Interview sponsored* by Patricia Luhovey
The Children’s Book Review | August 1, 2015
Patty Luhovey began to write Life in the Meadow with Madie: Mr. Earl’s Missing Eyeglasses in 2009. Several of the story’s characters are based upon family members, even her daughter’s dog Carli. She won’t tell you who Scooter is, though. She has incorporated spiritual elements as her and her children continued to study the Bible together. Because of this, she believes the story is much stronger and offers parents many teaching opportunities as it fosters discussion around numerous spiritual truths and lessons. She hopes you and your children enjoy it.
TCBR: What inspired you to write this book?
Patty Luhovey: I started this project in 2009 when I sat down and began to write by hand in a paper notebook. I do not recall what moved me to do so. However, I do know that the inspiration for Madie was my great niece Madison. At that time, she was only one year of age. She had big blue eyes and a head full of yellow curls. I’m not certain why I made her a duck, but this is why Madie has curly yellow feathers and big blue eyes. My three great nieces–Madison, Eliza and Delaney–and great nephew Dalton are all characters in the story. A number of the children’s sayings inconspicuously appear in the story as well. Several of the story’s other characters are also based upon family members, even my daughter’s dog Carli.
What age of child do you have in mind as a target audience?
As I wrote the story, especially the dialogue, I envisioned a parent reading the story aloud to their child as the child enjoyed the supporting illustrations. I also anticipated much interaction between parent and child as they read the story together. Even apart from the moral lessons, the story is an exciting, humorous adventure that involves many interesting characters that one’s youngest children will find very appealing. In addition, Bridget’s colorful illustrations really help bring the story to life visually, often times depicting the characters’ moods and emotions. So, in this respect, I do not feel that the book or story content is too mature for any age child.
Concerning the upper end of the age range, the story content and character development should appeal to one’s older children as well. The spiritual truths and moral lessons introduced in this story can be discussed on many levels of maturity, which is something that I hope will also result in much interaction between parent s and their children. I feel that the story is very conducive to family bonding. I assume that it is just a matter of when a child feels that he or she is too grown up to read animal stories any longer, something that has never happened to me. My hope is that the story will appeal to a wide range of ages such that one’s older children will enjoy reading the book to their younger siblings.
The website for the book is excellent. How do you see the book and website working together?
In the broadest sense, I hope that the book and website will encourage parents to become more personally involved and engaged in the education of their children. The web site compliments the book in at least three ways.
First, the Story Quizzes page is intended to be fun and engaging while encouraging children to pay close attention to the details of the story events and characters. In addition to bringing parents and children closer as they get deeper into the story together, the quizzes may assist busy parents in developing the reading comprehension skills of their children and teaching them to become discerning and critical thinkers. The interactive quizzes keep score, offer hints for a point reduction, and encourage looking the answers up in the book when possible. I hope this leads parents and children to quiz each other with their own questions about the story and the other materials they read together. We will be adding more quizzes over time and welcome the submission of readers’ own quiz questions.
Second, parents interested in raising their children to be knowledgeable in the Word of God may find the Story Details and Bible Study pages to be helpful resources in that pursuit.
Third, we welcome feedback from parents and children through the form on the Contact Us page of the web site. I hope that parents will share how they may have made use of the story quizzes and particular elements of the story to teach their children and how their children responded to both. My intention is to post these in a thoughtful and organized manner on the Reviews page of the web site so that others may benefit from shared experiences.
Are there any particular Bible passages or teachings you see as underscoring your story and its governing ideas?
I did not have any particular Bible passages in mind when I began to write this story. Over time, as my children and I continued to study the Bible together, I incorporated more spiritual elements into the story, not necessarily what might be considered spiritual lessons but more in terms of simply presenting the manner in which the neighbors of the meadow conduct their lives toward God and toward one another as individuals and a community. I leave the explicit teaching of spiritual lessons to the parents. Looking back at the completed story today, if I had to pick one verse to write over the theme of this story, I’d choose the words of the Lord Jesus Christ recorded in Luke 8:21—“My brethren are these which hear the Word of God, and do it.” That’s the point at which we find Madie and the neighbors of the meadow. They are acting upon their faith and doing. I find it to be a very practical and all-encompassing verse. If one hears the Word of God and does it, then he or she will love their neighbor as they love themselves, and won’t mind suffering in putting that statement into action.
Are there any particular moments in the book you are most pleased with, as an author?
One part of the story that I most enjoyed writing, simply from the standpoint of enjoyment as an author and imagining how a child will respond, is the section concerning the events leading up to Chrissy Crane’s decision to leave Australia and come to visit her cousin Katie in the meadow. It is something of a brief excursion from the main storyline but I found it rather interesting to write and Chrissy is an interesting character. I especially like the way the intensity of her story builds up to the moment she loses a few tail feathers and how the characters listen so intently to Chrissy as she recounts these events to her enthralled audience. When she finishes her story, Dalty responds, “Wow! What a story!” It would please me to learn that young children respond in like manner.
Do you find yourself identifying with any specific character in the book?
No, not personally. I relate to the characters in the sense that I based them on family members and incorporated elements of family history into the story. For example, I made Paddy Owl of Irish descent because my paternal grandmother was from Ireland and because I’d like to visit Ireland one day. But I did not assign any characteristics of myself to any of the characters or include personal experiences from my life or childhood in the story.
The book tells an exciting tale, but clearly has an instructive, moral core – What do you think the really essential moral message of the book is?
The themes of family, community, and love run throughout all chapters of the book and are presented in numerous ways. But the message most strongly presented is that of the third chapter taught by Paddy Owl when the enthusiasm with which the group of neighbors set out to help Mr. Earl begins to wane and the group becomes discouraged and wants to quit. In simplest terms, that message is that doing good is hard work and quitting has consequences. The group had to learn to lay aside self and to consider Mr. Earl’s circumstances and feelings. They also had to recognize their weakness in that they were helpless to bring about in this world that which they desired, no matter how good their intentions and motives may have been. They learned to begin with prayer, to acknowledge God as the Sovereign of His creation, and to seek His counsel and guidance. Then, they stepped out in faith and continued in their work, knowing that God would bless that which was in His will. This did not guarantee instant and effortless success, for the struggle continued. But it did allow them to rest in the confidence that God was overseeing all things and involved in the smallest details of their lives, and that they could persevere in the face of any circumstances if they continued in faith and love. I think this summarizes the essential moral message of the book.
This book combines religious teaching and storytelling in a unique way. What would you tell parents who are not especially religious who might hesitate in adding your book to their library?
I understand that parents must be very cautious. Life in the Meadow with Madie is a fun, safe, wholesome, enjoyable story in which the neighbors of the meadow help a friend in need out of love and without expecting anything in return. In a sense it is a depiction of the way in which believers conduct their lives toward God and toward one another. These elements afford parents numerous teaching opportunities through which they may elaborate upon spiritual and moral truths if they choose to do so, but the story does not demand it because these truths are not explicitly taught in the storyline. The neighbors of the meadow do pray, acknowledge God as Creator, give thanks to God, and mention faith and the will of God. So, the parent who is violently against Christianity would not like this book. But the parent who may hesitate out of concern that the book is labeled as containing “religious themes” has nothing to worry about. The story themes are listed on the back cover of the book and on the Story Details page of the web site. The Note to Parents section of the web site provides suggestions on how certain story elements may be used to introduce spiritual truths to their children but that is entirely left to the discretion of the parents. I am confident that anyone who objectively reads the story will find it safe and appropriate for their children.
The images do a wonderful job of conveying the personality of characters. How closely did the author and illustrator work together?
Although Bridget and I have never met or spoken by phone and communicated only through emails during the two years we collaborated on this project, I feel that we worked rather closely together. I believe we struck up a friendship and never treated one another as client and contractor. Initially, I provided her character descriptions and brief narratives of how I envisioned the scenes and where I planned to place them within the story text. During those two years, we added a few illustrations, broke a few larger ones into several smaller ones, and made several alterations. This required a great deal of communication between us. Bridget paid close attention to the story to ensure that her illustrations were in synch with the text and brought the story to life visually, including the characters’ emotions. She was always easy to work with and did whatever I asked. She was also very helpful with many other aspects of the book and often provided very important advice free of charge. Bridget is an intelligent, thoughtful, and caring individual. When we ran into an issue with color-matching during the proofing process, she promptly came up with a solution. I believe that working closely together was very important to the success of this project.
Are there any plans in the works to produce a new book, perhaps even a series, which continues to develop these compelling characters?
I would be very pleased to have the opportunity to produce a Life in the Meadow with Madie series. I have a number of story ideas in mind that I have made note of but have not fully developed at this time. Since this is my first book, I would like to see how it is received before making any immediate plans to write another.
For more information, visit: www.madiesmeadow.com
Read our book review of Life in the Meadow with Madie: Mr. Earl’s Missing Eyeglasses
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