Award-winning author Ellen Potter chats about her wonderful chapter book, Squirlish: The Girl in the Tree.
Get ready to laugh out loud as the story unfolds on how a girl raised by squirrels in Central Park attempts to make new human friends. Inspired by a friend raising a baby squirrel and her own life experiences, Ellen hopes readers will appreciate the value of finding one’s own strengths no matter the community they find themselves in.
Ellen Potter talks about:
- How she writes to delight kids and wants to transport them to another world through her stories.
- Writing for kids is more fun for her than writing for adults.
- Doing school visits to ignite a love of writing in children.
- How writing is challenging, but she has developed strategies to get past those rough spots and move through the writing process.
- The importance of revision and how her best writing has always come out in revision.
- Methods for overcoming writer’s block.
- The inspiration behind Squirlish—how it came from a friend raising a baby squirrel.
- How her own life experiences influenced the story.
- Themes of fitting in and finding one’s strengths in the first book and how they continue in the second book, which also touches on New York City history.
So sit back, relax, and enjoy this fun-filled episode.
Listen to the Interview
Read the Interview
Hello, Ellen. Welcome to The Growing Readers Podcast. Or today, I feel like I should say, good day, and may you never have fleas.
Good day, and may you never have fleas.
Well, there’s a reason we had that introduction, and I think our listeners may need to read the book to find out why we had that introduction. But you’re here to talk about your chapter book, and I know I’m going to mess up the title, so you’re going to have to correct me. Squirlish: The Girl in the Tree, which is the first of what will be the Squirrely series. So, did I say the title correctly today?
Awesome. Well, it’s not the first chapter book you’ve ever written, and it’s only one of your 26 books. Is that number correct?
That’s correct. I have to recount, but I think it’s at least 26.
That’s amazing. So, we have to ask the question, what drives you and guides you in creating books for children, and how has that changed since your very first book?
Well, I want to start by saying, first of all, I love this podcast. This is what I listen to in my car. I love it, and it’s a real, real treat to be talking to you.
I have to interrupt and just say you’ve absolutely made my day by saying that.
So, thank you. The truth. What drives me to write for kids? Well, I don’t have a fancy answer. I really don’t enter any of my books with an agenda or even a theme. It’s really simple. I really write to delight kids. That’s it. And of course, as you’re writing, and sometimes only at the end of the book, do you realize there are intrinsically these themes that have emerged. And that’s great.
I’m driven by—okay, so I have this image in my head whenever I start a book, and this image comes from the fact that I grew up in New York City and took the subway to school. So, I always picture a kid sitting on a subway, but it could just as well be the school bus or a car. And their nose is in a book. And they’re so engrossed in that book that all the chaos all around them just disappears, melts away, because they’re in another world, like physically in another world in the world of the book. That is always my goal when I write. I want to transport my readers because I love that in a book. That’s what I’m always going for.
I started out actually writing for adults, and my first book for adults was published, I think, three days before my first book for kids. And I just really found that it was much more fun to tell stories to kids, and so I went in that direction. It’s a joy. And plus, one of the big perks of writing for kids is actually being able to go into classrooms now. We do a lot of virtual visits and talking to kids about writing and getting them excited about writing. The kids are already there. At a certain age, they understand story better than a lot of adults, so it’s just really fun to ignite that in them a little bit more.
That’s amazing. What’s one of your favorite things about doing the school visits?
Oh, what I really love, and this happens often, and it always makes me so happy, is when after the visit, I get a note from a teacher, an email saying, this child or that child has no interest in writing. And after you left, a lot of times I do like a little workshop before we end. That child just wanted to keep writing. They just didn’t want to stop. So that I love. I love it when you take a kid who may be a little fearful of writing or not really get the playfulness of writing, and you show it to them, and then they’re in, and then they love it.
I wish that there was even more funding for schools. So many schools even struggle to have a librarian, and I wish that there was more funding for author visits because I’ve done them myself. And it is amazing to see those kids come to life and just get so excited just about reading, about writing, and the way I’m sure you’ve had this, where they come up to you and start telling you ideas for their stories or ideas for your next story, and it lights a fire in them. So, I love that.
It does sometimes. I always think, wow, their ideas are often so good. They have great concepts. I think, oh, if the publishers could just be flies on the wall. They had so many different ideas. But I did start when COVID hit, and a lot of the teachers were just struggling, even with the technology. I did offer to do free virtual visits just because my book tour was shut down. Actually, my father passed during that time, so there’s a lot, and I felt like I just wanted to do something, and so that’s when I started just shouting out, hey, I can offer free visits, virtual visits.
And, of course, it was overwhelming. So, I was doing, like, five visits a day. My voice was going, but it was amazing. And I got to connect with kids all over the like, in Russia, in France, all over the place, and of course, in the States, and it was a really great way to have a human connection at a time when we were all just so shut down like that.
I love that, and it’s such a nice way to give back when you can do it.
All right, well, since you are, I think officially, we can say you’re a very seasoned writer, so I have to imagine that not every book comes so easily. So, do you ever have struggles when you sit down to write a book?
So, this is a thing that I always tell kids because it is something I wish I’d known earlier. I tell this to also younger writers or writers who are struggling through it. I have a hard time writing even though I’ve written all these books. It’s never easy. A friend of mine reminded me when I called her up, and I was like, oh, this book is just so hard to write. She said you say that with every single book you write. So, it’s a struggle for me. I get stuck constantly. Every time I sit down, I get stuck. So, I like to tell young writers and kids that it’s as fun as writing is—and it really is fun, I mean, what a job. You get to wake up in the morning and tell stories. That’s a great job, but it’s also really challenging, and you hit a lot of rough spots where you’re tempted to just give up.
But as a writer, you gather up these tools to help you out during those real rough spots. Strategies to get beyond that, to get past that. So, you can keep going. But if you expect it, if you know it’s going to happen, then you don’t panic and think, oh, my story is no good, or oh, I’m not a good writer. There’s so many pitfalls where you can just sink into self-doubt. But if you know that this is a normal part of the writing process, you can move through it and always in your head, knowing there’s always revision. This is a first draft.
Yeah, absolutely. I think that a lot of people, whether they’re children or adults, don’t realize that a lot of the magic happens in those revisions. And we often have to revise a lot to get to the finished product. Occasionally, I think things spill out just as you want them to be. But so much of the magic comes from the editing and the revisions.
Yes, my best writing has always come out in revision.
Yeah. Well, when you are having sort of a tough spot, or you have a problem to solve in the story, what are some of the strategies that you fall back on? Do you have any special tools?
Yeah, I have so many ways of approaching it, and not all of them work each time, so I’ll try different things. But one of my go-to’s is super simple. I have dogs, so I take them for a walk, and there is something I don’t know what this is. I’m sure they’ve done studies on this, but there is something about walking and thinking that just gives it I come back with knowing what to do next. I mean, it almost always works.
Another really simple thing that I do is if I’m stuck and I’m writing on a computer, I switch and write by hand. In fact, when I start my stories, I always start by writing in a notebook by hand. And I think, and I don’t know if it’s the hand-to-brain connection, but I’ve noticed that ideas, my imagination, tends to be a little more fluid when I’m writing by hand rather than on a computer. Of course, I have deadlines, so once I know where my book is going, I switch and write on a computer. But every time I get stuck, I go back to writing by hand. So that’s something else I do when I’m stuck: I write by hand.
And then one other thing is I ask for help. And I always tell this to kids: you don’t have to do this alone. Yeah. Writing is a lone activity in many ways. But if I’m stuck and I don’t know which way to go next, I’ll call a friend, or I’ll talk to my husband or my son, and I’ll tell him the story. I’ll have him read it, and I’ll say, what do you think? What would happen next? What would this character do? A lot of times, I don’t actually take the suggestions. They’re not exactly right. But just the act of talking it out really helps me to see things in a little bit of a different way. So, there are many ways to approach being stuck, but it is just part of it. It’s part of it.
Well, this is a question you’ve probably heard me ask a lot of people. So, to be a writer, they say you should be a reader first. So, my question for you today is, have you always been a reader, or is there a person, a moment, or a book that you feel turned you into a reader?
I’ve always been a reader. It’s absolutely so important to be a reader. If you want to write, you just have to because you develop an ear for language like you would develop an ear for music. The only way to really develop it is by reading. So, growing up, my parents would take us to this bookstore. It was down in Lower Manhattan, and it was a used bookstore. It looked like something out of Diagonal Alley. Seriously. Like it had a door that the bell would tinkle when you went in and the creaky wooden floors and floor-to-ceiling books with that ladder that would roll around.
And they sold books for $0.10 apiece. So, my brothers and I were allowed to take as many books as we could hold and buy them. This was the hugest, hugest treat for me, for all of us, I think. And so there would always be in that little stash of books, there’d always be, like, one book that was really good that you were reading, like, past your bedtime, under the covers, the flashlight.
So, when I found as a kid, when you have a book that you just love that you’re just thinking into, they’re wonderful, but then they end, and that can feel kind of devastating. You’ve been in this world that you loved hanging out in, and then suddenly, you’re just yanked out of it. So, I realized then I could write whatever world I wanted to hang out in, and whatever characters I wanted to meet, I could write them. So, I started writing because I loved reading. It was a direct line.
There was one book that was actually like a moment that really stands out, and it was when I was eleven. I was in a school library, and the school library knew I read Voraciously, so she would always direct me to books that she thought I’d like. So, she directed me to Harriet the Spy, and I remember picking it up, and I started reading it and immediately loved it—I don’t really think I’ve had any other epiphanies in my life. It was like a genuine epiphany where I said, oh, the best books in the world are written for kids, like they’re the best books in the world are for kids. Like I knew it.
And then, of course, I thought, well, I’m not going to be a kid for much longer; I’m going to get older, and then am I still going to remember how much I love kids’ books? So right then and there, I said, okay, if I can’t always be a kid, I’m going to write for kids. And that really kind of cemented it. As I got older, I started to kind of veer away from that, and I was writing more for adults, but always on the side. I would always be sort of tinkering with these children’s stories that were so much more fun to write than the books for adults.
Yeah, I love that. Just a random question. Have you gone back and read Harriet the Spy as an adult?
I have, and it holds up pretty mean. I have noticed that there are books that I loved when I was a kid that I don’t really connect to anymore for different reasons, but I think that one held up pretty well.
It’s always so fun to go back and read a book that you loved as a child and try to remember what it was that you loved because sometimes it’s there, and sometimes it’s not. Yeah, sometimes I struggle with some of the books that my heart still wants to love, but I think you’re right. I think Harriet the Spy has held up okay. So, it sounds like you’ve always wanted to be a writer. And so now, if the count is right, we’re at 26 books, and you had more than one book come out this year, so we could be talking about a bunch of books, but we’re going to focus on Squirlish: The Girl in the Tree. So why don’t you tell us all what it’s all about?
Well, Squirlish is about, well, I’ll tell you where it came from, and then I can tell you what it’s about because it’s from that. So, the idea came from a friend of mine who had found a baby squirrel on the ground in her backyard. It had probably fallen out of its nest, so she put it in a box because she wasn’t sure if the mom was around somewhere. She put it in a box, right, kept it where it was so she could keep it warm, and watched at her kitchen window to see if the mother would come back.
So the mother did not come back, so she took the baby in, and she had the box. And I think she fed it puppy formula through a tweezer. I think that’s what she did. And to keep it warm, she put the squirrel in her bra during the day, so it was so tiny. And she was a writer, too, so she would write, and the little squirrel would be in there, and she’d be doing her dishes, and she actually raised the squirrel successfully. And then she let it go. And it took a while. It would go out for an hour and then come back, and then it longer until finally it did finally leave. But she said it would appear like when she was doing dishes, it would appear at her kitchen window, and she’d let it in, and then it would hang out for a while and then go back out. So, I love that story.
And you know, as a writer, you’re always alert for story ideas. So, I thought, okay, so what if it was the other way around? And those what-ifs are so crucial. I always tell this to kids. That’s where we build our ideas. What if, what if, and letting your mind just play. So, I thought, well, what if it’s the other way around? And what if a squirrel finds a baby human? And what if that squirrel takes the baby up to its nest in its elm tree in the middle of Central Park? And what if this squirrel raised this little thistle girl as his own? And so, what if she becomes like the squirrel girl of Central Park, and she can climb trees like a squirrel and hop from branch to branch like a squirrel and talk to the squirrels? But what if she also begins to yearn for a human friend? So that idea started to roll around in my head, and that’s really where it came from.
The other thing, though, and I think many writers experience this, is that when you’re writing a book, a lot of times your life bleeds into the book without you even realizing it, and then as soon as it’s only apparent after the book is finished, which is what happened in this case. So, when I was writing Squirlish, it was my son’s last year in high school, so I knew he was going to be going off to college, which I had been dreading since he was five years old. Probably, as a parent, you want your kid to be independent and have their own agency and be fine with walking out the door, but you’re also, as a parent, kind of terrified of that moment. So that was, like, looming as I was writing this.
So, when I was reading it over, I saw that the squirrel, whose name is Shakespeare, one of his worries is that he’ll lose this little girl, Cordelia, that she’ll eventually grow up and want to be with other humans. And he’s sort of worried about her making human friends because he knows that this is maybe a step toward that separation. And when I read it, I was like, oh, I see what I did there. So that was definitely in there.
Yeah. I feel like sometimes when we write stories, too, they’re almost healing for ourselves, and then that healing comes across in the stories for whoever’s reading it to take away if they need to, too. So, I feel like I picked up on that, too. I wonder if you want to share a highlight or even a favorite quote from the book, or do you have a copy next to you?
I do have a copy next to me, yeah, and I can read it. I’ll read a little passage that actually connects to what I just told you. So, Cordelia has made a friend, a human, a boy named Isaac, and Shakespeare, who is the squirrel, is watching this, and he turns to another squirrel, Miss Gertrude, who’s very wise, and he says this do you think it’s good for Cordelia to have human friends?
Miss Gertrude was quiet for a moment. Then she said, “Every once in a while, a human will find a baby squirrel who is all alone, and that human will take the baby squirrel home and feed it and keep it warm and safe.”
“That’s very kind of them,” Shakespeare said.
“Yes, it is,” agreed Miss Gertrude. “And if the human is very wise, they will help the baby squirrel learn how to do squirrely things, like how to climb trees and find acorns and play with other squirrels. Because one day, that baby squirrel will grow into a big squirrel, and it may not want to live with other squirrels. It may want to live with other squirrels instead of humans.”
Shakespeare thought about this. He felt a little sad lump in his throat as he said,
I suppose one day Cordelia might want to live with other people instead of us squirrels.”
“Maybe,” Miss Gertrude said gently. “Not for a very long time, of course, but maybe someday.”
“In that case,” Shakespeare said, “it’s probably good for her to do humanish things, like playing with other children.”
“You are a very wise squirrel,” said Miss Gertrude.
When I reread that in revision, that’s when I was like, I see. I get it. So, it can actually be like healing for readers, but also healing as the author, too.
Yeah, and something that I find myself talking about a lot now since I’ve been doing this podcast is that sometimes what readers take away isn’t necessarily what the author imagined that they were telling. Right. So, I think the great thing about this particular story is that it’s going to appeal to readers who just love a fun, silly idea. I mean, the absurdity of a squirrel taking a little baby up to the tree and raising this girl in the tree. The way you tell that is so humorous and so funny. So, it’s going to appeal to the kids that just love a good, funny story.
But then the heart behind the story is what you’ve shared, and from your perspective, you noticed that that was tied into your feelings about your son going to college. And then I noticed, just as a mom of three kids, I also have one that’s applying for college right now, so next year she will be. So, I’m feeling that. But I also have two younger kids, and I noticed that desire to fit in. Even the kids that have good, solid friendships always have a moment in their schooling life where they struggle to fit in or they feel like they don’t fit in. Even if it appears that they have this amazing group of friends, there’s always those struggles, and then there’s the kids who really do struggle with finding a group of buddies on the playground.
So, I really took away that sort of part where Cordelia just feels like, obviously, she’s maybe ready to start branching out and meeting humans, but that struggle is definitely there for her. So, I just love the way that you build these relatable themes into your story but build it in a way that’s humorous and funny and a little bit absurd in this book. And that’s what brings the joy and gets the kids into those moments of heart. So, how do you find that balance?
Yeah, well, I do love that you picked that up because as I was writing, I did see, oh, yeah, this is really a theme where you have this child who doesn’t quite fit in with her community and how awkward that is and how she’s trying to make friends with humans, but she only knows how to make friends with other squirrels. And that process is very different. It makes her look crazy and ridiculous as she’s trying to engage other kids in a friendship. It’s not socially smooth.
I love that you got that out of it. And when you write a series, I think it gives you the bandwidth to see what you did in the first book and to say, okay, this has emerged. How do I work with this in the second book or the third book? So, the second book in Squirlish, which is coming out in the summer, is called Shark in the Park. So, what I thought about with Cordelia is like, okay, she’s different in her community, so how does she find her own strengths that will actually serve her? She, as a human being, actually is really important to these squirrels. She can do things for them that they can’t do for themselves. So, like, in the second book, and the really fun part of a squirrel is just I get to play around with Central Park.
So, in Central Park, there’s Belvedere Castle, which I believe used to be a weather station. It looks like a full-on castle. And so that’s where the royal squirrel family lives. So, they summon Cordelia to accompany the young prince because he’s safer with a human. There are all kinds of dangers for a squirrel in a park. He’s going on a quest to find this missing royal scepter. So, in the second book, I was able to work with the idea of how does Cordelia fit into this squirrel community. What are the things that make her feel like she is a part of it, even though she doesn’t look like them? She doesn’t act like them. She does act like them, but not completely. So that was really fun.
And actually, the second book also touched on this other obsession I have that is also in my middle grade book, Hither and Nigh, which is New York City history. It’s fascinating. Like, it’s endless. So, in the second book, there’s a storyline that touches on Seneca Village, which was actually before Central Park was created. There was black settlement. It was actually multiracial but predominantly black settlement. They bought the land. They had churches; they had schools. It was right in the area where Central Park now exists. And it was a thriving community. And when the politicians wanted to build a park in that area, they kind of spun it to say these people are vagabonds, they’re squatting, and they were forced to leave. So, it was sort of a sad little piece of Central Park history.
And I was able to bring in something that had been happening, is they’d been finding archaeological finds of this old village. I think it started in the ’70s or ’80s when they started finding things. So, it’s able to bring that little piece of New York history in a way that is not heavy. Because, of course, the chapter book, you want to keep it light and fun, but it touches on it, and it is sort of like an emotional anchor for Cordelia in terms of loving where she lives and the thought of maybe what would it be like to have to leave?
Yeah. I hope you don’t mind, but I want to read a little section of Squirlish: The Girl in the Tree.
The reason I’ve picked this little excerpt to read is that I think it’s a demonstration of the humor that you bring, but it also demonstrates how delicately and gently you approach Cordelia’s process of discovering that maybe she is a little different from her squirrel community and trying to fit. So:
“What are you laughing at?” Cordelia asked her.
“Because you run like a human,” said Kate.
“I do not,” Cordelia replied.
“Yes, you do. When you run, your arms go a wonka wonka wonka.” Kate waved her paws around in a silly way. Most of the time, Cordelia forgot she was a human. But when someone reminded her, like now, it made her feel all funny inside, like she’d swallowed a handful of earthworms.
“Don’t pay attention to her,” Bianca told Cordelia. “Kate’s the worst.”
“She calls me a rat,” Fenton said in a mopey way.
“You are a rat,” Cordelia said.
“Yeah, but it’s the way she says it,” Fenton complained. “Rat. Like I eat garbage and stuff.”
“You do eat garbage,” Cordelia said.
“Truthfully. I eat leftovers,” Fenton corrected her. “There’s a difference.” They kept playing Dragon King, but the whole time Cordelia felt they kept playing Dragon King, but the whole time, Cordelia kept feeling those earthworms squirming in her belly.
It’s so interesting you chose that because that’s the exact section that, before the book came out, I would read a little excerpt to the classrooms, that’s the exact section I would read to them.
Well, I would love to know. What do you hope readers will ultimately take away from Squirlish: The Girl in the Tree?
Well, I hope they’ll be engrossed by it and delighted by the idea of living in a nest, or she actually is in a treehouse as she gets older. And I hope that they like the idea of finding your own legs, your own agency in any community, any place you are, to kind of hold on to who you are, what your strengths are, what your gifts are, and to value that, even though maybe some other people are not valuing you. So, I guess, in a deeper way, that’s probably what I would hope for.
And then just that they love the community of squirrels. It’s really fun because Central Park has all these different neighborhoods, and squirrels are very territorial. So, each squirrel community reflects where they are in the park. So, like Shakespeare’s, where Cordelia lives, it’s near the Delacorte Theater, where they do Shakespeare plays. So, all the characters are named all the squirrels are named after Shakespearean characters and have their own qualities. There’s the squirrels that live near the boat pond—they’re sort of pirates and kind of rougher. Then there are the ones that live near the Metropolitan Museum, and they’re very artsy, and some of them are a bit snobby.
So, it is really fun to play with that. And I hope kids like that as well.
Yeah. And we can’t not mention the super cute illustrations and the little map at the beginning.
Sara Cristofori—I hope I’m saying that right. Every time I got that email from my editor saying, take a look at the new illustration draft, and you open it, I gasped every single time. She nails this really fun dynamic. It’s light, but it’s rich. I think she’s brilliant.
Yeah, absolutely. And I just love an illustrated chapter book. I don’t recall as a kid myself; I feel like we read picture books, or I had a compendium of fairy tales from Hans Christian Anderson that would have a scary illustration on it. And then we did the early readers in the classroom, but then it was just novels, and I feel like there wasn’t so much of this nice, beautiful bridge of an illustrated chapter book. So, I love Squirlish does that—It’s a nice connection point between an early reader and launching into a thicker novel with no illustrations.
I agree 100%.
Yeah. So, I need to tell you that your other book that came out, the Hither and Nigh, our contributor for the Children’s Book Review, Dr. Jen Harrison, just sent me a review, and I want to read you just a snippet of her review.
So, Dr. Jen Harrison says:
Hither and Nigh is a fresh and refreshing revamp of the classic “stolen by fairies” plotline, with rich settings, complex characters, and a roller-coaster pace. The story tackles some heavy topics: grief, gambling, exploitation, homelessness, and poverty, but without becoming too heavy or difficult for young middle grade readers to enjoy and relate to. Nell is an endearingly down-to-earth heroine, and readers will enjoy watching her uncover the many unexpected facets of the other characters around her. The story also makes use of wordplay and humor, which, together with the surreal, supernatural setting and quirky interpretation of magic, make the narrative fun as well as fast-paced. Hither and Nigh is an unforgettable read. Thank goodness there’s a sequel on the way.
Well, so you have the sequel coming, and it’s; I believe October 10 is the release day for the sequel. We don’t want to give any spoilers because we don’t know who here has read the first book, Hither and Nigh, and the second book, The Golden Imaginarium. So, just sort of in a nutshell, since we’ve had the squirrel theme, what do you want listeners to know about these two books?
They have been described—which sort of is fun—as The Breakfast Club meets Harry Potter. So, it is about a group of kids who’ve gotten into quite a bit of trouble in school, and they’ve been given a choice. They can either be expelled or join a mysterious after-school club. They do join the club, and they find they’re learning magic. So, the Hither and Nigh are two worlds, and these kids are traveling between their own world, set in New York City, to a parallel New York City where magic is in the air. I mean, it’s very easy to do magic there, and it’s a very beautiful place, but it’s full of danger. And so, they go on a quest to find a missing boy.
I don’t want to give away too much because there’s a lot of spoilers. It was so much fun to write. There were a lot of story threads. It was very tricky to write. There were a lot of threads that really had to tie in very tightly. And hopefully, the sequel brings it all together.
In the sequel, there’s more time spent in the Nigh, which is that parallel world in New York City. It’s a world that is basically built by children who have been stolen from our New York City, and it’s built out of their imagination. So again, one of the things I love is New York City history. So, in the Nigh, there are layers of history evident all around. So, the kids that were brought over in the 18 hundreds imagined tenement buildings. In Central Park, they have their goats pull carts, which actually is something that they used to do in Central Park back in the day. And there are monsters in this other world, and it’s ruled by a fairly sinister magician.
So, it’s a fun book. It’s fast-paced; there’s a lot of adventure, some scary stuff, and some funny stuff. So again, I hope it’s one of those reads that middle grade kids can just submerge themselves and just step into this very unusual, magical world for as long as they’re reading the book.
Well, when my eleven-year-old—we have a lot of books that come through our home, and so she gets really picky on what books. And she had said to me right before I got Jen’s review of Hither and Nigh; she had said, Mom, I need a new book. I said, well, what are you looking for? She said, well, I don’t want a graphic novel; I don’t want realistic fiction. I don’t want anything like horror. I didn’t want anything too scary. I’m like, so it sounds like maybe you’re asking for a fantasy novel. She’s like, yeah, with some adventure. And she goes, I mean, it could be like a little scary, but not too scary.
And then Dr. Jen’s review came through, and it just sounded so exciting the way she pitched it. And I was like, here, read this. Does this sound like the book? She was like, that sounds like the book. So, we put it on audiobook then and there, and she started it last night.
Wonderful. See, and this is something that I think is so special about growing up now, is there’s so much choice in children’s books when I don’t really remember being able to curate exactly the sort of book I wanted to read when I was a kid. There were some of the old standbys, and there were some wonderful books, but now it feels like kids have so many choices that they can really get attracted to what is specifically the story that they want, and hopefully that’ll just engage them. So they’ll want to keep reading more.
Yes, absolutely. All right, Ellen, if we were to leave listeners with just one takeaway today, what would you want that to be?
I think that for me, anyway, when I pick up a book, I want to leave my life behind for a little while, and I want to be in someone else’s life. And when you do that, when a book completely absorbs you so that you actually feel like you’ve stepped into this other world, then you’re like leaving your soul open to change, to experience things. It’s almost like you’re experiencing things in the moment, in real time, that your characters are experiencing.
And I think being in that kind of that meditative, that quiet, which is so rare now, I mean, there’s noise all over, but being in that quiet state allows you to absorb new ideas, to entertain different ways of looking at the world or looking at other people in a really powerful way. Maybe it’s more powerful than actually being in your own life because you’re sort of surrounded by all these stressors and all these preconceived notions. But books allow you to enter into different ways of looking at things.
Well, Ellen, thank you for always writing entertaining books. First of all, they’re always relatable. Even if there’s the element of magic and fantasy and the absurdity of a girl living in a tree, in a treehouse with squirrels, they’re always relatable. You tackle themes and topics that kids need to understand out in the world, whether they’re their own experiences or the experiences of others, and you just do it in a way that’s gentle and caring. And I love how you know when to add humor. I feel like that’s a special skill that you have.
So Squirlish: The Girl in the Tree is laugh-out-loud funny. And I’m just grateful that you wrote it. I’m grateful I got to read it. And most of all, today, I’m grateful that you came on the show. So, thank you so much for being here.
Thank you so much. This was just a joy. This was wonderful. Thank you.
About the Book
Written by Ellen Potter
Illustrated by Sara Cristofori
Ages 6+ | 112 Pages
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books | ISBN-13: 9781665926751
Publisher’s Book Summary: A girl raised by squirrels in Central Park tries to make human friends in this laugh-out-loud, highly illustrated first book in a new chapter book series perfect for fans of Sophie Mouse and Critter Club!
Cordelia is a girl who lives in a tree in Central Park. Found as a baby and raised by an adoring squirrel named Shakespeare, Cordelia acts just like any other young squirrel, leaping across treetops, chasing her squirrel friends, and sleeping in her treehouse. Still, she wonders what it would be like to have a human friend, and when she stumbles into a gymnastics class, it seems like she might have her chance.
Living in a tree might have made Cordelia an exceptional gymnast, but people skills are a whole other matter. Even if Cordelia can’t fully fit in with the other kids,
Buy the Book
Ellen Potter is the author of more than twenty award-winning novels for children and young adults, including Olivia Kidney, Slob, the Big Foot and Little Foot series, the Piper Green and The Fairy Tree series, The Humming Room, Pish Posh, and The Kneebone Boy. Several of her books have been chosen by the New York Public Library for their Best 100 Books for Children list and have appeared on numerous state reading lists. Her nonfiction writing book, Spilling Ink, A Young Writer’s Handbook, coauthored with Anne Mazer, was also chosen by the New York Public Library as a Best 100 Books for Children. Ellen lives in upstate New York with her family.
For more information about Ellen and her books, visit EllenPotter.com.
Thank you for listening to the Growing Readers Podcast episode: Ellen Potter Talks About Squirlish: The Girl in the Tree. For the latest episodes from The Growing Readers Podcast, Follow Now on Spotify.