be coming out in 2020 and 2021. She is also the author of the nonfiction book on motherhood, Unbound,and the forthcoming book, Keep On, Superhero, for parents of children with special needs.
She’s written for the New York Times and the Washington Post as well as other publications, and is the reviews editor at Literary Mama.
She’s also a mom to a son with cerebral palsy and she’s writes and speaks about disability in literature. She loves stories that celebrate the grit and beauty in all kids. She and her family live in Nashville, Tennessee.
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Have you read Jamie Sumner’s Roll with It? Does it sound like it would be up your alley? What are your favorite middle-grade (or not) books about disability or featuring characters with a disability? I’d love to know!