Emma Shevah, the author of Dream on, Amber | Speed Interview
The Children’s Book Review | October 19, 2015
The Children’s Book Review: Which five words best describe Dream On, Amber?
Emma Shevah: Oh boy. That’s tricky. How about warm, witty, heartbreaking, upbeat and booyakasha.
(Actually, I just like how booyakasha sounds at the end of a sentence but apparently, its root is the Irish word “buíochas” (pronounced boo-yach-uss) which mean gratitude or praise, just like the word ‘shevah’ in Hebrew, which is my surname. So I’m allowed that one. Hah! Booyakasha.)
If you had to take a vacation with one of the characters from Dream On, Amber, who would it be? Why?
Well, Dream Dad is a lot of fun but he’s Amber’s Dream Dad – mine would be different. Plus, I wouldn’t want to go away and basically talk to myself so maybe not him. I based Amber’s mother, Bob, on my cousin Susie, and Susie and I are very close and have a lot of fun together, even though I don’t see her much because she’s Italian and lives in Rome, so my first thought was Bob. But Bob isn’t Susie (Susie is crazier) so I think, in the end, it would have to be Amber. She’s a very cool girl. She’s smart and sad and strong and she’d be a good traveling companion. I’d probably take her to Tokyo and Kyoto because I think she’d like to see Japan, and it would be good for her to connect to her Japanese side.
What has been the best reaction from a reader, so far?
A seven-year-old girl called Scarlett who lives in Dublin contacted me through twitter (she tells her mother what to write and her mother tweets it). She loved Dream on, Amber and we became friends although we haven’t met yet. She’s now eight and has started her own blog where she reviews books. How cool is that? One reader wrote me a letter telling me what should happen in the second book, which was lovely. And my friend’s son Benny loves Dream on, Amber so much, he’s rereading it for the fifth or sixth time, and he gets a bit star struck when he sees me, which I find hilarious.
What’s on your nightstand? Any books?
Always. You can’t see the nightstand because of them. I’m trying to read 100 books this year but I’m only up to about 35 (they’re not in a big tower by my bed – I only have about five there at a time). 35 books since January is still pretty good going I suppose. I’m always reading even though I lead a ridiculously busy life. I try to read fiction for children and teens so I know what my shelf-neighbors’ books are like: I have author friends and contacts now and there’s a lot of good stuff out there. It’s so impressive. But I also read books for adults, travel books, books I never got around to reading and really should have read by now, books I’ve always wanted to read, and books people recommend. And I reread books that I find amazing or beautiful or try to learn from. On my bedside table right now are ‘Apple and Rain’ by Sarah Crossan, ‘Cuckoo Song’ by Frances Hardinge, which I’ve just finished, and the one I’m reading at the moment, which is utterly brilliant and extraordinary, is ‘I’ll Give you the Sun’ by Jandy Nelson.
For your writing energy: sugar or salt, tea or coffee?
I drink tea first thing in the morning to help me wake up and get my kids out of the door, then once I’ve dropped them at their bus stops, I come back, clear up a bit, make myself a latte and sit at my desk. I have to keep getting up to do other stuff – drop stuff off, pick stuff up, shop, teach, take my kids to appointments, keep the house together, walk the hound, make food – it’s hard to get any writing done at all. I drink tea during the day, eat a sandwich or something quick at lunch and sometimes have biscuits or something sweet in the afternoon when I feel like collapsing in a crumpled heap. But I don’t like sweet things the way I used to and I don’t need energy for writing – I need energy to do all the other stuff because I’d much rather be writing and it highly frustrates me that I can’t just get on with it.
Writing tools: computer, pen and paper, or all of the above?
All of them! I have notepads and pens for ideas, random thoughts and my varied and haphazard efforts to plot: I’m not very good at plotting because I have so many ideas, the books have at least twenty possible directions they could go in, like alternate universes, and anyway, the storyline develops and changes as I go along so plotting attempts are usually futile. But I need to try or I feel like I’m engulfed in a heavy sandstorm and I can’t see which way is out. I write on a laptop – I can’t write longhand. If I do, like when I’m out and inspiration or a conversation comes to me, I scribble it on my notepad and transfer it to my laptop when I get home.
Can you tell us one more thing we may not know about Dream On, Amber, your writing style, or yourself?
I’m going to break the rules and tell you more than one thing (I’m such a rebel). Amber used to be a boy called Shilo but we changed him to a girl mid-way through the editing process, and although I wasn’t sure about it at the time, I think we need more feisty girl characters high-kicking their way through life’s challenges, so I’m happy I did it. The book was initially called ‘Dream Dad’ too, but the publishers said it was Amber’s story, not Dream Dad’s, so we changed it because they were right. And it was going to be a trilogy – I’ve written the sequel and planned the third – but I’m not sure if they’ll come to life after all. The reader who wrote me the letter telling me what should happen next would be happy to know that Amber’s story does carry on, at least in my head and my laptop, even though it doesn’t happen exactly the way she wanted it to.
Written by Emma Shevah
Publisher’s Synopsis: My name is Ambra Alessandra Leola Kimiko Miyamoto. But call me Amber. I have no idea why my parents gave me all those hideous names but they must have wanted to ruin my life, and you know what? They did an amazing job.
As a half-Japanese, half-Italian girl with a ridiculous name, Amber’s not feeling molto bene (very good) about making friends at her new school.
But the hardest thing about being Amber is that a part of her is missing. Her dad. He left when she was little and he isn’t coming back. Not for her first day of middle school and not for her little sister’s birthday. So Amber will have to dream up a way for the Miyamoto sisters to make it on their own.
Ages 9-12 | Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky | 2015 | ISBN-13: 978-1492622505
Praise for Dream On, Amber
“By turns playful and poignant, in both style and substance, this coming-of-age novel will hook readers from the first page to the last.”—School Library Journal, STARRED review
“Amber’s effervescent and opinionated narration captivates from the start, making it easy to root for her as she strives to conquer the “beast” of her worries and thrive at home and at school.”—Publishers Weekly, STARRED review
“Shevah tenderly captures the void of growing up without a father yet manages to create a feisty, funny heroine… A gutsy girl in a laugh-out-loud book that navigates tough issues with finesse.” –Kirkus, STARRED review
“[This] novel is a charmer…While its humor and illustrations lend it Wimpy Kid appeal, its emotional depth makes it stand out from the pack. Molto bene!”- Booklist, STARRED review
Excerpt from Dream On, Amber
Bella came in wearing her matching pink nightdress, pink dressing gown, and pink slippers with Hello Kitty all over them. I just don’t get why people like Hello Kitty. I know it’s Japanese and supposed to be kawaii (cute) and everything, so maybe I should like it, but it’s just a picture of a cartoon cat’s head. I mean, seriously, what’s the big deal?
Bella’s hands were behind her back like she was hiding something. She looked much happier than she did when we got home from the party. She moved her arms to the front and handed me a sealed envelope.
“What’s this?” I asked, putting my sharpener down.
“Can you mail it for me tomorrow?”
I looked at the front of the envelope. There was nothing written on it.
“But it’s blank, Bella.”
“Who’s it for?”
“None of your beeswax, Mrs. Nosy Pants.”
“Um…okay. So you…you want me to put it in the mailbox?”
“Yes, Amber. Duuuh. That’s what mailing means.”
“But how is the mailman going to know who to give it to if it has no name on it?”
“Oh,” she said, frowning.
She lay down on her belly on the floor and with her red crayon from the dollar store (well, she wasn’t borrowing any of mine), she wrote on the front of the envelope: “TO MY DAD.”
I looked at her.
“Shush,” she said. “Just mail it for me.”
“But there’s no address on it—”
“The mailman will know where he lives. He knows where everyone lives.”
“He won’t know where Dad lives. Nobody knows where Dad lives. Not even Mum.”
“Didn’t I say ‘shush’? I’m sure I said ‘shush.’ Just mail it for me. Pleeease, Amber.”
I sighed. What was I supposed to tell her? She was too little. She didn’t get it. So I took it and put it on my desk, just to make her happy.
I know I shouldn’t have done it and it’s probably against the law and everything but when she went out of my room, I opened it.
My nam is Bella and Im your dorta. My bithday party is on Sunday 16 Speptmbr and I rely want you too come. And I neid you to play with me in the park and posh me on the swing. Please come home
P.S. Please buy me a perpel Swatch wach and Sparkle Girl Julerry Makar for my bithday.
I didn’t know what to do. Obviously, I wasn’t going to mail it without an address on it. So instead, I put it in my secret place. If you pull the bottom drawer of my dresser all the way out, there’s a space under it on the floor where I put my most sacred things. I had a coin that I found in Hyde Park that I’m sure is Roman or Viking and one day I’m going to sell it and get mega rich. I had a few other cool things in there too. Some of them are embarrassing, like key-rings I made out of lanyard strings when I was, like, seven and valentine cards my mum sent me. Stuff you can’t exactly throw out but really don’t want anyone to see. The letter wasn’t one of my sacred things but where else was I going to put it?
I also had a picture of my dad holding me when I was a baby that I sneaked out of Nonna’s album. Obviously, we have a whole bunch of photos of him in that album, but I wanted one for myself. One of him with me. Just to prove to myself that he did actually exist and hold me once, and he even looked proud. I don’t look at that photo much because it makes me angry. I know it doesn’t make sense to keep it, but there you go. Not everything makes sense. If it did, he would never have left in the first place.
There was another knock on my door, so I quickly closed the drawer.
“Hang on… Okay, you can come in now.”
Bella stuck her head in.
“When do you think he’ll get it?” she asked.
“Well, they have to find him first. It’s not easy, you know. It takes teams of detectives months to find missing people.”
She walked in to my room and said, “Oh,” and did that thing where she points her toes inward and puts one foot over the other, like her toes are hugging.
“Do you think he’ll get it before my birthday?”
“I don’t know, Bella. I don’t think so. But if by some weird miracle he did get it before then, I’m sure he’d come to your party.”
Bella unhugged her toes and put her hands on her hips. “Amber?”
“How do you know I want Dad to come to my party?”
“Well, it’s kind of obvious, Bella. You did ask if he’d get it before your birthday.”
“Oh,” she said, frowning. “Hmm. Well, okay.” And she skipped back to her room.
The letter wasn’t my biggest problem at that point. I was so worried about starting my new school in the morning that I couldn’t get to sleep for ages. When you can’t sleep, your mind starts going a bit doolally. Well, mine does anyway. I start thinking all kinds of crazy things. And eventually the problem with Bella and her letter worked its way into my churning brain.
It was kind of mean and everything but there were times I really wished Bella wasn’t my sister. But knowing there was a huge hole where our dad was supposed to be wasn’t much fun either. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that maybe, just maybe, I could do something about it. I could save Bella from years of torture with one quick solution.
It seemed straightforward enough.
I decided to pretend to be my dad and write back to her, you know, to make her feel better.
And that was it.
The most ingenious idea I’ve ever had lit up my mind like a firework.
About the Author
Emma Shevah is half-Irish and half-Thai born and raised in London. She has lived in Australia, Japan, India (her first child was born in the Himalayas) and Jerusalem before moving back to the UK. Emma has busked as a fire-juggler, been a restaurant manager, a copy writer, an English teacher, and is now a blogger and author.
This interview with Emma Shevah about Dream On, Amber was conducted by Bianca Schulze. Follow along with our content tagged with Coming of Age, Cultural diversity, Humor, Social Graces, and Speed Interview to discover more great books.