I'm excited to have Lisa Sukenic, author of Miles from Motown, with me today. Her delightful historical middle-grade novel is written in verse and has such a pleasant cadence to it. Check out the peek between the pages and see for yourself! But first, let's get to know Lisa!
Tell us about the research you did before writing the book.
The research that I worked on was multifaceted. Although I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s, I wanted to revisit the time period with historical accuracy, looking at the arts, music, pop culture and politics during that time period. Some of the resources I used included The Detroit Free Press Archive and visits to The Detroit Historical Society, and Hitsville USA (Motown).
Georgia’s idol and judge of the poetry contest in my novel was Gwendolyn Brooks. Living in Chicago, I researched the life and work of Gwendolyn Brooks. From 2017-2018 Chicago celebrated Gwendolyn Brooks’ 100th birthday and there were events at the University of Chicago Logan Center, The Poetry Center, and museums in Chicago.
What is your favorite genre and why?
My favorite genre to read is historical fiction and novel in verse so it is no surprise that this is the format that I chose for Miles from Motown. Historical fiction is important in order to learn about the past and to inform the future. As a teacher at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, I use historical fiction to support my Social Studies and Language Arts curriculum.
I have loved the form of novel in verse for years before my book was published. I feel that verse novels allow the reader to get right into the emotional impact of the story. Since few words are used, the author needs to choose them wisely. I love the lyricism and rhythm of poetry as well as being able to play with poetic devices and form. As a teacher, the novel in verse can be more accessible for students who may have a harder time finishing a traditional book since there are less words per page. I have seen many students who did not consider themselves confident readers, but were excited about reading after finishing a verse novel.
Tell us something about how you became an author.
My interest in writing began with reading and writing poetry. I began writing early in college and was later fortunate to be surrounded by poets such as Diane Seuss, Elizabeth Kerlikowske, and John Rybicki who visited as guest poets to the school where I taught at in Kalamazoo, Michigan. My first poem was published in a small student/adult chapbook there. I moved to Chicago to work at The University of Chicago Lab Schools and enrolled in the Graham School of Professional Studies and received a poetry certificate. My writing life continued with many wonderful opportunities as I attended A Room of Her Own Retreat for many summers at the Georgia O’Keefe Ranch; initially writing poetry and eventually branched out to story writing. At Story Studio’s Novel in a Year programs I planted the seeds for Miles from Motown. Through the Society of Children Writers and Illustrators I was fortunate to learn from experienced authors and writers who would support my writer’s journey including my writing coach Esther Hershenhorn.
About the book
MILES FROM MOTOWN
Author: Lisa Sukenic
Genre: Middle Grade Historical Novel in Verse
Twelve-year-old Georgia Johnson is sure she can win the “Spirit of Detroit Poetry Contest” judge by her idol, Gwendolyn Brooks. After moving from her beloved Detroit neighborhood to an unfamiliar suburb on the outskirts of the city, Georgia lies to prevent becoming disqualified from the contest (which is for Detroit residents only) by using her aunt Birdie’s address. With her older brother deployed to Vietnam, and her family-worried about when—or if—he’ll make it home, Georgia tries to settle into her new life. But she misses the old—her friend Ceci, the cracks in the sidewalk that used to catch her skates, and the hide—and—seek tree. She wonders if she’ll ever make new friends or fell like she belongs. To make matters worse, she must also find a way to intercept the contest finalist announcement that will be mailed to Aunt Birdie’s mailbox before her family uncovers her deception. During that summer, Georgia discovers her own resiliency in the face of upheaval and the power of truth when lies ring hollow.
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Peek between the pages...
Daddy has promised me trees.
I cross my fingers on my one hand,
Remember that two is bad luck,
like the time that I crossed twice when I
wanted to do a project with Ceci and
ended up with Wanda instead.
Mama pulls up to the curb and parks the car.
I look down.
The address painted on the curb 1020 Pennsylvania.
“Look, baby, our new house. Look.”
Mama’s hands is on my shoulder feeling
warm, but I don’t want to feel it.
My shoulders are still hunched with unhappy.
The oak tree from our old backyard
is in the front yard.
Daddy dug it up last week.
It seems to be barely planted, some roots
sticking up and leaves wilted.
It looks as uncomfortable as I feel.
I turn toward Mama, my eyes hard, like
marbles. “Transplants barely ever make it,”
I say under my breath.
Mama rolls the window down
and gathers up her purse
as Daddy comes to the door.
“You talk to her…I’m going in.”
Daddy slides into the front seat.
I decide to stay in the car.
I don’t plan on budging.
I sit in the car feeling like the tree.
It wants the dirt of home and I want it too.
I know the familiar house feeling I get when we park
on our street
or when we pull into the alley.
I can’t find my familiar.
I need a way to get back,
but right now I am stuck here, just like the tree.
Lisa Sukenic is a poet, author, and fourth-grade teacher at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools. Her fiction and poetry appears in Everyday Haiku and two Off Campus Writers Workshop anthologies. Miles from Motown placed first in the 2016 SCBWI-IL Prairie Writer’s Day Manuscript Contest and was a finalist in Fitzroy Books’ 2019 Kraken Book Prize. Miles from Motown was named a 2022 Michigan Notable Book for the Library of Michigan and was recently listed on the School Library Journal’s 21 Middle Grade and YA Novels in Verse for National Poetry Month.
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