Q&A with Stella Batts author Courtney Sheinmel

Courtney Sheinmel is the author of four standalone novels for middle-grade readers and the Stella Batts series for readers grades 2 and up. Her latest book, “Stella Batts: A Case of the Meanies,” hits bookstores this month. Below is a complete transcript of her interview with Cracking the Cover.

Have you always wanted to be a writer? Why?
Yes, I’ve always wanted to be a writer; but I don’t know why. Probably because I’m just wired that way. I think in terms of stories. When I was little, my favorite spot was the corner of the couch in the den, where I’d sit with my notebook and write “books.” Once I gave up the dream of becoming a famous singer—I can’t carry a tune—“writer” became my stock answer to “what do you want to be when you grow up?”

Why do you write for young people?
This is the hardest question, because it’s impossible to give just one answer. So, in true Stella-style, I’ll give you a list:

  1. When I started out in this business, I was working full-time as an associate in a law firm. I wanted to write a book, and a middle grade novel is shorter than an adult one, therefore I figured it would take less time.
  2. The books you read as a kid stick. At least, I remember so many of the books I read when I was young. Right now, I could describe the plots of most of the Babysitters Club series in greater detail than the book I finished last week.
  3. You can tackle any subject, even the hard subjects, like divorce, illness, death, because those things happen to kids, too. But in kids’ books, it’s never all sadness and the end of the story generally goes back to hope and redemption. Which is how I like to think the world works.
  4. I have pretty vivid memories of my own childhood—from the day my beloved baby sister came onto the scene, to playing with the superior toys at my friend Dara’s house, to my parents’ divorce. It feels natural to slip back into a younger voice.
  5. I genuinely like kids.
  6. (This is probably the number one reason.) I write about the things that pop into my head, and so far they’ve been stories aimed at younger audiences.

Where do your ideas come from?
Anywhere! Everywhere!  I think I hang onto stories longer than other, normal people do. This is the way I once described it to a friend: I might be walking down the street and hear a snippet of someone’s conversation. Then as I continue past them, I’m thinking of the snippet and making up a whole life story around it. Sometimes, that gets turned into a book.

Specifically, where did your idea for the Stella Batts series come from?
I’d written a number of books for older kids. One day my then-seven-year-old niece Sara complained that I hadn’t written anything for her, and so I promised I would. “What should it be about?” I asked. “A girl who likes sweets,” she said. I sat down to write something that I hoped Sara would enjoy, and I ended up with this series.

What makes Stella stand out as a character?
Aside from the all-access pass to everyone’s favorite candy store? Well, I’d like to think Stella’s appeal lies in the fact that she’s quite relatable; she lives with her parents and a younger sister, whom she loves but who sometimes gets on Stella’s nerves. She has a good group of friends, and is occasionally picked on by the class bully. She’s sweet and imaginative. She wants to do the right thing, though she doesn’t always. She could be a kid in your class. She could be you.

Are there more books planned? What can readers expect in the future?
There are! Four more books planned so far. I have a pretty good idea of what will happen next, but don’t want to divulge too much since I’m still working on them, and sometimes the story changes as I write.

Stella’s parents own a candy store. What’s your favorite kind of candy?
I love everything chocolate-y—as long as there aren’t any nuts. Like Stella, my favorite treat is fudge.

What is it about your writing that appeals to young readers?
I hope young readers find my writing appealing, but you’d have to ask them!

Looking back, how has your writing evolved?
Before I’d written a book, that was my main goal: to write a book. I’m incredibly proud of that accomplishment. But it’s no longer enough. And I think that has made the writing a little bit harder with each new project. But I hope that also makes it better.

What are you working on now?
My latest project is a picture book series, co-authored by my dear friend Adele Griffin. I’m also working away on the next few STELLA books. I’ve almost finished up the first draft of Book #5, and I’ll tell you a little bit about that one, because I don’t think it will change too much: the Batts house just got pretty crowded. Stella’s baby brother is home, her grandmother is visiting, and Stella is watching her friend Evie’s dog for the weekend. But it turns out that being in charge of a dog is not so easy, and things don’t go at all the way Stella planned.

Is there a book from your childhood that still resonates with you?
My tattered copy of THE LITTLEST RABBIT, by Robert Kraus, about a rabbit who is smaller than all of his friends. That’s still the story of my life! I also love rereading AUTUMN STREET, by Lois Lowry, along with all of my favorite Judy Blume books, especially STARRING SALLY J. FREEDMAN AS HERSELF.